Sunday, July 5, 2020

10 Tips On Selling Yourself As Well As Your Startup

women-business-presentationToo many entrepreneurs I know still believe that that their great idea will carry the startup, and they may even minimize their own value, especially if they have introvert tendencies. Yet most investors agree that the “idea” is worth nothing alone, and it’s the entrepreneur execution that counts. That means that selling yourself is more important than selling your idea.

In the corporate world, experts have recognized for a long time that how people perceive you at work is vital to your career success. No matter how talented you are, it doesn’t matter unless managers can see those talents and think of you as an invaluable employee, or a game-changing manager, or the person whose name is synonymous with success.

In the entrepreneur world, your perception is equally critical, except the “managers” in this world are your investors, customers, vendors, business partners, and team members. Per a classic book by Dan Schawbel, “Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success,” you can maximize these perceptions, which apply equally well to entrepreneurs as well as professionals.

Everyone needs to realize that whether it’s in the workplace or in the startup community, business is a new world today with new rules. Whether you are a new young Gen-Y entrepreneur, or a Baby Boomer who is struggling to stay relevant, here is a quick guide to some of the changes that Schawbel sees in the workplace requiring self-promotion, that I have updated for entrepreneurs:

  1. Your startup “idea” is just the beginning. Your startup idea only scratches the surface of what is required to build a successful business. Use the idea to kick-start your relationships with co-founders, investors, customers and business partners. Your ability to promote yourself and learn from these will determine your ultimate success.
  1. You are going to need a lot of skills you don’t have right now. A recent Department of Education study shows that soft (interpersonal) skills have become more important for success than hard (technical) skills. Entrepreneurs need leadership, teamwork, listening, and coaching skills, which you can learn from advisors and networking with peers.
  1. Your reputation is the single greatest asset you have. Your CEO title might be good for your ego, but in the grand scheme of things, what matters more is how much people trust you, whom you know, who knows about you, and the aura you give off around you. What other people think you can do is more important than what you have done.
  1. Your personal life is now public. With the Internet and social networks, things you do in your personal life can affect your success in a big way. Manage your whole image, rather than ignore it. Even the smallest things, like how you behave, your online presence or lack of it, and whom you associate with can help build your brand or tear it down.
  1. You need to build a positive presence in new media. There are plenty of benefits to new media, if you maintain a positive presence. Your online social networks enable you to build your reputation, connect with people who have interests similar to yours, find educational opportunities, and put you in touch with people who can help your startup.
  1. You will need to work well with people from different generations. Because the combination of economic need and increasing life spans is keeping everyone in the workplace longer, you will need to work well with people of all different ages. Each generation communicates differently, and has a different view of the marketplace.
  1. The one with the most connections wins. We have moved from an information economy to a social one. It’s less about what you know (Google search will help you in seconds), and more about whether you can work with other people to solve problems. If you don’t get and stay connected, you’ll quickly become irrelevant to the marketplace.
  1. All it takes is one person to change your life for the better. Remember the rule of one. All you need is that one investor, that one major customer, or that one distributor to keep you ahead of competitors. It’s up to you to get that key person on board to support your business. Self-promotion in the right way can make all the difference.
  1. Hours are out, accomplishments are in. If you want to grow your business, stop thinking about how many hours you work, and aim for more milestones and traction. Success is more results, not more work. Measure your results and promote them to every constituent. Help them to realize your value.
  1. Your startup is in your hands, not your investors or even customers. Be accountable for your own business success, and take charge of your life. Look for win-win business relationships, since people won’t help you if you are not helping them. If you aren’t learning and growing, you have nothing to promote and aren’t benefitting anyone.

The challenge for all entrepreneurs is to gain visibility and show value without bragging and coming off as self-centered. Take personal credit where credit is due, but also share the successes of the team and the business milestones with everyone. Success leverages success.

