Monday, December 31, 2018

5 Strategies For Business Growth Many People Forget

arrows-business-growthIn this age of constant market evolution and new technology, there is no such thing as a static business that is self-sustaining. The traditional approach of implementing stable and repeatable processes, so that your business can run itself, no longer works. Just ask former big brand companies, like Blockbuster, Kodak, Lehman Brothers, and Sears, what happened to them.

As a small business advisor, I always recommend that being “self-sustaining” requires taking frequent and aggressive measures to step out ahead of the pack, including yourself, before you start feeling the pain of change and new competitors around you. Specific measures that go beyond the traditional linear thinking include the following:

  1. Develop new products for your existing segment. Rather than enhancing the offering you have, develop and offer new products that capitalize on the customers that you already know well. Competitors tend to focus on price and other variations to existing offerings. Too many businesses only think of new products when in crisis mode.

    For example, Facebook added WhatsApp as a cross-platform messaging and Voice over IP (VoIP) service to enhance the self-sustaining growth their social media platform before any downturn. WhatsApp alone now has a user base of over one and a half billion users.

  2. Introduce disruptive technologies to this domain. Rather than rely only on linear thinking, the best entrepreneurs are always looking to offer in parallel a more dramatic new alternative. Since these usually require a large investment, and more time, including customer education, they need to be started while your current business is still healthy.

    Apple did this with the introduction of the smartphone, which altered the value chain for computers, video, and software, which were already staples that they knew well. Richard Branson is doing it with Virgin Galactic space rides, without impacting his Virgin Airlines.

  3. Populating new domains to sustain your market. If your product is already unique, then new domains would include adding online to enhance store fronts, and alternatives for business to complement consumer offerings. These allow you to get new growth without fighting existing competitors. Defining new domains is even more powerful.

    Elon Musk is doing both of these, first by expanding his Tesla electric vehicle initiatives beyond cars, into self-driving taxis and trucks, and secondly by entering new domains of transportation with SpaceX and Hyperloop. He entertains no sense of a static business.

  4. Redefine your product to reach a new category. This strategy, often called breakaway positioning, has the intent of expanding your product opportunity into a previously unreachable category. It also has the advantage over competitors of retaining existing customers, while at the same time attracting new customers from another category.

    For example, Swatch was able through marketing to define their watches as fashion accessories, as well as timepieces, greatly expanding their segment. Uber added UberLUX, with stylish high-end cars, to declare access to the limousine category.

  5. Implement a plan of regular strategic acquisitions. Unlike a total reliance on internal innovation and organic growth, growth through acquisition or merger is generally faster and can be self-sustaining as a process. Further, acquisition offers other advantages such as easier financing, instant economies of scale, and new market penetration.

    For example, even the giant Amazon acquired Whole Foods as a growth entryway into the competitive grocery and food industry. Apple acquired Shazam to quickly boost Apple Music by letting users identify songs, movies, and commercials from short audio clips.

The reality is that you can never stop changing your business, and still be self-sustaining. The strategies outlined here may seem intuitively obvious, but they require real effort and discipline to implement, perhaps why so few companies consistently outperform the market. Change is the only constant in business, so now is the time for making your plan for regular change a priority.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/18/2018 ***

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

How The Best Entrepreneurs Do Better Than Anyone Else

best-entrepreneurAt some point in their life, hopefully everyone strives to be the best in their chosen profession. Most people think that being the best requires more intelligence, more training, and more experience. In reality, in business or even in sports, the evidence is conclusive that it is as much about how you think, as what you do.

I saw this illustrated a while back in the classic sports book, “Training Camp: What the Best Do Better Than Everyone Else”, by Jon Gordon. His evidence and real life stories conclude that top performers in all professions have the same key traits listed below. I agree they certainly apply to the great entrepreneurs I have known. You need to think about how they apply to you.

  1. The best know what they truly want. At some point in their lives, the best have a "Eureka!" moment when their vision becomes clear. Suddenly they realize what they really, truly want to achieve. They find their passion. When that happens they are ready to strive for greatness. They are ready to pay the price.

  2. The best want it more. We all want to be great. The best don't just think about their desire for greatness; they act on it. They have a high capacity for work. They do the things that others won't do, and they spend more time doing it. When everyone else is sleeping, the best are practicing and thinking and improving.

  3. The best are always striving to get better. They are always looking for ways to learn, apply, improve, and grow. They stay humble and hungry. They are lifelong learners. They never think they have "arrived"—because they know that once they think that, they'll start sliding back to the place from which they came.

  4. The best do ordinary things better than everyone else. For all their greatness, the best aren't that much better than the others. They are simply a little better at a lot of things. Everyone thinks that success is complicated, but it's really simple. In fact, the best don't do anything different. They just do the ordinary things better.

  5. The best zoom focus. Success is all about the fundamentals, and the fundamentals are little and ordinary and often boring. It's not just about practice, but focused practice. It's not just about taking action, but taking zoom-focused action. It's about practicing and perfecting the fundamentals.

  6. The best are mentally stronger. Today's world is no longer a sprint or a marathon. You're not just running; you are getting hit along the way. The best are able to respond to and overcome all of this with mental and emotional toughness. They are able to tune out the distractions and stay calm, focused, and energized when it counts.

  7. The best overcome their fear. Everyone has fears. The best of the best all have fear, but they overcome it. To beat your enemy, you must know your enemy. Average people shy away from their fears. They either ignore them or hide from them. However, the best seek them out and face them with the intent of conquering them.

  8. The best seize the moment. When the best are in the middle of their performance, they are not thinking "What if I win?" or "What if I lose?" They are not interested in what the moment produces but are concerned only with what they produce in the moment. As a result, the best define the moment rather than letting the moment define them.

  9. The best tap into a power greater than themselves. The best are conductors, not resistors. They don't generate their own power, but act as conduits for the greatest power source in the world. You can't talk about greatness without talking about a higher force. It would be like talking about breathing without mentioning the importance of air.

  10. The best leave a legacy. The best live and work with a bigger purpose. They leave a legacy by making their lives about more than them. This larger purpose is what inspires them to be the best and strive for greatness over the long term. It helps them move from success to significance.

  11. The best make everyone around them better. They do this through their own pursuit of excellence and in the excellence they inspire in others. One person in pursuit of excellence raises the standards of everyone around them. It's in the striving where you find greatness, not in the outcome.

Jon is convinced that people are not born with these traits, they must be learned by everyone. He talks about staying mentally strong, and maintaining a big-picture vision while taking focused action. So if you aspire to be the next Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, focus on your attitude as much as your business plan.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

10 Questions To Test Your Aptitude As An Entrepreneur

career-entrepreneurCurrently there is no professional certification, or standardized testing, as there is for accountants and lawyers, to see if you are ready to tackle the rigors of starting a new business. In fact, some pundits argue that the best entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, actually dropped out of school early to start their businesses, implying a negative relationship to training.

Based on my own experience in working with many entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, I’m convinced that the requirements for success may indeed be not so much academic, but more a mindset of confidence, commitment, perseverance, and constant learning. In fact, these mindset elements are best gauged by your own honest self-assessment against the following questions:

  1. How strong is your drive and ambition? If you are contemplating starting a business as a way to get rich quick, or as a way to work less, you should try another road. On the other hand, if you are passionate that you can solve a compelling need better than anyone else, I’m convinced that I and everyone else will line up behind you to help.

  2. Are you happy to make your own decisions? This isn’t about not having a boss. All entrepreneurs have multiple masters to serve, including customers, investors, and your own team. The key is a willingness and a conviction that you know what has to be done, are willing to communicate and charge down your path, even when others are in doubt.

