Monday, October 30, 2017

7 Steps To Finding Investors Aligned With Your Values

investors-aligned-with-valuesOne of the most common complaints I hear from new business owners and startups is about the pain and difficulty raising capital. The “venture capital” model is the only option they know, where they feel they get no mercy, giving up equity and control. Based on my experience with startups, I’m a strong believer that there are far better alternatives available, if you think outside the box.

The key is to look hard outside the world of “professional investors,” to regular people who share your vision and dreams, friends and family who believe in you, and crowd funding your ideas that have a popular appeal. Of course, none of these sources should be approached casually, and none will give you the relationship and terms you are looking for without proper win-win planning.

I just finished a new book, “Raise Capital on Your Own Terms: How to Fund Your Business Without Selling Your Soul,” by Jenny Kassan, who has been in the business for over 20 years as an attorney and fund raiser. I agree with her recommended steps for every new venture, to find the alternatives that match your requirements, prepare for the process, and close on your terms:

  1. Define your personal goals and values for investor alignment. Finding the right investor is like finding the right spouse – it likely won’t work unless you share the same goals and values. In your business, how much control are you willing to give up, how fast and far are you determined to grow, and are you willing to sell or stay for the long term?

  2. Create the ideal investor profile for your unique business. Some investors are all about making money, while others care more about changing the world, advancing technology, or curing a disease that has ravaged their family. Your ideal investor is someone who will really value the benefits that come from advancing your business.

  3. Document the investment types you are willing to consider. The basic categories include equity, straight debt, convertible debt, services, and agreements for future equity. If you project a sense of desperation, or ignorance of the options and implications, no potential investor will give you the credibility to be your partner in a business.

  4. Complete and heed fund-raising legal compliance requirements. Many aspiring entrepreneurs try to raise capital, without first understanding and complying with government and state rules for disclosure, securities registration, private offerings, and accredited investors. The rules for crowdfunding and non-profits are even more specific.

  5. Prepare properly for meeting and closing with investors. This includes investor pitching preparation, how to ask for investor meetings, what to say in the meetings, and follow-up. Generally, as a new business advisor, I recommend advance preparation of an executive summary, a pitch deck, short business plan, and lots of practice and passion.

  6. Methodically address every obstacle head on. Fund raising is hard, and it always seems to take longer than anticipated. Obstacles are abundant, including the scarcity of warm introductions, enough traction to satisfy investors, and unending due diligence requirements. Maintain a positive mindset, and don’t get discouraged by every “no.”

  7. Block out sufficient time on your calendar for raising capital. Many entrepreneurs see fund raising as a part-time task, behind high-priority solution development efforts. Prepare to spend as much as 80 percent of your time for a couple of months looking for and following up with investors. Building and maintaining momentum is key to success.

Unless you are happy with bootstrapping your new business, I recommend that you ignore conventional funding myths, and first seek investors who share your goals and values. You can find these in your professional circle and your sphere of influence, rather than angel groups and venture capitalists. For example, if you are a doctor, look for funding from the medical world.

Also, it pays to be more creative with your investment offer. Rather than simply exchanging equity for cash, explore partnership arrangements where qualified partners contribute services for equity. For example, rather than getting cash from professional investors and hiring programmers, find qualified developers who are willing to work for equity or deferred payments.

In my experience, smart and determined entrepreneurs are usually able to avoid the whole capital raising nightmare, and associated cash-flow and control risks, by simply broadening their definition of investors to include regular people who are willing to share the risk to accomplish common objectives and impacts. Make your business a shared labor of love, rather than a battle.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/18/2017 ***

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

5 Strategies For Making Winning Business Connections

winning-business-connectionsI often hear the popular notion that successful entrepreneurs are built from a single heroic insight or a single innovation. This is just plain wrong. The business world is a symphony of players and elements that only works when everything interconnects harmoniously. Continuous innovation and continuous learning are required for any sustained connection and success.

I’ve long believed these principles, but I’ve never been able to explain them as well as my friend Faisal Hoque, with Drake Baer, in their classic book “Everything Connects.” Hoque’s great insights on how to transform businesses in this age of creativity, innovation, and sustainability are based on his serial entrepreneur experiences, as well as his study of Eastern philosophies.

Here is my extrapolation of his many lessons and messages into five essential strategies for making the connections in business that can lead to success as a business executive or an entrepreneur:

  1. Learn to work with people and build strong relationships. Nobody succeeds as a “Lone Ranger” in business. Finding people and building the relationships you need requires effort, and is a key component in moving every business forward. Equally important is avoiding people who bring you down, waste your time, or have no interest.

