Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneur’


Why Entrepreneurs Should Fake It Until They Make It

Young Businessman Using a Digital TabletWith the increasing popularity of business-casual attire, a great business suit is not as effective as it used to be in creating an impression of success. But projecting a successful appearance is still important when you want your business to attract customers and clients, as it creates a feeling of higher comfort and less risk in your potential customers’ minds.  I mean, who doesn’t want to be associated with a successful entrepreneur?

Even if your business doesn’t yet have mountains of cash, you can appear prosperous without breaking your bank. Here are a few ways to economically enhance your professional image without misrepresenting your business or yourself.

A Successful First Impression

After a failed attempt at an acting career, Beanie Babies founder Ty Warner became a billionaire by selling stuffed animals. According to legend, he rented a Rolls Royce to drive to sales calls to project a wildly successful image. While we don’t recommend following Ty Warner’s cues on all of his faking- (Warner is still trying to stay out of jail after admitting to tax fraud), you can borrow his moxy for creating a successful impression.

Creating a successful impression extends not only to your car, but also to your business office. Your business may involve two people working in your basement, but unless your basement resembles the Taj Mahal, you will not impress prospective clients by holding meetings there. Until you have a high-profile address where you can meet with clients, a flexible office solution, such as the choices offered by companies like Regus, can enhance your office image while providing services that you need.

You may decide that a virtual office gives you a prestigious address (complete with a phone number and receptionist support) without having to make a big financial commitment.

One extra word of advice, though: make sure that your impression matches your target customers. If you want to attract eco-friendly customers, don’t show up in a Humvee or if you are attracting clients in the pet care industry, showing up in your fur coat is probably counterproductive.

Consider a Website Upgrade

Clients will not flock to your door if your website has a similar production value to a late-night auto insurance commercial. Your website needs to convey a professional image with content that makes search engines place your company toward the top of a search list.

Only you can decide how much help your website needs, but you do not have to spend a fortune to head in the right direction toward a slick website. You can use templates, like those that coordinate with WordPress, to look modern and professional.  And of course, don’t forget to make your website mobile-friendly, as more and more customers are accessing information from their smartphones.

Do your homework by talking to a number of web development firms. Look for those that use words like “SEO,” “interface design” and “regular maintenance.” If you hear the word “cool” too often, head for the hills.

Establish Credibility with a Quick PR Blitz

One way to boost your profile is to be featured in the press.  Having appeared in print or online publications, television shows and/or on the radio can make you seem bigger than you are.

Leverage any relationships that you have to get some PR placements.  If you don’t have connections, one cost-efficient strategy is to hire a “pay-to-play” PR firm, which may cost a bit more for a placement, but guarantees their services, instead of you rolling the dice on a monthly retainer fee.

I did precisely this when I was starting out. I hired a firm that put me on a radio tour.  Within 45 days’ time, I had between 20 and 30 radio appearances that I had made.  Since I only listed the appearances (not the dates of) on my website’s “press” page, that list looked like I had been a go-to press expert for years.

To get the most out of your PR, highlight where you have been featured on your website, in your marketing materials and even in your email signature line.

Work Pro Bono for the Right Clients

Working for free will not generally add to your success. But there’s an exception to this rule: high-profile clients. When you add a big name to your client list, your work is repaid when other big-name clients buy your goods or services. They see your business as a legitimate industry player.

As a bonus, high-profile clients do not have to remain pro bono forever. Do a great job for them the first time, get to know their key decision makers, and you can develop a valuable business relationship in the future.

So, before you hit the big time, act like you are already there and you will be there in no time at all!


10 Smart People You Need to Meet

2-19 Inspiring People smallI meet a lot of smart business people every day. This happens in person, over the phone, through email exchanges or on my radio show. Here are ten people that blew me away with their brilliance in 2014 (in alphabetical order).

