Friday, August 30, 2019

5 Ways Writing a Book Will Kick-Start Business Growth

writing-a-bookWhat every entrepreneur needs more than anything else, after they have built an innovative new product or service, is visibility, credibility, and trust by customers, potential employees, and future business partners. In my experience as a business advisor, one of the best ways to get all of these, is to publish a book on the technology, the journey, or some relevant lessons learned.

Your book need not be a best-seller, and it probably won’t make you any money directly, but it’s the best business card you could ever imagine. In addition, the discipline of producing it, like writing a business plan, will help you immensely in understanding the key elements that drive you and your business. Yet, most good business people I know agree, but don’t know where to start.

I had the same problem before my first book, but I find that all the information you need these days is easily found on the Internet, or in a good book on the subject, like the new one I just finished, “How to Self-Publish Your Book,” by Dr. Jan Yager. Whether you choose to self-publish (my favorite approach), or work with a publisher, all the guidance you need is in this book.

I often hear the excuse that writing a book takes precious time away from building and running your business, which you cannot afford. In fact, it does take time, but in my view brings far more value than many of the things you might otherwise be doing, including expensive advertising, extensive networking, or email blasts. Key value elements of a good book include the following:

  1. Publishing a book defines you as an influencer and authority. Everyone realizes that writing a book is not easy, and shows you have made a real commitment, can get things done, and are willing to take a position. Customers pay extra, and inherently gravitate to people they view as leaders, rather than others just pushing advertising and web content.

    I can tell you from my own experience as an advisor to new entrepreneurs, that my first book, “Do You Have What It Takes To Be An Entrepreneur,” did more for my credibility and leads as an advisor than all the marketing and networking I had done previously.

  2. The book itself raises your visibility through media coverage. Once you have a book, media coverage can come from book reviews and academic discussions, as well as from you and your customers. The book can also give you access to speaking engagements, television interviews, special events, lecture halls, and people’s minds.

    Even for self-published books, you get visibility through the Amazon website worldwide, Google searches for related topics, book reviews, and various online catalogs. If you use a publisher, they may add more visibility with press releases and book-signing events.

  3. Having a book gives you instant credibility with clients. People who hire consultants and coaches look for evidence of external credibility, such as reviews and referrals, to back up their own judgement of your marketing interactions with them. If you sell to other business organizations, a book is a huge asset in reducing their perceived selection risk.

    For high-potential clients, it’s well worth your investment in handing out a personally signed copy of your book, in lieu of the standard business card. It makes customers feel special, and gives you the opportunity to highlight your broad experience and credentials.

  4. Being an author will attract top-notch talent to your business. Potential team members and partners who excel are attracted to leaders and influencers. Successful businesses require the best people to deliver your vision and services one step better than the competition. They see you as a role model for their own career development.

    A good example of this impact is Tony Hsieh, who wrote his own book, as well as one about the culture he was building at Zappos. These books became one of his best recruiting tools, and still are a great lead generation source for his businesses.

  5. A book can provide the bridge to an enhanced career. Writing a book and debating it with key people may give you the confidence and desire to become a conference speaker, business school professor, or executive in another field. In that fashion, it also serves as an enhanced resume, highlighting your skills, expertise, and vision.

Another good reason for writing your book today, using self-publishing, is that it is consistent with the entrepreneur lifestyle. No more struggling with big publishers to meet their expectations and long production cycles – you can make your book innovative and get it done on your terms and timeline. That means you can integrate the work with your own business schedule and objectives.

In fact, a few smart entrepreneurs publish their book first to test the waters for their business idea to follow, and build an early following of potential customers. That’s just another innovative business model worth considering. What’s holding you back from starting today?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/15/2019 ***

Monday, August 26, 2019

6 Myths On Starting A New Business That Can Kill You

Business-misconceptionsStarting a new business is fraught with challenges, and none of us has the bandwidth to kill them all. As an advisor to business owners, and an occasional angel investor, my job is to separate the actual challenges from the common misconceptions that distract many promising entrepreneurs while building the leadership team required for your solution, marketing, and finance success.

