Friday, August 18, 2017

5 Steps To A Compelling Story For Business Proposals

rapt-business-audienceIf you are proposing a merger or acquisition, or simply seeking an investor for your business, the process is the same. You have to put together a convincing story of a win-win opportunity for both sides. This may seem intuitively obvious, but as an angel investor, I have heard hundreds of new business pitches that focus heavily on the product, but don’t tell the rest of the story.

For example, if I don’t know you, and you didn’t sell your last company for $800 million, your story needs to educate me on why anyone would bet on you to succeed, and how you would reward me for success. Don’t forget that investors invest in people, more than ideas. Mark Zuckerberg was not the first to build a social media platform, so he had to find investors who believed in him.

Every business pitch has to tell a solid overall story, spanning the range from personal motivation, business opportunity, to return on investment for both you and me. I found some great guidance on how best to do this in a new book, “Let the Story Do the Work,” by Esther K. Choy. She speaks from years of experience coaching entrepreneurs and executives on the magic of a story.

I’m a believer in her five-step formula, paraphrased here, for weaving data around the context of an innovative solution, key players, and an effective business model, to paint a convincing picture of a compelling business proposal:

  1. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes and practice empathy. The first secret is to know your audience before you pitch. These days, with the wealth of information on the Internet and social media, there is no excuse for not finding a connection, even if the pitch is long distance. Address their challenges and interests in the story, not yours.

  2. Persuade with data from third-parties, rather than passion. When crafting business stories in today’s environments, you need proof from authoritative sources, and content to arouse the emotion and support of a specific audience. Remember that every person is different, and their emotion will likely not match yours. Temper your emotion with data.

  3. Use words to frame a limited set of numbers. Don’t try to overwhelm any audience with a large amount of data. The average person can only hold around seven numbers in working memory, so the words that position these critical figures are the key to making the story convincing and credible. Choose your points well, and make them memorable.

  4. Create meaning out of the data and emotion. To create meaning for decision-makers, focus on the whys of the relationship you are proposing. Remember the old storytelling basics of setting the scene and establishing the hook, followed by reminding, recounting, and reframing. In the end, tie back to how it all began, why your audience should care.

  5. Give them what they want to hear, then what they need. If your audience wants to hear about return-on-investment, don’t dodge that subject. Their minds won’t be open to more important points, until the first is addressed. Transition with a story to illuminate other critical needs, ending with the actions you need in the short and long term.

Unfortunately, too many business professionals see their story preparation as “window dressing,” or a waste of their valuable time in moving forward to success. In my experience, the right story, with all the right elements, is just as critical to long-term success as the right solution, with the right team. If you can’t attract the right investors, or the right strategic partners, all else is lost.

Indeed, when you get down to basics, crafting a business success story is the way you communicate to your team and external constituents, and how you market effectively to your customers. It pays to get it right the first time, since first impressions can make all the difference.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/04/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

8 Steps To A Positive Mindset And Business Success

think-positiveMany business executives and entrepreneurs I know are convinced that business success is all about having the right solution for the right price. These are indeed important, but we all know people who have failed, despite having a great solution, or have succeeded with a mediocre solution. Thus most investors I know claim to invest in the person, rather than the product.

In the same way, you may think that people assessment is all about skills and experience, but as a mentor to business owners, I have learned to look more for the right attitude, persistence, and determination, as success factors. I like the points made in the classic book, “You Can Win,” by Shiv Khera. His 30 years of business and coaching experience bring credibility to his perspective.

He details a step-by-step formula for becoming a top achiever in life, one I believe applies equally to success in business. In one of these steps, he outlines eight practices for building and maintaining a most critical positive attitude, which I will paraphrase here in a business context:

  1. Change focus, and accentuate the positives. Start looking for what is right in a person or business situation, instead of looking for what is wrong. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize. Be an optimist, and give everyone a smile.

  2. Make a habit of doing it now and celebrating completion. We have all procrastinated at some time or another in our business lives, leading to a negative attitude and missed opportunities. A completed task is fulfilling and energizing; and incomplete task drains energy. In today’s fast moving pace of business change, tomorrow may be too late.

  3. Develop an attitude of gratitude and humility. Relationships and collaboration are most important in business. A great philosophy to live by is ‘never forget what others have done for you and never remember what you have done for others.’ Count your blessings, and not your troubles. Celebrate every small win in business with your team.

  4. Make your business a continuous learning process. Too many business owners yearn for that stable point where the business runs like a machine, and there are no more changes. That fosters a lack of attention to new markets and new competitors, instead of an eagerness to learn and innovate. Experience without learning is wasted effort.

  5. Build high self-esteem in you and your team. When people feel good about themselves, the business looks positive, productivity goes up, and relationships are a lot better. There are two kinds of people in business – givers and takers. Takers can never get satisfaction, and they antagonize those around them. Only givers build self-esteem.

  6. Stay away from negative influences in business. Negative influences in business are usually team members or partners that don’t have high self-esteem, and like to highlight negative implications to every business challenges. Other influences to avoid include doom and gloom prognosticators, and work weeks that stretch through every weekend.

