Joshua Conran – Senior Partner at Deksia

[quote style=”boxed”]If I were to start my entrepreneurial trek again, I would start by deliberately seeking out individuals who’d developed the skills or the level of success that I want to perfect. I would get a job with them to develop my skills while getting paid to do so.[/quote]

Joshua Conran is a senior partner at Deksia, a branding agency that has been successfully developing companies for the past decade. Joshua’s focus is on winning for the client while expanding Deksia into multiple markets by utilizing systems and processes.

Other than growing businesses, Joshua enjoys the outdoors and giving his time back to his community. Winner of the Ike of the Year Award in 2005, Joshua has been a board member of the Dwight Lydell Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America and a founding board member and chair of AnchorPoint Christian Schools; he is currently an active member of the Grand Rapids Rotary Club.

Where did the idea for Deksia come from?

Deksia wasn’t actually Deksia at the time, but it was started by Aaron VanderGalien to fill a need in the small business world: to provide access to business-intelligent guidance with award-winning design. Many small businesses just don’t have the capital to get both of those things from a typical agency. Aaron brought his entrepreneurial empathy, creative mind, and brilliant design talent to clients who truly had a desire to grow and expected to be pushed out of their comfort zone to achieve that growth.

I first looked at the company because I saw the proverbial diamond in the rough. The team produced incredible work. The opportunity to work in a different industry virtually every day was also very exciting. I was asked to come aboard to help scale the company and bridge the gap between analytics and creative. It’s been very rewarding.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I don’t know that I have typical days. Most entrepreneurs I know are running after whatever squirrel jumped in front of them that morning. I’m no different, but the important thing is that I know I will do that. I created a simple system to help me. I check my calendar first. I then check voicemails, emails, and my running task list. If all of these are in order, I know I can go squirrel hunting responsibly.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The best way I’ve found to bring ideas to life is to get others to believe in them as well. Would you rather fight a battle on your own or do it with an army? Get others to champion your ideas. You not only are more likely to succeed, but you’re more likely to have fun doing it as well.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The rate at which information is being traded excites me. Not that I’m a plugged-in junkie — I’m not — but this rate is forcing industries and individual businesses to actually offer better goods or services. It’s currently pretty hard to market your way past a bad product, and it’s only going to get worse. The word is out — or will be shortly — on everything that’s happening. If your product or service is subpar, you’re not going to make it without some serious adjustments.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Prioritizing and delegating are two skills that are essential for an entrepreneur to succeed. As an entrepreneur surrounded by other entrepreneurs and a highly creative staff, it is very easy to get distracted. I keep a running task list on my computer that’s synced to my phone and iPad.

It is also essential to not be the best at every task in your office. Most entrepreneurs have a high level of optimism and confidence. This can have unfortunate side effects if they think they’re the best at every task. The truth is that they are either delusional or surround themselves with incompetence on purpose. Either is bad. There are roughly a thousand tasks in my company, and I have done almost all of them at one time or another. I know I’m only proficient at a few of them. If a task comes across my desk that I am not suited for, it gets handed off quickly to the appropriate person.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I was in high school, I worked at a bus garage for “party buses.” These were large, 47- passenger buses that were converted to feel like giant limos. The buses would take groups to casinos, sporting events, weddings parties, or out for a wild night on the town.

My job was to clean them. It wasn’t such a big deal except for the bathrooms and the occasional cup holder full of someone’s night of heavy drinking. The wastewater in the latrines had to be drained into buckets from a very small area under the bus and then carried outside. We had to be careful not to spill or splash — I did not achieve that 100 percent of the time. We dumped the waste into 55-gallon drums. This was not a desirable job, but it taught me that I’m not “too good” for any sort of task. It also taught me that I don’t deserve anything I didn’t work for.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

If I were to start my entrepreneurial trek again, I would start by deliberately seeking out individuals who’d developed the skills or the level of success that I want to perfect. I would get a job with them to develop my skills while getting paid to do so.

Reading books and going to seminars will certainly help, but throwing your hat in the entrepreneurial game ill-equipped is a lot like enrolling yourself in the “School of Hard Knocks.” This would only work if you had the self-discipline and patience that most serial entrepreneurs don’t possess.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Stop sacrificing your family, and take time for you. This is one of the things I didn’t do when I started out, and I can’t attribute any success to it. Since I’ve made family a priority, my happiness and pay have increased significantly. I run into many small business owners who work on their businesses nonstop. Sometimes you do need to do that, but it should only be for short periods of time.

The other hard truth is that entrepreneurs usually spend time doing something that isn’t necessarily one of their strengths. I knew a guy once who ran an incredibly successful company and still insisted on doing all of his own accounting and invoicing. That might make sense if that was his background, but he was the company’s best salesman. Any time he spent on accounting was taking away from the company’s success. He was paying for it with his time and cash flow.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

This is not a new one, but if you take care of your employees, they will achieve higher goals. If you take care of your clients, they will let you do more high-quality work. After you can do that, make sure your target market knows about it.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Just one? I was one of two partners in a manufacturing business years back. Everything was moving along as planned. Employees were progressing. We had what we thought was a strong client base, along with a great product, and we were making money. Then, the bottom started to fall out for some of our competitors, and we noticed. We thought we could weather any storm heading our way because we had cash reserves.

About six months after other companies lost their business, our bottom dropped out. We tried to protect our employees by keeping them on at full pay for essentially sweeping the floors. This weakened the company and actually did nothing for the security of the employees.

When the market didn’t rebound, we laid off most of the employees and eventually sold the business. In reality, we saved none of the employees we started out trying to protect. If I had to do it again, I would act faster and more decisively. Maybe that business would still be intact and those people would still have jobs with that company.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

“Aging in place”: We have never had more people turning 65 years old than right now. The Baby Boomers have most of the money in the country, and just about none of them want to move into a nursing home when it’s time. As a result, they need to prepare their homes for “aging in place” by taking safety measures for times when they may lose mobility or need a nurse to move in. In my opinion, this should have started years ago. There are some companies trying this now, but I don’t see anyone building a brand that this demographic will trust or engage with.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I’m mostly an open book, but some people are surprised to discover that I am an avid outdoorsman. If you want to find me off the clock, you should probably put some boots on.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Dropbox is a godsend. It allowed us more mobility and gave me access to any of our client files. No matter where I am or which device I’m using, I can find what I need.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Dale Carnegie’s timeless “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Jim Collins’ “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t,” and Stephen R. Covey’s essential “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” are all great reads.

I recently finished Les McKeown’s “Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization of the Growth Track — And Keeping It There.” I found this book helpful. It organized growth and death stages for your business and outlined some of the struggles you will need to overcome along the way. The author essentially says you will have to go through these stages. The only thing you can control is how long you struggle in any one given area. This idea has helped me identify which stage some of my clients are in and understand their struggles more clearly. This allows me a greater level of empathy so I might better serve them along the way.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Shamefully, I don’t attribute any one or two people accessible to the public with a high level of influence in my professional life. It’s a culmination of wonderful speakers and authors. My partners at Deksia have certainly been highly influential. Outside of that, I recommend Lewis Schiff. He studies the entrepreneurial condition, and I find his insights helpful. I enjoy reading Marcus Lemonis as well. I also watch the CNBC show “The Profit.” You get to see a number of professional decisions play out and all the drama that can go with those decisions.


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