  2. Root out ideas by cultivating curiosity. Curiosity is the best catalyst for business creativity, learning, problem solving, and ideas. Ideas are the beginning of a strategy. The continuous discovering, planning, and implementing of ideas is the only path to sustainable innovation. Nurture the people in your relationships who have curiosity.

  3. Connect with your target audience. Today’s innovative “social economy” requires emotional attachment that links customers to your products, as opposed to competitors, and translates into sustainable growth. A simple, inspirational product and brand message is far more influential than one which highlights product features and functions.

  4. Accelerate sustainable growth. Creating a unique product and a unique brand isn’t enough. It takes repeatable sales processes to create a scalable business. Accelerating this growth requires continuous innovation, improved collaboration, visionary leadership, and an inspired and positive relationships with all your constituents.

  5. Create tangible long-term value. Every business transaction has consequences. The positive ones are called value. Short-term consequences are usually quantitative, and long-term ones are more qualitative. The most sustainable way to create long-term value is to continually invest in your capabilities both as individuals and as an organization.

In business, as in life, success won’t happen without good people relationships. To better build and nurture your people connections, here are some top line principles from the book which I espouse:

  • Be honest. It’s the only way to create and maintain trust and respect.
  • Be direct. Direct communication leads to direction, the path you set as a leader.
  • Think ahead. You need to surround yourself with forward thinkers, and listen.
  • Inspire and influence. The best and brightest will be toppled if they can’t inspire others.
  • Create a community. You need cross-pollination and collaboration from the ecosystem.
  • Think long term. Leaders must be aware of the present moment while setting their sights on long-term goals. Purpose must be a part of the present and the future.

For entrepreneurs, the road to success is always a longer one than you anticipate. An old Chinese saying comes to mind that when you’ve made it 90 percent down the path, you’re halfway to your destination. That last 10 percent of making the right connections is the other half of your journey. Are you thoroughly prepared to facilitate your own success, and the success of your company?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 27, 2017

How To Reduce Workplace Drama And Improve Results

workplace-dramaIs it just me in my role as business advisor, or is emotional drama in the workplace increasing? Team members seem to be spending more and more time venting to anyone who will listen about the motives and actions of others, and less time introspectively focused on their own productivity and accountability. The result is less real engagement and more negativity for all to endure.

According to a new book, “No Ego,” by international keynote speaker and business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama. She presents a convincing array of real examples that we have all seen, and offers the following reality principles for business leaders and professionals who want to turn this trend around in their environment:

  1. Always give others the benefit of the doubt – assume noble intent. Drama is all about assuming the worst intent in team members and leaders, and wasting time venting wasteful thought processes and unproductive behaviors. The best leaders are highly focused on hiring only the right people, and modelling a high level of trust and respect.

  2. Remind people that venting doesn’t resolve anything. It only ramps up negativity, and is ego’s way to avoid self-reflection. Smart co-workers and managers refuse to listen to venting, and are quick to turn the discussion to reality, by bringing the relevant parties together for resolution of suspected or real differences. Actions speak louder than words.

  3. Diffuse suffering from imagined stories rather than reality. We all have a human tendency, developed in our childhood, to make up stories which paint us as a victim rather than the problem. In business, the best leaders diffuse this tendency by asking good questions, insisting on decisions based on real data, and not edicting results.

  4. Use empathy when employee ego is creating doubts and chaos. Self-reflection, accountability, and reality are an affront to egos. Avoid ego’s trap by avoiding sympathy and using empathy instead. Sympathy exacerbates the pain rather than healing it. Empathy bypasses ego, shares an observed reality, and makes a call to greatness.

  5. Confirm that challenges are the only reality for success. As long as people believe that business realities are hurting them, they will remain victims. Real leaders improve the readiness, training, and preparation for these events, so that circumstances are not a source of pain, but are expected and can be accomplished with personal satisfaction.

  6. Remember that engagement requires accountability for results. Engagement without accountability leads to entitlement. Low-accountable people may appear to work hard, yet find complaints about everything. They come to believe that making them happy is someone else’s job. Hire, incent, and reward people that accept personal accountability.

  7. Remove resistance to change as a source of drama. Traditional change management techniques need to be replaced by business readiness training and focus. When people are fluent in the now, and ready for what’s next, they won’t feel the pain, and will feel a sense of excitement and eagerness to capitalize on the possibilities change can bring.

  8. Communicate that personal preferences don’t drive the business. Business leaders must convince the team that the decision makers today are customers, the marketplace, competition, feedback, innovation, and breakthroughs. The personal preferences and ego of anyone in the company has little to do long-term business success and satisfaction.

