Friday, February 28, 2020

7 Ways For Businesses To Work Less And Enjoy It More

work-less-and-enjoy-it-moreSuccessful businesses are all about getting results, not just working hard. As a new business advisor, I hear facts all the time about how hard an entrepreneur is working, but often have a hard time getting them to quantify results. You must never stop looking for ways to get more traction with fewer personal hours, and more productivity, efficiency, and momentum from the team.

In my view, it’s really unfortunate that most employees in business are still paid by the hour, regardless of their productivity. Thus you get what you pay for -- hours worked without any factoring of results and efficiency. Even you as the entrepreneur, who may not be getting paid at all, are tricked into thinking that if you had more hours, you could get better results.

Instead of counting and working more hours, I believe there are better ways to improve your productivity, as well as employee satisfaction, in growing your business:

  1. Create relevant result targets for all key employees. The first benefit of this approach is that it forces you to quantify your business objectives at every level, and employees know exactly what is expected of them, rather than just plodding through another day. Progress, or lack of it, will give you the feedback you need to focus on the right items.

    In business vernacular, targets are usually called metrics. A good metric has to be easily measurable, and directly correlated to results, rather than hours worked. For example, for a sales person, this metric number would likely measure new revenue or new customers.

  2. Provide incentives to focus everyone on real results. These incentives don’t have to be big cash bonuses. In fact, mounting evidence indicates that people respond just as well to non-cash recognition in front of peers, or special rewards. For you as the owner, the incentives are business growth, more customers, higher profits, all for less work.

    Incentives are a way to improve motivation and commitment, which are hard to measure directly. A more comprehensive study by Gallup showed that 70 percent of employees today lack these attributes. That’s a huge payback potential for the cost of any incentives.

  3. Prioritize all your time spent using the 80/20 rule. This rule, also known as the Pareto principle, proven in most businesses, suggests that 80 percent of real results come from 20 percent of the demands on your time. You will never be able to satisfy all the requests for your help, so it critical that you prioritize your efforts based on impact, not noise.

  4. Evaluate where technology and training can help. I still find entrepreneurs and employees who refuse to use computers and new techniques, because they don’t want to take the time to learn what’s available today. Make sure you are the model to follow, rather than the problem. It’s your responsibility to keep up with change in your industry.

    If your trusted accountant still keeps customer and financial records in a growing array of file folders, he is likely not doing himself or your business any favors, even if he puts in 100 hours a week. Your highest priority may be to help him make some changes.

  5. Balance your time between family and the business. You can’t be fully productive if you aren’t healthy, or you are under serious stress from the family. Practice that model at work to optimize employee productivity, by encouraging time off for vacations, family events, and entertainment. People unhappy at work are not helping your business thrive.

  6. Foster open communication between all team members. This has to start from the top, through you setting an open-door policy, frequent updates to the team, and making it clear that feedback and suggestions are appreciated, rather than penalized. Stress the importance of working as a team, and provide opportunities for team events and results.

  7. Highlight milestone successes often, rather than annually. Even small incremental successes, when publicly recognized, send the message that results are expected and appreciated, rather than work hours endured each week. Always strive to set achievable, yet challenging, milestones to make success more than an impossible dream.

The best and most successful entrepreneurs I know are the ones who talk first about the great results they are achieving, as well as the challenges they are overcoming. They are not hesitant to introduce me to their key employees and partners, and have them echo the same perspective.

Working hard should be something people can deduce from your results, not the other way around.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 02/13/2020 ***



Monday, February 24, 2020

6 Benefits of Outsourcing and Freelancing In Startups

PrintOne of the most stressful and unanticipated challenges that comes with starting a new business is hiring and managing employees. Many entrepreneurs I have mentored make big mistakes in this area, by hiring low-cost friends and family, with minimal skills or training, and expecting them to have the same work ethic, passion, and business knowledge as the founder.

A solution I often recommend, as least in early growth, is the use of outsourcing for critical tasks. While this approach appears to cost more on the surface, it often actually costs you less, when you consider the hidden costs of rework, poor customer satisfaction, employee management, and training required. As your business matures and stabilizes, regular employees make more sense.