Now, how do you start? I like Schawbel’s recommendation to do one thing every day, like add a new skill, or build a new relationship that will advance you. Developing this “one step forward a day” habit will keep you current, make you feel more fulfilled and confident, and increase your ability to promote yourself. Are you promoting yourself today, or demoting your startup by default?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, July 4, 2020

5 Rewards Of Independence That Excite Entrepreneurs

independence-day-posterFor all entrepreneurs, starting a business is the route to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” no matter how risky. It’s the American dream that has been the goal of people in this country for over 240 years. If you are here in the U.S., I hope you are all able to take some time off this holiday period, to contemplate what you do, and why you do it.

According to a classic article and poll by Startups.co.uk, having the independence to make your own decisions is considered the key benefit of being an entrepreneur. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said decision-making independence was very important, closely followed by more flexibility for a better work/life balance. Job creation and innovation are the results, not the drivers.

Personal satisfaction also ranked close behind, with 70 percent of respondents claiming it was a key advantage to running their own business. Contrary to popular belief, most business owners did not start a business just to earn more money. Only 32 percent of entrepreneurs cited money a key benefit of running their own firm. This indicates that lifestyle and satisfaction factors are often more important than financial ones.

As with everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to every choice we make. Choosing entrepreneurship is no exception. Beyond the obvious advantages mentioned above, there are some additional advantages that get mentioned often.

  1. Challenge of originality. A good entrepreneur feels the incentive to offer a new service/product that no one else has offered before. That’s the same challenge an artist feels on every new canvas, or every musician feels when composing a new work.
  1. High level of excitement. Entrepreneurs love the continuous challenges of a startup, and the satisfaction of solving them. Some are so high on this life, that they hate the fact that they have to "waste" part of their life in sleep!
  1. Minimal rules and regulations. Work in a conventional job is often difficult to get done because of all the "red tape" and consistent administration approval needed. With a startup there are no rules, until you make them.
  1. Flexible work hours and conditions. Entrepreneurs can schedule their work hours around other commitments, including spending quality time with their families. Many love working from their home or garage, in casual clothes, serenaded their by favorite music.
  1. Beat the competition and discover yourself. Competition drives innovation, and innovation drives competition. The cycle never stops. But the best part is that ultimately entrepreneurship isn’t a race against others but an opportunity to discover your potential.

Of course there are some challenges that every entrepreneur knows all too well:

  1. No regular paycheck. Starting your own business means that you must be willing to give up the security of a regular paycheck. In fact, most startup founders work for no salary during the first year or two of company operation.
  1. Few paid benefits. There will likely be no medical and dental benefits, and no vacations or other perks during the formative years. Don’t expect a staff to do the accounting, handle correspondence, or even clean the bathrooms.
  1. Decision responsibility. All the decisions of the business must be made on your own, better known as “the buck stops here.” This may sound like an advantage, but is actually a major source of stress and loneliness for startup CEOs.
  1. Staffing challenges. Hiring and firing decisions are hard, and that’s just the beginning. Often times, you will find yourself working with people who "don't know the ropes" and require extensive coaching and assistance. Then you have to deal with the mistakes.

By definition, if you see the rewards here as outweighing the risks, you are an entrepreneur. So you should fully appreciate the independence factor fought for so hard by our forefathers. I hope you have had time this holiday weekend to savor the dream. You earned it, and you need the rest.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, July 3, 2020

6 Keys To Measuring Return On Investment In Marketing

marketing-return-on-investmentEvery entrepreneur knows that good demand generation marketing is the key to growth these days, but very few have the discipline or know-how to measure return in a world of a thousand tools and techniques. Even those things that worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, as the market matures, the culture changes, and competitors appear with new solutions.

Business success is all about meeting the needs of the modern buyer, who is more informed, has access to more choices, and is ever smarter about making purchasing decisions. In fact, we now live in a buyer-led digital age, where the traditional media push-marketing efforts just don’t work. Peter Drucker’s old comment that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is more true now than ever.