  9. Check your own ego before you attempt to engage another. People who are prone to emotional drama are also super-sensitive to ego and emotions in their leaders and peers. Countering drama with more emotion or violently shaking them up is not productive. Humbly make the call to greatness as you gently spur self-reflection and confidence.

  10. Develop accountability through coaching and mentoring. Building a culture of accountability with minimal emotional drama is a key element to organizational success today. High-performing companies formalize these coaching and mentoring programs, and apply them universally, rather than activate them only to solve specific problems.

I’m convinced that every entrepreneur, team member, and business leader needs to practice these principles to eliminate workplace drama, end entitlement, and drive more satisfying results. None of these deny the fact that business today is hard, and requires rapid adaptability to change and opportunities. Yet smart people make it a source of satisfaction, rather than continual pain.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/13/2017 ***

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Why You Need Help Rather Than Helpers In A Startup

robot-personAs an advisor to startups, and a mentor to many aspiring entrepreneurs, I’m still surprised at the number who are determined to go it alone. Even worse, when they figure out that they really need help, the first place they look is for an intern or untrained helpers. They don’t realize that these only increase their workload, due to training and management, rather than offloading real work.

Helpers do what you say, while people smarter than you in their domain do what you need, without any attention from you. In fact, if you are paying attention, you can actually learn from what they do. For example, inventors need to stick with their creative skills, and find a partner who knows how to build a business around it. That’s a win-win for both partners.

Thus top entrepreneurs spend as much time getting the right team in place to run the business as building the product or service. Unfortunately, some are so in love with themselves (narcissistic), that they can’t be convinced that anyone else could possibly run their finances, or take on marketing. True leaders know how to delegate and listen, and let others do what they know best.

In short, if you’re killing yourself with work, and following up on every detail, you may want to look closer at your team to ensure you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people. Of course, the right ones may cost you equity, but a small percentage of a big business is worth far more to you than a large chunk of nothing. Here are some attributes to look for in the people you need:

  1. Prior experience and skills to complement your strengths. Would you attempt to build the house of your dreams, with random helpers showing no experience? Find a partner who has dealt with the realities of technology, tools, and financing. A startup has enough unknowns, without ignorance of the basics. Don’t repeat the mistakes of others.

  2. Proven track record of getting things done. Hard work is necessary, but not sufficient to start a new business. Building a good plan, and measuring against that plan is crucial to growing any business. Often people with advanced degrees have academic smarts, but are not closers. You can’t afford to make every decision, or follow-up on every action.

  3. Develop and propose their own problem solutions. How often do the people around you recommend solutions, rather than highlight problems? If you’re teaming with people who are smarter than you, you should be frequently surprised with their new ideas and solutions. You may not always agree, but you will be constantly learning from them.

  4. Consistently passionate and positive in a role. The smart people you want are as positive and passionate about your business as you are. They take ownership and responsibility for their actions. They convince you with their actions that they understand the big picture. They argue confidently and deliberately, rather than defensively.

  5. Spend more time listening than talking. It’s hard for team members to learn while they are talking. Look for team members who are active listeners, where you find yourself seeking them out, rather than always the other way around. It’s great to team with people that you can envision working for someday, or taking the helm of your business.

  6. Push you to focus on strategic elements and being a better leader. You need people around you asking the right questions, and challenging you on strategic issues, rather than the crisis of the day. You will be motivated to hone your skills as a leader, and everyone will be motivated to raise their game to match the top performers.

  7. Make coming to work fun and exhilarating. Smart people, who are confident in their role and contributions, will make the business fun again, rather than a stress-producer that keeps you up at night. Situations handled correctly and properly anticipated result in many exhilarating small successes, which makes the business a joy for everyone.

Of course, finding the right people is never easy, just like creating an innovative new solution is not easy. Count on building and testing relationships over several months, before you conclude that you really know what a person is capable of. Be sure to test your initial perspective on people you trust, including advisors, investors, and other partners. No “one night stands” need apply.

In my view, if more entrepreneurs spent the same amount of time finding the right partners and team members that they often spend developing the right solutions, the failure rate of startups would fall quickly from the current 90 percent in five years to maybe half that rate. Don’t let your ego get in the way. It’s your success and satisfaction that’s really at stake.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/09/2017 ***

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Friday, October 20, 2017

7 Drivers of Digital Opportunity or Business Demise

JackWelchApril2012Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, once predicted, “When the rate of change outside the company is greater than the rate of change inside, the end is near.” Yet in my role as business advisor, I often see companies naively ignoring this reality. The smarter ones look outside regularly for evidence of impending change, and treat these as opportunities to jump ahead of competitors.

