Finding a mentor:

Obi Wan Kenobi: There was nothing you could have done, Luke, had you been there. You’d have been killed too, and the droids would now be in the hands of the Empire.
Luke Skywalker: I want to come with you to Alderaan. There’s nothing for me here now. I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.

Why is it important to have a mentor as a leader? You may be in charge of your organization, but it is always good to learn from someone who is further along in the field than you are. Those who study Greek mythology will remember that Telemachus’ father put him under the tutelage of his old friend Mentor. Remember our hero in Star Wars? Luke Skywalker would never have gotten anywhere had it not been for a couple of Jedi knights who took him in under their wing. Without Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, there would be no victorious endings for our young Skywalker. In the Bible, Timothy had Paul the apostle to tutor him along, encourage him, chastise him at times and mentor him to help him become the leader that Paul knew he could be.

If you are a leader, it is good to both be a mentor for others and to find a mentor who can help you grow in your skills and help you along in your career. So what are reasons that having a mentor is important?

  • They have been where you are and can help you navigate tough situations in your career. Having an educated outside perspective can bring calm to a crazy situation. A proper mentor is someone who has already “made it” in your field. They are now at the point that they can look back and help younger less experienced people navigate the pitfalls and landmines of your industry.
  • A mentor may be able to introduce you to the right people at the right point in your career. They will have  contacts with key players in the industry that they may be willing to pass on to you as you grow in your skills and abilities.  When you are trying to get in the door, being able to say “Mr. __________ suggested that I call you.” goes a lot further when the person you are trying to get a meeting with already has an established relationship with your mentor.
  • A great mentor will see skills that you are lacking and help you acquire them or at very least point out the shortcomings in your skill set that are holding you back from advancing to the next level. They can likely give you advice on how to acquire those skills. They might recommend a book or a class to take. (If they do, it is important that you follow up on this by reading the book or taking the class so that your mentor doesn’t feel like she is wasting her time.)
  • Your mentor is likely to open your mind to ideas for new career goals that you didn’t even know existed. They have experience that is different from yours even if you are in the same or very similar fields. That difference can be key in pointing out new directions for you.

Bud Bilanich created an acronym that has a lot of truth in it.

M – Motivates you to accomplish more than you think you can.
E – Expects the best of you.
N – Never gives up on you or lets you give up on yourself.
T – Tells you the truth, even when it hurts.
O – Occasionally kicks your butt.
R – Really cares about you and your success.

If you are stuck, or just want to grow in your career, I highly recommend that you find a mentor!

For more, I have written before on the idea of a mentor. Here &  Here.



This blog is an experiment. If you look over the numbers from when it first started in 2011, you will see rises and falls in the readership. Those fluctuations tend to follow two things.

1. My frequency of posting. When I posted every day for months on end, then the readership was at its highest. When I would take a hiatus from blogging for a while, readership would drop off.

2. My use of social media to promote this blog. When I would put quotes from it on twitter or put links on facebook, then readership would go up. If I stopped, new reader rates would drop off.

What does this have to do with your business? Not everyone who reads startstuff is a blogger. No matter what your organization does, communication with your clients/customers is important to keep them engaged with you. Building that relationship is imperative. Just sending a Christmas card isn’t true interaction with your clients. What are some ways you can keep communication going with your people?

A very successful chiropractor near where I live does weekly classes to teach people about health and nutrition. The classes are free to the community and are held at his office after hours. He also has a dinner once a month for his clients. He gets to chat with everyone out of the office, get to know their spouses, family etc. His client base is much more connected than any other doctor’s office I have witnessed.

Another company holds an ice-cream social for their clients.

One graphic designer I knew held a purposeful networking event each week. He invited clients that he thought would network well with each other well. His work as a connector of others made his agency do very well. He limited the number of events each client could attend each year as his location wouldn’t allow all of his clients in the room at the same time, but he did make sure that every client was included regularly in these networking meetings.

What can you do? Keeping in communication with your clients will not only help your bottom line, but is likely to help you feel more fulfilled in your life as well.


