Small Business News
Stop thinking so much--you're just procrastinating, says Jessica Herrin, founder of WeddingChannel.com and Stella and Dot.
You have to fail your way to success. In entrepreneurship, "there is no easy. There is no shortcut. Never," said Jessica Herrin, founder of jewelry company Stella and Dot, speaking at the Women Entrepreneurs Rock the World Conference in New York on Thursday.
Herrin, who was named female entrepreneur of the year by Savor the Success, the organization responsible for organizing the conference, told the 500 women in attendance that if starting a company was easy, it wouldn't be as fulfilling and anyone could do it.
"You are not supposed to pursue something that's supposed to fall into place over night. If there weren't hard parts, there would be no value to creating. You have to fail more often if you are going to be successful," said Herrin, adding that entrepreneurs must fail their way to success through effort and passion.
That means conquering your fears--fears that often manifest in the form of obsessive thinking and planning. In order to really launch a business, entrepreneurs must stop over thinking their ideas and business plans and rather do business, even if it means failing and getting up in the process.
"It's the doing that makes the business, not the contemplating, the fighting, the thinking, the wondering. Do more. Think less. Not because you don't think, but because the doing really outweighs it," Herrin told the audience.
"You can waste a tremendous amount of time doing things that are superfluous to success. That is not business building, that is procrastination, because you are afraid to go do what really matters. How do you get started? Go sell something. Go market something."
Instead of focusing energy on the obstacles such as raising money and increasing sales, entrepreneurs should focus on how amazing it will be once they scale the obstacles. The key is to avoid becoming jaded, insisted Herrin.
"I will always make sure that life never makes me too jaded, too tired to try," she said.
Baratunde Thurston's series of short online episodes about crowdfunding explores a new breed of entrepreneurship. But a celebrity show, this is not. "The main point is hearing people and their story," says co-writer Brian Janosch.
Utter the word "crowdfunding" to most people, and Garden State 2 comes to mind. But when Brian Janosch hears it, he doesn't think of Zach Braff and his recent effort to raise millions on Kickstarter. He sees a single mother in Idaho hoping to finance her clever idea.
The desire to tell stories of entrepreneurship, especially the ones outside of Silicon Valley, is what inspired Janosch, an editor-at-large at The Onion, and his partner in crime, Baratunde Thurston, another Onion vet who wrote the bestseller How to Be Black, to develop the AOL Web series Funded. The five-to-seven-minute long shows, which track real entrepreneurs as they jump-start their dreams by raising money online, begin being filmed this summer.
"The main point of it, to me, is hearing the people and their story. It will be a success if each episode gets you in the head of the entrepreneur," he says. Thurston and Janosch also hope to convey how crowdfunding has become a powerful tool for entrepreneurs in a time when banks have tight lending standards.
Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter (which helped Braff raise $2.5 million for his film), and Indiegogo, an international platform for artists, have set a new standard, he says. "People can take the reigns a little bit and say, 'I'm not going to be denied. If they have to go out to the public and just ask, they're going to do that." In researching the series, Janosch says he's come across 41 or 42 crowdfunding platforms, so "the fact that you can put a number that big on it means there has to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people crowdfunding on each platform."
Janosch, Thurston, and product director Craig Cannon, are the minds behind Cultivated Wit, the digital media company they founded after leaving The Onion. Alhough they've mostly worked on social media campaigns, when AOL approached them about a crowdfunding show, they jumped on the opportunity.
"Comedy--and on a larger level, good storytelling--Is really changing" says Janosch. "Here are people who have a passion or have an idea, and they need to tell a story, and to tell it really well. That's what's going to get them started and make their business idea a reality."
The series of short episodes will also offer a glimpse of how the Web works on a broader scale.
"One episode might be tech, one might be a restaurant, one might be an artist, one might be a film," he says. "We're touching on all these different worlds."
Should you go to your school, company, or family reunion? If you're an entrepreneur, the answer is undoubtedly yes.
It's the time of year for reunions--class reunions, family reunions, corporate reunions, military reunions. I asked a group of entrepreneurs recently for their reunion stories, and I was awfully impressed.
You'll have to forgive me for being a bit biased when we talk about reunions. Last June, I set aside my shock at how fast time had flown and went to my 20th college reunion at Fairfield University. The trip changed my life because I reconnected with my college girlfriend, Karen. We hadn't seen each other in more than a decade, but things just clicked, and we're getting married next month.
Now, I can't promise you'll rekindle an old flame, but I can tell you that truly great entrepreneurs will always find a way to attend their reunions. Even if going makes you feel a little old, you'll always find something new to get excited about in that atmosphere. That's because reunions are full of opportunities for entrepreneurs. Here are a few of them.
1. New business ideas.
You'll have a conversation and suddenly you recognize new opportunity. That's what entrepreneurship is all about.
Jeremy Merrin graduated from Bronx High School of Science in New York City in 1976, and he ran into an old friend at his 25th reunion in 2001. They got to talking about food, and eventually she invited Merrin to taste some "real" Cuban food at her mother's house.
That dinner changed his life. He liked the food so much that he launched Havana Central, a chain of four successful Cuban restaurants with aspirations to become the "Cheesecake Factory of Cuban food."
"At a reunion, you automatically have a connection with these people even though you may not have seen them in years," Merrin said. "[They are] more likely help you than people you have never met before."
2. New clients.
You'll reconnect. You walk into reunion, see someone you haven't thought of in years, and 45 minutes pass without realizing it.
David W. McCombie III is a lawyer and former McKinsey & Co. consultant who now runs a private equity advisory firm in Miami. For him, a recent McKinsey reunion event proved to be a great call.
McCombie told me that while he enjoyed seeing old colleagues, it was his introduction to some older alumni that really paid off. Several of the conversations resulted in "actual client engagements," he said. "One in particular has become a very substantial client almost overnight."
He credits the setting and the sense of belonging with adding up to new opportunities.
"I actually have a similar story from my college reunion," he said, "where they also lump together classes in five year increments--allowing for great networking with older, more established professionals."
3. New chances to learn.
You'll suddenly realize that someone you knew years ago is now an expert in a field you want to learn about.
Entrepreneur Colin Grussing graduated from Yale University in 2007, and went to his 5-year reunion last summer. There, he ran into a college friend who now worked in media.
They got to talking about Grussing's various businesses--among them an online venture selling motorcycle sidecars, and another called RootSuit, specializing in those spandex coverall bodysuits that you see rabid fans wearing at sporting events.
We "went pretty in-depth about how the whole media system works," Grussing recalled.
Afterward, he thought about his friend's advice, and used it to pitch the television show Shark Tank. He made it on the show, and while it didn't lead to further investment, the experience raised RootSuit's profile and led to even more media opportunities.
4. New career opportunities.
You'll realize that you can help other people as well.
Logan Beam's story is a bit different. His mother graduated from high school in 1986, but she couldn't go to her 25th reunion two years ago because she and his father had just moved to Florida. So Beam, who was studying marketing and playing football at Wittenberg University at the time, went in her place.
"I wore a nametag with her maiden/high school name," he explained, and met many of her classmates.
