Wednesday, August 30, 2017

7 Leadership Metaphors To Motivate Business Leaders

leadership-metaphorsIn building successful businesses, I find that creating a new and innovative product or service is usually the easy part. The hard part is providing the leadership required to align and motivate all the constituents and players – from engineers, to investors, vendors, and ultimately customers. Great entrepreneurs are not just idea people and then managers, they are extraordinary leaders.

Most investors admit that they invest primarily in people, not ideas, and they inherently believe that they can sense this leadership ability needed to get the rapid growth and 10x return we all strive for. Yet beyond a list of noble attributes, like vision, courage, and integrity, it’s hard for them to define what separates an ordinary entrepreneur or manager from an extraordinary leader.

I saw a new approach in the classic book “Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders,” by Dr. Peter Fuda, which identifies seven leadership themes, presented as metaphors. I believe these will really help anyone recognize great leaders, and even more importantly, accelerate their own entrepreneur leadership transformation:

  1. Demonstrates a burning ambition and a burning platform (fire metaphor). These are the forces that initiate and sustain transformation efforts. The top two on the personal side are “urgency” and “desire,” but these have to be matched on the business side with the willingness to burn the platform (change any aspect of the business) without a crisis.

  2. Sense of accountability and momentum (snowball metaphor). This means no excuses and no rationalization, sweeping team members into mutual accountability. The leader then builds momentum from small successes into a snowball that will grow into a large, powerful, and eventually unstoppable business. Have you addressed all sources of drag or friction on your snowball?

  3. Artfully applies tools, and strategies for change (master chef metaphor). New entrepreneurs are really amateur chefs learning to cook a new business. Existing business frameworks are the recipes, and great entrepreneurs creatively use new tools and strategies to hone these frameworks, just like a master chef.

  4. Works with other team members on mutual aspirations (coach metaphor). It is not about leaders becoming coaches; it’s about leaders letting themselves be coached by others – advisors, team members, and even customers. A team’s captain is dependent on the support of their teammates, requiring trust and respect from both parties, and humility on the part of the leader.

  5. Does not mask authentic self, values, and aspirations (mask metaphor). Too many entrepreneurs put on a mask to conceal personal imperfections, or they adopt an identity not aligned with their authentic self, values, and aspirations. This façade is a burden soon recognized, so dropping the mask is more effective, as well as more comfortable and more fun.

  6. Enhance their self-awareness and edit their own performance (movie metaphor). Great entrepreneurs recognize that leadership is like a movie, and it can be honed and improved by disciplined reflection (see yourself as others see you), edited for impact, and directed by experts on your team. Reflect on how often you operate from judgment as opposed to perception. Think about who could help you reflect-on-action.

  7. Embed their personal journey within the business journey (Russian dolls metaphor). Business is really a set of journeys that interact with an entrepreneur’s personal journey. Up-line this may be your interaction with your Board, investors, and family. Down-line it’s the leadership model you use with your internal teams and external partners. Focus on improving your up-line and down-line dolls with your personal journey.

In addition, here are five strategies that Dr. Fuda and I both agree will lead to a more empowering approach to entrepreneur leadership, and help you optimize all the themes described above :

  • Shift your focus from your business content to market context.
  • Spend more time showing others what is required, rather than telling them.
  • Focus more on collaborating with others, rather than competing.
  • Evolve from guru to guide, and coaching others to find answers for themselves.
  • Move from critic to cheerleader, from what is going wrong to what is going right.

If you are an investor, you need to recognize and mentor entrepreneurs to extraordinary leadership. If you are a startup Founder or executive, you need to strive continually to change yourself and your business to build and maintain the leadership you need to out-perform your competition, and generate the results to meet personal and financial objectives. How many of these themes and strategies are you practicing today?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, August 28, 2017

5 Reasons Every Smart Business Owner Seeks A Mentor

business-mentorAdvice is cheap. As a new business owner, you don’t have to take any advice you hear, but failing to listen and learn from someone’s prior experience can cost you a fortune. As a long-time mentor and business advisor, I find it ironic that many look only to friends for advice. They forget that friends tell you what you want to hear, while good mentors tell you what you need to hear.

When the message is the same from both, you probably don’t need the mentor anymore, but you always need the friend. Also don’t confuse a business mentor with a business coach. A business mentor helps to fill an experience gap, while a coach helps fill a skill gap. Both may be required.

