Growthink Blog

Business Plans versus Strategic Plans & The Keys to Each


According to research from Bradley University, 70% to 80% of new businesses fail within their first year. To make matters worse, half of those who survive the first year will fail within the next four years.

And the number one cause of this failure? According to Dun & Bradstreet, the primary cause is lack of business planning.

Yes, entrepreneurs and business owners don't plan to fail. Rather, they fail to plan (which causes them to fail).

In my view, there are two types of business plans. The first is the business plan you must create when you start your company. The purpose of this plan is to ensure you have fully thought through your venture.

Among other things, this plan includes significant market research. It assesses your market size to ensure the opportunity is big enough. It analyzes customer segments to confirm that customer needs match your company's proposed product and/or service offerings. And it analyzes the competition to determine how your company will position itself and how you will most effectively compete.

From a strategic standpoint, the business plan must document your marketing plan (how you will secure customers), your human resources plan (who you will hire) and your operations plan (what key milestones you will accomplish and when).

When you're done, your business plan will confirm your market opportunity and give you a roadmap to follow. It will also be required should you wish to gain funding from investors and lenders.

Now, once your business is up-and-running, you still need a business plan in order to succeed. I refer to this type of business plan as a "strategic plan." I term it as such because this type of plan requires much less research (since you already know who your customers are, the market fundamentals, and lots of information about your competitors). Rather, the focus of this plan is strategy.

Specifically, this plan needs to identify precisely:

1. Where you want your company to be in five years
2. What you need to accomplish within the next year to progress you to that point, and
3. What your strategy is to complete your key milestones in the next 12 months

In determining the optimal strategies, you need to consider your company's strengths, and opportunities that can best leverage them. If you don't take time to do this, you become too tactical. That is, you continue to use the same tactics that have gotten you to the point you are at. And oftentimes, the strategy and tactics that got you where you are today are NOT the strategy and tactics that will get you to the next level.

So, spend time figuring out the best strategies to follow. The good news is that you've already proven you can execute on strategies (which is what got you to where you are now).

After you figure out the big picture opportunities to go after (which often fall into the categories of further penetrating your existing market, going after a new market, or creating new products/services for existing and/or new markets), you need to revisit the three core strategies you developed in your initial business plan.

To start, you need to modify your marketing plan. Importantly, your marketing plan should always be adding new marketing channels (e.g., direct mail, print, radio, search engine optimization, etc.) as the more channels you have, the more customers you will get and the less risk you have of one channel losing effectiveness (think about businesses who used to get all their customers from the yellow pages).

Next, consider your human resources strategy. What new people will you need to hire to accomplish your key goals in the coming years? And finally, you need to develop your operations strategy. Figure out what key tasks and milestones you need to accomplish over the next year and break them down into smaller projects that you and your team must accomplish. And then create a master schedule showing who, how and when these projects will be completed (I like using a Gantt chart to do this).

Creating a business plan when you start your company, and annually creating strategic plans to grow your company is absolutely essential to your success. Research proves it. So, if you want to avoid failure, and achieve maximum success, make sure you are continuously creating, updating and following your business and strategic plans.


Suggested Resource: You just learned the importance of choosing the right strategies to build your company. Including this information in your strategic plan is critical to growing an ultra-successful business. What else should you include in your current growth or strategic plan? Click here to find out.

What the 99% Can Learn from the 1%


It is not hyperbole to define a successful organization as one that finds the balance between a) making the right changes at the right time and b) having the discipline to “keep on keeping on” and just doing more of what is working.

Note well that b) is particularly hard to maintain when the tasks and activities that ARE working become repetitive and lack in excitement and drama.

So how does an organization find this balance - between thinking laterally and creatively and just keeping their heads down and plowing forward?

Well, luckily in the past few years a large and impressive business literature has sprung up that codifies best practices of how to balance this need to incorporate change in an organization with that to maintain doing “more of the good same.”

This thinking can best be summarized by the phrase “immersion plus spaced repetition” and goes like this:

1. Everything, of course, begins with ideas, and the best, business ones normally arise from a series of individually and organizationally introspective strategic planning and goal-setting sessions that clarify objectives and the obstacles standing in the way of their accomplishment.

This immersive process - done at least annually but at organizations with ambition quarterly - both defines what needs to be done and inspires all of the participants to take on the hard and often painful work of getting it done.

The latter point here cannot be underestimated – Thomas Edison famously said that “genius was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” but that 1% “spark” is uber-critical in propelling an organization through the first threshold of change.

2. But, as anyone that attended an exciting or invigorating conference or strategic planning session can attest (and as I am sure Mr. Edison reflected on often during long nights at the lab), inspiration fades over time.

