About nine years ago I was 30 years old, and after building several profitable companies I was dead broke. The kind of broke where bill collectors were calling and I did not know where I was going to get my rent payment. That’s tough to admit for someone like me who’s proud of the things I’ve accomplished on my own because I worked extremely hard.
I was down. I felt like an idiot because here I was, this big shot spending a bunch of money on cars and drinks and other ridiculous things I thought were cool, and just like that, it was all gone. And when I say just like that, I mean that literally. One day my company was managing millions of dollars, the next day I barely had a penny. All of this because I didn’t structure my business to be agile enough to move with the times.
Let me tell you how it happened. Years before I founded my current startup, I built a successful marketing agency. We catered to one niche — the mortgage industry — which was booming at the time. The marketing agency was stable, and the revenue stream was strong, so I got complacent. In my mind, I had it all figured out and thought, “This is what I am going to be doing for the rest of my life.” I put everything I had into that agency. The idea of merging into another revenue stream or diversifying outside of that vertical never even crossed my mind. And then the mortgage industry imploded, the credit market plummeted, and I went from having tens of millions of dollars worth of clients on Tuesday to having zero on Wednesday.
That kind of experience would break a lot of people. And yes, I was obviously devastated, but I licked my wounds and got ready to bounce back with my next venture. For this business, I took on a partner and we hypothesized that building software to help people save their homes would be a billion-dollar business. At the time, we didn’t know anything about software. We hired a third-party company that no one had ever heard of. We spent over a year building the software and tweaking the design to perfection and raised a million dollars in capital investment for the project.
Then we put our feet to the ground and blazed ahead, never getting any feedback from potential customers. So of course when we finally launched, there was dead silence. Our idea fell flat on its face and we lost all the money we raised because we jumped headfirst without even testing a prototype.
I learned a lot from those two experiences, but one of the biggest lessons is that you have to be agile if you’re going to succeed. You can’t get comfortable once you’ve had a little success. The world moves way too fast and technology is too much of a game-changer to ever think you can settle into one way of approaching your business.
My grandfather used to mention the Russian expression: “The wise man learns from someone else’s mistakes, the smart man learns from his own, and the stupid one never learns.” Clearly, I wasn’t wise, because the same failure to be agile that tripped me up has been the stumbling block for thousands of entrepreneurs before me. But I am smart. Every time I’ve been kicked in the face, I’ve learned how to block. When I’ve fallen, I’ve learned where to lay down extra padding. When I run into roadblocks, I’ve learned how to change directions. That’s agility, and I learned all that the hard way — from my own screw-ups.
But you can avoid all of that and learn from my mistakes. Here are a few suggestions so you don’t fall into the same trap:
Focus on the process, not the end result.
Just because you started out with a vision doesn’t mean that’s what you’re going to end up with. Agility means being prepared to change directions if things aren’t working out. Some of the most successful businesses in the world started out as something completely different. The entrepreneurs that built these businesses shifted, pivoted and made a space for themselves where their vision worked. If you look at your business as an experiment, then you never fail. You’re just working on the right formula.
Pay attention to the market and be ready to give it what it wants.
One of the biggest factors that will change the direction of a business idea is market feedback. When my business partner and I launched our software without ever getting a feel for what the market wanted, we ignored the only true validator of any great idea. Even if you’ve got investors throwing cash at you, all that means is that you’ve developed a convincing sales pitch. But if people don’t want to buy your product or service — no matter how many indicators of greatness you had — you need to let it go or pivot and take it back to the drawing board. Remember, my marketing agency was bringing in huge revenue until the mortgage industry crashed. Take time to diversify instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket.
Listen to feedback and let your community guide you.
I’ve started to integrate feedback and data into my business by operating skunk-works style with our community. We’ve set up a big lab where we launch ideas, get feedback from the community and build things that people want. This has been invaluable. But if you aren’t nimble enough to execute on the feedback consumers give or the ideas that your community generates, then it’s pointless.
The reality is that in business, things change, things break and things fall apart. When that happens, you need to be able to pick yourself up every time and say, “That was a great learning experience. What’s next?” That agility will clear the path for successful ideas not yet on the horizon.
Originally posted on Forbes by Jason Saltzman
“You’re so lucky.”
It’s the worse thing you can say to me. And if you notice, it’s always said with a frown.
“You’re so lucky,” means that you didn’t really work for it; it was handed to you.
“You’re so lucky,” means you were just in the right place at the right time; it could have been anyone.