I just finished a new book for entrepreneurs, “Secrets to a Successful Startup,” by Trevor Blake, which makes the same points, based on his own real-life experience with three successful startups. He outlines well the following benefits of outsourcing and freelancing, and I agree:

  1. Serving your business well is a competitive priority. With worldwide instant access to skills and alternatives via the Internet, I see a much more competitive and skilled remote workforce than ever before. Contract employees know they have to perform well or they will be quickly replaced. The terms are clear, and there is no entitlement to deal with.

    Of course, it still pays to consider the impact of cultural norms and languages, as well as time zones, particularly in areas that present your image to customers, such as customer service. Direct customer-facing non-technical roles should be the last ones outsourced.

  2. Outsourcing can give your startup a more mature image. Customers won’t know that vendors are not employees of your company. Outsource providers will adopt your company name when they interact with others, and their expertise can help you overcome the hesitation of some clients to do business with small and new businesses.

    For example, if I need help with product installation or customization, I don’t want to see someone who is clearly new to this role or inexperienced. Most freelancers are already experts and confident from previous assignments, and that image will help your business.

  3. You contract expertise rather than train employees. If you do your due diligence hiring job right, the contractors you outsource will already be trained in their jobs. with experience. Their career depends on keeping up their skills, and they must have the confidence to work unsupervised. Training takes time and energy you may not have yet.

    One of the first places that many entrepreneurs effectively use outsourcing, is in the initial hiring of key employees, and the execution of key Human Resources functions. HR is easily done on a contract basis, and may not be a full-time function for early businesses.

  4. Avoid employee-related expenses and management. By using contractors and vendors, you avoid all the expenses and regulations that come with employees, including career management, worker’s compensation, health insurance, and tax withholding. In addition, you can reduce to soft costs of mentoring, relationship building, and socializing.

    According to a recent MIT study, the true costs of employees are typically in the 1.25 to 1.4 times base salary range, not including space and equipment requirements. This goes a long way in covering any premium that you might pay for comparable freelancers.

  5. Freelancers are ready to go to work immediately. Outsourcing vendors hire, train, and manage their own employees, using their own human resources, performance, and appraisal systems. They need no office setup, since they have their own. By outsourcing to experienced staff, you can focus your time and energy on your business growth.

  6. You can easily adjust services to control cash-flow. Services vendors typically offer a menu of services, so you can select what you want when you need it. Outsourcing gives you the flexibility to add on or cut back services and volume according to demand, and meet your cash-flow management requirements. Startups all need that flexibility.

    Every new business finds it impossible to project growth and service needs, since they have no experience or history to guide them. In addition, they often find the need to pivot as they learn more out their customer needs and solution match to the market.

I recognize that there are potential negatives associated with outsourcing and freelancing, including threats to security and confidentiality, continuity issues, communication challenges, and impact on existing employee morale. Yet, in my experience, the pros far outweigh the cons in modern startups, so don’t let managing employees be the nemesis of your great new business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 02/07/2020 ***



Friday, February 21, 2020

6 Ways To Make You An Entrepreneur Before The Product

personal-brandMany of the entrepreneurs I advise or invest with spend considerable time on the Internet, keeping up with technology, customers, and competitors, but very few feel the need for an early personal presence. In fact, some totally avoid it, assuming their product or solution will speak for itself later. They don’t realize that you need to build positives early, to offset any negatives later.

The reality online these days is that even the best solutions attract doubters and unhappy competitors, so don’t wait for that first negative message to make you surface online. Be proactive in defining your personal and business identity early with positive content, well before your product debuts, highlighting your current vision, accomplishments, and personal image:

  1. Establish a personal brand online as an influencer and leader. Contributing to industry blogs, or starting your own, is an ideal way to express your positive values, and build a reputation that can save you later if your product stumbles, or you receive some negative challenges. A positive personal brand will give your product instant credibility.

    You should also use these forums to test and hone your solution idea for general acceptance, before your risk your own money and investor funds to build a shippable version. It’s easier, cheaper, and quicker to pivot at this stage rather than later.

  2. Anticipate and establish supporting social media accounts. It’s amazing how quickly competitors and “me too” products can encroach on your space, after your product debuts, with account names you should have reserved. You may not see the need for a YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter account now, until someone takes the name you want.