Even worse, when the inspiration is not followed through on, cynicism can set in and actually leave an organization worse off that if the planning sessions were never done in the first place!

So how to avoid this distressing fate?

3. Well, by keeping the ideas, goals, and objectives of the planning session alive through their regular review and adjustment.

Think of it this way - if a well-run strategic planning session is the essence of good leadership, then well-run, spaced and repetitive goals and objectives reviews are the essence of good management.

Great managers check in with their teams as often as daily – if only for 5 or 10 minutes – to review the day’s objectives and to keep the shorter term work flow aligned with the longer term planning and mission objectives.

The old adage that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time is never more true than when is comes to these spaced and repetitive management check-ins. When done right, they measure, acknowledge, and reward incremental progress and prevent the desire for the perfect from getting in the way of the doable and the done.

Now, at least annually and preferably quarterly, the entire organization needs to reconvene to review actual progress versus stated goals, to assess what worked and what got off track, and then to refine and define updated goals and objectives.

And after this next round of strategic planning sessions, what is to be done?

Well, the spaced and repetitive management check-ins begin anew. Wood is chopped, water is carried.

Following this simple but disciplined formula, over time great ideas become great realities, businesses are built, and legacies and fortunes are made.

And for investors, far more than technology these “above the line” leadership and management disciplines that separate the well-run companies to back from the haphazardly ones to avoid.

So what are you waiting for?

Press Releases are NOT Dead [But Different]


A press release is simply an announcement about your company. For example, your release may announce the launch of your company. Or it may announce the launch of a new product or service. Or, it could announce a new hire, partnership or investor. Or the press release could mention new information you have discovered, for example, that customer preferences have changed.

Whatever, the case, if there's news to share about your company, you should document it in a press release. In creating your press release, the rule of thumb is to answer the key questions reporters will have, mainly: Who, What, When, Where, and Why (or How).

Now, creating a press release by itself has little value. Rather, it's the distribution of your press release that generates big value. For example, if you can get your press release in front of the editor of a major newspaper, the editor may assign a journalist to write a story based on your release. And then your release and story could be seen by thousands if not millions of people.

Importantly, press release distribution has changed dramatically over the past 10-20 years due to, you guessed it -- the internet, which has changed how news and other information is dispersed.

Today, there are press release sites and services that will distribute your release to thousands of reporters. Below are answers to some key questions about press releases and press release distribution services.

Are press releases dead?

Press releases are certainly not dead. However, because it has become so easy to create a press release and distribute it, if your release is boring, it may not be worth issuing. That is, your press release is competing for the attention of journalists against lots of other releases. So make sure yours (and particularly your press release title) stands out so editors and journalists feel compelled to read it.

If my release doesn't get picked up by a journalist, was it a waste?

The goal of your press release is to get it picked up by a journalist. So they do a story about or mentioning you or your company.

But, there is a secondary goal. Virtually all of the press release distribution services also post your releases on their website. And because several of these websites are looked upon favorably by Google and other search engines, oftentimes prospective customers will find your press releases on their sites when they search relevant terms.

So, even if your press release doesn't get you picked up by journalists, it still might be read directly by prospective customers who can then find you (based on the contact information you include as part of the release).

What are the main press release distribution services?

There are three core types of press release distribution services, that vary mostly based on their cost as follows:

Free services:

There are several free press release distribution services including:

The benefit of these sites is that they are free, and that they post your release on their sites. The negative is that they don't get read nearly as much by actual journalists than the paid services.


Value-Based Paid Services:

The press release distribution service I use most is

PRWeb is relatively inexpensive ($89 per release), posts your press release on their site (where real people do come and read it) and gets good exposure from actual journalists.

Also, many times the press releases you submit on PRWeb get automatically syndicated (meaning posted along with links to your website) on other sites like Yahoo News and the websites of major newspapers. This syndication gets your release read by many more reporters and/or prospective customers.

And, if you want to submit multiple press releases, PRWeb offers big discounts when you purchase multi-release plans.


Premium Paid Services:

The two premium paid press release distribution services are PRNewswire and BusinessWire.

The benefit of these services is that you get the best possible exposure to news editors and journalists, exposure on their websites, and syndication on other websites.

The negative is the cost, which is often several hundred dollars per release. I use these sites sparingly, and only when I have a press release that I'm confident warrants great media attention.

Press releases are a great, no or low-cost way to get news about your company out to both the media and customers. And they take very little time to create. So, add this strategy to your marketing mix today.


Suggested Resource: Countless entrepreneurs and small business owners have realized both immediate and long-term increases in revenues and profits from getting publicity. And oftentimes these increases are massive. Learn how to easily get tons of publicity for your business with Growthink's Publicity Playbook.