  3. Do you enjoy working and learning from others? Building a new business is not a solo exercise. Every good business is a positive collaboration between many people with different skills and objectives, with an effective leader to bring their efforts together. You need to enjoy working and learning from all the people around you, including customers.

  4. Can you accept the fact that the buck stops with you? The responsibility of a business is much the same as raising your children. It hovers over your head 24 hours a day, 7 days every week. There are no excuses when the economy or the market changes. The success or failure of your business will impact your family and your future.

  5. Do you have a baseline of relevant skills and experience? Starting a new business in an industry you know nothing about is fraught with risk. Experience managing projects, people, and finances is as important as deep technical product development skills. Working as an executive in a big company does not prepare you to run a startup.

  6. Have you built relationships with people who can help? The right connections in business can make all the difference – in finding advisors, investors, experts, vendors, and even customers. As the business matures, your relationships need to change and expand, so you need to enjoy the process as well as the learning from each.

  7. How do you feel about the value of money in business? Some social entrepreneurs I know are so passionate about their cause that they don’t even want to think about money or profit, and they often fail. I would assert from experience that it takes money to do the right thing, and you can’t help anyone for very long without a sustainable business model.

  8. Do you have a positive and stable personality? Every new business is a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, which are accentuated by your own highs and lows. In addition, you must be the role model for your team and your customers in selling your vision, and the value of your offering. People expect their leader to be strong and above reproach.

  9. Have you really analyzed the market and competitors? Too many aspiring entrepreneurs I know are so enamored with their new idea, and they charge ahead, without first doing the homework on the size of the opportunity, market restraints, and competitor alternatives. Passion is necessary, but not sufficient, to drive a business.

  10. Can you deal with the need for change and innovation? The market and customer needs change quickly and regularly these days. You need to be able to innovate quickly as the initial dream no longer satisfies the market. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so you always need to be thinking and planning for the next generation

If you can answer most of these questions with a resounding yes, then I encourage you to pursue that dream of starting and running your own business. Otherwise, you may be smart to work for a startup or other company for a while to validate your mindset and build your confidence. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and that is a good thing.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 12/07/2018 ***

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Business Lessons Often Ignored In The Heat Of Passion

bicycles-building-carsMost aspiring entrepreneurs are convinced that their idea and passion are so great that failure is not a possibility. They relate quickly to one of the big successes out there today, including Facebook, Airbnb, or Snap, and can give you a dozen reasons that they are in the same category. It’s a good way to get some inspiration, but not an accurate representation of reality.

As a startup advisor and angel investor, I tend to focus on the much longer list of ways your startup can fail, based on my own experience and inside knowledge from peers who you will never see highlighted on the Internet. I’m convinced that you can learn more from failure than success, so it pays to take these as lessons to improve your success odds before you start:

  1. Creating a new technology doesn’t make a business. Based on my experience, creating a new business is at least as difficult as creating an innovative solution, and it takes a knowledge of finance, operations, customers and the marketplace. If you don’t have all these interests and skills, even your most “disruptive” products will likely fail.

    For example, the personal motorized scooter Segway was announced as disruptive technology way back in 2002, but is still not a successful business. Despite the technology, the fears of pedestrians and government regulations strangled the business.

  2. If there is no competition, there is likely not a market. Every potentially successful product has competition, or an alternative, or customers with no interest in change. If you really believe your idea has no competition, perhaps you haven’t looked, or there is no real business. Competitors arrive rapidly these days, so make sure you look often.

    I often hear funding pitches on “nice to have” products, combining the features of several known winners, such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, there are no competitors for this combination, but people rarely pay real money or incur change for nice-to-have solutions.

  3. Focus on doing one thing well rather than many things. Don’t try to be all things to all people. You will likely confuse your target customers, and do everything poorly, because of the limited resources of a startup. Later, as you scale the business, is the time to add products or service offerings that customers demand to make the business more robust.

    For example, Uber built their initial success by simply connecting people looking for intra-city car rides via a smartphone app. Only later did they expand this offering to multiple classes of cars, Uber for business use, package delivery, and even freight hauling.

  4. Plan to and assemble the right team, including co-founders. Building and running a business is not a solo operation. You need skills in finance, operations, and marketing to supplement product development, and more hours of work than one person can manage. A team with the right skills, chemistry, and culture makes all the difference in business.

    I find that most investors invest in the team, more often then they invest in an idea. If you have the right team, you will be able to execute effectively, multiply the impact of your solution by an order of magnitude, and build relationships with customers quickly.

  5. Calculate your projected costs, and double the amount. Both the business and your solution will take more time and money to develop than you expect. Entrepreneurs always assume everything will go right the first time, and it never happens. Count on at least one required pivot, and several crises that you could never anticipate.

    Can you believe that Facebook, for example, required an investment of nearly $350 million before turning cash-flow positive? Even the best entrepreneurs tend to underestimate their requirements, and finding emergency funding is very costly.

There are many more lessons to be learned by listening to advisors, and peers who have gone before you. Even if you fail on your first startup, you should wear it as a badge of courage and lesson learned, rather than be devastated. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs experienced early failures, but obviously never gave up. Your legacy will be how far you have traveled, rather than where you started.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/11/2018 ***

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Friday, December 21, 2018

How To Stay Cool, Despite Team Members Who Annoy You

secret-annoying-gossipIn my career in business, I’ve found that the people you work with make all the difference. If everyone works well together, you all feel a sense of job satisfaction. If some people on the team are irritating to you and others, the whole environment becomes toxic, killing your motivation and the productivity of the team. Everyone thinks this is a management or the other person’s problem.

Yet, as a business advisor, after investigating a few of these situations, I find that both sides see the situation differently. Thus you may be irritating or annoying other people without even realizing it. In any case, there are many things that you can do to minimize the impact on yourself, and on the productivity of your team, especially if you are not the manager:

  1. Limit interactions with problem people to smaller doses. Total avoidance doesn’t get the work done, but strategically timed short encounters may not exceed your patience. Be proactive in timing your visits close to a natural exit, such as just prior to a meeting. Keep your vibes positive and unemotional, and you may uncover a new team member.

  2. Adapt your approach to match the style of the other person. It’s all in the approach. Some people are invigorated by a confrontation style, while others consider it irritating. Some want to tell you all the details, when you are just interested in the bottom line. As in any relationship, both sides have to be empathetic, or positive results don’t flow.

  3. Define and adhere to role and relationship boundaries. It’s easy to forget that all members of a team are peers, especially if you have been there longer, or an expert in your specialty. Treat all with respect, and remember that the manager has a different role. Find neutral time and ground to discuss boundaries that may have been crossed.

  4. Declare constraints on your meeting times before starting. Many irritating interactions are the result of rushed or perceived incomplete discussions. If you have other commitments pending, such as a meeting about to start, or phone call scheduled, these constraints need to be communicated early to avoid negative reactions.

  5. Be aware that body language speaks louder than you do. You can’t change the body language of others, but you can control your own. Present a posture of being open and supportive, speak unemotionally, and keep the dialog positive. Reports indicate that body language is fifty percent or more of every communication. Make yours work for you.

  6. Treat all team members comparably and consistently. If any team members don’t know what random action to expect from you on the next interaction, you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Productive relationships require some degree of predictability, and the ability to anticipate the needs and style of peers and management.

  7. Avoid being a complainer or commiserating with downers. Perennially negative people are always perceived as irritating by the rest of the team and management. Even worse, however, downers drag down both you and your colleagues. It’s up to you to be proactive about fixing relationships rather than complaining to others about them.

  8. Find a job or role, rather than a relationship, to motivate you. Highly annoying and ineffective people tend to look to others around them for motivation and direction, rather than accept that responsibility. An example is someone who essentially does nothing until someone tells them to. If you find the work you love, good people relationships will follow.

