Monday, May 31, 2021

8 Keys To Developing Exciting Business Relationships

business-relationshipsAs an advisor to new businesses, I’m a strong believer that no one succeeds alone in business. Yet I find that many entrepreneurs struggle and fail with that transition from personally developing an innovative new idea, to building all the relationships necessary to transform their idea into a successful business. These relationships include investors, an operational team, and customers.

I found that challenge confirmed and amplified in an inspirational new book, “No One Succeeds Alone: Learn Everything You Can from Everyone You Can,” by Robert Reffkin, which chronicles his own ups and downs through many companies, to success at Compass, Inc. He credits his own rise to this strategy, and I certainly agree with his key guidelines on how to get there:

  1. Dream big – this inspires strong people to join you. You won’t learn much from a small dream or an idea that has minimal risk, and you won’t inspire the people you need to help you. Thinking small won’t stir their passion, create meaning, or spur creative thinking. Strong people love an “impossible” challenge with a large opportunity.

  2. Move fast – speed highlights energy and impact. Moving fast is about going from not knowing to knowing as quickly as possible, and everyone loves to maximize this learning. The world around you is moving faster and faster these days, and not moving fast likely means you are not keeping up with the people and customers you need to succeed.

  3. Learn from reality – test new ideas and get feedback. Learning from reality takes humility, courage, and really listening to others, but it allow you to change quickly for the better, and you will enjoy the journey, as well as the destination. Study what has come before, capture what works right now, and ask customers what they want in the future.

  4. Be solutions driven – to drive success and learning. Ideas and problems are the opportunity, but collaboration with the right people gives you the energy to achieve great results. This will give you the confidence to surface breakthrough ideas, proactively attack impossible challenges, and lead others to leverage what you both have learned.

  5. Obsess on opportunity to improve customer’s lives. The more you listen to other people about opportunities, the more you will see, and the quicker your business will be responding. If you want to do something more meaningful with your life, find a passion for a customer-driven higher purpose, such as a social need or improving the environment.

  6. Build relationships with respect and without ego. Check your ego at the door since outsized egos make trust and teamwork nearly impossible. Inspire everyone you interact with today to feel like they want to work with you again tomorrow, and learn more from you. Give credit and thanks freely knowing you will be repaid handsomely in other ways.

  7. Play to your strengths, and seek strengths in others. Don’t waste time trying to fix or hide all your imperfections. Spend the time capitalizing on the strengths of others on your team, and focusing on your own strengths, to maximize results and minimize time spent. Trying to be the best at everything that needs to be done isn’t fun and doesn’t work.

  8. Bounce back from every failure with passion. The truest test of character is not how you act when things are going great – it’s what you do and how effectively you use other people to recover when you hit bottom. Many people are willing and able to help you to stand even taller, if you show the resilience, learning, and grit to never stay down.

    Steve Jobs is a famous example of someone who bounced back from failure. After his early forced resignation from Apple, Jobs learned to rely on the help of many others, and came back to make Apple one of the most successful companies of the past decades.

The real message here is that no matter how good and how determined you are, you can only go so far alone. Your biggest challenge in business is to find those complementary and supportive relationships that can amplify your passion and strengths, and take you to the next level. Together, anything is possible. Start today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/17/2021 ***

Sunday, May 30, 2021

8 Challenges For Startups With A Neighborhood Focus

hyperlocal-startupsEven though the world is getting smaller, due to easy global connectivity, people still feel alone if not well-connected locally. There is also more going on in every location, so this personal need and super sensitivity to the local community has spawned a new breed of Internet startups, called “hyperlocal.” The term first appeared at least ten years ago, but the model is now very common.

At first this was limited to news sites that concentrated on a segment of a community, like West Seattle, but the concept is now being applied to advertising and promotion sites, blogging sites, and even legal services sites. These hyperlocal sites don’t have to compete with global sites, and always have unique content, community advertising, and local issues.

Foursquare is good example of a modern hyperlocal site, which describes itself as “50% friend-finder, 30% social city guide, 20% nightlife game.” It also shows how such a website can scale by adding new cities. When you enter one of these cities, you simply check-in to tell the service where you are, and you begin to earn points and unlock badges for discovering new things.

Much of this is still evolving, and I think it has great potential. Yet there are big challenges to hyperlocal, at least for consumer-focused hyperlocal startups, according to Sean Barkulis, Founder of UPlanMe, whose initial consumer-focused business model was an early casualty, writing in Street Fight:

  1. Every site requires real curated local content to engage users. Building content is costly and time-consuming. If you don’t engage your users with an abundance of content the moment they open the app, odds are they will never return.
  1. Local businesses won’t use a site until it has a critical mass of users. This is the old chicken-and-egg problem. Without users, business owners aren’t going to waste time promoting and marketing their content to your users. Getting these users costs money.
  1. The burden of proof is on you to show value. In order for local businesses to buy in, they need to a) reach a large percentage of their customer demographic, b) save them time on their existing marketing efforts, and c) not duplicate any of their existing efforts.
  1. Expanding city-by-city is expensive. What’s more difficult than building one successful startup? Try building 50 successful startups. This is essentially what you are doing when you try to launch city-by-city. Finding common elements for scaling is tough
  1. The site may need consumer revenue to survive. It is possible to build a successful site that has components of #1, #2 and #3, but some good product or service right from the beginning helps viability. Maybe it’s selling local tours and taking a cut of the revenue.
  1. Watch out for local sales force requirements. Look at how large Groupon and Living Social’s sales forces are, and they are still struggling to maintain profitability. If the sales force is too large, the site will probably not prosper. Look for new ways to sell.
  1. Local business price points have to be low. Many of the customers in this space tell me that the figure is somewhere around $300 per year for their own internal break-even. They get many offers every month, so your entry offer better be low and convincing
  1. Funding requirements are substantial. Word-of-mouth and cheap viral marketing won’t build critical masses of users, curated content, and direct sales forces. Foursquare has raised more than $390 million in outside funding, on $100 million in revenue.

Barkulis and I agree that your hyperlocal startup has a far better chance if you position it as a B2B and B2B2C startup, like Yext, DoorDash, and ShadowFax. Then you are building a solution for local businesses that helps them regardless of a direct consumer base. The site must either save businesses time on their marketing efforts, or solve a direct problem they are having.

I predict that hyperlocal services sites will continue to emerge and evolve. Many years ago, a community law firm could have a rewarding law practice, financially and personally fulfilling, by becoming a part of the community. In the new digital age, it’s possible again, even easier and faster.

With the advent of the iPhone and Blackberry, location-based apps are becoming a part of this hyperlocal picture. Especially in local communities, people want to know where the sales are, and who is hanging out where. This is not just a fad.

Hyperlocal can be the “beginning” for your startup, allowing you to test your business model and your marketing plan before you scale. Or it can be the final destination, if you are looking for a fun family business in the new world. I recommend it as a familiar place for your startup to “learn the ropes” before you take on the whole world.

Marty Zwilling

Saturday, May 29, 2021

7 Ways Academic Connections Can Assist A New Venture

Cruz-university-students.jpgAn underutilized, but valuable resource, every startup should investigate is a formal or informal connection to your alma mater, including any local university. These resources are definitely not limited to students, since every university seeks out and needs the real world exposure and experience of entrepreneurs who already are active in the real world marketplace.

Here is a short list of the areas where you should be able to find help, whether you are a student or an independent entrepreneur:

  1. Exploring hot ideas. Universities are a rich source of new ideas from their students, their professors, and their own research, and they value entrepreneurs from the real world to decide which ones are viable in the marketplace. Start by contacting the university outreach liaison, or a professor in your area of interest or expertise.
  1. Product research and prototype development. Take advantage of the tech classes, labs, equipment, and graduate students looking for real world problems to research. The professors know how to get grants to fund development for you in strategic focus areas, like biotech, that would otherwise cost you many thousands of dollars.