In the classic book, “Driving Demand: Transforming B2B Marketing to Meet the Needs of the Modern Buyer,” top marketing consultant Carlos Hidalgo updates the old guidelines on how to set up demand generation processes, keep them current, and measure results. While his insights have come from large organizations, I give many of the same recommendations to every startup:

  1. Channel engagement performance. Selecting the right sales channels is one of the first strategic decisions that every startup faces. Understanding culture is paramount, but measuring results is even better. Hidalgo recommends a focus on engagement stage indicators including customers by channel, conversion ratio, and cost per revenue.

  1. Lead-stage content performance. The fuel for any good demand generation program is relevant, buyer-centric content. You need to track what content is resonating with your prospective customers, through metrics including submit rate by content offer, elasticity, velocity, cost, and ultimately revenue by content program.
  1. Nurturing stage email performance. The nurturing stage is the link between the engagement and conversion stages, and is most often the automated area of demand generation. That makes it easier to collect results indicators, including number of emails sent, open rate, click rate, and email bounce rates. Don’t just use these in isolation.
  1. Lead management performance. This area of demand analysis is also called the “sales funnel” or “sales pipeline,” used for tracking the overall process from initial prospect engagement to close. Metrics which must be tracked include number of leads, conversion rates by lead stage, velocity, growth rate, and total lead database size.
  1. Demand generation revenue performance. Revenue performance needs to be applied to each individual program, and also rolled up to show the overall performance per dollar invested. Individual measurements should include pipeline value by lead stage, closed revenue by program, pipeline growth, and overall win rate.
  1. Return on investment for demand generation. Obviously, you are looking for demand generation programs that have a positive return on investment (ROI). In addition, the best companies compare the negative and positive cash flows over a period of time to determine the net present value (NPV) of planned future marketing spending.

Instead of looking at demand generation as a pure cost center, smart entrepreneurs ask their marketing team to measure themselves as a line of business, and to report on their profit and loss just like other business groups in the organization. This approach has the additional advantage of potentially saving their budget from arbitrary cost cuts during downturns.

Overall, demand generation and other marketing efforts must move from being a “necessary overhead item” managed by a guru with a crystal ball to a vital business function, managed quantitatively, like the products you sell, and included in your continuous innovation mantra. Are you evaluating your marketing returns today with the same discipline as your product returns?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

5 Challenges No Entrepreneur Anticipates In A Startup

business-pushing-youEvery entrepreneur I know finds it a challenge to balance the joys of entrepreneurship against a set of frustrations they never anticipated. Of course, most of you expect that raising money will be difficult, as well as staving off competitors, and handling that occasional toxic customer. What you don’t expect is to feel out of control, or to always be fighting the many demands for your time.

Based on my own experiences in startups, and many years of advising new business owners, I’m convinced that there are a few common frustrations that we all need to anticipate and prepare for, rather than let them be a surprise and a painful dent in your enthusiasm and personal satisfaction from living your dream. You need all the positive traction you can get to survive and prosper.

In the spirit of helping you prepare and respond positively, I offer my list of the most common new venture founder unexpected realities, with some thoughts on how to mitigate each one:

  1. The business seems to be driving you, rather than you driving it. The list of things to manage seems to grow endlessly, including financial crises, personnel, investors, and customers, with each going in different directions, and threatening to be out of control. There are just not enough hours in a day, and knowledge available, to keep up with it all.

    Thus I recommend that you learn early how to focus on the things you can do, surround yourself with help rather than helpers, learn to say “no” often, and keep some balance between your business and the other elements of your life. The startup world is all about causing change and reacting to unknowns, so set your expectations early to deal with it.

  2. Managing cash is an overwhelming burden, in good times and bad. You expected the difficulty of finding funding, but you never expected it to go so fast into unanticipated expenses, inventory, support, and marketing. Then there are those pesky competitor responses, always driving down margins and forcing you to develop new features.

    The norm for entrepreneurs is to be optimistic on revenue projections, and miserly on funding needs. I urge you to be more realistic in your projections on both ends, for example, always asking for enough to cover the next 12-month runway, plus a 6-month buffer for your next milestone to include contingencies and time for the next fundraising.

