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Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’


New Kinds of Shared Office Space

July 28th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

As someone who has had office space in all shapes and sizes there are a few things I have learned over the years:

  • Stay flexible because you can grow out the space (that is a good thing)
  • Don’t get space based on filling it at some point in the future (not a good thing)
  • Having a fussball tables does not mean your company is hip and cool (you decide)

In the past I have been in five year leases which are great if you are an established company that understands its needs. But if you are a new company or a rapidly growing company, staying nimble is essential to growing your business. For years the concept of the “Executive Suite” was a shared office space that you paid for to get a receptionist, a conference room and a professional presence to meet with clients. It is expensive and for many small businesses that are virtual, mobile and cost conscious, not an option. Those who know me know that I am a big fan of coworking. Coworking is were people pay a membership based on usage from walk-ins to full time tenants. It creates a very flexible and collaborative space but can be noisy or problematic if you have security needs (document storage, locking an office).

One other concept in between has been the office incubator that is for new companies to grow and hopefully graduate a program to go into a regular office space. While that may work for tech companies, many other business models, like retail have been at a disadvantage.

Recently, I came across this article in Entrepreneur magazine on this company called POOL Together that is a combination of a marketplace and business incubator. Here is an excerpt on the concept:

Brad Weinstock got the inspiration for POOL Together-a combination marketplace/small-business incubator-from other popular public markets and shared workspaces such as the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Brewery in Los Angeles, and Pike Place Market in Seattle.

At its core, POOL Together is a business incubator. It offers local entrepreneurs affordable leases in a shared commercial space, and its owners provide assistance with business planning, marketing, space customization and cross-pollination as part of a comprehensive lease agreement.

You should start to see similar things like this in a city near you and if you haven’t this might be a whole new way to expanding your business. By owning the space and creating a community of small businesses around you.

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Sweat Equity and Broke

June 30th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Over the last 10 years as an entrepreneur I have taken many risks and some have panned out and well others…let’s just say that I should have looked before I leaped. Then again, that is one of the truest traits of an entrepreneur, taking risk and making something from nothing.

Recently, I was reading an article called “The Sweat Equity Myth” by George Cloutier, Founder of American Management Systems. In his article he talks about the concept of “sweat equity”:

“The idea that business owners shouldn’t pay themselves a salary while they’re building a business. I call it working for nothing and being a fool.”

I couldn’t agree more with him, because I have done it and it was one of the worst things I ever did. When I started my first business, things were great and we had tons of clients. Sure it was the dotcom boom but we thought it was a whole new world. So when the sky fell and the bubble burst, many clients went out of business so we had to tighten the belt. Instead of swallowing my pride and lay people off I sacrificed my own salary and cut it in half as a message of solidarity, or so I rationalized to myself.

He goes on to mention something that I should have noticed early on, but didn’t:

“The inability to pay yourself is symptomatic of a much deeper financial problem; it’s should serve as a red flag that your business is not working. Lack of sales or quality control, bloated overhead and other financial woes are the real reasons you’re not making a salary.”

When 9/11 happened the clients we did have froze their contracts and put any new business in pipeline on hold for six months or more. My business, like many others, had a “deer in the headlights” look and many collapsed quickly. We did have some cash reserves so we had to make a decision, go on and try our luck or shut almost everything down to fight another day. We chose the later but paying everyone’s severance left me with nothing and extra debt to boot.

Over time, I did recover from that but in another business made the same mistake thinking that it was noble of me to sacrifice my sweat for equity I already had in the first place. Bottom line: Pay yourself first.

I would like to expand on that by including George’s tip to avoid this easy entrepreneurial trap:

  • Always work to make a good salary. Then cover the expenses. Not the other way around.
  • Reward yourself (but within reason). Here’s a rough formula: Pay yourself 3 to 4 cents on each dollar of revenue for doing the job of CEO.
  • Imagine you weren’t in the picture. Ask yourself how much you’d pay a general manager to run your business if you had to go away. That’s the least you should be paying yourself.
  • Remember your priorities. Don’t lose sight of why you’re running a business in the first place-to improve your quality of life.
  • Spread pay cuts around. Take a 5 percent cut along with the rest of your staff, but don’t put a 30 percent pay cut on your own back.
  • Ask yourself this question: If your business doesn’t allow you to pay yourself a living wage, what are you doing wrong?
  • Remember: There are no rich martyrs.

So what will you decide when this moment occurs in your entrepreneurial journey?