Among them was Elizabeth Nickol, whose father and brother had founded All-American Clothing, an Ohio company specializing in 100-percent American-made goods. The conversation led to an interview, then an internship, and eventually a job. Beam is now the company's director of marketing and communications.
"Working for and supporting 'USA-made' companies helps keep and create jobs right here in America. My job is to ultimately create American jobs. I really enjoy having that responsibility," he said.
5. New perspective on the choices you've made.
You'll have a conversation, or listen to what others have done since you left, and realize just how proud you should be of the path you've chosen.
Maybe you've put on a pound or two, or you notice some lines in your face that weren't there the last time you saw these people. Everybody else probably has, as well.
Statistics show that entrepreneurs generally have happier lives. You're an entrepreneur. Probably 90 percent of your old classmates aren't. You'll be happy you went.
Still, keep the gloating to yourself. You want to make sure you're invited to the next reunion, too.
Don't get so caught up in the idea for your start-up that you fail to think about the basics.
Starting a business is a daunting task. As a serial entrepreneur, I can relate with the late-night number crunching, garage-based shoestringing and general uncertainty that comes with launching a new venture.
A 2012 study from Statistic Brain puts the first year failure rate for businesses at 25 percent, with more than 44 percent failing by year three. I've had my share of successes and failures, the latter of which provided the best opportunity for learning. I've found that there are a few basic things to ask yourself before you launch a new business that can provide a bit of clarity and set you up with a better chance for success:1. What do you want?
The answer shouldn't be business-centric. Think about what you really want out of life--your personal ambitions--then decide how your business venture can facilitate that. Do you actually want to start and grow a company or do you just have a product or idea to sell for someone else to develop and market? Maybe your goal in life is to make $1 billion--that's okay. I think about what I would want people to say about me after I'm gone. That becomes my "center line."2. What are the fundamentals needed to get started?
I refer to E-Myth to answer this one. There is fundamental blocking-and-tackling needed for business success. A garage start-up won't have all of these fine tuned or even in place, but awareness of the these elements (leadership, marketing fundamentals, fulfillment, lead conversion, etc.) will make for a smooth transition from start-up to small business.3. Where do I fit in?
At the beginning, you'll be wearing all of the hats--entrepreneur, manager, and technician--but eventually you'll be able to bring in experts to develop and grow your business. Going back to question No. 1, knowing who you are as a person will tell you where you should focus your efforts in the company as it grows and what types of people you need to bring into the company first. An entrepreneurial type that is spending more time in operations is probably starting as many fires as he or she is putting out. Know your strengths and own them.
If there was a tried-and-true recipe for success, we would never have failures. Every venture will have its own tribulations to overcome, but having a clear idea of why you're doing it, what you need to do and how you can best facilitate that will at least lessen the roadblocks and speed bumps you're sure to face.
Everyone has insecurities when doing something new. Here are three ways to build strength and be self-confident.
New challenges and opportunities can be exciting, but they can also test your self-esteem. Whether you are launching a new business, stepping into a bigger management role or even representing a new product, you likely lack the day-in-day-out experience that makes you knowledgeable and relaxed for that first big meeting or presentation.
A little nervous energy can make your delivery dynamic and productive. Too much and you will come off insecure, unsure, and amateurish. That's not a particularly good image to convey when trying to impress an audience or close a big deal. Some can fake it 'til they make it, but most people need to feel confident to convey confidence in a high-pressure situation.
You can find your confidence even in scenarios where you have little or no experience. Here are three techniques I combine to be confident in new situations.1. Identify Three Points of Credibility
Confidence comes when you can comfortably be authoritative. If you lack credibility in your own mind, you'll convey weakness to others. People are desperately looking for experts and leaders, but are naturally skeptical in today's over-marketed world. It takes more than one or two references these days to assure a cynical buyer. Think of it this way: First time's a fluke, second time's a coincidence and third time's a trend. Find three known people or entities to support your expertise or point of view before you present and you'll feel like there is an entire army behind you. As an example, my three credibility points include being a For Dummies author, building an Inc. 500 company, and having authored four Amazon No. 1 best-selling books.2. Document Your Expertise
Chances are you didn't get this opportunity by accident. Everything you have done to this point has led to this moment. Now you need to share what's in your brain in a methodical and organized manner. So write it down. Make a list of the 10 insights you have about this situation. Just the act of organizing your thoughts into simple bullet points in a document will remind you of why you are the right person to make this happen. If you come up short on credible statements, take it as a signal to bone up and do a little more research. Your ability to quickly gain expertise in your new scenario will give you as much confidence as having all that information in your brain in the first place.3. Rehearse the Role Required
Professionals make communication and presentation look easy. That's because there is a lot of rigorous rehearsal behind that performance. If the documentation is solid and well constructed (See No. 2) you can trust the material, and focus on how you present yourself and the information. Don't just leave your delivery to chance or improvisation. Take the time to think through your delivery and practice it several times out loud. Race car drivers mentally drive the track hundreds of times before actually racing live on the course. This allows them to deal with the unexpected without losing control or their confidence. If you are not well rehearsed, you'll be grasping for ideas. Better that everything important is natural and automatic so you can concentrate on your body language, and most importantly, the people in the room listening to your communication.
A little preparation can go a long way to make you feel secure even in the unknown. Build on the strengths you have so people can see you address the unfamiliar with positive energy and inner confidence.
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Studies show that having dogs in the workplace reduce stress and increase satisfaction. Here are three things that workplaces that allow dogs do well.
In this dog eat dog corporate world of deadlines, stress and non-stop meetings I got thinking about the effect it has when I bring my pup Dwight to work. The minute he trots in the door people light up. They relax, they smile, they play. And Dwight loves every minute of it. Does this mean we should let the dogs out?
An article from CNN cites a recent study that says, "According to a preliminary investigation published in March in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Business, employees who bring their dog to the office can cap the amount of stress experienced during the day, and improve job satisfaction for all." Less stress and increased satisfaction? Seems like a no-brainer and some pretty successful companies including TRX, ModCloth, Yammer and Google here in San Francisco seem to have found a way to do it by doing the following:Have a Solid Policy In Place
Google for instance, has a dog policy that outlines a basic set of guidelines including picking up after your furry friend and being respectful of allergic co-workers. And Google is clearly a dog's world as their code of conduct forbids cats under the notion that because Google is a dog place, any visiting felines would feel less than secure. Your policy should also spell out specifics of any breeds not allowed, as well as damages and personal injury issues. Covering your bases and being respectful to all employees will help ensure a good experience for everyone. Also consider that not all buildings and landlords are pet friendly which is a bummer, but if yours is, you may want to try it.
A recent Inc. article discussed how One Call Now even goes beyond dogs. The company has several dogs, fish, birds, turtles and other caged animals that hang out with their humans during the workday. The company worked with their HR team to develop a pet policy, "There's nothing that's not common sense," CEO Lieb Lurie, says of the policy. "So if you have common sense, your pet is welcome. Simple and straightforward.Take It For a Walk Before You Go Full Force
Take Your Dog to Work Day is just around the corner and is a great chance to "test drive" having dogs, or other pets in your office. Pet Sitter International has a great action pack with all the details to keep tails wagging during the event.