“You’re so lucky,” means “it should have been me.”
Meanwhile, most of the time it’s just the opposite of any of those things. You did really work for it…you put yourself in the right place at the right time…and it could have been anyone else if they had worked as hard to get it.
It’s not about being lucky; it’s about making yourself lucky.
As my father always says, “it takes a lot of hard work to be lucky.”
I was the kind of kid who always knew I wanted to go into marketing, although admittedly I’m not sure I knew what that meant back in the day. Regardless, I set my sights on what it would take to become a marketer: a good college education, solid work experience, an MBA, a real summer internship, and eventually the killer job in classic brand management…from one of the big guys.
So after graduating from college and getting a sales job at Carnation, I enrolled in the MBA program at Columbia, got a summer internship at Johnson & Johnson, and then started full time as an Assistant Product Director on Johnson’s baby products.
And all I heard was “you’re so lucky.”
Luck had nothing to do with it.
I worked hard to figure out what I needed to succeed and I went out to get it. I placed myself at the right place at the right time, so when job interviews were posted I was selected based on my very specific and purposeful background. And sure, there were others, many others, going after the same thing, but truth be told we all succeeded. Because we all worked for it. Those who didn’t make the cut looked at us as just being “lucky.”
“It takes a lot of hard work to be lucky.”
At that point, were we lucky? In some ways, yes. Because even after all that planning and hard work, it doesn’t always work out. Not by a long shot.
Been there, done that.
Luck does play a part in the grand equation here, but it’s not random luck. It’s the luck that comes from planning, preparation, and a whole lot of sweat.
“It takes a lot of hard work to be lucky.”
While I’ve had more than my fair share of mishaps, I am lucky to say that things have mostly worked out.
I try my best to make myself lucky. Hope you do the same. Good luck to you.
Originally posted on Entrepreneur by Jim Joseph
Run-of-the-mill advertisers have little respect for the personal nature of email. But, smart email marketers know how to talk to their customer as individuals. Here are six ways to do just that.
1. “From” field that shows you’re a real person
Consider the different impressions these “from” lines create:
- Bill Kastl
- William Kastl
- William D. Kastl, Nakatomi Corporation
- Nakatomi Sales Department
- Bill Kastl, Nakatomi Sales
You want your email to be warm and personal without looking like spam. The key is to say something that’s so specific to readers’ particular interests, they know no spammer would ever come up with it. Pick a “from” field that your customers will understand, and stick with it.
2. Provocative subject line
The most important thing about email is that its success or failure is all about context. Email subject lines work not because they follow standard copywriting formulas but because they tap into what specific people are interested in at a particular time.
Here are some subject lines of some successful emails I’ve sent out to my Google AdWords customer list:
- When Google is NOT the Best Way to Get a Customer
- Are Google Employees Spying on You?
- Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” and All That
- 5 Insidious Lies About Selling on the Web
- Fistfight at the Board of Directors Meeting
These headlines don’t assault the reader with cheesy-sounding promos — they hint very strongly at a story. They provoke curiosity rather than scaring people off.
3. Everybody loves a good story
B&B Electronics sells industrial communication hardware — a “boring” geek business if there ever were one. But, when Perry Marshall writes its monthly newsletter, he turns that dull, geek image on its head and interrupts a dreary day of engineering with wry humor.
The method? Storytelling.
Subject: ZIGBEE AND THE GEEKS’ REVENGE
Leslye was the girl who made my heart go pitter-patter in junior high school.
I was always sure to take the long way to Social Studies, down the stairs to first floor, past her locker, then back up to second. Just checkin’ up.
I wasn’t the boy who made her heart go pitter-patter. She liked Sam. And she never discovered that I liked her. It was my little secret.
Now maybe you didn’t run the sound system in Junior High like I did. Maybe you ran the film projector instead. Maybe you programmed Apple II computers in BASIC and belonged to Chess Club.
Still, you and I were geeks, and the pretty girls took no notice of us.
But, now we geeks rule the world. All the pretty boys and their material girls have viruses on their computers, and they can’t function without us. They’re at our mercy.
And the latest Geek Revenge these days is . . .
ZigBee is sort of like wireless instant messaging for sensors and smart devices. You drop ZigBee nodes wherever you want, no cables necessary, and the more nodes you have, the more communication paths there are and the more reliable your system is . . .
The story doesn’t surrender to the stereotype that engineers are dull, lifeless geeks who only understand ones and zeros. No. It celebrates it. It turns it into the central message.
