Monday, October 14, 2019

5 Strategies For Building Winning People Connections

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl SandbergIn the entrepreneur world, it’s still a popular misconception that the “idea” is everything. Even though investors, like myself, have long made it clear that we invest in people, not ideas, new venture owners insist on talking about their latest “million dollar idea,” rather than their “million dollar team.” The power is in the people, their business relationships, and their connections.

For example, I grew up in IBM when Bill Gates was helping us deliver the first IBM PC. We slowly realized that Microsoft’s value went far beyond his technical contributions, due to his connections with key software developers and relationships with hardware manufacturers who could make the PC revolution universal. In a very real sense, we funded him, and he superseded even IBM.

After years of consulting, I find that the same lessons apply to businesses of every size and stage. Yet many business owners and leaders don’t seem to understand the basic principles of building business relationships and connections, or don’t know where to start. For the benefit of all, I offer the following key steps:

  1. Keep a focus on people relationships as a top priority. Some executives consistently tell me they are “too busy” to find and nurture the relationships they need to move their business to the next level. Others let their ego convince them that they have all the answers, and no one can help. I believe collaboration is the lifeblood of every business.

    For example, most people think Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook all by himself. In fact, he had four development co-founders, built a relationship with Peter Thiel, a top VC who invested early, and enticed Sheryl Sandberg to fill the COO role he sorely needed.

  2. Use and reward curiosity as a basis for relationships. Nurture relationships and connections with people in your realm who exhibit curiosity and a passion for learning. These are win-win arrangements leading to continuous innovation, early access to new markets, and a higher return. Connections across business domains are even better.

    Bill Gates, for example, shared a common curiosity and mentoring relationship with Warren Buffet, although their business domains were quite different. Oprah Winfrey was clearly helped in her career by her relationship with the famous Barbara Walters.

  3. Build connections with key customers and competitors. With the pervasive internet, and global social networks, it’s easy to be visible and connect to your customers, and they expect it. Smart business leaders look forward to talking with their competitors, not to steal ideas, but to learn more about the industry and potential win-win opportunities.

    Even though Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were bitter rivals, they knew each other very well, and both realized the value of their software running across multiple platforms, and benefited from joint efforts to standardize on key protocols and interface elements.

  4. Contribute time and skills to a non-business higher purpose. Identify a “higher purpose” that embodies your passion, such as a social or environmental issue, that could benefit from your strengths. In that context, you will likely build relationships with other leaders who could be instrumental in adding long-term value to your business.

    Again, back to the case of Bill Gates, IBM CEO John Opel already had built a connection to his mother while they were both serving on the board of United Way, and this relationship facilitated the contract that propelled the Microsoft business into success.

  5. Expedite growth with strategic partnership connections. Very few businesses can grow organically fast enough to stay ahead of competition. Business leaders with wide relationships are able to more quickly find and close on alliances to fill gaps in their product line, increase distribution, and reduce costs through common components.

    Some leader has to initiate every alliance or partnership connection, and nurse it to fruition. Executives who are too busy or comfortable with inside company activities are likely to miss the potential of a Nike and Amazon relationship, or similar win-win deal.

Overall, my experience tells me that a good idea is necessary, but not sufficient, to foster a sustainable and long-term successful business. Only the right people, with the right focus on business relationships and connections can do that. The ability to build these relationships is not a birthright – it can be learned and honed with effort. Where is this effort on your priority list?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/27/2019 ***

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

7 Strategies To Prepare For Global Market Challenges

Global-market-challengesNew entrepreneurs who want to survive, and optimize the growth of their startups, need to think globally, and act locally, from day one. This approach, popularly known as “glocalization,” means you have to design and deliver global solutions that have total relevance to every local market in which you operate.

Recognizing this is as much about culture as about language, ensures an understanding of regional motivators, cultural taboos and local customs – so that your solutions are ideally designed and marketed to deliver value that has genuine local relevance.