    Identify misdirection can be as devastating to a business as identify theft. Customers expect consistency of your brand name across all channels, so don’t pick a web site name if the comparable name is available or already taken on relevant social media.

  3. Consistently review and respond to relevant online feedback. There are dozens of tools available to help you monitor relevant activity, including Social Mention and Google Alerts. All significant feedback, both positive and negative, should be acknowledged or answered in a timely and non-defensive fashion to show that you are listening and care.

    Don’t make the mistake of ignoring negative comments or reviews, hoping they will go away, or someone else will come to your defense. Remember the classic “United Breaks Guitars” experience, which reportedly United cost over a billion dollars in lost business.

  4. Invest your time in networking online, as well as offline. Your reputation and impact these days are highly influenced by who you know and interact with online, as well as your recognized expertise. You need to be an active member of LinkedIn, Meetup, or equivalent sites where influencers exchange ideas and discuss current business issues.

    These online interactions must be complemented by comparable offline activities, such as participation in industry conferences, mentoring, and publishing print articles to solidify and expand your reputation. Every future entrepreneur should start by networking.

  5. Make your lifestyle a model of the online reputation you want. In today’s world, it is impossible to live one image, and project a different one online. The Internet, through pictures, sound, and text, sees everything, including the good, bad, and the ugly. In fact, sharing a positive portion of your personal story is a memorable way to get presence.

    If you listen carefully, I think you will find that most of the people you know who have a high respect for a famous entrepreneur, for example Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, will remember one or more their personal anecdotes, better than a technical contribution.

  6. Reach out to friends and supporters for positive mentions. If they credit you in their blog or industry articles, those backlinks will boost your SEO ranking, as well as your perceived reputation online. Most people now believe that we learn more from our mistakes than from successes, so even indications that you are not perfect can help you.

    I find that even friends and supporters online have short attention spans. If they don’t hear from you, or you don’t offer to do something for them occasionally, they will forget about you in assigning credit or soliciting mutual future support.

I recognize that preparation for and execution a product launch can be all consuming, causing you to back away from your normal networking and online communication activities. Yet I assure you that your personal impact, and future product success, can be severely impacted by this lack of focus. A positive online solution image and reputation requires constant personal nurturing.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 02/06/2020 ***



Wednesday, February 19, 2020

5 Priorities For New Business Leader Self-Development

business-leader-developmentIn my business of mentoring new entrepreneurs and advising small company owners, I recognize that most don’t start as experienced leaders, and most don’t realize that people leadership is a primary key to their future success. Building a business is not a one-person job, and leading by edict rarely works today. You need to pick the right people, and learn as you go to lead the team.

I just completed a new book, “The Self-Evolved Leader,” by Dave McKeown. While directed at larger enterprise leaders, it really hits all the key elements of learning and evolving as a leader that I recommend to entrepreneurs. It should convince you that no matter how much you know about technology, leading a team, as well as vendors and customers, is a whole new challenge.

I find that the hardest part of becoming the business leader you need to be, is learning and changing yourself, rather that trying to change the people around you. Here are the key internal characteristics that McKeown and I both see as critical to your growth from a technical expert who can develop a great solution, to the recognized business leader you need to be to prosper:

  1. Measure yourself on how much you have learned lately. True leaders are never satisfied with what they know about their leadership, as well as their products, and are always in pursuit of new learning. That means constantly seeking feedback, taking time for relevant seminars and guidance, and looking for positive changes in the organization.

    Another approach is to tackle one specific problem at a time. For example, if feedback tells you that you don’t communicate well, start measuring yourself on how many times you send out unsolicited notes on status, strategy, guidance, and praise for results.

  2. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate your vulnerability. Without vulnerability you can’t have an objective understanding of your leadership effectiveness. Until you admit your weaknesses, such as marketing or communication, you team won’t have the courage to take the initiative to show what can be done, and help you learn how to improve.

    In my own business career, this was a tough one for me. I felt that vulnerability itself was a sign of weakness, and the team needed strength. Over time, I learned that I could get more personal results, as well as satisfaction, by enlisting the natural strengths of others.

  3. Practice deep empathy for everyone on your team. With empathy comes compassion and an understanding of the impact your decisions as a leader have on your team. It’s the necessary foundation for helping everyone on the team develop into their best selves, and optimizing the output to be greater than the sum of the individual capabilities.

