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  • Aspire » Book review

    19 Jan


    This is a guest post from my friend Stephen Heiner, originally posted at Medium – Stephen has the unusual (unique?) situation of having successfully sold one business in Kansas City only to move to Paris, France and start several more. He’s got an interesting perspective and reads more books (and different kinds of books) than anyone I know.

    I’m 36 now, have engineered a move to a dream city where I knew no one, didn’t hold a citizenship, didn’t have a job waiting for me, and only passably spoke the language. The daring that took didn’t come from books. It came from the certitude of a world-class education which my parents sacrificed greatly to provide for me, and from a character formed in a home environment in which I was encouraged to think, reflect, and dream. But a good part of the leap I made had come from the books I have read.

    When I turned 30 I made a list of the books most impactful to my life (it got to 127, I think). I won’t do that today. What follows is a brief list for those interested in the life of travel and entrepreneurship you can create for yourself through deliberate and personal lifestyle design. If you are feeling stuck living a 9–5 you don’t care for, if you are uninspired or unhappy, or just feel that something is wrong or missing in your life…perhaps it’s because you haven’t started to live your life yet. I hope you do.

    “Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.” — Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

    The Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss — I’ve read this book several times (as is perhaps, necessary) because it helped to destroy many of the received ideas I accepted as gospel but are really expediencies. The first lesson I always share from this book is the question, “What is it that you want to do with your life?” If we can answer that question, we can figure out how to make money while accomplishing that. If we can’t answer that question, what are you doing?

    The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber or Daily Rituals, Mason Currey — The first book only applies to current or aspiring business owners. It’s about how to create a business, not merely own a job. If you can’t leave your business for more than 14 days without it burning down, then you simply own a job. When you can be gone for more than 30 days and things are still running — and perhaps, even thriving — then you own a business, and that’s down to systems. This book hammers that home.

    Daily Rituals was something I came across as a follower of Tim Ferriss’ Book Club. It chronicles the daily habits of artists, authors, inventors, et al. It makes the point that even the most creative in our society thrive by having a regular routine that made sense for their temperament and work. Do you have a morning routine that sets you up for a successful day?

    Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper — There are those peripatetic people who simply can’t be happy in one place. They are happy when they travel. I rarely meet such people. But I often meet people who travel because they are trying to escape their lives. They experienced unbridled joy and freedom during these trips because, for whatever reason, their everyday lives shut that out. Put another way: if you’re always looking to “escape” perhaps you’re living the wrong life. This book asks the real questions about “recreation,” whether it’s in the backyard or in the Outback. We have to re-create. And leisure, the proper kind, is a true enabler of greatness.

    The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman — There is a part of me that wishes I had kept my money and skipped an MBA. But another part of me knows that a good part of the success I enjoy today is built upon that degree. Josh Kaufman’s book title is misleading. It’s much more than an “MBA equivalent” in content. He goes past coursework and gives you tools and book recommendations. He can’t give you his unbelievable work ethic but if he can inspire just a fraction of it in you, your life will improve.

    The Lean Startup, Eric Ries — Before the crowdfunding era, I’m not certain that I believed anyone could start a business. But since I’ve spent time chatting with people who have successfully done basic crowdfunders, I know that just the experience of operating a business even in a short-term, perhaps one-off instance, will help you see things differently. This book destroys the outdated notion that you need business plans to start a business. No you don’t. Read it to find out why not.

    The Poetry of Robert Frost— I was first truly introduced to his poetry when I lived in the New Hampshire woods surrounding Thomas More College. While his poetry is easy to read in that state’s lovely forests, I’m always taken back there when I read him, and that bit of travel, accomplished wherever you are sitting, provides a refuge.

    Essentialism, Greg McKeown, and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,Steven Covey — I see these books as companion pieces. Greg McKeown’s book asks why you do what you do and challenges you to do a mental house cleaning. What is it that is essential to your life? You’ll find that when you remove the truly nonessential, and take steps to prevent them from re-invading your life, that you’ll find you have time: perhaps the most precious commodity we have.

    While I can’t profess to embody all of Covey’s listed habits, I do find myself constantly referencing his lessons, which is saying something given it’s been nearly two decades since I first read it. He lived what I consider to be the most important of his habits: First Things First. If you only took this one habit from this book the quality of your life would improve immediately.

