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Many business owners measure the success of their company by how much profit they’re bringing in. This isn’t necessarily the wrong way, and a large part of business is learning how to minimize expenses while maximizing revenue, but for fledgling startups that might not yet have a large customer base, these metrics aren’t ideal. Instead, a good indicator you’re on the road to startup success is when you find yourself in a productive, thriving ecosystem.
A Blossoming Ecosystem
An ecosystem is partly defined by the geographic area where you’ve chosen to put down your company’s roots, but it’s also made up of the people you choose to surround yourself with. These people might be your employees, advisors, and investors, in addition to other counselors such as law or finance professionals. The attitudes and outlooks of all of these individuals contribute to your ecosystem, and for your business to thrive, their impact needs to be positive.
Good influences will help you talk through decisions and support you when you’re not sure which option to pursue. They’ll also help you connect with other individuals who they think might have something to offer to you and your business — and the best team members will do so without being asked. To get the most out of your ecosystem, though, you’ll also need to give back.
What can you do to help the people you work with? What are their goals and aspirations, and how are you and your business capable of helping them achieve those goals? In an unhealthy ecosystem, one organism hoards all of the resources for itself. In a healthy one, organisms cooperate to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes that are greater than what any party involved could have achieved on its own.
Once you’ve made sure your ecosystem is the kind that breeds successful businesses and partnerships, take these three steps to cultivate your startup’s success:
1. Network to help your startup sprout essential partnerships.
With the right mindset, networking can happen in any place and at any time, sprouting relationships that are valuable for your startup’s growth. Whether you’re on a bus, at the airport, or getting some work done at your favorite coffee shop, be approachable and strive to make connections on a daily basis. That’s not all there is to it, however. Justin Zastrow, CEO of Smart Armor, points out that “Networking and ‘showing up’ is only half the battle. In addition to networking, you need to learn how to meaningfully and authentically connect with people. Otherwise, your networking efforts will be wasted.”
So much of business is about relationships, but the literature tends to overemphasize forming new relationships and underemphasize nurturing the ones you create. Don’t let connections wither away by falling out of touch. Reach out to your contacts on a regular basis to see what you can offer or how you can help.
2. Join a startup support organization that will help you establish strong roots.
Accelerators and incubators are valuable communities that help startups and entrepreneurs build a solid foundation. These groups will help provide you with a number of key elements necessary to fertilize your startup, including mentorship, working space, networking opportunities, and even financial backing in some cases.
The Ameren Accelerator, for instance, is a partnership that combines the resources of a leading energy corporation, a lauded accelerator program, and a state university system to produce an ecosystem in which energy-focused startups can flourish. The accelerator selects five to seven companies for a 12-week program that connects them with mentors, including current and former business executives, in addition to providing funding opportunities, office space, and other perks.
Different accelerators cater to different industries, so find one that fits your startup idea and do everything you can to join the community.
3. Keep finances fertile by outsourcing.
Startup owners often feel the need to fill certain roles with full-time employees when they could save money and get a better product by outsourcing. If you’re running an e-commerce website, you don’t necessarily have a full team of developers on the payroll, and the same can be true for marketing or finance. An in-house CMO will end up costing a fortune, so don’t be afraid to outsource this role.
Erik Huberman, one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and founder and CEO of Hawke Media, says outsourcing positions like a CFO or CMO can save your company between 40 to 65 percent. He explains, “For less money, you can contract someone who will not only get the job done efficiently, but who will also not be looking to justify, retain, or grow his or her in-house position.”
If your startup is like most, you don’t have unlimited resources. Instead of blowing through your budget on one big hire, sow more than one seed by outsourcing certain positions.
Your product might not make it to market until late summer, or you might be hoping to secure a seed investment to finance your dream. No matter what stage of the startup process you’re in, you can set yourself up for success each day by taking the right steps to encourage healthy growth.
Facebook outlined how it plans to increase security and thwart election meddling as pressure mounts on the social network to curb the rise of fake news and foreign interference.
