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  • Aspire » entrepreneur

    18 Aug
    Picture by Ian Sane via Flickr

    Picture by Ian Sane via Flickr

    Building a successful business is a challenge – even when you are doing everything the right way. And if you’re not positively motivated…if you aren’t chasing after something that you’re really excited about, the grind is going to wear you down sooner rather than later.

    Let me give you an example – I met a business owner recently who has motivational challenges. It’s been a tough road for them – the business was purchased shortly before the ‘great recession’ and they had their 2 best clients fold within their first year. Since then they’ve worked very hard, gone through a big downturn and weathered the storm. Things are stable now; the business makes enough to cover costs, pay a reasonable amount and some extra for savings…but not enough to really get ahead. The kicker is they have a loan from when they purchased that’s 2X to 3X the current value of the business.

    That means they can’t sell the business (short of some kind of bankruptcy proceedings) and they haven’t yet been able to grow their way towards paying off the loan in less than 20 years.

    Their motivation to this point has been to just keep their heads above water. That’s been going on for years, so you can imagine they don’t have a lot of excitement when it comes to trying new things or continuing to climb up the mountain. In short it’s a grind, but they don’t see a good way out.

    There are a lot of business owners who can probably sympathize with this situation – things are in a rut, but they can’t afford to stop and they don’t really know what else to do (or the motivation to do anything about it).

    At best the motivation is to find a way to get out of their situation.

    What are you chasing?

    I’m a firm believer that finding something you want to pursue is critical for long term success. Running towards something you’re excited about is sustainable, you can build on it, you can share that dream with others.

    Conversely – running away from something isn’t going to fuel you for the long run. If I’m running away, from something I’m likely to stop running when things are quiet. But if I’m running towards a big goal, a better life, I’ll keep running until I get there.

    But what do you do when you’ve lost that forward looking motivation or if you didn’t have it all?

    Here are some suggestions to help you find some positive motivation:

    1. Narrow your Focus

    Often you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated because you’re trying to do too much. Pick one clear outcome that would make a huge impact for you and single-mindedly go after that outcome.

    2. Look for inspirations

    Is there someone out there who’s done what you want to do? Or something like it? It’s hard to buy into a goal if you don’t really think it’s possible, so find an example that inspires you (and can teach you).

    3. Visualize success

    I’m not really talking about dream boards…although if that works for you, go for it. But it is important that you’ve got a clear picture of what your future state looks like and feels like. The clearer you can get, the more that outcome can generate energy and excitement.

    4. Put a date on it and make it measurable

    The difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline. If it’s a big goal, it’s likely several years out, but you need a way to clearly measure progress and something to push towards.

    5. Make it a daily thing

    Put something above your desk or on your wall so you will be reminded every day why you’re putting in the effort. There are days when it won’t resonate with you but stick with it and keep it top of mind. Your big goal is there to help you steer.

    6. Don’t go it alone

    Find some kind of support group that will believe in you and believe in your goal. That could be a peer group, a coach or an accountability partner. You need to be able to bounce ideas around and have someone challenge you to stay focused if you’re going to win in the long run.

    What about you? What’s your motivation for your business? What am I missing? Share your thoughts below.

    Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

    13 May

    I’m excited to share a great post from Stephen Heiner – he’s got a great entrepreneurial story (well several of them in fact) and he’s living his dream right now in Paris as a traveling entrepreneur – check out his great advice below.   Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    Picture by Wayne Shipley via Flickr

    Picture by Wayne Shipley via Flickr

    Dream job.  Work anywhere.  Your schedule.  Travel whenever you want.  All of it sounds good and amazing.  But what you should know, if you don’t already, is that if it’s too good to be true, there’s probably a catch.  And that isn’t the voice of an envious ninny, I promise.  It’s the voice of experience.

    I’m typing this today in Poland, though bits of it were written across the last two countries I visited.  Indeed, I have not slept in my own bed in over five weeks and five countries and I miss it.  Would I trade the last five weeks for even one night in that bed?  Of course not.  But these weeks have taken my understanding of what it means to run businesses while traveling to an entirely new level.  I wanted to share some tips with you – not just if you are in line to take some time off, but precisely if you don’t see that white space in your calendar, and are trying to force it in and make it happen side-by-side with your regular life.

    Begin with the end in mind

    These words of Steven Covey will be with me to my death.  They are terribly important.  Ask yourself why you want to travel.  Is it simply to get away?  Is it to learn something new in general or about yourself in particular?  Both?  Are you trying to see if you could, maybe possibly, live somewhere else?

    Once you’ve answered these questions, block out a specific time you’d like to be away.  Be ambitious, if you’d like, with your itinerary, but build in rest days.  Just because you are somewhere amazing doesn’t mean you have to do something every single day.  If you don’t rest this will just turn into “regular life on the road” which will taint the whole experience.

