Growthink Blog

The Three Year Plan


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December is a natural time to reflect upon the accomplishments of the past 12 months, and to set goals and objectives for the New Year.

In doing so however, most of us think too much about next year, and too little about our longer term and multi-year business horizons.

There are some benefits to this, I mean who can really forecast market and competitive conditions and customer wants and needs beyond just a few months these days?

And, given high rates of personnel turnover endemic to our ever-increasing “low switching cost” workplace, it can feel even more difficult to do so from a “bottoms-up” resource and organizational chart basis.

But forecast we must.

Because it is only through thinking and planning long-term that we access the reflective cores of our minds and spirits to “come up with” breakthrough business ideas simply inaccessible from the “reactive” present.

Ideas like:

•    How to better leverage our company’s intellectual and brand assets to develop new products and services
•    How to lay the ground work for new marketing campaigns, targeting new customers in new markets (with more favorable competitive conditions)
•    How to expand globally
•    Rethinking our companies’ organizational charts (and rewriting job descriptions)
•    How to access outsourced and virtual pools of human talent to scale quicker and more cost-effectively
•   Re-languaging our organizations’ value propositions (More pithily describing the features and benefits of our product and service offerings)
•    Redrafting our mission and vision statements (and by so doing re-motivating and re-focusing ourselves and our organizations)
•   And perhaps most importantly, defining with a laser like precision The Exit Plan for our organizations and for everyone in it (and getting out of No Man’s Land!)

Figuring out how to pursue opportunities and how to overcome challenges like these is almost always best done with a Start at the End approach: visioning out to the future and working backward from there.

How far to look out? I think Three Years is best.

It is long enough to get to that space of the “unbounded future” (reflect on being three years older than you are right now), while being short enough that the projects and action items arrived at very much need to be “gotten after” right away.

So, let’s all use this special time of year to reflect longer term on our more idealistic and on our bigger opportunities…

…the pursuit of which will transform our sometimes humble and prosaic day-to-day work into something far more profound.

A legacy.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!


As a Business, Having it All This Holiday Season!


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Why not truly have it all this holiday season?

Spend great time with family and friends and enjoy the blessings of the season that those that work hard in building and leading businesses so richly deserve….

…while developing a steely resolve and a solid plan to profit from the awesome opportunities and possibilities that the New Year is sure to bring.

Here are seven ideas on how to really have our cake and eating it too these next few weeks.

#7. Complete 2014. Before the New Year can truly be started, the old one needs to be closed out.

For sure, this often involves administrative, accounting, and other practical matters.

But it also means appreciating the accomplishments and the victories of the past 12 months, and fully mourning the things not done and the defeats.

Celebrations, in the form of holiday parties and travel and technology “sabbaticals” (Getting off the grid!) are great ways to do both. Quite simply, the benefits of taking the time to "sharpen the saw" through closure should not be underestimated.

#6. Stop the Beeps! Every year it gets more difficult to find the "Signals in the Noise" and distinguish frenetic activity from actual accomplishment.

The sometime melancholic end-of-year energy is tailor-made for taking stock, reconnecting with the mission and vision of one’s enterprise, and reflecting on where we wish to go in the New Year.
 
So like they say now at the movie theater before the start of every film, this holiday season when those never ending texts and e-mails hit, respond with a deep breath and say "It Can Wait."

5. Get Data. Reflection and a mission-focused mindset are great, but when combined with data-driven decision making, real business magic happens.

Proof of this will come to many of us in the next few weeks in the form of a little (or hopefully big!) brown box. From Amazon.com.

A company that has built an ecommerce empire nonpareil by combining an overriding mission on the needs and wants of the customer with an otherworldly command of its business data and analytics.

Be like them.

#4. Get Help. This is a golden age of advisory firms that help organizations of all types and sizes find and follow their best and most profitable paths.

The best advisors now combine the complementary aspects of the “CEO Whisperer” approach with the technology - enhanced strategic planning disciplines of traditional management consulting (McKinsey, Bain, BCG, et al).

Just like the best coaches help the best athletes run faster, so do great advisors help organizations succeed more and better than the competition.

#3. No False Choices! False choices are “logical fallacies that involve situations in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional options.”

