I Got a C+ on This and I'm Not Too Happy About It...

I just finished a great book called The Inspired Leader.

And while I was reading it, I tried to see how I stack up against the great business leaders discussed in the book.

And unfortunately, I didn't rate myself so well.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on myself, but there's clearly a lot of room for improvement. And importantly, I will be making a personal effort to improve. And I hope you will too. Because, a key attribute of a successful entrepreneur is that he or she be an effective leader.

As you know, few successful companies have just one founder and no employees. As you grow your business, you will most likely grow your employee base. And, as you do this, your ability to effectively lead your workforce becomes more and more important.

In fact, according to management expert Peter Drucker, most businesses would double their profits if they increased employee productivity by just 10%. 

Let me repeat this critical point - most businesses would double their profits if they increased employee productivity by just 10%. 

That fact alone should inspire you as an entrepreneur to improve your leadership skills. It certainly did for me.

Now, the key premise of the book is that there is one leadership skill that trumps all others. That skill, as the book's title so aptly points out, is the leader's ability to inspire employees. (The proof? The book's authors, through rigorous market research and analysis, repeatedly found a high correlation between success and a leader's ability to inspire the employees around them.)

So let's talk about nine ways that you and I can be more inspiring to our employees:

1. Increase our energy and enthusiasm. When inspiring leaders enter a room the energy level and excitement should go up. Employees should want to be around you.

2. Provide clarity on your goals. Inspiring leaders are very clear about the company's goals and how each employee can contribute to the company's success.

3. Set challenging goals and objectives. Setting "stretch" goals (goals that are challenging but obtainable) releases employees' conserved energy and increases their productivity as they try to achieve those goals.

4. Have a formal plan for personal development. No leader has all the skills they need. Every leader can become more knowledgeable in multiple areas and needs to continually educate themselves and keep abreast of best practices.

If you go to Growthink University (http://www.growthinkuniversity.com), you 
will note that we recently added three "Departments" - 1) Building Your Team, 2) Growing Your Revenues, and 3) Protecting Your Business. Over the coming months, I will be developing (myself and with the help of various experts), expert content in these and several other areas to ensure that the entrepreneurs who enroll in Growthink University have all the skills they need to succeed, and are constantly learning best-of-breed success practices.

5. Provide coaching and mentoring. Inspiring leaders help employees develop new skills and abilities.

6. Share information. To be a great leader, you need to share important information with other team members. In the information age, where the sheer quantity of information is so great, this becomes more challenging as leaders want to provide enough information, but not too much information such that it bogs down employees.

7. Do as you say and say as you do.

8. Encourage feedback and ideas from employees. Great leaders don't come up with all the great ideas themselves. They get constant feedback from their teams. And they don't criticize feedback. Or else, the feedback quickly stops coming.

9. Provide helpful feedback on performance. Great leaders periodically review their employees' performance and give feedback regarding what is good, what needs to be improved and how.

If you're curious to see why I gave myself a C+, I feel that I can do a much better job of 1) setting stretch goals, and 2) periodically reviewing and helping to improve the performance of each of my team members.

Finally, to ensure that I do a better job on ALL NINE of these ways to inspire my employees, I have created a monthly worksheet for myself that I will complete on the first of each month. I uploaded a copy of the worksheet here:  http://www.growthink.com/InspiringLeader.pdf, so you can use it too. 

Just fill in the blanks and post it on your wall. If you see it every day, you are more likely to execute on it.

How Could This Possibly Happen to A Rock-Solid Company?

The conversation I had the other day started like many others I have with entrepreneurs.

"How can I help you?" I asked.

"I need money to grow my business," he said.

"So how far along is your business right now?" I replied.

Now, here is where things got a little strange.

In most cases, the entrepreneur says that they are just starting out. Or that they have been around for a year or two and have some customers and a nice revenue base.

But this entrepreneur responded, "Well, we're 7 years old and projected to do $120 million in revenue this year."

???  No, this was not the response I was expecting.