I remember first seeing a good summary of these risk-reduction myths a while back in a classic book, “How to Start a Business & Ignite Your Life,” by Ernesto Sirolli, PhD. With his wealth of business experience and expertise as a top economic development consultant, he confirms my own view that the top five myths in starting a new business commonly include the following:

  1. You have to be able to do every job in your business. In reality, it is important to know the basics of all roles, but it’s counterproductive to try to be an expert or attempt to micro-manage every task. It is more important to find and nurture team members who have the right expertise, and have them respect and appreciate their work, as well as yours.

    For example, if you start a new business with a software product you developed, you really need to know the basics of marketing and finance, but you will probably never be the expert in marketing and finance you require. Partner with experts who share the risk.

  2. Business success is all about having a winning idea. In my experience, finding a good idea is the easy part. It’s the execution that’s hard. I have seen too many great ideas fail due to poor execution, and less impressive ideas succeed due to an innovative business plan, implemented and managed by the right team of entrepreneurs.

    Witness the number of seemingly simple or stupid ideas that have become million dollar businesses, thanks to some creative marketing or innovative financials. Of course, if you have a great idea AND a great execution, your company may well be the next unicorn.

  3. You have to pay big salaries to get top-notch help. In my experience, the people who will best drive your business are ones who share your long-term vision, and are willing to work for a share of the business or delayed compensation, rather than a high salary in the short term. Most business partners I know take little or no salary in the early years.

    In fact, finding the right partners requires building the right relationships, more than negotiating a contract. A good business partnership is more like a marriage, where success depends more on relationship synergy than any financial expectation.

  4. “Staying small” is a positive strategy for your business. In fact, staying small does not protect you from the risks of growth, and makes it harder to survive, due to fewer economies of scale, no help from investors, and an easier target for competitors. Unless your company is a hobby or side project, I recommend a strategy that assumes growth.

  5. Sharing your business ownership increases the risk. Very few entrepreneurs have the skills and bandwidth to adequately cover all the business bases of product, marketing, and finance. Thus finding a complementary partner or two will dramatically increase your chances of success. Trust is required, so build relationships slowly.

    Business founders who are paranoid of other people, or have an ego that demands total control, are doomed to a life of isolation and frustration. Their lack of trust and sharing will be noted by employees, vendors, and customers, and the business will suffer.

  6. More money would solve all your startup problems. Every investor I know will tell you that many startup businesses fail due to having too much money too early. They try to grow too fast, stop looking for innovative solutions, or try to buy their way into markets or partnerships. Money is necessary, but not sufficient to reduce the risks of a business.

In business, if you take no risks, don’t expect any rewards. Smart entrepreneurs do their homework to mitigate known risks, by talking to peers and advisors, and avoid approaches which are known to be problematic or counterproductive.

My advice to every new business owner is to never be reluctant or embarrassed to seek assistance, but do so with prudence and optimism. There are many of us who have gone there before you, and want to make your path easier than ours. With our help and your own commitment, this can be the best of times for both you and your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/09/2019 ***

Friday, August 23, 2019

8 Actions To Ignite Engagement For You And Your Team

Engaged-Team-Business-MeetingBased on my own experience as a business professional, employees who are not seriously engaged in the business should be totally obvious to everyone, including the manager or CEO. Yet many managers and executives seem to ignore the situation, or have no idea how to fix it. The result is that the performance of whole team is degraded, and the business suffers as well.

For example, in one assignment my desk was near another professional, and I could not help but overhear this person on the phone discussing personal business most of the time, despite the fact that he always complained of being overworked, and missed most of his project deadlines. I and many others reported him regularly, and we were all frustrated that nothing was ever done.

I might have been convinced that this was a rare exception to the norm, until I saw some Gallup survey reports showing that 68 percent of employees are not fully engaged at work. From my experience as a business professional, and later years as an executive, I’m convinced that all of us, especially management, have a role in fixing the problem, with actions including the following:

  1. Top management must be the role model for engagement. That means a visible and timely acknowledgment from the top to change “business as usual,” with specific actions to improve the culture and resolve known issues. Asking HR to fix the problem won’t work. Don’t be the manager who can’t be found, or is “too busy” to focus on engagement.

