Friday, September 28, 2018

Adopt An Entrepreneur Mindset To Enhance Your Career

entrepreneur-mindsetOne of the big differences between an entrepreneur and an employee of a big business is that employees tend to have a very narrow focus on their job, while entrepreneurs have to keep the broader focus on business. Both want personal satisfaction and financial success. In fact, U.S. entrepreneurs consistently claim to be happier, and have a higher net worth than employees.

In my advisory role to businesses of all sizes, I have personally found that you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to act like one, and enjoy the result. No matter what your role or level as an employee, if you can keep the big picture in perspective, you will do better in your career, get more positive feedback, advance more rapidly, and get the pay raises you desire more often.

Acting like an entrepreneur isn’t a trait that you have to be born with – it’s really a mindset that anyone can adopt and hone with practice. There are some key strategies I recommend in developing that mindset, whether you are currently and employee or an aspiring entrepreneur:

  1. Keep the business customer at the top of your pyramid. Every business depends on customers to thrive, and every employee role has some correlation to customer satisfaction. Corporate employees often think only about their narrow silo, their workload, and view customers as someone else’s problem. This disconnect will kill your career.

  2. Maximize your impact on the success of the company. Entrepreneurial thinkers always think and act like they own the company. Unfortunately, recent surveys show that almost 70 percent of employees feel very little engagement with the business. It’s time to relate every task you do to the success of the business, or fight to eliminate the job.

  3. Fight for change to improve revenue and lower costs. Too many employees fight change, perhaps because it requires new thinking. Entrepreneurs see change and new technology as the way to attract more customers, and improve sales and profitability. If you find yourself clinging to “the way it has always been done,” it’s time to think again.

  4. Focus your role on solving the customer problem. Every employee and entrepreneur needs to understand the customer value proposition. For example, if you are in marketing, forget the number of features, and highlight the value of the whole compared to the cost. The ideal customer will see so much value that price becomes unimportant.

  5. Know your peers and build your competitive advantage. Entrepreneurs realize that competitors are outside businesses, not other people in your department or other organizations in your company. To improve your career, you need to look outside for ways to benchmark your position, and find ways to constantly improve your skills.

  6. Treat your career like a business model open to pivots. A career plan is like a business model, and entrepreneurs realize that every plan has to be tuned as customers and environments change, to optimize sales, improve value received, and respond to competitors. Some employees have no plan, or assume their plan never needs changing.

  7. Try new things, and don’t penalize yourself for mistakes. Entrepreneurial thinking requires working outside the box, and learning from failed experiments. The focus must be on what’s right, rather than who’s right. Employees can advance their career, as well as their satisfaction, by trying new approaches, new tools, and new relationships.

There really shouldn’t be any difference between an entrepreneur and an employee, in terms of a mindset. In both cases, careers are made or broken first of all by customers and the success of the business. Both need to take risks with new opportunities, and both have to expect mistakes, and learn from them. Those who refuse to change for cause will be left behind in both cases.

I believe most business leaders now understand the benefits of the entrepreneurial mindset, and are working to build a team culture that fosters and rewards initiative, engagement, decisions, and continuous improvement. So whether you want to drive your own company, or have a thriving career in a corporate environment, you need to start acting like an entrepreneur today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 09/11/2018 ***



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Keep A Real Job Until Your New Venture Shows Traction

business-multitasking-tractionOne of the big decisions every aspiring entrepreneur has to make is when to quit your current job to devote yourself fulltime to your new startup. Some of you are so committed to the new passion that you quit your day job early, and dedicate all your time and resources to the new venture. Others wait until the new business starts to generate revenue and profit before making the move.

Which is right? I’m definitely a proponent of the multitasked approach, since every new venture is inherently risky, and startups usually take longer to ramp up than you imagine. In my experience as a startup advisor, I find the minimum time to revenue is at least a year. Break-even and profit may not happen for a couple of years after that. And investors are hard to find in these years.

