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The 10 Secrets to Building Your Team

As seen on Forbes.

All alone?

Trying to build a business?

Think you’re really going to get there? With no help? With no support?

Dream on my friend.

It’s a fallacy to think you can build a company by yourself. Oh, but wait: You call yourself a “solopreneur”? Don’t be silly. Just because you think you’re a one-man band — you cannot pull off a killer stage show by yourself. You need help. You need a team.

Ticking away in the back of your head — you know this. But how do you do it? Where do you start? What plan do you follow to build a killer team?

My friend Tom Post on Forbes asked me to help you.

So, without one more word of delay; I give you Ten Secrets on Team Building…

Secret #1:  No Team Equals No Dream

Okay, that’s sounds corny.  But wait a minute.  Who cares?  Read it again –

No Team Equals No Dream.

If you have aspirations and dreams as an entrepreneur; you will NEVER reach them without a solid team of players.  Period.

It is critical you recognize this right now.  You simply cannot do it alone.  Yes; you have amazing talents.  Yes; you probably have an earth shattering idea.  And yes; you’re probably a workaholic machine who can climb mountains in a raging storm.

I don’t care.  You still won’t build a business by yourself.

I see a lot of entrepreneurs attempting to go it alone.  Thinking they don’t really need that much help.  Maybe it’s ego; maybe it’s just a lack of understanding.  But whatever it is; one thing’s for sure:  It’s a mistake.

So stamp this on your forehead — etch it on the top of your desk.  Being an entrepreneur is a team sport.

Got it?

Secret #2:  Character First; Talent Second

Imagine where you want to go as an entrepreneur.  Now imagine you have a team.  So how are you going to get to your destination?

Get a bus.

Jim Collins planted this little gem in my brain with the third chapter of his book “Good to Great”.  You own a bus.  You need to fill that bus with the right people for your business.  The perfect team-mates.

So how do you start?

Hire character first.

Yes, I know — you need skill.  You need a rocking good salesperson; you need a talented programmer, you need a masterful marketer.

But let me tell you right now:  It is far better to have a slightly less skilled salesperson with solid character; then an off the charts sales guru who lies, cheats, steals and smells bad to boot.

Ask any successful entrepreneur who has built and managed teams how important this is.  As a matter of fact; I did ask a successful entrepreneur:  Co-Founder and CEO Sam Blackman of Elemental Technologies; a company that’s raised $29.6M in venture capital with 72 employees; gave me this nugget of wisdom:

“We hire a person only if they are a technical fit as well as a cultural fit. The candidate has to be strong on both fronts to earn an offer letter. It slows down the hiring process; and we have positions go unfilled for a long time as we wait — but this tradeoff is worth it.”

So, when inviting people on your bus — think integrity; honesty; core values; respectfulness and loyalty.

You won’t regret it.

Secret #3:  Kicking People Off The Bus is Hard

Do you know why we put secret #2 before #3?  Because it’s a nightmare trying to get the wrong people off your bus once they’re on it.

You cannot imagine the pain of making a mistake in hiring.   Dripping sweat off the forehead; racing heartbeat visibly pounding through your shirt; staring bug-eyed at the ceiling in a full on stress attack at 4am.  Knowing you have to make a change.

Are you getting this?  Do you feel my pain?  Is it hitting home how hard it is to fix a bus headed for the cliff because it’s got the wrong people on it?

A serial entrepreneur friend of mine shared with me a time he wrestled with the devil on this one.

Having to fire 7 people in one day — he threw up two times.  Literally.

Yikes.

So be careful who you invite on the bus to begin with, will you?  :-)

Secret #4:  No Spitwads on the Bus — Culture From the Start

What does Apple; Google and Zappos have in common?

Unbelievably powerful cultures.

Now, I don’t know:  Maybe spitwads are allowed at these companies.  And you know what?  Whatever.  From my memories of junior high, it was pretty fun.  Until the driver stopped the bus and started walking down the aisle.  Steam coming off his eyebrows.  Not so much fun then.

So what’s the point?  Be sure you are building your culture from the start.  Bringing on team members who flow with your culture.  Who fit the mesh.  If you want spitwads flying across the lunch room; make sure everyone you bring on is good with getting whacked with a spitwad.

I read a great article by a writer for Techli named Kate Hough.  You should go read it and come back.

See what I mean?  Establish the right culture from the start.

Secret #5:  Recruitment — Things Aren’t Like the Olden Days

So where do you find the great ones?  You know, the killer team members who can help make or break your company?

Well, one thing’s for sure; they’re not looking for work on Craigslist.  I mean, come on now.

Yes; you can find someone to mow your lawn on Craigslist.  But we’re not talking about mowing your lawn — unless you do professional lawn contests for a living.