Small Business Publicity: How to Get Media Attention & Control What's Said About You


There are many forms of marketing which help entrepreneurs and small business owners get new customers.

Referrals are perhaps the most powerful. I mean, what's more powerful than your customers urging their friends, family and/or colleagues to also buy your product or service.

The second most powerful is publicity. Because if a prospective customer learns about you in most media sources, you gain massive credibility. And this prompts them to seek you out and buy from you.

There are many ways of getting publicity for yourself and your business. And when you do get it, there are several varieties. For example, a journalist may give you a simple quote in their article. Or, they may quote you several times or attribute the entire theme of their article to you. Or, in the best case, they write an article solely about you, your company and/or your product or service.

The point is this - the more the article talks about you, the more likely the reader will seek you out after reading it.

Now one concern entrepreneurs and small business owners may have when getting publicity is what the journalist will say about you. Virtually all the time, the journalist will position your company in a positive light. But even if they don't, the saying "there's no such thing as bad publicity" is generally true.

Importantly, there is one way to accomplish both the goals mentioned above: getting publicity (particularly articles) that fully discusses you and your company AND gaining 100% control of what the article says about you.

And that way is to write the article yourself.

Why articles?

Articles are a professional way to get the word out about your company without advertising, because they have educational value. They are an "under-the-radar" way to get positioned in front of people.

What should you write about in your article?

Think of something you've learned in your line of work that your customers or prospective customers would want to know more about. Simply write out a one-page "how-to" article teaching the reader, or presenting facts (and even debunking myths).

Where should you send your article?

Send your articles to relevant newspapers, magazines, trade journals and bloggers to reprint with your permission.

Make sure to add a "bio box" at the end of your article. Your "bio box" includes your name and contact information (e.g., website address) so that readers of the article can easily contact you.

How to get started quickly

The fastest way to get any article published is to submit it to an online article directory like On this site, web searches will find your article, and many will click on the links in your bio box that link back to your website.

Also, many website owners and bloggers syndicate articles from EzineArticles; in doing so, they re-publish the article on their website but must keep the bio box and links to your website.

Here are two important notes for using EzineArticles. First, search through the site to see the types of articles others have written about your topic. This will give you new ideas and also alert you to topics that have already been covered too much. Second, more prominent media sources (e.g., magazines, newspapers) want original content. So, if you have a great idea for an article, pitch it to the more prominent media sources first. Since, once you publish it elsewhere (e.g., on EzineArticles), they won't be interested (although you could then pitch them on another article).

Getting your articles printed in media sources is a simple way to get the word out about your company, control the message, and build lots of credibility. And it doesn't take much time.

And one final tip to make this technique even more efficient - don't start by writing the article. Rather, just start by creating an interesting article title. Then pitch the title to newspaper and magazine editors to see if they are interested (simply call them and/or email them). They may say it's perfect as is, or they may suggest something slightly different. Doing it this way saves time and ensures you write an article they'll publish, which will get you great media exposure and new customers.


Suggested Resource: Countless entrepreneurs and small business owners have realized both immediate and long-term increases in revenues and profits from getting publicity. And oftentimes these increases are massive. Learn how to easily get tons of publicity for your business with Growthink's Publicity Playbook.

Knowing Victory and Defeat


The founders of wildly successful companies - with their world-changing impacts and their awe inspiring wealth creation - receive much well earned praise and financial rewards for turning their great entrepreneurial visions into reality. 

But what about those with 1-2 degrees of separation who also benefit immensely? 

Folks like Andy Bechtolsheim - who invested $100,000 into Google in September 1998, a position now worth more than $1.7 billion.  

Or a Mark Cuban, who rode the Internet wave perfectly, to the tune of selling to Yahoo for $5.9 billion in Yahoo stock. Even better, he had the additional good luck to sell nearly all of that stock near the peak of the Internet bubble. 

For that matter, how about Mikhail Prokhorov, now with a fortune estimated at over $18 billion, and other rags to riches stories like his driven by having the right friends at the right time?

Prokhorov as a young man had as his sponsor Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Potanin - just as many of Russia’s largest state-owned enterprises were being privatized.  

Prokhorov parlayed this relationship into a controlling interest in the huge Russian nickel business before it became a stand-alone publicly traded company.

And he - like Mark Cuban - had the additional boon of turning his equity stake into cash at the absolute right moment (and the circumstances of which are high comedy to say the least). 

These stories of great luck and fortune are timelessly inspirational for entrepreneurs, investors, and dreamers everywhere. 

At the same time, they are frustratingly vexing and opaque to turn from descriptive narrative into prescriptive guide.