    If you’re naturally low on the empathy scale, make an extra effort to not just recognize team member feelings, and your impact on others. In private team member discussions and counseling, don’t be afraid to ask about feelings, and be willing to share your own.

  4. Foster a sense of connectedness between team members. Self-improving leaders recognize that what positively impacts one member impacts others, to improve actions, careers, and lives. All are interconnected, so optimal team performance is dependent on optimizing each individual role to their particular set of strengths, including yours.

    One of the best things you can do to establish that connection with your team members is to focus on building strong personal relationships with each, and foster relationships between them. As the leader, you must reach out to them, not the other way around.

  5. Understand what you can control and accept what you can’t. No leader can control all external circumstances around them, whether it’s politics, people, economics, or even the luck of the draw. Good leaders never complain about what they can’t control, and never demand results from team members which are outside their control.

    A key part of the acceptance process is learning to be the team model for coping with a crisis. If it involves elements outside your control, you must keep your emotions in check and make a more conscious decision about how to deal with the difficult situation.

The successful entrepreneurs I know all tell me that as they learned to be better leaders, they were able to spend less time on daily crises, and more time for the important things, like long-term direction and people development. Equally important, they were able to reduce their own stress level, improve business-family balance, and enjoy more satisfaction from their efforts.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 02/04/2020 ***



Friday, February 7, 2020

5 Ways To Sample The Joy Of An Entrepreneur Lifestyle

Namira_Salim_Richard_BransonEven though I’m a big proponent of becoming an entrepreneur, it is definitely not for everyone. Unfortunately the success and lavish lifestyle of some current well-known entrepreneurs, including Richard Branson and Elon Musk, lead many who are not so well prepared to jump in with both feet, only to be shocked and severely tested by the unexpected rigors and high risk.

Thus, as an initial step in my mentoring efforts to young or older aspiring entrepreneurs alike, I always recommend ways of dipping your toes in the water, before risking all your life savings, some important personal relationships, and your own well-being for a long time to come. Here are a few of my favorites sampling techniques that I have seen work out well over the years:

  1. Take a job for a while with an early-stage startup. There is no better way to feel the pressures and unknowns, as well as the excitement, of a startup than to work in one as an employee, and realize that the highs and lows are even greater for the founder. You will realize quickly that this environment either invigorates you or stresses you to the max.

    The alternative and more predictable corporate role may suddenly seem more satisfying and financially stable to you and your family. In my view, entrepreneur roles need to be planned carefully rather than made on the spur of the moment. In all cases, it pays to play to your strengths, and stick to business domains and skills you already know.

  2. Adopt the Silicon Valley entrepreneur family model. When I lived in Silicon Valley where “everyone” was an entrepreneur, I noticed that smart couples followed the strategy that both partners would never be in startups at the same time. One would keep a regular job, with medical benefits and normal work hours, while the other was deep in a startup.

    If both were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, they might actually switch roles every few years. They rationalize the chaos, long hours, and small paychecks from a startup in the short-term. Founders stock and stock options are worth nothing for the first few years. The upside is the long-term potential of changing the world and becoming a billionaire.

  3. Test your entrepreneur instincts through crowdfunding. You can invest small amounts in someone else’s “can’t-fail” crowdfunding campaign, or support a friend, without jeopardizing your financial future. Perhaps you will decide that the world still isn’t ready for your vision of the future. You may also calibrate your own level of commitment.

    By following the crowdfunding campaigns of others, you can learn much about what types of ideas and solutions are attractive to customers, and also understand some new ways to raise money in todays competitive world.

  4. Attend industry and investor meetings and conferences. You will be surprised by how much you can learn about new trends and new opportunities in your industry from expert talks and investment groups. Contrary to popular opinion, most new ideas don’t come from flashes of genius, but from industry research and existing customer feedback.

    Networking with investors will tell you what they are looking for in ideas and pitches, and get you introduced to the right people before you are desperately looking for money. Ask them what ideas and entrepreneurs are on their radar today, and why. Then be one later.

  5. Make yourself an active part of the entrepreneur community. If you want to be an entrepreneur, it’s helpful to get to know as many as you can, and ask them for pointers on how to start and best practices. There are many entrepreneur support groups, such as EO, so look for one in your area, and make this is your world before you step off the cliff.

