Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneur’

Mondays with Mike: Taking a Step Back from your Business

11-23 Step back from biz smallMost entrepreneurs I know – myself included – eat, sleep, and breathe our businesses, at least at the beginning.  It’s easy to see how it happens.  We start with nothing but a great idea and determination, and we nurture our companies.  We’re proud of what we’ve built, and we want to see it continue to grow.

But there are times when we need a break, and it can be very difficult to walk away and trust that our business can survive without our hands-on, day-to-day attention.

Meet Donnie Miller, CEO of Technical Adventures.  He started his full-service IT company about ten years ago, and he did it just the way most of us have.  He did everything – sales, customer service, numbers, lead technician, fire extinguisher, and chief bottle washer – all by himself.  And he needed a break.  He hadn’t taken a vacation in years, and his company had plateaued.  What did he do?

He walked away and took a six-month sabbatical.  Now he didn’t just walk out the door one day with no notice and vanish.  He took specific steps to set his company up to run in his absence.  His steps:

  1. Hire the right people and put them in the right positions.  Donnie had hired great, trustworthy people, folks he could rely on to run his business well, but it wasn’t until he actually took a day off – physically left the office – that his employees really started to shine.  If your staff relies on you to be the final arbiter of every issue that arises, you’ll never see them reach their potential. 
  2. Start small.  Donnie started by leaving for a few days at a time, checking in by phone.  He realized quickly that he was used to feeling needed and the phone calls were really more for his benefit than that of his managers.  When Donnie figured out that his staff would call when they needed him, he was ready for longer breaks from the office.
  3. Assess results.  After Donnie’s first six-month sabbatical, his business had dropped by thirty percent, mostly because he’d been the entire sales force before his departure.  He put people in place to handle sales, evaluated the successes and failures of the systems he’d put in place, and made the necessary changes. 
  4. Look at the big picture.  One of the chief benefits of Donnie’s absence was the fact that he knew his company could manage everyday matters without his assistance.  That freed him up for all sorts of new projects.  He could focus on all the new ideas and growth-oriented projects he’d never had time for back when he handled everything personally.  He was finally able to steer his company the way he’d always wanted.

It takes guts (and no small amount of humility) to step back from your business and let it run without you.  We get so wrapped up in thinking our value is in our hands-on micromanagement that we forget it’s our vision that’s our chief asset.  By following Donnie’s example and removing our ego from the equation, we often find the solution is far simpler than we realize.  Stepping back can give you and your company opportunity to grow.  

Maintaining Strategic Vision by Staying Privately Held

11-19 staying privately owned smallPicture a cruise ship on the ocean. You are a crewmember, and your job is to steer the boat based on the captain’s orders. In the past, your ship grew in popularity by adjusting routes based on customer requests. On your most recent trip, customers asked the captain to go on an unexpected detour so they could explore an island. Your captain knew that he would incur additional fuel costs for this trip, but he told you to head towards the island as it could become a destination spot for future tours.  

Now picture the same boat but with 20 different captains. The customers still want to go to the island. The original captain says to turn towards the island. However, 11 captains vote against the trip because they do not want any disruptions to their current profit margins. You are forced to maintain your current trajectory because current profit has become more important to your ship than future revenue.

The story above exemplifies how strategic vision can become diluted. The single captain represents a privately held company. Private companies, just like the single captain example, can make agile decisions that may benefit the company in the future. The captain realizes his strategic vision is future growth. He may lose money on this trip, but the new course could also lead to larger growth in the future.

The example with 20 different captains represents a public company. Public companies tend to be more risk averse, as they need to maintain shareholder satisfaction. Public companies are not as agile either. The more owners you have, the more input you get about the direction of the company. The strategic vision becomes diluted and you are left with a slow-to-market company that cannot adjust to current market demands.

Private companies can allocate money to different divisions faster than their publicly traded counterparts. They have complete control over how their funds are spent. Public companies have strict financial reporting rules and are more limited in how fast they can redistribute resources. Investor confidence becomes a priority for publicly traded firms. A risky financial decision can negatively influence your investors and subsequently devalue your company.

Nextiva’s CEO, Tomas Gorny, once said, “It is not the deals you do but the deals you don’t.” Tomas knows that his company could benefit from the instant cash brought forth by an IPO. While it may eventually make sense to go public, Nextiva is more focused on bringing value to the businesses it serves. Profits are re-invested into the company rather than shareholders, so Tomas can enhance Nextiva’s product offering. He is part of a new wave of private company owners that believe maintaining strategic vision is more important than the company’s current profit.