Your ability to work effectively with potentially annoying team members is a perfect indicator of your future ability to manage an organization, rise in your career, or build your own business as an entrepreneur. It’s not all that different than adapting to difficult non-work situations and relationships. Remember that you can’t change others, but you help them change themselves.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/06/2018 ***

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Business Complexity Goes Up Dramatically As You Scale

complexity-of-designMost of the entrepreneurs I advise today are ready to declare success when they get that first surge of traction with a real customer. This is a good sign, but they have no idea that the hard work of scaling the business is still ahead of them. It’s a bit like the heady first days after you’ve fallen in love, when you can’t imagine anything will ever kill that passion or commitment.

Scaling a business is fraught with risk and unknowns. You need to find investors for funding, vendors for volume manufacturing, processes for repeatable execution, as well as marketing and distribution to attract customers far beyond your pilot rollout. In fact, this is where your startup has to move from an initial project to a complex product business.

Based on my software career with IBM and several startups, I experienced the challenges and failures of scaling a software project to a business many times. I now realize that software has evolved to be key to the value of most products, including cars, airplanes, and appliances, as outlined in the new book, “Project to Product,” by Dr. Mik Kersten, currently CEO of Tasktop.

Dr. Kersten asserts, and I agree, that it doesn’t work today to manage software as a cost center inside a business – it is too integral to the value stream of the solution provided, most evident during scaling. He outlines five dimensions of scaling any business that introduce new levels of complexity, requiring tools with an overall view of business flows, processes, and value delivered:

  1. Adding more features to support a broader customer set. More features means more complexity, more experts, and specialized tools to facilitate the integration, testing, and support. What may have looked like an incidental cost in your base product will now grow to be a major impact on profitability, customer responsiveness, and time-to-market.

    For example, new car infotainment system options alone are fundamentally more complex in terms of features than entire software products were a few years ago, requiring millions of lines of code from multiple vendors, multiple languages, and UIs.

  2. Evolving from an initial solution to a product line for growth. As the number of products increase to attract a larger market share, the complexity increases exponentially to produce, distribute, and support the business. This means more suppliers, more interfaces, and more integration to manage, which is today the realm of software.

    BMW, for example, now has around 12,000 suppliers worldwide, for their many models, and each car now consists of over 30,000 parts. They produce a new car every seventy seconds, in the sequence of received customer orders. That’s a huge scaling challenge.

  3. Adding partners, with their own tools and specialists. You can’t manage partners in the same fashion as you manage your own internal teams and processes, so scaling the business through partners adds additional complexity. Communication at the digital level has to be done through formal software interfaces (APIs) that you never anticipated.

  4. Attracting new markets and market segments. Each market or market segment may require a new edition or configuration of the management system and software, again increasing complexity. The specialists to support these may speak different technical as well as communication languages, and be physically dispersed around the world.

    If a business sells to both business-to-consumer and business-to-business, it will need two separate support channels connected to multiple value streams. The opportunities for disconnects and disruptions go up again as the business scales to this level.

  5. Moving information platforms to the Internet cloud. Expanding businesses today forces a full dependency on storing and moving data through the cloud, exposing it to additional risk from security breaches and data loss. The tools and expertise to manage this risk require new and additional resources that most companies do not anticipate.

    Many businesses believe they will free up staff time and money by moving applications and data to the cloud, but end up facing spiraling costs as they underestimate the scale of such projects. Here again, it’s important to measure value, rather than project cost.

Businesses that are the current masters of scaling, including Amazon and Alphabet, are making the challenges harder for the rest of us by redefining the software technology landscape around their platforms. It behooves us all to keep up with these changes, manage the transition to a more software-centric world, and thrive in that world from a bottom line business perspective.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/03/2018 ***

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

7 Practices Reduce Risk In Even The Smallest Business

shop-micro-businessIn the last few years, I’ve heard more and more about a new type of small business, called a “micro-business” (or micro-enterprise). These are usually characterized as owner-operated, with five employees or less, and less than $250,000 in sales. With the low cost of e-commence entry, and powerful Internet technologies, they require minimal capital to start, perhaps as little as $500.

I see the potential for these to become big business in this entrepreneurial economy. According to the Voice of Microenterprise (AEO) website, if one in three micro-enterprises in the United States hired an additional employee, the US would soon be at full employment. These businesses are usually run out of the home, and cover the gamut from consulting services to e-commerce.

Dal LaMagna, in his humorous classic “Raising Eyebrows: A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right,” leads with the foundational principle of micro-businesses, which is to start small. This allowed him to learn enough from all his early mistakes to hit it big ($10 million revenue) with a global beauty tools company called Tweezerman. He and I offer seven key additional practices to reduce the risk:

  1. Tailor the business to you. Do you love antiquing? Fishing? Cars? Cooking? Now, think about what pursuing this passion might mean for your lifestyle. Think how you want to spend your day; where you want to live; whether you want to work with people or alone; in the morning or at night, and so on. Eliminate any aspect of your business that doesn't create your preferred lifestyle -- and will work against you.

  2. Be frugal. Don't spend money you don't have. Don't invest in anything you don't need. If this means baking cupcakes in the local church basement and delivering your signature pastries by bicycle to local stores -- two dozen at a time -- do it. Take the money you make and put it right back into the business.

  3. Record every expense. From the dollar you gave to the homeless guy on the way to meet a prospective client, to the new tie you bought to look professional, write down every single penny. The key to launching a micro-business is to keep expenses under control and fully accounted for.

  4. Keep a monthly profit-loss. For the first two years of your business, complete a monthly profit-loss statement. This helps you stay on top of where your business is going, where it could do better, and why it fluctuates.

  5. Find free stuff. Many items needed to start and run your small business are available for free or next to nothing. Be creative. Use freecycle.com; ask friends if they have an old computer or printer; or visit a thrift shop for office furniture or office supplies.

  6. Write down agreements. With a very small business, your clients sometimes make the assumption that they don't have to sign an agreement. Wrong. Get in the habit of thinking like a company founder and get promises in writing. And while you're at it, keep your side of agreements.

  7. Keep it simple. When Dal first started Tweezerman, he did nothing but focus on tweezers and selling them to cosmetic counters, one store at a time, which he did very well. If you can do one thing well, don't dilute your efforts until you have been turning a large profit over a consistent stretch of time.

My net recommendation is that if you consider yourself a do-it-yourself entrepreneur, preferring to do things yourself rather than forking over money to consultants, then definitely the micro-business approach is for you. The down side is that your business will probably grow slowly and more organically.

If you prefer to rely on others for most things, or want to get there fast, the investor approach may be the best answer, but the price is higher in time, dollars, and control. It’s your choice, but remember that the wrong choice probably won’t get you there at all.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, December 10, 2018

8 Ways To Prepare Yourself For Business Crises Ahead

financial-crisis-aheadMost entrepreneurs see their new venture as a fun adventure, until the pressures of a cash flow crisis, or a manufacturing quality problem, or a major customer satisfaction problem hits. Even with all my years of experience mentoring in business, I can’t predict how you will prepare for and react to pressure situations. I wish I could, since these often make or break your business future.

Over the years, I have found some key things that you can do to prepare yourself, how a proper mindset can mitigate the pain, and put you back in control. Here are the top approaches I recommend, and the entrepreneur mindsets that I see in survivors:

  1. Evaluate new competitive threats as new opportunities. New competitors can steal your market, or they can open up new markets. Entrepreneurs who react with fear and anger are in major jeopardy of losing their health, since competitors are a constant in the startup world. Use them positively to tune your solution and expand your opportunities.