A mentor’s aim is to teach you by using specific examples of what to do and how, unlike a coach who helps you develop your generic skills for deciding what to do and when. Before you are ready for a mentor, you must know yourself. Have you assessed your strengths and weaknesses? What are your goals? Where are you heading?

Unless you know these things, no one can help you. Also, you need to be mentally prepared to accept advice and criticism, if it is honest, helpful, and given in a friendly way. Once you are ready, what are some attributes of a good mentor and advisor that you should look for? You need someone who can:

  1. Focus your ideas toward viable business results. Most business owners have lots of ideas. Some can be put into practice easily, but others will be off-the-wall and need refinement to implement. A good mentor will have knowledge and some perspective on almost every business subject, to keep your focus in the right ballpark, and the right ball.

  2. Assess time spent on daily crises versus priorities. It’s easy to be driven most of the time by the crisis of the moment. As such, it’s easy to neglect the real priority for growing the business. Sharing your goals with your mentor means that if you don't complete goals, you have a credible voice to remind you and help get you back on the right track.

  3. Recommend required pivots and exit strategies. A successful business is constantly innovating. You need alerts to new pivot requirements, growth strategies, and partnering alternatives, with a realistic understanding of the costs and resources required. Then, there is the exit strategy which needs planning, connections, and forethought.

  4. Introduce you to the contacts and partners you need. When you need contacts for investors, equipment, and legal or accounting advice, your mentor has the contacts and knows where to find the information. More importantly, the mentor tells you what you need to do to build and maintain your own list of contacts.

  5. Provide an unbiased and pragmatic status perspective. A good mentor knows what to look for, and sees what your customers see. It’s natural to become so immersed in your business that you forget to step back and look in from the outside. It’s like living next to the railroad tracks; after a while you don't even see or hear the trains.

How do you find that all-knowing business mentor who is a perfect match for your temperament and your business? The best approach I know is make a short list of the people you most respect in your domain, who are accessible, do your homework, and get to know them personally. If the relationship works, ask for their help. Compensation may be offered, but is often not required.

An ideal candidate is someone from the Boomer generation, who is semi-retired, but still active in local organizations or the investment community. Another alternative would be a business professional who does this for a living, or a role model in a related business who is willing to share.

Even famous billionaire business leaders, including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have mentors. Of course, many of these are now friends as well. But in the beginning, you should assume that you need at least one of each, and the ability to tell the difference.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/14/2017 ***

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

8 Principles For Keeping Customers With You For Life

Happy-customerMost businesses spend big money testing their brand logo, catchy marketing phrases, and demographics, but spend little time training and validating that their employees can and do deliver memorable experiences to their customers. The result, according to an often-quoted Gallup survey, is 70 percent of workers not fully engaged, and poor customer experiences.

The customer experience is really your brand, since that is what customers remember and communicate to others, rather than your marketing. Thus the real challenge in building your brand is building the level of engagement and delivery of your team. Gregg Lederman, in his classic book, “ENGAGED!: Outbehave Your Competition to Create Customers for Life,” offers eight key principles for defining and managing the experience to keep it consistent and profitable:

  1. Keep every employee on stage, delivering an experience. At work, all team members (everyone who gets paid for doing a job at the company) are on stage responsible for delivering a branded experience to coworkers and customers. They have to out-behave and outperform your competition. Is your team performing like they are on Broadway?

  2. Keep your team happy to create engaged customers. An unhappy team member can’t create an engaged customer. Yet less than half of the people working today claim to be satisfied and happy at work. How many of your employees would say that what they think, what they say and what they do are in harmony? Money does not buy engagement.

  3. Don’t just announce your culture, make it visible. Your mission, values, brand positioning, and guiding principles are invisible, unless your employees know specifically how to act them out through their day-to-day behavior. You have to define these behaviors, measure them, and reward them. Walking the talk is the place to start.

  4. Focus on culture change rather than culture talk. Culture is changed by how we act (perform) and interact (employees and customers). Define and document a common mindset and make related behaviors non-negotiable. Everyone must know and do these things consistently. The secret to success is 1% training and 99% reminding.

  5. Turn common sense into common practice. The only true employee-driven measure of whether the workforce is “living the brand” is the perspective of others in each work area. Use a company-wide assessment at least twice a year to understand and remind the team to out-behave the competition. No more gamed employee satisfaction surveys.