Modcloth has been one of the fastest growing companies in San Francisco and are known for their mascot Winston who shows up throughout their site. They've incorporated Winston and other pups in their blog and even have a Facebook page called ModDogs which according to their About section is, "meant to showcase our most loved pups and give you a chance to submit your own puppy photos once you join the club!" And judging by the 4,000-plus likes they've got on the page they're creating some great engagement with their customers and fans! This is a great example of taking a positive thing for your employees and expanding the reach to your customers.
What do you think of having dogs in the workplace? Are you a fan?
Everything doesn't need to be equal, but it does need to be fair.
Dear Evil HR Lady,
I have two exempt employees, who currently have the same benefits (vacation pay, sick pay, retirement). One employee is requesting the ability to buy an additional week of vacation.
I'm happy to allow her to do this, but this then brought up a question for me if it wouldn't simply make more sense moving forward to offer her an additional week of vacation and reduce her salary in general to offset that cost. This would then make the benefits no longer equal (note: Both employees became full time and eligible for vacation at the same time).
So the question is: Do I need to offer the exact same benefits to all salaried employees that are at the same level in company hierarchy?
Fortunately, everything does not have to be equal. People negotiate different salaries and benefits all the time. And I agree with you that simply reducing the overall salary and adding on a week of vacation is the best way to go about it.
I'm guessing you're concerned that this drop in salary will affect other areas, such as the amount contributed towards retirement. Well, that's fine. You just need to explain what the consequences of this deal are.
What you cannot do is offer different salaries and benefits based on things such as race or gender. You can do them differently based on performance, experience, or just being willing to ask. After all, not everybody prefers a lower salary in exchange for more vacation, just as some people like to telecommute and other people do not.
What I do recommend, however, is that you make this an official policy that is available to all similarly situated employees. That is, if Jane is allowed to purchase an extra week of vacation, John should be allowed to as well. Then it becomes all about the employee's choice and there are no worries about fairness.
Personally, I'd like to see more companies offer such things. Vacation can be a valuable negotiating tool when hiring. Vacation also allows people much needed downtime that can make them better workers when they are at work. But some people prefer money over time off.
In fact, some companies offer vacation plans in which employees can either buy or sell vacation days. That is, your policy allows for two weeks vacation, standard. An employee then has the option to use the two weeks vacation, buy a third week of vacation, or sell some of the two weeks in exchange for an increased paycheck. Flexibility is an awesome retention and recruitment tool.
These seven timeless but useless strategies pop up with annoying regularity.
In some companies it's like clockwork. Every couple of years or so, somebody in the executive suite decides that what's needed to make the organization really productive is a new approach to managing people.
Contrary to what you might think, management fads aren't fads because they're something new. Quite the contrary, what makes them fads is that companies glom onto these decades-old ideas as panaceas... one after the other after the other.
Here's how to ensure that you can still get work done and build your career, even when your company falls under the spell.
Fad 1. Best Practices
For decades, management pundits have insisted it's possible to become successful by imitating the strategies and tactics of existing firms that are already successful. There's only one problem with this strategy: it doesn't work.
The most highly successful companies--Apple, Coke, IBM, P&G, etc.--tend to be one-of-a-kind. The strategies that work (or worked) for them aren't likely to work in a different industry or for a smaller firm.
What's worse, the "successful" firms featured in such books are often past their prime anyway. The seminal "best practices" book In Search of Excellence is a case in point. Most of the companies featured in the book did terribly after the book came out.
Fad 2. Six Sigma
Six Sigma is more like a cartoon cult than a real attempt to improve things. It involves awarding people different colored "belts" (like in a karate class) based upon their expertise in the Six Sigma methodology.
The result is a hierarchy of "belted" experts who run around the company pretending that they know how to do other people's work better than the people who actually do the work. Endless meetings ensue, with little or no effect.
Companies that implement Six Sigma typically do worse than their competitors and it's not hard to see why. What do you expect from potbellied managers running around with little colored belts like a Bruce Lee movie on Bizarro world?
Fad 3. Business Process Reengineering
The theory of BRP makes sense: 1) set up cross-functional teams in order to re-engineer separate functional tasks into complete cross-functional processes, 2) integrate and rationalize a wide number of business functions, 3) Ooops.
Gee, did I say that the theory of BRP makes sense? My bad. I meant to say that the theory is pure bullsh*t dressed in a tutu.
Changing the basic processes of a corporation while those processes are taking place is exactly like trying to redesign and retool an automobile while you're driving down the highway. That's why "reengineering" turned into a euphemism for "layoffs."
Fad 4. Matrix Management
The idea here is that people with similar skills should be "pooled" for work assignments. For example, the engineers should report to an engineering manager, but also report to a project manager while they're working on that project.
The result is predictable: an endless, debilitating turf war, where each manager fights to be considered the "real" manager, by finding extra hoops to jump through and extra rocks to fetch, in order to prove that they're the ones who are really in charge.
Because the system creates more managers, the organization quickly becomes top heavy. Management becomes completely consumed in arguments over who will do what and when.
Fad 5. Management by Consensus
Consensus management is usually seen as an alternative to "top-down" decision making common inside hierarchical organizations. In theory, important decisions are to be made with the agreement of everybody in the group.
Since everybody has a say in the decision, anybody can effectively veto any decision. As a result, only decisions that are completely innocuous and support the status quo are ever made. Difficult decisions--ones that might ruffle feathers--tend to get shunted aside.
When tough decisions are made, they're subject to what's called "the Abilene paradox," where a group will unanimously agree on a course of action that no individual member of the group desires because no one is willing to go against the perceived will of the group.
Fad 6. Core Competence
It sounds like good advice: Focus on the single thing that your firm does better than anyone else. That will make your strategy difficult for competitors to imitate and keep your organization from wasting time doing things that they're lousy at doing.
Unfortunately, organizations, like the people inside them, tend to be as self aware as a turnip. As a result, they seldom know what they're really good at and often believe they're wonderful in areas that, in fact, they're startlingly mediocre.
More importantly, core competence keeps a company locked into doing what it was successful at doing in the past, thereby making it more difficult to adapt to changing circumstances.
Fad 7. Management By Objective
With MBO, you define objectives within an organization so that management and employees agree to the objectives. Then you compare the employee's actual performance with the agreed-upon objectives.
On the surface, there's nothing wrong with this idea. However, it becomes a fad when people turn what should be a fairly simple exercise into a paperwork nightmare. In this case, the process of planning and evaluating work takes more effort than the work itself.
What's worse, the explicit laying out of objectives--and basing compensation on them--makes it difficult for organizations and individuals to change gears when something unexpected happens.
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You already know you need a robust Web presence for your business. What other tech steps do you need to take to get established? Read this handy list.
I asked a number of entrepreneurs and experts for the essential things every new start-up must do to establish its Web presence. Here's the digital to-do list they came up with:
1. Register the domain.
If you've seen the GoDaddy.com commercials, you know you shouldn't wait long to register a domain. Someone might swoop in and steal the perfect dotcom. Just about every expert listed this first, knowing the domain is one of the easiest things to do, but also the one that can get you into a bind if you don't get the one you want.
2. Create your LinkedIn company page.
You may already have a personal page on LinkedIn, but you'll also want a LinkedIn company page. Start-up coach Anna Colibri says a company page lets you use a corporate logo on your resume. Bonus points if you add tons of links to your company page--to your own profile, to your company site, and to other social nets.
