#039: Following the Flow: Why Your Biggest Opportunity Could Be Right Under Your Nose

One of the many things I love about being an entrepreneur (yes, even if you’re a solo business owner you ARE an entrepreneur!!) is the magic that often happens along the journey.

I love how challenges often turn into great opportunities. And how ideas that originally seemed insignificant (even silly) will often end up saving our business!

Great companies such as Apple, Starbucks Zappos are filled with this kind of folklore. Most of us have heard the stories.

But I recently came across one such story that is not as well known yet has a strong parallel to successful freelancing.

It’s the story of Chipotle Mexican Grill. And in this episode I explain what we can all learn from the company’s founder as we launch and grow our own solo businesses.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

I don’t eat a lot of fast food. But I LOVE Chipolte Mexican Grill — a successful North American chain of restaurants serving burritos, tacos and other southwest/Tex-Mex type food.

A friend recently told me the story of this successful chain, and I immediately saw the tie-in to freelance writing.

A Common Freelancing Myth

Myth: You have to have a detailed business plan to launch a successful business or to take your existing business to the next level.

Not true. I do recommend putting a basic plan together. But it can also lead to myopic thinking. Use it as a guide only. And let your business evolve naturally based on what you find along the way in your journey.

Chipotle’s Story

Founder Steve Ells never meant to create a successful restaurant chain. In fact, he never meant to open more than one restaurant or operate it for very long.

What he really wanted was capital to open a fine restaurant in San Francisco. He opened the first Chipotle as a way to raise that capital. But instead, Chipotle became a huge success.

Plans are important. But it’s just as important to be open to possibilities, twists and turns, and variations of our dream. Too often, the best outcome is hidden in possibilities.

You may set out to become a B2B writer, or a ghostwriter for CEOs, or a web copywriter for small businesses. But somewhere along the way, new opportunities arise.

So here’s what I’d like to do. I’ll play the audio of Steve Ells story and pause at key points to draw a few lessons for freelancers.

You can also watch the video on YouTube: http://youtu.be/wmH73Diqf5Q

Don’t Ask “CAN” Questions. Ask “HOW” Questions!

[:42 in the video]

Steve had a big dream. The failure rate in restaurants is huge. But he never said, “That will never happen! What am I thinking?!” Instead, he asked himself, “HOW can I make this happen? How can I raise capital?”

Most of us sell ourselves short because we fail to ask “How” questions:

“How can I launch my freelance business?”

“How can I bring on three large clients and fire all my little ones?”

“How can I start taking Fridays off?”

“How can I take six amazing trips this year?”

Put Your Own Twist on a Proven Idea

[1:22 in the video]

Don’t be afraid to put your own twist on a proven idea. In the freelance writing world, there’s lots of opportunity to differentiate yourself and be creative with service offerings. Listen to some recent episodes of this show, where writers have gone into little niches and made out great:

Episode 36: Susan Anderson on creating lead magnet books for clients.

Episode 32: Shawndra Russell on writing for small, local businesses.

Episode 21: Michael Katz on writing and producing newsletters for professional service firms and solos.

Episode 17: Victoria Ipri on writing LinkedIn profiles for executives.

Develop and Maintain a Strong, Unshakable Vision

[2:10 in the video]

If people don’t doubt your decision to launch or make changes to your business, then you should wonder if your idea has potential. If no one has questions or advice, your idea may be too safe.

Be Resourceful

[3:18 in the video]

Steve had to work with the limited funds he had. He had to be smart about location and design. Lack of funds forced him to go with a bare-bones industrial look. But the look was so great, it’s still in place.

Too many freelancers put their plans on hold because things aren’t perfect. But too much capital and cash flow can make you stupid.

Pay Attention!

[4:53 in the video]

What started as a vehicle to get what he really wanted became his main thing. Steve was smart and open-minded enough to see that and to accept it as a blessing.

Pay attention to your goals and intentions. What do you REALLY want?

Will it matter if “how” it happens doesn’t exactly match your original image?

The big lessons:

  • Pay attention – what are clients and prospects telling you or asking you for?
  • Step back – take time to think about your business and where it’s going.
  • Follow the flow – don’t be too rigid.
  • Make midcourse corrections when needed – there’s no shame in an airplane pilot making adjustments along the way (it’s expected!).

Want More of This Stuff?

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Finally, if you have a question you’d potentially like answered on a future show —or if you’d like to be considered as a guest for a future episode — please let me know: ed at b2blauncher dot com.

Thanks again for your support!

Till next time,

-Ed

 

  • Ed, THanks for sharing the Chipotle story. I lived in Denver, about a half mile away from the original Chipotle, in the early 90’s.

    It’s amazing to see how this one popular burrito shop has exploded.

    • edgandia

      Oh, man — I’d love to go to the original restaurant! Thanks for checking out the podcast. Appreciate your feedback.

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    You are so right on target here, Ed. What it boils down to is this – it’s about what other people want that fits in the bigger picture of what we want. For example, you personally wanted to work at home. So, you started working from home, but the actual work you were doing morphed into what other people wanted, and what they were willing to pay you to do. Same thing is happening for me now. It just takes a while to get this concept for some reason. You did a great job of motivating us with these stories today. Thanks!

    • edgandia

      Mia — I LOVE that: “It’s about what other people want that fits in the bigger picture of what we want.”

      I couldn’t have said it any better. Really boils down to just that. Trouble is, most of us are way to focused on what we want. And more specifically, on a very detailed picture of what that would look like.

      I’m learning (slowly!) that the trick is to go just one step broader in that quest. Because in most cases what we really want is a specific type of fulfillment that can be had via a NUMBER of different vehicles.

      Steve Ells is a perfect example of that. But I bet everyone listening to this show can think of several situations in their own lives where this played out.

      Thanks for checking out the show, and I appreciate your feedback!

  • johmill

    Very interesting. However, and I’m sure I’ll get criticized for this, but Ed, you need to watch your spelling and pronunciation. You pronounce (and sometimes spell) the company name as “Chipolte” but it’s “Chipotle.” The “t” comes before the “l” and while people may not think this is a big deal, it’s not only a distraction, but I believe we’re offensive to someone when we get their name wrong. Please accept this as constructive criticism and not just criticism.

    • edgandia

      Yeah, sorry about that! Everyone around here pronounces it that way, so it just kind of stuck. Interestingly, many of their employees have greeted me with “Welcome to Chipolte” (with the “l” before the”t”). That’s how deeply ingrained that’s become around here. 😉