  7. Learn to like the things that need done. Some things need to be done whether we like them or not; for example, daily cash-flow analysis and business metrics. Smart business executives learn to use new technology software to give them new insights and more free time. They see customer support as positive lessons to improve quality and processes.

  8. Start your day with a positive business challenge. After a good night’s sleep we are relaxed and ready to review the good news, and take on the challenges of strategic issues. Save the daily crisis for later. In order to bring about change, you must make a conscious effort to focus on positive thoughts and behavior in others, as well as yourself.

The most effective sequence is to get your attitude and team positive, even before you start the business. That’s why smart investors, like the best ones in Silicon Valley, and the ones on Shark Tank, can tell a lot about the future success of a business, even before results. Ask yourself: Am I working as hard on my own attitude, and the attitudes of people around me, as I am on the product?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/02/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Monday, August 14, 2017

10 Key Business Domains With ‘Big Data’ Opportunities

big-data-opportunitiesEven though ‘big data’ has now been around for several years, the opportunities for startups seem to keep growing, just as the amount of data keeps growing. According to IBM, companies have captured more data in the last two years than in the previous 2000 years. This data comes from sensors, social media posts, digital pictures and videos, purchase transactions, everywhere.

Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — much of it unstructured and far beyond the capability of conventional databases. Hence one segment of the opportunity is the need for new database technologies, like Hadoop, a distributed file system originally designed for indexing the Web. Data capacity is measured in petabytes (1000 terabytes), or soon even yottobytes (1024).

A while back, Gartner formalized their ‘big data’ definition as a “3V” framework - high Volume, high Velocity, and high Variety information asset, requiring new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimization. IBM adds a fourth “V” of Veracity to add trust and noise filtering to the challenge of Big Data analysis.

By any definition, the opportunities from ‘big data’ have the potential to create a next wave of successful technology companies that could change the way we all live and work. I will summarize here some of the key business domains with large opportunities, based on reports by Data Flair, Gartner, and other sources:

  1. Targeted marketing. ‘Big data’ can mean big profits. By understanding what you want to buy today, companies large and small can figure out what you'll want to buy tomorrow -- maybe even before you do. By transforming a single shopper's path into data points, companies can see how you move through a store, and how that tracks with sales.

  2. Protecting the environment. Analyzing the massive sets of data available on toxic emissions and weather patterns can help us understand environmental threats on a systemic level. We now have the sensors to track and model future environmental shifts -- and how to stop them. We just need ‘big data’ tools to do the analysis.

  3. Health care in the U.S. Health care is a large and important segment with huge data challenges, mostly not structured or linked. It has multiple and varied stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical and medical products industries, providers, payers, and patients. Each of these has different interests and incentives, with real money to spend.

  4. Social media and web data. Social media postings and e-Commerce transactions are just a couple of the sources of external data that are of great interest to many companies. Facebook now exceeds two billion users posting, the Internet has a billion websites, and there are 600 e-Commerce items ordered every second. That’s a lot of data to analyze.

  5. Automated device generated data. Another ‘big data’ opportunity is the vast amount of sensor data—machine generated data—that exists and is growing at an exponential pace as more machines become internet-enabled. Examples include data generated from traffic cameras, parking meters, toll collection, and black boxes in airplanes.

  6. Scientific research in overdrive. Data has long been the cornerstone of scientific discovery, and with ‘big data’ -- and the big computing power necessary to process it -- research can move at an exponentially faster clip. The Human Genome Project, which took 13 years, could now be completed in hours. There are many more waiting.

  7. Global personal location tracking. Processing personal location data is a domain that includes child safety, law enforcement, tracking terrorists, and travel planning. The data generated are growing quickly, reflecting the burgeoning adoption of smart phones and other applications. This domain is a hotbed of innovation for startup opportunities.

  8. Global manufacturing. Manufacturing is a global industry with complex and widely distributed value chains and a large amount of data available. This domain therefore offers opportunities at multiple points in the value chain, from bringing products to market and research and development (R&D), RFID tracking, to after-sales services.

  9. Data is the new weapon of defense. The traditional battlefield has dissolved into thin air. In the ‘big data’ era, information is the deadliest weapon and leveraging massive amounts of it is this era's arms race. But current military tech is buckling under the sheer weight of data collected from satellites, unmanned aircraft, and intercepted messages.

  10. Public sector administration. The public sector is another large part of the global economy facing tremendous pressure to improve its productivity. Governments have access to large pools of digital data but have hardly begun to take advantage of the powerful ways in which they could use this information. Much change is needed here.

These large opportunities are why IDC says that worldwide revenues for ‘big data’ and business analytics will grow from $130.1 billion in 2016 to more than $203 billion in 2020, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.7%.

Compared to the plethora of dating site proposals that I see, big data is an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike. Be there.

