I found the interview that Tisha Littlejohn did with Derek Woods fascinating. His stories clearly expressed the mindset of an entrepreneur.
Tisha Littlejohn Interviews Derek Woods
Tisha Littlejohn owns TLJ Creative Marketing; her agency helps small businesses promote themselves with websites, digital marketing, logos, graphics, and flyers.
This is a edited transcript for from Tisha Littlejohn’s first “Small Business Adventure Podcast” where she interviews Derek Woods. I selected some key stories that I could relate to as an entrepreneur. Dereke does a good job of expressing an entrepreneur’s desire for autonomy and achievement and so I have highlighted them. I sometimes add an “SKMurphy Take” for my perspective on the story. More on her podcasts at https://tljcreativemarketing.com/podcast/
Tisha Littlejohn: Welcome to the small business adventure podcast. I am Tisha Littlejohn, and I’m a small business adventurer. I want to welcome Derek Woods to the show as my first guest. I want to talk about what your entrepreneur life looks like right now. What do you do?
Derek Woods: I’m excited to be here. I’m a solar consultant. I help people reduce the cost of energy to go green. I like to be able to control what you can control and energy and energy expenses are a big part of our lives.
Working for Others
Tisha Littlejohn: How did you become entrepreneur?
Derek Woods: I started out working for others, and I had some short stints. One involved installing alarm systems in cars: cars would pull in, and I would install an alarm. So one day, there were no cars in line, and I was reading a magazine–which, in hindsight, I probably should not have been doing–when the company owner came over and asked, “what are you doing?”
So I said, “reading a magazine.”
He said, “Well, you are not reading a magazine on my time.”
I asked, “What do you want me to do? I have absolutely nothing to do. No cars in here and no parts to be made up.”
He walked away, just shaking his head. And I knew I had to get out of there and do something different.
SKMurphy Take: This story reminds me of a principle my father shared that he had learned from his law partner. When a secretary finishes the work needed for the day, and the quality is good, let them go home early and pay for the full day. If you don’t, they will stretch out a task so that it just finishes at the end of the day because that is what you are incentivizing them to do. In this case, the car alarm shop owner would want Derek ready to work on a car if one came in. So instead of paying him for the day and letting him leave early, he should have paid him to read the newspaper. If some secondary tasks needed to be done, he could have asked Derek to work on one, but he should not assign “busy work” because that creates an incentive to stretch out the customer work.
How Hard Do You Want to Work?
Derek Woods: One day a guy came driving a fancy car and I asked him, “What do you do?”
He said, “Well, I’m an insurance industry.”
I said, “Really. Do they make good money?”
He said, “Yeah, you can make as much money as you want to make. The harder you work, the more money you’re gonna make.”
I thought to myself, “Well, that sounds intriguing.”
So I gave it a shot: I interviewed at an insurance company, was hired, and worked for them for a year and a half. Then I went out on my own as an independent insurance agent.
SKMurphy Take: Frank Bailey, VP of Sales at Runtime Design Automation, told me about an interview for a sales position with an established firm he had early in his career.
He asked the sales manager, “How much money can I make here?”
The Sales manager answered, “How much money do you want to make?”
So Frank named a figure, and the manager replied, “If you work hard enough you can make that much here. I don’t know if you can work that hard, but if you do, you can make what you are asking for.”
There is an element false promise or con job in the answer but it is the case that if you can master the sales process you have less of a cap on your earnings an you are better positioned to start your own firm.
Small Business Owner vs. Entrepreneur
Tisha Littlejohn: do you consider yourself a small business owner or an entrepreneur?
Derek Woods: An entrepreneur: I want to pursue things that interest me and that allow me to help other people. I went back to school after working as an independent insurance agent to get licensed to do financial planning. That license allowed me to work at an investment advisory firm for about a year and a half before I moved on to other adventures. I worked as a loan officer and then became a real estate investor. I like helping people get to where they want to go, saving them money, and enhancing their lives—all that makes me feel good about what I am doing.
SKMurphy Take: In my experience, successful entrepreneurs prepare themselves by learning a range of skills that build on their talents and interests.
