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Thursday, October 29, 2015

5 Actions improve decision making

Rational decisions should move you closer to that light at the end of a tunnel!

Making decisions can often be hampered by fear and by complexity of a corporate structure.  The wrong decision may get you fired or cost the loss of your business.  Fear of negative events reduces the care and consideration of rational thought processes to take decisive action.  Decisions become even more difficult when the entire business is on the line, because the decision maker knows that a poor decision may result in a business being forced to shut down or make the status worse than before. 

The stresses of a failing business causes some to go into a survival mode.  Their thinking shifts wildly among potential alternatives while they attempt to keep a business operational. They may fear changing course because of unknown consequences of a decision, so they keep doing what is not working hoping it will improve. Sometimes it helps to reduce the number of options to a more manageable set before maximal effort is focused on the activities that may yield the greatest payoff.  In any event, finding a way to reduce the fear, anxiety, an stress is important to rational planning.

In larger corporations, the manager may be removed from the group tasked with examining a change or new direction.  This results in the team having limited feedback along the way and the manager having to review the data from the team before finalizing a decision.  If this decision requires approval several layers up the chain, the team may fear looking bad and be far too cautious in providing the best input for the final decision makers.  It is very hard in such situations for the team to make the bold recommendation that may really catapult the business to new heights.  

It is clear that stress, anxiety, and fear will complicate decisions.  No matter what decision one makes there is always a feeling of what may have happened if an alternative path was taken.  One way to help improve the process is to take the most rational approach possible that works in the time frame required for the decision.  Keep in mind that a decision required in 1 hour forces movement through the process faster than a decision that may take a month! Consider follow the flow listed below and see if it helps you next time.

  1. Take a deep breath:  Recognize that whatever you are feeling is only going to complicate the process.  Stepping back and taking time to compose yourself and reduce any fear, anxiety, and stress will allow you to approach the issues in a more rational manner.  You are not the first person to be in a difficult place nor will you be the last.  The better the plan you create, the better the chances of coming away with a winning scenario. 

  1. Make a list:  Listing out all the issues and possible steps to resolve them is an important step.  Remember to consider the time required and cost to complete each step.  This information will help assign importance and likelihood of completing the steps. 

  1. Rank according to potential impact:  This is where you decide if task completion will be a game changer or not.  The greater the impact, the higher it should be on the list.

  1. Review time and costs:  A review of the time is not simply the time to complete the task; it includes the time you have left.  For example, a business with 6 months of funding left taking should not work on a high value task that takes 1 year to complete, nor should it work on a task that cost more than the business can afford.  Adjust tasks not you are unlikely to complete due to money or time downward on the list.  The top tier tasks be those you can complete in the remaining time with the dollars available. 

  1. Limit the number of tasks:  The listing, ranking and review will create an optimal order of those items you can complete in the remaining time with the resources available.  It is often better to select one or two of the top items and focus the remaining attention and resources to completing those tasks.  The goal is to get the greatest impact that will help the company survive and grow again.

The process helps reduce the anxiety in any decision making and it improves the selection of just enough from the list to gain the best impact with remaining resources.  As someone told me recently, when standing on the edge of a cliff, you can jump or go a different direction.  Both are decisions, but the analysis of the situation will tell you which has the best chances of yielding a positive result.  It is important to remain AGILE in Thinking, because most decisions may be altered along the way.  Monitoring the results and adjusting is essential to getting to a WIN!

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

Monday, October 26, 2015

4 Sources of business intelligence often overlooked by entrepreneurs

Spend more time engaging sources than trying to extract every last penny!

Business planning requires a knowledge of the commercial landscape and potential competition.  Entrepreneurs spend countless hours researching technologies and business directions so they can develop a successful plan for their businesses.  Internet and libraries provide fantastic information that fits many needs, but the more experienced individuals also tap into data available via the US Patent office, Security Exchange Commission, and scientific literature to identify other information critical to their businesses.   

Networking is a critical function entrepreneurs must embrace to move from the drawing board to a commercial entity.  Networking is a special skill that allows entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to meet a wide range of individuals.  When done well, entrepreneurs will eventually meet investors and potential business partners.  What is not always so obvious is that the people one meets may also be great resources of information that will help refine a business.  The new people added to a network do not need to work on behalf of the business for you to learn from a discussion.  The key is asking the right questions and listening!