  1. Business plan assistance. Every university has entrepreneurial courses or evening classes that can provide assistance on creating your initial plan. Look for special programs for entrepreneurs, like the Arizona State University Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator program that I am familiar with, available to non-students.

  1. Early-stage funding. Don’t look for formal venture capital levels of funding, but certainly early-stage Kaufmann grants, incubators, and entrepreneurship incentives are available from endowments and state funds. Collaborative efforts with local companies, like Siemens Venture Capital, are available for certain technology and focus areas.

  1. Legal guidance. Most universities have friendly law professors, or an entrepreneurship legal clinic, to address concerns like protection of intellectual property and privacy. These might even be available online, and may be staffed by outside lawyers working on a ‘pro bono’ basis with the school. Start by contacting the law school organization.

  1. Building a team. If you need part-time resources to build a prototype, you can always find hungry but high-caliber graduate and PhD students with the latest theory ready to work. If you need experienced partners and vendors, the best professors and entrepreneurship staff will have the contacts you need in the local business community.

  1. Connections to a mentor. Similar to finding experienced team members, you can use university contacts who do mentoring in the real world. Most schools also nurture relationships with local and former executives whom they use for guest lectures to MBA courses, judge student business plans, and assign as mentors for university spinoffs.

For example, I live near the Phoenix, Arizona area, home of Arizona State University. They have several "outreach" programs to help startups, including their Venture Catalyst program for business plan development, mentorship, interim management, connections, and development roadmap. They also provide incubator services and space for early startups.

The Thunderbird School of Global Management, also in Phoenix, has a top-ranked International MBA and entrepreneur curriculum, a startup incubator program, and hosts a group of Angel investors to assist qualifying startups.

I do volunteer work at both of these schools, and I’m not even an alumnus from either one. Believe me, the payback for me has been large from both of them, and I’m betting that you can get the same from a university near you.

Marty Zwilling

Friday, May 28, 2021

5 Entrepreneurship Challenges You Should Not Overlook

man-concernedMost entrepreneurs expect to face the “normal” challenges of starting a business, which include finding the right opportunity, building and executing a winning plan, and financing their venture. But many forget the pitfalls associated with traditional business jobs which can apply even to the smartest and most dedicated people running their own business.

Often these facets of entrepreneurship don’t rear their ugly head until well down the road. Yet before you start, you should think about what the impact might be on your psyche, and how to neutralize these challenges in your own plan. I’ll summarize key ones here, from the positives and negatives in the classic book, “Build a Business, Not a Job” by David Finkel and Stephanie Harkness:

  1. Long-term daily job grind. Sometimes entrepreneurs are so set on creating a successful business, they forget to create one that they love to work on every day. After a time, they find that they have merely created a job for themselves, with the same rote responsibilities and stress that they experienced in a prior corporate world. Daily attendance is mandatory in order for the business to succeed and be profitable, and the so-called freedom is hard to find. Vacations and time-off don’t happen for years.
  1. No formal training courses. Larger enterprises are always sending their “high fliers” to leadership refreshers, new technology updates, and training on employee performance management. Entrepreneurs find themselves all alone in the trenches, without the time, money, or incentives to do these things. The result is a sinking feeling after some time that you are no longer vital and competitive in your own domain.
  1. Personal wealth management. Entrepreneurs find that the business skills needed to grow their business are not the same as the personal wealth skills needed to manage a healthy personal wealth plan for their family and their retirement. Their business is their entire portfolio. They are at the mercy of innumerable catastrophes, making this a huge risk. For these individuals, a lack of financial fluency often leads to poor decisions after they no longer have their businesses. They wake up one day without their business, and with nothing to show for the years spent building it.
  1. How society perceives you. As a young entrepreneur, everyone looks up to you for running your own business. But later you find that you may be perceived by many as a person without job security, unlike your classmates or ex-colleagues, who are sought after or being placed in well-known large company or multinational positions. Even worse, you find that your business domain has developed a negative stigma through no fault of your own, as has happened to investment banks, mortgage brokers, and many nightlife businesses. It’s no fun to hide your business role rather than proudly proclaim it.
  1. Business must be more than the money. Years into a successful business, owners often wake up one day facing a painful question: Is this all there is? To truly be successful your business must be about more than the money.

Good entrepreneurs find a great personal adventure, like Richard Branson, or great philanthropy, like Bill Gates. Guy Kawasaki says the best reason to start an organization is to make meaning – to create a product or service that makes the world a better place.

Every business startup has to have a viable idea, but it also needs a strong sense of realism on the possible pitfalls. Starting a company as an entrepreneur should be viewed as the beginning of a lifetime career, not a work project that you expect to be over in a few months. As such you should consider the long-term challenges as well as the short-term ones.

Life is too short to end up with pain and regret after a “successful” career.

Marty Zwilling

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

10 Ways To Build The Trust You Need To Lead A Company

build-trust-for-leadershipBased on my experience with startups, trust is the most valuable asset you can have, especially when asking people to step into the unknown by funding your innovation, by joining your team, or just buying your new product as an early customer. You need to understand the unfortunate fact that, due to the realities of life struggles, trust does not come by default from anyone these days.

You may be able to invent or even produce a new solution by yourself, but you will soon find that you can’t build and run a business without other people, and these people have to trust you. Thus I recommend to every business owner and entrepreneur that you focus constantly on building and maintaining personal trust through the following strategies:

  1. Use storytelling to highlight previous trustworthiness. The best business leaders are adept at relating anecdotes and prior experiences that humbly and subtly convey that you have already built the trust you need, through previous challenges and results. Demonstrating passion, intelligence, skills, and an innovative solution is not a substitute.

  2. Express your commitment to a higher purpose. People who see your commitment to an important social need, or saving the environment, as a balance to driving for profit, will give you extra credit in the trust department. Similarly, if you demonstrate trust and commitment in your life outside of work, your trust factor at work will increase.

  3. Take full responsibility for key business milestones. In business, few things are totally in your control, so many of you find it easy to put the onus for negatives on someone else or the market. This approach is not conducive to trust. Your strategy must be to accept responsibility, communicate continuously, and work effectively on backups.

  4. Quantify commitments as results versus effort. Promises to work hard or to do your best are not conducive to generating trust. These are heard as a hedge, or efforts to avoid accountability. In the same fashion, spoken promises are much less credible than written ones. It pays to listen to feedback, rather than just trust your own perspective.

  5. Proactively market and defend your trust image. Trust is your personal brand, and it must be marketed and protected much like your business brand. Take advantage of advocates and testimonials before you are forced to defend a potential negative trust incident. Don’t assume that no visible negatives means your trust is not questioned.

  6. For multiple party contracts, always document. A paper trail is very important to assure trust in formal business dealings, partner arrangements, and all customer transactions. For internal measurements, the metrics should always be written and clear. I see too many trust disputes that could have been avoided by written agreements.

  7. Report progress and proactively explain delays. Nothing kills credibility and trust like having to be hounded for status and delivery of a commitment. All commitments delivered early deserve special mention, and add to your trust reserve. For those needing more time or special effort, offer a recovery plan with alternatives before it becomes a crisis.

  8. Never be accused of failure to communicate. Late communication or lack of communication leads people to believe that you are hiding something, or hoping to avoid the stigma of missed promises. Make sure there are no surprises to people who are counting on you, and failures are acknowledged by you rather than ignored or denied.

  9. Always deliver on commitments, no matter how trivial. What may seem inconsequential to you may be very important to someone else. This includes keeping promises to yourself, as these relate to taking responsibility for your life and discipline. When changes are required, make sure your avoid excuses, and provide alternatives.

