33 posts tagged with business
building an exceptional team

September 15, 2015
Finding the Right Fit

(Building An Exceptional Team)

Part of my duties in my day-to-day life involve finding the next great talented person to join our team. I don’t think by any means I am an expert at this, but I have been told on numerous times that we have a great team. (That’s not me, that’s the team believing in what we do). Remember these are not just empty chairs floating around and in need of a warm body. These are highly important positions for your team. Every single team member is important. When it comes time to build a team or fill seats, whether that is for a business or for a community there are several things I think are incredibly important. Some of these qualities might be surprising and some may be noticeably absent. I would like to share with you the five qualities I seek most often when looking to build a team.

These might be different for you and you may find mileage may vary depending on the industry or the focus of your company or organization. But I believe the following five qualities are a great place to start when building a team. I’ll give them each to you quickly and explain why I feel they are important.

1. Honest

Of course everyone is looking for an honest employee or co-worker. No one wants to think they are working with someone that will lie, cheat, or steal (remember though: if it’s in the refrigerator and unlabeled- that’s fair game). But in seriousness, an outstanding team member must have outstanding character. They should be not only honest and trustworthy but open. No, not the type of person who blabs every little detail about their personal life. But rather, they are quick to share their concerns, their potential problems and their work struggles. They are open and transparent in both successes and failures. I believe this is one of the most important character traits you want to find.

2. Determined

I love determined people. I am highly determined. I’m motivated. I love to work with people who are determined. They take the tasks they are given and they “make it happen”. Sometimes today that feels like an overused phrase but this determination to accomplish things is important. Immediately you may think the opposite is laziness, but I disagree, the opposite of determined is disinterest. They may be present and performing their job but without determination they are not the outstanding team member they could be. Determined does not mean working long hours every day either. Determination may require an occasional late night or at the least the willingness to put in extra time when the situation arises, but being determined is not being a workaholic. Being determined is more about a state of mind.

3. Proactive

A great team member will be proactive not just in doing what is required of them but seeking out other ways to help the team succeed. This state of being proactive means being a thinker. Proactive team members are always interested and engaged, they want to see great things happen because they believe in what they are doing. But more about that deep down belief in the next point. Proactivity isn’t just doing more work or finding more work to be done. Proactivity means a sense of alertness to the team environment and the outside community. What does that look like exactly? I’m glad you asked. Here is a simple three word phrase that I like to use to describe this concept. Proactive means listening. Many consider listening to be a reactive or passive activity. But if you are actively listening to what’s being said what you’ll find is you are essentially hearing what could be next. If you are actively listening you are proactively building the future.

4. Caring

Yes, an outstanding team member needs to be caring. I don’t mean a touchy-feely, let’s all hold hands and dance through the fields type of caring. But the outstanding team member needs to care deeply about the team, the organization, and the community. How does this happen? Simple. When you build a team surrounded about a shared belief system. When you find those team members who see, understand and share the vision of the team then you will have found an individual who will care. Let me describe this quality by sharing another opposite. The opposite of a caring individual is an apathetic person. They show up, they do their job, and then…then they leave. They only punch the clock; these individuals lack determination, they lack the proactive understanding about the underlying foundation for why you do what you do. They don’t care. A caring individual must be deeply motivated by the reason why.

5. Excitable

The last character quality I like to seek out when identifying exceptional team members is their ability to get excited. Too many times I think the idea of excitability gets a bad rap. People label someone as excitable if they are easily agitated, that’s a completely different word. When I say excitable I mean someone who’s passions can be stirred. They are caring, they understand the vision and they are compelled by the vision to accomplish the mission of the team. And this excites them. This drives them and gives them determination. to be proactive. I love to see someone get excited about what they are doing. This speaks to me. I see their passion and this passion, this excitement, is contagious. It spreads throughout the team. If you have a team member that does not have the quality of excitability then the team as a whole suffers. But when excitement works its way through a passionate team then each person feeds on that excitement and the passion builds, and builds, and builds within the team.

And those are five of the key qualities I like to look for when building a team. When I find someone with those traits I have a pretty good feeling they will fit within the team. They will share in the culture of the team. There are some great examples of company culture and team culture which I follow but I will refrain from commenting or sharing my thoughts on that aspect of hiring in this post.

You may have noticed a few qualities conspicuously missing from this post. No I haven’t neglected the importance of formal training, potential salary requirements, or the hard-working nature of a team member. But these are secondary qualities. They play a part but they are not what I look for first. I want to build a team that will last, a culture that inspires, and a community that grows for years, and decades to come. When I meet someone with the five qualities I listed above the result is usually someone who will not only fit into an amazing team but become an amazing part of the community.

July 27, 2015
You’re Going The Wrong Way

This was my first experience with Lyft, the other popular ride-sharing service. I had previously used Uber on multiple occasions but all the recent publicity and press I figured it might be time to explore the alternatives and see what else was available in the ride-sharing space. Lyft is of course the second most popular service with others coming along behind them.

Ride Sharing Lyft Car

I was familiar with Lyft but to be perfectly honest I hadn’t checked them out earlier partly because I was a bit turned off by the “fun” nature. I’m looking for a nice, professional ride, not a party car with a giant pink mustache. But here I was in Portland preparing to return after a long week of conferences and I decided to give the mustache a chance. I’d be leaving in the dark anyways. And so in the early morning hours with some hesitation I requested a Lyft and waited.

My driver, Max arrived promptly and to my relief the mustache effect was minimal. He helped me get all in and as I had heard I rode in the front seat instead of the back…no big deal. We settled in and he immediately guessed my destination to be the airport (I suppose there’s not much else people use Lyft for at 4 in the morning). I explained it was my first time using Lyft and was interested to see how things went. I had barely gotten these words out of my mouth when I was treated to one of the most heart-stopping experiences you want to face at a time of day when your eyes are barely open.

one way street

Max had pulled out and started driving along unaware he was driving the wrong way on a one-way street. No big deal, it’s deserted roads at this time of day right? Mostly. You see the one vehicle that seems to always be on the roads is the impressively-built, industrial-sized, public transit, also known as the city bus, equipped with a wonderful set of powerful headlights. It was at this moment, caught in the brilliant glare of two spotlights I turned to Max and rather casually observed;

“I think you’re going the wrong way.”

I can’t help but think in that moment how much I felt like John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes,Trains, and Automobiles. If you’ve seen the movie you know what part I’m referring to. Let’s just say I was relieved to see that Max did not have horns and an evil laugh when I turned to him with my now fully-open eyes and racing heart.

Thankfully Max was able to pull a quick and well-maneuvered three-point turn (I guess the Department of Motor Vehicles must have planned for this type of thing when they made three-point turns a mandatory part of the driving test.) We escaped without incident and were able to get back headed the right direction and had a relatively uneventful remainder of our trip to the airport. (Not sure there’s much more that could have been done to make it more exciting at this point).

So now comes the question. Would I use Lyft again? After a hair-raising experiencing like this do I feel comfortable doing it again? I’d have to answer absolutely I would. Things happen. Mistakes can be made by anywhere and at any time. This could have very easily been a once-in-a-lifetime fluke. But if I book a Lyft in the future and find myself in a similar situation, or any other less-than-optimal experience…well that might just close the book on the service for me.

Tolerance

You see, as humans we’re tolerant of an occasional faux-paux (well, most people are). We recognize that things happen and we’re willing to overlook them, forgive them quickly; particularly in a new service or new product. We are more tolerant. However, repeated negative experiences build on each other. We don’t forget things quickly (I can assure you I won’t forget this Lyft ride anytime soon).

How quick are you in turning?

This is the aspect that can absolutely destroy an otherwise great startup. You can have glitches in your beta, you can have a bug here or there that hopefully can be fixed quickly. A minor three-point turn and you’ve redirected the user back onto a successful journey in your app. But fail multiple times and your users will leave. They will establish a perceived pattern, they will assume a poor product, a bad implementation, and leave you with a failed startup. Yes, first impressions are important and critical to get right, but they are not the only thing to consider. The overall user-experience, the attention to details, the responsiveness handling issues or bugs when they arise are just as important.

Are you listening?

In my startup life these are the types of lessons I’m learning. Listen to your users, they may be telling you that you’re going the wrong way. You may need to pivot or simply do a quick, three-point turn, but always be listening. I hope if you’re in a similar situation you can draw some inspiration, encouragement, or at least a laugh from my journey and use it to make your startup-life more successful.

Planning and Plan Book

January 5, 2015
The Importance of Planning

Everyone loves to point out those projects which are immensely popular and claim they were overnight success stories. There is something glamorous about the idea that the next day it might be something new. Or, even better, that it might be their idea. Success is only a day away. Unfortunately this notion of instant success is more myth than fact. Some of the greatest companies that have been termed overnight success came from a very different background. The truth of the matter is much less glamorous and much more realistic. Great ideas involve planning. Planning is vitally important to success. Let’s look briefly at 5 reasons planning is important.

This post has received a second part, read part 2 next.

1. Planning helps identify goals

One of the most beneficial aspect of planning is in creating goals to accomplish. When you sit down and write out what you want to accomplish you will be surprised how this goal structure lends itself to creating a plan for accomplishing them. There are a couple of different strategies when working on goals. Some of the more popular include creating three goal types, short-term, mid-term, and long-term.

Short-term goals are those items you would like to see done in the next 2-3 days. These goals are quick, easy to accomplish and relatively simple goals. The mid-term goals are things you’d like to accomplish in the next few weeks or months. This is the broadest time scope and can vary in degree of difficulty. Ultimately each of these mid-term goals are concrete, well-defined goals which can be directly actioned. The last goal type is the long-term goal. These goals are much more abstract and contain more figurative type of language. These are the big picture goals and long-term aspirations you hold for your project.

Writing these goals out and organizing them into these three categories (of course you can use more if you like) will give you the great beginnings to a roadmap. This roadmap is what we’ll look at in our next point.

2. Planning offers directions

If you start creating your goals in the first step and organize them accordingly what you’ll find is you’ve begun to take the first step towards creating a roadmap. Planning a direction for your project or business involves creating a roadmap. Planning takes many different shapes and sizes and as you create this roadmap for accomplishing your goals you will find your planning is offering you great direction.

Business direction allows you to plan for a course of action you will take to accomplish your goals. Planning how you accomplish them is a valuable exercise for your business growth and development. As you plan you will put together a course of action. This course of action will help you to be prepared for what comes next. You’ll be ready to answer questions and you’ll have an advantage over others which have not prepared for their future.

3. Planning uncovers problems

You create your goals and identify your direction and you become prepared for what is coming next. The more prepared you are the better you are able to handle problems as they arise. Even more than handling problems as they arise the art of careful planning will help you to uncover potential problems before they even occur. When you work to carefully plan out a direction you’ll undoubtedly uncover possible bumps in the road along the way. If you aren’t careful in your planning you may never discover them until its too late.

Uncovering problems means finding solutions and implementing fixes before they become a reality. There are few things as exciting as fixing problems before they are even found. Being able to resolve conflicts and work around issues is an invaluable business advantage. Careful planning helps uncover problems.

4. Planning adds professionalism

Professionalism doesn’t mean stiff and stodgy. Just because you are professional it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Professionalism means you are prepared. Preparation is another word for planning. Planning adds a sense of professionalism to your business. When you plan your course of action, when you outline your goals, and when you uncover problems you give yourself the opportunity to be prepared for things that arise.

Being prepared keeps you from getting caught off-guard if things don’t go as planned. This is an important point. Planning does not mean everything always works as you intend. Errors, problems, and failures will still happen. Planning helps you stay professional as you handle those times. Planning keeps you prepared for when things don’t go as you hoped.

5. Planning gives perspective

Lastly, planning your goals and your direction helps to give you a clear perspective of what matters and what is possible to accomplish. As you create your goals you will focus on what you want to accomplish. Planning how to accomplish those goals will force you to organize them and also to prioritize them and put them in perspective. No one wants to waste time working on something that is not important. However, the day to day life of a startup or small business too easily gets overwhelmed and those goals and objectives get lost in the daily grind.

Planning helps to stay focused and to keep your perspective. Keep your perspective on your purpose and your future. Then and only then will you see success and you will be rewarded for your planning.

“Meticulous planning will enable everything a man does to appear spontaneous.”
– Mark Caine

Because as much as human nature likes to believe in overnight sensational success stories, the truth is more common. Perhaps a change to a well-known quote would be appropriate. Instead of “practice makes perfect” a better quote would be “planning makes perfect”.

Don’t believe in wild fantastical stories of instant fame; instead plan a course, identify goals, and move confidently towards accomplishing them. Maybe you will be the next company everyone is talking about.

Important to Show Appreciation

October 27, 2014
The Importance of Appreciation

A Personal Experience

I’ll start this post with a personal story. I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in this and so I think I will merely share my experiences of a problem many others face. I’m a long-standing United airlines flyer. As my travel requirements picked up significantly so did my trips with United. I was pleasantly surprised to receive drink vouchers when I reached the Gold status level. I was equally surprised to receive another batch when I reached Platinum. When I reached the top tier status Premier 1K, United took the time to send me a note thanking me for my loyalty and a cheap gold hand wrap for my carryon luggage. The little piece of fabric probably cost them a dollar or less but the impact was huge.

Perhaps even more important was the fact that I was not delayed, bumped, or left behind on a single flight the entire year. Every single trip was executed without incident. That settled it – I decided to book as many of my trips for 2014 on United as possible. Even when those bookings meant a bit more of a nuisance to me and my schedule I was willing to do that because of my experiences with United.

2014 Travels

Much to my chagrin 2014 has been fraught with delays, missed flights, bumped flights, and a host of other issues. I’ve had more inconveniences, missed conferences, and delays then I thought possible. Now granted there are things outside of United’s control…like the weather. But more than 75% of the problems were in no way related to weather. United seemed to be short-staffed, short-planed, and just in general unable to meet the demand.

And let me tell you there’s nothing worse than finding out that you’ll actually be getting home at 2am instead of 6pm. That phone call to home is not a fun one to make.

The Rest of the Story

But this is only half the story. Unfortunately it seems United has misunderstood the very basic concept of new vs returning customers. I have once again flown an extraordinary number of miles with United and have achieved the various status levels same as the previous year. I’ve done so quicker and with greater overall ticket price than previous as well. There is however, one major difference. I’ve not received a single email from United, not a single letter, not a single voucher.

Honestly I couldn’t care less about a silly letter, a coupon voucher or a handle wrap. But what I do care about is the customer service. The recognition for my loyalty. It wouldn’t have been that hard to make me feel special. And it certainly wouldn’t have cost United much at all (maybe a postage stamp). But instead because I currently hold a status level they have neglected to notice my current travels as I once again achieved that status. It’s the age old problem with keeping current customers happy or winning new ones.

I’ve mentioned it time and again both on my blog and on twitter. Saying thank you, showing appreciation is so easy, so inexpensive, and yet so powerful. There’s no way to describe the feeling a genuine heartfelt word of appreciation can give someone.

The Importance of Appreciation

I am sure I’m not alone in noticing United’s treatment and unfortunately for United, many others like me probably begin to look elsewhere. When recognition and appreciation fails then loyalty falters. I think this is the key point to take away. Sure the debate can wage on whether its easier to get a new customer or retain an existing one. But at the end of the day what matters is if a company recognizes and appreciates those customers who demonstrate loyalty to their brand. If a company fails to acknowledge loyal customers they will soon be left without them.

