Friday, April 19, 2019

6 Keys To Turning Your Failures Into Business Success

Mark Cuban image via Flickr by jdlasica 
We all have had setbacks in business – the challenge is learn from each one to improve skills and decision making, rather than let failures get you down and reduce your chances of ever achieving success. The best entrepreneurs and business owners have experienced failure multiple times before bouncing back to a level of achievement they only dreamed of.

For example, most people don’t realize many billionaires, including Mark Cuban, Jack Ma, and Richard Branson experienced multiple business failures before becoming recognized business leaders. According to the well-known motivational speaker and writer Steve Harvey, Warren Buffett said that he would not invest in any business where the owner hasn’t failed at least twice.

I found some real practical insights on how to turn your failures and fears into success in a new book, “Fail More: Embrace, Learn, and Adapt to Failure As a Way to Success,” by Bill Wooditch. For over 25 years, he has failed his way to success in his own businesses, and helped transform large and small companies along the way. I’ll paraphrase several of his guiding principles here:
  1. Recognize when fear is disguising itself as procrastination. Too often fear of failure is rationalized as waiting for the perfect opportunity, a better time, or less risky idea. Whether you are seeking to build a startup or advance in your career, you can’t succeed without starting, and you need to embrace failure as the key way to learn and adapt.

  2. Don’t let “fear-of-failing” inhibit your decision making. Fear can cause you to avoid making a decision, which more often results in lost options than better outcomes. Also by not making decisions, your decision-making abilities can never improve, causing every decision to increase self-doubt. Commit to learning from every decision, good or bad.

    In business, often the stakes are high, the information incomplete, and the environment volatile. In these cases, such as new product development, it helps to break down the big decision into smaller steps, and learn from success or failure on completing each step.

  3. Build relationships with advisors who see your blind spots. One of the best ways to improve as a decision maker and leader is to ask people you trust to analyze your failures, and guide your learning. Also you must accept feedback with humility and without defensiveness, with a commitment to find a pocket of success in every failure.

  4. Remember to approach “risk-of-failure” intelligently. Every time you make a choice in life, even non-choices, you are taking a risk. Use past failure experience to inform the present and positively influence the future. Start out with small steps that lean into your uncertainty and discomfort. Make uncertainty and discomfort your growth indicators.

    Carrying out small “experiments” is a great way to evaluate “risk-of-failure.” Test interest in a new product, before you spend money building it, by presenting it to the market in a blog or through crowd funding. If you see no interest, you can fail quickly at very low cost.

  5. Determine worst-case and best-case results before decisions. Failures teach you that you must understand the worst case, before you jump to a decision based on your best case assumption. Suppress your ego, and bring in advisors and experts to test your assumptions and improve your decision-making skills. Always manage the downside first.

  6. Use emotions, but don’t bypass logic, in making decisions. As a human, you will always feel emotions, both negative and positive, but they must be only one tool in a decision. You always have to move beyond emotions, to include logic in making successful decisions. Analyze and learn from failures, to separate logic from emotion.

    For example, I deal with aspiring entrepreneurs every day whose emotion is so strong for a new idea that they forget to evaluate the business viability. You may be positive you have a cure for world hunger, but don’t forget that hungry people rarely have any money.
Use these principles to capitalize on “failing more” as “trying more.” Experience is the residue of failure, more than success. Failing is the strategic way to collect and apply tactical knowledge and methods you can use for future benefit along the path to a more successful business, career, and life. Always celebrate your failures, as well as your successes.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/04/2019 ***
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

How To Set A Balance Of User Growth Vs Profitability

Image via Max Pixel 
A question that I still hear debated often is whether a new startup growth strategy should focus on user count or profits. First of all, the glory days of “dot.coms” are gone, when investors “didn’t care” about profitability, and all the big money was focused on user count growth.

In the long run, everyone wants both profitability and user growth, but the question is which comes first. Most startups and investors I know don’t have unlimited funds, so the first question they should ask and do ask today, is “When is your company going to be profitable (self-sustaining)?”

Of course, growth is implied in that equation, and is also required for maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage. The challenge is not to undermine growth by a blind focus on profits. You might sell one of two of your widgets for $1 million each, entering profitability immediately, but then die because you can’t grow sales at that price.

I think you will find that most investors will relate to the following strategy for keeping the right perspective and getting the profit versus growth balance right:
  1. Pick an idea that has the potential to make money. That means it solves a real problem for real customers who are ready and able to spend real money. The number of current potential customers is large and growing. Solutions that may be viewed as “nice to have” or “satisfies a higher-level need” won’t get funded.

  2. Design a product or service that you can sell. Sure, you may need to give the product away for free to get traction, but assume you will have to sell something someday to get profitable and stay alive. MySpace, for example, launched in 2003 and boomed for five years without a revenue model. When their deep pockets went empty, Facebook stepped in, but demanded revenue from ads. MySpace wasn’t ready for this, and it soon faded. Don’t count on finding investors supporting growth alone on your new startup.

  3. Build a business plan for profitability in your lifetime. This simply means you need to be sensitive to costs, revenue projections, and a timeline, such that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Most Internet businesses should show profitability in two years, while new medicines may take ten years to pass FDA and other safety tests. Investors will look at competitors in your industry for the norms.

  4. Identify the total investment required for profitability. A very common mistake of early stage startups is to request a small investment to get started. They are usually thinking only of costs required to get “in business,” rather than the total costs of marketing, scaling up, and going international. Be ready to answer the investor question “Is that all you need to get profitable?”
So unless you are building a non-profit, I say focus on profit all the time, every time. Of course, growth is implied in every focus, and profit enables growth. But some of you will surely say “What about Facebook and Snapchat, who focused on growth first and are clearly successful?” So let’s take a look.