Information obtained from each of the following groups when matched with what you have learned helps you formulate better directions.  Learning and strategy development is part of growing a business.  It is not necessary that all information come from your hard work or on the job training.  You may be able to piggyback from knowledge of others.  Give the some thought to possible questions you may ask when interacting with a member of one of these professional groups.

1.      Networking:  Networking to meet a wide range of individuals places you in front of professionals in different fields.  Legal, financial, technical, business and other backgrounds are part of the skills of each person you meet.  Each person has a different background and most often is willing to answer questions during discussions.  Discussions should have some give and take; they learn something and you learn as well.  Learning from the experience of others is a great way to ensure you are heading in the correct direction and avoid traps.  You may be surprised by the number of times information on competitors or market directions advice are supplied by potential investors!

2.      Investors: Investors usually have an interest in your technology because of their understanding or experiences in the field.  The more sophisticated the fund and investor the more likely they are meeting with other technology companies in the same technology area. They sometimes share non-confidential information or ask questions of you that are informational.   Professional and Angel investors may have direct hands on experience in your business area as well.  Sometimes the prospective investors will provide information without questions, but asking questions ensures you at least explore whether they are willing to help.  In fact, you may receive an introduce you to other investor even if the one you are meeting with declines to invest!

3.      Contractors and personnel:  Interviewing contractors and personnel is important.  One way you can learn about them and your business is exploring how they would approach an area or problem.  You may learn something and can better assess the candidates to find the best fit for your company. Asking the right questions may even help you alter the positioning of your business to a greater advantage!

4.      Business partners:  Partnerships focus on general needs of the parties.  Each brings something special to the table or you would not be talking with them.  Asking the right questions can help you better understand their business and evaluate their ability to work with you.  Partners are almost always interested in your wellbeing because it may improve their business as well!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

6 Facts entrepreneurs must know about failure

Hiding is not the best action after failure!

A topic covered extensively by many entrepreneurial writers is FAILURE.  Many startups are going to fail and the sooner it is recognized the better off you will be.  Even fear of failure keeps entrepreneurs from starting a new business or that fear alters their ability to take the risks that may improve chances of success. The uncertainty of future events can generate fear that influences decisions. Negativity may prevent the bold moves needed to turn-around a bad situation.  Negativity may prevent one from entering into a discussion with a potential business partner. In fact, fear of failure can be a greater problem than actually failing! For these reasons and many more, it is useful for entrepreneurs to better understand the dynamics of failure and reduce their fears.

Businesses fail for many reasons; i.e., issues with technology, regulatory problems, commercial issues, and human factors are all potential contributors. Some situations are avoidable and others are not. Unknown events can greatly affect a business making the downward spiral irreversible. Great teams may devise ways to overcome the problems and find a new route to success. Even the best people may experience failure due to factors that alter the landscape. In fact, many famous business executives failed somewhere on their road to success. There are a few facts to remember when faced with impending doom or fear of failure.  Maybe these will help you look at things in a different way and overcome fear so you can succeed.

1. Failure happens: Whether it is your fault or not, failure happens. The fear of impending failure only adds stress that may inhibit good decision-making. Some narrow-minded people think because a business failed that you are no good, but more knowledgeable people recognize that failure happens and it is a learning experience that may help in the future business activities. Your primary goal is to ensure you did everything humanly possible to succeed and made all decisions in a logical and informative manner. It is important that you do not fail for lack of trying.  Take pride in what you learned, your hard work, and the knowledge that you tried!

2. Fear increases risk:  Concerns of losing a job often prevents people from trying something different and, it happens with your boss too. Fear can alter the ability to accept risks because of the uncertainty of the outcome. Try to use your logic and knowledge to do what is best for the business. Sometimes that is scary, but if you put the time into studying the issues and seeking advice, you may have a better chance than you think.  It is better to make decisions than let fate direct your company!

3. Learn from it: Failing comes with at least one upside, you leaned things along the way! The knowledge is going to be useful in your next venture thereby increasing the odds of a future success. Your biggest failure would be not learning anything or simply giving up. Great entrepreneurs know they will eventually succeed and they keep on trying.

4. You will survive: Failure is not a death sentence and you will survive. It may not seem that way in the short term, but the facts remain that you are alive and can try again. The only thing stopping you is your fear of failure. Get over it and move on!