I.E. – if it were only so simple doing “A,” and then having “B” magically appear. 

But of course luck and good fortune - as a whole lot of business philosophers from Nassim Taleb to Malcolm Gladwell to Joshua Ramo have opined - just doesn’t work that way. 

There is, however, a LOT that we all can and must do to “let luck in.” Author and speaker Stephen Shapiro offers three great ideas to do so:

1.    Grasp the Critical Difference Between the Probability of ANY Good Thing, versus a SPECIFIC good thing, Happening. To illustrate, Shapiro puts a twist on the famous birthday example:

“…if you ask the question, “How many people do you need in a room to have a 50 percent chance that two people will have the same birthday?” Some people immediately assume it is half of 367, or roughly 184. While that is a logical guess, it is actually incorrect. In fact, you would only need 23 people. Shocking? Try it some time and see what happens. With just 40 people you will have a nearly 90 percent chance that two individuals will have the same birthday.

Now I’d like you to consider how many people you would need in a room to have a 50 percent chance that two people share a particular birthday? For example, I was born on April 25. How many people would I need to have in a room to have a 50 percent chance that there is another person with my exact birthday? Surprisingly, the number now increases to over 600.”

The business point?

While specific goals and objectives are great, be careful to not limit the various permutations that a business journey might take to arrive at a desirous destination. 

2.    Understand the Difference between The Value of Planning, and being Wed to “A Plan.” Shapiro quotes General and Future President Dwight Eisenhower’s poignant quote that "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." 

3.    The Great Ones Above All Else, Act. All of the stories of business success are many things, but above all else they are tales of ACTION. 

Of writing the code. Of making the investment. Of going to the conference. Of talking to that beautiful stranger. 

Now thinking and being like this does not guarantee that you will become a famous General, or a wildly successful entrepreneur or investor.

But the opposite is assured - that without cultivating the mindsets of boldness, of action, of positive expectation, one runs the serious risk of living - as a man of famous great action once so famously said -  “with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Event Marketing Is Making A Comeback


There's an old marketing strategy that lately has been helping more and more entrepreneurs and business owners grow their companies. And I used it myself a few months ago and am starting to do more of it.

This strategy is event marketing. Which simply means holding events. Events, particularly when they are physical (versus online workshops or webinars) are very powerful. Particularly in today's internet/virtual age, being able to meet your customers, prospective customers, partners, investors and others face-to-face is very powerful. And much more so than simply email and telephone conversations.

Below I discuss several types of events you can hold, and how to get maximum publicity for them.

Importantly, companies of ALL sizes can hold events. And, they can use them to get lots of free publicity.

What kind of events could you organize (or even just attend) and mention in your PR efforts?

Here are a few that just about any business owner or entrepreneur can do:

  • Set up a workshop teaching something about the problem your product or service solves
  • Business dinners
  • Golf tournaments
  • Networking events
  • Product launch parties
  • Holiday parties
  • Customer appreciation parties
  • Happy hours
  • Seminars for your team or the public
  • Charity functions
  • Exhibiting in, sponsoring or speaking at a trade show
  • Exclusive VIP events for your top customers

Note that even if you don't have office or retail space, you can hold an event. Simply find some other firm that does have space, particularly if that other firm would benefit from it. For example, if you are a consultant, find a law firm that will allow you to use their office space. The law firm would benefit from exposure to the same customers/prospective customers you serve.

Once you've chosen your event and scheduled it, the next step is to get the word out. Here are several free methods you can use:

1. Event Websites

There are several popular websites such as Meetup, Eventful and EventBrite that show visitors a list of local events in their area. Announce your event there, which includes giving the description and details, and some visitors will find it and contact you (or just show up).

Make sure to include everything someone would want to know before making a decision to attend, because it's harder to get people to leave the house these days or attend an online event. Have a compelling call to action and a way to register or RSVP (online or by phone) in order to build a contact list as well as firm up attendance.

Also, the pages you create by announcing events on these sites are search engine-friendly, which means that web searchers may find them searching the internet before the event. They may find it years later, too, and if your contact information is there, consider it a free advertisement for your brand.

2. Local Event Calendars

In addition to these nationwide websites, there are often community calendars and directories that will allow you to submit your activity or event.

Try googling "your city" + "event calendar" to see what comes up. You may find a few websites dedicated to events in your city. Check out the sites' rules to see if it's free to add your listing, and how to do it.

Also, make a list of local newspapers and magazines and check to see if they post upcoming events in the community. Most daily newspapers have one that they publish on the same day every week. Magazines have them in every issue, but you may need to announce it to them 2-3 months ahead of time.