And for many entrepreneurs and executives around the holiday season, false choices abound.

Like business or family - very many of the most successful entrepreneurs and executives have more than enough time and energy for both.

Like ethics or winning - in our completely transparent Yelp, Reseller Ratings, BBB online world of ours in the short term some folks may “get away with it” but in the long run only the ethical survive and win.

#2. Think Big!

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work."
                                                                            -    Daniel Hudson Burnham

A fresh, open and inviting year is about to be left in all of our care.

Why not do something big and grand and great with it?

In so many ways, all great breakthroughs have, as their original seed, a childhood imagining.

Let's use this time of year to re-connect with the sense of awe and wonder of our youth.

And to dream about doing and being something far bigger than we have ever before.

#1. Focus on Opportunities NOT Problems. My favorite of Peter Drucker's Eight Practices of highly effective executives is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves.

Focusing less on what we don't have and what we can't do, and more on what we can and will.

We live in the most magical, global business opportunities – filled time in human history.

Let's go out and grab them!

Why not us? And why not now?

Let's do this!


Breaking Free of No Man’s Land


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I met this week with partners from the Newport Board - an organization of former CEOs and senior executives that "guides companies through No Man's LandTM" - that unfortunate place where the vast majority of businesses eventually settle…

…doing well enough to press on but not even close to being either a) a source of significant cash flow for its owners or b) an attractive acquisition candidate for a strategic or financial buyer.

Companies stuck here face a daunting array of vexing business challenges, described well by Newport Board partner Ferey Feridian as the “Four M’s” - Money, Management, Model, and Marketplace.

Breaking free of No Man’s Land requires getting all four of these right.

Money. Most small and mid-sized businesses fight an ongoing, Sisyphean battle with money - pushing the cash flow boulder up the hill month after month, only to see payrolls, rents, insurance, materials and marketing & sales expenses drag bank balances down again and again.

Losing at the money game, however, is almost always a symptom of deeper problems than a cause in itself.

So when money problems arise, usually the best thing is to not focus on them but rather to confront their root cause, which almost always can be found in one of the remaining 3 “M’s” below.

Management. As described in my The Living Company post, in the end, a business is simply a “Collection of Humans” temporarily united toward a common cause.

As such, the “productive vitality” of the relationships between these humans is the most important indicator of its ultimate success, and can be well measured by answers to the questions below:

1.    Would / do the people in the company recommend it as a great place to work?
2.    Would / do true leaders view it as a place where they can build their careers / make their mark?
3.    Does a productive camaraderie exist in the organization such that that those within it do more and better work than without?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then a hard and sober look at the company's management and leadership is required (And, in all likelihood, the problem starts and ends right at the top).

Model (Business). I had the great fortune recently to lead a change management assignment for a large, urban hospital here in Los Angeles where Mr. Charlie Munger - Warren Buffet's famed partner at Berkshire Hathaway – is Executive Chairman.

Mr. Munger's philosophy and credos were well steeped in the organization, of them my favorite was that for Mr. Munger all businesses – no matter the size, industry, or focus – could be evaluated as to their answer to one question, namely:

"Does the business consistently deliver high quality at low cost no matter the field of endeavor?"

Honestly measuring how one’s company ranks on this cost / quality spectrum relative to competition is a great predictor as to its long term success.

Marketplace. Following on Mr. Munger's wisdoms, try on one of Warren Buffet's most famous quotes:

“When an industry with a reputation for difficult economics meets a manager with a reputation for excellence, it is usually the industry that keeps its reputation intact."

Now, when it comes to industry and market analysis, most small and medium-sized companies undertake it anecdotally, if at all.

An investment of time and resources which almost universally yields a high ROI is to have an outside research firm undertake for the business a formal industry, competitive, market, and customer analysis.

It is almost impossible to pay too much for such work, as helping managers gain stronger focus as to what their right market positioning is (and what it is not!) is worth its weight in something far more precious than gold, opportunity cost.

Money. Management. Model. Marketplace.

Successful businesses get the last three right and the first naturally follows.

Advisory groups like the Newport Board work with CEOs to get them right faster.

