#WorkTrends Recap: Real-World Testing Your Business Idea

If you’re like me, you have 10 different business ideas in the back of your head.

But whether you’re an entrepreneur or you work inside a big organization, how do you test those ideas to find out if they can really get off the ground? On the January 10 #WorkTrends podcast and Twitter chat, I talked to Boris Goncharov, founder of Moosetank Digital Agency, a firm that helps startups and small companies build products.

Here’s the advice he shared for anyone with big ideas and a lot of questions about how to get started.

Get Started Now

First of all, Boris says, there’s no time like the present. I asked him what the perfect time is to test a business hypothesis. His answer? Right now.

“If you’ve got an idea and you think there’s value for customers, test it right away. If you have free time, just start doing that.”

In other words, don’t sit on your idea without taking action. “Ideas come to many people at the same time, so if you don’t try your idea right away, maybe someone will be quicker than you tomorrow. You don’t have to waste a lot of time,” he says.

It’s always a good plan to research your target market, but don’t paralyze yourself by over-researching. “The main idea is not to overwhelm yourself with analysis, because you can just have information anxiety. You don’t move on. You don’t move forward. You actually can block yourself from testing or trying your business hypothesis because you get too much information,” he says.

Simplify Your Idea

Boris says that you don’t need a complex business plan before you jump in and start testing your idea. Strip your idea down to its essence and start there.

“Most business hypotheses can be tried in a very basic form. I think you can sacrifice almost everything except the core feature, or the core service. The only thing you need is a response from your audience that they’re ready to pay for that.”

Find the Easiest Way to Get Your Idea to Your Customers

When you’re ready to launch your idea, Boris says, you shouldn’t waste your time building a complicated website or perfect marketing materials.

“There’s no need to develop a complex platform with a lot of pages and services. You can just build something really quickly, like one single page, or an email sequence or a video campaign. The most important thing that your customers can give you is their answers and a form of purchase. If they can purchase your product, that’s the bare minimum you need.”

Then, stick to your plan.

“The more you invest in your idea, the harder it is to roll it out. You might plan to spend a week on your website. Then [plan] to not spend more than $1,000 on your ad campaign. You can bring unlimited effort to any idea in the world, but your goal is to build a successful business. The first and most important thing is to stick to the initial plan you had in your mind.”

Be Honest with Yourself

If your idea isn’t panning out, say you’re spending more on getting a new customer in the door than they’re paying for your product, it’s okay to be honest with yourself. If one idea doesn’t work, you can always move on to your backup plan or your next venture.

Stay tuned for more inspiration on the #WorkTrends podcast, every Wednesday:

#WorkTrends Recap: Pacing for Growth

What’s your big plan for your business or team in 2018? We all want to stretch, improve and grow, but sometimes figuring out exactly how to scale your work is a challenge. I know I’m still figuring this out as an entrepreneur, and we have a lot of TalentCulture community members who are in the same boat.

Earlier this month I talked to Alison Eyring, founder and CEO of Organisation Solutions and author of “Pacing for Growth: Why Intelligent Restraint Drives Long-Term Success.” Alison has been helping organizations grow for the past 30 years. She has also learned lessons about growth through her experiences as an endurance athlete. She’s done marathons, ultra-marathons, triathlons and Ironman competitions.

What business lessons can you learn from competing as an athlete? Here’s what I learned from my chat with Alison.

Push for Growth, but Recognize Your Boundaries

“If you look at the body, it teaches us that there are certain things we can do to build capacity — to go faster and go further. As leaders we have to push, but also understand that there are some real limits, and work to build capacity,” she says.

She introduced me to the idea of “intelligent restraint” — stretching yourself and pushing for growth, but not so far that you go past your limits.

“If we’re not pushing, if there’s no edge, if we’re not pushing people outside of their comfort zone, they’re not changing. They’re not growing, and the business isn’t changing and growing. You push yourself and you push your business to go as fast and far as you can but then no further until you have the capacity to sustain it.”

Focus on Specific Goals

Just growing for the sake of growth isn’t all that meaningful. I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners who are working to create focus in 2018. Alison agreed that sometimes the best way to scale is to focus: “It’s about saying ‘let’s get really focused on what is profitable, what is meaningful, what is going to bring me to work every morning.’ ”

Start with People

So many organizations think about goals but make their people plan last. That’s backward, Alison says. “When I think about scaling for growth, it’s a lot about people.”

I often see that small businesses have a hard time scaling because leaders can’t delegate tasks to others on the team. But big, growing businesses face people challenges too. “We work with some high-tech companies that are growing so fast, and their managers have very little experience. They start a job, and within six months the job is bigger. You think about in a situation like that, those people have to grow really fast, and they’ve got to be able to grow their people even faster,” she says.

The key to developing a team all comes back to having a solid routine, she says. It’s about having good one-on-ones with people on a regular basis. “Whether it’s over the phone or face-to-face, it’s about carving out a space to understand how to help that person perform and how to help them transform for the future. Having that routine is critical.”

Pay Attention to Developing Remote Workers

So many organizations are staffed by workers who aren’t sitting in the same office every day. I’ve worked remotely for years, and a lot of the organizations I work with rely on remote teams. Alison says that developing those remote workers and moving everyone forward together is a challenge.

“Remoteness is both a blessing and a curse. The curse of it is that when we work independently, there’s not others necessarily who are observing us and connecting with us in a way that they can maybe give us feedback and help us and support us as much as we might get if we are co-located in a normal office environment. We’ve got to really think more proactively. If we can learn how to coach people without seeing them then we become even stronger as leaders.”

Alison says she has people working together from five continents, and she’s focused on helping them stay connected on a human level. “We have people who have never met each other. One of the things that I’ve been really trying to think about is how do we build spirit in our company. When people are physically dispersed, it’s easy for the interactions to become very transactional. It’s about the work we have to get done. Often it’s very hard to get a holistic picture of the challenges the person faces. What are the barriers? How are they feeling? Part of what we need to do as leaders is create psychological safety. We have to provide support. When we do that, we can accelerate development.

