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Depression. Stress. Anxiety. Restless nights. Irritability. These, and much more, are common things that many entrepreneurs may deal with on a daily basis. The business world can be cruel and heartless, taking the best of you and leaving you with nothing left to give those you love.

Been there, done that. Here is an infographic from www.savvysme.com.au that shows a glimpse of what’s happening during entrepreneurship. Sometimes we can’t see the forest because of the trees.

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Not really sure (yet) what I want to say in this post. But I’ve decided to overcome the writer’s block my way, and that’s by putting down some ideas and contemplating the result. And where it gets us.

Ramblings about accomplished entrepreneurs and how people think about them

I don’t know, it’s very hard to start a business. And this time I not talking about having an innovative idea, fear of starting-up, funding or anything else from the area. Because unfortunately there is something else that makes most damage, I think. If you have been following me for a while, you know that I always say wanna be entrepreneurs or even non entrepreneurs think about accomplished entrepreneurs as people that don’t have to worry about anything, have free time, and thanks God enough money to buy anything they like.

And unfortunately this way of thinking results into a distorted vision about entrepreneurship and what it means, mostly because we only find out about entrepreneurs when they are accomplished enough to make a story. We don’t really hear about entrepreneurs working long nights to make it to the end of the months, and nor about  the silent failures (although we get to hear a lot about visible failures).

Problem is that this distorted way of thinking about entrepreneurs actually gets even further, and I would say it’s one of the major reasons why people don’t start a business.

I’m talking about…

I’m talking now about comparing a potential startup with the established businesses in the field, economic environment, golden eras and so on. Not sure if it makes sense, so, I’ll give you some examples.

  • I can’t start a new hosting company. The golden era of the hosting companies is long gone, and now you can’t make a profit.
  • Yes, but now it’s the great depression. We can’t beat competition by starting now!
  • They did well by doing things this way. We should do the same and we will be as successful as they are.

Each business has its own ADN

Thing is that you are starting from a wrong premise: comparing a startup idea with other companies. And that’s bad, because you are comparing something that isn’t there yet with something that already works (or not) and that’s kind of useless. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make market research before starting a business, because you should, I’m saying that each business has its own ADN. Its own people, its own customers, economic conditions, shareholders, business plans, locations, you name it. There aren’t two businesses alike, exactly in the way there aren’t 2 people alike because it’s impossible to replicate the same conditions.

Embrace who you are. Make your own success.

Thinking that your business will go or fail based on how a company or another did its simply a killer. Of course I’m not saying that if an industry is dying you shouldn’t consider it might be a bad idea to start a business there. I’m just saying you should stop comparing your unborn child. Embrace who you are and what your business could be. Make your own success. Stop trashing ideas because somebody else was or wasn’t successful. Your business can be the way you want it to be, regardless of whatever happen to other businesses.

Now I have to re-read this. I think the end was good, start not so good. Hopefully you will get the picture anyway. You should have faith in your unborned business. It’s always better than doing nothing.

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Intro

Most entrepreneurs I know would say that their job is actually to solve problems – I’m not talking about the customers problems but their own business problems. Just to be sure we are on the same side of the page, I’m mostly talking about small business entrepreneurs which also happen to be CEOs (not to mention janitors, financial department and so on).

And also, most of the friends I have that work a 9 to 5 job think that their boss, CEO (or worse case scenario, CEO’s wife) is to blame for everything that works bad, and if they would be in their position, they would come up with some God like solutions and will work wonders.

The thing is that as soon as you make the step from 9 to 5 job to entrepreneurship the reality will make your God-like solutions to fade away, and from your new position will have to solve problems which you didn’t think before or solutions aren’t easy to come at all.

Now, I can bet my arm (I will bet my good arm, not the one with Carpal tunnel syndrome) that making compromises is part of the game. After all, you have the responsibility to solve all the problems one way or another.

Making compromises

Now that I got you here, the intro is actually useless for the rest of the article. All I wanted to tell you so far was that you will make compromises – I know, I know, I don’t want to lose your time and I can’t feel 2 fingers from my bad arm. So let’s go quickly to the next point.