  3. One or more key players need extra attention or replacement. Every startup is like a family, needing constant commitment to specific roles and priorities. Inevitably, someone you counted on will disappoint you with conflicting objectives, emotional challenges, or an inability to deliver. In a startup, this can be a team member, investor, or even a vendor.

    There is no way to predict where and how this will occur, but it should help to realize that it does happen, and you should not assume you are the cause. Just don’t take the “shortcut” of not doing your due diligence on aspiring team members, strategic partners, investors, or vendors. Cheaper in the beginning can be more costly in the long run.

  4. Endless pivots are required to keep up with market changes. No matter how certain you are that your solution, target market, and customer need are well-proven, you are likely wrong, or the world changes by events you could not have anticipated. Thus you need to reduce the extra pain by having a Plan-B, and a process for rapid change.

    It may help to realize the essentially every successful startup has endured one or more pivots, even though few remember them today. YouTube and Facebook, for example, both advertised themselves as dating sites until they recognized from results that the dating market segment was already over-saturated.

  5. Getting to the next level of growth is a constant challenge. Scaling a business is hard. Every time you think you understand the market, you see your growth flatten, or fail to respond to your best initiatives. You will never seem to have the time, skills, or resources you need for that key acquisition, global expansion, or new product offering.

The key here is to plan ahead, nurture a relationship with your favorite venture capitalists, and leverage the growth and assets you already have with other lending and funding organizations. Of course this means taking some smart risks, not resting on your laurels, and continuously updating your business plan and strategy.

With these forewarnings, and a little extra effort on your part, I’m confident that you can make your entrepreneurial journey a lot more satisfying, less frustrating, and you can leave a legacy we can all be proud of.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 06/17/2020 ***

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Monday, June 29, 2020

7 Ways Your Day-To-Day Routine Drives Startup Success

frequency-drives-successMost of the young entrepreneurs I know are classic proof of the old adage that people tend to overestimate what they can do in a short period, and underestimate what they can do over a long period. They become frustrated when they are unable to build their startup over a weekend, and give up way too soon when the path to real success seems to be interminable.

Both problems can be mitigated by learning the power of frequency, as defined in the classic book by Jocelyn K. Glei, “Manage Your Day-to-Day,” which asserts that working consistently and frequently on something makes it possible to accomplish more, with greater originality, than spasmodic bursts of effort. A successful startup needs to be a daily task, with consistent focus.

I suggest that the following key reasons from Glei for how the habit of frequency fosters both productivity and innovation in general, apply especially well to an entrepreneur starting a new business:

  1. Frequency makes starting easier. Getting started is always a challenge. It’s hard to convert an idea into a business, and it’s also hard to get back into the groove with all the distractions of other activities and your “real job.” If you block out time every day to focus on your startup, you keep your momentum going, and start seeing long-term progress.
  1. Frequency keeps insights current. You’re much more likely to spot opportunities for innovation and to see new trends in the marketplace, if your mind is constantly humming with issues related to the startup. Frequent discussions with peers and customers on open questions will keep you from being led astray by your own biases.
  1. Frequency keeps the pressure off. If you’re producing just one page, one blog post, or one sketch a week, you expect it to be good and final, and you start to worry about quality. It’s better to write 100 lines of new code every day, recognizing that you will have to iterate to perfection, rather than expecting a week of work to happen all in one night.
  1. Frequency sparks creativity. You might be thinking, “Having to work frequently, whether or not I feel inspired, will force me to lower my standards.” In my experience, the effect is just the opposite. Creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, and one of the easiest ways to get results is to keep your mind engaged with your project.
  1. Frequency nurtures frequency. If you develop the habit of working frequently, it becomes much easier to sit down and get something done even when you don’t have a big block of time; you don’t have to take time to acclimate yourself. The real enemy of progress is the procrastination habit, which should be replaced with the frequency habit.
  1. Frequency fosters productivity. It’s no surprise that you’re likely to get more accomplished if you work daily. The very fact of each day’s accomplishment helps the next day’s work come more smoothly and pleasantly. By writing just 500 words a day in a blog, I suddenly realized that I had enough for a book in just a few months.
  1. Frequency is a realistic approach. Frequency is helpful when you’re working on a startup idea on the side, with pressing obligations from a job or your family. It’s easier to carve out an hour a day, than to set all else aside for a week in the early stages of your startup.

