PR Strategies for Your Business: An Interview with Richard Harris


 

My recent interview with PR expert Richard Harris was enlightening. You may know that I owe a lot of Growthink's success to PR. A decade ago, I pitched the Los Angeles Times and they published a story on us. That day I received about a hundred phone calls, and at least that volume in emails. So, I focused the interview on figuring out how to replicate that success.

Richard serves as the founder and CEO of Momentum, which provides communications, strategy and placement agent services to private equity funds, investment banks, and selected early stage and non-profit companies. A 20+ year veteran of the public relations industry, Richard has not only an impressive client list (that includes The Girl Scouts of America, Polaris Venture Partners and Star Jones), but also a wealth of knowledge on this subject.

Some of the areas the Richard covered were:

  • Four ways to make your press release "newsworthy"
  • The three press release distribution sites that are worth using (and why you shouldn't use the other ones)
  • The different people you need to pitch if you are targeting websites and print publications versus television or radio media
  • The best time and day of the week to pitch journalists
  • What NOT to do if a journalist picks up your story


And many, many other critical points that every entrepreneur needs to know about if they want publicity for their businesses.

The full interview is available for members of Growthink University.

For non-members, you can listen to the first five minutes of the interview by clicking on the blue triangle on the player below. 

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How to Build an Effective Sales Team: An Interview with Adam Shaivitz


 
All entrepreneurs must be well-versed in sales.

We are always selling: Selling to employees as well as customers, investors as well as partners, etc. And those who excel at selling have a major competitive advantage.

To make sure that both you and I are in fact not only great at selling, but building an effective sales team, I recently interviewed sales whiz Adam Shaivitz.

If you're not familiar with Adam, Adam is the co-author of a best-selling book on selling called “Selling is Everyone's Business: What it Takes to Create a Great Salesperson.” He is also a sales consultant with Accelerate Performance who has consulted for Google, ADP, Pimco, Morgan Stanley, and many others.

Adam conveyed tons of great information. Two points that I especially liked were the following:

1. Make sure that you are properly motivating and solving the problems of your buyers.


The best salespeople are problem solvers who are able to sell the benefits of their offerings tailored to one or more of the six basic fundamentals that all of us as humans want:

  • Desire for gain
  • Fear of loss
  • Security and protection
  • Comfort and convenience
  • Pride of ownership
  • Satisfaction of some emotion like love or hate or ego


Great sales people understand which of these six motivators are most important to their prospects, and sell into them.

2. Spending time with your best sales performers.

Adam told us that too many business owners neglect their top sales performers. Rather, they tend to focus on improving their lowest performers.

There are two problems with this approach. First, working with and improving the performance of your best sales performers by only 10% may be easier and more beneficial than improving the performance of your lower sales performers by 25%. Secondly, your top sales performers are the ones that will be targeted by headhunters and other firms, and you can't afford to lose them.

A few of the other areas we covered were:

  • The keys to building a successful sales team
  • Adam's favorite ways to motivate a sales team
  • At what point can the entrepreneur or founder still run the sales organization and at what point should they bring in a dedicated sales manager
  • How to provide feedback, motivation, and inspiration for team members
  • How to transfer the skills of top performers to everyone else in the organization
  • How to create an environment that encourages improvement and performance

The full interview is available for members of Growthink University

To listen to the first few minutes of the interview, please click the blue triangle in the player below.

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Building Your Management Team Might Be Easier Than You Think


 

Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing Matt Ocken, one of the founders of Kindred Partners.

Kindred Partners might be the best at recruiting executives for high-growth technology companies. In fact, some of the top venture capital firms continuously use Kindred to find executives for the companies they fund.

If that’s not enough, consider that Kindred was responsible for placing CEO Meg Whitman at eBay as well as key executives at Google, Amazon and Facebook.

So, Matt was obviously uniquely qualified to answer my questions about how to expertly build your company’s management team.

Matt started by going through the four tactics for building a great management team. Surprisingly, the first tactic was pretty simple and should be used by virtually all entrepreneurs.

The tactic? Figuring out who you already know that could be a good addition to your team. As Matt pointed out, there is a proven correlation between success and a team having worked together in the past. So, if you have successfully worked with someone in the past, your chances of successfully working together again are high. And investors know this and are keen to fund companies led by teams with history of successfully working together.

So, a first step is for the entrepreneur to do an audit of who they have worked with successfully in the past. You could have worked with them in school, at a job or at an organization. Create this list and then narrow it down to include the individuals you truly respect and would like to work with again in the future. Then, contact these individuals to see if they are interested in joining your team.

Note, Jay Turo, Growthink’s other co-founder, and I met at business school. We worked together successfully on a couple of projects during school and were friends. So, Jay was the first person I approached after I had the idea for Growthink. We’ve now run Growthink together for 10 years, so I can personally vouch to Matt’s approach!

Click here to download the interview as an MP3 file and the PDF transcript.

And here is a preview of the first few minutes of the interview (click the blue triangle to play):

 

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How to Find Grants - The ONE Website You Need to Know About


 

The sky is falling. The sky is falling. While that's the news the media is telling us everyday, it's not necessarily all true.

While the economy is clearly not doing so well, there is still tons of money available to organizations via loans, investments and grants.

In fact, with regards to grants, last year more than 75,000 U.S. foundations gave $45.6 billion to organizations and individuals, according to Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates: Current Outlook (2009 Edition). That's $45.6 BILLION!

Do you want a piece of that money? Well, if you do, there is one site that you MUST visit: FoundationCenter.org.  Right on FoundationCenter.org's homepage you can start searching thousands of foundations that provide grants. You can even search by factors such as your zip code and market sector to zero in on the most appropriate grants for you.

But, before you rush to give FoundationCenter.org a try, you need to know the one key fact about private grants that no one seems to tell you. Foundation grants are only for non-profit organizations.

So, if you are a non-profit organization, you should definitely stop what you're doing and go to FoundationCenter.org to see what grants might be available to you.

I know what you may be thinking right now...How does this help me? I'm running or starting a for-profit business.

I gotcha.  And fortunately, there are also billions of grant dollars available for you too. However, getting these dollars is a bit more tricky. Your business needs to be in certain sectors. You need to know where to look. You need to know how to apply and the secrets to making sure your application succeeds.

To answer these questions and make winning grants for your business a whole lot easier, my team and I just completed Growthink's "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants."

The guide is focused on teaching for-profit businesses how to raise capital via grants.  Growthink University members have already been sent their copy of this special report. Others can learn more and download it today by clicking here.

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Grants for Your Business: An Exciting Truth Amongst Lies & Misinformation


 
As you may have figured by now, I'm on a quest to help all business owners and entrepreneurs get funding for their businesses.

I believe that all entrepreneurs who are willing to invest their time and their lives into starting a new or growing an existing venture should be given the opportunity to do so. Clearly, their business concept must be viable, their business plan must lay out a pathway to success, and they must invest the resources in learning how to raise capital. But once these conditions are satisfied, I find it very saddening when entrepreneurs put in a solid effort but are still unable to raise the capital they need.

In my quest to solve the eternal funding issue, my team and I have been working on really figuring out an elusive form of capital: grants.

Grants, as you may know, are given to thousands upon thousands of companies each year totaling billions of dollars. Furthermore, they don't need to be paid back. So, on the surface, grants are a really interesting funding source for businesses. As you can imagine, when we started putting together our report entitled the "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants," we were really excited.

But, the excitement faded a bit when we learned about all the lies and misinformation there is out there regarding grants. Let me tell you the two that frustrated me the most.

Myth 1: Grants are offered to businesses owned by women, minorities and the disabled. This statement is 100% FALSE. In fact, NO grants are set aside specifically for small businesses run by women, minorities and the disabled; all grants from the federal government are open to a multitude of groups which include these businesses.

There ARE loans and government contracts reserved for women, minorities and the disabled, but NOT grants.

Myth 2: Grants for businesses are available from both the government (federal, state and local) and private and public foundations.

This too is false. The truth is that with few exceptions, grants offered by private or public foundations are NOT available to for-profit businesses. They are exclusively reserved for non-profits.

There is a silver lining here however. While we have found all the misinformation discouraging, we have uncovered that billions of dollars ARE given to small businesses each year via federal, state and local government grants, and more importantly, we've uncovered the formula that entrepreneurs and business owners can use to gain these dollars.

My team and I have been hard at work finishing the "Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants." The report is now available, and you can download it here.
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5 Tools to Improve Your Productivity, Creativity & Efficiency


 
We could all use tools to increase our productivity, creativity and efficiency. Below are five tools that I have either been using for years, or just adopted, that have helped me, as I'm sure they can help you too.

1. 99designs.com

99designs is a site that I was recently turned onto and it's really cool. If you need a great logo designed for your business, this is the way to go. Before I tell you how it works, let me tell you about the old way of getting a new logo. The old way was to first look at several designers' portfolios to see which one had created logos that you liked. Then you would hire one designer. Next you would write down and give them your design specifications. Then, you would hope that they came back to you with a solid design, or one that was good enough that with a few tweaks could be improved.

Needless to say, the process took a long time, and more times than not (I say this from lots of experience) produced less than optimal designs.

Now, let me tell you how 99designs.com does it. First, you post a design brief, which is easy to do since the site leads you through some questions.

Next, you set your budget (amounts generally range from $100 to $600). Then, designers from around the world submit design concepts to compete for your business. During this process, you can rate the designs and provide feedback to help the designers deliver what you want. In the final step, you choose the winning design and pay the designer the amount you set, and the designer sends you their completed design (along with copyright to the original art work).

So the key points are 1) you don't have to spend hours finding designers and judging portfolios, 2) you don't pay anything (except the $39 fee to 99designs.com) until AFTER you see the design you want, 3) you get lots of designs to choose from, at least one of which is usually great (the higher your budget the more designs you get; for $300 you can get up to 100 submissions usually).

2. PDF995


PDF995, located at pdf995.com allows you to transform any document (e.g., Word file, Excel file, web page, etc.) into a PDF document. Best of all, there's no cost to download it. I used to use the official program from Adobe, but it's expensive and constantly crashed my computer.

I often use PDF995 to convert Word files to PDF files. This usually makes the file size smaller and ensures compatibility for whoever wants to view the file. It is also good for copyright protection (makes it harder for others to copy your work). I also use PDF995 a lot for converting web pages into PDF files. A lot of times I come across web pages that I want to reference later. Sometimes I bookmark them, but oftentimes the page may change. So, I PDF the page and file it away so I can access it whenever I want in the future.

3. Firefox Plugins

For those who have not yet tried the Firefox browser, I highly recommend it. Not only is it very fast and stable, but there are tons of plugins that make it more productive. A few plugins that I use are MeasureIt (allows you to quickly measure the dimensions of anything on the web page you are visiting), ColorZilla (allows you to click on any pixel on the web page to see its precise color) and FireShot (allows you to quickly take a screen shot and manipulate it (e.g., crop out sections; add comments; save file).

These are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a full directory of Firefox plugins: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/

4. Bubbl.us

A mind map is a visual diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. Creating mind maps are great for mapping out new projects or ideas, particularly if they are not linear. For example, if you want to create a new ebook, you may start with the word ebook in the center. Then you may draw a line to "creation" which will then have sub-sections for research, writing, etc. Another sub-section of the word ebook would be marketing, which would then have its own sub-sections. Etc.

My frustration with mind mapping is that, while easily done using pen and paper, I prefer a digital copy so that I can distribute it to my colleagues and/or modify it over time. And traditionally, creating mind maps with programs such as PowerPoint, took forever.

Enter Bubbl.us, a new online tool that allows you to create, save and modify mind maps REALLY easily. Give it a try. You'll be amazed at how easily it works and it's totally intuitive to use. And currently there are no fees.

5. Springwise.com


The final tool I'd like to tell you about today is Springwise.com. Springwise has created a network of 8,000 "spotters" from around the world who "scan the globe for smart new business ideas, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds." On the site, you'll learn about businesses like Wonderpizza, a pizza vending machine developed in Italy, and Dogtree (dogtree.com.au), an Australian social network that helps dog owners find playmates and walking friends for their dogs.

Springwise is great for inspiration and brainstorming. It gives you unique concepts and ideas that can really get your creative juices flowing.

I hope you can use these tools and ideas to help you and your business. If you have any comments or questions, or want to post your own tips to help your fellow entrepreneurs, please add them in the comment section below.
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Naming Your New Company or Product


 

I recently read a great blog post, from a company called The Name Inspector, about how to name your company or product. Whether your goal is to raise capital or gain the interest of partners or customers, the names of your company and products are critical.

In fact, when we first launched Growthink a decade ago, we started with the name BestBizPlan since we initially focused just on developing business plans. Realizing that we would expand beyond business planning, we changed the name to Growthink to reflect our desire and skill sets in helping entrepreneurs and business owners in growing their businesses via planning, capital raising, marketing, strategy and more.

The Growthink name has a better connotation and helps client, prospective clients, partners and employees better understand and relate to our mission. While I cannot attribute our company's success solely to our name, it certainly has helped us.

So, here are the ten ways for you to create great company (and/or product) names as suggested by The Name Inspector:

1. Use Real Words: These are names that are simply repurposed words. (e.g., Adobe, Amazon, Fox, Yelp)

This category also includes misspelled words (e.g., Digg (dig), flickr (flicker)) and foreign words (e.g., Vox (Latin 'voice').

2. Use Compounds: These names consist of two words put together (e.g., Firefox, Facebook).

3. Phrases: These names follow normal rules for combining words (but are not compounds) (e.g., MySpace, StumbleUpon).

4. Use Blends: Blended names have two parts, at least one of which can be recognized as a part of a real word (e.g., Netscape (net + landscape); Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopedia)).

5. Use Tweaked Words: Tweaked word names are derived from words that have been slightly changed in pronunciation and spelling - commonly derived from adding or replacing a letter (e.g., ebay, iTunes).

6. Use Affixed Words: These are unique names that result from taking a real word and adding a suffix or prefix (e.g., Friendster, Omnidrive).

7. Use Made Up or Obscure Origin Words: These names are generally short names that are either completely made up, or, since their origins are so obscure, they may as well have been made up (e.g., Bebo, Plaxo).

8. Use Puns: Puns are names that modify words/phrases to suggest a different meaning (e.g., Farecast (forecast, fore -> fare), Writely (rightly, right -> write))

9. Use People's Names: using a general name or the name from a personal connection (e.g., Ning (a Chinese name), Wendy's (founder Dave Thomas' daughter's nickname)).

10. Use Initials and Acronyms: names derived from the first letter of each word in the longer, more official name (e.g., AOL (America Online), FIM (Fox Interactive Media)).

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Kiva to Launch in the United States


 
I recently wrote a blog post about Kiva and all the good it is doing worldwide.

As you may recall, Kiva is "the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world."  Specifically, on their website, individuals who need small loans to start or grow their businesses request funding. And, other individuals from around the world offer this funding in increments as low as $25. To date, nearly 500,000 users have lent almost $65 million, interest-free, to developing-world entrepreneurs through Kiva.org.  $3.5 million was distributed last month alone.

Not surprisingly, since the majority of you are based here in the United States, in response to my email about Kiva I received lots of emails saying that Kiva should launch in the United States. I agreed.

And now, a few weeks later, Fortune Magazine is reporting that Kiva plans to launch in the United States within a few months. This could be a HUGE funding opportunity for American entrepreneurs!

Importantly, while the highest loan amount for entrepreneurs in the developing world is $1200, in the United States, it will be $10,000. One issue that hasn't been fully resolved is vetting. In the developing world, Kiva "uses microfinance institution partners to vet entrepreneurs before allowing them to solicit funding. By asking a series of questions to assess roots in the community and the legitimacy of a business, Kiva is able to establish a risk profile for each entrepreneur. Before offering money to, say, the proprietor of a Dominican fruit stand, any lender can read the entrepreneur¹s profile, history of defaults, and a bit about the business."

In the United States, Kiva says that they are "signing on microfinance partners in the Bay Area and in the Northeast," but have not released who these partners will be or how the vetting process will work.

In any case, this is GREAT news for American entrepreneurs.

You can read the full Fortune article here.
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Educating Angels & What That Means for Entrepreneurs


 

A few months back, a unique conference called "AngelConf" took place in Silicon Valley. The conference was organized for angel investors and its goal was to educate angel investors on how to invest in startups.

Key questions that the event addressed were:

  • How much are you supposed to invest?

  • What legal agreements do you need?

  • Where do you find startups to invest in?

  • How do you pick winners?

It was this last question that conference organizer Paul Graham from YCombinator agreed was the most important.

Graham's first point on this topic is that angel investors should pick startups that "make things that people want." Seems simple enough. However, Graham went on to say that angels should not invest in things that are already wildly popular. "By then it's too late for angels. VCs will already be onto them. As an angel, you have to pick startups before they've got a hit-either because they've made something great but users don't realize it yet, like Google early on, or because they're still an iteration or two away from the big hit, like Paypal when they were making software for transferring money between PDAs."

As such, angel investors need to be able to predict future market sizes (not just identify markets that are already doing well).

Graham's second point on this topic is that angel investors need to pick founders who are winners. On this point, he said the following:

"What makes a good founder? If there were a word that meant the opposite of hapless, that would be the one. Bad founders seem hapless. They may be smart, or not, but somehow events overwhelm them and they get discouraged and give up. Good founders make things happen the way they want. Which is not to say they force things to happen in a predefined way. Good founders have a healthy respect for reality. But they are relentlessly resourceful. That's the closest I can get to the opposite of hapless. You want to fund people who are relentlessly resourceful."    

Now, what this means to you as the entrepreneur is that this is how you will be judged by many angel investors. They will judge the future potential of your business concept and they will judge the potential of you and/or your management team.

With regards to the potential of your business concept, you must convince them that your market is poised for growth, and in doing so, you MUST cite multiple research and statistical points that confirm your views (I can't reiterate enough how critical great market research is).

With regards to the quality of you, the founder, and/or your management team, you need to show the investor, via past performance and ALL current interaction between you and the investor that you are a winner. You need to show them that you make things happen. Here are some examples of how can you accomplish this:

  • Tell them a current business objective and come back to them two weeks later and show them you have achieved it.

  • Find some way you can help them (e.g., introducing them to a business contact of yours that could help them) and execute on it right away.

  • Ask them about questions they have about your opportunity and/or market and come back to them within 24 hours with great research and answers to their questions.

These smaller, short-term accomplishments which show investors that you can execute and that you are clearly not 'hapless' will massively improve your chances of getting them to invest in you.

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Breakthrough Business Idea Generator


 

I want to tell you about a technique I picked up, that I can directly attribute to millions of dollars of revenues that I have generated over the years. But, even so, I'm far from mastering it.

The technique is a brainstorming technique called Assumption Reversal. It is incredibly powerful. It's the technique that has been responsible for, among many others, the ATM machine and Henry Ford's development of an assembly line which revolutionized manufacturing.

The Assumption Reversal brainstorming technique allows you to look at things differently and triggers new, creative ideas. It can be used to develop new business ideas and new product ideas, and for you to overcome virtually any challenge you face, from marketing obstacles to staffing difficulties and more.

I have put together a brief video that walks you through the four steps of the Assumption Reversal brainstorming technique and gives you a real-world example. I think you'll get much more from the video than just reading about it.

Mastering this technique could revolutionize you and your business. Check out the video below:

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