Growthink Blog

Needles and Haystacks


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What most frustrates angel investors is the “needle in the haystack” nature of picking winners.

The frustration is trebled because the “traditional” investing options these days are so profoundly unattractive.

The U.S. public stock market long-term woes would be comical if they weren’t so tragic.

We are now well-beyond 13 long years of ZERO public market returns, with major indices (Dow, S & P, and NASDAQ) trading, on an inflation adjusted basis, much lower than they were in July 1999.

As for that other traditional pillar for the individual investor – residential real estate – its woes are similarly deep. 

While prices have seen a moderate recovery this year, since 2007 residential real estate investments have largely reverted back to being long-term depreciating - and not appreciating - assets.

Most Americans, in fact, have gotten so discouraged by both markets’ performances and the media’s incessant “end is near” blaring that they have simply taken the “un-approach” to investing.

They just leave their money in cash – mostly in zero or close to zero interest checking and savings accounts.

Now, what is most perplexing and intriguing about this investment depression it that it has coincided with what has unquestionably been the greatest period in history for technology innovation and human progress.

So how do we square these – a period of historically unprecedented innovation tied to one of historically abysmal investing return?

And more importantly for the pragmatists, how do we profit from it?

To the first question, I would point to three main factors – continued payback for the 80’s and 90’s, globalization, and governmental intervention.

For the U.S. public markets at least, the last 13 years have represented a “reset” of values that had gotten way ahead of themselves in the 80’s and 90’s.

Remember, from August 1982 to July 1999, the Dow Jones Industrial Average went from 777 to 11,031, and the NASDAQ from 159 to 2,685.

Just too much too fast, and after this 16-year great bull market we have now had a 13 year pause.

As for globalization, in this context it is the idea that wealth growth in this period has not so much been paused as it has simply moved from the U.S. and the “West” to the “BIC” – Brazil, India, and China and their brethren.

To the degree that this is true, my view is that it is a short-term “ripple” that is clouding the longer-term reality that all of this great, new global wealth will soon find its way back to the U.S. in the form of increasing exports of American goods and services (especially services).

Thirdly, and perhaps most distressingly, has been the “double whammy” of U.S. governmental intervention in the markets.

First, by “crowding out” private capital with massive, structural budget deficits.

And more subtly but far more insidiously, by “uncertainty signaling” regarding tax and regulatory policy which has slowed entrepreneurs from taking the kind of assertive, forward action and risks that they could and would if they felt more comfortable regarding the rules of the game.

So what to do?

Well, if history has taught us anything, it has taught us that in the long run innovation always wins.

And, in spite of its challenges, the U.S. economy and society still produce by far the most and the best innovators in the world.

Find and back these innovators and you will be just fine – BIC, government, and the ups and downs of the markets notwithstanding.

As for who these innovators are? Just keep it simple.

As opposed to thinking of them as technologists, just think of them as good business people.

Peter Drucker defined them best many years ago simply as “Effective Executives.”

They are those that:

1.    Ask, “What needs to be done?”

2.  Ask, “What is right for the enterprise?” (as opposed to an individual or a specific stakeholder)

3.    That develop action plans.

4.    That take responsibility for decisions.

5.    That take responsibility for communication.

6.    That focus on opportunities rather than problems.

7.    That run productive meetings.

8.    And that think and say “we” rather than “I”

Find these effective executives in whatever line of business they may be in and BACK THEM.

Everything else is just noise.


What's Inside the Mind of a Winner?


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How do you define success?

I have seen it defined as consistently achieving your pre-determined goals. Others have said it's your level of "grit" or ability to fail consistently without losing your motivation or giving up from self-doubt.

Your business goals and dreams are unique to you. While the object of success is different for every person, we have been able to determine the characteristics that are shared by those who have found success and fulfillment, as they define it.

The industries and pursuits of successful people are very diverse, so mimicking their actual day-to-day behavior is not always a true model of how to get what you want (unless you're trying to succeed at the same thing they are).

Watching the actions of successful business people reveals their mindset that motivates them and, more importantly, gives them the perseverance and consistency to take the actions needed every day to achieve what they dream.

This is a humbling reminder that growing your business is more than just knowing what to do, or finding out the secret technique or method that will make you more money.

While that helps in choosing your strategy and making the execution easier, the reality is that anyone with a strong enough success mindset will have the attributes needed to find out what to do, commit to it, and then get to work through thick and thin, changing their course as needed until they've realize their goal.

What are the elements of this "success mindset?" 

They are:

Confidence in your dream and your abilities

How strongly do you believe in your company's potential? How strongly do you believe that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to pull it off? This is self-confidence. Entrepreneurs who don't fully believe in themselves are more likely to quit, or make excuses that keep them from trying in the first place.

