Building the Boat While Sailing It

When I began my human resources consulting business in 2011, I had limited experience running a business.  I am a lawyer so naturally I believed that I could become competent if I just did sufficient research. Research meant reading a lot of business books, a category I normally ignore on my to the history (specifically military history) section.

I knew I needed help after doing countless coffee meetings but closing few deals. So I began reading books about sales and marketing.  Two of my favorites in this category are Integrity Selling in the 21st Century, by Ron Willingham and Getting Naked, by Patrick Lencioni.  The gist of these books is that fairness matters and it’s important to focus on what the client needs.

That sounds obvious, doesn’t it?   A few months ago, I went to a meeting expecting to talk about how we could do referrals to our respective businesses. Instead, the other guy and his boss ran through a PowerPoint of their company’s brilliant services. They never asked about my priorities. They insisted on doing the presentation as they’d rehearsed it.  I’m still annoyed at them for wasting my time.

My biggest business challenge has revolved around money.  I witnessed incredibly poor money management skills while growing up. I was also raised in a conservative Christian community where money was denigrated as the root of all evil.  In a nutshell, I have lots of misconceptions and phobias about money.

To overcome this handicap, I read Drive, by Daniel Pink which explains that higher skilled workers value autonomy more than actual pay. I also read You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, by Jen Sincero. Her book is hilarious, scatological and blunt. I’ve re-read her chapter on money phobias several times.   I found it more helpful than Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill.

At the moment, I’m reading Good to Great, by Jim Collins with my savvy women friends. The book explains the importance of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus so that a company can evolve into being great.  I enjoy our weekly discussions of each chapter because we are a diverse group with varying perspectives. It inspires me to become more creative solving challenges with my company.

I’m also reading Traction, by Gino Wickham, which I consider a companion piece to Collins’ book. Traction provides step-by-step instructions in honing a company’s vision, marketing strategies, and administrative processes so that it can become successful. I had a lot of the pieces discussed in Wickham’s book. Now I’m organizing them into a coherent format that can be understood by the rest of my team.

The learning curve in business ownership was steeper than I realized but I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything.  I’ll admit, though, that sometimes it feels like I’m building the boat while trying to sail it.


About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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