  10. Avoid over-commitment and under-delivery. I have seen entrepreneurs over-commit and lose the trust and respect of key people due to a sincere but unrealistic effort to stand out. It is much better to buffer your time requirements, and deliver early, than to be seen as always a day late, and a dollar short. You must be the role model for your team.

You have to convince your team and other key constituents to trust you, before they will reciprocate with a full commitment and engagement with you and your business. You can’t make up the difference by raising their salary, or dropping the price of your product. The power of trust is more than money in someone’s pocket – it’s a key force that allows you to change the world.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/11/2021 ***

Monday, May 24, 2021

Communications Via Text Send Only Part Of The Message

business-woman-body-languageWhether it’s a business or personal interaction, multiple studies show that as much as 70-93% of the communication is nonverbal. That means that people addicted to text messages, twitter, and email may be sending less than half the message, and receivers often misinterpret even that half.

Yet the use of SMS text messaging for all purposes, including business, has grown consistently worldwide since it was introduced 25 years ago, to an estimated 2.5 trillion/year for business alone, according to the SnapDesk. In addition, Twitter adds another 500 million messages per day, with over 160 million daily active users. As well, email volume just continues to increase.

But are any of these text-only messages an efficient and appropriate business tool? Where body language is part of the message, it definitely is not. Let’s look at the most commonly recognized forms of body language, and see how they apply to business:

  • Eye contact. The eyes are the most powerful part of our body language, and can express everything from happiness, annoyance, interest, to pain. Frequent eye contact is interpreted as honesty and forthrightness. Staring is interpreted as too aggressive. These are obvious in person, but lost in a text message.

  • Posture. If you are trying to appear dominant or authoritative, stand erect with shoulders back. A slumped position usually indicates insecurity, guilt, or weakness. A dominant sounding text message, on the other hand, generates anger rather than acceptance.

  • Mirroring. Most people feel more comfortable and open with people in a similar position to themselves. An example would be sitting down to meet with a key vendor, rather than standing to deliver demands. Good managers practice this one for personnel issues.
  • Handshake. This, of course, comes into play to signal openness or goodwill at the beginning of an interaction, and agreement at the end. Palm-to-palm contact is important for sincerity. This cultural icon is totally missing from text messages and emails.

  • Hand-to-face. Even when the words sound good, hand-to-face movements such as holding the chin or scratching the face shows concern or lack of conviction. If a person is covering his mouth while telling you something, he may be lying.

  • Facial expression. A critical message delivered with a smiling face will have a totally different impact than one delivered with an angry face. ‘Smiley face emoticons’ were invented to simulate this in text messages, but they don’t always work, because the sincerity is lost.

  • Arms and legs position. Folded arms or crossed legs, perhaps turning away slightly, indicates a lack of interest and detachment. Later uncrossed arms and legs may be a sign of acceptance of your position or terms. An extrovert will have toes pointed out, introvert will keep them pointed in. None of these come through in texting.

  • Space occupied. Some people stand up and move around to be more dominant, maybe even threatening. Even sitting, you can stretch your legs to occupy more space. Standing while talking on the phone will make your voice sound more urgent. Maybe all CAPS will satisfy this one.

Sure, there are many cases where a 10-word text message, or 140 character tweet will communicate a simple message more efficiently than a face-to-face discussion. But most business processes, like negotiating a contract, closing a sale, customer support, or managing employees, are much more complicated than just words.

Overall, the most successful people in business learn to use the right tool for the right job. I’m supportive of using text messaging for agreeing on a time and place for a customer visit, but when I read that text messages are the new pink slips for layoffs, that’s just wrong! I’m beginning to believe that people don’t want real communication anymore.

Marty Zwilling

Sunday, May 23, 2021

How To Make The Most Of Your DNA As An Entrepreneur

entrepreneur-of-the-yearAnyone who works with entrepreneurs will tell you that all are different. Some are really inventors, who view the challenges of building a business as a necessary evil. Others are really marketers out to make money fast, and believe that they can entice customers to any offering. Some just want to change the world and make it a better place. But none have any lock on success.

I’ve always wondered if there was some way that I could quickly deduce a new entrepreneur’s “sweet spot,” and optimize my mentoring to those strengths and weaknesses, maybe similar to the Myers-Briggs type indicator for business professionals. A few years ago, I first saw an interesting step in that direction via the classic book “Entrepreneurial DNA,” by Joe Abraham, with his assessment web site.

His framework seems to be picking up some traction, and is already in use informally by several entrepreneurship platforms, universities, and even high school programs. His methodology measures an entrepreneur’s fit or DNA in each of four quadrants – Builder, Opportunist, Specialist, and Innovator (BOSI), defined at a high level as follows:

  1. Builder. The Builder loves building a business from the ground up. These are the ultimate chess players in the game of business, always looking to be two or three moves ahead of the competition. They are often described as driven, focused, cold, ruthless, and calculating. Some might say that Elon Musk epitomizes this category.

  1. Opportunist. The Opportunist is the speculative part of the entrepreneur in all of us. It’s that part of our being that wants to be in the right place at the right time, leveraging timing to make as much money as possible. If you ever felt enticed to jump into a quick money deal, like a real-estate quick-flip, or an IPO, that was your Opportunist side showing.

  1. Specialist. The Specialist entrepreneur will enter one industry and stick with it for 15 to 30 years. They build strong expertise, but often struggle to stand out in a crowded marketplace of competitors. Picture the graphic designer, the IT expert, or the independent accountant or attorney. We all know many good ones here.

  1. Innovator. You will usually find the Innovator entrepreneur in the “lab” of the business working on their invention, recipe, concept, system, or product that can be built into one or many businesses. The challenge with an Innovator is to focus as hard on the business realities as the product possibilities. Too many Innovators are like Dean Kamen, still struggling with the Segway Human Transporter, while holding over 1000 other device patents.

Of course, discovering your entrepreneur type is only the beginning. After that, it’s all about capitalizing on your strengths, shoring up your weaknesses, and building a personal plan that doesn’t work against you. The drivers for your strategic plan come from at least four directions:

  • World of experts (books, consultants, webinars). You go all over the country, the world, and the Web searching for “best practices” in marketing, finance, planning, and funding. Ultimately, most get the best help from business advisors and mentors.
  • Internal forces (your startup team). Every human being internal to your business and investors bring a certain culture. Some are very positive. Others are more conservative or even negative. Sometimes you inherit the culture from family and predecessors.
  • External forces (competitors and customers). All too often, entrepreneurs set their strategy around what competitors are doing. Or they get strong feedback from early adopters and outspoken customers who may not be representative of the real potential.
  • Prospects (potential opportunity). In the pressure of early revenue, it’s easy to be bent toward what’s in front of you today, rather than follow your strength and your vision. Serving prospects that don’t fit your entrepreneur type, like moving away from your specialty, can be a disastrous strategy.

Overall, I see real value in using this methodology in conjunction with incubators, business accelerators, and mentoring. I’m not yet convinced that anyone has a fully automated system that will nail your entrepreneurial DNA, and make you succeed, despite the unpredictable business and personal realities.

But I see a real opportunity here for every entrepreneur to optimize his impact, and his personal satisfaction, with a minimum of effort. I challenge each of you to take a hard look at what makes you tick. Is your strategic plan (if you have one) a wishful dream or a perfect match for your DNA?

Marty Zwilling

Saturday, May 22, 2021

6 Steps To Personal Satisfaction As Well As Success

satisfaction and successIt’s sad when the startup is “successful,” but the founder still feels totally unsatisfied. I see it happening all the time. The business is a winner, but the family or other relationships are broken by the stress. Or the entrepreneur started down this path to be their own boss and change the world, but find they are now answering to many more people, with nothing really changed.