“I think that technology can help us. Sometimes it can make it very dehumanized, but other times it can really help us bring spirit through connecting us. People in our group love posting pictures and sharing and having baby pictures. I think that human connection is really important.”

I could talk about remote work and the challenges it brings all day! Thanks to Alison for sharing her expertise with us. Check out her book to learn more.

Stay tuned for more inspiration on the #WorkTrends podcast, every Wednesday:

Why Do Entrepreneurs Fail? Why It Could Happen to You

A good idea goes a long way in making any business a success, but it’s not the only thing that’s needed to ensure it doesn’t fail. Many entrepreneurs start businesses in the hope they are going to be the next Facebook or Google, but eventually reality hits and they realize they need more than just a clever idea to push a business forward. It’s obvious a unique idea is going to give any entrepreneur the best chance to succeed, but there are many other reasons why promising ideas don’t always get the exposure they deserve.

Some Entrepreneurs Show Too Much Desire to Profit Early

We’re all in business to make money, that’s a fact, but when you’re starting a new business you should target success in a different way other than thinking about profit. Instant profit for any entrepreneur is brilliant, but some business owners choose to take that profit to better their personal lives rather than thinking about taking the business further by investing in fresh marketing ideas. Many entrepreneurs then wonder why they don’t have the capital to invest and start to lose motivation in the unique idea that was supposed to make them millions instantaneously.

Lack Motivation When Times Get Hard

Times do get hard as an entrepreneur, but it’s important you keep going to ensure you’re a success. Successful entrepreneur Gurbaksh Chahal, for example, hasn’t always had it easy but he’s always stuck at it and he’s now reaping the rewards with multiple successful companies, one of them being Gravity4 – the industry’s first marketing cloud platform that serves on a global scale and has more than 400 employees.   He’s also gone on to create the Chahal Foundation which focuses on empowering women and ending child illiteracy.  If he isn’t an entrepreneur who can motivate you to continue, no-one will be able to.

Poor Marketing Efforts

Entrepreneurs know that building a business from a great idea isn’t the only step to take to bring an idea to life. They know that marketing is going to be key to ensure the world knows about the idea and this is the point when many entrepreneurs fail. They lack experience when it comes to digital and traditional marketing ideas and without a good marketing strategy they end up losing the exposure they need to succeed. A good marketing strategy is not only one that gets the idea out there, but one that has the power to do it quickly by taking advantage of viral marketing ideas using the likes of social media.

Sometimes, a fantastic idea will do the marketing work for an entrepreneur but in most cases, it still takes a good marketing ploy to get a clever idea off the ground.

Possess the Fear of Failure

This article certainly isn’t going to do anyone favors when it comes their own fear of business failure, but it’s a common reason why entrepreneurs fail. Before even starting a business, there are those out there that believe it will fail before it profits, and ultimately, that makes them their own worst enemy when it comes to starting a business. What entrepreneurs need to do is unleash their true passion and show the world why their idea is going to work. They need positivity when it comes to business so they’ll have the confidence to take their business forward, and that’s what makes a great entrepreneur.

Poor Financial Management

As stated above, a lot of entrepreneurs are very short-sighted when it comes to business and are only looking to profit early rather than add long-term value to a business. This is one of the reasons why they fail, but another obvious reason is because they have poor financial management skills in the long run. They don’t hire accountants quickly enough to stable the finances of a business and that later costs them the business altogether.

There is a knack to being a true entrepreneur and it’s not always about luck. It’s about having willpower, motivation, determination, and plenty of good personal skills.

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Tai Lopez on Social Media’s Role in Talent Recruitment

In a recent article published on the Entrepreneur website, Tai Lopez, who is himself an entrepreneur extraordinaire, spoke of his love affair with social media. His history with this platform goes back to the very early days when social media wasn’t even a recognized term and Facebook was still in its humble beginnings. The year was 2001 and from that moment on, Tai became involved in a love affair that would still be very much alive almost two decades later. As an entrepreneur with a huge staff working with him at his 67 Steps program, Tai Lopez understands just how easy it is to pick the right talent on social sites because of the potential for engagement. And, to Tai, engagement is key.

A New Way of Branding

Just as businesses use social media to brand themselves, so too can professionals make use of sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to highlight their skills and strengths. Tai feels that through the major engagement possible with an audience, it is possible to grow your own brand exponentially almost overnight. That’s what going viral is all about, and a professional with the right approach can grab the attention of top corporations. If an entrepreneur can climb literally to the top of his industry by engaging an audience with social media, there is no reason to think that talented professionals can’t woo CEOs of corporations they would like to interest.

Social Media Is a Two Way Street

When you are having a conversation with someone, neither person does all the talking. That is what dialogue is all about. Social media is the same. While professionals seeking a position with a large corporation might be actively using social media to pursue corporate followers, corporations are doing the very same thing from their end. It is amazing just how many job applicants got their foot in the door through social sites. It’s a place where both sides get to learn a little about the other and once a ‘connection’ is made, the next logical step is to submit a resume and from there an interview is almost a non-issue. After all, you’ve already become ‘friends’ on your social site, following each other and so the interview becomes a mere formality. A face to face conversation after hours of digital dialogue.

When YouTube Is Your Preferred Media

Then there’s YouTube. As the social media site where your audience actually gets to see you in motion, what is left to discuss? Imagine going on an interview where you’ve followed a company’s videos and have seen their HR team in video presentation after video presentation? In reverse, that HR team has seen you talk about your trade, has a preconceived idea of just how personable you are based on your presentation and by the time you do meet face to face, it’s like you’ve known each other for years. More and more company recruiters are scoping out social sites of professionals they would like to talk to about a position with their corporation.

Video Remarketing Takes the Lead

Since Tai loves social media, and above all YouTube, he has found a way to make it work well with his promotional style – that would be remarketing. As an entrepreneur, and a very successful one at that, Tai knows just how important it is to connect with your audience and he lives by the old proverb, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Since it is imperative to keep your connection with your audience, you can’t just let them bounce away from your site. There is no guarantee that they will click on your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn page but you can still reconnect with remarketing! To do a little test, visit a few of Tai’s pages. Then, go to YouTube and watch a video or two.