Part of confidence comes from experience. After all, if you've made money in business in the past, it's not too hard to see yourself doing it again, or more of it. When you see your hunches pay off, you'll learn to trust your gut even more.

Part of confidence is knowing that you are probably going to run into challenges and fail at a few things along the way. It means you can handle setbacks without questioning your own ability. There will always, I repeat, always be setbacks. The difference is that a confident entrepreneur knows he can figure out what to do when the time comes and overcome them.

My point here is that when things don't work out the way you planned, it does not mean that you are personally lacking in some way. The point is to achieve your goal, not to have a flawless plan.

Flexible and willing to learn

The sharpest entrepreneurs are continually learning from whatever source presents itself. This means getting expert knowledge in their field and learning how to run a business in general. But it also means listening along the way for ideas that you can implement directly in new or current projects.

It doesn't matter who the ideas come from. Constantly look outside yourself for new ideas and be flexible. After all, there is no one right way to run your business, and copying your competitors exactly is more of an exercise in flattery than a strategy for success.

Your results are also a source of learning if you'll listen to them. This applies to both successes and failures. If you succeed at something, it's not because you're invincible-it's because you took certain actions that produced a certain result. Same goes for failures.

Focus more on actions and results and what they can teach you through trial and error, rather than making things personal.

Persistence and determination

The most persistent entrepreneur will usually win. There are plenty of talented, highly-intelligent, and educated people out there. Why aren't they all successful?
My guess would be their mindset. Perhaps they don't believe they can achieve what they want, or set their sights low to avoid the risk of failure and pain.

We can learn a lot from entrepreneurs like Henry Ford-a man of average intelligence who surrounded himself with the very best people. His job was to consider their input and make decisions accordingly. People look to the leader to press forward-that's you!

So even if you don't currently have the know-how or the funds (or whatever you think is holding you back) to achieve your dream right now, know that you will eventually if you continue to make proactive efforts towards your goal. It's just a matter of time!

Focused concentration

Ask any fighter and he'll tell you that focus and concentration are crucial. Would you want to get distracted by shiny objects in the crowd if you were in the middle of a heavyweight battle? You'd probably get your clock cleaned, or at least fail to be effective at attacking.

Why would your business be any less important? Every day, you will have a ton of information, thoughts, and cries for your attention coming at you. The average person comes in contact with as many as 2,000 advertising messages per day, for example.

How well do you focus on your goals? Do you review them often? Do you make plans for their achievement, and revise them when they don't work as well as you thought?

At any given hour of your workday, ask yourself, "What am I doing right now, and is it helping me achieve my goal or is it busy work, a distraction, or something I could delegate?"

The topics of confidence and self-esteem as well as mindfulness and concentration are not only fascinating studies in self-knowledge. They can help you make money. They can help you grow your business, and find success.

To apply this, take a look at your own mindset lately. Has it been conducive to success, or do you find yourself getting in your own way? The process of developing the right mindset is not as simple as a one-time task list. It's based on setting the habit of consistently paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, which reveal your higher thought patterns and beliefs.


Outsourcing Your Sales vs In-House Teams


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Every good plan for massive growth will address how you intend to generate leads and turn them into sales. Unless 100% of your sales take place online, you'll need real, live people to take phone calls, process orders, and follow-up after the sale for retention and support.

Who is going to do this? Not you personally, if you plan to grow.

Not an in-house sales team of employees, either, for many business owners who prefer to outsource these positions to freelance sales reps or call centers.

Outsourcing your sales staff is becoming more popular because:

#1: It's less expensive than hiring and paying employees. It's easier to pay independent contractors by commission without a base salary, which you'll probably need to do with employees to comply with your state's laws.

#2: You're not that great at sales yourself. There's nothing wrong with this, but if your company is going to have salespeople, someone who knows how to get the job done effectively is going to need to train and manage the team. If no one else in your company is qualified, it's just easier to go with outside specialists.

#3: No managing a team. Like I said above, someone will need to manage the sales team. This takes time to do and I don't blame entrepreneurs for wanting to pass it on to another company. If not you, who in your company could take charge of that responsibility? Can you bring in a sales manager or new partner to handle it?

For these reasons, it seems like outsourcing your sales is the way to go. And maybe it is. But it depends and has its downsides like anything else.

The biggest downside to outsourcing your sales

But assuming we're talking about filling an ongoing need, my experience is that most of the time, the companies and individuals you outsource selling to just don't get the same results as an in-house team.

They can do well, but the companies who have tested sales from in-house teams versus outsourcing the sales usually show that you can make more doing it yourself. If you had 25% more revenue for each precious dollar you spend on advertising, you might do the math and see how much more you can make.

