• Check out The Aspire Success Story

    Learn how clients have succeeded with Aspire (right click and 'save as').


    Success Stories 


  • Sign Up for a Free email Series!

    Leading Your Business To Success!

    A free (but valuable) resource - you'll learn essential strategies to grow your business...the right way!

    sign up here!




  • RSS Feed

  • Sign Up for Email Updates for Blog

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

  • Recent Posts

  • Google+

  • Archives

    View All Archives

  • Aspire » Uncategorized

    20 Oct


    45 years ago, the phrase “Servant Leadership” was first coined by Robert Greenleaf. Since then there have been a number of business books written about this type of leadership and what it means.  Today, the topic of leadership in general is hotter than ever. We’re all looking for better answers.  And although, servant leadership isn’t always specifically referenced, I think most successful leaders practice it to some degree.

    Servant Leadership at its core is simply the desire for the leader to serve first.   In traditional leadership, we think of the pyramid with the leader positioned on top directing all of those below.  Servant leaders flip that image and put the needs of those on their team above their own personal needs.  They don’t view their leadership position as one that is more significant than another role in the company, but rather a position that is required for the whole to succeed.  When success is achieved, they are quick to share the success with words like “we” and “our”.   Accordingly, their business model is more likely to include profit sharing and other incentives and a focus on giving back in their communities.

    This past weekend, Monsignor Thomas Tank reminded his congregation in Overland Park, KS that Greenleaf may have been the first to coin the phrase but another man had also shared his thoughts on this style of leadership about 2,000 years in  ago; it was recorded in another Book.  He referenced it in the 10th Chapter of Mark’s Gospel.

    “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

    He went on to share a story from the late 1,700’s when a group of soldiers were trying to raise a heavy beam into position during a battle.  Their superior, a Corporal was yelling words of encouragement but to no avail; the soldiers did not have enough manpower to lift it into place.   Another man showed up on a horse and asked why he just didn’t jump in and try to help and he explained because he was a Corporal.   With that the man dismounted his horse and helped the soldiers complete the task.   Then he remounted his horse and told the Corporal “If you should need help again, call on George Washington, your Commander-In-Chief, and I will come.”

    On a personal note, I recently became aware of a situation involving someone that would be viewed by his peers as a very effective servant leader with a track record that speaks for itself.  Unfortunately, he found himself in a corporate management pyramid under another leader who clearly didn’t share the same servant leadership attributes.  There was affirmation of this conclusion on a regular basis in the way employees were treated and the way projects were handled.  In short, all successes came from the top down and any failures grew from the bottom up.  It was an unhealthy environment.  But I am happy to report it has a happy ending as he is now in a new role that will allow him to again leverage his servant style leadership.

    “Good leaders must first become good servants.” Robert K. Greenleaf

    The one thing I know for sure is that leaders who don’t embrace some level of servant leadership will typically run out of rungs as they climb their ladder of success.  If you are part of management in a private or public company with a desire to reach a senior level position, mastering the challenge of servant leadership will be part of your journey.   If you own your own business and never model servant style leadership with your team, your business is likely to reach a ceiling it will not be able to break through.  Serve as you lead.

    What do you think?  Do you spend all your time leading from above or behind a desk?   Do you ever jump in the trenches and let your team know you aren’t above them?  As always we value any thoughts you may have this topic.

    Chris Steinlage 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.

    29 Apr


    What’s the risk of being really successful? I had a great discussion with a local business the other day and it turns out that one of those risks is that other companies in your industry start aggressively targeting your employees in the hope of ‘stealing’ your magic.

    In this particular case, the business is a fairly small, fairly new player locally in the industry, but they are doing a lot of things the right way, they’re seeing healthy growth and they achieved some significant local industry bragging rights.

    However – in a perfect example of a nice problem to have, their success has put a spotlight, or better said a target on their top employees. This became clear when they lost a couple of good players within a few days and had another really core employee announce they were planning to leave as well.

    What do you do when your employees are being targeted?

    The business had already done several of the right things tactically to address the issue…or at least the short term impacts:

    • Have a staff meeting and let people know this targeting is going on and why.
    • Specifically acknowledge their efforts as a big part of the company success (hopefully you’ve been doing this all along).
    • Let them know that you’d appreciate the chance to talk with any of them if they are approached.
    • Meet one on one and reinforce the message of appreciation.
    • Ask them what they enjoy about working for you and find out if there are any glaring challenges you could address preemptively.
    • When employees come to you with a counter offer (which hopefully they’ll do, especially now that you’ve brought this out in the open), determine if it makes sense to counter the offer…whether that’s financial, a title or responsibility.

    Note – it may not make sense to try and keep the person if the requirements just don’t make sense (i.e. promoting a new staff person to a VP position).

    Bigger Picture ideas for protecting your staff

    It’s always a bad idea to compete strictly on price. If the cost is the only difference between  you and your competitors then you’re in for a painful spiral of an unprofitable business.