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, August 13, 2017

7 Barriers To Understanding Your Mentor Communication

mentor-failure-to-communicateMost business mentors tell me that the single biggest problem they have to deal with in small companies is the lack of open, honest, and effective communication, both from the top down and from the bottom up. Some entrepreneurs forget that talking is not communicating. Fortunately these skills can be learned, and the barriers to communication can be overcome one by one.

Founders have to communicate their ideas and products to investors, business partners, and the rest of the team. Then, hopefully, come customers, distribution channels, and going public or merging with an attractive buy-out candidate. Communication is not just talking, but also listening, writing, body language, and “actions speak louder than words.”

According to a classic book on people management by Professor Derek Torrington, “Managing to Manage: The Essential Guide to People Management,” it is the listener who determines the extent to which a message is understood, and that is shaped largely by their own experience and background. From an entrepreneur perspective, here are the barrier to understanding categories:

  1. Unclear frame of reference. Whenever you discuss any startup matter, the receivers will view it from their particular frame of reference, including their values, their priorities, and their background. The responsibility is on you the entrepreneur to decipher the receiver reference, and do the “translation” of your message to them.

  2. Stereotyping and biases. This is the other end of the spectrum, where the entrepreneur defaults to an extreme extrapolation of the listener reference base. Common problem stereotypes relate to age constraints, gender roles, and cultural performance implications. Effective communication requires compensating for language barriers, no stereotyping, and first focus on performance here and now.

  3. Cognitive dissonance. Psychologists use this term to describe the genuine difficulty the people have in understanding, remembering, and taking action on inputs that they find irreconcilable with the current reality, or with strong existing beliefs. The message heard may be unintentionally distorted, and you must repeat and rephrase often to be effective.

  4. Failure to build relationships. When people are listening to someone with confidence and trust, there is a predisposition to hear the message and agree. On the other hand, if the source is unknown or un-trusted, the message may be ignored or minimized. The solution is to work on relationships first, before attempting persuasive communication.

  5. Technical semantics and jargon. Jargon only has meaning if the symbols are already understood. If an abbreviation or phrase is not commonly used outside a specific group, or experts, it becomes negative communication, with people reading it as presumptive, insulting, or an attempt to deceive. The remedy is to use clear and concise language.

  6. Not paying attention and forgetting. We all have the human predilection to be selective in attention. Attention spans seem to be getting steadily shorter. Add the problem of noise, external and internal, which can blank out whole messages. Pick the right time and place for each message type, to maximize attention and retention.

  7. Information withheld. Sometimes an entrepreneur or executive tries to communicate without full disclosure, perhaps to minimize impact, or due to company policy. This is readily recognized by most constituents, negates the message, and erodes trust. In startups, the best policy is transparent honest disclosure across all levels of the team.

It’s important to remember that communication only happens when the other person really hears what you mean to say. It’s not a one-way street, and there are often barriers on both sides. To be successful, the entrepreneur has the responsibility of overcoming all of these barriers to make the interaction effective. The alternative is a lose-lose situation for both sides.

A climate of open, two-way communication is also the only way to ensure that those who do not understand feel free to ask for clarification. No questions does not always mean that everyone heard the message. How often do you ask for feedback to make sure your communication has been effective?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, August 12, 2017

6 Pragmatic Marketing Tips To Ramp-Up Your Business

marketing-101-for-entrepreneursMarketing is everything these days. You can have the best technology, but if customers don’t know you exist, or they don’t know how your technology solves a real problem for them, your startup will fail. Yet I see many technology entrepreneurs that focus on the basics of marketing too little and too late.

They skimp on the design of their website, procrastinate on the rollout to make sure the product is perfect, and get so excited about technology features that they forget about creating value for customers. In fact, this article was driven by a startup press release I saw a while back, highlighting a startup’s “geo-fencing technology” as a new basis for discount coupons. How many customers will have any idea what this means to them?

On the marketing side of the equation, there are so many “marketing gurus” and “marketing resources” out there, the real challenge for most of us is to sort out the basic do’s and the don’ts that apply to startups. I like the guidance from marketing coach David Newman’s classic book “Do It! Marketing,” which provides some pragmatic marketing tips for small businesses as follows:

  1. Don’t tell customers how great you are. Parroting a generic message that you have great service, great value, and a great selection says you have nothing unique. You need to clearly convey what makes your startup the only choice for your customers. Give yourself the “So-what?” test and check for a compelling value-based answer.

  2. Don’t fall into the marketing-speak trap. Don’t fall for the temptation to make big claims, empty promises, and mind-boggling jargon. Learn to speak a new customer-specific dialect based on current research and homework. Go directly to the source – your real live customers, and get their priorities, issues, pressures, and challenges.

  3. Don’t waste your time networking with strangers. Start networking smarter and smaller. Invite key people for coffee or lunch one-on-one, and get to know them and their business. Aim first and foremost to make them a friend, and the connections to others will come naturally. Working the circuit of big groups of strangers is minimally productive.

