Ask business coaches what matters most, and they will invariably suggest that intensive focus and not “chasing shiny objects” is the key to success. But B. Eric Rhoads, founder and CEO of Streamline Publishing, says that advising entrepreneurs to focus can be a giant mistake.
Rhoads, who started as a radio disc jockey, built a successful B2B publishing business by chasing shiny objects. Today his portfolio of businesses is vast, and he is the first to say that focus, though important, can be damaging to the life of a business.
Q: Every business coach talks about the importance of focus, yet you think it’s a mistake to be too focused.
A: I love focus; I think it’s an important element. But business coaches don’t always understand where the energy of an entrepreneur comes from. We thrive on ideas and turning ideas into businesses, and when we focus too much, we miss opportunities.
To me, the shiny objects are the things that come from the salespeople and the customers. The salespeople are your best pipeline to information—though they can filter information with their own bias, you can learn to listen around it.
We owe it to our business to explore every shiny object because one of them could make a huge difference in our success.
Q: What do you see as the biggest roadblocks to success?
A: The biggest danger we have as entrepreneurs is that we want to do everything, we want to control everything, and we tend to get overwhelmed with our to-do lists. When you are buried in work, you’re not doing what you do best: coming up with new ideas.
New ideas may take the form of new products, new businesses, new promotions or marketing ideas, but when we’re buried in doing things others should be doing, we dull our senses and don’t see the opportunities. Once we realize our shortfalls, we need to compensate for them with the right team members to handle what we do badly.
Q: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
A: I have several things.
1. Be flexible and realize your ideas may be bad and there may well be a better idea out there that will make you more money. Don’t be in love with your ideas. Listen to the market. The place you intend to be is a lot different than where you will end up.
2. As soon as you can afford it, hire a professional manager. I absolutely hate the day-to-day aspects of running a business, but there are people who love it and know how to get things done. I have the best manager in the world who has been with me over two decades. He handles things brilliantly and removes the distractions I don’t want to deal with.
3. Trust your gut. You have great ideas. Follow them. I once built a company against my own research, which said there was no market for the product. I made over 6 million bucks on something research said my customers would never buy.
4. Listen to your team. When they resist ideas, sometimes they’re right. I’ve made lots of bad mistakes and launched a lot of losers. Owning a business is like venture capital: One out of 10 may be successful. Our average is better.
5. But be willing to override your team. Two years ago I launched something my top managers were insistent was a bad idea. They were very convincing, and I almost listened, but a voice inside of me told me to move forward anyway. It was very uncomfortable telling them I was not going to listen and was going to launch anyway. It turned out to be the most profitable thing we have in our business, and it revolutionized our company in a year.
Q: What about the young entrepreneurs? What’s your advice to those just starting out?
A: Success flows over people who make the abundance of others their primary goal. It took me decades to learn that lesson.
We are seduced by all the cool things like jets, cars, giant homes and travel. I spent years chasing them and never achieving all of them. It was not until I matured and realized my business should be about doing great things, not getting great things. If you make it about changing people’s lives with better products or services, the perks will just happen.