By Kristina Marshall
Published: Friday, January 16, 2015
We share photos, music, status updates, and documents. We even share apartments, office space, and now, even our automobiles. What about experiences and ideas? As we launch into 2015, now is the time to take a moment and remember that age-old adage: “To give is to receive.” When it comes to your entrepreneurial ups (and downs), how often do you stop and share your experiences with others?
As a business owner, you might be hesitant to discuss the internal workings of your company with others, especially those who have an eye for entrepreneurism. But take it from me, president and CEO of Winning Futures, a multi-million dollar educational and mentoring program: your entrepreneurial experiences, like funny status updates, are meant to be shared.
For the last 16 years I have been involved in many professional organizations. For me, it has always been important to find a trusted group of advisers — people who have the same level of passion, experience, and know how as me, but aren't direct competitors — in order to rely on them for inspiration and a fresh perspective. My group, or forum, of advisers enables me to discuss important issues in confidence through unique Experience Shares that focus on personal experiences instead of judgments and advice alone.
Of course, when it comes to experience sharing, there's no right way or wrong way to start the conversation. After all, you'd never pull out a long list of talking points while enjoying appetizers on a first date. The same reasoning applies with an Experience Share. As a business owner, you always have issues and ideas nibbling away at your sanity. So start there. When I'm with my forum, I simply present a concept or issue to them and then wait. Sometimes my delivery is smooth, other times it's scattered and obscure — but that's OK. It's not about how well I present the issue, it's about sitting back, listening, and learning from how others have handled a similar situation.
For example, recently, I was contemplating if it was time to create a new leadership role within Winning Futures. I asked my forum to share with me experiences they had (good and bad) when they were grappling with similar issues of growth. Their experiences helped me see that my instincts were right: not only was Winning Futures ready for a director, but I also took away some great advice on how to structure this role to further improve the quality and service impact within our organization.
On the flipside, I also share my experiences with my forum mates. Not only does this help other members of my group identify some of the issues that they're struggling with, it also helps me to further refine my thoughts and ideas. Take, for instance, last year, when my company was creating a new marketing campaign to further engage businesses within our program. As I laid out the plan to my group of entrepreneurial friends, I quickly realized that the plan was emphasizing irrelevant stats; while the numbers sounded good, it just wasn't data that was important to the business owners we were targeting. I came to realize that we'd been downplaying the information most important to our cause. Talking it through and sharing the experience was what helped us create more powerful messages and stories that were far more likely to resonate with our audience.
It's safe to say that I've grown greatly as a business owner because of my business forum. They inspire me to look at things from every angle, to take risks to make the organization greater, and to be more creative.
When it comes to finding trustworthy confidants, it helps to turn to a professional organization. I searched for years for a professional group that focused on authentic relationships, a place where I could dive deep into business concepts. I finally found that place at EO (Entrepreneurs' Organization), and I can honestly say that the experience and membership has enriched my life. I was lucky that this group had built-in forums that made creating an advisory group easy — it was already done for me. But of course, there are other ways to make this happen. Sometimes, it's as easy as picking up the phone and asking people you trust and respect to grab a coffee. All you need is a focused group, a safe environment, and honest interactions.
We started with an adage, so I think it's fitting that we end with another. Since "two heads are better than one," imagine a situation where you have seven amazing business people openly sharing their experiences to help you become better. The synergy is indescribable. So the next time you find yourself gnawing on a problem for hours on end, consider sharing your thoughts with a group of your peers. Give a little and you might be surprised at what you get in return.
Kristina Marshall is the president and CEO of Winning Futures, a non-profit that empowers youth to succeed through mentoring and strategic planning. She is also the first female president of EO Detroit. For more information, visit www.EODetroit.com