Lesson to Learn

What does all this mean? It means for one thing, United better figure out what they are doing or they’ll lose existing customers faster than they can win new ones. But more importantly it means there’s a valuable lesson we can learn from this example. We should each be sure to take the time to appreciate loyalty. Again, it doesn’t take much. Just say thank you. Write a note, send a tweet. Find some way to express gratitude. Appreciate and recognize the efforts your customers have made and you’ll find you have a customer for life.

 

Be Memorable - Remembered by you audience

September 11, 2014
How to be Memorable

One thing every good business wants is to be remembered. This will inevitably lead to future sales and greater growth. If our businesses and our marketing must be designed to make our company or organization more easily remembered by our audience then we must look at how to be memorable.


I’d be foolish to attempt to tell you that these 6 tips will make you instantly memorable. There are of course no set guidelines which will guarantee your organization or company will remain in someone’s memory…this isn’t Inception. However, here are six things to get you started.

Listen more than you talk

The art of listening is one which I’ve mentioned previously and one which is more than likely the most difficult on this list to do well. Listening when your job is in marketing is even more difficult because social media networks try to focus your attention purely on active sharing of information instead of nurturing the one-to-one connections which happen when you are listening.

When you listen to someone when they speak you will be remembered as thoughtful and caring. But this leads directly to the next point.

Be genuine

You must be genuine when you listen and respond to someone. Your attempt to engage and connect with your audience involves listening and responding with true interest in their situation. If you are not genuine you will most definitely be discovered. When you are in marketing in particular your community, your audience will be more aware then ever to your intentions and your motives. If they are not genuine then your audience will distrust anything further you attempt to share.

Your genuine interest and interaction with people will make you memorable for your personal touch.

Ask good questions

One way to encourage good listening and help assist you in being genuine is to ask your audience good questions. When you ask the right questions you’ll demonstrate that you are indeed listening to their situation and you care about their needs. Asking the right questions will cause you to think about the person you’re speaking to and what matters to them. Good questions are leading questions. Questions which require the other person to give sentence responses. In other words, not yes or no answers. These closed answer questions quickly turn a conversation into an interrogation.

If you’ve ever talked with someone and they have asked questions which showed how you they were truly listening to you and wanting to know more about you then you know how it makes you feel. You remember them for being attentive and wanting to learn.

Share your story quickly

Of course you never want your conversations to be one-sided. You’re not just asking questions and listening. You have to share information too. This isn’t hard. In fact, this is the part of the conversation you’ve been waiting for and if you’re not careful you can quickly become memorable for the wrong reasons. You don’t want to be remembered as the long-winded talker who wouldn’t shut up. Instead you need to share your story but share it quickly. This means practicing your elevator pitch and getting your information shared easily.

When you are succinct in your talking you will be quickly remembered for listening more than you talk and for sharing good information in an easy-to-follow manner. When you’re in doubt you should always err on the side of sharing too little instead of too much.

Be quick to follow up

The conversation and the connection doesn’t stop when you walk away or hang up after the call. Your opportunity to be memorable and your connection with your audience continues on long after the conversation has ended. You can stand out in the other person’s mind by being quick to follow up. Don’t forget their name, don’t forget their answers to your questions. This continues to show your commitment to them and your desire to maintain a relationship. Be genuine in your follow up and legitimately look for ways to speak with them after the meeting.

The follow up is an important way to not only stay in touch but also to make your business or organization memorable in their minds.

Offer to help

The last tip I’d like to leave you with in your desire to be remembered (at this point you have listened well, you have asked good questions, you’ve followed up) you are in the best position possible to help them. That’s right. You can offer your assistance in helping them in any way you can. Perhaps you can directly assist them because of your expertise or your field, but even more importantly, you may not be able to directly help them, you can help them indirectly. Connect them with the right people. Make introductions and genuinely demonstrate your desire to see them succeed.

If you offer to help (especially seeking nothing in return) you will be remembered as someone unique, someone special. A person who is interested in more than just a simple sale or self-serving purpose.


You can be memorable. It’s not difficult and with just a little bit of thought you’ll be implementing these six tips and increasing your chances of being remembered. It’s important to keep in mind that just because we are practicing specific ways to be more memorable we are always doing it with the right motivations and the right emphasis. It comes down to being genuine. You must be genuine above all. Love what you do and be passionate about the things which motivate and drive you. Share what you believe and make strong, lasting connections with others.

 

Onboarding New Team Members

September 3, 2014
Making Onboarding Easy

This article is applicable to both communities as well as business. That may seem rare but I think it’s more common than we first think. The term onboarding refers to the process by which a new employee is brought “up to speed” on the way a company conducts their business.

This onboarding is often unique to a particular company or community but even with the differences there are a few techniques which can be used everywhere to make the process easier. We use these same principles when hiring new developers at WebSpark. I’m not saying these should be applied everywhere or that it’s the perfect process but I’ve found it works pretty well and is incredibly easy to implement. Here is a 5 step onboarding plan for new team members .

Welcome

You have to be friendly. The first thing to do is introduce people. Make the new guy/girl feel welcome. You don’t want to cause them to feel as if they are an outsider from the beginning. Immediate inclusion in the group is important. Let them see the atmosphere which should permeate your community and the culture which embodies your team.

Remember how you felt when you were joining a new group for the first time. Remember the things which made you feel most relaxed and most comfortable.

Start small

When you’re introducing someone new remember to start small. Don’t immediately throw them into a group chat with two dozen others who are all well-acquainted with each other already. There’s nothing like stepping into a chat and feeling like every sentence is an inside joke between friends and you’re not included.

Start small when introducing someone new. Grab a few team members and hop into a side conversation. Make the new team member feel comfortable and at ease within this smaller circle before introducing them into a group chat.

Communicate

Make sure the newcomer is aware of the various communication channels used by your company. This is especially important when you’re working in a distributed or remote work environment. If you use a particular chat messenger (we use Slack), if you have a team project management system or other online tools which you use regularly as a team make sure your new team member is aware of them and knows how to use them.

In a community its important to know not only where the general community is talking but also where the different working groups and teams are communicating.

Partner Up

The next thing we do at WebSpark with a new employee is partner them with someone else. Usually this person is someone working on the same project they are working on. By partnering with someone they again feel as if they are part of a team and not left to work on their own. When just beginning on a new job it can be intimidating to feel as though you have no one you can speak with talk to or feel as if you are working side-by-side with on the tasks you have.

Communities are the same way. When a new volunteer joins a working group there should be a person assigned to partner with them. Give them an opportunity to ask questions and learn. Nothing encourages involvement better than the feeling of having a partner in work. You’re not alone. You’re not searching blindly for answers. You have a partner.

Beat a deadline

The last of the initial five step onboarding process is setting easily accomplished deadlines. The sense of accomplishment for seeing a task completed is invigorating and inspiring. Whether its relevant to a particular job or merely something needing to be done the feeling of having successfully navigated the process and finished a job successfully is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a community or in a company the process should be the same.

Communities have a great opportunity to encourage this confidence. There is always a list of things to be done and never enough time to do them all. New volunteers can be shown some of these items and with their partner work through them. They’ll feel great getting something done and the community will be strengthened.


 

There’s More

The process of onboarding someone to the team is certainly more in-depth and at WebSpark involves a few more steps, there are of course legal and HR issues to be addressed and other things which must be handled with a new hire, but when we look at companies and communities these 5 onboarding tips are applicable to both.

Onboarding is a delicate and vitally important process which if not done correctly will lead to a high turnover rate and ultimately a low success rate among team members. I’ve learned quite a bit over the past decade and these five simple tricks have helped me a great deal both in community and company environments. Hopefully some of these will help you as well.

Content Marketing is Magic

September 2, 2014
Magic and Content Marketing

Magic is one of those occupations that has a mix of lovers and haters. Some dislike feeling tricked, or not being “in the know” about how something is performed. Regardless I think there are some similarities between performing magic and the art of successful content marketing. Yes, magic is an art and so is content marketing. Here are four questions you should ask about your content marketing.

Where are your users looking?

One of the first things magicians and sleight-of-hand artists learn is the skill of misdirection. Causing your audience to watch one hand while the other hand performs the trick. Hmm, deception, how does that relate to content marketing.

Well of course we don’t want to encourage deception in our writing, but there’s another principle that must first be learned that is far more important than deception. The magician must know exactly where their audience is looking. They must command their audience and draw their eyes to exactly what they want them to see. As a content marketing expert you want to be so in touch with your audience that you know exactly where they are looking and what will keep them looking. You want to draw their eyes to what you want them to see.

Are you entertaining?

There’s no doubt that sleight-of-hand artists are entertaining. You can’t help but watch them somewhat mesmerized when they are performing a trick. You want to see every move, every split-second action. You’re highly engaged and entertained. Just the same, you as a content marketing artist must make people feel entertained while they are reading what you write. It’s no longer just a manual or a blog article about a new feature for a piece of software. It’s an opportunity to entertain.

This means because you know where your audience is looking and because you are in touch with what interests them you can now craft a story, an intrigue, a heartbreak, or a comedy which captures their hearts and engages them in what you are sharing. You must be entertaining. You must be engaging. Your content is your stage from which you can mesmerize the world.

Are you exciting?

Magic is exciting because the user knows what to expect and yet is still fooled. They are drawn into the illusion and the magic of the moment. When you craft content marketing you have an opportunity to excite. Yes, of course the user may know what to expect and yet you can still surprise and delight them through your delivery methods. Be exciting in the sentences you construct and the words you use to deliver your message.

Content marketing is not just business. Yes, it has many real-life applications and uses. But we should never forget that our content is a way to communicate, excite others, and stir within them a passion for the thing which drives and motivates us. Your words can empower people. You can excite your audience to do more.

Are you encouraging questions?

If you’ve ever watched a magic show you’ve seen audience members shocked, amazed, entertained, and excited. Then the questions start to come out. They want to know how the trick was done. They want to know more. They want it to be performed for them again. A good artist will be at home with their audience, will encourage interaction, and will welcome the opportunity to establish a more personal interaction.

As a content marketer you want to do the same. Content marketing is about engaging with your audience; sharing relevant information and encouraging questions. Good marketers leave their audience wanting to know more and asking questions. Great content marketers not only cause their audience to ask questions but they provide answers as well. Suddenly the content has come alive and become a channel by which the writer and the audience share a bond.

Are you practicing?

One thing every magician or sleigh-of-hand artist will tell you is the importance practice plays in their success. I’ve heard stories of magicians practicing a single trick for thousands of hours before ever showing it to the world. They want the illusion to be perfect. They want the mystery to be captivating and the trick to be flawless.

Content writing is also a skill which must be practiced. Your words must be chosen carefully and thoughtfully and the more you practice writing beautiful sentences the better you will become. You should want your writing to be flawless. There is not a day which goes by when I don’t see an imperfection a flaw, or a mistake which I could have done better in my writing. I see each day as an opportunity to practice more.

My wife laughs at me because I constantly go back, read and re-read my posts and then chagrin over how they could have been improved.

Practice your writing. Content marketing is an art which takes dedication, perseverance, and most importantly practice.

Magical Content Marketing

You can be a content marketer. You can be great at writing a thousand words a day without blinking an eye. Perhaps you are quite good at creating captivating posts. There is always room for improvements. We can all become better, hopefully these four questions playfully comparing content writing to magicians and other artists help to look lightheartedly at ways in which we can continue to improve our craft.

We are artists. We must be flawless in our execution, engaging in our delivery, exciting in our content and magical in the experience we create. Let’s practice a bit more magic when performing content marketing.

Remember, we’re all in this together!

 

Paying with Pennies

August 29, 2014
Paying When It Hurts

There are always those moments when things get tight in your business. Whether a client has delayed on paying their invoice, or the workload vs. employee ratio has gotten a bit thin between large projects. Whatever the case there are always those times when money is more precious and you want to hold on to as much of it as possible. And yet your bills are still due. And you know of things you need to do to improve your business. I’d like to talk with you about paying even when it hurts.

Paying?

The best thing to start with is understanding what I mean by paying. There’s two ways people normally look at the distribution of money (or time) to someone else for a product or a service. Either you look at this transaction as an expense or you can look at the transaction as an investment your viewpoint will depend on how you value or look at what you are receiving for that money (time). This is the first major hurdle for most small businesses. Too often they view every transaction as an expense. Because everything is an expense then nothing is a positive transaction, everything is just another drain on resources.

Small businesses need to understand the importance of investments this is one of the major factors which I believe separates small business from medium-big business. More big businesses understand the importance of spending money as an investment rather than merely an expense. Let me give you very briefly 3 ways paying when it hurts is a good thing to do.

1. Paying Proves You Value Your Business

When money is tight and you still choose to invest in your business this demonstrates the value you place on your company. Obviously I’m not talking about bemoaning every transaction and ensuring everyone knows you’re spending every last cent of your revenue on the transaction. But conducting your affairs in such a way as to demonstrate that even though things are a struggle you are continuing to invest in your business will speak volumes not only to your reputation but also to the value you place on your business and its success.

These investments made when times are tough inevitably do more to strengthen your relationships, grow your business, and improve your personal outlook on your company than most other aspects of your daily workflow.

2. Paying Makes You Work Harder

You have two options when it comes to a potential investment. You can complete the transaction, recognize the need for additional revenue, and push harder to achieve it; or you can cancel the transaction, pinch your pennies, and work harder on maintaining your current stockpile of resources. Clearly you can see how the first option will do a couple of positive things for you and your business. First you’ll acquire the asset or resource you perceived as important in the first place. And secondly, you will push yourself to be even hungrier in chasing after additional revenue.

When you invest even in the tough times you encourage and motivate yourself to work harder.

3. Paying Shows Commitment

This final item goes nicely with the first. Not only does paying when money is low prove that you value the business but it also proves you are committed to seeing it succeed.  When those around you see you continue to pour your time, money, and resources into a business and work on growing it even during the hard times you prove your commitment. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see that level of commitment and desire for success…I want to do business with them.

Not only personal commitment but corporate commitment is demonstrated when a company focuses on investing in their business even when money is low.

Paying Pays Off

The bottom line is this: paying pays off. You’ll notice throughout each of the three points listed above I referenced the payments as investments instead of expenses. This is the key concept I mentioned at the beginning. You must change your mindset from looking at every transaction as an expense. Once you begin to realize the immense value each of these opportunities presents you’ll be even more ready to continue those investments in the future.

Remember, we’re all in this together!

 

Proprietary Open Source

August 28, 2014
Proprietary Open Source

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in some business circles where companies are eager to use open source. Open source is the “thing to do” and everyone is doing it. I love it. The more the world uses open source the better. The problem comes when the businesses are using open source but keeping their same closed source mindset! That’s not the open source way. That’s a business interested in open source merely to be included in a trend. That’s a poor attempt at proprietary open source.

What do I mean by proprietary open source? I’m glad you asked! It’s a bit of a contradiction those two words, and yet it seems to be what some businesses try to do. Here’s what I mean.

