“The true ROI of Entrepreneurship is to learn how to become a selfless business operator. Money, power, fame, and freedom are all just the byproducts of serving our customers the best way and in the most genuine manner,” says entrepreneur and business strategist, Maiko Sakai. Here she shares her 3 steps to avoid operating your business from a place of scarcity so you can grow and scale your business without limits.
Maiko started her business in 2003. Back then there was no such thing as “side hustles”, but basically that is what she was doing. She was working for a record label in New York City and that job never felt secure to begin with. The industry was going through a lot of changes and she began to notice that when changes happen a lot of people get laid off. She never got laid off, but she started her business when she was still working for the record label because she wanted a back-up plan. She was seeing people around her leaving the company she worked for and she felt like it was only a matter of time before she was next. So, she started her first business, which was licensing music for other record labels.
She would soon leave the record label industry and found herself working for a few other companies as she continued to side hustle. One of the jobs she held was as a business manager where she was managing money for successful business owners. A turning point in her career was when she was on the phone with a client she was managing and he started telling her about a new project he was working on. She recalls having a really “creative conversation” with this client that lit a spark within her as they brainstormed about the project together. After the call, her boss came over and reminded her that it was not her job to get excited about her client’s projects. He told her she was “too chatty” and that she needed to focus on just managing their money and that was all. This really disturbed her because she was trying to build professional relationships and trust with her client. She felt like there was so much more she could do beyond managing someone’s finances. She also felt she wasn’t doing her best because she didn’t have to. As an employee she performed well and she got her paycheck in return; however, she knew she was not maximizing her potential because she felt bored.
It was at that point she decided to go back to grad school to get her MBA and during this time she kept side hustling with her company.
Looking back she recalls, “Wow, I was side hustling for the longest time,” a testament to how long an overnight success actually takes.
After graduation she started to get phone calls from other companies asking her for help. She started to do more management consulting and that evolved into what she is doing now: strategic general management consulting for business owners through her company Airtight Concepts.
While Sakai describes the early years in her entrepreneurial journey as living in survival mode in search of security, she believes her mission has changed. That change came with a cost as she found herself having to admit she was wrong in order to get to a place where she could discover what she refers to as the true ROI of entrepreneurship.
It was a realization that knocked the wind out of her as she read a thank you card where the employees of an ex-client wrote, “Thank you for bailing us out!” In that moment she thought to herself, “I’m not in the business of bailing anyone out, I am here to guide people through a hideous situation but then to build a sustainable system so it doesn’t happen again. It was a hard thing for me to accept because I knew I screwed up. I was overcome with shame and embarrassment.”
The truth was she had been going down the wrong path by accepting clients who had major financial challenges and serious friction between their employees. She would go in and clean that up, but her hope was that she would be able to teach these business owners how to create a more appealing corporate culture for their employees and a sustainable business. She realized she had failed because these clients were letting her do the “dirty work” and then leading their companies the same way they had before they got themselves into the mess she had just cleaned up.
She didn’t have a backup plan at this point, and she was faced with two options: continue with “business as usual” ignoring the reality of what she had discovered or fire her unfit clients and reject unfit prospects in the future while implementing a strict onboarding process to prevent this from happening again in the future.
She knew what she had to do.
The next 2 years of offloading and reformulating her business model were hard. She began to look at her company in a selfless way. She describes selflessness not as no longer taking care of yourself, but as looking at your business objectively (removing yourself from the equation) and “freeing yourself from debilitating egocentric narratives often coming from reactive and impulsive urges within [yourself].” If anything, it was about taking better care of herself. First she identified the characteristics of unfit clients to include: operating out of selfish need, poor leadership, and major financial challenges. Then she realized that her expertise is to help businesses with poor leadership and financial issues so the key difference between her old clients and her new clients was a willingness to shift their mindsets to become more “selfless business operators” and admit their mistakes so they could be open to creating positive, lasting change within their organizations.
After enduring learning this lesson the hard way, Sakai wants to encourage other business owners how to prevent themselves from allowing failure stand in their way of greatness. It is a natural progression of any business. The more you grow, the more you face failure. Sometimes that failure can paralyze you or stop you in your tracks. Sakai shares 3 steps on how to keep moving forward without having to sweep your negative feelings about failure under the rug:
Do not face your mistakes and own them (yet). You will get there, but initially you need to redirect your mental state. Start to create positive chain reactions by offering to help someone else. Ask yourself: what can I do for someone other than myself today?
The key here is not to give yourself a second to dwell on the challenges you are facing. When you start to panic, you just go help others. In a way, you are creating a new pattern of behavior to avoid getting sucked into your dark thoughts that do not help you.
When you do this, you will find solutions while you keep yourself busy thinking about others.
Do some good deeds when nobody is looking. By design you are not seeking acceptance or validation from others. Nobody gives you credit, nobody notices, but you’re doing a good deed. It gives you time to pause and to sort out what happened. This is called “Intoku” in Japanese. The direct translation is, “good deed in the shadow.”
While you are practicing #1 & #2 you will notice that your perspective or narrative will change by seeing others overcome adversity. That’s why you do not want to immediately dive into facing and owning your mistakes. The first 2 steps will help you to center your mind in a clear and serene place. Only then can you start working on your own challenges.
Acknowledge you are still here and the sky is not falling. This is the moment where you can get to own your mistake and face it. You can begin to problem solve and decide how you are going to proceed with a clear mind so you do not make emotional decisions.
In the end, she discovered the true ROI of entrepreneurship is to serve and to lead with what Psychologist Gay Hendricks refers to as your “Zone of Genius” instead of your “Zone of Excellence”. For Sakai this means not only being mindful of when she is getting in her own way, but also in helping her clients to see when they are standing in their way of success so they can pivot as well.
You can find out more about Maiko Sakai here.