    Watch the clock

    Your clients may not be in the same time zone as you, especially if you, like me, favor a part of the world which is, on average, 6 hours ahead of your clients.  when you are “ready to go” they may still be sleeping.

    Appointments across time zones can be tricky.  And your technology may fail you.  Recently I was in Romania and had sent out a Google Calendar invite in Eastern time to a client based in it.  My client received the invite in Eastern time but inexplicably it posted the call to the calendar in Central time.  Thinking the error was on my part, when we rescheduled I let him send the invite but clarity was still absent.  The calendar failed both of us again.

    It is stature-gaining to be an international freelance contractor, but it is stature-losing in the extreme to get something as simple as an appointment dead wrong.  Don’t take chances.  Confirm using text or whatsapp in addition to email and/or calendar invites.  The client can’t really be upset that you want firm times noted.

    Don’t assume resources

    There is a new brochure circulating in Paris, put out by the city government, which gives tips on how to deal with American tourists.  These are put out for all sorts of nationalities and is for the service and travel industry here in the city.  Among the tips are “smile more” (we are a friendly lot, aren’t we?) and “ensure plentiful access to WiFi.”

    I believe that had wifi existed at the time of the Bill of Rights we might have a very different 2nd Amendment today!  The demanded right for wi-fi “whenever” is not yet a given from sea to shining sea, but it’s getting there.  Europe, like many parts of the world, simply isn’t there…yet.  It may be many years still before wifi is as plentiful here as it is back home.  And it doesn’t even have to be wifi that lets you down.  I was on my way back from Normandy to Paris and an incident on the train track ahead forced our train to stop suddenly.  The train was not conscientious enough to stop outside of a cellular dead zone.  They hadn’t gotten the memo that I had a very important kickoff call with a new client.  It took a lot of smoothing over not to lose him.  If you are conducting business on a travel day, notify all your appointments of those travels and let them know something could go astray but that you will be on it.

    Sometimes in our desire to appear as professional as possible we want to portray that working with a contractor who travels/is outside of the country is as seamless and easy as working with someone in the same city as the client.  That’s simply not true.  What we can and should recognize – and state at the outset – is that it is our international travel and perspective that brings a unique and tremendous value add to what we do.  We may not always be instantly available but we are watching business happen globally, not just reading about it, and that puts us and our clients ahead of the competition.

    Plan for Wonder/Wander Time

    Entrepreneurs often like to schedule their travel how they schedule their personal and business lives: undergirded with a lot of assumptions that may not hold up.  That’s okay.  That’s the uncertainty we live with and thrive in.  While visiting Avila, Spain recently I had this as part of my schedule for the day:

    11h00 City Center

    12h00 Cathedral

    13h00 Walls

    14h30 Conference Call


    You might guess that I lingered at all of those stops.  Avila is a magnificent medieval city: I had to hustle to the cafe for my video conference.  Make the schedule you want and then remove one thing.  If it turns out you have time you can always add it back later.

    Know when it’s time to come home

    This ties back to my first point: keeping the end in mind.  Plans change and travel isn’t always subject to our whimsy.  Sometimes it’s important to come home early if a situation warrants it.  Other times it’s important to leave on time, even when you want to linger.

    Remember that no matter how well you manage it, travel disrupts your routine, which I’ve mentioned in another place is the base for your success as an entrepreneur.  “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” goes the proverb.  A mentor of mine has always added, “but it sure gathers a lot of polish.”  When you get home, spend and use that polish.  Not all at once, but well and wisely, as you have hopefully also traveled.

    Stephen Heiner is a serial entrepreneur who currently makes his home in the quiet 17th Arrondissement of Paris.  When he’s not traveling to every country in Europe he hasn’t yet seen.  He creates content at Word Works Inc when he’s not giving guides for Paris Foot Walks or writing about his personal life at The American In Paris.

    28 Oct


    Every now and then it’s a good idea to take a step back from your day to day focus and take a look at where you are in terms of the success you’re trying to achieve. For business owners, the definition of Success is very personal, but usually it’s going to be measured by how much money and freedom your business generates for you.

    “The road to success runs uphill.”  – Willie Davis

    Mr. Davis makes a great point – you can’t achieve long term success without effort and in a lot of things you do, your success is a directly tied to your effort.

    The more effort you put in, the more success you’ll get. If you’re the equivalent of an hourly employee, the more hours you work, the more money you make…it’s a straight line equation (although arguably as an hourly employee you don’t have much freedom, so success in that particular example may only be measured in money).

    Where are you on the chart right now?

    Take a look at the chart above – where would you put yourself right now?

    A lot of business owners I talk to would put themselves into the top left or top right quadrants. They’re putting in a lot of effort and they’re seeing varying amounts of success.