  2. Provide positive feedback and rewards to engaged employees. Take daily time to provide genuine and specific feedback on things done well, as well as items needing attention. Praise alone, especially in front of peers, is one of the most powerful engagement motivators. Monetary awards and bonuses are good, but not sufficient.

  3. Add a higher purpose to your vision and shared values. Today, every employee wants to feel a sense that they are bringing more than profit to a company – they want to feel a sense of positive contribution to the environment and society as well. For example, Whole Foods and Patagonia raise engagement by focusing on health and sustainability.

  4. Measure your investment in engagement as an asset. Too many companies think of employee development efforts and benefits as an expense that must be minimized. They don’t recognize that employees drive customer growth, improve productivity, and drive company success. They, like you, are the key assets of every thriving business.

  5. Share business realities and issues with employees. Keeping employees in the dark on business problems and customer issues is a sure way to lose their trust and their engagement in the business. You cannot ask workers to take on more responsibility, without demonstrating full transparency and treating them as a key part of the team.

  6. Hire and mentor people who show engagement in prior roles. People willing to engage are actually more valuable than those with deeper skills or prior experience. After the hire, the keys are mentoring and continuous training, as well as providing growth opportunities to retain the best. The result is a culture of engagement and performance.

  7. Promote a more collaborative leadership style. Of course, top leaders must retain the final say, but efforts to work collaboratively will encourage and reward engagement, and expose the ones who are not engaged. When employees feel they are not heard, or have no say in the business, they have no incentive to take risks or do their best work.

  8. Admit and demonstrate that you have learned from them. Active listening is the key message here. You can’t learn while you are talking, or not engaged yourself. Great leaders have found that mentoring works both ways, and taking the time connect to each employee, over lunch, or outside of work, will pay big dividends in their engagement.

Indeed, I find that many employees are also overwhelmed by the rate of change they see in business today, making them hesitant and fearful of fully engaging. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not to try to force them to change, but simply be there for them as they struggle to change themselves.

Engagement in business is largely about relationships, just as it is in your non-business life. How good is your relationship with your employees, and how hard are you working on making it better?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/08/2019 ***

Monday, August 19, 2019

5 Tips to Gain From People Who Don’t Think Like You

exchange-of-ideas-debateOne thing we all have to learn in business is how to work with and lead people that are not like you, and don’t think like you. In my experience as a business advisor, that’s probably the biggest hurdle to success encountered by every new business owner. Your biggest challenge may be members of your own family, some of your best customers, or a key business partner or investor.

For example, like me, you may be an aggressive, logical, and “get things done” type of person, who created a new product, but is easily frustrated by others around you who are committed, but tend to make decisions slowly, or rely more on emotions than the facts in any situation. For me, it was a session with Myers Briggs that finally opened my eyes on how to deal with different people.

Some notable business people never figured it out, and allowed differences to lead to business or personal setbacks that probably didn’t need to happen. Examples include the Theranos failure brought about by Elizabeth Holmes’ inability to work with her team, the early Apple setback due to differences between Steve Jobs and John Sculley, and the travails of Uber under Travis Kalanick.

The reality is that the business world is becoming more a global space, so all of us have to learn to understand and capitalize on people of different generations, cultures, points of view, and priorities. You have to manage your business with more people not like you, as well as a more diverse set of customers. Here are some key principles that I have found to make this work:

  1. Build more relationships with people who are not like you. If you limit your relationships in business to people who are just like you, your business potential is severely limited. Get to know your business associates as people, to understand their personality, strengths, and motivation, before you deal with them on business issues.

    Only by first understanding their differences can you fully appreciate that what others bring to the table, even if it is contrary to your view. Don’t let the current focus on emails, procedures, and message exchanges convince you that work is a mechanical process.

  2. Don’t assume others are intentionally being difficult. They are simply being who they are, and they are as frustrated with you as you are with them when things aren’t working. They are thinking and making decisions based on their unique personality, cultural background, and their previous experiences. Your challenge is to adapt to them.