The compromise I hate most. You should hate it too

Especially when you are starting up (or now in times of crisis) you will compromise a lot. You will create a new product or service quickly, maybe without plans or maybe communicating with your team on messenger instead of clear emails or documents with targets. You will cut corners here and there. You won’t save your experience for later, nor having conclusions. Anarchy. You will probably get it somehow done (otherwise you wouldn’t be probably reading my blog but job sites) but I would say you’re lucky. And you can be lucky just so many times.

For the rest, you will need to improve your business.

I know most of the times putting things in good order when you worry each day about sales and about making payments to your employees each month seems like the last thing on your mind. But guess what, after the first month, you will get a new one, again a lucky one, when although you made enough sales, it’s all just because of luck. And a third one. Maybe a forth one.

The thing is that if you are lucky enough you will get enough lucky months under your belt. Actually you are not lucky at all!

After the lucky months you will realize that you lost all this time which you could use to improve your business and prepare for the future focusing on the temporary things. Of course without these lucky months you wouldn’t have made it so far, but there is nothing that could improve your business better than hunger.

What improvements I’m talking about?

Anything. Business processes. People. Communication rules. New content on the website. Customer Support improvements. Internal rules. All that you always wanted to do and never had the time to do it. You know, the things that you hate to do and kept on postponing.

Good things will happen. And eventually you won’t need luck to get through the month.

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Contrary to the popular beliefs, starting a new business its not the most difficult thing. It’s more important and difficult what you do next. Of course, if you already started a business probably you worked hard to find that excellent business idea to ensure your success, but as soon as your business starts it will have a life of it’s own. Even if you have carefully planned everything, there is no saying what direction it will take – maybe you will end up doing something completely different because if you are smart enough you will steer your business to the most profitable activities.

The direction and what you will end up doing it’s not really important after all. Most importantly is how fast it’s going one way or another. Most people start a business to fulfill a very personal desire. So how fast is good, is very fast good or bad?

It can either grow too fast either too slow and neither are good. Let’s see why.

Going too slow

Usually bootstrapped companies have the tendency to grow slower. Lack of investment money means you can’t go out and rent a huge office space and hire the second day. Hardware, know-how and man power might be missing. Marketing budget is scarce so you can’t get a lot of customers. Or simply you can’t expand production.
Besides the obvious risks like your competition going faster and killing your market, the most dangerous risk (mostly because it’s hidden) is … loosing interest. If for you, the entrepreneur, it takes too long to meet your targets (whatever they are) you will miss the essential force to make things happen and eventually your interest will fade away. If you plan to have 20 employees in the next 2 years (because this makes everything worthwhile for you) and you only have 2, that means a painfully death of your business. Painfully not because it’s not profitable or anything, but because it doesn’t serve your desires.

Going too fast
Going too fast usually happens when you find a good niche, a big customer or a growing market. Going fast will get your desires fulfilled soon, so what’s wrong with that? It can be bad in  more ways. First if you get what you want too fast, you might lose interest after. Maybe if you get that million dollars in the bank you won’t feel the desire to keep running your business, right?
On another layer, going fast can be a sign of un-natural growth. Usually is related to getting a big customer that brings you good growing business. The bad things happen when you need to expand so quickly that you need to get expensive finance, hire not so efficient people, or simply spend too much as you feel money are coming your way fast, and then, for a reason or another that big customer goes away. Or simply the market is shrinking. Guess what, now you have way too many employees, too much office space or too much production. This spells disaster.

To make things even worse, there is no saying when you go too fast or too slow. Usually you realise this when something goes wrong. So how fast is your business growing?

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When you are a small business what would you do for customer retention? How will you make faithful customers, and repeated sales? Of course, quality, or maybe the better price would make customers come back and ask for more, but what about friendship? When would you stop calling your customer Sir?

The thing that comes to my mind right now is the classic barbecue that you are supposed to have with your customer in order to get the contract signed (saw this in some US movies). Why is important to have a personal bond with your customer?

Getting friendly with the customer should have some advantages:

  • It’s getting you more sales. If the customer will consider you as his friend, chances are that the next time he will need something he will look no further than you. Friendship is a special breed of customer loyalty.
  • The customer friend can spread the word about you and get you more customers. Word of the mouth is probably one of most powerful marketing tools a small business can use. It comes for free
  • Problems with quality, delivery or anything else? Well, the friend customer can close an eye on it, and you can get things settled over beer.