Today, the move to digital technology is driving marketplace change at a seemingly ever-increasing rate. The pervasive Internet and mobile device access allows instant communication of new options, total sharing of customer experiences, and mass customization, on a world-wide scale. No more hiding behind a cultural stereotype, a well-built brand, or a geographic wall.

The question every entrepreneur and business executive should be asking is what are the drivers of the digital transformation, and how can you make them opportunities rather than costs. I found some real guidance on these questions in a new book, “The Digital Helix,” by Michael Gale and Chris Aarons, who have helped change the strategy of dozens of companies around the world.

I endorse their list of the seven key drivers of digital opportunity, how to recognize them, and examples of how forward-thinking companies have capitalized on them, which I paraphrase and summarize here:

  1. Compression of supply and demand enables near instant fulfillment. Historically, many businesses profited from the time lags between supply and demand by exploiting geography, relationships, and buying habits. Today people can find and switch brands based on delivery, prices, and new features, with one or two clicks and minimal risk.

  2. Shifting demographics changes customer needs and expectations. With simpler and cheaper access to information and alternatives, the cultures and generations are rapidly becoming more homogeneous. Demands and expectations change regularly as people learn from others who share their experiences in this new digital age.

  3. Access to more information is leveling the market playing field. Almost anything and everything is available online, and the amount and depth of information is growing exponentially every year. This means market changes in the world today are instantly available everywhere, and quickly change the way we buy, sell, interact, and live.

  4. Pay-as-you-go provides infinite ability to scale every business. Due to the efficiencies of digital, it is now commonplace to have companies with billions of dollars of revenue and valuation, with few employees, and without years of building infrastructure. Witness the exponential scaling of Uber, Pinterest, Airbnb, and other recent unicorns.

  5. New competitors are built to be digital from day one. Think about the up-and-comers during the past decade that have either created new business models or stolen share from established players. Digital gives startups the same power to understand, engage, and look for new opportunities that traditional brands have spent decades building.

  6. The rate of change is extremely exponential. In the past century, the benchmark for disruptive change was about thirty years or so. Now evolutions and even revolutions are happening within years, or at most a decade. In this digital age, you need a business capable of listening, assessing, and adjusting to the early nature of these changes.

  7. The trade-offs between price, efficiency, and innovation have disappeared. Basic business theory states that businesses have three clear paths to success: cut prices, be more efficient, or invest in sustained technological advantages. Digital enables you to do all three simultaneously, and you must build a plan to do so to compete or die.

The message here is not about recklessly abandoning what you have, or taking huge steps into the unknown. Rather, it is much more about building a strategy to recognize change from early signals, and quickly transform your company to gain significant benefits from the change. The alternative is continual catch-up, and your eventual demise. How tired are you feeling today?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/05/2017 ***

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

6 Principles For Driving Online Reputation Management

Yelp_Logo.svgEvery startup fears that one angry and unfair customer who can jeopardize the business by a negative post on Ripoff Report, Yelp, or one of the hundreds of other consumer complaint and review sites on the Internet. Most entrepreneurs don’t even know how to keep track of what people are saying about them on the web, much less how to respond or remove it.

Web reputation management, both business and personal, has become a top priority requirement. On the personal side, these items can kill your career, as I discussed in an old article “Google Yourself to See How Other People See You.” Luckily, the basic principles for reputation management are the same for both business and personal environments:

  1. Actively monitor what people are saying about you. You may assert that monitoring the entire Internet space is an impossible problem. Fortunately, there are already tools out there, like Google Alerts (free) and Brand Yourself, which can do the work for you, and send you a daily email report of every link where your name or brand appears.

  2. Proactively build a positive reputation. Maintaining a good reputation means you have to build one early and maintain it. There is a big difference between no reputation with one negative comment, versus 1000 indications of a positive reputation and one negative. Most people accept that no person or organization is perfect.

  3. Quickly address every negative. Many negative customer experiences can actually be turned into positives, if you quickly acknowledge the problem, resolve it, and spread the positive message before the negative one gets amplified. Don’t repeat the “United Breaks Guitars” experience, which now has been published as a book on what not to do.

  4. Push negative content out of view. In reality, most people will never find negative content, unless a link appears on the first page of search engine results. With the right focus on search engine optimization, or the help of companies like ReputationDefender, you can usually push negative links out of sight into the swamp of the Internet.