Facebook continues to face criticism for its failure to prevent users from sharing misleading news on its service, particularly in the runup to the 2016 presidential election.
Company executives said Thursday, in a blog post that included a transcript of their comments, that they have four priorities:
- combat foreign interference
- removing fake accounts
- increase ads transparency
- reduce the spread of false news
The company has partnered with Associated Press to use their reporters in all 50 states to identify and debunk false and misleading stories related to the federal, state, and local U.S. midterm elections. It has expanded fact-checking efforts internationally as well. Most recently, Facebook launched a fact-checking initiative in Italy and Mexico with media partners to identify and rate stories, ensuring they take action quickly in the runup to their elections.
Facebook has also started fact-checking photos and videos, in addition to links. The company said Thursday it has started in France with the AFP and plans to scale to more countries and partners soon.
One of the company’s biggest efforts is finding better ways to discover and disable fake accounts. Facebook is now blocking millions of fake accounts every day, just as they’re created and before they can do harm, said Samidh Chakrabarti, product manager at Facebook who leads all work related to elections security and civic engagement.
“We’ve been able to do this thanks to advances in machine learning, which have allowed us to find suspicious behaviors — without assessing the content itself,” Chakrabarti said.
Facebook has also added a new investigative tool that can be deployed in the lead-up to elections. The tool, which was piloted last year around the time of the Alabama special Senate race, proactively looks for potentially harmful types of election-related activity, such as pages of foreign origin that are distributing inauthentic civic content. These suspicious accounts are then manually reviewed by Facebook’s security team to see if they violate its community standards or its terms of service.
The tool will be used in upcoming elections, including the U.S. midterms.
Websites are famous for being your storefront in the digital age. Every expert will tell you you must have a website to capture leads. And that’s true…if you’re building an e-commerce or online business. For other types of service based business, having a website can be a distraction from the real work you need to be doing: getting clients.
Below I explain how you get clients without a website in order to create a successful service-based business.
1. Build your network before you quit your day job.
Like many people in 2010, I drank the lifestyle design Kool-Aid and got wasted. Freedom over my schedule? Flexibility to travel? Working for myself??! Sign me up. High off Four Hour Work Week, I resolved to leave my job. I had a rough idea of my next steps when my friend and author Vanessa Van Edwards said to me, “Don’t do that.”
Confused, since she herself was already a successful lifestyle entrepreneur, I said, “What? Why?!”
“Don’t quit your job. You’re about to make a lot of mistakes. Trust me. Make mistakes while you still have a salary.”
Turned out, she was right. I had no idea how to prospect, write proposals, package up services, or price things properly. I spent the next 6 months building up a side-hustle that let me make those mistakes with a safety net (my day job).
In that time, I attended as many events as I could, listened to every podcast on sales and entrepreneurship, wrote a ton of terrible proposals, got rejected by prospects I shouldn’t have been rejected by, and made a lot of bad cold sales calls and cold email pitches.
Listening to Vanessa’s advice saved me tens of thousands of dollars in burnt runway cash and a lot of mental anguish. By the time I was ready to go full time, I was confident in my skills as a consultant and sales person – and even had some glowing testimonials under my belt.
2. Get out of ‘transactional’ thinking.
You know the daunting 3% completion rate on online courses? I’m the 3%. I love learning, reading, and homework; So when I discovered the MOOC world, I couldn’t get enough.
One of the best courses I took was Earn1K, by the author Ramit Sethi.
With a Bachelor’s in Literature and a Master’s in Psychology, I’d had zero business training in my life, save for some memorable conversations with my dad who is an entrepreneur. Until that point, I believed business wasn’t “for people like me.” In my mind, business was for people who were “numbers people,” money hungry, and didn’t care about changing the world or doing good.
Turns out, none of those things is true.
In Sethi’s course, he taught us to think about business in terms of “solving problems.” It wasn’t transactional, like I’d thought. Business was about “adding value” to others.
This was an enormous mindset shift for me.
Sethi taught me to stop thinking about what I can do and start thinking about what people need.
