Growthink Blog

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.


5 Tools to Improve Your Productivity, Creativity & Efficiency


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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.

Top 10 New Year's Resolutions for Entrepreneurs in 2009


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200910) Keep Launching, Innovating and Growing

2008 was a tumultuous year, and most observers agree that we're now in one of the worst recessions in decades.

While the economy may be in for a bumpy ride, make sure you keep it in perspective.  Don't let all the negative news stop you from moving forward with your entrepreneurial initiatives.

History has shown that a downturn can be a great time to start a new venture. General Electric traces its roots to the Panic of 1873.  William Hewlett and David Packard founded HP during the Great Depression.  Microsoft launched during the recession of the early 1980s.  Disney, Oracle, and Cisco, and countless others took the leap during difficult economic times, and reaped tremendous rewards for their efforts.

One reason that recessions provide opportunities for entrepreneurial companies is because established firms decide to cut back on innovation and growth plans.  Don't make that mistake!  The key is to be running and growing your business successfully before the market comes back -- so that when it does, you have gained market share and are poised for explosive growth.  As we've said before, persistence and optimism are critical for entrepreneurial success.

For more thoughts on launching a business during a recession, read entrepreneur and investor Andy Liu's excellent entry The Secret to Starting a Successful Company.



9) Maximize Your Time and Resources


Running and growing a successful business requires that numerous jobs be performed at once, and well.  The start of a new year provides an opportunity to take stock of your most precious commodity: your time. 

What are you best at?  Where do you add the most value? 

Learn how and when to delegate or outsource certain tasks and responsibilities.



8) Build and Improve Systems and Processes

Most successful businesses are successful because they have effective systems in place.  For example, if you walk into any McDonalds across the country, and order a Big Mac, you know exactly what to expect. 

As Michael Gerber points out in The E-Myth Revisited, it’s critical that entrepreneurs build businesses, rather building an ever-increasingly stressful and taxing J-O-B. 

Especially if you're interested in selling your business, you want to be able to walk away from the business and have it continue to run. 



7) Build and Nurture an In-House Email List

Whether you run a dental practice, a restaurant, a software company or a social networking website, chances are you could be getting more out of your website traffic. 

One way to improve the efficacy of your website is to offer an email newsletter via an online email submission form. 

Building and maintaining an email list could be one of the best ROI decisions you make in 2009.  Constant Contact and AWeber are two recommended resources for email communications. And, if you run a blog, you can set up blog-to-email newsletters using services like FeedBlitz.



6) Participate in Online Conversations


If you haven't already done so, start a blog, create an account at Twitter, sign up for Facebook, join LinkedIn... whatever your website or tactic of choice, get online and contribute to the conversations about your industry online. 

Issue press releases using PRWeb.  For an excellent tutorial in online marketing and PR, I recommend reading David Meerman Scott's The New Rules of Marketing and PR, as well as his blog Web Ink Now.



5) Meet More People (Out in the "Real" Offline World)

Join new networking groups to establish relationships and potential partnerships with people and firms in your area.  One great way to jumpstart your offline networking is to leverage MeetUp.com.  MeetUp.com has thousands of business networking groups.  If you don't see a group in your niche, you can even start your own.



4) Get a Life (Outside of Work)

It's critical that you take breaks from your business to enjoy life.  Make a resolution to enjoy physical as well as mental vacations from your business every once in a while.  This is not only good for your health and sanity and relationships, it's also good for business!  You'll gain relief the stresses of growing your business, and once you return, you'll be reinvigorated with a new perspective on your challenges and opportunities.



3) If It's Not Working, Ditch It

Let’s be honest.  Not every marketing strategy, fundraising strategy, partnership, or product line will be a winner.  If you tried something in 2008 and it wasn't working, you might want to admit that and move on.  Focus your energy and resources towards those priorities that will deliver the greatest return on investment (both in terms of time and money). 



2) Learn Something New, Again and Again


Make a commitment to continual education.  Stay updated on your industry while branching out into new areas of knowledge.  Read blogs, books, newspapers, and magazines. An easy way to incorporate learning into your every day routine is to listen to interviews, audiobooks and podcasts.  Summary.com is a great, convenient service for integrating business education into a busy schedule.



1) Continually Update Your Business Plan and “To Do” Lists


Update your business plan weekly, monthly and quarterly, depending on what’s changing in your industry and what you’ve accomplished in your business. 

Updating your plan can be a critical factor in both your ability to raise capital and your ability to properly execute on market opportunities.  The sections that typically require periodic updates include the milestones, competition, management team and financials sections.

To increase your personal and corporate productivity, take advantage of tools like Basecamp which allow you to track tasks and milestones online in a collaborative "wiki" environment. 

For a great read on productivity, we recommend The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes.  As Chet recommends, focus on the daily tasks that are most critical to your growth, and keep the daily “to do” list brief (no more than 6 items). 

 

That's it!  I hope you found this list to be helpful for growing your business.  Here's wishing you a prosperous 2009! 

 

What is your New Year's resolution?

 

 


Landing Page Optimization, Business Planning and Google's Success


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Over the past few weeks, I've spent a lot of time studying a field called Landing Page Optimization. It's a fascinating field that deals with improving landing pages, which are the pages of your website that visitors come to either organically or through paid marketing initiatives. The goal of Landing Page Optimization is to maximize conversions (e.g., sales, newsletter signups, etc.) of these visitors.

One of the guiding principles of landing page optimization is that landing pages need to be simple. If there is too much information on the page, the reader gets confused and either clicks the back button or closes the browser.

This principle is the same as a guiding principle of business plan development; mainly that the plan, and particularly the executive summary, needs to present the business concept concisely so that the audience quickly understands it. If not, they will simply discard the business plan.

Interestingly a concise message might not only improve your business plan and your landing page, but your entire business’ success. Consider the case of Google. The Google homepage has always had very little text on it. In fact, if you go to it, it doesn’t even say that it is a search engine. But, by having a big empty box in the middle and having a button underneath it that says “Google Search”, it is pretty intuitive that Google is a search engine.

Now, when someone was referred for the first time to Google over the past few years and came to Google.com, what do you think they did? Well, due to its simplicity, I think we can assume that nearly all people who came to Google.com typed in a search term and hit the search button. Then, they instantly saw high quality search results and were sold on the fact that Google is a great search engine.

So, by keeping their landing page and business concept/proposition extremely simple, Google was able to get people to try its product. Because the product is high quality, those trials resulted in loyal users.

While there are many examples out there, one interesting company that I think could really improve its business plan, landing page, and thus chance of success is SpinVox. I first read about SpinVox in this Guy Kawasaki post in which he says, “This service translates voicemail to text and then sends a text message to your phone and/or an email to your computer.”

While Guy Kawasaki does a great job clearly explaining SpinVox in this 22 word sentence, I don’t think SpinVox does. On its homepage, SpinVox has the following text:

"SpinVox captures spoken messages and cleverly converts them into text. It then delivers your message to a destination of your choice – inbox, blog, wall or space. Right in the moment. Giving you the power to Speak Freely... Simply put, we do one thing – turn voice into text. But it's one thing that can be applied to the many ways you communicate, from your Voicemail to your Blog. Use the finder below to find the right one for you."

If I were to come to this page without Guy Kawasaki’s clear explanation, I would most likely leave without trying the service. It neither clearly explains the most common use nor the value proposition of the service.

To sum up, KEEP IT SIMPLE. Use simplicity to hook the investor, the customer, the partner, or whoever else you are trying to influence. Once hooked, over time (which could be as little as 2 minutes later), you can tell the full story.


Effective Meeting Strategies


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If you manage a new or growing venture, chances are that you spend a lot of your time in meetings. Among others, meetings are critical to strategize new opportunities, assess different ways to accomplish tasks, set and update goals, and to ensure that all team members are aligned.

However, since ventures must focus the majority of their time and efforts on executing opportunities, there is a significant risk for them to spend too much time in meetings strategizing. This article provides some tips to keep meetings effective.


Going Dual Screen


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About three months ago, I went dual screen. That is, I switched from a single computer monitor to a dual screen monitor.

I had read that a dual screen monitor can increase productivity by 50%. While I don't believe this statistic, the dual screen monitor definitely saves me 10 - 15 minutes/day.

The dual screen is really helpful if I want to comment on website, for instance. I'm able to have my email open in one window and my Internet browser in the other, so I don't need to constantly toggle back and forth between screens.


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