    How to Be Rich, J. Paul Getty — The clue is in the name. Getty was a billionaire before that sort of thing happened at an IPO. In this short and under-appreciated volume, Getty offers gentle but firm advice based on a life at the top which many don’t realize started at the bottom.

    Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence, Bl. Claude de Colombiere — As an unabashed Catholic, it makes sense for me to read a book thus entitled, but what if you are an atheist, as a number of my friends are? Read it to get a better sense of the moral universe that some of us live in. For us, chaos does have a master. For us, everything does happen for a reason. For us, surrender is not an imitation of Buddhism in which we allow the universe to “take over” but rather an active and enlivened sensibility of the direction of our lives and why every moment matters. Perhaps you will find some useful truths to bring into your life.

    The New Testament— Would you learn patience? Kindness? Thoughtfulness? Care for others? Within these pages you will find the totality of life — not just the life and death (and resurrection) of one man, but a calling to be more than we are. The rise above our first, untrained instincts. Living a life that matters, whether you are in the public eye or are among the most anonymous in our society. Yes, the NT is written in faith and it is vivified by charity, but it is its hope that perhaps inspires us this side of eternity.

    I’ve listed the works above in no particular order so feel free to start anywhere. I’m also hoping you might add to this list with favorites of your own so that I can learn more too!

    Honorable Mentions:

    Vagabonding — Rolf Potts

    The Art of Stillness — Pico Ayer

    Small Giants —Bo Burlingham

    How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie

    Stephen Heiner manages majority positions in 6 different small businesses from his apartment in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, France.  You can find him on twitter @stephenheiner and read his Parisian adventures at www.theamericaninparis.com.

    15 Dec


    Most of us are looking for a competitive edge when it comes to business.

    What would the impact be if you were 10%…20%…even 30% better when it came to crunch time in your business? What kind of impact would it have if you were able to get things done more quickly?  Make fewer errors? Be more creative?

    Over the course of a business lifespan…a career…or even just a few years, a small edge can end up making a huge difference.

    It turns out that it’s possible for anyone to develop that kind of competitive performance edge – in fact Shawn Achor wrote a book about it called The Happiness Advantage. He’s also created one of the most popular TED talks of all time:

    If that video doesn’t work for some reason – you can find his TED Video here: Shawn Achor – Happy Secret to Better Work

    The bottom line of his research and the insights from his book…people who are ‘happy’, (those in a generally optimistic, positive state), will significantly outperform someone who is in a neutral or negative state.

    Examples of The Happiness Advantage

    Happy Doctors:

    One really interesting example that he shares is a study done with doctors and the effectiveness of their diagnosis of patient’s symptoms to come up with likely health issues.  Although this might seem fairly rigid, the reality is that it’s an exercise that requires a lot of creativity and flexibility – especially as additional information comes to light which might dramatically change the initial assumptions.  If you’ve ever seen any medical shows on TV, you’ve seen examples of how this idea works (House M.D., Royal Pains, etc.).

    In the study, experienced doctors were split into 3 groups. One primed to feel happy, one given neutral medical related studies to read and the control group given nothing. They were then asked to do a series of medical diagnosis. Here’s where it gets interesting. The Happy Doctors were able to reach the correct diagnosis about 2X as fast as the control group and they were about 2.5 times more creative (less anchoring around initial assumptions).

    How did they make the doctors happy? They gave them candy right before the tests…

    MetLife Sales:

    Back in the late 1980’s, MetLife had a huge problem with turnover and performance when it came to their life insurance sales teams. It was a very challenging career (still is) and only about 20% of the salesforce was lasting even 4 years with half of them leaving that first year! After trying lots of things, MetLife finally hired Martin Seligman (now known as the father of Positive Psychology).

    Seligman did his homework and discovered that the most successful sales people had what’s known as an Optimistic Explanatory Style – basically that’s the story you tell yourself when something bad happens to you.  If you’re a MetLife salesperson, you’re being rejected multiple times every day. But if you have an Optimistic Explanatory Style you position that negative outcome as something that’s temporary and local – “It’s not that bad and it’s going to get better”.  Versus a Pessimistic Explanatory Style that says that those bad outcomes are permanent and global – “It’s really bad and it’s never going to change.”.

    It turns out that seemingly small change in mindset has a huge impact. The agents with more optimistic style outsold their negative counterparts by 37% on average – with the most optimistic outselling the most pessimistic by 88%!

