Archive for the ‘Mondays with Mike’ Category


Mondays with Mike: 7 Habits Entrepreneurs Should Eradicate

2-9 bad entrep habits  smallI’ve started, run, grown, and sold businesses long enough to know how much we can learn from the unsuccessful habits of entrepreneurs who don’t make it.  By seeing the recipe for failure, we learn much about success.  Here are seven destructive entrepreneurial habits you should watch out for.

  1. Playing the victim, rather than the victor.  If you’re constantly whining “why me?” and focusing on all the bad things that are out of your control, you’re unlikely to be the sort of take-charge, positive person who flourishes as an entrepreneur.  You question should instead be “why not me?”
  2. Favoring ideas over action.  You’re far better off having a mediocre idea and putting in hard work to see it through than you are with a brilliant idea and no work ethic.  Inspiration is the spark, but perspiration is the day-to-day practice of putting your nose to the grindstone and getting things done.  You can’t feed your family on your brilliant ideas alone.  You have to be willing to work.
  3. Raising money, rather than making money.  Many small businesses need occasional infusions of cash, whether it’s for expansion or improvements.  The danger, though, is in spending more of your time chasing down investors than you spend wooing customers.  Revenue is the lifeblood of a company.  Focus on increasing your sales, and you’ll need less investor support.
  4. Relying on your backup plan.  It’s very seldom that you see great things achieved without risk.  If you’re constantly hedging your bets, tinkering with your arrangements in case your new venture flops, then you’re not really all in.  Commit to making your business succeed, rather than spending your energy planning for your failure.
  5. Hiring quickly and firing slowly.  Good employees are worth their weight in gold, and bad employees can cost you far more than you’d ever imagined.  If I could impress entrepreneurs with one single tip in terms of recruiting talent, it would be to slow the process down.  Take your time, hire staff that’s a good fit your company’s climate and values, and if an employee turns out to be a poor fit, then cut that employee out.  You can’t afford to let bad apples spoil a good bunch of employees.
  6. Failing to identify your target market.  If you don’t know who you’re selling to, your efforts in marketing, collecting feedback, and making changes will be seriously inhibited.  Successful entrepreneurs can clearly articulate who their ideal users are, and they frequently cater to a particular niche in a market.
  7. Doing minimum wage work.  I can’t tell you how often I see brilliant entrepreneurs doing unskilled work in their companies.  If you’re spending your time doing work you could hire someone to knock out for $10 an hour, you’re not doing your business any favors.  Your time and your talent are more valuable than that.  Put your energy toward the stuff you can’t hire people to do for you.  Grow your business.  Attract new clients.  Leave the simple tasks for someone else.

Some of the smartest entrepreneurs I know are the ones who see and avoid the obstacles that have tripped up their colleagues.  Success isn’t just about learning what to do; it’s also about learning what you should avoid.


Mondays with Mike: How To Fall In Love With Your Business All Over Again

Candy heartsIn a lot of ways running a business is like a marriage.  There are similar stages:  apprehension – when you’re not sure it’ll work out; infatuation – when you can’t get enough of the relationship; and resignation – when you realize that every business, just like every marriage requires hard work.  While there’s no avoiding the hard work, falling in love with your business again can help you sustain the energy that being a successful entrepreneur requires.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get back to your purpose.  Remember why you started your company in the first place.  Were you working to fulfill a need?   Did you see something you wanted to change in your industry?  Had you identified a way you could improve your community?  Let’s face it:  it’s easier to work for someone else and earn a consistent paycheck than it is to start your own business.  You did it for a reason, and you need to keep that reason in mind.
  2. Reconnect with your core values.  When we’re working in harmony with our core values, we feel good.  When we’re working against them, we feel tired, frustrated, and wrung out.  Simply making sure your company is working in support of the things that matter most to you can help you rededicate yourself to your business.  Identifying your core values can also help you ensure the staff you hire is in alignment with your mission.
  3. Focus on more than the money.  A Princeton University study has confirmed what we’ve been told our entire lives.  Money doesn’t buy happiness.  Specifically, the study found that once basic needs can be met – which they determined is at around the $75K income mark – additional money did not result in additional happiness, at least not in and of itself.  What did make people more happy was doing things they valued with that money.  Whether it’s charitable work or using funds to spend more time with your family, remember that your bank balance alone isn’t a measure of your happiness. 
  4. Make the world a better place.  One of the most rewarding aspects of entrepreneurship is the ability to effect change in your community.  When you have to slog through the hard work of running your business, knowing your work makes your community better can help sustain your efforts, help make it feel worthwhile.
  5. Realize your importance to your employees.  Not only does your company support your family and your community, but it also sustains the families of your staff.  Seeing the very real effects of the business you started and realizing how many people depend on your dream gives you concrete reasons to keep going.  We thrive on being needed, and entrepreneurs fuel our economy and support countless families.

