Monday, August 30, 2021

10 Self-Assessment Checks For Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Image-Man-aspiring-entrepreneurMaking the decision to start your own business is a major commitment, with huge implications for skills and lifestyle. Yet there is no standardized testing or certification required or available anywhere to help you decide if you are a good fit for entrepreneurship, or founding a business is right for you. An MBA or other academic credentials just don’t do it.

Therefore, the least you can do is take advantage of some of the self-assessment tools and guides around, like the classic book “The Entrepreneur Equation,” by Carol Roth, which highlights personal characteristics and skills required. Someday, I expect there will be a more formal certification required, like lawyers and accountants have to pass, to hang out their shingle.

Until that happens, I recommend that you consider the following ten mindset checks from Carol and others on your business aspirations, before you step in so deep that it’s hard to back out:

  1. Critically assess your motivation. Are you bored, wanting to be free of a boss, or eager to showcase a hot technology? These are not valid reasons to start a business. But if you're focused on solving a real problem, believe you can do it better than anyone else, and confident in wearing many hats, you have the right start-up mindset.
  1. Say hello to multiple new bosses. When you start your own business, you are no longer in control. You will likely not have the freedom you dreamed of. You will be controlled by your customers, investors, lenders – and you are personally responsible for answering to all of them, all of the time.
  1. Evaluate how well you work with others. Many people dream of opening a business as an escape from annoying coworkers and overbearing bosses. But now you have to interface with even more people, including accountants, lawyers, as well as clients and team members. You need to be comfortable with people and have sharp people skills.
  1. Add up your responsibilities. Owning a business is very much like raising a child. It’s a 24/7 job. If anything happens to the business (including a loss of income), how will it affect your family or home life? Remember, the buck always stops with you.
  1. Look at your management and industry experience. Being able to manage employees and vendors is the type of skill assumed before starting your own business. You’ll also need to know your industry inside and out. It helps to work in a similar company before you start your own.
  1. Take stock of whom you know. Business comes down to not what you know, but whom you know. Good connections are worth their weight in gold. They will get you interest from investors and lenders, and you will receive better financing, prices, terms, and conditions from business suppliers and professional services.
  1. Be honest about your relationship with money. Don’t expect your relationship with money to change just because you’ve opened a business. Opening a business requires money, as well as sound financial management. Do you panic about spending money or avoid financial risk at all costs?
  1. Assess your personality type. If you are a person who likes stability and control, or if you prefer when things go as planned, the roller-coaster ride of a new business may not be right for you. Every new business has highs and lows, and plenty of the unexpected.
  1. Examine the marketplace and your competition. To brand your business and woo investors, you'll need to understand why and how you can outshine competitors. Both good and bad competitors will influence how successful your business will be.
  1. Test your scalability. Successful businesses rely on automation and delegation. Will you be able to teach other employees to do your work? If your business relies on your brain and skills alone, you might have a successful job, but not a successful business.

Please don’t take these steps as being too negative, but do remember that the risks are high. Statistics say that the failure rate for new businesses within the first 5 years is as high as 90 percent. That should indicate that a lot of entrepreneurs get more than they bargained for. Think twice before you invest your precious time, money, and energy, and then go for it!

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, August 29, 2021

8 Leadership Steps To Inspire Higher Team Commitment

high-business-team-engagementAs a business advisor, one of the most disheartening things I see in business today is a serious lack of engagement at all levels, consistent with Gallup’s global engagement survey from a while back, finding only 13 percent of workers fully engaged in their job. I see people walking around every day like zombies in a trance. The sad part is that is seems to be getting worse, rather than better.

I’ve heard many views on how to fix this, but I was most impressed with the specifics in a classic book, “The Workplace Engagement Solution,” by David Harder. He speaks from years of work with companies now leading the way, including Walt Disney, HBO, and Morgan Stanley. In my view, every company needs to follow all his action items, including the ones paraphrased here:

  1. CEO takes charge personally of improving engagement. Simply walking down the hall to human resources and telling them to fix the problem doesn’t do it. When the HR executive launches an employee engagement initiative, employees look past his or her shoulder to the CEO for cues that mean “business as usual” or no real commitment.
  1. Leaders walk the talk and use a democratic approach. If employees don’t see their leaders stand up and lead by example, employees will feel less engaged—and be less willing to do their best work. The most effective leadership style for today’s workers (Millennials and Boomers) is the democratic participative style, while retaining final say.
  1. Express continuous, and genuine praise to employees. Praise alone is one of the most powerful engagement motivators. Take the time to give genuine, specific feedback in a friendly, yet professional manner, in front of peers. A once-a-year bonus check or award is nice, but private occasional monetary awards will not increase engagement.
  1. Seeks ways to keep talent current and relevant. It all must start with hiring people who are the right fit for your desired culture. The right culture fit is actually more important than skills or previous experience. After the hire comes mentoring and continuous training as the key to engagement. Provide growth opportunities to retain the best.
  1. Packages engagement as an asset, not an expense. Your company’s success is dependent on your customer’s happiness, which is set primarily by engaged employees. Thus it’s important to stop thinking about the cost of employees and look at the benefits the employee can bring to your company. Treat employees as an extension of yourself.

  1. Moves the vision from short-term to shared value. Without a clear sense of purpose, employees will not be fully present, awake, or deeply involved in their work. Simply creating shareholder return each quarter is not enough. Today, every company needs a value-driven culture that is shared by employees, customers, and shareholders.
  1. Is transparent and fosters transparency at all levels. In this age of extreme access to information, no one can hide relationships, business problems, or economic impacts. In this new landscape, we can no longer ask workers to take on more responsibility without demonstrating the same in ourselves. Trying to hide the truth at any level reduces trust.
  1. Shows respect for employees and learns from them. When we interact with others in the workplace, it pays to conquer our differences by finding ways to connect first. Learn from and listen to that new co-worker or have lunch with someone in another department. Mentors can be particularly powerful in helping colleagues break out of the trance.

Organizations around the world claim to spend billions of dollars every year to awaken and engage their employees, but it hasn’t changed much. In fact, I’m convinced that the escalating rate of change in technology and the market is a large part of the problem. It has more than offset the conventional approaches to engagement and productivity.

Most workers hesitate to engage because they are overwhelmed trying to keep up with change. Rather than trying to change and drive them, we need to teach our workers how to change themselves, starting with the points outlined here. When was the last time you were a role model for embracing change?

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, August 28, 2021

5 Strategies For Dealing With Opposing Views At Work

opposing-views-at-workOne thing is certain in any business – not everyone you have to deal with will be like you, or will like you (and vice versa). These people may include one of your business partners, an investor, a key vendor, or even one of your best customers. In my role as a business advisor, I see more and more how business people must bridge these differences to accomplish shared business goals.

We have all heard the stories of business disasters that result from people who are so different that they can’t get along. Some of these are legendary, including the Steve Jobs differences with John Sculley. Some are more current, such as the travails of Uber investors challenging founder Travis Kalanick, and the daily political struggles surrounding former President Donald Trump.

On a more positive note, as the business world becomes a global space, all of us have to learn to live and work with people of very different cultures, religions, political opinions, as well as different generations and genders. You have to manage and operate within more and more diverse teams, and your success in a career, or in building your business, depends on it.

