Slow Down and Rise UP

It was supposed to be a day like any other. I woke up feeling fresh, took a shower, got dressed, looked at my never-ending to-do list and got ready to jump back into the rush of the day. I put on a pair of high-heeled sandals that matched my summer dress and ran to my first client meeting.

But not quite…

As I was approaching the café, which was our meeting point, I spotted my friend and client, who was already there waiting for me. I rushed in her direction, waving and smiling at her, looking forward to a delicious cup of coffee and an inspiring conversation.

What followed, however, was quite the contrary. I found myself lying on the ground in excruciating pain. I tried to get up but the pain, as impossible as it seemed, got even more unbearable. People had gathered around me to help. Next thing I remember was an ambulance, then a doctor, X-rays  and finally the diagnose: broken leg in four areas. This was only the beginning of this nightmare, from which there was no waking up. I was admitted in the ER for immediate surgery. The pain continued, I broke into tears feeling my life was falling apart. 

Six days later I arrived home on crutches, which was going to be my default state for the next six months. I hate feeling helpless and miserable so I did the only thing I could do – plan. I needed to transform this dreadful experience into something meaningful. For the longest time I hadn’t had the chance to step aside and be engrossed by my own thoughts. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was a crucial aspect of business advancement. I call this ‘thinking time’. I had been so focused on daily business operations, spinning the hamster wheel, not ever taking the time to step back and look at the bigger picture. 

LESSON 1: If you don’t allow yourself thinking time, it will catch up with you eventually. 

Eureka! Now I finally have time. All thanks to the fact that I broke my leg. What a great opportunity to spend some time thinking. Finally, I was as happy as a child in a toy store. I put everything into perspective and started writing what I want to achieve. The first thing that came to my attention was the feeling that I had lost the direction of my business, because of being overwhelmed and busy. Breaking my leg was a great gift and a clear message to rethink my business strategy, vision and direction. Thinking, browsing, reading, dreaming. That’s what my first days looked like after the surgery. I felt happy and excited and I knew I was onto something- a discovery that would make my life as entrepreneur better.

Later on, I discovered that thinking time should be planed on a regular base, not by accident like me. 

In the book Traction (about Entrepreneurial Operating System) it is called “Clarity break”:

Clarity Break is time you schedule away from the office, out of the daily grind of running the department, to think and to work on your business, department, or self. Stepping back to think will create clarity for you and restore your confidence. This is important because the normal course of day-to-day business pulls you deeper and deeper into the minutiae of your work. As a result, you sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. You start to feel overwhelmed and you become short with your people. 

Make the time to save time.

Therefore, at intervals, you must elevate yourself above the day-to-day activities “in” the business so you can work “on” the business. Schedule an appointment with yourself. Put it down on your calendar. If you don’t schedule the time, it will never magically happen. At first you may be concerned about when you’ll find the time. The irony is, you’ll actually save time by taking Clarity Breaks. When you are clear about your bigger objectives, you gain the confidence to simplify procedures and create efficiencies. 

Minimize distractions and allow yourself to just think. 

Use this scheduled break wisely, though. This is not time to catch up on email or complete a to-do list. It’s time to think, to see things clearly and restore your confidence. 

Faced with a blank legal pad or journal, with no agenda, no interruptions or distractions, you’ll be challenged at first to actually think. 

Here are some Clarity Break questions you can ask yourself: 

  • Is the Vision and Plan for the business on track? 
  • What is the number one goal? 
  • Am I focusing on the most important things? 
  • Do I have the Right People in the Right Seats to grow? 
  • What is the one “people move” that I must make this quarter? 
  • How strong is my bench? 
  • If I lose a key player, do I have someone ready to fill the seat? 
  • Are my processes working well? 
  • What seems overly complicated that must be simplified? 
  • Do I understand what my direct reports truly love to do and are great at doing? 
  • Am I leveraging their strengths? 
  • What can I delegate to others in order to use my time more effectively? 
  • What can we do to be more proactive versus being reactive? 
  • What can I do to improve communication? 
  • What’s my top priority this week? This month? 


LESSON 2: Read and learn as much as you can.