Don’t be like many of the people that we all know who feel like they are working at a breakneck pace all day, every day, but have very few tangible results to show for their efforts. Every entrepreneur needs to build a proactive daily routine, while being able to field a barrage of messages, and still carve out the time to do the work that matters.

Another enemy of progress in startups is the curse of perfectionism. Some entrepreneurs never start, waiting for that ideal moment, when there are no distractions. Some are lost in the middle, obsessing over every step, and some never finish, always refining and adding, rather than learning from a minimum viable product. Thus the need to combine frequency with pragmatics.

If you can manage your day-to-day routine with frequency, rather than let reactive chaos manage you, you will find that your creative mind is sharpened, and your focus on the new venture will generate the “change the world” results that attracted you to this lifestyle in the first place.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

4 Principles Guide Every Socially Conscious Business

conscious capitalismI’ve noticed that most young entrepreneurs are more socially conscious today than ever before, which is a great trend. Unfortunately, some are so focused on this principle that they forget that every business, even nonprofits, have to practice the basic principles of capitalism (build a business model to make money) to cover their costs to do good things another day.

Examples of profitable companies practicing this model include Trader Joe’s, led by Doug Rauch as retired president, and Conscious Capitalism® board member, and the Container Store, built by Kip Tindell. Both of these are purpose-driven businesses that boast high growth, high loyalty, and very low employee turnover. You can find dozens more on the Conscious Capitalism web site.

Of course a profitable model isn’t required if you intend to rely totally on donations, or have deep pockets to fund your socially conscious efforts yourself. Conscious capitalism is the rational alternative approach, dedicated to advancing humanity, while using tried and proven business principles. The idea has four principles guiding and underlying every business:

  1. Higher purpose. Business can and should be done with a higher purpose in mind, not just with a view to maximizing profits. A compelling sense of purpose creates an extraordinary degree of engagement for all stakeholders and catalyzes tremendous organizational energy.
  1. Stakeholder orientation. Recognizing the interdependent nature of life and the human foundations and business, a business needs to create value with and for its various stakeholders (customers, employees, vendors, investors, communities, etc.). Like the life forms in an ecosystem, healthy stakeholders lead to a healthy business system.
  1. Conscious leadership. Conscious leaders understand and embrace the higher purpose of business and focus on creating value for and harmonizing the human interests of the business stakeholders. They recognize the integral role of culture and purposefully cultivate a conscious culture.

  1. Conscious culture. This is the ethos – the values, principles, practices – underlying the social fabric of a business, which permeates the atmosphere of a business and connects the stakeholders to each other and to the purpose, people and processes that comprise the company.

I see conscious capitalism providing leadership at just the right time – for young entrepreneurs who are a bit disillusioned with the image of “business” today, but want to be profitable without sacrificing trust, reputation, and credibility with their peers and stakeholders important to them. They want their business potential to support the overall human potential as well.

None of these positives obviate the need for a viable business model, in order to survive. I would expect that to seem intuitive to all entrepreneurs, but every investor I know has many stories about startup funding requests with no clear business model. The most common failures are solutions looking for a problem, lack of a defined market, and giving away the product.

Soon, companies that also want legal recognition of their socially conscious focus will be able to incorporate as a Benefit Corporation (B-Corp). The B-Corp status, already available in thirty-five states, including New York and California, is meant to reduce investor suits, and gives consumers an easy way to spot genuine social commitment, without assuming it is a nonprofit.