Protect the Code

The first thing these faux-open source businesses want to do is protect their code. They want to be accepted as open source by the world but they have failed to understand some of the very basic tenants of the open source way. I don’t mean they want to protect the code from being used incorrectly or broken. I mean they want to lock the code down and prevent it from being manipulated, used, or distributed by others. They want to keep the code from being universally accessible. For those who may not recognize those last two words, they are pulled directly from Wikipedia’s definition of open source.

A business cannot be an open source business if they fail to follow the very definition of open source. The right way to protect the code is not obfuscating, encrypting, or otherwise restricting access to the code. Successful open source businesses understand this.

Dominate the Market

The second signal of a false open source company is their singular quest to dominate a market. Of course every business seeks to be successful and success can be enhanced by complete control over a space but this is not the reason to select open source. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being the best or being the company which stands head and shoulders above the rest. But dominating a market should not be the reason a business chooses to be open source.

Open source is about sharing. Sharing knowledge, experience, and expertise. Open source encourages everyone to grow and to use the power of the community to improve.

Make a Profit

Making a profit is an important part of any business. If a business doesn’t make a profit then the business will fold. Of course I would never suggest that a business not seek to be successful. I’m always looking for ways to improve efficiency, increase profitability and grow the businesses I’m involved with. I do mean that if a business selects open source purely with the goal to make a profit then they have not understood the purpose of open source. There are many examples and long debates on open source as a successful business model. This is not my point. A business should not be consumed purely with being profitable and as a result view open source merely as a way to generate revenue.

Miss the Point

When I see a business exhibiting the above symptoms I immediately begin to think they are missing the point. They fail to understand the open source way. The reasons for using and contributing and working with open source are many. I’ve heard countless stories from people I greatly respect on why they work with open source. The more I hear these stories the more stark the contrast becomes when I see someone fighting to keep their code “protected” and keep their business in control of a marketplace. I realize these businesses have missed the point.

Lead the Way

The open source way is indeed a different way of thinking. It requires a dedication and focus on more than a single business. Is your business an open source business? Is your focus on an open source world? There are many, many great resources available to help you as you learn more about open source and doing business in an open source marketplace. Will you be one of them? I encourage you to consider it. Consider promoting open source. Lead the way.

 

turning torso building business pivot

August 14, 2014
Knowing When To Pivot

The idea of pivoting in a business is one of those things not thought of when things are running smooth and business is growing. Often its not until things start “slipping” do you start to hear the rumblings of a “pivot” in the works. What is a pivot? Why should a business pivot? And when should a business pivot? Let’s see if we can answer those three questions.

What is a pivot?

The first question I want to look at is the background, definition, and meaning of a pivot in business. The first thought which comes to my mind is the analogy of a basketball player. If you’re familiar with the sport at all then you’re aware that once you’ve picked up the ball (after dribbling) you are no longer allowed to move both your feet. You’re only allowed to move one or the other. This action is called a pivot. You can pick up one foot but the other must remain firmly planted where it was originally placed.

Business pivots I like to imagine are quite similar. A pivot is when a business identifies its core business is not completely meeting its needs (for a variety of reasons which we’ll see in the answers to our next questions). What a business may choose to do then is to pivot the focus of its business slightly to something different. Similar to the basketball pivot I like to imagine the business keeps one “foot” firmly planted in the culture, goal, and objectives upon which it was founded. Now that we have a basic understanding of a pivot let’s look at the reasons why a business might pivot.

Why should a business pivot?

Business pivots are difficult decisions to make. Sometimes they may be gut-wrenchingly hard. But they can be a necessary part of a business’s evolutionary process. Sometimes it’s the only way for a business to survive. Knowing what a pivot it we need to understand the reasons why you’d want to perform a pivot. Here’s a couple to get us started.

Pivot because market shift
Sometimes in the course of business the market will shift away from what you’ve been doing. This is a common reason especially in the technology industry. The current trends change so quickly it becomes very difficult to keep up with trends and if you’re not vigilant your market can shift away from you seemingly overnight.

Pivot to refocus on core purpose
Another useful time for performing a pivot is when you realize you are not accomplishing your goals or your core purpose. Stop and think about why you got into business. Are those reasons what still motivate you to get up and go each day? Does your team believe what you do is accomplishing your goal? If not then it might be time to consider a pivot.

When should a business pivot?

You may notice that the last sentence of the previous paragraph brought up our next point. It might be time to consider a pivot. If we know what a pivot is and why a business might consider a pivot the last question we’re going to ask today is when should that be done? This is certainly the most difficult question. Along with a pivot comes change.

Many people (customers, community, team members) are averse to the idea of change. Change causes us to stretch ourselves and possibly lose the comfort zone we’ve settled in to. (Ironically this might be the very reason why a pivot is necessary).

Pivot on time
Too many times a pivot comes too late. Business has already lost the market (see the reasons above) or the community, team members have lost the core value and begun leaving the company. A pivot is difficult to time because some of us don’t like change and secondly it’s just plain hard to do. But constantly analyzing and studying the market and the reasons why you do what you do will help you spot early on when a pivot is necessary.

Pivot when necessary
No, that’s not an easy-out type of answer. The truth is you should perform a pivot when it’s necessary. Timing is key and the only way to know when a pivot becomes necessary is if you stay alert and attentive. Don’t get lazy. Don’t be over-active either. The best thing you can do is to be consistent and be constantly pro-actively growing. When you notice shifts that would require a change-pivot. Don’t pivot just because you are bored with the current business environment.

The easy answer is to pivot when your business has faded, but I would suggest this is too late. Be proactive but don’t be over-active. Don’t change for the sake of change but at the same time don’t avoid change because it’s hard. Pivoting when done right can take a business to the next level and keep you successful for many years to come. Know when to pivot.

 

Leaders Work Meeting

July 31, 2014
6 Ways Leaders Work

I’ve had opportunity to see a wide variety of leadership styles in the various open source communities and business environments I’ve joined. It’s interesting to watch how different leaders work and how they function. Each seem to have a slightly different opinion of what makes a strong leader and what character qualities are most desirable.

Of course leaders come in a variety of sizes and shapes (we’re all unique after all). And everyone has their own opinions of what makes a strong leader. Based on my experience I’d like to share 6 ways leaders work. There are of course others. I’m merely going to point to six which I’ve seen successful from personal experience watching various leaders.

One thing I’d say before beginning my list of six attributes is that I chose my title with purpose. Some would argue leaders don’t work but rather they lead. I would suggest that they are working but simply not in the same way as other team members. These tasks are definitely something which take time and effort and work. Regardless of whether you believe the leader is in the front, beside, or behind the team, a servant leader, or an outspoken forerunner these six ways still apply.

A Leader Identifies Needs and Problems

One of the ways a leader works is identifying needs and problems within a company or project. They must be able to objectively look inward and compare with competition and identify weaknesses (and strengths). I focus on the problems because its quite easy for most to see the positives and the successes. Similarly it’s easy for anyone to point at failures but identifying is more than just seeing them. Identifying implies an entire process of finding, prioritizing, and strategizing how each is handled and addressed. Some may need to be seen and ignored. Others may require immediate action. A good leader must identify each.

A Leader Recognizes Talent

Another important way a leader works in a company or community is through the process of recognizing talent in people. A leader must recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each person and help them find the best way in which they can achieve both personal success and professional success. Everyone has unique abilities and certain tasks which they will excel at performing. A strong leader pays attention to the individual. They care for the person and they work to place each person in the role which fits them. As I mentioned this is two-fold because not only must the individual find satisfaction but the overall business or community goals must also be accomplished. Finding the right fit can be a difficult and yet highly rewarding task.

A Leader Motivates and Inspires

A leader has to be always ready to motivate and inspire. When a need or problem has been identified the leader must be then able to motivate and inspire people to solve those problems. It’s not enough to simply identify problems or point to failures. A leader must be capable of motivating solutions to be found. When a leader helps the individual find tasks which suit their needs they also inspire them to make things happen. There is a sense of excitement conveyed by a leader who is capable of motivating and inspiring others.

A Leader Listens

A leader is not always the loudest voice in the room. Sometimes the best leaders are the ones who recognize the value in quiet listening. Participating in active listening (thinking about what’s being said and applying the information) is an important character quality which I’ve seen demonstrated by good leaders. They take the time to listen to the people around them. This helps them identify problems, recognize talent, and also learn how to better inspire people. Listening is often neglected in favor of talking. Strong leaders don’t just shout orders and point the way.

I still remember watching a man I considered a great leader stop before going to an important meeting to listen to an idea of someone else. He didn’t need to stop and I wondered whether he really had the time, but he was making a point. Each person matters and each opinion is important. A good leader listens as much as they talk.

A Leader Shares The Vision

One of the most exciting parts of a leader’s job is sharing the vision. A leader doesn’t have to necessarily create the vision, but many times they have the role of sharing that vision with others. This involves demonstrating a passion for the goals and the plan to accomplish them. I’ve heard it said that excitement can be contagious. A good leader is highly contagious. They want others to see what they see and they want to share the excitement.

This task of sharing a vision can be a difficult job at times. The energy required can be quite exhausting over time, and secondly sometimes personal opinions may differ from the vision. A good leader is able to put personal differences aside when the vision has been decided upon.

A Leader Supports and Encourages

A leader must be always ready to support and encourage those around them. They must endure with resolve. I think this one is sometimes a hard one for leaders. If you look at the previous points a leader must maintain excitement and share a vision, they must motivate and inspire, and they need to actively listen. these are all very physically and emotionally draining. But a leader must continue. Leaders must exhibit endurance to continue the encouragement throughout the project or job. A leader must keep going; past the initial rush and excitement which naturally comes with a new project or a new goal.

A leader must also be a cheerleader. Leaders listen and identify ways to support others through words, through actions, or through connection with others. This task is equally difficult because it requires persistence and patience.


I hope you have been able to identify some ways in which you are a strong leader and even maybe a few ways in which you can improve. I know just writing my thoughts down I see several areas where I can improve in my leadership skills. One this is quite evident as we look through these 6 ways. Leaders definitely work. They may not be completing the tangible tasks identified as milestones on a project but they are absolutely critical to its success.

What ways do you relate to as an individual? What are your leadership strengths? What are your weaknesses? Being able to define those ways you can improve is the first step to becoming a better leader.

 

20 year plan road ahead

July 29, 2014
The Forgotten 20 Year Plan: Part 1

I see lots of talk about the 5 year plan for startups. It’s a popular topic and one which is almost always requested when pitching to investors. A five year plan outlines your strategy, your target market and your ability to grow. Interestingly enough once a business either comes close to, or passes the five-year mark the next milestone that begins to get talked about is the 100 year plan. That’s a huge jump. There must be some spot in between which is important to also follow. Yes I know some companies will already be familiar with this. But for the sake of definition I will call this the 20 year plan.

What’s involved in a 20 year plan exactly? Let’s start by examining what this type of company looks like. In this first part we’ll look at three qualities which a forward-looking company should possess. First, a company which has passed the five year mark has done several things. They’ve proven they have a market which is interested in their services. They’ve also proven they have the determination to succeed as they have passed the all-important five year point. It’s possible they have proven to be agile and able to innovate as the market has shifted. Those are some characteristics of a company which has reached five years. What characteristics will help it reach twenty?

A Strong Supportive Culture

Companies looking to hit the twenty year mark must demonstrate a strong and supportive culture. This ensures the employees are comfortable and happy working in the environment. A culture which encourages its people to take pride in what they do and nurtures their personal growth as well. Strong companies look to support a culture where newcomers can’t wait to become a part. With the right type of culture an incentive package is much more than just another zero on a paycheck.

A Commitment to Improvement

The idea of improving is almost a given. Every company will say they are looking to innovate and improve. The key is showing a commitment to do so. Saying is one thing. Doing is another. In order to structure a company which will continue towards the 20 year milestone you must be willing and committed to improving. I’m using the word improving because the alternate term is somewhat scary to some people. The truth is the successful company must be willing and committed to implementing change. It’s definitely an intimidating thought to some as the idea of change is a difficult one and sometimes painful one for some people.

A Focused Expansion Plan

Successful companies must also be looking at expanding and growing. Anything floating stagnant will eventually drown. In the twenty year plan there must be a measure of attention on expansion. Notice my title though, this is not random growth and expansion I believe it must be a focused plan. It must be one carefully thought out and aimed at accomplishing a specific purpose within the company. The future success of the company depends on making the right decisions for continued expanding without losing focus of the core mission.

 

I believe the 20 year plan is a good milestone to be added to the timeline of any company. The 5 year and 100 year plans are important and often the most looked at goals when evaluating a company but there is something missing I believe when we look only at the beginning and the end.

Sometimes a company needs to spend time evaluating where they stand at the five year mark and look at the next goal before looking at the end. This is where a twenty year plan makes sense. We’ve just started to touch on what a company would need to have to look forward towards a twenty year plan. In the next article I’ll begin to look more at the details of the plan itself and what I believe companies should put down as goals.

Content Marketing Tips

July 21, 2014
7 Tips For Better Content Marketing

More and more these days I hear of marketing agencies focusing on a “new” form of marketing. The current buzz word? Content Marketing. I’m pretty sure anyone working in marketing for any length of time is well aware of the long and enduring importance of content marketing. This is by no means a new concept to marketing. However, as this has gained greater support I’d like to share 7 tips to help you make sure your content marketing strategy is done right.

To get us started I’ll provide a quick definition for those possibly less familiar with the term and idea of content marketing. There are of course other valid definitions but this one servers our purpose well for what we will discuss today.

Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

Based on this relatively standard definition (Thank you Google), here’s seven things you should consider to make your content marketing better.

1. Your Content Should Serve A Purpose

Content marketing is much more than merely putting words on a blog. Content marketing needs to accomplish a goal. You need to make sure you are serving a purpose. Think about the content you’re sharing and the reason why you’re creating it. If you can’t clearly define a purpose for your article then rethink it before publishing. Find a way to connect with your audience, be in tune with their needs and share something which will benefit them.

2. Make Your Content Shareable

This point is more similar than you might think to the first idea. In the first point I say to make sure your content serves a purpose. In this second point you need to make sure that your article is easily shareable so others can quickly send it to others. This is the flip side of the first point. Rather than thinking of the purpose of your content for your reader, think about how your content serves your purpose. Making content easy to share means you must make sure that when it is shared it’s going to help you accomplish your purpose. Consider placing common social sharing tools on or near your article to increase the usability and ease of sharing.

3. Don’t Ramble

Writing content requires time and thought. You can’t just throw words down on a page and hope they make sense. Nor can you write content without thinking through exactly what you want to accomplish. If you try to write content ‘off-the-cuff’ or ‘on-the-fly’ you’ll find you’re much more prone to rambling and getting off topic. When you begin to ramble you will lose the attention and focus of your readers. Staying focused in your writing and structuring your content around a theme or purpose will help ensure you stay true to the purpose you wish to serve.

4. Focus On Your Content Form

One you make sure your writing is serving a purpose (both for your own reasons as well as the needs of your audience) you should make sure your content is well-formed. The careful creation and delivery of an article should demonstrate your attention to detail and your desire to be polished in your approach. The form of your content should show your audience you’ve thought through your article and planned what you wish to share.

5. Be Original In Your Words

Be sure when sharing content you are doing more than merely repeating something already said. Write original and fresh content which serves a purpose and is easy for them to share with others. Be creative and avoid the use of over-used jargon and cliches. One easy way to keep your content original is to make your content personal. Share your experiences, successes, and failures and what you’ve learned as a result. Personal stories and those unique influences are a great way to be original in your content marketing.

