Sunday, August 14, 2011

How to Hire Positive Employees for Your Business

How to Hire Positive Employees for Your BusinessNo entrepreneur is an island. You were created to work with others in a positive environment.

Your business success depends on you attracting customers and employees with whom you work well together. Such cooperation challenges the familiar notions of achieving success by becoming a self-made person and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. Despite its familiarity, such a notion is simply a myth. You’ve been the beneficiary of working with others since before you can remember.

Do you remember your mother and father getting up at two o’clock in the morning to feed you? Of course not. Even though it happened night after night for months, depriving your parents of much-needed sleep, these gracious acts of compassionate kindness your parents offered just because they loved you slip through your memory.

There are other gracious acts of cooperation others have done for you that similarly slip through. All of these cooperative acts combine to make you who you are today -- a unique human being capable of a positive workstyle.

Cooperating completely with others presupposes that you are incomplete alone, but complete with others. Sometimes, our ego gets in the way of understanding this concept. Part of the challenge for entrepreneurs is that we are really good at so many and varied tasks that we buy the lie that we can truly do it all. The truth is if we really want to make our dreams come true, we must redefine our egotistical reality of "I can do it all" to "There is something I missed."

One of the most essential ingredients of working positively and cooperatively with others is that how much you think you accurately perceive in life, there is something you miss -- or some subject that someone else knows more about than you do.

No matter which direction your business is going -- up or down -- you can use some help. The good news is you have it. The universe is designed to partner with you, to provide resources beyond your control for your business’s well-being, including relationships with others who can help you.

The key to leveraging these relationships is to become the kind of person that you want to attract into your business life. You should be someone you would want to do business with.

Consider these questions in shaping yourself to attract positive business partners and clients:

  1. What are my core values, i.e., those character traits that I want to exhibit in my business relationships? What would my family members say are my core values?
  2. What are my life priorities--those matters in life that I consider most important not just in word, but in work behavior as well? How do my calendar and bank statement reflect these priorities?
  3. What is my unique contribution to make in the world through my business and how do I live into it daily?

Just as "birds of a feather flock together," you literally attract people with whom you share core values and life priorities. For example, if you conceive your business more positively, you will attract similar people with whom you can grow your business--and whom you can also help in their lives and businesses. Those who resonate on this frequency are drawn to you because of your common business life pitch.

Conversely, if your business life is more negatively grounded, you find people coming into your business--whether as customers/clients, employees/suppliers--who are more of a negative persuasion.

Do you ever find yourself complaining about your customers? They don’t pay their bills on time, or maybe they’re constantly trying to get something for nothing. Who attracted them to your business?

What about your employees? Ever hear yourself saying, "You just can’t find good help these days" or "Nobody wants to want work anymore"? Who hired these employees?

Now stop, and ask yourself: "How am I attracting these people? What is there about me that attracts them, that pitches them in my direction?"

One of the greatest challenges in creating a positive workstyle is understanding that like attracts like. These people onto whom you shift responsibility for your challenges are in your work life because you chose them. You attracted them by way of your business’s core values, your business priorities, and your business’s unique contribution.

Once you perceive your work life in a positive light, then, because you are created to cooperate completely, you begin to attract others to your team who share your positive direction. Those who choose to work positive will find their way to you.

The people around you--customers/clients, employees/employers, family/friends, and vendors/suppliers -- are there for you to lean on when the weight of doing business is too much for you to stand alone . . . and when isn’t it? These people are your team.

The article is taken from

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Top 10 Business Plan Mistakes

It’s been nearly seven years since I posted Top 10 Business Plan Mistakes on this site. Looking back and reading the post again today, I think the list holds up very well. Still, I can’t resist making a few changes. So here is my revised version for 2012, incorporating what I wrote back then that still holds true.

1. Misunderstanding the purpose: It’s the planning that matters, not just the document. You engage in planning your business because planning becomes management. Planning is a process of setting goals and establishing specific measures of progress, then tracking your progress and following up with course corrections. The plan itself is just the first step; it is reviewed and revised often. Don’t even print it unless you absolutely have to. Leave it on a digital network instead.

2. Doing it in one big push; do it in pieces and steps. The plan is a set of connected modules, like blocks. Start anywhere and get going. Do the part that interests you most, or the part that provides the most immediate benefit. That might be strategy, concepts, target markets, business offerings, projections, mantra, vision, whatever. . . just get going.

3. Finishing your plan. If your plan is done, then your business is done. That most recent version is just a snapshot of what the plan was then. It should always be alive and changing to reflect changing assumptions.

4. Hiding your plan from your team. It’s a management tool. Use common sense about what you share with everybody on your team, keeping some information, such as individual salaries, confidential. But do share the goals and measurements, using the planning to build team spirit and peer collaboration. That doesn’t mean sharing the plan with outsiders, except when you have to, such as when you’re seeking capital.