5. Take multiple shots on goal: Even in a successful business, developing multiple shots on goal can increase odds of greater success. Develop more than one path to the success of in the business. It may be engaging more than one business partner to develop competing deals. Perhaps consider developing two products initially, or adding an additional business site. Decide which added paths make the most sense for the organization, but ensure the direction increases odds for success. For example, buying one lottery ticket provides you with the least chances of winning when compared to buying multiple tickets for the same drawing. You may not win, but your odds for winning are greatly improved.

6. Success is up to you: You and only you can decide that success is important and that you want to try again. Nothing but you can prevent you from starting a new business. In the end, it is really up to you and having a great attitude can make a huge difference. You are a winner; all you have to do is find the correct path!

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

4 Fears that may motivate entrepreneurs

You must overcome fear if you want to climb to the top!

Discussions with entrepreneurs taking the role of a CEO often highlight emotions many may experience.  It is rather common that an entrepreneur may choose to leave a job to start a new business.  In some cases, new businesses appear to have the ability to obtain immediate contracts and be financially viable within the first few years.  New business always seems to have great potential before the reality of running the business sets in.  It is important to remember that things rarely go as expected and that great flexibility (i.e. Think Agile) is a true asset.

In a recent discussion, a CEO wanted to pull several essential employees from a failing business to start a new more improved business.  However, he felt the employees would not leave to join the new business.  Rather than start the business and hire a different team, this CEO decided not to start the new venture because of the fear of being alone in the startup business. Being alone in a startup on day one is common and not new!  It is important that one learns to set realistic expectations and consider steps to resolve the issues causing the fear in order to move forward. 

Many entrepreneurs quickly learn that startups are not for everyone and that the need for a salary and benefits can trump the desire to be part of a startup.  The fears experienced in a startup can cause entrepreneurs to believe the startup process is overly complicated.  It is often the fear of failure that leads to entrepreneurs failing to try to realize their dream.  Many different emotions experienced by entrepreneurs inhibit the desire to start a business.  Entrepreneurs that do engage in business startups have found a way to overcome these fears and move on, possibly turning the fear into a motivation. 

Concerns are natural and will always exist, but try turning the fear into a success driver or you will never start anything.  The list below contains a few areas requiring an ability to master the emotion and turn it into a driver to succeed.

1.      Social acceptance – The sense that others will not accept you or your business ideas generates a type of fear that some find difficult to live with.  Everyone wants to be loved, but entrepreneurs learn to put this in perspective.  They realize that the social acceptance is not as important in their lives as is their need to succeed in a business endeavor.  The drive to succeed in an exciting business you start can help tame the fear of being alone.

2.      Loss of income – Income is important to everyone’s day-to-day living.  A stable job is important to many people because they fear a loss of income and the consequences of limited cash resources.  Entrepreneurs fear the loss as well, but they see an upside following the periods of no or low income.  They are willing to take the risk because the drive to succeed overcomes their fear of short-term financial issues.  They still worry, but they work even harder to create a success.  The more difficult part is managing the concerns the family may have during the low earning periods.  Income reductions can have an impact on the entrepreneur and the family. Managing through the low earning periods is essential since there is no money in many startup companies for the first few years. 

3.      Business success   The degree of success a business experiences is dependent on many factors.  People often worry that they will not see the success they desire and may fail to start a business.  Fear of limited business activity and concerns of never reaching a booming success story is a great demotivator.  Entrepreneurs learn that it is impossible to have a wildly successful business if they do not start the business and give it their full energy and attention.   Success comes in many different forms and learning to enjoy the minor successes along the way to the big win is an important part of the process.

4.      Complete Failure – One of the most difficult issues to resolve is the fear of complete failure.  Failure is a process that most entrepreneurs will experience in their lifetime.  Failures do generate many learning aspects.  It is important to remember the following:  a) failure happens, b) fear increases your risk, c) you learn from failure, d) you will survive it, e) multiple shots on goal may improve your chances of success, and f) success is up to you.  Failure happens and it is important to recognize it is not the end of the world.  Many learn from failure and move on to great successes in their next ventures.  You can too!

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

6 Areas a startup CEO must learn

CEOs must learn to wear many Hats!

A CEO of a startup has many responsibilities when creating a company for the first time.  Everyone has a high level of dependence on the person leading the company and that person must meet all expectations of staff, the board, and investors.  Entrepreneurs are busy identifying technologies, developing business plans & presentations, and trying to run companies on shoestring budgets.  Occasionally, the CEO is the only employee in the company for significant periods.  After obtaining funding, they must perform in order to meet expectations of the investment community.