Just like a marriage, running your own business doesn’t stop with the honeymoon.  It’s great to enjoy the first flush of starting a new project, but sooner or later, you must settle in and get down to the hard work of sustaining and growing that business.  Adjusting your perspective and getting back in touch with all the important reasons you had for striking out on your own can get you through the tough times.  


Mondays with Mike: What They Told You About Sales Is Wrong!

1-26 sales trips eye contact smallWhat’s been written about sales tactics could stretch from here to the moon and back.  There are seminars, webinars, and even one-on-one coaches who promise to give you the low-down on surefire tips to close a deal.  What’s wrong with the accepted truths about sales?  Many of them are wrong!  When you look at evidence, we discover that sometimes these techniques can backfire and actually hurt your chances for making the sale.  Here are some tips to watch out for:

  1. Make eye contact.  The goal of this tactic is to create a connection between you and your prospective client.  While you do want to connect, too much eye contact is frequently interpreted as aggression and can actually make a client uncomfortable and less likely to buy what you’re selling.  Intermittent eye contact is much more comfortable and still helps you create a connection.
  2. Quote a range of prices.  Say you’re working to land a new client for your cleaning service.  You tell the client it’ll cost between $100 and $200 monthly for your services.  You think that by giving a range you can settle in the middle and satisfy both parties, but here’s the trouble:  your client hears $100, and you’re hoping for $200.  If you settle at $150, then your client feels ripped off, and you’re disappointed.  A much better strategy is to quote a specific price, preferably one with wiggle room.  If you quote $170, knowing you’re willing to negotiate downward, then when you settle at $150, your client feels like he got a bargain, and you’re precisely where you wanted to be.  A specific price with room for expected negotiation is more likely to give you a win-win outcome.
  3. Assume the sale.  In the old days, we were taught to make your pitch assuming success.  The trouble is that consumers are wise to this not-so-subtle attempt at manipulation, and engaging in it can make you seem a little sleazy.  Telegraphing your attempts to toy with clients’ emotions is a fail, in part because it makes customers feel like you think they’re suckers – easily manipulated and not very smart.  Respect your customers enough to let them make their own decisions.
  4. Give them no way out.  High pressure sales can work, at least in the short term, but it’s not a recipe for long term success.  Consider this:  there’s an entire legal niche for attorneys who specialize in handling cases for clients who have buyers remorse after being pressured into purchasing a time share.  The tactic of shutting a client in a room and holding them there until they sign has major negative ramifications.  If your customers feel like they’re in control, they’re going to walk away thrilled to have given you their business, rather than walking away feeling like they’ve been ripped off.

The best sales people are psychologists, in a way.  They understand what consumers want, and they find a way to deliver it.  Assuming the goal isn’t just a one-time sale, building business deals that treat your clients like partners will result in consumer loyalty and future sales, as well as referrals based on great experiences.  Don’t let tired truisms guide your sales pitches.  Take the time to use tactics that are proven effective.


Mondays with Mike: What You Can Learn From Hyper-Startups

1-12 business plan smallThere are time-tested procedures for starting a business – from writing elaborate business plans to generating sales projections.  While we can learn a lot from following traditional paths, there’s a host of new entrepreneurs who start their businesses in a flash – moving from idea to implementation in a matter of hours.  These hyper-startups are volatile, flexible, and sometimes unstable, but there’s a lot we can learn from them.

