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“ A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment. ”

- John Wooden Basketball Coach

What’s a well-known piece of business advice some first-time founders might misinterpret or struggle to implement properly? 

1. Do whatever it takes to get the word out

New small business owners are told to do whatever it takes to get the word out about their business. But you need to strategize to market effectively. So many new small business owners blindly spend their money in hopes that their efforts will take their business to the next level. When you spend money on things like marketing and partnerships, pay special attention to what your efforts earn you back. Test one thing at a time and keep a close eye on your money. ROI is key. This is a good article to read to start marketing with a purpose.
Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com

2. Listen to your users!

Blake MarggraffFirst-time founders hear it all the time: “Listen to your users!” This is very true, and yet very frequently misinterpreted. Technology startups create new and scalable tools for existing pain points, so it makes sense that the tech’s creators should become intimately familiar with the problem and the product’s consumers before crafting the solution. However, many founders misconstrue the advice to mean, “build your product exactly as your users tell you that you should.” Don’t fall into that trap! Rather, recall Steve Jobs’ quote following the release of the first iMac: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Perhaps an appropriate corollary to that statement is, “Once you’ve shown it to them, listen like crazy!”
Blake Marggraff, CEO, Epharmix

3. Take the time to hire the right people for your team

Jason KulpaWhen founding a startup, one of the biggest areas you may be pressured to invest in most is software and technology to ensure your company stays ahead of competition. However, investing in your company culture is equally as important. Take the time to hire the right people for your team to build a solid foundation, and strive to create an environment that makes your employees excited to come to work. Put your company culture first, and your employees will be more motivated and productive.
Jason Kulpa, CEO, Underground Elephant

4. Revenue comes from solving problems – hobbies come from trendy and cool

Kimberly LucasThe one prevalent issue I observe with first-time founders is that they fail to make sure that they are fixing a problem that needs to be solved. Many first time founders are highly visionary and create products because they are cool, or trendy. Revenue comes from solving problems – hobbies come from trendy and cool.
Another prevalent challenge that first time founders face is finding a headline. If you can’t explain what you do in 1 line, then you will not be able to engage a buying audience.
Finally, first time founders often believe that they can and must do every job in their company. While I believe that founders need to be versatile, they aren’t superhuman – and it is preferable that they determine where their value lies and then hire to any gaps that exist.
Kimberly Lucas, President/Chief People Connector, Goldstone Partners

5. Ditch your pitch and focus on your ‘why.’

Jeff WintersDitch your pitch and focus on your ‘why.'” Lots of “experts” suggest that when you’re describing your business in a sales setting, you should focus on your “why” and how your product or service helps people. For example, “Since I was a small boy growing up in Missouri, I have always cared deeply about taking data from disparate sources and combining it into one central database. That’s why I created centraldataggregator.com.” In B2B sales, though, the truth is that no one cares. When you are selling people something, they care about two things (and not in this order): 1. the benefit to them (their company and own job) and 2. the risk. Can this product or service help their company? Can it help their ascension within the company? Both of those factors are all about time, money, and efficiency. Risk is all about how the failure of the product or service (for whatever reason) negatively impacts their company or their role at that company. Neither of these relate in any way to your “why.” Here’s my favorite video on this: http://on.msnbc.com/1oVPYkc
Jeff Winters, CEO, Sapper Consulting

6. Young, first-time founders often ask for the sale too early and often.

Jason BarbourAds and deals are used so often (especially digitally) that consumers become numb to them if that’s all they see from a brand. When consumers are asked why they choose to buy from one company over another, it often comes down to trust. Establishing your company as a trusted brand involves putting out valuable content that entertains and educates people about topics related to your product or service. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about this extensively in his book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.”
Jason Barbour, CEO, Metabolic Meals

7. Know your market, Find your partner, and Remember the three P’s

Ari Rabban

1. Know your market. Do your research, and make certain you’re a true expert in your field before you dive in too deep. You have an idea of a problem you’d like to solve, so study what’s already out there so that you know the other players and alternatives in the space.

2. Find a partner. Starting a business can be lonely. You will have plenty of potential advisors offering their two cents on your endeavors, but when they don’t have their own skin in the game, their opinions will only be worth so much. You’re the one taking risks, making decisions, and executing plans. Having a partner who complements your style and is walking the same path will make every step toward success smoother.