My attention was caught by an online course by Vishen Lakhiani, the founder of the company Mindvalley, titled “How to scale your business”. It was like a gift by an angel, exactly what I needed. I signed up immediately and enjoyed a week of wisdom, ideas, peer to peer learning – it was a blast and a great kick in the ass. I was ready to run, despite my crutches, or why not even fly. On the last day of the workshop, Vishen closed the training with the words: “I was at this place in my company, where I either scale or fail. The book that saved me from failing was Scaling Up by Verne Harnish.” I grabbed my Kindle and bought the book right away. I started reading almost immediately, taking notes, making plans and of course I subscribed for author’s updates on the Scaling Up Methodology.

LESSON 3: Talk to peer entrepreneurs – they are your friends, not the enemy.

One morning, as I woke up to check my mails, I saw an e-mail from the author of the Scaling UP. The first thought that popped in my head was “mass mailing”. Then I took a second look- it was addressed to me personally. He was asking in his e-mail if I was struggling with my business. “Hell yeah I am, who isn’t?”, I thought to myself. We exchanged a couple of e-mails that day and I felt awesome! I had someone to talk to about my struggles as an entrepreneur and that was something I had never had before.

A couple of years later I found my tribe – EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) where I am surrounded by amazing peer entrepreneurs and I can find an answer to almost every question, worry, opportunity I have. EO is the only global network exclusively for entrepreneurs. EO helps entrepreneurs like me learn and grow through peer-to-peer learning, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and connections to experts, ideas and deals. I also started the EO chapter for South East Europe, as I want other people like me to get the gift of EO. 

LESSON 4: Implement an EOS.

From the wisdom of Vishen, through the e-mail exchanges with Verne, followed by some more research, I discovered that to be a successful entrepreneur it is not enough to just know and love your craft- you must know how to run a business. I discovered there are two leading operating systems for entrepreneurs – Scaling Up, by Verne Harnish and EOS, by Gino Hackman. At one point Verne suggested I hire a coach to help me organise my business better and implement an entrepreneur’s operating system in my business. He connected me to one of his coaches. Since my business was not functioning great at the time, I literally had zero budget for such an adventure. However, I knew I needed this. It felt like getting the needed treatment after being sick- you find a way to do it, because you know what happens if you don’t.  The desire to make my business survive and grow felt to me like a “live or die” decision. I negotiated a better price, offering to pay part of the fee in marketing services provided by my agency. And this is how my journey started. 

It took us one year to fully implement the Scaling Up methodology- from building a strategy, to weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings, making sure all goes smooth, to people-decisions and cash challenges. Of course it was not easy and of course some people hated it. Maybe even most of the people. Some employees quit. I was prepared for it, I knew it was part of the game – the transformation game. This doesn’t mean it was a cake walk for me. It was difficult and I was way out of my comfort zone. My daily mantra was “This is good. There is no growth in the comfort zone – you are on the right track.” One year had passed and the transformation was complete.  The pain, however, was still there. 

I decided to go through the EOS methodology this time. I took some ideas from it and ended up with a cocktail of methodologies that we now proudly call our own. The best thing? It worked. 

LESSON 5: Get the right people on board

One of the most painful parts of the transformation was to get everybody on board. When going through a transformation, people play the key role- they can either make it smooth and successful or make it complete disaster and in the begging,  it felt like the latter. People started quitting, there was lots of hate talk, built-up tension and drama. The future didn’t look so bright.One thing, however, from the many things I had learned that year had stuck with me: ”In a company, it’s better to have a hole than an asshole.” It made me think about values – if a person doesn’t share the same values as you, that person often seems like an asshole to you. 

I started analyzing our company’s daily workflow from the past year and I noticed that we had spent a lot of time, energy and resources in discussions and arguments based on value differences. So I said to myself “Let’s start building a values driven company.”And so we did, based on our five core values. Many people left the company, people who didn’t share one or more of our values. Then new people came- people who had to pass a culture fit/ethics test, to make sure that we have shared values.

It worked and it is awesome. This year we overachieved our annual targets. And we had bonuses. This was the first tangible positive result of the initially painful transformation. I am even more excited about the journey ahead. 

I feel empowered and confident and I am super grateful to my wonderful UP team, my amazing family and friends and the best Entrepreneur’s community – EO!  


About the author:

Maria Gergova-Bengtsson is founder and owner of United Partners – one of the leading integrated marketing agencies in Bulgaria. She has served as IPRA Council member for 4 years and later on as IPRA Board member for another 4 years. She has been elected as International PR Association President for 2009 – the first IPRA president from Central Eastern European region during the 55 years history of IPRA. Maria is the president of the SEE chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization (EO).

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