Facebook is indeed the largest growth site on the web, with well over two billion user accounts, all free. Yet it took almost six years to become profitable, with revenue only from advertising. What most people don’t realize is that the total outside funding to get it there is estimated at over $800 million, which is a bit more than you will get from any angel investor.

Yet I can’t argue their success in the value proposition, since they turned down a billion dollar offer from Yahoo way back in 2006, and their market cap today is around $400 billion. It has taken some very deep pockets to get to this point, so now you know why I smile when you tell me your plan emulates the Facebook model. Even Snapchat is now trying hard to generate revenue.

I’ve heard all the arguments that a push for early profits on new business models will lead a company to fall back to a lesser model that provides short-term results, but short-circuits risk-taking that could lead to more long-term value creation. That’s a great argument if you have unlimited funding, but if you are just one of the “rest of us,” I suggest you focus on getting to cash-flow positive first.

Marty Zwilling
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Monday, April 15, 2019

8 Positive Lessons From Facebook On Building Momentum

Image via Flickr by stockcatalog 
Many new business owners I know have learned the hard way that you can never be everything for everyone. As a startup, you need to use your limited resources to excel at a few core things for your best customers, in order to stand out and get the momentum going. Focus on a few key principles is the key to success, and it takes discipline and determination to make this happen.

I found some good lessons in this regard in a classic book, “Becoming Facebook,” by Mike Hoefflinger, the former Head of Global Business Marketing at Facebook. He talks in detail about ten of the key challenges that Facebook faced in their growth, to move from a tiny social media upstart to one of the most successful companies in the world.

Based on my experience advising new businesses, all of the principles that he outlines, including the following subset which I generalize here, should be taken to heart by every entrepreneur:
  1. Give customers fewer things that matter more. Your customers’ biggest need is not for more things. Your best strategy is to find more customers that fit the things you do best, rather than building more things. Too many choices confuse all customers, and make your job in marketing, distribution, and support much more difficult. Less is more.

  2. Pick a single metric that is the focus for all growth. Today’s world is full of metrics leading to business growth, including customer logins, revenue per customer, retention, and average solution price. Facebook’s winning strategy was a laser focus on increasing active user counts and time spent online. Revenue and competitive position followed.

  3. Speed is a key feature in every customer experience. Customers today have adapted to a fast-moving world, and they expect every business to keep up. They have no understanding or patience for extra steps and delays caused by bureaucratic processes, disengaged employees, complex networks, or software usability problems.

  4. Strive to cross the chasm from early adopters to mainstream. Many new companies become bogged down with the more vocal early adopters, who have an appetite for more function and new players. The mainstream majority want simplicity and base function, and we they get it they will come in droves, and be very reluctant to jump ship. Get there.

  5. Disrupt your own success before someone else does. In this age of technology, the advent of a better alternative is inevitable. To retain the initiative – especially when you’re winning – shape the disruption through your own moves instead of falling victim to those of others. Waiting for the crises of customers often means an impossible recovery effort.

  6. Maximize employee engagement by fitting roles to strengths. Employee engagement starts with looking beyond experience, to talent, determination, results, and a fit to your company values and culture. On an ongoing basis, engagement requires a focus on motivation, match to strengths and interests, and active career planning.

  7. Take care of business, but always play the long game. For many companies, the long game is choosing the right strategic partners and acquisitions. For others, including Facebook, it is penetrating China despite political constraints, and India, where only thirty percent of the population is on the Internet. But never take your eye off today’s customer.

  8. Getting acquired or going public should be a result, not an intent. A focus on looking good as an acquisition or IPO candidate has undermined many startups. Zuckerberg had so much confidence and determination to stay independent that he turned down an early $1 billion offer from Yahoo. Now Facebook’s market cap is nearly 500 times that number.
Facebook may seem like an overnight success, but in reality it faced the same challenges as any new business, including existing well-known social media competitors like MySpace and Friendster. Facebook competed against the model of free customer use paid by advertisers of Google, and the sophisticated data delivery infrastructures of YouTube and Netflix.

I’m convinced that the lessons outlined here can help you become the next Facebook or YouTube in your business domain. How many do you already practice today?

Marty Zwilling
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Sunday, April 14, 2019

7 Steps For Assuring Business Success And Fulfillment

Image via Pixabay 
Is it possible to be successful in business and not fulfilled? The answer is a resounding yes today, and I’m convinced that it will be even more true tomorrow, as young idealistic entrepreneurs try to adapt to the long-standing business culture if success is only measured in the money you make for yourself and your business.

That isn’t very fulfilling to the growing number of entrepreneurs whose vision and satisfaction comes from making the world a better place, and enjoying a leisurely lifestyle with friends and family. In fact, it’s already a problem with more successful entrepreneurs than you know, based on the classic book by serial entrepreneur Brian Gast, “The Business of Wanting More.”

As I have also seen in entrepreneurs, he outlines how he and others have failed to move from success to fulfillment, and offers the following points as guidance to make sure you don’t follow in his footsteps. His perspective is from later in his career, so I’ve re-arranged these a bit for those of you at an earlier stage:
  1. Create a vision for your life early. To create a vision, you simply have to envision yourself enjoying the fruits of your dreams, goals, and principles. Write down the “what” of your vision, but let go of “how” it will be achieved; you can’t control the precise manner, form, or timing. Maintain some reality by listing vulnerabilities, risks, and costs.