See if the magazines also have event calendars online. The publication itself or its online version should tell you how to submit an event to announce. If not, call them and ask to speak to the person in charge of the events calendar.

3. Social Media Event Marketing

Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to set up events and announce them to your contacts there. This is an additional avenue of reaching your customers (and the press, if you have connected with them already).

The simplest way is to click the "Create an Event" feature on these sites, and copy and paste the description of your event used in the methods above. As you can see, the core strategy here is announcing your event in as many places as possible.

4. Local Broadcast Media

Call your local newspaper reporters and TV/radio stations and let them know about each event. Make a handy list of 10-20 reporters/journalists in your area and you can complete the calls in an hour or two. Or use email or fax; or a combination of these formats.

Nowadays it's fairly easy to visit the websites of these stations and publications to get the contact information of the reporters/journalists you want to target.

Finally, make sure to take plenty of photos at each of your events. This will help you get more coverage now (reporters will write about the outcome of your event) and it will help you with promoting future events.

These 4 methods are simple and easy while maximizing your return for the effort that goes into putting on a great event. This return includes, among others, improving your relationships with existing customers, securing new customers and partners, and getting lots of free publicity.

A Growing Business is a Healthy Business


Fact: Most businesses never reach $1 Million in annual sales. They start small and end small. While you can certainly create a great income with lower revenues, depending on your net profit, it's also true that staying small does not necessarily ensure that your business will survive.

There are no guarantees in business or in life! Every entrepreneur is faced with the risk that all their hard work and sacrifice will go belly-up. You have two choices for dealing with this uncertainty-shrink and survive, or survive through evolution and growth.

If you increase your annual revenues, you'll find you have more options. You'll be in a more likely position to ramp up your advertising or fund your own growth. There's also the old saying, "Revenue covers a multitude of sins," meaning that you don't have to have a perfect business to do well, as long as revenues are high and cash flow is healthy.

If times get tough and people aren't buying as much, you'll have your savings to weather the storm, your revenues will have room to decrease without putting you completely out of business, or you may have the cash on hand to get aggressive and attack your way out of the slump. Plus, you'll make more from the sale of your business, after all your hard work.

Whereas, if you stay small in order to keep things more manageable, it is often just a case study in shrinking back within the confines of your comfort zone. Yes, I know, you're a fearless entrepreneur and nothing daunts you, but let's get real here. Everyone has a comfort zone, and the fulfillment of dreams rarely happens within their limited boundaries. You will have to grow ahead of your business.

So with the mindset of achieving and maintaining fast growth, here are some tips for forming a growth strategy of your own.

Start with the most common ways for a smaller company to grow. Each of these involves some risk, effort, and uncertainty, though less than with other growth strategies. I suggest choosing and working on one of these at a time to stay focused and minimize the risks.

These strategies are as follows:

1. Sell more to your existing customers

The growth strategy with the least risk is continuing to sell more of your existing products to your current customers. You can do this by offering upgrades, maintenance and service packages, or finding new ways that your customers can use your product or service.

If you can't figure out what else to sell to your customers, try this - ASK THEM. Yes, it's really that simple.

2. Attract new customers

The next straightforward way to grow is to sell more of your product to adjacent markets-customers in different cities of states, or business buyers in related industries.

3. Additional sales and marketing channels

This could mean making sales through new channels-such as online transactions if you're a brick and mortar store or selling clothing at fairs and shows instead of strictly online. Or, you can advertise the same products through different lead generation channels, like pay-per-click, direct mail, etc.

4. Offer new products

Creating new products to offer existing customers is one sure-fire way to make more sales without having too much risk-compared to making new products for new customers.

Think of new, related ways to meet their needs, or meet them better, or more easily. Try personalizing. Different colors. And, once again ask them what they want so you can give it to them!

5. Growth through acquisition

Another way to grow is to acquire other companies, though this is usually more capital-intensive. In addition, often-times mergers and acquisitions fail to deliver the full value predicted for them.

Nevertheless, keep your eyes open for opportunities to buy competing businesses (especially if they're in a tough spot), or buying out one of your suppliers and even distributors to pass the savings through to your bottom line.

I hope you choose to grow your business versus staying small, and that you grow through one of these proven strategies. The horizon is constantly changing, and changing with it is a reliable way to stay ahead of the game and in a strong cash position.


Suggested Resource: Would you like to know more ways to maximize the value of your business. And specifically to turn it into one that exceeds $10 million in revenues? Then check out Growthink's 8 Figure Formula. This video explains more.