  4. Don’t waste your time following up. If you are focused exclusively on prospects who are actively seeking to solve the problem you are positioned to solve, you won’t need five or seven attempts to get their attention. Craft a no-follow-up sales letter, after you have positioned yourself as the right expert, with powerful testimonials. They will call you back.

  5. Don’t dumb it down for social media. Many entrepreneurs fear giving away their very best insights, strategies, or tools via social media – it might diminish the demand and the profit. In fact, when customers perceive real value in what you give away, they begin to imagine how much more they might get as a real customer.

  6. Don’t put all your faith in passion. Passion is necessary, but not sufficient to grow your startup. Be passionate about what you do, but develop a really strong plan, and a strong plan B too. The more you think ahead of failure, and think beyond failure, the better your chances for success are.

Instead of asking themselves “How and when will this generate sales?” entrepreneurs need to focus more on who they are marketing to and why. Then give them a compelling, specific, and relevant reason to buy from you.

One of the best approaches is to sell the same way that you buy. You look for value in a specific solution, or at least a conversation about your own problem, headache, heartache, or challenge. You don’t buy based on cold calls, spam e-mail, or phone calls that interrupt your dinner. Give your own customers the same consideration. Good marketing is not rocket science.

Thus marketing is the first thing you need to think about and act on in growing your business, as well as the last thing. The only actions that create results are those that make you stand out above the crowd, attract, engage, and win more customers than your competition. Have you reviewed your startup marketing actions recently for the right do’s and don’ts?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Friday, August 11, 2017

7 Keys To Building Good Habits And Happiness At Work

happiness-at-workAre you one of those people who believe that happiness at work is an oxymoron? If so, maybe it’s time to rethink your perspective, and perhaps start enjoying work for a change. As an advisor to new entrepreneurs and new ventures, I’m seeing a refreshing new focus by Millennials on work and successful new companies with a purpose, and more productivity through happy employees.

Based on results and feedback from several leading companies, including Google, Apple, and Salesforce.com, happiness is the ultimate productivity booster. Happy employees, in this view, are more loyal, make better decisions, excel at managing their time, and develop other crucial leadership skills. There are many good articles which outline what these companies do right.

In fact, many people are quick to put the onus all back on companies to keep their employees happy, but I’m convinced that happiness at work requires effort on both sides. We need guidance on the employee responsibilities in the pursuit of happiness. It’s been my observation that employee attitudes, expectations, and bad habits are often the biggest barriers to success.

Thus I was pleased to see some guidance aimed at the people in a recent book, “Unlocking Happiness at Work,” by Jennifer Moss, who is a well-recognized speaker on the subject of happiness and gratitude at work. She is convinced that happiness at work can never be achieved without the right personal habits, and she has some key recommendations for getting there:

  1. Practical – focus on habits that are most relevant and useful. Although novelty is important in our lives, good work habit building is about opening up bandwidth in our brain to attend to things that we often take for granted, or ignore because we are too emotionally bogged down, like timely and positive response to phone calls and email.

  2. Enduring – add permanent positive changes every day. Building good habits is not a one-time-shot that has a beginning and end. The business world we live in today is constantly changing, so every habit improvement should be seen only as a part of an ongoing learning process. Most people are happiest when they are learning new things.

  3. Repeatable – practice daily repetition until automatic. If we reinforce a behavior through repetition, our brain will start to naturally select that behavior over another. With effort, the behavior change will be permanent. Take five minutes longer to enjoy coffee without diving into emails. Enjoy a 15-minute quiet time at lunch to reset, every day.

  4. Simple – start with some simple quick wins. Keeping a new habit simple will yield a quicker path to automaticity. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start more complicated habits; just start with a quick win to build the momentum and feedback. For example, sending someone a thank-you-note every day for a job well done will yield quick payoffs.

  5. Incremental – don’t aim for sweeping changes all at once. Want to get to work on time? Rather than make a big move and setting your clock for 4am, start by setting your clock five minutes earlier each day until the desired arrival time has been achieved. Get to appreciate your peers by stopping by some desk once a week for a couple of minutes.

  6. Short – limit time spent daily developing a new habit. If you never get around to strategic thinking, start with two minutes of quiet, focused time every morning, so it doesn’t seem like a huge investment of time all at once. Get in the habit of putting yourself first at least once per day. Your happiness and productivity will both go up.

  7. Targeted – integrate new habits into a healthy lifestyle. Don’t believe the old myth that it takes 21 days of pain to build a good habit. It’s more important to make key changes a part of your daily routine through healthy incremental steps. Develop a daily routine that includes self-care, including the proper rest, exercise, and recreation.

Given that most business professionals spend roughly 90,000 hours of their life working, separating work from happiness only gives rise to stress and unhappiness everywhere. It’s up to you, as well as your company, to stimulate that sense of meaning in your work that leads to satisfaction on both sides. How hard have you been persisting to make it a win-win relationship?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 08/10/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

7 Tips On Following The Triple Bottom Line To Success

Sustainable_developmentIt’s always been tough to start a new business, even when the bottom line was just making a profit to stay alive. A few years ago, a second focus of sustainability (“green”) was added as a requirement for respectability. Now I almost always hear a third mandate - social responsibility. Entrepreneurs are now measured against the “triple bottom line” (TBL or 3BL) of people, planet, and profit.