  5. Remove unwanted content, where possible. Removing your content from the Web is not as easy as canceling your accounts, nor is it completely impossible. You can easily remove content you own (comments on your site or accounts). Experts, like Reputation Defender, have proprietary techniques to correct or completely remove other unwanted content.

  6. Your reputation is your responsibility. The last step is to recognize that you alone are responsible for managing the reputation of your business and your life. Doing nothing, or counting on more laws, is not an answer. Due to First Amendment rights, offensive content, once entered, is often untouchable, and the sources are immune from liability.

The upside to the difficulty of removing unwanted content is that it does justice to those who have come by their bad reputations legitimately. For curbing bad guys, the speed and visibility of the Internet can be a very useful thing. For all the rest of us, it’s nice to know that we can shout back quickly and broadly, when someone starts to whisper about us.

As I have discussed in previous articles, social networking sites like Facebook are now the most frequently used websites on the Internet. Unfortunately, they have also become some of the most abused websites on the Internet, due to the emotions of failed relationships and the immature whims of young users.

So the social networks are the early place to start, in learning the discipline of building and maintaining a positive reputation. If you get that right, the transition to your business will be easy. On the other hand, if you let your reputation slide early to be “cool,” it may take a lifetime to recover. It’s easier to make Google remember than to forget.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 13, 2017

7 New Initiatives To Fearlessly Grow Your Business

CTAGrowth has always been fundamental to business success, but it’s never been more critical than it is now, nor more difficult. Every opportunity is global, but so is the competition. Evolving customer expectations and technology are the norm, forcing every company, from startups to large enterprises, to innovate quickly, despite their fear of change, uncertainty, and doubt.

As a long-time business advisor, I believe the mantra that every owner needs to live by today is to disrupt their own business before someone else does it for them. You must capitalize on the uncertainties in your market, rather than letting the unknowns slow you down. You need the commitment of every team member to respond quickly and effectively to emerging opportunities.

I found these points made well in a new book, “Fearless Growth,” by Amanda Setili, who has worked with disruptive technology startups in the United States and Malaysia, as well as some of the biggest companies in the world. She offers seven imperatives, which I espouse, for companies of any size to achieve record growth, and I paraphrase them here:

  1. Embrace uncertainty and risk, rather than repeatability. Traditionally, businesses have yearned for consistency, as a lever tor productivity and cutting costs. Today the market and competitive landscape are changing so fast that the best lever to growth is the ability to anticipate and adapt to change, to beat competitors and excite customers.

  2. Get in sync with customers by frequent customer interaction. Seek direct customer feedback, via social media and personal interactions, rather than old market research. Products and services must be updated continuously; not one major annual upgrade. Enable customers to customize your offerings, and learn from the choices they make.

  3. Continually look outside for talent, data, and technology. In the past, companies avoided sharing knowledge or technology, preferring stealth mode and relying on internal expertise to stay safe. We now see that leveraging the ideas and capabilities outside your organization will grow opportunities and reduce risk faster, rather than increasing risk.

  4. Connect and strengthen your customer ecosystem. Modern growth companies, such as Salesforce.com, have found great leverage value in hosting events to have their customers learn from each other, as well as from channel partners and complementary application providers. Attempts to control communication only slow down progress.

  5. Create cross-functional teams to attack opportunities. These open the floodgates of employee creativity. The best growth companies enable employees to choose their own job, and grant them the leeway to get the work done. They connect employees across organizational silos, and establish fast feedback loops to facilitate learning and change.

  6. Pursue growth opportunities outside your comfort zone. Instead of limiting your scope to current in-house capabilities, set clear objectives of acquiring new talent and skills each period, and make learning new skills a prime objective for every employee. This facilitates change and makes new opportunities attractive rather than frightening.

  7. Recognize the impact of trust on efficiency and speed. Take deliberate action to build trust, and be a personal role model. Encourage and expect healthy conflict, debate, and dissent. The result is better decisions, more consensus, and accelerated business growth. Trust is heightened by showing appreciation regularly for individual contributions.

The objective of these imperatives is to help you stimulate continuous and fearless growth, even in turbulent markets, by staying more competitive, fostering innovation, and dominating your space. The time to start is now, if you didn’t start yesterday. Set and communicate clear priorities for your implementation, and don’t let “the way things have always been done” stand in your way.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/29/2017 ***

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

10 Winning Entrepreneur Insights That May Surprise You

jeff-bezos-entrepreneurEvery aspiring entrepreneur would love to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, but most have no idea what really sets these guys apart from all the rest. Conventional wisdom has them looking for a painful problem, a very large opportunity, and minimal competitive barriers to entry. In reality, most great entrepreneurs find these necessary, but not sufficient for the big win.