The choice to remain private is a strategic decision that is increasing in popularity. When a company is forced to change its strategic vision to appease short-sighted shareholder satisfaction, a company can lose out on long-term progress. 

Mondays with Mike: The 15 Best Business Quotes

Hand holding a note card that reads "What are you waiting for?" with forest background.I’m a big fan of forging my own way, relying on my instincts (backed up by research, of course) to make my business decisions.  But there are times when it’s wise to heed the words of successful folks.  There’s a lot of wisdom in the following quotes:

On Your Employees:

Hire good ones and treat them like gold.  Listen to the experts on how to keep your most valuable business asset around.

1.  “People are definitely a company's greatest asset. It doesn't make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” Mary Kay Ash

2.  “The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them.” Benjamin Jowett

3.   “You don't lie to your own doctor. You don't lie to your own attorney, and you don't lie to your employees.” Gordon Bethune

4.  “Hire character. Train skill.” Peter Schutz

On the Nature of the Successful Entrepreneur:

Though we all find our ways individually, there are certain qualities entrepreneurs possess.

5.  The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows.” Aristotle Onassis

6.  “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” Peter Drucker

7.  “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer. “ Nolan Bushnell

8.  “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Jack Welch

9.  “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. “ Charles Darwin


One of the qualities I most admire is the ability to strip a situation down to its essence – to deal only with what’s absolutely necessary.

10.  “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.” Tom Peters

11.  “If you see a snake, just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” Henry Ross Perot

12.  “That's been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

13.  “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” E.F. Schumacher


We all stumble from time to time.  The successful people are the ones who get back up and keep moving in the right direction.

14.  “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Dale Carnegie

15.  “Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.” Thomas A. Edison

I know inspirational quotes won’t solve all the world’s problems, but when you’re struggling or uncertain, it’s useful to know that other successful people have faced the very same struggles, persevered, and succeeded.

Does Your Brand Match Your Company Culture?

11-5 Company values & branding smallIn 2008, BP shelled out $211 million for the design of its Helios logo, which, the company asserts, represents many things, including heat, light and nature. Who would have guessed that BP would face costs amounting to billions of dollars (and counting) after the Gulf oil spill two years later? Today, the company continues to pay for that spill, even as it runs ads to present the company as caring — and green.

Massive companies may have the resources to survive a disastrous split between their message and their actions. As a small business owner, however, you need to impart consistent messaging between your brand and your company values. It's a two-way street; just as your company culture must drive everything from products to customer service, your brand needs to drive the same things.

Culture Comes First

Company culture is not just about the work environment or even customer service. It's about everything that your company believes and does to get products and services to your customers — and keep them happy thereafter. Of course, you need a well-defined product or service before you start a business. But, if your company has not developed its culture before you move forward to develop your products or services, you run a real risk of having unhappy employees, dissatisfied customers, or both.

Citrix, which develops software for remote employees, is an extreme example of a company that fully integrates its company culture into its products. The company touts a culture to "work better, live better", which includes flexibility in the mix. The company promotes flexibility through a product that empowers remote workers with mobile workspaces. The same product that promotes remote work capabilities to customers provides flexibility within its own employee community, as well. As an added benefit, their software product is probably very well tested before it goes to market!

Granted, most companies do not sell products or services that are likely to directly improve the quality of their employees' lives. But there are many ways to integrate the company culture into the brand.

So, if your surgical center culture promotes caring and individual attention, make sure that your operating environment does not look like an assembly line. Or, if your company is dedicated to delivering top-quality widgets, customers should immediately recognize your genuine shock and willingness to go to extremes when an occasional widget is delivered in less-than-perfect quality

The bottom line is that customers are often drawn to products and services based on the underlying company culture. Deliver that culture, and they will promote your products with positive reviews.

Your Brand is More Than a Logo

Your marketing campaign is an important means for getting your name out to the public, but a cool logo and good advertising cannot ensure a company's success. When your company culture drives every aspect of your business, you naturally take a holistic approach that can more easily drive your brand forward.

Zappos may be one of the best-known companies in this regard because it is dedicated to this practice. They see all employees— whether or not they normally interact with customers — as reflections of their brand, even when they're off the clock. Zappos takes a broad view of its brand. It's not just about shoes, clothing or even customer service. It's about the full customer experience. And its culture extends beyond their specific brand to the entire industry. They want to make sure that their customers deliver a message through word-of-mouth and social media that the best advertising cannot accomplish.

A Well-Defined Culture Organically Drives Your Brand Marketing

Companies that follow their cultures in everything they do have a natural advantage when it comes to marketing their products. Their marketing campaigns are often less expensive to develop and more on-point. This just makes sense when you consider what can happen when you sit down to formulate your advertising message. When you focus on the product alone, you can struggle to find ways to differentiate that product from the competition.