So, why does a company that's doing over $100 million in revenue need capital? To buy a competitor? To build market share since it's selling products at a loss?

While these are two valid reasons why more established companies constantly need capital, this company was actually very profitable and not looking for acquisitions.

So, why then did this company require capital?

Because it was growing too quickly and hadn't financially planned for that. You see, the company was manufacturing and selling products at a nice profit, but it needed to pay its manufacturing costs 90 to 120 days prior to when it received payment from its customers.

The result is a cash crunch.

The company has lots of outstanding orders. But it can't fulfill them since it can't lay out the cash to manufacture the goods. This is extremely frustrating for the entrepreneur, and potentially lethal (if customers decide to switch to a competitor).

Now, there are two key ways around this problem.

One, as discussed in Growthink's Definitive Guide to Creative & Alternative Financing Sources, is customer financing, whereby the customer pays for the product upfront or more quickly in return for some benefit (equity or price discounts).

The other is getting outside capital to solve the cash crunch.

The underlying issue here that you must understand is that "cash flow" is very different than "profitability."

Profitability compares your revenues to your costs. 

On the other hand, cash flow determines when, where and at what times cash is coming into and cash is leaving your company. And without proper cash flow projections, a fast growing company can find itself in big trouble. 

That's why it's critical that all companies, as part of their business planning process, prepare a Cash Flow Statement or forecast. And in fact, companies should prepare cash flow forecasts every month if not every quarter.

This is particularly important for companies who expect significant growth or those with seasonal sales fluctuations.

Your cash flow statement is roughly calculated as follows: Cash Flow From Operations minus Cash Invested in Equipment plus Cash Received from Outside Financing.

It gets a little more complicated than this, since Cash Flow From Operations includes things such as whether your accounts receivable (how much money you are owed from customers) is going up or down, etc.

So, the key takeaway is this - do NOT risk bankrupting or slowing the growth of your business because you don't forecast your cash flow statement every quarter or month.

If you need help, the financial model portion of Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template has a full, plug & play, financial model which includes your Income Statement, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement, so you can accurately project what your monthly cash flow will be. 

Importantly, this will ensure that you can get financing, as needed, well BEFORE the months when you need it (and not risk your company's future).

Here's the link to Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template -  http://www.growthink.com/products/business-plan-template.

Growthink on the Town: At the 2009 Inc. 500/5000 Conference


Why Every Entrepreneur Should Wear a Top Hat

Last week, I had the great honor of attending the annual Inc. 500/5000 Conference, which celebrates the fastest-growing companies in the United States.  Surrounded by the country's most inspired and innovative entrepreneurs, I was constantly amazed at what people can accomplish when they set their minds to it.  Truthfully, I took a look back at my life and career and thought, "Should I be doing more?  Am I inspiring others?"

It was a question that hung around me, like a text bubble in a cartoon, as I met and spoke with the many attendees, honorees, and sponsors at the event.  The answer came to me via multiple sources, interactions and conversations.    

The first of such was when I sat in a session hosted by Norm Brodsky, author of "The Knack", Inc. Magazine columnist, and notable entrepreneur.  For those who have yet to hear him speak, he's a cross between Mickey Rooney and Carl Reiner; so it's no wonder he's a dynamic CEO and writer.  One of his main credos in life is, "A smart person learns from his own mistakes; a wise person learns from the mistakes of others."  Brilliant.  As I applied this wisdom to my daily responsibilities with Growthink, I realized that it held an ultimate truth for ALL growing companies: analyze where competitors fall short or stumble, and make THEIR mistakes YOUR advantages.  In business planning, we do this all the time when we assess the competitive landscape: what can our clients do right, that predecessors did wrong?  By way of illuminating these insights for clients, I truly believe we help inspire them.  