Thus I was pleased to see these challenges addressed directly in the classic book, “How to Work With and Lead People Not Like You,” by Kelly McDonald, a well-known marketing and communications expert who specializes in multicultural and diversity marketing. She offers a set of strategies and tools for communicating across cultural and other barriers, including people you don’t like:

  1. Understand that they’re not trying to be difficult. Most people you have to deal with in starting and running a business are just being who they are. They are behaving the way they were socialized – the sum of how they were raised, cultural influences, and the dynamics of previous roles. Don’t let your emotion or theirs impede communication.
  1. Don’t try to change them – be civil and diplomatic. People can change themselves, but you can’t change them. Whatever their demeanor is toward you (or your business), remain positive and professional, and treat the other person with courtesy and respect. Do not allow tension to escalate, and your blood pressure and sanity will thank you for it.
  1. Adjust your expectations that everyone thinks like you. Business people come from different backgrounds and experiences, so don’t expect their behavior and opinions to always mesh with yours. Accept that there are very few absolute rights and wrongs in business, so expect different viewpoints, and don’t allow anyone to push your buttons.
  1. Focus on the business at hand and getting results. You are there to do a job, and so are they. Successful work relationships don’t have to be rooted in liking each other. Focus on the outcome you are seeking and what you and your counterpart need to do to get there. Success is about cooperation, respect, solving problems and working together.
  1. Agree to disagree without being judgmental. Saying “I see it differently” is neither judgmental nor combative, and it doesn’t mean you are trying to “win the argument” or persuade the other person to change their opinion. It diffuses tension and can lead to constructive conversation that allows you and your peers to work together productively.

In all cases, it’s important to be positive and maintain a can-do attitude. People avoid negativity and they are drawn to positivity. You can become a role model, a leader, and an ally for many team members which will lead to breakthroughs and results with even the most non-compatible situations. A positive mental attitude will also improve your health, and add years to your life.

Just remember that you have a business or a career to run. Experts are convinced that a diverse workforce, including people with different values and different perspectives, leads to better decisions and solutions – ultimately growing business opportunities, profits, and satisfaction. Diversity isn’t going away. Learn to deal with it now, and be the leader you always wanted to be.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, August 27, 2021

7 Personal Habits Let You Have Fun While Working Hard

happy-business-peopleAre you one of those people who believe that happiness at work is an oxymoron? If so, maybe it’s time to rethink your perspective, and perhaps start enjoying work for a change. As an advisor to new entrepreneurs and new ventures, I’m seeing a refreshing new focus by Millennials on work and successful new companies with a purpose, and more productivity through happy employees.

Based on results and feedback from several leading companies, including Google, Apple, and, happiness is the ultimate productivity booster. Happy employees, in this view, are more loyal, make better decisions, excel at managing their time, and develop other crucial leadership skills. There are many good articles which outline what these companies do right.

In fact, many people are quick to put the onus all back on companies to keep their employees happy, but I’m convinced that happiness at work requires effort on both sides. We need guidance on the employee responsibilities in the pursuit of happiness. It’s been my observation that employee attitudes, expectations, and bad habits are often the biggest barriers to success.

Thus I was pleased to see some guidance aimed at the people in the classic book, “Unlocking Happiness at Work,” by Jennifer Moss, who is a well-recognized speaker on the subject of happiness and gratitude at work. She is convinced that happiness at work can never be achieved without the right personal habits, and she has some key recommendations for getting there:

  1. Practical – focus on habits that are most relevant and useful. Although novelty is important in our lives, good work habit building is about opening up bandwidth in our brain to attend to things that we often take for granted, or ignore because we are too emotionally bogged down, like timely and positive response to phone calls and email.
  1. Enduring – add permanent positive changes every day. Building good habits is not a one-time-shot that has a beginning and end. The business world we live in today is constantly changing, so every habit improvement should be seen only as a part of an ongoing learning process. Most people are happiest when they are learning new things.
  1. Repeatable – practice daily repetition until automatic. If we reinforce a behavior through repetition, our brain will start to naturally select that behavior over another. With effort, the behavior change will be permanent. Take five minutes longer to enjoy coffee without diving into emails. Enjoy a 15-minute quiet time at lunch to reset, every day.
  1. Simple – start with some simple quick wins. Keeping a new habit simple will yield a quicker path to automaticity. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start more complicated habits; just start with a quick win to build the momentum and feedback. For example, sending someone a thank-you-note every day for a job well done will yield quick payoffs.
  1. Incremental – don’t aim for sweeping changes all at once. Want to get to work on time? Rather than make a big move and setting your clock for 4am, start by setting your clock five minutes earlier each day until the desired arrival time has been achieved. Get to appreciate your peers by stopping by some desk once a week for a couple of minutes.

  1. Short – limit time spent daily developing a new habit. If you never get around to strategic thinking, start with two minutes of quiet, focused time every morning, so it doesn’t seem like a huge investment of time all at once. Get in the habit of putting yourself first at least once per day. Your happiness and productivity will both go up.
  1. Targeted – integrate new habits into a healthy lifestyle. Don’t believe the old myth that it takes 21 days of pain to build a good habit. It’s more important to make key changes a part of your daily routine through healthy incremental steps. Develop a daily routine that includes self-care, including the proper rest, exercise, and recreation.

Given that most business professionals spend roughly 90,000 hours of their life working, separating work from happiness only gives rise to stress and unhappiness everywhere. It’s up to you, as well as your company, to stimulate that sense of meaning in your work that leads to satisfaction on both sides. How hard have you been persisting to make it a win-win relationship?

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, August 25, 2021

9 Mindset Indicators of a High Potential Entrepreneur

alicia-bruce-entrepreneurIn my role as mentor to business professionals, I often get the question about your potential of going out on your own as an entrepreneur, versus your current role of working for a boss at an established company. Of course, that’s a personal decision, with many considerations and risks, but in my experience, the answer depends on some key mindset elements you can best assess.

Most people think success depends on first having that innovative and unique idea, but I would beg to differ. As an angel investor, I have found that good ideas are a dime a dozen, but the ability to turn them into a successful business is a rare skill, or ideal focus. Thus, I recommend that you look hard inside your own head for the mindset and ability to adopt these strategies:

  1. Focus on business problems first, not dreams. A business problem is something people are willing to provide money for a solution, not a solution looking for a problem. Entrepreneurs must enjoy the hard work of solving problems, and quickly get past the idea stage, with focus on a specific product or service, including timeframes and financials.

  2. Able to marshal people and other support resources. A new business is never a single person operation. Successful entrepreneurs have to be people oriented, to solicit experts with various skills, including marketing, production, operations, and finance. Most importantly, you have to deal with customers, and understand their wants and needs.

  3. Be willing to make commitments and hard decisions. You have to be willing to accept full responsibility for all aspects of your new business. There is no one above you to bail you out, and blame has no place in business. Many people I know have great ideas, but are all too comfortable letting someone else make the decisions or take the blame.

  4. Provide both thought and people leadership. First of all, this requires recognition that leadership is primarily inspiration and trust, rather than giving orders. It also requires effective communication, and being a role model for the team, investors, and customers. If you are not comfortable with all these, I recommend that you stay in your current role.

  5. Believe in the need for marketing and selling. With today’s world-wide Internet, no solution is so compelling that “if we build it, they will come.” You need to sell yourself, as well as your product. Marketing is necessary via social media, traditional media, and personal visibility, to attract customers, loyalty, and a competitive brand image.

  6. Relish being a “jack of all trades,” rather than expert. If you enjoy wearing many different hats and are constantly learning new skills, you will get more satisfaction as an entrepreneur. Your team will always be smaller than the number of skills needed, so you have to be willing and able to jump in to save the day. There are no startup expert roles.

  7. Enjoy the challenge of taking a calculated risk. Fear of failure or significant risk has stymied many aspiring entrepreneurs, or ruined their health. Every new business has many unknowns and much risk. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must enjoy taking risks, but always look for the balance between extreme risk, and smart risk versus return.