More importantly, though, it smashes the engineer stereotype to pieces: Engineers make buying decisions on emotion no differently than the rest of us do. Storytelling works when marketing to them, no differently than people in any other profession.
4. People can’t forget you when they hear from you often
Get an autoresponder series going, and you can win the hearts of customers for life:
- We like prime-number sequences, so three, five and seven days are good.
- After that sequence is done, keep in touch at a slower rate, maybe every few days or every week.
- Your unsubscribe rate should be between three to 10 percent. If it’s more than that, your message isn’t matching your market. (If it’s less, you may not be edgy enough.)
- Want to squash refunds and returns? After people buy from you, send them a series of messages that show them how to use your product more effectively and share features they might have missed.
- When people complain that they’ve missed a day or two from you, it’s a sign your content is good and that the spam filters are doing their job.
5. If you violate the expectation of relevance, you damage your list
Let’s say you’re a chiropractor who’s just launched a new herbal remedy that you want to tell your customers about. Should you blast your entire list with it?
Odds are, you could maximize your sales that day, but you’re going to pay a price. All the people who aren’t interested in herbal stuff are now going to be less responsive to everything else you do — even if they don’t unsubscribe. You’ve just taught them that you like to send out emails about stuff they’re not interested in.
The typical marketer will treat everyone the same. The smart marketer will not. The smart marketer will have different lists for each topic — different sublists.
So if you’re the chiropractor, you build an herbal sublist and then sell the herbal remedies just to those folks. That way, you maximize the value of every single list you have.
6. The human touch sells
Don’t hide behind your email. Use it to express more of yourself. You’re not a faceless corporation; you’re a person. Show that side of you, and people will remember you, buy from you and tell others about you.
Express a personality that people instantly recognize. This is free branding. When you introduce new products or make changes in your marketing program or message, now you can attach those to a name — your name or another person that your business is known for — and that name has even more meaning and credibility.
Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by Perry Marshall
Engagement is the worst way to judge the success of your content.
This may surprise you to hear, because most people base success on the amount of traffic you get, how many “likes” a Facebook posts has and how many shares an article creates.
Look, these metrics matter to an extent. They help you judge the success of your content marketing strategy, but if this is the only way you judge it, you’re playing the game wrong.
I say this from experience because I played the game wrong for a long time. I put a lot of effort into content and advertising, and I based the success of it on likes, shares and love-hearts. For a long time, this worked (really, really well). A thousand shares did bring leads and customers and money. But, over the last two years I’ve noticed a new trend, and it surprised me a great deal.
You cannot take Facebook likes to the bank.
I’ve built more than eight businesses over the last fifteen years. Some have succeeded whereas others did not, but they all involved building an online platform in some form. As such, content marketing and online advertising have played a large role throughout my entrepreneurial career.
Over the years, I’ve spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on this, and since 2015 I’ve helped other entrepreneurs do the same through effective marketing funnels.
A few years ago, you could take likes to the bank. But, those days are over, and they are never coming back. In fact, when I looked into who bought my programs and became one-on-one clients in 2017, I realized most of them didn’t engage with my content. They didn’t “like” my posts. I didn’t notice them inside my Facebook Groups. They didn’t reply to my emails or other social media messages.
They lurked. They clearly saw what I was putting out, but they hardly ever engaged.
This stopped me in my tracks, because I realized the way I judged my content was all wrong. To this point, I made decisions based on how many likes a post would get, but I now realized likes didn’t mean money.
I didn’t feel bad though, as I noticed most of my entrepreneurial friends did the same. It comes down to simple chemistry, in fact, because likes, shares and love-hearts create a dopamine spike. You feel happy and confident, and you want more of the same. Whereas no likes or shares leaves you feeling empty and insecure.
- Highly engaged content = good content marketing
- Poorly engaged content = bad content marketing
This is how judged success, but here I was with the revelation that engagement didn’t lead to success, and that those who did buy from me hardly engaged at all.
I learned something important during this period:
The more sophisticated your audience, the less engagement you will get from your content marketing.
If you’re targeting insecure, vulnerable and naive people, this may not apply. Because insecure, vulnerable and naive people tend to not know what they want. These people engage with content because it creates a dopamine spike of its own. They feel productive because they have done something, even though that “something” may or may not help them.
So, if this is your audience, likes, shares and love-hearts may lead to profit.