When you have a clearly-defined company culture that incorporates the big picture, however, you broaden your messaging options. If a pickle company, for example, started as a family business focused on its home-made quality, their advertising message might focus on a unique mix of old-family recipes (spicy, garlicky, super-sour or even a variety of pickled veggies), hand-packed jars or all home-grown ingredients. They might even face the dilemma of having to choose from too many great campaign ideas, but this is a nice problem to have. As long as your brand is connected to your company culture, you can use those ideas for future campaigns.

How to Network Effectively

10-28 Networking smallWhen you think about networking, the heavy exchange of business cards might come to mind, but there’s so much more to it than that.  Being effective at networking is crucial to your business success. Regardless of what product or service you provide, you’ll need to sell yourself first. Building trust relationships with strangers is an important skill to develop. When you meet potential clients, first seek to be more interested than interesting. If you figure out how to be helpful to a new contact – people will help you and your business grow. In the digital age it’s easier than ever to stay connected to new people. You just need to know how to get the most of our your networking.

Here are some tips to network effectively.

1. Be Interested

Networking with someone new is much more than just handing out your business card and moving on to the next person. You need to take a moment more to get to know them a little better and let them get to know you, too. Talk about them first, then if asked discuss what your business does and how your solve problems. Business cards get lost and mixed together, but first impressions last a lifetime. Get them something to remember you with.

2. Prioritize at your events

Only focus on making five key contacts at any networking event. While you might want to meet everyone there, but you won’t have the time to maintain all of that communication. You need to move through the room, and meet some great people and call it a night. You should have a target list, but don’t worry about who is likeliest to call you for your product, service justfocus on making new friends. You never know who they could refer you too.

3. Ask for Recommendations

Ask for a warm introductions from satisfied customers, current clients, personal friends and mentors. They can be your best sources for recommendations. Ask this group of people to pass your name and information along should they find someone who may benefit from your help.Just remember that once a friend-of-a-friend gets in touch with you, be sure to give your new prospect the positive experience he or she is expecting, otherwise you could lose two relationships.

4. Communicate

To make networking work, you have to keep in touch with people. No one likes to only be contacted when something is needed of them..If you are professionally networking you need to cultivate your new contact to build trust.

5. Maintain

Once you meet someone, you should follow within five days. Then they should here from you again within 60 days to schedule a follow-up lunch or coffee. To keep yourself top of mine you can It’s a good idea to connect on LinkedIn Twitter or Instagram to keep yourself in their sights. Even if you don’t speak often sharing their content online can build relationships. If you neglect new contacts your networking efforts will be in vain.

It can take a while to build up a solid, reliable network , but don’t get discouraged. Meeting new people and building your network will become second nature to you. And with a little patience, you will create a lead engine for your business.

How to Pursue Funding for Your Company

10-7 Funding your biz smallIf you have a great idea for a business and your second thought is to look for financing, I want you to hold your horses for a moment and ask yourself, Why? You need to get three different answers before moving forward. If you think that funding is the best option rather than bootstrapping it with your personal resources, be careful! Outside funding brings its own crop of distractions. Here are 7 things you need to know before pursing financing for your small business.

1. You Won't Write the Deal

If this is your first business, then you don’t have a financial track record, which puts you in a beggar's position. The investor you seek funding from has the power and may deploy an agreement that puts you at a disadvantage, either by valuing your company less than you think it should be valued at, or by charging you a higher cost of capital.

2. You'll Be Chasing the Funding Instead of the Customer

At this stage of building a business, there are few things as important as your customer. Once you divert your interest from your clientele to pursue funding, you will distract yourself from the building your business. Building a customer base requires focus and dedication; getting funding requires the same. Since you have limited time, it will be a real challenge. Customers are the linchpin of your success. Ignore them at your own risk.

3. You Could Undervalue Your Company

When you seek money from outside sources, you have to place a specific monetary value on your company based on its assets and intellectual property. It is easy to make a substantial mistake that you’ll only be able to determine after the fact. It is difficult to calculate the value of an emerging company, and this may make getting funding a challenge.

4. You Might Partner With the Wrong People

Partnerships are like other relationships. When you partner with an investor in haste, you put your business at risk. The offer to fund your enterprise rarely comes without strings, so make sure you understand your financier better than you understand your spouse. If that sounds like a tall order, then you may not be ready to take the leap with complete confidence. There is a lot at stake, so use caution.

5. You'll Learn More Without Funding

Bootstrapping is a valuable exercise. A true entrepreneur builds a business to learn something: about the market, about the customer, about the product and himself. When you build your business without a cushion, you get to learn expensive lessons. They are often the most valuable. Running a business will build your instincts and help you hone your talent.