  2. Draw a road map to the future you want. If you have no strategic plan, your emotions and opportunities of the moment, or someone else, will drive your decisions and actions. A truly fulfilled life means meeting the four core needs: acceptance, connection, purpose, and service. It’s vital to have a specific plan for meeting those needs.

  3. Take a fearless inventory of your life now. Fulfillment is a choice. After honestly assessing what’s working and not working now in your life, you have to take personal responsibility for all of it before you can empower yourself to effect change. Don’t wait for a personal crisis to highlight gaps – use your strengths now to focus on fulfillment.

  4. Burst your bubble. Your bubble is a lens through which you unconsciously interpret every experience, set by your background, family, and long-standing beliefs. It limits your view of opportunities and actions in yourself, and in others. To the degree that it’s inconsistent with your vision, you need to burst the bubble to act and think outside of your pre-set boundaries.

  5. Build your support team. Go-it-alone leaders are common in startups, but they often crash if they don’t build effective support along the way. Brian defines an effective Court of Support as one professional coach, one accountability partner, one mentor, and six to nine group members. Look for a mix of talent and balance in your support team.

  6. Methodically remove the barriers to fulfillment. Develop your inner CEO to make decisions informed by all areas of your life – not just your career and finances, but also your relationships, core needs, and the needs of others. Beware your shadow and the risk-averse side of your being, which cause you to overreact and behave in ways not conducive to fulfillment.

  7. Create a positive personal practices regimen. Being fulfilled, and staying fulfilled, takes work. It takes a personal regimen to create and sustain a life fortified against the distractions of a culture that relentlessly promotes material success. Focus on practices that help you stay open and have faith, but don’t force it. Don’t be afraid to take test drives.
Following these steps early and always in your career will allow you to be the entrepreneur you want to be with a whole-life view. You will be able to tap unused skills, create better ways to respond to high-stress situations, while still generating more powerful results. Most importantly, you will be able to stay on the road to fulfillment, as well as success.

The best evidence that you are on the road to fulfillment and success is that you love what you do. When you love what you do, it’s not just self-evident, it’s evident to others. You don’t think of your career as going to “work” every day. How many of you can say “I strive to do my best at what I love to do?” Fulfillment and success need not be mutually exclusive.

Marty Zwilling
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Saturday, April 13, 2019

7 Keys To Optimizing Your Investment In Social Media

Image via Pixabay 
If you are a business owner today, and not using social media to promote your business, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. But, contrary to what most people preach, it isn’t entirely free. Most social media outlets don’t require a subscription charge, but they certainly always require an investment, sometimes large, in people, in technology, your reputation, and your time.

There are hundreds of consultants out there who will take your money for guidance in this area, but I recommend that you start with some free resources on the Internet, or one of the many recent books on this topic. One of the original classics, “How to Make Money with Social Media” by Jamie Turner and Reshma Shah, Ph.D., hits all the right points from my perspective:
  1. There are risks as well as benefits. As with many startup activities, you only have one chance for a great first impression. You can jump into social media with a poor brand definition, poorly focused content, unrealistic expectations of customer service, or be killed by malware or viruses.

  2. Assess social media relevance to your product or service. If your business is industrial B2B products, social media should be low on your list. Spend your time and money on other platforms. If you are selling to consumers, especially younger ones, your business won’t survive without an effective social media presence.

  3. Attracting key stakeholders requires sensitivity. For some customers and many investors, a heavy focus on social networks and viral marketing may be a negative, rather than a positive. A balance of conventional and social communication and marketing is always advised.

  4. Pick the right platform for your business. Within each of the platform categories defined above, there is a right one and a wrong one for your audience. For example, LinkedIn is attuned to business professionals, Facebook is dominated by the social and upwardly mobile crowd, and Instagram leads as the top social media app for teens.

  5. Communication and writing skills are required. Heavy texting experience is not a qualification for communicating via social media. In additional to strong journalistic writing and storytelling, you need business acumen, strategic thinking and planning, and the ability to do the right research. These days, video production is also a useful skill.

  6. Make social media an integrated part of an overall strategy. An integrated marketing strategy starts with an overall brand management strategy, delivered through online and offline communications, promotions, and customer engagement vehicles. Your Twitter and YouTube messages better match your print advertising message.

  7. Find the right tools to analyze the ROI. Return-On-Investment metrics are not new, but the tools are different. Get familiar with current social media tools, such as Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, and HootSuite analytics. Over time, put together the data you need to measure your progress on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis.
The key social media platforms today include communications (Wordpress blogs, Twitter), collaboration (Evernote, StumbleUpon), and multimedia (YouTube, Flickr). In looking ahead, don’t forget the mobile platforms (iPhone, Android), and location-based services (Foursquare, Curbside).

As with any resource or tool, you need to optimize your social media costs against a targeted return.
That means first setting a strategy and plan for what you want to achieve, then executing the plan efficiently, and measuring results. It’s not free, but it’s an investment that you can’t afford not to make.

Marty Zwilling
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Friday, April 12, 2019

5 Startup Cost Realities Most Founders Underestimate

Image via Flickr by Phil Gyford 
Starting a new venture still costs real money, even though the entry price has come down dramatically in last few decades. For example, I come from a software background, and back in the early PC days, it could easily cost half a million dollars for a team of professionals to produce a commercial product. Now, with powerful high-level tools and open source software, winning smartphone apps can be built by a good hacker for a few thousand dollars.