    That makes for an interesting discussion, but even more interesting is to project where you’re going. If you look out a year or two, based on how you currently operate your business – where are you on the chart? Are you in the same place? Moving to the right (more success), but with the same amount of effort?

    Where are you going to be on the chart in a year or two?


    The 2nd chart shows the typical growth patterns of a business.

    1. If you’re just starting a business, you’re in the bottom left blue quadrant, heading towards the top left red quadrant – you’re putting in effort with minimum success because you’re just starting.
    2. If you’ve been working at your business for a while, you’re in the top left quadrant, hopefully heading towards the top right quadrant. You’re working hard…maybe even getting close to maximum effort…you’re achieving some success, but the work isn’t commensurate with the gain.
    3. At some point you figure out how to make things work and a little extra effort translates into quite a bit more money / success, you’re working a lot of hours, but at least you’re getting paid for it.
    4. Finally, the most successful business owners figure out how to build the business that mostly works without them. They maximize their success and minimize their efforts. They have the right team in place, they’ve built all of the infrastructure (systems, relationships, organization, etc.) that allows them to spend less time working and they focus on building and improving the business while it pays them back in spades.

    Everyone goes through stages 1 and 2, you can’t really skip them. Most businesses get stuck in either stage 2 or 3…and eventually that’s what causes them to shut down or sell what they have if they’re lucky. It’s exhausting to run at full speed for years…especially when your payout is what you’d make if you had a good job (or less).

    There’s an old joke about business owners that applies here:

    “Owning a business is great. You get to have flexible hours – just pick the 80 hours you want to work this week and you’re good to go!”

    If that makes you flinch…even just a little, it’s likely that you’re stuck in stage 2 or 3 and not trending towards stage 4.

    You can have it all – but it’s not normal

    Stage 4 is when you’ve built a business that you could easily sell…for a premium, but you probably won’t want to. You have the ability to take long vacations and your business grows while you’re gone. You have a business that pays you well without putting in huge hours just to keep things running. You may choose to work a lot, but you don’t have to and you could transition the whole thing over to a new President/ CEO / General Manager and designate yourself as the Chairman of the Board.

    If all of this sounds unlikely, that’s because it is. Very few businesses successfully make it to stage 4, the top of the mountain – so it’s clearly not the ‘normal’ outcome. But it is possible – and even if you don’t make it all the way to stage 4, any movement in that direction is going to dramatically improve your life.

    How do you get there? 

    It starts with the clear intention to get there. Most business owners think about how they can make more money. Instead they should be thinking about how they can build a business that will make more money without them. A subtle difference, but it’s that difference that moves you from Stage 2 or 3 to Stage 4.

    Just as a side note that might not be obvious – our job here at Aspire is to help business owners develop their business into a stage 4 business. If you’d like to talk about that – give us a call.

    What do you think? Is this kind of analysis helpful? Unsettling? Are we missing anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Where are you on the charts? Where are you headed? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    22 Apr
    photo by Danielle Zedda via Flickr

    Forest for the Trees photo by Danielle Zedda via Flickr

    With the terrible events of this past week we were all reminded to be more aware of our surroundings.  “Vigilant” is the adjective most often used to describe this level of heightened awareness.    It was a heightened awareness of surroundings that ultimately led to the successful capture of the younger suspected Boston Marathon terrorist.   As citizens, if we go through life with blinders on danger can be right beside us and we may not even see it.  Ironically, this is also true in business.   

    Have you ever sat in the front row at a movie theater?  There is a reason they are typically the last seats to fill.  It can vary by theater, but when you’re that close, you struggle to see everything happening on the screen.   From this vantage point, especially in a high action film, your neck and eyes will get a workout trying to follow all the movement in and out of each scene.   Frankly, the movie you’re watching is not the same movie your counterparts are viewing a dozen rows behind you.  You may marvel at the extreme close-up of the lead actor’s nose, but you likely won’t easily see the big picture.

    You’re simply too close to the screen.

    This is precisely what often happens when business owners spend too much time buried in their business.    The company they so passionately created and built has pulled them in, mounted a set of blinders on their eyes, and literally made it impossible for them to see their business as a whole.   They tend to gravitate towards the areas that are most comfortable for them, and disregard other vital areas affecting the company’s bottom line.   Add the element of stress and they are even more likely to increase the focus on the comfort zones of their business.

    If you can’t see the whole screen…

                    ….you can’t see your surroundings either.

    Recently, during a meeting with a business owner, our conversation uncovered a way to increase the business’s bottom line significantly with a relatively minor change to the current business model.   It turns out the opportunity had been there for at least a year or longer.   The owner knew it was a change that would help the business, but mentally had developed a list of reasons of why it wouldn’t work and had a strong fear of what might happen if the change was implemented.