  2. Use business model pressures as drivers for innovation. There is a natural human tendency to fight the need for change, and the pressure to change causes pain. True entrepreneurs love change – that’s why they are starting a new venture. They use pressures, like shrinking margins, as drivers for their next innovation in manufacturing.

  3. Incorporate fun and humor into pressure relationships. If your team is feeling over-whelmed by the pressures of customer demands, it may be time for an off-site fun event to get them recharged and fully motivated. Fun and humor will also offset the tension in dealing with tough customer issues, resulting in higher satisfaction, loyalty, and referrals.

  4. Take control of the situation by breaking task into chunks. When the challenge ahead looms large, it’s easy to let anxiety get the best of you, and you are afraid to start. Every big task can be broken into milestones, allowing you to enjoy small successes. That’s why I suggest a business plan before you start, with a timeline and deliverables.

  5. Work from your strengths – don’t worry about weaknesses. Most entrepreneurs start with passion and confidence, but many succumb to their weaknesses when pressures set in. Lead with your strengths and in-depth skills, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from advisors or partners to fill in the gaps. Confidence alone will overcome many challenges.

  6. Turn every failure into a positive learning opportunity. When pressures mount and things go wrong, don’t start looking for excuses, or someone else to blame. Make every failure a lesson learned, and project that mindset to your team. Thomas Edison counted many learning opportunities, bouncing back after 1000 failures on the light bulb alone.

  7. Prepare for challenges rather than hope for the best. The best entrepreneurs always have a plan, with alternatives, and continually research their industry and competitors. Others strike out blindly, assume it will be an easy win, and quickly feel the stress and pressure, with minimal insight on how to respond. Be over-prepared, and enlist advisors.

  8. Stay physically fit and balance work with play. Pressure situations will happen in every business, so stay at your best both physically and mentally to respond. Don’t let the “normal” workload wear you down – keep a balanced focus on work, and find other activities, including sleep and entertainment, to keep up your motivation and stamina.

Based on my own experience as a business executive and advising small business owners, I’m convinced that anyone can learn from these techniques to handle the pressures of a new venture or existing business, no matter what their background. It won’t happen by default, and it does take effort and initiative on your part.

You too can then thrive on the challenges and pressures of your business, rather than let these pressures destroy you. Most entrepreneurs I know can’t stand the boredom of “business as usual,” as that threatens their sense contribution and self-worth. Be one of the best, whose motto proudly is “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 11/27/2018 ***

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Why Team Management By Fear Is Bad For Any Business

businessman-afraidDespite the ease of communication through social media, new tools, the popularity of fearless independence and #MeToo, I still see many business organizations that are less than productive due to fear. Yet in my work as an advisor to senior executives, I find that many fail to see reality in their own organizations, and have no idea whether they are part of the problem or the solution.

I finally found some real guidance on this challenge in a new book, “The Fearless Organization,” by Amy C. Edmondson from the Harvard Business School. She presents a wealth of case studies on the pain and business losses from this type of leadership and culture, and provides some practical guidance on how to change it to a more psychologically safe and productive workplace.

If you are one of those leaders or team members who really wants to change things, here are some key indicators of the problems that I have seen, and some pragmatic guidance on how to get things moving in the right direction:

  1. Team members fail to speak up for fear of retribution. Hearing too much silence in your organization is a dangerous sign. This reticence to speak up, for fear of being embarrassed, intimidated, or penalized, can lead to widespread frustration, anxiety, depression, or even physical harm to others. Team members just don’t feel protected.

    Changing this culture has to start from the top. You as a team leader or executive have to openly invite participation from every team member, and respond positively in tone and actions when people actually do speak up. Show humility and appreciation for all input.

  2. People show excessive confidence in authority. In some organizations, especially medical and highly technical ones, authority and reverence are well understood and tightly linked to one’s place in a strict hierarchy. Deference to the leaders can become the default mode of operation, suppressing valuable input, to the detriment of everyone.

    The solution here is to hire and surround yourself with people who bring strong complementary skills to the table, as well as high confidence and self-esteem. In my experience, leaders who hire helpers rather than real help are breeding this problem.

  3. A culture of silence where leaders fail to listen. Often employees learn to stay silent when they see that voicing concerns or ideas is futile. In fact, they usually give up not just their voice but also their entire psychological engagement with your company. Evidence of not listening includes interrupting feedback, being defensive, or no evident follow up.

    You can reverse this culture by asking for opinions or updates at the end of meetings – then pause and ask again, so they know you are sincere. Also, you must be available and approachable. Mingle with employees. Ask questions, listen to responses. Be conscious of your eye contact, facial expression and tone of voice.

  4. Impossible stretch goals are never challenged. Performance goals set without team member input, and without support and feedback, are a sure sign of managing by fear. Most people feel that unattainable targets led to the serious problems at both Wells Fargo and Volkswagen a couple of years ago. Both are still struggling to change their culture.

    The solution is to communicate what you want - early and often - once is not enough for people to take you seriously. Then ask for input, listen to the evidence, and provide feedback based on what you hear. Be fair and consistent, with no excuses or emotion.

  5. You only hear the good news from team members. How many times have you chopped people off at the knees for being the bearer of bad news? Team members learn quickly, and the message spreads, that problems must be buried, and people are berated or penalized for surfacing tough issues. It’s fair to ask for solutions, in a positive way.

    Actually, the best approach is to ask the hard questions to get to the heart of a problem in a non-threatening fashion. Hard discussions can be the most productive, as well as more satisfying to team members, if they feel they are being heard and can make a difference.

Psychological safety is a workplace state in which people feel confident expressing themselves and comfortable calling attention to problems without humiliation or retribution, where colleagues trust and respect one another. In today’s complex world of constant change, collaboration in a fearless organization is the only way to survive and thrive, and only you can build it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/23/2018 ***

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

10 Business Constants Flourish In This Age Of Change

meeting-relationshipIn this age of constant change, I usually find myself writing about what has changed. Yet I find that periodically it pays to reflect on what hasn’t changed in business, probably won’t change in the foreseeable future, and is still critical to our success in our professional career, as well as the success of our business. Here is my list of the basics that some people in business tend to forget:

  1. Showing up consistently must still be priority one. I’m not talking about clocking in to work and physically putting in your time. I’m talking about being present mentally and engaged, with a full focus on the business work at hand, and contributing to the team. According to recent Gallup data, only 32 percent of employees are fully engaged today.

  2. Customers and peers still expect follow-up and timeliness. I still expect people in every business I call to answer the phone, or at least return the call in a timely fashion. Today there are many more ways to make contact, including email, social media, and web site queries, yet a common complaint I still hear is that no one ever responds.

  3. No one wants to hear that you are too busy for them. Every smart professional and business owner needs to reflect regularly on what they have really accomplished in a given day or week. Results of consequence should never include how many meetings you attended, or hours spent at work. Businesses grow based on customers served.

  4. Number and quality of relationships is still critical. Business connections and networking are still the source of major new clients, new job opportunities, and most promotions. Relationship building does not happen without effort, and the right people won’t find you automatically. It takes initiative on your part, just like it always has.

  5. It’s good for your business to find a work-life balance. Successful business people find a way to escape the pressures of work on a regular basis – through family, a hobby, sports, or other recreation. Every human body needs time to rejuvenate, for maximum productivity and creativity at work. Take some time to get totally away from the grind.

  6. Your job in business goes well beyond any job description. There is no simple formula for delighting customers, and anticipating the next business challenge. Your ability to satisfy the needs of customers and peers in any role can never be fully defined by a job description. Yet declaring that something is not your job will not impress anyone.

  7. It’s not how many things you start, it’s how many you finish. Crossing the finish line ahead of competitors is what gets you paid, and the only way your business will thrive. Investors in new businesses look for traction and results, not ideas. People who proclaim to be thinkers, rather than doers, rarely get funded, and rarely succeed in business.