6. Use Graphics

Content marketing is more than just words on a page. Content marketing is the use of a variety of techniques to deliver rich content. Sometimes it can be simple to think this rich content should be only textual. But if you think about those content items which you personally found most informative, helpful, or simply easy to share you’ll find the images and graphics used within the article were important in the way you consumed the information. Be sure you use appropriate images in your content marketing.

7. Think Before You Write

I saved one of the most important tips for good content marketing until the last although I’ve hinted at this idea in many of the preceding points. Strong content marketing should aways be done with great thought. A well thought-out piece of content marketing will demonstrate your purpose, will be clearly structured, and will accomplish your goals without rambling. Your audience will appreciate an educated content strategy which encourages sharing and is visually appealing. Think through every aspect of your content marketing and how each individual piece of content contributes to the greater long-term strategy of your business.


Many businesses can feel overwhelmed with thinking about their content marketing strategy and the path they should follow to be successful. These 7 tips should provide some very real methods to make sure your content marketing is effective. If you’re in a business where you are contracting someone else to specifically provide this service then these tips should help you ensure your contractor is doing a good job for you.

I hope these tips prove useful to you and encourage you as you continue engaging in content marketing. Your content is important and can serve an incredible role in the overall marketing strategy of your business. Don’t ignore this valuable resource but rather take these tips and make your content marketing better.

thomas edison light bulb embrace failure

July 8, 2014
Embracing Failures

Too often as small business owners we are terrified of failure. Fear is a powerful motivator but it’s not always an appropriate one. We tend to live constantly in fear of failure as though a failure would somehow define us and characterize our lives. We find ourselves judging our usefulness and our self-worth by our successes. We all need to learn a bit more how to embrace failures.

Embracing failures is a difficult thing to do and usually one we don’t enjoy focusing on. It’s much easier to discuss embracing success. We are inherently drawn to the idea of defining success as the positive outcome and failure as the negative outcome. This is not always the case and we should work on being more comfortable with failing. Failures can teach us far more than a success ever could and our opportunity to learn and grow from failure is far greater.

Failure Is Not Final

One of the first things I remember when I find myself failing at something is that failure is not final. I purposely chose the active verb “failing” because I believe many times it’s not a past tense thing I have done, but an ongoing opportunity for change or growth. In fact, along the way to success you may encounter dozens of tiny failures. These failures are not “show-stoppers” so to speak but rather opportunities to shift direction or focus and improve the final product. Here’s a quote by Thomas Edison which I think fits well.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was famous for his inventions (e.g. the lightbulb) and his persistence. I once had opportunity to visit his laboratory and hear more about some of the more obscure creations he invented. I remember this quote being engraved on a plaque and it stuck with me. He is often thought of for his inspiration & perspiration quote but I find this quote to be far more relevant and encouraging.

Failure Is A Learning Experience

I think most of us would agree that failure is indeed a learning experience. The part we struggle with the most is applying what we learn and implementing change as a result. We can’t simply turn our failures into a distant experience. We should embrace these failures and use them to motivate us in our future efforts. If something doesn’t work the way I planned I try to learn why it didn’t work and use that knowledge to shape my future attempts. We must be willing to acknowledge failure first, and secondly study the failure to analyze exactly why it failed. I wrote earlier about overcoming adversity in that post I mention that adversity is what gives us skills and experience. When those adversities overwhelm us they are still a learning experience.

Failure Is Inevitable

One of my favorite magazines is a monthly one called, Inc. Magazine. This publication shares the stories and successes of some of the popular startups of the day as well as more established companies. A common thread I have found in reading the stories of many of these founders is twofold. First, they will almost all tell you they were not an overnight success. It appears so but in reality they have spent months, years, building up to the point where they became successful. And secondly, many of them will describe the failures they experienced along the way. Failure is a sign of attempting something. If you don’t try then you will never fail nor will you ever succeed. I’m reminded of another quote by another inventor.

“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” – Benjamin Franklin

Here’s an incredibly successful inventor, writer, politician boldly stating that we should not fear failure. He doesn’t say you might know failure. He says you will know failure. He too saw failures as inevitable. But instead of giving up he used failure as a motivator. We should continue to reach out and not fear failure. Embracing failure and planning to learn from it.

Failure Is An Event

The last point I want to share is that failure is an event, not a character summary. What I mean by that is to recognize failures will happen and to not place your self-worth in a failure. Just as you would not measure the quality of your life by the time you once went to the beach. A failure is merely another event which occurred in your life. What you do with that failure points more to your character than the actual event of failing ever could. I struggle with this point the most. Possibly more ego and pride than anything else I hate to acknowledge failures as I quickly conclude they are character definitions. This is wrong thinking. I love to use my kids and my wife as my motivation to get beyond the failure. Especially at this time when my children are young. They don’t know me by my business successes or more importantly by my failures. They know me by the time I spend with them and the way I love them and care for them. My personal relationships with each of them create and define my life far more than a failure event ever could.

Use Failure

I encourage you also to use and embrace failure. Embracing failure is hard at times and none of us would seek failures out but as we’ve seen – failures are inevitable and these events will affect all of us. Use them as learning experiences to improve, to grow, and to change. Change can be hard but if we don’t implement change when we fail then we’re not learning from our experiences and becoming better.

niagara falls thunder water photo by dbhurley

July 7, 2014
Thunder and Water: On Naming Your Business

Thunder and Water are two primal forces found in nature. They each contain a descriptive and vivid imagery which I would imagine immediately brings to mind some specific scene or instance when you experienced one of the two. Words are powerful. And because you can convey so much through word choices you should be selective and thoughtful when naming your business.

A National Treasure

Recently I had the opportunity of traveling to Niagara Falls. It was an incredible opportunity to experience a beautiful part of nature. Of course my family is never one for sitting back and merely observing. We chose to go for the full experience. This involved both a movie with a historical perspective of the falls as well as the now famous “Maid of the Mist” boat excursion.

(On a side note: If any of you have the opportunity to visit this wonderful national park, don’t hesitate). 

Well, since I’m always “on” when it comes to work my mind automatically drew similarities between some of the historical facts in the movie and small businesses. One of the interesting points they mention in the movie and which my oldest daughter, Kate, and I discussed afterwards was how they named Niagara falls and what the name meant.

The Background

According to the informational film they created and showed at the falls the name translates literally into English, “Thunder of Waters”. The narrator supposed this to be as a result of the obvious loud thunderous sounds of the water crashing onto the rocks below. The Indians in the area would often refer to this term or, thunder and water, when mentioning the falls.

I loved the symbolism, the very descriptive, clear, and informative name. Of course my mind immediately began to compare modern names of businesses with the simplicity and clean-ness of the name Niagara.

Quixstr?

How many businesses today are named because the .com domain name is available? Be honest, how many times have you looked at domain names and started your business name search with a www lookup? It’s sad really. The technology age we live in has made us slaves to its rigid protocols and boundaries. Rather than selecting a name which is imaginative, descriptive, and informative we select something completely random simply because we can register the domain.

To be honest I love looking back at names from older generations, especially Indian names, they did an amazing job at creating and joining words for a purpose. They sought to give meaning to a person, a family, or a group. Through the years we’ve somehow lost this ability (to an extent). We’ve shifted our focus from creating deeply personal and meaningful names to silly, made-up nonsense words which would be better found in a Dr. Seuss children’s novel than the name of a successful company.

Re-Order Priorities

Does your business name truly reflect something of meaning and value? Before you push the purchase button on that domain name order stop and ask yourself. Does this name truly reflect my business, my product? Am I purchasing this name because it fits with what I’ve already established as my business?

If you answered no to the above question then save yourself $7.99 and don’t buy that name. It’s far more important that you re-order your priorities. Arrange them the way that will be more beneficial for your business success. Put your domain name in its place (and that’s not first). Start with what matters to you. Why are you creating this business? What problems are you intent on solving and what are your goals as a company? The first question to always answer is the “why”.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”
– Simon Sinek

Be Full of Meaning

Once you have defined you’re “why” you are ready to move on to the next step. Identify your keywords. Those unique and descriptive words which suit your business and define who you are. Use these keywords to come up with a name which suits your business. When naming your business, be daring, be catchy, be unique, but most of all be meaningful.

Your business name is your first impression. You can capture imaginations, capture hearts, and capture customers with the right name. Be sure your name is full of meaning. It may seem unimportant now, but I guarantee you when you reach a certain size you’ll be asked the question some people dread…”So, what’s your name mean?” If you don’t have a name full of meaning your answer to this question could potentially cost you a client.

I won’t go on through the other important steps since in this post I want to focus merely on the importance of naming your business. However, if there is any interest I may continue on with a more in-depth series on establishing a business.

A Personal Note

I don’t normally include too much in my posts that are personal (should I change that? Tweet me and let me know!) but I’ll leave you with a picture of my three kids on the boat ride shortly after the “mist” left us all completely soaked. We had a wonderful time and we all agreed Thunders of Waters was a most appropriate name!

hurley kids niagara falls maid of mist

cancel meetings

July 2, 2014
5 Meetings You Should Always Cancel

Nothing has the potential to slow progress more than the perpetual organizing of meetings. Meetings kill momentum in a variety of ways and I’d like to look at a 5 meetings you should always cancel if you find yourself being asked to attend.

Meetings Kill Momentum

First let me say right away – meetings don’t have to be bad. Meetings serve a very important roles and can be used for making a great cohesive team. But careless meetings and unplanned meetings can absolutely ruin a team. Nothing has greater opportunity for disrupting progress then a poorly constructed meeting. Here’s a few of the major warning signs to avoid when implementing meetings. Avoid these common meeting pitfalls and you’ll have successful meetings with purpose and productivity.


 The Eternal Meeting

Problem: This meeting type is the dreaded meeting without a definite length. Usually the eternal meeting is begun with good intentions, there may be some good points needing to be discussed and the various people involved simply want to give adequate time to each topic. In an effort to make sure no one feels rushed the meeting is given either an unbearably long duration or worse no ending time at all. The eternal meeting may also slip quickly into several of the other meeting types listed below.

Solution: I’ve read several different articles on the best length for a meeting. Some recommend setting a meeting length of 45 minutes. This gives enough time to share information but also encourages the meeting to stay on task and to the point in order to cover everything. I’d encourage you to look at taking that a bit further and plan your meetings to be 15 to 20 minutes max.

The Leaderless Meeting

Problem: The leaderless meeting is the meeting type where there is no clear moderator (or facilitator) and no clear note taker. The result is the conversation meanders aimlessly along without any direction or focus. The leaderless meeting is a complete time drain without a facilitator pushing the conversation towards a meaningful goal.

Solution: Every meeting should have a clearly defined facilitator and note taker. These two roles should be agreed upon and the people filling the positions should be capable of performing their duties. The moderator must be capable of keeping people on point while not stifling creativity or lively discussion.

The Impromptu Meeting

Problem: The impromptu meeting sounds like a good idea but never is. These meetings usually are last minute thoughts which very rarely give people enough time to prepare. Without adequate prep time the meeting participants lack clear direction and the ability to share their ideas or work effectively. Usually an impromptu meeting is also leaderless as well as eternal.

Solution: Plan your meeting times with enough lead time for the participants to prepare. In addition, be thoughtful about creating a meeting time and selecting a facilitator to run the meeting. Impromptu meetings don’t have to be bad but care must be taken to limit their length and have a clear focus and leader.

The Pointless Meeting

Problem: The pointless meeting is the meeting where nothing is decided upon; no outcome is defined and no definitive purpose has been created. These meetings typically start with good intentions. (e.g. We should meet every Friday at 4:00 PM to discuss the items accomplished this week)  These meetings quickly become nothing more than a ritual and in the example above a rite of passage to get to the weekend. The pointless meeting is the worst waste of time as attendees are typically frowned upon for not attending and yet attendance does not mean progress will be made.

Solution: Never hold a meeting simply to maintain a schedule. If your meeting does not have a purpose or a goal then the meeting is unnecessary. Don’t waste time sitting in a meeting where the only purpose is to regurgitate information about the previous week. Send an email to share accomplishments instead. The pointless meeting hurts productivity tremendously if the participants must drop what they are doing to attend a meeting without a purpose. Organize meetings with purpose and timeframes.

The Missing Meeting

Problem: The missing meeting is the meeting where attendees fail to show. This meeting type is more difficult one to cancel early on as you may not know if everyone shows up until the meeting is about to begin. Remember a few things though.

First, since you no longer have the “pointless meetings” then there is no “standing” meeting time. Each meeting is for a specific and defined purpose. Second each meeting should have a clearly defined length and a moderator or facilitator ready to lead.

Solution: Plan meetings in advance so participants have the opportunity to respond with an RSVP. This way attendees can schedule the meeting on their agenda and prepare to attend. Never schedule recurring meetings. Never start impromptu meetings without an opportunity for people to plan to attend in advance.

If attendance for a particular meeting is going to be too low to accomplish anything productive – cancel the meeting.


Be Vigilant

If you find yourself in a situation where these types of meetings are occurring – do something about it. These types of meetings should never occur and should always be cancelled. They disrespect the time (and ultimately life) of the people expected to attend and they fail to accomplish anything productive.

There is nothing worse to the momentum of a project then to be bogged down in pointless and mind-numbing meetings. Don’t forget that meetings rarely contain the power to make a motion and carry a decision. If your meeting is not capable of reaching a definitive decision then seriously question the purpose of the meeting. Talking things out can be helpful for some but rarely serve any real purpose. Ultimately anything covered will be rehashed in the follow-up email and resulting email thread discussion.

Don’t be afraid of canceling a meeting. Take the initiative to be adamant about valuing your team members time and progress. Respect each other and be willing to throw the stop and cancel the meeting. The last thing you want to do is stall out progress and productivity of your team.

philips screws organized and standardized

June 25, 2014
The Beauty of Standardization

I could of course have just as easily written standardisation (to please the other half). The concept in question is not necessarily related to a particular language but rather to the idea of keeping everything looking the same. There is a certain beauty in organization and standardizing items. How does this standardization help make open source better?

A Personal Confession

First I’ll admit that I tend to exhibit some slight tendencies towards obsessive compulsive behavior. There is something inherently rewarding and satisfying in having things done neatly, cleanly and in order. I love standardization. I find myself to be much more ‘at ease’ and at peace with things when they have been organized to all “look the same” or at the very least to follow the same general pattern. But how does this relate to business? How do I apply this behavior of standardization to open source and what benefit does it offer? I believe there are several reasons why standardization and general organization can make your open source community more successful.

Standardization Saves Time

When everything is organized to be in its proper place and labeled the way it should be it becomes infinitely easier to locate what you’re looking for. If you’ve ever had to find an old client’s folder on your hard drive or network server you know exactly what I’m referring to. Do you store things by client name, by project name, by company name? If you don’t have any set standard for how every client and every project is stored it quickly becomes a mess.

What I Do
Our client folders at WebSpark all follow a very specific structure and directory tree. And yet its very simple. We have two main folders. We have an archive folder and an active folder. Active folder only contains current year projects. These projects live inside a folder named by the company for which the work is done. When the end of the year is reached these folders are moved into the archive (and merged into any existing company folders).