They think outside the box, with a sometimes surprising set of strategies, as outlined in a new book, “Think Bigger,” by Michael Sonnenfeldt. He has collected in-the-trenches intelligence and lessons from his TIGER 21 group of over 500 entrepreneurs and executives around the world. Each has amassed $10 million or more in personal assets, and is willing to share their insights with others.

Sonnenfeldt presents a rich array of strategies in his forty lessons from the trenches, including the following paraphrased insights that I find often overlooked or even rejected, based on my years of experience mentoring entrepreneurs:

  1. Experience at a first-rate company is really valuable. Good big companies provide the training, mentoring, and experience managing teams that entrepreneurs need, but can’t afford. In addition, you can learn much about business principles, and your own capabilities, from being surrounded by many intense, ambitious, and super-smart peers.

  2. Entrepreneurship is rarely about just making money. The best entrepreneurs are committed to fixing a problem, or advancing a purpose, and making money is only used as a validation of their insight. Any money made is typically poured back into the cause, rather than relished for a high-class lifestyle or extravagances by the entrepreneur.

  3. Self-control beats passion for long term satisfaction. Passion often leads to a need for instant gratification. Most successful entrepreneurs either learn or are born with the capacity to delay gratification for critical periods in their lives. Even after success, they use self-control to continue to live modestly, and plow their profits back into business.

  4. Think twice before investing with friends and family. Some are so self-centered that they see family and friends as an easy source of capital. Smarter entrepreneurs know that nothing can bring more embarrassment, resentment, and peril to relationships with people you love and respect than losing their money. Don’t jeopardize key relationships.

  5. You are never to smart or too old for a mentor. In case you think mentors are only for “wimps,” you should know that Bill Gates always revered the guidance he received from Warren Buffet on many corporate matters. Most successful business people, whether retired or still active, love to share the wisdom they gained from their own experience.

  6. Entrepreneurial skills can limit investing success. Entrepreneurs and investors are different kinds of people, inside and out. Smart investors diversify their exposure across multiple assets; if any one of these fails, they are still in the game. A true entrepreneur makes one big bet on a new and untested asset, normally against conventional wisdom.

  7. Apply business skills to solve social problems. Social entrepreneurship is on the rise, with the advent of Millennials and a total world view. Companies that pursue socially relevant goals as part of their mission have the potential to generate double-bottom-line results - a financial return as well as a social benefit. One plus one can now equal three.

  8. Skip conservative - be optimistic, even delusional.  The best entrepreneurs just believe they can make it happen – even though conventional logic would peg the risk as being off the charts. Professional investors dismiss founders who give “conservative” financial projections, and usually make less. Shoot for the moon – you may hit it.

  9. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Too many entrepreneurs have a tendency to overrate their personal skills and wisdom, and seek out people who won’t challenge them. The smartest ones acknowledge their weaknesses, and find people who complement their skills, from whom they can learn and delegate authority.

  10. Resilience and determination generally beat IQ. We all know of successful businesses started by entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, while MBAs get no premium with investors. According to most experts, “street smarts” (experience) trump “book smarts” (intelligence) every time, especially if accompanied with a large dose of grit.

Whether you are already a seasoned entrepreneur, or just starting out, I recommend that you regularly strive to think bigger and outside the box, starting with the lessons from others who have been there and done that, and emerged successfully. We need you then to contribute to the next set of winning strategies for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/27/2017 ***

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Monday, October 9, 2017

10 Secrets For Getting More Things Done In Business

Mark-Cuban-productivityEvery business professional I know faces the challenge of getting more things done on time, and getting the right things done. They all dream of working less, and accomplishing more. Yet I see that most are their own worst enemies. They seem to all fall victim to a common set of mistaken priorities and well-meaning distractions that keep them from exceeding their own objectives.

For example, I talk to inventors who think that creating and perfecting the product is the key to a new business. In my experience, I have found that the product is usually the easy part, and the hard part is turning the invention into a business. Or I find people who want to run a business, but don’t claim any technology skills. Both categories need to follow these principles for success:

  1. Organize and plan every business effort. Document a business plan early, rather than trying to keep it all in your head. Most people think a business plan is only for investors, but it’s really for you to make sure you are communicating, and have included all the necessary elements of cost, timeframe, business model, and opportunity assessment.

  2. Work to your strengths, and get help for weaknesses. Stop trying to fix all your weaknesses, and team with others who have the skills you are missing. Don’t try to do everything in business yourself. Recognize when it’s time to call in an expert to get the job done, learn from them, and listen to your own advice.

