The muted reaction to the major U.S. indices approaching all-times highs this past week felt a bit off for those that remember a time when folks that made their living recommending stocks were held in an almost mystical regard.
Whether they be Wall Street investment analysts, venture capitalists, or even plain old stockbrokers, the bull markets of the 80s and 90s raised all boats and reputations.
Take a look at the average annual returns of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1982 to 1989:
And in the 90’s, the good times continued to roll - with the Dow skyrocketing from 2800 at the start of 1990 to over 11,000 by September 1999.
Now THAT was a bull market.
Since then, not so much.
Think about it, on an inflation-adjusted basis the return of all major US stock indices over the past fourteen years (1999 – 2013) has actually been negative.
And it gets worse.
Historically low interest and inflation rates - combined with massive and seemingly permanent federal budget deficits - have given the bond and money markets an even less appealing combination of low return and systemic risk.
And to top it all off, how about governmental policy and tone that if not outright hostile to the plight of the equity investor, is at its best supremely indifferent to it?
Yes, it is enough to cause despair in those that still believe that well-functioning equity markets are at the heart of a vibrant and growing economy.
But all is not lost.
You see, in the mist of all this malaise over the last 10-15 years, some investors have been making money.
Who Are They?
Now who these folks are and how they invest is something that I have dedicated a large part of my professional life to understanding and replicating.
And starting this Thursday, I am going to share what I have discovered.
This weekend I had the very good fortune to attend Ryan Deis and Perry Belcher's Traffic and Conversion Summit in downtown San Francisco.
Headlined by speakers including Guy Kawasaki and William Shatner, it was an awesome gathering of 2,000+ of the best, brightest, and most accomplished from the worlds of online marketing and sales.
“Aha” moments were aplenty for all who made the effort to attend. Here were a few of mine:
These are the Worst AND the Best of Times for New Client Acquisition.
To large part because of gatherings like this - where the best SEO, SEM / PPC, landing page, copy-writing, and e-mail marketing strategies, tactics, and techniques are shared and then used (and in volume) by creative and aggressive marketers worldwide - it is more challenging than ever to attract new customers online.
Today’s online buyers have developed a killer combination of hardened skepticism AND sky high expectations as to pricing, product and service features and benefits, and to performance guarantees.
Now for the ambitious online seller this represents not just a great challenge, but an incredible opportunity as well.
You see, while these expectations have driven up customer acquisition costs, they have also driven the cost of a competitor acquiring that customer away from you even higher.
Now, this is where most companies who sell online get off track.
The very nature of the web - with its seductive ease of marketing to prospective customers worldwide - often causes the very dangerous myopia of neglecting those so good and honorable folks that are your customers now.
It is a bit funny that this was my big "aha" moment from a conference gathering of the some of the world’s biggest, baddest, and most aggressive online marketers.
And this led to my second aha.
The truth is already out there.
In this brave new world of ours where tens of hundreds of thousands of online businesses worldwide put their best stuff online for all the world to see…
…that imitation is not just the highest form of flattery, but it is great business strategy as well.
Now yes, what to do with all of this stuff can often feel overwhelming.
And this is where events like the Traffic and Conversion Summit are so valuable.
Ryan and Perry and their merry band curate and interpret this global treasure trove of strategies, techniques, and tactics for you.
AND they give you a framework for how to do so yourself.
And finally, the energy one draws from a gathering of 2,000+ of decidedly private sector, decidedly ambitious Internet entrepreneurs and executives…
...animates in one the energy and inspiration to take all of this knowledge and translate it into that most precious of all business assets.
I usually hesitate to analogize from the world of sports that of business.
In contrary to many motivational videos, these are two very different realms of human endeavor and there is not a clear line between the attributes and mindsets that drive success in one as compared to the other.
This past week, however, I was moved by the stories and coverage of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ retirement after 17 seasons of professional football, and those of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban winning his third BCS national championship in four years.
Watching the various retrospectives and tributes to Lewis, the overriding takeaway was how his "always on” persona inspires those around him with feelings of action, of possibility, and of strong positive intent.
This kind of energy and presence is indispensable in very many aspects of business, but none so obviously more so than in sales and presentation.
Especially in this technologically distracted world of ours, the ability to consistently project high positive emotion is a key success factor and competitive advantage.
Now, a lucky few of us are blessed with a naturally "high motor" that can go on and on without a lot of maintenance.
But the vast majority of us have to work at it.
To eat, sleep, and exercise right.
And to feed one's mind and spirit with equally nutritional fare.
Now, when it comes working at it, Nick Saban is as great a role model as he is a legendary football coach.
While for some it was a bit off-putting to hear - just minutes after his team won the championship - - the notoriously "always on-message" coach already start talking about next season, for me it was refreshing.