While I was exiting the above discussion, a young man to my right looked at my name tag - which displayed Honoree, and said, "Congratulations."  Why did I have that moniker on my badge?  A compliment meant for Growthink Founders, Jay Turo and Dave Lavinsky, the designation let other attendees know that the company I represented was on the distinguished 500/5000 list.  Running into that same young man later - the founder of a recruiting firm - I learned that he aspires to be on one of the lists someday.  He humbly asked if he could send his business plan for review, to which I was very receptive and began speaking to him about his vision.  The fact that he was able to come to the conference and talk to people that were once where he is now, or who could help him set and achieve growth milestones, was something that he treasured.  Maybe one day, at another Inc. conference, I will see him again with Honoree on HIS name tag. Wouldn't that be something?

One of the most jaw-dropping moments of the conference was when Bob Williamson took the stage.  Serial entrepreneur and new author with "Miracle on Luckie Street", he came out to applause and started to speak about his experiences.  Jaws hit the floor when he admitted he arrived in Atlanta with only a few dollars, was homeless (living on Luckie St., no less), and began a rampage of drugs and felonies including heroin, crystal meth, dealing, armed robbery, stints in jail, and grand theft auto that led to a head-on collision and months in the hospital.  Long story short, he was an avid reader that discovered the Bible and - shortly after fully recovering - quit all vices cold turkey.  As we sat there, stunned, he brought the crowd to raucous laughter by admitting that "needless to say, [he] didn't have the greatest resume."

So why was he on that stage?  Well, he lied to get a job in the Glidden manufacturing plant and found a way to save them $50K on labels.  Several promotions, years, and companies later, he's a happily-married, soon-to-be great-grandfather who sold his last ground-up company for $75M.  

Whoa.  One thing is certain: I will never again pass judgment on anyone coming to Growthink for services.  

Can I do more?  Yes.  I can believe wholeheartedly in the people who rely upon the guidance of my company to make vital business decisions; and if, at any time, the road gets rough, I'll ask them, "Have you heard of Bob Williamson?"

The most memorable moment of the conference, however, was when U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke, spoke in the general session on Thursday afternoon.  He announced a new initiative by the Obama Administration that will surely motivate those starting and running small businesses, whether left, right or center: the creation of an Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.   Along with an Advisory Committee/Board, the Office will enable the incubation of new and growing companies across the nation via education and a network of support (follow the Tweets at seclocke).  Echoing the sentiments of the President, Mr. Locke infused the room with a sense of confidence and belief in entrepreneurs, now and in the future, and their ability to exponentially impact the economy, employment, and the generation of new ideas.  Looking around me, the room was alit with the knowledge that each of us - by way of being entrepreneurs or working WITH them - could make a significant difference.

Everything culminated with an awards ceremony and gala, where "Puttin' on the Ritz" was a celebrated notion and all Honorees approached the stage in recognition of their ranking on the 500/5000 lists.  As I accepted on behalf of Growthink, I commended Mr. Brodsky on his top hat; very fitting for such a festive occasion.  It made think of a time when fashion statements like this were the norm for an evening out. During the Great Depression, more businesses were created than ever before; many people lacked money, but what they didn't lack was ambition, tenacity, and a good top hat.  Why is that, do you think?  While I don't expect we'll see a chapeau resurgence, I do think it's a relevant and bittersweet analogy about succeeding when the economic odds are pitted against you.  

With that said, there were so many other speakers from whom I gleaned inspiration.  Not possessing time to write a novella, I will capture their respective wisdoms below while wishing each and every reader tremendous success built upon fortitude, courage, belief, and the ability to endure.

Scott Griffith, CEO of Zipcar: 7 Steps to Success
1) Get the business model RIGHT
2) Use information as a competitive advantage
3) Keep it simple
4) Create a value-based culture
5) Sell the steak, NOT the sizzle
6) Have a world view
7) Innovate yourself, along with the company

Norm Brodsky: "Build a business like you're going to be in business forever."

Bob Williamson: "Bigger is sometimes better, but PROFITABLE is always good!"