  3. Do what you love and love what you do. Figure out what’s really important to you as an in life, as well as business. For most, it’s following a passion to make a difference in the world. Identify your top priorities, and choose one of these to focus on. Then you will get things done, and it won’t even seem like work.

  4. Use networking to build valuable relationships. Build a network of business contacts to allow you to harness the power of others’ strengths. Superficial relationships don’t help. Giving is the best and quickest way to strengthen a relationship. Find people of all levels that have been there and done that, meaning people you can learn from.

  5. Just say ‘no’ to all major distractions. You need to set boundaries and say “no”; to stop multitasking, and to find ways to group similar tasks. Don’t forget to delegate to other team members, and remember the 80/20 Pareto principle. This rule states that, in most environments, 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the actions.

  6. Don’t let procrastination slow you down. Procrastination is a killer when it comes to being effective. One of the best ways to stop procrastinating is to break big business projects down into small chunks, using small milestones to move forward. Break time into pieces. When there’s an end in sight, it’s a lot easier to get down to business.

  7. Make technology your friend rather than an enemy. Use technology thoughtfully to automate things that take a lot of time, thus gaining leverage. Reuse things rather than re-inventing them. Yet you need to be careful to separate yourself from technology on a regular schedule to not allow a machine’s interruptions to set your day’s agenda.

  8. Keep focus on urgency versus emergency. Remove or de-prioritize all the relentless urgency-killers, including the crisis of the moment, and people who are skeptics or by their actions create destructive urgency. Show some progress each and every day, and constantly purge low value-added activities. Model urgency in your own personal style.

  9. Focus on completion rather than time worked.  Too many business people focus on how many hours they work, or following a set process, rather than how many tasks they complete. The most productive professionals look for ways to achieve desired results in the quickest possible time frame, thus getting more done.

  10. Learn to read people and organizational hierarchies. Everyone around you has strengths and weaknesses, and you need to capitalize on these. Working effectively with other people is the only way to get more done than any one person can accomplish. The same is true of working with other organizations and companies.

If you follow these principles, you will soon see that you are gaining more control of your business and your life. You will find yourself honing in on the things that actually move the business and your career forward and make you happy, while learning the skills you need to resist the rest. In most cases, the challenge is how to get out of your own way!

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/25/2017 ***

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Friday, October 6, 2017

9 Ways A True Entrepreneur Survives And Flourishes

survives-and-flourishesCould you survive and flourish as an entrepreneur, or should you be satisfied working for someone else? That’s a question I get every day in my role as an advisor to business professionals, and it’s a good one to ask. In my view, the number of traditional long-term employee roles is declining rapidly, due to advances in technology and automation.

By some projections, the level of unemployment could reach 50 percent by 2050, unless more people adopt the entrepreneurial, freelance, or gig approach, rather than long-term employment. It really doesn’t matter where you are in the racial, social, or economic spectrum. It’s time to take a hard look at your alternatives for maintaining financial independence in the years ahead.

I saw some good alternatives detailed in a new book, “The Memo,” by John Hope Bryant, who has served as an advisor to the last three U.S. presidents. He has spent years working with people who have “too much month left at the end of their money.” Part of his message is that a great alternative is to be entrepreneurial, if you can relate or adapt to the following principles:

  1. Success is learning from failure without loss of enthusiasm. Real entrepreneurs are so busy chasing the dream and building out ideas to change the world, that they see failure only as a learning experience in more tightly focusing their effort. Success in business, as in life, is about turning pain into satisfaction and happiness.

  2. Rainbows and success only come after a storm has passed. True entrepreneurs wake up every day assuming that there are going to be problems and disappointments, and relishing the challenge of turning them into rainbows. An entrepreneur’s mind-set sees a silver lining in each and every situation, rather than a series of storms.

  3. Real entrepreneurs accept “no” as a healthy vitamin. For an entrepreneur, there is nothing like an impossible challenge to get you charged up to achieve your dream. Their passion makes them immune to failure. Following your passion is the secret to overcoming the setbacks all entrepreneurs face, and it builds resistance to naysayers.

  4. Competitors will find it hard to hit a moving target. Entrepreneurs find the courage to overcome their fears. Fear takes over many people who become like deer caught between headlights. They cannot move. In business, success required dodging competitors and keeping up with and leading the market, It’s all about execution.

  5. Persistence and resilience are more powerful than intelligence. Do you throw up your hands and quit at the first sign of market shift, a well-funded competitor, or economic slowdown? Entrepreneurs with street smarts out-maneuver and out-hustle the ones with high IQs and advanced academic degrees. Hard work and persistence pay big dividends.