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Avoiding Critical Business Mistakes That Lead to Failure

June 24th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

FAILURE is the word that every entrepreneur must face head on if they are to succeed. There are two sayings that always stick with me when I speak about failure to fellow entrepreneurs:

  1. If you haven’t failed at all, then you really aren’t trying hard enough
  2. Failure is part of the process, just learn from it and don’t do it again

Now there are two types of failure – small mistakes that you learn from, move on and don’t make anymore; and critical mistakes that can be catastrophic leading to going out of business.

Recently, I came across this great article on “Eight Mistakes that Devastate Business Owners” and it really resonated with me. In the article they list eight mistakes:

  1. Keep your retirement savings intact.
  2. Avoid the lure of sole proprietorship.
  3. Read the fine print.
  4. Get insured.
  5. Get an employment contract.
  6. Protect your innovations.
  7. Don’t promise what you can’t promise.
  8. Check the books.

I know this list might seem obvious but if you are new to starting a business, think about this list for a minute. When you are in the middle of something you forget about these things or think “it will never happen to me”. All I can say is that from this list, over the 10 years I have been in business I have had three things come to bite me in the butt and while they were recoverable, if they were any bigger it would have destroyed my business and in some cases left me personally bankrupt.

They are all equally important and you should read the full article to get some great examples of when people don’t do these things. I guarantee you will be bringing these issues up at your next partner/board meeting.

5 Reasons Owning a Business in a Down Economy Absolutely Makes Sense

June 3rd, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

There’s a certain sense that during a recession, running your own business may not be a good deal. When things aren’t great, the idea is that you want a job where someone else has the responsibility of paying you. But that’s not necessarily a more secure way to ride out a down economy — a business can be a much better bet.

  1. You can’t be fired. When a big business isn’t doing so well, one of the key methods to cutting cots is laying off some personnel. But if you’re running your own business, you can’t be fired. You can choose to take a pay cut, of course, or fire an employee (if you’ve hired any), but short of closing or selling the business, you’re guaranteed a job. There’s no employer who can offer similar security.
  2. You can choose where to make the cuts. In a business where budget cuts are made above your pay grade, the decision maker may not know enough of what’s going on in the day-to-day operations to make the right budget cuts. If it’s your business, though, you can make sure that the expenses that actually directly help you bring in money aren’t eliminated. More often than not, a big business will make cuts across the board, which isn’t actually practical when you consider some expenses are more important than others.
  3. Your personal expenses can be more manageable. When you’re the boss, you decide the dress code, determine whether you can work from home and make other choices that can reduce your personal bottom line. You can save both you and your business money. If you want to use a home office to save expenses (like transportation costs), you have that option without having to convince an employer or manager.
  4. You can implement money-saving decisions faster. Found a better way of doing things? You can roll out a new system faster when you’re in charge of the business than when you need to get the office bureaucracy to agree with you. That can mean switching to a new vendor or ending a lease. That makes an owner-driven business more agile — which is absolutely necessary when the economy isn’t so hot.
  5. You have more room to negotiate. If you’re expected to meet the needs of an employer, you can’t necessarily make agreements that can get you the lowest possible price now, such as by negotiating a longer contract. Companies with many employees typically have policies in place that are harder to change and all employees are expected to follow, whether or not those decisions make the company less able to adapt.

Of course, all of this comes down to owning the right business. Selling real estate may not actually be a good bet, as far as running your own business goes. And you’ll have to work hard to enjoy security as an entrepreneur. But you can have a more stable business during a down economy than you might think.

Image by Flickr user Coyotejack

Convincing Your Family of the Wisdom of Running Your Own Business

June 2nd, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

When I told my family that I was starting my own business, there were some dire predictions. I think one of the nicest was the suggestion that I stock up on ramen ahead of time, just in case. And this was from a family where only one of my relatives — an aunt — was working for an employer. My family is all entrepreneurs.

Getting the Family on Your Side

While you don’t necessarily need your family’s support to start a business, it’s nice to have them on your side. It took me more than two years to convince my family that I probably wouldn’t starve without an employer. It didn’t matter how much I was earning each month (although plenty of relatives would ask, suggesting that I should never count on getting such a good month again).

Despite my family’s feelings about the likelihood of my success, they were generally supportive. My dad sat me down and gave me the benefit of his many years in business, as did my grandfather. I got a few connections for clients — although I’m still not sure if most of my family actually understands what I do, aside from banging on a computer keyboard all day. I even got some hand-me-down furniture. All in all, my family did their best to make sure that my business was a success.

Getting family on your side is a very different matter, though, depending on the family you belong to. With my family, it was a matter of discussing the pros and cons, being willing to consider potential problems and generally showing that I wasn’t a starry-eyed idealist. In other families, though, showing your passion may be a necessity for winning them over.