  6. Build relationships and stop surveying customers. Every senior leader needs to have regular quality conversations with customers. These enable leaders to learn firsthand about how the company is living the brand and when it is not. Relationships will get referrals, drive more sales, and build loyalty. Use the feedback to improve and grow.

  7. Incent engagement with training and recognition, rather than rewards. Employees get much greater value from the power of recognition and much less from the actual rewards. Reward programs don’t drive sustainable culture change or business results. Provide recognition for the right behaviors consistently, and the results will accrue.

  8. Build trust in you as the leader by managing the experience. Without solid leadership people simply won’t follow. Earn trust by making the right experience a part of the day-to-day conversation, and reminding people by your actions what you expect. Demonstrate a culture of responsibility and accountability.

Lack of engagement is very expensive. According to Lederman, engaged organizations grew profits as much as three times faster than their competitors. Highly engaged organizations have been shown to reduce staff turnover by 87 percent, improve performance by 20 percent, and increase customer satisfaction by at least 12 percent.

Overall, successful startups and world-class companies are known to have fiercely loyal customers driven by fully-engaged team members, resulting in proactive referrals and more purchases. That’s the brand you want, and it needs minimal focus on the logo and advertising to survive and out-perform your competition. How would you rate your customer experience today?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

10 Principles For Surviving New Business Challenges

success-principlesAs the economy flourishes after some tough economic times, more and more people seem to be turning to entrepreneurship as an alternative to traditional employment. I applaud this trend, but caution all of you thinking this direction to approach entrepreneurship with your eyes wide open. It is not for everyone, as the entrepreneur’s path is fraught with challenges.

Many experts have tried to clearly lay out the criteria for survival in a way that allows you to judge your own situation and your own temperament, and make a rational decision before starting down this path. I recommend the ten points in a classic book by Bill Murphy, Jr., titled “The Intelligent Entrepreneur,” outlining the keys to successful entrepreneurship, as follows:

  1. Make the commitment. Entrepreneurship can be learned. But you have to be committed to the process of building your own thing and the act of creating something, rather than just coming up with an idea. It will likely take several ideas, with the learning process of failing on a couple, before you can call yourself a successful entrepreneur.

  2. Find a problem, then solve it. Rather than finding a new idea first, try finding a problem first. Problem solvers make successful entrepreneurs. Idea people are dreamers, who often don’t enjoy the hard work of a solution in a specific timeframe to make money.

  3. Think big. Thing new. Think again. In other words, make sure your solution will scale up. Professional investors will tell you they look for business plans that can credibly project revenues of at least $20M within five years, or they won’t justify an investment.

  4. You can't do it alone. Have a support team of people you know and trust. An idea person and a problem solver make a great team. Successful entrepreneurs have to work well with people, whether they be partners, investors, employees, suppliers, or customers.

  5. You must do it alone. But the dichotomy is that there are things that you have to do alone. “The buck stops here.” You have to be decisive, accept responsibility, and provide the vision. Vision is not a group-think activity. Sometimes decisions have to be made quickly, and with very little hard data, so you need the confidence in your gut.

  6. Manage risk. Without risk, there can be no innovation. Not every idea can, or will, be a winner. Fear of failure will kill innovation, but reckless disregard for risk will kill a business. The successful entrepreneur is able to find the balance between these two extremes.

  7. Learn to lead. In a startup, the entrepreneur leader has to do two things. First, drive the business creation process, and secondly, inspire all the others. The others include the rest of the team, investors, and customers. That means hands-on leadership and effective communication.

  8. Learn to sell. Don’t believe the old myth that “if we build it, they will come.” Selling is a learned skill, and takes effort, just like building a product. Everyone in your startup, especially the entrepreneur, needs to understand sales, and needs to be a salesman.

  9. Persist, persevere, prevail. Experts say the prime cause of failure in business is quitting too soon. The successful entrepreneur never gives up, and uses creativity to overcome all obstacles, including personal, financial, and technical ones.

  10. Time, not money, is the key resource. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle, not a job. Be prepared to play the game for life. There are no quick fixes, or quick get-rich solutions. Learn to manage and balance your time; it’s the one thing that belongs to you alone. Great entrepreneurs have a life outside of work, and find time to give back.