No, you need real rock stars; with real talent; and real character.  So where are they?

Well, they’re already working for someone else silly.  Duh. I mean why wouldn’t they be?  They’re rock stars.

My friend J.T. O’Donnell, Founder and CEO of CareerRealism, woke me up to this reality in her post on FastCompany.

In a nutshell, you have to use good attraction and persuasion strategies to find the best.  Put your best foot forward in seeking out and recruiting your team.  J.T. calls it “employment branding” and “authority marketing”.

Call it whatever you want — but the ability to recruit and persuade the right people to join your team is huge.

Yes?

Secret #6:  Mentors, Advisors and Coaches… Oh My.

If you’ve been anywhere around the entrepreneur block — you’ve read and heard how important getting mentors or coaches is, right?

Yes; they belong on your bus.  Critical to the success of building any business is having some key people in your inner circle.  Call them mentors, coaches, advisors.  Whatever.

But these guys and gals are your confidants.  They are your top level gurus who have the grey hair.  Now maybe they’ve colored it; and the point really isn’t about the hair anyway.  It’s about the wisdom and insight that comes from experience.

If you’re unsure what you need in a mentor or coach, check out this great list of 10 traits to look for.

And then go forth entrepreneur — find yourself some mentors and invite them on the bus.

Secret #7:  Hidden Gems: JV’s, Partners and Strategic Alliances

Maybe you’re plowing ahead; thinking you need to hire a team to do every last task under the sun.  But do you?  Do you really need to build out an organization to do it all?

Maybe not.

There is a secret in how some entrepreneurs really become successful.  It is the secret of leverage in using joint ventures and partnerships to get things done.

Jay Abraham calls it “Power Partnering”.  And yes, if you really grasp the power and possibilities behind the concept; you will never look at business the same way again.

Describing it this way, Jay says:

“It’s all about “marketing arbitrage” — seeing assets, opportunities, connections, money opportunities no one else does. And one of the keys is how it takes vision and the ability to orchestrate the leverage of other people’s assets, efforts, abilities and relationships.  You can control the world.  You can have access to everything — and it costs you nothing. It’s only limited to your sense of applicability, execution, and ethical exploitation.”

In other words, you don’t have to do everything yourself as a company.  If you excel at writing code and building software, but stink at marketing, guess what?

Just do joint ventures with other companies who have customers that would love your stuff; but don’t have a similar product offering.  Share the revenue; stick to what you do best.

See?  It’s like a miracle.  And yes, these guys should be on your bus.

Secret #8:  What?  Vendors and Contractors on the Team Too?

Another secret?  Pick the best vendors, contractors and suppliers and treat them well.

It’s a funny thing when I run into an entrepreneur who really bags on their suppliers or vendors.  Treating them like dirt.  Not really appreciating them for the value they add.

Do me a favor?  Please don’t be like them.  Choose awesome companies to work with — and treat them like family!

Goodness.  They need to be on the same bus as you.

Imagine how unsuccessful Zappos would be without stellar relationships with its suppliers.  Remember, Zappos doesn’t make anything — they just sell other people’s stuff.

Save some seats for these guys, will you?  Vendors, suppliers, contractors and such.

They belong on the bus too.

Secret #9:  The Right Seats

Okay, so now your bus is loaded full of the best team ever.  But wait a minute — something’s still not right.  Doesn’t feel quite right.  A little off.

Did you check to make sure all your team members are in the right seats?

Not only do you need to have the right people on the bus — they must be in the right seats.  For example; let’s say you’ve got an unbelievable talent on your team who might fit nicely into the marketing seat.  But it doesn’t sync.  It’s just not working.

But of course Joe Cool fits with the company.  Joe has the character and brings loads to the table.

Have you ever thought to just switch Joe’s seat?

You know; stick him in the sales seat instead?  Or maybe the business development seat?

Don’t be afraid to move people around on the bus.  Getting people in the right seats is just as critical as getting them on the team bus to begin with.

Kapeesh?

Secret #10:  Driver of the Bus.  Yes — it’s You!

Your bus is full.  Everyone is in the right seat.  And the bus is ready to charge down the road to the big game.

Oops.  Forgot something.  Who is going to drive this thing?

Um, that would be you.

You are the driver of the bus.  Now yes, you can all gather round and talk about where you want the bus to go; and which roads to take; and where to stop for food along the way — but when it comes time to fire that baby up and head down the road — it’s all you my friend.

You’re in charge.

Now there’s good news and bad news with this right?  The good news is you’re in control.  It’s your baby.  It’s your business.

And the bad news?  You’re in control.  It’s your baby.  It’s your business.

Oh; same thing.