  1. Reach out to customers right away.  While traditional models would have you create a prototype and run alpha and beta testing with a sample of potential customers, hyper-startups rope their customers in right away.  Using crowdfunding and crowdsourcing sites, entrepreneurs can solicit startup funds, feedback, and suggestions from end users before a product is even produced.  Bonus – when you do have a product to take to market, you’ve already established a list of potential buyers.  You’re researching and marketing all at the same time!
  2. Let your best customer find you.  Now, I’m not suggesting that you won’t need to do any marketing in order to reach customers, but what is worth pointing out is that by assuming you already know who your customer is, you may be missing out on your best customer.  Keep an open mind in terms of who will be excited about your product, and even about new or unexpected uses for your product or service.  Hyper-startups know to listen to the chatter.  Don’t limit yourself by thinking you know it all.
  3. Be mobile and be ready.  As more and more business is done on iPads, smartphones, and tablets, the speed with which a savvy entrepreneur can move from idea to income has become mindboggling.  Being ready and able to work wherever and whenever inspiration strikes makes you more effective and more efficient.  Integrating social media with your startup right away lets you make changes and share news anytime, anywhere.
  4. Ride the wave – and know when to throw in the towel.  Hyper-startups can flourish in a flash and fail just as rapidly.  Keeping abreast of trends and market shifts is essential if you’re going to make hay while the sun shines.  Not only does staying up on what’s hot keep you profitable, but it can also permit you to shape trends, in addition to reacting to them.  Encourage your customers to stay connected and keep in touch about their experiences and needs.  Not only are your vocal customers key in keeping your offerings current, but they’re also your best marketers, bringing in new fans every day.
  5. Plan for success (and prepare for failure.)  So you’ve got a brilliant idea.  Are you prepared for what you’ll do if it’s a crazy success and you have more business than you can handle?  Make sure you have a plan for how to scale up production and delivery just in case you’re a big hit.  Also, have an exit strategy, a stop-loss point at which you’ll cut your losses and move on if the startup doesn’t flourish.

Hyper-startups are inherently volatile.  They depend on the changeable desires and interests of notoriously fickle consumers who seek out the new and noteworthy.  That doesn’t mean hyper-startups are all bad.  It’s possible to make a lot of money in a very short period of time, provided you’re prepared.  Even if you choose a more traditional route to starting your company, there are elements of these rapid developers you can use to make your efforts more effective, even long-term.


Mondays with Mike: The New Marketing Trend That’s Here To Stay

1-5-15 authencitiy seal smallLimited time!  Lowest price!  Buy now!

Consumers are inundated with claims on their attention, time, and money.  We’re tired of brand impressions everywhere we turn, and we crave something different.  What works right now for consumers in our crowded marketplace? 

Authenticity.  Surprising, isn’t it?  What’s most effective is providing great value to customers who feel invested in your success.  Here’s what you need to know about making an authentic connection with your customers and transforming them into your biggest fans.

  1. Tell your story.  Customers want to support ordinary people, folks they can relate to, and it’s your job to convey your tale in a compelling way.  Hint – you may need help here … that’s what great marketing companies can help with.   Whether you tell your rags-to-riches saga, or whether you detail your unorthodox approach to success, you need to define what sets you apart from the crowd – that’s your message, your story.
  2. Use the phoenix effect.  They mythical phoenix is consumed by flames and reborn from the ashes.  We love to hear tales about someone who manages to start fresh, overcoming adversity, to make it big.  Part of telling your story should convey the unique challenges you’ve faced.
  3. Don’t start a pity party.  You don’t want customers to buy from you just because they feel sorry for you, so it’s important to cast your story – even if it includes difficulties – in a positive light.  Don’t spend too much time whining about how hard it was; focus, instead, on how far you’ve come.  Tell your customers how proud you are of your hard work and achievements.
  4. Don’t brag.  You do not want to make prospective customers envious of your success.  Take Donald Trump as an example.  We may admire some of his success, and we may even choose to adopt some of his business practices, but I don’t know anyone who’s dying to fork over their hard-earned money simply to enrich The Donald.  You don’t want to flaunt your success.  You want to earn loyal supporters.
  5. Have an enemy.  Whether it’s the huge, soulless corporation that you’re struggling to compete with, or whether it’s rigid, outdated practices you’re revolutionizing, people love to root for the underdog.  As part of your narrative, you need to situate your business in a context – give your clients a reason to invest in your success.
  6. Be part of your community.  If you could choose to spend your money with a big company who spirits the profits to somewhere on the other side of the world or with a small company who reinvests in the local community, which would it be?  No contest, right.  Make sure you share the good work you’re doing to make your town or neighborhood a better place to live and work.