Jill Blashak-Strahan, Founder & CEO of Tastefully Simple: 3 Things to Remember
1) Just start (many times it's the 'start' that stops us)
2) Know where you're going (which doesn't mean you always know what you're DOING.  Dream it, believe it, work it)
3) Don't stop (don't get sucked into fear; fear is the gatekeeper to strength)

Herman Chinery-Hisse, "The Bill Gates of Africa": "Everyone saw Africa as a problem; I saw it as an opportunity."

Ray Anderson, author of "Confessions of a Radical Industrialist", on the mindset that transformed him and led to his polluting company evolving into a GREEN company: "If business and industry must lead, then WHO will lead business and industry?"

Jack Stack, author of "The Great Game of Business": "Operate your business, every day, as if you could GO OUT of business.  A little paranoia goes a long way." (Mr. Stack ran his companies profitably through TWO economic down-turns)

And finally, per Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com: I don't have the exact quote, but suffice it to say that anyone who travels to Las Vegas and wants to visit the Zappos  Corporate Office in Henderson,  will be picked up by a Zappos shuttle, given a guided tour, and driven back to their hotel. Talk about customer service! (Perhaps I could wrangle a pair of shoes out of it as well?)

I hope to see many of you at next year's conference.  In top hats, of course.


Lessons from Two Married Shrinks on a Bus


I just read this really interesting story about Dr. Doreen Orion in Psychology Today and wanted to share it with you.

Dr. Doreen Orion is a psychologist, as is her husband, Tim.

That's why she truly thought her husband was insane when he proposed that they give up everything and travel the country in a converted bus for a year.

But after two years of being nudged to do it, Dr. Orion finally gave in.

So, off they went around the country in their bus. And, during that time, they experienced it all... from a fire, a flood, an armed robbery and finding themselves in a nudist RV park.

Was it worth it?

According to Dr. Orion the answer is a whopping YES. In fact, enough so that she and her husband have decided to sell their home and live on their bus full-time.

So, what did she find? What did she learn?

Dr. Orion learned that "being comfortable" is not all that great. She said, "I hadn't understood how important it is to keep stretching myself, to keep trying new things. A certain spark I hadn't even known was missing suddenly came back into our lives."

The key for me is this -- it is the process of making yourself uncomfortable and stretching yourself when real personal growth and progress is made. As an entrepreneur, you MUST do things that make you uncomfortable. You can not let fear get the best of you.

Consider Johnny Carson who is well known for his severe stage fright. Fortunately that didn't stop him.

And consider the millions of great entrepreneurs who had the courage to develop their business plans and launch their business to the world.

Now, if you haven't truly launched your business, that is, if you haven't developed your business plan and raised capital (if needed for your business), then now is the time to do it.

And, to "make you an offer you can't refuse" (to borrow the line from the great mafia movies), until this Thursday at 5PM EST, I have a really special offer for you.

The offer is this:

For just $1, you can instantly download Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template and get a 14-day trial to GrowthinkUniversity.com

To learn more, and take us up on this $1 special offer, click the link below to watch a video that explains it all:


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Business Insurance Information for Emerging Growth Companies

The other day I was given a badly-needed, private webinar by John Moccia, Technology & Venture Capital Practice Leader at Rollins Insurance, which is a member of TechAssure.

John has been working with venture capital firms and emerging ventures for many years to make sure they are properly protected. And he was gracious enough to give me a private presentation (which we recorded as a video) regarding the insurance needs at the four key stages of an emerging company's lifecycle:

Stage 1 - Formation/R&D
Stage 2 - Growth Phase
Stage 3 - Mature Company/IPO
Stage 4 - Public/Fully Developed Company

I think all of you will find tons of value in this presentation, particularly as it relates to Stage 1 and Stage 2, where most of you currently are.

John went through each of the key types of insurance that entrepreneurs need during these phases. He discussed numerous types of insurance that you must be aware of, including:

• General Liability
• Property Coverage
• Business Interruption Coverage
• Workers Compensation & Disability
• Errors & Omissions
• Directors and Officers Liability
• Crime Coverage
• Global Companion Policy
• Employee Benefits including medical, dental, 401k, life and disability coverages
• Key Man Life Insurance

Importantly, John not only talked about what each of these insurance policies are, but he explained when you need them and when you don't, and gave great tips regarding finding the right insurance policies for your company (and what to look out for).