Either way, it’s good.  This is what being an entrepreneur is all about.  Taking the plunge.  Feeling the rush of adrenaline as you fire up the engine.  And then boldly going where no company has gone before.

So there you have it.  Ten Secrets to Team Building.

So go get ‘em tiger.  You’re an on-fire entrepreneur and you’ve now got a rockin’ good team on your bus.

Drive carefully my friend.  :-)

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About the Author: Eric T. Wagner is a husband, father and life-long entrepreneur. After starting multiple businesses, Eric is now focused on helping other entrepreneurs find the path to success in business and life. You can also catch his gig on Forbes or connect with him on Google+.

Comments

  1. Eric, 10 for 10. Nailed each one in this brilliant piece. Thank you – printing this one out now … to show the rest of my team.

  2. I used to think that calling myself a solopreneur is a badge of honor. Not anymore. I know now that I will never reach the level of success I want without first, a co-founder and later, a top-notch team.

    I just read something today about the criteria to look for in your team members: integrity, intelligence, energy and passion. I agree with you that character should be first and talent second.

    I also can’t stress enough the importance of aligned motives. Without it, you’re just fighting an uphill battle within your organization.

    Great wisdom here, Eric.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Me too Jeanne. Always been a lone wolf as an entrepreneur. And yes, done pretty well at it.

      But….not a good way to look at it. Even though I thought I was a lone wolf; the simple fact is I still needed the help of others.

      So now? It’s go team go. :-)

      Thanks for sharing Jeanne.

      Eric

  3. Hi Eric,

    Great post, like always!

    After struggling as a solepreneur for months I realized how vital it is to have a solid team by your side. I remembered these lines from the YMCA song after reading your blog, which I think precisely depict one of the secret to building a successful business.

    Goes like:

    ‘I said, young man, you can make real your dreams.
    But you got to know this one thing!
    No man does it all by himself.’

    Cheers,
    Anant Singh
    Geeky Works

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Anant.

      Yes — it’s an easy trap for a “solopreneur” to fall into. I thought this way myself for years.

      Not good.

      So go build your team Anant. You’ll have a much better chance at success if you do. :-)

  4. Michael J. Stelmakh says:

    Thanks, Eric for sharing this! I think, that article about “How To Make Your Company A Talent Magnet” and Jeannes article are amazing for all entrepreneurs as from my past experience and they point out new ways to seek the best people for your enterprise and are a good explanation for start-upers. And among your secrets I want to repeat this : “Just do joint ventures with other companies who have customers that would love your stuff; but don’t have a similar product offering. Share the revenue; stick to what you do best.” it may help those people who don’t know what to do.
    Thanks again for your great article,
    Michael

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Michael. Appreciate your comments here.

      You’re spot-on with the joint ventures thing. There is a lot of power in thinking different and collaborating with other people and companies.

      1 + 1 = Ten

      Good stuff my friend. :-)

      Eric

  5. Ricardo says:

    Excellent article really helpful. I read this just when i am about to graduate from my MBA. Now i am in the point when i have to decide wether start working in a big company or follow my dream to become an entrepreneur. The job offer is really good, is a nice company and could be a great opportunity.
    I am 24 yesrs old i am continuously thinking on new ideas that could become great entrepeneur projects, i can’t focus during work because of that hahahaha. I now that the decision is not easy, that is why i am writing this comment to see if someone with more experience ( maybe an successful entrepeneur hahaha) can give me the advice that i need.
    Thanks

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Ricardo. Either way can work — so it just depends on what you feel is best for your situation.

      My friend Dave Mayer of Clean Bottle spent years building his company on the side — as he continued to work for a division of Cisco.

      Brandon Mills worked under the umbrella of a consulting management company while he became an expert in his space — and only then did he venture out and start SocialVibe.

      I personally started differently in that I just went for it. Dropped out of college and started my first business. Of course it was a difficult road, but nothing like creating a sense of urgency to get your business going quickly and bringing in cash when there is no food on the table.

      Just remember this: there is no “one” right way to do it. You just have to figure out what is going to work best for you.

      Does that help?

      Thanks Ricardo… :-)

      • Yes it does, thank you for your quick response. Now I will think about it having that in mind.
        Thanks Eric

  6. Great piece! I just started building my team slowly and carefully. It’s making a big difference! Thanks!

  7. Awesome Eric, all points are relevant however I just love “Character First, Talent Second” personally I feel character is one of the biggest talents as its made out of a ton of ingredients like passion, charity all the good words out there that compliment building a great startup

    I have a usability suggestion “would be good if links opened up in a new window”

    Best

    Ashwin

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Ashwin. You’re right about character first — without it; you’re building a fragile team…

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