Written by Leah Aharoni
If you haven’t noticed, entrepreneurs and Chabad rabbis have a lot in common. Both start new ventures from scratch, both need to develop a following in a competitive environment, and both need money to do it.
Despite being a business coach and consulting to Chabad institutions, I didn’t notice the connections nor what we can learn from each other until I came across the newly released The Secret of Chabad, by veteran shaliach Rabbi David Eliezrie, which offers an inside glance at how Chabad went from an anonymous tiny chassidus to become the largest Jewish organization in the world.
Contrary to popular belief, Chabad rabbis are not funded by the headquarters. They get very few directives. At best, the shaliach couple gets seed capital for one year. Then they are on their own. The shluchim are independent in their choice of what to do and how to do it. And they need to find the money to do it too.
Ever wonder what helps Chabad rabbis run their ventures and what you can learn from them for your own business? Here are Rabbi Eliezrie’s six tips, separating successful entrepreneurs from everyone else. Incidentally, my clients get to hear this a lot too.
1. Invest the Sweat Equity
It takes a lot more than cash to get a business (or a Chabad house!) off the ground. It takes effort, hard work, and a tremendous amount of dedication. Chabad rabbis usually take up their positions for life. And that’s what makes them successful. They are 100% committed to their project. This kind of non-stop toil is referred to as the “sweat equity,” and it takes everything you have. Give it 100% and you will see results. While you don’t have to stay with the same business till 120, you do need to make the commitment to do whatever it takes to reach your goals.
2. Assume leadership
On numerous occasions, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would ask people to describe the situation in their community, college, or country and then ask, “So what are you going to do about it?” No matter how young or ordinary the person, the Rebbe believed that if you identified a problem, you have it in your power to assume leadership and do something about it.
If you have identified a client need or a gap in the market, don’t just walk away, because it looks too big. If you have the wisdom to see it, you have the strength to solve it. Take control of the situation by asking what you can do. Even small steps help, because you never know where they will lead you.
3. Get out and engage
When was the last time you saw a Chabad rabbi? Chances are it was at a street corner, at a bus terminal, or in an airport. Don’t wait for the customers to come to you; go to them. Seek your audience in places that are not obvious. Places that you never thought you would get results, can all of a sudden become treasure troves of exactly the kind of clients you need. Case in point: the largest Pesach seder in the world is hosted by Chabad of Kathmandu, Nepal (of all places). Somehow, you just don’t get those kinds of numbers in Brooklyn or Bnei Brak.
For Chabad going out of the way means setting up tefillin and candle distribution tables at street corners, visiting office buildings, and opening Chabad Houses in the Far East. Few entrepreneurs have a harder-to-get crowd or need to step out of their comfort zone more than do Chabad rabbis. You have a creative business idea. Now think creatively to find a market for it.
4. Do business with integrity
Honesty and integrity often require courage, but they always win credibility and help build rapport with your customers and colleagues. No financial gain is worth the pangs of conscience or the tarnished reputation. On the other hand, remaining true to your values will always make you feel good and will be worth every cent in the long run.
5. Show genuine interest for people
A few years ago, we thought that we had lost an iPad far from home. Not knowing anyone there, we racked our brain how to retrieve it without taking a 3-hour drive each way. We ended up looking up the number of the local Chabad house on the internet and cautiously asked the rabbi if he would mind driving out a few miles to see if he could locate it. Not twenty minutes later, he called us from the scene, asking for clearer directions. After he searched unsuccessfully for several minutes, we thanked him profusely and asked him to stop. But he was determined to continue searching. “I am already here. Why give up?” We literally had to convince him to go back home.
It’s rare to find such dedication, but we can all ask ourselves what we can do to take more interest in the lives of people around us. What can you do to transform your clients’ lives? Chabad rabbis work tirelessly to benefit members of their community. As entrepreneurs, we can do the same. The people we meet are not accidental. We have what to add to enrich their lives. Can you help someone make a business connection? Can you refer someone to a resource? Can you provide a listening ear when someone looks like she is feeling down? It doesn’t take a lot – only a little care and thought.
It’s not just a great way to live. It’s a great way to do business. What goes around, comes around. Make sure you send out good vibes.
6. Audacity pays off
In every business venture, there is a certain amount of risk. This is not to be avoided! A challenge or a lack is simply a way for you to leverage your business and take it to the next level. Anyone can play on a leveled field. But only those who overcome challenges create something unique and worthwhile that sets them apart from competition.
Embrace challenges with audacity. As long as the risk is balanced with a healthy dose of reality and thoughtful analysis, putting yourself out there in a new way is exciting and is guaranteed to make your business better.
So these are Rabbi Eliezrie’s tips.
And here is one last thought from me. Who would have thought to look for business insights in Chabad? The best ideas live in unexpected places. If you need inspiration, leave your familiar surroundings, get away from your industry and colleagues, and go seek someone different. Instead of repelling those who differ from us, let’s embrace them. Underneath it all, we face similar challenges. We all have what to learn from each other.