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The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur: An Interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (Part 1)

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The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur: An Interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (Part 1)

The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur

    With a background including successful stints with Yahoo, eGroups, and Intuit, Kevin Reeth was well-prepared to strike out on his own as a co-founder and CEO of the web start-up Outright.com, a free online bookkeeping platform for small businesses and self-employed persons. In today’s economic climate, though, more and more people are finding themselves thrown into entrepreneurship without a background like Reeth’s as their companies fold or downsize leaving them to strike out on their own.

    To help these “unintentional entrepreneurs” get their feet under them, Reeth partnered with Network Solutions to form Unintentional Entrepreneur, a website and organization dedicated to helping newly self-employed workers get off on the right foot as freelancers, consultants, and small business owners. So far, Unintentional Entrepreneur has hosted free seminars in a handful of cities, with more on the way, combining formal presentations with social networking in an effort to provide the information and social environment fledgling entrepreneurs need to start building towards success.

    After I wrote about Outright.com at Freelance Switch and on my own site, The Writer’s Technology Companion, several people at Outright.com contacted me and struck up a conversation, culminating in an offer to interview Reeth about Unintentional Entrepreneur and the challenges – and rewards – facing today’s entrepreneurs, unintentional or otherwise.

    This is part 1 of a three-part series. In this section, Reeth and I discuss entrepreneurship in general. In part 2, we’ll discuss the way that technology is changing the entrepreneurial landscape, and in part 3 what Unintentional Entrepreneur is doing to help first-time self-employed workers. The interview was conducted on July 17, just after their first event in Los Angeles.

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      Dustin Wax (DW): Let’s start with a general question: What is an unintentional entrepreneur?

      Kevin Reeth
        Kevin Reeth (KR):

        An awful lot of our customers are folks who were working in corporate America and had had paying jobs for years and had lost their job last fall or early this year, had been looking for a job, and had gotten to the point where they had to figure out something to do. And now they’re starting to hang out their own shingle to see if they can earn a living that way.

        What’s interesting is, compare them to people who’ve been small business owners or self-employed for many years, who had gotten used to it. People leaving the confines of a corporate job quickly get a pretty significant wake-up call in terms of what it means to work for yourself.

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        DW: So you have the wave of people for whom entrepreneurship has become an only option, something that came onto their radar as an option not because of an internal drive to do it but because of the economy.

        KR: Yes, I think that’s exactly right. This may not have been something that they thought about, maybe they never did have that drive, maybe they weren’t maybe wired that way or maybe they’re more risk-averse. But now they have certain practical realities that are forcing them to consider new options, and entrepreneurship is one of the options they’re considering. And so, they may have never done this before and may not understand what it means to operate as a business right now.

        DW: What does it mean?

        KR: The first focus, honestly, needs to be sales. If you don’t have people paying you, nothing else matters. You’re not going to be a very successful business for long.

        Along with that, when you first get started, it’s all about networking. Your initial business is going to come through referrals, friends and family, and coworkers and associates. It’s not going to be through advertising and promotions, and not from fancy marketing stuff. By getting out there and getting connected to people, you will have opportunities present themselves.

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        And then where we tend to focus, where Outright focuses is on helping people understand that they need to prioritize their time, that time is going to be their most precious commodity. There’s a lot of stuff you can do dirt cheap or free, but one of the worst things you can do is get bogged down in the details of stuff that really doesn’t matter. Use technology where it can be most effective. Automate the stuff that doesn’t provide value, and doesn’t grow your business. Honestly, the back office stuff, the bookkeeping – we know it’s not sexy. This is not what you want to be spending your time doing. Use the technology available to automate that, so you can be out there, doing sales, servicing existing customers, getting more repeat business, not worrying about where the money is going, whether something is deductable or not, remembering to pay taxes on time.

        DW: You said that the first focus is sales. There’s a skill set involved in sales, though, that very few people have. If you’re an engineering person or computer scientist or whatever, how can you develop or sharpen those sales skills?

        KR: I think that’s actually more daunting than it has to be. People tend to think about it as, “OK, I have to go do sales, I have to sell myself.” And the secret with networking is that, if you go out there and just meet other people, you understand that all of us are in the same boat at the end of the day, all of us need help. It’s all just building relationships.Even at the big enterprise sales level, so much of sales comes down to whether people like each other, whether they get along, and whether they have a relationship. There is a bias in decision-making around purchases that goes beyond just the rational facts. So you don’t have to be the greatest salesperson in the world, you just need to be able to build relationships with people.

        DW: We’ve talked about the challenges facing new entrepreneurs, but what are some of the benefits of being an entrepreneur, especially in today’s economy?

        KR: One, I think it will become one of the most empowering experiences you can ever have. It’s one of those things where it is a personal journey for anybody who tries it. A lot of things are going to go wrong. You’re going to fail at a lot of things. But you’re going to learn an awful lot about yourself. You’re going to find out what you’re capable of, and that’s invaluable.

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        Another great thing is that you will extend your network dramatically. You are going to get to meet so many new and interesting people that no matter what the future holds, you’re going to build relationships that are going to last.

        And there’s the education component. You’re going to be forced to learn more in the first three months working for yourself than in years working for someone else. And at the end of it, you will have that knowledge, you will have that experience. It’s going to make you better not only working for yourself but if you ever go back and work for someone else, you’re going to be significantly better at it.

        These are not easy things, they’re not free, awesome things that just happen to you, you have to work for them. But the value you get out of that journey is immense.

        In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss some of the ways technology is changing today’s small business and self-employment landscape, and the tools that Reeth recommends for new entrepreneurs. See you then!

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        8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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        8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

        How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

        Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

        When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

        Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

        What Makes People Poor Listeners?

        Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

        1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

        Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

        Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

        It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

        2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

        This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

        Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

        3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

        It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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        I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

        If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

        4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

        While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

        To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

        My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

        Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

        Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

        How To Be a Better Listener

        For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

        1. Pay Attention

        A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

        According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

        As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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        I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

        2. Use Positive Body Language

        You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

        A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

        People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

        But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

        According to Alan Gurney,[2]

        “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

        Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

        3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

        I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

        Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

        Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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        Be polite and wait your turn!

        4. Ask Questions

        Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

        5. Just Listen

        This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

        I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

        I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

        6. Remember and Follow Up

        Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

        For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

        According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

        It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

        7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

        If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

        Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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        Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

        Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

        NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

        1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
        2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

        8. Maintain Eye Contact

        When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

        Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

        By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

        Final Thoughts

        Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

        You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

        And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

        More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

        Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
        [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
        [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
        [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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