People possess certain skills and need to learn others. It is hard to know what one does not know!  Running a company is a learning process and nearly every day requires learning something new.  No wonder that post close of a significant financing that one CEO asked me, “What is a CEO supposed to do?” 

The skill set does not come naturally to many and the requirements are not instinctive.  In fact, the complexity of the job is something that goes beyond what one can learn in books.  The problem is that each day some new event arises that can potentially change the business.  This requires constantly learning to address the event and make the best decisions as well as take appropriate actions.  The results may be perfect or require modifications in order to end up in the correct place.   Sometimes decisions are horrible and a complete overhaul is needed!

The list below covers things a CEO of a startup may want to be aware of before starting any new endeavor.  You will soon be aware that the CEO has to wear many hats, so pay attention to number 6 as well as the others!

1.     Lead & manage the company - Eventually, startup companies obtain funding and hire a team; or in the absence of funding they simply dissolve and go away.   A successful financing usually occurs because of hard work by the founding CEO and the team, assuming the team is already onboard.  Funded companies must deliver on milestones and promises made to investors.  This requires strong leadership and management by the CEO.  It is important to get the best the team has to offer; this requires leadership. It is also critical that the team focus on key and important tasks thus requiring management by the CEO.  The more the CEO can learn about the business and the team, the better the ability to integrate these two required skills.  You may need to learn leadership and management techniques over time. If you have never had such responsibilities, consider having mentors and advisors to provide advice and talk over issues.

2.     Manage budgets & report on finances – Whether your company is private or public, you must learn to manage to a budget.  Actually, you must first learn to create lean and effective budgets.   Any funds raised must last to key events that will allow for the next financing or product launch.  Running out of money is not something to experience, unless you enjoy the pain of a severe down round or closure of a business.  The reporting aspect is essential to ensure that your investors know you are not wasting their money.  If you are in a public company, it is a legal requirement and the CEO is obligated to sign off on the accuracy of the reporting.  Inaccuracy in reporting can have negative consequences, some of which can be a legal nightmare. 

3.     Identify milestones & meet timelines – Milestones are defined prior to raising the first rounds of capital.  The need to define the milestones never goes away and new ones are created annually.  Either the Board wants them to rate the CEO performance or investors want them to monitor the progress of the investment.  Under promise and over perform” is often a good strategy because setting realistic expectations is a key part of a CEO’s job.  No one likes surprises unless they are highly beneficial to everyone! 

4.     Raise capital – It is often said that a company is always in need of new money.  The sources can range from sale of equity to loans backed by assets.  CEOs in startups are always traveling to meet with prospective investors.  These meetings help to pre-condition the equity markets by making potential future investors aware of your company.  Stocks in public companies trade because there are buyers that believe the company is exciting and there are sellers that want out.  Failure to have awareness in the investor community can result in issues for many investors.  Learn more about this from the article, “Some markets are impossible to control.”

5.     Seek & interface with investors – Investors in the company have ownership and must be kept happy.  Investors will sell or take undesirable actions if they become disgruntled and poorly managed.  Investors need explanations when failing to meet objectives defined by the CEO.  They will need regular updates to see how their investment value is growing.  Investors became involved because the liked the story.  When the story changes, they must told how the changes will affect them.  One of the most difficult times the CEO can experience is standing in front of a group of investors explaining why their investment is not doing well!

6.     Everything else – In case you are not experienced in running a startup, this category is one requiring your particular attention.  The facts are that the CEO is responsible for everything in the company good and bad.  When no one empties the trash, it becomes your job.  When someone quits, you need to find a replacement and maybe fill in while searching.  The team may have personal issues, so you become a parent “like” and offer help, if appropriate.  The company fails to perform; it is your responsibility even though you may be able to identify other causes.  The CEO is the face of the company. The CEO receives the blame in bad times and congratulations for a fantastic job in good times.  Do not underestimate the responsibility or effort required to create and run a startup!

7.     Think Agile - Surprise, bet by now you thought there were only 6!  Things rarely go as planned and many times the path to success is not a straight line.  All too often events turn negative requiring you to find a way to reverse them or find a different route to success.  Learning to think and act quickly in a most thoughtful manner is absolutely essential. 

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