Lakeland Business Leaders: Get out there and VOTE!

What does it mean to be a “business leader?” To me, it means more than registering my business on Sunbiz and paying the annual taxes to the city, county, and state. It’s more than certifications, insurance, workman’s comp, payroll, etc. Being a leader means walking the walk, not just talking the talk, or going through the motions. Walking the walk means more than just saying, “I own a business.”

When we become business leaders (and maybe in order to become business leaderswe begin to realize that in order for our voice to matter, we need to actually use our voices. And that means we show up at the polls. I realize that we might not always agree on what who we want to vote for, but I believe the only way to be treated as a business leader is to exercise our right to cast our vote for the people we believe will best serve our needs – as citizens, and as leaders in our community.

So, no matter who you want to vote for or what party you’re affiliated with, please take the time to do your democratic duty and get your votes in today; Florida will thank you later.

What Changes are We Trying to Make?

I think this is an important question and today, I would like to share what change I personally want to work toward making.

It’s the main reason I have created LBL and continue to do the things I think can help bring us to more alignment in the business community. I usually reserve these thoughts for private conversations, for fear that my words might be taken out of context, but the fact is, if BETA is going to lead to something more… if we’re going to encourage participation, we need to know what we’re doing it for…. so, I decided it’s time to share these thoughts, and find out if I am the only one who sees these challenges – and if so, maybe I can rest for a little while (ha!)

And yet, if I am not alone, (and I don’t believe I am) it would be helpful to have insight from others to support or refute my worldview in the Lakeland/Polk County context.

  1. Small businesses, creative thinkers and entrepreneurs – this group of citizens comprised of multiple generations, skillsets and experience – make an incredible impact on the economy in which we live, work and contribute.
  2. A community filled with the talent we have is a blessing and I believe we must celebrate them and find ways to listen and keep them engaged and connected!
  3. There is no single organization (or cohesive alignment between organizations) that truly represents the interests or voice of the small, local businesses. No political action committee (PAC), no representation of what’s best for the “little guys” (Micro-businesses: I use this term simply as a way to establish the difference between the SBA definition of Small Business and to acknowledge that what’s good for a “Small Business” made up of 100+ employees is completely different than what’s important to the businesses with 10 or fewer employees.)
  4. LBL has made the community aware of these gaps, but has not yet been able to effectively change anything for these smaller businesses – yet.
  5. There are organizations in place that “could” (should?) be doing more for the “Micro-businesses” in our community, but their hands are tied, mostly because they must follow the money, or their mission is not specifically to serve this segment of the small business community. So, whose job is it?
  6. There is conflict among these organizations (eg: the history of the Chamber and the LEDC has led to less alignment which has created overlap) – most of this is unspoken, and for the most part hidden from the public eye, but it is present and it has created a culture that has begun to make it difficult to draw the necessary attention to the needs of the small business community, or at least give the small business community a sense of “agency” that they are empowered and even encouraged to bring ideas for our future to the forefront – and have those ideas be considered seriously.
  7. The passionate people that run small businesses – work tirelessly to serve their customers and make a living – are struggling with time poverty, and likely won’t make time for something that seems pointless. As such, it seems to me that many of these talented people are disengaged and/or are focusing their efforts in places they feel they can make a difference.
  8. We don’t seem to want to get on the same page and work together. When we see something that might have some value, we splinter off into subgroups to do something “ourselves,” weakening the efforts, duplicating and breaking down the trust, diminishing the effectiveness of our voices. And creating more silos.
  9. Silos. We’re in a world where everyone and everything can be connected, and yet, we still carry on as if we don’t realize someone else is out there doing something similar. If we all want to serve the small business community, why aren’t we talking about the gaps and finding ways to fill them?
  10. Who controls the narrative within the community, as it applies to the small (micro) business community? Are we satisfied with this narrative? Does it matter?

These are the changes I am trying to make:

  • To bring more power to the voice of the small local businesses, the creatives, the entrepreneurs in our community.
  • To make it easier to find the answers to the questions they have, to access the information and resources they need to grow their businesses.
  • To help organizations that serve the small business community raise awareness of their valuable content, resources, training and workshops.

I welcome your thoughts. I look forward to being challenged on any of these points. Are there things I am simply not seeing? Are there points I am missing that I need to add?

If any of these points resonate with you, please let me know. This is my honest and raw assessment of the community I love. It’s not perfect, but I believe we can make things better.

Taking the LBL Conversation to the Next Level

An open letter to the LBL Community:

My heart is racing. I am struggling to find the perfect words. So I won’t try. I hope you all know me well enough now to know that I believe we’re here for a reason and I am just as much along for the ride as you are. Thanks for seeing me as a leader, but the truth is, we’re all leaders. I just happened to go a little off the deep end and see what might happen if we tried a few things.  I poked the box (Seth’s way of saying I tested new ideas, changed them, tested them again, changed them again, all while seeing how you–LBL–would respond), and I am glad that you all have been here to see what happened!