  6. Life is 10% about what happens to you and 90% about your response. Business founders decide that while they cannot control what others do, they can absolutely control their response. They know that any emotional reaction and any snap decision will likely be the wrong one. They take back the personal power over their own life and business.

  7. Always look at the glass as half full rather than half empty. How you see the world absolutely determines your place in it and your ability to either move through problems, get out of them, or remain trapped. If you see the world as a glass half full, you are an optimist, you see ways through problems, and you will be able to change the world.

  8. Work eighteen hours a day to keep from getting a real job. The best entrepreneurs love what they do, so they would do the job for free, or don’t even see it as work. They seek a purpose in and for their lives, and not just a gig or a job to show up to. They think more intently, are more focused, behave more creatively, and re-imagine everything.

  9. If you cannot get a job, then create your own opportunity. Entrepreneurs take an idea, turn it into a small business, and seek to grow that business into a big one, just like the immigrants of the early twentieth century. They don’t seek offices, power structures, or organizational hierarchies. They do seek a purpose that can change the world.

In fact, these principles will work for you, no matter what you choose to do in life. You can benefit from thinking the way entrepreneurs think, from the way they approach life, solve problems, and even how they see challenges. I’m convinced that an entrepreneurial mindset is precisely what you need in order to survive and flourish in the twenty-first century. Are you on-board today?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/21/2017 ***

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Monday, October 2, 2017

How To Win Business Without Sacrificing Your Ethics

business-ethicsMany people seem to have the sense that ethics are spiraling downward in business, and unfortunately most startup professionals and entrepreneurs I know don’t believe they can make a difference. They don’t realize that if they don’t take an active role in the solution, they really become part of the problem.

I do believe that most business people want to do the right thing, but many just don’t have the skills to develop an unemotional ethical position, or confidence to act on their ethical beliefs, or simply are not sure how to go about making a difference in their daily actions, without jeopardizing their own career.

Most people don’t need tools to agree on the ethical problem with Lockheed bribing foreign officials to get business, but many may come to different conclusions on how safe a startup’s innovative new child car seat has to be before it is sold. If people are dying of cancer every day, how many clinical trials should be required for a new drug that clearly saves some lives?

I found some good analytical tools on how to sharpen your own ethics sense in the classic book by Mark Pastin, “Make an Ethical Difference.” Pastin has experience with many organizations around the world on ethics issues, and I like his practical steps to get beyond the emotion and the theoretical, to pragmatic yet ethical solutions for tough problems:

  1. Identify the ground rules of the all parties. When a situation presents an ethical issue, look beyond the actions of individuals, groups, and organizations to uncover the ground rules of each that help explain their actions. Only then can you understand what you have to change to be a successful ethical change agent.

  2. Reason backward to find the interests. Summarize the possible outcomes, and reason backward from each to find what interests each outcome will serve and for whom. Unstated or hidden interests are often the key to resolving ethical issues. Support outcomes that advance many interests without violating any ground rules.

  3. Face the relevant facts. Look for facts that all parties, irrespective of their ground rules and interests, will agree upon. Then look for non-debated facts, and finally contested facts. The acid test for each fact is that if it were true, would it change your judgment as to what is right in the situation. Now you have the potential to make an ethical difference.

  4. Stand in the shoes of affected parties. Once you understand who is affected, reduce the distance between you and them. Pick ones that differ from you the most and meet with individuals or group members. Verify or reject each interest and ground rule. You remove obstacles to the functioning of the ethics eye by bringing its objects closer.

  5. Use the global benefit approach to rate possible outcomes. Ask which course of action produces the greatest balance of benefit over harm for all concerned. You first ask who counts, then what counts, as a benefit or harm in considering the possible outcomes. Any action with great benefits without violating ground rules could be the right one.

Real agreement in ethics only exists when what your ethics eye shows to be the right action matches what the ethic eyes of others see as the right action at the same time. Thus these steps are part of an iterative convergence process that all relevant parties must follow to reach the right solution. Pastin provides examples of this process transforming good ethics into decisive action.

It does work, but in all cases each of us has to accept at the outset that our own ethical perspective may be the one that changes in the process of seeking ethical agreement. There is no room in any business decision for hard unbending positions, with closed eyes and ears and an open mouth.

If you and I disagree about ethics, there are only three ways to reach agreement. You change your mind. I change my mind. Or we both change our minds. When you undertake a sincere process of seeking ethical agreement, two of the three options for doing so involve learning and changing your mind. But how does that differ from every other challenge where you have made a difference in moving your startup forward?

Marty Zwilling

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