Some of the possible explanations are that outside salespeople often make sales for multiple clients, so they aren't focused on selling your product. They may push other offers with higher commissions or make more time one week for someone else, neglecting your customers.

And although they usually take some time up front to get acquainted with your product's details and how it's marketed, the salesperson is the last chance to make the sale as your customer goes down the marketing funnel. They have got to know the product inside and out to be able to answer any question a prospect could ask without giving them a reason to say "No."

So which is better? It depends...

How quickly do you need to set up and for how long? If you're in a rush, there are places that can get set up to take incoming calls or start setting appointments for you within a few days-not weeks, as it would to run ads, process applications, interview, and train a team on how to sell your product.

If you're just testing a campaign that involves a salesperson, you may not want to invest in a whole team of people you may not need anymore in a few weeks or months. You could also outsource it at first to get the ball rolling and then take your time building a terrific sales team to replace them.

It's up to you. You're the leader...you make the tough calls. But hopefully now you've seen the pros and cons of both ways and can choose how you do it with confidence.


The Future is Better than You Think


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What do the most dynamic 21st Century entrepreneurial companies have in common?  Well, for starters they a) pursue global Markets b) place company culture above all else and c) They embrace the Black Swan within and without.

They Pursue Global Markets. Peter Diamandis, in his great book “Abundance, The Future is Better than You Think” talks about the emerging world of “9 billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized housing, top-tier medical care, and nonpolluting, ubiquitous energy.” 

Drowned out by the doom and gloom talk of Euro-crisis, LIBOR and Mitt Romney’s tax returns, it is THIS story that is and will be the dominant one of our 21st Centrury.

Try these statistics on for size, from 1999 to today Asia’s share of the world’s Initial Public Offerings grew from 12% to 66%. In that same time frame, United States IPO volume declined 75% in real terms and now accounts for less than 11% of the global total.

And with their capital and confidence, China and India are stretching their wings. Since 2005, they have been the two leading investors in Africa, investing $31 billion and $16 billion on the continent, respectively.

Why? Well, McKinsey estimates that consumer spending in Africa will double, to $1.8 trillion, by 2020, equivalent to bringing a whole new market the size of Brazil online.

China. India. Brazil. Africa. This is where the growth action is, and while the first reaction of Americans is to feel as if we’re being left out of the game, the RIGHT reaction should be WOW.

These are fantastic new markets for U.S. goods and services, especially services, and they are expanding in aggregate at a rate that even 10% U.S. domestic GNP growth couldn’t touch.

Action Point: Core to every strategic session for any company of ambition should include these simple questions:

•    What is your China strategy? Your India strategy?
•  How easy / possible is it for global customers to buy your product – to purchase your service?
•    How can they find you? How do you market to them?
•    How / must your business model evolve to leverage these new opportunities?

They Place Culture Above All Else. Modern business, shaped by technology, is increasingly diverging to two nodes – on the one hand to great size quickly (see Google, Facebook, eBay, Twitter, et al.) and on the other hand, to corporations of one, the so-called Free Agent Nation.

The tools of collaboration and connectivity - mobile always-on Internet, cloud productivity applications like Google Apps, Basecamp, Salesforce and Skype - are so good that the natural devolution is to a BREAKUP of the corporate form and to everyone working for themselves, by themselves.

Now except for the very fortunate few (see Google et al. above), almost everyone else is left with the challenge of how to get to scale and once there how to maintain it.

This is HARD. In a world where ideas and technologies and business models and even intellectual property (sad but true) can be copied and undercut worldwide at the speed of a mouse click, what can any company really hold onto?

The answer is company culture. There is no one size fits all answer as to what the “right” corporate culture is. Successful cultures are as disparate as General Electric’s famously formulaic one, to Zappos’, Virgin’s, and Mind Valley’s irreverent, almost carefree approaches.

But a few constants remain. A strong results and metrics-focused approach. A vigilant commitment to ethics and integrity. And an environment that encourages and demands learning and constant improvement of people and processes.

The great thing is that via the Internet we CAN copy the principles of the best of them - Zappos’ and Mind Valley’s and scores of others are online for all to see. While the principles of course are NOT the culture itself (wouldn’t it be nice if it was that easy?) they ARE signposts as to what is possible.

They Embrace the Black Swan Both Within and Without
. At the core of modern entrepreneurship are the sometimes seemingly mystical precepts of The Black Swan.

The concept of The Black Swan was popularized by the great Lebanese thinker and writer Nicholas Taleb in his bestseller of the same name. He describes it best:

"What we call here a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."

Taleb continues, "I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives."