Recently, a conversation was started by Alex Eisenberg in the LBL Forum that at this moment has generated 370 comments. As a result of the feedback from this conversation, I believe I am ready to take some steps to make some important changes. (Yep, there’s that word we all love – change.) Because of Alex’s willingness to ask the tough questions, I am seeing an opportunity to bring our conversations to a much more efficient level. And I want you there!

Do we all agree on the value of engagement and connection? If so, we have the opportunity (if not duty) as business leaders to drive conversations. These conversations should not only help us meet our immediate needs and goals but also reach beyond what we have accomplished together so far with LBL using the convenience of Facebook, and take us into a new frontier that will truly give us the opportunity to lead.

One of the (many) lessons I have learned along this path is that I want to enable the conversation to reach far and wide – to be inclusive and accessible to anyone who might find value in being part of a conversation that is designed to cultivate a strong local business community. And time and time again, I have met incredible people with wisdom, experience, and talent to share only to discover they are not engaged on Facebook. How long are we going to exclude them from the conversation? How long are we going to depend on the convenience of a 3rd party site that isn’t invested in our community to “own” our conversations? When are we going to do the hard work to create meaningful, sustainable change?

Are you ready to leap?

I am going to ask you to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist in our community, but could, if you’re willing to join me in the deep end.

Imagine online conversations that not only are driven by the timely questions posed by a thoughtful member, designed to drive engagement and to challenge us to think and grow, but also resulting in a library of these incredible conversations that can be repurposed and available online so that the dialogues can continue to inspire and benefit the members of the community that might not have been present at the moment the conversation was sparked.

Even the most engaging post on Facebook has a short shelf-life! And the awkward “bump” from a person who tries to re-engage the topic months (or years later) seems forced, and rarely accomplishes the intended goal. Our next level conversations will be created in such a way that we can organize them, tag them, archive them and make them searchable, giving both the author and the community a benefit at the same time!

Let’s take it a step further. Let’s imagine one of these conversations leading us to realize that the small business community in Lakeland is in need of more support in a particular area. The challenges we share, the questions we ask and the archive of that dialogue can be presented in a variety of ways. No longer do we need to guess what is grinding our gears, or challenging our growth. The frequency of the usage of the terms being used can be gathered and we can connect with experts in the community, provide them with the insight to our specific needs and allow them to fine-tune their presentations specifically to our needs! Making this a goldmine of information, resources, tools and content that will begin to establish what we all know, but can’t prove yet – because it’s all buried in tens of thousands of conversations hidden in a Facebook group that will never be resurfaced again – that Lakeland is filled with an incredibly talented, brilliant and kind business community that believes in the power of collaboration.

A culture of (real) collaboration.

Imagine what the culture of our business community might look like if we all pooled our energy and our information together and created an asset that can be used by everyone, anywhere!

Here’s what I’m envisioning:

  • The existing Facebook group will remain intact and conversations revolving around referrals, recommendations, and connecting with people and companies in specific industries will continue to happen. The comments on Alex’s post revealed that these conversations are valuable to many of you.
  • A new platform will be created where premium members can:
    • Have powerful conversations beyond simply networking.
    • Act as a support or mastermind group where established and emerging leaders in our small business community can connect
    • Learn, engage, and grow, while establishing themselves as experts in their industry.
    • Inspire and encourage other business leaders.
    • Ask questions and request feedback on entrepreneurial issues.
    • Reference organized past conversations by topic in a permanent “archive.”
  • These two conversation hubs will co-exist and serve two distinct (but separate) needs of the small business community: lead generation and collaboration, bringing a new level of value to our members.
  • Our events will be driven by the outcomes of our conversations. We’ll find the content you need and bring it to you, either in person or in an online meeting!

This is exciting to me! This is what I would like to work with you to create. This is what I believe we can do together!

You’re invited.

We’re going to start building LBL in a new, innovative and risky place. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Who and what are we looking for?

A diverse group of people (different ages, levels of experience, industry, time in LBL) who are willing to:

  • A real willingness to try something new, with an open mind to the challenges of “change.”
  • Contribute meaningful ideas and suggestions to this new conversation.
  • Be open and share new ideas and thoughts with others (some familiar to you, some not).
  • Give candid feedback on the new platform and the conversations being had.
  • Be present with a growth mindset and a belief in the potential of the LBL community.
  • Invitations will be sent to the first 25 people who are willing to commit to being a part of this process, whether or not they are a current LBL premium member!

If you’d like an invitation, please visit this link to request early access to the BETA of a new way to engage with the LBL Community! Space is limited, and reserved for the first 25 passionate, dedicated, committed people who will be willing to do the hard work and sprint with us to build something important for our community.

Please do not ask for an invitation if you will be unable to be truly engaged in this process (at least an hour a day) for the next 30 days.

Something I learned from Seth Godin: You can do anything for 30 days!