Having a strategy for how your folders are named makes it that much easier to look for Project X done for Company Y in Year Z. We know exactly where to look and the process becomes much faster…not to mention it looks much nicer also.

And before anyone says it – yes, I realize you can perform a hard drive search and find folders as well as files. However, I’m pretty confident having a neat and orderly directory tree will be faster over time as you get used to the structure. I’ve given you just one example of how we use a standardized structure, but if you’d like to see more just message me – I have tons of examples.

Standardization saves you valuable time in your open source organization.

Standardization Simplifies Training

If you’ve ever had to show someone else how to get something done you know what I’m talking about. There’s nothing worse than trying to show how things work to an eager new co-worker and having to bounce all over in an attempt to explain why it looks like a complete chaotic mess. (See, we store only PDF’s that end in a Y in this folder because the server performs a reverse alphabetical look-up when displaying search results.)

Instead, if an open source environment has organization and structure and follows a standardized method then training becomes much more simple. Rather than attempting to explain some complex and convoluted exact use cases you can simply explain the methodology and standards followed. (It’s a bit of that teach a man to fish thing.)

Standardization Shows Thought

If you’ve ever walked into a room which has been neatly organized and everything is labeled, marked, and categorized you know what I mean. One of the first thoughts to cross my mind in those situations is “wow, this took some time.” When standardization is implemented and followed it demonstrates careful thoughtfulness. It shows an attention to detail and it shows the organizer has a plan.

Let’s turn that thinking towards an open source project. If you look to join a project as a volunteer and you want to be involved you start to look for how the “room” is arranged. Is it easy to find things, does there seem to be a method to how things are done? If there are clearly defined standards and procedures you are instantly more confident. Clearly an open source project with easy-to-follow standardization has put significant time and effort into being a successful project. Standardization in open source projects leads to success. Not by the standards alone, but by what those standards represent: care, thoughtfulness, and attention to the details.

Standardization Saves Lives

That sounds overly dramatic but allow me to give you a real life example.  I am sure many of you are aware of or have at least seen the following sign. It exists around the world and at one point was the subject of an international meeting.

aed standardization saves lives

In 2008 an international committee met to discuss the need for an internationally recognized symbol and a universal AED sign to be used everywhere. This committee was looking to implement standardization. The result of that meeting is what we have here. An instantly recognizable symbol that will make saving lives easier. In the frantic moments of cardiac arrest being able to quickly locate and use an AED greatly increases the chances of successful resuscitation.

Open Source Applications

So I briefly touched on the open source aspect in one of the thoughts above, but in reality, every single one affects open source.

Time
When dealing with an open source project, particularly one where the volunteers are not paid, time is of the utmost value. Every minute counts and if standards help to save valuable time then they increase the amount of contributions and the value of those contributions.

Training
Open source communities with standardizations in place allows for existing volunteers to easily and quickly bring new contributors in because the training is simple. Standardization means you can take ten minutes and explain exactly how to contribute to an open source project and the new volunteer can then immediately do something.

Thought
Whenever I’m looking at open source projects and debating how much I want to be involved I look at the standardizations. For me this demonstrates how “thoughtful” the project and the community is. If things are standardized and processes are in place I feel more confident that my time and my efforts will be well spent because the project and community demonstrate a well-thought out plan. (Although I admit sometimes the chaotic projects allow me the opportunity to help create the standardization and the processes.)

Do It

Now you’ve heard the reasons why standardization is beautiful. Get out there, seek out the open source projects you’re involved with and see how organized the processes are. Implement standardization and improve the health of your community.

 

execution get things done

June 24, 2014
Look For An Executioner (to get things done)

Ideas are overrated. I’ve heard it said recently ideas are valueless…until they are made a reality. The role everyone is looking to find is the executioner. The person who can execute a good idea and make it real. The person who can get things done. This role is vital to your business success and the successful launch of your product.

The Job Description

What does this person look like and how can you tell if you’ve found one? An executioner is someone more focused on seeing results than sitting back and watching things happen. They are eager to get their hands dirty and to see if they can take something and make it successful. In reality they execute on an idea or plan because they are a doer. Below are 5 ways you can tell if someone is a doer.

Doers Are More Than Dreamers

This is one of the most obvious ways you can tell if someone is a doer. Of course we need dreamers. I’ve already shared previous articles on the importance of dreaming and how it’s been neglected in businesses. But as I share in that article – everyone can be a dreamer. It’s easy to do because at one point we were all born with the ability.

No resume looks good simply because someone has listed the top one hundred ideas they’ve dreamt up.

Doers like to get see things become a reality. They focus on the beta. This is the minimum viable product necessary to see if the idea will be successful. Doers are driven by the deep-seated desire to create something.

Doers Are Focused

Unlike the dreamer who can think up a million different ideas before lunch time the doer is focused on only a couple. They are focused on how to get things done and deliver a usable product. They love the ability to demonstrate. Doers don’t get caught up in every new twist and turn or adding a dozen various bells and whistles along the way. The doer is consumed with creating an adequate representation of the main objective to show the viability of the idea.

Doers are focused on deliverables. They look for what needs to be accomplished and then they move towards the goal. A good executioner focuses on the tasks required to complete a job. They focus on outlining steps, milestones, and tasks which need to be completed and then immediately begin digging in and doing those tasks.

Doers Are Busy

There are two types of busy (maybe even more). I think the easiest way to think about these two types would be through a comparison. If you’ve ever watched a Formula One race you’ve seen the speed at which those cars rip through corners and fly down the track. Their tires work so hard they fall apart. Bits of rubber peel off and are flung off as it does its job of keeping the car sealed to the road and moving forward in order to be successful. The second type of busy is the car in the mud. These tires are stuck. Every time the gas pedal is pressed they spin like crazy…but they make no progress. Flecks of mud fill the air, maybe even a little smoke rises from the tire…but nothing is accomplished. The car remains where it is. Both wheels are busy but only one wheel is actually doing anything.

Does are busy accomplishing things. Doers don’t just look busy to the outside observer. They want to have their time and energy evaluated by what they produce. They don’t sit around and wait for someone else to tell them what to do. Get things done is practically their mantra and their calling in life.

Doers Aren’t Afraid of Failure

I’ve said it before that you can’t be afraid of failure if you want to be successful in business. Of course this title may be somewhat misleading. I don’t mean that you blindly ignore caution and warnings. Nor do I suggest you pretend you are unafraid of everything. Fear is healthy, fear motivates, and fear is good for business (that’s a blog post yet to come). But how you handle fear is of utmost importance. Fear should never be in control or be able to paralyze you from accomplishing things.

There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.
– John F. Kennedy

Doers aren’t brazen or brash, but they are determined to accomplish their tasks and then decide if something is successful. They don’t sit back and think up every possible opportunity for failure and then allow that fear to keep them from trying. Because the doer is interested in how to get things done and how to succeed. There simply is no time to waste and no reason to sit back and worry.

Doers Are Finishers

I’ve been putting on another blog on the topic of finishing. It’s of such vital importance that I’ve re-written my intro paragraph a dozen times already. I hope to be done with it soon so I can share more thoughts on the topic of finishing. Suffice to say right now, a doer is a finisher. They are not satisfied with a half-done job. They stay the course and see a project through to completion. Doers are busy completing the tasks and getting things done until they accomplish the original goal of delivering a product.

Doers finish what they start. This is different from the focus we talked about earlier. The doer is only satisfied when they have been able to complete their tasks and see a finished product. Then (and only then) can they see if their idea is successful and a profitable one for the business.

Seek Out The Doer

I trust these reasons are useful for you the next time you are looking to build a team for a product or idea. Maybe the above will even be helpful when looking at yourself. Are you a doer? Should you be a doer? Every business needs doers. Every business needs executioners willing to get things done and to make it happen. Whether you’re looking for the next position to fill on your team or introspectively examining yourself – seek out the doer. Look for the executioner.

creating killer content for your blog

June 20, 2014
4 Reasons You Should Create Killer Content

Of course everyone wants to have a great website with killer content. Well, maybe I should rephrase that slightly. Everyone understands they simply must have a website in today’s world. The power of the internet to reach customers has become a well-known fact and every business wants to capture new customers. Many of these sites face the same problem eventually. How do they keep their website fresh and keep traffic coming?

The expectation

As businesses create their websites they have to decide on what pages they want to include. Web design agencies will often tell them to look at their competitors, or simply find sites they like and learn what some of the common pages are. The inevitable outcome is a quick search on Google for their industry and a brief browsing of the top results. Because these sites rank high on search engines the chances are good they have a blog of some kind or some other means of delivering fresh content regularly to their users. And you know what’s coming next. Because X, Y and Z companies have a blog, these businesses decide they need one too. They expect to see a great looking constantly updated blog filled with great content.

The reality

Some web shops will be smart and ask the business who will be maintaining the blog. In fact, some shops may even offer advice and encouragement for ways to keep content fresh on the blog. The reality is sadly very different. Sure, the business may start strong for a day, a week, maybe even two. But eventually the time involved with creating fresh content becomes too much of a chore. The job gets missed a couple of times, the world doesn’t end, and slowly but surely the blog gets completely neglected.

Maybe it’s a lack of interest, maybe even a disbelief in the importance, usually it comes down to time. Killer content takes time and dedication. Many businesses don’t see an immediate result and therefore fail to place the proper importance on the art of content writing.

The motivation

So in order to help businesses and to help you feel properly motivated to write fresh content and spend the time and energy it takes to create killer content; here are 4 reasons why you should write.


 1. Engage your reader

empty and deserted store

The first reason you should make a blog a priority on your site is obvious. You want to engage with your reader. You don’t want to be “in their face” but you do want to let them know you’re around if they need help. When you go into a store and you’re greeted by the staff it lets you know someone is available. Sometimes people don’t fully understand the importance of this concept so let me see if I can paint a picture.

Imagine you see a store which looks interesting to you. You walk up and open the door. Maybe it creaks just a little when you pull the handle and maybe it looks a little outdated. You’re hesitant but still curious. As you step inside you notice there’s no music playing over the speakers, the lights are dim and you might possibly be the only person in the store. You cautiously look around but you’re already wondering if you’ve made a mistake. Finally after a few minutes of skeptic browsing of their products you decide clearly the business is closed and quickly make your exit.

If your website does not engage your reader, you are the proud owner of the store I just mentioned. You effectively turn the lights out and give the impression your store is deserted. You make your visitors feel like intruders. They don’t have any reason to believe the store is open and they will think no one is home. Creating fresh content is critical to engaging your customers.


 2. Encourage return visits

boring meeting not paying attention

If you create fresh and exciting content your readers will look forward to coming back. Think of it like an opportunity to get together with a good friend. You look forward to the next time you will be able to spend time with them and you enjoy the interaction you have. If your website provides killer content full of interesting tips, tricks, and facts which your friends are interested in – they will love to return.

Notice I said provide content they are interested in. You must know your target audience. You must know your “friends”. If you create content but it’s not interesting to the person you consider to be your ideal customer they won’t stick around and they won’t come back. Admit it, when you are out with a group of people and the topic of the conversation shifts to something you’re not personally interested in, what do you do? You don’t stay engaged, you check your phone, look around the room, or lose interest. If the conversation never held anything interesting for you, you’d probably quit coming. Your content needs to encourage your readers to come back for more.


 3. Educate with excitement

educate with excitement

How many times have you visited a website because you’re searching for an answer to a problem? Probably more times than you care to admit. I know I often joke about leaving my brain in the other room if I don’t have my phone handy to perform a quick search whenever I don’t know something. We can all agree we use the web to educate ourselves. So let’s take it a step further. When you were in school, or university, what classes were most interesting? For me, the best classes were the ones where the professor was excited and interesting. I was learning without even thinking about learning.

When you write content you should take the time to craft interesting content which is both educational and exciting. I know not every industry can be (or should be) filled with comic relief, witty stories, or anecdotal advice. However, every industry can take the time and make the effort to educate without being boring and dry. Find ways to share information without sounding like an encyclopedia.


 4. Earn industry respect

become an expert gain respect

Educating your audience as I described in the previous point actually does two things for you. (See saving you time already!) You may be writing your content to help educate your reader but you are also demonstrating your expertise at the same time. Now not only do your customers see that you know what you’re talking about…so do your competitors. You will become an expert in your field and earn industry respect through your content.

Every industry has to have leaders. Every field has to have experts. How are those experts found and identified by the community? There are several different ways to gain credibility but a very easy one which is readily available to everyone is through sharing knowledge and educating the industry. Killer blog content gives you street cred.

Takeaway

When you create killer content you engage your audience, you encourage them to return, you educate them and you earn the respect of the industry. Don’t neglect these very simple four reasons why your blog should be one of the most important aspects of your website. Yes, it is time consuming and yes it requires a certain level of dedication. But creating fresh and killer content is one of the most important ways you can spend your time. Dust off that blog, crack your knuckles and start writing today!

daydream imagine in a field

June 18, 2014
Putting Imagination To Work

I’m always amazed to hear the things my kids say. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing they will say the “craziest” things. I usually laugh about it and move on. The other day though it hit me. Somewhere along the way most adults lose the imagination they had when they were kids. This is sad because I believe imagination can be one of the most powerful abilities to have in life…and in business.

Imagination at the Office

Imagination in the workplace? Sounds a bit crazy. I mean daydreaming at your desk can get you fired can’t it? Maybe the problem is the demand put on people to be nothing more than drones or robots. Humans are imaginative, creative creatures. It’s wrong to stifle that creativity and the result is a very difficult work environment. Those who do dare to be creative, to rebel against the drone mentality are often rebuked by others, shunned as being disruptive, or worst of all simply ignored. We lose the imagination and the creativity we once held captive as a child. And it can be nearly impossible to regain.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Dare to Dream

That’s a catchy little title, Dare to Dream, but I don’t mean what you probably think first. Let’s look at the two main words, and lets look at dream first. I don’t mean inspiration dreaming, the accomplishing-great-things type of dreaming. Instead I mean the natural, deep-seated creative dreaming. Think “crazy” and see what happens. Don’t stop yourself and analyze every aspect of an idea – just dream.

 

And secondly, dare. Dare implies just by nature some level of risk is involved. As I mentioned earlier dreaming is frowned upon (usually) and as a result most people are a bit intimidated about the idea of dreaming. Dare yourself to dream. Take a chance, and be risky. Force yourself to step outside the box you’ve been placed in and allow yourself to dream.

Slow Down

Technology has encouraged the human race to move faster. Under the pretense of simplifying our lives we have created more and more technology. This new tech has done the very opposite of what we anticipated. We are “busier” now than ever before. Our days (and now our nights) fly by at breakneck speed and most of us simply hold on for dear life and try to survive the pace. When you’re moving at this ridiculous speed you have very little time to dream.

In order to use your imagination you need to slow down a bit. Need to see this in action? Take a child for a walk. You will find yourself walking with a purpose while the little one will be meandering behind you. Everything is interesting to them; every flower, every rock, everything is a new and exciting discovery. Now think. What would you normally do here? You’d call out for them to “catch up” to “hurry” and to quit dawdling. We’ve lost the excitement of a lazy, aimless stroll. We have been conditioned by our world to always be moving fast. Slow down. Your imagination and creativity will blossom if you take the time to let your mind wander aimlessly. 