These issues are the major focus of the classic book, “The Plan,” by John McKee and Helen Latimer. It zeroes in specifically on the difference between being “successful” and being “satisfied” in your personal and professional lives. The authors start by asserting that many people feel more or less successful, but far fewer, even the successful ones, feel satisfied.

Their conclusion is that you need a plan for your life, as well as your business, and they discuss in detail six steps to get there. If you are an entrepreneur contemplating a startup, and you want both success and satisfaction in business, I recommend you complete these steps before you start any business plan:

  1. Identify personal gaps. Find the gaps between the life you’re living and the life you dream of living. Look at the gaps that may exist in three key life areas: the personal/ family side, the career side, and the financial side. It can be difficult to be honest about some of your own character traits. People often behave in ways they don’t understand.
  1. Determine your purpose. Your purpose defines what you stand for. This is what should guide your entrepreneurial ambitions and dreams, gives you a picture of where you are going, and help you as you set the goals. Without purpose, you certainly will find yourself feeling unsatisfied even when you achieve business success.
  1. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Most of us have a fairly good idea of our weaknesses. Few of us take the time to really understand our strengths. Review your natural talents and build on the talents you’ve developed. You will see exciting stuff – new business opportunities, new directions.
  1. Describe your dream. Many of us are clearer about what we don’t want that what we do want. Use visualization to create a very detailed picture of your dream, and write it down to see if it still makes sense. Feel what it would be like to have, be, or do what you want, to follow your purpose.
  1. Create your path. Here the solution is to create short-term milestones. Having a strong desire for something is not enough. Your desire needs to be so clear that you can see each step you need to take to reach it. Taking these steps is absolutely essential and separates those people who succeed from those who don’t.
  1. Live your best life. With the personal life plan complete, the most important step is to implement it. This is the time to have faith in yourself and begin to move towards the life you dreamed. If a business is in that plan, now is the time to start your business plan. That’s the only way to enjoy both a high level of satisfaction and success in both.

Even with all this, failures do happen. In the long run, the difference between success and failure can ultimately hinge on how you handle a failure. Don’t just repeat it in a different context, but do the work to understand it, and alter your plan. Try again – as many times as it takes. No matter how daunting. Step-by-step, day-by-day, you can get closer to your goal until you attain it.

Successful but unsatisfying professional careers are one of the primary reasons that people decide to become entrepreneurs in the first place. Thus it makes sense that before you start down the entrepreneur path, you would do some extra work to make sure you are not about to fail one more time. The last thing that this world or you needs is another successful business failure.

Marty Zwilling

Friday, May 21, 2021

5 Ways To Make It Easier To Do What Matters At Work

easier-at-workDuring all my years in business, I’ve noticed that some people seem to make their job look effortless, while others are always in a struggle, no matter how simple you thought the task should be. I’ve always wondered if some people are just that much smarter, or what some do that the rest of us can emulate, in order that we too get the best results without working so hard.

In my current role as a consultant to entrepreneurs and small business owners, I’ve accumulated my own list of insights on how some people get more done. Thus I was pleased to see that it’s consistent with the guidance in a new book, “Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most,” by Greg McKeown, a well-respected author and public speaker on business breakthroughs.

Here are key strategies that we both agree will elevate your efforts and get business results on a consistent basis without the pain and stress that seem to dominate the working lives of many of us:

  1. Learn: leverage the best of what others know. A passion for your business and your innovation will only get you so far. All the best business leaders I know are not afraid to use advisors, peers, books, and the Internet to understand what’s possible, and how to do it. Life is too short to learn everything from your mistakes, or become an expert in all.

    Bill Gates and Warren Buffett both have totally different businesses, yet both give much credit to the other for success, and claim to have learned much from each other. they still find time to meet and compare notes regularly, and are avid readers of business books.

  2. Lift: propagate your strength by teaching others. Once you have learned, your top- priority task must be to educate others around you. Start with your own story, the mission of your business, and how to make everyone in your domain, including customers, into advocates and teachers. Lift everyone by eliminating complexity and highlighting value.

    Sir Richard Branson, who controls over 400 active companies, never appears to be even working. In addition, he has often stated that his first priority is serving his employees and his extended business family, through coaching, mentoring, and effective communication.

  3. Automate: do it once to never do it again. The technology is here to do most hard things effortlessly in business, but I find many business owners stuck in the past, refusing to change. If you invest the time and effort to install and upgrade processes and systems, you can replicate results and grow the business without multiplying your own efforts.

    Just to be clear, automation isn't about shrinking the human workforce; it's about helping you to do more with the same number of people, and to do it with less effort. This leads to business growth, and happier people, typically due to more and higher-paying jobs.

  4. Trust: build and use highly engaged teams. The real strength of your business is not how much you can accomplish yourself, but how effectively you can build and lead a team. Business people who are micro-managers, or spend most of their time working in the business, rather than on the business, are destined to constant stress and overwork.

    Highly engaged means each person feels safe to bring their authentic, unique and best self to work, and never even feel like they are working. The result is a new level of productivity, loyalty, and personal satisfaction for you as well as everyone on your team.

  5. Prevent: solve problems before they happen. The real power of making your job look effortless is preventing problems by using the previous strategies, and focusing on the future, as well as the present. Get to the root of problems, rather than fighting symptoms. This means using what you have learned to anticipate market change and prepare for it.

    This ability to anticipate problems, and prevent them, is the key to making everyone’s job easier, starting with yours. You can do this by spending less time on current crises, and more time on strategic thinking, outside the fold, and listening to marketplace feedback.

If you can take away just one message, let it be that working harder and struggling are not the real keys to business success. No matter what challenges, obstacles, or hardships you face, I’m convinced that you can always resolve them easier using the long-term strategies outlined here, and enjoy more satisfying results sooner.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/06/2021 ***

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

8 Keys To Rebuilding Your Team Spirit After A Setback

keep_teamwork_togetherMost successful entrepreneurs will tell you that their primary motivation is to “change the world” and to build something lasting, not to make a lot of money. But the conventional wisdom is that employees work for money, above all else. Yet my own experience, and a still relevant McKinsey survey, leads me to believe that non-cash motivators may be more effective in the long term than financial incentives.

I agree with Charles P. Garcia, who ties motivation most strongly to leadership, in his classic book, “Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows,” based on this group of more than 600 prominent leaders from every sector of American society. They assert that employees value having strong leaders, who incent them to do their best, just as much if not more than money.

For action, he provides a list of principles for entrepreneurs and managers alike, derived from his first-hand discussions with some of the nation's greatest leaders. We all need to learn from these as we rebuild employee morale following tough economic times, with limited budgets:

  1. Energize your team. Instead of being the type of leader who sucks the energy away from others, resolve to be the kind of leader who strives to bring passion and positive energy to the workplace every day. Your employees have just helped you pull your company through one of the nation's worst economic periods. It's time they had a source of positive energy.

  1. There's more to life than work. Great leaders have deep reserves of physical, spiritual, and emotional energy, and that energy is usually fueled by a strong and supportive relationship with the people they love, regular exercise, a healthy lifestyle, and setting aside time for reflection.
  1. Put your people first. No organization is better than the people who run it. The fact is that you are in the people business—the business of hiring, training, and managing people to deliver the product or service you provide. If the people are the engine of your success, to be a great leader you need to attend to your people with a laser-like focus.