It's critical to start using Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools right away. Serial entrepreneur Ryan Alovis, the CEO and founder of interactive agency ArkNet Media, says these tools form the foundation of online marketing. You can analyze your new domain for traffic, SEO, bounce rates (how long someone sticks around), and much more.
4. Claim your Google+ business page.
Speaking of Google, you'll also want to create a Google+ business page. You'll get exposure on this more technically minded social network, but more importantly your customers will see a well-organized summary of your company (one you control) at the top of search results.
5. Round out your social networking.
For a new business, experts say LinkedIn is critical (it connects you with other businesses) and Google+ helps with search engine optimization. You'll also want to establish your company on Facebook and Twitter. One trick I tell people: Go to Klout.com and register for all of the accounts they list, including Instagram and Foursquare.
6. Fill out local citations.
You not only own a company, you own an address. Jennifer Stagner, who does SEO for office supplier Tops, says you should always use the same format, spelling, and syntax for your physical address (e.g., 101 Main Street not Main St). Claim your citations at Yelp, Google Places, UrbanSpoon, and other local search sites. She says you can also use a local search service like Whitespark or Yext to speed up the process.
7. Start using MailChimp.
Most experts specifically called out MailChimp, the e-newsletter and mass email distribution service, as a critical step. For starters, Stagner says MailChimp is a great way to manage contacts and keeps your company compliant with spam laws. You'll also start out with a professional image for email blasts and can track the success of these campaigns.
8. Pick an anti-virus tool.
Sure, it might seem boring--why would a hacker come after your new company anyway? But tools for protecting against malware and viruses such as the ones from companies like McAfee and Symantec are important right from the get-go (especially since some spambots check for recently registered domains). Sameep Shah, who runs a Web design company, says it's also important to make sure your anti-virus software is always running the latest signature files and is installed on all computers.
9. Start blogging.
An extra step that could help with marketing? Yes, but early on it serves other useful purposes. Colibri says blogging is critical for search engine optimization and generating buzz. You claim your authority on a topic and add credibility to your presence on the Web. But the best reason is to create links back to that domain you registered.
10. Choose how to collaborate.
In-person collaboration is easy: Just walk over to the desk of an employee. For a distributed company with remote workers, or to connect better with customers and partners, you'll need to pick a collaborative online environment. Michelle Lam, co-founder of RecoverORS, recommends tools like Teambox, Teamlab, and Basecamp. They help you keep up on overall company progress so you don't rely only on email.
11. Install a router.
Some small companies can get by without a router, but not for long. Many new laptops like the Chromebook Pixel do offer a built-in 4G connection, but you'll want to start thinking about network storage in the office, connecting a printer, and sharing files. The latest models like the NETGEAR R6300 use a wireless standard called 802.11ac, which runs at a speedy 1750Mbps. (Keep in mind that connected gadgets might not run at that speed... yet.)
12. Choose a cloud storage provider.
This is a tough one, because there are so many options. I've been testing a business-oriented storage service called Soonr, which is geared more for teams. Dropbox, Google Cloud Storage, and Carbonite are also good options. Shah says one of the key benefits to a cloud storage service, other than the easy remote access, is low-cost disaster recovery.
13. Think like a SurveyMonkey.
Several experts also called out SurveyMonkey.com as a critical tool for any new company. The site lets you create questionnaires you can send out to customers. But the reason this step is important is to create a feedback loop. By asking for feedback from customers, you can keep innovating and change direction as needed. Surveys also serve a different purpose: They're a marketing tool. You can even ask current customers for referrals.
14. Get a virtual phone number.
You'll need a way for people to contact you beyond email. In lieu of a cell phone or a business line, consider a virtual phone number from companies like RingCentral or Twilio. Mikhail Malamud, who started a cloud auditing company called CloudAware, says these services offer advanced call routing features and can provide a 1-800 number.
15. Choose your SEO keywords.
Early on, you'll want to start thinking about SEO keywords--the search terms people will use to find your new business. You'll add these to your site when you get one developed, and you might use them if you start buying Google ads. Kelsey McBride, a PR representative, says you should think about SEO before you pick your company name. She recently started a new company called Book Publicity Services because it is so Google-friendly.
16. Make YouTube videos.
Malamud also mentioned that a critical first step is to make YouTube videos, because these can help explain your company to the uninitiated and generate site traffic. (I know of one friend who generated almost all of his initial sales from a YouTube video.) Google, who owns YouTube, will analyze and associate your video keywords with your new company domain, helping people find your new company.
17. Create a back-up system.
Even if you do most of your business online or use cloud services, you'll probably end up with some local files storage. Most of the experts said a back-up system--even if it is a simple USB thumbdrive or an external disk connected to your mac--is critical as a first step. I also like the Pogoplug for cloud back-ups.
18. Go online for CRM.
Choosing a Customer Relationship Management tool like Salesforce.com is a critical first step, even though it may not seem like a critical item for a tech to-do list. Most of the experts said CRM is a business process that has become more technical than ever. You'll need to pick a tool that can communicate with the other services you use, like MailChimp. And, if you choose an open source tool like SugarCRM, you might need to hire a programmer to help.
19. Pick an email platform.
Before you click "activate" on your new company, you'll need to pick a real email platform--unless you plan to stick with Gmail. Outlook.com is one good option, since it doesn't have as many ads. But a full-on business email platform like BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 or Microsoft Exchange online provide admin tools, password resets, and better security.
20. Create a way to accept payments.
Oh, and one last technical step: People will need a way to pay you. You can sign up for a service like PayPal.com or use one of those nifty iPad credit card scanners like Square. Make sure whatever service you use fits in with your overall gameplan for tech. For example, if you use Square, make sure it will work on the tablets you're using.
An advertising executive and a rock-and-roll musician figure out how to make money in publishing by using an old-school business model.
Attend an online media conference and you're bound to meet a lot of depressed people. Rates, driven by an effectively infinite supply of inventory, have politely obeyed the law of supply and demand and fallen into the pits. Even major outlets like the New York Times can get clobbered by "struggles in both print and online advertising."
In that atmosphere, a newcomer like Joel Babbit, CEO of Mother Nature Network, would likely do well to stay mum. Because Babbit's baby, an environmental news site, is doing well, thank you very much. Finally having hit 10 million visits in April, according to Google Analytics, the four-year-old site is also in the black--between $300,000 and $500,000 in profit last year--and expects between $5 million and $6 million in revenue in 2013.
What did Babbit and his partner Chuck Leavell, keyboard player for the Rolling Stones, do to merit the money? They focused on quality of content and a business model that didn't assume a broken form of advertising as its foundation.
The Environmental Missing Link
Babbit may have been new to publishing, but he was well versed in media, having spent decades in advertising agencies. Over time, he saw a growing interest in environmental information. "Clients would be talking about allocating more money to environmental messages and creating campaigns about their environmental responsibility, he says. "At times I would have no idea what they would be talking about."