  8. Demonstrate agility and timeliness in all actions. In this rapidly changing world, being first at the right place, and pivoting quickly as things evolve are critical elements. If you like to study things over and over again, or are prone to second-guessing your decisions, the entrepreneur lifestyle may not be for you. Entrepreneurs must react and recover quickly.

  9. Start with a purpose and a long-term plan. In established enterprises, professionals are expected to complete assigned tasks, and leave the long-term planning to others. The best entrepreneurs follow their passion and purpose, and tend to think more long-term for their satisfaction, rather than short-term. Others look to you for the path to success.

If one or more of these mindset elements is definitely not you, and you are unhappy with your current role, it might be time to do some job hunting, but now is probably not the time to strike out on your own as an entrepreneur. While entrepreneurs consistently claim to be happier and healthier than employees, the role is certainly no fun for those who don’t have the right mindset.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/10/2021 ***



Monday, August 23, 2021

7 Personal Decisions That Delineate Your Best Startup

your-best-startupMost aspiring entrepreneurs I know are just waiting for that unique idea to strike them that will kickstart their new venture, put them in control of their lifestyle, achieve financial independence, and maybe even change the world. Unfortunately, these goals are often mutually exclusive, and focusing on the wrong ones won’t bring you that business success and satisfaction you crave.

Thus, in my role as mentor to young entrepreneurs, I always recommend that you first take a hard look at your own values and priorities, before jumping into any new startup, as the founder, or even as a side hustle. Here is my list of key questions to ask yourself, to best route your passions to a business that will bring you more visibility and respect than pain:

  1. When is the best time to embark on this journey? Timing is critical for every startup. I know too many who have failed due to pending family commitments, lack of preparation, or health failure. Of course, if you wait for the perfect time, you may never start. I do first recommend getting some business experience, building relationships, and managing risk.

    Some advisors recommend that the best time for a startup is immediately after academic studies, or even earlier, but I find that real business experience, perhaps many years in business, is the best education on the realities of business, current tools, and processes.

  2. Should I start out alone, or assemble a team first? For me, the acid test of a leader and an idea is whether you can convince other people, and perhaps a co-founder, to join you in your quest. A business is never a solo operation. You need complementary skills for marketing, financials, and operations. If you find no takers, you may not have a future.

  3. Is monetary return or helping others your priority? Only you know whether you can find passion in creating the next Amazon, or bringing joy to people who are suffering. I often hear that the people who have made a lot of money are still not happy, and wish they had taken a different path. Think twice before committing to a business that is work.

    A winning strategy today is to combine these objectives, by committing a portion of your profits for a higher cause. For example, TOMS shoes agreed to donate a pair of shoes to the needy for every pair sold. The return was far greater than the cost of donated shoes.

  4. Do I rely on my own resources of seek investors? Bootstrapping is always a great alternative, since you can retain full ownership and make all your own decisions. Yet, I find that most of us don’t have the financials for that option, so we must share the equity, control, and reward, and rely on funding from family, friends, and professional investors.

  5. How do I assign responsibilities and compensation? Usually people who are capable and willing to join a startup, especially for a key role, expects to be given a big title and real equity, if not top cash compensation. It takes real work and skill on your part to recruit the right people to the right roles. Friends and family should not be your solution.

  6. Would I prefer a local business or global enterprise? If your comfort level is local, and you don’t like too much complexity, then a small successful business will serve you well. If your goal is to compete with Jeff Bezos, then be prepared to manage thousands of locations and employees around the world, with all the issues to get exponential growth.

  7. What do you see as your legacy and exit strategy? Some people like the challenges of building a product and starting a company, then doing it again, while others look forward to scaling the business and driving a world-wide public enterprise. Your legacy may be that of a serial entrepreneur, or an industry giant and world-wide leader.

    For example, Richard Branson relishes the satisfaction of initiating innovative startups, and rewarding strong team members with the opportunity to run a joint spinoff. His Virgin Group now encompasses over 400 companies, and his legacy as a leader is assured.

Not recognizing these dilemmas early has cost many an entrepreneur his sanity, as well as his business. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and are driven by different values and expectations. Only you can turn these questions and related decisions into your competitive edge, as well as satisfying results. It’s easier to set your direction early than to change it later.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/09/2021 ***



Sunday, August 22, 2021

7 Ways Your Marketing Needs To Meet Today’s Customers

Inbound-marketingEvery business I know is intimately familiar with outbound marketing, or pushing your message out to customers through email, newspaper, and television advertising. Only a few really understand the process and value of inbound marketing, for pulling customers to your brand. In my experience, it’s the fastest way to create trust and authenticity in this age of the consumer.

Inbound (pull) marketing is all about convincing potential customers that they found you and have a relationship with you, rather than being accosted by your message at every turn. It works best through effective use of social media, mobile apps, societal initiatives, becoming an influencer, and providing a modern easily-found web site with credible customer-focused content.

According to the classic book, “Surfing the Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age,” by Emmy Award winning advertising executive, Daniel Cobb, we are seeing the first of several waves of change in the new world of digital marketing, where consumers are in charge, and they are immune to most marketing influences, except the ones they initiate. It’s a tsunami of change.

In fact, brand leadership in this digital age is far more than just inbound marketing, but both Cobb and I believe it starts there, and sets the tone for the new way to structure your business and set your long-term strategy. Here is our list of key reasons to use inbound marketing as a focus for the next generation of your business and your customers:

  1. Modern customers trust only self-service marketing. Consumers are doing their own research and don’t want to engage a pushy salesperson or message. That means they want to do their own value comparisons, and ideally see confirmation from friends and other customers. Your challenge is to provide credible content, sources, and assistance.
  1. Optimize your content for search engines to get attention. According to relevant reports, 93 percent of online experiences start with a search engine. If you have a consistent and valuable presence on your site and your social media channels, you have a better chance of a higher ranking on search engine result pages.
  1. Participate in the top social media sites for maximum impact. By producing great content for search engines, you also give your social media manager consistent, valuable social fodder. The top social media channels for participation these days include Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. Don’t just monitor – engage customers.
  1. Pull marketing is less expensive than push marketing. Pull marketing costs money, for content creation, website, and social media management. But these costs tend to be lower, start earlier, and can be spread evenly over time. They get conversations started, and initiate word-of-mouth referrals, which are the cheapest by far, and self-perpetuating.
  1. Pull marketing is more effective with consumers. Push marketing effectiveness has dropped sharply with the explosion of technology over the past decade. The problem is simply that consumers now demand to make their own choices, with interactivity and input from friends, about the type of data they receive. That trend is growing every day.

  1. Mobile devices and apps enhance social interactivity. As U.S. smartphone penetration now exceeds 85 percent, and mobile activity averages are well over five hours per day, the advantages of inbound marketing continue to increase. If you are not yet using this channel natively, your brand will be lost from view to key constituents.
  1. Inbound marketing data is more easily measured for ROI. Inbound data, including site page visits, blog reads, and actual orders linked to content are much more relatable to return-on-investment than email blasts, sound-bites delivered, and TV show ratings. More and more automated tools and apps are being delivered to assist in this process.

In fact, I believe inbound marketing, along with social media marketing, are just two of many waves of innovation that we will soon see in this age of the consumer. Your challenge, if you want to be a leader in your business domain, is to stay alert and open to change, rather than a laggard in capitalizing on the next wave. Don’t wait for the tsunami of business change to wash over you.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, August 21, 2021

7 Keys To Scaling Your Startup To Be The Next Unicorn

Unicorn-Fantasy-HorseWhen you see startups like SpaceX and Pinterest grow from a low valuation to a billion dollars in just a few years, it’s easy to assume that if you just keep doing what you are doing, you can get there as well. Yet as a business advisor I am convinced that making the jump from a startup to a the next unicorn takes a different mindset, and actions most entrepreneurs are reluctant to face.