Authentic marketing is a refreshing, revolutionary approach, and one that shows no signs of going away.  We’re tired of overblown, high-pressure sales tactics, and we crave a real connection with the companies we choose to do business with.  Make sure you take the time to share your unique vision, journey, and mission with your customers.


Mondays with Mike: The 10 Most Powerful Cloud Tools

Young entrepreneurs having a creative business meeting in a cafe

So, not only is the decision to move your business to the cloud a difficult one, fraught with anxiety about security and reliability, but in addition, deciding which tools and applications to use can be simply mindboggling.  There are practically an infinite number of options – but some are definitely better than others.  Let’s take a look at ten of the best, most consistent cloud tools you’ll need to keep things running smoothly.

  1. Salesforce.com (Cloud Sales Management) – Number one priority – making sales! Salesforce.com efficiently manages all your sales needs in a logical, intuitive interface.  You can monitor your pipeline, track your sales, design auto responses, integrate your email, and enable multiple mobile devices.  Salesforce.com is the category leader in sales management.  There’s also an awesome free email app called Yesware that has lots of useful functions like email tracking, templates, and even automated reminders.  Yesware integrates perfectly with Salesforce.
  2. Rackspace.com (Cloud Storage & Data Delivery) – Storage and data sharing are fundamental to operating on the cloud, and Rackspace is robust enough to handle all your needs and then some.  You can move your apps to the cloud, share all the data  you can imagine, and continue to run your business without missing a beat.
  3. QuickBooks Online (Cloud Accounting) – You sell to make money, and then you have to track where it goes.  QuickBooks is the tested and trusted leader in the category, and lets you and your staff work, sell, bill, and ship from anywhere on the planet.  Freshbooks, Netsuite, Wave and Xero all offer similar functionality.
  4. Hootsuite (Cloud Social Media Management) – You are using social media to promote your business, right?  If not, then we need to have a serious talk!  But it can be time consuming to manage Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the others if you do them individually.  Hootsuite lets you manage all your social media accounts from one platform.  You can schedule posts and reply to messages all in one place, making your marketing efforts much more coherent and efficient.
  5. Google Drive (Cloud Drive) – Not only does Google Drive integrate seamlessly with Gmail, but it also lets you and your staff store and share files, as well as collaborate from anywhere in the world.  Google Drive is used by more folks every day, and the ease with which you can securely share files is constantly improving. Dropbox is a popular alternative cloud drive.
  6. Microsoft Office 365 (Office Applications In The Cloud) – No matter which devices you use, Microsoft still makes the most powerful office products.  Word, Excel, and Powerpoint are consistent, reliable, and now available on the cloud.  With a Microsoft 365 subscription, you can use the programs on multiple devices and work wherever and whenever the need arises.
  7. Backupify (Cloud Backup) – Do not neglect this tool!  If it would inconvenience you or cost you money if you lost a file, then you need to back your files up.  Both Backupify and Carbonite provide secure, reliable storage for your critical data.  Being able to restore data from the Cloud gives you peace of mind and if you need it, the service will pay for itself several times over.
  8. Gmail (Cloud Email) – There’s really no better choice than Gmail, for lots of reasons.  From powerful, logical spam filters to customizable options that permit you to personalize your email, you can’t find a better, more reliable email service.
  9. IFTTT (Cloud Logic) – IFTTT, If This, Then That, is a super cool tool that creates logic to permit all your cloud apps to work together smoothly and consistently.  As we bring more and more of our business and our personal lives onto the cloud, integration becomes even more important.  IFTTT helps you juggle multiple tools and apps easily.
  10. Cloudability (Cloud Cost Contol)- So you’ve assembled all the critical components you need to run your business on the cloud, but then you discover that it’s not free.  Heck, it’s not even cheap.  Track and manage your costs easily with Cloudability.