What all this doesn’t mean is that you should roll out your product in every country at the same time. But it does mean that you think about the global implications at every step of the process:

  1. Pick your company and product names carefully. Don’t pick a name for your company or product that has a negative or totally different meaning in another language. Remember when the Chevy Nova required a rename, once Chevrolet realized that Nova meant "no go" in the Spanish market (not a great name for a car).
  1. Anticipate greater growth outside of North America. Not every international market matters, but some are larger than life. McKinsey estimates, for example, that the upper middle class in China will grow from 14 percent in 2012 to 54 percent by 2022. Just the middle class in India is equal in size to the entire population of the United States. And aging populations in Europe and Japan will join the retiring baby boomers in the U.S. with demands for new products and services. Be ready.
  1. Reinforce your brand in international markets. An international brand will command higher prices and additional customer demand. This is called brand goodwill, a hard-won value resulting from the trust that a strong name engenders among buyers and partners. As you begin to saturate the demand in domestic markets, let your brand take you international at low cost.
  1. Balance your business between geographies. When buyers in one region start to slow down, look for buyers in other geographies to take up the slack. Companies with diversified portfolios can focus their energy on other global markets that are doing well.
  1. Speak the customer’s language. People tell me that a multi-lingual website can double your local online business in many parts of the U.S. These days, customers begin their buying cycle online, where they can get answers to their frequently asked questions, product information, and transactions — all in a language they really understand.
  1. Find global sources now. This may not be politically correct these days, but smart startups are looking globally to source their products from the very beginning. Software can be developed “offshore” for a low cost, manufacturing volumes are quickly available from China, and European designs have increased opportunities in every country.
  1. Selectively protect your intellectual property worldwide. At present, no world patents or international patent process really exists, so you need to apply in every relevant country. Trying to get patent protection worldwide at the beginning is prohibitively expensive, so pick your geographies and timing carefully and strategically.

These days the world is a single market. It is both homogeneous and heterogeneous. The communication revolution and the advent of the Internet has brought about a new age of globalization. Easier access to international markets is creating limitless sales opportunities on a worldwide basis.

The result is that every startup company now needs to consider every aspect of management, sales and service on a global basis. However, to gain a true competitive edge, you still need to implement effective solutions first at the local level. Don’t try to do it all at once.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

3 Elements Of Business Planning Drive Future Success

Strategic_Planning_logoYour business can’t be all things to all people, and excel at anything. Every entrepreneur and every business needs a strategy to keep them focused. In fact, in this new world of pervasive interactivity, it’s time to rethink even how to develop a strategy. Strategy used to come from the inside looking out, but now it must come from a dialogue and engagement with constituents.

These challenges and the processes for a modern strategic approach are highlighted in the classic book by Gerben Van Den Berg and Paul Pietersma, “The 8 Steps To Strategic Success,” which focuses on unleashing the power of engagement with customers, suppliers, employees, partners, shareholders, competitors and government institutions, to set your strategic direction.

Van Den Berg and Pietersma point out that strategic planning no longer works as a static event that occurs once a year. Market change happens too frequently these days, and organizations need to quickly change course just to survive. The real challenge is to recognize when and why a new strategy is needed, and optimize the process against three critical success factors:

  1. A good understanding of the context of strategy definition. Without shared understanding of cause, necessity and ambition, a business trying to formulate its strategy will drift. And without knowing where you stand, there is no way to set a course.
  1. An adequate use of content in terms of quality, completeness, and depth. Thorough analysis with appropriate models and instruments is needed to really understand what is not possible for the organization and the environment in which it is active. Thorough analysis is the basis for finding the right strategy options.
  1. An effective and inspiring process. Who are involved at what time, what are the roles, how is participation organized? In other words: applying the correct methods of engagement. These help to increase the intrinsic level of understanding, stimulate creativity, and develop ideas. Three things are essential in engagement:
    • High quality level of participants’ contribution.
    • Willingness in analysis, vision, and numbers to think about the future.
    • Initiating and pacing the implementation process.

