Growthink Blog

Monday Morning Entrepreneurship


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Last week, I wrote about the personal transformation I experienced at a very intense strategic advisory board session earlier this month.

And about how when the heat got turned up and all the pleasantries were stripped away, what was distilled were the real strategic, tactical, leadership, and management challenges that I and my company face.

It was one of those intensely memorable “crowded hours” of life and business that when in the midst of it, feels as if life and one’s perspective on it will never be the same again.

And then Monday morning comes.

And half your team is late for the meeting.

And that big prospect all of a sudden stops returning your calls.

And the e-mails stretch on for as far as the eye can see.

And all that great insight and momentum to think, act, and be “big” creeps down just a few critical notches.

So we start to ask – was all that hard and courageous work and introspection for naught?

For sure, the vast majority of businesspeople rarely if ever subject themselves to the white heat of a hard, intense and brutally honest strategic planning session and/or leadership assessment.

So those that do so automatically raise themselves into a far more exclusive, high growth mindsetted group.

But the great ones - when Monday morning comes - take that next crucial step.

They know that backsliding is the fatal entropy of business and must be fought and overcome daily.

And they understand that exceptions and let-downs anywhere so dangerously lead to exceptions and let-downs everywhere.

So when those “ah-ha” moments start to fade, as they inevitably do, catch yourself.

Stay true to your best self.  To your mission.

To those childhood imaginings of the possibility filled world that can be.

It is just that when you are all grown up that you have to look a little harder, dig a little deeper to keep them alive.

And, on Monday mornings, those that do…. 

Well, they are the brave, inspirational souls - in the famous words of Thomas Paine – who deserve the love and thanks of man and woman.


The Process of Entrepreneurial Improvement


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The so famous and always timely Gandhian creed of “be the change you seek in the world” is never more relevant than when it comes to what entrepreneurs must do to get better in order to lead profitable enterprises and to fulfill on the mission and promise of their organizations.
 
I experienced this first hand at my company’s quarterly advisory board meeting this past week.

While we are proud that Growthink’s revenues grew 30% in 2011, the complexity of our business model - with a mostly Internet marketing-based publishing “front-end” meshed with a strategic advisory and venture investing “back-end” - has long been a point of spirited discussion as to how to best organize and lead it.

And as the company’s CEO, I was unluckily (or luckily, depending on one's perspective), the focal point of the debate.
 
I was challenged by our board for, among other things, not clearly enough defining and measuring the business’ key metrics, to not delegating effectively and often enough, to leading in a too "cliché - driven" fashion, to not taking care of myself, to the simple but highly relevant feedback as to my moderation style of the board meeting itself!

The sessions were painful. They were discouraging. They were sometimes anger and soul-search inducing.

And they were wonderful.

It is way too rare in business and in life - especially as an entrepreneur attains a base level of success and/or as they get older - that they are truly challenged and called out on their shortcomings.

Rather, in our politically correct culture, the default is too often to take the “everyone gets a star on their forehead and trophy” approach.

While there is a LOT to say for a kudos - based company culture and leadership ethos, it has its drawbacks.

It can excuse lack of performance and it can lead to a false sense of “faux” accomplishment.

Most insidiously, lack of “tough love” can impede that creativity inducing state of introspection - and even depression - from which often flow breakthrough ideas and profound transformation.

Call them what you will, but these kinds of in-person business “interventions” can propel more strategic and professional growth than a countless thousand e-mails, tweets, texts, and status updates ever can.

Now, the flip-side is that the executive has to be open to this feedback and be fervently committed to an ongoing personal and professional growth mindset and approach.

You see, while life and business VERY occasionally give us savants with so much of the right leadership and management stuff that they succeed in a linear growth fashion, the vast majority of entrepreneurs learn to get better through failing and through crisis.

And in modern business, these crises almost always come unpredictably.

And they are sometimes of such a severity that while wisdom - inducing for sure can also be so debilitating as to impede forward progress for years.

Far more controllable and repeatable are the “manufactured” crises of a board meeting, of a strategic planning process, of a business coaching and mentoring dynamic.