So from a business perspective, how can we make the Black Swan work for, and not against, us? 
Well, two ideas:

1) Bet on the Unexpected. Check your ego firmly at the door when evaluating business models. Accept that you (and everyone) for that matter KNOWS NOTHING about what the future will hold other than the fact that we don't know what the future will hold.

That is philosophy - here is money-making: The Black Swan teaches us that the big outlier events - the 10 to 1 shots and beyond – will always be UNDER – priced in the marketplace. Bet on them.

2) Allow Serendipity To Do Its Work. Startups intuitively get the idea of creating new business models as part of their mission. But this lightness disappears quickly.

The Black Swan teaches us that what we have done to date, what has worked to date, is probably NOT what we will be doing, what will be working in the future.

And where does The Black Swan point us to find the wisdom as to what to do? Well, as much from outside the formal strategic planning process as from within.

As Taleb says - from conferences, from parties. From chance encounters.  From being open to ideas, people and things outside of the normal box.

Incorporate these Black Swan elements into a dynamic corporate culture, cultivate and ACT upon the global view, and let the magic happen.


The 7 Best Places to Find Angel Investors


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According to the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire, last year 66,230 ventures received angel funding.

Compare that to the only 3,673 ventures that raised venture capital, and you quickly see that nearly TWENTY TIMES more companies raise angel funding than venture capital.

Importantly, the Center for Venture Research found that the number of angel investors providing the funding last year was 318,480 individuals. That's a lot of angel investors.

So, the question that entrepreneurs always ask me is "how do I find these angel investors." The good and bad news is that there's no directory of angel investors. This is bad because if there was, it would be easy to find them. On the other hand it's good, since if these angel investors were easy to find, they would be bombarded with deals; and thus raising capital from them would be harder.

The best way to find these angel investors is through networking. The first part of networking is asking everyone you know (e.g., friends, colleagues, family, advisors like consultants, lawyers and accountants, etc. ) who they might know. And you should definitely do that.

The other part of networking is meeting new people. In many cases you should target individual angel investors directly. For instance, you may realize that a certain executive in your industry would be perfect, in which case you should call them and/or seek an introduction from a mutual acquaintance. (Note that business owners, executives and others with high paying jobs comprise the majority of angel investors).

In other cases, you should "get out there" and meet them at different venues. Here are the 7 best venues I've found for meeting angel investors.

1. Local Business & Networking Events

Every city has local events that attract business owners and entrepreneurs (note that other business owners and entrepreneurs are often angel investors and/or can introduce you to angels).

You can find out about these events on sites like Meetup, Eventful and EventBrite.

For example, if you go to Meetup and type in "entrepreneur," you'll find lots of local events.

2. Industry Conferences & Trade Shows

Industry Conferences & Trade Shows are great places to meet angel investors. These events are crawling with successful people who have the means and often interest in funding a company like yours. And, based on the fact that they are attending such a conference, they know your industry. This makes educating them on your venture easier, and also often gives them the ability to give you valuable strategic advice.

3. Alumni Events

Particularly at college alumni events you'll find lots of successful people. Many of whom would be very interested in funding your company as an angel investor. You already have a connection with these individuals since you share the same alma mater. So go to these events and meet them.

4. Chamber of Commerce Meetings

There's probably no better place to meet a large concentration of business owners (and potential angel investors) than local Chamber of Commerce meetings. So attend these meetings.

5. Continuing Education Classes

In most communities there local colleges that teach continuing education classes. Some of these classes will attract successful business owners and others who might consider investing in your venture. A class teaching "bread baking" may not be the best fit. But a class teaching "online marketing for your business" might be a perfect way to meet angel investors.

6. Volunteer at Local Organizations & Charities and/or Attend Charity Events

As a general rule, you should volunteer to give back to people less fortunate than you. But as a bonus, when volunteering you'll often meet very successful people, including large donors to the cause. These individuals might also be interested in funding your company.

7. Online Forums

While there are lots of offline places to meet angel investors as specified above, don't forget about online venues. There are plenty of online communities that you can join. Ones filled with business owners. And ones filled with people who are experts in or are passionate about your industry. Likewise there are LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Go online and join the right groups, and use them to connect with prospective angels.

Armed with this knowledge, go out there and network. There are hundreds of thousands of angel investors out there. It's up to you to find them and tell them about your venture.

 

Suggested Resource: In our Angel Funding Formula program, you'll learn exactly how to find and contact angel investors, exactly what information to convey to them and how, and how to secure your financing check. This presentation explains more.


Business Plans versus Strategic Plans & The Keys to Each


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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%


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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]


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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:
PR.com
I-Newswire.com
PRlog.org

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.com.

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


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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 www.ezinearticles.com. 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


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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 Broadcast.com 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.”


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