Unfortunately, even today, building a good product doesn’t guarantee you a business. Most entrepreneurs realize and budget for the additional costs of incorporating a business, marketing, equipment costs, and manufacturing. Yet, in my experience as a small business advisor, they consistently tend to under-estimate or overlook a wealth of other costs that every business faces:
  1. Taxes and insurance payments. Even in your early days, before you break even and have to pay taxes on profits, various governmental organizations will be after you for payroll taxes, sales taxes, unemployment, and a host of fees, licenses, and permits.

    Then there is the need for liability insurance, workmen’s compensation, as well as life and health insurance for your key team members. These always seem to come when you are in your tightest cash-flow squeeze, if you haven’t budgeted adequately ahead of time.

  2. Ramp-up facilities and utilities required. It’s amazing how fast your startup will outgrow your garage or home office. You find that you need to be near major customers, or employee transportation hubs, where rents are higher than you ever anticipated.

    Depending on the size and location of your business, you could easily also end up paying thousands of dollars a month in internet costs and other utility expenses, including electricity, phone service, water, janitorial services and beak-room supplies. Your frugal role model of bringing your own lunch won’t be convincing to most employees.

  3. Staffing and people-management costs. Every smart entrepreneur I know thinks he can do everything personally, perhaps with a few interns or family members to help. As you scale up the business, you realize how many people you really need, including full-timers, managers, and hourly workers.

    Salary costs go up rapidly, as people require training, bonuses, expense reimbursals, and an office with a requisite support team and supplies. Just the process of hiring and interviewing takes critical time, recruiting fees, and expenses you never remembered.

  4. Subscription software and computer hardware. You find out that all your free software tools have paid professional versions that are required to manage a business that is rapidly growing, and all your employees need a copy, as well as a computer to run them on. Then you need an expensive server and network for sharing and remote access.

    These days, computer hardware also extends to smartphone subscriptions, iPads, and laptops as your employees and customers expect mobile operation. Then there is the need for more substantial business accounting, database, and social media monitoring.

  5. Unanticipated pivots, quality write-offs, and shrinkage. Every startup I know, in this changing world, has incurred delays and strategy pivots before they zero-in on the best customer solution and business model. New manufacturers and new technology are hard to get right the first time, so you will have unusable inventory and emergency repairs.
These are just a few of the expenses that will sneak up on you as an entrepreneur. No matter how well you plan your financials, there’s no way for you to account for all the unknowns. Obviously, the more detailed your business plan, the better. It helps to also have your plan reviewed and critiqued by an experienced advisor in the same industry.

Also to prepare for unanticipated business realities, I recommend that you buffer your budget calculations and funding expectations by 25 to 50 percent. This will give you some recovery room for unpredictable expenses and general emergencies. Remember the old saying that it takes money to make money. Don’t get caught short.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 03/28/2019 ***
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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

7 Whirlwind New Venture Partner Marriages To Avoid

Image via Pixabay 
Most entrepreneurs who start a company alone soon come to the conclusion that two heads are better than one – someone to share the workload, the hard decisions, and the costs. In a moment of crisis, you may be tempted to take on the first person expressing interest as a co-founder. This would be a mistake, and could easily cost you your startup.

If you think about it, you should realize that not everyone is ‘ideal partner material.’ Most of us learn that fact from other partner relationships, like dating and marriage. First you have to be clear on who you are, and who you can co-exist with, what complementary skills and resources you need, and what decisions in the business you are willing to relegate.

Second, in your search for partners, you need to be aware of the many considerations that can make the difference between success and failure in the business, as well as your satisfaction with the relationship. Bringing money and connections is great, but other less tangible things can rip the business apart. If you catch yourself thinking any of these thoughts, it’s time to re-think:
  1. “We both have the same vision.” There is usually only room for one in a vision. Even if the endpoint is the same, there are many different roads to get there, and it’s hard for a startup to be on two roads at once. It works much better when one partner is the visionary, and the other is the pragmatic “get it done today” kind of person.

  2. “All decisions will be made jointly.” Two people making a decision need a tiebreaker, and three or more take too long. There is certainly no problem with each partner making decisions in his area of expertise and responsibility, but one has to be in charge. VCs routinely ask “Who is the final arbiter?” and the answer better not be ambiguous.

  3. “We are so alike, we finish each other’s sentences.” You really need a partner who is complementary, and can tackle the operational roles, like marketing, finance, and sales. A partner who is a carbon copy of you will likely mean two people working on every problem, rather than a natural separation of duties. Most startups can’t afford that.

  4. “Our work styles are different, but our goals are the same.” Some people are early risers and expect to tackle the tough problems early in the day. Others don’t get rolling until noon, and save the hard discussions for after dinner. No problem when things are going well, but in the hard times, emotions go up and communication goes down.

  5. “We have different values and ethics, but share a passion for this business.” Partners who don’t share a common regard for regulations and boundaries are doomed to high levels of stress and frustration. Some people like to live just over the limit, while others have a high sense of integrity and morality. It usually doesn’t work.

  6. “I’ll put in the money, if you put in the sweat equity.” I’m not suggesting that co-founders should be equal contributors on both sides, but the parameters for “equality” better be well understood and well documented. Things happen, memories change, and soon both sides feel under-appreciated and over-utilized.