On the other hand, many investors, including billionaire entrepreneur and "Shark Tank" co-host Mark Cuban, essentially demand an all-in early approach as a pre-requisite to funding, making it clear that a total commitment is expected if you want outside money. Of course, you might be able to pay yourself a salary from the investment, but this will be minimal and critically watched.

While there is no right or wrong here, I believe there are some good arguments for not quitting your day job too soon. Here are some of the key ones I would suggest to every aspiring entrepreneur who doesn’t have a rich uncle, or isn’t sitting on a large nest egg:

  1. Make sure this new lifestyle is really for you. I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs all the time who can’t wait to ditch the corporate lifestyle, make all their own decisions, and be in control of their destiny. Later, half of these come back to admit that their day job was not all that bad, less stressful, the work predictable, with others to lean on for hard decisions.

  2. Current job income keeps family and creditors satisfied. The alternative of living off credit cards and borrowed money, while waiting and hoping for your startup to kick in, will drag down your motivation and kill your support system just when you need it most. Even the most successful startups can’t sustain founder salaries for the first couple of years.

  3. Multitasking is the norm for everyone these days. With all the pushes and pulls on our lives already, adding a new startup effort as one more activity should not be seen by anyone as breaking the bank. The challenge is to keep all your priorities, personal and business, in balance. Anyone running their own business needs to learn that anyway.

  4. Starting a company fulltime is stressful and lonely. Having another job is a good way to get the balance you need for visible accomplishments, interactions with other people, and certainly a regular paycheck. Of course, you must not short your day job, so you need the passion of your new idea to keep you energized enough to excel in both.

  5. Keep your startup efforts “below the radar” until proven. No matter how much passion you feel for your idea, not all friends and family will be positive or accepting of the major risks and commitment involved. By maintaining your startup activities as supplementary with future payback, your efforts will look visionary rather than perilous.

  6. Be able to learn from failure without embarrassment. Historical and current statistics still show the chances of failure on any given idea are better than even. Even with all the help resources available to entrepreneurs, there is still no better way to learn than trying an experiment that doesn’t work. Working in parallel minimizes the pain and visibility.

In my view, entrepreneurship is an endurance sport that you have to train for, rather than a quick dash to success. It pays to be able to fall back into a familiar mental role to recover, when the pressures of fund raising, new product development, and satisfying initial customers wears you down. Once those challenges start to seem like fun, you can jump full time to entrepreneurship.

I recognize that all aspiring entrepreneurs are unique, with different levels of risk tolerance, energy, and motivation. I do find that the entrepreneur lifestyle is more fulfilling for many than traditional business. Thus I encourage everyone to ignore the pundits and take a hard look at your own goals and drivers, and proceed with caution. Your happiness and legacy depend on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 09/11/2018 ***



Friday, September 21, 2018

Equity Investment Platform Preparation Best Practices

CrowdfundingescenseIf you are one of the thousands of entrepreneurs who need equity funding to get your startup going (no loans to repay), you are probably overwhelmed at the prospect of finding, contacting and pitching to the huge number of qualified angels and investment groups around the country. I recommend an easier way – using an investment platform like Gust, EquityNet or SeedInvest.

These are not a substitute for personal contact with investors you know, or your rich uncle. But they can otherwise save you much time and effort, and are also safer and more productive than the old-fashioned approach of broadcast emailing or cold-calling every investor you can find in online directories, or responding to the risky spam offers you get for funding on social media.

Another advantage of online investor and equity crowdfunding platforms is that they will force you to pull together your story and documentation in a more consistent and complete fashion than you might otherwise bother. In my years of advising startups, and also as an occasional angel investor, I still recommend this set of best practices to prepare you for platform applications:

  1. Formalize a business entity immediately. Startups that have a name but are not incorporated have no credible basis for an equity investment. It’s easy and inexpensive to create an LLC, S-Corp, or even a C-Corp online these days, with or without the help of an attorney. The type can always be changed in the future to meet investor requirements.