The real challenge with the triple bottom line is that these three separate accounts cannot be easily added up. It’s difficult to measure the planet and people accounts in any quantifiable terms, compared to profits. How does any entrepreneur define the right balance, and then measure their performance against real metrics?

Lots of people are trying to help, with new twists on the age-old model of free-market capitalism that has driven businesses for the last 500 years. Current examples include Conscious Capitalism®, popularized by John Mackey, The B Team, founded by Sir Richard Branson, the 1% for the Planet organization, and the Benefit Corporation (B Corp) now available in 33 States.

In the interest of helping first-time entrepreneurs, as well as existing business executives, keep their sanity as well as their focus, I offer the following pragmatic suggestions for dealing with the triple bottom line requirements:

  1. Sort out your personal definition of success first. Starting and running any business is hard work, so the last thing you need is “success” with no satisfaction. If your primary dream is to help the starving people around the world, or prevent global warming, you might consider a nonprofit, academic, on government role, rather be an entrepreneur.

  2. Making a profit does not imply greed. Many young entrepreneurs seem to think that capitalism and making profit are dirty words. The reality is that you can’t help people or the environment, or yourself, if you don’t have any money. Businesses run by ethical people create value and prosperity based on voluntary exchange, while reducing poverty.

  3. Sustainability and social responsibility alone don’t make a viable business. As an angel investor, I see too many business proposals that are heavy on sustainability, but light on financial realities. Most customers today won’t pay you five times the cost of alternatives, just because yours is “green.”

  4. The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. The real opportunity for entrepreneurs is to provide solutions that solve a problem better than the competition, while also providing sustainability and social responsibility. Conscious Capitalism, for example, claims 3.2 times the return of other companies over the last 10 years.

  5. Responsibility and integrity are still the key. A responsible entrepreneur promotes both loyalty and responsible consumption by educating consumers so they can make more informed decisions about their purchases, based on ecological footprints, and other sustainability criteria. That’s a win-win business for the customer and the entrepreneur.

  6. Explore new forms of company ownership and profit sharing. There is no rule in capitalism that employees and other stakeholders can’t equitably share in the returns. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that these arrangements, such as with Whole Foods, are easy to implement, and pay big productivity, loyalty, as well as financial dividends.

  7. Begin tracking your positive social and environmental impacts. What you measure is what you get, because what you measure is what you are likely to pay attention to. Tracking can be informal, or you can follow a more formal system, like Global Impact Investing Ratings System (GIIRS). Even informal results can be your best advertising.

It’s a lot more productive and a lot less risky to start early in building your record of the positives on social, environmental, and people responsibility, rather than wait and hope never to be caught in an excessive profits scandal, child labor issue, or poor sustainability practice.

So while the bar for business success continues to go up, because we all now operate on a world stage, the entrepreneur “best practices” haven’t changed. Every entrepreneur needs to start with a strong vision, think long-term, communicate effectively, and always lead with responsibility and integrity. The days of success measured only by monetary returns are over. How does your business stack up against the triple bottom line?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Monday, August 7, 2017

7 Ways To Take The Lead In Building A Personal Brand

brand-yourselfIn this age of information overload, success is all about building a brand that stands out above the competition. Whether you are focused on your professional career, or starting your own company, YOU are the first or only brand that anyone will see and remember. That means that you need to overtly market yourself, rather than wait and hope that the right people or customers will find you.

In my long-time role as a mentor and business advisor, I still see too many people who are waiting to be found as a candidate for their dream role, or waiting for investors to find their startup. Unless you are proactive, you will wait a long time as others less qualified buzz right past you. Building your personal brand is a key step to success in every career and business today.

I saw this message highlighted well in a new book, “Do It, Mean It, Be It,” by Corrie Shanahan. Corrie speaks from years of experience helping executives improve their position in large enterprises, as well as in small companies. Of course, she assumes that you are confident and courageous, and willing to capitalize on all your strengths and opportunities to market yourself.

Based on my experience and her recommendations, here are seven relatively easy ways to take the lead in building your own brand:

  1. Offer to speak at local business or industry events. Every Chamber of Commerce, educational organization, and many business organizations are looking for people who are willing to share some special expertise, skills, or interests. Look for a gap to fill, and do the work to make your presence memorable. Build your momentum to bigger forums.

  2. Attend networking events with investors and influencers. For an introvert like me, networking is exhausting, rather than exhilarating. Yet relationships and future warm introductions are well worth the effort in building a brand. Every business community sponsors a plethora of these events. You will learn more by listening rather than talking.

  3. Start a blog and write for industry forums and newsletters. Every organization and web site is begging for content, so spread yourself around. These days, people love short articles, rather than taking the time to read a book. Being published will make it more likely that you’re invited to speak at events, or recognized as a brand while networking.