Increase Your Odds the Lopez Way!

Chances are you will find Tai’s ad linked to the video you are about to watch. That is remarketing and it keep’s Tai’s face up-front and personal with his audience! They may not click on your pages but they will, almost certainly, view a YouTube video in the coming days, and this is your best way to use social media to your advantage. It’s much more effective than those click-ads on other social sites because – another cliché here – seeing is believing. With a YouTube ad, your audience sees you and you become more real. That’s the benefit and one that Tai has perfected. And, by the way, it can work both ways! A recruiter remembers an applicant better and an applicant remembers to follow up on applications they’ve submitted. This is remarketing in recruitment and it is ultra-effective!

SEO works the same in job searches as it does in marketing any other type of business, so all that recruiter needs to do is type in occupational terms and will soon be led to your social site. Tai Lopez advises anyone seeking a professional position to make use of social media because they will be light years ahead of other applicants. If the company has already seen and heard you, they must have a great enough interest to go to the next level, the interview. Having built a successful business or two (or 20) using social media, Tai Lopez knows just how effective it can be. You, too, can use it to your advantage now that you know just how effective social media can be in the recruitment process.

Photo Credit: Shahid Abdullah Flickr via Compfight cc

The Real Partner Is Your Customer

Venture Capitalism. Vulture Capitalism. When I hear those words, I immediately envision business owners whose top priorities are their investors exit plans, and subsequently are serving their investors rather than their customers. I’ve been a business owner long enough to see the effects of vulture capitalism within my industry. The landscape is littered with our competitors’ corpses and lingering bad business practices. And what’s left to show for it? Customers picking up the broken pieces of a defunct service agreement. It’s sad and very recognizable to see customer service go by the wayside… and even more disheartening to see how the customer becomes the ultimate victim of it all.

What’s the Real Cost of Doing Business?

I won’t deny that making money is a good thing… actually it’s a great thing. However, with the acquisition of new customers comes a reality beyond the money. The company and consumer should fully understand the benefits of partnering and look forward to a long relationship. You both have, in a sense, invested your time, money and energy into each other so making the most of your partnership should be the goal. There’s a responsibility to onboard customers truthfully, realistically and with respect. Desired client acquisitions should be viewed as relationships that are forged for the long haul, not a one and done that satisfies the immediate need to look profitable for your investors’ exit plans.

All this said, there are times when investment money can be a savior to your business. Necessary and ongoing software development, sales and marketing, and operations can be what is desperately needed to help your business not only survive, but also endure. In these situations, investigate your options thoroughly and don’t leap before you know the extent of your potential partners’ involvement and understanding of your industry, competition, business and long-term goals. The more aligned you are with the investors, the more likely you’ll find a harmonious and successful working relationship.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Research tools are available for consumers to investigate a product or service prior to purchasing, but many people fail to use these to their advantage. It’s important to dig deep to uncover any hype or misrepresentation. As human nature goes, people will be dazzled by the shiny object. The perception being that what appears to be a duck and presumably quacks like a duck must be a duck, even if we’re not totally sure what it is. This mentality can easily happen in the minds of consumers, because they believe what is large, expensive looking, flashy, and presumably the next best thing, must be what they should have.

Peeling back the layers and looking deeper into our perceptions often reveals the truth and accuracy of what we believe to be real, and with that a clearer picture of what is actually in front of us, is revealed. Consumers don’t want to be misled and certainly don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on a bill of goods, but when companies invest large amounts of money on marketing that causes misdirection, consumers can be made to believe in brands that will not or cannot deliver on their claims.

It’s important to vet out all brands and fully investigate their worth. Look beyond the pretty pictures. Ask tough questions. Dig for the truth and do not settle for being misdirected. It’s easy to settle, but ultimately when you do that, you have conceded control of your money and fate, along with opening yourself up to the disappointment of poor service, payment for an over-rated product and years of frustration trying to divest yourself of the albatross around your neck.

Reputation Management

In today’s world where nothing and no one can hide, apathetic interests are quickly identified and exposed. Companies that continue to practice a narcissistic philosophy, are myopic at best. To live today without worry of tomorrow is tantamount to extinction. This form of self-centered thinking holds customers in low regard with businesses believing buyers are not the reason the doors stay open and lights remain on… after all, they have millions from their investors for that purpose.

Areas that should never be overlooked or neglected are customer referrals and authenticated product reviews. Both of these speak fathoms about your business’s reputation and matter to any organization that is consumer-oriented. Further, they’re likely a critical part of the customer pipeline. When consumers review sites such as Angie’s List, Home Advisor, TrustRadius and Capterra they should be looking for feedback from other people’s experience to guide their decision making.

And most importantly, take time to think about the type of pipeline you’re developing. Attempting to bring on new clients by whatever means necessary, especially when done to satisfy investors, is a house of cards that will eventually collapse with calamitous results for the customer.  If you’re paying your customers to refer business to you or to write unsubstantiated reviews, you’re building a pipeline of business under false pretenses; this is a dishonest practice and a conflict of interest, and it will backfire with negative results. Having brand ambassadors who have a vested interest in the success of your organization because they realize the mutual benefit of using your product or service is more valuable to you, in the long run, than false reviews or paid referrals for new customers.

Take a Lesson

There are a lot of great business leaders in this country. Some of which conduct business with the highest of moral standards. They see the value in a win-win situation and recognize the long-term benefits of ensuring everyone with a seat at the table is well served.

Ben and Jerry’s is a fine example of this. The core mission of their business aims to create linked prosperity for everyone that’s connected to their business: suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbors alike. They know that when these stakeholders win, they win too. This philosophy creates enduring and satisfying results for everyone involved. Partnerships that are structured in this manner make doing business with each other a joy, and less likely to dissolve due to unfair or deceitful business practices.