Dorie Clark: One look at Dorie and you know this branding expert is pure genius. My thoughts are not even in the same zip code as hers. Maybe it’s all the think tanks and academic universities she speaks at all over the world. The smartest thing I heard her say: To achieve in today’s competitive job market, it’s almost certain that at some point you’ll need to reinvent yourself professionally.”

Barbara Corcoran: She turned a real estate empire and being “a shark” into sincerely helping small business owners. I remember when I was on TV with her. She has the fastest wit around! The smartest thing I heard her say: “Taking chances almost always makes for happy endings”.

Nir Eyal: This guy knows why people get hooked on a product or service. In one of my favorite books of the year, “Hooked” he shows exactly how to do it. The smartest thing I heard him say: “Companies who form strong user habits enjoy big benefits to their bottom line.”

Tomas Gorny: A former immigrant from Poland, Tomas is huge success story. He founded the company IPOWER that became the fastest growing website hosting provider in the United States. Now CEO of UnitedWeb, he is making his mark helping small business owners. The smartest thing I heard him say: He tells me that his competitive advantage is that people don’t think he is smart since he speaks with an accent but he says, “I don’t think in an accent.”

Sally Hogshead: She is a master at observation and what makes people tick. Her books are well researched and her ideas actionable. The smartest thing I heard her say: “Once you know what makes you valuable to others, you’re more authentic and confident, and more likely to make a brilliant impression.”

Tom Hopkins: This guy started breaking sales records before most of us were out of high school. He has taught how to sell to millions all over the world. When I was in Phoenix, Tom welcomed me into his home.  The smartest thing I heard him say: “Do what you fear the most and you control fear.”

Les McKeown: This guy is always the smartest person in the room. We all want predictable success and Les explains it so we can achieve it. The smartest thing I heard him say: “Heroic acts are powerful, but they are not scalable.”

John Sculley: At age 75, former president of Apple and Pepisco, John is still changing the world. He is called a global storyteller for the digital revolution. The smartest thing I heard him say: “The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.”

Pam Slim: She shows how to get ahead in a world filled with economic instability, rapid change, and 24/7 work. The smartest thing I heard her say: “The quality of your life, and business, is directly related to the quality of your stories. Tell them well."

Paul G. Stoltz: We all know it takes hard work to succeed, but Paul told me the science behind having resliency. The smartest thing I heard him say: “Over time, either adversity consumes you, or you have to consume it. That’s why resilience is so essential to grit.”

Which smart people did you meet last year?


4 Tips to Achieve Your Personal Finance Goals Before Starting a Business

2-18 personal finance smallBefore you can commit to funding your new business, you need to take care of your own personal financial goals. You need to move into starting a business with a strong financial record, as well as money in the bank. This makes it easy for you to qualify for a small business loan, if you need one down the road, and keeps you from stressing over not having the funds to cover your expenses while you’re waiting to turn a profit.

1. Eliminate Personal Debt

Don’t start your business weighted under credit card debt. The average American household has about $15,000 in credit card debt, a staggering number if you want to bootstrap your own business.

Having zero debt frees up your credit capacity, so work on zeroing out credit card balances and paying off your car so that you can focus only on basic expenses such as your mortgage, phone, gas and electric, cable, and food. The leaner you run, the more you’ll have to put into your business.

2. Improve Your Credit Score

There will come a time in the all-too-near future when you need credit, be it in the form of a store credit or just credit from vendors you work with regularly. If your credit score isn’t good — say, under 750 — you might not get that credit or pay a much higher interest rate. Since your business will have no credit history to begin with, they’ll look at your personal credit score, so you need to focus on cleaning up your number if it’s less than ideal.

Don’t know your credit score? You’re entitled to one free credit report a year from one of the big three indexes. Get your copy here and start your plan to improving your score.

3. Set Aside 12-24 Months of Household Expenses

You will not make a profit instantly, so you’ll need to keep paying those household expenses in the meantime (another reason to lower your debt: you’ll have less to pay in expenses!). Having 12-24 months’ worth of money to cover expenses may sound drastic, but it’s better to have more than enough than to find yourself unable to pay bills in 6 months.