    The same idea holds true with employees – if the only real difference in working for you or working for someone else is how much salary or benefits they’re getting, then you’re going to be in trouble.

    A better alternative is to create a culture, a work environment that your competitors can’t really match. A good way to do that is to understand how people are truly motivated – and it turns out that money is only a small component of that formula.

    In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he identifies 3 key elements for motivation in today’s world – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Your people should be paid at or slightly above the industry expected wages and benefits. That’s a great start, but science tells us that paying people beyond that level won’t improve performance. However doing something special around Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose will make a big difference.

    Want an example? Consider Treehouse – an online education company that has 70 employees and does over $10 Million in revenue and has experienced 120% growth the last few years.

    It turns out that Treehouse only works 4 days a week…offer a very flat, non-managed structure and deliver a lot of autonomy and opportunities to grow! In fact they specifically attribute their culture to keeping people in house, despite being targeted by major tech companies like Facebook.

    Check out these 2 articles to see what I mean:  Company works 4 day work week and Secrets to Treehouse Success.

    Not everyone is going to be able to do what Treehouse has done but it’s worth at least considering.

    Here are the 3 elements to consider if you want to develop your culture / environment:

    Autonomy – what could you do that would give your staff more control over their time (when they do things), their tasks (what they focus on doing), their technique (how they do things) and their team mates (who they work with)?  It doesn’t have to be a huge change, you could do it a little bit at a time.  Why not ask your team what they’d like to see change?

    Mastery – what could you do to make sure everyone on the team is challenged the right amount and has room to grow? Can you switch responsibilities around and help people focus on their strengths?

    Purpose – what do you stand for? Obviously your business is there to make profits and pay salaries, but it’s likely that you believe in something bigger. What could you do to focus on that? There’s an interesting organization that helps companies become established as ‘B’ Corporations (companies that are creating a positive impact in the world). Check out their website for some cool examples of companies that stand for something.

    If you’re seeing success, it’s likely that you already do some of these kinds of things, but perhaps you could do more (some industries are easier than others). What could you do to help keep your employees on the team?  We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    19 Nov
    Light Bulb

    Photo by Serge Saint via Flickr

    In case you didn’t know it, it’s Global Entrepreneurship Week…a chance to celebrate and learn about new business and business growth.

    Question:  What does a “lighting company”, a “pet focused drug company”, and a “large double-hooked plastic handle” all have in common?

    Answer:  They are all successful businesses started by Kansas City based entrepreneurs.   The first is a small service business, the second a biopharmaceutical company, and the third an innovative product manufactured in the USA; each uniquely different from the other, all of them started by Kansas City entrepreneurs.

    Why should you care?

    Last week the ACA club in Kansas City held a panel discussion. The topic was “Funding Options for Entrepreneurs”.  The panel was comprised of 2 bank executives and an angel investor.   It was a great introduction for this week’s 2013 installment of Global Entrepreneurship Week, which this year is expected to include approx. 35,000 events happening simultaneously in 125 different counties.

    With new businesses funding is often an issue.  Even if one personally has the financial capital to fund the venture, you can usually go farther and faster if you have access to more money.  That said, however…money doesn’t grow on trees and there are some things you have to think about if you’d like to get more funding.

    Without getting into too many specifics these are a few of the highlights worth noting if you are looking for success in seeking funding:

    • Do you have a vision for your company?
    • Have you created a business plan?
    • Is your business scalable for growth?
    • Lenders/Investors look for passion.  They want to know the borrowers are all in.
    • Lenders are going to want between 10-25% investment (skin in the game) by the borrower.
    • Is your idea or product unique? Does it have a market?  Have you tested it?
    • Both SBA Loans and conventional loans have their place.
    • Know your options; taking on debt is almost always better than giving up equity.

    Back to the Question…

    The other common thread of the three businesses in the initial question was that each panel member was asked to share an example of one business that stood out in recent memory that they wanted to share as a success story.  The answers were not over thought, just pure off the cuff responses of companies that had been memorable for them.  What was interesting is that the business each panelist referenced was completely different, but from a collective viewpoint they represented a large cross sectional slice of businesses in our economy.  Think about it, which one do you most identify with?

    So what made them notable?

    The Service Business….The small lighting company took out an SBA loan to fund a plan a growth.  It has resulted in an increase of sales from $100,000 to $300,000; a 200% increase!  They have a plan and they are executing it.  What 200% growth looks like will vary, with this company, in addition to more customers; it meant adding a 2nd service vehicle.  And of course…their future looks “bright”!   😉

    The biopharmaceutical company…In 2010 the founder created this company with a goal to become a leading provider of therapeutics developed and approved specifically for use in pets, by using compounds already licensed for humans.  Think of it as repurposing drugs.  In just 3 years they have went from ZERO to the NASDAQ.  This past June Aratana Therapeutics, Inc. had their IPO and PETX now trades around $20/share after an initial offering at $6.