How Virtual Assistants Allow You to Stop Wasting Your Time With Grunt Work


Outsourcing tasks and projects allows you to get more work done, more quickly and for less money. And it frees up your time to complete higher value-add tasks and otherwise grow your business. When outsourcing, a natural question arises as to when you should use several outsourced individuals or one virtual assistant, or both. This article will help you better answer this question, and allow you to outsource more profitably.

Of the many types of providers to which you can outsource work, there's a certain amount of leverage you can achieve by hiring a virtual assistant trained to do many things.

Would you rather hire and manage different people for each of these tasks?

  • Administrative tasks
  • Research
  • Editing and posting blog content
  • Keyword research
  • Contacting customers
  • Scheduling appointments
  • SEO / Getting backlinks
  • Customer service
  • Bookkeeping

...or just hire one person to do them all?

Something I have found very helpful is to write up a big, long list of every task that currently must be performed for your business to operate. Make it a list of ongoing, necessary tasks (not project-related tasks-more on that later).

Now go through the list and note which tasks are already handled by someone, which tasks could be done more inexpensively, which tasks you're currently doing yourself, and which tasks should be done but currently are not.

Doing this will leave you with a list of ongoing tasks that should probably be completed by a virtual assistant. So, what is a virtual assistant? A virtual assistant is a freelance service provider like any other, but who is more of a catch-all to handle numerous things for you (as opposed to an outsourced provider specializing in one thing, like design or computer programming).

Ideally, you can find one virtual assistant with previous experience doing everything you need done. If not, hire whoever can do the most and train them to do the rest. And/or for specialized projects, continue to hire individual outsourcers.

Virtual Assistants vs. Outsourcing Projects to Service Providers

There are pros and cons to both virtual assistants and individual outsourced providers.

One benefit of virtual assistants is that it's a lot easier to screen, hire, train and manage one virtual assistant for eight tasks than eight individual outsourcers for one task each.

Conversely, the benefit of an individual outsourcer is generally that they are well-trained in their area(s) of expertise. If you need a writer for example, you will probably get better quality work from a professional writer than hiring (or training) a virtual assistant who does a variety of things including writing.

Another difference is the length of time they work with you. Virtual assistants tend to be a longer, more ongoing commitment. Versus individual outsourcers who are often hired to complete just one task. Each of these scenarios has their benefits. Ongoing relationships cost more, but the virtual assistant often gets better with time as they learn more about you and your company. Individual outsourcers are only paid for the specific project they do, but there is more work to constantly find and educate them.

But with regards to cost, you can hire full-time virtual assistants in the Philippines for only $5 per hour, or $400/month full-time! So the cost might be very reasonable.

What should I have my virtual assistant do first?

The list of tasks you wrote up above can also be used when posting a project to hire a virtual assistant. These core tasks become their job description. As you think of new tasks your assistant can perform for you, add them to the list and train them to do it when the time is right.

You can't teach them everything all at once, so you've got to have a planned and orderly
system for training your assistant. Number each of the tasks in the order in which
you want to train them.

I recommend numbering only the top five at first so that you will stay focused. To number more is a waste of time, and your priorities might change in the meantime, anyway.

When you're almost done with the first five, choose a new top 5 tasks to teach, with the current #5 becoming the new #1.

There are three methods you can use to prioritize what to teach your virtual assistant and when:

1. Based on Frequency

Using this approach, the first things you would train your assistant to do are the ones they will be responsible to perform every day.

This makes sense, because these tasks are needed most often. And, they will begin to establish a daily routine. These tasks will become a habit, which will ensure they are done on time, every time.

Once these are taught, you can then move on to items that are to be done weekly, and then monthly. Think of training your virtual assistant in things that happen regularly as the foundation. Once it is laid, you can build upon it by adding other tasks that arise from time to time.

2. Based on Time Consumed

The first things you would teach your assistant to do using this approach are the ones that currently take YOU the most time to do. By doing this, you free up your time a lot faster.

Some of these tasks take a long time to train; others will only require an hour or so. You may prefer getting these monkeys off your back sooner, and like this method better.

3. Based on Importance

There are some things that each of us really needs to do, but we just can't seem to find the time to accomplish. You may wish to teach these to your assistant first in order to make sure they get done.

You may also decide on some combination of the above. Use your judgment, and don't put
off things that should be trained just because they take a few hours to teach properly.

While outsourcing can certainly save you a ton of time, there is still some unavoidable work on your part to get it set up for success and to manage and coach your virtual assistant over time. So the point have to put in the hours and pay the price in order to get top-notch results consistently.

But would you spend one hour to save ten? Ten hours to save one hundred? I hope so. Taking the time to properly train and manage your virtual assistant and individual outsourcers is one of the best ROI's you'll ever see in business-but there is still an investment to make.