  7. “Let’s keep it in the family.” On the surface, this seems like a great strategy, with a “share the pain, share the gain” outlook, or just cheap labor. In reality, the pressures of a relationship break up more startups, or vice versa, than running out of money. Investors routinely decline to fund co-founders who are siblings, or in a romantic relationship.
We all know of some relationships that seemed mismatched, but worked out well, so the real test is the test of time. Just as you should take some time to explore if your love interest would make good marriage material, I encourage you to take some time to explore if your fellow entrepreneur would make good 'partner' material. Avoid ‘whirlwind’ business partnerships.

In all cases, once you have decided that it’s time to seal the deal, be sure to establish in writing your working agreement, as well as ownership shares. Only then is it time to celebrate and look for angels on your way to heaven.

Marty Zwilling
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Monday, April 8, 2019

6 Tips to Boost Workforce Engagement and Motivation

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The challenge for all of us in business is to improve competitiveness by improving employee productivity and reducing costs. According to Gartner, one of the biggest drags on productivity is employee engagement, still hovering around 30 percent, and costing our businesses over $450 billion per year. I believe the only way to improve engagement is to make work more satisfying.

Unfortunately, work and satisfaction have become an oxymoron in many businesses. Yet based on my own years of experience in both large and small businesses, I’m convinced that it’s not that hard to create a workplace culture where people actually like to work, and I’m not talking about perks and privileges, such as foosball tables and gourmet meals, which alone only reduce pain.

I found many more helpful suggestions in a new book, “The Culture Question,” by Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, Wendy Loewen, and Michael Labun, who have spent years providing leadership and professional development training to companies around the world. Among many other recommendations, they offer some practical tips on how any organization can make their work culture more meaningful and satisfying:
  1. Match people to work that stimulates and challenges them. In fact, I have found that people are more likely to be engaged and thrive when their boundaries are pushed slightly beyond what they think they can do. Sometimes this means working on less defined tasks, raising their level of autonomy, or requiring the development of new skills.

    For example, I’m a problem solver by nature, and have worked in several support organizations, but I get bored when all the answers are already known. I loved it when my boss gave me the additional responsibility of mentoring others in solving tough problems.

  2. Focus on role enrichment, not more work. Attempting to make a job more challenging, as well as to improve productivity, managers may sometimes ask for higher outputs, such as 15 customer support calls per hour rather than 10. For an employee who enjoys direct people interaction, adding floor time with customers would better serve everyone.

  3. Ask for help in eliminating useless tasks. Each of us can remember a time when we prepared a report that no one read, or filed physical documents never used, and no one seemed to care. Regularly asking for insight, and then following up, to fix these wasted efforts, will improve job satisfaction, as well as productivity. No one likes useless work.

  4. Assign complete units of work, rather than tasks. People find it satisfying to finish things, and experience the end product. If you ask someone to prepare a pitch or report to management, you will get big dividends by assuring that they will at least be in the room to hear feedback or take credit for the effort, even if they can’t pitch personally.

    Where tasks are necessarily part of a much larger final product, it’s still important that employees are able to experience the product in some way. For example, you can share stories of customer satisfaction, and acknowledge people’s contributions to their peers.

  5. Proactively provide support and training. Desire and aptitude are not enough for employees to be engaged and productive at work. They need you looking ahead to anticipate what they will need, and providing it before the next crisis, before they must beg for help. Support means tools, training, budget, and the moral support to do the job.

    Of course, keeping up with the technology on tools is a never-ending task, and it costs money. But I think you will find the cost of innovative tools is more than offset by increases in employee engagement and satisfaction, as well as productivity.

  6. Promote professional growth and new roles. Most people like to learn new things, but may need your help and encouragement finding the right roles, and in taking the time to prepare for the next step. Make professional development a deliberate conversation and expectation within your business, and not a reaction to someone frustrated and leaving.

    These days, with easy access to online seminars and many industry conferences, there is no excuse for not attending one or two sessions a year on “futures,” both career and technology. Many companies also promote local mentoring and coaching opportunities.
All too often, building an energized and motivated workforce simply requires changing your traditional command and control structures to a culture that encourage employees to use their own judgment and exercise autonomy. Before you know it, you will have a workplace where people like to work, and a business that customers love to frequent.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 03/26/2019 ***
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Sunday, April 7, 2019

7 Lessons From A Long-Time Mentor On Value And Impact

Image via Flickr by World Economic Forum 
As a long-time mentor and advisor to new business owners, I can attest to both the need for mentoring, and the satisfaction that comes from watching an aspiring but tentative entrepreneur grow into someone capable of changing the world. Business is not rocket science, and one-on-one guidance face-to-face, with a real project, trumps the classroom and mistakes every time.

In addition, mentoring is one of the most productive roles I have found as a member of the 78 million Baby Boomers otherwise entering retirement age. I can’t think of a better way to empower experienced business professionals, whether they are executives, engineers, accountants, lawyers, or bankers. It’s a win-win situation for everyone in this new age of the entrepreneur.

I found additional guidance in the classic book, “Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America,” by Patty Alper, who has been mentoring for fifteen years. She provides a detailed guide on how to get started as a mentor, how to have the greatest impact, and enjoy the role at the same time. Here is a quick summary of the lessons she offers for all of us:
  1. It’s an opportunity for give-back and pay-forward. I have enjoyed some success in business, but I would hate to think that everyone has to make all the mistakes I did to get there. Every professional I know has plenty to contribute, and enjoys the give-back as much as the learning. Those who learned from others first really enjoy paying it forward.

  2. Everyone finds meaning in new win-win relationships. The new generations in business, and even the old ones, believe that relationships get things done, more than skills learned in school. Building relationships, and finding ways for a win-win, is what mentoring is about. Good business relationships make better teams and customers.