Many entrepreneurs never get past their first-stage focus on their innovative product, to scaling the business globally, organizing a structure to handle thousands of employees, and concentrating their focus “on the business” rather than working “in the business.” In my experience, here are some of the key elements of that “second-stage” of entrepreneurship:

  1. Move from small investors to major venture capital. Startups usually think in terms of a million to 10 million dollar infusions, but aspiring unicorns usually need to seek financial investments of hundreds of millions, or even a billion dollars. Of course, that means a mindset willing to give up much more equity, and taking on a whole new level of risk.

    Then there is the pressure to go public (IPO), and open your investment to thousands, maybe millions, of small investors. That requires work and risk to comply with reporting requirements of the SEC, including the additional accounting and reporting processes.

  2. Bring in an experienced Board and world-class leaders. You probably won’t get too far with friends who volunteer to be on your Board, and the mavericks who built your first solution. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that you as the Founder will survive. In my experience, less than half of founding entrepreneurs even aspire to stay and scale their company.

  3. Switch your focus from product development to sales. Explosive growth to an enterprise normally requires a scalable sales model, a well-documented process with incentives, training, and metrics for tracking and management. Of course, customer relationships, and penetration into new market segments are also critical elements.

  4. Increase communication, both internally and externally. You can no longer provide leadership by just “walking around” and talking to all the key people. Working with the media is required, both social as well as the press, through public relations and internal channels. Formal documentation of strategy and progress will be expected by investors.

  5. Drive productivity and engagement through shared values. Every rapidly growing company struggles with keeping their teams focused and committed. By defining your values and behavior with actions based on values, you define a culture which people can follow to enable everyone to make decisions for maximum productivity on the front line.

    A popular approach these days is to advertise a higher purpose that embodies your values, such as protecting the environment or assisting the disadvantaged, to your team, as well as customers. They will then line up with you, per Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia.

  6. Isolate marketing from sales for maximum customer focus. In large enterprises, marketing is expected to build your brand, handle competitor positioning, and set pricing and terms, while sales is focused on closing deals and managing customer relationships. Both are required, and become the central force driving growth, as well as survival.

  7. Utilize mergers and acquisitions to accelerate growth. Now is the time to start buying your competitors, rather than just crushing them, or trying to develop enough new products internally to overrun them. This involves working with outside business advisors, doing your due diligence internally, and creatively integrating outside processes.

    As you might imagine, even with the proper planning, mergers and acquisitions are difficult to pull off. Overlapping staff, culture clashes, and diverging visions are reasons that nine out of ten fail. But they can be spectacular growth vehicles when they work.

Of course, not every entrepreneur wants or needs to grow their business into a billion dollar enterprise. Many are more satisfied and happier in a smaller domain that satisfies their business interests, family needs, and career aspirations.

But if you are determined to be the next Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, you need to seriously tackle the strategies outlined here to survive and compete. In my view, billion dollar business don’t happen by default, but you can do it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/04/2021 ***



Friday, August 20, 2021

7 Key Strategies For Joining The Freelancer Evolution

freelance-revolutionIn case you hadn’t noticed, the world of business is becoming more and more a “gig economy.” This simply means that the number of people with a long-term single-employer agreement is going down, and the number of short-term contractors and freelancers is going up. It’s good for professionals, who get more control, and good for companies, who need more flexible staffing.

In my view, the gig economy is a key driver to the current boom in entrepreneurship – every professional and consultant is actually a solo entrepreneur. The good news is that each of us now has more control over what we do, when we do it, and how we do it. The bad news is we have to think like a business, with all the implications of branding, finding customers, and competitors.

If you are thinking of joining the rush in this direction, I found some practical insights for success in a classic book, “Thriving in the Gig Economy,” by Marion McGovern. She speaks from years of experience mentoring and facilitating independent contractors and helping large companies, since well before the term “gig economy” was even coined.

As a new business advisor and mentor myself, I enjoyed her recommendations on many of these issues. One question I often hear from solo entrepreneurs, and she addresses directly, is “How do I set the right price for my services?” The simple answer is to balance supply and demand, but here are some specific considerations that she and I both proclaim as key factors:

  1. Use project pricing rather than hourly rates. Charging by the hour only makes sense for commodity work. For more complex or creative projects, where required hours to complete the work are less predictable, your experience, work ethic, and productivity are competitive advantages. Use them to increase your return, and drive repeat business.
  1. Quantify value to the client as price boundaries. Keep in mind that it is the work, not your pedigree that ultimately determines the price. An old rule of thumb, called the one-percent rule, or one percent of your annual income, should be your target daily fee. Like product companies, your pitch should quantify value to clients, rather than your costs.
  1. Your intellectual capital has value – factor it. If a gig is going to build your intellectual capital by broadening your skill base, or connections to future business, you should be willing to do it for less than you might otherwise. Conversely, if a client needs your unique knowledge and contacts, you should charge a higher price. Know your competitive value.
  1. Assess your fixed and variable costs per gig. Many solo entrepreneurs I know, who now work primarily from home, under-estimate their true costs, since they never had to worry about them as employees. These include office space and supplies, travel, training, bookkeeping, advertising, and many others. Simple rates-per-hour are very misleading.
  1. Factor in project risk before setting a price. The riskier a project, whether due to scope, aggressive goals, or too many unknowns, the more it should pay. The number of competitors who are willing and able to tackle risky gigs is small. The message here is to evaluate and negotiate each gig independently, rather than advertise a fixed low price.

  1. Anchor clients always deserve special treatment. An anchor client is one that pays your rent, so to speak, by giving you recurring business, and providing a stable level of income. Some solo entrepreneurs don’t hesitate to increase fees each year to match new clients, but that can be a mistake. Having a predictable base income is a wonderful thing.
  1. Government contracting is not for the faint of heart. Federal, state, and municipal governments are among the largest consumers of entrepreneur and freelance services, but client acquisition costs may be very high. Many require special licensing, insurance coverage, or security clearances. For these you should consider partnering with someone who has already satisfied the requirements.

While gigs have long been a focus on the low end of the skill spectrum, I now find more and more best-in-class professionals choosing the solo entrepreneur independent path and thriving. New digital platforms, such as Guru and Toptal, can quickly give you credibility and get you in front of top opportunities, but it’s up to you to compete and win in this new world of work.

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, August 18, 2021

8 Unpublicized Strategies From Serious Entrepreneurs

unpublished-entrepreneur-insightsThe message I hear publicly from most entrepreneurs is that you have to think outside the box and take big risks to ever beat the odds and be among the less than ten percent that experience real success. But privately, as a mentor to many entrepreneurs, I see mindsets and attributes that may be equally critical to success, but are not readily admitted, for fear of being too wacky.

Here is a summary of some key insights I have gathered over the years from talking to and reading about serious entrepreneurs, including some of the “movers and shakers” today who have built multi-billion dollar enterprises, and really changed our world:

  1. The magic is in only pursuing smart risks. All risks are not the same. Great entrepreneurs pride themselves on their ability to isolate opportunities that have minimal risk, by virtue of their trusted relationships, their own expertise, and access to resources. They also have supreme confidence in their ability to overcome risk issues.

  2. Ignore passion as a key opportunity driver. They know there is nothing wrong with having passion for a new idea, but they don’t let it influence business decisions. As an investor, when I hear or see too much passion and soft financials, I will wish you the best of luck and walk away. I want to hear facts and data that can support a business success.

  3. Don’t look to customers for breakthrough ideas. Steve Jobs and Henry Ford are famous for their assertion that, contrary to popular belief, the customer isn't always right about what they want next. You need to listen to customers on how to tune existing products, but most existing customers actually fear change and avoid new technologies.