Whether you’re already operating on the cloud, or whether you’re considering making the transition, your best bet is to listen to the experts about which tools are the most valuable and reliable.  Don’t risk your valuable time, money, and security on apps that promise the world, yet fail to deliver.


Mondays with Mike: What’s In A Name? 8 Tips For Finding The Perfect Name

12-22 Hello my name is smallWe all know those iconic product names – the ones that speak for entire categories:  Kleenex.™  Coke.™  Even Cronut,™ for those of you looking at more recent examples.  Names are powerful, and while some entrepreneurs luck into great names, there are steps you can take to improve your chances of selecting the perfect name, one that conveys your unique attributes.

  1. Avoid sound-alikes.  If you’re entering a category with some high-profile leaders, you’re better off avoiding confusion by selecting a name that is distinctly different.  If you’re starting a delivery company, picking a name like YewPS not only begs for mixups, but it also sets you up for trade name infringement problems.  Be unique!
  2. Use mnemonics.  Yellowtail, the huge wine brand from Australia is the perfect example of a name that leverages mnemonics.  Not only is the kangaroo on the label associated with the continent of origin, but the color coded labels also make it easy for consumers to pick up the variety they want from a sea of choices.
  3. Tell a story.  Whether humble or grand, every company has a story to tell.  Look at Ralph Lauren’s logo.  The polo player tells the tale of privilege and cultural capital.  The polo player’s inclusion in the logo associates the brand name with a desirable, iconic story, a story that translates to millions of dollars every year.
  4. Make it easy to spell.  As more and more consumers turn to online resources to find products and companies, it becomes increasingly more important that prospective customers be able to spell your name.  Choose a name that’s easy to spell, and you’re making your business easy to find.
  5. Make it easy to pronounce.  If you can trust anyone on this point, you can trust me, Mike Michalowicz.  My name is my brand, and since I’m kinda stuck with what my parents gave me, I’ve made light of it – including the pronunciation (mi-KAL-o-wits, in case you’re curious) everywhere I can.
  6. Embed a secret in your logo.  Once you find the arrow in the FedEx logo, or the people holding chips in the Tostitos logo, you’ll find yourself showing your friends, and you’ll notice it every time you see a truck or a bag of chips.  Giving your customers cool little secrets to share helps pull them in as marketers of your brand.
  7. Change the spelling.  Now you want to be careful here, but a misspelled brand name CAN be the key to success.  Krispy Kreme.  Chick-Fil-A.  Tumblr.  Froot Loops.  Liquid Plumr.  The list could go on for miles.  These names are memorable, partly because of their unconventional spelling.  The caution here is that you not stray so far from the correct spelling that you make it hard for customers to find you.
  8. Make your name a verb.  You know you’ve made it when people start using your brand name as a verb.  You can Skype your friends.  You Google something when you want to know the answer.  Even if you use a different search engine, you know what it means to Google something.  Category leaders with memorable names can end up standing for all the other companies in their field.

Of all the business decisions entrepreneurs face, selecting a name is one of the most important.  Your company or product name is your brand, your identity, and your statement to the world.  Make sure you select it wisely.


Mondays with Mike: Secure Your Data On The Cloud

12-15 Secure cloud data smallI’ll be honest.  One of my biggest concerns about converting my business to run on the Cloud was the security of my information.  And lest you think I’m unduly concerned, you should know that I used to work in computer forensics.  My background in retrieving information that people most definitely didn’t want recovered has taught me one lasting lesson: absolutely everything you do on your computer leaves a record – even if you try to eradicate it.

So I know a thing or two about how information is stored, recovered, shared, and protected.  I knew that data security was a potential problem when I moved all of my apps and programs to the Cloud.  It turns out that if you’re going to work on the Cloud, your information is vulnerable – simple as that.  What you can do, though, is take some steps to protect your valuable files.

First, for files you store online, consider encrypting or encapsulating particularly sensitive information.  It turns out that one of the biggest companies for online storage was opening files in order to extract information for a preview function.  Dropbox neither asked nor disclosed that user files were being accessed, but when a few users employed a program that notified them when files were opened, the practice came to light.  Now Dropbox didn’t have an ulterior motive, but clients who thought their materials were completely private and inaccessible were, well, wrong.  Encrypted and encapsulated files are safer.