3. Remember the three P’s: passion, perseverance, and patience. In the end, luck may be what dictates success or failure. If you decide to start your own business because you don’t like your boss or want to do better financially, you won’t succeed without 100 percent commitment. If you can’t get up and move forward in spite of setbacks and naysayers, you’ll never stand a chance.

Ari Rabban, CEO, Phone.com

8. Hire the jobs you don’t want to do

Jiffy IuenThis is a fantastic piece of advice when implemented at the right time. When you’re starting out, you need to be lean as possible. It’s also important to understand every part of running your business. You don’t need to be an expert in every required role, but you do need to know what it takes to do each one so you can hire wisely. Giving too much trust too soon to the wrong hire may be your undoing.
Jiffy Iuen, Founder and Creative Partner, Frank Collective

9. Understanding doesn’t mean acquiescence

Jim FowlerFirst-time founders tend to take their business school textbooks’ advice to “listen to your customers” too far. You have to understand your customers, but understanding doesn’t mean acquiescence. You also have to rely on your instincts: Steve Jobs would never have built the iPod if he only listened to public opinion.
Read more: http://ceoworld.biz/2016/10/31/best-ceos-product-people-heart.
Jim Fowler, founder and CEO, Owler

10. Set proper milestones

David EhrenbergOne thing I coach startup founders on regularly is being sure to set proper milestones for their companies as they grow. Improper planning (or worse, a lack of planning) is one of the top reasons we see startups fail. Entrepreneurs should be able to put a solid 12-month strategy in place with realistic goals along the way, followed by higher-level quarterly planning for years two and three. It helps keep the company on the right track while showing a promising vector to potential business partners and investors.
Read more: http://earlygrowthfinancialservices.com/build-3-year-startup-plan-right-way/
David Ehrenberg, founder, partner, and CEO, Early Growth Financial Services

11. Build a successful board of directors

Rachel JohnsonFirst-time founders are often advised to build a strong board of directors. We’ve met founders who simply ignore the existence of the board and others who stack the board from day one with multiple “advisors.” The truth is, every corporation is required to have a board, but what the board does and how its membership changes with time is often misunderstood. For instance, not only does the board make key decisions such as whether to fire the CEO or sell the company, but board members also often tap into their connections and expertise to help secure new investors or break into new markets. However, creating a board with a large number of experts doesn’t always translate into increased opportunities, but rather may create an unwieldy board process for even the least controversial of decisions.
We recommend that first-time founders read the TechCrunch article, “What you Need to Know about Startup Boards” by Samer Hamadeh and Adam Dinow, for a comprehensive look at building a successful board of directors.
Rachel Johnson, Founder, J+O

Been There, Done That…Now SCORE Volunteers Want to Help You

Studies show that small business owners who receive three or more hours of mentoring report higher revenues and increased growth.  Is that what’s happening in your small business?

If not, maybe it’s time to get some advice from people who have “been there and done that.”

SCORE offers the largest network of volunteer business mentors providing free answers to your business questions. They are known as America’s Small Business Mentors and are at your disposal – either online or through their chapter sites across the country.  Most SCORE mentors have owned and operated their own companies or served in management positions themselves. They are available to you for as little as one question or for long term counseling on a complicated issue.

SCORE is a nonprofit association supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration.  Their volunteers consist of people who are dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and bring their dreams to reality.  This SBA resource partner’s 11,000+ volunteers nationwide donated more than 2.2 million hours of free mentoring and education in 2015.  The SBA funding keeps those services free, or in the case of workshops, at very low costs.

My schedule this year allowed me to speak to the attendees of the national SCORE Leadership Conference in St. Louis.  Let me tell you, I have seldom seen such a group of positive go-getters willing to learn how to serve small businesses better! Plus, they are driven to find volunteers who will mentor businesses like yours.

SCORE counselors don’t take offense if you don’t “connect” with the first SCORE counselor with whom you make an appointment.  They understand a mentoring relationship is built on connection and trust.

On SCORE’s website, at https://www.score.org/, prospective and current small business owners can find a mentor – online at any time night or day, in person by online video or at a SCORE chapter near you. The website lists SCORE chapters and their contact information; shows the location of workshops taking place in your area and tells you how to register to attend them.  In addition, the site offers online webinars on relevant topics like their current Technology webinars. SCORE also has an extensive online library on that website, where there are numerous blogs, templates for business planning and guides to help with a myriad of topics.

If you are a small business owner who could benefit from mentorship, check out a SCORE counselor near you.

Say “Hi” – Because the Little Things Count

It really is true that it’s the little things that count…like walking into a store or restaurant and being fondly greeted.

