I was watching a major construction project recently and it struck me again how important it is to establish a solid foundation when you are building something. I shared a post recently Action – What are you doing now? that addressed the need to go beyond making lists to actually take action on your goals. What are the steps to establishing a solid foundation to build your future on?
#1 Survey and Stake Out Footprint
I like to use contracting analogies so let’s look at career or entrepreneurship through this lens. The first task of setting your personal foundation, like in construction, is surveying and staking out the correct footprint. If you have a career path or have already started a business you may have begun this process. Or, if you are like many people, you may have just stumbled into a job and decided, this works. Take the time to clearly define where you want your career or business to go.
Once the site is identified and staked there is a lot of work that takes place before the building begins. A major activity if excavation or getting the bad stuff out of the way. ‘Bad stuff’ might be ideas that are not productive, attitudes that slow you down or actual bad habits you have developed over time. Research indicates there are ways to change your bad habits into good habits but you will have to be deliberate about this process.
Let’s say you have decided you will build a business that reaches people with services they truly want. I’m pretty sure that is the idea behind most businesses. If no-one wants what you are offering your business won’t go far. The footings, what you are selling, has to be set so that you do not drift off track. I worked with someone once providing a service that was strongly grounded in helping people to make the right decisions for their families. This person would periodically shift from coach to manual laborer, completely changing our brand image and undermining our marketing. I don’t think he realized he was also setting us as competitors to the services we made client referrals to. Your personal brand should be established as consistent and strong, both online and offline.
However, personal branding is not just for politicians and entrepreneurs.
#4 Sub Slab
Now you are ready for the first slab in your foundation. This one builds around the pipes and conduits that serve the structure above to provide protection for those elements. Entry points to your business might include web pages, email accounts and phone lines associated with your brand. Purchase your own domain to assure your brand is always represented the way you would like it to be. Establishing yourself as It’sMe@free-email.biz just says I haven’t arrived yet.
#5 Foundation Drainage System
Every foundation needs a drainage system. In our lives, we need to be prepared to drain off the stressors of each day so we may prepare ourselves for the next day. You’ve heard the old proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Think about someone you have known in the workplace who was considered dull. Is that how you want people to see you? This idea was expanded on my Maria Edgeworth in Harry and Lucy Concluded (1825):
Your foundation drainage system has to include time to refresh. Refreshing will help to establish your business or career with the support your brand deserves. Taking time off allows you to return to work sharp and ready for new challenges and to solve old dilemmas.
Next, your foundation needs to have solid boundaries. Set boundaries to maintain consistency of purpose. Your values have to carry through in everything. Boundaries allow you to reach beyond on rare occasions while maintaining clear values for the long run. When you allow others to overly influence your direction the message about who you are as a professional become blurred. This blurring will ultimately destroy a brand. Keep a list of the important values you want colleagues to see in you as a professional. Remind yourself by reading it periodically and checking your actions against those values.
#7 Anchor Bolts and Beam Pockets
Anchor yourself to your values by creating a personal mission statement. Adero means “life giver” and is the one-word embodiment of my personal mission, to give life to those around me. The name reminds me but the mission itself is pinned on the board by my desk. I am reminded of the entire mission daily.
To live spiritually engaged so that the space around me is filled with peace, love and joy. To remain appreciative and inquiring in ways that inspire transformative growth. – Adero (life giver)
Your mission is an anchor that keeps you on track. When a mission is based on your values it will keep you on track even as you change positions, organizations or professional paths. Be clear, concise and consistent and you will truly anchor your foundation.
As a professional, you have probably experienced your share of naysayers. They say things like, ‘You can’t do that,’ “that’s a stupid idea,’ or ‘you will never amount to anything’. Whether critiques are bashing your organization, your ideas or you personally it is important that you ‘waterproof’ to keep the negative messages from destroying your foundation. This is not an invitation to ignore constructive criticism. It is an admonition to weigh every point and only hold onto the ones that will make your foundation stronger. Avoid pooling of negative messages. One of my favorite gospel songs says, “If you can’t help me, please, don’t stop me.”
It you can’t help me, please, don’t stop me.
Take the negative messages with a grain of salt. Apply corrections where appropriate then discard the rest. Letting them sit in the back of your mind will eat away at your confidence and stop your progress.
Now it is time to make the foundation whole. You know who you are and where you want to go. This is the point that you may begin building product/service lines and putting yourself out there for the world to see. Your primary product should be able to rest firmly on your foundation, so be sure all the elements are in place. Look back through the steps you have taken and make sure you have left no loose ends. A crack in the foundation at this point could undermine you at a later date.
Review, revise and, if necessary, rebuild. Don’t leave cracks in your foundation to come back to huant you later!
If you are almost ready to move forward on something you have worked on for a long-term do not let a last-minute grand idea or scheme turn you around. STOP where you are, look at the steps you have accomplished and determine whether the new ideas will live up to the standards you have set. Once you are sure everything is in order, you are ready to move forward.
#10 Backfill Soil
Now it is time to clean up the mess. You have excavated the site and tossed out the elements that interfere with your dreams and beliefs. And all around you are the broken ideas and discarded branding words that you had to push through to get to this point. Building is a messy process. Whether you are building yourself as an entrepreneur or as a career professional, starting your first or your seventh business you have to, right now clean up the field, set your focus and get on with the work at hand. You may feel frustration at the things that didn’t work, but were so important when you began this process. Do not think that frustration is a hindrance. The most successful professionals will tell you that pushing through the mess is what led to their best idea ever. Now is the time you begin to identify your target market and get your business, product or service in front of the right people. Doing your research reading informational blogs, white papers and more to learn what you need to know to get where to you truly want to go.
Was this my best analogy? Probably not. But I am publishing it here because the messiness of the end is an important point that needs to be made. Frustration and messiness can help you break through to new and previously unseen plateaus. Disruption, whether in your thought process or in team brainstorming sessions can precede leaps that set you and your organization apart. Look for those organizations that offer little or no cost training to move you forward. Work with a personal coach or a business consultant to help you focus your next steps. Then take action!
- Survey and Stake – clearly define where you want your business or career to go
- Excavate – change your bad habits into good habits
- Footings – develop your personal brand
- Sub Slab – remain brand consistent
- Drainage System – drain off the stressors regularly
- Walls – establish solid boundaries
- Anchors – create and live by your personal mission
- Waterproofing – don’t let negative nellies breakdown your confidence
- Slab – review, revise and if necessary, rebuild.
- Backfill – clean up the area and let frustration boost your productivity.
Are you puzzled as to how to move through these steps? Work with a coach, or bring a consultant in, to work with your business. Start an advisory board and bring on professionals you respect to talk periodically about your business. I’ll talk more about advisory boards in my next article.