But even if you take steps to protect the information you store online, what about your personal device when you’re accessing those files?  Even if you take the smart step of password protecting your computer, if you walk away while you’re signed in, the documents you’ve opened – or the sites you’ve saved passwords for – are vulnerable.  Make sure you take steps to protect the individual devices used by you and your staff when you access sensitive information.

Another big vulnerability arises when we access information stored on the Cloud while we’re using public wi-fi.  You stop, grab a latte at Starbucks, and you check an email, review and edit a proposal from a colleague, and you get back on the road.  The problem is if you’re not taking practical steps like disabling automatic file sharing or using a VPN (Virtual Private Network,) then you’re making it far easier for unscrupulous folks to access your data via a shared, public network.

The last really big hole in your cloud defenses is your email, and that’s no small thing.  We correspond about sensitive information every day, and here’s the thing about email:  you can practice good password hygiene – changing it regularly, not using your dog’s name or your birthday – but there’s no foolproof way to ensure that email is secure both on your end, and on your recipient’s end.  You should be careful about your email security, but here’s the best advice I can give:  never, ever put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard.  It’s simply impossible to protect everything from everyone, whether it’s someone inside our outside your company.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Now don’t take all of these warnings and recommendations as another excuse to delay converting your business to run on the Cloud.  The Cloud’s not going away, and in fact, it’s more common and more useful every day.  Best practice is to go in with your eyes open and with a plan to protect the information that’s most vulnerable and most valuable.    


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Banish Spam

12-8 spam smallI used to hear people complaining about telemarketers who always seemed to call at dinnertime.  Fortunately, we don’t get as many phone calls from people trying to sell us something, but those calls have been replaced by a plague of junk email – spam.  It clutters up our inboxes and can prevent us from seeing all of the important email that needs our attention.  Worse yet, some spam contains viruses that can infect our computers. 

Never fear, though.  These 7 steps will help you eliminate spam permanently!

  1. Use Gmail.  It’s simple.  Gmail is the best email service in terms of automatically blocking spam.  It sorts known spam producing addresses into your spam folder without your having to lift a finger, and it also lets you identify senders you want sent to that folder in the future.  Gmail also sorts promotional emails – ones with offers you may actually want to see – into a Promotions folder, keeping your inbox reserved for more important emails.
  2. Unsubscribe.  It may take you a few minutes and you may have to go through a couple of steps, but reputable companies will respect your unsubscribe request.  Just make sure you unsubscribe from all of the emails each sender generates.  Some companies make it a little tricky to completely unsubscribe, so take your time and make sure you do it right. 
  3. Blacklist spammers.  Blacklists permanently block emails from particular domains, servers, and senders, and if you use a blacklist, you’ll never hear from the senders on your list again.
  4. Use a spam filter.  You’d be surprised how many people complain about junk mail and don’t bother to use a filter.  Mailwasher Pro and SPAMfighter Pro are both great products that give you flexible and comprehensive protection
  5. Report spam.  If you take just a few seconds to mark unwanted messages for Gmail, your email service will work behind the scenes to make everyone’s email experience more efficient and pleasant.  Think of it as one way to make the world a better place.
  6. Use your own filters.  This step is more involved and requires a little more work, but it’s very effective if you’re really plagued by persistent spam.  You list addresses from which you no longer want to see mail, and those messages get shifted to your spam file.  When you’re using custom filters, it’s a good idea to scan your spam file periodically, just in case messages you do want to see end up there by mistake.
  7.  Change your email address.  This step is a pain, but it’s the last resort for folks whose emails have been hacked or otherwise compromised and who simply can’t eradicate all of their spam.  You have to notify all the people you correspond with, and you’re likely to end up missing some messages from lazy folks who don’t change your address in their contacts, but you will be able to start fresh without any spam, at least when you first open the account.  Practicing good email hygiene can help you protect the new account from the spam buildup you had in your old account.

Don’t let a cluttered inbox frustrate you for a minute longer.  A few simple steps can clear out the clutter and make your email far more efficient and secure.




 
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