Every business strategy should still be based first on a long-term business vision and goal – referred to by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their textbook “Built to Last” as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). The BHAG always poses three questions in parallel:

  • What are you deeply passionate about? According to Collins and Porras, companies can only be really outstanding in areas where they are fully committed. The answer to this question should be formulated as ‘a customer’s problem the company is going to resolve like no other.’
  • What can you be the best in the world at? This questions going beyond one or two features or best-selling products. It is about identifying a core competence which others cannot match. It might be a patented technology, but it could also be the creativity of employees or logistic competencies of the company.
  • What drives the economic engine? This could be the utilization rate of a plant, the price premium of the brand, or the service offered or products sold. It is essential to keep this financial pillar in view.

From the answers to these questions, the strategic process needs to work its way through the futures you need to anticipate, business capabilities, and strategic options. From there, it’s time to make a decision, execute on the new strategy, and measure results. Based on results, it’s usually time for another iteration, and successful startups and enterprises never stop.

These days, you won’t last long as an entrepreneur with one “next big thing.” Success is more about your ability to “see around the corner” and sense the potential for market changes before they happen, and change your company rapidly to make them happen. How engaged is your strategic process with your constituents, and how fast can you adapt to their changes?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 11, 2019

10 Signals That You Can Be A Trusted Business Leader

Bill_Gates_MSC_2017Every entrepreneur and business leader believes that he or she has the full trust of their team and their customers, and in fact most do in the beginning. In my experience, most business professionals still believe in the old proverb, “trust but verify.” In this context, that means you trust your leaders initially, but you look for signals that your trust in them is deserved and reciprocated.

Unfortunately, many aspiring leaders I mentor are not aware of the signals people are looking for, or are not attuned to the subtleties of their own actions. I saw a good summary of the required principles for long-term trust in a new book, “The 10 Laws of Trust,” by Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue, professor at Stanford University, and thought leader in this area:

  1. Practice personal integrity in all that you do. Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent adherence to strong moral and ethical values. Your actions better always match your words, and your public and private behavior must be consistent. Without integrity, you lose trust quickly, and will likely not regain it.

  2. Demonstrate respect for every constituent. Trust grows out of respect for individuals manifested in simple, daily interactions, often reflective of listening without agenda. Respecting every individual is also the foundation for learning and changing to meet new challenges in the marketplace.

  3. Empower others to do their best. Mistrustful leaders and organizations are preoccupied with keeping people from doing their worst. Empowerment means granting trust to people in increments and expanding it with results. Granting trust is a strong signal that motivates returning the favor.

  4. Define metrics to measure what you want to achieve. Only when people know what’s expected can they put the right programs in place, rather than working on the wrong objective, and losing trust in you at the same time. For example, measuring marketing team members on sales leads may not get you the revenue growth or trust you expected.

  5. Create a clear and meaningful common vision. Trust grows as a shared dream brings all members of the team together in the pursuit of something beyond profits. I find that visions that includes a higher purpose, such as improving the environment, are particularly powerful in increasing trust with employees and customers alike.

  6. Communicate clearly and often on business issues. Leaders who share key aspects of the business openly, bad news as well as good news, to everyone, garner more trust. In my experience, too many owners try to hide key issues, in order to protect employees, and this often backfires into a loss of trust as employees find out from other sources.

  7. Do not suppress constructive conflict. Respectful conflict surfaces and refines new ideas. Always keep the problem separate from the person when in conflict (do not make them the problem). Making sure the best idea wins, not the most powerful person, promotes a sense of teamwork and leadership trust from deep within an organization.

  8. Show humility while acting as a mentor and coach. High-trust leaders see themselves as stewards, rather than owners, guiding people, assets, and decision making. Humility makes it possible for a leader to be seen as a real person, worthy of trust and respect.

  9. Strive for win-win negotiation outcomes. Most conversations have an element of built-in, if subtle, negotiation. A trusted leader knows that all negotiations with an individual are cumulative, not independent and soon forgotten events. Everyone needs to win sometimes, and will not trust a leader who pushes for a win-lose in every case.

  10. Recognize and address trust breaches immediately. Trust is a leader’s most valuable currency, but always at risk from misunderstandings. These must be fixed immediately, lest they harden into a permanent wariness. If the breach is willful or rooted in an ethical violation, the best approach is to terminate the relationship, to retain the trust of others.