He'd try to research what was clearly becoming a mainstream topic, but found that most everything was written for scientists, policy wonks, or political partisans. He met Leavell, who was deeply into environmental issues, and started to see that a site with news and clear information on the environment could be a hit. Babbit was well connected and, after conversations with a former head of the ad agency Young & Rubicam, the CEO of Georgia Pacific, and a childhood friend who was part owner of the Atlanta Falcons, he literally had $6 million in start-up money within 24 hours.
That money would help fuel development and a staff of 32--28 of which are staff journalists updating the site multiple times a day. But, as too many start-up examples have shown, initial capital is nothing without a way to ultimately make money. Eventually all the good intentions and stories posted, no matter what quality, would fall apart because there would be no money to keep the operation going.
The media business was already over-populated when it came to getting ad dollars. "It's just so ineffective," he says. "It has to be at its all-time low. [You also] have an overwhelming majority of Internet publishers where there's no way in the world they're going to make enough money putting out a product with the traditional CPM [cost per mille, or thousand views] product."
Hello Past, Meet the Present
So instead of the current state of ad models, Babbit looked back to an older period of media, when companies would be the single sponsor for entire radio and television programs.
As television production became more advanced, and more costly, companies could no longer routinely sponsor an entire program, so the model moved to the commercial segments we know today. But that doesn't mean it continues to be the most sensible approach as media moves online. The newest direction seems to be so-called content marketing. But there's a problem.
"Almost no corporate site, none of them, gets any traffic at all," Babbit says. "They do these great articles, they have people do tremendous videos for them. The quality is exceptional, but nobody goes to corporate sites. The question is not whether they need content and good content; they know that, but they can't just put it on their site. They need to create sites or buy sites that are lifestyle oriented and not Microsoft.com and Loreal.com or Cocacola.com." Or they can sponsor sites like MNN.com.
Babbit put together the past and present and settled on sponsorships. Companies could become the sole sponsor of a given section for $300,000 for a year, though they would get no veto power over material, even if it covered them unfavorably.
"I bet I have not ever had a sponsor presentation where I'm trying to sell the sponsorship and someone says, 'Let's just assume some disaster happens. Is it possible that would be reported on the same page we're sponsoring?'" Babbit says. "My answer is it's not possible, it's definite. And if we didn't do that, you wouldn't want to be our sponsor because we'd have no traffic and no credibility."
Apparently the whole approach works. The site sees a 90 percent sponsor renewal rate.
Has your business graduated from those crazy early days? Congratulations! Now make sure your business and personal finances are firmly separated.
No one checks their hair when fleeing a burning house, and no one worries too much about legal niceties in the early months of launching a startup. When you're fighting for survival, survival is the only thing that matters.
But just as you'd call your mother as soon as you're safely away from that fire, it's important for start-ups leaving that first frantic stage to sort out their personal and professional finances, warned attorney Emily Chase Smith on Under30CEO.
As part of her business helping start-ups clear up their legal issues, Smith has seen just what can happen if you delay disentangling those personal and professional assets.
Specifically, it breaks her heart when she meets founders who "are facing a personal lawsuit for a commercial space that’s multiple six figures and their homes, their assets and their family’s savings is [sic] on the line," she writes.
So what sort of messes do these founders often make? Chase Smith outlines a few, from putting business expenses on a personal credit card to guaranteeing a lease and borrowing money from family and friends.
If you used your personal cash to help bootstrap the business, that was bold and probably necessary. But even if things go well, those financial ties could stop the sale of your business--or take you down financially if something goes terribly wrong.
So how should you proceed sorting out those questions? Check Chase Smith's post to see her helpful advice.
Are your business and personal finances entangled?
Check out three ambitious companies focused on intergalactic innovation--and one expert's forecast for what's next in space.
High-profile intergalactic projects such as Elon Musk's Space X and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic have helped bring space travel (read: space commerce) to the mainstream.
But they're hardly the only private ventures pursuing ambitious ideas in space. Here are four companies currently trying to tame the final frontier. And one guy who thinks they can go farther.
Planetary Resources, Inc.
Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis co-founded Planetary Resources, an extra-terrestrial mining company that harnesses natural resources from astroids floating in space. Though the frozen chunks of space rock contain valuable materials like platinum and precious metals, the most important resource the company aims to extract is a basic one: water.
"You can process [water] to create fuel and oxygen," says John Spencer, space architect and president of the Space Tourism Society. He explains that by building the technology and framework for processing resources in space, extra-orbital energy companies like Planetary Resources could dramatically reduce the expense--in time, money, and Earth resources--of sustaining life in deep space. Which would be great news for entrepreneurs hoping to capitalize on tourism possibilities.
Spencer's not the only one to take notice of Planetary Resources' potential in the burgeoning space economy. Last month, the space mining company announced a partnership with Bechtel, the largest engineering firm in the United States, to accomplish its long-term goal of mining near-Earth asteroids.
Space Adventures, Ltd.
Yet another collaboration between Diamandis and Anderson, Space Adventures is a space tourism company founded in 1998. It claims the distinction of being the "only company to have sent private citizens to space," and has sent nearly a dozen wealthy tourists--seats cost as much as $51 million--to the International Space Station using the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to date.
In 2015, the company plans to launch its first commercial lunar flyby, offering two citizens the opportunity to circle around the moon. The first seat was sold to an anonymous customer in 2011, but the second remains open--for $150 million.
Robert Bigelow--a native of the resort-centric Las Vegas, Nevada--had an innovative idea: bring the hospitality industry to space. Founded in 1999, Bigelow Aerospace aims to be the first commercial hotel in space. While this may, at first blush, sound like little more than a pipe dream, the company has already launched two successful prototypes--both of which are still in orbit.
The residential vessels are inflatable, making them significantly larger than traditional space station quarters and Bigelow has stated that while he would be happy to sell the units outright, leasing will be the most affordable option. For a little over $51 million, Bigelow's website states, spacegoers can book a flight and 2-month stay at the 110 cubic meter Alpha Station, which is still in development. Bigelow is also selling the naming rights. Advertisers can pay $25 million to attach their brand's name to the station--but only for one year at a time.
The Next Frontier
John Spencer, president of the Space Tourism Society, says that ad sponsorships, like Bigelow selling the naming rights to Alpha Station, is the future for space commerce.
"The media loves really big prestigious events," he says. "Space is very prestigious--even sexy." Being the first company to launch a commercial space station, or provide transportation in and out of orbit is attention-grabbing, he says. And brands will pay for that attention, if Redbull's sponsorship of space skydiver Felix Baumgartner is any example.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Spencer believes that possibilities of space tourism are expanding daily. He hopes to eventually establish off-planet sporting events--think a Formula One-style race of manned rovers on the moon's surface--which could provide additional advertising options for Earth companies. Another area ripe for growth, in Spencer's opinion: the service industry.
"How do you cook a five-star meal in zero gravity?" asks Spencer. "How do you serve it and how do you clean up afterwards? How do people have sex? How do people live and enjoy their lives in space?"
The clever businessmen who can answer those questions, he says, will be the future of the space tourism industry.
Make customer experience your number one priority, says co-founder Alexis Maybank.
Building a loyal fan base, even while scaling a business in hyper-growth mode, can only work with a constant focus on customer experience, said Alexis Maybank, co-founder of flash sale company Gilt Groupe, speaking at the Women Entrepreneurs Rock the World Conference in New York on Thursday.