Entrepreneurs and startups are all about innovation, in business principles as well as in products and services. I see conscious capitalism as a great innovation to the foundations of capitalism, bringing compassion and collaboration to the heart of value creation. Maybe it’s time to take a hard look at your own startup, and see if you have fully and consciously capitalized on capitalism.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

9 Different Approaches For Motivating A Startup Team

chasing-money-motivationEntrepreneurs inherently understand that they have to be the initial leader of their startup, but often they don’t have the experience or the training to know where their leadership competencies lie, or how to build a leadership team. For new entrepreneurs, leadership development efforts may be more valuable for achieving startup success than business skills development.

Very few people know their own leadership style, or strengths and weaknesses, despite their many years of living and working in the real world. To assess where you are, and to unlock your full potential, there are many courses available, as well as seminars and gurus, but a good place to start is a book on the subject, like the classic one from John Mattone, “Intelligent Leadership.”

Mattone has a wealth of insights, based on years of helping Fortune 500 leaders overcome their self-imposed limiting leadership habits. He identifies and distinguishes between nine distinct leadership styles that I see in all entrepreneurs to some degree. The most effective entrepreneurs know their own predominant style, and how to build a team with all the rest required:

  1. Helper. Mature Helpers are considerate and genuinely the most sensitive and caring of all the leadership types. They are excellent mentors and coaches, but have a strong need to be admired and respected in return. Strengthen this trait by being more conscious of your need to be liked, and don’t be possessive or controlling.
  1. Entertainer. Entertainers gain the respect of others with drive, determination, hard work, and the ability to win over people. But they can become fixated with appearing successful, showing more style than substance, or undermine themselves by exaggeration, inflating their importance, or trying to win or one-up all the time.
  1. Artist. Artists are perhaps the most creative and innovative leaders. They tend to move people deeply, and bring out the most in people. As they become more mature, they draw less inspiration from themselves, and more from others. Improve your artist side by avoiding negativity, procrastination, and focus on self-discipline.
  1. Thinker. Thinkers like to analyze the world around them, and may prefer thinking to doing. Mature Thinkers quickly understand problems, can explain them to others, and make sound and logical decisions. Strengthen this trait by not jumping to conclusions, seeking advice, and working cooperatively with others you trust.
  1. Disciple. Disciples are able to form strong and cohesive work groups, but sometimes appear incapable of action without permission of an authority figure or belief system, and don’t seek out leadership positions. This trait can be strengthened by accepting accountability, reducing reaction to stress, and cutting ties to authority.
  1. Activist. Activists are good at lifting the spirits of team members and managers, and are usually optimistic and confident. They tend to bury themselves in activities, but can be impulsive and select quantity over quality. Improvement efforts would include listening more to people, thinking about details, and learning to say no.
  1. Driver. Drivers are the most openly aggressive leaders, who enjoy taking charge, and can make things better with their immense self-confidence. Unfortunately, they may feel the need to dominate every situation, and make every decision. Mature ones act with more self-restraint, let others win, and work with others.
  1. Arbitrator. Arbitrators tend to be the most open of all types. What you see is what you get. They find ways to bring people together, and ways to involve everyone. To be a better Arbitrator, you need to be more assertive, more open, share your feelings, and work on developing your listening skills.
  1. Perfectionist. Mature perfectionists are capable of being highly noble leaders, with their deep sense of right and wrong and ethical principles. They are usually highly critical of themselves and others, and often frustrated by reality. To improve, they need to learn to relax, listen to others, and remember that no one is perfect.

In all cases, to reach your highest leadership potential, you have to stay true to yourself, rather than trying to conform to other people’s images of the best you. If you truly commit to learning more about yourself and becoming the best that you can be, while possessing a great attitude, you will discover that all challenges are really the seeds of opportunity.

Most recognized entrepreneur leaders admit that their biggest challenge was to break through their self-imposed limiting thoughts, emotions, and habits, to reach the next level. How many of these leadership traits have you mastered, how many are you working on, and how many of the other strengths have you built into your team to help you? That’s intelligent leadership.

Marty Zwilling

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