When it comes time to consider your potential partners’ business philosophies, consider their history of doing business with other companies. Do they have a reputation to churn and burn? Yes, this partnership may infuse money into your business, but keep this in mind, their exit plan is the end goal and always top of mind in a churn and burn situation.

At the End of the Day

I like to believe that “good guys” can finish first in business. Good business people are those who are not self-serving, but are people who understand who it is that they serve, and they serve them well. This understanding is important because it puts motivation into context and gets priorities straight. Everybody wins in this situation. Companies make money. Customers get what they want and hopefully, return to buy more. Companies that conduct business with their customers in mind, will in turn, be top-of-mind to their customers.

I don’t profess to tell other companies how to conduct business, however for my company inviting in capital investors has never been an option. I choose to work with people who believe in the mission, vision and values we’ve set forth as a company. Capital investors are more concerned with how their exit plan will manifest and are not focused on the endurance and critical needs of the organization as a customer satisfaction machine. This should not be where your attention is focused. Your customer is the true partner.

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Entrepreneurship 101

In The Beginning

There are many reasons why someone desires to be an entrepreneur. There is, however, a commonality most often found among entrepreneurs… the entrepreneurial spirit. This trait is the driving force behind why people start their own business. It is a strong desire to create, coupled with a vision to succeed.

Various life experiences combined with someone’s own personal drive and vision can set the wheels in motion when considering livelihood as an entrepreneur. Undeniably, some of the biggest and best companies started in garages and basements by people with a vision to create. So what happens once the vision becomes a reality and you have a bona fide business? Hopefully, you have done all the preparation needed to get to this point and have a plan of action to keep your business heading in the right direction.

All too often, people with great ideas begin their entrepreneurial journey without having performed the due diligence needed on the front end. The business plan needs to be rock solid, your finances stable to sustain you, and your determination and endurance to keep moving the needle forward, fully charged. Understanding that a flexible mindset will help you make adjustments, as needed, is important and they shouldn’t be looked upon as setbacks.

In regards to finances, it’s important to consider options for your business throughout its lifespan. What does your business plan outline for the present, near and far future in regards to growth and what are the finances you’ll need to keep your business buoyant? When will you need to hire people, if at all? What type of capital purchases will be needed and is it better to buy versus lease? How will you anticipate and off-set your operating costs? There are many more questions you need to consider, but inevitably it will always come back to finances. For business owners seeking financial options, there are outside sources that may be beneficial, but understand these sources come with other types of “hidden costs” that may not be appealing, and I’ll address that later in this article.

Playing The Money Game

You need to be aware that obtaining investor money is not an easy task and one that many entrepreneurs will be denied due to the number of available investment opportunities. Generally, early start-ups are considered the least desirable by capital investors but can be attractive to an angel investor, who generally invests smaller amounts of money knowing there is a greater risk. Capital investors prefer to invest in businesses that have a track record of success and longevity thus increasing the odds of a big payout on their investment.

Is it wrong to seek out venture capital investments? Some people might say, it’s just the good ole’ American way of doing business. In reality, it provides opportunities for investors seeking great ideas, products and services that have come from the sweat equity of entrepreneurs. On the other-hand there are individuals who enter into entrepreneurship and start businesses with the intention of being invested in or purchased outright.

Serial entrepreneurs like Reid Hoffman make starting, quickly growing and acquiring large infusions of capital investments, their actual business model. I liken them to people who buy and flip houses. The emotional attachment to the property is in knowing there is no attachment beyond how attractive it appears to outside investors or buyers. This doesn’t mean the serial entrepreneur doesn’t care about his business; it simply means the end-goal is not for longevity.

For some entrepreneurs, an infusion of money from an outside source comes with a side of other, more significant changes. With venture capital comes the attractive infusion of money that not only helps relieve entrepreneurs of the financial burden of managing a business, but also helps divest them from the emotional attachment and control of the business they started.

These business owners have in essence agreed to take on partners with a lot of power and influence over how the business will be managed. The investors will assume the position of stakeholder and to whom the business owner will report. Since the goal of capital investors is to purchase at a price that leaves a great margin for profitability and opportunity to sell at a higher price down the road, the actions and decisions may not align between the investors and the business owner. This is a mindset business owners need to understand and adjust to quickly if they want the money. If relinquishing control of one’s business is something a person can mentally manage, then the transaction shouldn’t present any problems with the repositioning of authority. However, it will, likely, change many things about the company’s business model. Rest assured, venture capitalism is always this: self-serving to the investors.

At The End Of The Day

I don’t profess to tell other companies how to conduct business, however for my company inviting in outside investors has never been an option. I choose to work with people who believe in the mission, vision, values and culture we’ve set forth as a company. Capital investors are more concerned with how their exit plan will manifest and not focused on the efficacy of the organization as a customer engagement machine.

I like to believe that “good guys” can finish first in business. Good business people are those who are not self-serving, but are people who understand who it is that they serve, and they serve them well. This understanding is important for any business owner to know, because it puts motivation into context and gets priorities straight. Everybody wins in this situation. Companies make money. Consumers get what they want, and hopefully return to buy more. Companies that conduct business with their customers in mind, will in turn, be top-of-mind to their customers.

Knowing yourself and what motivates you, understanding what it will take to build your business and who you want to help make your organization successful are considerations never to be taken lightly.

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Entrepreneurship Is A Sweet Deal

The topic of entrepreneurship fascinates me. I often wonder what makes one person seek out entrepreneurial opportunities while others are content to be employees. I believe for some people the real and perceived risks of business ownership is too overwhelming for them to fathom. For others, there’s the immense commitment of time and resources and not to mention the financial implications. Being an entrepreneur or an employee both have their risks, it’s just a matter of which setting is more comfortable for you and where you see yourself fit.

I had the opportunity to discuss this topic with Elisabeth Vezzani, the Co-founder and CEO of Sugarwish. During an inspirational conversation we talked about the gratifying aspects, along with work-life balance issues entrepreneurs face as a business owner.

Ms. Vezzani, like many people, gained her experience from years in a corporate environment, specifically the staffing industry. During this time, she noticed a gap in the corporate gift market and created a company called Sugarwish, a startup that brings a revolutionary and sweet approach to gifting.