If you don’t currently operate with a budget for your household, now’s the time to create one. If, in the process, you find places you can reduce your expenses, such as cutting the cable cord, go for it.

Remember: if you’re quitting a job with health benefits, you’ll also need to factor in the cost for your health insurance. It will be significantly higher than your employer-sponsored plan.

4. Have Your First Year of Working Capital

In addition to your personal expenses, you’ll need to be able to cover your business costs until your business gets going. A year’s worth of capital should be sufficient. Again, start with a budget (even if you’re using guesstimates at this point) so you know what expenses you need to plan for.

Since you’ll have a pretty sizeable chunk of money in savings for your personal and business needs, consider opening a money market account or high-yield savings account so that you can earn a little interest while it’s sitting there.

If you get your money straight before starting your business, that will be one less things stressing you as you start your small business.


Mondays with Mike: 6 Steps to Building Better Proposals

2-16 business proposal smallWhether you do it many times a day or only occasionally, we all use written proposals from time to time in order to land new clients.  As important as generating revenue is, I’m consistently surprised by how little time many entrepreneurs spend on perfecting these opportunities to shine.  Here are six concrete ways you can make your proposal stand out from the crowd.

  1. Put your pricing options in the right order.  Your best bet is to start with your highest priced option and descend from there.  Why?  Your prospective clients know how much they’re willing to spend, and you want them making comparisons against your high figure first.  That way, every other option looks like a comparative bargain.
  2. Offer three options.  More than three choices can give your prospect analysis paralysis – an inability to decide when faced with an overload of information.  Fewer than three options can make a prospect feel forced into a decision.  Three is the perfect number.  It lets your clients select one option that’s the best fit and discard the options that don’t suit their needs as well.
  3. Include a partially completed contract.  In short, you want to make it as easy as possible for a prospect to say yes.  Doing as much of the paperwork as you can in advance not only makes it easy, but it also gives them a sense of progress toward a goal – in this case, the completed contract.  We’re much more likely to finish a task if we feel like we’re getting somewhere.  Don’t overwhelm your client with a mountain of blank pages to fill out.
  4. Use the power of font size.  I am not suggesting you hide important details in fine print.  What I am suggesting is that tiny modifications of font size can influence the way your prospects read a proposal.  Making the font just one point larger when you mention their name or their company’s name or highlight a key benefit makes the appealing stuff just slightly more apparent.  Reducing the font size one point for discussion of price – the less fun stuff – can minimize the impact of the cost.
  5. Personalize your proposal.  Odds are good that your prospect is receiving proposals from other businesses, and one sure way to make your stand out is by customizing it to reflect unique details just for your client.  If you send off boilerplate wording, it’s going to be less compelling.  If you use your client’s name and refer to specific attributes or benefits for their particular situation, you’re making a connection between your company and the client that’s hard to ignore.
  6.  Use good quality paper.  So many proposals are delivered electronically that seizing the opportunity to present a polished hard copy on heavy, substantial paper will always make you stand out among the other contenders.  You’re showing the client how important their business is to you, and you’re demonstrating your willingness to go above and beyond to ensure high quality results.

Whether you own a construction company that regularly writes high dollar proposals, or you’re a catering company who sends out occasional quotes, making sure you get your proposals right makes a big difference in your bottom line.


What You Can Learn from the Businesses in Mumbai’s Dharavi Slum

2-5 Dharavi Mumbai smallIn January, I had the opportunity to visit India. One of the most eye opening parts of the trip was the half day I spent at the Dharavi slum that was made famous by the movie, “Slumdog Millionaire”. It sits in the middle of Mumbai, the financial capital of India and is the second largest slum in Asia. Dharavi is only one square mile, but is home to over 1M people. The density of the slum grew over the last 100 years because of the expulsion of factories and residents from Mumbai and the rural poor migrating to the city. 