    In fact, this approach addresses one of the other common myths I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs – that most entrepreneurs are “self driven” introverts who don’t need to deal with what other people think. I find that building a business is more about the right people skills than solution development.

Above all else, make sure you understand the risk and the challenges ahead, as well as the positive lifestyle implications. It’s definitely fun to create something from nothing, and to have more control over your own destiny, but only if it works. As with any other career choice, it pays to educate and test yourself before committing totally. I want all my entrepreneurs to be winners.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 01/24/2020 ***



Wednesday, February 5, 2020

5 Startup Challenges That Derail Many Entrepreneurs

problem-aspirations-avoidingAs a mentor to entrepreneurs, I tend to see many of the same obstacles appearing in every new startup, and since I don’t want to appear to be a downer, I’m not sure how to properly warn people ahead of time to be on the alert for these challenges. In fact, since most entrepreneurs are eternal optimists anyway, they would never believe any negative scenarios could happen to them.

Yet, in the interest of full disclosure, and an honest intent to save future entrepreneurs some grief and money, I would remind you that starting any business has key dependencies on at least five major elements, including product design and delivery, the right people on the team, adequate funding, a sizable market opportunity, and marketing. Each of these can go astray as follows:

  1. Your product or service hits unexpected snags. Despite your best planning efforts, innovative solutions always take longer than expected to deliver, and functional or quality problems will appear at the worst possible moment to jeopardize success. See the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos for an example of product snags leading to a disaster.

    My message is to anticipate the unknown, buffer your plan schedules, and above all communicate frequently to key players using integrity. Too many entrepreneurs think that expert external advisors are suspect, or will slow them down. Don’t hide in your office.

  2. A principal player bows out or does not deliver. Even the strongest relationships are often tested and broken by the stresses of a new startup. That’s why investors will usually decline to fund startups made up of family members or fighting co-founders. Personally, I’ve seen many promising startups come apart prematurely due to relationship breaks.

    Of course, there are no guarantees, but I still see otherwise smart entrepreneurs taking shortcuts in their hiring, or jumping into business relationships based on emotion or low cost. When people problems arise, it’s critical that you make changes as required quickly.

  3. Funding is depleted before customer sales ramp up. One of the pitfalls of optimism is the expectation for early customer growth, and understating the real costs of design, development, and inventory. Some startups I see actually “fail by success,” with too many orders coming in from major retailers before vendor long payment cycles can catch up.

    The solution here is to never stop the fundraising cycle, moving quickly from friends and family, to angels, to venture capitalists. Don’t underestimate your own value as customers arrive, establishing a line of credit, and borrowing against inventory. Keep control by writing every check personally, and manage receivable and payables tightly.

  4. Your customers and competition make unexpected moves. The world today never stands still. Competitors see the value of your idea, and the good ones move fast. Key markets come and go as social and political winds drift. Amazingly enough, I often find that entrepreneurs, once started, are slow to adjust due to ego or inexperience.

    Every startup should assume the need to pivot at least once, if for no other reason, you probably missed the target audience to some degree on the first try.

    Examples abound of startups who had to pivot for success, including Twitter moving from podcasts to social commentating, and Yelp moving from email to online. Smarter entrepreneurs don’t wait for a crisis to drive change, by defining key milestones and metrics for tracking progress. Keep your plan updated, and don’t be caught off guard.

  5. Marketing and sales take more time and effort than anticipated. Every entrepreneur seems to start with the assumption that “if we build it, they will come.” It doesn’t work that way anymore, so don’t count on word-of-mouth to keep you ahead of the crowd. You need your best people and real resources dedicated to early marketing and branding.

    It pays big dividends to keep up with the latest strategies in your marketplace that have failed, as well as succeeded. Don’t wait for that worst case scenario where the customers aren’t buying, and hope to fix it by cutting prices. First impressions last a long time.

Again, I’m not trying to be a downer by suggesting that every entrepreneur will face all these problems, but I’m a strong believer that being fore-warned allows you to be fore-armed. It’s a lot more satisfying, and a lot more fun, to be able to flash the smile of success and understanding, than to spend most of your time is crisis mode, tackling problems you never anticipated.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 01/22/2020 ***