Convincing Your Family You’ve Succeeded

There will always be a few relatives who don’t think that my successes so far actually mean that I have a thriving business. I’ve come to the conclusion that their opinions are lost causes. But I’ve slowly shown my family that I am doing well. For some, that was landing a name-brand client. For others, it was seeing my name in print in a big name publication.

But the big difference seemed to be the fact that I’ve just kept on working, pushing through — the longer the I’ve stuck with the business, the more that folks have taken me seriously as a business owner. Sticking with it has convinced them that I’ve made the right choice, at least for me.

If you commit yourself to your business, more often than not, other people will come to understand that you’re in things for the long haul. It’s not a sure bet — there are always some people who are bent on being negative. But as you achieve milestones, you’ll find that folks will realize the importance of your business to you. They’ll come to see your business as the right choice for you.

Image by Flickr user knmurphy

Women in Business: Striking a Balance Between Entrepreneurship and Motherhood

May 19th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen
If you’re lucky, every once in a while you meet someone who totally changes your life.  Staci LaRue is just one of those people.  As a holistic nutritionist and personal trainer who specializes in Pilates, Staci helps lots of people change by helping them live healthier, more balanced, and less stressed lives.  She changed mine in a big way after a consultation this past winter.  After 17½ years of being a vegetarian, I did a 180˚: I started eating meat and stopped eating soy and wheat (not as hard as I thought it would be!).  Because LaRue Wellness is such a niche business, and because Staci manages to balance the demands of running a new business with being a wife and mom to a toddler, I wanted to share her story with you.
 

 

Staci LaRue

Staci LaRue

As 2009 was coming to an end I realized that as much as I was enjoying motherhood, I also enjoyed my career as a fitness and nutrition professional.  My former office space only allowed me to hold nutrition appointments, and I really wanted to add the personal training component back to my client programs.  I needed to expand, and the only way it made sense financially was to do it on my own.  LaRue Wellness unofficially launched in January 2010, but thanks to Mother Nature’s snow generosity things didn’t really get going until February.  

I like being in control of my client relationships, scheduling, and having everything I want and need in my space to create the perfect atmosphere for wellness.  As great as being your own boss is, it also adds some extra pressure and schedule demands, even more so for a one woman operation like mine.  It is always a challenge to find time for client emails, accounting duties and maintenance, along with all the requirements of mommy hood.  It’s a hard balance but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I love the challenge and being my own boss keeps me busy and I think makes me a better mom and role model.  

Spreading the Word

Thus far I have done a little social networking on Facebook, but the rest has been word of mouth. I have been blessed with some great clients who have helped me spread the word about my new business.

Growing and Changing

My goal is to maintain the balance of being a mom and wife while continuing to help my clients become and stay healthy.  In the immediate future, I would like do more corporate and group wellness programs.  So far I have only had one corporate client for a 5 week weight loss workshop, which was a success.  I have also hired an evening trainer who can utilize my facility while I am home being mom, which will help LaRue Wellness grow.

Advice for the New Business Owner

Set realistic goals, make time for your home/personal life, and don’t forget to pack a lunch!

As told to Monika Jansen via email

Do You Have the Entrepreneurial Mindset?

May 3rd, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

My people want to become entrepreneurs and some even feel that they are hard wired for it. In a recent post on the blog “What’s Next Gen Y”, Carol Roth wrote a post on the entrepreneurial mindset. She poses some interesting questions and makes you ask yourself why do you want to start in the first place?

Many will say “to make more money” or “to have more freedom” but in the end it is about seeing a customer need, wanting to fill it and believing that you are the person to fill that need and build a company to serve that need.

Here is a excerpt:

“Unfortunately, most of the reasons that people start businesses are myths based on a gross misunderstanding of what it means or what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

So, what are some good reasons to start your own business?

There’s a customer need! We have more products and services available to us than we would ever want or need, which makes today’s entrepreneurial landscape very different than it was just 50 years ago. If there is a gap in the market that customers are desperate for a solution to and willing to pay for, that’s a darn good reason to start a business. Remember, Ray Kroc didn’t start McDonald’s because he was bored or unfulfilled; he did so to meet a customer need!”

You can find the rest of the post at http://www.whatsnextgeny.com/good-and-bad-reasons-to-start-a-business/

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Once, Twice, Three Times Trackable

December 29th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

Whether you’re creating a marketing piece/strategy, or getting into social media, you need to be conscious of how you will measure the success, or failure, of your endeavor. Like sending a package through UPS or FedEx, you’ll want to know your items were received and arrived. It could be the amount of emails you collected, the number of page views you hoped to achieve, the amount of sales you intend to make, or any number of reasons, but you need to be conscious, as you start your efforts, that you have a way to track your leads back to its source.