  1. Act with integrity. In a time when news reports are filled with the stories of private and public leaders who've acted inappropriately and have gone against the best interests of their employees or constituents, showing your employees that you value integrity can help motivate them and create a sense of pride for your organization.
  1. Be a great communicator. Leadership is influencing others, and this cannot be achieved without effective communication. If you're struggling with communicating to your employees, first work on your ability to influence individuals by choosing words that are impactful to carry your message. Then you need to figure out how to communicate to a larger audience.
  1. Be a great listener. The most effective leaders are the ones who take the time to listen not just to their team members' words but to the priceless hidden meaning beneath them. Remember that during good times and bad, sometimes your employees just need someone to talk to. Communicate to them that you are always waiting with open ears.
  1. Be a problem solver. Post a sign above your office door that reads, "Don't Bring Me Problems. Bring Me Solutions." Then set about the task of guiding each person on your team toward the goal of becoming a top-notch problem solver during this crucial period.
  1. Lead through experience and competence, not through title or position. Mentor your employees, encourage them, make partners out of them, and your organization is sure to benefit. If you want to survive the tough economy, that's exactly the kind of leadership motif you need for your organization.

The fundamentals of leadership don’t change between good times and bad. But when money is in short supply, these principles can be the difference between success and failure. Now is the time to start motivating your employees by applying these principles, and your team may actually lead you through the next challenge.

Marty Zwilling

Monday, May 17, 2021

7 Leadership Failures To Abolish In Your New Venture

leadership-mistakesMany professionals in business, from startups to multi-nationals, assume that team leader or executive is an appointed position, and the skills come with the title. In reality, leadership is best demonstrated while not in a position of authority, and is a skill that must be sharpened every day of your life.

Most experts agree that leadership, as perceived by people around you, is more about behavior than it is about specific skills or knowledge. Darryl Rosen, in the classic book “Table for Three?” illustrates this with humor for each of fifty dumb mistakes that smart managers don’t make. The leadership one is setting a poor example by your own actions (“Do as I say, not as I do.”)

His rendition, including the following seven examples of poor leadership behavior, that I have seen all too often in startups, illustrate how your actions affect others around you:

  1. Blame others for everything. An entrepreneur’s passion for an idea often prompts them to blame others or external events for setbacks, rather than themselves, so that they can maintain some semblance of self-esteem and control. This “attributional bias” may be understandable, but is perceived by associates as poor leadership.

  2. Worry and fret about everything. Precious little of what we worry and fret about ever happens, so don’t share every concern with associates. At best, it comes across as lack of confidence, or more likely sounds likely trying to make excuses for possible later failures. Team members want leaders who calm their worries, not amplify them.

  3. Criticize others and the company. Managers who speak critically of team members, customers, friends or family members, have something going on within them that needs to be examined. There is some aspect of self that they find unacceptable. Real leaders are recognized as willing to look in the mirror, and learn from what they see.

  4. Complain about being overwhelmed. Overwhelm is a feeling that always precedes growth, and is a state in which your brain is developing new pathways and connections. Starting a business or a new organization will always cause self-doubt and insecurity. Real leaders embrace and manage these feelings, rather than complain to associates.

  5. Do 10 things at a time in a mediocre fashion. Entrepreneurs or managers who claim to be able to do multiple things at a time must never use this as an excuse for poor quality. Associates will quickly conclude that mediocrity is good enough. Even one task done with mediocrity can be the kiss of death for any business, or any career.

  6. Appear disorganized and manage things haphazardly. Doing things haphazardly is prone to mistakes. In business, when you are making mistakes, it’s costing you time and money. With associates, making mistakes will cost you in productivity and morale, and will kill their image of you as a leader. Worse yet, associates will follow your example.

  7. Fail to see the positives in others. The key here is to maintain a positive mindset. Leadership is all about finding positives, for business growth, for competitive advantage, and people development in your organization. Managers and entrepreneurs need everyone in their organization accentuating the positive, not amplifying the negatives.

Leadership and improvement is about taking small steps forward, and evolving just a bit each day. Think evolution, not revolution. Anyone can change one behavior a month, or eliminate one mistake, and suddenly you too can be an “overnight success.”

Of course, correcting leadership mistakes is only the beginning. There are at least 49 other ways to go wrong in navigating workplace relationships, problem-solving approaches, time management, credibility, and business effectiveness. How many have you avoided recently in your startup?

Marty Zwilling

Sunday, May 16, 2021

7 Key Skills For Survival In Today’s Business Career

survivalsurviverescue-help-armsThe days when you locked and loaded your career in school, and then blasted away down that same narrow path the rest of your life, are gone, never to return. Career survival today requires thinking and acting like an entrepreneur starting a business, staying nimble and resilient, willing to pivot, and supersensitive to the market realities of supply and demand.

Over the years I have spent mentoring entrepreneurs and startups, I often notice the similarities between successful professionals managing their careers and successful entrepreneurs building a business. Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, helped me crystallize these similarities with his classic book “The Start-up of You.” Here are key survival skills for both lifestyles:

  1. Adopt the mindset of a permanent beta. Finished ought to be an F-word for all of us. We are all works in progress. Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, and grow more in our lives and careers. Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs, and intend to improve yourself.
  1. Regularly assess and refine your competitive advantage. Your competitive advantage is the interplay of three different, ever-changing forces – your assets, aspirations and values, and the market realities of supply and demand. Smart professionals constantly assess the market, and strengthen and diversify skills.
  1. Plan to pivot as you learn. Change is the only constant in this world, and every change is an opportunity to learn. Plan to adapt, and start it every day on the side. Don’t wait for something to fail before you learn, or before you consider a change or pivot. The best pivots are to take advantage of an upside, rather than avoid a downside.
  1. Build and use your network. World-class professionals don’t try to take on the world alone. People playing a solo game will always lose out to a team. Successful entrepreneurs are ones who put together the best teams. Build your network with people smarter than you. With effective networking, who you know is what you know.
  1. Pursue breakout opportunities. Success begins with opportunities, but these mean nothing unless you execute on them. Others taking breakout opportunities can be dismissed as lucky, but more often it’s the result of their work to be at the right place at the right time, with the right mindset. Be curious, confident, and willing to learn.
  1. Take intelligent risks. We are all risk takers. But we are not all equally intelligent about how we do it. In a changing world, minimizing risk is one of the riskiest things you can do. The most intelligent risks are those where the potential downside is limited, but the potential upside is virtually unlimited. Those are the risks every business jumps to take.
  1. Maintain that sense of urgency. Entrepreneurs know that in business, change overtakes the best of big companies, and even startups have to maintain a sense of urgency to stay ahead of the curve. For every professional, opportunities come and go at an astonishing speed, so only a continuing sense of urgency will keep you alert.

In addition to you and the network around you, there is a broader environment that shapes your career potential. It’s the local culture and society around you. So think carefully about where you choose to live and work, or where you choose to start a business. Your maximum potential may be in another place in the global environment, or as a volunteer versus an employee role.

In the bigger picture, I’m convinced that we were all born as entrepreneurs, with the instincts listed above to survive, grow, and prosper. How many of these career survival instincts have you used lately to deal with the changes we all see?

Marty Zwilling

Saturday, May 15, 2021

6 Practical Keys To Enhancing Your Business Acumen

business-acumenThe most successful entrepreneurs and executives I have seen are savvy business people first, and experts in their field second. This may seem counter-intuitive to technologists, especially in an era when technology seems to be driving the world. Yet the sad truth is that a technology not focused on a real problem is not a business, and will probably fail in the marketplace.

Examples that come to mind include satellite phones, the Segway PT vehicle, hydrogen fueled auto engines, and many more. The issue in these cases was usually not the technology per se, but the bigger business picture of marketable prices, ease of use, and support infrastructures.

It still amazes me how many entrepreneurs can fathom the physics of gyroscopes, but fail to comprehend the big picture requirements for positive cash flow and profit. Kevin Cope, in his classic book “Seeing the Big Picture”, does a great job of outlining the basics of business acumen for executives, and helped me assimilate some practical ideas on building the essential elements for entrepreneurs:

  1. Reserve time daily to research the market, as well as technology. Learning is a never-ending requirement for every entrepreneur. At best, all they teach you in school is how to learn. In these days of rapid change, most experts believe that the facts college students learn as a sophomore are obsolete before they exit their senior year.