  2. Register Internet and social media startup names. Reserving a consistent website domain name and social media names will not likely be possible once your startup is made public via an investment platform. The names you select will set the tone for investors, and are a key element in the investor or crowdfunding user decision process.

  3. File a provisional patent or other intellectual property. Having a defensible barrier to entry is a clear advantage to attracting investors, and another element that cannot be added after your design is made public. Intellectual property is also a clear differentiator from your competitors, and indicates a serious commitment rather than testing the water.

  4. Recruit a team with complementary skills. Most solo entrepreneurs can’t show the range of experience or skills to build a winning business alone. You need to be able to highlight the synergy of team members who have the necessary technical, financial, marketing, and operational credentials to move your startup ahead of the crowd.

  5. Prepare a slide deck to highlight product and business. This pitch will be required by every platform, and it needs your effort and focus before the crush of all the other fundraising tasks. I recommend that you start by creating an “elevator pitch,” then an executive summary, and begin work on your business plan and financial model.

  6. Solidify your passion with a prototype product or solution. First impressions are key, so maximize your credibility by providing videos of a prototype or minimum viable product (MVP). Most crowdfunding candidates or investors need pictures as well as words to see the full potential of your proposal, and commit real money for a percentage of your equity.

  7. Collect target customer testimonials and advocacy. Potential investors want to see quotes and names as evidence that someone other than you and your family believes in the solution, and is willing to provide a letter of intent, or at least strong support. Market research from credible third parties, such as Gartner Group, is also critical to success.

  8. Pick a platform that fits your business model or industry. For example, some sites can be easily searched for enterprise startups, such as AngelList, while others, like CrowdFunder, tend to highlight consumer products. Many crowdfunding platforms are not used for business solutions, or even multi-million dollar requests for consumer startups.

In all cases, getting the funding you need will not happen just because you get listed on a platform. It still requires thorough preparation and intensive promotion to get the attention of the crowd and professional investors. The overall success rate is still less than ten percent, so do your homework first, and all the right people will see your equity as the key to their legacy as well.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 09/07/2018 ***



Wednesday, September 19, 2018

7 Tips For Building The Right People Relationships

good-business-relationshipsIn big business, as well as startups, I have found that your effectiveness can be highly correlated to your ability to build and maintain people relationships, often more so than hard work, or how many hours you give. But all relationships are not the same, and your ability to distinguish between positive and negative, or casual versus committed, can make or break your future.

I find that the most successful entrepreneurs have mastered the art and skill of building and managing relationships. For example, we all know people who really believe that everyone in the world is their supporter, when in fact many are actively working against them. The reasons may be emotional or fact based, but the key is understanding and dealing with relationship realities.

In my role as a mentor to business professionals and entrepreneurs over the years, I have found that it’s important to take a hard look at the relationships around you on a regular basis. If you have very few, or the wrong relationships, or your assessment abilities need tuning, your impact and your career may be limited. But, like most other skills, you can learn from these priorities:

  1. Everyone benefits from active mentoring. The most productive business relationships involve mentoring, or active sharing of knowledge and experience, with the intent to improve communication, cooperation, and impact. This is a powerful and positive relationship that benefits both careers, as well as the business.

    It works at all levels inside an organization, as well as outside the company. Most successful entrepreneurs and business executives admit to having mentor relationships, including Bill Gates with Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg with Steve Jobs. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and can benefit from an external perspective.

  2. Provide and seek coach and advocate relationships. The best coaches are people who care about you as a person, without any ulterior motives, and intend to inspire you to be the best that you can be. With their advocacy and guidance, your morale, skills, and thus productivity will go up, benefiting both the company and your career.

    A good coach is not a critic. Beware of relationships with people who constantly put you down, highlight your flaws, or discuss your shortcomings with other team members.

  3. Establish relationships with people in the know. Some peers are always researching the big picture and latest details, and can keep you in the loop on what’s happening in the organization and why. I’m not talking about gossip or negative information, but positive insights that will help you spend your time to the best advantage in your career.