  3. Face-to-face mentoring generates more inspiration. Entrepreneurship and business leadership requires passion, confidence, and creativity. Working directly with a mentor provides a depth of communication, through body language as well as personal focus, that is much more likely to provide the required inspiration compared to classrooms.

  4. Real-life projects incent high learning and retention. Business is not predictable, and there are no answers in the back of the book for most situations. Real projects and actual ventures are the best way to incent thinking outside the box, teach that mistakes are just learning vehicles, and focus on problem solving and innovation as the keys to success.

  5. Mentoring pitches turns students into communicators. Mentoring is really a lesson in two-way communication, required for every business transaction. Aspiring entrepreneurs learn to talk in front of others, sell their ideas, and be judged. They learn resilience and confidence, as well as how to show respect for investors and customers.

  6. Smart companies use mentoring to find future talent. Today, leading companies including Starbucks, Zappos, and Ernst & Young, are finding that mentoring is a great corporate social responsibility focus, as well as a way to find and train future talent. It’s another example of win-win, for the business as well as the mentees.

  7. Mentors learn about culture changes and new generations. When I am mentoring, I’m always surprised at how much I learn about how people think today, and what I can do to work effectively with them as team members and customers. One of the challenges we all have is cross-generational understanding. It’s hard to learn that in school.
In my view, this type of mentoring is a missing link in our education system today between schools and businesses. It’s bringing back a bit of the paradigm of the master tradesman in the European guild system mentoring journeymen before they stepped out on their own. Today we need it to improve engagement, confidence, and work satisfaction for all business professionals.

We need to close the Gallup poll gap between the 98 percent of academic officials who are confident they are preparing students for success, versus the 11 percent of C-level business executives who strongly believe that college graduates have the skills they are looking for. Entrepreneurs are our next generation of C-level executives. Let’s make sure they are ready.

Marty Zwilling
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Saturday, April 6, 2019

10 Wins From Driving Multiple Concurrent New Ventures

Image via Flickr by watsonsinelgin 
With the cost of entry at an all-time low, and the odds of success equally low, more and more entrepreneurs are starting multiple companies concurrently. This “parallel entrepreneur” idea has been around since at least the days of Thomas Edison, and for the new generation of entrepreneurs, who have been multi-tasking since birth, it’s probably not even a stretch.

Some entrepreneurs, like Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-Combinator, and Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, mask their focus on multiple startups by running an incubator or accelerator, and providing seed funding for a number of individual efforts. Other prolific entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson and Elon Musk, simply have several startups on the table at any given moment.

For entrepreneurs who really try to be the CEO of multiple early-stage startups concurrently, the hot new term for this practice is “multi-table” entrepreneurs. I suspect this term is derived from the common online gambling practice of playing multiple poker games at the same time. In fact, I think that’s a great analogy, since the odds in a poker game may be similar to those of a startup.

Yet there are clear advantages to the parallel approach, if you have the moxy, resources, energy bandwidth, and the ability to multi-task effectively:
  1. A portfolio approach versus all eggs in one basket. Investors have long argued the value of a portfolio to hedge and leverage the risk, so why shouldn’t entrepreneurs do the same? With the current low capital requirements for smartphone and Internet apps, and high market volatility, it makes sense to spread the risk around as much as possible.

  2. Optimize your advisers and investors. Advisors and mentors are busy people. In your weekly meetings, it’s as easy to cover multiple company issues as one. Investors building their portfolio love to hear about multiple startups in one sitting, to select the best fit. Investors look at the people first anyway, so a strong team is good common ground.

  3. Many entrepreneurs love investing in other startups. Most Angel investors I know have previously founded and run at least one startup. Both these roles require unique skills, but both can benefit from operating in the other mode. Multi-table investors are the norm, and the investment process is good training for multi-table entrepreneurs.

  4. Learn to manage resources like multi-divisional corporations. Allocating resources, financial and operational, between divisions has long been a strategy for conglomerates, and can work just as well for savvy entrepreneurs. Revenue from one startup can be “invested” in another, and assets like buildings and computers can be shared.

  5. Attract and share specialized talent and skills. It’s very hard to attract talented people to a single product startup, but much easier if the entrepreneur has a bigger vision, with several entities producing complementary products. Expensive “lean startup” specialists can see a career potential, work full-time, and drive multiple successes.

  6. Cross-fertilization from current market feedback. One thing that you learn in one company, at a given moment in time, is equally valuable or leveragable in a different way at your other companies. As your customer list grows in one, you own it for the second. The cost of finding new markets can now be split among multiple entities.

  7. Foster and enforce the art of delegation. For long-term success, every entrepreneur needs to know when to step in, and when to delegate. That’s a skill that may not get enough attention until too late by a single startup entrepreneur. With parallel startups, delegation is a requirement for entry, and a valuable skill for all environments.

  8. Multiply the pay-back. Many parallel entrepreneurs have already achieved financial security through earlier efforts. Now they may see a way to multiply pay-back and spread the risk by active involvement with multiple startups. Of course, it’s like a double-down in gambling as well, which can quickly turn into a double loss.

  9. Products need not be tied to a given company. With open-source tools and public APIs, every product is no longer owned by a given company. The company entity is now primarily used to allocate ownership, accountability, and tax consideration, and need not be bound to a given product or operational structure.