While working in the staffing industry, she sought out clever and unique gifting services to satisfy her own business needs and was disappointed with what was available. She recognized the need and from there decided on a type of gift that appeals to most people and envisioned how these gifts of recognition and thanks could be easy and fun to give and get. According to Elisabeth, “It all started as a conversation I was having with a friend about the lack of clever gifts that were available. I wanted to be able to give a gift that I would want to receive.”

Creating something to satisfy personal need then building it out to offer to others makes a lot of sense to me and one of the elements in the “secret sauce.” You have an idea. However, the change of moving from a position where a consistent source of income coupled with benefits and work that you enjoy doing, is still a big leap over to entrepreneurship.

Still desiring to know more about what differences someone experiences, I asked Elisabeth about the biggest adjustments she encounters between her corporate leadership position and self-employment. As with most entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with, her comments were not surprising. “The biggest difference with self-employment is that there’s no “off button.” states Elisabeth, “Much of it is my total love for Sugarwish… and my inability to stop thinking about what we can do better, or what we can do next. I want to be sure we are making Sugarwish all that it can be, and see it reach its full potential.” 

Ah, the “off button.” This comment makes something come to mind. I see entrepreneurship much as I view parenthood. A full-time, no holds barred, in-for-a-penny in-for-a-pound commitment. Another element of the “secret sauce.” But wait… this sounds like work-life imbalance more than symmetry. According to Elisabeth, “The balance is a little tricky, because that separation line is really blurred. Sugarwish fits into both my work and life categories. There is no “leaving it at the office”. There just can’t be. Keeping balance (and my sanity) requires a little more juggling, a little more understanding from family and friends… and a whole lot less sleeping.” There it is! There’s no separation from personal to business, because for an entrepreneur, their business is personal and so meaningful to them.

But surely, something is a driving force for people bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. They must get more out of the experience than what meets the eye. I can understand the self-satisfaction of “building” something and watching it grow, much like how people who love to garden enjoy seeing the fruits of their efforts develop. The gratification appears to run deep, but understanding the particulars of what is most impactful is probably personal. When I asked Elisabeth about her perspective on the gratification return on investment, she was adamant.

“One of the most gratifying aspects of my job is being able to watch Sugarwish continue to grow,” states Elisabeth, “and seeing it develop from a conversation, to an idea, to an initial website, to a thriving company has been unbelievably satisfying and inspiring. Another, is knowing that what we originally set out to do, specifically, delivering happiness, is working. We get to see how kind, thoughtful, generous and just generally awesome people are to each other… each and every day. All we hear is the good stuff and it never, ever gets old. It is literally the best job in the world.”

Question answered. I appreciate her impassioned response and obvious love of what she does for work. The most important element in the “secret sauce” revealed… a passion for what one does for work.

This desire for independent creativity and drive doesn’t need to be as an entrepreneur. Many people don’t build an empire, yet they still find happiness in what they do and look forward to doing it… every day. In Elisabeth’s case, she found her passion, built her business and set high bars to improve its performance to deliver more gratification, not only for herself, but for the people who interact with her company. For her entrepreneurship is a sweet deal with plenty of cowbell.

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TalentCulture Corner Office Talks Marketing, Branding And Innovation With Brian Carter

In this Corner Office article, Cyndy Trivella, Events Manager with TalentCulture, spoke with Brian Carter, Founder and CEO of The Carter Group and Co-author of the best-selling book The Cowbell Principle. Brian is one of the most innovative people in business, and a marketing and branding genius. He went from a state of unemployment to building one of the biggest and most successful non-traditional agencies in the social marketing space.

Cyndy and Brian talked about the struggles people face with marketing, managing their brands, the challenges of business ownership, and value of innovating responsibly. In line with our series, this article will highlight the perspective and experience of someone who has made the move to the “corner office.”

Cyndy: Brian, I can understand why you easily engage with people. You always have a thoughtful way of explaining things and I know our readership will appreciate your comments. So let’s begin with you. What are the top challenges you face in your current role?

Brian: We’re currently facing growth challenges in my consultancy, the Brian Carter Group. We’re hiring and streamlining our back-office, CRM, accounting and client onboarding processes. And because we don’t want to use the typical agency model, we emphasize only having experts doing our clients’ work. So we grow personnel slowly, which means a lot of work for each of our experts. This means morale, communication and efficiency are critical to our clients’ success and to ours. I work directly on our communication systems and make sure we stick to processes that will keep us efficient.

Cyndy: I applaud you for breaking the mold on the stereotypical agency model and it sounds like a lot of high-quality work is being produced because of it.

So in full transparency, the thing that brought you to my attention, well over a year ago, was your book, The Cowbell Principle. You and your co-author, Garrison Wynn, take an interesting approach to offering career advice in the book using the cowbell to help people recognize their unique gifts, their personal brand and how to capitalize on them to find success and happiness. So tell me why is finding and sharing our personal cowbell so difficult?

Brian: A cowbell is a passion, talent or skill that you enjoy and so do others. To start, a lot of people don’t develop their skills, or don’t know what their talent is, or don’t pursue their talent. And sometimes they have emotional hang-ups about the thing they love or pursuing what they love.

Conversely, there are people who believe they should pursue what they love no matter what effect it has on others— that’s not a cowbell either. It has to be something that is valuable to others.

Honestly, a lot of people want to do “good-enough” work and go home and watch Netflix. I feel that temptation, too. Finding or developing a cowbell requires a desire for greatness and a rejection of mediocrity. If you’re not driven by something, or toward something, you won’t excel and you won’t stand out.

Cyndy: What you’ve just said is very impactful, especially about not understanding our skills, strengths and gifts. No doubt, some people struggle with brand identity and marketing their attributes. What’s odd is, I see this same problem affecting companies and in many ways they suffer with the same issues. So why do companies struggle with marketing their brand?

Brian: First off, a lot of companies don’t have a brand, or at least not an exceptional, interesting, developed one. And just because you created a logo doesn’t mean you have a brand. There are a lot of crappy logos out there.