Reporter Bill Murphy compiled his book based on three real-life success stories of Harvard graduates, all of whom proved the points by their failures as well as successes. There is no magic here, but I believe these rules can shorten the learning curve and increase the success rate for every budding entrepreneur. They can also help you be happy and have some fun.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 25, 2017

8 Ways The Maker Movement Turns Ideas Into Businesses

maker-movement-entrepreneurIn case you haven’t noticed it, the rapid evolution of do-it-yourself (DIY) facilities for developers, including 3-D printers, SketchUp and makerspaces such as TechShop, have scaled down the cost of prototypes and hardware design by an order of magnitude. This movement, coupled with free websites and apps, makes it possible for almost any technical person to start a business.

This Maker Movement has now spread across the world, spawning hundreds of events and companies, including Maker Faires, Makerspaces, Hackerspaces, and Maker Film Fests. This technology is not only spawning a new generation of entrepreneurs, but is also changing the educational landscape, all the way down to early grade school.

In my view as an advisor to new ventures, the Maker Movement is an integral part of a new age of the entrepreneur. This new culture builds on hobbyist technologies, extends the open-source inventory of hardware and software, and bridges the gap into real business solutions with other advantages, as follows:

  1. Shortens the time and cost from idea to prototype. In today’s fast moving market, the basic product development cost and time are critical to survival. They come at the early stage while a startup has no revenue or valuation, so professional investors are hard to find. Quick low-cost design and fabrication alternatives are extremely valuable.

  2. Facilitates building skills and familiarity with new tools. Makerspaces and hackerspaces have sites and events, including education and training, where people with common interests can meet, socialize and collaborate. With the new rapid prototyping tools, products can be physically built for analysis, rather than just conceptualized.

  3. Provides networking with cofounders and strategic partners. Relationships are best built while working and learning together, rather than over drinks at a mixer or industry conference. There are already more than 2000 hackerspaces worldwide, as listed on the Hackerspace Wiki. Countless startup teams have already been spawned from these.

  4. Opportunities to meet investors and support organizations. Venture capitalists and investors are where the action is, to see first-hand what is possible, and who are the leaders. Makerspaces are becoming the new incubators and accelerators for startups, and support contacts, including lawyers and marketing groups, will be easy to find.

  5. Mind-expanding for new entrepreneurial opportunities. With low-cost digital design and fabrication, such as 3D printing and the ability to digitize almost any object, bold new innovations become apparent. Young entrepreneurs get to “touch and feel” the results, and experiment to their heart’s content. These ideas can grow quickly into real products.

  6. Meeting the new consumer demand for customization. Customers today increasingly demand solutions that are customized just for them. Hobbyists and craftsmen have made custom solutions for a very long time, but companies have resisted this requirement to keep costs down. Maker tools are changing these economies of scale.

  7. Accelerates the trend to higher purpose startups. The new do-it-yourself capabilities and low entry costs mean that you don’t have be a Bill Gates to offer solutions that have an impact on society. The Maker Movement is already poised to transform learning in our schools, and offer low-cost solutions to solve environmental and third-world problems.

  8. Breeds success through people diversity. By collaborating with the Maker Movement, artistic entrepreneurs work with the technology freaks, and both benefit from cultures around the world. New products emerge, as diverse as networked-art installations, Internet-of-Things innovations, and many other hybrid software-hardware solutions.

Now is the time for all you hobbyists and inventors to take the next step and turn your passion into a business. It won’t cost you the many thousands of dollars to outsource your prototype to China, and risk losing the intellectual property, and it will hook you up to peers and investors who can help you make your dream a reality. Now is the time to catch the wave and just do it yourself.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/09/2017 ***

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

8 Keys To Raising Your Level Of Employee Engagement

high-employee-engagementAs a business advisor, one of the most disheartening things I see in business today is a serious lack of engagement at all levels, consistent with Gallup’s most recent global engagement survey, finding only 13 percent of workers fully engaged in their job. I see people walking around every day like zombies in a trance. The sad part is that is seems to be getting worse, rather than better.

I’ve heard many views on how to fix this, but I was most impressed with the specifics in a new book, “The Workplace Engagement Solution,” by David Harder. He speaks from years of work with companies now leading the way, including Walt Disney, HBO, and Morgan Stanley. In my view, every company needs to follow all his action items, including the ones paraphrased here:

  1. CEO takes charge personally of improving engagement. Simply walking down the hall to human resources and telling them to fix the problem doesn’t do it. When the HR executive launches an employee engagement initiative, employees look past his or her shoulder to the CEO for cues that mean “business as usual” or no real commitment.

  2. Leaders walk the talk and use a democratic approach. If employees don’t see their leaders stand up and lead by example, employees will feel less engaged—and be less willing to do their best work. The most effective leadership style for today’s workers (Millennials and Boomers) is the democratic participative style, while retaining final say.

  3. Express continuous, and genuine praise to employees. Praise alone is one of the most powerful engagement motivators. Take the time to give genuine, specific feedback in a friendly, yet professional manner, in front of peers. A once-a-year bonus check or award is nice, but private occasional monetary awards will not increase engagement.

  4. Seeks ways to keep talent current and relevant. It all must start with hiring people who are the right fit for your desired culture. The right culture fit is actually more important than skills or previous experience. After the hire comes mentoring and continuous training as the key to engagement. Provide growth opportunities to retain the best.

  5. Packages engagement as an asset, not an expense. Your company’s success is dependent on your customer’s happiness, which is set primarily by engaged employees. Thus it’s important to stop thinking about the cost of employees and look at the benefits the employee can bring to your company. Treat employees as an extension of yourself.

  6. Moves the vision from short-term to shared value. Without a clear sense of purpose, employees will not be fully present, awake, or deeply involved in their work. Simply creating shareholder return each quarter is not enough. Today, every company needs a value-driven culture that is shared by employees, customers, and shareholders.

  7. Is transparent and fosters transparency at all levels. In this age of extreme access to information, no one can hide relationships, business problems, or economic impacts. In this new landscape, we can no longer ask workers to take on more responsibility without demonstrating the same in ourselves. Trying to hide the truth at any level reduces trust.

  8. Shows respect for employees and learns from them. When we interact with others in the workplace, it pays to conquer our differences by finding ways to connect first. Learn from and listen to that new co-worker or have lunch with someone in another department. Mentors can be particularly powerful in helping colleagues break out of the trance.

Organizations around the world claim to spend billions of dollars every year to awaken and engage their employees, but it hasn’t changed much. In fact, I’m convinced that the escalating rate of change in technology and the market is a large part of the problem. It has more than offset the conventional approaches to engagement and productivity.

Most workers hesitate to engage because they are overwhelmed trying to keep up with change. Rather than trying to change and drive them, we need to teach our workers how to change themselves, starting with the points outlined here. When was the last time you were a role model for embracing change?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 08/22/2017 ***

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Recognizing and Reducing Fear Makes Leadership Work

leadership-by-fearTrying to be a business leader by instilling fear in your employees and partners is never a good approach, but it is particularly devastating in a startup. Yet I see this approach used all too often by new entrepreneurs, most of whom are not natural tyrants, but who are fighting to mask their own internal fears and insecurities about starting a business.

The classic book on this subject, “Leading Without Fear,” by Laurie K. Cure, PhD, convinced me that fear is a natural reaction to the risks associated with a new venture, and people handle this fear in different ways. Some are able to read the danger signals, and catapult themselves and everyone around them into action without fear, resulting in progress and success.

Others intentionally or unintentionally project their own fear into a weapon that gets used on their team and constituents to get things done and assure accountability, at least in the short term. According to Cure, there are three main reasons that entrepreneurs resort to propagating fear:

  1. Need to establish a sense of urgency. Sometimes it seems like instilling fear is the quickest and most effective way to instill a sense of urgency in other team members. In fact, it does work in the short term, but in the longer term it breeds mistrust and cynicism, which quickly erodes morale and leads to reprisals worse than the challenge.

  2. Don’t know any other way. Often new entrepreneur leaders reach a point of desperation in dealing with people, and hope that they can somehow shame, anger, or scare people into behavior change and desired results. This approach usually stems from primal reactions during early childhood, or a specific cultural background.

  3. Engulfed in the flames of their own fear. Others use fear because they are simply afraid, and unable to hide it. It requires extreme discipline not to project your fear onto others. When leaders are in fear, be it for their own security, sense of affiliation, or self-esteem fears, they become blind to how they might be using fear in their own leadership.

Smart entrepreneurial leaders avoid these reasons, and don't use fear because of its devastating consequences on their long-term business success. Here are a few of the consequences:

  • Fear drives the team into fixed and safe positions, allowing competitors an easy advantage.
  • Fear short-circuits change, creativity, and innovation, which are the life-blood of startups.
  • Fear limits rational discussion of alternatives, leading to poor decisions and inaction.
  • Fear fosters suspicion, mistrust, and cynicism of the leader and the startup.
  • Fear tends to turn the focus inward to survival, rather than outward to customers.

Based on the insights I see from Cure’s book and others, I recommend the following strategies for reducing fear in your own mind and in the minds of your constituents:

  1. Increase your own self-awareness. This is essentially your ability to know yourself, your motives, desires, and personality. Who are you, and why do you do what you do? It is only with self-awareness that you can grow and learn. Self-awareness simply requires an ongoing practice that you can engage in and make a part of your lifestyle.

  2. Be clear on all your goals, and communicate these regularly to your team. If either you or they don’t know the goals, neither of you will know when a threat is imminent, or if everyone is in alignment. When you are out of alignment with the team in terms of goals, everyone feels torn, dissatisfied, and fearful.

  3. Focus more on the positive side of risk. Everyone’s brain has a reward pathway that creates a sense of euphoria and pleasure when you overcome high odds, or do something innovative. Stop focusing so much on the things that can go wrong, and anticipate the joys of progress and success.

All entrepreneurs have to take risks and provide leadership to succeed, but driving yourself and your team with fear is not the answer. The best leadership is providing real motivation from the work itself, and the drive to build something lasting. Fear has no role in either of these.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

5 Principles For Working With Someone You Don’t Like

John_Brennan_briefs_Kathleen_SebeliusOne thing is certain in any business – not everyone you have to deal with will be like you, or will like you (and vice versa). These people may include one of your business partners, an investor, a key vendor, or even one of your best customers. In my role as a business advisor, I see more and more how business people must bridge these differences to accomplish shared business goals.

We have all heard the stories of business disasters that result from people who are so different that they can’t get along. Some of these are legendary, including the Steve Jobs differences with John Sculley. Some are more current, such as the travails of Uber investors challenging founder Travis Kalanick, and the daily political leadership struggles surrounding President Donald Trump.

On a more positive note, as the business world becomes a global space, all of us have to learn to live and work with people of very different cultures, religions, political opinions, as well as different generations and genders. You have to manage and operate within more and more diverse teams, and your success in a career, or in building your business, depends on it.

Thus I was pleased to see these challenges addressed directly in a new book, “How to Work With and Lead People Not Like You,” by Kelly McDonald, a well-known marketing and communications expert who specializes in multicultural and diversity marketing. She offers a set of strategies and tools for communicating across cultural and other barriers, including people you don’t like:

  1. Understand that they’re not trying to be difficult. Most people you have to deal with in starting and running a business are just being who they are. They are behaving the way they were socialized – the sum of how they were raised, cultural influences, and the dynamics of previous roles. Don’t let your emotion or theirs impede communication.

  2. Don’t try to change them – be civil and diplomatic. People can change themselves, but you can’t change them. Whatever their demeanor is toward you (or your business), remain positive and professional, and treat the other person with courtesy and respect. Do not allow tension to escalate, and your blood pressure and sanity will thank you for it.

  3. Adjust your expectations that everyone thinks like you. Business people come from different backgrounds and experiences, so don’t expect their behavior and opinions to always mesh with yours. Accept that there are very few absolute rights and wrongs in business, so expect different viewpoints, and don’t allow anyone to push your buttons.

  4. Focus on the business at hand and getting results. You are there to do a job, and so are they. Successful work relationships don’t have to be rooted in liking each other. Focus on the outcome you are seeking and what you and your counterpart need to do to get there. Success is about cooperation, respect, solving problems and working together.

  5. Agree to disagree without being judgmental. Saying “I see it differently” is neither judgmental nor combative, and it doesn’t mean you are trying to “win the argument” or persuade the other person to change their opinion. It diffuses tension and can lead to constructive conversation that allows you and your peers to work together productively.

In all cases, it’s important to be positive and maintain a can-do attitude. People avoid negativity and they are drawn to positivity. You can become a role model, a leader, and an ally for many team members which will lead to breakthroughs and results with even the most non-compatible situations. A positive mental attitude will also improve your health, and add years to your life.

Just remember that you have a business or a career to run. Experts are convinced that a diverse workforce, including people with different values and different perspectives, leads to better decisions and solutions – ultimately growing business opportunities, profits, and satisfaction. Diversity isn’t going away. Learn to deal with it now, and be the leader you always wanted to be.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 08/19/2017 ***

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

10 Common Dilemmas That Derail Many Entrepreneurs

business-dilemmaMost entrepreneurs struggle with many startup founders dilemmas in building their business, and these key dilemmas are probably the biggest source of pain and failure for the entrepreneur lifestyle. People may jump into the lifestyle to be their own boss, achieve great wealth, start a new trend, or all the above. The dilemma is that these goals are usually mutually exclusive.

For example, is the person who starts a new trend likely to be the one who controls it through the growth phase? In a famous Harvard study of 212 new ventures a few years ago, USC professor Noam Wasserman found that half the founders were no longer at the helm after three years, and over time 80% were forced out. That’s not an attractive statistic if you crave control and power.

Don’t wait for the harsh reality of the demanding business world to start thinking about these tradeoffs. The research from Wasserman and others outlines the following top ten dilemmas that every founder needs to deal with sooner or later in their career as an entrepreneur:

  1. The make money or serve humanity dilemma. Your great idea for the next Facebook may make you wealthy, but it probably won’t help the hungry. The answer is to look hard inside yourself, to see what makes you happy and satisfied. If living on Raman noodles while you make the world a better place is fine, skip the investors and growth race.

  2. The right time to start dilemma. The right time to jump is a function of favorable career, personal, and market circumstances. While it’s unlikely that all three of these will ever be true at the same time, most experts don’t recommend jumping at the first opportunity, but first gaining some skill, financial, and business experience first.

  3. The founding team size dilemma. Should you start a company solo or find co-founders to help you? With one or more co-founders, you gain complementary skills, spread the workload and responsibilities, and reduce the risk. The downside is loss of control and financial dilution. In my view, two heads are always better than one.

  4. The co-founder relationship dilemma. While long-time social friends and family may seem like the natural choice for co-founders and team members, these relationships often get in the way of hard business decisions or necessary business adjustments. Old co-workers or new friends with complementary skills usually make the best partners.

  5. The founder’s title and role dilemma. Usually co-founders expect to get a C-level title associated with their area of interest, like CFO for the financial expert. Make sure these titles are handed out only to people who are willing and able to accept the responsibility and workload of the associated role. It’s tough to downgrade titles and roles later.

  6. The compensation model dilemma. Every founding member wants to be compensated richly for the risk and the unknown. You have very little money, and you don’t want to give away your equity. Recognize that the best people don’t work for free. Giving equity is realistic, but base it on contribution and role, with vesting after time and milestones.

  7. The right investors and right time dilemma. You don’t want to take money from friends and family, but it’s too early for angel investors and VCs. No one wants to put in money until you have a product, and you need money to build the product. Bootstrap if you can, otherwise climb the pyramid of family, friends, angels, and VCs.

  8. The right motivated employees dilemma. Very early, you need generalists who can cover multiple areas, but you can’t pay for experience. Later you need specialists and managers. Offer low cash early, with bonuses or stock options for milestones, to people in your personal network. Later use LinkedIn and other job sources for professionals.

  9. The founder succession dilemma. Startups are usually founded by product or service experts who don’t enjoy the various growth phases. Should the founder keep the company small, try to adapt, or step aside in favor of a seasoned business executive? Transition to a specialist role, plan to exit, be prepared to be pushed out, or plan to fail.

  10. The control and growth dilemma. If you take investor money, expect a push for hockey-stick growth and a liquidity event, like going public (IPO) or sale (M&A), to get the payback. If you prefer a private company with organic growth, keep control within friends and family, and prepare for the long haul. Otherwise exit and startup with another idea.

Not facing these dilemmas squarely and honestly is one of the biggest pitfalls facing every entrepreneur. You can’t have it all, just like your startup can’t be all things to all customers. You have to focus on the things you can do and love to do, and do them better than anyone else. Turn these top ten dilemmas into your strengths, and you will have a competitive advantage, as well as the fun and satisfaction you sought to find in the entrepreneur lifestyle.

Marty Zwilling

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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 ***

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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 ***

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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

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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

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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

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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 ***

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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

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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 ***

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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 ***

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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 ***

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