  10. Burns off high energy and bandwidth. Now we are back to the fact that there are people who love to multi-task, and anything less is simply boring. This is especially true of Gen-Y entrepreneurs, with fire in the belly to change the world. Some see startups as a lottery where more tickets mean a higher probability of winning.
Of course, there are huge risks when you try to ride multiple horses at one time. At the very least, you may not do either well, or won’t be fully there when the going gets tough. Even single entrepreneurs who maintain a day job, for a steady paycheck, feel the pain of juggling multiple initiatives.

The hard part is getting the management part right. Every startup has to have someone minding the store, and a clear path to “the buck stops here.” No one can be a full-time CEO and work “in” the business of multiple companies. Plus there is the challenge of making sure the multiple roles do not conflict, legally or otherwise. Tread carefully there.

The most common way people move into the parallel entrepreneur environment, if they are so inclined, is to start another one, while still exiting the current one. The risk here is that winding down one takes much longer than you would expect, and starting something new consumes more energy than anyone predicts.

Overall, for the first-time entrepreneur, my sense is that trying to focus on more than one equally exciting idea is a recipe for failure. But with the cost of entry going down, and the multi-tasking bandwidth of each new generation going up, I suspect parallel entrepreneurs may soon be the norm rather than the exception. Are you ready to step up to this table?

Marty Zwilling
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Friday, April 5, 2019

How To Be A Leader When Machines Are Smarter Than You

Image via Pixabay 
The majority of business professionals I meet these days accept that we are now deep in the digital age, where mountains of data are gathered on everything we do, online and offline. Yet most executives are struggling with how to harness this data with artificial intelligence and machine learning, and use it to hone their intuition and improve their business leadership.

In fact, I believe that to be a successful leader in this new era requires a different way of thinking and a different set of skills, to complement the gut instinct reliance of past leaders. Leaders today need to understand and utilize the algorithmic compute power of artificial intelligence that supports the hyper-personalization in everything from shopping to news delivery to dating today.

Some people call this the emergence and development of a new type of leader, called the algorithmic leader, who can steer the course through the world of big data, machine learning, and the constantly changing demands of new customers and social trends. I found some real insights on this direction in a new book, “The Algorithmic Leader,” by Mike Walsh.

Walsh is a global consultant and thought leader on designing companies for the 21st century, and he has listened and consulted with many leaders on how to thrive in this era of disruptive technological change. He offers a set of operating principles that I will subset here for aspiring future leaders who need to move from the past analog-era thinking to the new digital age:
  1. Work backward from the future. Only your human element can imagine what life might be like in ten years. Focus on experiences, not devices, as Steve Jobs did back in 2007 when he introduced the iPhone as a new experience, not a phone, then used technology to make it happen. He anticipated his future customers and what they might want.

  2. Aim for 10x gains, not 10 percent. Your job is thinking big enough about your future opportunities, and letting the data and machine learning do the incremental work. The challenge of being an algorithmic leader is to be brave enough to pursue opportunities that deliver results in multiples, not just margins, and continuous change to stay ahead.

  3. Leverage data and compute power for rapid growth. This requires computational thinking to formulate challenges and solutions in a form that can be effectively carried out by information processing systems, rather than leader intuition. If artificial intelligence can expedite gaming wins, think what it might do in healthcare and other complex arenas.

  4. Embrace uncertainty as the opportunity. In the analog era, uncertainty increased the risk and the cost of all change, and taking more time reduced the risk. Now you have the challenge of keeping ahead of competitors and trends, with more data, a probabilistic mindset, and rapid machine learning to give you the edge, if you use all of these wisely.

  5. Foster a culture of algorithmic teams. Rather than controlling people through process, reinforce the principles of the new era, and provide the autonomous environment that people need to leverage data and machine learning. Look for ways to collect data on how to work, and design ways for all to continually check for results and new approaches.

  6. Automate work and elevate people jobs. Make automation not only an opportunity to elevate your teams, but also an invitation to profoundly reimagine what people do. What things can you and they do that simply couldn’t be done without the new smarter algorithms? Find the new jobs inside the old ones, and invest in the skills required.

  7. Humanize, don’t standardize, the customer experience. The most successful organizations in the algorithmic age will embrace the complexity of human behavior and translate it into individualized, immersive experiences. Include human judgment to avoid errors, bias, or inhuman choices. Human relationships are still top priority for customers.

  8. Connect teams to a purpose, not just profit. People at work need a sense of identity and purpose, as well as material things. Don’t let algorithms manage more and more of your interactions with your teams. You as a leader must still be the role model for changing the way you work, and finding a personal connection to a purpose for work.
Overall, every aspiring leader in this new world must remember that artificial intelligence and algorithms are just tools. There are no robot overlords coming for your job, unless you choose to create some. For now at least, humans remain in the driver seat, and your customers are all humans, so keep that as top-of-mind as you lead new approaches in your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 03/22/2019 ***
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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

7 Steps To A Winning Social Media Marketing Campaign

Image via Pixabay 
Most startups, and many big businesses, still don’t have a clue on how to use social media productively for marketing their business. They randomly churn for hours a day on a couple of their favorite social media platforms, with little thought given to goals, objectives, or metrics; and ultimately give up and fall back to traditional marketing approaches.

The first thing that entrepreneurs need to realize is that the process and framework for making social media marketing work are different from traditional marketing, and trial and error certainly doesn’t work. Ric Dragon, an expert in online marketing, in his classic book. “Social Marketology,” outlined the best set of steps I have seen so far for this current world:
  1. Focus on desired outcomes first. Valid social media objectives for a business should include one or more of the following: increased brand awareness, lead generation, service and support, or reputation management. Obviously, the platforms and how you use social media would be different for lead generation versus service and support.