I am sitting in Starbucks tonight. Delightfully, I have run into a few old friends, and even my former dissertation adviser is here. I chatted with a few people seated near me, most of whom are, just as I am, working on their laptops. Each one has purchased an overpriced beverage, but none of us complains about that. Why do we pay $3 for a 25 cent Vanilla Frappuccino, Latte, Chai tea or other beverage?

The atmosphere. It is a great environment full of wonderful conversation. Titus, the manager of this particular store runs a cheerful crew. They are wonderful about customer service. They do more than just pour you a cup of coffee, they create a culture that invites people to sit, take a sip and enjoy themselves.

So what can you do with your organization to make it inviting. Starbucks doesn’t try to be the cheapest cup o’ joe on the market and neither should you. Unless you are going to try to compete with Walmart, your best bet is to find a niche and give the very best customer service available in that niche regardless of price.

Starbucks stock is up right now, but the reason is that they have made more than a cup of coffee. They have made a cultural statement. They created a tribe. People who frequent Starbucks fit a mold, and the company is ok with that. They aren’t for everyone. The ideal client probably has multiple forms of technology available to them. They have expendable income. It is likely that they are readers. Artists, bloggers and other authors are frequent users of their”free”  Wi-fi.

That free thing is good. People love feeling like they are getting something for nothing…even if they did pay the 1,200% markup on their drink. The Wi-fi is free.

What can you learn from the Starbucks model? Customer service is king. A clean environment where people feel welcome is important. Throwing in something for added value is a bonus that could be the key to bringing that customer back to you!


The power of monetary remuneration should not be underestimated. In my field, higher education, it never ceases to amaze me that universities hire people for their development offices on salary alone. When you hire a sales person, if commission isn’t at least part of their package, what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to get things done? Sure, there is the satisfaction of a job well done. That is not to be belittled, but when the person will not be any more comfortable financially for extra work, what is their incentive.

Conversely, what if the development office employee received what might seem like a fairly low salary? Something that is barely enough to make ends meet on the local economy, but then were given 20% of every dollar they brought in might incentivize them to get busy bringing in donations or making sales!

The same is true of any business, not just higher education development offices. You might argue, “But I can’t afford to give away 20%. That is an insanely high percentage.” I will counter, is 80% of a million dollars better than 100% of zero dollars? It would be easy to set the bar for the first commission-able dollar to where they have “paid back” their own salary before getting a commission.

For example: Base salary = $30,000  Divided by 52 = $577 a week salary.

This person would need to bring in at least $2,885 a week before any commission would be paid. After $3,000 though, they would get their 20%. It could be evened out over a month or the year as well. Anyone who isn’t bringing in that minimum, after six months or a year or the set evaluation period, would be let go for not performing.

If they did bring in that million dollar week, then they get a  huge check…but so do you!

A sales person said to me once, “If I don’t make the sales, nobody gets paid.” He is right. Sales people and development people should be paid well for their work. When you tie it to their performance, the cream will rise to the top naturally! The guys and gals who are really great at bringing in the money will be living well. Those who aren’t will soon be looking for a different line of work, or studying like crazy to learn what the others are doing.

If you are in charge of development at your university, what is your experience with hiring development/advancement office staff on commission or on straight salary?


I have blogged before about the importance of the attitude that you bring with you to work. Today, I want to talk about the “World Famous Pike Place Fish Market” in Seattle, Washington.

(Image source: )

What makes them world famous? Well, it is their attitude. Working in a fish market isn’t usually the stuff of legends. It can be cold, wet, tough work. The guys at Pike Place Fish Market decided to be world famous. They decided to have fun and make hawking fish the best place in the world. They are so good at promoting the fish market attitude that people actually go there as tourists! Here is their website if you are interested. The thing I noticed most about the website is that while it does have lots of information about seafood and fish, there are biographies about the workers. There are the pictures of them throwing fish through the air and smiling as they do so. Those guys turned a fish market into a great place to be! I don’t even like fish, but it is now on my bucket list of places to go see when I make it to Seattle.

When these fish hawkers made the decision to have fun at work instead of just being another fish market, they began to put Pike Place Fish Market on the map. They decided to become world famous! If a bunch of guys selling fish can become world famous for their attitude, what could you do at your job?

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