Look for entrepreneurs that are open and expose themselves to these kinds of sessions regularly.

Even better, look for those that once given the goods on what they're doing wrong and why, go out and do something about it.

Like growing themselves and their organizations to all they can and should be.


The Lost Generation?


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Unable to build on numerous exhilarating rallies and hyper-sensitive to every geopolitical tremor, the US stock market ended 2011 right where it began it - with the S&P 500 Index at almost exactly (1257) where it started the year.

I guess that given the heart-wrenching volatility that we have all been subject to recently, a flat year should be considered progress.

The longer view, however, is far more disheartening.

When we consider that the S&P closed 1998 – 13 long years ago - at 1229, or within 2.2% of its 2011 close, we have all suffered through nothing less than a lost generation of investment return.

Think about it, a 1998 New Years baby is now a teenager.

The whole lifetime that is her childhood is a memory, yet that same girl's parents that began saving for her college education on that happy day of her birth, have not seen a penny of return on the money that they worked so hard to make and save.

This is discouraging to say the least.

Luckily, the New Year brings with it both the promise of things to come and the opportunity to "reset" old patterns of thoughts and action that no longer serve us.

And is there anything in business right now that more desperately needs a reset than how we think about making money on our money?

Now, for entrepreneurs, adding greatly to the challenge, is that in the natural hustle and bustle of growing a business what is so often overlooked is how a company’s business plan does or does not support the personal financial plans of the individual stakeholders that make up the company.

This is a tragic mistake – where the entrepreneur is so focused on the day-to-day running of the business that they neglect until it is too late how that business is or is not creating assets in exchange for the lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears poured into it.

Given that my company Growthink’s mission is to help entrepreneurs succeed, I consider this challenge so fundamental and the consequences of further failure so dire that in 2012 I am professionally resetting myself to focus on, above all else, benchmarking and sharing best practices in this regard.

Among other work, this will involve building on my now multi-year experience and inquiry into the brave new world of diversified, “Black Swan” based alternative investments.

Pioneered by innovators like Dave Lambert and Kevin Dick at Rightside Capital, this incredibly exciting arena allows entrepreneurs and investors the opportunity to time and cost effectively build risk managed portfolios of positions in early stage technology companies with "Google-esque” and "Facebook-eque" outlier return potential.

It is a strategy that the realities and the probabilities of 21st century business demand, and one that financial innovators are making available for the first time to Main Street investors.

I will also step up my featuring of the entrepreneurs that I have had the great fortune and pleasure to get to know and see succeed here at Growthink.

Men and women like Liam Brown, Rich Corell, Torfinn Johnsen, Vlad Lempert, and Katie Williams.

Because while “on average” these last 13 years might have been flat, during this same time an ultra-select corps of entrepreneurs have built incredibly valuable companies and have inspired us with their determination, their creativity, and their triumphs.

I look forward to sharing the best nuggets of their wisdom, and hope that all of us capture just a little bit of their special something.

2012 awaits - may it be the best year our entrepreneurial and investing lives.

Let’s make it so.


Obamafunding Will You Get Your Share?


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On Monday, President Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Bill. The bill provides $42 billion in loan incentives and tax cuts for entrepreneurs and small businesses.Obamafunding

Specifically, the Bill does a few important things:

1. The Bill increases the government guarantee on the SBA’s 7(a) loans to 90% through December 31.

Some explanation for some of you who are new to raising funding:

The SBA is the United States Small Business Administration. The SBA doesn’t lend money to entrepreneurs. Rather, local banks give out the loans, but the SBA guarantees a certain percentage of the loan amounts (so if the entrepreneur defaults on the loan, the SBA pays the bank 80% to 85% of the loan amount). With the new program, the guarantee is being raised to 90% which makes lending less risky to the banks.

The SBA’s 7(a) Loan Program is its primary program “to help start-up and existing small businesses obtain financing when they might not be eligible for business loans through normal lending channels.”

2. The Bill includes a new $30 billion lending fund that community banks can use to make loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses.

3. The Bill includes $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses.

Overall, this is great news to entrepreneurs and small businesses who gain 1) more access to funding, 2) better funding terms, and 3) tax breaks.

This is also positive news for the US economy, as entrepreneurs and small business owners have historically created the majority of jobs and job growth in our country.

(Note: Want to tap into this new funding from the Small Business Jobs Bill? Growthink’s Step by Step Guide to Raising Capital From Banks and SBA Lenders will teach you how to quickly and easily get the right SBA and/or bank loan to fund your business.)


Are You Chasing Rabbits?


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I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs.

RabbitsWhich I love to do. I love hearing cool, new ideas. I love hearing the passion. And I love figuring out how I can help them successfully go from point A to point B.

But one thing that frustrates me is seeing entrepreneurs making the same mistake over and over and over again.

And the biggest mistake I see is a lack of focus.

This lack of focus is best summed up by the ancient Chinese proverb -- “man who chases two rabbits catches neither.”

In other words, if you try to pursue two entrepreneurial ideas, both will most likely elude you.

And I hear this all the time. Budding entrepreneurs telling me about their great idea. And then a moment later saying, “Oh…I have one other idea that I’m working on that I need to tell you about.”

I don’t usually say the Chinese proverb here, but I give my own line. Which is, “If you try to do 2 things, maybe you can do a B+ job at both.  But in today’s competitive market place, you need to do an A or A+ job to succeed. And to do that kind of job, you need to focus on just one opportunity.”

The Chinese version is better.

As an entrepreneur, you are inherently creative. If you haven’t launched your first venture, you must pick just one opportunity. Brainstorm and write down all of your ideas. And then judge them and figure out the one you want to pursue.

And once you decide you want to pursue that idea, forget the rest. Use all your creativity and brainstorming power on that one idea. Use it to figure out creative marketing plans, unique financing ideas, and ways to best lead your organization.

Entrepreneurs by definition work in a resource constrained environment (if resources weren’t constrained, the entrepreneurs would be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company). So, when resources are constrained, you can’t possibly divide the few resources you have into multiple opportunities. Rather, you absolutely must focus on just one opportunity, and put everything you have into achieving it.

So, make sure you focus all of your efforts on just one opportunity. And once you achieve success with that opportunity, you can focus on your other ideas and opportunities.


Jumping Off the High Diving Board


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Last weekend, friends of ours invited me and my family to their country club.

It was a beautiful club, and unlike other clubs in the area, had a big lake where everyone swam.

But immediately after gazing at the beauty of the lake, something else caught my eye.
High Dive Board
An old high diving board. I mean a really high one.

I knew my kids saw it too, so I turned to see their reactions.

My 8-year old daughter had a very calm reaction; for there was no way in her mind that she was going to jump off the board.

My 10-year old son, on the other hand, looked excited and nervous at the same time. Since he was already contemplating his dilemma.....jumping off it would be fun...but really scary.

As entrepreneurs, jumping off the high diving board is something we must do quite often. Sure, we are not physically climbing up a ladder and jumping into a pool of water. But we must often do things that are out of our comfort zone if we want to succeed.

What are some of these entrepreneurial “high dive” moments?

1. Starting your business plan. The first step in starting a business is always the hardest. It’s committing to yourself that you’re really going to go out on your own. Most folks dream about having their own company. But the first real step is putting your business idea down on paper as a business plan. (Note: for help with your business plan, watch this video.)

2. Getting advisors. When I interviewed Dr. Basil Peters, he told me that getting mentors and advisors is an entrepreneur's most controllable success factor. Yet, many entrepreneurs are afraid to find and ask advisors for help. Maybe it’s the fear of uncovering what we don’t know, or the fear of people we respect disagreeing with some of our ideas or assumptions. But if you want to succeed, you need these expert opinions and guidance.

3. Talking to customers. Many entrepreneurs don’t speak to their customers early enough. They come up with ideas that they think will work. But they don’t ask prospective customers if they will buy the products. Likewise, even when entrepreneurs successfully sell to customers, they are often fearful of asking for referrals.

4. Meeting with investors. A final entrepreneurial “high dive” moment that I wanted to mention is meeting with investors. This legitimately can be very frightening…it’s scary when you’re telling others about your entrepreneurial baby who have the ability to make (by funding you) or break you (by not funding you). Worse yet is the potential of the investors to be totally under-whelmed by you and/or your idea to an extent that you have to go back to the drawing board. (Note: to make sure you make every investor meeting a success, watch this video.)

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” So jump off that high dive board, and achieve the success you deserve.

And as for my son….his first trip up the high dive ladder was slow and methodical. Then he stood at the edge of the board and thought for a while before his first jump.

After the jump, everything changed. When his head first emerged from the water, he had an enormous smile of joy, satisfaction and pride that he had faced his fears. And he must have gone off the diving board 20 more times after that!!!


Divide & Conquer


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My 10 year old son and 8-year old daughter tend to get along pretty well.

But, there's still times where they're at each others' throats.

The other day was one of those days.

So, my wife and I used our usual plan - divide and conquer.

The divide and conquer plan is pretty simple. She takes one of the kids. And I take the other.

The fighting stops instantly as our kids are separated, and each of our kids gets one-on-one time with one of their parents.

Now, even though we prefer to do things as a whole family, the plan works great. And either later that day, or the next day, we'll regroup and do something as a complete family.

The divide and conquer plan can also be used in your business. For example, clearly there are times when your whole company should meet to form company-wide bonds.

But many other times, you, as the leader, should divide. For example, you should spend time just with your marketing team. That team will then feel special. They will not be jockeying for attention against other parts of the company.

And you can use this time to really focus on that one area. To improve it. To set metrics for the team to perform against.

The leaders of sports teams divide and conquer all the time. A typical professional football coach will do lots of drills with his complete team. And then, like a business, will separate into functional areas led by specific coaches; like the linebackers coach, the wide receivers coach, the quarterbacks coach, and so on.

And then the head coach will circulate among each of these functional areas to add value, support them, and make sure they are getting in position to help the entire organization perform the best it can.

Divide and conquer is also a great technique if your business faces multiple challenges. It is typically most effective to overcome one challenge at a time. While multi-tasking often makes us feel that we are being productive, it often backfires with key tasks not getting done as quickly as they should.

So make sure that you constantly divide or separate your business challenges and functional areas, and conquer or devote the required time to nurture and solve them.


The Good & Bad Results From My Hatchwise Project


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Last week I was finishing up the development of a new money raising product about Crowdfunding (an extremely exciting new way to fund any company).

I wanted to have a logo designed for the product, so on a friend’s advice, I decided to try Hatchwise.com.

Hatchwise.com is very cool. You go to the site and set up a “contest” to get your logo designed. It asks you a few basic questions (name on your logo, what the product/service is, who your target audience is, etc.) and then your contest begins.

The contest works like this: graphic designers from around the world read your design brief (the questions you answered) and submit logos to try and win your contest.

What's so cool is that you get to see the designs before you select the final designer and pay for it. So you know exactly what you are getting first. And you typically end up seeing lots of interesting designs.

You can see a sample of the logos that were submitted in my contest below. Click here or on the image to go to the full page on Hatchwise.com.

Hatchwise

Now what I also really like about Hatchwise is that in addition to graphic design projects (which can include logos, websites, brochures, etc.), you can use it for NAMING new products.

Specifically, if you have an idea for a company name or a product/service name, you can submit the general idea to Hatchwise, and members will submit to you potential names and logos. And, they’ll even make sure the domain names are available for you.

This is really cool.

But, the last part (making sure the domain names are available for you) is something I want you to be aware of as this is where I got burned.

You see, if you look at my design contest again, you’ll see that the name of my Crowdfunding product WAS Crowdfunding Secrets.

Well, when I soon launch that product, it’s not going to be called Crowdfunding Secrets. That’s because, I didn’t decide to reserve the domain CrowdfundingSecrets.com until a few days AFTER my contest.

And what did I find? Someone who had seen my contest reserved that domain so I either had to pay them a premium to buy it or not use it.

Very frustrating.

Fortunately, the buyer/domain squatter probably didn’t even know what Crowdfunding was or realize that Crowdfunding is a brand new field.

So, there’s tons of Crowdfunding domains to choose from (so I just changed the product name to Crowdfunding Formula and the domain to CrowdfundingFormula.com).

But I want to make sure you understand this lesson – if you post anything about your future products or company online, make sure you have already reserved any domain names you may want. Because someone else could steal your name from you.

Not cool…but it happened to me…


Big Smiles = Big Entrepreneurship Lesson


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Look at this picture:

Last Day of School

Those are pretty big smiles don't ya think?

Well, those are my kids. And the reason they are smiling so much is that today is their last day of school.

Do you remember how you used to feel on the last day of school. I do. I clearly remember how good it felt. Knowing that I was done with whatever grade I was in. And that I had the long, fun summer to look forward to.

So, why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to think about the last time you felt this way in your business.

When was the last time you were really excited after accomplishing a goal. Enough so that you really celebrated and relaxed for at least a day or two after accomplishing it.

As an entrepreneur, too many times it's go go go.

We must all slow down sometimes to enjoy life. We need to enjoy the journey of becoming a successful entrepreneur.

To do this, you need to constantly be setting goals for yourself. Annual goals, quarterly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals and daily goals.

And for certain goals, after you achieve them, you should reward yourself.

Sometimes the reward might be as small as giving yourself a coffee break or a piece of candy.

At other times, a weekend away or a day off makes sense.

But you must achieve pre-set goals, and you must reward yourself. That makes the journey fun and enjoyable. And it ensures that you continue to make progress towards completing your journey and entering the land of the outrageously successful entrepreneur.

A fair portion of “Productivity Secrets for Entrepreneurs: How to Get More Done, Make More Money and Take More Time Off" discusses the importance of goal setting and rewards for you and your employees. It teaches you to set the right goals and achieve a whole lot more. Learn more here.


8 Rules for Making Your Meetings More Productive


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When I started Growthink over a decade ago, I thought I knew more about management then I did.

One of the things I clearly did wrong was running meetings. Looking back, it pains me to think of the literally hundreds of hours lost on inefficient meetings.

Fortunately, over the years, my team and I have read and tried pretty much every technique for making meetings more efficient, and boiled it down to just 8 essential rules.

Following them will make you and your team MUCH more productive. Here's my list of the 8 rules:

1. Start on time. If 3 people wait an average of 2 minutes per meeting for the fourth to arrive, that adds up to hours of lost productivity over the year. It's also extremely frustrating, and starting a meeting in a state of frustration kills creativity.

2. Have a written agenda. Ideally circulate your agenda 24 hours in advance of the meeting so that you and all the participants are as prepared as possible.

3. Everyone must participate. In meetings you want to encourage all viewpoints so you can make the best decisions. So get everyone involved.

4. Stick to a schedule. The entire meeting and each agenda item must have a time limit.  If an individual agenda item goes long, revisit it at the end of the meeting (if there's time), or schedule another meeting to discuss it. The discussion for each agenda item should end only when specific action item(s) have been determined, written down, and assigned.

5. Stay on topic. While it's ok to go off on an occasional tangent, you must guide the discussion back on topic. The agenda and time limits will help with this.

6. Don't hold unnecessary meetings. If you have trouble creating the agenda (in that there's nothing too important to discuss), it might mean that you shouldn't hold the meeting in the first place.

7. End meetings with complete clarity regarding the key action items and who will complete them. This is key. Coming up with great ideas during a meeting is meaningless, unless those ideas are documented and assigned to individuals to execute on.

8. Improve. Every five or ten meetings, get feedback from your group regarding ways to improve how your meetings are run.

These 8 rules will make your meetings more productive, and you and your team will accomplish much more and be much more successful!

For tons of other productivity tips and tactics, check out my Productivity Secrets for Entrepreneurs here.


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