BT IrwinHelping small nonprofits do big things.
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Built brands, developed organizations, raised millions, and recruited thousands over 20 years in community and nonprofit leadership.



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Excellent question (and excellent answers here too). I'm 18 months into my start-up. That's 18 months of learning what is essential to survival and what is a waste of energy and space.

Here is what is helping me most:

1. Communication essentials: Business cards (moo.com), laptop, phone, and Internet access. No explanation necessary.

2. Memberships in free or low-cost online media and networks (like this one). Online (in order): 1) Gmail, 2) LinkedIn (especially groups), 3) Meetup, 4) Twitter, 5) WordPress, 6) Constant Contact, 7) Facebook. Use these to find in-person opportunities to network and prospect. These tools are your lifeline to building an online presence, prospecting, and researching. Also vital: Testing your product or service idea.

3. Bookkeeper or good bookkeeping software. I cannot emphasize this enough. CASH IS YOUR BUSINESS. If you don't have a budget and cash flow projection, you don't have a business. Period. You MUST make this the heart of every activity and every day. If you suck at it, find someone who is good at it and spend the money to get them to help you.

BONUS: Listen to podcasts like "Entrepreneur on Fire" and subscribe to free resources like Jeffery Gitomer's "Sales Caffeine."

As a bonus, here is what took up space in my toolkit (now jettisoned):

1. Big bucks on a graphic design firm to do my marketing media. This is not for starting up; it's for later. Use free or low-cost design services or templates. You want to test your actual business idea first before investing thousands of dollars in a design company.

2. Apps, apps, and more apps. I went app crazy in the beginning, buying buckets full of "productivity" software. It ended up sucking up too much time and I settled on Evernote and Google Spreadsheets because they're familiar and they work for me. Big apps are for later.

3. Coffee meetings. OMG. I wasted hours and hours and hours having coffee with my "network," which amounted to a lot of people who could pat me on the back but who could neither buy from me nor refer any business. Affirmation is great, but too much of it will run your right out of business. Find a network of entrepreneurs in your community and spend more and more time with people who can buy from you. It's the only way to grow.

I'm happy to visit with you from the trenches. Please give me a call if you like.


I'm about 18 months into my own start-up and only marriage has been better at revealing my blind spots and opportunities for growth and self-improvement. The first thing I would say to a young entrepreneur is: "Congratulations. You're about to learn more about yourself than you ever imagined possible. Embrace the opportunity to grow as a person."

The other answers here are very good. The weak habits I noticed in myself:

1. The weakness of not being able to admit your weaknesses. I am mediocre at organization and management (meaning I can get by, but I don't excel and I'm way too slow). It took 18 months to admit this to myself and others. My bosses at other jobs pointed out this weakness over the years and I always disputed it out of pride. Admitting this weakness allowed me to change the business model and operating plan to focus on what I do well. For example, I hired a bookkeeper. I also made the decision to get out of direct project management (outsourcing instead). Admitting my weakness does not diminish me; it makes way for the business to grow.

2. The weakness of ignoring cash. Cash can be a scary thing when you're starting out (because you don't have a lot of it). Scary = negative feelings. Negative feelings can get an entrepreneur down in a hurry. So, I spent most of my first year ignoring cash and only looking at my budget once in a while. I had clients and a positive balance, so why worry about cash? Abruptly losing my biggest client to a sudden change in management jolted me awake. Instead of looking at cash as a scary thing, I'm learning to think of a puzzle that only I have the guts and wits to solve (with help from my bookkeeper). Ignoring cash may preserve my delusion of being smart; tackling it head-on and overcoming the challenges is what makes me truly smart.

3. The weakness of selling to the wrong people. I wish I had back all those hours I spent (and dollars, too) on people who would affirm and applaud my business idea but had neither money nor reason to buy from me. It could delude myself that I was having sales meetings, but no sales is all the proof you need that you're wasting your time. I'd go so far as to say that "networking" is a dangerous word for an entrepreneur because it can be just as much of a cop-out. Get in front of people who can and will buy your product or service. It's do or die.

I hope some of my mistakes are helpful to you and your clients. If you want to know more, I'm happy to listen!