  8. Customers and peers want to follow leaders, not processes. Even very detailed business processes can’t cover all the important cases. The best businesses people have always been the ones who are skilled and empowered to push the limits, and manage tough situations without excuses. These will lead your business to success.

  9. Managing cash flow is still a major key to business operation. According to financial experts, 80% of small business failures today are caused by poor cash flow, and that hasn’t changed for a long time. Cash is king when it comes to the financial management of a growing company. Entrepreneurs need to manage cash flow daily and personally.

  10. Honesty and integrity in business still pay big dividends. A couple of the most important factors in any business and career continue to be honesty and integrity, which breed trust. It is very difficult to have long-term success if your customers and your peers don’t trust you or don’t think you’re honest. I don’t believe that will ever change.

Thus it’s still critical to spend as much time at work focusing on the things that don’t change, as you do on the things that must change. More importantly, these things that don’t change can be your anchor for stability and enjoyment, leading to real satisfaction as well as success. What more could anyone want from work?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 11/19/2018 ***

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Interpersonal Skills Are Still Key to Team Engagement

team-engagement-relationshipsOver my career in large businesses as well as small ones, it seems that more and more people are feeling unhappy and unfulfilled in their job. I’m convinced that technology is making this problem worse, rather than better, since it often causes to a sense of isolation working remotely, or even in the same office. Isolation leads to a lack of relationship or connection with others.

For example, while social media exchanges are now quick and simple, they miss all the body language and emotion that many believe constitute more than fifty percent of human relations and communication. The result is that even highly engaged workers can get results without a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction. This leads to a spiral downhill in productivity and happiness.

Your challenge as an entrepreneur and business leader is to discover ways to improve the fulfillment of your team, without turning back the clock on technology. I found these issues outlined well in a new book, “Back to Human,” by Dan Schawbel. I like his research and experience on what it takes to improve connection and fulfillment in this age of isolation at work.

Here are some key actions for improved fulfillment that we both believe every leader and executive needs to adopt:

  1. Build stronger team connections to make work fun. Lack of connection makes work feel like a chore and creates the silos that minimize creativity and innovation. The first step to fulfillment is insuring that you have face-to-face conversations and joint social activities, so that you get to know one another better outside of social media and email.

    The more you and other team members understand others’ unique situations, life goals, passions, fears, and obstacles, the more you can help everyone feel more fulfilled, and the more they will help your business.

  2. Show how your work contributes to shared values. Make it evident that values from you and your team drive your business goals, rather than goals driving values. Fulfillment is a function of doing the right thing. Define and enforce a high bar for ethical behavior, product quality, employee communication, social responsibilities and customer service.

    You have to engage the hearts and minds of your team members. To foster team fulfillment, breed optimism, promote resilience, and renew faith and confidence, real leaders look opportunities to reward adherence to values as well as results.

  3. Define and foster a higher purpose for the business. In my experience, both you and your team will have the most satisfaction and fulfillment if you can combine a strong sense of purpose with a quantifiable business opportunity. In other words, profit and a focus on repeatable processes need to be offset by social and environmental benefits.

    In every business, the first higher purpose should be a focus on your customer needs, rather than internal challenges. Without customers, there is no business, and no higher purpose can be satisfied. Beyond that, seek active team participation in outside efforts.

  4. Create and support a culture of trust in your team. Be open to sharing personal information and summaries of conversations you’ve had with senior executives. Provide the opportunity and encouragement for all team members to do the same. This will demonstrate team member authenticity and help build trust. Be the openness role model.

    Listen to what your team members are saying, without interrupting. This shows respect and will help you better give them the feedback they need for fulfillment and trust. It also demonstrates that you are willing to engage with their ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

  5. Focus on accomplishments rather than time at work. To improve team members’ sense of fulfillment, you have to make sure things get finished, and results are measured. Set goals and make sure they are attainable. Smaller goals can lead to bigger ones, which will give you different levels of achievement at different times.

    Your job is to remove obstacles that get in the way of employees’ fulfillment. One often-overlooked obstacle to a team’s success is having a teammate who isn’t performing well or has a bad attitude. Don’t keep them around and let them poison the rest of the team.

Sometimes tech devices trick you into thinking that they are helping you and your team to stay better connected. But technically connected and unhappy or unfulfilled team members won’t lead to success for you or them. We are all still humans, so personal relationships and the interpersonal skills of the team are still essential. Don’t forget that critical side of your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/19/2018 ***

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Friday, November 30, 2018

How To Improve Your Competence And Win People Over

Harvard-ConferenceOne of the biggest challenges I have as an advisor to tech entrepreneurs is to convince you that marketing is required for your product, no matter how great it is, just to get it found with today’s information overload. A comparable problem is to get entrepreneurs to market themselves, for the same reason. Your abilities will be lost in the crowd, because competence doesn’t speak for itself.

We have all heard the saying that first impressions count big, but in fact, you judge other people continually by your impressions of their competence, unless and until they provide you credible evidence of something better – through smart impression management or marketing of their experience, skills, and results. It is this perceived competence that gives you a competitive edge.

The challenge is to communicate competence without appearing to be self-centered or bragging. In the new book, “Convinced!: How to Prove Your Competence & Win People Over,” by Jack Nasher, a Stanford professor and negotiation expert, I finally found some guidance on specific approaches, with some pragmatic recommendations to make them work.

  1. Raise people’s expectations of what you bring to the table. I can tell you from my experience as an investor, after hearing hundreds of pitches, that my expectations start very low. It’s up to you to inspire me (and you) that you can do what you say is possible. In any business role, your manager only sees a fraction of what you know and do.

    In fact, you can raise a low bar of expectations of results by demonstrating confidence regarding your abilities and the task at hand. You need to reduce anxiety by eliminating anything that speaks against you, and highlighting past successes and experience.

  2. Highlight all good news around you, and reframe bad news. Associating with good news, even if not yours, strengthens your competence. Without excuses, position any bad news in a positive light, and focus on what you learned. Always start with the good news, then the bad news, and conclude with the second-best news to end on a high.

  3. Frame your competence perception to reduce qualms. First of all, emphasize up front any unfavorable circumstances that will make your job more difficult. Then highlight the role that your competence plays by pointing out how earlier successes, training, and education show you were born for this job, having survived from bigger challenges.

    For example, the legendary Steve Jobs and other captains of industry were quick to talk about their tough beginnings, overcoming great obstacles, and highlighting successes, to raise and reconfirm their perception of competence in the eye of peers and executives.

  4. Learn to get heard as an expert through power talking. Steve Jobs also practiced incessantly to become a masterful speaker, by speaking with confidence, pairing the right, impactful words with strategic use of vocal range, emphasis, and pauses. In all cases, avoid speaking too softly, often repeating points, or cutting others off.

  5. Communicate your competence through body language. Positive body language, including eye contact, smiling, location while standing, and posture while sitting, all strengthen the perception of your competence. Show enthusiasm during presentations by moving around and using large gestures. Position yourself near the front in meetings.

  6. Boost competency perception by increasing likeability. Creating an overall positive impression is of decisive importance, starting with always being friendly, polite, attentive, and educated. The evidence still shows that this extends to attractiveness and popularity as well. It always pays to look your best, and build relationships with key people.

According to the latest data, attractiveness in men is more about their faces and clothes than body figures, while with women figures are more important than their faces. Popularity builds with respect and interest in others, as well as goodwill building.