  2. Incorporate brand personality and voice. Popular culture these days expects a more humanized brand voice, and constituents are listening carefully to the tone, vision, and expertise of that voice. Think about how you can project the voice you want, and make sure it is consistently used by all team members across all platforms used.

  3. Identify the smallest segments possible of your constituents. Due to the information overload felt by consumers today, marketing at the generic segment level no longer works. Social media is the only one which allows you to be hyper-granular and drill down to micro-segments, to dramatically improve engagement levels and conversion ratios.

  4. Identify the communities for these micro-segments. Traditionally, community implied a physical grouping, but today a community is characterized by what they value, more than proximity. More important than finding a community, is creating one, with your blog and other social media engagement. The best communities then become your advocate.

  5. Identify the influencers of these communities. Social media brings all the aspects of important influencers these days, including peer pressure, authority, credibility, and in some cases, celebrities. Because feedback from social media operates in real time, you don’t have to wait months for results. You spend the months influencing the influencers.

  6. Create an action plan with metrics. Good action plans include a listening plan, channel plan, SEO plan, and a content creation plan, with activities and metrics. Social media activities span the gamut from curation to gifting, building relationships and groups, blogging, service actions, to lead conversion. Pick the ones that fit your desired outcome.

  7. Iteratively execute and measure results. Measuring is all about return-on-investment (ROI). This can be customer acquisition cost, revenue growth, profit, or whatever other parameters are key to your success. Iterate and expect to pivot, based on results, because you can’t get it all right the first time. This is not trial and error.
In fact, marketing in the social media is fundamentally different from conventional marketing. The depth in which connections can be made with the “audience” or “customers” is far greater than it possibly can be with any other medium. The very nature of influence at this level mans that values and vision must be in tune.

Of course, with social media marketing, trial and error is not the only way to fail. You can fail by not being there at all (see the United Breaks Guitars story), or making a big mistake (see The Biggest Social-Media Fails of 2018).

More positively, social media also brings many more ways to succeed. See some recent examples in the The 10 Best Social Media Campaigns of 2018. It’s time for you to learn the best practices of using social media in your company, and putting them to work before your competition puts you out of work.

Marty Zwilling
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Monday, April 1, 2019

8 Career Advancement Principles Of Ownership Thinking

Image via Flickr by Lyncconf Games
Based on my own business experience of many years on both sides of the owner-employee role, I believe that one of the quickest ways to improve your employee career is to think like an owner. Conversely, the best owners are those who relate to the positions of their employees. I’m convinced that is why many great business leaders remember working their way up the ranks.

For example, Howard Schultz was not the founder of Starbucks, but started his career in one of their first 60 shops. After various roles in this one, he worked his way up the corporate ranks to run the organization of now almost 30,000 stores. Steve Jobs started his technical career creating circuit boards at Atari, before joining Steve Wozniak to build personal computers in his garage.

Both of these leaders, and countless others, practiced ownership thinking well before they were actually in an ownership position. Yet I find that most employees I know limit their scope of thinking to the specific role they are assigned, and rarely tune their thinking and results to the following key principles that every business owner can relate to:
  1. Connect every action to a business focus on customers. Many employees stay self-centered or focused on internal politics as they fight for change, new systems, or bigger budgets, rather than communicate how their interests are really aligned with helping customers and growing the business. Your career will only grow as the business grows.

  2. Don’t forget to work on the business as well as your role. If your job is processing transactions, you need to work on ways of enhancing transactions from a customer perspective and how to attract more business, rather than just counting transactions. Your boss will see more value in you, you will learn more, and have more fun.

  3. Be willing to invest in effort, before expecting results. Too many employees expect a raise or promotion before they accept new responsibility, rather than demonstrating their value, getting training and experience first. Every business owner understands the need for making an investment first, before realizing any return or instant gratification.

  4. Communicate the business justification for your efforts. Being busy or working long hours does not always mean a larger value to the business. Your help in quantifying the return to the business will solidify your career, make your requests for new assistance and new tools easier, and give you the insight to perhaps start your own business.

  5. Realize that your growth is related to business success. This starts with picking your roles carefully – to be in the right place at the right time. Get out of dead-end jobs, and don’t be afraid to move on to a new company if the current one is not healthy. I advise owners that they have to know when to give up a business, as well as when to buy one.

  6. Recognize career growth requires changing with the business. If you hate change or don’t see it as a new opportunity, you are not thinking like a business owner. Owners realize that customers and the market change rapidly these days, and innovative change is necessary to keep ahead of competition and survive. Accept and capitalize on change.

  7. Highlight your productivity and efficiency rather than workload. Quantify your results in terms of cost per transaction, higher customer satisfaction, lower prices, and profit per employee, rather than number of transactions or hours worked. Help your owner get beyond the misleading metrics of employee overtime and salary increases.

  8. Recommend ways to improve team engagement and culture. Owners know that their success requires that all team members be fully engaged and working together. They see top performers as employees who are the glue that makes this happen, by mentoring new employees, recommending improvements, and jumping in where help is needed.
Thinking like an owner in your current job is especially valuable if you are contemplating a future as an entrepreneur. But it works just as well if you are merely looking to advance in your own company, or simply want to improve your quality of life and satisfaction in an existing role.

Start today in overcoming any “we-versus-them” or “win-lose” mentality. Only you have the power to make your career a win-win opportunity.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 03/18/2019 ***
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