Catherine is right about Strength Finder 2.0. Check it out!

Here's what I do with my teams. Once a year, we go on an off-site retreat that involves something like Strength Finder 2.0. I bring in an external facilitator to lead the process, which starts with taking the assessment, then sharing the outcomes with each other in a group. The facilitator leads some exercises that help the team practice communication, listening, motivation, etc.

Now, here's what I think makes this worthwhile. We print the outcomes of the assessments and post them in a public place in the office. In our case, on each team member's desk or door. Every time team members interact with each other, they see a reminder of what motivates (or de-motivates) the person with whom they're working. It's important to factor the Strength Finder results in each team member's annual and quarterly goal-setting and assessment sessions. I even prefer to do part of that goal-setting and assessment in the team setting, where we try to focus on how to leverage the strengths of each member to lift the team as a whole.

I hope this helps. I'll be happy to share more to your specific situation if you want to set up a call. Onward and Upward!


First, when you make enough sales face-to-face, hire someone to manage social media for you. You don't have to do it like everyone else, but you need to have a presence online to be a serious contender in the marketplace. Even people who meet you face-to-face may be less enthusiastic about buying from you (or even suspicious) if they can't find much about you online.

Here are some of the more successful approaches I've used to increase "face time" with clients and prospects:

1. Book speaking engagements and speak on subject matters where my expertise can shine through. Chambers of commerce, civic organizations, trade associations, etc.

2. Join a meet-up group or, better yet, start your own. Figure out what kind of networking your prospective clients want to do and give them an opportunity to do it. You'll create value for them and fill your Rolodex with leads.

3. Join a chamber of commerce, networking organization, or trade association and (emphasis here) take a leadership role. Chair a committee. Run an event. Organizations like these have hundreds or thousands of members. Only a percent show up. A smaller percent actually gets a lot of business from it. Which small percent? The ones who take an active, visible leadership role.

I'm sure we could come up with a lot more if we could talk specifically about your business and industry. Please set up a phone call if you want to brainstorm.


First of all: When is your next adventure? I'd like to go! Most of my backpacking through the wild these days is trying to keep up with my two-year old when he takes off running through Target.

You specifically asked about "adaptation." Your question also implies that you're submitting your resume to a person rather than a machine. "Backpacking through the wild" will not impress a machine; it will impress a person.

In the teens of the 21st century, your entire online persona is your resume. What is the story someone constructs about you by searching you online? What makes you stand out as a character they want to write into their company's story? The basic qualifications are still important, but in this age and day people have access to so much more when searching candidates.

So back to "adaptation." I don't know that backpacking fits on a resume. However, it should be part of your self-presentation. Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Blog or podcast about your backpacking adventures and apply them to whatever work you want to do in "civilization."

2. Make a video resume and write it to use your backpacking adventures as part of your story. You might even shoot it in the woods.

3. Find a meet-up group for backpackers (we've got several around here) and figure out which one has the most members who tend to be the kind of people who hire. Or start a meet-up group for business leaders who like to backpack. Build your own tribe (and benefit from it).

Great question. Interesting to think about it. Please schedule a call if you'd like to brainstorm some more!


Mitigate risk. You're asking a store manager to dedicate space that costs money (and must generate revenue) to an experimental (unproven) product.

I've seen some cottage industry food sellers here in Detroit work out deals to set up and sell their products at local stores. They get a day or two to show the stores what they can do. If customers respond and buy a lot of the product, it opens the door for more shelf space. If not, the store lost nothing in giving it a try.

How do you set this up?

Free stuff. Give the decision-maker free samples of your product. If he or she likes it, you're on to the next step.

Enjoy making your good luck for yourself! I'm happy to discuss further by phone.


I learned this the hard way. Stay away from the attorney until after you go to the small business office. The small business office is there to help you set up and succeed. The attorney is there to bill you by the hour. This is not cynicism speaking, this is experience!

The small business office will point you to legal resources that are best for your needs and more in line with your budget.

Let me know if you want to hear the full story over the phone. You can laugh at my mistakes while you get yourself started on the right foot. You'll do great!


