Entrepreneurs Should Expect to Scrape by on Crumbs Before the Feast

In 1997, my first year as a head coach, I was hired so late in the year I didn't have much time to recruit for the upcoming season. When I went to recruiting events, I felt like the last guy in the buffet line at the cafeteria -- nothing left but crumbs.

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I was bitter, dejected, disheartened and felt like I got myself into a hopeless situation. I wanted to be a head coach, so I took an undesirable job and that was the hand I had been dealt. As time went on, what I found was that the crumbs I had on my team that year had tremendous value.

While short in stature (and talent), they were connectors. A group of likeable guys who had deep networks and created referrals for me that enabled us to build a strong recruiting class the upcoming year. I appreciated those crumbs and learned a valuable lesson: When you serve the crumbs well, they turn into a feast.

Crumb appreciation has served me well professionally. It has enabled me to build a successful executive consulting and speaking business, 100 percent by referral. No advertising, no cold calls, no gimmicks. On this, the five-year anniversary of my return to consulting and speaking, I've been reflecting on the crumb concept.

In October 2009, one of my friends referred me to what would be my first client, a small non-profit in Northern New England. They wanted a peak performance workshop but had a very small budget and the audience was a whopping dozen people jam packed into a small room that masqueraded as a cafeteria. Twelve years later, I was back in a cafeteria and getting nothing but crumbs!

Only this time, thanks to my recruiting experience, I was wise enough to be grateful for those crumbs and the person who referred them to me. I discounted my fee to fit their budget, over-delivered on the content and I am still in touch with those 12 crumbs. They are a blessing, a blessing who have referred me to some of my best coaching clients today, numerous consulting and speaking engagements and they've been some of the biggest champions of my books and other projects. I've done work for that nonprofit for five years now and some of the best friends I've made came from that crumb client.

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Lots of experts say: "Only target the wealthiest prospects that can pay you a premium." "Never, ever discount your fee." "You should only be speaking in major venues." "You must have a major publisher for your book."

I disagree. There are no absolutes like that in any industry and history has proven my model works. It's something I learned through sports. Sometimes the biggest plays come from capitalizing on the smallest opportunities (the crumbs). In my coaching career I've seen a loose ball turn into a game-winning goal, a simple catch and run that killed a penalty and a shot deflect off my goalie's glove to seal an overtime victory.

It's why sports is a metaphor for life -- both are a game of inches. Little things win big games and when you serve small opportunities well they become big opportunities.

I recently had a client who hired me to coach her on building her consulting and speaking business. She said she was frustrated because she couldn't find "the right clients" or "a major platform." I don't think this was the case.

She was focused on finding big-time clients and only being on the biggest stage. What she didn't realize was that her current clients are her big-time clients, her major platform is her front porch and the next person who walks past is her audience. She just needed to learn how to catch the ball and run hard, so to speak. It's what we all need to do.

When you master that, opportunities will present themselves. You will never do big things until you do small things in a very big way.

People make the mistake of only looking for something big, or worse yet, expecting the finished product to come to them. It doesn't work that way and they wind up missing the little things that make a big difference.

Focus on your fundamentals, execute the right technique -- these are the little things. In entrepreneurship, you don't receive a feast, you receive crumbs. If you don't see that the feast is actually in the crumbs, you'll starve as you keep wishing for the feast to come to you.

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