I'm hammering this home because I see a lot of entrepreneurs hiring someone, throwing them into the work, and then getting busy again with other things-wishfully hoping that everything will just run on auto-pilot from the beginning. It won't.


Suggested Resource: If you don't outsource, you can't compete. The math is simple...if your competitors are outsourcing and only pay $X to complete a task, and you pay $3X, $5X or $10X, your competitors will eat your lunch. You simply must outsource to stay competitive. Outsource the right way using Growthink's Outsourcing Formula. Learn more by clicking here.

Slippery Slopes


Today, investors, entrepreneurs and executives are all faced with a variant of the same challenge: how to find the right balance between the pursuit of the “perfect” – the perfect investment, the perfect strategy, the perfect prospect and the reality of our so opportunity-filled but always very messy modern business world.

For investors, evaluating any asset or security requires reviewing, assessing, and drawing conclusions from a never-ending stream of information and analysis, much of it contradictory and none of it in any way definitive.

For entrepreneurs, everyday across the wire comes another story of a new company with an innovative, different and promising to be world-changing business model and strategy compared to which one’s own business model feels tired and flat.

And for the marketer, the salesperson, the project manager, the time immemorial refrain is that these channels, these leads, these clients well they are okay and all but golly if they were only better, richer, more open, then we in turn too would be better, richer, do better work and have more fun.

This is the slippery slope of modern business.

It is one that I have seen way too often stop otherwise intelligent and ambitious investors, entrepreneurs, and executives from profiting from the opportunities that they do have while seeking that fantasy world that on so many levels the Internet especially makes us believe is out there somewhere.

So what to do?

Well, the first thing is to get real.

Like the golfer who one time hits their eight-iron 175 yards conveniently forgetting that the shot was downhill and downwind and that there was 40 yards of roll post landing, or the investor that rates buying Google at its IPO price, or for the salesperson the prospect that only asks for wire instructions as the forevermore guide to the kind of investment worth making, the kind of work worth doing is not just foolhardy, but also very close to downright sinful, too.

It is foolhardy in that while waiting for the perfect, worlds of opportunity pass us by.

And it brings into the business day all those not so admirable mindsets of greed, sloth, and pride.

So awareness is a start.

And from that awareness will flow that joyful beginner's mind and idealism that lets us see the possibilities and opportunities that are abundant and all around us in every conversation, every offer.

Yes, on occasion this so called "naiveté" will burn.

But it will be far outweighed by that “genius of endeavor” that Henry Adams described the great Teddy Roosevelt as possessing, namely in approaching life and business as a game of "pure act."

And dare I say that when life, work, and even investing are approached like this that they are a heck of lot more fun, too.

The Top 10 Outsourcing Problems and How to Avoid Them


In today's business environment, you absolutely must outsource to stay competitive. No, I'm not talking about outsourcing your core competencies. But I am talking about outsourcing those business functions and activities that someone else can do faster, cheaper and/or more easily than you.

Unfortunately, when they start outsourcing, most entrepreneurs and small business owners make several mistakes. In this essay, I'm going to outline the 10 most common mistakes made when outsourcing work or projects to freelancers or other service providers not on your internal team [note that I use the term "freelancers" below to describe folks to whom you outsource].

Feel free to print this out as a quick checklist to run through when setting up your next outsourcing project. For each of these, think of how you will address or avoid these mistakes in advance to ensure smooth sailing.

Mistake #1: Define the task/project clearly

This is something I would do before even posting the project [i.e., to find the outsourced candidate]. Because you need to really understand the project in order to write an accurate job description. The process of defining the task/project clearly will also help you to estimate the costs, time frame, and skills needed from the person you hire.

One way to do this is to write down a very clear and descriptive explanation of the task. Another way is to record yourself speaking the description. Finally, another great way is to take a screen recording of yourself doing the work you wish to outsource (or taking a video of you doing the work if it's not computer based). Try using a free screen recording program like Jing to make a quick video.

Mistake #2: Not having a well-planned estimate of costs

The more clearly you can define exactly what you need done by breaking it into parts, the better you can estimate how much time it will take - and therefore how much it will cost at the person's typical hourly rate. You don't want to just hand a bunch of work to someone and then get surprised when you get their bill and/or incorrectly assume they took too long to complete a project.

If the project you need completed is something that requires specialized knowledge, describe the project to potential freelancers and get their opinion on what is really involved and how long it should take. If there's no typical hourly rate for the work they're doing, then just get a solid estimate of the total project cost and consider it to see if it makes sense compared to the revenue it should generate (or costs it should save).