While some of these techniques take practice to master, none require sacrificing your values or faking skills you don’t have. The goal is to display and market your full expertise and competence, with authenticity and confidence, without waiting for someone to figure it out. The business world is moving faster and faster these days, so don’t fall behind by simply waiting to be found.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/16/2018 ***

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Monday, November 26, 2018

5 Business Warning Signs That Signal Ethical Exposure

Backstage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2014. Photo by Max Morse for TechCrunch.Based on my years of experience working with entrepreneurs, I strongly believe that most of you start your business with the highest of ideals, but have no idea how many situations you will face that don’t have clear-cut answers, or raise ethical dilemmas. For example, how should you handle a cash flow crisis, where you have to choose between paying a creditor and your employees?

Every time I see an example of another company apparently having succumbed to integrity or ethical problems, such as the recent demise of Theranos, I wonder how an early advisor might have coached them to a different outcome. Theranos was a multi-billion dollar startup that was going to revolutionize blood tests with a single prick, but now has been shut down for fraud.

In my view, every entrepreneur and new business owner needs to start by reaffirming his or her own personal values, and then watching diligently for the warning signs that test your integrity and that of your team, or show that cracks are already appearing in your armor. Here are some key warning signs that I see most often, with guidance on how to respond:

  1. You sense a team switch to survival versus growth mode. When customers or funding fail to materialize, and cash runs short, everyone on the team starts to resort to more desperate measures to keep their job. It suddenly seems easy to cut corners on quality and service, or make commitments to customers with no real hope of delivering.

    To keep your team on the right track, they need visibility and straight talk from you and other internal leaders that they respect and trust. Don’t fall for the temptation to withhold the bad news, or sugarcoat the situation. Provide specifics on what is required, and how you expect them to act. In my experience the team will surprise you with their results.

  2. Conflicts of interest with outside investors and stakeholders. It’s not uncommon for investors to push strong personal agendas, or major stock holders to focus on short-term goals in lieu of your high-level ones. For the team, these pressures can cause tensions to run high, overriding their normal checks and balances on integrity and ethics.

    The best solution is real due diligence up front, before signing investors, to make sure they have the same values and objectives that you do, and agree to your key milestones. Then communicate regularly with all stakeholders, so they don’t get surprised, or feel that you have changed direction to their detriment. They have to understand and trust you.

  3. See efforts to minimize or cover up product or customer issues. Even with the best laid plans, and dedicated teams, things can and do go astray. The reality is that following your conscience can often have unfavorable consequences for your business. Thus the temptation is always great to hide the problem, or fudge results, as with Theranos.

    Entrepreneurs must make sure they take a visible leadership role in communicating and resolving key issues which can impact the business. Don’t forget your first and final obligation to the customer, and don’t delegate the final decision on such issues to your team. Team members should be rewarded, rather than penalized, for surfacing problems.

  4. High team culture impacted by elements of negativity. Without constant attention to hiring and coaching, every team can be poisoned by people who become disillusioned or negative about the current leadership or direction. Negative vibes and team members are a virus that can kill your culture, and cause others to take integrity or ethical shortcuts.

    Smart entrepreneurs stay fully engaged with their team, pick up on negative messages and team members early, and deal with them quickly. Complainers and low producers need to be moved out of the organization, before others are dragged down to that level.

  5. Multiple teams evolving into isolated silos. Cross-team communication and trust becomes more difficult for every company as it grows. Teams can become more and more focusing on their own priorities, at the expense of others, and even your customers. For example, sales challenges can always be argued as marketing or product problems.

    Your challenge as a leader is to keep all elements of your organization integrated and pulling together, by communicating common goals and objectives, setting priorities consistently, and rotating people across organizations for development and creativity.

In all cases, integrity and ethical behavior must be demonstrated from the top of the organization. Commitment and transparency are the catalysts that every team needs from their leaders to maintain a healthy and strong values. Have you checked for slippage in your own performance lately, or team warning signs anywhere that you can fix before they become a disaster?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/12/2018 ***

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

8 Steps To Assembling The Most Talented Startup Team

business-team-internationalWith the pace of change ever escalating, entrepreneurs today can’t afford to acquire talent through traditional hiring alone, and need to revise the perception that “talent” is only full-time employees. At the same time, more people in the workplace don’t want to be “employees.” According to an Intuit study, that number is quickly rising and will approach 40 percent by 2020.

The answer to both is a new fast and flexible talent strategy based on freelancers, consultants, experts, and specialists, who are part of the new “1099 economy” including Baby Boomers and Millennials. For the full picture, see the classic book, “Navigating the Talent Shift,” with convincing arguments by Lisa Hufford, Founder of Simplicity Consulting talent solutions.

The author outlines eight necessary steps for every business and entrepreneur to capitalize on this movement to on-demand project teams, versus permanent hires. These steps are the new keys to driving business innovation, controlling costs, staying nimble, and getting better results:

  1. Build teams to meet goals rather than organization charts. Too many entrepreneurs, as they grow their business, are focused on hiring to fill a traditional organization chart, rather than acquiring skills and talents to meet their current goals and needs. They use generic job descriptions and plan for long-term business stability, which rarely happens.

  2. Focus on deliverables and skills required right now. Conventional hiring strategies usually follow a vanilla approach to talent acquisition. It’s a numbers game of filling positions, without clarity on the expertise needed to deliver now. With contract players, you assume a project duration, with easy transition to new players for the next campaign.

  3. Prioritize objectives and seek expert talent to match. For example, if your first scaling effort is a global one, you should be prioritizing “global launch experience.” The notion of holding out for the “expert in all domains” wastes too much time, effort, and money. In fact, you will never predict required pivots, and generalists rarely outperform specialists.

  4. Build an on-demand team of strategic do-ers. The most effective people to execute strategic initiatives are likely ones who have recently led similar activities in multiple related environments, not ones who have been grown and trained inside. This team of specialist consultants is then easily tuned as your strategy evolves based on the market.

  5. Think in terms of projects to keep up with an evolving strategy. Each strategic priority should be managed as a project. Some projects are big and long-term, while others are small and more tactical. Projects need not be constrained by organizational boundaries, long-term budgeting, or conventional staffing and training practices.

  6. Stay nimble by quickly filling gaps in the existing team. When you identify a skills gap or feel you need additional expertise or insight, signing up on-demand help is the only timely solution. Assigning an existing team member who isn’t qualified, or is already overloaded, will likely delay both projects, and kill existing team member motivation.

  7. Leverage the broadest possible network. The on-demand specialized talent pool already includes 65 million people not interest in being full-time employees. By leveraging this broader network, you will improve your probabilities of finding the right skills and experience for your current project, and bring fresh ideas and solutions into your team.

  8. Maintain budget flexibility as the business changes. By leveraging on-demand experts, you pay only for the vital work you need immediately, not the overhead and ongoing costs (development, training, severance, benefits) that go along with hiring full-time employees. It’s the best way to handle budgetary restrictions and cuts.

This on-demand talent model, dubbed SPEED by the author (Success, Plan, Execute, Evaluate, Decide), is good for the company, and good for all specialized, dedicated, and high performing people in the workforce today. Your company gets the flexibility to adapt quickly to the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace, and workers get to broaden their experience in the work they love.

We are living in an on-demand world and an on-demand economy, ranging from the movies we watch, to manufacturing and delivery, to the computer resources we need. Welcome now to the on-demand workplace. It’s here to stay.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 23, 2018

5 Inertia Traps To Avoid In Your Business Leadership

achieve-achievers-bannerWhile the willingness and ability to change is recognized and espoused by every business owner or founder I am asked to advise, far too many of you seem to be stuck in a rut, or very slow to actually decide what changes are necessary to survive and thrive. You may not be blind to the changing market and technology, but being blind to internal traps that can be just as devastating.

I saw this challenge of inertia described very well in a new book, “Transforming the Clunky Organization,” by Samuel B. Bacharach. From his leadership consulting with a host of companies, clunky and innovative, he explains why owners and executives fall into traps of inertia and he details the critical pragmatic leadership skills needed to regain the required momentum.

