Michael Hartzell is a serial entrepreneur who is addicted to “Yes” – when everyone wins. Recently, Michael sat down with us to share his thoughts about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur and leader.
Tell us about yourself. How did you become a “serial entrepreneur?”
At 14 years old, I started as a paperboy – the ultimate entrepreneur. I learned:
1) The responsibility for growing and tripling the business (sales),
2) How to collect the money (accounts receivable)
3) How to pay the newspaper company for the papers (accounts payable)
4) How to deliver with excellence (customer service)
5) To overcome physical barriers (dogs, “high maintenance” customers, etc.) and deliver
6) How to become a leader by recruiting help when the papers weighed more than I did
7) To “pay” small kids candy and coins to help deliver the papers on the route
This seems simple, enough but running a business with the above responsibilities seems rather ominous to a 14-year old. I can’t remember a time when I was not starting something which evolved into helping others “start” their own business ventures. I think back to the paperboy experience because the essentials I learned then are at the core of every success.
While others enjoy sports, my game has always been about creating a new idea and getting things started, and then giving responsibility to someone else and moving on to a new idea and a new venture.
The slogan of your blog is “Inbound marketing pro with guerilla marketing savvy.” What does that mean?
Instead of big budgets, we use innovation and time to grow profitable sales. It is about achieving conventional goals with unconventional methods, which includes investing energy instead of money. I enjoy the puzzle of how to get more leverage from each activity.
The idea is based on how “guerrillas” are able to win not because of size, but because of precision and surprise. The American Revolution was fought with guerrilla tactics against a much larger army.
Some people will think of “tricks” or “hacks” when told to create a guerrilla marketing campaign. In reality, an experienced guerrilla marketing campaigner understands the importance of each action, each contact, and each moment where “yes” is possible. A successful guerrilla marketer takes action with intent instead of randomly and hoping to get lucky.
These days, what’s the most important skill for an entrepreneur to have?
In the new world of media and technology, we are in an age of connection. A genius with a million-dollar idea must have the ability to communicate, collaborate, and move others to take action for a win-win-win.
What is most important is the ability to communicate and collaborate. We are all leaders at some level as we move others to create win-win results.
What are some essential concepts that businesses must embrace in order to grow and prosper?
There are five important essentials which have come as a result of frustrations that entrepreneurs bring:
1) The Unbelievable – Be sure customers scratch their head in wonder and say “WOW” backwards.
2) The Invitation – The more personal and unique the invitation, the more powerful.
3) The Leader – The leader should be dragging the business behind them with high skill and will. (instead of the other way around with the leader unable to keep up with status-quo)
4) The High Tech – The small business and entrepreneur have an opportunity to implement change more quickly. This is especially true for new technology which offers more opportunity for The Unbelievable to customers, efficiencies for the bottom line, and empowerment to employees.
5) The Mindset – “Good” today is not good enough tomorrow. Even as a team executes today, a customer is no longer as impressed or is more bored, or perhaps another business is preparing to improve (or copy) what you offer.
These are simple enough to evaluate a business quickly. Missing elements are built-in barriers which many not be obvious until you intentionally make a point to observe and assess.
What’s the biggest preventable reason why businesses fail nowadays?
Preparation. Which brings to mind what others who came before me said:
“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” – Ben Franklin
Attempting to prepare for every possibility, is an impossibility but going in without mastery or capital and relying on luck will have the same results as those trying to climb Mt. Rainier on a whim. Each business has its own unique demands regarding skills and capital, which is why a guide/consultant is valuable as businesses help prepare.
What are some of the most effective and useful technological tools available for businesses that you feel are currently being underutilized?
The telephone. It is odd that texting and email are preferred as a communication tool, even during a time when connection is important. The telephone offers a personal interaction that is lost with text on a screen. Test it during an emergency. When a pipe breaks, we don’t text or email a plumber, we call. When there is a fire, we don’t text; we dial 911. If you can agree that “timing is everything,” a personal call is powerful because there is an opportunity to listen and respond in a way to communicate caring and expertise.
The video camera is also an effective tool. We remain our own worst critics, and the video camera can become the enemy of showing people at their best (in their opinion). Never have we had an opportunity to tell a story like we can with a video camera. The stories are shareable and offer an authentic view of a business.
Your blog stresses the importance of good leadership for a business. What are some of the qualities of a “good leader?”
In the movie “Forrest Gump,” the title character had a simple desire to run with little else in mind. “That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go on a little run.” ” … for some reason what I was doing seem to make sense to people.” And people began to follow Forrest Gump. While just a movie, it reminds us of how many view leaders based on the followers. Forrest was an unintentional leader, and those who followed him took away their own personal ah-ha moments.
Forrest was committed, persistent, driven, and doing the unbelievable. He was not a good leader in that he was not concerned for others, but only his own personal satisfaction until it stopped. (If you remember, the followers were left empty with a question “Now what are we supposed to do?”
“Great leaders – truly great leaders possess character. … Character, the composite of values and virtues etched in that living stone, will define its true worth.” – John Mattone
John has his finger on the pulse of character when he identifies six essential elements: Courage, Loyalty, Diligence, Modesty, Honesty, and Gratitude. When people refer, recommend, cheer, and go beyond the call of duty, it is because of the character of the leader.
If a business owner wants to become a better leader, what are some steps that he or she can take?
When I was 18 years old, I learned to play racquetball. It helped to bang the little rubber ball around in the racquetball court alone. When I played a game with an opponent, I quickly became aware of the reality of my low skill, regardless of the will to practice alone.
A buddy system for practice and competition with someone better than myself challenged me to improve. Training from a patient “master” helped me to hone my skills. Soon I was sweating, running, and scoring well enough to compete. Others with less skill came to me for practice, training, and skill-building.
Becoming a better leader is less sweaty than racquetball, but the elements needed to improve not so different.
• Follow the lead of a good leader. We take action many times before we fully understand the true meaning.
• Have a buddy system. Someone who will challenge while caring.
• Ask for help from others who are more experienced. Great leaders are generous.
• Read books to clear the mind of distracting old thoughts. (I now appreciate audiobooks)
• Attend training courses and workshops which include role playing and practice. (Every year I continue to attend workshops)
One more thing: I have found that it is not the quantity of courses that is most important, but rather the quality and relevance. A course once a quarter brings new insights and changes paradigms.