    Based on that study and a few more to validate, MetLife ended up completely overhauling how they hired – focusing on Optimistic styles as the key driver (they gave it much more weight than industry knowledge). Their turnover plummeted and sales took off.

    Secret Life of Nuns:

    One decades long study looked at 180 Catholic Nuns, studying their diaries for over 5 decades (starting in the 1930’s). They looked at the positive nature of the entries from when the nuns were in their 20’s to determine which of them had the most and the least positive emotional content at that age.

    On average, the ‘positive’ nuns lived 10 years longer than their counterparts – 90% of the most positive quartile were still alive at 85, compared to only 34% of the least happy quartile.

    In fact multiple studies have related happiness to positive health outcomes. From a work perspective the research shows that unhappy employees take more sick days – staying home sick an extra 15 days per year!

    The data is actually surprisingly clear across a lot of different angles. There are clear performance benefits for happy, positive people. What could you do right now to cultivate more happiness for yourself? Or within your environment for your team?  Conversely are there things happening that are stressing people out or making them unhappy?  Maybe you could start by removing some negatives?

    What do you think? Does this ring true to you?  Or does it sound like a lot of happy nonsense? We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    09 Dec


    picture from Peasap via Flickr

    picture from Peasap via Flickr

    We’re all hard-wired to respond to fear in specific ways (the whole Fight or Flight response thing) which works great when you’re trying to get away from bears or zombies (or the elephant in the room)…but doesn’t always work out so well with less tangible but equally real fears like losing a client.  One of the interesting things that happens to us all when fear kicks in is that we don’t think as well…in fact our higher level thinking gets shut down in order to deal with the threat – bottom line you will stop thinking straight when you’re operating out of fear.

    Have you ever tightened up with a client (or a prospective client) because you thought you might lose the business? Maybe you were tempted to gloss over a problem with your product or service in hopes that the client wouldn’t notice. Maybe you stopped listening and just threw everything you had into your sales ‘pitch’. Fear can drive a lot of bad behaviors.

    The Fear of Losing the Business is a huge driver at some point for all business owners…but the ones that have long term success figure out how to manage that fear and do the right things.

    Getting Naked with Patrick Lencioni

    Patrick Lencioni knows more than a little bit about business success, he’s the author of a slew of great, best-selling business books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Advantage and he consistently brings out great ideas on how to create organizational health and competitive advantage for businesses of all sizes.

    One of my favorite Lencioni books is Getting Naked which focuses on a counter-intuitive approach to creating amazing levels of customer engagement and loyalty. His key point is that clients are looking for you to step up and be a real person with them…to be vulnerable (or as Lencioni puts it ‘naked’). Based on his own real world success with his consulting company and their clients, Lencioni makes a strong case for engaging in very real ways that go against the conventional wisdom of ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ and ‘Don’t let them see you sweat’.

    His formula for success in Getting Naked starts with overcoming what he calls the Three Fears – the first (and biggest) is the Fear of Losing the Business (the other two are the Fear of Being Embarrassed and the Fear of Feeling Inferior).

    When you fear losing the business, both before and after the sale, you are going to have some problems:

    • You’ll try very hard to sell – going into all out sales mode…and nobody likes to be sold.
    • You’ll push to be perceived as perfect and as a result you’ll end up not being real or approachable
    • You’ll tend to focus on short term wins – which could cause you to lose the long term relationship
    • You’ll whitewash any potential problems you see with the client…hoping the issues will go away rather than jumping in to help solve them.

    Everyone worries about losing clients (or not landing that great new prospective client) but if you let that turn into fear that drives your behavior, then you’re going to have problems.

    How to Overcome the Fear of Losing the Business

    The good news is you can minimize these impacts…and it mostly requires a mindset change rather than some kind of big operational change. It’s easier said than done, but if you can develop the confidence that you know what you’re doing,  that you consistently add value to clients, then it’s not a huge leap to stop worrying about losing the business.

    With that in mind, Lencioni suggests the following specific ideas to help you get there.

    1. Always consult instead of sell.
    Your clients (or prospective clients) don’t want your sales pitch, they want help and they’re willing to pay you for it once they know you can help them and they believe that you’re not just trying to get their money. By forgoing the traditional ‘sales’ pitch and just starting to help them solve their problems, it will soon be pretty obvious if you’re a good fit for them.