Imagination Station

Where I live there used to be a hands-on “museum” where you could engage in different games and entertainment called the imagination station. I love the name. I never thought of it in terms of business though until recently. I think its a fantastic name for a department most companies already have. Of course it has a more professional name now. Companies call this department, Research and Development (R&D). In reality though, this is the imagination station. And this department should not be limited to a specific room or building. Everyone has an imagination and should be encouraged to use it.

This is where imagination gets put to work. It seems counter intuitive to some that imagination and work should coexist. The truth is every company on earth wants imagination. They might call it R&D but more commonly you’ll hear another term used. Innovation. There it is. The holy grail for companies. If they could only innovate then they would capture market share, grow to new heights, and become the “next big thing”.

Innovation

Here’s my firm belief. Innovation = Imagination. Yep, rather than fighting against imagination and “crazy” thinking – companies should encourage dreaming. There are of course some companies who get this and believe in allowing everyone the opportunity to dream. Unfortunately, I think these are the exception and not the rule. More people should be encouraged to slow down, dare to dream, and imagine innovate.

“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
– Maria Montessori

The next time you find yourself moving too fast to even think clearly – force yourself to stop. Step away from your desk. Go outside, find a new path you’ve not walked before and just meander. Pretend you’re a child exploring a new world and see the world with different eyes. Daydream. You’ll be happier, healthier, and quite possibly innovative.

I’ll leave you with a rather famous quote. It may be somewhat overused lately but it’s still very relevant and definitely worth a read.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. … You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. … They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
– Steve Jobs

 

the power of personal branding

June 16, 2014
The Power of Personal Branding

When you’re working for a company in today’s world there are many more opportunities for sharing and discussing your opinions with others around the globe. Your ability to gain a personal following of people is greater than ever before. How does your personal branding interact with your work life and why does personal branding matter?

Many companies now like to impose certain limitations on social postings when it relates to their business and what employees can and should say in their personal social networks. Why should they care about those personal branding opportunities and what should be the accepted solution? Personal branding is a hot topic although perhaps not with that term. A more familiar term might be personal social networks. Or who you are online. Or to put it simply – what you say and do.

Why Personal Branding Matters

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
– Jeff Bezos

What people post online matters. It matters a lot. The reason why is because the internet of today has allowed for audiences and networks of people to connect who never would have connected before. The stage is much bigger. As a result what is said online and how it is said matters because it is powerful. Why do companies limit social network profiles of employees? Unfortunately they limit them because of fear.

Company Interaction

Most companies worry about lots of things. They worry about their competitors, they worry about the market, they worry about revenue, and they worry about employees just to name a few of the worries. Everyone missteps and makes mistakes and a company is no different. To grab a famous quote:

“You can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

The larger a company gets the more likely they will at some point make a decision not particularly appreciated by everyone. Companies fear this moment. They use words like backlash and scandal to describe these moments. As a result they try to monitor and limit personal social networks to help ease this fear. Is this acceptable? Should a company be allowed to dictate what is or is not shared on social networks? I believe that’s the wrong question. The better question would be: Has the company hired the right type of employee?

The Right Employee

If companies are hiring the types of employees who love their job and love their company and resonate with the core beliefs and missions of the company then their online personal branding will also reflect this. Of course I would never be so bold as to assume that if a person agrees with their company vision they will never have a difference of opinion or be disgruntled over a decision. The difference is the reaction. It always comes down to the reaction. Sometimes there is no power over the decision made, but there is always power over the reaction.

The right employee understands more than just the decision made. The right employee understands the intentions and motivations of the company and interprets the decisions made through those beliefs. No, they will not always be right. But understanding the heart of the company results in a different reaction. And elicits a different response.

The Right Company

It’s not all about the employee. The right company makes the decisions which best follow the mission and values established. Making decisions that match up to these core beliefs allows others the opportunity to acknowledge why a decision was made and the thinking behind the choice. The weight of a good decision is indeed a heavy one but the right company handles them through careful listening and proper communication.

Personal Growth

Secondly, online personal branding matters because it provides a way for you to grow as a person. A personal brand is an opportunity to expand. An opportunity to make new connections and to grow beyond a current position.

A personal social network provides a platform to share thoughts, connect with others, and to grow. Ultimately self-improvement occurs. Beliefs are shaped, friendships established, and opinions formed as a result of social network interactions and the availability of others. This personal growth also allows for personal branding. Posts and thoughts shared help to establish a niche. No longer are social conversations limited to a small and local audience. Voices are much louder. You now have the ability to expand your horizons. And you should make the most of it. Force yourself to grow, challenge yourself to think and encourage others to become better as well. Your personal brand matters.

Community Perception

The community perception is the last point we will look at quickly in regards to why your personal branding matters. By community perception I mean what does your personal branding say about you to others. We’ve looked at the risks and fears of personal branding to corporations; and we’ve looked at how personal branding can encourage your own growth. Now let’s look at how personal branding shapes what others think of you.

I left this point until last because this is the most common way personal branding is interpreted. What you say and do online is most commonly associated with how others think about you. As you’ve seen above however it is much more than just what others see. Personal branding affects where you work, how you work, and how you grow as a person. Only after those things begin to take shape do you really notice how others view you.

3 quick tips when establishing your personal branding

I’d like to offer three very quick tips to help you as you establish (grow) your personal branding. Follow these and you’ll find satisfaction in your personal brand efforts.

Be true to yourself

Your personal brand should be a true reflection of who you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not to please others. Don’t put on a fake persona purely to reach a certain market share or demographic. Your social networks, your connections, your communication should be a true reflection of who you are and what you believe. Anything else and people will see right through you.  Be honest with yourself and with others. Your personal brand should always be genuine.

Be considerate

Your personal brand should always be considerate. Learn how to disagree with respect and dignity. As mentioned earlier you will never agree with everyone 100% of the time. Understand you’ll disagree with others. Handle personal disagreements with character and grace. You’ll gain their respect even if they still disagree on your opinion. Being considerate also means listening. Don’t talk down to others or attempt to force them to agree with you. Listen to what they say and understand why they think the way they do. Your personal brand should always be considerate of others.

Be bold

Never be afraid to share your thoughts and your opinions. They are yours. No one else holds the power over your feelings. It’s easy to think of boldness as loud. I recommend trying to be quietly bold. Be bold, but not brazen in your approach. Yes, you are in control of your own feelings and opinions, but temper them with consideration. Be respectful of others while still expressing yourself. Your personal brand should always be bold.

Remember your personal branding efforts should never be established because of a desired outcome. Your personal branding should be a genuine reflection of who you are and what you believe. You should be considerate to others and you should be bold to share and interact in the community. Personal branding is an image of you, a reflection of your values and beliefs.

Your personal branding is powerful. And your personal branding matters.

hershey kiss wilbur bud

June 12, 2014
Wilbur Buds

Hmm, interesting title for an article, Wilbur Buds. Sounds a bit like a person’s name. I’d like to discuss the history of an obscure (somewhat) product and the reason why I believe many have never heard of Wilbur Bud but have heard of the successfully marketed copycat.

The Copycat

Ok, rather than keep you in suspense guessing at what the copycat is (or worse, leaving the article to go do a quick Google search). I’ll start off by telling you immediately who the famous copycat is. I’m quite sure most are familiar with them. They run a multi-billion dollar chocolate company located in Pennsylvania (in fact, the city is named after them). That’s right, the Hershey chocolate company. The product? The Hershey Kiss.

The History

Long before Hershey ever created their now-famous Hershey Kiss, another chocolate manufacturer was creating a small chocolate cone-shaped treat wrapped in foil. H.O. Wilbur and Son chocolatiers located in a small town in Lititz, Pennsylvania began selling their “Wilburbud” in 1894. The handcrafted chocolate bites were each made with incredible attention to detail, the bottom of each stamped with a unique petal shape and the letters spelled out W.I.L.B.U.R.

For many years they successfully sold their chocolate Buds and did well. Good press reviews and publicity eventually attracted the attention of other candy makers. One of these candy makers was Milton Hershey who began creating chocolate bars and other chocolate candy in 1900-1901 (yes, years after Wilbur and Son).

It was not until 7 years later in 1907 that Hershey announced their “new” product. A Hershey Kiss. The kiss looked remarkably similar to the Wilburbud but lacked the level of detail and craftmanship of the original.

The Difference

So, what made the difference? Why did the copycat product which didn’t appear until well over 10 years later become more popular and a nationally (globally?) recognized product? The answer is in the detail. Or rather, the lack of detail. While Wilbur and Son focused on creating handcrafted, detailed chocolates (remember the embossed bottom). Hershey took a different approach.

Hershey had developed methods of mass producing chocolate bars and in 1907 when they announced the release of the Hershey Kiss they created a way to mass produce this chocolate as well. Sure, they lacked the detail, the craftsmanship of the original; but they were capable of scaling to meet a nationwide market.

The Lesson

So, what does this mean? I think it’s an interesting story and lends itself to be a great example of a very common modern situation. So many times entrepreneurs like to think they are inventing a brand new product for a brand new market and while there are times when this is possible and accomplished. Many many more times there are great products that are a variation of an existing product.

If the product/industry is not new, what determines success? I believe the difference can be found in a couple of key areas.

Scalable Product

Having a scalable product is the first critical item to focus on when growing in a market where competition already exists. Be prepared first of all to handle the traffic, and load of selling to a much larger audience than the existing companies. Be focused on making your product or solution available as easily as possible to your target market. Hershey took advantage of assembly-line, machine-made, production to create a product which could be easily shipped nationwide.

If Wilbur had been able to envision the national demand for the product and create a method for distribution then things may have been very different. Obviously being scalable wasn’t the only factor. Let’s look at another.

Minimum Viable Product

Hershey delivered a minimum viable product. I am in no way implying that the Hershey Kiss was somehow inferior or of lesser quality than Wilbur’s. In fact, Mr. Hershey is credited with the following quote:

“Give them quality. That’s the best kind of advertising in the world.”

Clearly he believed in delivering a quality product. This is a common mistake when outlining a minimum viable product. Being quick and simple does not mean lacking in quality. You can easily product a minimum viable product of extremely high quality.

In this particular instance Hershey saw the advantage of forgoing a special embossed base to the candy because (at the time) this would lend itself to an assembly line production much easier.

The Result

Hershey created a minimum viable product which could be easily scaled and shipped across the nation. The result? Hershey kisses are known the world over and has become a significant part of the Hershey Company’s $4 billion annual revenue.

As business owners when looking to take your product to the next level be thoughtful in your approach. Look for ways to deliver a scalable solution to your largest customer base. And secondly don’t focus on all the bells and whistles. Deliver a clean and fully functional minimum viable product. And don’t mistake this minimum viable product as somehow inferior in quality.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering. Wilbur chocolate still exists. Iff you’re ever in the quaint small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania you can stop by and pick up some of the tasty Wilburbuds. But you’ll have to visit them personally as they don’t distribute to any outlets.

small business profiles

May 29, 2014
Important Small Business Roles

Continuing our business series and highlighting small business matters I’d like to look at a few roles or positions necessary in a small business to be successful and to clearly structure a strong team.

I should preface by saying these are not requirements and not a full list either of small business roles. Again I’m speaking from personal experience and what I’ve seen exhibited by other successful companies. If you think of other roles which don’t fall under one of the following categories I’d love to hear what you’ve found to be successful.

The Visionary

This role is the easiest to fill in a small business. I say it’s the easiest because usually the small business is begun because of someone with an idea. The founder has identified a problem and envisioned a solution. The visionary does more than just provide the initial vision however. They must continue to stay current with the market and the trends and provide ongoing ideas and solutions. Idea generation is a primary focus of the visionary. They are allowed to dream and they are expected to provide ways to improve not merely the business and the product today, but in 10 years, 20 years to come.

Summary: The visionary provides ideas and a future set of big things to accomplish. They must also be an effective communicator and motivator to encourage others to not only see the vision but to be passionate to achieve it.

The Planner

The planner is the perfect balance for the visionary. This person must be able to take the ideas and dreams of the visionary and place them on a roadmap for implementation. They must provide the gravity for the floating ethereal approach of the visionary. Plans should be detailed but not too overly detailed and the planner must take into account the available resources and project realistic deadlines and timelines. The planner asks questions and prioritizes things based on their understanding of the small business and their goals.

Summary: The planner provides realistic goals and plans for accomplishing the goals of the visionary. They must be an effective organizer and highly realistic to continue the vision but place it on an achievable timeline.

The Creator

The creator is the person who generates proof of concepts and puts a real-life tangible implementation of the ideas and dreams. They must be able to both conceptualize the ideas and visions of the visionary and then apply them to a sample demonstration which can accurately represent these ideas. The creator works closely with the visionary and the planner to ensure things are prioritized correctly and the right ideas are put into action at the right time. There must be a strong ability to distill ideas down to their true essence and capture the idea with a minimal amount of effort.

Summary: The creator generates a real-life representation of the ideas of the visionary in accordance with the plans of the planner. They must be an effective analyzer and capable of summarizing the minimum viable product as defined by the vision.

The Squinter

This role is invaluable to the success of a small business. Perhaps I should begin by defining the role and the title I’ve used. The term is absolutely not a negative term. This individual is the person who is completely focused on the details “behind-the-scenes” to make sure everything works and is built on the right foundation. The squinter looks at the details, the nitty-gritty points which allow everyone else to do their job effectively. Quick example, the squinter ensures the business has been incorporated correctly, has structured the by-laws, directors, and other legal needs. They analyze the market and the numbers and the viability of the product and business.

Summary: The squinter focuses on ensuring the business is built on the right foundation and is structured to be sustainable. They must be an effective thinker and detail-oriented to establish the business correctly and prepared for the future.

Missing Role

There’s one role which I have specifically not mentioned in the above positions I find necessary in a small business. You will notice I do not focus on The Doer. This is because I believe every role is a doer role. Without a team working together and everyone doing work to make the company successful the business will fail. I do not believe there should ever be a single person doing all the work. So I suggest the doer is actually a part of everyone’s role.

These small business roles are a few of the positions you’ll find in any successful business. There are certainly instances where multiple roles are filled by a single person, in fact if you read my previous post on the many hats worn by a founder, I think my point is clear. There are other positions and roles which would help and perhaps some of these could be tweaked or defined even further. Read this list and see how it applies to your business, find the areas you are weak and determine if you need to seek additional help. Remember you should always staff to your weaknesses. And of course…

Remember, we’re all in this together!

snowflake and unique branding

May 15, 2014
Building a Business Brand

Everyone is known for something. As much as you may wish that’s not the case at times. Similarly every business is known for something, be it a product, service, or character quality. What is your business brand and how does it affect what you’re known for?

According to Wikipedia, a brand is defined as follows:

Brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.”

Does this truly define what a brand is when you look at a company? If we look at some open source companies lets see if we can identify what makes up their brand. Then we can see how this applies to building a business brand for your small business.

Does A Business Brand Matter?

First question, does it matter if you have a business brand? Do you have to define a brand for your business? I think this is a great starting point. Based on my first sentence in this article you already know I believe a brand is an inherent part of a business. Rather than a contrived, artificial creation by some marketing team I believe a business brand always exists. What matters is the definition of that brand and how the brand is represented by the marketing team and other business outreaches.