Now, I'll be the first to admit that buying insurance for your company is not the most important part of being an entrepreneur. But getting the right insurance is part of being a sophisticated entrepreneur.

And in fact, several types of insurance are required when reaching key milestones such as getting your first office, raising capital, and expanding geographically. So, it's important to understand the key insurance issues and plan accordingly.

You can watch the video below:

If you need to contact John or Rollins, his contact information is on the last slide of the video.

An Entrepreneur's Most Controllable Success Factor: An Interview with Dr. Basil Peters

The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing someone who I really admire - Dr. Basil Peters.

What I really like about Basil is that he's had success in so many positions. As an entrepreneur, he co-founded Nexus Engineering, which he grew to over 300 employees and sold to Scientific Atlanta.

He's also had success as a venture capitalist as CEO of the venture capital fund, BC Advantage Funds. And he is a successful angel investor, and co-founder and CEO of an angel fund called Fundamental Technologies II.

Basil also writes a blog on best practices for angel investors and entrepreneurs at www.AngelBlog.net and he is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Simon Fraser University where he spent 15 years as an Adjunct Professor of Engineering Sciences.

And finally, Basil is the author of a great book on exit strategies called Early Exits: Exit Strategies for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors.

So, with this wealth of experience, I knew that I would learn a ton from the interview, and more importantly, be able to pass on several nuggets of wisdom to other entrepreneurs.

And he delivered.

In fact, Basil made one statement during the interview that I've thought about nearly every day since we spoke. Here's what he said:

"...So I've come to believe that it's a law. I believe that successful entrepreneurs have mentors, and I also believe that it's the most controllable success factor - it's the single thing entrepreneurs can do that would dramatically improve their chances of success that they can control."

An entrepreneur's most controllable success factor. Those are pretty strong and pretty wise words. Let's think about this. From the perspective of a proven entrepreneur and investor, having a mentor is one of the smartest thing an entrepreneur can do to improve their chances of success.

And Basil told me that virtually every successful entrepreneur that he has met has had either a formal or informal mentor.

So, why wouldn't every entrepreneur have a mentor?

Let's start with me. I don't have a formal person that I call my mentor and who considers me their mentee.  But I have had several informal mentors. An uncle who's a successful business man. Mega successful Growthink clients (I define "mega successful" as having exited companies for $100 million or more) who I've worked very closely with for years. And professors who have taught me and answered my numerous questions over time.

Now for those of you entrepreneurs who do not have mentors, I'm going to give you a hard time....Let's go over some excuses you might have:

  • I don't have enough time
  • I'm afraid to ask a potential mentor for fear I might get rejected
  • I don't know who to ask to be a mentor

Unfortunately, none of these excuses are valid.

Finding a mentor shouldn't take all that much time, and this time will possibly have the greatest ROI of all your time investments.

Regarding fear of getting rejected, you'll simply have to overcome this. The fact is that you probably will get rejected by some potential mentors. That's ok. But you can't be afraid to ask. And to persevere until you find a great mentor.

Like everything else in entrepreneurship, rarely does your first effort work as planned. You need to persevere and keep trying.

Now finally, with regards to not knowing who to ask, I believe that any business person who has achieved success and who you respect and admire can make a great mentor.

Wow, 500 words so far, and I've only touched on one of Basil's great points. To get many other great insights from Dr. Basil Peters, listen to the interview.

Click below to hear excerpts from the interview:

To download the full interview and/or transcript click here.

The Greatest Stock Market Rally in History


Did you know that the current stock market rally, which has seen the S&P 500 rise over 54% from its low of 676 on March 9th, is the greatest in history

Lazlo Birinyi, founder of Birinyi Associates, notes that since March the S & P has risen 0.31%/day on average.

