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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 articles for 2012 from the Startup Blog

Startup Blog has been on line for about 2 years now.  Changes you may have noticed are inclusions of photos (I shot  most of them) and more real-life experience stories.  More than 200,000 have enjoyed the articles in Startup Blog and more than 50,000 have read the Examiner articles.  The topics and content are not identical and both are something intended to help you in starting a company and building it.  There is no one central theme because running a business requires many skills.  Developing those skills often comes from on-the-job training. 

The blog is designed to be educational and helpful.  New topics sometimes come from readers. They are welcome and encouraged.  Please feel free to engage and help make the blog more helpful to you by commenting and requesting more on select topics. 

The articles below were the top 10 for 2012.  Some surprised me as to how fast they rose in the rank.  I hope you read them all ready, but if you have not, here they are:

Taffy Williams is on Twitter by @twilli2861.  Email questions to twilli2861@aol.com. More is available via his company website ,  photo website, or “LIKE” ColonialTDC on Facebook.  You can also find him in the group Startup Group on Linkedin. Other articles are in the Charlotte, NC- small business section of Examiner.com.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Take extra care when reviewing content

Errors look bad !

Twitter is full of blog links and other useful information for startups and job seekers.  The writers offer lots of advice and some articles are fun to read.  Startups create content they hope will attract customers and/or investors.  Job seekers prepare their resumes in hopes of finding the next opportunity.  There is a job shortage, investment funds are limited, and many companies have less money.  The combination creates a market more favorable for the consumer, investor, and company seeking employees. 

It is always best to have error free content, but people make mistakes and work product sometimes contains errors.  When the errors show in the final work product, it may send the wrong message.  In the words of a reader that caught a few of my errors,

 “it is extremely important in a tough competitive market to catch errors.  Resumes with inconsistent formatting or typos send the wrong message. I may get 10 resumes for the same job and they all may be equally qualified.  It can be the little things that make the difference when the margin in slim.”

The same holds for seeking investment, marketing products, or conducting any form of business.  Even blogs with errors may create problems by causing a reduction in readers’ confidence levels in the author. 

People make mistakes.  This can occur on occasion by failure to pay proper attention to the details.  Some individuals overlook the mistakes and look at the bigger picture while others have problems looking beyond the mistakes.  While mistakes do take place, finding ways to review the work and ensure it is error free serves to provide a better image to all.  Learning to take the hit for the mistakes and improve in the future is a value that enhances your image to many. 

Errors are irrelevant as far as the level of competition.  Elimination of errors is a task that we all must strive to accomplish. One can always correct work later, but it is much harder to correct bad impressions and you may never recover lost opportunities that arose from errors. For these reasons and more, do your very best to review and eliminate mistakes that will suggest to others you are not the person they want to hire or invest with.  You may not receive the position or the money, but at least it will not be for looking like a poor performer or that you do not care.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  Check and double check your work, and then have someone else look over it if you can.  Why miss out because of a typo or worse!

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some things are beyond the entrepreneur control

Prepare in advance for those days you may be away!

People go through many different emotional states during each year.  The emotions range from the excitement and joy to the horror of losses like those seen in the Sandy storm or the killings in Newtown, CT.  These events affect the desire and ability to maintain normal function of a business.  During the great times, the business activities are not dramatically affected.  It is during those horrid times that one may wish to retreat from day-to-day activities and hide in a closet or worse. 

The horrid events of life need not be as devastating as the Newtown killings.  People have situations like deaths or sicknesses of family or friends.  Family breakups and arguments can contribute to the mood and desire to maintain normal daily functions.  Personal medical issues weigh heavily on decision-making processes and commitments to work.  As sad as it may seem, this is life and sometimes events are beyond our control.

Each entrepreneur has events and people they have a direct ability to improve or change; i.e., their direct circle of friends and situations where providing assistance is helpful.  Then there are those events and people you have less control over because they are out of your direct inner circle of friends or daily events.  All activities have an impact on your mood and may alter your ability to carry out your daily work requirements.  It is during these times, that having friends, family, and the community support mean the most.  They can be a source of strength.

One cannot prepare for many negative events, and it seems that they often they come in multiples.   For example, a family member in the hospital and two funerals in one week are unusual, but it happens.  The downside is that you may lose your direction and forget where you were in your work once you return.  Perhaps, you are the leader of the business and the team is lost while you are away.

There is really nothing to guide you on the emotional side or help prepare for the negative events.  You might consider the following ideas as a means of keeping the business functioning while you are recovering.   They all are advance planning and are good whether you have negative events or never experience one.

To-Do Lists:  Keep a list of activities that must be completed along with the dates required for completion.  If you must be away for a while, the list will help you understand what the work needs on your return.

Project Planning: Develop project plans with timelines.  The project plans allow the team to know their responsibilities and may keep them functioning while you are away.  Develop a reporting method that allows you to track the progress of the team at regular intervals.  The reporting method may be something you can review while you are away.

Team Leaders:  Appoint team leaders and provide them with clear objectives.  Empower the leaders to conduct the business as needed to accomplish the objectives.  Develop a means of reporting that allows them to keep you appraised even if you are not available for some period.

Second in Command: Identify and train a second in command.  A person you trust with all aspects of the company business.  Empower this person to run the business in your absence.  Developing a reporting method, you find suitable so that you may monitor activities if you are able.