6. Funding Often Masks Underlying Problems

An excess of cash can hide critical deficiencies in a business model. An infusion of capital won’t fix all your problems. If your staff isn’t properly trained and you’re getting customer service complaints, money won’t remedy that; effort will. It’s sometimes easier to see these issues and fix them if you don’t have too much money between you and the problems.

7. You Could Lose Control of Your Company

Once you’ve put your most devoted efforts into building your company, and secured outside funding you’ll have to appoint a Board of Directors, but most likely your funded will have financial and board control. Investors like to work with executives they know. You, as a fresh entrepreneur, represent an unknown territory. Backers don’t know how you’ll react to success or difficulty and may want to remove you as the CEO.

If you see your business opportunity as a way to cash in quick, you may not have the stamina to bring your business venture to success. Investors rarely invest in an idea and they don’t invest quickly.  It could take 18-24 months to secure a deal.. The reality is that funding brings as many problems as it appears to solve. While there are other options for funding, explore them carefully and avoid making commitments under duress.

How to Implement Goal Setting in Your Small Business

I know what you’re thinking: I am tired of not moving things forward enough in my business. I’m here to tell you that the reason why this is happening is because you are not measuring yourself against business goals. Are you one of these people who says, “Why set goals if you never end up meeting them?” Or you know you should set goals, but you haven't quite gotten around to it (like backing up your data or keeping your antivirus software up to date). I encourage you to shift your thinking about goal setting. When you take the time to set goals and follow through on those, it is an investment that pays. Here are six ways to look realistically at your business and create meaningful business goals.

1. Analyze the Current Situation

Look at where you are right now and ask yourself: are you where you want to be? It is imperative that you are clear with yourself about your current circumstance regarding money in the bank, accounts payables, your sales pipeline, and your processes. Once you have established what the present looks like, only then can you plan for the big picture and set goals against it.

2. Create a Roadmap

Focus on long-term goals in a five-year benchmark when you develop your goal roadmap. These reach goals have a place in your overall goal setting, but it is essential to set some clear, attainable milestone goals in the short term . Just as an undergraduate sets a goal toward earning a bachelor's degree before applying to grad school, your road map should include goals you can achieve sooner rather than later that will help you accomplish those long term goals. You may even find that creating yearly measurable goals helps you clarify your vision even further.

3. Break It Into Small Bites

Create short-term tasks to achieve your goals for the next year. Creating monthly and weekly sales goals will help you move the needle on your revenue goals. Need to increase sales? Set a goal for increasing cold calls, social posts and direct outreach such as attending meetings. Need to get people to your website? Establish a content development system and start an editorial calendar. Need better subscription numbers? Work on developing a new free download for your website. Remember: you can’t achieve your goals if you don’t take steps toward making them happen.

4. Stay Focused

It’s not enough to set goals. Now you must make substantial efforts to attain those goals. For example, if you are going to be developing content, set aside one day a week to do that. Be proactive and set deadlines for your milestones in order to achieve those goals. It’s easy to get distracted or discouraged, so keep trying even if you miss a milestone. One of the best ways to stay focued is to avoid or eliminate distractions whenever possible.

5. Work Hard

This is a time when hard work determines your outcome. So many entrepreneurs spend a lot of time working on their day-to-day activities and don’t allocate enough time and resources to commit to achieving their professional goals, and then they wonder why they failed to accomplish those goals. There is a direct correlation between the amount of energy you put toward a goal and its results. Set your biggest goals first, they the annual goals, then the monthly and weekly goals. Once your organize your time this way, you will see a difference in your business.

6 Ways to Fix What’s Broken in Your Business

When you’ve been in business a while, it’s sometimes easier to bury your head in the sand than to deal with the issues at hand. You’re not doing your business any favors, however.  Look at these 6 scenarios, see what you can relate to, and take action to make positive changes for your company.  These are 6 ways to fix what’s broken in your business.

8-26 broken business small1. You Have Staffing Issues

One situation is that you’re a solopreneur and need help, but you can’t quite afford to hire a full-time employee. In this case, consider hiring a freelancer (great for design or marketing help), an intern (though you’ll have to do some hand-holding), or a part-time employee to fill the need. Consider, to find a great stay-at-home mom great to get back into the workforce.

If your problem is more with the staff you have (especially true for those of you who hire teenagers), it’s time to firm up your discipline. Create an employee handbook to ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them. If they’re unwilling to follow the rules, tell them to hit the road.