  1. Build relationships with key experts in your business domain. Talk regularly with peers and advisors who have been there before you. Your focus should be on listening and asking questions, rather than defensively arguing that your situation is somehow different from all the others.

  1. Be proactive in contributing business ideas and follow through. Talk is cheap when it comes to innovative ideas in business. You don’t really understand a new idea, until you try to write it down and succinctly communicate it to peers and critics. Waiting to follow through until you are backed in a corner is usually too little, too late.

  1. Network in the industry as well as outside. The best entrepreneurs have the best “little black book” of expert contacts. Through personal outreach, as well as industry organizations, they are constantly on the lookout for people smarter and more experienced in their domain. Networking requires sharing as well as taking.

  1. Even the best have mentors they really use. A mentor is someone who will tell you what you need to hear, while friends and associates often tell you what you want to hear. Of course, it’s good to have both, but don’t confuse the two. Above all, be accountable to yourself in your efforts to keep the big picture in perspective.

  1. Understand the business, then add value. The more business acumen you accumulate, the more likely you will be to bring real innovation and survive the deadly challenges. Ultimately, every business decision is a quest for maximum return on investment (ROI), utilizing cash, technology, and human resources.

You don’t have to have an MBA to understand that even the most complex multinational businesses are made up of five key drivers – cash, profit, assets, growth, and people. While each driver is unique, it is also completely dependent on all the other drivers. Experts in technology might thus only understand twenty percent of what they need to succeed in business.

In my view, the big picture starts with a continuous effort to better understand the basic business elements, as well the technology and people elements. The next step is using all the elements of business intelligence available today to sort through and prioritize the flood of information and evidence of continual change in the market all around us.

The best entrepreneurs never lose sight of the big picture, and they never stop learning until they die. Unfortunately, it too often works the other way around.

Marty Zwilling

Friday, May 14, 2021

8 Creative Pricing Strategies Most Startups Overlook

pricing-strategyAs an advisor to new business owners, I’m accustomed to seeing primarily the simple traditional product pricing strategies, usually driven by competitor prices, or cost plus a reasonable margin. I often wonder whether you as the entrepreneur have worked as hard on your pricing strategy as you have on your innovative solution. I hate to see money left on the table through poor pricing.

For example, I believe that Starbucks surprised most people by proving that they could take a commodity business, a coffee shop, and make it a worldwide profit winner, just by justifying premium pricing with a quality product, the right locations, personalized service, and appealing to the professional customer personas.

As I look around at other great businesses out there, I see many have incorporated innovation into their pricing strategies, as well as their products or solutions. By definition, true innovations are things we haven’t seen yet, but here are a few pricing alternatives that have contributed to the success of companies I know, and I recommend for evaluation by every business leader:

  1. Charging a premium for your technology innovation. If your innovation is real, it brings added value to the table, so most customers, especially early ones, are willing to pay a premium over competitive products. Later, when that innovation becomes the new norm, you must be prepared to lower your price to meet new competitors.

    Elon Musk and Tesla are prime examples of this approach, when the market for all-electric vehicles was new. Now that it is more mature, they are offering lower-cost alternatives, consistent with non-electric competitors.

  2. Define ancillary services to increase the average price. Small but important options to provide expedited delivery, or priority service can significantly increase your average sale, without being tagged as a higher price. Here it is important to monitor customer feedback, as you may find one of these services could be a revenue source in itself.

  3. Set a price based on your customer psychology bias. If competitor prices are high, keep yours in the same ballpark, but slightly lower, despite lower cost. Be aware that most people see two digit numbers as lower than three digits. Convince customers that you are selling at a loss, or use a sale price much lower than the original price.

  4. Include free digital products to enhance physical ones. Your incremental costs to ship software tools to complement a retail device, such as a smart home product, is near zero, and it may justify a sizeable price increment. Digital products also allow users to be advocates for you and help each other, thus reducing your support and marketing costs.

  5. Offer a “name your own price” to pay what you want. Believe it or not, in some market segments, customers with many alternatives, who see extra value from your product, will altruistically offer more than you might need to compete and thrive. Everlane and Radiohead have used this strategy on specific items to build their customer base.

  6. Flat pricing – charge the same for many combinations. This pricing strategy started primarily associated with buffet restaurants, but the concept has now been applied to many other businesses. Amusement parks sell "day passes," and cell phone providers sell “unlimited use” plans. With e-commerce online, I see many new industries jumping in.

  7. Pricing based on personal attributes and timing. Often online consumers will provide information such as birth dates, education levels and occupations. These can be used to estimate their propensity to buy, and combined with the time of day, and competitive trends, to offer an optimal price to close the sale as well as meet your revenue targets.

  8. Offering a lower price to penetrate the market. The lower price helps a new product or service penetrate the market and attract customers away from competitors. Of course, raising prices later is difficult, unless pre-specified. Examples include an online news website offering one month for a dollar, or a bank offering free checking for six months.

So you see, pricing a product is not a simple exercise, and requires the same creativity that you have put into your solution and your marketing. Your goal is to make each of these elements complement the others, and deliver a more competitive and successful business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/28/2021 ***

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

6 Tips For A Marketing Focus To Match Your Solution

integrated-marketing-communicationsIf you are a passionate technologist, it’s easy to forget that marketing is required to sell even the most compelling solution, to cut through the information overload everyone sees today on the internet. If customers don’t know you exist, you can’t solve their problem, they won’t buy. Getting customer attention often takes more innovation today than solving the tough technical problems.

If marketing is not your thing, then you need to find a partner or outside expert to help you. As a business adviser, I still see too many new venture founders who skimp on their marketing focus, or start too late. You really need to start marketing your solution before you even build it, to validate the need, and keep your focus on the features that customers really want and need.

To get you started on the right track, I always recommend the following pragmatic tips that you probably already know, but are always worth re-validating with every new initiative:

  1. Quantify how your unique features add value. It’s easy to fall back on the generic message that your solution is easier to use, has more function, and comes with great service, but who looks twice at that message? If you can’t state clearly why your startup is the only choice, then it’s time to regroup before spending your hard-fought funding.

    Every business needs a unique selling proposition (USP), that is a concise, straight-to-the-point statement about the special benefits you offer customers. For example, Warby Parker boosted selling glasses online a while back with “Try five frames at home for free.”

  2. Talk to real live customers in addition to marketers. Go directly to customers to set priorities, and get a feel for emotional as well as factual realities. Avoid the use of jargon, big claims, and special promotions. Do case studies and gather customer testimonials, as well as build relationships that lead to advocacy, loyalty, and word-of-mouth support.

    A simple and inexpensive way to do this today is to add an interactive tool like LeadChat to your website. You will likely be amazed at the kind of requests you get, and what you can learn, which could lead to new opportunities, new products, and new customers.

  3. Network with local organizations and industry groups. Networking is all about marketing yourself and your company. Start small by meeting with key online influencers over coffee or lunch, and take the time to join peers and speak to industry groups for recognition and credibility. Cold calls to strangers and email blasts are not so productive.

    You can get started by visiting your local Chamber of Commerce and attending the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. From there, it’s just a matter of follow-up to find the leaders in your industry and make yourself one of them through panels and talks.

  4. Proactively dig in to find prospects who really need you. Too many of you succumb to “cheap” marketing pitches from others – usually measured by the number of customers to be contacted, rather than fit for the solution you have. Give priority to prospect quality versus quantity. You won’t need the multiple follow-ups and time to close new sales.

    An approach which is coming back into vogue with the pandemic is consultative selling. This means overtly offering your expertise for free, and worrying about selling your solution afterward. It works in fashion, real estate, and certainly in the technical world.

  5. Use social media for marketing, not just feedback. Many entrepreneurs I know faithfully monitor social media to quickly respond to problems and react to customer feed back, both positive and negative. Far fewer lead with their best strategies on this media, including regular incentives to customers, pointers to case studies, and technical insights.