Whereas if you target educated, secure and sophisticated people, it won’t. These people are too busy to spend their time commenting on every tweet and post. In fact, the more sophisticated your audience is, the less engagement you will see — be it email, social media or online advertising.
Again, this realization blew me away.
I created content, products and services for a sophisticated market who already had a successful business. My audience didn’t have time to always engage with what I put out, but that isn’t to say they didn’t see it or experience it.
This forced me to step back and reevaluate how I judged my content, and I realized looking at how many likes a post gets wouldn’t do the trick.
Focus on revenue, not likes, shares or love-hearts.
The only true way to judge the success of your content marketing is to measure the amount of revenue it makes.
The next time you push out content — be it email, social media, PR or video — consider how it actually makes you revenue. Forget about the likes, shares and love-hearts. Forget about the dopamine spikes and how happy a popular post makes you feel. Let go of the emotional attachment toward your content, and instead hone in on what it does to your bottom line.
How you do this depends on what you produce and sell, but the simple answer is to turn attention away from vanity metrics (likes, shares, love-hearts, hits, views, etc.), and toward more intimate measurables like messages, replies and people who contact you directly after you share a piece of content. It’s not as easy to measure, but the insight this offers you is far more profound.
Of course, even measuring this isn’t enough if it doesn’t drive people to actually take action, such as purchasing your product, arranging the sales call or filling in your application. This is the bottom line and all that matters: literally, how your content affects your bottom line.
It’s the only way to judge your content’s success in 2018. It isn’t to say likes, shares and love-hearts don’t matter. They do to an extent, and they can help you gauge success. But, they do not define your success.
Once you get on board with this, it empowers you to go out and create your best content yet, unaffected by how many dopamine spikes it does or does not give you. Instead, you create relevant content for the right people at the right time, and measure the effect it has on your bottom line, so you can scale-up and take your business to seven figures and beyond.
Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by Scott Oldford
We all waste time, so don’t try and kid yourself. Whether you’re a young kid at a temp job trying to relieve your boredom by browsing the Internet or an experienced CEO who can’t focus on what he needs to, time-wasting is painfully common in workplaces all across the U.S. According to recent data, the vast majority of employees know they waste 30 minutes or more every day, with 4 percent wasting half the day or more — and that’s not accounting for self-reporting biases!
If you’re like most self-driven workers, at this point you’re thinking to yourself, “I believe that, but that’s not me. I’m not the type of person who wastes time.” This is because you don’t waste time deliberately — unfortunately, most forms of wasting time are sneaky and go beneath your notice until it’s too late to do anything about them. You could be wasting hours every day without even realizing it.
What’s the solution? Raising your self-awareness, tracking down the roots of your time-waste then accounting for and correcting those discrepancies.
We all have rituals at the office — small routines that we do every day, some of which are productive and most of which are not. You might circle by the water cooler, making small talk for the first 15 minutes of the day, or you might start out by reading the news for 20 minutes.
While not always a waste of time, the danger here comes in not being conscious of your time spent. Human beings tend to forget individual repetitions of long-term routines (the way you often forget driving home from work), meaning you’re spending this time doing rituals without even realizing what you’re doing. Taking breaks and reading the news aren’t necessarily bad things, but they can put a damper on your total productivity.
Distractions are a major cause of time loss, and this is well-documented. Most people understand the obvious, superficial distractions that catch their eye in the middle of a project — for example, you might check Facebook instead of working through that tough problem or shop online between tasks.
These are easy to identify but tough to beat. Usually, disconnecting from the Internet (or source) and scheduling time for these activities later are good strategies. However, you’re more likely to suffer from distractions you don’t recognize as distractions — such as answering emails that constantly pop-up or being drawn into an office-wide conversation. Strive for a higher awareness here.
Communication is necessary and, in an ideal world, efficient. The most efficient communicators can use things like emails, meetings and phone calls to actually improve their collective productivity. However, for most of us, these mediums and institutions are ripe with the potential to waste time.
How many times have you received a long-winded email that spent several paragraphs explaining a very simple idea? How many meetings have you attended that didn’t need to be held in the first place? Strive for more efficient communication, and you’ll find yourself with more time that you can spend productively.
4. Refusal to adapt
People have different reasons for refusing to adapt. Some like their niche and pace and aren’t comfortable changing anything. Others are forward-planning perfectionists who don’t like changing their outlooks or approaches when circumstances change. In any case, refusing to adapt your working style or focus when the situation shifts will cost you dearly in terms of time spent. For example, if you gain new information about a client’s needs for an RFP, you’re better off stopping and readjusting than you are muscling through the proposal and hoping it hits home somehow.