Based on my years of mentoring, too many leaders remain blissfully ignorant of their team’s low levels of trust, and too many professionals see mistrust as the natural response to repeated betrayals. Thus it is incumbent on new entrepreneurs and leaders to start early practicing the principles outlined here, to build a trusting culture and a powerful competitive advantage.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/25/2019 ***

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

7 Strategies To Make You A Business Leader Role Model

Business-leader-role-modelWe are living in a new generation of business, where customers drive the experience, and highly engaged employees are required to keep up with customer expectations. Traditional business leadership practices, including autocratic, reactive, and narcissistic, aren’t good enough. Over 16 percent of workers are still actively disengaged, and half have left at least one job because they hated their boss.

We have all heard the examples of the great new company cultures, popularized by Google, Zappos, and Facebook, which seem to imply that company perks are the secret to success. Of course, these are great, but they don’t happen without enlightened leadership coming first. I believe that business cultures are a function of people and leadership, more than programs.

As a business advisor, I’m always looking for guidance on leadership practices that work, and I was impressed with the classic book, “The Leadership Mind Switch,” by D. A. Benton and Kylie Wright-Ford. Their experience as executive coaches and entrepreneurs gives real credibility to their assessment of some new leadership approaches that are required in business today.

In my view, every aspiring business leader and entrepreneur needs to understand their seven leadership initiatives, as summarized and paraphrased here:

  1. True blue: stay trustworthy beyond reproach. Trust is still at the top of the required list in a leader. New leaders need to remember that trust works two ways – you need to be trusted so people will choose to follow you, and you need to be able to trust people you work with. “True blue” is a step beyond trust, adding authenticity and transparency.
  1. Kindly confident: project and inspire confidence. Leaders today must always project confidence and help others develop confidence, courage, and curiosity. Everyone needs to take the necessary action, despite their fears, to continuously explore new ideas. Combining courage and curiosity creates a confident unstoppable leader and team.

  1. Enlightened: open your mind and constantly learn. Enlightenment refers to an interest in staying informed and approaching every interaction free of prejudice. An effective leader is intellectually curious, constantly learning, and genuinely in pursuit of wisdom about people, places, technologies, scientific advances, economies and cultures.
  1. Tenacious: be persistent in your pursuits. True leaders are tenacious, determined, and self-starting. They can take a tough situation and fix it. They might retrench, reiterate, reconvene, or pivot more often than others, but they keep at it, instead of stalling when something becomes difficult. They know that nothing significant happens with little effort.
  1. Be uber-communicative: use all channels to connect. Effective communication is critically important for a leader – for two purposes; to deliver the right message, and to establish a common understanding of the message by everyone. Assuring mindshare and connection is the new challenge is this world of distractions and multitasking.
  1. Be dynamic: enable change in yourself and others. Dynamic leadership refers to an energy or force that is spirited and magnetic. Leaders must continuously change and advance, with behaviors that require substance as well as style. More importantly, dynamic leaders always support individuals, and enable others to reach their goals.
  1. Be playful: have fun and try new things. Increasingly, as your work and personal lives blend into each other, it is important to bring levity into the workplace, while making it enjoyable for others to be around you. Learning to be more flexible in your thought processes and actions will get you one step closer to a full leadership mind switch.

Compared to what I most often see today, these approaches represent a “leadership mind switch” in the way entrepreneurs need to think about their behaviors to generate the level of employee engagement required to keep up with rapid market changes and customer demands.

Just as importantly, every leader deserves to feel success and satisfaction from their efforts, rather than continual stress and negative feedback from employees and customers alike. The bottom line is that by directing your actions toward helping others pursue their dreams and customer dreams, you will make amazing progress in achieving your own.

Marty Zwilling

*** See Turkish translation, thanks to Zoltan Solak ***

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Monday, October 7, 2019

How To Check Your Ethics Before A Business Decision

good-vs-bad-business-decisionMost business leaders I know clearly understand the difference between legal and illegal activities, but often are not so clear on the line between ethical and unethical. Unfortunately, there is no universal code of business ethics, written down and enforced by some external governing body. We all have to rely on our own interpretation of what will maintain a working level of trust between all constituents.