Branding is about identity. Who are you? Who is your company? How are you unique? Just as with the cowbell question, a lot of people don’t have an answer to the uniqueness question. They aren’t doing anything unique.

It takes work to find that thing. Exploration. A commitment to a difficult search within.

And once you find it, the guts to stick to that brand. Not wanting to be all things to all people. Being willing to turn some people off in order to turn others on. That’s scary, it really is. But leaders need to have that kind of courage. And when you don’t have courage, you don’t have a great brand.

Once you have that brand, marketing it is easy — if you know what it is, you should be able to convey it in video and blog posts and other media. If you can’t, you may not really know what your brand is yet.

These days, it’s a good idea to let customer feedback influence how your brand develops. When you see what Facebook posts they like and don’t like, which ones they share or don’t share that tells you which parts of your brand resonate with customers and which ones don’t. If you want your brand to move customers to take action, you need to pay attention to how they respond to it.

Cyndy: Great advice to people and companies, alike. Without a unique value proposition, it’s impossible to distinguish one person or company from another. So I have a last question. If innovation keeps companies relevant and timely, why do some companies and employees believe business should continue as “we’ve always done it that way?”

Brian: You should never innovate just because something is new. The innovation has to be better than the old way, and the benefits of adopting the innovation have to outweigh the costs of changing.

Every time you change how things are done in your company, you create inefficiencies, even if they’re temporary. And you may find that some of your employees just can’t adjust. They might quit or you might have to let them go, which is costly. And further, there’s a cost to replacing them.

So it’s important to ask if the innovation is worth it. Is it going to last? Who is going to have trouble adapting to it? How big of a problem will that be?

It’s always hard to get people to change, and there are smart ways to get them to adapt, so you’ll never be able to avoid the grumbling and inefficiencies that come with change, but make sure the change is worth it before you implement it.

Cyndy: Change, even when for the better, can be scary for many people. Weighing the pros and cons makes a lot of sense when considering the benefits and consequences of innovating.

Brian, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for your time and insights.

Brian: I appreciate it and enjoyed the conversation. Thank you.

Photo Credit: vervocity via Compfight cc

TalentCulture Corner Office With Former NY Yankee, Patrick Antrim

Continuing with our series The TalentCulture Corner Office, Cyndy Trivella, Events Manager with TalentCulture, spoke with former New York Yankee, turned entrepreneur, Patrick Antrim. In this third installment, she chatted with Patrick about leadership, business, teamwork and how being a former athlete has helped him succeed as an entrepreneur. As with former interviews in this series, the discussion centers on the perspective and experience of someone who has made the move to the “corner office.”

Cyndy: As a serious sports fan, it was my great pleasure to speak with Patrick Antrim. Patrick has a big background. He’s a former athlete, investment portfolio manager, real estate mogul, author, speaker, and leadership coach.

Cyndy: Patrick, I’m sure our readership is curious about your background. Tell us about what you learned from your time as a baseball player with The New York Yankees that you’re able to tap into as an entrepreneur?

Patrick: Well, it was an honor to observe daily improvisations and contribute to the traditions of the iconic New York Yankee brand. I say honor because it was no luck. My experience was mostly a daily celebration of the hard work and sacrifice I placed into my career dating back to being 5 years old. Having said that, I learned about approaching your work with class, professionalism and excellence. How would you approach your work if thousands of people showed up to watch you do your work, then reported on it in the media? You see, I learned that your job is a performance. You have to win for yourself first so you can win for your teams. In professional baseball, you perform first at the level you play and then you’re asked to contribute at the next level. It’s all performance, no application. As an entrepreneur or leader, if people focused on reaching their own potential first with the approach of it being a performance, someone would take notice and offer them a better opportunity, or as in my case, it was investor capital.

Cyndy: That is an excellent point. If everyone went to work knowing that s/he was being publically scrutinized, it could affect the way people conduct themselves in the workplace. Let’s talk about a topic near and dear to you… leadership. Tell us what leadership practices companies can mirror from modern-day sports?

Patrick: This is a great question, and I get asked this a lot. All companies, including sports teams, are nothing more than a collection of people. A winning sports team is defined by their ability to scout great talent, recruit them, and get them performing for a winning tradition. Their record is an outcome of how well they do this. I think companies try to make people happy, save people, or keep them comfortable. I believe people want to win. Sports teams are known to have depth and are not afraid to make tough choices in player trades. If the team is not right, they prune until they get it right. They stay focused on future years and are okay with “rebuilding years” as their approach is long term. Entrepreneurs need to think long term and this is sometimes more difficult for leaders, as they often times, are held accountable to short-term cycles like shareholder returns.

Cyndy: I agree with that and further believe this is why so many large companies struggle with innovation. The short-term cycle can refocus their attention. So, Patrick you talked briefly about how entrepreneurs and leaders need to focus more on their own potential. As a successful entrepreneur, what additional advice can you offer to people interested in business ownership?

Patrick: Learn to love. First, have the courage to love yourself enough so that you reach your own potential. Love your company enough to say “no” to decisions that will take you off course… distractions. The reason I use the word love is, I want your listeners to sit up a bit. I mean, love doesn’t judge. Love doesn’t rush. Love doesn’t criticize; love your company like your children. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love brings people together and that’s what leadership is all about. Love them enough to grow them, invest in them, and develop them so that they win. When employees win for themselves, they win for our customers and that’s a win for me. We must believe in who we are and the impact we make so, much, that our setbacks, doubters, haters, or the toxic people that might come near our dreams never have the power to break us down.

Cyndy: Wow, this is very powerful advice! People need to ignore the road noise and stay the course. This brings to mind the sports analogy… just keep your eye on the ball. And speaking of the ball, what is your fondest memory as an athlete?