    It was uncomfortable.

    So instead of doing anything about it, the business owner essentially moved up to the front row of the theater, put on blinders, and focused on a different part of the screen.  On areas they were more comfortable with.

    A better view….

    Once we talked through the potential risks of making the change, it was clear what the next step was.  We put together a list, by priority, of what needed to happen and who needed to be contacted in order to initiate this change.   Achieving resolution with each step; meant moving to the next.   Within a couple weeks the change was in motion and it appears the increase to the bottom line will actually be even more rewarding than we had originally estimated.  Without being able to step back and see the whole picture, this change would have never happened.  (Side note – that’s an important benefit of business coaching…being able to see everything and see it with a different perspective).

    This week as we continue to remember all those who were affected by the events in Boston and West, TX remember to take your blinders off and be vigilant in not only your surroundings as a citizen, but in the way you approach your business every day.   Sometimes the best way to get a better view is to simply take a few steps back.  God Bless America.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    04 Feb
    Are you building your business?

    Bob The Builder by Lee Bailey via Flickr

    There are a lot of traps you can fall into when you own a business, but one that I’ve seen a lot of recently is the focus of the business owner on maximizing money for the short term.  At a quick glance, this makes sense…but this short term profit approach leads to decisions and outcomes that are really unhealthy when it comes to the long term success of the business.

    As an example – I talked to a business owner the other day who refuses to hire someone who can do the primary work of servicing customers in his business.  Their logic boiled down to a few key reasons:

    • No one else could possibly do the quality of work that I do.
    • Even if someone else could do this work, it will take a long time, too long, to train them
    • My customers are buying me – I don’t have a choice but to do this work myself
    • If someone else does the work, I have to pay them, which means I make less money…!

    Typically it’s this last excuse that really seals it for them.  Here’s the thought process using some simple numbers to keep the math easy.  Let’s say a new client deal generates $1000 net of any delivery expenses (Cost of Goods Sold).  If I hire someone to handle that client, I would need to pay them $600 – leaving me as the business owner with only $400 net of all costs.  However, if I just do the work myself (which will be better and faster than anyone else anyway), I get to keep $1000.  (Of course there’s the opportunity cost of the time spent…but that rarely comes into consideration).

    You can’t really argue with the math (although you can certainly argue with the assumptions) but at the end of the day it really boils down to a simple question:

    “Are you in business to make short term money or are you building a long term business?”

    It’s kind of a trick question in the sense that you have to make money if you want to remain in business, but it does get to the mindset of how you look at business growth.  Either answer is okay, but make sure you’re clear on what your end goal really is and that you act accordingly.

    Here’s another way to look at it – it’s basically the difference between being a freelancer and creating your own graphic arts studio.   Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences:

    As a Graphic Arts Freelancer:

    • You minimize your overhead and maximize your billing rate to get the most profit
    • You are trading time for money…which means your upside potential depends on how many hours you can work
    • If and when you decide to stop working, your business is worth next to nothing (you might be able to sell your contact list or some ongoing engagements).
    • Your day to day operations are fairly simple and you don’t need to manage anyone else

    As the Owner of a Graphics Art Studio with several employees:

    • You create repeatable processes and automation (systems) for your staff to maximize profits
    • Your upside is only limited by market demand and the ability to find the right people to hire
    • When you decide to stop working, assuming that you’ve built a solid business and hired the right people, you could sell your business for multiples of your revenue (depending on the industry and several other factors)
    • In order to manage day to day operations, you must create repeatable processes and lead and manage your employees to success – not easy…and a different skill set than doing the work

    Obviously there are more differences, but it all starts with the idea of focusing on creating something for the long term (the Entrepreneurial Mindset) or trying to maximize your short term profits (the Solopreneur Mindset).  And that’s where the trap comes in.  A lot of business owners start out with the idea of building a long term business, but for various reasons, their actions are all about generating short term profits.

    Early in your business you have to generate revenue anyway you can, or you won’t survive.   At the same time, if you want to create long term business value, you have to start planting the seeds…building the foundation of your longer term business model.  If you don’t consciously do this, it won’t happen.

    That means at some point you will have to hire someone to do the bulk of the revenue generating work that you do.  And in the short run, that also means you will make less money and it will be less efficient until that person gets up to speed.  But if you hired well and you’re committed to big picture success, that employee will actually end up being better at the day to day work than you are!  And more importantly you will eventually make a lot more money with less effort than you can on your own.

    Or you can choose to be the best freelancer you can be – it’s easier in the short run and a perfect fit for those who just want to practice their craft.

    The point is that you need to consciously decide what you’re doing with your business and don’t get caught in the middle.

    What are your thoughts?  Do you know anyone who’s trying to build a business but only focusing on short term wins?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

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