  4. My new business comes before my personal life. Serious entrepreneurs will privately admit the business is first, and the family second. It dominates your thoughts and actions 24 hours a day, and you really believe that your personal well-being is dependent on the success of the business, more than friends and family. There will be time for friends later.

  5. Academic degrees can sometimes slow you down. At some stage of your education, you realize that you can learn faster, and get more satisfaction, in the real world than in a academic environment. Thus you drop out of school to start the business of your dreams, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Advanced degrees won’t help you run your startup.

  6. Being the boss is a big burden and not much fun. If you are looking forward to enjoying your own decisions, prepare to be disappointed. You now have many bosses, including partners, investors, and customers. Most entrepreneurs feel loneliness and pain from that part of their job, but have the discipline and negotiation skills to make it work.

  7. You relish being an outlier in the business world. Many of the best entrepreneurs secretly enjoy their role as controversial, maybe even borderline crazy. They love to communicate with minimal filters, and be remembered for unusual assertions and predictions. Making the impossible happen brings their greatest satisfaction.

  8. Relationships are seen as expendable or short-term. Many successful entrepreneurs are quick to break up with partners and advisors who no longer can help them, or are no longer supportive. They also are not hesitant to fire customers with unreasonable demands, or don’t fit their strategy. In other words, they don’t try to please everyone.

It’s true, the entrepreneur role and mindset are not for everyone, and successful entrepreneurs generally have their detractors, as well as loyal followers. The role is a demanding one, and compromise is usually not a winning option. While others like to minimize risks of all sorts, and bend an existing market, real success comes from defining a new market and new customers.

I have learned to highly respect that mindset, and hope to see more of it. I encourage you to take a hard look at your own drivers, and trust your own insights. Today’s world will continue to evolve. Your options are to lead, follow, or get out of the way. Now is the time to decide which is the most fun for you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/03/2021 ***



Monday, August 16, 2021

6 Positive Steps For Taking Control Of Your Work Life

work-life-balanceEvery dedicated business professional I know can’t find enough hours in a day to do their best work, and yet they often find themselves saying yes to new requests from the people around them. In some cases it may be fear of retribution by the boss, but more often they just hate to disappoint others, and end up instead with high stress and low credibility in a crisis to deliver.

In addition to saying yes too often, professionals under pressure often say no poorly, by attacking the requestor or by avoiding any definitive response. Either of these approaches usually makes a stressful situation worse, often leading to guilt, burnout, and continuing accommodation.

The solution to this problem is part of a bigger challenge – taking back control of your work life, and regaining a sense of freedom and influence, as described in the classic book, “Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life and Health You Crave,” by Denise R. Green, a noted executive coach, speaker, and CEO of Brilliance, Inc.

A key part of her message that resonated with me, as a mentor to entrepreneurs, is her guidance on how to deal with the constant demands and requests that every business founder faces. She provides pragmatic advice for dealing with the three pains of the brain (social, status, and priorities) that erode your control and your satisfaction with work that you really love to do.

Specifically, here are six steps to declining requests without actually saying no, that she and I both recommend, when your plate is full or your priorities need to be elsewhere:

  1. Create a pause before responding. Did you ever notice how a yes can slip out of your mouth or get sent in an email before you even think about it? It’s tough to undo that yes without hard feelings or guilt. Before you respond, at least take a deep breath, or better yet, buy some time with language like “Let me give this some thought, and I’ll get back to you by the end of the day.” Be sure to follow-up as promised, to maintain your credibility.

  1. Clearly decline without using the word no. Skip the “maybes” or “I’ll try.” Make sure your response is clear and concise, with wording such as “I wish I could but I’m already over-committed,” “I’m just not able right now to do the job you need,” or “Anything new this week with my schedule is out of the question.” Be sure to keep a smile on your face.
  1. Share a credible reason for declining. Resist the urge to complain about being over-worked and under-appreciated, and share an honest explanation that you think is most credible with the requestor. For example, “I have another commitment at the same time that I can’t move,” or “This isn’t my area of expertise, so I’m just not the best person.”
  1. Offer sincere gratitude (as relevant). Ending with gratitude can soften the decline. It may sound like, “Thank you for considering me,” or “I’m pleased that you would trust me with such an important request.” Research shows that people pay more attention to endings, rather than beginnings, but you may choose to start with the thank-you.
  1. Make an offer that serves both your needs. Do not make an offer simply to make yourself feel better. A good offer might be, “Here is the contact info for the perfect person for this task,” or “I can recommend a new tool which will solve that problem with minimal effort by anyone.” The objective is to get the job done, and stave off future requests.
  1. Drop the guilt. Most times, guilt is just a bad habit – the result of trying to live up to unrealistic, unattainable standards. If you feel guilt, ask yourself, “Have I harmed someone or acted in conflict with my values?” If yes, apologize, then do better. Otherwise don’t let guilt trick you into thinking you are actually doing something productive for you.

Remember, you don’t have to be viewed as a yes person to be viewed as a leader. In fact, if you look at the leaders and most respected people around you, they are clear but selective in what they support and agree to do. They have learned the art of controlling their priorities, and they feel less stressed and more productive as a result. That’s the best way to enjoy work and life.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, August 15, 2021

9 Ways Your Business Leadership Language Must Change

Coaching_Microsite_Main-PhotoIn this age of social media and world-wide Internet, message delivery from business leaders needs to change, just like the message changes from leaders in your personal lives. Just a few years ago, no one could have imagined getting text messages from parents, or a President prone to communicate via Twitter. Not only what you say, but how you deliver it shapes your impact.

In that context, I remember the classic book, “Leadership Material,” by Diana Jones, containing a wealth of insights, compelling stories, and examples taken directly from her coaching sessions with current business leaders. Based on my own experience mentoring entrepreneurs, I see the same things, and recommend the following principles for every aspiring business leader today:

  1. Communication must address content and relationship. Every act of communication now has two messages: a content message and a relationship message. The content is what you want to say, and the other half is how you express your attitudes and feeling. Either can get you valued and followed, or rejected by your team and your customers.

  2. With texting and email, syntax and punctuation are critical. In the new mediums, you don’t have body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions, so every word, syntax, and context is critical. Ignoring the relationship considerations, and ordering people to act, causes resentment. Everyone wants their work and loyalty to be valued.

  3. Influence and collaboration trumps command and control. No longer can leaders consider communication as “information out, information in.” You can’t hide behind your technical expertise or a formally appointed role. To be a leader with influence, you must create a culture of engagement and participation, through your language in all channels.

  4. Message tone must align with your observable actions. With the pervasive use of video and instant messaging, people know when you are “walking the talk,” or not. They sense whether your emotional tone is genuine, and consistent with words received. Relationships and your impact quickly break down if you revert to old default behaviors.

  5. Engagement requires a clear use of “I,” “you,” and “we.” Careful use of these three words is necessary for positive business relationships. They can create engagement, unity, and collaboration, or cause alienation. People want to be included in the goals, as well as the results. Customers want to be part of your family, not just transactions.

  6. Be sure to talk to the team, rather than about them. How many times have you listened to a leader talking about their team, rather than to them? This is often the moment when the emotional tone of the group shifts from anticipation to disappointment, and a crucial opportunity for engagement is lost. The same concept applies to customers.

  7. Maximize inclusion by asking open-ended questions. Inclusive questions allow team members to tap into their thoughtfulness and experience, whether they identify with the main theme or not. Team responses give the leader important information for refining their content and adapting it to new contexts. Ask people to share personal perspectives.

  8. Avoid the impersonal and passive to close the gap. Relationships narrow the distance gap between leader and team, or teams and customers. Impersonal language forces listeners to make assumptions, interpretations, and associations, resulting in misunderstandings and broken relationships. Passive is always the language of distance.