Because in Nick Sabin’s world it is the work itself - as opposed to any glory or accolades or money that might come from it - that is the real reward.
And that as this work and its example catalyzes the success and growth of others, it is the satisfaction of so doing that is far sweeter and more gratifying than any personal triumph or celebration could ever be.
Ray Lewis. Nick Sabin.
Strong role models not because of their far greater number of wins than losses but because, in the words of Lewis himself, wins come and go but it is effort that is eternal.
And this effort, when taken to its methodical extreme, results in a life and career like that of Nick Saban's.
Which, of course, leads to triumphs and transformations and joys for millions to experience.
Just ask any Alabama football fan if you have any doubt about that.
I had the great good fortune this past weekend to co-host Growthink's third and final Business Blueprint Live event of the year.
This is a conference where entrepreneurs and business owners gather for three days and nights to dream, plan, and network as to how to best grow the revenues, increase the profits and better fulfill the missions of their businesses.
What is really neat is that because of its longer group and in-person format, there is time and space to really listen and, correspondingly, to be heard and to share best business practices, ideas, and inspirations for the New Year.
Golly - what a weekend!
The attendees that ventured from near and far and from the comforts of their homes and regular routines took a chance.
The chance that by "mixing it up a bit," that breakthroughs would follow.
And they did.
From a medical device entrepreneur having that flash of insight as to how to best position his business for a strategic sale, to the software entrepreneur reflecting on how best to integrate a traditional marketing channel (radio) with a burgeoning one (texting), new and powerful business ideas and tactics were hatched and committed to.
And I was reminded of an old wisdom that I forget way too often.
It goes like this: when there is something “nutritious” in my life and business that I am resisting, it is that thing that above all else I need and should be doing.
It could be getting up early and doing that workout.
Or not having that second glass of wine.
Or sending those holiday cards.
Or taking that vacation.
Or, in business, making that call, writing that plan, structuring that partnership.
Going to that meeting, that conference.
And when you do, hold nothing back.
Don’t let any nagging doubts about whether this strategy, this decision, this job is the right one.
Just dive in.
Wasn't this so much at the essence of Steve Jobs' genius? This full commitment to do with fierce excellence whatever it was that he was working on at that particular time?
I saw and felt this full engagement this weekend.
Those there were fully there.
And from this full engagement, millions of dollars of business and conceptual breakthroughs and lovely relationships naturally flowed.
And when I reflect on these amazing outcomes, and then when I think back to the resistance I felt of not wanting to organize, not wanting to go to the event…
Well, it hits home that so important wisdom that when I really don't want to do something that I know in my heart that I should…
…well that is the exact thing that I must do.
And then let the magic happen.
Take this short quiz to find out:
Are your revenues growing month after month without fail?
Are your profits rising, and allowing you to pay yourself enough money to spend freely on the things you want?
Do you have plenty of customers, with no need to get more?
Do your employees care as much about the success of your organization as you do?
Do you have enough cash flow to radically grow your company?
Would your business thrive if you took the next month off?
Are other companies regularly approaching you to buy your company?
... If you answered NO to one or more of these questions, then your business is NOT giving you the results you want or deserve.
And unfortunately, you’re not alone.
In fact, millions of other entrepreneurs and business owners are struggling.
As you may know, Inc. Magazine found that 80% of businesses fail within the first 5 years, and Dun & Bradstreet research showed that 91% of businesses fail within 10 years.
And according to the United States Census, only 3.9% of businesses make it to $1 million in sales, and only 0.6% of businesses make it to $5 million. And with the slow-down in the economy since 2008, many businesses have been struggling...
with no growth and declining profits.
That’s just depressing. But there IS a solution...
...and I am so committed to helping you find it that I am offering free copies of Dave Lavinsky's new book so you too can discover what it is.
To learn more, click here: http://startattheendbook.com/free-offer
If you haven’t yet registered for my Wednesday webinar, this is your last chance.
Webinar: “How to Make 2013 Your Best Business Year Ever!”
Date: Wednesday, November 14th
Time: 8 pm EST / 5 pm PST
Registration Link: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/459943082
The fact is this: successful people figure out what they need to do BEFORE they do it.
For example, a winning football coach always comes up with a game plan BEFORE the game. Then he’ll go over the plan with his team and practice BEFORE the game. So when the game starts, the team is ready and able to execute on the plan.
The same is true in your business. And if you want 2013 to be your best business year ever, you need to start planning NOW (2013 is only 49 days away).
That’s why I’m hosting a complimentary webinar on Wednesday, November 14th at 8pm Eastern / 5 pm Pacific.
The webinar is called “How to Make 2013 Your Best Business Year Ever!”
On the webinar you will learn:
• How to significantly increase your business’s 2013 sales and profits
• The precise way to figure out the best 2013 opportunities for your business to pursue
• How to set attainable 2013 goals that lead to long-term success
• My #1 tactic for ensuring sustained success in 2013 and beyond
• And much, much more!
You can expect to hear a positive, motivating message loaded with actionable intelligence to make 2013 the best year of your business life.
Probably the worst way for an entrepreneur to begin his or her day is to read the newspaper.
Or watch the news.
Or, for that matter, to surf the net or even check in on the latest and greatest on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et al.
It is not to say that keeping up with events is necessarily a bad thing, and of course for many types of businesses and professions, it is part of the job description to do so.
But for the busy and ambitious entrepreneur, doing so first thing in the morning at best is highly distracting, and at its worst misdirects one's mind and energy in the absolute wrong direction.
Well, unfortunately the overwhelming majority for what passes as “news” these days is a downbeat recital of the things that either have, are, or are about to go bad the world over.
War. Economic crisis. National disasters. Scandal.
All usually presented in that oh-so depressing of "yes this is bad, but just wait because it's only going to get worse" tone.
Not the best “stimulus” with which to start one’s day to get out and conquer the world, now is it?
Yes we should be informed.
But really, it is not the “informed” that change the world for the better.
Rather, it is the men and women of action, purpose, and zest that do.
And these energized and effective souls don’t start their day with the “news.”
Rather, they feed their spirit, minds, and bodies wholesome fare.
They meditate. They read inspirational literature. They exercise vigorously.
They set their day's goals and get right after the most important ones first thing.
They recognize that the first hour is the rudder of the day and so they tack their daily ship in the best direction right from the day’s get go.
And once they are good and going…
…well, then they take a peek at a few tweets, they accept a few friends requests, and they indulge themselves in a little of the “news.”
But not too much.
This blog post is a reprint of an article written by Jay Turo in this month’s Vistaprint Small Business Blog.
Holding constant for socioeconomic factors, the typical entrepreneur makes less money, work more hours and suffers more work-related stress than their employed counterparts.
And when we combine these statistics with those that show a very incredibly low percentage of startups and small businesses ever attaining meaningful profitability, it is remarkable that people ever even dream to be entrepreneurs and start businesses at all.
But start them they do!
Quite possibly the most amazing and inspiring number in all of American business is 550,000.
That is the approximate number of new businesses that are started in American each and every month, or more than 6 million per year.
Now these opposing statistics beg the question, “Why?”
Why would 550,000 people - who statistically are far better educated and wealthier than the population as a whole - engage in behavior that on the surface clearly seems contrary to their self-interest and dare I say, delusional?
Well, on the cynical side, many of these brave folks probably think the odds of economic success are greater than they really are.
And even if they know the odds, they think that they don’t apply to them.
On the slightly less cynical but still not totally inspiring side, one could argue that businesses are started out of boredom - out of the need for that “action rush” that in the realm of business often only an entrepreneurial endeavor can truly provide.
Inspirationally, many believe like I do that entrepreneurship is the greatest force for positive change in the world today, and they start and grow businesses to be positive change agents, on levels big and small.
They start restaurants to create and share beautiful food, service, and atmosphere.
They open day care facilities to provide quality, spirited child care for working families.
They start creative agencies - graphic design, public relation, web development firms, and the like to leverage their business and creative talent to its most effective end.
And they start drug development and medical device companies to help people live longer, healthier lives.
And thousands of types and forms and sizes of business in between, led by entrepreneurs with aspirations big and small, driven by motivations both pedestrian and soaring.
But at the heart of all of their reasons for starting businesses, at least of the ones that survive, is that often begrudged but really most inspiring motivation of them all.
They start businesses to make a lot of money.
Now the key word in that sentence is make - as in bringing into existence through creativity, effort, and as often as not more than a little serendipity and luck, something that did not exist beforehand.
Making money is the difference between Mo Ibrahim becoming a billionaire through bringing inexpensive mobile telecommunications to millions in Africa and Mo Gaddafi stealing billions of his people’s money at the point of a gun.
It is the difference between Steve Jobs and Apple creating $630 billion in market capitalization - and untold additional hundreds of billions in economic and multiplier effect.
Now often, for the entrepreneur and those that back them, the touching of this money often takes many years, even decades, of under-paid, hard, and often thankless work, before a cash windfall in the form of a business sale or a public offering.
But that is a story for another day.
For now, find those entrepreneurs that can truly make money, encourage and back them, and you and the world will get to a better place.
Modern businesses, massively reliant on information technology, are faced with a fundamental question - should they organize “traditionally” via single locations where salaried “W-2” employees work, or should they exist primarily in “the cloud” - with far flung networks of “1099” contractors, vendors, affiliates and the like?
Let’s label the two approaches “old school” and “new school” and explore their pros and cons:
W-2 Old School Positives. You can spin virtuality anyway you like, but human beings are fundamentally designed to work together in 3 dimensions, in-person.
Among many other, an incredibly KEY benefit of the old school way - training and professional development.
While e-learning holds great promise, almost all of us have had the vast majority of our educational, development and collaboration experiences in the “real world.”
And unless and until there is some radical re-ordering of parenting and elementary school norms, this will always remain so.
As for reaching “hearts and minds,” working out of one’s spare bedroom, or from the kitchen table is convenient and all, there are few experiences of “true aliveness” like working in-person with colleagues you respect, toward accomplishing missions and objectives of value and high ideals.
Old School Negatives. It is 2012, folks, and markets and competitive conditions in our brave new world move far faster than the traditional, “one roof”, employer - employee organization dynamic.
Combine this with the fact that it is getting increasingly difficult to attract and retain the best and most creative self-starters to traditional corporate environments, and it is easy for organizations to devolve to both personnel mediocrity and a mismatch between what the market dictates and what the employee rolls reflect.
New School Positives. Sites like LinkedIn, Rent-a-Coder, Craigslist, and dozens of other have made it cheap and easy to find and transact with talent with the skill sets an organization needs as it needs it.
And while cynical, it is also true that it is easier to downsize a virtual workforce than one where folks are eating, laughing, and co-habiting together daily.
New School Negatives. This new school advantage is of course also its biggest weakness – the detachment of virtual workers makes it almost impossible to create that inspired workplace which visionary leaders like Tony Hsieh, Richard Branson and Sam Walton hold as the ONLY sustainable competitive advantage in modern business.
So what to do? There are of course no hard and fast rules, but a good shortcut is to deeply ask – “What is absolutely critical, absolutely core to my business and what is merely tactical?
That which is core, go old school.
Everything else, go new school and outsource it to that always-on, increasingly omniscient big data cloud of global talent and run your business to modern daylight!
Debt crises in Europe.
Medicare, education, and deficit crises at home.
Middle East crises for as far as the eye can see...
Things seem pretty bleak out there, don’t they?
And isn’t the tone of our civil discourse so polarized that not only do we have tough problems, but doesn’t it feel as if our ability to proactively address them is less than it has ever been?
But maybe we have met the enemy and it really is us.
Maybe we have let our “it bleeds, it leads” media - the drumbeat of negativity that we are subjected to on a daily basis - play havoc with our psyches.
Maybe we are putting so much emotional weight and heft into the things that are bad, the things that can go wrong, that it is crowding out the things that are positive, the things that can and are going so very right.
Maybe the statistical odds are actually overwhelmingly in favor of everything just getting better.
For all of us, our children, our grandchildren.
As in more prosperity, better education, more safety from premature death and disease, and yes even more happiness.
Maybe when we pull our heads up and look around, what we will see is that what we are really living in is a golden age of technology, of prosperity.
And of possibility.
Maybe optimism - as author Matt Ridley describes it – is really the intelligent, intellectual choice.
Peter Diamandis in his outstanding book “Abundance” talks about the “rising 3 billion” - how between now and 2020 the number of people connected to the global Internet and productivity grid will rise from its current 2 billion to 5 billion.
And that as it does as opposed to this creating crisis, how it will lead to the greatest economic boom in the history of the world.
A boom driven by innovation, by technologies with us now in dynamic new fields like cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, synthetic biology, digital medicine, nanomaterials, and artificial intelligence.
So now this is exciting stuff, and I feel personally blessed that my professional life revolves around a company like Growthink with its so inspirational mission of helping entrepreneurs succeed.
As, of course, it will be the entrepreneurs – working at companies large and small and ones yet to be even dreamed and conceived - that will drive and create this new boom and these new innovations.
But even more excitingly, is the age that we are moving into is one driven by a power greater than that of technology and entrepreneurship.
And that will be one driven by the power of comparison.
As has been happening for the past 30 years, those individuals and locales and states and countries that “get it” - and let technology in, let entrepreneurship in, let freedom in, well they will continue to be the ones that get ahead and get richer and richer and dare I say happier and happier.
And those that don’t get, well they will fall further behind.
And for the first time in human history, there are now billions of people the world around with this power of comparison - of trial and error, of split testing, of modeling and mimicking best practices.
The power of information and intelligence and an entrepreneurial spirit and an empowerment to do something about it.
And because of this power, yes the statistical odds are overwhelmingly in favor of things just getting far better than any of us even dare to dream.