The six-year-old company sells products from close to 50 brands and has accumulated seven million customers, 60 percent of whom joined Gilt because a friend invited them. While it's easy to become intoxicated by fast growth and tempting to focus on that, nothing is more important than a relentless focus on the customer's experience, Maybank said.
Part of Gilt's allure is its flash nature: Sales of limited time offer items start at noon Eastern time, and sometimes sell out. Logging on checking out what's new becomes a part of the customer's daily routine--and getting ahold of the best stuff before it sells out is addictive.
"Psychology wise, [shoppers] know they have to move quickly," said Maybank. Gilt customers are competitive and shopping is "kind of fun that way." Seventy percent of Gilt's daily sales come in the first 90 minutes of the day's sales.
Like many fast-growing businesses, the Gilt team found that their site was not prepared for the volume of traffic during that 90 minute window, and its customer support team could not keep up with calls. So for three months the company didn't reach out to new vendors to expand inventory, didn't build out more services, and didn't solicit new customers. Instead, the entire team focused on improving and scaling the site and customer support services.
"We had to stop business operations and really rebuild infrastructure of our site. That was a really painful thing to do, to say stop," said Maybank. However, it was a necessary move to maintain the quality of customer experience and to sustain their customers' demand.
In e-commerce, it often comes down to scale, how big can you get as fast as you can, said Milbank, but what can set you apart from the competition is your focus on the customer.
"Competition keeps you on your toes, and you have to ensure to provide the best customer experience," she said.
Marissa Mayer wants everyone at the office. Other companies don't even have offices. Where do you fit?
Chegg, a Silicon Valley online textbook rental service, introduced unlimited paid vacation; so far, no one has abused the privilege. When I was running software companies, women on maternity leave were told to come back when they wanted to, on a schedule of their own devising; they never let me down. Strategies like these inspire terrific loyalty--but I wonder how many companies use them?
By 2025, Generation Y and its successors will comprise more than half the global population and 75 percent of the workforce, according to consulting firm A.T. Kearney. And 80 percent of them want to be able to work flexibly. How many, I wonder, will get what they want?
Although many companies these days are comfortable demanding constant attention from their employees, few are at ease with the idea that this needs to be reciprocal. And many still persist in thinking this is a women's issue when it isn't. It's a talent and retention issue. Here's why:
1. Flexible working is smart.
Letting your employees out into the world to absorb information, notice other products, talk to a wide range of people about any number of subjects is how they stay in touch and alive. Cooping them up in offices and meeting rooms for hours or days on end makes them dull and boring.
2. Ideas arise in unexpected circumstances.
There's plenty of evidence that people do their most imaginative work when looking away from a problem: driving home, in the shower, walking the dog. If you don't want your people to have ideas, keep them at the office.
3. Everyone has family.
A senior partner at an investment bank once asked me why he couldn't just hire single people; that way, he hoped, he wouldn't have to consider childcare pressures. I told him to remember that, while one can choose whether or not to have kids, no one can choose whether or not to have parents. Gen Y and subsequent generations will face a lot of demands from elderly parents who need time and attention. If you want to keep smart people, you have to work with that.
None of this means that offices are irrelevant or that there isn't immense value in bringing people together under the same roof at the same time. There is. This is part of how you get great work from people. But it isn't the only way. Companies are--not surprisingly--like people because they are made up of people. And just as individuals are more creative when allowed freedom, the same is true of businesses. It all depends on whether you trust them, or yourself, enough. That is reciprocal too.
Transforming a business is a step-by-step process that only looks good in retrospect--if it works.
Many businesses, even healthy ones, can benefit from a growth transformation. Growth strategies are inherently cyclical and short-lived. If a company has a competitive advantage or sales and marketing approach that is working, it will soon be copied by competitors, which will cause the growth spurt to lose steam. Economic or technological cycles also require changes to business models and growth strategies. Often a new executive or management team is well positioned to execute a transformation, because they can objectively exploit the valuable strategic assets and let go of the less valuable elements of the old business model.
We are working with the chief financial officer of a growing public company on a transformation. We've actually changed his title to chief transformation officer, because he has been asked by the CEO to take on a role far broader than traditional finance tasks. He finds himself in a highly competitive industry that's going through structural change.
Like all transformations, his is a step-by-step process. At the beginning, this approach never looks or feels good. It may seem like you are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, putting in a lot of effort to reposition the company with no growth to show for it. Successful transformations are only seen as successful at the end of the process, not the beginning.
Here are four elements of the transformation this CFO is pursuing:1. Position the balance sheet for growth.
Our client's first task is to restructure some of the debt on the balance sheet. He needed create a better platform and a fresh start in order to fund future growth investments. Without this, any future growth efforts would be stymied in process due to lack of funding.2. Build the elements of a competitive offering.
The CFO can't just grow the company as it is. Its current customer offerings are, in many ways, not competitive in the marketplace. Throwing more marketing and sales dollars at a disadvantaged offering will just result in lackluster results and a poor return on investment.3. Scale the business.
Once the business is positioned, the client can begin the task of growing the company. However, because much of the effort and expense will have been incurred by this point, the CFO will find himself in a do-or-die situation to grow the company.4. Grow profits and value.
Shooting for profits before revenue growth is established implies cost-cutting, not growth. After demonstrating evidence of customer and revenue growth, which is especially important in this case as a public company, the CFO can begin to focus on profit growth. By establishing a track record of top-line growth, he can then begin to shift the organization's focus toward growing the company's valuation.
Time (and results) will tell whether this transformation is successful. By that point, it probably will be time for another growth transformation to begin.
Send us your experiences and questions about growth transformation. We can be reached at email@example.com.
Of course you love your business, but make sure potential buyers will love it too.
As business owners start down the path of exiting their business, many will be unsure about the viability of a sale. Some owners may be looking for a quick sale and not have the time to implement long-term enhancement programs, forcing them to either accept a lesser than ideal price or consider a liquidation.
If you have more time however, smart owners can take necessary steps to make their business more attractive to sellers. Essentially, the key to selling is to assess the exit attractiveness of your business as soon as possible, define steps for improvement and revisit your plan regularly.
Start by talking with a knowledgeable business broker or exit planner. Through consultations with experts, you'll learn what buyers want and you can work diligently to make sure your business has the hallmarks of a sellable business.
Is Your Business Saleable?
Your business will be easier to sell if it includes some of the following characteristics:
- Current Owner isn't Indispensable. If you were hit by a truck today and couldn't work, could your business survive in your absence? Some businesses are so reliant on the current owner that they couldn't possibly succeed if the current owner were to leave. From a buyer's perspective, that' a huge red flag. If the business depends entirely on one person, whether it's the owner or a key employee that might leave, the business may not be saleable.
- Business is profitable With No Prospects for a Collapse. Market conditions change, and even a once-healthy business can become a money loser. If revenue and profits are in a permanent downward spiral or your business is saddled with huge debts that cannot be paid back from cash flow, don't expect a buyer to jump in and buy the company. On the other hand, if you have documented sustained success, buyers will be eager to join while things are looking up.
