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I Survived September 11, but My Business Didn’t. What I Learned From Rebuilding.

I Survived September 11, but My Business Didn’t. What I Learned From Rebuilding.

On this anniversary of the day that changed the course of American history, I must reflect on how September 11, 2001, changed me both as a person and a businessman.

Seventeen years ago, I was running my first business, AbraCadabra Digital Printing on the 18th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower in New York City. Business was booming. We were generating about $4 million a year with 30 employees and five locations across New York and New Jersey.

I was finishing up a meeting with my business manager when the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Seventeen minutes later, we were standing on the streets of New York as the second plane crashed into the building where we had just stood.

Following the events of 9/11, my once thriving business suffered as many others did at the time. My sales plummeted to $600,000 in 2003. I finally sold the business in 2004 for $325,000.

Seeing so many lives destroyed and losing my business was a major setback for me both professionally and personally that, ultimately, taught me a number of enduring lessons about perseverance, rebuilding from the ashes and the importance of consistently reinvesting in myself. Although it is hard for anyone who was not there to relate to the extreme tragedy experienced on 9/11, the lessons I learned can apply to turning around any struggling business and to every entrepreneur looking to start again with a new venture.

Recognize when it’s time to let go and start over.

Business in New York was dead after 9/11. Our most profitable branch had been destroyed and the business was suffering immensely. I had a family to care for and had to let go employees who I’d been working with for years. When my business revenues dropped to just 30 percent of what they’d been just years before, I knew it was time to let this venture go.

Business owners and business persons alike often make the mistake of holding on to what they know, when letting go could be their best shot at future success. As a business owner, when you see your business is failing and know the chances of it improving in the foreseeable future are slim, it’s imperative to know it’s time to move on.

This means reinventing yourself and reinventing your business — not quitting entrepreneurship for good. Stay in the same field of business if that’s what you’re passionate about, but find that new sweet spot with a brighter, clearer future that gets new energy moving and reignites the excitement behind the business.

When I decided to sell AbraCadabra Digital Printing and join Cartridge Word, I was entering into somewhat unknown territory. I’d known very little about franchising, advertising such products, the top competitors in the industry, etc., but I made the bold move to purchase the franchise rights to Cartridge World when there were zero U.S. locations. Now there are 287, of which 70 are mine. Sometimes letting go of smaller ventures can lead you to greener pastures.

Reinvest in yourself.

As an entrepreneur, you are your biggest asset. You are the driving force behind the business; therefore, you should always seek to learn as much as you can about your business and industry for when big decisions need to be made.

Make the time to take additional courses throughout the year to learn and grow. Whether it be a business course on the latest techniques or technology, or a marketing and advertising course covering modern trends and creativity, always work to reinvent yourself and grow your knowledge base. I typically allott five to 10 days a year to attend a courses so I keep growing and widening my capabilities.

Furthermore, have a mentor to help guide you and advise you during your business journey. As your interests or field of business change, seek new mentors who can guide you along the way. In my experience, those who’ve made it, so to speak, are typically happy to help others make their dreams come true. Do your best to return the favor. Meet with fellow entrepreneurs, learn their stories and share your own. Networking is fundamental to growing your business.

Take responsibility for your business.

Whether times are good or bad, you need to realize that the state of your business is a reflection of how you, and you alone, are running the business. If times are bad, but you insist on running your business like you’ve done for the past 10 years, you can’t expect anything to change. If catastrophe strikes like it did on 9/11, be prepared to make major changes and adapt, even if that means leaving one venture behind and starting a new one.

To run a successful business, you need the energy, goals and dedication to self-improvement to keep it running and thriving. All businesses can get stale, but it is up to you as the backbone behind the company to make changes and keep the energy high.

When I decided to take one of my Cartridge World locations back to the new World Trade Center, I was the only business tenant pre-9/11 to return after the attacks. I knew this was a bold move, but a move that ignited my spirits and in turn, my business.

 

Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by Greg Carafello

5 Tips for Starting a Successful Business

5 Tips for Starting a Successful Business

When you start your own business, you’re certain to hear a lot of different advice. Most of it will come from people who don’t know the first thing about running a successful company. Turn to the internet, and you’ll be overwhelmed by a multitude of articles and lengthy lists on the subject. Don’t make the mistake of overthinking and overanalyzing it all. A few simple steps now can start your business down the path toward success. Here, we outline the five basic tips we’ve followed to help us run our company.

1. Begin with a detailed plan.

This one is a must: Develop an in-depth plan that fully details how you’ll attack the challenge ahead. Your plan should define any opportunities you’ve identified, clearly state your mission, describe your target, establish measurable goals, and set deadlines for each milestone along the way. Remember that while it’s important to have a plan, it’s equally vital to be flexible enough to pivot when needed.