This slum is big business. Dharavi has an active economy with approximately 10,000 household enterprises that mainly employ residents. Being so densely populated, many of them sleep and work in the same place. Dharavi exports buffalo leather, fabric and pottery products around the world. The total “reported” annual revenue of all the small businesses in the slum is estimated at over $665M per year. Most people I talked to believe it is actually over a billion dollars per year.

There is a lot that American entrepreneurs can learn from these business owners. They include:

  1. Find a niche by doing what others won’t. A lot of the work done in the slum is what others in the rest of Mumbai do not want to do. There is a big business of recycling all types of plastics and metals. These need to be sorted by hand which is labor intensive. Many materials also need to be dried manually in the sun afterward. Lesson: What can your business do that customers need, but other people don’t want to do? Go do that at a profit.
  2. Always be testing (ABT). There are no long term business plans written here. People simply find a job that needs to be done and start doing it. Alternatively, they set up shop outside their home or the one restroom that serves 1,000 people daily and see what people buy. If their product or service does not sell well, they adjust the next day. Lesson: Prototyping and testing are an important part of growing any business until you find want your customer will buy over a long period of time.
  3. The highest price is what people actually pay. There is a tremendous amount of competition in Dharavi since there are so many people. They still focus on the value a product or service brings. For example, there is always a “tourist” price which is the highest since they are willing to pay more than anyone living inside the slum. Lesson: Find customers that value your products the most so you can sell at a top price for maximum profit.
  4. Relationships still matter. It’s not only about price, but who you know and have trusted to work with in the past. In Dharavi, historical ties, religion and geographic location within the slum play an important role in the supplier and customer relationships. Lesson: Everywhere in the world, people do business with who they know, like, and trust. Think about the actual basis of your relationships with your suppliers and customers. If it’s not based on trust, then it is more fragile than you think.

What have you learned about business traveling outside the U.S.?


Marketing 101: 5 Key Marketing Terms to Know

2-4 Mktg 101 smallWhen you start a business, it is extremely important to have a marketing plan. A marketing plan is essential in helping you develop an understanding of what actions you can take to bring success. When people look at statistics about small businesses and see that only about half of all small businesses make it to their fifth birthday, it can be daunting to jump into such cold waters.

However, if you take the steps to prepare for entrepreneurship, you have given yourself a boost over the hurdles that plague the small business owners who become just another statistic. Your marketing plan establishes how and to whom you promote your product or service. Before your write your marketing plan, let’s review some crucial marketing terms to help you have a clear idea of what this approach entails.

1. Marketing

The term marketing encompasses a large range of behaviors undertaken by businesses to communicate their brand message with their customers. In a nutshell, marketing presents products or services in ways that make them desirable. Your advertising, website, social media profiles, and newsletter are all part of your marketing efforts, and are the efforts you undertake to persuade potential customers to become paying customers. Marketing uses both emotional and rational appeals to attract customers and encompasses a wide variety of actions and components. Creativity in your marketing is vital, and the returns can be enormous.

2. Market Research

The term market research may seem overly dry or academic, but it is extremely important. In short, market research tells you who is your customer and why they could buy form you. It also can tell you how many potential customers exist for your market. You may think that everyone will want what you offer, but your market research will tell how likely that scenario is.

For example, the cost of your product may eliminate much of the potential market, or your product may be too specialized to attract enough customers to support your costs. It is important to not just examine the current market, but look ahead to the long-term as technological or cultural changes might transform the market. Good market research gives you solid ground on which to begin your endeavor.

3. Advertising

Advertising is another broad category of marketing focused on bringing attention to a product or service in order to create a sale or build awareness. Product placement in movies is a form of paid advertising, as are pay-per-click ads online. Branding is a key component of advertising. You can use advertising to build brand awareness via media, such as a placing a Facebook ad. Your market research will tell you where, how, and when you should be advertising.