    The invention, the double hooked handle was created through some out of the box thinking, or more appropriately “out of the bag” thinking.  After tweaking a prototype for several years, it’s inventor placed a model to his banker’s desk explaining the problem and how his invention was going to solve it.  The problem was a challenge we are all familiar with; not having enough fingers and hands to carrying multiple plastic grocery/shopping bags at the same time.  Today you can find the Mighty Handle in stores not only across the metro but around the country.  Best of all it is made in the USA!

    OK…Now it’s Your Turn!

    This week we encourage you to get out and take in at least one or two of the activities going on around the Metro or wherever you live.  KC Source Link has an excellent listing of the events.  Almost all of them are free so get out and make the most of it!   You never know what you might learn.   As always please feel free to add any thoughts you have in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    14 Oct
    photo from State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

    photo from the State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

    Great customer service isn’t as simple as just being nice to everyone (although that’s not a bad start).

    Commerce Bancorp (not the one here in Kansas City, the one founded out in New Jersey) was established by Vernon Hill in 1973 and went from 1 branch to 470 branches by 2008.  Even more importantly, they had a deposit base that grew 30% per year between 1996 and 2001 (vs. an industry average of 5% growth).  They were extremely successful…and they broke almost all of the rules in terms of how ‘conventional banking’ was done.

    Hill’s strategy was to flip the banking model on its head.  Be great at service and convenience and choose to be bad at more traditional banking things like offering the lowest rates on deposits and fewer products overall.  He believed (correctly as it turned out) that there were a lot of banking customers who were fed up with short hours, bad service and rude tellers…if you could get those right, people would talk and you would grow.

    But in order to deliver that great service and those convenient hours, you can’t also do what the other banks do.  You can’t pay for highly experienced financial professionals as tellers – they’re too expensive and they often don’t like working with the public.  You can’t afford to pay out the best rates of deposit and maintain longer hours.

    That’s where the first truth of Uncommon Service comes into play as documented by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in their recent book Uncommon Service. They wrote the book after working with lots of companies around the world and observing that despite the need and the value for great customer service; very few companies actually get it right.

    Truth #1- You can’t be good at everything

    Just as we saw with Commerce Bancorp, if you really want to stand out, if you want to be great, then you also have to choose where you want to be great…and just as importantly where you don’t want to be great. The real magic comes in knowing what your customers value most and value least when you make those choices.

    If you try to be great at everything, you will either be crazy expensive or you will end up being mediocre across the board (much more likely outcome).

    Question: What are you choosing to be bad at in your company?

    Truth #2 – Someone has to pay for it

    Excellent service comes with a price – as we learned in Truth #1, part of that price is choosing what to be excellent in (and what not to be excellent in)…there’s an opportunity cost.  Beyond that, you will drive more expense as you offer more/better services – and there has to be a way to pay for that if your model is going to be sustainable.

    The good news is that payment can come from several places – you can charge extra for it, you can offer service in a way that reduces costs (think online FAQ or ordering vs. phone calls) or you can develop self-service options that customers love (think ATMs at banks, online boarding pass printing, etc.).

    Question: Where are you spending the most on customer service? What could you do to reduce that cost?

    Truth #3 – It’s not your employees’ fault

    Are there times when your customer service is great…but it’s not consistent?  Do you have some employees who get it and do a fantastic job…but for some reason others can’t seem to pull it off?  In either case – whether it’s occasional greatness or excellence from a few ‘super hero’ employees, it’s your customer service model that’s that’s the problem, not your employees.

    If you ever find yourself thinking “well they just need to try harder” after a service failure, then you’re on the wrong path. When you build in the right system and training that enables every employee to get it right, then you’re onto something.

    Question: What’s the most complex part of your service? How could you streamline or simplify that so it reduces issues and can be more repeatable?

    Truth #4 – You must manage your customers

    Customers play a huge role in the overall outcome of the service.  It only takes one really indecisive customer to hold up a line for a long time at McDonald’s.  To make it even more challenging, your customers can have just as much impact on your service capabilities as your employees, but you have no direct control over them.

    The customer isn’t always right – especially if they aren’t the right customer for you. Figure out who you work best with, design your service around those customers, educate them on how things work and then incent the right kind of customer behavior.

    Question: When’s the last time you heard directly from customers on what they don’t like about your service? Go to the source to figure out the real issues.

    It’s all about the design

    Great customer service is critical to long term success…and it doesn’t happen by accident and you can’t just rely on a handful of superstar employees to take care of it for you.  Consistent excellent service happens when you design a service model that meets your customer’s most important priorities, is affordable and can be run by all of your employees. Add in a great culture and you’ve got a lot of people talking about you…in a great way!

    How do you stack up against the 4 Truths of Uncommon Service? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach