Saturday, December 5, 2020

7 Thinking Strategies To Make You A Business Winner

business-winnerNo matter what people may proclaim, everyone in business is looking to achieve the highest possible level of satisfaction and financial success in their career. For best results, my advice is to think like an entrepreneur, even if you are a corporate employee. According to many studies, entrepreneurs tend to be happier, and over 80 percent of self-made millionaires are entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurial thinking in a corporate environment brings many positive career opportunities to the table, and many advantages to your company. I saw these highlighted well in a classic book, “Get Smart!” by prolific author and renowned business consultant Brian Tracy. He lays out seven thinking strategies for both entrepreneurs and employees that will make them business winners:

  1. Focus on the customers at all times. Corporate thinkers often become preoccupied with doing their jobs and following rules, not pleasing customers. Company people, whether employees, managers, or executives, can view customers either with disinterest or as problems. They don’t realize that customers are the source of all business payback.

  1. Committed to the success of the company. Many researchers conclude that more than 60 percent of employees at large corporations are not committed to their business. Entrepreneurial thinkers see themselves as self-employed and act as if they own the companies personally. They continually seek ways to be more valuable in this mission.

  1. Constant search for ways to increase sales and profitability. More sales are the only way to reach real business success. Entrepreneurial thinkers see their business mission as enriching the lives of customers, rather than being a better producer of products and services. Entrepreneurs relish change and new technology, which lead to new sales.

  1. Think like your ideal customer seeking value. Entrepreneurial thinkers describe their product or service in terms of the problem it solves and benefits to their customer, rather than more features and performance. The ideal customer is one who sees so much value that price is unimportant. Businesses fail when customers don’t see real solution value.

  1. Maintain a meaningful competitive advantage. For any company to be successful, it must dominate a market or niche. Corporate thinking is often focused on more products in more markets, with hope that the total impact will be greater than the sum of the parts. Entrepreneurial thinking is focused on dominating a segment of a competitive market.

  1. Continually evaluate the essential elements of the business model. In the corporate environment, the business model is a given, rather than a tool for tuning the business. Entrepreneurs continually review their model to reach new customers, optimize value received, improve marketing and sales, reallocate costs, and provide better service.
  1. More concerned with what’s right rather than who’s right. This is called zero-based thinking -- if we started over today, knowing what we know now, what would we do differently? Entrepreneurial thinking does not penalize mistakes and assumes learning. New ideas and methods for better results are embraced, no matter what the source.

At the very least, adopting these thinking initiatives in any company, corporate or startup, will allow you to grow in your career. Business leaders all understand the benefits of allowing their team members to take ownership of their roles. The risks they take, and successes, can be applied to processes throughout the business at a fraction of the cost of expert consulting.

The difference between an entrepreneur and an employee is really as simple as the way the person thinks about their work, and the degree to which they follow-up on that thinking. Adopt the entrepreneur mindset today to help you find your full potential, and it might even make you rich.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, December 4, 2020

8 Qualities That All Super Business Leaders Display

Almost every employee or team member can remember that one special boss in their career who was the role model of a leader, always commanded respect, and was able to get the most voluntarily from everyone all the time. Every entrepreneur and business executive I know wants to emulate that boss, but most can’t even describe the attributes required.

They know these exceptional leaders seem to have a way of finding and enticing the best people into the organization, getting exceptional performance out of them, and fast-tracking their careers both inside and outside the organization. In my opinion, great examples in today’s entrepreneur world include Elon Musk (Tesla), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Richard Branson (Virgin Group).

I’ve also struggled trying to define the characteristics that set these bosses apart, so I was impressed with the classic book, “Superbosses,” by Dartmouth professor and consultant Sydney Finkelstein. Here is just a small selection of the sometimes counterintuitive practices he observes that I believe are common to this level of leadership:

  1. Create master-apprentice relationships. These leaders not only recognize team members who have high potential, but they willingly and selflessly customize their coaching to what these special protégés really need. Great leaders provide opportunities and personal growth assignments that go far beyond conventional training programs.
  1. Measure by relationships as well as competitiveness. Exemplary business leaders understand the cohort effect, where peer relationship building is as important to winning as knowledge and power. Good connections and team building are the keys to success. They mentor protégés on talent spotting, creativity, and motivation as well as strategy.
  1. Encourage employees to move on to new opportunities. Nobody likes it when great employees leave for a new challenge, but the best leaders don’t respond with anger or resentment. They know that former direct reports can become highly valuable members of their network, and new business partners as either rise to new major roles elsewhere.
  1. Adapt the job or organization to fit the talent. In today’s rapidly changing world, it makes sense to focus on the talent you have at the moment rather than tasks. Twitter and GrubHub are just a couple of examples where CFOs have been asked to absorb COO responsibilities in the last couple of years, to capitalize on individual strengths.
  1. Take chances on unconventional talent. Larry Ellison (Oracle) preferred a candidate who had accomplished something genuinely difficult over one with formal qualifications. If they were gifted enough, they would rise to the technical challenges. This is a win-win approach, since it often helps people accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
  1. Always searching for new talent sources. The best business leaders never wait until a position opens up to start searching for talent to fill it. They are always on the lookout for talent by peer networking, studying competitors, and working with top university contacts. The goal is to always have a backup plan to facilitate incumbent growth opportunities.
  1. Willing and able to hire on the spot. A few top business leaders seem to have the insight to recognize exceptional talent, and the confidence to go after it, without resumes and extensive interviews. I don’t recommend this approach to new entrepreneurs until you have a few successes under your belt from conventional hiring approaches.
  1. Accept high talent turnover as a sign of success. It makes sense to assume that highly talented people will be in demand, and will want new challenges, so expectations of long-term job commitments are not realistic. Great bosses capitalize on fresh new perspectives, the lure of no career constraints, and the benefits of a supportive network.

Especially in this new world of millennial values and rapid market change, every business leader and entrepreneur should aspire to this imperative of nurturing exceptional talent, and forgetting the tired old assumptions about retention and churn. Maybe then you can be the superboss you always wanted to see again.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

6 Expansion Realities To Penetrate Worldwide Markets

Miaokou night market 廟口夜市With the availability of high-speed Internet and social media access around the world, it’s easy for entrepreneurs to assume that the world is just one big homogeneous market, and project their business will scale accordingly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Large businesses, as well as small, still fail often by not addressing the very real cultural, economic and political differences.

The challenge is to know what to look for when stepping outside your native market, be able to quantify the downside risk, and implement the required strategy in each of the new markets. In the classic book, “Global Vision,” by NYU Stern School of Business scholar and leader Robert Salomon, I finally found some great insights on what to look for, and how to make the necessary changes.

His perspectives have been derived primarily from the travails of several major brands, including Walmart, IKEA, and Tesco. Yet, I believe the conclusions and strategy recommendations are equally valuable for every new entrepreneur who intends to expand outside their local country:

  1. Size market potential granularly based on local economics. The most common mistake is overestimating a particular market’s potential, based on your domestic context. Foreign markets typically have less information available and more variability in sales estimates, which is a setup for failure. Do more local homework and validate cautiously.
  1. Assume large and frequent economic swings. The inability to accurately predict or prepare for sudden changes in the local economic environment creates risks for the markets you know, but can wreak havoc for global initiatives. These economies are often ill-prepared to deal with economic shocks. Double the risk may mean half the opportunity.
  1. Currency exchange fluctuations can wipe out gains. The potential for large currency swings may change the way you need to manage transactions, specify contract terms, and project futures. Smart entrepreneurs have learned to lock in exchange rates, collect on transactions immediately, and pay indigenous organizations to hedge the risks.
  1. Factor in basic infrastructure quality and services. The cost of doing business in any market is heavily dependent on local transportation, energy, technology, and financial services. These components can totally change your customer value proposition, or the business model that you have honed. Re-validate your business model in every market.
  1. Evaluate the political climate and operational processes. Uber and Airbnb are current examples of entrepreneurial efforts that are struggling with government regulations in new markets. It pays to research markets proactively, and engage local experts to negotiate a path early, rather than reactively dealing with fines and tarnished reputations.
  1. Honor cultural sensitivities and assumptions. Cultural traditions often dictate business roles, procedures, and customer expectations. The local culture affects not only the decisions an entrepreneur must make, but also how a market views the company. The best strategy is to engage people in the local market to manage your business there.

My summary recommendation is to quantify the context difference or institutional distance to each new market. The greater the difference between your current and the new context, the more challenging it will be to expand there. Salomon outlines how to convert the comparisons into “risk spreads” that mathematically capture and accurately reflect global market opportunity differences.

But don’t look for any magic algorithmic procedure to solve the complex globalization problems. The challenges are continually evolving and are, at their root, a product of social interaction, economic evolution, and political dynamics. It will always take smart entrepreneurs, armed with the latest knowledge and modern analytic tools, to minimize the risks and maximize opportunities.

Tapping into global markets, especially the large and under-developed ones, not only promises market growth beyond our most optimistic vision, but also empowers people the world over to share in a better economic future. How many global scaling opportunities are you missing today?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 30, 2020

6 Reasons To Ease Into The Entrepreneur Startup Dream

browsing-business-cafe-computerThere has long been a big debate about the best approach to starting a new business. Some argue the only way to start is to drop everything and jump in with both feet, while others recommend an overlapped approach to the lifestyle, including not quitting your day job until you have revenue and a proven business model. I’m definitely a proponent of this latter approach.

Billionaire entrepreneur and "Shark Tank" co-host Mark Cuban is an outspoken proponent of the all-in early approach in a video interview, and made it clear that he gives no credibility and low odds to founders seeking funding who have not fully committed their time and efforts to their cause. Obviously his approach of absolute focus, getting up early, staying up late has worked for him.

On the other hand, I just finished a classic book, “The 10% Entrepreneur: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job,” by Patrick J. McGinnis, a well-known venture capitalist and private equity investor. He makes some good points in the book for the overlapped entrepreneur approach that I espouse:

  1. One job is not enough these days. The smartest people I know these days always have several things going concurrently – and more in the queue. With the rapid pace of change and all the unknowns in the world, everyone should be working on multiple options, including a conventional paying job as well as an entrepreneurial opportunity.
  1. The early entrepreneur lifestyle is not much fun. Even with high passion and a good cause, early startup efforts are stressful, lonely, and things always take longer than expected. I see no reason not to balance these frustrations with the satisfaction of more conventional work accomplishments and the people relationships we all need to thrive.
  1. Startups cost money but don’t pay a salary before revenue. Most entrepreneurs don’t get the satisfaction of a salary for the first couple of years, even if their startup is well funded by investors. Living off credit cards and borrowed money, instead of other work income, can ruin your personal finances and kill your startup motivation far too early.
  1. Maintain the status and affirmation of an existing job. Not all friends and family will see your entrepreneurial efforts as visionary and prestigious. You can choose to keep your startup efforts “below the radar” to keep peace in the family until your business has the momentum and visibility to overcome the qualms of skeptics important to you.
  1. Make sure you have the right idea before risking all. I very much respect the passion and enthusiasm of a new entrepreneur, but I’m seen enough as a startup advisor to know that more time and effort is often required as a reality check. Reality checks are best before you have put everything on the line, essentially eliminating the ability to back out.
  1. Odds are you are going to fail before you succeed. Historical and current statistics still show the chances of failure on any given startup are better than even. The good news is that you can learn from that failure, improving future odds. Having another job is more good news, since it improves the financial, emotional, and social ability to try again.

In my view, entrepreneurship is an endurance sport, rather than a quick dash to success. When you are starting a new venture, raising capital, and landing those initial customers, the obstacles keep coming, so you need all the flexibility and resilience you can muster. It pays to be able to step into a more familiar role from time to time to clear you mind and hone your strategy.

Over time, I do find that the entrepreneurial lifestyle is more addictive and usually more fulfilling than more conventional business roles. As a result, I know many successful entrepreneurs, including Mark Cuban, who can’t resist starting or investing in a second or third business concurrently, or even hundreds. That’s another variation of a part-time entrepreneur.

As a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I often advise them to start with another alternative, of working for an existing startup, before or while starting their own. I recognize that everyone is unique, with different levels of risk tolerance, energy, and motivation. Thus I encourage you to take a hard look in the mirror, and you’ll know when you are ready to be a full-time entrepreneur.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

7 Tips For Surviving Your Tough Business Challenges

frustrated-businessman-challengesIt’s easy for an entrepreneur or a CEO to feel like a leader when things are going well, but the challenge is to keep that confidence and drive in the face of economic downturns, business turnarounds, and stressful personnel situations. Working twenty hours a day, losing your cool, and falling back to a no-risk strategy are not conducive to long-term success.

I saw some practical tips for business leaders under pressure a while back in the book “The Outside the Box Executive,” by Richard Lindenmuth, a seasoned interim CEO, who has stepped in and revitalized more than his share of struggling companies. I’m convinced that his advice is equally relevant to early startups, where the challenges are legion and the path is far from clear.

I agree with Lindenmuth that emotional intelligence and stability is a must in these environments. He calls it strategic empathy, which is sincerely focusing on the individual, but always with the big picture of the business as top of mind:

  1. Expect anxiety on the team and deal with it directly. When things are not going well, or when the future is clouded with unknowns, expect to find people on the team who are scared and angry. You have to act quickly to communicate strategy, be the role model for calm, and stand up to outliers before the whole team becomes dysfunctional.
  1. Let them say no, and actively listen to team input. Of course, no leader wants to hear negative views, but it’s important to show empathy and reach everyone on an emotional level, while containing your own emotions. People need to know that it’s safe to express their opinions. Once you get beyond the negatives, most people have real contributions.
  1. Focus on team members who will tell it like it is. In any organization you will find people who will tell you what you want to hear, or who are fighting for their own survival. Although you must listen at every level, the best leaders look carefully for that middle ground or middle manager that can see the big picture and effectively implement change.
  1. Don’t send a representative in lieu of direct contact. Lack of your physical presence is read as detachment, or lack of leadership. Direct contact, to people at every level, is the best way to generate trust, respect, support, and action. A recipe for failure is assuming that you can deliver a message once, and get it passed down by subordinates.
  1. If you see something broken, fix it now. Decisive action inspires confidence. People’s perception of your leadership and trustworthiness is directly related to your word-action alignment and behavioral integrity. Show them what you expect, and people will follow your example. If everyone is fixing problems with confidence, the business will prosper.
  1. Everyone has to pull their weight in the same boat. Create an environment that encourages and rewards participation and progress, with no penalties for missteps. Define a common goal, such as improving the customer experience, and eliminate any contention between the internal towers of development, marketing, and sales.
  1. Practice the eight out of ten rule. Generally, out of ten ideas, eight are not usable, but that’s the only way to get to those two good ones. So welcome all suggestions and praise every attempt, which will encourage more ideas. This may also be stated as the Pareto principle, where 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the efforts.

When the business is struggling, it also makes sense to bring in outside help for a fresh perspective. This could be a peer, or independent business advisor, ideally one who has been through a similar kind of struggle in their business. The best leaders put aside their pride and emotion, and listen carefully to guidance from outside the organization.

When real change is required in business, a unilateral top-down business leadership strategy is rarely effective. Successful CEOs and entrepreneurs instead listen, learn, empathize and include everyone in the challenge. With their leadership, and everyone invested in the company’s survival, the odds of success go up dramatically. Are you ready for that really tough challenge?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

8 Tips For Getting Your Startup Right The First Time

Cabin-Spacey6In my view, starting a new business has never been easier, and according to reports from the Kauffman Foundation, the numbers are here to show it. The rate of new entrepreneurs increased between 2013 and 2019, from 280 out of 100,000 to 310 out of 100,000 of the adult population. Over 600,000 new businesses were created in the last year, or over one per minute of every day.

Of course, that’s both the good news and the bad news for aspiring entrepreneurs, since it means more competition, and the business landscape is changing faster than ever. But for founders who do their homework, the cost of entry is lower and the opportunity is higher than ever. Who would not want to join the unicorns (recent startups with a current valuation of over $1 billion)?

Even the homework is easier, with free access to more opportunity details and competitor data on your mobile device from anywhere in the world. Excellent detailed resources are everywhere, including a classic book, “The Startup Checklist,” by serial entrepreneur and founder of the New York Angels, David S. Rose. He nails the current key startup parameters, including the following:

  1. Crafting a lean business plan as your road map. The days of lengthy, text-heavy, business plan documents prepared by expensive experts are behind us. Investors and partners now look only for a framework of your business essentials, within the context of your opportunity, solution, and financials. Just make sure you can fill in all the details.
  1. Building a minimum viable product, with customer validation. Years ago, it cost a million dollars for a new e-commerce site, one that you can now create for almost nothing with current tools and technology. Minimum viable products (MVPs) are recommended for validating the market, with iterative enhancement to quickly meet market feedback.
  1. Incorporating a business entity early through online services. Before you bring on partners, develop intellectual property, raise capital, or generate revenues, you need to establish an official business entity. These days you can create a C-corporation online quickly at a low cost, which will serve you well, without waiting for an outside attorney.
  1. Establishing your brand with interactive social media. Building your public image and presence should start even before product development, through your website, logo, and blogging. Early customer feedback will position your solution, and help you make pivots before critical time and money are lost. The cost of social media done well is low.
  1. Using new tools for recruiting key players and advisors. Networking no longer is primarily a face-to-face serial activity. Online “dating” assistance, including Founder Dating Playbook, StartupWeekend, and CoFoundersLab, as well as LinkedIn and Facebook, give access to the people and skills you need, without the time and cost of travel and small talk.
  1. Rounding out the team with employees and freelancers. With the Internet and modern video communication tools, including Skype and Google Hangout, you can find the people you need, from anywhere in the world, and sign them up quickly. Successful startup teams today have a mix of remote employees, freelancers, and contractors.
  1. Fundraising through online platforms and crowdfunding. Professional investors now look for startups through popular online platforms, including Gust and InvestorHunt. Non-professional investors now use crowdfunding sites, like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, for similar access. Angel groups, accelerators, and incubators are pervasive. Use them.
  1. Measuring progress with big data and analytics. You don’t have to be a heavily funded later stage startup to get access to “big data,” customer analytics, and metrics dashboards. Remember that early and consistent measurement is the first step leading to better control and quicker improvements. Set milestones and manage to those targets.

While these tips, and many others from experts like David Rose, may seem like common sense, it has been my experience as a startup advisor that perhaps two thirds of the startups I see are built initially on creaky foundations. Later cleanup can double your costs and risks. It’s a lot more fun to do it right the first time, making it easier for you, and tougher on your competition.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 27, 2020

6 Business Practices That Will Verify You As A Leader

Gates_FoundationIn these difficult days of the pandemic, the visibility of leadership in business, as well as politics, seems to be at an all-time low. In my view as a business advisor, it’s an ideal time for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners to get ahead of the crowd by driving an innovative solution to a painful problem with the passion, perseverance, and work ethic I see every day.

Some people are convinced that leadership is a character trait that you must be born with, but I see it more as a mindset and a set of skills that you can develop and learn from experiences and relationships in business, both positive and negative. Here is my list of the most critical skills that I look for in entrepreneurs who are likely to lead their businesses, and themselves, to success:

  1. Focus on change and learning as a key to leadership. People I meet who think they have all the answers usually fail at leadership. We all live in a world of constant change, and “the way things have always worked” probably won’t work tomorrow. I’m convinced that the most important thing you can learn in school, or any job, is to learn how to learn.

    Successful entrepreneur leaders, including Bill Gates and Elon Musk, are noted for taking deep dives into new technologies, and reading new books every week, to stretch their minds, even though they already have a range of knowledge far beyond their peers.

  2. Pay attention to the words and actions of your team. Real listening is a leadership skill that’s more valuable than being a great orator. Without listening, you can never learn from your team and others, and by talking too quickly or too much, you will shut down positive contributions before you ever hear them, and never see real innovations.

    The keys to being a good listener and observer include letting other know that you are listening through facial expressions and acknowledgement, not interrupting or trying to talk when others are speaking, and repeating back clearly what you have been told.

  3. Tell people where you want to go, not how to get there. In business, this is called “communication,” rather than giving orders. It’s not a difficult skill to learn, but takes practice and discipline to do it often and effectively. Often, it helps to use storytelling to make the message more memorable, or allow others to relate your and their needs.

    It has to start with people understanding your vision and values, seeing through your actions that you are committed to the same, and transparently asking them to help get you there. Giving orders does not build trust or commitment, and precipitates pushback.

  4. Sustain motivation and loyalty by giving credit to others. Recognition of internal contributions can be as simple as a public “thank-you,” or as formal as a promotion or equity sharing. It does require sensitivity and engagement with the people around you, as well as your customers. Don’t be reluctant to seek and recognize help from others.

    External customer loyalty and motivation used to be as simple as good customer service, but today’s customers expect more. They look for a memorable total experience, from a quality product, a positive shopping experience, to an easy return or exchange policy.

  5. Recognize that negotiation is an art as well as a skill. Learn how to make every negotiation a win-win, rather than a win-lose event. Make sure your negotiations are never perceived as manipulating, but about explaining to the other party the benefits of your proposal to both of you. This can be learned by imagining yourself in their shoes.

    In the business world, we all win some battles and lose others. We all must learn to deal with the frustration and discouragement associated with the lost battles, and learn to prioritize the important ones, to become more effective in all our negotiation efforts.

  6. Spend more time coaching and mentoring your team. If people really believe that your success as a leader is tied to their own success, they will follow you anywhere. They must be inspired by your coaching to create a better future for everyone. Effective coaching always involves helping make new connections, for relationships and learning.

In my view, starting and growing a business is the ideal place to learn and practice leadership. The same principles can then be applied and extended to make you a leader in your community, industry organizations, or government politics.

Today, more than ever, we need more leaders and fewer critics. You are all well positioned to make an impact. It’s a lot more satisfying then following the crowd.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/13/2020 ***

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