    These people are easy to recognize if you keep your eyes and ears open. They typically share insights early that prove to be productive, and have good relationships themselves with executives and other leaders.

  4. Actively court relationships with people you aspire to be. If your friends are all people in lesser experience, it's unlikely that you can learn new things from them. Supplement the scope of your relationships with trailblazers you respect, to be inspired by their results, and motivated to follow in their footsteps. Keep your ego in check.

  5. Expand work relationships into personal friendships. Personal friendships between peers is always good for business, even between managers and team members. Personal friendships will improve communications and trust, and will definitely improve your personal satisfaction and life balance, between work and play. .

  6. Make it a point to get to know other teams and customers. Just knowing more people both inside and outside your organization, if only as acquaintances, is still a good thing. It keeps you from becoming isolated in your views, improves trust all around, and generally leads to more cooperation and sharing. Even with all our technology, business is still people-to-people.

  7. Above all else, don’t create enemy relationships. Things change rapidly in business, and enemies have a way of resurfacing in a position to damage your career or your project. Don't burn your bridges with anyone on the team, and use your initiative to engage people directly to improve communications, rather than cutting them off or instigating a personal battle.

In my experience, even the best technology and business model can’t succeed without positive relationships all around on the team. As an angel investor, I learned this the hard way, and now I’m a believer that smart investors invest in people with the right relationships, not just ideas and skills. Work to make your ability to manage relationships your sustainable competitive advantage.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 09/05/2018 ***



Wednesday, September 12, 2018

6 Steps To Creating A Business Legacy That You Love

happy-business-man-profitBefore you start down the long hard road of an entrepreneur, it pays to look inside yourself to see what you love to do, and what would fit your definition of success. For some, it’s all about the chance to run your own show, or advance a cause that you are passionate about. Others dream of being a billionaire, or proving that they can satisfy a need by starting and growing a business.

In my experience, you will have the most satisfaction and success if you can combine a strong sense of “purpose” with a quantifiable business opportunity. Some founders are so passionate about their cause that ignore the business realities, while others are so driven by money that they sacrifice their ethics. Both ends of this spectrum will likely result in more long-term pain than fun.

One example of a startup with a good balance seems to be Whole Foods, whose focus on healthy foods and a sustainable environment is legendary, yet their business success recently attracted Amazon with a $13.7 billion buyout. On the other hand, I worked with an entrepreneur who really wanted to cure world hunger, but forgot that hungry people rarely have any money.

The challenge is to do the right homework and ask yourself the right questions to find a personal purpose and a business model that are complementary, and will likely provide you with a good shot at business success as well as personal satisfaction. Here are some key steps I recommend to get you started on the right foot:

  1. Identify a “higher purpose” that embodies your passion. Do you feel strongly about a social or environmental issue where you would love to make an impact as part of your legacy? Keys to this would be something that matches your values, and could benefit from your strengths. Write it down and validate it though friends and social media.

  2. Set some specific goals and milestones for a business. Setting a business goal requires the conceptualization of an idea into structured deliverables, and formalizing that idea into one to five specifics. Ideally, that formalization is the start of a business plan. It’s hard to know when you have arrived, if you have never figured out where you are going.

  3. Start networking to pull together a complementary team. Contrary to a popular myth, entrepreneurship is not a solo lifestyle. We all have strengths and weaknesses, so we need people around us who can fill in the gaps. Your ability to motivate other people along the lines of your passion will dictate future success, as well as satisfaction.

  4. Define your target customer set and value proposition. Without customers, there is no business, and no higher purpose can be satisfied. If you can envision and size a set of customers that will be delighted with the value you bring, in concert with your higher purpose, then you are well on your way to an entrepreneur lifestyle that you will love.

  5. Look beyond today to your long-term career aspirations. Even entrepreneurs need to think about their career. Some are perennial “startup” people, who can’t wait to hand off a successful creation to a business professional, and start the whole process over again with another idea. Others, like Bill Gates, want to run a great company as their purpose.