5. Working on the wrong priorities
Let’s say you’ve managed to identify and conquer all the temporal fault points I’ve listed so far. You’re working on tasks that need to be done for 100 percent of your day — excluding breaks, which are actually important to remaining productive). Are you sure you aren’t wasting time doing the wrong kind of work? Are you burying yourself in unimportant tasks or ones outside your wheelhouse, only to realize at the end of the day that you still have your biggest, most important projects to take care of? If so, you have a prioritization problem. Fortunately, this can be addressed by more proactively categorizing and working through your tasks.
Becoming more productive starts with accepting the harsh truth that you likely waste just as much time as everyone else. Once you recognize that, you can identify the key areas of your work schedule that require improvement and gradually phase them out or improve them. This doesn’t mean you’ll eventually be perfect at managing and spending time — nobody is — but you will get a little bit closer to the ideal, and that translates to hours of extra time every week.
Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by Larry Alton
I’ve been a creative entrepreneur since 2005. My first design company was a partnership with my significant other. It was largely a freestyle experiment in running a business, conducted live over the course of five years. As a business, it was marginally successful. As a learning experience, it was my equivalent of a masters of business administration.
So, by the time I had started my second and current company, I had a pretty good blueprint of don’t’s for running a small business. I had been fortunate enough to make the mistakes that have yielded five valuable lessons learned — lessons that have truly paid off the second time around.
1. Don’t rush into partnership
It was only after my original partner and I parted ways did I recognize that we should never have had a professional partnership in the first place. Just because someone is your best friend, long-time coworker and / or significant other hardly qualifies them as the perfect candidate for maintaining a business. I say “maintaining” because it’s far easier to get excited about the prospect starting a company than being able to handle the day-to-day reality of running it efficiently.
The best partner is typically someone whose skills and approach are the polar opposite of yours. The first ensures the you are able to cover a lot more ground without additional employees. The second may create conflict, but it’ll force you both to defend your business instincts and weed out lesser ideas before you waste resources.
2. Don’t get discouraged
Running a company isn’t a goal — it’s a long, winding road. Enjoy the process! Unless your goal is to cash out, and you’ve got some built-in exit strategy, chances are you want a long-term entrepreneurial career. You will have ups, and you will have downs — possibly in the same week or even day. You will gain amazing clients and lose others for reasons fair and unfair. That’s all part of having a business.
I’ve yet to encounter a single business owner who’s reached some grand, stable plateau beyond failure, disappointment and doubt. We all experience it. Instead of discouragement, focus on becoming more resilient, on learning how to handle stress productively.
3. Don’t forget why you wanted to start a business in the first place
Whether it’s following a passion or having more control over your time to devote to family, always remember why you started down this road in the first place. It’s easy to get carried away and forget what it was you wanted from your own business. I, for example, was driven by quality-of-life factors, especially time off for my other passion — travel. At times, temporary sacrifice may be truly necessary, but it pays to be conscious of when you’re in danger of permanently shelving the very thing you wanted most.
4. Don’t try to do everything yourself
I started my first company with $500 — barely enough to cover the costs of incorporation. So, right away, I developed an addiction to doing everything myself. My partner was only capable, willing and able to do so much, and I found myself doing a lot of admin tasks I never anticipated. Those tasks came with learning curves, and they took up valuable time and energy — energy that could have been directed at helping the business grow.
I didn’t make this mistake twice. With my second, far more successful attempt, I contracted my business half just a couple of months in. Although my expenses grew, now I could focus on doing better work as well as devote time to business development. Both actions helped to grow the company far quicker than my former money-saving attempts at being my own bookkeeper.
So, resist the urge to cover all the ground alone. Saving financial resources is important, but don’t let your task list undermine your big goals.
5. Don’t stop evolving
Your strategy, your marketing plan, your target market — nothing is set in stone. The world is changing more and more rapidly each day. Your industry will likely experience a shift, whether slight or monumental, at some point. As a small business, you are at a disadvantage, because your resources are a lot more limited. But you have a priceless advantage in ability to change course and adapt far quicker than a larger organization.
The best way to remain relevant is keeping your eyes open for changing tides, your mind open to new ideas and staying flexible.
And, of course, don’t be too afraid of making your own mistakes!
Originally posted on Entrepreneur by Maria Rapetskaya