That little thing becomes even more important if you are a small business owner because you want customers to return.  Returning customers are likely your bread and butter and should be valued as such.  Besides, it is well known that people will share more negative news about your business than they will positive experiences.  So it may be of benefit to mind your manners if you want to build and maintain a good reputation.

“A good reputation is more valuable than money.” Publilius Syrus said.

Warren Buffett noted,  “It takes 20 years to build a good reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Recently I decided to stop in and browse at a local store that I frequently pass by. The store has limited hours, as well, so I was excited that I was able to catch it open. When I crossed the threshold of this store with much anticipation of seeing it for the first time, the employees (or owners) were visiting with some people who appeared to be other customers. No one acknowledged my entrance. I browsed through the entire store for at least 10 minutes. No one offered me assistance or even checked on me. No one acknowledged my existence, let alone my exit. I was left feeling like these people didn’t care to do business with me and I won’t likely return to do business with them.

Have you noticed recently that every person who enters a certain chain pharmacy store is now immediately acknowledging customers with “Hi” when they enter the store? It’s almost as if they are delighted you are there!

There’s a reason for that.

While I realize no one wants to be hovered over while they look at merchandise, or made to feel conspicuous or suspicious….courteous attention is, well… a courtesy! All your customers want and expect acknowledgment; to be seen; and yes, to be valued.  It keeps them coming back.  And for small businesses, that what counts.

7 Reasons Desperation Hiring is a Bad Idea

I have the honor of working with dozens of Colorado’s most creative entrepreneurs and smartest business leaders every day.  One of the hardest things to tackle when you are a small, fast growing company is hiring.  I’m not talking about the mechanics of employment, but rather the timing of each new person so that you maintain the customer services levels and delivery schedules necessary to do good work.  In this highly active labor market it may take you some time to find the right combination of skill, character and experience.  When faced with impending deadlines or an unexpected resignation, many hiring managers feel like their backs are against a wall, and will resort to desperation hiring – making an offer to a less than ideal candidate and hoping they will be a shining star.

Here are 7 of the many reasons why this is a bad idea:

  1. Company productivity. When you hire someone who is not skilled enough to be immediately productive or doesn’t have the mental agility to pick up new concepts quickly, you are deliberately diminishing the entire team’s velocity.  Everyone else on the team has to take the time to train, explain, and double check work at the expense of their own productivity.  Big companies can often afford to take the time necessary to ramp up a new employee and ease them into the process, making adjustments for gaps in their skillset.  For small businesses, it’s just too costly to hire wrong.
  2. Team member morale. Every time you let someone who is less than ideal into your organization – and especially if you made the decision in spite of warnings from members of your team – you deliver a message that sounds like this.  “It’s more important for me to get work done than to maintain the high level of quality that I’ve expected from you.”  If your team doesn’t feel like they are working among equals, and have a great support system to back them up, morale goes down for everyone.
  3. Clean up. Hiring out of desperation means that for weeks and months after they are gone – and eventually they will be gone – you will be repairing damage, cleaning up messy work, and even trying to recreate stuff that never got done.  The cost of this mistake may be unimaginable.
  4. Company values. Let’s assume that you have established a set of core values and that you hire with those values in mind so that everyone in your company is aligned.  When you make a desperate hire you will likely compromise on those values.  You’ve instantly risked dilution of that alignment and the culture you’ve built.
  5. Making a bad hire today that results in an involuntary discharge opens you up for unemployment liability for years.  There is nothing worse than being reminded of a bad hire 3 years ago when you receive an unemployment claim and have to pay it.
  6. Customer impact. When you are a small company trying to grow market share, every person on your team will have contact with your customers. Email correspondence, phone conversations, technical support, billing, ordering – every touchpoint creates a snapshot of you in the customer’s mind.  A bad hire will absolutely create a bad impression that can last long after the bad hire is gone, and can impact your business significantly.
  7. Employment Brand. A bad hire may result in unexpected turnover, which will impact your reputation as a quality employer in the market.  This means that those high performing people you need will notice how many people are “former employees” and decide that you aren’t the company they are interested in.  Social media has made it VERY easy for candidates to check you out in advance of applying for an open position.  Make sure you create a positive image and give employees every reason to recommend you to other top talent.

I’m sure that you can add to this list with at least 10 more reasons not to hire in desperation.  I’m also certain that each time you make this mistake you promise never to do it again.  I know I do!

For more ideas on making sure you plan in advance for a good hire visit us here!

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