  6. Solidify your values and expectations for workplace culture. In today’s environment, the workplace culture you crave is a key factor in the type of business you will fit. Every businesses requires a high level of employee engagement, as well as customer-sensitive processes. Be sure you understand the issues of remote workers and global operations.

Contemplating these steps should convince you that identifying your sweet spot in the entrepreneurial spectrum is not a simple exercise. It requires deep introspection, and making some hard choices. These can be painful now, but I assure you they will be more painful if ignored or pushed into the future. It’s better to decide now if being an entrepreneur is not for you.

Timing is everything. You may decide to start now, or take some time to build your skills and your experiences, as well as resources, for a later entrepreneurial effort. There is no right or wrong time to start. I see successful entrepreneurs who started in their teens, like Mark Zuckerberg, and others, including Colonel Sanders, waited until well after some more conventional business roles.

The great thing about being an entrepreneur is that you can shape the business to be more you, rather than let the employee role in a corporation drive you to be someone you don’t even like. It’s up to you. Take control of your destiny today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 08/28/2018 ***



Sunday, September 9, 2018

How Today’s Full Customer Buying Journey Is Critical

Starbucks-coffee-customerIn today’s totally interconnected world with its abundance of information, choices, and marketing, how your customers buy has drastically changed. Buying has evolved from a simple transaction decision to multi-faceted experience. Whether you are an executive, an entrepreneur, a marketer, or a salesperson, it’s time to look beyond how you sell, and focus on how your customers buy.

For example, you may think that buying a commodity like bottled water is still all about price, yet buyers today check their smartphones first for positive brand reviews, environmentally friendly bottles, positive buzz from social media, and the nearest outlet for purchasing. Think about how much Starbucks customers have changed what you need to consider to sell a cup of coffee.

I found a good outline of the key elements involved in today’s customer buying experience in a new book, “How Customers Buy…& Why They Don’t,” by Martyn R. Lewis. With his two decades of experience as an entrepreneur and a sales and marketing consultant across a broad range of businesses, he has some good insights on what works with customers today, and what doesn’t.

In my own recent experiences advising small business owners and entrepreneurs, I have seen the same six elements of the customer buying journey many times, especially as they relate to selling in consumer environments:

  1. First you need a trigger to start the buying journey. You may believe your product or service is very attractive, but you won’t get a customer until someone decides to act on an unsatisfied need. These days, that trigger is much more likely to come from a friend’s experience, social media, or a memorable website, rather than conventional advertising.

  2. Understand all steps required to complete the experience. The sales steps may seem simple to you, but customers today are quick to abort if they get confused, encounter redundancy, or the process takes longer than expected. Make sure you listen carefully to online feedback and reviews, and personally check competitor’s processes.

    How many times have you been frustrated, or even given up, on businesses that make returns and exchanges more complex than competitors, or can’t handle transactions and discounts quickly? The bar is constantly moving up, so don’t get caught at the bottom.

  3. Target the key players in the buy decision and process. In the world of Millennials, parents may be doing the buying, but the kids are driving the decisions. In business, buying decisions are now often made by a network of highly connected individuals across a virtual world through instant messaging. Target the players as well as the process.

  4. Market to the dominant buying style of your customer. On one end of the spectrum, people now buy solutions, rather than products. On the other end, many people look for personalized choices, versus value received. There is no right or wrong buying style, and it’s up to you to market and sell according to the style of your target market demographic.

    For example, some customer segments prefer the one-size-fits-all approach, for speed and simplicity, while others want the solution to be customized for them, even if it costs more. You need to constantly talk to your target demographic and adapt to their style.

  5. Capitalize on key value drivers that motivate your buyer. The value drivers have to be sufficiently compelling to your customers to outweigh the costs, risks, and change associated with completing the buying process and using your offering. I see an increase in social drivers, including peer pressure, prestige, or environmental impact. Play to them.