- Strong Company Brand. If your company's brand has been badly and irreparably damaged by poor service or a business crisis, your business may have drifted into unsellable territory. While some buyers are willing to take on a troubled company, there's a point at which even the bravest business buyers will steer clear of your company. Ensure your brand is strong within the community and industry. This will benefit you in the negotiation process as well.
- Future Revenues are Safe. Buyers don't like uncertainty. For example, if more than 50 percent of your revenues come from one customer, expect buyers to be skittish. If they buy the company and that key customer leaves, you will have left them holding the bag. Similarly, if all your customer contracts have three-day termination notices, revenues can vanish on short notice and you're putting a would-be buyer's future earnings at risk. In short, buyers would much prefer a company that has a recurring revenue model where revenues are locked in for the future and there is limited risk of customer terminations derailing the business.
- No Skeletons in the Closet. Legal liabilities, chaotic financials that reek of impropriety, labor problems, shareholder infighting and a host of other business stink bombs will quickly turn off would-be buyers. To be saleable, you not only cannot have these warts, you also have to be able to prove to would-be buyers that they don't exist.
Evaluating Business Saleability
It's important to recognize that there is a spectrum of bad and good attributes that impact whether you can sell your business and whether you can sell it for a premium price. Your job is to eliminate the negatives and build the positives.
To do that, you can't look at your business through the often rose-colored glasses of a business owner. Instead, it's critically important to look at your business from a buyer's perspective. Specifically, there are several areas of the business that need to be evaluated to determine the current saleability of your company.
Profitability. Right out of the gate, prospective buyers will want to know if your business is profitable. In addition to a healthy bottom line, buyers will look for a multi-year trend of increasing revenue and a realistic forecast of continued revenue growth going forward.
Net Worth. Financial solvency is attractive to buyers. No surprise there. But the best buyers not only want to know that the company's assets exceed its liabilities--they also require assurances that business revenue will be able to cover their financial obligations and maintain a positive net worth position post-sale.
Market Position. Strong businesses are well differentiated in the marketplace. They offer products or services that are distinct from the competition and enjoy a strong market position as a result. Prospective buyers will scrutinize your company's products and operational processes in order to gauge its ability to retain market position.
Employees. Employees are the backbone of successful small businesses. Is your staff experienced and trusted enough to provide business continuity after the sale? Are key employees under contract, ensuring that they will remain with the business for a set period of time? If not, it could impact your ability to sell the business to top buyers.
Customers. Prospective buyers look for an established customer base that will remain with the business after the sale. The greater your ability to demonstrate a large and loyal customer base, the more appealing your company will be to buyers.
Improving the Saleability of Your Business
After you have determined the current condition of your business, the next step is to establish a timeline for the sale. If you want to exit the business in the near future, you could try to sell the company in its current, less-than-optimal condition--recognizing that you will probably receive less interest from buyers and a lower sale price or be forced to liquidate the business for the value of its tangible assets.
The other option is to develop a pre-sale strategy for targeted improvements in areas where weaknesses currently exist. For example, if the company lacks a solid earnings history, you may decide to postpone the sale and establish a solid growth trend before you take the business to market. If the business has been hit with a legal liability, you may want to move quickly to settle the matter and put it behind you. If a key employee is on the verge of leaving, aim to re-energize him/her and lock him/her in with a long-term employment contract.
Hopefully this gives you starting point from which to evaluate your business' saleability. To take this understanding to the next level, speak with an experienced business broker. In addition to their knowledge of the business-for-sale marketplace, brokers offer expertise in helping you improve the saleability of your company and can play a key role in ensuring that you are well compensated for the goodwill value of your business.
It's a crazy competitive world out there--you can't afford to have employees who aren't cutting it.
Some months ago, Apple and Microsoft each parted ways with a high-profile senior executives: iOS software chief Scott Forstall and Windows president Steven Sinofsky.
The moves were just weeks apart and the stories were strangely similar: two remarkably effective and talented executives who were simply unmanageable. They were so chronically abrasive and divisive that they were more trouble than they were worth.
Of course there's more than one side to every story. And while we may not be privy to all the specifics, one thing's for sure. Those decisions were some of the toughest ones the CEOs ever had to make. After all, talent like that doesn't grow on trees. Nevertheless, it had to be done. They had to go.
It takes all kinds to run a company but a few bad apples can definitely spoil organizational effectiveness in a hurry. And these days, companies just can't afford to keep those kinds of people around. The longer you wait, the more damage they do.
Over the years I've worked with just about every type of employee you can think of and, in my experience, there are more or less seven kinds of people you simply have to get rid of, no ifs ands or buts, and sooner rather than later.
1. They're a Troublemaker. With all of our issues and dysfunctions, I sometimes wonder how anything gets done at all. Still, we manage the best we can. And when employees create more problems than they're worth, when the damage they do to the organization weighs more heavily than their achievements, then it's time to cut them loose.
2. They Overpromise and Underdeliver. Some people have such overly inflated self-images that they either think they can do anything or crave the attention they get by making big boastful promises. But when their egos consistently write checks their capabilities can't cash, that's a real problem that's not likely to be resolvable without a good shrink.
3. They Act Out With Customers. I don't care if you have a small business or work at a Fortune 500 company, customers are hard to gain and easy to lose. The one thing you don't need is an employee who works with customers and somehow doesn't get that business is about winning and keeping customers, not him and his bad attitude.
4. They Can't or Won't Do the Job. You hire and pay people to do a job. Your job is to be clear about what that entails and give them the tools and training they need to get the job done. Their job is then to do it. If they either can't or won't after a few chances, then you've probably given them one chance too many.
5. They Flake. Some people look the part but, when push comes to shove, you can't count on them to get the job done or even to show up on a regular basis. Whatever the specifics, you can never tell when they're going to flake and you just can't trust them. Life is too short to have employees like that.
6. They're Entitled. Some people are more thin-skinned, litigious, and entitled than they have any right to be. Half their mind is on the job and the other half is just waiting for someone to slip up so they can whine and complain and maybe even threaten litigation. Don't give in to that kind of behavior. Cut them loose. They might throw a fit and you might get sued, but they can only do it once, and then you're rid of them for good.
7. They Ignore Conduct. Whatever the rules of conduct are for your company and its culture, you've got to uphold them fairly and consistently across the board. Whether an employee was insubordinate to her boss or a top executive lies about something material on his resume, if it happened and it breaks the rules, you should walk them out the door.
People are always complaining about how stressful their job is but, in my experience, there's nothing more stressful than having to deal with employees who aren't cutting it and drag down the whole organization. Quit thinking about it and just get rid of them. You'll sleep better at night--and so will the rest of your team.
The basic elements of highly successful online videos are really just fundamental principles of human interaction.
The basic elements of highly successful online videos are really just fundamental principles of human interaction, and you can apply to nearly any form of communication (especially marketing).
While there's no way to guarantee that anything will "go viral," studying and applying those basic elements can significantly increase the impact, engagement, and sharing of the marketing pieces you're already putting together. Marketing is expensive, so you might as well make it count for as much as you can.
There are six primary factors that go into making viral videos (and your marketing efforts) highly successful: Emotion, Surprise, Intensity, Relevance, Validation, and Style.