Mistake #3: Know your timeframe for starting and finishing the work

If you've ever provided services for a client in a rush, you know how stressful it can be to drop everything at the last minute and make their emergency yours. The people you outsource to are no different, and it will benefit you to plan and begin things in advance and not at the last minute.

So for whatever work it is you want to do, figure out how long it will take and when it absolutely has to be completed. You'll come out with a rough idea of when the work needs to commence. Then, give yourself a week or two before that to post projects, screen candidates, and choose the right person...maybe more.

Mistake #4: Hiring someone without enough experience

Nothing is worse than the blind leading the blind. When I hire someone to do something that I do not know how to do personally, they need to know how to do it - period. They need to educate you on their chosen skill set, not the other way around.

Your role is to describe the end result you want, ask for and listen to their suggestions, and rely on their expertise and talent to achieve it according to your description.

Mistake #5: Not screening or testing enough freelancers

In choosing the right candidate, I would rather have more options to choose from than fewer. If you run a project only on Elance, for example, you are only going to get a few providers from Elance bidding on your project. This might be enough, but suppose you posted this same project (copy and paste) on Guru and ODesk as well? [Elance, Guru and ODesk are 3 of my recommended websites for finding freelancers and outsourced help]

I would rather have 30 applicants and choose from among the top three than to have 10 applicants and choose from among the top one.

Also, your goal is to build a list of qualified people to contact whenever you need them for projects or ongoing work. So even if you post a project and only hire one person, keep tabs of the runner-ups so to contact or test later on for future projects.

Mistake #6: Choosing someone with no room to grow

If you are outsourcing a project (e.g., graphic design) that you know you'll need again in the future, you want to have one eye on the present project and your future needs. Think about what similar services you'll need in the future and to what extent?

Or, if you have a freelancer build something that, once done, needs maintenance, then be sure to ask them about their work hours and schedule. Find out if they have enough time left for your needs in addition to their other clients. It's terrible to go back to a great freelancer later on who is apologetic but too busy to help you.

Mistake #7: Outsourcing your weakness

If your business is weak in a certain area, it may also be weak at managing someone performing the work outside of your company, too. Think about it... every worthwhile endeavor requires some basic knowledge and strategy, as well as some understanding of how to perform the work and measure the results.

At least get this working knowledge upfront so that you can be effective at managing your freelancers. It doesn't matter if someone else is doing the work or not, if you don't start the project with a clear outcome and strategy, and continue to stay on top of it (not washing your hands and hiding somewhere) it will fail regardless of the skills and intelligence of your outsourcers.

Mistake #8: Lack of communication

You heard of management by walking around... well, this here is called seagull management. A seagull manager will be gone for days on end and suddenly come sailing in with the wind, squawking and dropping tons of work on everybody, and then flying away never to be seen again for days or weeks on end.

What seagull managers don't realize is that you have to constantly be there for your team. This doesn't mean it needs to take a lot of time, but they would appreciate fast responses just as you like them from others.

Again, just because someone else is performing the work does not mean you can abdicate your responsibility to support and manage them to achieve the result.

Mistake #9: Insufficient feedback

If you plan on using your freelancer for more than just a few quick tasks, then you will want to invest in your relationship with them from the beginning. Your job as a manager is to coach them and help them to do things exactly as you want over time.

You should expect them to make mistakes and encourage them to fail quickly so you can give feedback and show how to do it the right way. Don't be a perfectionist, and don't make them afraid or hesitant to admit challenges or mistakes and then blame them later.

Many managers just assume that the people who are working for them can read their minds and know all the little details without being told. This is not true, even when the person is highly intelligent. It's your job to communicate clearly and often.

Mistake #10: Underutilizing hired talent

This probably keeps most entrepreneurs and small business owners from outsourcing in the first place. As entrepreneurs, I have to admit that we can have some pretty big egos. While this helps in the vision and confidence departments, it can also lead to the "no one can do it as well as I can" syndrome.

Maybe not, but I would still rather have 10 people who are 80% as good as me doing 90% of the work. Think about it! Besides, with proper coaching and support, you can make a good person great-as long as they are coachable and motivated to grow.

And even when you are outsourcing work to someone, don't miss opportunities to give them even more work once they have proven themselves with some smaller task. I like to list all the work required on a consistent basis and check the sub-items off as I outsource them, one at a time.

Implement these suggestions and your outsourcing experience will be a lot more effective and hassle-free!


Suggested Resource: If you don't outsource, you can't compete. The math is simple...if your competitors are outsourcing and only pay $X to complete a task, and you pay $3X, $5X or $10X, your competitors will eat your lunch. You simply must outsource to stay competitive. Outsource the right way using Growthink's Outsourcing Formula. Learn more by clicking here.

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