  9. Demonstrate personal accountability without ambiguity. Leaders who never refer to themselves, or use the ambiguous “we,” appear to be dodging ownership and responsibility. In today’s work environments, with multiple locations, and people working from home, people have to count on your words alone to provide the right message.

These guidelines are especially applicable to aspiring future leaders and business professionals who simply want to be appreciated for their contribution. The language of leadership is far more important than title, tenure, or expertise. The new communication vehicles and expectations today gives you new opportunities to highlight your value, or hasten your demise. It’s your choice.

Marty Zwilling

*** See Polish translation, thanks to Marek Murawski ***



Saturday, August 14, 2021

8 Ways The Stakes Are Higher On Customer Expectations

customer-loyaltyWith the advent of the Internet, social media, and instant communication via texting, customer expectations for service, as part of their entire customer experience, have changed. They expect you to be there, to know their history as a customer, and to treat them with priority and respect. They tell their friends and the world everything, and a bad experience can kill your business.

Everyone today is looking for a knock-your-socks-off customer experience, and they know the best companies out there are already doing it. I saw some great insights on how to do it in a classic book, “More is More,” by Blake Morgan, a top thought leader and expert in this area. I particularly liked her points on the evolution of customer service as a key part of the overall experience:

  1. Now available 24x7 via multiple channels. With every business being global in scope and always-on, a phone-in service available in a local time zone during work hours only, is not competitive. As well as phone support, customers expect you to accept mobile messaging, and provide quick responses via social media and multiple Internet websites.

  2. Company finds customers based on interests. No customer enjoys being blasted by irrelevant banner ads, and they don’t have time to sort through all the noise of products out there searching for an audience. The best companies do their homework and find the right customers, based on demographics, prior purchases, and expressed interests.

  3. Technology must improve the customer experience. When you call customer service and it seems to take forever for the agent to help you, it’s likely that she is switching to different applications to get to the right information, or waiting for slow responses. Customers won’t tolerate being asked repeatedly for information you should know.

  4. Customer is in control of the support experience. Today’s customers expect you to find them when they need support, rather than the other way around. Witness the series of airlines public relations disasters, when customers don’t get the proactive attention they need. The days of brand control are over, so you need a strong outreach program.

  5. Customer service is a key part of the marketing budget. In the past, most companies treated customers like yesterday’s news – once they have the sale, the effort decreased. It was normal to find service as understaffed with no budget. Call center queues could put you on hold for thirty minutes or more. Great customer service is the new key to loyalty.

  6. Products must be designed for easy support. With the Internet of Things (IoT), your product can call home directly when it needs support, so you can surprise your customer with a solution, before he knows he has a problem, or the product can fix itself. Designing for support is now as important as designing for low cost, ease of use, and quality.

  7. Reward responsibility and creativity in support. Support has traditionally been the spot for employees with less skill and experience, and less motivation. Today you need your best team members, with the best incentives, focused on impressing customers with creative solutions. You too can be listed as a source of amazing customer experiences.

  8. Optimize experiences for the new generations. Generation Z (born after 1995) is a new major spending demographic, who expects to do everything via their smartphone, and lives on YouTube videos, instead of reading instruction manuals. Millennials really care about social and environmental impacts, so don’t ignore these support implications.

In fact, it’s no longer possible to separate customer support from the overall customer experience. Both are part of the relationship that you build with your customers through a compendium of all the interactions you have with them. Any one of these can be the key to an amazing advocacy, or the beginning of an aggressive visible campaign against you.

The world today is small, and there is no room to hide. Be responsive, do more, and you will get more.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, August 13, 2021

7 Tips For Scaling Your Business To Long-Term Success

Amazon-business-scale-successAs a new business advisor, I am no longer surprised that every new entrepreneur believes the hard part is creating the first product and the business. Perhaps luckily, they have no idea that scaling the business and maintaining vitality as a mature business is even harder. What most often kills a company is the illusion (or delusion) that all is now stable and everyone can relax.

The challenge is to retain the same sense of urgency, energy, commitment, and readiness in a mature company that you felt during the startup stage. The importance and reality of this need has been detailed well in the classic book, “State of Readiness,” by Joseph F. Paris, Jr. He is a recognized thought leader on the subject of operational excellence and strategy.

He and I are both are strong believers that the keys to sustainable success start with building a solid business platform initially, with a strong support structure for scalability, sustainability, and long-term leadership. The proper support structure can only be built if you commit to and implement his following strategy elements:

  1. Learn from the past, build for the future. New and existing companies today need to press beyond what was, through what is, to what will be. Most importantly, this is not just in the products and services you offer, but in the way your company operates. You must proactively improve your business processes, even if they seem to be working today.

  2. Create and cultivate a leadership culture. Leaders in business these days are leaders because people are willing to follow. You can tell the capability of a leader by the caliber of their followers. The best leaders are mentors to their team, and they are stewards of a company’s assets and vision. They build trust, integrity, and respect from everyone.

  3. Communicate the vision, then execute. People will follow only if they know where they are going. Connect the dots to the vision to gain alignment and commitment. Set a course for the destination, but also establish intermediate checkpoints to assess progress along the way. Adjust as prudent and necessary, communicating all the way.

  4. Set-up for success and don’t set-up for failure. Delegate with accountability and responsibility, and keep your focus on the future. Let those to whom you delegate do their job, without micromanaging. Your task is follow-up in support, mentoring, and setting goals. Establish processes, incent innovation, and monitor progress along the way.

  5. Make innovation the requisite for long-term viability. Maintaining the velocity and flexibility to keep up with the market and competitors is a requirement for survival. Your team culture needs to expect failed attempts, but never a fear of failure, only of not trying. Fail quick, fail small, learn, and move on. Change should be expected as the norm.

  6. Construct a program for rebuilding capability. Continually redefine what success looks like into the future. Then you need to identify the talent, skills, and resources your company will need to succeed, as well as when and where they will be needed. Work hard at finding and filling the gaps. Hire and retain the best, and build the rest.

  7. Prepare for sustainability in the long haul. The journey will be long and difficult, so prepare accordingly. Build rock-solid processes first, then increase the through-put and accuracy by introducing the right technologies where it makes sense. Capture your own best practices and replicate them across your company. Constantly strengthen the team.

We can all name companies that started strong, but didn’t scale well, or let complacency drive them off the map. Examples include Webvan, Research in Motion (Blackberry), and Tandy (Radio Shack). To this list, we can add the countless family-owned businesses that could not survive the transition to the next generation. Beware of any sense of entitlement to continuing success.

For scaling and long-term success, every company today needs these strategies for operational excellence, to follow an innovative new startup effort, driven by a passionate and committed entrepreneur. It’s never too late to get started, but it gets harder the longer you wait. Don’t wait until your company is spinning out of control.

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, August 11, 2021

10 Entrepreneur Myths That Need Not Dilute Your Focus

horse-with-wings-pegasus-mythMost of you aspiring entrepreneurs probably have long searched for that special idea that will catapult you and your startup to success. Yet, my experience as a business advisor and investor has convinced me that the magic is not the idea, but you and the execution. I have seen people with mundane ideas hit it big, and really great ideas implemented poorly, with disastrous results.

For example, most people thought Twitter was a total snoozer, when Jack Dorsey was looking for funding, especially with MySpace already owning that territory. Yet today, Twitter is a fifty billion behemoth, and MySpace is forgotten. On the other hand, most people thought Segway was the next big thing back in 2001, as an electric “personal transporter,” but it has yet to find a foothold.