Here is our joint list of some common traps that you and your company leaders must avoid at all costs:

  1. Too satisfied with how things are going, or status quo. The status quo trap is set when things have gone well for a while, and you are too busy to look ahead to see what’s around the corner, or commit time and resources into developing the next generation of innovative ideas. Then when market demand slows, you are not able to react in time.

    For example, Blockbuster was so busy expanding its hugely profitable video rental business, adding stores at a breakneck rate, that it failed to really take notice of new entrants like Netflix with no late fees, Redbox automated kiosks, and video on demand. The result was a major change in the industry, and Blockbuster disappeared.

  2. Throw money into a sinking project, hoping to save it. This bailing-too-late trap is when you make a big investment in a venture that doesn’t take off, but you refuse to abandon it or pivot because of sunk costs, with the hope of success just over the horizon. The result is a business damaged past the point of recovery, instead of just dented.

    I see this often as an angel investor, approached by desperate entrepreneurs who have spent all their resources over a period of years on a failing solution, but are still convinced that one more cash infusion will turn the curve from down to up. At this stage, investors won’t believe that more money for sales and marketing will turn the tide, so we all lose.

  3. Tackle a new market or technology you don’t know. When you propose to enter a new market or technology without the requisite resources or skills to compete, you may be triggering the overreaching trap. Although paradigm shifts and disruptive technologies imply huge new opportunities, they may require more time and risk than you can tolerate.

    The Pebble smart watch is an example of overreaching, especially for a startup with limited resources. Even though the original Pebble became the most-funded Kickstarter product of all time, tech giants Apple and Samsung quickly overran them, and they were forced to disappear into Fitbit.

  4. Focus on short-term gains, ignoring long-term risks. Short-term wins are great, but if you pursue them at the expense of long-term success, then it’s a trap. Companies caught by the short-term trap often miss new bigger opportunities. Thinking short-term requires satisfying customer change with more already existing products, skills, and resources.

    Kodak is famous for falling prey to the short-term trap. At one time Kodak was a leading innovative company centered around film photography. Their short-term focus did not allow them to see the long-term benefits of digital photography, cost them their leadership position, and ultimately resulted in their filing for Chapter 11.

  5. Let your company be a victim of analysis paralysis. If you lead your business on endless journeys of analyzing, discussing, researching, and testing new ideas without getting anything off the ground, you are a part of the overthinking trap. You are guilty of wasting precious time and money, and throwing away the opportunity of real innovation.

The result of any of these traps is an inertia that prevents recognition of the need to change, and a sluggishness in implementing the necessary change actions before it is too late. If you sense these symptoms in your domain, or hear them highlighted by your advisors, the time to take action is now. I advise initiating a change in your leadership style, before the market moves on without you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/08/2018 ***

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

How To Network For Career And Business Advancement

network-business-advancementIt pays big dividends to network with peers and others if you want to succeed in business. You need to get guidance before you start a new venture, connections to investors as you seek funding to scale the business, and expansion and exit insights as the business matures. Just as importantly, your business network can actually make a sometimes lonely role enjoyable.

Yet networking effectively does take valuable time, and for some of us who are introverts, it’s not so easy at first. In working with many entrepreneurs and career professionals over the years, I have collected my own strategies which I offer to all of you as a place to start, and a focus on getting real value for your efforts:

  1. You make the first move – don’t wait for someone to pick you. If you wait for the right people to find you, it takes too long, or it may never happen. Take the initiative to find the ones you need, and do your research on how they can help you, how you can help them, what they like, and what you might have in common. Everyone loves initiative.

  2. Seek common interests and shared values beyond business. Chemistry and shared values lead to trust and lasting relationships, rather than shallow friendships. Examples would include sports interests, academic connections, and family activities. Whether the business topics are investing or mentoring, networking is personal as well as business.

  3. Be prepared to exchange business cards and follow up. Make the initial exchange of connection info a simple process, and don’t wait for the other person to initiate a personalized follow up within a few days. Let the relationship build slowly, rather than immediately launching into a marketing for investment pitch.

  4. Suggest a non-work meeting to cement the relationship. While the ultimate purpose of networking is a business benefit for all concerned, you will have more fun and better results if you learn to drop the assumption that networking is only a part of your work. Take advantage of those common interests that brought good chemistry initially.

  5. Have a mindset of giving more than you expect to get. In my experience as an investor, I loved the opportunity to hear about new technologies, but I was put off by entrepreneurs who immediately started asking me for money. Offer to share what you learned from some tough challenges, or provide some personal business insights.

  6. Keep all network interactions upbeat and positive. You won’t be successful with your networking by exuding negativity. You have to be the role model for the people you want to meet, and I’m sure you appreciate the value of can-do interactions and influencers, versus people who only want to commiserate or get you to solve their problems.

  7. Never use your senior position to control the networking. Some people have more senior titles, or substantial wealth, but they still have challenges and failures, just like the rest of us. I’m sure that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who have acknowledged a mentoring relationship after meeting via networking, never compared titles or net worth.

  8. Leverage existing networking relationships for new ones. The best way to meet the right new people is to get connected through good current connections. Hopefully, your existing connections know what you have to offer, as well as what you need, and recognize the benefit all around of being a connector. You should do the same for them.

In this age of rapid change, you need to be in constant learn mode to keep up, or potentially get ahead of the crowd. There is no better way to learn than to leverage the experience and knowledge of others.

Simply attending lots of conferences and events, and handing out hundreds of business cards, won’t facilitate that learning. Be strategic, proactive, and selective in your networking efforts, as suggested here, and you too will soon see the dividends.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 11/08/2018 ***

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Monday, November 19, 2018

5 Barriers To Wise Delegation In Business Leadership

delegate-in-businessI often wonder how many more startups would succeed if their founders could master the art and science of delegation. It seems inherent in the mind of most first-time entrepreneurs that it was their idea, and they must do all the work themselves to make it happen. In my role as mentor and advisor to many founders, I consistently fail in convincing them of the power in wise delegation.

I saw this challenge highlighted well in a new book, “Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results,” by Fred Halstead. He has spent many years coaching and consulting with over 200 organizations, and he has helped me articulate the benefits of delegation, and better understand some of the key barriers. Here is my list of barriers to effective delegation, with tips on improving:

  1. Thinking only you can implement your dream idea. The reality is that starting a business is much more than building a solution, and requires a range of skills beyond the limits of most mere humans. Even if you can learn and do everything, time is a killer in this rapidly evolving world of business and technology. You need to divide and conquer.

    For example, even though the technologist Bill Gates ultimately proved that he could run all aspects of a business, his early delegation of the marketing issues to Steve Ballmer, trained at Procter and Gamble, proved to be a powerful partnership that kept Microsoft ahead of many strong competitors in the early days of the personal computer revolution.

  2. Unwilling to take the time to explain and delegate needs. It’s a mistake to think that team members share the same insights that you see, and will automatically take on the role required for results. Even your most loyal and dedicated employees need guidance and direction, and will wait for you to delegate and explain. You can’t afford the delay.

    I find that it takes less time to explain what you need, and specifically delegate results, than to manage the chaos that occurs when many several well-intentioned people are all trying to guess what you need and do the right thing. Delegation also actually helps you to clarify and organize the requirements in your own mind.

  3. Not trusting key team members to get required results. Of course, full trust must be earned, but it is critical to do some due diligence before hiring new team members, or establishing partnerships. Yet too many new entrepreneurs are paranoid, assuming that everyone has some other agenda, or may steal their idea.