  4. Seek out and mingle with reporters at business events. Reporters are always looking for content, so they rarely turn away professionals they meet at conferences or events. Stock up with interesting insights, and don’t be afraid to take a position on recent trends. Just make sure they get your name and contact info for publication and follow-up.

  5. Invite experts to your company and organize an event. A little initiative here will get you branded by your peers and leaders as a connector, and provide you with the skills you will need later in marketing your own business. The experts you invite will be flattered, and will remember you as one of them. These relationships can be mined later.

  6. Compete for awards or recognition for you and your team. Too many people don’t actively look for these, again waiting for someone to ask first. Search the Internet and trade associations for relevant awards and mark the submission dates on your calendar. When your team wins, you get credit multiplied by the number of members on your team.

  7. Build international relationships outside your industry. These days, there is a huge focus on sustainability and societal improvements, in your country and world-wide. Roles and relationships with these organizations, including Hunger Relief, United Nations, and World Bank, make you and your company a global thought leader and recognized brand.

Building your brand is all about increasing your visibility and relationships. It’s really not about blowing your own horn, but simply being recognized and rewarded for the work you do, and remembered by the people who can offer new opportunities. For startup visibility, the most important people are potential customers, as well as investors and strategic partners.

Successful business professionals work hard to create the life they want, rather than simply waiting and hoping that they will be found and recognized for their capabilities. Successful startups do the same in building their visibility and image. Isn’t it time for you to take more control of your personal brand?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/24/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, August 6, 2017

7 Leadership Lessons From Successful Immigrants

Elon_Musk,_TeslaIn my experience as a business advisor and angel investor these days, I seem to more frequently hear from entrepreneurs and business owners with “can’t-fail” or “get-rich-quick” ideas. In my view, these are the least likely to succeed, partially because the people behind them have the wrong expectations and traits. The instant gratification approach just doesn’t work in business.

In addition, I’ve always wondered why an inordinate number of successful businesses today were started by people born outside the U.S., including Sergey Brin (Russia) at Google, Elon Musk (South Africa) at Tesla, John W. Nordstrom (Sweden), and Pierre Omdiyar (France) at Ebay. It seems like these immigrants would be least likely to succeed, with all their extra challenges.

Perhaps that’s why I was impressed with a new book, “The Emigrant Edge,” by Irish immigrant and successful business executive, Brian Buffini. He details the natural disadvantages and advantages of immigrants, compared to native-born business leaders, and highlights seven common traits that we both believe should be adopted and practiced by every business owner:

  1. Develop and nurture a voracious desire to learn. In this rapidly changing world, there is no time for repeating the mistakes of others, or trying to repeat yesterday’s success. Successful immigrants have found that they need to go out of their way to meet and listen to others, have new experiences, and learn from different aspects of life and cultures.

  2. Maintain a “do-whatever-it-takes” mind-set. Life favors the persistent and the willing. It’s going that extra mile, and never giving up, that enables getting over the hump to success. Successful immigrants have been forced to get out of their comfort zone, do things they don’t necessarily want to do, take risks, and make difficult decisions.

  3. Feel a deep-seated willingness to outwork others. Those who come to this country with little more than hope to their name know that to get what they want they must work harder and longer than anyone else. With native born new entrepreneurs, I sometimes feel a sense of entitlement, or hear the search for how little one can work to find success.

  4. Demonstrate a heartfelt spirit of gratitude. Not only should we be grateful for small successes in our business, we should also be grateful for the setbacks because from these we learn more. Gratitude has the power to change your thinking from pessimism, to making a difference in the world. Immigrants know to be grateful for what they have now.

  5. Practice the boldness to invest in the future. Immigrants certainly can’t afford to let life’s many choices confuse them. If they have a desire to succeed, they have to be bold and focus on a desired outcome. That means forgoing short-term returns, and investing in themselves, their vocation, and in other people. They put in everything they have.

  6. Have the discipline and commitment to delay gratification. There’s no denying that instant access to most things is satisfying, but it has downsides too. Some business people develop the trait that if results are not immediate, it’s time to give up. Successful immigrants learn to sacrifice, and understand that slow and steady often wins the race.

  7. Remember always to appreciate every step of growth. Immigrants may have started with nothing, but everyone has grown from their beginnings. Sometimes these steps are so small that they are lost or unappreciated, when they should be remembered and celebrated. Successful people enjoy and appreciate the journey, not just the destination.

I’m convinced that every person who starts a business should think of themselves as an emigrant turned immigrant, or one who leaves a known home base, to more permanently settle in or create another, hopefully better place. Think of the seven traits outlined here as the “emigrant edge.”

The sooner you can unleash these traits in your life and your business, the sooner you too can experience business success.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 08/05/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, August 5, 2017

6 Situations Where A Business Plan Does Not Add Value

startup-business-plan-creationWriting a business plan is hard work, so I get lots of pushback from prospective new venture founders that it’s just a waste of their valuable time in this rapidly changing environment. They all claim to have the plan in their head, and writing it down will only slow down their success. In my experience to the contrary, first-time entrepreneurs without a written plan almost always fail.