People hate calls. People hate emails. People hate mail. Do you really want your first impression to be that of an interloper and a pusher? Then again, most recipients aren't event going to look at what you send them.

What is your niche? Office managers for private family healthcare providers in Peoria? Athletics department directors for NAIA schools? Sales managers at wholesale car dealers that make over $180 million per year in gross revenue?

Know your niche and define your buyer (and it better be the CIO or VP). Is your buyer female or male? Older, middle age, or younger? What about her or his college education? What does he drive? Where does he live? Where does he eat his lunch and get his coffee in the morning? What does he read? Etc.

Go to your buyer. Find congregations of your buyer. Professional associations. Conferences. Meet-ups. Trade shows. Offer to do free presentations--not on your product but on best practices or trends you observe in the industry. Make your presentation about solving problems your buyers deal with every day. Write blogs or columns for media they read. Again, focus on what they need/want to read. You will have a hard time keeping enough business cards in stock and click-throughs from your byline.

This is a true "targeted outreach campaign." Don't waste your money and time with anything less than this.

You're going to do great. Please let me know if you'd like to talk about it more!


I understand what you're asking because those exact words came out of my mouth once or twice in my career.

First of all: Never say or write this again. While I'm sympathetic, 99 percent of the people who hear or read you will dismiss you as lazy. Your ideas are only as good as the admiration and respect people have for you and if you want those ideas to go far, you'll need many strangers to trust you immediately. Your hard work and track record of success is what builds that trust.

One fact you must face: If you want to be the "Chief Idea Officer," you must accept the role of chief salesperson. Idea people are only valuable when they can convey their ideas and persuade others to join in making the reality. You will have to sell your ideas to your colleagues, employees, and vendors. You will have to sell your ideas to your clients. You must be the person who learns to speak, tell stories, and teach better than anyone else on the team. This is valuable stuff that most people are afraid to do. If you're afraid to do it, that's OK as long as you are more courageous than afraid.

My advice: 1. Make a commitment to be that rare combination of inventor and salesperson. 2. Find partners for your start-up, people who complement you. 3. Invest in education, networking, and training to become a master at making amazing ideas and selling them to friends and strangers alike.

I'd be happy to visit with you some more about this over the phone. More details would certainly help my answer.

May your vision become a reality! Make it so!


You want leads who volunteer to be leads. They expect you to pursue them (and actually want it).

1. Define your audience in detail. How do most clients come to the practice in the first place? Who would be most likely to check it out? For example: Where is the office and who is passing by on a regular basis? Are they mothers? Office workers? Senior citizens? Shift workers?

2. Do some market research (and let this be a lead generation exercise in the process). How can you find out more about your target market? This is where answering #1 in detail helps. For example: Is your office near an athletic club or an area where a lot of active people live? Team up with the club or local meet-up groups to find out more about back concerns or problems their members can identify. Find out more about how they make decisions to choose professional help.

3. Go to the people and take your service with you. Once you know your audience, what they need, where they gather, and why they buy (#1 and #2), find a way to give them something valuable. For example: Is your office near a lot of office buildings? Did you know that recent research shows that American workers are suffering from back pain due to poor office seating? Get to know the building or office managers and offer to do a free "office seat assessment" and adjustment for employees or tenants. Do on-the-spot analyses WHERE PEOPLE WORK. Then take down their email address and promise to send an offer for X percent off a new office chair at a local office supply store and a discount first appointment. Promise that the first email will give them options to sign up for a regular email or opt out. Most important, they can schedule their free (or discounted) first appointment online (CONVENIENCE).

4. Make good on all your promises. Make sure the visit is so stellar that new patients will rave about it to their friends (be sure to send a follow-up survey). Word of mouth is the best advertising and sharing on social media should be natural and not forced. Make sure your social media are always available on every communication. Those who are thrilled will use it.

5. Finally, ask your delighted new patients to refer friends in exchange for discount/free service. This is not a loss of revenue; it's your marketing budget at work.

The leads you generate from this approach will be high-quality, motivated, qualified, and will take you much further than the "shotgun" approach.

I'd be happy to schedule a call to answer your follow-up questions. Happy prospecting!


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