There are tons of ways you could to track your efforts. You could create specific urls to direct people back to a page on your website they could only reach by that marketing piece/effort, a phone number that is only used for that marketing piece/effort, or by the number of physical bodies that show up on the scheduled day. Whatever you choose, decide on what it will be before you get started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked people how they determined the success of their piece only to hear “We didn’t think about that until after we printed it”.

I am not suggesting, in any way, that you should throw out everything you’ve created till now if you can’t track them. If there are pieces you have that don’t have a way to be tracked, find a creative way to make them so with the resources you have at your disposal. Here are a few creative ideas:

  • Use mailing labels on your brochures/postcards to update your information.
  • Call the places you’ve placed advertising with to see if you can alter the type in the next edition.
  • Place analytics tools, like Google Analytics, on your site to see where people visiting it are going.
  • Use sites like bit.ly to shorten, and track, the website links you put out in social media.

Once you’ve got the means in place to track the items, you need to determine what success means to your project, strategy, or piece. I’m going to ask you exercise some patience when it comes to tracking your success. Overnight success or an instant explosion of interest is not, and I repeat not, likely. It will take time, but you should determine what timeframe you are comfortable with or accepting of.

A little thought on how to figure out what success will look like. Please understand that it might take a few days for people to get a hold of your effort and that you can’t factor for people who many not be interested in your effort sharing it with others. There are multiple theories of success that you could use to determine your final outcome. One theory of success is the Pareto principle, often called the 80-20 rule, states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The 1 Percent Rule is another, and Wikipedia defines it as “the 1 percent rule or the 90-9-1 principle reflects a theory that more people will lurk in a virtual community than will participate. This term is often used as a euphemism for participation inequality in the context of the Internet.”

Lastly, please don’t think I’m saying tracking your items is a quick thing to do. Tracking your efforts is a task unto itself. You’ll need to set aside some time to review your statistics and outcome as they come in. This could be day to day, month to month, or an accumulative total in a year. It’s best to take a step back and remember it’s not personal, but in these numbers you can find what works and what doesn’t.

The last thing you want to do is feel like any piece you’ve created was out there with no means for you to know it works. I hope this post has inspired some ideas of how you could begin to track the success of what is working and what doesn’t. This is me giving you a bit of permission to experiment with what works and what doesn’t, but always give each thing you choose to do a way to measure it’s success.

I would love your thoughts on today’s post here in the comments or you can reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

Eight Things to think about before you use Social Media

December 24th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

Every day, more and more people become aware of the possibilities, successes, and capabilities of using social media as part of their marketing strategy. Some take the time to learn how to use the tools. Some will start blindly, get frustrated, stop using, and cry of it’s a failure/waste of time. Others will create accounts on the big social media sites, be less than passively involved, and ultimately forget they have them until someone asks a question.

With the people who are looking to get started using the tools of Social media, or are in the early stages of using them, here are Eight Things to think about before you use Social Media:

  1. Will this be a marketing tool or a customer service tool? People have a wide range of reasons to start using social media for their business. Often it is to promote themselves or their business, but companies, like Comcast and Zappos, have found that Social Media can be a great tool for improving customer service/experience.
  2. Are you the best person to take this on? Speaking of Zappos, their CEO Tony Hsieh, is their voice on Twitter. Not every CEO is the best person to be the online face of the company or organization. Chris Brogan, in his post “Develop a Strong Personal Brand Online Part 1”, wrote that you should “…remember that branding isn’t playing a role. Be yourself. It will become apparent rather quickly if you’re being someone that you’re not.”  This is the same whether it is a personal or professional brand. Deciding if you, or your boss, are the right person to be on social media is hard choice to make, especially when egos are involved, but depending on how you decide to use social media could make that choice for you.
  3. Do you have people around you that can teach you? Or is there someone in your company/organization that is already passionate about social media? Like Zappos, Comcast uses social media as a customer service tool, but instead of their CEO using it their Twitter account is maintained by Frank Eliason, Senior Director for Comcast National Customer Service. Because of Frank and Tony’s efforts, there have been a lot of companies following their format and finding success, and failure, in social media.  These are just two examples, but make sure that whatever your choice that the voice you choose fits the overall tone and attitude of your company.
  4. Are you willing to listen more than you talk? A big part of making social media an effective tool for marketing/customer service is the ability to listen to what your audience has to say as much as you intend to talk. People want to be talked “to” not “at”, so make sure that you find a balance between reviewing, responding, and posting.
  5. Do you have the time to focus on social media? Social media, like any other marketing/customer service effort, will take time out of your day. But, like checking your email or attending a meeting, if you believe it to be important to the success of your business, or your personal brand, you will find the time. A rule of thumb that works well for me is, and I can’t recall where I first heard it, “If you have time to schedule and attend a meeting…you have time for social media”.
  6. What social media tools will you use? Whether it’s wiki, blog, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other avenues you could choose from, you need to decide which will be the best one for you depending on who your intended audience is. Take a little time and do some research to see just where your intended audience is, and they may not be using social media yet, to see if your choice is worth the time before you jump head first.
  7. Are you patient? Just like finding the time for social media, you need to understand that it will take time. Unless you are already a well known individual in the public eye, and being a legend in your own mind doesn’t count, then it will take time to grow your audience. You are also going to have to live with some people either not buying into your idea or talking negatively about your company, or personal brand. Don’t try to judge your success by the successes of others, but don’t throw in the towel early because it’s not doing what you think it should. You didn’t start a company just to quit did you? Treat your social media the same way.
  8. What will you determine as success? Will it be number of follower (which I don’t recommend)? Will it be how often your messages are shared? Will it be how many of your followers take an action on your behalf/request? That is really up to you, but I implore you to be realistic about your goals. Remember, you will need patience, clear intentions, and an ability to weather the storm as it comes, but success is ultimately determined by you, your efforts, and your choices.

What I can tell you is that if you are looking for a quick solution, or instant boost in sales, then social media is not for you. There, I said it. I’m sure you’re expecting me to say that no matter who you are or what you do that you should jump on the social media band wagon, but I’m sorry that’s not true. It has to make sense for you, your brand, or your company.

I would love your thoughts on this post or if there are other things you think people should keep in mind in the comments below. You can reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

The Beauty of Keeping It Simple…

December 22nd, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

In my last post “What is this ROI thing” I posted that “…marketing really comes down to the simple questions we learned in school. Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.” Did I shock and offend a few people by simplifying that? More than likely I didn’t, but I have found that people who get easily offended by someone exposing the initial simplicity of something are ultimately trying to keep everyone else from knowing how simple it is as well.

There is no reason, in my opinion, that someone should just put a shingle on their door and expect customers to expect to know they are there and open. There are a laundry list of reasons that most businesses don’t make it past the two year mark and over all I see that as poor planning across the board. I have known more than my fair share of start-ups or small business owners that have forgone a marketing strategy in their first year or two because they have viewed it as too costly, confusing, or complicated. When in reality, that fear kept them from reaching a wider customer base or audience.

You need to know how you are going to get people to learn about your great new product/service/Whatchamacallit. Simply just creating the same marketing pieces that everyone has (a website, a business card, etc.) won’t have your phone ringing and email box filled with orders. I wish I could say it was that simple, but it’s not. You first need to think of those six simple questions as you go into the creation of your marketing piece/strategy.

The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How will vary depending on what you want to do. Here are some great examples of starter questions for your next marketing strategy/piece, but feel free to come up with your own:

  • Who –Who will want this? Who do we want to know about our latest product/service? Who is going to purchase our [insert item/service]? Who will carry our message for us?
  • What – What will we use to reach/tell people about? What will we use to measure who successful this is? What will separate us from all the other daily noise that our audience receives? What will we use to track it?
  • When – When will we be putting this out? When is the most effective time for us to launch this? When will use to track the success? When do we review on how well this is doing?
  • Where – Where are the people we want to reach with this? Where will be put this that people may not expect? Where will we announce the product/place/thing/event? Where do we want this to take our business?
  • Why – Why are we going to do this? Why will the audience we are trying to reach care? Why are we using X over Y? Why aren’t we using multiple opportunities for people to reach us?
  • How – How are we going to create this? How are we going to measure the success? How are we going to get this out to our chosen audience? How often are we going to try this to see if it is successful at different times of the year?

I know I’ve kept this extremely simple, but the biggest reason for that is that the resources for you to create your marketing plan are already available to you on this site. Steven Fisher wrote a great piece that I view as a strong follow up to this post, the Guide to Writing a Killer Marketing Plan.

I hope you at least come away from this post with a sense that your first marketing strategy doesn’t have to be scary or overly complicated. When you are in your first year or two of business your time is very valuable, but by asking simple questions up front you save yourself some time and be better prepared for when you hire a designer, marketing firm, or whomever to accomplish your goals.

I am interested in Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions you’ve come up with. Please leave them in the comments below or you can reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.