On the other hand, if you just sold your last business for $800 million, no investor or advisor is going to ask you for a detailed plan on your next one. A good executive summary, backed up by a few PowerPoint slides should be more than adequate. Yet it’s interesting to note that most serial entrepreneurs don’t hesitate to create or ask for detailed business plans on every new venture.

They realize that a written business plan really has the most value to them as the founder, since most mere humans can’t build a complete plan in their head, and the real-time costs for items overlooked or forgotten can be huge and time consuming. The written plan also is extremely valuable in communicating all the required elements to your team and strategic partners.

For the rest of you who might still be skeptics, or are not quite sure where to start, I will outline the situations where I believe a written business plan makes the least sense:

  1. You are a solo entrepreneur and your solution is still evolving. It may be too early to even know for sure that you have a product to sell, or you are still experimenting with different business models. Since you are the team, and you are not expecting any investors soon, don’t bother with a business plan. Investors classify these as hobbyists.

  2. This is not your first rodeo, and your investors know you well. If you have a proven track record, your previous investors don’t have to see a written plan to believe you can do the job again. In fact, they probably don’t want you to write down the plan or distribute it to other investors, for fear of losing their opportunity or negotiating down their share.

  3. You need money, but plan to get it from friends and family. These people are investing in you, and they probably don’t have any experience evaluating business plans anyway. I wouldn’t do one, unless your rich uncle is an accountant, or has his own business. For your friends, all the issues in a good plan may actually scare them away.

  4. You plan to use crowdfunding for validation and funding. Like attracting friends and family, crowdfunding requires a marketing focus, and work on a business plan could be distracting. In fact, all the project preparation, promotion, and feedback from your results will be great input for the more detailed execution plan (business plan) you need later.

  5. You intend to license your technology to a major player. In this case, you really are not starting your own business, but you are negotiating a single big transaction to one or more “customers,” who will in turn integrate your solution into their existing business. To the extent it is possible, you should focus on their costs, timeframes, and benefits.

  6. You know little about business and intend to find a CEO soon. Spending time on a business plan at this stage may indeed be a waste, since you don’t have the experience to know what to put in it. I also don’t recommend buying any of the cheap freelance plans you find on the Internet. Bring in the business partner first and task them with the plan.

Of course, building a plan is not a substitute for first interacting with customers, investors, and industry experts. There is always value in getting to know your customers directly, iterating on a minimum viable product, and experimenting with different business models to find the most attractive business. Writing down a plan before you know the basics, benefits no one.

My sense is that not writing a business plan is more often an excuse rather than a time saver. Building a business is a long-term non-trivial task, like building a house. Would you commit results or start spending, without a detailed plan, to build a house for your family? In my view, you should treat your new business with the same respect.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/19/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Friday, August 4, 2017

6 Keys to Marketing Customer Experience vs Products

Closeup of woman holding shopping bags with copy spaceNot so long ago, every business assumed that the keys to success were the highest quality product, the best value for the buck, and the best customer service. Now all we hear about is providing the best “customer experience.” Exactly what is that customer experience that every modern marketer is talking about, and how do you measure it?

A classic article in the Harvard Business Review “The Truth About Customer Experience” defines it as your customer’s end-to-end journey with you, not just the key touchpoints or critical moments when customers interact with your organization. Customer experience is the cumulative impact of multiple touchpoints over time, which result in a real relationship feeling, or lack of it.

The advent of social media and real-time interactive feedback via the Internet allows every customer to build and expect a relationship with your business, rather than just touchpoints. Yet we are all still learning what that means, in terms of hard business practices.

I like the insights outlined in a more recent book “Summit,” by F. Scott Addis, who is an experienced business executive and recent Inc. “Entrepreneur of the Year” finalist. He ties business success and your personal summit to elevating your customers’ experience with the following specific recommendations and key differentiators:

  1. Listen to the individual customer. Every relationship requires listening, as well as talking. You have to hear your customer’s dreams, goals, passions, and aspirations. That opportunity for your customers to talk and be heard is pleasurable and memorable, and defines their customer experience, more so than just satisfying business touchpoints.

  2. Exploit your product and service differences. A memorable experience has to have something different from the norm. You must be able to highlight these differences between your products and services, and those of your competitors. If not, you are part of the crowd, and no relationship can be built.

    Don’t talk about just another device added to your product line, but highlight how you have added new capability to connect easily to other ConnectKey devices and customize the experience to fit unique needs across the business.

  3. Demonstrate the value of your offering. The first step in being able to demonstrate your value is being willing to find out what your customers want or need. This will create a connection with them, which demonstrates more value than price or quality.

    Show how production workflow software expands customer reach, streamlines processes and reduce costs, rather than merely introducing the latest technology. You create a loyal customer that wants to buy from you, and will recommend you to others.

  4. Show your passion and creativity in every solution. This active discovery mindset searching for new questions drives real innovators away from more of the same. They fundamentally become value seekers; they look for value in every experience, in every conversation.

