Are Your Business Obstacles Boards or Brick Walls?

I attended a motivational seminar yesterday. It was a huge all-day affair at the local sports arena. Somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people attended. It was one of those deals where they promise you’re going to be “inspired” and perhaps have your life changed forever.

Now, my problem when it comes to these sorts of things is I’m a pretty tough sell. It’s got to be pretty extraordinary stuff to impress me.

Judging from the number of real-estate name badges I saw and some of the conversations I overheard walking around the arena at lunch, I’m guessing that I, a non-salesperson, was in the minority there. And you know, it’s been my experience that some of the easiest people to sell things to are salespeople themselves. My husband loves to tell stories about his dad — a skilled lifelong salesman — practically handing over his wallet to car salesmen. (My father in law’s idea of “dickering” was apparently to ask if the price on the sticker was the best they could do, and when they said “yes,” to simply pay it.)

Which is weird, because you might think a salesperson, being in sales themselves, would be on to all the tricks. I know as a copywriter, I certainly do key in pretty quickly when somebody’s pulling out all the stops with hard-sell copy techniques, for instance. (And the techniques seldom work on me — I’ve studied the “inner workings” too closely, I guess.)

Likewise, this seminar didn’t — for the most part — move me, or even particularly hold my attention. I couldn’t tell you the names of half the speakers.

But the folks I saw at the seminar yesterday seemed thrilled and inspired and I saw an awful lot of them rushing down to sign up for the services some of the speakers there were hawking.

So I started wondering if maybe there was some value in all this stuff after all. As I sat last night, after I got my son in bed, reviewing and thinking over what I’d heard during the day, I came to the conclusion, no, I was right. Most of what went on was dreck.

But I did come away with at least one insight, so I suppose the day wasn’t a waste.

One of the speakers talked about breaking through your barriers, and used breaking a board with your bare hand as an analogy. Many of us think we can’t break a board with just our hand, and so we can’t. But if you believe you can, with just a few minutes of coaching on the right technique, you can.

As it happens, my husband studies martial arts, so I know this is true. Breaking a board isn’t all that hard. But it’s still pretty scary, and it is a very true fact that if you don’t believe you can do it, and nobody’s taught you the “secret trick” your chances are much lower.

Another of the speakers told the story of an ancestor of his, an immigrant to the USA, who had a hard time finding a job when he arrived. The speaker told how his grandpa did an end run around this barrier by offering his services for a few weeks for free to a man he wanted to work for. His work was of such high quality, the man agreed at the end of that time to hire him.

Now, I thought the first illustration was an excellent example of how to break through a barrier. And I thought the second was a wonderful story of how to go around a barrier. And several of the speakers made the point that the one thing to do when confronted by a barrier is to not simply give up.

And I do agree with that.

But how do you know when a barrier is something to break through (like a board)? And how do you know when a barrier is something to tunnel under, climb over or find a way around (like a brick wall)? Guess wrong and you either hurt yourself trying to break a brick wall with your bare hands, or you waste a lot of time digging a tunnel under a small piece of wood.

I pondered this for awhile.

And then I remembered another piece of advice I’d heard a lot recently (but, for some reason, not at this particular seminar). The advice was on the importance of having one or more “mentors.” And how important mentors are, not only to people looking to build a corporate career (which is where you usually hear the term used) but also for entrepreneurs looking to build a business.

I remember reading if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, one of the things to do is to associate with already-successful entrepreneurs. Network with them, observe them, emulate them, ask them questions, learn from them. Seems to me, if you have a mentor or two, they can help you learn how to distinguish those brick walls from the boards, and devise a good strategy for dealing with each one.

I can agree with that, too.

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