  6. Eliminate buying concerns that can slow or stop the sale. These are the opposite of value drivers. Concerns might include complexity of the process, priority of the need, decision scope required, implications of the solution, and many more. It’s up to you to anticipate and alleviate these concerns in your marketing before they even come up.

    For example, in recent surveys, over 50 percent of online shoppers have admitted to abandoning their carts, causing you lost revenue, at least once in the last three months. Most of the reasons given could be fixed purely through simple design changes.

From a big picture standpoint, what you need today is a market engagement strategy, rather than just the traditional sales funnel that focuses on completing transactions. Your selling process has to harmonize with how the market is buying, or tackle the more difficult challenge of changing how the market buys.

Engaging your market is eminently doable with the online and social tools available today, but it takes effort and change on your part to meet your customers, rather than wait forever for them to meet you. It’s time to get started today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/24/2018 ***



Friday, September 7, 2018

Grant Applications Often Provide Early-Stage Funding

NSF-logoA critical stage for most first-time entrepreneurs is getting their idea developed into at least a prototype to validate their technology. This process costs money, which professional investors are not willing to contribute, since their interest is in scaling a proven product and business model into a growth business. Investors want potential for a large and timely return, with reduced risk.

Acquiring seed-stage funding is admittedly tough, but a source that I find often overlooked is government grant funding, accessible in the U.S. through, an online directory of more than 1,000 federal grant programs that don’t look for equity or payback. Specifically, I often point to the NSF or the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program for high-tech startups.

Government grants start as small a few thousand dollars, but can provide a million dollars or more in capital to new ventures. But before you conclude that your funding problems can be easily solved with grant applications, you should consider the direct and indirect costs of this approach:

  • Applications are complex and labor-intensive. Many grants require special expertise and background knowledge, which will take time and people away from the thousands of other tasks required to get your business going. You should expect that a winning grant application, with all the reviews and required certifications, can take months of work.
  • The approval process is long and bureaucratic. For grants, you are often tied to pre-defined government application and approval schedules, perhaps once or twice a year, which may not coincide with your needs. The resulting delays can give your competitors an edge, or the market requirements can change before you get the funding you need.
  • Experts are available to help, but fees are high. There are professionals who specialize in grant applications, and they may even have relationships with key decision makers in the approval process, but they do cost money that you may not. You need to make an ROI assessment of value versus cost on outside help at this stage.
  • Detailed grant accounting requirements. All grants require a detailed accounting of every dollar spent, and adherence to guidelines. This may go beyond your normal capabilities at this stage of your business, but be aware that violations can result in loss of funding, or even stiffer penalties. Expect regular audits of your project and spending.

Also, it’s important that you understand just how the SBIR program works. Overall it is structured in three phases:

  • In Phase I, you can be awarded up to $150,000 for six months. This award is intended to allow you to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R&D efforts and to allow them to determine the quality of your organization before additional awards are considered.
  • In Phase II, amounts up to a million dollars over a two year period awarded. This phase is intended to allow you to complete the research and development on your innovative product.
  • Phase III is all about helping you take your innovation to market, or commercialize it. While the SBIR does not provide direct funding in Phase III, funding can often be acquired through referred Federal agencies, like the Department of Defense, who may intend to use the innovation once the development is complete.

All you have to do to qualify for government grant consideration is pass the initial eligibility test:

  • At least 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more individuals who are citizens of, or permanent resident aliens in, the United States.
  • Be a small business of no more than 500 employees, including affiliates, located in the United States, and organized for profit.

In any case, I do recommend that you don’t try the grant process alone the first time. If you still have any connections at the local university, look for some guidance there from related subject-matter professors. Professors live on grants for research, but they need you for a current focus on commercialization. Another alternative is to find an inexpensive class on grant writing.

Of course, for speed to market, and to retain maximum control of your innovation, it’s always better to fund the R&D stage of your business yourself. Then seek angel investors or crowdfunding, as required, for the rollout, and venture capital for scaling the business across multiple geographies.