    For example, I have found that some people are most effective after talking you through a situation, while you may prefer to jump to action quickly. By better understanding each member of your team, you will know when to listen and when it’s time to push for action.

  3. Never try to change people – capitalize on their strengths. It’s easier to adapt your own style than to try to force others to be like you. People can change themselves, if they respect you as a role model, and feel your courtesy and respect for their position and ability. Always be civil and diplomatic, and don’t allow emotions to cloud the situation.

    I often recommend to technical entrepreneurs (logical) that they team with a cofounder who has a business perspective (emotional customer appeal). One of these without the other is a recipe for disaster. At the same time, each can always learn from the other.

  4. Encourage business disagreements and healthy conflict. Real innovation can only come from people who think and see things differently. Disagreements should lead to constructive discussions, real learning, and better solutions. The challenge is to remain non-judgmental, non-defensive, and not feel the need to win every argument.

    The best way to stay in control, and get maximum benefit, is by asking open-ended and relevant questions. This will allow constituents to feel that you respect them and are debating their ideas rather than judging them because of their views.

  5. Don’t generalize the discussion – stick to the problem at hand. Often it’s tempting to bring up prior issues to make a point, but this approach is fraught with the danger of escalating emotions and potential misunderstandings. Successful work relationships require focus, cooperation, and listening, and often benefit from different approaches.

    Save the generalized discussions and feedback for scheduled mentoring and coaching sessions, rather than the daily impromptu strategy or problem solving meetings. Demonstrate to your constituents that you can do both, and understand the difference.

All my experience tells me that diversity in business is a plus. People with different values and different perspectives from your own lead to better decisions and innovation – ultimately growing your business success and your satisfaction. The sooner you learn to deal with it, the quicker you and your business will benefit. Look around you and check your use of diversity in your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/06/2019 ***

Monday, August 12, 2019

6 Keys To Convince Investors Of Your Competitive Edge

Entrepreneur-investor-pitchMost entrepreneurs are quick to assert to potential investors that their product or solution will kill the competition, but unfortunately your opinion alone is not enough to convince most experienced investors. They want quantifiable facts and figures on how your offering compares to recognized key players in your domain, and quotes from recognized third-party experts to back you up.

Of course, we all know there are no guarantees, and we like your passion and commitment to future results. We certainly want to hear about any positive feedback you have from potential customers on your idea, your prototype, and your business model, but that better not be the end of the story. We want to see a documented business plan that clearly addresses this challenge.

First of all, you need some convincing market research that your solution addresses a real and growing problem. A competitive advantage to a non-problem or tiny niche is not interesting to investors. They want to be convinced that you are attacking a large opportunity, preferably in the billion dollar range, that will continue to grow at least ten percent per year, without a solution.

Secondly, they want to see your competitive analysis of how you stack up to the top players in the space, by name, with quantitative comparisons and customer value. Skip the fuzzy marketing terms, like “easier to use” and “more functions.” Avoid the temptation to narrow the scope so far as to conclude that you have no competitors, since investors might conclude you have no market.

There are a myriad of other important ways that you can demonstrate your competitive advantages in your presentations, discussions, and business plan, including the following:

  1. Highlight your intellectual property. We all know the challenges involved in getting and protecting a patent, but patents are still strong evidence of a competitive advantage, generally sustainable for twenty years. Don’t forget other intellectual property, including trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights, domain names, and your expert publications.

  2. Capitalize on the experiences of you and your team. Competitive businesses have great teams, as well as great products. If you already have a proven team in a previously successful business, this puts you ahead of most startups, and investors will give you extra consideration. Past leadership success is definitely a competitive advantage.

  3. Promote any inside relationships or customer base. Many markets, including government and education, are especially difficult to penetrate, and connections to public leaders are very valuable. If you already own a known brand, or an existing customer base that is relevant, any market lock or carryover can be a large competitive advantage.

  4. Quantify any dramatic changes to the cost or value equation. Most investors agree that cost reductions need to exceed 20 percent to break loyalty ties and convince customers to change. Thus any order-of-magnitude cost reductions or customer value increases are very important. Reducing margins to lower prices won’t help your case.