Emotion: In a world obsessed with productivity, obligations, and metrics, people really long for opportunities to reconnect with their humanity. Romance, anger, disgust, joy, nostalgia, ambition, and all the other emotions stir our blood, remind us who we are, and motivate us to connect at a deeper level.
Surprise: Our brains are wired to pay close attention to anything that violates our expectations, so you can make your message stand out (and be remembered) but doing something in a surprisingly different way, whether it's an unusual image, a bold statement, or an unexpected outcome.
Intensity: Because so many forces are vying for our time at any given moment, it's important to grab the audience's attention right away, and to keep that attention through brevity and density. Whatever you have to say, chop it in half, and then chop it in half again. Make every word count, and leave them wanting more. (If you feel like you've said everything you want to say, your message is probably far too long.)
Relevance: Reframe your message in a way that's directly relevant to your target audience. Think about their perspective, rather than focusing solely on the message your organization wants to put out there. (For example, we do a lot of branding work at Forty, but we found that the majority of business owners have very little idea what "branding" actually means, so we started eliminating that word from our marketing materials because they weren't seeing it as relevant. We still do the same work, we just talk about it using more relevant terms to our target audience.)
Validation: You have to have a significant amount of common ground with your target audience in order to effectively spread your message. People share things that validate their own worldview, and that represent their beliefs and opinions. (Look at your Facebook news feed and you'll see lots of this.) Likewise, they tend to automatically reject messages that contradict their worldview. You typically can't make people care about something they don't already care about, but you might be able to help them see how you fit into their existing worldview. Focus on people with compatible beliefs, and show them the ways in which your product or service can be a vehicle for extending and communicating those beliefs.
Style: When your message is presented in a distinctive sensory style (visual, verbal, auditory, etc.), it's easier for people to remember it when thinking about related subjects later. The way something is delivered becomes one of its key identifying characteristics that helps us recall it later (just as we might remember people because of the way they speak or dress).
To illustrate these points, here are a few highly successful videos. Take a moment and see if you can identify the six elements in each of them.
To find ways to significantly improve your current marketing efforts, consider one particular marketing piece at a time, and see how it stacks up against these six criteria. In less than a minute you'll probably have identified several key areas for improvement.
While you shouldn't expect that your marketing pieces will suddenly be shared by millions of people overnight, you can see how introducing these elements into your company's marketing could significantly punch up its effectiveness, and get you significantly better results than you could get without them. (You don't need a huge budget, you just need to know what works.)
One secret to my success is a refusal to dwell on the past. Four steps to stay focused on the future.
This week marks the one year anniversary of my column on Inc.com. I have enjoyed sharing my experiences and connecting with many of you via Twitter, LinkedIn and via the comments section. I thought I would take this opportunity to explain the title of my column: Lean Forward.
I chose this title for two reasons:
1) I have spent my career looking at emerging trends and their impact on business, and;
2) It's my personal mantra.
Today I'm focusing on No. 2. A secret to my business success is that I approach every day and every situation with one singular focus: What can I do to lean forward--to move my business forward every single day? I follow four steps:
Step 1: I Look Forward
I refuse to be mired in what has happened or to dwell on what can't be undone. While I use the past to help avoid similar situations in the future, there is a specific time and place for that type of retrospection. It's not when there is an immediate issue to deal with.
Step 2: I Surround Myself with Other Solution Seekers
Everyone who works for me is expected to come up with solutions. I am not saying that I don't help with that process, but the reality is when someone identifies a problem, they already have some idea as to what might not be working. They already have more knowledge than anyone else about why there is a "problem" in the first place, and they are further down the path to determining potential solutions. I want to hear their perspective on what we should do before I start making assumptions.
Step 3: I Get An Outside Perspective
When dealing with a tough problem, if I consider my different options and am still unsure, I use someone from the outside to help.
I have a network of mentors: fellow business owners and confidants whom I can call for advice or to evaluate an approach. I use these individuals as a sounding board for the solutions I am considering. More often than not, one of these colleagues has been through a similar situation and can provide sage advice or even an alternative solution. These individuals are not as heavily invested as I am, so they can see solutions that I may have overlooked or not even considered.
I encourage business owners to investigate organizations like Vistage or Entrepreneurs Organization that can provide consistent and confidential accountability. My Vistage group helped me completely re-think and re-define my personal goals which have led to my latest ventures.
Step 4: I Establish a Time for Retrospection
Just because I'm "leaning forward" doesn't mean I don't think the past is important. I just believe that past events have to be evaluated in a concerted way, with a focus on future improvement. Much to my nurse practitioner sister's chagrin, I call this process a "post mortem." The purpose of a post mortem is evaluate a project or initiative and understand what worked well, what could be improved and how we can be better the next time. I keep the conversation forward thinking and solution-oriented.
The great thing about an entrepreneurial venture is that you are truly in charge of your own destiny. Your solution may be to never sell a product or service again--or never sell the product or service to a specific customer again. Either way, when you know there will be retrospection at a certain time, it keeps you and your company focused on doing what's right by the customer today.
Life's too short, your business is too important, lift your head up to the horizon and figure out what you can do to lean forward.
Why do so many attempts at innovative problem-solving fall flat? They target the wrong problem.
"If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions."
-- Albert Einstein
We stumbled on this enlightened quotation recently, and it immediately triggered a connection to inventor Darrell Mann, CTO of consulting agency Blackswan, who speaks passionately and often about the failings of modern innovation.
"Twenty-five percent of failures were due to people trying to solve the wrong problems," says Mann (@darrellmann), former chief engineer at Rolls-Royce, where he studied innovation duds and dynamos for 15 years. A scant 2 percent of all companies' innovation attempts end in success, he goes on to tell John Kennedy of Silicon Republic.
How do these successes differ from the vast majority of failures? "They follow a certain path and rules," Mann explains, which begins with the presumptions that innovation is problem-solving, problem-solving is innovation, and "defining a problem clearly and completely represents 90 percent of the difficulty in innovation."
Mann details his approach with copious charts and graphs in the book Hands on Systematic Innovation: For Business and Management. He also uses systematic innovation to drive product-development strategies for clients ranging from Intel and Hewlett-Packard to Nestlé and Procter & Gamble.
Here, we distill the approach into four steps:
1. Be an Einstein
Invest time, money, and brainpower in boiling down your problem to its root cause before proposing even one solution. Mann once worked for six weeks with a helicopter-engine manufacturer to define the problems its engineering team needed to solve. The outcome? "Improvement by a factor of 50 in terms of engine life and reduction in maintenance scheduling," notes the Blackswan website. Sounds like innovation to us.
2. Find Comparables
What other industries have faced a core challenge similar to yours? Make a list of three problems (and be creative).
3. Name the Winners
OK, so who devised and delivered the best solution to each of those industry problems you identified in No. 2? What companies cracked the code in a world-class way? Name them and their winning products. Blackswan recalls a client that makes compressors for household refrigerators. The company studied a database of 3 million successful inventions and innovations across myriad industries to come up with practical ideas for its niche.
4. Steal the Solution
Now for the hard part: Apply the winning principles of those world-class solutions to your situation. The fix should evolve and morph to meet your circumstances, but its core promise should remain largely the same. "You need to break down the silo walls," Mann tells Silicon Republic, "and recognize the customer is trying to get a job done."