In Business to Help People
Tisha Littlejohn: In my practice, I encounter different kinds of entrepreneurs. You strike me as someone who uses their skills as an entrepreneur to do good and make a positive impact on the world.
Derek Woods: that is my idea of why I want to be in business. I want to help people. In some ways, I am more of a counselor: I help people understand how finances and investments work; how they can affect their future based on their financial situation–I always feel good about educating people and providing insight into an area they didn’t know. I did not view it as just selling a product–of course, I made money by selling a product. But first and foremost, my goal was to educate people about the workings of a marketplace so they could take advantage. That involves listening and repeating your understanding of what they have said so you can make sure you know what they are trying to accomplish. And then offer a prescription or a solution.
SKMurphy Take: I like Derek’s perspective on what it means to be an entrepreneur; helping others with the exchange of value.
The hardest part of being an entrepreneur
Tisha Littlejohn: What is the hardest part of being an entrepreneur?
Derek Woods: For me it’s staying on track, energized, and motivated. I have been in sales and entrepreneurial for such a long time that there are few unknowns. I know if I do certain things every day and put the effort in, the results will follow. So it’s about having the right state of mind to be energized and get up and do it. In my business–in any service business or any sales role–you are on stage every day. And every time you are on stage, you need to perform. Some days you may not be energized or on your A game, and your prospects will pick up on that.
Tisha Littlejohn: Piggybacking on that, it will be difficult not to sound phony or robotic when you are saying many of the same things over and over. Not just your opening but because their questions and objections are probably very similar.
Derek Woods: I try to stay true to myself and to be a good listener so that I understand their real concerns.
SKMurphy Take: Exploring uncertain opportunities takes confidence and gumption. I agree with Derek’s perspective on selling: it starts with listening not talking.
Favorite Part of Being an Entrepreneur
Tisha Littlejohn: That’s good advice. What is your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
Derek Woods: My favorite part of being an entrepreneur is knowing that I can take the day off if today is not a good day for me. Sometimes you need to take time for yourself so that you can regroup.
Tisha Littlejohn: You are your own boss. But the other side of that is if you don’t do enough, then that is what you will get in return.
Derek Woods: You can work seven days in a row when you are energized–while you are on a streak. I like to say, go with the flow and not against the flow. So when things are flowing and going well with people, you keep it moving and have fun with it. Then when things slow down a bit, or you’re just not feeling it, then that’s when you take a day off or maybe a couple of days off.
Tisha Littlejohn: Being flexible like that makes sense. Use the energy when you have it. You don’t have to stop at the gas station if you have gas in the tank.
SKMurphy Take: The needs to manage your energy is essential to success as an entrepreneur. Tisha’s observation about the realities of being your own boss reminds me of a quote by Erica Jong: “You take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame.”
What Qualities Should Every Entrepreneur Possess?
Tisha Littlejohn: What qualities do you think every entrepreneur should possess? What qualites does someone need in order to become an entrepreneur?
Derek Woods: The most important thing is to have passion for what you are doing and to have fun. But it’s also important to have a why as well. For example, I want to get my kids to college and give them a life I did not have. That gives me the energy to get up every day and do what I need to do.
Tisha Littlejohn: My daughter motivates me; I want her to be able to see me succeed as an entrepreneur so that if she does decide to go in the same direction one day, to follow in my footsteps, she will see that it’s very possible that she could be successful.
Looking Back: What Would You Change?
Tisha Littlejohn: Final question: what would you change about your entrepreneur journey? If you could go back? What would you change?
Derek Woods: I like that quote by Maya Angelou, “I wouldn’t trade anything from my journey.” That’s the first thing that comes to mind. I like the exposure I had to different areas, to all of the ins and outs of the industry. It made me good at what I do.
Tisha Littlejohn: So we are at the end, and I’m so happy that you were able to come on today
Derek Woods: I thank you for the opportunity. I thank you for inviting me.
SKMurphy Take: My answer for key qualities an entrepreneur needs to posses: a commitment to excellence that enables you to offer a distinctive or differentiated product or service (at least the best for some, not necessarily the best overall), humility that enables you to learn from others (friends, partners, and competitors) , and the confidence to proceed when things are only partially clear.
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