2. Cash Flow is a Problem

If you are biting your nails until your clients pay you so you can pay your team or your vendors, you have a cash flow problem. Sometimes, clients pay late, but you need to make sure you have a contingency plan. Here are a few strategies.

First, you can enforce either a late fee or offer an early discount for your invoices. The idea is that those late paying clients will be motivated — either to save money by paying early or to pay on time to avoid a late payment fee. Another idea is to take out a line of credit so that you can access cash when you need it, then pay it back when you get paid.

3. You Don’t Have Time to Market Your Business

You’re too busy dealing with those staffing and cash flow issues to hop on social media and update your profiles or write any new blog content. With only a trickle of customers coming through your door, marketing should be a priority.  Consider hiring a consultant or freelancer to take over some of your marketing efforts. You can pay a flat monthly rate or per article, and it may be more affordable than you’d imagine to hire a professional. The important thing is to get those customers coming back in, and then that expense won’t even matter.

4. You Haven’t Put Money Back into Your Business

As soon as you’ve paid everyone, you take out your cut. But your computer is on its last leg, you need to reorder inventory, and your business insurance is pats due. You feel like there’s just not enough money to go around. While paying yourself is critical, it’s just as important to reinvest in your business. Set aside a percentage of your profits — say, 20% — so that when you need to buy a computer or software, you’ve got the funds.

5. Your Yelp Reviews are Going Downhill

It started with a nasty review on Yelp months ago that you ignored, and now it’s snowballed. It seems like every other review is negative, and you don’t know what to do about it. It’s hurting your business. First, take action. Ignoring a bad review is like bleeding in shark-infested waters. Even if things aren’t so bad at your business, potential customers will move on after reading the negative review. But examine the complaints in those reviews. They might give you the opportunity to straighten up an attitudinal employee or polish your product.

6. You’re a Workaholic

If you’re working on the weekends, every weekend, please stop. I get it; sometimes you just need more time to get things done. But remember that you need downtime in the evenings and on weekends to recharge your battery. Otherwise you will burn out and eventually hate your business.  If you must work after hours, set a timer so you don’t end up eating an entire day that you should have been spending with your family. Set rules for yourself so you don’t check your email when you should be doing something more relaxing.

Starting Small: Why It Might Be Your Best Bet for Business Success

8-19 business growth smallWhile you may have a large-scale idea for a new business, sometimes it’s better to take just a small segment of your plan and focus on starting your business on a small level. If this is your first business, you may want to target an endeavor that will help you build skills without wiping out your nest egg. A business that can succeed on a small level gives you great training wheels for building the experience, knowledge, and competency you’ll need to take your company to the next level. Here are several reasons why it might be your best bet  to start small for business success.

1. You’ll Save Money

Starting with a narrow scope of business means you can run it out of your extra bedroom or den. You won’t have to rent office space or furnish a suite. There are even tax incentives or deductions you can take to save money as you build your business on the small side. If you do need specialized space for your endeavor, you can investigate subleasing space from other entrepreneurs, which reduces costs.

2. You’ll Need Less Capital to Get Started

Bootstrapping is an effective strategy that allows you to grow into your business and keep initial financial outlays on the low end. Instead of stressing over technology requirements and phone systems, you can concentrate on creating your sales funnel or refining your product. The fancy phone system can come later (if at all). A lean business structure keeps you flexible and focused.

3. Learn as You Go

When you base your business on a hobby, you can start by making a handful of products, selling them, then growing when you’re ready. As your business takes off, you can educate yourself in other areas of running a business, creating a formal business structure, managing employees, and meeting regulatory requirements.

4. You Can Start Today

If you set your sights on a small enterprise, the barriers are lower and you can get going more quickly. You don’t need a huge infrastructure, massive staff, or complete line of products to get started. You have no excuse for not starting your business today.

5. Your Sweat Equity is Valuable

By doing everything yourself, you learn all that's needed to keep your company going. Of course, it’s great to hire out those things that you are not able to do, but if you have direct knowhow those experiences inform your executive decisions down the road. It will also help you make better decisions that impact your customers. While financial investment is necessary to building a business, your sweat equity is just as necessary to growing your endeavor. 

6. It’s Simpler to Run

Smaller companies are lean machines and often have higher profit margins because they are simpler to run. There are fewer costs associated with overhead and administrative requirements with a small-scale business, and you can reassess market changes frequently and pivot when necessary. When big jobs come through, you can team with other small companies or hire contractors to deal with the workflow if it’s more than you can handle.

Slow and steady wins the race. Start small. Test the market. Grow with intention. Sample the cheese before you bet the farm on your idea. When it comes to small business success, the truth is: scaled-down, slower growth companies do just as well as their big sisters.

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