And, as they do, companies break free of No Man’s Land and recapture the promise and excitement of the business' earliest days, but now with the cash flows and equity value that makes all of the hard work worthwhile.


The Power of NON Disclosure


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Every day I see entrepreneurs trying to find that right balance between keeping their intellectual property and business models confidential while sharing and promoting themselves to the investors, partners, and customers whose interest they so very much need to pique.

My bias generally falls strongly on the side of transparency - both because it is a virtue unto itself - and because it takes a lot of effort in our “everything end up on the Internet for all to see” age to truly maintain confidentiality.

However, I have a more fundamental reason why I generally advise entrepreneurs and investors not to worry all that much about confidentiality.

Supply and demand.

Quite simply, there very few entrepreneurs out there with the “right stuff” to actually build profitable businesses.

And those that have it are on balance, either too busy, too rich, and/or my favorite just too ethical and decent that 999 times out of 1,000 as opposed to the problem being someone of substance stealing a business idea, that the far more likely reality is a vast and unrelenting sea of apathy toward it.

Now, this does not mean that there is no place for confidentiality in modern business.

But the reason why it is important is usually more subtle than the fear of idea theft.

You see, for the vast majority of companies without eight figure+ R & D budgets, the reason why confidentiality is important has to do with the under-appreciated context of mystique.

Oxford defines mystique as "a fascinating aura of mystery, awe, and power surrounding someone or something."

I would combine this definition with one of my favorite lessons from my long ago MBA marketing class - namely that in a modern marketplace there is zero difference between "actual" and "perceived" value.

So, in these contexts, the value of non-disclosure derives not so much from the threat of a nefarious competitor stealing an idea as it does from how the aura of confidentiality bestows on an idea that “fascinating aura” that draws people and resources to it.

And from this aura flow many wonderful things: brand equity, pricing power, and marketing effectiveness being chief among them.

Now for those who say that this is quite the cynical view of things, I would encourage them for the next seven days to not take in any entertainment media - no movies nor television nor Internet - nor to appreciate the lovely design of an iPhone, and certainly to not gaze fondly on an elegantly dressed and coiffed woman or man.

In other words, to suffer for just one week like the terribly poor, extraordinarily unfortunate and very mystique - deprived people of North Korea must unconscionably suffer through every day of their lives.

And then come back and tell me that mystique doesn’t matter.

So let’s appreciate mystique - that beautiful elixir of the modern marketplace – for its own sake as the incredible gift and blessing it is.

And as marketers, as salespeople, as product designers, as entrepreneurs let’s gracefully use confidentiality and discretion to help create it.


Does Anybody Read Business Plans Anymore?


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It is hard not to laugh when I hear tired old refrains like "Nobody reads business plans anymore" or "In a world of lean startups, there is no time for strategic planning."

Why do otherwise intelligent and well-meaning businesspeople say and think things like this?

Well, for starters as human beings we all struggle to emotionally grasp the impact of the history not made, of the things that don't happen.

You see, poor strategy does not manifest itself as much in high profile flame-outs as perhaps it did in days of yore (see Pets.com, eToys, etc.) as it does in nothing of note ever being accomplished.

As in companies that grow slowly, if at all.

And make no profits.

And are led by entrepreneurs whose talent and work ethic doesn’t translate into the kind of pay and lifestyle they seemingly deserve.

Missed opportunities, lost years, unrewarded work.

These are the real but hidden costs of poor strategy.

Now, the other big misconception around strategic plans is confusing the “form of deliverable” with the process itself.

Again, this is a case where otherwise smart and well-meaning businesspeople make an obvious, but critical error: They equate the plan with a physical document.

And when done poorly, more often than not a document that is only tangentially connected to the “real business” it supposedly represents.

Now, the good news is that the literature is filled with great best practices - tested over thousands of businesses - as to how to lead strategic planning processes that are connected to the actual marketing, sales, operations, and finances of a company.

Even better news: Inexpensive, effective, and everywhere accessible business software-as-services are connecting the dots between “big” strategy and the “small” to do’s, tactics and action items at the living, breathing heart of a business.

Tools like CapitalIQ, Simplycast, The Resumator, Box, Grasshopper, Wufoo, Smarsh, IfByPhone, SnapEngage, Docusign, Hootsuite, Infusionsoft, and Interspire that automate traditionally laborious and repetitive business functions.

This is where 21st Century Strategy lives.

Now, as for those who prefer to cling to their tired clichés, well I guess they can always reminisce about how things were back in the 20th Century.

But for those who need more than nostalgia to sustain them, there has never been a better time to win by doing strategy right.

P.S. Like to demo our dashboard offering? Then Click Here to learn more.


The Living Company


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I had a good fortune this past week to moderate a strategic planning session with the CEOs of seven of the largest and most well respected highway construction firms in the country.

These thoughtful executives meet on a regular basis to share strategies and best practices, to compare notes on equipment and technology systems, on asset and equipment management and perhaps more than anything else on leadership, management, and the “people” development within their organizations.

Above all else, it was the conversations around this last point that struck me as to why these executives led companies that, on average, had been in business for more than 60 years – pivoting and weathering various and multiple storms in their notoriously cyclical industry where the overwhelming majority of their competitors had not.

The discussion brought to mind one of the greatest and most under-rated business books of all time – Arie de Geus’ The Living Company, where the author shares a lifetime of research and study as to why some companies and organizations “live…through the upheaval of change and competition over the long haul.”

As de Geus’ so eloquently writes:

The idea of a living company isn't just a semantic or academic issue. It has enormous practical, day-to-day implications for managers. It means that, in a world that changes massively, many times…you need to involve people in the continued development of the company. The amount that people care, trust, and engage themselves at work has not only a direct effect on the bottom line, but the most direct effect, of any factor, on your company's expected lifespan. The fact that many managers ignore this imperative is one of the great tragedies of our times.

This inspirational and almost idealistic point may seem contestable in our age so dominated by tech high-flyers that seem to have gained their prominence through such a powerful combination of IP prowess, network effect, and first-mover advantage that really any company culture and any collection of reasonably talented individuals could run them well.

For a short time, maybe yes.

But to sustain themselves over periods measured in decades, to transition leadership and management through a generation (at the meeting I moderated, there were two third generation businesses, and one fourth generation one) requires a robust, flexible, and truly “living” culture.

And that in turn requires something we don't talk nearly enough about in business anymore – leadership.

The kind of leadership that once was the obvious expectation for persons granted the blessing and privilege of being at the head of an organization of any size.

The type of leadership that does not sacrifice the long-term for the sake of the short-term.

The type leadership whose goal is not “an exit,” but rather a contribution - to shareholders, to employees, to customers, to community.

Leadership that knows that a handshake and one's word is a far better and more appropriate form of agreement between gentlemen and gentlewomen than a contract can ever be.

And leadership that recognizes that to survive and prosper through four generations is both an amazing accomplishment, and a charge to keep.

The charge to not only match the good and hard work of those that have gone before us.

But given the opportunities afforded by our technological and global age, to far exceed them.

In growth and profits, absolutely.

But, in character, principle, and doing the right thing too.


Exploring Big Data and Executive Dashboards [Webinar Invitation]


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In my posts over the past few weeks, I have talked about the power of business intelligence dashboards, and why companies that use them enjoy triple the revenue growth and double the profit growth of companies that don’t.

This is driven by the simple two facts that a) businesses today collect more data than ever before and b) wading through and making sense of it all is overwhelming as this data is collected and stored in multiple locations, including in CRM and ERP systems, in accounting software, in advertising and marketing platforms, in social media sites, and so on.

So it is the executives who quickly access this data - and connect the dots between it all - that incrementally but inexorably make better strategic and tactical decisions, gain competitive advantage, and win.

Webinar Invitation

Intrigued, but not sure exactly how an executive dashboard would work for your business?
 
If so, you’ve come to the right place, because my team and I have created a special webinar where I share best practices as to how today’s best run companies use executive dashboards to:

•    Identify the most important business metrics to track
•    Develop real-time visibility into their organizations
•    Improve employee performance
•    Make more intelligent business decisions
•    And ultimately grow sales and profits

Importantly, this webinar will neither be an academic lecture nor a sales pitch in disguise.  Rather, it will be an intense hands-on workshop where I will share key tips and tactics as to how to harness the power of executive dashboards in your business right away to grow revenues and make more money - while working less and having more fun.

Sign Up Now

Note that to promote interaction, we are limiting this program to no more than 35 attendees. So click below to register before the spots fill up!

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/452495706

Look forward to your attendance!


Finding the Signals in the Noise?


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Last week, I shared why business intelligence dashboards are now a must have for executives seeking to better understand, leverage, and ultimately profit from the treasure troves of data surrounding their businesses.

This data includes insight from their companies’ web and social media traffic, from its e-mail send and open rates, from its lead tracking systems and sales logs, from its product fulfillment records, and from its accounting software as it records revenues, expenses, and cash flows.

Pretty basic stuff, eh?

Well, maybe when viewed one source at a time, and/or over a limited time period with just a few data points, but given that a business doing as little as $1 million in revenues now has on average more than 20 data sources – from software services like Google Analytics, Salesforce, Quickbooks, ZenDesk, to dozens of Excel files and spreadsheets of every type and purpose, figuring what to do with it all quickly gets overwhelming.

And in business, when something gets overwhelming, what happens?

Nothing.

Yes, all of these treasure troves of data, insight, and intelligence just gets ignored.

Reports aren’t run. Or when they are run, they aren't read.

And when they are read, they are not really mined for insight, for “aha” moments and breakthroughs, for competitive advantage.

This sad state of affairs is the unfortunate reality for most executives in this information-overloaded business world of ours.

But not for everybody.

There are a select few that as opposed to being overwhelmed, are energized by all of this precious and unprecedented data.

That use it to both inform and confirm their "gut."

And when the data and their guts disagree? Well, more often than not they let the data hold the trump card.

These executives worship at the altars of both big and little things.

Big things like strategy, mission, vision, values, and culture.

But little things too like form conversion stats, proposal close ratios, page bounce rates, call hold times, quick ratios, and net margin growth to name a few.

How do they do it?

Well, first per the above, they have a functional relationship with data. They don’t whine about it nor are they consumed with how much of it there is.

And secondly, they don’t try to sift through and make sense of it by themselves.

They let technology do a lot of work for them. Both predictive analytics technologies like Civis, Kxen, Foresee, Angoss, and Verisium.

And strategic and business intelligence dashboard technologies like Domo, Pentaho, Birst, GoodData, and my firm Guiding Metrics.

Technologies that find the signals in the noise, and that help them win both the big and little games of modern business.

So now, how about you?

To Your Success,


--

Jay Turo

CEO

Growthink

P.S. Like to demo our dashboard offering? Then Click Here to learn more.


Why NOT Manage by Data?


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Last week, I wrote about the power of business intelligence dashboards.

How, for the first time, smaller businesses can harness the power of big data to more efficiently and profitably manage their companies.

Some readers expressed skepticism that this "stuff" actually works.  

That it is just more "noise” that causes entrepreneurs to get “lost in the weeds” versus long-term thinking and planning.

There is some truth to this.

Heck, “Big Data” at its worst is probably best personified by Wall Street “quant jocks” who equate positive expected value "bets" with larger, more foundational truths of right and wrong, and of good and bad.

To these concerns, let me offer a few suggestions as to how to best utilize business data to support, but not drive, leadership and managerial decision-making.

The first point is that for the vast majority of small businesses “getting lost” in the data is the least of their concerns.
 
A far bigger one is simply analyzing anything more than the barest minimum of balance sheet - "i.e. How much money is in the bank?" and profit and loss statement - i.e. “What were our sales last month?” data.

And when broader data, like the number of incoming leads, sales proposals, average call hold time, marketing spend per action, e-mail open and click-through rates, is analyzed…

…so much of it is either incomplete or just flat-out incorrect to make doing so an exercise in futility.

AND the data that is complete and accurate sits in so many places, Excel worksheets on the sales manager's computer, deep in a little understood (and used) CRM, in the reporting functionality of software as services like Grasshopper, IfByPhone, Constant Contact and Google Analytics to name just a few…

…that a way too high percentage of the time and energy set aside to analyze it is outright wasted in simply accessing the reports from the data sources that house it!

The simple answer to these challenges is to utilize a best-of-breed business intelligence dashboard that:

•    Automatically collects and updates all the data in one easy to access place;
•    Has alerts built-in to flag incomplete or way-out-out-the ordinary data; and,
•    Is arranged and presented in a visual and formatted way that works for the executive reviewing it.

But it goes deeper than this.
 
You see, leading and managing a business based on proper data collection and analysis is no longer a choice - it is a necessity. 

Because all of our best competitors are doing it.

And doing so along with proper and appropriate strategic repositioning as the consistent and correct interpretation of the data allows, affords, and demands.

Or, as David Byrne of the Talking heads once so famously said “This ain't no party…this ain't no disco…this ain't no fooling around. “

You see, when it comes to data-driven decision-making, it has become a matter of going big or staying home.

As in admitting that one is really not that serious about growing and sustaining a business of lasting value - one agile enough to adapt and evolve in the face of technological and marketplace change, and of competitive threat.

Now, I don't believe this.

No, the best entrepreneurs I know are as serious as they can be about not just surviving but thriving in this massively opportunity-filled world of ours.

Just take it one step, one click, one API integration at a time.

Sooner than you think, your business will be running more responsively, more nimbly than ever.

Then watch the profits follow.

To Your Success,

P.S. Like to demo our dashboard offering? Then Click Here to learn more.


What Happens when Big Data Meets a Little Strategy?


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Last week, in Las Vegas I had the opportunity to participate in a 2 - day “Mastermind-type” strategic session with a gathering of technology and Internet entrepreneurs and executives from around the globe.

It was an impressive group - leaders of companies with average sales of $8 million and competing and prospering in industries than run the gamut - from consumer products, to healthcare IT, to energy and entertainment, to mobile apps and wearable technologies, to real estate, and more.

To those who have never participated in a business mastermind, you don’t know what you’re missing! Originally conceived by legendary personal development guru Napoleon Hill, a Mastermind is a gathering of like-minded professionals that meet regularly and over time develop a productive and high-trust dynamic through which to attain breakthroughs of insight and accountability around and about strategic, tactical, and management challenges.

Mastermind groups, both generic ones as I attended in Las Vegas, and branded versions like Vistage and YPO, are where the hard, methodical work of entrepreneurial business - building and growth gets done.

The “table topic” for our meeting was best practices, as they apply to smaller companies, of data-driven decision making and business intelligence dashboards.

It is obviously a very timely one - as “BI” tools and software have matured in the last few years to become for the first time truly easy to use, effective, and affordable for smaller companies and organizations.

We talked about how the companies getting the highest “BI ROI” connect the dots between their "old" and "new" school strategic planning and thinking.

They are old school (in the absolute best, non-pejorative sense of the term) in that they recognize that strategy

…arrived at through Mastermind get-togethers, through board and advisory board meetings, through corporate “retreats” and through any form “step back and reset” get togethers - remains fundamental in attaining and maintaining long-term business success.

And they are new school in their leveraging the very many best-of-breed business application software as services to arrive at this strategy.

Tools like CapitalIQ, Simplycast, The Resumator, Box, Grasshopper, Wufoo, Smarsh, IfByPhone, SnapEngage, Docusign, Hootsuite, Infusionsoft, and Interspire that automate traditionally laborious and repetitive business functions.
 
And, as they do, collect massive reams of data on much of the marketing, sales, operations, finance and management activities of a business.

And, for the first time, the technology has finally matured to where all of this collected data can be automatically organized, standardized, and consistently presented on an always-on, always-accessible, and visually appealing Online Dashboard.

I had the opportunity to present my firm’s "Old School meets New School" business intelligence philosophy, along with our dashboard offering.

And as I did, I truly felt blessed to live and work in a time when technology has created such promise and power to allow companies to run better, easier, and more in alignment with their missions than ever before.

And as they do, well…

…the best numbers on the best dashboards are starting to show increasing piles of sales and profits, too.

To Your Success,



--

Jay Turo

CEO

Growthink

P.S. Like to demo our dashboard offering? Then Click Here to learn more.


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