5. Confusing cash with profits. There's a huge difference between the two. Waiting for customers to pay can cripple your financial situation without affecting your profits. Loading your inventory absorbs money without changing profits. Profits are an accounting concept; cash is money in the bank. You don't pay your bills with profits.

6. Diluting your priorities. A plan that stresses three or four priorities is a plan with focus and power. People can understand three or four main points. A plan that lists 20 priorities doesn't really have any.

7. Overvaluing the business idea. What gives an idea value isn’t the idea itself but the business that's built on it. It takes employees showing up every morning, phone calls being answered, products being built, ordered and shipped, services being rendered, and customers paying their bills to make an idea a business. Either write a business plan that shows you building a business around that great idea, or forget it. An idea alone does not a great business make.

8. Fudging the details in the first 12 months. By details, I mean your financials, milestones, responsibilities and deadlines. Cash flow is most important, but you also need lots of details when it comes to assigning tasks to people, setting dates, and specifying what's supposed to happen and who's supposed to make it happen. These details really matter. A business plan is wasted without them.

9. Sweating the details for the later years. This is about planning, not accounting. As important as monthly details are in the beginning, they become a waste of time later on. How can you project monthly cash flow three years from now when your sales forecast is so uncertain? Sure, you can plan in five, 10 or even 20-year horizons in the major conceptual text, but you can't plan in monthly detail past the first year. Nobody expects it, and nobody believes it.

10. Making absurd forecasts. Nobody believes absurdly high “hockey stick” sales projections. And forecasting unusually high profitability usually means you don’t have a realistic understanding of expenses.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

10 Habits of Effective Startup Mentors

1. Always start by defining the fundamental idea behind a product or service:
What is the problem they are solving?
Who is the customer?
How they are solving the problem or meeting the need?
Make it as clear as possible, 1 sentence max.

2. Prioritize the startup’s biggest risks
You want teams to priorize their biggest 2 or 3 risks and the assumptions for each. The key is making sure the team is looking across all aspects of the business:

What is the business model? (Who pays for the product, how, and do they have money?)
What is the market size? Are their expectations of market size realistic?
Who is their competition and why are they better?
What are their guesses for customer acquisition?
Are their any technical risks to creating the solution?

3. Get practical on the tactics to empirically mitigate risks
For the identified “biggest risks”, drill into the specific tactics they will use to empirically validate a way to mitigate these risks. Ask yourself:

Will those tactics deliver useful data to validate or invalidate assumptions?
Can the tactics be streamlined in any way?
Can you come up with any other test-tactics that would benefit their process?

4. Use your network to find them potential customers
Think about how you can facilitate their tactics — this is especially important when the team needs to get to an unusual type of customer. Can you make an introduction and get them on the phone with someone? Are you friends with someone who could? External people often are happy to help.

5. Challenge, play devil’s advocate, and poke holes in arguments
Don’t shy away from tough questions. Force the team to stress-test their assumptions and stretch their thinking.

6. Let the team come to its own conclusions
Never put things forth as an answer or fait accompli. Do not hesitate to point out risks, competitors or precedents you have seen before, but make the team come to a conclusion themselves after reviewing their learning.

7. Less mentorship may be better
Rove around but be careful how you interrupt teams. You can often quickly tell if a team is struggling or busily productive with just a couple questions. If the former, let them execute. If they seem to be struggling, or haven’t gotten out of the building enough, then be more forceful.

8. Don’t spoon feed, keep feedback crisp
The teams have a lot to do in a short period of time, so manage your interaction so that it remains high-impact and efficient. Don’t be afraid to politely but firmly cut someone off who wants to spend a lot of time explaining their great solution and all the features.

You want to keep the team moving. Sometimes it makes sense to speak to team members individually or in smaller groups so that they can divide and conquer. Prioritize and break up your own mentoring as needed — you do not need to be comprehensive in one sitting.

9. Collaborate with other mentors
If you are feeling stuck, or want help coming up with more efficient tactics, don’t hesitate to pull in another mentor. No one has all the answers, and sometimes it can be really tricky to decide what advice to give. However, if you pull in another mentor, brief them first yourself and don’t make the team do the entire download process again.

Common instances when you might want a second opinion:
When a team struggles with a pivot/leap
When a team is internally conflicted on priorities
When your gut tells you that their tactics will be low-return, but you don’t have better ones coming to mind

10. Be a mentor, not a CEO
Remember that you are a mentor, not a team lead. Participants go through Lean Startup Machine as much for the process as anything. Reading about “lean startup” is fine and good, but this stuff only sinks in when you actually start to put the ideas into real practice. They might need to be pushed to get out of their comfort zone, but teach them to fish — don’t give them the fish.