2. Get out there and network.

Our business would not be where it is today without all the professional networking we did when we first started. We continue to emphasize networking today. Until you’ve established your business, you’ll need to create your own word-of-mouth. Be your own brand ambassador, touting the benefits of working with your business and showing why people should give you a chance.

Start your own momentum. A wealth of events, trade shows, and networking groups exist to connect you with other professionals. These initial connections can lead to future business prospects, mentors, and strategic partners with the capacity to help grow your business.

3. Surround yourself with the right people.

The right mentors and strategic partners aren’t the only people with whom you’ll need to align. Surrounding yourself with a great team is equally important. Build your staff with smart, talented, and driven employees who share your vision. They can not only transform your business but also accelerate its growth. Hiring positive, can-do employees helps create a culture that encourages teamwork. Foster an environment in which everyone participates, so you can collectively celebrate your company’s successes.

4. Stay ahead of the curve.

You can’t afford to be rooted in the present and solely focused on the day-to-day. It’s crucial to keep one eye focused on the future, including upcoming movement in your industry. If you aren’t anticipating the next big thing, you’re destined to fall behind. Successful business owners study trends and anticipate what’s coming around the bend. This allows them to nimbly adapt and evolve.

Stay current on emerging issues in your field by faithfully reading trade magazines and websites. Keeping pace as your industry changes assures you’ll have your finger on the pulse to predict what customers will want — and which direction your competition might move.

5. Find a healthy work-life balance.

Running a successful business requires an inordinate amount of time and energy. It’s paramount to find a healthy work-life balance, even though it can be a challenge to do so. It’s easy to let work dominate your life. Don’t. It could result in your losing touch with those whom you consider most important. It’s also crucial to take care of your own health and well-being. Your business can’t run without you. You might believe you need that perpetual hustle to stay sharp and succeed. But that pace can and will burn you out, ultimately limiting how much you can achieve if you don’t take time for yourself.

Find ways to maintain perspective and preserve healthy relationships outside of work. Set aside time to get your body active in ways that energize and invigorate you, and schedule catch-up time with friends and family. They’ll help recharge your batteries and inspire you to persevere as you dream even bigger.

 

Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by Stephanie Abrams Cartin

6 Things My Mom Taught Me About Business and Life

6 Things My Mom Taught Me About Business and Life

When I was a kid, my dad started his own company. I remember him sitting us down for a family meeting when I was 10 and saying he wanted to leave his day job and start his own business. At the time, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of starting your own company (especially while supporting a family), but I saw him pour everything he had into his idea and build a global company.

Ten years later, when I got the idea for my own business, I felt confident in going all-in because I’d seen my dad do the same thing.

It’s been easy to see Dad as a heavy influencer in my entrepreneurial journey because of his experience, but my mom, too, has figured in: She’s been a huge influencer on my entrepreneurial spirit. So, in honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, here are six things my mom  taught me about running a company (even if she doesn’t know she did):

1. It’s okay to do it for the story.

When Mom was in college, she biked from New York to California. Yes, you read that correctly. I remember thinking, as a kid, that that was the coolest thing ever and telling all the kids on the playground.

As I got older, I wanted to have cool stories just like my mom’s. Whenever I found an opportunity to do something big or scary (like starting a business!), Mom would ask me if I had any good reason not to go for it. If I didn’t forsee any glaring hurdles, I’d go for it. I learned from my mother that even if you do something for “the story,” it usually ends up being a pretty cool experience.

2.  Send thank-you cards.

I remember how, when I was a little girl, my mom gave me personalized stationery. My initial reaction: Why would I want stationery when I could have Barbies? But my mom made me write thank-you cards for literally everything, from birthday gifts to the opportunity to pet someone’s dog (okay, that one was a little extreme, but you get the point).

At first, I found the task annoying: “These people obviously know I’m grateful; why do I have to send a card saying so?” But when I received thank-you cards myself, I always felt excited and warm and fuzzy inside. To this day, I still get excited getting snail mail (except for bills), so I continue to send thank-you cards as a regular practice.

3. If you don’t like something, change it.

When we were kids, our family moved into a new house on a lake. Across the cove were beautiful woods and a beach that we would kayak over to, to play. Then, one day, builders started tearing down the woods to construct more houses over there, even though our sellers had said that wouldn’t happen.

My mom started a petition and was at every city hall meeting, fighting for the development to stop. She didn’t win, but she went down swinging. Now, if I feel something needs to be changed, I do everything I can to fix it instead of sitting and complaining and hoping someone else steps in.

Even if any particular change I want doesn’t happen, I always remember what Mom taught me: It’s better to feel that you did everything you could than wonder if you could have changed the outcome.

4. Be nice.

I know this sounds cliched and simple, but it’s actually a super-challenging task at times. I remember that my mom was in line at Panera Bread and an elderly man was in front of her trying to place his order. He was asking the cashier questions about items on the menu, and the cashier kept rolling her eyes and trying to hurry the man along.