After some meditation, I decided to offer you here my own perspective on some of the top misconceptions that I hear all too often from passionate and really smart people on what it takes to start one and then another successful business:

  1. A successful business is all about the right idea. Contrary to popular belief, there is no shortage of good ideas out there. Every investor I know hears the same ones over and over again. The shortage is of people and teams who can turn an idea into a real business. That takes focus, resolve, resources, and problem solving to make it happen.

  2. True entrepreneurs are born, not made. It’s true that some people are natural risk-takers, but these often do not make the best entrepreneurs. I like people who do their homework first, and take calculated risks, rather than closing their eyes and jumping. You can learn to be an entrepreneur by working in a startup, talking to peers, and mentoring.

  3. Every inventor is an entrepreneur by default. In my experience, inventors tend to be highly focused on technical issues, and not necessarily interested or good at business implementation requirements. For technical innovators, I often recommend finding a partner with deep business savvy. This is a clear case where one plus one equals three.

  4. New businesses are expected to be chaotic. The best new businesses I know are carefully planned and managed, no matter how innovative. The challenges may be unpredictable, but they must be resolved in an orderly way, through people with the right skills and mindset. Businesses that are always in chaos are at a high risk of failure.

  5. A first success leads to low risk on the second. With innovative startups, every new one is a new challenge. Even great leaders tend to assume that the formula that worked once will work again. In reality, every startup brings new unknowns, new people, new competitors, and new customers. Don’t get over-confident that you now know the magic.

  6. True innovation requires breaking the current system. I find that most new business successes minimize breakage. They do, however, most often look outside the box of their own domain to bring new business elements from other domains. For example, many products are now offered by subscription, which was a concept from the services world.

  7. A smart team assures entrepreneurial success. Even with the most capable teams, strong leadership from the founding entrepreneur is required to keep the big picture in perspective, make hard decisions, and provide a strong image. Of course, you must hire the right people and really listen to them, but don’t expect them to do your job.

  8. Enjoy the flexibility to make your own decisions. Starting a new business does put you in control, but you will face a harrowing new set of demands from partners, investors, suppliers, and customers. These can consume a greater part of your life than a simple forty-hour week, and you can’t hand off the decision challenges that you don’t like.

  9. After startup, a business must minimize change. Today, the only constant in business is change. Every entrepreneur must define repeatable processes to stabilize the business, but must never be satisfied with the status quo. Markets, customers, and competitors evolve, and you must continually update the business to stay ahead.

  10. Look inside your organization for spinoffs to grow. People embedded in an existing business are often too narrowly focused, comfortable, and risk averse to be new entrepreneurs. An internal business expansion is often incompatible with established operations, thus mergers and acquisitions are the most common scaling strategies.

You should never allow any of these challenges to discourage you from the joys of entrepreneurship, including the satisfaction of working on your passion, and getting the feedback on having made the world a better place. We all need and look forward to your ideas, your innovation, and your implementation. Keep going and have fun!

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/28/2021 ***



Monday, August 9, 2021

6 Keys To Preserving A Positive Business Image Online

feedback-review-gutEvery startup fears that one angry and unfair customer who can jeopardize the business by a negative post on Ripoff Report, Yelp, or one of the hundreds of other consumer complaint and review sites on the Internet. Most entrepreneurs don’t even know how to keep track of what people are saying about them on the web, much less how to respond or remove it.

Web reputation management, both business and personal, has become a top priority requirement. On the personal side, these items can kill your career, as I discussed in the classic article “Google Yourself to See How Other People See You.” Luckily, the basic principles for reputation management are the same for both business and personal environments:

  1. Actively monitor what people are saying about you. You may assert that monitoring the entire Internet space is an impossible problem. Fortunately, there are already tools out there, like Google Alerts (free) and Brand Yourself, which can do the work for you, and send you a daily email report of every link where your name or brand appears.
  1. Proactively build a positive reputation. Maintaining a good reputation means you have to build one early and maintain it. There is a big difference between no reputation with one negative comment, versus 1000 indications of a positive reputation and one negative. Most people accept that no person or organization is perfect.
  1. Quickly address every negative. Many negative customer experiences can actually be turned into positives, if you quickly acknowledge the problem, resolve it, and spread the positive message before the negative one gets amplified. Don’t repeat the “United Breaks Guitars” experience, which now has been published as a book on what not to do.
  1. Push negative content out of view. In reality, most people will never find negative content, unless a link appears on the first page of search engine results. With the right focus on search engine optimization, or the help of companies like ReputationDefender, you can usually push negative links out of sight into the swamp of the Internet.
  1. Remove unwanted content, where possible. Removing your content from the Web is not as easy as canceling your accounts, nor is it completely impossible. You can easily remove content you own (comments on your site or accounts). Experts, like Reputation Defender, have proprietary techniques to correct or completely remove other unwanted content.
  1. Your reputation is your responsibility. The last step is to recognize that you alone are responsible for managing the reputation of your business and your life. Doing nothing, or counting on more laws, is not an answer. Due to First Amendment rights, offensive content, once entered, is often untouchable, and the sources are immune from liability.

The upside to the difficulty of removing unwanted content is that it does justice to those who have come by their bad reputations legitimately. For curbing bad guys, the speed and visibility of the Internet can be a very useful thing. For all the rest of us, it’s nice to know that we can shout back quickly and broadly, when someone starts to whisper about us.

As I have discussed in previous articles, social networking sites like Facebook are now the most frequently used websites on the Internet. Unfortunately, they have also become some of the most abused websites on the Internet, due to the emotions of failed relationships and the immature whims of young users.

So the social networks are the early place to start, in learning the discipline of building and maintaining a positive reputation. If you get that right, the transition to your business will be easy. On the other hand, if you let your reputation slide early to be “cool,” it may take a lifetime to recover. It’s easier to make Google remember than to forget.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, August 8, 2021

5 Principles Define You As A Multi-Table Entrepreneur

casino-poker-playing-studioKnowing all too well how hard it is to start a single new business, I’ve always wondered how several well-known entrepreneurs, including Richard Branson and Elon Musk, have managed to successfully lead dozens of startups to success, and thrive on the process. These special people are called serial entrepreneurs, because they have figured out how to do it over and over again.

In a very real sense, they seem to succeed at everything they try, just like the rest of us wish we could. I learned a lot about the mindset and actions required from a classic book, “Serial Winner: 5 Actions to Create Your Cycle of Success,” by Larry Weidel, a serial winner in the financial services business world over a forty-year career, while helping other people do the same.

Although Weidel’s focus is more generic, I believe his five principles and actions are extremely relevant and can be more specifically targeted to aspiring entrepreneurs as follows:

  1. Make a decision, any decision, and move on. For entrepreneurs starting a new business, the world is fraught with risk and there are no sure bets. Yet making no decision means you never start, or you quickly lose. Serial entrepreneurs embrace the risk, gather the relevant facts, and move forward. You have to move forward to win.

  1. Don’t just build a business, change the world. Every great startup begins with a vision that is much larger than just making a profit. Serial entrepreneurs understand that the business culture today rewards going beyond profit, to helping people and the planet. They set big goals, challenge limits, and have a mindset to exceed every one.
  1. Be prepared for many pivots, but never quit. Winning in business requires surviving many setbacks. Many experts believe that the single biggest cause of startup failure is that the entrepreneur simply quits too soon. Serial entrepreneurs take every setback as a positive lesson learned, alter their course accordingly, and charge ahead again to win.
  1. Trying is not enough, you have to deliver. Serial entrepreneurs focus on surpassing every objective, and they don’t even think about excuses, like economic downturns, culture changes, and running out of money. They have the mental toughness to keep their head down and charging until they have achieved one hundred percent of the goal.
  1. Each success incents a dozen greater ideas. The best entrepreneurs capitalize on the momentum of each success, and can’t wait to aim even higher the next time, based on lessons learned. Once they have mastered the fundamentals, they are never satisfied, but are driven to continuous improvement and streamlining the process.