Open Source Branding

Open source organizations are no exception. If we look at some popular open source platforms we’ll still find the existence and identifying effects of a brand.  One example, Drupal, an open source content management system has created a page just for the purpose of defining their brand. You’ll find they have defined brand slightly different from the dictionary definition above. Rather, Drupal believes “a brand incorporates the values, culture, mission, personality and image of an organization.” This is an interesting difference.

Open source places their brand identity in the intangible aspects of the people who make up their community. I think this is a fantastic application of the branding definition.

The people within a business define and represent the brand.

Learn from Open Source

When building a business brand you would do well to learn from the open source organizations. A small business has the opportunity to establish itself both in culture and in branding. Don’t try to be just like someone else. Find ways to differentiate yourself.  That sometimes feels easier said than done. Especially in some fields where the barrier to entry is low and competition is strong. How do you differentiate your business when building a business brand?

Everyone is Unique

At first glance the question can seem to be a difficult one and uncertainty can leave you unsure where to begin when building a brand. But the truth is building a successful brand is simple. You don’t have to build a brand. You embody a brand. You are the brand. As we discussed  earlier, every business has a brand already. Every person in your business represents and lives the brand. And the great news is everyone is unique. There is no one exactly like you on this planet. Because of this simple fact the business which you are a part of is also unique. Build your business around this principle.

You’re not building a brand in the creation sense. You’re sharing a brand that already exists and drives your business.

Take the open source example above. Merge that example with the concept that everyone leaves an impression. The result is where you focus your attentions and efforts. Rather than attempting to “build” a brand you should focus on sharing, nurturing, and growing your brand. Look at the people in your company. (Here’s another benefit to being a small business.) What are the core values, beliefs, principles, and values you and your fellow team members hold? This is what guides your business. This is what you will be known for.

Be Genuine

At the end of the day, your business brand reflects the people which make up your business and ultimately the products, service, support, or whatever it might be you are selling. Don’t attempt to create a false brand under the assumption it will increase your sales. Be genuine in sharing your brand. Your brand is a reflection of your culture. Interested in how this relates to your company culture?

Small Business First

Small businesses have the greatest opportunity to share unique, creative, and fun brands. Your small business can share the culture, the community, the passion of your team members through a brand which matches you.  Building a business brand is simple. Learn from others, Establish values, Be genuine, and share your passion with others.

Remember, we’re all in this together!

 

 

May 13, 2014
[R4S] Reading For Success

reading for success book series

This is the start of a ridiculously fun series about reading for success. I hope to share insights and advice I’ve received from various business books. If you struggle to find time to read or what to read maybe this series will help.

I should begin by sharing that I love to read. In fact is one of y all time favorite things to do and I’m pretty fast. (Interested in how fast you are? You can take a very quick test here for free. If you’re curious I’ll share what my average normally is.) And thankfully I can retain most everything I read and recall it later.

I thought perhaps others would be interested in an abbreviated list of books and summaries I’ve found to be helpful as they relate to business and personal success. Please don’t think I’ve been successful with all of these or have already mastered the advice. I merely hope to share things that I find interesting or helpful.

If you have ideas or recommendations of books I should read please let me know! You can tweet me, friend me, or email me. I am always looking for good quality books on a wide variety of topics!

Ok, without any further delay, let’s jump into the first book.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

By John C. Maxwell


Author’s Quote

“Everything rises and falls on leadership,” says Maxwell. “These laws carry consequences with them. I’ve seen them at work in more than ninety countries around the world. Apply the laws and people will follow you. Violate or ignore them, and you will not be able to lead others. But here’s the good news: every one of the laws can be learned.”

My Synopsis

In this book John Maxwell highlights 21 principles he’s uncovered throughout his business career. He applies these principles to various situations throughout history and provides anecdotal applications based on these 21 principles. Many of them are logical and easy to understand.

Some of these “laws” you’re probably already aware of, Maxwell simply gives it a name and applies to to a particular situation to make it easier to grasp. Overall, I found this book to be an easy one to read and held some good applicable concepts which I could relate to and apply to my own business.

I highly recommend this book and have personally found many great applicable ideas. Especially when looking at the power of an open source community and examining how some of these dynamics relate to an open source situation. If you have the time you should definitely pick up a copy (ebooks are great).

Key Points

Here are the 21 laws as defined by the author. So many of these are of incredible importance and help define a strong leader.

  1. The Law of the Lid
    Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower your ability to lead, the lower the lid on your potential.
  2. The Law of Influence
    The power to influence lies in the ability to get people to participate. If no one follows then you are not leading. Management is part of being a leader, but managing is not the only requirement of a leader.
  3. The Law of Process
    This law demonstrates what matters most is what you do for the long haul. A good leader requires a lifetime of dedication and perseverance. Truly successful leaders are demonstrated in the day-to-day.
  4. The Law of Navigation
    Leaders are navigators. They count the cost before making commitments for themselves and for others. Anyone can steer. Leaders chart a course.
  5. The Law of E.F. Hutton
    When real leaders speak, people listen. Learn how a person became a leader: their background, who, what, where, when, why.
  6. The Law of Solid Ground
    Good character builds trust. Trust is the foundation of leadership. To build trust a leader must demonstrate: competence, connection and character.
  7. The Law of Respect
    People naturally follow leaders who are stronger than they are. if people do not trust you they will not respect you and they will not follow you.
  8. The Law of Intuition
    Leaders see things with a bias. Leaders instinctively know what should be done in a situation. Leadership intuition separates the great leaders from good leaders.
  9. The Law of Magnetism
    Who you are will define who you attract. People follow leaders with whom they share several key areas (e.g. attitude, generation, background, values, life experience etc…)
  10. The Law of Connection
    Strong leaders touch hearts before asking for hands. Each connection is between individuals and the relationship between them is what matters most. Six keys to connection are provided.
  11. The Law of the Inner Circle
    A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. Look for greatness in others. Find people you should include in your inner circle.
  12. The Law of Empowerment
    Secure leaders give power to others. If a leader is able to give away power the organization becomes more powerful. Only empowered people reach their full potential.
  13. The Law of Reproduction
    Leaders are the ones which help others become leaders. Leaders develop others to see the big picture, attract other leaders, create an environment which nurtures leadership.
  14. The Law of Buy-In
    People follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes. The leader and the vision always go together. A leader must have people believe in them and the vision before becoming a reality.
  15. The Law of Victory
    Leaders find ways for their team to win. There are 3 components to victory: unity of vision, diversity of skills, encourages others to reach potential.
  16. The Law of the Big Mo
    Leaders develop momentum. Leaders concentrate on what they can accomplish not what they can’t. They celebrate victories regardless of the size. Leaders endure under pressure.
  17. The Law of Priorities
    Leaders recognize the importance of organization. Leaders follow the 3 R’s when prioritizing: required, return, and reward.
  18. The Law of Sacrifice
    Leaders are willing to give up to go up. Sacrifice is the true nature of strong leaders.
  19. The Law of Timing
    Leaders understand knowing when to lead is just as important as knowing what to do and where to go. The right action at the right time is what bring success.
  20. The Law of Explosive Growth
    Explosive growth requires the ability to develop the right leaders. Leaders who develop leaders position themselves for explosive growth as compared to leaders who develop followers.
  21. The Law of Legacy
    A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. A team of good leaders is required to succeed long-term. Always be developing your successor. A good leader knows when to walk away.

small business matters series

May 8, 2014
Small Business Matters: A Series

The numbers are overwhelming. Small business make up the majority of revenues generated in the US. Statistics show this particular area continues to grow with each year. This series will explore a number of topics which matter to a small business. Because small business matters.

I realize there’s a million articles and resources available for small businesses. In fact, in the United States there is an entire government agency created simply to assist and help these small businesses. I would like, however, to focus on specific topics with more practical application. Some of these will be related to situations where I have learned the hard way through firsthand experience and others I have learned from the wisdom and advice of others.

Application

I also realize not everything I share will be applicable to a global audience and I apologize in advance for any information which may feel to American focused. I will do my best to share information from my experiences and connections from a worldwide perspective however occasionally may share information most relevant to those businesses based in the United States.

So without further delay let’s jump right in. We should begin a series with a proper definition of terms involved and layout some groundwork for what we want to cover throughout the series. Obviously the most important term is, small business. What is a small business and how do we categorize them?

Small Business Definition

A small business can be defined in a number of ways and depending on the setting may have different interpretations. You may see a small business defined to be any business under a certain number of employees or where the gross profits are under a certain monetary total (e.g. under 500 employees or under $5 million dollars in annual gross revenue). This is a difficult line to draw. I’ve seen businesses with 5 employees generating well over 10 million in revenue, does this mean they are still a small business? I’m not certain. For the purpose of this series I will define a small business as the following:

Any business where decisions are made by a select few individuals and these individuals spend an inordinate amount of their time outside of a typical workday focused on generating revenue for their business to become or stay profitable.

In other words, a small business is a business fighting to be profitable and the weight of the responsibility falls firmly on the shoulders of a few select individuals. I’m writing for those people. I’m writing for the little guy, the underdog, the ones struggling to make it and the ones barely hanging on. Sure, others may profit and you may find value in the information shared within this series. I truly hope you do.

You will notice I don’t refer to a specific revenue amount or a specific number of employees. I don’t believe these two factors adequately define what comprises a small business. Small business is more than a number, small business is a mindset, it’s a state of being, a lifestyle. Sometimes this is a great lifestyle and sometimes its a bit more “tedious” (for lack of a better word).

A Frame of Mind

A small business frame of mind has some particular features which I think can be identified. I’ve attempted to include a few in my definition above. First, a small business typically has only a handful of decision makers, many times only a single one. The more decision makes involved usually means a disbursement of both power and stress. The greater this disbursement the less the feeling of personal liability. Second, a small business usually means those same decision makers are working excessively (and I don’t mean 50 hours). And even when they are not working – eating, sleeping (or not sleeping) they are still focused on the success of their business. This constant feeling of fighting to “stay afloat” is pervasive with small businesses.

This Series Goal

Small business is special. It takes a special type of person to start with nothing and attempt to build a business. Every big business, every medium business began as a small business. But there’s something else. Every small business is a small business. That sounds stupid but I say it to make a point. Some small businesses don’t want to be big business. Sometimes being a small business is the goal. There is nothing wrong with this goal. It’s important to keep in mind that size is not everything. Whether seeking to grow or simply seeking to stay successful my opening statement holds true.
Small Business Matters.

April 29, 2014
5 Things Every Successful Founder Does

image

The life of an entrepreneur is a busy one. Here are 5 things every successful founder does. I’m not guaranteeing success by following these five steps. But if you look at a successful company more than likely you will find a founder who follows these 5 principles.

Principle #1: Time is Money

Serious founders understand the principle that their time is valuable. They don’t waste their time on ideas which distract them from their core mission. They plan their time for maximum efficiency and schedule their days. This does not mean they work overtime. In fact, smart founders work regular hours and take time away from work to recharge themselves. Taking personal time, time for exercise, time for family and hobbies helps them to spend their work time more effectively. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking to be a successful founder you should work 24/7. This will do far more harm than good. Your time is valuable, use it wisely.

“Let him who would enjoy a good future waste none of his present.”

– Roger Babson

Principle #2: Do What Matters

Successful entrepreneurs focus on what’s important to their business. They set a plan for what makes their business unique and what their differentiating factors are. Once they have determined what is important for their business success they focus their time and talents on achieving those things. This is important. As I mentioned, an entrepreneur must wear so many hats and focus on so many different areas of the business it can be very easy to become distracted and lose time (and as we just saw, time is money). As a founder be sure you share responsibilities. Make sure you have a team you can trust and spend your time on those items which require your attention. Don’t get trapped doing tasks someone else should be doing. Do what matters.

“Those who occupy their minds with small matters, generally become incapable of greatness.”

Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Principle #3: Don’t Give Up Easily

Some founders appear to have found overnight success. It looks as though they woke up one morning and instantly became “the next big thing.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. In most cases the overnight sensations are in reality the product of years of hard work and innumerable failures. What makes the difference is how these founders handle failure. The goal is to fail early and fail often. By not giving up when met with failure these founders learn how to improve their idea, grow their product, and make those changes which will in time yield a successful business. Don’t be afraid to fail. And when you do fail, don’t give up.

“Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success. “

– Biz Stone

Principle #4: Ignore the Doubters

Founders believe they have an idea which will change the world in some way. They have seen “the future”. As such often times they are met with doubters. Many people are unable to see this vision quite the same way. Either they can’t understand how it would be successful or they simply don’t want to step outside their comfort zone to accept change. Successful founders focus on their ideas with bulldog determination and don’t allow themselves to be swayed by the naysayers. Doubters are the people who play it safe; they fail to see the possibilities and aspirations you seek to attain. Don’t let them hold you back. Don’t allow your dreams to be limited by what someone else might think.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

– Steve Jobs

Principle #5: Set Realistic Goals

It’s easy to see an opportunity and start to make a plan for how you would improve a product. Every good business starts with an idea and a goal. Successful founders create realistic goals and then meet them. It’s not enough to simply dream big. To see success these entrepreneurs finish what they set out to do. The best way to ensure they meet their goals is by settings themselves up for success with goals they can reach. They seek out a minimum viable product which meets the need they have discovered and they launch. Don’t get so caught up in adding features and secondary ideas that you never launch your business. Set goals you are sure to attain, launch your product and then add features.

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

– Zig Ziglar

Successful founders understand the importance of these 5 principles. They apply them to their business and their life. If you’re struggling as a founder or entrepreneur take a look at the list above and find one or two items where you can improve and then work on it. Don’t skim yet another article and miss the important take-away. You have to do more than read or hear. You have to apply them.

And of course – good luck! We’re all in this together.

April 24, 2014
Tweet Happy

image

It seems as though more and more people these days love to jump on Twitter and post whenever they’re annoyed, angry or frustrated with a company or service. Sharing only your grievances on Twitter will quickly alienate you from any potential followers. Here’s why you should tweet happy.

I’m certainly not against using Twitter for communication with corporations and if you look through my twitter history you’ll see several different examples of how I used Twitter to express frustration with a company or disappointment in a service. (Here’s an example and here’s another). But I also tweet when I’m happy with a service or a company. (please see Exhibit A and Exhibit B).  So I would encourage you to be balanced in your tweeting because a balanced social media profile is a good thing. 

No Shouting

Sprinkle equal amounts of praise and criticism in your posts, along with a healthy dose of information, anecdotes and more. Always focus on the purpose of your social media platforms. Are you seeking a place to simply talk, or are you looking for communication? Are you seeking connections or do you just want to shout at people through the twitter bullhorn? 

That Guy

We’ve all been in the room with the person that just won’t stop talking about themselves, their problems, and their situations. It’s not fun to listen to them. In fact, most people can’t take it for too long before they begin to tune the person out and eventually wander off completely. No one likes to be around that type of person. The same holds true for your online social media networks. Think about the other person. Is the information you share relevant to them? Are they interested in what you share and more importantly do you give them reason or opportunity to interact with you?

You shouldn’t always be talking. You should be engaging. I want my social communication to be a two-way street. As much as I want to share, I also want to listen. I want to make connections and I want to learn about the interests of others. By doing this I am making sure I demonstrate that I  am not the most important person. Your social posts give you this opportunity. Take the following four tips when posting on social media.