For example, most would agree that a lending manager must look for the same qualifications from a friend that he or she applies to other applicants. But what do you do when making the right ethical choice will almost certainly hurt that friend badly? The problem is that so many choices fall into a gray area, and you may not even see the ethical creep that is happening in your actions.

Many professionals I know in business have the sense that an adherence to ethics is spiraling downward in business, and most don’t believe they know how to make a difference. They don’t realize that if they don’t make the effort to be part of the solution, out of indifference or fear of jeopardizing their own careers, then they really become part of the problem.

In my view, most people agree on the fundamental principles of ethics – integrity, objectivity, competence, confidentiality, and professional behavior. They just need to follow a set of practical steps, including the following, to get beyond the emotion and the theoretical, to arrive at pragmatic yet ethical solutions to tough problems that we all encounter in business:

  1. Isolate the legal and moral issues that frame the issue. Ethical issues are usually driven by an attempt to accomplish a desired objective, without overtly violating some existing legal or moral code. You can’t be a change agent to improve business ethics without understanding the constraints, and the gray areas that surround them.

    For example, most would agree that bribery to win a contract is unethical, but how far can you go in nurturing a relationship with a key vendor? Defining legal and moral constraints is only the first step. Then you face cultural and historical norms, and your own integrity.

  2. Identify any hidden objectives driving a possible outcome. Often it helps to analyze a list of likely results, and reason backward to find who benefits and who loses. The best solution for a tough ethical challenge is one that could be surfaced on the front page of the newspaper the next day without being mis-interpreted by an unbiased customer.

    In the previous example, if a given vendor has a family connection to you, legal and moral constraints are not enough. If the information surfaces that you may have the intent of favoring family or friends, your analysis of qualifications must be beyond reproach.

  3. Re-examine facts that may be challenged or inaccurate. If everyone agrees that the key facts are clearly true, or non-debatable, then the first two steps will likely lead you to an ethical solution. Otherwise you need to examine how your decision might change if key facts are proved irrelevant or wrong. New alternatives may need to be evaluated.

  4. Put yourself in the position of other affected parties. When you think ethically, you are in sympathy and empathy with others. It helps to meet face-to-face with the ones that differ from you most. Your ethical eye gets sharper when you bring all relevant objects or people closer. In that context, you must treat others as you would have them treat you.

    Consider, from a personnel standpoint, how much harder it is to fire someone face-to-face. That's because your empathy is engaged by their presence, and it makes you examine more closely all the ethics, facts, and emotions that are part of your decision.

  5. Balance total benefits versus harm to select an action. In this final step, you first assess how each party is impacted, then what counts, as a benefit or harm in considering the possible actions. Good ethics are ultimately about maximizing the positives of the entire situation. This attracts loyalty and trust from customers and employees alike.

If you follow these steps, and iterate as required, I assure you that your own ethical eye will be sharpened, communicating these steps to others around you will improve their view, and will ultimately change the perception of your business in a positive way. The number of perceived ethical dilemmas will also be reduced. You definitely can make a difference if you start now.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/23/2019 ***

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

6 Lessons For Business Leaders From Military Training

Lessons-from-the-Navy-SealsYou have to be extra tough mentally to start a new business venture. While thinking about it, I realized that it’s really not that different from the toughness required and trained into America’s elite military force of Navy SEALs, who are known to be cool under fire, able to sense danger before it’s too late, and never give up on achieving their objective.

I learned some good lessons along these lines from the classic book “The Way of the SEAL,” by Mark Divine. He spent many years with the SEALs, but has since started and built six multimillion-dollar business ventures. He now teaches these key principles to business leaders, focusing on the following lessons and strategies, which I recommend for every entrepreneur:

  1. Lead from the front, so that others will want to work for you. To be an entrepreneur or a Navy SEAL, you must first have vision, focus, and the courage to step up to lead. That means visibly walking the talk and willing to clear a path for others. People want to follow leaders they can learn from, who demonstrate excellence and commitment in all they do.
  1. Focus on one thing until victory is achieved. SEALs call this front-sight focus, or the ability to envision your goal to the point that you see it, believe it, and make it happen. Every entrepreneur needs this kind of focus to build a minimum viable product, target the right customer segment, differentiate from competitors, and drive business growth.
  1. Think offense, all the time, to eradicate fear and indecisiveness. Indecision leads to doubt, then the two blend and become fear, which signals defense, resulting in being overrun in the business world, as well as the military world. Offense, for entrepreneurs, means leading with a new business model, new marketing, and new technology.
  1. Never be thrown off-guard by chaotic conditions. Smash the box and think outside the box. In the world of the entrepreneur and the SEAL, chaos is the norm, not the exception. Plan for it mentally and physically, and you will see opportunities rather than problems in the chaos. Winning is finding opportunities, rather than fighting problems.
  1. Access your intuition so you can make “hard right” decisions. Your intuition is really your knowledge and awareness of your business environment, which must be honed with practice and focus. This knowledge is required for you to turn quickly or pivot based on new input from the market, without loss of competitive position.
  1. Achieve twenty times more than you think you can. Set your targets high. Nobody knows what they are truly capable of, with the right discipline, drive, and determination (three Ds). SEALs challenge themselves to find their 20x factor, and entrepreneurs should accept no less of a challenge. Leverage the resources of mentors, investors, and peers.

By teaching and practicing the principles behind these six lessons, Mark Divine was able to improve the pass rate of Navy SEAL candidates from less than 30% to over 80%. I see the same potential for improving the success rate of new entrepreneurs from the current 10-year survival rate closer to 30%, to a new high target of 80% in this new era.

He suggests that you start with a self-assessment against the “five mountains” to be climbed on the path to self-mastery and success, with my adaptation for entrepreneurs:

  • Physical: business as well as technical skills required for the domain you want to enter.
  • Mental: ability to persevere, make decisions, focus, and visualize success.
  • Emotional: resilience, open to relationships, keep negative emotions under control.
  • Intuitional: level of awareness, listen more than speak, strong self-esteem, insightful.
  • Spiritual: strong values, at peace, willing to make sacrifices, see the big picture.

I agree with Divine that if you desire serious change in your life, you can’t get there by focusing on what you don’t want. Becoming an entrepreneur is a great lifestyle, but it is a serious change from other career alternatives. If you decide to be an entrepreneur because you don’t want a boss, on don’t like regular business hours, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Apply the lessons from the Navy SEALs and you too can be an elite warrior who leads and succeeds in the new global business paradigm. Are you up to the challenge?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

If These Quotes Could Be You, Don’t Try A New Startup

entrepreneur-with-a-headacheSome people are not cut out to be entrepreneurs. This is a good thing, or the business world would be chaos, with everyone trying to do their own thing. So what about you? How do you know if you should be running your own company, or concentrating on that queue of work that someone else has built for you?

I’ve hit this before, but I still hear from too many unhappy entrepreneurs. Now is the time to put aside your fantasies, and take a hard look at who you really are, before you commit to the entrepreneurial lifestyle. If you recognize yourself in many of these quotes, you WILL NOT be happy in that lifestyle:

  1. “I like my life structured with clear decisions.” Entrepreneurs do not function well in traditional organizations and do not like being in the conventional management hierarchy. Most believe they can do the job better than anyone else and will strive for maximum responsibility and accountability.
  1. “Handling problems causes me stress and pressure.” To an entrepreneur, stress is part of the job, and they are re-invigorated rather than discouraged by setbacks. They may actually be less comfortable when things are going well, and are not troubled by ambiguity and uncertainty because they are used to solving problems.
  1. “My job is fun when everyone knows and does their job.” The best entrepreneurs relish the challenge of an undefined role, and enjoy the learning process as much as success. It’s even better when they can inspire and energize others to do things that have never been done before.
  1. “I like to put my mistakes behind me and never think about them again.” Entrepreneurs accept things as they are and deal with them accordingly. They are quick to learn from their failures. They may or may not be idealistic, but they are seldom unrealistic. They want to know the status of a given situation at all times.
  1. “Balance and family are everything in my life.” Entrepreneurs devote the largest share of their time to the business. During tough business periods, they will give their entire focus to business operations, and may essentially stay on the job for days. Even at home or at social events, the business is always top of mind.
  1. “It didn’t get done today, but there’s always tomorrow.” Entrepreneurs have a great sense of urgency to develop their ideas now. Inactivity makes them impatient, tense, and uneasy. They have drive and high energy levels, they are achievement-oriented, and they are tireless in the pursuit of their goals.
  1. “That’s not my job.” Successful entrepreneurs love to tackle complex situations that span the spectrum from planning, making strategic decisions, and working on multiple operational crises simultaneously. They are futuristic and aware of important implications, and they will continuously review alternatives to achieve their business objectives.
  1. “I love to get awards for my efforts.” Entrepreneurs find satisfaction in the trappings of success from external sources, like the media and peer organizations. They like the business they have built to be praised, but they are often embarrassed by praise directed at them personally.
  1. “I get frustrated when things don’t work.” Entrepreneurs have a "never, never, never quit" attitude. They are self-confident when they know what they're doing and in control. Most are at their best in the face of adversity, since they thrive on their own self-confidence.
  1. “Risk and uncertainty cause me to lose too much sleep.” Some of the best entrepreneurs talk about the highs they get from taking a big risk, and the euphoria they feel when they beat the odds. They live for these feelings.

If you are an employee, and you recognize your boss in the quotes, you probably are not a happy employee. If you recognize your CEO or business founder in the quotes, then your business is probably failing. That’s how important it is for the right people to be in the right category.

In my experience, the most unhappy people are the ones who clearly fit in one category, but for various reasons believe they need to be in the other one (entitlement, more money, more prestige, family pressures). My message is do what you enjoy. Life is too short for the alternative.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 4, 2019

7 Characteristics Of People Who Drive Global Change

Tesla-in-spaceBy most definitions of the term, an entrepreneur is someone who starts a new business, incorporating innovative changes to existing products, services, business models, and creating new markets. Yet very few achieve that great aspiration of really driving economic, social, and environmental changes on a global scale.

What does it take to get to that level? One way of identifying the right characteristics and approaches is to take a hard look at entrepreneurs who have done it. Peter Andrews and Fiona Wood, in their classic book “Überpreneurs” have profiled 36 leading candidates for this category, to extract a set of common characteristics. Here are some recognizable entrepreneurial examples I like, just from the technology space:

  1. Driven by an epic ambition. Each of them has seen and seized opportunities for change, sensed the way forward, garnered the necessary resources, and pursued their dreams, regardless of the odds. All of them, in the late Steve Jobs’ words, “push the human race forward.” He agreed with Mark Twain on keeping away from people who like to belittle your ambitions.
  1. Opportunistic and visionary. They must be constantly on the lookout for new ideas and intuitively grasping their potential implications, seeing and seizing opportunities for change. Bill Gates telephoned Ed Roberts, the man behind the first microprocessor, to offer a BASIC software package that he and Paul Allen had not yet written because he knew that one day there would be “a computer on every desk and in every home.”
  1. Innovative yet pragmatic. Überpreneurs are willing and able to jump organizational, cultural, and geographic boundaries as they sense their way toward novel but practical solutions. Mark Zuckerberg envisioned Facebook as a virtual social network built on a lifetime of friendships, while offering advertisers a powerful and targeted marketing tool.
  1. Persuasive and empowering. Offering irresistible investment propositions and attracting talented and loyal followers is key, as they garner the resources to pursue their goals. Larry Page of Google piqued the interest of venture capitalist John Doerr with an outrageous revenue estimate of “$10 billion,” a target that was met in less than ten years.
  1. Focused and confident. All are indomitable spirits who assume total control and drive full steam ahead toward the realization of their dreams. Richard Branson once said “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.” “I have always lived my life by making lists … Each day I work through these lists, and that sequence of calls propels me forward.”
  1. Resilient and courageous. Taking bold but calculated risks is the norm, learning from their mistakes, and thriving on change and uncertainty as they upend your world, regardless of the odds. Jeff Bezos of Amazon once said that if you are going to do large-scale invention, you have to be willing to fail, think long-term, and be misunderstood for long periods of time.
  1. Consistently produce results. All of them have created massive new capital, be it financial or technological, social or spiritual. All of them have transformed the condition of mankind – for the better. Elon Musk is a South African born Canadian-American engineer, business magnate, investor, and inventor who founded and built PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, and is still going strong.