  6. Build a marketing plan with deliverables and metrics. If I don’t see a documented marketing plan, with measurements driven by industry norms, I assume that you are counting primarily on your passion to assess growth. Passion is necessary, but not sufficient for survival. You need quality measures for marketing, just like your product.

In general, I recommend effective marketing is the first thing you should think about when contemplating a startup, rather than the last. In today’s world, the last thing I and investors want to hear is “if we build it, they will come.” You have to find your customers – don’t count on them finding you. Remember, good marketing is not rocket science – you too can learn and we all win.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/27/2021 ***

Monday, May 10, 2021

6 Ways To Extend Creativity To All Areas Of Business

think-outside-the-boxMost aspiring entrepreneurs believe their initial idea and inspiration requires the most important creative thinking. Experienced entrepreneurs will tell you that the initial idea is the easy part, and it’s the later implementation, and the competitive business marketing that are the real creative challenges.

There is a tough balance here to achieve, since a large portion of starting and running a business requires analytical, logical thinking. In fact, our education and training to logically associate related concepts reduces our ability to add the creative side, even though we were all born without that bias. Maybe that’s why “thinking outside the box” is so rare.

While looking for guidance on how to be more creative in growing a business, I came across Michael Michalko’s classic book, “Creative Thinkering,” which clearly applies to business as well as personal environments. With his insights, I offer the following recommendations on how to nurture and build your creative business capabilities:

  1. Look for familiar patterns in unrelated subjects. Due to learned habits and routines, new ideas default to be similar to old ones. Creative thinkers get results by combining dissimilar subjects, like investors and competitors. I find that startups looking for funding often never even think of asking strategic partners, rather than just venture capitalists.
  1. Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change. Stereotyped notions block clear vision and crowd out imagination. Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine contradictory approaches, or working with opposites. Many businesses have found that raising the price of a product to give it status can win more customers than a price war.
  1. Think the unthinkable. We all need ways to unstructure our imaginations to explore the outer limits of alternatives, so that we can go beyond the typical solutions. In business, this may be as simple as replacing a product line that is still profitable, or a recent startup making a takeover bid for a large company. Creative people at Facebook are likely working on this one right now.
  1. Intention is the seed of creative thinking. Intention has a way of bringing to our awareness those things that our brains deem important. One way to prime for creativity is to generate an awareness of what you want to accomplish. If you study the Amazon 1-click patent long enough, you’ll likely find something of your own worth patenting.
  1. Change the way you speak, and you change the way you think. Many entrepreneurs focus on deficiencies, and phrase their thoughts and ideas with negatives, such as no, never, and don’t. Make a conscious decision to become a positive-thinking person by creating positive speaking patterns. Ten customer referrals is better than “no complaints.”
  1. You become what you pretend to be. Attitudes influence behavior, but behavior also influences attitudes. Reality has often been shown to conform to beliefs, whether they be positive or negative. In business on the Internet today, it’s easier than ever to pretend to be a large and mature company, and successful startups don’t have to pretend long.

Brainstorming, ideation, thinking outside the box, disruption, creative thinking – whatever you want to call the process of developing successful new business approaches – is something that must explore every day in your business. You have to let go of things that are holding you back, and take chances in business, especially after that first great idea.

You cannot will a new idea. But you can train your imagination, like a muscle with regular exercise, to conceptually blend dissimilar concepts from different contexts, leading to original ideas and insights. How long has it been since you have conceived and implemented a really creative idea in your business?

Marty Zwilling

Sunday, May 9, 2021

6 Techniques For Kickstarting Time Management At Work

work-management-kickstartOne of the toughest challenges of an entrepreneur in building a startup is the fact that there are so many things that you don’t know how to do, or don’t like to do. Things like raising money, building a business plan, or hiring and firing people. These aren’t fun, especially for a visionary. That’s when the curse of procrastination steps in.

The result is that certain things just never seem to get done. Jan Yager, in her classic book, “Work Less, Do More” talks about procrastination as a primary obstacle to efficient time management. She describes how you can grow so busy doing everything but what you should be doing, that you’re unaware that you’re failing to address what’s really fundamental to your success.

I haven’t met an entrepreneur yet who can honestly say they haven’t felt this challenge. Here are some techniques I espouse from Jan and others for conquering procrastination:

  1. Plan your daily activities in advance. Make whatever it is you’re avoiding the very first task you do on a given day. Don’t start the day by checking e-mail, surfing the Internet, or reading the newspaper. Get a priority task done first every day, then take a break or do some low priority work that you enjoy more.
  1. Set up a personal reward system. Pick a reward that will be a real motivator, something you truly want but have been denying for yourself. For example, as soon as you complete your financial projections, you can call your business partner to skip out for that round of golf he keeps mentioning.
  1. Try creative procrastination. If you are finding your top priority to be too daunting, try tackling the second or third most important items on your to-do list. You will accomplish all your day’s priorities, but in a different order. That’s better than substituting a trip to the doughnut cart.
  1. Arrange for gaps in your schedule. Build space into your schedule so you actually have some free time that will still permit you to get the priority project done without the tendency to put yourself down or engage in the self-criticism that too often accompanies procrastination.
  1. Face the truth head-on. Take a few minutes to contemplate why you are delaying something. What does the postponement provide? What will it take to get you to act now? Write down the real deadline. Maybe it’s time to hire an expert, or assign the task to someone else on the team. Move the ball.
  1. Define a period without distractions. Make a resolution to turn off the phones for the first hour of a day, or close the door to your office to discourage interruptions. Do not let anyone distract you from your priority tasks during these periods.

A closely related malady to procrastination is the well-known “Parkinson’s Law” – all work will expand to fill the time allotted. When you add procrastination, people tend to start things too late, and then miss the deadline, no matter how far in the future it is set.

Psychologists assert that procrastinators actually sabotage themselves. They put obstacles in their own path. They actually choose paths that hurt their performance, and avoid success in life. It represents a profound problem of self-regulation.

If you are a chronic procrastinator, or your business partner is one, becoming a successful entrepreneur is unlikely unless things change. You can change yourself, using the techniques described above, perhaps combined with cognitive behavioral therapy. Believe me, it’s worth it for your personal well being, as well as that of the business. Start now.

Marty Zwilling

Saturday, May 8, 2021

10 Tips For Entering The Startup Community This Year

finding-a-jobThese days I see a surge of new startups as businesses seem to be recovering from the pandemic. If you are not starting one yourself, the next best thing is joining one as a partner, or as an early employee. It takes much the same preparation to make you the best entrepreneur, or the best job candidate. Of course experience is the best teacher, but you need to get the job to get the experience.

According to Ford R. Myers, a noted career coach, and author of the classic book, “Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring,” many job seekers and career changers make the mistake of halting all their efforts as summer approaches, believing that nobody will be hiring until early fall. He and I believe that these next few months are the perfect time, especially with the pandemic, for starting a new career.