My mom got so frustrated at the cashier’s behavior, she walked up to the counter, and her giant heroic response was, “You . . . just be nice!” Then she stormed out of Panera in all of her glory. Even though I think this story is hilarious and continue to make fun of her for it, she was so honest that day, and also totally accurate.

Just be nice. It’s so easy to grow impatient or look for the worst in people. And, when you run a business, sometimes you feel like everything is a transaction, so you always ask yourself, “What return will I be getting?” But what if your return for being nice is just making someone’s day just a little more pleasant? Try it.

5. Start the conversation.

I distinctly remember the day my sister and I were pushing each other in shopping carts while our mom talked to a complete stranger about, well, peanut butter. I was, like, “Mom, just get the crunchy kind and call it a day.” Why did she need to talk to a complete stranger about it?

But that was Mom: Wherever we were, she’d strike up a conversation with the closest person in sight, regardless of gender, age or physical appearance. As I got older, I realized that this habit of hers had nothing to do with the peanut butter, she just liked getting to know people. It had nothing to do with what they could do for her, it was just about making friends.

One of my biggest pet peeves is entrepreneurs who only “network” with other entrepreneurs they believe can offer them something. My mom taught me to just “talk to people” and share stories, regardless of any benefit.

6. Show up.

When I was little, my sister and I participated in every single camp the state of North Carolina had to offer: sports camp, science camp, theater camp, veterinarian camp (no kidding!), spy camp, water sports camp, etc. You name it, we did it.

I can think of two possible reasons Mom did this: to get us out of the house over the summer, or to put us in new environments. Let’s go with the second one. Even though I didn’t become a veterinarian or a spy (professionally), I became more comfortable just showing up to places without knowing anyone or having any preconceived intentions.

It’s really amazing what can happen  if you just “show up.” One time, I was asked to speak for free last-minute at a local conference in Raleigh. I showed up and ended up meeting Jeff Hoffman, the co-founder of Priceline.com, who is now on my board of advisors and a dear friend. My mom was the person who taught me that opportunity cannot happen if you’re not there for it.

True, she didn’t run or start a business to show me how to run mine. But she didn’t have to. All she had to do was bike across the country, sign me up for every camp, flip out at Panera Bread, talk about peanut butter and buy me stationery. Thanks, Mom.

Originally posted on Entrepreneur by Jess Ekstrom

Three Business Lessons from ‘Moneyball’

Three Business Lessons from ‘Moneyball’

When business as usual isn’t cutting it, you might consider turning your company’s strategy on its head. Or, perhaps, find someone else who can help you do it.

That’s the premise of Moneyball, a film based on the 2003 Michael Lewis book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game about the Oakland Athletics baseball team. After several seasons of painful losses, the team’s general manager, Billy Beane, adopted a radical, statistics-driven approach to building a competitive baseball team under an ownership that underinvested in the franchise.

The film made its U.S. premiere this weekend.

As Major League Baseball nears the end of its regular season and starts looking to the playoffs, here are three business lessons small-business owners can learn from the true story behind the film:

1. Make change when it’s needed
After a painful loss in the 2001 playoffs and then losing three top players to larger-market teams which were ponying up millions of dollars to acquire the best players, Beane — played in the film by Brad Pitt — decides that drastic changes need to be made. He turns to a young Yale economics graduate who believed players should be valued by their on-base percentage (how often a batter reaches base) rather than the traditional method of relying on scouts’ experience and intuition.

Not only did this new way of doing business enable the A’s to acquire run-producing players, it allowed them to do so at a lower cost because those players were largely undervalued by other ball clubs. “We are card counters at the blackjack table and we’re going to turn the tables on the casino,” Beane says in the film.

2. Stand by your decisions
Beane’s unconventional methodology was ridiculed by baseball critics. It also wasn’t greeted warmly within the A’s organization, with player manager Art Howe and several coaches among his early detractors. But Beane didn’t budge. He fired at least one top scout who refused to adopt the team’s new recruiting plan.

Beane also worked to get the rest of the team and staff on board. He explained the process and spent weeks teaching and encouraging players to perform to or beyond expectations.

3. Set realistic goals
Even though winning the World Series championship would have been an amazing accomplishment for the A’s, Beane says in the film his main priority was to demonstrate the value of the team’s new methods, to “change the game.”

In the 2002 season, the A’s reached the playoffs but lost in the first round to the Minnesota Twins. However, the team set an American League record for winning 20 consecutive games during the regular season.

Two years later — following the A’s statistics-driven approach to player acquisition — the Boston Red Sox won its first World Series championship in 86 years. The team won the title again in 2007.

So far, Beane and the A’s are still hunting for a championship season.

 

This article was originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by Jason Fell. Although its an end-of-September post from 2011, the lessons are still very relevant today – especially as I sit back and watch the Cleveland Indians break this American League record.

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