The real question is how do we produce more of these? I don’t see anything genetic here, as these have come from some very diverse backgrounds, with the normal mix of middle-class, upper, and lower economic environments.

My best suggestion, like the authors of Überpreneurs, is that we just teach aspiring entrepreneurs the facts, help them build their networks, supply them with some resources, and simply get out of their way. If you have a better suggestion, I’ll be happy to learn from it.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

How To Manage Online Reviews and Business Reputation

Online-reviews-and-reputationSince most small business owners are justifiably proud of the service they deliver, they don’t even anticipate a negative online review or threat to their reputation, until it happens. Unfortunately, trying to recover after the fact is tough. The best way to protect your reputation online is to solicit good reviews proactively, so an occasional negative one will be discounted as an exception.

Even worse, many entrepreneurs don’t even take the time to monitor what people are saying about them to others. Even more importantly, owners have no idea how to respond appropriately, or get the offending comments removed. If you find yourself and your business in one of these categories, it’s time to heed the steps I recommend to every business client today:

  1. Ask for a good review from every satisfied customer. Not only is this a good way to test your own perception, but it’s the best way to get a positive base built, before that one angry or unfair customer puts your entire business at risk. Customers these days expect to get asked, and often need that little extra push to put a testimonial on your website.

    For example, if your business is landscaping, it’s well worth your time as the owner to make one last call on every customer a week after completion, to check their satisfaction, clear up any oversights, ask for a testimonial, and probably get some follow-on work.

  2. Regularly review every customer comment, and reply. Of course, you can’t monitor the entire Internet yourself, but fortunately there are many tools and platforms out there to do it for you, such as Google Alerts and Hootsuite Insights. If you don’t have the time yourself, this process should be high on the priority list of your marketing team.

    If you never respond to comments, customers will quickly assume you don’t really care. Just thank them for their feedback, and try not to be defensive. If necessary, simply apologize for the problem, and provide specifics to assure it won’t happen again.

  3. Commit to turning a negative experience into a positive. Often a perceived negative can be turned into a positive, by offering a free return visit, or a free replacement. Don’t let the negative message get amplified by others, due to a lack of response, or declaring that the issue was not a problem. When fixed, don’t be afraid to ask for a positive review.

    On the Internet, you can find good examples of how to handle bad customer reviews, and examples of ones handled poorly. Don’t repeat the “United Breaks Guitars” experience on what not to do, which reportedly United cost over a billion dollars in lost business.

  4. Let negative reviews get lost among glowing comments. We all know that you can’t satisfy everyone, but make sure the numbers speak for themselves, in making negative reports be the exception, rather than the norm. This is why you must start early soliciting positive reviews, so that your first negative one won’t be the only thing found by others.

  5. Actively work to remove inappropriate and inaccurate data. It’s not entirely true that once something is on the Internet, it can never be removed. You can easily remove any inappropriate comments from your own sites, and you can cancel or delete your account on most social media sites. Some industry sites will remove comments at your request.

    For other sites, experts, such as ReputationDefender, have proprietary techniques to correct or completely remove offensive content. In addition, every business has the obligation to defend their reputation, as well as intellectual property, through legal action.

  6. Communicate often about your values and quality initiatives. Don’t be afraid to blow your own horn about all the things you are doing to make your customers’ experience a better one, and how important that image is to you. If possible, extend your message to what you are doing to improve the environment, social issues, or other higher purpose.

    Customers these days assign a higher reputation by default to companies that highlight their higher purpose, such as Zappos and Patagonia, who have benefited greatly from their support of social and environmental charities.

In summary, it’s important to remember that online reviews can make or break your business today, so you can’t afford to be too busy to monitor and manage this activity. Don’t count on the government, or Internet providers, to protect your online reputation – that is your responsibility. In the end, giving Google something positive to remember is always easier than asking it to forget.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/18/2019 ***

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