Here are some tips from both his perspective and mine to stave off the coming summer “brain drain” and focus on the next step of employment, or starting a whole new career as an entrepreneur:

  1. Create and control your Internet image. Whether it's LinkedIn, YouTube, or Facebook, you need an online presence. No online presence may brand you as “old school,” and not startup material. Carefully monitor the "personal brand" you're building on the Internet to keep it positive.
  1. Perform an internal career audit. Now is a perfect time to take an honest look at your career -- where you've been, where you are today, and where you'd like to go. Identify new goals based on your own definition of career success and then take action.
  1. Invest in career coaching. A qualified career coach can help you get totally clear on your objectives, differentiate you from the competition, market you effectively, get the offer, and negotiate the best compensation. Don’t assume it’s a luxury you can’t afford.
  1. Actively work the network. Spring and Summer are the best times of the year to make new connections and find new startups, with outdoor activities and sports. Contrary to popular belief, business networking is not all done at investor receptions and conferences.
  1. Follow-up with existing connections. Make new connections through your network, and always follow up with people you've already met. I’ve never met an executive or professional yet who didn’t enjoy being asked to share his expertise and views, and most will then remember you as someone who really cares.
  1. Update your career "tool kit." Most job seekers still use only their resume as the cornerstone of their search. But there are many other items you should have in your "career tool kit" – good online profiles, accomplishment stories, positioning statement, contact list, professional references, letters of recommendation, and more.
  1. Tune your business fashion sense. Fashion trends in startups are more relaxed and modern than you may see in large enterprises. It may be time to update your apparel to prevent the impression that you are stuck in the past and may have a difficult time adjusting to the startup world. It also will boost your own confidence level as well.
  1. Volunteer or seek internships. There are many volunteer opportunities available during this time of year. This is a good way to get practical job experience, help people, and to meet other professionals who may be able to recommend you.
  1. It is better to give than to receive. The fastest and most effective strategy for getting help is to offer help to others. Ask the people in your network who they might like an introduction to or if there is any way that you can be of assistance to them.
  1. Become an opportunity magnet. Always think and speak positively, and never say anything negative. This will help you to become an opportunity magnet -- poised to attract, interview and "hire" your next employer.

The most important thing is to get out there and work the territory. If you adopt a defeatist attitude or wait for the job to find you, startup founders and peers will quickly see this, and you will be defeated. Startups are hard work for everyone, so enthusiasm, confidence, and a can-do attitude are essential to success. The harder you work at it, the luckier you will get.

Marty Zwilling

Friday, May 7, 2021

7 Principles For Being A Wise Business Decision Maker

wise-decision-makerAs a mentor to aspiring business owners. smart people stand out to me with intellectual power and depth of knowledge on many subjects. The tougher question is whether you are also wise, in the sense of cultivating the right relationships, understanding team dynamics, and keeping to the correct side of the ethical line to maintain the trust of team members and customers alike.

Of course, if you are new to the challenges of business, it’s especially hard to anticipate correctly and react wisely to complex business situations. Unfortunately, in today’s world where time is of the essence, none of us can afford to make all the mistakes personally and learn from them, so I always try to recommend some key strategies for moving more quickly into the wise category:

  1. Keep your eye on the big picture, to temper your passion. If your passion is a new technology, make sure you understand how it fits into the existing social culture, the environment, and political realities. Wise business leaders know how to communicate their solution’s value in the context of this world view, and make decisions accordingly.

    A few years ago I had the privilege of working with Dr. Roy McAlister, a genius and the inventor of hydrogen engines for automobiles. Yet he has had minimal business success, not being able to overcome customer qualms, infrastructure, and political implications.

  2. Stay aware and sensitive to the perspectives of others. Wise business leaders never forget that they need other people’s support and help to make things happen. For progress, it may be necessary to curb your ego and self-dependence. That means you must be authentic and do things appropriately, based on their perspective, not yours.

    For example, after Yvon Chouinard founded Patagonia, he wisely recognized a growing interest in helping the environment, and capitalized on it by dedicating a percent of sales to environmental needs. This locked in engagement from his employees and customers.

  3. Be willing to adapt quickly as conditions change. I find that some of the smartest entrepreneurs are the most reluctant to accept new realities, and unwisely keep charging down a road now leading in a new direction. Steve Jobs was a victim of this mentality in the early days of Apple, pushed out of his early CEO role before he could make it great.

  4. Look for ways to make everyone a winner with you. Some leaders have to prove they are right and others are wrong, whereas wise leaders seek ways to strategically satisfy all parties. Learn to plant the right seed, and instead of convincing people they're wrong, find common ground and persuade them that what they really want is your desired outcome.

  5. Learn to let go of small things and hold on to strategic. Being willing to concede and learn, without giving up on your direction, is indicative of a wise leader. You can be in charge, without always being in control. Learn to delegate the operational decisions, to give you time to manage strategic ones. Keep yourself aligned with long-term goals.

  6. Act in the interests of expanding the total market. In business, just leading your company is not enough. Sometimes, to scale the market you need drive expansion by co-opetition or fostering common platforms. Elon Musk offered his battery patents free to all takers in order to expand the electric car market, and provide a common infrastructure.

  7. Understand and exercise political judgement. Wise leaders read the viewpoints, emotions, and power positions of others, through monitoring their everyday verbal and nonverbal communication. These leaders also carefully consider timing—when to make a move or to discuss issues, or mobilize other leaders to focus on common objectives.

My goal here is to help you evolve from smart to wise by providing the guidance and insights from the successes and failures of others before you, to reduce your learning time and pains. Also I’m convinced that smartness alone is not enough to assure success. We need wise leaders to create the maximum lasting value for society, as well as shareholders. You too can be one of these.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/23/2021 ***

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

6 Action Stages To Get From Your Dream To A Business

goal-setting=businessBefore you, as an entrepreneur, can hope to successfully start a new business, you need to set some goals and milestones to lead the way. It’s easy to talk in the abstract about all the possible applications for a new technology, but you don’t have a viable business plan until you have specific targets on what you will produce, when, and how.

Yet many people avoid these specifics out of fear of the unknown, or set some totally unreachable goals. I’m a believer in having a healthy disregard for the impossible, but it does help to have a structured path to get there. Only when you have conceptualized your idea into realistic goals can you move on to prepare an implementation plan.

Yet even the best entrepreneurs are not sure why they succeed or fail. As a result, they blame failures on the wrong things, and are surprised when they can’t reproduce successes. Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., in her classic book “Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals,” gives six great recommendations around goal setting in general, and I’ve adapted them to the startup environment as follows:

  1. Formalize your goals. Setting a goal requires the conceptualization of an idea into structured thought, and formalizing that thought into one or more goals. For a startup, that formalization is a business plan. It’s hard to know when you have arrived, if you have never figured out and declared where you are going.
  1. It’s about execution. Most of the time, startup founders know what needs to be done to reach a goal, but just don’t manage to actually do it. Focusing on execution is essential for success, whether it be for business or personal goals. Action trumps thinking, especially when the future in uncertain.
  1. Seize the moment. Given how busy most entrepreneurs are, and how many goals they are pursuing at once, it’s not surprising that most routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal, because they simply fail to notice the opportunity. Startups who move swiftly get traction with customers and investors.
  1. Know what to do. Once you’ve seized the moment, you’ve got to figure out exactly what you’re going to do with it. This is why experience in your business domain, and experience running a startup are so valuable to investors. Everyone can learn, but it takes time, and goals are jeopardized by time in this rapidly moving world.
  1. Put your shields up. Goals require protection – distractions, temptations, and competing goals can steal your attention and your energy, and sap your motivation. Entrepreneurs need to focus on creating value for their customers and investors, and be sure to spend time on critical business issues, rather than the current crisis.

  1. Know how you are doing. Achieving a goal also requires careful monitoring. If you don’t know how well you are doing, you can’t adjust your behavior or your strategies accordingly. Check your progress frequently against milestones and financial projections of the business plan.

When you create goals in business, no matter how unrealistic they might seem, you are deciding that they are possible and that you are going to find a path to meeting them. To make this happen, you need all the motivation you can muster, and all the guidance from experts, to achieve success in these goals, and achieve your long-term dreams.

It probably means stretching beyond your comfort zone, by developing creativity if you are mainly practical, and mastering the art of execution and organization if you are mainly creative. Also, you need to really believe that you can achieve your goal, even if it’s taking longer than you planned. Don’t concentrate so hard on reaching your goal that you lose sight of why you set it in the first place. Enjoy the ride.

Marty Zwilling