  5. Present a clear differentiation and a laser market focus. If your product or strategy is targeted too broadly, or attempts to combine several existing products, it will likely confuse customers and not be competitive to any one segment. Your best competitive position is picking a clearly needy market niche and serving it better than anyone else.

  6. Outline a long-term strategy of maximum depth. While you must start with a narrow focus, make it clear that you are not a “one-trick pony.” Highlight your innovative technology, giving you a great initial product, and documenting a long list of follow-ons as the business scales. This is clear evidence of a long-term competitive advantage.

To survive for any length of time against competitors, you need a “sustainable competitive advantage.” This requires that you demonstrate a competitive lead today, as well as a plan and strategy to maintain that lead over time as the market evolves, and competitors with deep pockets try to replicate your advantage.

Thus, the ultimate competitive advantage is the agility and insight to stay one step ahead of your competitors and changing market needs. No one said it would be easy, but I’m confident you’ll find the payback well worth all your efforts.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 07/26/2019 ***

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

8 Keys To Enjoying Work, And Enhancing Your Career

Enjoying-workAs a business advisor, one of the most frustrating things I see is the number of employees who are unhappy at work. Business owners don’t like it, the new generations think promotions will solve it, and productivity levels continue to suffer. According to the polls, only 32 percent of workers are engaged, and the rest spend much of their time wishing they were somewhere else.

Based on my own career with small companies as well as large ones, I assure you that it’s a lot more satisfying for everyone, as well as productive, working in a happy business environment. According to other surveys, there are many leading companies, including Google, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines, where happy and engaged employees are the norm, not the exception.

In my view, too many people put the total problem and the solution on the company to keep employees happy, when in fact it takes an equal commitment from both sides. Yes, companies have to enable a culture of purpose, employee value, positive feedback, and the tools to do the work, but people have to take ownership of their own life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For me, ownership of the challenge meant developing and honing a set of personal habits that fostered a sense of learning, challenge, and accomplishment, rather than boredom, fear, and negativity. Here are some key recommendations that I espouse:

  1. Make a habit of initiating a real relationship with peers. It’s hard to stay positive and happy working with people you don’t really know. As an introvert, I initially found it to be difficult to approach new people, but I found it much easier in a work environment, where we had many common subjects. Getting to know the managers also helped engagement.

  2. Take satisfaction from a couple of simple wins every day. We’ve all hit some tough roadblocks, but don’t ignore the cases where you finished a task ahead of time, the right answer just popped into your head, or your idea made someone else’s day. Make it a habit to tally these up at the end of a day, and share your small successes with a friend.

  3. Add a positive productivity change that you learned this week. Most people are happiest when they are feeling smarter about their job. Make building new habits a recurring thing, rather than a process that ended when you graduated from school. The world we live in is constantly changing, so not learning means that you are falling behind.

  4. Focus on improving work habits that have the biggest payback. It’s easy to get discouraged about one bad habit that you know you have, such as not responding to all emails every day. Yet your creativity in solving customer concerns may have far more potential in boosting your career. Highlight your strengths, rather than fear weaknesses.

  5. Put time in your schedule for improving you. Get in the habit of scheduling some time for you every day – maybe just a few minutes at the beginning of the day before the first crisis hits. Your satisfaction and productivity will both go up for the rest of the day. Pick a relaxing and friendly environment, perhaps with a mentor or friend over a cup of coffee.

  6. Integrate new habits into a more healthy lifestyle. Positive new habits need to be associated with a healthy lifestyle, that includes the proper rest, exercise and recreation. Don’t believe the old myth of “no pain, no gain.” A more satisfying and happy work environment will propagate into better family, group, and personal relationships.

  7. Work on old problems incrementally, rather than big bang. If your operational mistakes are making you unhappy, ask for five-minute mentoring every day from one of your peers, rather than trying to carve out two weeks for an in-depth class. You will get the satisfaction of seeing multiple improvements, and make a good friend in the process.