You cannot prepare for all events, but you can prepare for your absence from the business.  You can also learn to trust your employees and count on them to grow the business.  The company, Cantor Fitzgerald L.P., lost 658 employees in the 9/11 attack on the One World Trade Center. This included family and friends along with much of the business.  The company found a means of rebuilding and assisting the families of those lost.   The leadership and courage of those that remain after devastation is the only way we can honor the memory of those lost.  These leaders through their guidance contribute to building a stronger community. 

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Keep your business dealings as simple as possible

This path has more twists and turns than needed!

In the Sands of Iwo Jima, Sgt. Stryker (i.e., John Wayne) stated, “Life is tough, but it's tougher if you're stupid.   People can be very smart but do things that are not so smart.  The result may work out, but the path to the end can be hard to complete, consume excess energy and money, and confuse the team.   The goal should be to develop the clearest path to success and keep the dealings as simple as possible.   Otherwise, you fall in the trap of making life more complex than needed and potentially create delays or other complications.

The same is true for most aspects of business; business structures, deals, compensation plans, stock plans, marketing, manufacturing, etc.  Planning is an integral part of business.  Regardless of the intended purpose, starting simple and amending the plan as needed is often a good strategy.  The ability to keep things simple allows everyone to follow along with less confusion. 

One of the added advantages of keeping things simple is that should the originator of the plan depart, everyone remains able to determine what the intentions were.  Living with overly complex business dealings results in making the task of building a company more difficult especially if no one understands the situation after the originator departs.  Explaining the plan to investors is extremely complicated and review of the dealings in diligence becomes even more difficult.  The dealings may have worked, but certainly would require an understanding of it to carry it out!

Creating complexity is a natural reaction to adjusting to different situations.  Once something does not work properly, the analysis and modification are logical next steps.  The stepwise changes allow for monitoring and improvement yet keeping plans to the simplest form possible.  There are cases where individuals will contemplate all the ways something may fail and add layers of adjustments on day one.  Some of these have a tendency to cross from the realistic and workable to the ridiculous. 

When possible, try to keep your dealings as simple as possible.  Add the degree of complexity required to get the job done and ensure the plans are understandable by everyone.  If one of your team cannot describe the plan, maybe it is too complex.  You can count on them not carrying it out properly if they do not understand it.

For example, suppose you want vesting of equity.  You can go with simple time dependent vesting, you can pick select milestones for vesting, and you may be able to mix them.  It is possible that the mixing can become so complex the company and the employees will have problems tracking the vesting.  The reporting of the vesting is even more complex with an overly complicated plan.

As another example, you may want to acquire a technology for stock and cash.  You can develop a clear set of deal terms for the acquisition.  You may want to delay some of the cash payments.  Most of the transaction can be documented in very clear terms.  However, it is possible in the desire to do a great deal you develop a structure so complicated that no one will understand it in the future.  This presents problems with tracking and explaining the deal to others. 

The examples do not do justice to the complex deals they were describing.  The simplicity of the examples should help you get the points.  Maybe the simple explanation is satisfactory to present this message.  The actual deals were so horrible it is nearly impossible to describe them anyway.  In short, try to keep things simple.  No need to create a stupid arrangement that is overly complex unless that is the only way to do the job.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Entrepreneurs are like artists

The start of a new company by an entrepreneur is like an artist creating a painting.  The easel is blank and the artist creates a masterpiece from a vision.  First, the sketch is drawn and then the colored.  The artist decides whether to use an oil-based paint or some unique method of adding color.  The artist sees the painting taking shape.  There are sections that may need to be re-done because they did not fit the desired image.   There are no numbers or instructions for the artist.  The whole idea develops from concept to reality based on a vision.

The same occurs with many startups.  Entrepreneurs have an idea for a product that should be important to the targeted consumer group.  The idea may be an early concept or it may have some research performed by a scientist the entrepreneur has identified.  The next step is identifying a process that will convert the idea to an exciting product.  The development path is committed to paper along with the marketing information and any relevant business information.  Eventually a business plan is created.

The entrepreneur must now create a company structure and find team members to work on the business.  Money must be raised to fund the business.  The entrepreneur now takes to the road on a treasure hunt.  The process of seeking money is a performance of sorts.  The entrepreneur must present the business in a manner to captivate an audience.  The investors must share a vision and that vision is the one the entrepreneur created.

The process of creating a company can sound a bit more business in description, but that hides the extensive creativity that many entrepreneurs possess and use to form their business.  A company created from scratch complete with plans, a team, and funding.  It takes imagination, an ability to convert images to reality, conviction, and salesmanship.  The entrepreneur must lead the process and adjust the business as needed.  The whole process arises from a vision.  Perhaps, one can characterize the entrepreneur as a magician.  Things appear out of thin air, but magic is an illusion.  The businesses created by entrepreneurs are real and the jobs that arise are real.

Art has similar characteristics as a company ages.  The better the entrepreneur and the more desired the business, the greater valuation.  Images that do not sell well eventually fade to being worth very little.  Those pieces of art created by the masters are recognized as fine art and are worth high prices; the same is true for the companies created by the entrepreneur. 

It takes time and thought to create a company.  The goals of all entrepreneurs are to create masterpieces.  The thought and energy you put into your masterpiece will ultimately determine the value you receive for it.  The recognition you receive will be part of your reward as well.  Your goal is to create masterpieces that everyone wishes they owned; be it part of the company or products being sold.