Getting friendly with the customer should have some disadvantages:

  • Margins can be low. Well, if the customer is your friend, you won’t charge him too much right? This also happens with older customers as well – as your business grows the older customers don’t bring the best business because the newer ones are able to pay more.
  • Sometimes you are forced to provide more than the regular service. Because they are your friends, the customers will feel entitled to ask a little bit more.
  • It’s never good to make business with your friends. Words of wisdom say that if you make business with your friends either your friendship or your business will eventually suffer.

But in the end is it a good idea to get friendlier with your customers? I think it depends. If you’re running a small bank it doesn’t work. But if you have a small grocery store, or a hair styling business it seems like the right thing to do. It anyway depends on yourself and the way you make friends and not really a business decision. You can however make a business decision from the way you talk, deal and behave with the customer – that should be a good enough framework.

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We have a joke here. “Why Australians never change their boomerang? Because they can’t throw of the old one as it gets back to them”. God knows why we have this joke as we are on the other side of the Earth from Australia.

If you are an entrepreneur and have a business you can always start a new one. But what you can’t get rid of is the entrepreneur-ism. I’ve once said in one of my articles that entrepreneurship is an opportunity enhancement, it doesn’t directly put money into your hands, but it facilitates it. While doing interviews with entrepreneurs on my other blog entrepreneurship-interviews.com I discovered an amazing truth about how entrepreneurship goes in terms of success and failure. If you ask most of the today’s successful entrepreneurs you will soon find out that they went through a series of business flip-ups, failures and missed opportunities before reaching gold. But they got entrepreneurship in their blood, and they couldn’t get rid of it.

Being an opportunity enhancement, even if you fail from time to time, I don’t think you can stop thinking that maybe the next thing will be the next great thing. Still, having previous entrepreneurship experience doesn’t make starting up a new business easier. It actually makes it harder. Not only that you know what went wrong with the previous one, but this time you also have something else to loose that can make you more cautious: money and pride. And if you had a great idea once, it’s really so hard getting a new one that is as good as the last one.

That’s probably one of the differences between a (small) business owner and an entrepreneur. Not all people are looking to develop their business, expand, or start a new one – they run a business that keep them happy and look no further. Entrepreneurs are different. They have the bug, and it’s like a boomerang. They can’t get rid of it, no matter how much they fail or succeed.

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I have something that really bothers me lately. What kind of employees do you really want in your small business?

Usually if we are talking about a bigger business, it’s better to have more types, even if you consider them individually they are not the very optimum. I mean yeah, you want the best sales people, but you might just want one that can’t sell well in general, but has the luck or ability to sign just one huge contract a year. Or yes, you want the best programmers in the World, but you might want lighter ones to deal with your site.

Anyway, there are several types of employees you might want to have. I’m listing below the ones that comes first to my mind:

  • the rookie. Good for tasks that are very repetitive or just plain operational
  • the YUPPIE. Usually the best if you have an interesting business with great growth potential. They just want to grow together with you. They leave you the moment they have a better opportunity
  • the seasoned professional. Good experience, but sometimes they might lack fresh new ideas
  • the working mom or career woman. One of the best choices when it comes to pick up a CEO. Yes, you heard me right, if you have something to be done, then you can be sure it’s done.
  • the lucky bastard. They don’t do much, nor are very skilled, but they seem to get it right each time it’s actually important. They might bring you more money, contracts or anything else than the most skillful dedicated sales person
  • the Evangelist. Usually it’s in your company from the very beginning. You can count on him, he will be day in day out at the office and he knows stuff. He will spread only the very best words about the company and good for forming new teams as well.
  • the opportunist. Heading to a better paid job already…
  • the rich boy. He doesn’t really need to work, but still does it. They are not in for the money, so they must do it for fun. So they like it, and do it well
  • moonlight entrepreneur. Works for you by day, has a second business to run at home in the evening. Interesting, usually they think just like you the entrepreneur. If they become successful, they head towards their own business

Which one would you hire?

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Being a small business it’s always hard to hire the right persons to do the job and even harder to keep them committed. Hiring in a small business is difficult from more than one reason:

  • your payments can’t be so great – employees are a cost, and costs are important for a small business
  • your package of benefits can’t beat the corporate packages. No free tickets to spa, no paid vacations, probably no company car
  • no professional HR. This means less evaluations, less trainings, less team-buildings
  • difficult to give a raise

In fact I wrote an entire article about Hiring in a boostraped company, no need to repeat myself over and over again. So, let’s discuss something that is even more important than hiring: keeping your employees happy.