Patrick: This is a tough question believe it or not. I can think back and visualize my early days when my now late Grandma and Grandpa used to watch my games. I tear up telling that story to my boys. But something more profound, I think, was when I retired back in 1998 from the Yankees, and was later inducted into the College Hall of Fame from my alma mater. I remember sitting there thinking about how so few years had changed my life, and about that one moment when I almost quit. I would have missed it all. And to top it off, the Hon. George Argyros to whom I was an apprentice at the time, sent me a wonderful handwritten congratulatory note. I never told anyone about the Hall of Fame Induction, kind of a “Yankee Way” sort of thing, but he took the time to value my award and that still serves me to this day.

Cyndy: That’s a nice story Patrick; thank you for chatting with me. I appreciate hearing how you took the skills and discipline from your days as an athlete and continue to use those today as a successful entrepreneur.

Patrick: Thanks. I love talking about athletics, entrepreneurship, leadership and how companies can learn a lot from what happens in the business of sports.

Photo Credit: devinamickalson via Compfight cc

Are You Paying Yourself Enough?

Paying yourself should be the easy part of running your own business. Yet while many struggle to work out exactly how much they should pay themselves, there are also plenty of others who are unable to rewards themselves with what they deserve.

Working Out Your Salary

First things first is working out how much you should give yourself. When you’re starting out often you can’t give yourself a top CEO salary but you do need to be covering your basics. So work out all of your outgoings – and maybe scale a few down – and check that they leave room for your pay. Don’t be modest and don’t be over-the-top.

Breaking even or even seeing a profit increase for a few months doesn’t mean you can start upping your salary significantly. You need to make sure your company is truly profitable and not benefiting from a short term boost in customers. If you do want to give yourself a bit more though, why not consider rewarding yourself with a bonus made up of a percentage of your profits that month?

After a long run of successful months, you can feel safe to start upping your pay to truly reflect the time and effort you’ve sunk into your business. But what if things have been going well, but you’re still struggling to make the cash you deserve? Your sales have been up every month yet breaking even never seems to get easier. What’s happening?

Review Your Cash Flow

One of the most common problems when it comes to rising sales with no rising income is late payments. It doesn’t matter how much product you’re shifting, if you’re not getting paid for it, it’s not helping. Businesses are more global nowadays and this isn’t just a problem in the US, UK companies are relying on small claims courts to get what they’re owed, while in Australia the government has had to step in with a Prompt Payment Protocol to tackle the issue.

In other words, whether your customers are domestic or international, actually getting paid for your services is an important step in paying yourself. This is why including a late payment clause in your contract is highly important. Include interest and penalties for when your client doesn’t pay up as this will not only encourage them to pay on time, but it’ll make sure you’re not out of pocket when they finally do.

You’ll most likely have some protection in your state, so be sure to research what legal means you can use to get what you’re owed.

Balance Your Books

If you’re not having cash flow problems, yet you’re still struggling to see your fortunes improve, it looks like you’re going to have to balance your books. Money is leaking out somewhere and you’re going to need to fix it. Take a long, detailed look on where all your money is going and try to trim the fat.

It doesn’t have to be one big cut either. By changing electricity provider, looking into free software alternatives, or renegotiating your office rent you can make small savings that can add up to bigger ones. It might even be worth looking into alternative sources of revenue. Got a spare desk no one’s using? Then rent it out to local freelancers for a bit of extra cash.

Finally, if you’re still struggling to make your way despite getting paid on time and cutting any waste, it’s time to re-think your business model. Is it actually sustainable? Are you charging enough? Is your company structure just not viable? It might be that you’re spreading the work too thin and need to cut back on staff or that you’re simply selling yourself too short.

In the end, you deserve to get paid a decent wage for the time, energy and ideas you pour into your business. Spend some of that time making sure that you do.

Managing Your Career: What Would Richard Branson Do?

Written by James Clear

In 1966, a dyslexic 16-year-old boy dropped out of school. With only a tiny bit of seed money and a friend’s help, he founded a magazine for students. Fueled by advertisements he sold to local businesses, he ran this bootstrapped operation from the crypt of a local church.

Four years later, seeking ways to grow the fledgling magazine, this enterprising young man started selling mail-order records to his student subscriber base. Within a year, record sales were sufficient to help him build his first record store. After two years of selling records, he decided to launch his own record label and studio.

The small recording studio rented space to local artists, including one named Mike Oldfield. This was where Oldfield created his hit song “Tubular Bells,” which became the record label’s first release. The song eventually sold more than 5 million copies.

Over the next decade, the fearless entrepreneur grew his record label by attracting bands like Culture Club, Sex Pistols and The Rolling Stones. Along the way, he continued adding businesses to his portfolio — an airline, railway, mobile phones, on and on. Almost 50 years later, his conglomerate included more than 400 companies.

That young boy who left school behind but kept starting things despite his inexperience and lack of knowledge is now a world-renown billionaire — Sir Richard Branson.

How I Met Sir Richard Branson

When I walked into the Moscow conference room, Branson was sitting in a chair only 10 feet away. A hundred other people surrounded us, but it felt like we were having a private conversation in my living room. He smiled and laughed frequently. His answers seemed unrehearsed and genuine.

At one point, he told the story of how he started Virgin Airlines, a tale that seems to represent his entire approach to business and life. Here’s what he said, as I best recall:

I was in my late 20s, so I had a business, but nobody knew who I was. I was headed to the Virgin Islands and a very pretty girl was waiting for me, so I was, um, determined to get there on time. At the airport, the final flight to the Virgin Islands was cancelled because of maintenance or something. It was the last flight out that night. I thought, “this is ridiculous,” so I went and chartered a private airplane to take me to the Virgin Islands, which I did not have the money to do. Then, I picked up a small blackboard, wrote “Virgin Airlines: $29” on it, and went over to the group of people who had been waiting for the cancelled flight. I sold tickets for the rest of the seats on the plane, used their money to pay for the charter fee, and we all went to the Virgin Islands that night.

Successful People: What Habits Make a Difference?

After speaking with our group, Branson joined a panel of industry experts to discuss the future of business. As everyone around him filled the air with buzzwords and mapped out complex ideas for our future, Branson said things like, “Screw it, just get on and do it,” closely followed by things like, “Why can’t we mine asteroids?”