1. Post About Your Business Sparingly

No one wants to hear 24/7 tweets about your business and your product offering (remember that guy in the room you can’t wait to get away from). I’m not saying don’t post about your business, but do it in moderation. Share your business successes (and failures), share about your services, but consider how often you do so. Also, give information and advice based on your business experience. This leads directly into the next tip.

Share Business Strategy

As your business has evolved and grown I am sure you have found ways in which you could have done things better. Or maybe you found something that works very well for your business. Share tips and insights which your followers will find interesting. This is a different way of sharing about your own business. It provides your followers with information about you and your business without making anyone feel like they’re being “sold” something. 

Be A Channel

Don’t be afraid of posting or re-posting content from someone else. Now I’m not saying you claim it as your own, give them the credit and merely retweet or share their information. This will give others valuable information which you have in a sense curated for them. You’ve applied your knowledge and wisdom to pull out those articles and nuggets of value and shared it with them. You’ve made their life easy and they’ll appreciate you more for it. There is nothing wrong with sharing someone else’s content. 

Stay Balanced

Don’t post too much of any one thing. Don’t share too much about your business, don’t share too much strategy, don’t be just a re-tweeter of someone else’s information. You must stay balanced. By offering a well-rounded online social profile you demonstrate your full character. You want people to know you, not just one facet of you. Just as if you were talking in person to someone – you should conduct your social posts in the same way. 

It’s simple really and we can all do it. Take these four quick tips and improve your social media profile. Remember don’t just post when you’re dissatisfied with something (or someone) but offer a well-rounded and true representation of your business and ultimately you. 

April 23, 2014
3 Ways to Vent (and not regret it later)

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Everyone has those days, or those moments when things reach a boiling point and you just have to let off some steam. Here’s a few helpful tips on how to vent without regretting it later.

Write it down

Yep, go old school. The painstaking process of finding paper and pen, writing down your grievances, and putting your thoughts into something tangible often involves enough effort and time to help you think more rationally. I’m not saying you need to follow the old advice of writing a letter and not sending it (though there’s nothing wrong with doing that). I’m simply recommending you take the time involved with actually writing something down. Force yourself to use complete sentences and paragraphs. And don’t forget proper punctuation. I’m not interested in twitter style messages or posts. Write down in detail the situation, the way it unfolded, how it impacted you, and how you feel about it. Doing this helps you in several ways. 

First, you will feel as though you are actually doing something about the stress. You’re taking action. The human brain thrives on problem-solving and the simple act of writing down a stressful situation gives you the feeling of problem solving.

Second, you will force yourself to think through the entire situation. Start to finish. You’ll have a good working knowledge of the details of the situation and you’ll remove any ambiguity. Often stress and frustration can come from the feeling of the unknown. The feeling of uncertainty will translate into stress or anger and you react to the emotion rather than reacting to the unknown information.

Third, you will find writing things down takes time. Twitter and other social outlets provide instant responses and short (sometimes thoughtless) replies which are more of a knee-jerk reaction then they are a true response to a situation. By writing things down you’ll find time to think through the emotions and formulate a fuller response. 

Tell A Friend

So the second way to vent without regretting it later is to find a trusted friend you can talk to. This one is a bit scarier as it involves trusting someone. You’ll notice I say a “trusted friend”. This needs to be someone you know you can trust with your deepest darkest secrets. The type of person you know would never betray your trust, under the threat of death. Remember you are sharing your anger and frustrations with them knowing they will not share it with others. 

You’re not seeking out someone you can vent to in hopes they will take up your cause and fight your battle. You will be best served if your friend knows little to nothing about the people or situation involved. You’re not looking for reassurance and someone encouraging you to “let them have it”.  No recording. And your friend should keep you accountable. You’re only allowed to vent on this particular instance this one time. No coming back for seconds. 

Get Outside

Go running, biking, walking, anything that forces you to get outside and get your heart rate increased. The physical exertion will help your mind and your body to focus on something other than the problem. You’ll be expending your energy (and getting in shape at the same time). It’s important to not sit and stew on a problem. Letting the anger and frustration grow inside you will only eat away at you until you snap. If you force yourself to walk away from the situation and the pressure you will be able to distance yourself from the problem. 

Running and other physical activities cause your body to stop thinking about mental challenges and focus blood supply and energy to your extremities and fueling your muscles. Plus it will only help you stay in better physical condition. 

The next time you’re feeling angry and like you’re about to explode try one of the above ideas. See if it helps you control your emotions and put things in proper perspective. I am not saying righteous indignation is wrong. And there is certainly a time and place for sharing your thoughts. I just encourage you to not do it in the heat of the moment. And with that I’ll leave you with a quote from Warren Buffet.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

April 21, 2014
Open Source Isn’t Free

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Whoa, slow down. Read the title again. Open source isn’t free. But that doesn’t even sound right! Isn’t the inherent nature of the term open source meant to imply a freely distributable source?

According to Wikipedia, open source is defined as follows:

In production and development, open source as a development model promotes a universal access via free license to a product’s design or blueprint, and b) universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone.

That certainly seems to imply that open source is free. So why would I suggest that it isn’t? I’d like to offer two counter points to the idea that open source is a completely free model.

Open Source Costs Time

I have no doubt everyone has heard the age old advice:

“Time is money.”

If we keep that principle in mind then obviously spending time on something equates to a cost. Open source will absolutely take time. If you’re the originator you will find yourself spending hundreds of hours (thousands even) improving, maintaining, managing the open source software you are distributing. That’s expensive. If you are merely a consumer of an open source product you will undoubtedly find ways you’ll need to customize the software to meet your needs. (That’s one of the reasons you probably chose open source in the beginning).

The ability to customize and modify the source code is an attractive perk of using open source, but beware this alluring benefit also comes with a significant opportunity to become a major time sink.

Takeaway: Be sure to consider the time you will spend if you select an open source model.

Open Source Costs Energy

The second point might not seem so expensive to you. Open source will cost you energy. Energy in the form of learning new software, learning new code, learning a new community. The energy expense is closely tied to the time expense. You’ll spend time AND energy working with open source. Obviously you’ll spend both of these with other models as well, but when the opportunity exists to “tinker” in the source code, the design, or the blueprint of the product the results will be a much greater expenditure of time and energy.

Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This applies to more than just Speedo swimsuits. Be thoughtful as you embark on an open source model. Plan how and where you will spend your time and energy and monitor yourself. Don’t go overboard with customizations and modifications. Or if you find you have to, be sure to budget appropriately.

Takeaway: You will spend more energy learning open source than just how to use a program.

Don’t go into open source blindly believing the “everything is free” philosophy. Open source isn’t free and it can be very expensive. That should not discourage you from using open source. There are a multitude of reasons why open source provides you with a better solution than a closed source model. Use open source but be prepared for the costs involved.

April 20, 2014
The Thrill of the Hunt

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It’s that one weekend where my wife and I follow along in the amusing and pointless hiding of plastic spheres filled with candy so our children can run around giggling, laughing, and shouting as they hunt for their ‘treasure’.

Too Well-Hidden

Yes, it’s Easter weekend and culture has deemed this a time for a bunny to place eggs (makes no sense to me) in obscure locations for young children (and I admit, some older children) to go sleuthing in a total safari, big-game hunt. The result?

Approximately 80% of all hidden gems are found with 20% hidden so well, even the person responsible is unable to remember where it was placed.

No doubt it will be found months later when weeds are being pulled or the lawn is being mowed. The last plastic egg, faded by the weeks in the sun, with some candy wrapper remnant inside (the chocolate long-since melted).

Marketing Related?

Even as I watch these excited kids bounding with enthusiasm around the yard I can’t help but think to myself how much this relates to marketing. As a marketer we hide ‘eggs’ all over the backyard of the internet. We carefully tuck them away in the form of well-placed articles, neatly packaged comments, a tweet, or other social media post. All types of little ‘easter egg’ marketing nuggets.

Sometimes we take great care in placing one, and other times we almost casually toss them around and hope they land in a good spot. But we always have a goal in mind. We’re leaving them for someone else to find. Sure, we may leave some out in the open, easy to retrieve, easy to consume. But we also plant some slightly beneath the surface, a reward for those who dig, for those who look a little deeper. Then we watch, and we wait.

We watch as eager, excited customers bounce around from place to place looking for the products they need.

We hope they find the items we’ve left and we hope, just as my kids do when they find a new goodie, they come running towards us to show us what they’ve found. We want our customers, finding the treats we’ve left for them and running to us for more.

Hide them well

I’d encourage you to keep the analogy in mind the next time you’re working on a piece of marketing. Remember the 80/20 rule I jokingly referred to above. It may very well be that 20% of your hard-work is never found or uncovered. Or maybe it will remain hidden, lying in wait for just the right person to come along and find it, days or even weeks later. Be a thoughtful marketer. Take the time to carefully consider your ‘easter eggs’, plant them where your customers will look, but don’t overload them either. If the backyard were to be covered in easter eggs then the game would be no fun. It would become a mundane, almost tedious experience and no kid in the world would enjoy it. The fun is in more than just collecting tidbits, the fun is deeper, the experience, the feeling of accomplishment its as much the journey as it is the reward at the end.

I love marketing, I love the feeling of sharing the excitement with others. The joy which comes from planting the treats, writing the posts, and making the game. All for the hunters out there. Because there’s nothing better than preparing for, and watching others’ enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

April 17, 2014
WordPress, One Billion Dollars, and You

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The tech news blogs were hot today with stories of Automattic seeking an additional round of investor funding which would place the company valuation at a cool one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000). Let’s look back quickly at a couple reasons why WordPress has proven to be so successful and then how you can apply it to your business.

Automattic is best known as the company behind the popular open source content management system WordPress. Matt Mullenwig, the founder of WordPress and now CTO at Automattic has displayed a very clear vision for how the organization should be run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. In fact, I have had several strong disagreements with WordPress decisions through the years, but I can’t argue with their success.

I have enjoyed the opportunity of chatting about WordPress with Matt and picking his brain for his reasons behind some of the decisions they’ve made and I can’t deny it certainly makes sense. I absolutely respect their focused determination to provide an unchanging, stable platform for their users. Matt made the comment once how WordPress “sought to sustain the technical debt so the user would not have to.” I think that’s a valuable insight into some of the core principles WordPress maintains.

Let’s look quickly at some other parts of that philosophy:

Design for the Majority: WordPress has clearly identified their target market. They focus heavily on the “non-technically minded” This is the user base they build software for. Clearly defined, easy to identify, and focused. And it’s important to note they recognize this majority is not represented by the 1% vocal minority. They seek out their target audience by listening to them at events around the globe. One-on-one, in-person, listening; to more than just those loud individuals online.

If you run a business, be sure you know your specific target market. And no, everyone in the world over the age of 12 is not a target market. And listen. Listen to what your majority says, and be cautious to not fall into the trap of listening to only the vocal minority.

Striving for Simplicity: WordPress has several points of their philosophy which deal directly with this notion of simplicity. They don’t add option on top of option, they don’t add everything requested into the core, and they seek to improve each release by becoming easier to user. Does this sound like any other familiar and wildly successful company? If you thought of Apple, you’re right. In their very first marketing brochure ever the headline was:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Sounds similar right? Steve Jobs was obsessed with the idea of simplicity in design and he built Apple around that same core value. It was successful for them. WordPress has wisely positioned themselves to take advantage of the same important rule. 

Remember this when organizing and deciding on your business goals. Don’t add in everything you’re asked for by your customers. Be thoughtful and pay attention to your overall product. Make sure you stay focused on your goals and be ridiculously driven by accomplishing them.

Bill of Rights: The last aspect of the WordPress philosophy focuses on the license and distribution of their software. They believe in Open Source. They’ve determined the values of offering a free product which can be easily shared, changed, distributed, and copied. They believe in the value of community and the importance of sharing with all.

Other open source projects have led the way in this area and proven how successful this can be. Linux, the world’s most widely used server operating system, was built on this same principle. The four freedoms, as they are frequently called, have shown time and again the value of open source and how the world has been improved as a result.

Consider open source when building your business. You may not open source your core technology because you feel you have an advantage but there are plenty of secondary tools you will use or build which you could open source and “give back” to the community. Don’t overlook this opportunity.

I encourage you to read the full philosophy of WordPress. Looking at the list I think there are several elements which have helped them as they have grown as an organization over the years. Then, once you’ve read it – you should seek to apply some of the similar ideas for your own business.

Is WordPress worth one billion dollars? I couldn’t say, but I can tell you this much – the core values they have determinedly followed and maintained through the past decade are a great model to follow and I wish them nothing but success as they seek to fulfill their philosophy. Can you say the same for your business?

April 14, 2014
Understanding Your User

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It’s easy to build a business to meet your needs. You know an industry, a market, or a technology and you want to use that knowledge to build a business. Don’t fall into the trap of designing your marketing plan around yourself.

Not the Man in the Mirror

You are not selling to yourself. Or rather, you shouldn’t be. Instead of talking about your business as if you were talking to someone who understands everything you do – focus on finding your target audience and then understanding what they do or don’t know. Never forget you are the expert. If a user understands everything you do then they most likely don’t need your services.

It’s Easy

Growing your understanding of your audience is easy to do, but it takes time and more importantly it takes thought. Many small businesses fail to understand the importance which should be placed on understanding the user better. You need to stop looking at yourself but focus instead on the ones who need you. Here’s a few ways to help you get started.

Ask Grandma

It’s very easy to find out what other people think or know about you or your business by asking someone from a different age demographic. This is in no way disparaging the elderly. Rather we’re highlighting the differences in life lessons and experiences between generations. Tell an older person what you do and see what questions they have. Be sure to write them down and then figure out how to improve your pitch to answer those questions before they ask them. Ask and then listen. That’s important, you shouldn’t ask them then continue directly on with your own thoughts. You need to ask and then patiently, quietly, listen to what they say. They have different views and different life experiences and if you truly listen you’ll find incredible opportunities for improving yourself.

Play Make-Believe

Most kids play make-believe when growing up. I know my kids do it all the time. I laugh sometimes as I overhear them. They have completely different lives, new names, new ages, new likes and dislikes. And all just for fun in their game. What an absolutely perfect example of what small businesses should do. Pretend to be your own ideal customer. Give yourself a new name, a new age, a new life. Figure out what this “new you” is looking for and then figure out how your business meets a need. It’s a simple concept, for kids it’s simply called make-believe, for adults it goes by another name – personas. I’ll discuss this in depth in a future article. Suffice to say for now, build personas. Play make-believe.

Change it Up

Don’t be afraid to make changes. You can always revert them back if you find they are not working. As you seek to understand your user you need to see what works and what doesn’t. What resonates with them and helps them to understand you and your business. A popular way of doing this involves employing A/B testing (again too much to cover in this post alone). Give your users different experiences. See what works for them and what doesn’t. Learn your users likes and dislikes. As you change it up it’s important that you monitor, report, and improve. Don’t simply make changes for the sake of change. Instead make changes because you believe it will enhance the user experience. You have to monitor the outcomes. You have to be willing to roll things back if they don’t work. But you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes.

Understanding your users should be one of your primary goals as a business owner. Figure out what they want. You’ll find if you take the time to learn your user better you’ll be able to attract the right user. Don’t waste your time selling yourself and your business to someone who is not your ideal customer. Save time, save money, and build the right user-base. All it takes is a little effort, and a few new ideas to start the process of understanding your user.