    2. Give Away the Business
    You’re trying to create a long term, trusted partner relationship. That means you need to be generous and willing to give on the little things in order to make the big picture work. If a client disagrees with something they were billed…and it’s client you like and want to keep for a long time, give ’em what they want. That doesn’t mean you roll over, it means you take the high road when needed and error in favor of the client.

    3. Tell the Kind Truth, Enter the Danger
    As an independent 3rd party for your client, you’re going to see problems that they may not be able to see. You’re going to see the elephant in the room and one of the great ways you can add value is to find a kind way to tell them about that elephant. ‘Enter the Danger’ is a phrase used in Improvisational Comedy. It’s a reminder that the best results in Improv come from addressing the things that are difficult, the stuff that no one else wants to touch. If it’s mundane and boring, then it’s not going to be funny – so no payoff. For your client – you can add the most value by helping them see and deal with the things that don’t typically get talked about. The stuff that no one on their staff wants to bring up.

    Do you ever find yourself operating out of fear of losing the business? Have you been aware of it? How have you managed it? We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment if you have a minute.

    Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

    19 Aug
    photo by Jesse CourteManche via Flickr

    photo by Jesse CourteManche via Flickr

    Try this – go online to search for your business…I’ll wait….

    What do  you find? Are you finding anything that makes your prospective customer’s lives better?

    Consider this great statistic from Jay Baer’s new book Youtility:

    “In 2011 the Corporate Executive Board surveyed 1,900 B2B customers to uncover insights about purchasing behavior and found that customers will contact a sales rep only after independently completing 60 percent of the purchasing decision process. Sixty percent of the decision is made before the prospect identifies himself.”

    That’s a powerful idea!  Granted this was a survey done on Business To Business transactions, so Business To Consumer may not fit in quite the same way, but my experience tells me that this idea is valid for most kinds of purchases these days.

    Think about your own shopping behavior – how many times have you chosen not to download something or fill out a contact form because you didn’t want to talk to the sales person. For that matter, how many times do you go into a store and if a clerk asks you if you’d like help you tell them – “No thanks…I’m just looking”. It’s the exact same behavior. Buyers – meaning all of us at some point in time don’t want to engage with a company or a salesperson until we’re actually convinced this is something we want or need.

    Now think about the implication of this idea and how it impacts your business…and the search you just did.

    Why being found isn’t enough…

    Pretend you’re a potential customer for your own company and try that search again. If you searched by name, then it’s a good bet you found your website. How well do you do if you search by industry and geography (i.e. searching for ‘Kansas City Business Coach‘)?

    Hopefully your website still shows up, but what happens after that? Remember your potential buyers aren’t going to contact you until they’ve already done a lot of homework and determined you might be ‘The One’ who can help solve their problem.

    What do they see on your website that helps them make that decision?  (And I’m not talking just marketing fluff).

    Can they get to know you (on a personal basis)? Can they get a feel for how you think or what you do for people?

    Because if they can’t do at least that, then they’re going to move on…and you’ll never even know they were there.

    One of the prime tenets of Youtility is the idea that the best way to engage a potential customer is to help them, to add value, to be useful. Obviously how you do that is going to vary a lot depending on your industry, your style and what your potential customers are looking for.

    However you are in the business of solving problems – so what problems do your customers have that you could help them solve?  What could you create that would be so useful that people would pay you for it – and then give it away?  That’s what Youtility is all about.

    2 Great Examples of Youtility

    Smoking Meats:

    You can’t spend more than a few days in Kansas City without running into someone who’s really into smoked meats – either eating them or cooking them. As the home to the World Series of Barbecue, people here are pretty serious about the whole topic. So imagine you are a manufacturer of Smokers…and you know your potential customers love to talk about smoking meat…and learning the best ways to do that. How would you help them?

    Well if you’re Big Poppa Smokers  you create and moderate PelletSmoking.com – an online forum dedicated to the art and science of Pellet Smoking meats. The key to really making this site work is that, although it’s clearly sponsored by Big Poppa Smokers, it’s not a fluff marketing site. The founder (and presumably many of the employees) of Big Poppa loves barbecue (and in fact won the American Royal last year) and loves to talk and share with others. There’s a huge amount of education and value in the site…and of course when that potential buyer is ready, they are going to look very favorably on the company that’s been helping them learn…!

    Fiberglass Pools:

    When the economy collapsed in 2008, construction shut down and along with it, the demand for in-ground pools shut down as well. At that time, Marcus Sheridan was the owner and founder of River Pools and Spas and he realized he was going to have to do something different if he wanted to keep the doors open.

