Monday, April 29, 2019

8 Ways Blogging Can Supercharge Your Business Website

Image via Pixabay 
Now that the number of websites on the Internet worldwide approaches two billion, how do you expect anyone to find yours? Equally important, if someone does find your site, your content must stand out above all similar sites, to keep visitors engaged, close a sale, and get customers to return. I have found that publishing a regular blog can give you an edge in making all this happen.

Most business owners already believe they have the best offering, but based on my experience as a new business advisor, I find that a great solution is necessary, but not sufficient, to build a great business. Marketing is a critical element these days, and it can take many forms.

One of these is blogging, to let people know about your brand, provide links to supportive articles, and generate back-links to your content from other sites. It’s never too early to start marketing to define your brand. Thus I recommend that every business publish a website and start a blog even before they have a product to sell, enabling the following benefits:
  1. Get Google to work for you in highlighting your site. Through SEO (search engine optimization) techniques on your site, and help from good Content Marketing platforms such as “Link-able,” customers will be drawn to your site to expedite the building of your brand. Also you should post to industry and other popular sites for more visibility.

  2. Market your ideas and expertise early for customer feedback. After a few blogs about your idea, you will know from reader feedback, positive and negative, whether you really have something to offer, before you spend big money on it. Every business person should count on at least a couple of course corrections before they get it right.

  3. Build relationships with potential business partners. Blogs are a great way to establish credibility and meet future strategic partners and key vendors. Your reach with a blog will make you visible to key relationship-building channels, including LinkedIn, industry forums, and worldwide business executives. Let them find and appreciate you.

  4. Attract supportive team members and employees. Every business benefits from having employees who understand and support your mission. If they like the messages you are delivering in your blog, their efforts will more likely be complementary, committed, and more productive for your business. You need people who really want to work for you.

  5. Your blog followers will be your best customers. Good marketing is all about building excitement, suspense, and value in the mind of potential customers. These days, customers want two-way relationships, and people who follow your writing will feel this bond. Use it to find customer requirements, new revenue streams, and build your brand.

  6. Hone your writing style for all communication. Writing improves with practice, and real reader comments, so blogging is a valuable learning process or every business communication you need to do. I still see many marketing pitches, and even contracts, which ramble on without hitting key points. A good blog is short and tightly written.

  7. Blogging is a good hub for all your social media outreach. You will learn to promote your blog through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites, and soon you will be able to assess which of these channels has the biggest return for you. It’s also a short step from blogging to podcasting, videos, Instagram, and others platforms.

  8. Establish your identity and control your reputation. The best way to build a positive reputation and identity is to do it yourself with positive blogging, before some random review strikes with a negative. When somebody finds you online, you want to make sure that they get an accurate and complete picture of who you are and what you’re all about.
All of this is possible on every small business budget, since all the major blogging platforms, including WordPress, Blogger (Google), and Tumbler are free. Obviously, blogging does require an investment of your time for the writing, but even that may be contracted out to someone you trust, or to one of the many blogging freelancers accessible via the web.

I do find that blogging is most effective as a “pull marketing” tool, meaning that people should be pulled to you via the value they receive from the blog, rather than pushed to your products. The resulting credibility and visibility will make you and your business stand out above your competitors, and open the way to exponential growth. That’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Marty Zwilling


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

7 Strategies For Brand Leadership Through Influencers

Jeff Bezos via Flickr by jdlasica 
These days, the influencers at the top of your business make your brand, rather than a brand making influencers of your leaders. Consider Jeff Bezos at the top of Amazon, or Howard Schultz at the top of Starbucks. They were influencers before they were a brand. You too can become an influencer through social media, videos and blogs, and people will follow you on what to buy, what causes to support, and who to vote for.

In this age of total visibility and instant communication via Twitter, Facebook, and smartphones, people assume that if they don’t know who you are, they can’t be influenced by you, and perhaps you don’t even exist. At the very least, big brands like IBM and McDonalds still take decades to achieve influence, whereas people have become influencers with only a few months of work.

The actions required to become an influencer today are all related to traditional leadership, but key elements need to be given a much higher priority in this age of the Internet and pervasive video. Based on my own experience in business over the years, and current coaching efforts, I recommend a focus on the following strategies and attributes:
  1. Make your customer the center of everything you do. I still see too many aspiring business leaders highlighting their technology, product features, and price, more than customer value and usability. They and their brand have a long road to becoming a key influencer in their arena. Customers need to believe that you have their interests at heart.

  2. Highlight your credibility by visibility and relationships. In the past, credibility came from a position title and the size of your business. Now customers judge you by your visibility to them at public forums, your writing, videos, and what other public figures say. Steve Jobs was always visible at industry forums, product pitches, and interviews.

  3. Take an active role in a higher cause or social reform. Leaders who are clearly committed to giving back, or improving the environment, become influencers because the rest of us feel the urge to reciprocate. Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, is recognized as an influencer in online retail, doubling sales annually, by giving away shoes to the needy.

  4. Demonstrate a willingness to take a stand and defend it. Influencers who started as bloggers demonstrated their view of parenting (“mommy bloggers”), cosmetics, or clothes, through constant interactions with interested potential customers, videos, and sometimes controversial perspectives. No business leader can be all things to all people.

  5. Appeal to people’s interest in exclusivity and uniqueness. Mark Zuckerberg became a major influencer of social networking by first allowing only students from Harvard on his platform, and highlighting the uniqueness of Facebook. Your influence level goes up when your offering is available for a limited time, or highly personalized to each customer.

  6. Be open, authentic, and willing to engage your followers. Influencers build trust by being transparent with their team and their customers on tough questions and issues. People want to connect with and learn from people like them – not from edicts, anonymous brand marketing material, and white papers that allow no interaction.

  7. Pick a niche and target audience to demonstrate commitment. Jeff Bezos revolutionized selling online, by proving his unique one-click customer-first focus and starting only with selling books to a specialized audience. After becoming a recognized influencer in that domain, he was able to quickly expand his business leadership.
Influencers are able to capitalize on the new less expensive form of marketing, called “pull” marketing, that draws customers to your solutions, rather than the more traditional “push” marketing, which tries to push customers to products based on features, value, and cost. “Word-of-mouth” is another form of influencer marketing, pulling in friends and new customers.

Staying invisible and counting on your innovations and traditional marketing to make your company a respected brand is a recipe for failure today. Certainly the steps I recommend here for becoming an influencer and leader involve risk, and take focused effort. If you haven’t done it yet, it’s time to change with the times and join the new wave of leaders and influencers out there.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 04/10/2019 ***


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 on 04/04/2019 ***


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 ***


Monday, April 8, 2019

6 Tips to Boost Workforce Engagement and Motivation

Image via Wikipedia 
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 on 03/26/2019 ***


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 on 03/22/2019 ***


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 on 03/18/2019 ***