First of all we will start with the assumption that you don’t have a HR department to do the job, and even if you do, keeping employees happy should be on your everyday to do list while you are the owner or shareholder of the company. In fact, most of the successful entrepreneurs I met have a special section in their speeches about sharing success and wealth with employees – the reason why a company exists as a social entity is to produce for: clients, owners and employees. Take any of the 3 out of the equation and your chances to succeed are near 0.

Ok, so now that we have established that the company owners/ entrepreneurs should work on keeping the employees happy, what about CEOs? CEOs work directly with the employees more than the entrepreneurs/shareholders. So, next time you talk with one of your employees, how much is real and how much is HR?

When you congratulate someone, you do it because you really believe it or because it’s your task to “serve the accomplishment feeling” to your employee? When you say you appreciate an idea, a plan or anything else, is this for real? And how do you deal with the things you don’t like, how do you raise the problem when something got wrong? You keep it low so you don’t demoralize the employee? You try to find out the reasons why the things went wrong or you start yelling?

I don’t know how other employees are, but I try to understand things behind what my boss is telling me. I understand that some things can be dictated by the company policy, some other are compliments because they have to be, and some are masked approaches on things aren’t so great. But you, the entrepreneur, are you ready to deal with the multitude of human behaviours?

Because, bottom line, no matter the reasons or how you do it, being a small business entrepreneur also makes you a HR Department. And next time you talk with your colleagues keep that in mind.

Doug Caverly from SmallBusinessNewz quotes some interesting facts:

“As well as the highest job satisfaction rate (21% strongly agreeing and 41% tending to agree), small business employees were also the most committed (64%) and loyal (58%) to their organizations,” reports the Federation of Small Businesses.

Furthermore, “Employees in small firms also felt most engaged by their employer and reported the most freedom to choose their working patterns.  There were also far fewer reports of bullying in small businesses; lower stress levels and less complaints about long working hours.”

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Of course I’ve already said this on my blog in a way or another, but it seems is never enough. Probably the latest time I’ve said it was in “There is something wrong with entrepreneur’s minds” – “Having more free time is an absolute non-sense, at least in the beginning. If you start small and probably without any significant outside investment, then, here we go, you will have long working hours, working weekends, and no holidays!”.

Well, right now, I’m able to make a little differentiation: we have a big difference between work long and work hard. And, unfortunately for the entrepreneurs they have to do some sort of work hard for long if you get what I’m saying.

But why is this so hard? (I’m not complaining I’m just putting warning labels all over the place). Well, Socrates said: “The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know”. And if you are just starting up, well, you actually don’t know anything yet, no matter what or how good you were in your 9 to 5 job so far. And even if you are a serial entrepreneur, you still don’t know anything. Because each time is different.

OK. I hear voices saying that I need to bring more on the table if I want people to believe me. And here I am saying that: Entrepreneurship is hard because there is nobody telling you that you are going the wrong direction until its too late. When you work for the MAN, well, the MAN usually plays safe enough that a mistake it’s filtered out several times. I mean is quite hard to make a monumental mistake without getting anybody else to notice. Hell, they even track down when I’m getting in or out the office. But if you are an entrepreneur, entrepreneurs are lonely persons. Even if they have partners, the total number of filters in their thinking and actions is always smaller than the filters put in place by a hierarchical structure.

And being an entrepreneur is hard again because the number of ideas you can output during your lifetime is limited. No matter how hard you try, the ideas should come from a closed circuit – your mind – as opposes of the “open societies” – more people and more ideas working for the MAN.

Entrepreneurship gets even harder when you don’t know if or when you are going to make it. Being employed, chances are that you are going to succeed to the end of the month when you are going to “make it and get your paycheck”. But you never know that when you are an entrepreneur.

It’s hard because you are fighting all other entrepreneurs. Well, not exactly all, but if you evaluate on a theoretical level, the entrepreneur that started a restaurant on my street could very easily change his business and open a PR company. Because his own entrepreneurship thinking should give him the same opportunities as it gives me. And it does.

I don’t like this article. Still I’m going to push the “Publish” button, maybe it will help somebody sometimes somewhere.

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