    His approach? Figure out what his customers historically had wanted to know before they made a pool decision and to start answering those questions publicly on his new blog. He systematically came up with a huge list of questions that he frequently was asked and diligently started creating articles that answered those questions. The articles weren’t hype or traditional marketing – they were in-depth, helpful and not really specific to his brand. In short, they were massively useful and once he pulled together some volume of articles they were essentially a great buying guide for anyone who might be interested in a pool.

    The results? Traffic to the site increased…and people stayed to read articles.  A couple of years down the road, Marcus was able to do some analytics on his website that told him that when potential customers read at least 30 pages and then contacted them about a pool, they were 80% likely to buy!!!  Compare that to an industry average close rate of 10% or less.

    What do your potential customers find when they get to your site? Are you helping them? What could you do to create your own Youtility marketing? We’d love to hear your thoughts or get some additional examples – leave us a comment below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    21 Feb


    Business (and the world in general) is getting more and more complicated all the time.  It often feels like it’s too much and we all want to hide someplace clean and quiet.  From a practical standpoint, if you want to get more done you need to start thinking about doing less.  It’s not as counter-intuitive as it sounds.  Because of the external (and often internal) complexity business owners face, it’s easy to fall into a situation where you feel like you have to be doing a hundred different things every single day just to keep up.

    At that point, feeling overwhelmed and become less productive is right around the corner.

    The alternative?  Start doing less.  This isn’t a new idea – in fact I wrote about Doing Less almost 3 years ago.  Things are even more complex today but there are some new resources that can help you navigate becoming more productive by doing less.

    Specifically you should check out The Power of Less a book by Leo Babauta.  Leo is also the author of Zen Habits, a blog on simplicity, focus and creating a different kind of life.  Leo’s an interesting story (you can learn a lot more on the blog) – I don’t think most of us can completely embrace the life that he’s built for himself, but I definitely think everyone can benefit from his ideas.

    Here are 3 key ideas that business owners should embrace from The Power of Less:

    Set Limitations –> Choose the Essential

    I guess that’s actually 2 ideas, but they are really 2 sides of the same coin.  The idea is simple in theory, but it can be very challenging in practice.  If you want to be more effective and you have limited resources, then you need to set limitations on where you spend your time and efforts and focus only on what’s essential for success.

    There are a lot of implications here – first of all, do you know what success looks like?  If not, it’s pretty hard to narrow down what’s most likely to get you there.  Secondly even if you have a clear vision / destination it’s not always obvious what’s going to have the most impact on your success (what’s essential).  And finally – in order for this to be useful, these limitations have to be solid…it’s not about setting soft priorities, it’s about dropping things that aren’t non-essential – brutally saying no to the less important.

    If you can address all of those implications and narrow your focus down to a handful of things that will really make a difference in your progress, you will be amazed at how much you can get done (either as an individual or as a team)!

    Develop new habits 1 at a time

    Another strong insight out of The Power of Less is a process to help you adopt new habits…and habits are critical if you want to sustain effectiveness.

    “Watch your thoughts, for they become words.- Watch your words, for they become actions.- Watch your actions, for they become habits.- Watch your habits, for they become character.- Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”      – Charles Reade

    The key (according to Babauta’s experience) is to only make 1 change, adopt 1 new habit at a time.  Pick the change that you’re most excited about and only focus on that 1 thing for the next month.  If your new personal focus is the idea to start exercising, find an exercise that you can do easily every day, make it easy and commit to it for a month to establish a habit.  As an example he suggests starting with 5 to 10 minutes of walking a day and slowly ramping up from there.


    The last key idea that I think business owners need to adopt is embracing simplicity.  Is there an easier way to do routine tasks?  What can you automate or outsource effectively?  Often businesses do things a certain way because that’s the way it’s always been done.  With the advent of apps and technology there is likely a better alternative for a lot of the time consuming things you’re doing today.

    Finally the easiest way to simplify is to get better at saying ‘No’.  How many things are you spending time and energy on that you should be saying no to?

    The Power of Less is a quick and easy read (as you might expect) and although it’s unlikely that many will completely embrace all of the ideas, business owners will pick up at least a few things that could make a big difference and help them get more of the right things done.

    Have you purposely tried doing less?  Have you read the book?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments – share them below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    Photo courtesy of Monk – USA Network