4. Sales

The culmination of all your efforts is sales — that moment when you have convinced your audience to take action and bring out that plastic to make a purchase. Sales is the goal where your marketing, market research, and advertising all lead. Sales activities include direct marketing, selling (including in person, via the Internet, phone, or networking) and trade shows. Any action that results in an exchange of goods or services for money or an equivalent is a sale. How much you sell and when you sell all factor into your bottom line.

5. Profit

Profit is how you measure your success in purely economic terms. It is the amount of money you’ve made after you deduct all your costs of doing business, such as direct and indirect expenditures. Pricing directly impacts your profit! A completed business plan gives you insight in how your specific profit model works. Remember, if you are prepared from the outset, you have strengthened your chances of success in the future.

Understanding these key terms and applying them in your marketing plan ensures that you have a solid plan for what you are selling, how you will sell it, and to whom you will sell. Marketing is the umbrella under which you will execute your marketing research, plan your advertising, make your sales, and calculate your profit. Social media — and media in general — is the means by which you take your message to you audience, but a tight marketing plan is meant to guide your messaging and help you identify the best channels for it.


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 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.


5 Steps to Starting Your First Business

Woman Running Up the StairsIf you’ve been considering starting a business for some time, stop letting your fears and worries keep from making it a reality. Sure, it will require plenty of work and quite a lot of stress initially, but the payoff, both financially and spiritually, will be well worth the journey. Not sure where to begin? Here are the first five steps to starting your first business.

Step 1: Develop Your Viable Business Idea

Before you fall in love with an idea for your business that no one will actually buy into, do a little research to first see what the market is interested in, what other companies you’ll be competing against, and how you can come into a crowded market with something unique.

  • Conduct surveys and focus groups to understand how people perceive your business idea
  • Look at your competitors. What are their strengths? What areas are they leaving wide open for you?
  • Determine your unique selling proposition. Will you be the cheapest? Best quality? Unique in some other way?

Step 2: Take Care of Branding

Now that you know what you will sell, get your branding in place. This is an area I don’t recommend trying to DIY unless you happen to be a phenomenal designer. Work with a graphic designer with experience creating professional logos, as well as one who can develop a website that will attract new customers. Realize, too, that branding goes far beyond just your visual representation, and will include every message you put out to the world.

  • Look at other logos and take notes on what you like (and don’t)
  • Decide what’s critical to include on your website, and what’s extra
  • Provide as much input as possible on the branding process so that your expectations are met

Step 3: Get Your Plans in Place

You wouldn’t step into the forest without a map, so why would you start a business without a plan? You’ll need both a business and a marketing plan, though neither have to be gigantic, in-depth documents. Your documents are designed to guide you and to establish the direction you want to take. Your business plan should be an overview of your company, what you want to sell, and your approach to the business. Your marketing plan should encompass who your customers are, the different channels you’ll use to reach them, and strategies for each.

  • Use your business plan as a guidance for the future, but don’t be afraid to tweak it every few months
  • Determine how much you can afford to spend on marketing before you decide on the channels you’ll use
  • Keep these documents handy where you can review them regularly

Step 4: Test It All Out

If you will be operating as an ecommerce site, ask friends or colleagues to play around on your site to ensure everything works well. Pay special attention to the checkout process, as it needs to be as simple and streamlined as possible. If you’ll be running a brick-and-mortar retail, make sure your staff is well-trained on your point of sale system, and that everything is running smoothly.

  • Click all links on your site to ensure they go where they should
  • Minimize the checkout process to just 1-2 pages
  • Hold a soft launch event in your store to test run how everything will go

Step 5: Just Do It

Waiting around for the perfect moment to open the (real or virtual) doors on your business is futile. Just jump in! There will be mistakes, so note them quickly, learn from them, and make changes for the better. Aim to create a big splash around your grand opening.

  • Notify local press about your grand opening and invite them for a tour
  • Offer special discounts your first days open
  • Amp up your social media efforts with your launch

You’ll never be flawless when you open your business (or later, either!) so consider it a learning process that will continue to help you evolve as a business owner.




 
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