    Customers don’t want prescriptions - they seek possibilities. For example, make configuring your new office solution a transformational experience, rather than a technical installation challenge.

  5. Demonstrate your personal commitment. When in contact with customers, focus 100 percent on them, and do all you can to determine and meet their needs. Remember, customers are the reason you do what you do. Give them the respect and results they deserve and they will tell others about your good work and your business.

  6. Shoot for the customers’ hearts. Engagement and an emotional connection will make a customer relationship the driving force for loyalty and differentiation. Move from customer friendliness to customer charisma. A business with charisma gives the customer something very special, and they want to tell others about it.

Once you know how to improve your customers’ experience, you need to also know how to benchmark it. Remember the old adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” So how do you measure customer loyalty and relationships? One metric now commonly used is called the Net Promoter® Score (NPS).

This works by asking your customers for feedback, and dividing them into three categories:

  • Promoters. Loyal enthusiasts who keep buying from you and urge their friends to do the same.
  • Passive. Satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who can be easily wooed by the competition.
  • Detractors. Unhappy customers who feel trapped in a bad relationship.

The formula for the Net Promoter® Score is the percentage of customers who are detractors, subtracted from the percentage who are promoters (NPS=P-D). Legendary companies like Amazon and Costco operate with an NPS between 50 to 80 percent. But the average venture sputters along at an NPS of only 5 percent to 10 percent, or even negative.

Maybe it time for all of us to focus more on the customer experience. There is ongoing evidence that companies with the highest customer experience typically grow at more than double the rate of their competitors. The inverse case is that you can lose you competitive lead very quickly by focusing on the wrong things. Have you checked your customers’ experience lately?

Marty Zwilling

*** Published by Xerox Small Business Solutions on 07/31/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

7 Reasons To Start A New Focus On Inbound Marketing

inbound-pull-marketingEvery business I know is intimately familiar with outbound marketing, or pushing your message out to customers through email, newspaper, and television advertising. Only a few really understand the process and value of inbound marketing, for pulling customers to your brand. In my experience, it’s the fastest way to create trust and authenticity in this age of the consumer.

Inbound (pull) marketing is all about convincing potential customers that they found you and have a relationship with you, rather than being accosted by your message at every turn. It works best through effective use of social media, mobile apps, societal initiatives, becoming an influencer, and providing a modern easily-found web site with credible customer-focused content.

According to a new book, “Surfing the Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age,” by Emmy Award winning advertising executive, Daniel Cobb, we are seeing the first of several waves of change in the new world of digital marketing, where consumers are in charge, and they are immune to most marketing influences, except the ones they initiate. It’s a tsunami of change.

In fact, brand leadership in this digital age is far more than just inbound marketing, but both Cobb and I believe it starts there, and sets the tone for the new way to structure your business and set your long-term strategy. Here is our list of key reasons to use inbound marketing as a focus for the next generation of your business and your customers:

  1. Modern customers trust only self-service marketing. Consumers are doing their own research and don’t want to engage a pushy salesperson or message. That means they want to do their own value comparisons, and ideally see confirmation from friends and other customers. Your challenge is to provide credible content, sources, and assistance.

  2. Optimize your content for search engines to get attention. According to recent reports, 93 percent of online experiences start with a search engine. If you have a consistent and valuable presence on your site and your social media channels, you have a better chance of a higher ranking on search engine result pages.

  3. Participate in the top social media sites for maximum impact. By producing great content for search engines, you also give your social media manager consistent, valuable social fodder. The top social media channels for participation these days include Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. Don’t just monitor – engage customers.

  4. Pull marketing is less expensive than push marketing. Pull marketing costs money, for content creation, website, and social media management. But these costs tend to be lower, start earlier, and can be spread evenly over time. They get conversations started, and initiate word-of-mouth referrals, which are the cheapest by far, and self-perpetuating.

  5. Pull marketing is more effective with consumers. Push marketing effectiveness has dropped sharply with the explosion of technology over the past decade. The problem is simply that consumers now demand to make their own choices, with interactivity and input from friends, about the type of data they receive. That trend is growing every day.

  6. Mobile devices and apps enhance social interactivity. As U.S. smartphone penetration now exceeds 80 percent, and mobile activity averages are approaching five hours per day, the advantages of inbound marketing continue to increase. If you are not yet using this channel natively, your brand will be lost from view to key constituents.

  7. Inbound marketing data is more easily measured for ROI. Inbound data, including site page visits, blog reads, and actual orders linked to content are much more relatable to return-on-investment than email blasts, sound-bites delivered, and TV show ratings. More and more automated tools and apps are being delivered to assist in this process.

In fact, I believe inbound marketing, along with social media marketing, are just two of many waves of innovation that we will soon see in this age of the consumer. Your challenge, if you want to be a leader in your business domain, is to stay alert and open to change, rather than a laggard in capitalizing on the next wave. Don’t wait for the tsunami of business change to wash over you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 07/30/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark