Saturday, December 3, 2016
Over the last few years, I have added more than 288 posts to the Startup Blog. The following list contains the 10 top posts for the year ending 2016. Some actually are from prior years, but attracted attention to make the cutoff. I hope you enjoy them!
Taffy Williams is the author of: Think Agile: How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon
Friday, September 16, 2016
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
|Remember, storms pass and the sun will come out again!|
Most entrepreneurs’ recognize their companies may not succeed and they might even fail. Often, there is no preparation for possible failure or the horrible feelings afterward that follow. Entrepreneurs are highly motivated and driven to do something unique and independent. They desire to build a business and be successful rather than spend their time working for other companies. They often have visions of wild success and believe strongly in the technology and its superiority over the technologies of all other competing companies. It is this strong desire to succeed that leads them to drive onward when things are in a downturn in the business.
Nothing compares to the feelings of a wildly successful venture. The feeling of having done something others could not have done. Entrepreneurs are always striving to take the leap and build business enterprises. These small and larger businesses contribute to at least 25-40% of the jobs in the USA today. Entrepreneurs need all the encouragement they can get because they are essential and contribute great things for the economy. With all the awareness of the potential for success or failure, they are never prepared for the failure or the feelings that come with the lost business.
Failure is part of a business cycle for many companies and it can happen for many reasons. Approaching the end of the life of a company initially enhances all fears associated with failing. No one wants to fail especially an entrepreneur. Many have invested huge portions of their capital and time in building the business. They began to wonder what would happen to them, their family, and the employees. The concerns then branch to whether they would find employment after the failure. Depending on the amount of money they invested in the company, they may need a salary to survive. These concerns and fears are natural and start to overwhelm the entrepreneur. They never think of that famous song from the play “Annie” and those famous words, “The sun will come out tomorrow!”
Predicting catastrophic loss like what occurred because of the storms called Katrina or Sandy was not possible for either Louisiana or New York. It is hard to imagine the severity of such storms and therefore not easy to plan for such events. Certainly, many of the residence never believed they would be wiped-out by the storms. Businesses, jobs, homes, and people were lost. The aftermaths were far worse than anyone could have imagined. Yet, there are so many stories of an entrepreneurial spirit, kindness, and giving by others. The devastation did not destroy the spirit of many of the communities. They rebuilt and continue to develop as stronger communities with greater protections than were there previously.
Entrepreneurs in that downturn of their business may benefit by the thought that they too can rise above the losses. They can recover personally and may even desire to build a new business. The lessons learned help to create businesses much better and stronger. Many famous entrepreneurs (some are now billionaires) have succeeded and built strong empires. It is possible as long as the losses do not destroy your spirit or your life. The song by Annie is an uplifting song. It says that there will be a tomorrow and that as time passes everything can improve. So, when faced with those fears of failure or possible loss of business, try to remember, “The sun will come out tomorrow.” Dig deep for strength and use your ingenuity, creativity and skill. If you want, it is possible to rebuild and be successful with the next venture.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
|Learn to never give up and communicate effectively at an early age!|
This is the season of buying Girl Scout cookies. Think of the process of going door-to-door or standing outside buildings and selling those cookies. It makes one wonder how many rejections and negative comments these young people hear on a regular basis. It is hard for some potential customers to show enthusiasm toward the effort and be supportive, while others smile and pull out their wallet and buy.
The process of selling is hard and requires some measure of skill. Closing the deal is an art for some while others find the process difficult. Excellent marketing of products helps. In the case of the Girl Scout cookies, it is hard to imagine any product where door-to-door sales take place with greater market awareness. They tend to rank up there with Coke and Pepsi! Do you know anyone that has never heard of Girl Scout cookies?
Scouting has been a way for young people to grow and lean many things. Business is one of those skills. In fact, marketing, selling, and accepting rejection is part of the selling of the cookies. The cookies sold are primarily to raise funds, but learning experiences are a significant benefit for these young women.
Skills always grow as young women even as they age. Hillary Clinton was a Girl Scout! She became a prominent political figure having been a Presidential Candidate and now former Secretary of State. She has experienced the negative effects in the public arena and weathered the storms. In certain circles, she is one of the most likely to be the next President of the United States and first woman to hold that office. The adversity of not receiving the nomination in the past did not hold her back and likely emboldened her in the challenge of being a Secretary in the Obama Administration. Maybe those skills learned selling cookies grew over the years: i.e., she did not give up when faced with adversity!
Sometimes early age experiences provide skills that enable people to excel in the entrepreneurial world.
1. Never give up: In a previous discussion, I wrote that “Entrepreneurs rarely throw in the towel.” This topic addressed the facts that entrepreneurs must possess a “stick-to-it” attitude to help them become successful. It is hard to sell cookies when being turned down frequently. The learning experience of staying with the task and accepting that some people do not what you have is great leaning experience.
2. You can rebuild: I have written and discussed in talk shows that “You can rebuild after business failure and devastation.” Girl scouts learn this lesson by being excessively turned down or by selling the fewest boxes. It is FAILURE followed by finding a new path to success that teaches one to never give up and seek a way to get a job done. They learn that there is always next year and that striving to do better is the objective. This is a fantastic lesson to learn at such a young age.
3. Networking and communication: These two traits go hand in hand and they are extremely important to the entrepreneur. The ability to communicate in clear concise messages along with meeting new people is a staple of most successful entrepreneurs.
4. Selling and closing: Finally, the art of presenting a product and getting the customer to buy it is basic to all business. This skill set fits with obtaining new jobs, running for office, or building a business. One of the key products marketed in each of these is the entrepreneur’s ability to run the organization. Makes you wonder if Hillary Clinton got some of her skills by selling cookies when she was younger!
Taffy Williams is the author of: Think Agile: How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Monday, May 9, 2016
|Sometimes, there is more than one way to reach a goal.; look for it!|
Business requires a high degree of focus to ensure achievement of goals. It is very easy to become distracted and deviate from the pre-determined objectives. An exciting new discovery or a more attractive market can cause one to shift midstream to take advantage of a major opportunity. Being able to alter plans to take advantage of game changing technology or markets is one of the advantages of working in a startup or small company. The flexibility one possesses can make a difference in being first to market with novel technology. It is very important to recognize and take advantage of game changing shifts impacting a product launches. However, excessive flexibility can result in constant switching and creative delays. This leads to cost overruns and lags in meeting milestones.
It is important for entrepreneurs to have some degree of flexibility. That said, they also must focus on their objectives. Focusing on products and timelines helps keep projects on track at reasonable cost. Focus prevents the team from drifting too far afield from key goals. All serious investors expect the company leaders to focus on value creation and take the necessary steps to achieve all objectives.
There is a difference between having the right level of focus and having tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is like a horse with blinders. You do not see the surroundings and miss events or steps that can improve a product or shorten development times. It is also possible to miss changes in the market place that may affect your launch or ability to capture share. The following are 4 steps may help you maintain your focus and keep those blinders off. Remember, focus not tunnel vision is the key.
1. Identify the target: Proper identification of your objectives and timelines is essential. Obtain the input from the team and ensure they are onboard with the decisions and timings. They may push back a little, but if they express strong reservations, re-evaluate the plans. The better the early discussions, the better everyone will maintain the focus and desire to meet the objectives and timings.
2. Define multiple routes: While planning, consider as many alternative routes and objectives as possible. Selection of the best plans along with a few alternatives may help introduce the concept of flexibility in achievement of the goals. Great plans include seeking alternatives that can take advantage in a way to improve your outcomes. If your team is encouraged to have tunnel vision, they may reach the goal but in a less optimal manner. Encourage the team to be alert and seek improvements where they may exist.
3. Monitor progress: You should always monitor progress and be willing to step in if needed. You may see ways to make major improvements or accelerate a program. The ability to see and take advantages of events that may lead to major improvements is the responsibility of the leader as well as the team. The team may not be aware of all the relevant information or have as much awareness of the market place. Their ability to see opportunities may be hampered due to lack of information.
4. Be vigilant for ways to improve: You may never make improvements if you never look for ways to improve. Even when something happens that can lead to a major discovery, you could miss it if you are not monitoring activities. It is essential that you seek ways to improve even if you decide not to implement the changes. In the end, you have a choice if you actually identify alternatives. You have no choice if you stick your head in the sand and fail to seek ways to improve.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
|Life is not always a bowl of cherries!|
Expectations can drive desire for a stronger engagement or, if used incorrectly, the results drive people away. For example, you want to purchase a new car and believe you know the value of your old car. Your research provided the estimated price for the new car. The simple math yields a cost difference and cash required to complete the new car purchase. The sales representative shows you a figure quite a bit higher than you expected. This causes you to become more concerned about the purchase and perhaps even sad. Alternatively, you are elated and try to close the deal immediately if the sales representative comes out with a price half what you thought would be required. Your expectations set your mood and actions.
Think about your customers the same way. Your sales pitch provides information regarding what they would obtain if they purchase your product. They set their expectations on product performance in their setting. If you did a great job, the product out performs or meets expectations. Otherwise, the customers will find the product less than advertised and they may feel disadvantaged.
You speak to your Board of Directors or your team to provide information regarding future or present performance. You put a positive spin on the presentation. If future performance is a match, you are safe because your listeners see even or better results. When the facts are too far out of alignment, they tend to believe you were dishonest or that you failed to meet your stated goals.
The value of setting expectations to match the future facts is essential to proper evaluation. Whether you are selling a product or a concept to management, your ability to convey accurate and proper expectations is extremely important. A commonly echoed motto by managers is; “Under promise and over perform.” This is a general rule that is great for all future CEOs to learn. Negatively surprising your Investors, Board, and Team is not the way to win friends and influence enemies. Positive surprises tend to work better than negative ones. Consider the following people next time you want to pitch any idea, product, or performance. Try to set their expectations properly.
1. Self: It is very hard to set expectations properly when your head is in the clouds and unable to visualize the up and down side. Coming to the realization of possible successes and failures and accurately communicating them is a skill you must develop. You will never be able to communicate them unless you learn to set your own expectations properly.
2. Team: Teams like to know your vision and expectations. They will follow your lead and drive to succeed, but it helps to have a touch of realism. The ability to help the team know the range of outcomes can prevent them from being too disappointed or too cocky.
3. Board: The Board must see both the positive side and negative side of the business. They have liability for the company and have the responsibility to ensure the performance is in the best interest of the shareholders. Continual positive pitches to the Board when there is also a downside is misleading. Always try to present balanced information and properly set their expectations.
4. Customers: One great way to make your customers unhappy is set their expectations too high for your products or services. After the purchase, they will gauge the product relative to your sales pitch. You want them asking for more of your product, not complaining to everyone the product did not meet their expectations.
5. Partners: Forming partnerships is a great way to combine forces to enhance ability to deliver goods and services. Your partners must have a fair understating of your ability to perform your side of the activity. They will become unhappy very rapidly if they see you are not as good or capable as your lead them to believe.
6. Investors: Watch any public company stock long enough and you can see what happens when investors become unhappy. Failing to meet the revenue projections or expected earnings can cause a stock to drop like a rock! Investors’ expectations that are set properly may have a lesser impact when they are not surprised.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
|Where will you be if lightning strikes your business?|
“Agile Thinking” is a skill that can be developed and sharpened. The skill can help one become better positioned to take advantage of significant events or even help create those significant events. In Agile thinking helps entrepreneurs achieve success , a few actions are listed that help one become more agile in their thinking. It is possible to improve one’s odds of success by not being so rigid and learning to be more agile or flexible in their thoughts and actions.
While watching the ACC playoffs, it was interesting to see teams play where one dominated the game until the last 5 minutes. On the other hand, close games ended up in surprise finishes because of teams being highly flexible, sticking to their goals, and upping their game. It appeared games may have been blow-outs until the end. Team that were ahead seemed to either run out of steam, or abandon their game plan. Underdogs were able to surprise their opponents and become the final winner.
Winning in business or in sports requires remaining energetic, focused and agile until the game is over. No one remembers how great you were during winning parts of the game, they only remember who won. This is enhanced if they were your investors. The investors only win if you win and they lose if you lose.
There are various skills that need attention and must become part of your makeup if you wish to be agile in your thinking. Agile thinking can increase your success as an entrepreneur. Agile thinking includes agile actions and attitude. The following list provides a few more to add to your list:
- Keep up the pressure – Entrepreneurs must keep the pressure up and continue to seek ways to grow on a daily basis. Even those having a successful running business can seek methods to increase their prospects. It is hard to know when some event will negatively affect your business, so vigilance and continued agile thinking is critical.
- Adjust plans as needed – Managers are taught to focus and this is a critical skill to develop. However, agile thinking allows for adjustment in plans when required. The ability to see events and identify adaptive actions can be important to success.
- Try something different – It is a rare event that a plan is successful when first conceived. In fact, it is rare that an agreement written between parties will be viewed the same a few years later. Trying different approaches or experimentation helps one learn what works and does not work. Adapting to the differences that may occur in a failing agreement may be extremely helpful. The key is to find what works and learn how to stay away from those things you know lead to failure.
- Get feedback – No one knows everything needed and the specifics of your business are not taught in school. On the job experiences are helpful to enhance your skills. Learning to interact and obtain feedback from people with different experience levels is critical to your selecting the better choices. Their failures can be used to help you build better chances of success.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Failure can be a learning experience and recovery is common for many entrepreneurs. Some of the most successful business people have failed and recovered before gaining their successes. There are a few losses or failings entrepreneurs’ may never recover and regret. These are often more than the business failure which can often be rebuilt.
It is often hard to reach a lifestyle balance when so much time and energy are required. Travel may take you away for much of your business life. You are spending excessive time trying to get the business off the ground and then then spend more time because the business needs constant care to grow. There are a thousand reasons entrepreneurs find their loss of personal time. The excuses are all valid and finding that balance can require more effort than building the business. The reality is that time does not stand still resulting in the possible that a few important things you hold near and dear get lost in the shuffle. Their loss is something you may never recover and you may regret having never spent more of that valuable time holding on to these.
- Time: You will never recover lost time and days because you continue to get grow older. Things you thought would be fun, wanted to see, or had dreams of doing someday tend to slip away. There is never enough time to get to everything especially when you are so motivated in building your business. Consider finding one or two of these special things that could be added to the “to do” list. Why lose all of them!
- Family: People do not live forever, an important fact to remember. The recent death of a few friends points to how quickly loved ones can vanish. Your children grow and eventually leave home. You may miss those precious times watching them in school events, seeing them date, or going on family outings. If you are not attentive, your significant other may grow weary of you not being around. Sometimes, they grow distant or find other things that take them away. Try to remember that occasionally there is no tomorrow and find a way to enjoy those special people in your life today!
- Education: Education occurs in many ways. Learning on the job is one type while the more familiar is school. Putting off learning about something you always wanted may place you in a position of never learning about it at all. Some want advanced degrees while others want to learn special skills. Try to make time to learn those things important to you or you may regret it!
- Interests: Developing interests and hobbies seems like a waste of time when you are so involved at work. It may seem a poor use of time, but those interests can be helpful and turned to an advantage. Reading books, taking on hobbies and volunteer work are areas for discussion that may make you less boring. Being with a group of people and the only topic you can discuss is your work makes you less interesting. Finding a way to develop a few special interests allows you to connect and communicate better; a true benefit when trying to grow a business. Try developing a few interests that you find enjoyable so you can become well-rounded and less boring!
- Property: Many entrepreneurs borrow against their property to build the business. This can result in loss of your home and create hardship for your loved ones. The first thing your family will find of concern is what happens to them in those bad times. It is important to remember that you are not the only one affected by financial losses. Try to put away funds for a rainy day so you can provide extra insurance that ensures your loved ones are safe!
Monday, February 29, 2016
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
|Can you pick out the more expensive bird?|
Attend any major business conference and chances are you will find competitors to your business. Observing show rooms or speaking with other entrepreneurs helps one learn about how other businesses market their offerings. The exhibit designs attract prospective clients or customers by their lighting, placement, artistry, free stuff, attractive sales people, and more. The companies hosting each exhibit intentionally desire that their offerings standout to the crowds.
As an attendee, exhibits catch your eye and savvy entrepreneurs will also be looking for network contacts as well as any competition. People wear name badges with a company affiliation and sometimes a title. A person working for a certain company or having a managerial title walks by and you spring into action. Your goal is meeting this person in hopes of developing an important contact for your business. It is also important to speak to those you already know in order to maintain your network and avoid offending someone by ignoring them. Yes, something made these people standout to you!
Diversity is important in business for many reasons. Products and offerings that are identical to others may sell, but differentiation and promotion of the product is more complex. Developing unique product offerings with advantages over the competition improve chances of greater sales. Even recognizing this fact, many startups tend to go down the path of having a business that is very similar to another business in the sector. When entrepreneurs fail to explore how to differentiate their business from the others, they may end up with a much lower revenue model than anticipated. It is possible to develop a successful look-alike business, but creating an improved business model or product increases the chances for the success.
Why look the same as everyone else? Your business is something you create and should have your imprint and designs. You have the ability to make superior offerings by directing your company along that path. At least consider the differentiation of the business and products before spending your time building the business. The following areas are worth your consideration as you proceed with your company development.
1. Strive for uniqueness: Identify those areas that make your offerings standout and be unique; a superior design, improved performance, and superior service are just a few. If you are lucky, you may be the first product in the area and no competition exists. Knowing why you are special allows you to develop better promotion that drives customers to use your products.
2. Customer preference: Customers have many other products to choose from if your product is in a competitive space. It is important to identify those factors that will encourage the customer to purchase your offering. Sometimes, products are a use once and customers do not return. This requires continually attracting new customers because return visits are limited. It also helpful to have a greater delineation between your offering and that of the competition. Knowing customer preferences allow for your development team to design offerings that fit the preferences, are more attractive, and easier to promote.
3. Attract repeat business: People eventually replace most items they purchase. This factor is important to the sales cycle. Their experience with your offering will influence their return to replace a product in the future. Identifying the key factors that will encourage return visits will help your future sales. You may also gain word of mouth advertising if they love your product enough.
4. Premium price: Premium products can be premium priced. The sales will be greater and your earnings may be greater if you have great margins. The willingness to pay more goes along with the customer believing the greater value exists and the product is worth more.