This is three times faster than the previous fastest recovery in 1982, which averaged an increase of 0.12% per day.

He calls it the "Usain Bolt of markets. We just blew through the records."

Tracking the uptick in the market has been rising consumer and economic confidence.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was up in August to its highest level since December 2007.

And the Discover Business Watch Small Business Confidence measure jumped last month to its highest level since February 2008.  


How to Take Advantage?

The problem is, of course, first determining if you've missed the rally, and then how to translate this improving business sentiment into opportunity for you.

For those of us that aren't Washington politicians or C-level executives of Fortune 500 companies, the best pathway to do so is via entrepreneurship and via involvement in private companies

But, and it is a very key but, you have to know what you're doing.  As the famous saying goes, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." 

Quite simply, when it comes to investing in private companies you must "do it right or don't do it at all." 


Best regards, and look forward to connecting.
Jay Turo
Growthink, Inc

Follow me on Twitter
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  P.S. There are 50% and more rallies every year in various private equity sectors. You just need to know where to look.

And before you start looking, you need to know what to look for.



Creative Business Financing: CNN Money Identifies Creative Financing Loophole

As a reader of my blog, I'm sure you're aware of my "Definitive Guide to Creative & Alternative Financing Sources."  The Guide presents 28 unique ways to raise money to start or grow your business.

I knew the Guide was really good (since it took me so long to create and since buyers have continually praised it), but I didn't know just how impactful it would be.

Well, a month ago, CNN found out about the Guide, and a CNN Money Reporter contacted me.

What resulted was a full story on ONE of my creative and alternative financing sources: customer financing.

You can read the article here: http://money.cnn.com/2009/09/08/smallbusiness/barnraising_a_business.fsb/

What I liked most about the article is that Helaine (the reporter) gave numerous examples of customer financings. This will hopefully give you more ideas on how customer financing might be right for your business.

If customer financing is not right for you, or if you want to tap 27 more unique and proven alternative and creative financing sources, download Growthink's "Definitive Guide to Creative & Alternative Financing Sources."


Who Will be the Next Billion Dollar Medical Device Company?


Medtronic. Cardinal Health. Guidant. Becton, Dickinson. St. Jude Medical. Hospira. Fresenius. Varian Medical.

All of these medical device manufacturers had greater than ONE BILLION DOLLARS in sales last year. 

Who Will be Next?

The great thing about this sector is that while the overall venture business is way down, medical device funding is BOOMING.

Firms poured $1.5 billion in 160 deals in the second quarter, up 47% over the prior quarter.  In fact, investments in life sciences companies made up 41% of all private venture funding last quarter.


Why Should You Care?

Is there money being made in the sector now - even in this tough economy? You bet your life there is. 

America's spending on healthcare will top $2.5 trillion this year alone, accounting for more than 17% of the nation's spending, and may double in the next decade. 

Medical devices account for more than $100 billion of this. 

Think of companies like device maker Vnus Medical, which Covidien just bought for $470 million - 4 times 2008 sales. 

And Danaher, the industrial conglomerate, made big moves in the sector by buying MDS's analytical-technologies business for $650 million.

Best regards, and look forward to connecting.

Jay Turo
Growthink, Inc

Follow me on Twitter
Join my network on LinkedIn

  P.S. Medical devices is a bright and hot sector in the midst of a mostly dismal technology investment climate.

Stop crying in your soup about how tough it is out there and do something about it.  


Raising Capital Through Lobbying: An Interview with Jack Burkman

I recently had the opportunity to interview Jack Burkman, the founder and president of Burkman Associates LLC.

You may have heard of Burkman since he appears frequently on ABC, CNBC, MSNBC, ESPN, and many other networks. He was also a former FOX News political analyst.

Jack Burkman has been raising capital for companies using an extremely rare technique - government lobbying.

According to Burkman, money for many types of companies can be raised from congress and government agencies (e.g., Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, etc.).
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