It helps to have limitless energy, and unshakable determination. Elon Musk is known for his hundred-hour workweeks, and his endless curiosity. It’s also important to surround yourself with the right people, who can complement your vision with the necessary execution skills. Smart entrepreneurs also make good use of domain experts as advisors and mentors.

Don’t forget that today’s innovative “social economy” requires an emotional attachment that links customers to products, as opposed to competitors, translating into sustainable growth. Serial entrepreneurs have found that multiple simple inspirational product and brand messages are far more influential than ones which highlights product features and functions.

Serial entrepreneurs certainly understand the high probability of failure, but they don’t necessarily like to gamble. Instead, they take calculated risks, stacking the deck in their favor. They must have enough confidence in themselves, supplemented by expert knowledge, solid relationships, or personal wealth, to see the risk as near zero.

For serial entrepreneurs, the next step is often to be the CEO of multiple early-stage startups concurrently, or a parallel entrepreneur. The hot new term for this practice is “multi-table” entrepreneurs, which no doubt is derived from the common online gambling practice of playing multiple poker games at the same time. There is no end to the fun of being a serial winner.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, August 7, 2021

7 Ways To Fail In Setting Up Your Board Of Directors

Intel_Board_of_DirectorsMost entrepreneurs avoid setting up a board of directors for their new business unless or until they sign up an investor who demands a seat on the board. That implies that a board of directors has no value to the founder, and is just another burden that to be assumed for the privilege of attracting outside investors or going public. In my view, nothing could be further from the truth.

Especially for entrepreneurs who have not built and sold companies before, and need this startup to be an attractive acquisition or IPO target in a few years, I can’t think of a better way to enlist outside experts and keep them motivated to help you meet the challenges of a startup. High-performing startups today are the ones that use every resource at their disposal.

Of course, if the board is set up or used incorrectly, the impact can indeed be more negative than positive. In her classic book “Corporate Concinnity in the Boardroom,” board expert Nancy Falls outlines the most common mistakes with boards, and I believe several of these apply to startups as well as to more mature companies as follows:

  1. Have too many or too few board members. Size does matter. I recommend three or five members to start (an uneven number prevents tie votes). Too many members are difficult to schedule and manage, and cost too much. Less than three is not a board. Members should be compensated, starting at one percent of stock or a small retainer plus expenses per quarter. Their value will be well worth the investment.
  1. Avoid outside independent directors. Outside directors bring new input to the table that offers invaluable context to your hyper-focused inside officers. The objective is a balance of skills and interests to optimize the growth and success of the business. Friends and family may tell you what you want to hear, but not what you need to hear.
  1. Expect the board to always support management. A small number of board members have to represent the divergent views of all constituents (be a representative democracy). In fact, the primary function of the board is to be the boss for the CEO, setting clear goals, measuring performance, and providing business governance.
  1. Have the wrong management representation. In startups, where the CEO is usually the founder and major shareholder, it is normal for the CEO to chair the board. At most, one other senior insider would be appropriate, but a board that is dominated by insiders or family members with minimum business experience is generally not effective.
  1. Maintain too little diversity. As globalization and the shifting demographics of markets and the workforce make startups more dependent on diversity, a board built on homogeneous relationships has the inherent risk of insularity. Pick your outside directors, not only on ownership or relationship, but also on experience in the world you know least.
  1. Fail to establish adequate structure. Every board needs a playbook to bring clarity to the roles and responsibilities of the board itself. Board rules and governance policies should be articulated in writing and voted upon. The board should meet at a minimum of four times a year with a quorum present, or more often for critical issues.
  1. Lack commitment and trust in board recommendations. A culture of mutual trust, respect, and commitment must be set from the beginning and from the top. Board members in constant conflict can kill your company more quickly than any market forces. Members don’t need to all like each other, but they do need to respect one another and be committed to working together for the betterment of the business.

If your startup is not quite ready for a formal board of directors, then I would recommend you start with the less formal advisory board. An advisory board is a small group of mentors that have specific industry knowledge and connections and bring their consultative expertise to the CEO in much the same way as a formal board, but without any formal roles or associated liabilities.

Thus the biggest mistake any new entrepreneur can make is to believe that a board of advisors or a board of directors will only slow them down. It’s never too early to bolster your leadership strength with experienced partners inside the organization, and professional advisors who can take the larger view. It’s a complex competitive world out there, and learning is a full-time role.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, August 6, 2021

6 Work Myths To Ignore To Enhance Your Company Career

work-myths-careerI have always assumed that strong work relationships are the key to productivity, as well as you feeling good and having fun at work. Yet, in my role as advisor to small businesses, I find many people who still believe some old myths that work should never be fun, and create a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes down their sense of well-being, as well as their company results.

If you are in this category, I recommend you take a look at a new book, “Work Better Together,” by Jen Fisher and Anh Phillips. These authors, with their own 40+ combined years of experience, bolster my own view that work can and should be an engaging experience, through positive relationships, which when combined with individual strengths, will provide a boost to bottom lines.

I especially like their summary of six key work-style myths that undermine many business strategies, as well as the energy and commitment of the people who work there. I have added my own insights after each one:

  1. At work should be all business, nothing personal. Too many people believe that work is no place for friendships, or that they have to be friends with everyone to work together effectively. In my experience, neither extreme is realistic. I have seen that friendships increase the quality of life at work, but you should never forget that your work is business.

    On the other hand, most people invest a lot of their time, energy, and conviction into their work, and that is certainly personal. They accomplish even more through carefully built relationships, and relationships don’t work unless there is a strong personal element.

  2. Longer work hours mean greater productivity. Burnout is not a badge of honor at work, so you should strive for maximum results, rather than setting records for the number of hours at work. Team members should all realize from personal experience that proper health care and life balance are key to long-term results, so look for that balance.

    In addition, recent research indicates that maximum productivity is a paradox. The secret is always leaving some slack in your calendar to maneuver. That slack won't just help you stay sane. Counterintuitively, it will also help you get more done over the long haul.

  3. Money is the primary motivator at work. Numerous psychology studies, as well as my own experience, indicates that intrinsic motivators (such as a sense of purpose, meaning, loyalty) are more powerful and durable than financial rewards. Also people are motivated by feelings of appreciation and doing meaningful work, as well as loyalty to the business.

    Recognized business leaders, including Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, have found that employees serving a higher social purpose, such as protecting the environment, are most highly motivated by this cause. It also attracts more customers.

  4. Most people don’t really want to work hard. I find that few people are genuinely lazy, but everyone is prone to disengagement if they don’t believe in their work, their management, or their company. Your job as a leader is to play to each individual strength, earn their trust and loyalty, and find the higher purpose for your company.

  5. Multiple work styles work against relationships. It’s true that people with different styles express strengths in different ways, but that often builds relationships, when team members trust each other and strive to learn. Cliques or isolation are usually the result of deeper fears and lack of support, and drive down team productivity and business growth.

  6. For you to win at work, someone has to lose. I find that some people are naturally paranoid, thinking that everyone is out to win at their expense. This results in much wasted effort to protect their position, with little focus on company results. The solution is to hire carefully, and then focus on personal motivators, as well as training and coaching.

The recent pandemic has made relationships and people connections harder by requiring more remote work and Zoom meetings. But the observations and recommendations still apply, so don’t wait for things to get back to “normal” before attacking these issues.

Now is the time to develop a stronger workplace culture and drive more collaboration and better relationships between the people in your organization. Your well-being and the success of your company depends on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/22/2021 ***