The best entrepreneurs I know don’t let initial funding constraints discourage them from starting. They don’t overlook any of the many sources out there, including government grants, but they do it with their eyes open, and get the help they need along the way. It’s time to get started today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 08/22/2018 ***



Wednesday, September 5, 2018

How to Keep Your Business From Running Your Life

businessman-on-the-beachEvery entrepreneur I meet in my role as a small business advisor dreams of making the business run like clockwork, even without them. You are all frustrated when that never happens, even after years of 16-hour days, repeated efforts to hire the right people, and multiple campaigns to delegate more and sign up for less. There is no time for fun, and vacations never happen.

For example, Elon Musk, while being a highly respected and successful entrepreneur for years, still readily admits to regular 100-hour work weeks, no social life, and sleeping under his desk all too often in the Tesla factory. Is this the definition of success you want to experience? Frankly, I’ve never been sure what to tell entrepreneurs who want to break free of these bonds.

Recently, I completed a new book, “Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself,” by Mike Michalowicz, that really helped me pull my own thoughts and recommendations together for the beleaguered business owners I try to help. Mike uses his own experience as a recovering workaholic building two multimillion-dollar companies to net out seven steps in his transformation.

I’ll paraphrase his key points here, based on my own experience in large and small businesses, and input from the entrepreneurs I have worked with over the years:

  1. Track where your time is actually being spent today. As business owners, you all have to balance getting work done (doing), making decisions (deciding), managing people (delegating), and constant improvement (designing). Only then can you start to adjust your time and your company to let it run without your constant involvement.

    For example, I was on the Advisory Board of a small company whose founder was killing his health through overwork, even though he felt high focused. After some honest tracking efforts, he realized that he was still involved in every detail of daily activities.

  2. Identify a single key function to your company’s success. Within every company there exists a core function that embodies the uniqueness and value that you bring to the table. It is where your offering meets the best talents of you and your team. Make sure you focus your design efforts on this area, and delegate or cut time spent on all the rest.

  3. Empower the team to ensure your core function is fulfilled. In a highly efficient business, everyone knows that the core function is always the priority, and controls are in place so that the people and resources who serve it are protected. Also you need to make sure that highly skilled key people are not diluted by unfulfilling routine work.

    For example, I once worked for a company whose core competency was computer hardware. Someone decided to initiate a software arm to grow the business, so key executives and skilled resources were re-allocated to start a software project. The result was a big hit to the hardware business, as well as an unsuccessful software business.

  4. Document required systems for repeatability without you. Each of us as a team member or entrepreneur has our way of executing various tasks, but often these get left undocumented and non-transferrable without our continuous involvement. It’s easier to use screen-captures and notes on existing processes, rather than write detailed manuals.

  5. Adjust roles and shift resources for optimal performance. To get maximum business autonomy, you need to match the inherent strength traits of employees to key jobs, always adjusting for market change and people growth. Have the right people do the right things at the right time. Use mentoring to help people develop as your business develops.

    In one of my own positions as an executive in IBM, I found that putting a high-potential employee on my own staff for a few weeks was more effective, both short-term and long-term, in gaining me some work relief than any training class I could imagine.

  6. Focus on satisfying your ideal and best customers. The more services you provide to a wider mix of customers, the more variability you have, and the harder it becomes to provide extraordinary and consistent services. Make sure your team knows that all customers are not the same, and how to provide memorable experiences to the key set.

  7. Free yourself from the need to always be at work. Your ideal business is one that delivers consistent results, including growth goals, without your active involvement. The final step is to create a business “dashboard” that enables you, and everyone else there, to stay on top of the business from anywhere.

The final big hurdle to overcome is you. I find that many entrepreneurs can’t get over their ego, or their fears, that the business can’t operate without them. Some are just stuck. Let me assure you that your best path to business success, as well as your personal satisfaction, is to work on making your business work without you, rather than working harder on the business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/22/2018 ***