That changed everything.
In the academic world, I’d been trained to think about myself. My interests, my research, my goals, my credentials, my my my….In the real world, I needed to learn how to make a case as to why anyone should care.
From that point on, every interaction I had changed from “Here’s what I can do!” to “What do you need help with?“
3. Learn to shut up and listen.
When I implemented the “What do you need help with?” approach, everything changed. I wasn’t pushing my services onto anyone. I was pulling their problems out and offering to help them solve them.
Before I took Sethi’s course, I’d sit down with prospects and spend 30 minutes talking about myself – what I could do and why I have the answers. It was annoying at best, unprofessional at worst.
Learning to shut up was one of the most effective sales tools I’ve learned to date. My close rate shot up exponentially because I learned the subtle art of asking questions.
I made prospects do the talking instead of me. Then, I’d restate what I heard. “It sounds like you’re struggling with XYZ. And you need help with ABC, does that sound right?”
Prospects eyes would light up, “YES! That’s exactly it. Can you help me?”
Because when you articulate someone’s problem, they credit you with the solution.
In those initial consults, the goal wasn’t to sell my service – it was to get the prospect to trust me. Listening and asking questions gets people to trust you.
And when people trust you, they buy from you.
4. Focus on sales generating activities instead of ego-boosting ones.
There was a technique Sethi advocated called “Direct to the source” and I used that almost exclusively for my 3+ years in business.
The idea was to go directly to the people who had a problem that you could solve instead of focusing on things like “building your brand.”
As someone who worked in branding and marketing, this was sacrilege.
Still, the idea made sense to me: first, see if you can get someone to say “yes” to hiring you; then, worry about having business cards.
I gave myself a 3-month deadline to test out this approach before I threw it out. My plan was to focus exclusively on getting clients by finding out what problems people had and selling them a solution.
No business cards, no logos, no stationary, no case studies, and no website. All of those things would be a distraction from what I needed to do: Get paying clients.
Three months turned into three years of going directly to clients. That turned into a steady stream of referrals and eventually having to tell people no.
In all that time, only one person ever asked for case studies or my website. And that person had no money to hire me. Go figure.
5. Remember that everyone is a prospect.
If you’re reading this thinking, “But how did you get people to sit down with you in the first place?!” I will tell you: It was that 6-months of learning to endure the discomfort of doing a bad job. Of failing. Miserably.
I got used to pitching myself and doing it wrong (really, really wrong). And doing it again. And again. And again. Until eventually, I sucked a little bit less.
In that time I discovered the key: everyone is a potential prospect or referral source. Everyone.
And when you combine that insight with the “How can I help you?” approach, you begin to see business opportunities everywhere.
For the next three years, I focused all my attention on getting clients, until I finally hit a point where two things happened.
First, I was commanding higher rates and started to need more credibility indicators to bolster my trustworthiness. Second, a good friend told me she wouldn’t refer me anyone until my online presence was “less sketchy.”
That’s when I knew it was time for a website.
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You can be extroverted or introverted or somewhere in the middle, but no matter where you fall on the personality spectrum, there’ll be times when conversation doesn’t come easy. Overthinking it will generally get you nowhere, but not having a plan of action or a back pocket full of topics regardless of who you’re talking to also won’t help your communication game. If you’ve ever gone way out of your way to avoid an impromptu chat, fumbled with what to say, or defaulted to the weather (again!), the following guidelines should help.
While there isn’t any one magic solution to making business content go viral, you should be doing everything you can to create the most shareable content as possible. This includes incentivizing not only your team, but also your customers, to post it on their social networks.
11 entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) explain best strategies for doing so without seeming overbearing
1. Create great content
If you create great content that resonates with your customers and also provides value to their friends and family members (such as a useful statistic, a fun video, actionable promotion, etc.), they will be much more likely to share it. People will share things that they think their network will enjoy and benefit from Read more…
When talk about cloud computing first began to spread, small to midsize businesses (SMBs) had their fair share of concerns. Some were worried about …