    After due diligence, the best approach is for you to be vigilant, but explicitly communicate your trust and confidence in their abilities. This will reinforce their commitment to your cause, and will relieve you of the constant extra effort of looking over their shoulder.

  4. Lack of your own clarity about what it takes to succeed. Some entrepreneurs won’t delegate because they lack confidence in their own understanding of the road ahead, and don’t want to embarrass themselves. Others simply find it hard to communicate the “why” and the “how,” or they are easily frustrated by team members who are struggling.

    The solution here is to use probing questions with peers, other team members, and advisors, and then listen carefully to all input. This dialog with clarify your own understanding of the requirements, as well as theirs. It will also help you decide who is the right person for delegation, and improve your own communication to all constituents.

  5. Afraid that delegating means losing control. The job of an entrepreneur is a big one, so you can’t afford to be a “control freak” or a “micro-manager.” Delegation is not about giving up the ultimate authority and responsibility for the business, as you will always be the founder and final decision maker. Use wise delegation to multiply your success odds.

Above all, always remember the golden rule of delegation – focus on results, not tasks. In other words, you need to tell the delegate what needs to be achieved, rather than exactly how to get it done. Only then can you leverage their expertise and efforts, hold them accountable for outcomes, and have the time to enjoy the fruits of your joint success.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/05/2018 ***

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

7 Steps To Meeting Your Goals With Your New Venture

goal-setting-stepsSuccessful entrepreneurs are usually hard-driving, and highly focused on some specific goals, like being the dominant player in a given domain, or the low-priced provider of their product. Yet other entrepreneurs will talk for hours about all their ideas, and how they intend to change the world, but I don’t hear any specific goals or milestones.

Many people are very hesitant to set specific goals, due to lack of self-confidence or whatever. The result is that they don’t ever get anywhere, because they never really knew where they wanted to go. If you find yourself in this category, try the following simple steps highlighted by Brian Tracy in his classic book “No Excuses: The Power of Self-Discipline”:

  1. Decide exactly what you want. If you want to increase your income, decide on a specific amount of money, rather than just “make more money.” Without precise goals, you can’t measure progress, and you miss the real satisfaction of knowing when to declare success.

  2. Write it down. A goal that is not written down is like cigarette smoke; it drifts away and disappears. It is vague and insubstantial. It has no force, effect, or power. It’s too easy to forget or push aside when outside forces arise that you hadn’t anticipated – and they will. On the other hand, most people don’t hesitate to write down excuses.

  3. Set a deadline with specific milestones. Pick a reasonable time period and write down the date when you want to achieve it. If it is a big enough goal, set intermediate milestones for measurement reference points. The rule is “There are no unrealistic goals; there are only unrealistic deadlines.” Don’t be afraid to change the deadline – for cause.

  4. Make a list of things you need to do to achieve your goal. The biggest goal can be accomplished if you break it down into enough small steps. Make a list of obstacles and difficulties, knowledge and skills required, necessary people, and everything you will have to do to meet the goal. Add to these lists as you learn more.

  5. Organize your list by both sequence and priority. A list organized by sequence requires that you decide what you need to do in what order. A list organized by priority enables you to determine what is more important. Then develop a business plan which embodies all of the above.

  6. Take action on your plan immediately. Don’t delay. Move quickly. Procrastination is the thief of time, and it shortens your life. Winners in life take the first step now. They are willing to overcome their normal fear of failure and disappointment, and take a small step, and then other one, until they reach the goal.

  7. Do something every day that moves you in the direction of your major goal. This is the key step that will guarantee your success. Do something every day that moves you at least one step closer to the goal. In this fashion, you develop momentum, which further motivates, inspires, and energizes you. Soon it becomes automatic and easier.

You can’t control the future, and that’s not the purpose of goal setting. It’s also a recipe for failure to assume that the path to your goal will require suffering and sacrifice. In fact, the whole objective of all steps above is to allow you to avoid stress and suffering, and be more fully motivated by your progress.

As you adopt a goal-setting mindset, you will find yourself setting different kinds of goals. These are lifetime goals, not just a collection of near-term objectives. It’s these really big objectives, that seem unachievable even to you right now, that will inspire you the most, and motivate you to real success and happiness.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 16, 2018

5 Tips For Making Your Whole Team A Marketing Machine

marketing-teamAs the rate of change continues to increase in business and technology, the more I’m convinced that marketing is the primary key to success for a new venture. Yet I find that many technical founders don’t feel they need it at all, or at best point to one person on the team who is marketing. I believe the real challenge is make your whole team a marketing machine.

That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to participate in creating the typical marketing hype, or needs to face the press on a regular basis. It does mean that everyone on the team, from you the founder to your most introverted developer, needs to really understand and believe in the product and strategy, and when asked, doesn’t hesitate to be an advocate for you and the business.

For example, as a member of an angel investment group, I sometimes do some “due diligence” on promising startups looking for funding. A common part of this process is to visit with members of the team to check team dynamics, skill level, and commitment. Unfortunately, I often find team members who are not believers, or have a different view of the customer. The result is no deal.

Thus you need to understand how quickly anyone on your team can be the key to attracting a new set of customers, or the reason that critical partners, vendors, investors, or customers walk away. Fortunately, I’ve found that it isn’t really that hard to make every member of your team a marketer for your new venture, by focusing on the following priorities every day:

  1. Build a culture of trust, confidence, and pride in your business. This has to start with selecting the right partners, and hiring people who believe in you and your business. Too many founders, strapped for cash or time, make poor team selections, assuming they can fix the problem later. Your team is your business, and you can’t sell without them.

    Team members who feel they have a voice and a strategic role are happy and proud to be advocates for your business. You need them not only to close business, but also to keep internal productivity and motivation high, and to use their own social media and friends to spread the word. It helps to celebrate small wins, together and often.

  2. Encourage and require outside engagement and feedback. You set the tone when you schedule and hold regular “all-hands meetings” to provide updates on progress and recognize participation of others in outside events. It helps to provide everyone with business cards, a current copy of investor presentations, and strategy details.

    I find that startups who do this are much more likely to stay ahead of the game, by proactive innovation, keeping up with customer trends, and being viewed as a leader in their community. In this days of pervasive communication, this is powerful marketing.

  3. Facilitate participation in industry conferences and networking. Team members need your support in keeping up with peers outside the company, and related industry developments. Their relationships with industry experts and even competitors can be a key marketing boost to your brand and business, or a disaster if not done positively.

    Thus, when you participate in trade shows and conferences, staff the booth from development and other organizations, as well as marketing. Make sure all team members are included or considered for standards organizations and customer briefings, so they know what is going on and have opportunities for relationships with real customers.

  4. Provide cross-functional mentoring and coaching. I have found that even the most dedicated developer can benefit from a formal opportunity to talk to your key marketing guru, and vice versa. Everyone learns from these sessions, and your business will benefit from the input. Another approach is putting people on temporary assignments for growth.

    These sessions also facilitate career advancement, with a better understanding of the skills and experience required to move into marketing or finance. Everyone loves a no-risk approach to testing their ability to advance into new areas of the business.

  5. Recognize and reward “marketing” efforts and results. Team members who see others outside the marketing staff rewarded for their efforts will be motivated to participate. Opportunities include anyone bringing in a new customer, sharing the load in a social media campaign, or representing the company for a good social cause.

    All this doesn’t require a large increase in the marketing budget, since peer and public recognition by you is often more important than money. In addition, the opportunity to work on social and environmental causes of personal interest generates great loyalty.

The most effective teams are the ones who feel a common responsibility for the success of the business, and are willing to reach out and contribute to all elements of the business. This develops leaders at all levels, and these emergent leaders are not hesitant to take ownership when they see business growth opportunities, thus multiplying your impact and marketing.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 11/05/2018 ***

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