When there are no rules – for entrepreneurs

Continuing my series on entrepreneurship, I wanted address a strange issue that we face as entrepreneurs.  That is, sometimes, there are no rules.  I don’t mean rules meant to keep us out of trouble, I mean the rules we need to follow to succeed, to get the job done, to meet the clients’ demands and needs.  Sometimes, the products and service we, as entrepreneurs, sell are new to the market; they are different from “what is on the shelf” and compared to big company perspectives, with chains of command, we innovate on the fly.  Sometimes, I wish we had a policy or rule to answer a question about how to handle a situation.  But, instead, very often, we have to chart our own courses and figure out a solution – and hope for the best outcome.  Sometimes, the standard rules don’t apply.  I find it frustrating, for example, dealing with a bank or the government.  There just is not an appropriate response or box to check for the questions when completing applications or, for example, signing up for government procurement programs.  Not that it has ever paid off, but I have tried some of these approaches only to be frustrated because there is no NAICS code for what we do – trial consulting.  Or, I should say, there was not.  Now there is, but it is a catch all – “other legal” with a code number applied to many litigation support services.  And, that only came about because I petitioned for it.  I don’t know if others were doing so, but I contacted the powers that be and pointed out the omission of a significant industry.  The option wasn’t there, but, by taking the initiative, it now is.  So, this is an example of the fact that sometimes, the standard ways of doing things don’t apply and we entrepreneurs have to make things change.  This example is small in the scheme of things – Uber is perhaps the biggest example of charting a new course.  Its business model has transformed transportation.  Obviously, Uber is learning as it goes as well – but when we are doing something new, different, and unique, it is nice to know we are not alone in trying to figure the path to follow.

David is right about entrepreneurs having to write the rule book as we go about our business. When we founded our company, Magnus, for example, we had no policies and procedures manual. We had no employees at the time, but knowing that, one day in the not so distant future, we would hire people to work for our company, we knew we would have to put into writing formal “dos and don’ts” to guide our employees’ behavior while on the job. Therefore, one day when we were still working in our house, I sat on the back porch and painstakingly wrote our policies and procedures manual. I used my experiences in the workplace to incorporate things I liked at places where I had worked and I omitted things I did not like at places where I used to work. Over the years, we have modified the policies and procedures manual numerous times, however, the fundamental rule book I wrote “from scratch” still dictates the rules by which our company operates. In a similar fashion, I designed all of our research methodologies, gave each methodology a unique name, and constructed our surveys and other research instruments; these materials did not exist when we began our company. I essentially created new rules for our new game (although it has been anything but a game if you ask me). One of our earliest clients was a long time family friend who asked me if we could conduct a specific type of research for his large corporation. I immediately said, “Yes, of course we can!” and as we left the meeting, David asked me if I had any idea whatsoever of how to conduct this type of research. I replied that, while I had no experience in the industry or with the particular type of research the client wanted, I knew how to do excellent research, such that I was confident I could devise a research program to meet our client’s needs. In effect, I was once again making up the rules as I went along, but in a way that forged new business for our company, helped our client (who was immensely impressed with the outcome of the research we conducted for his company), and in the process, enjoying another personal growth opportunity. My usual response to challenging scenarios is, “I’ll figure it out” and so far, I always have!

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