As I watched the panel, I realized the one person who sounded the most simplistic is the only one who is also a billionaire. So what sets him apart from the rest?

Here’s what I think makes all the difference:

Branson doesn’t merely say things like, “Screw it, just get on and do it.” He actually lives his life that way. He drops out of school and starts a business. He signs the Sex Pistols to his record label when everyone else says they’re too controversial. He charters a plane when he doesn’t have the money.

When everyone else balks or comes up with rational reasons why the time isn’t right to move forward, Branson gets started. He figures out how to stop procrastinating and he takes the first step forward — even if it seems outlandish.

Start Now — Even If You Don’t Feel Ready

Of course, Branson is an extraordinary example, but we can all learn something from his approach. If I summarize the habits of successful people in just one phrase, it’s this — successful people start before they feel ready.

I can’t think of anyone who embodies that philosophy better than Branson. Even the Virgin empire name was chosen because Branson and his partners were business “virgins” when they launched the company.

Branson has spearheaded so many ventures, charities and expeditions throughout his career — it would have been impossible to prepare fully before launching them all. In fact, he was likely not prepared or qualified for any of them. He’s a perfect example of why the “chosen ones” choose themselves.

The Truth About Getting Started

If you’re working on something important, then you’ll never feel ready. A side effect of pursuing challenging work is that you’re simultaneously pulled by excitement and pushed by uncertainty.

When you begin a new endeavor, you’re bound to feel uncomfortable and perhaps even unqualified. But let me assure you — what you have right now is enough. You can plan, revise and delay all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book or re-energize a career. Who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

We all start in the same place — no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience. The difference is that some people choose to start anyway. And only those who start can reach the finish line.

So, what are you waiting for?

james-clear-circle-250(About the Author: James Clear is an entrepreneur who leverages behavior science to help you master your habits, improve your health and do better work. For useful ideas on improving your mental and physical performance, subscribe to his newsletter or download his 45-page guide on Transforming Your Habits. Connect with James on Twitter or Google+ or LinkedIn.)

(Editor’s Note: This post was adapted from Brazen Life, with permission. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, it offers edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work. Be Brazen!)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter and G+ conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Kris Krug Flickr

Business Leaders Go Niche or Go Home

A friend asked me this question: “If you could give a client only one piece of advice, what would it be?” Easy answer: Choose a target market.

On the one hand, it seems to make sense that if you sell your products or services to a vast set of demographics, you will make more money. However, the exact opposite is true.

Most entrepreneurs are resistant to defining their niche usually because of the following beliefs:

  • If I choose a specific, niche market, I will lose business.
  • If I choose a target market, I will be stuck with it forever and I thrive on variety.
  • The more I have to sell, the more money I’m going to make.

I hear those statements all the time and at best, they are false. At worst, operating in those beliefs will sink your business.

In his book “Purple Cow,” Seth Godin tells us that the market is very good at ignoring you, just as you’re good at ignoring the market. Think about all the emails you delete before reading, the times you click “unsubscribe” and the T.V. shows you Tivo so you don’t have to watch the commercials. What’s the solution? The answer is “niche.”

Benefits of Having a Niche Market

Defining your target market:

  • Allows you to become an expert to that market
  • Multiplies your referrals – the more specific you are about who you serve, the easier it is for people to send business your way
  • Keeps you focused
  • Streamlines your marketing efforts and dollars

If you’re still not convinced, sit back, relax and prepare to laugh. This YouTube video says it all: Why You Need A Niche

New Years Resolution For The "Over-Thinker"

My personal strategy is doing lots of evaluation on important things throughout the year to gauge what’s working and not working. These regular progress and results checks suggest a range of adjustments to make (along with their potential impacts). Afterward, I decide what to change.

Given this ongoing process, I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions; they seem too point-in-time to be effective. Handed the assignment of doing a December 31st TalentCulture post though, it’s a topic begging to be addressed.

Based on a recent panel discussion I attended of successful entrepreneurs, I think the perfect area for a 2011 New Year’s resolution is my penchant for systematic consideration, thought, and planning in business.

During the breakfast session, four entrepreneurs on the panel shared their strategies for innovation and planning. It was clear from hearing them that careful, systematic consideration about business decisions is WAY overrated.

How OVERRATED you may ask?

Here are some of their comments from my live tweets of the event:

THAT’S how overrated planning is according to these four.  Based on their track records, it’s hard to dispute what works for them.

Listening between the lines, four factors trigger their collective willingness to trade a lot less pondering for much more rapid implementation:

1.  An intuitive understanding of their businesses, customers, and markets

2.  Unwavering confidence in their abilities to sense, execute, succeed, recover (when they don’t succeed) amid opportunities that present themselves

3. A risk-embracing orientation

4. The flexibility start-ups can enjoy over bigger competitors

Looking at the list, I’m good at dissecting business situations, but my planning orientation comes from the need to anticipate multiple potential downsides (counter to #2) and risks (counter to #3) to minimize them. Having spent most of my career in a corporate setting, flexing ample resources is central to most business strategies (counter to #4).

So to challenge myself and develop my weaker skill sets, I’m entering 2011 with a new acronym emblazoned on my brain: BITP.

It stands for “Better Implementing Than Planning.”

Or “Pondering.”

Or both. You decide…RIGHT NOW!

I’m making 2011 the year of “Smart Immediacy” for me. If you’ve also been labeled an “over-thinker” in your career, I’d encourage you to join in.

The focus will be getting much better at quickly perceiving, evaluating, and deciding on opportunities to begin implementing on them much more rapidly and decisively. What will we do to improve?

  • Fully trust ourselves where we’ve already demonstrated success.
  • Limit the time allowed for planning for contingencies almost certain to never happen.
  • Look for opportunities to slice several steps from existing processes.
  • Embrace that decisions once made can be reversed if they don’t pan out as anticipated.

What do you think? Are you up for joining me on this new approach in 2011? Or if this is already your orientation, are you willing to share your guidance and suggestions?

Join in the year of “Smart Immediacy” starting RIGHT NOW!