  8. Use daily repetition to turn improvements into habits. Good habits are made permanent by regular reinforcement. Lead with your strengths, and stop worrying about all the things you could be. Your strengths will lead to successes that make you happier, and your peers will see you as a leader in these areas, giving you even more satisfaction.

In summary, more positive personal habits will raise your self-esteem, your confidence, your productivity, and your happiness. Best of all, these will improve your image and credibility in the eyes of your customers and your employer. That’s what I call a win-win opportunity.

Life is too short to go to work or come home every day unhappy. It’s really up to you, so stop waiting for everyone else and the business to change around you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/24/2019 ***

Friday, August 2, 2019

5 Stages In Leading Paradigm Shift Levels Of Change

segway-human-transporterA refrain I often hear from technology entrepreneurs to investors is that their product or solution is so innovative that it will cause a “paradigm shift” in the industry. Their assumption is that customers and investors will be wowed by this into buying, ignoring the evidence that large-scale change takes a long time, most often fails, and scares away customers and investors alike.

For example, I still remember when Dean Kamen launched the Segway Human Transporter in 2002, predicting a transportation paradigm shift, and geared up to sell 10,000 per week for the next five years. Due to qualms of customers and governments, he sold less than 30,000 of the devices over the next five years. Most other new vehicle designers have suffered a similar fate.

Clearly large-scale change efforts, whether driven by an entrepreneur or an enterprise, need strong leaders and a proven approach to beat the odds of failure. I found some excellent guidance in this regard in a new book, “Beyond Performance 2.0,” by Scott Keller and Bill Schaninger, based on their work and a decade of research at McKinsey & Company.

They outline five stages, which I espouse, to leading paradigm shift levels of change and increase your odds of success from the historical thirty percent to at least double that number. While the author’s focus is slanted toward enterprises, I believe I have seen and can characterize comparable steps for small businesses and entrepreneurs:

  1. Aspire: Set strategic objectives and business health goals. Create a compelling long-term change vision with milestones and deliverables. Roll back the future to immediate and mid-term aspirations, while guarding against emotion and biases in the process. Test your goals and objectives on real customers and outside experts to validate reality.

    Objectively audit your business health for weaknesses and strengths in resources, leadership, skills, and experience. Build an action plan for any ailing areas needing immediate improvement. Choose where you must be exceptional in service and focus.

  2. Assess: Forecast required skillsets and needed mindset shifts. Looking at your desired rollout and growth, and understanding resource supply dynamics and availability, identify how any gaps will be closed.

    Explore the underlying mindset drivers of the required team behaviors. Isolate and reframe the critical “root-cause” mindsets for any unhealthy ones. Pinpoint helping and hindering behaviors related to health priority areas, such as hiring and training.

  3. Architect: Build an actionable plan and acquire delivery resources. Define and document the portfolio of initiatives to deliver on your strategic objectives and fulfill your production and skill requirements. Review the plan with your advisors and investors, as well as outside experts. Detail and sequence actions, and schedule resources to deliver.

    At the same time, you need to build or reshape the work environment to influence needed shifts in mindsets and behaviors. Hardwire health interventions into performance initiatives by linking desired behavior to measurements, rewards, and consequences.

  4. Act: Execute the plan and establish leadership drive. Take leadership control and allocate responsibility and feedback loops. Scale up your portfolio of initiatives, monitor progress and dynamically pivot as your plans are implemented. Constantly validate your solution fit, schedule, and business model with feedback from key customer advocates.

    Mobilize influencers, make the change personal for a critical mass of leaders, and maintain high-impact two-way communications. Keep the motivation level high for all constituents through internal and external marketing, social media, and events.

  5. Advance: Institutionalize new learning and leadership creation. Formalize processes and expertise to enable knowledge sharing, continuous improvement, and new learning to characterize the day-to-day working of the organization going forward.

Prioritize roles by value-creation potential on the go-forward strategy, match the best talent to priority roles, and operationalize the talent match process to ensure that it is regularly revisited.

Notice that each of these steps has both a performance and a business health component. In my experience, the difference between success and failure is keeping current and future business health a top priority. Hard work is not enough – especially when paradigm shifts and large-scale change are involved.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/19/2019 ***