5 things every business owner must know

With all the various kinds of advice out there for business owners, it gets easy to become lost in all the conflicting and contradicting chatter. What we’re trying to do here is comb through all this information to find the advice that appears most often and seems most useful. There’s a reason why the same advice keeps rising over and over again, and it’s because it didn’t just work once, but worked over and over again for a wide variety of people in a vast array of fields. Whether you’re just starting out or a few years in, this should help keep you going.

1. Do what you love to do.

Find your true passion in life and build upon it. The only way to do truly great work is to do something that you love. Since your work is going to fill up so much of your life, you should make it something that you want to do, something that you enjoy. If you don’t know what that is yet, keep looking. You’ll find it. Don’t settle for something you can just do well. If your heart’s not in it, your head won’t get in there either, and you need both to succeed. So keep looking because you’ll know when you find it. Even though it may be hard at first, keep going. Like all great relationships, it gets better with every day.

2. Be involved.

Have your hand in every element of your company. It’s important to delegate tasks, but don’t delegate yourself out of the loop. You need to be involved in every level and step of your company in order to know what your company is doing and how it’s working. This will also improve the team you’ve assembled. Never believe a job you’ve created is beneath you, and be sure to know what your employees are doing and how they’re performing. Discover the challenges at every level of your business and work with your employees and colleagues to work through them.

3. Learn from failures.

You’re going to fail. Not only will you fail one time, you’ll fail often. Failure breeds success for those willing to learn and put in the work to get past them. If you haven’t failed at something, than you’ve never risked anything, and if you’ve never risked anything, you’ll never find real success. Playing it safe may keep you in business but it won’t get you where you want to be, and it won’t make your company what you want it to be. Learn from your customers and competitors. Learn from your colleagues and employees. Always be learning and always be striving to improve.

4. Embrace opportunity.

Look past the immediate failures and setbacks and see the opportunity there. If a product or service isn’t working, that gives you an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-design. When someone has an idea, whether it be a family member, a friend, a colleague, or an employee, capitalise on it. Don’t let the opportunities and ideas rest or go ignored because they didn’t originate with you. When a customer complains, take it as a moment to learn, as a new opportunity for improving your product or service.

5. Stay calm.

Running a business is stressful, regardless of size, and some of the most stressful moments come from being small. You’ll run into a thousand challenges while working your way towards sustainability and success, and you can’t let it overwhelm and destroy you. Trust your vision and be patient. Surround yourself with capable people who work hard and believe in your vision. Take challenges as they come and deal with them one at a time. Success takes time and you need to make every moment count. The best way to keep the stress at bay is to keep working and pushing and working towards your vision.

These all sound simple but they’re not easy to make reality. The simpler something seems usually relates to how difficult it is to achieve, but success isn’t easy. Most businesses fail for a number of reasons, but if you can keep these five things in mind, you’ll be a step ahead.

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3 negative thoughts that can ruin your business

Sometimes negative thoughts just pop into your head unwanted. Actually, negative thoughts are usually unwanted, but there are certain negative thoughts that particularly plague some people in regards to their work. Sometimes, though, what you might think of as a good dose of harsh reality is just a negative thought impeding your progress. Here are some of the common negative thoughts that can affect your ability to maximize your potential:

Nobody will buy my product (or service) in this economy.

Even in bad economic times, people still buy. Although the economy might make it more difficult, if you have the tenacity and skills, you can still succeed in business during trying economic times.

I can’t compete with these prices.

In a global economy, many, many products and services are available for less money from providers in India, China, and more. However, there are certain advantages to offering your product or service to natives; you do have some advantages that foreign providers and businesses don’t and all you need to do is recognize and exploit them.

It’s always so easy for everyone else!

Sure, it’s easy to think that successful business owners got where they are with ease. Some probably did – but many didn’t.

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5 lessons from Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder of Amazon began as a simple entrepreneur selling books online, and has built that into one of the most successful businesses worldwide that now sells thousands upon thousands of products. He has reshaped the way we think about retail and he hasn’t simply settled for being the best of online retail. He’s rethinking and innovating how we think about service and what a company can do. Amazon offers a public cloud, which sidesteps the costs associated with creating and maintaining web-based businesses. 2014 is the 20th anniversary of the founding of Amazon, and over those 20 years Bezos has left some great advice for entrepreneurs and well established companies.

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of hiring.

Bezos has said he’d “rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.” It’s the kind of advice that’s hard to quantify but it stresses how important your employees are. If you’re looking for people to work with, you want the best. Just as important as their abilities is their ability to work together and with you, and within the culture of the company. When you found a company that becomes successful enough to hire employees, you are defining the company’s culture with every person you hire. Always be aware of that. No fit is better than a bad fit.

2. Persevere but remain open.

Easy to say, difficult to do, but very important. If you have a great idea, push it forward and do what you can to make it work, even if it means rethinking and reshaping the way you thought that idea would work. If you have the right idea but the wrong process to get there, be persistent with the idea, but be open and flexible to new ways of doing things. To put it another way, be flexible with the details and change them as necessary, but keep pushing with the vision. If you believe in your vision, don’t give up just because it doesn’t work the first time. Keep trying till it works.

3. Make it about your customers.

With your product or service, you need to constantly keep the customer in mind, and not just whether or not it’s usable for them, but how it’s usable. The experience of a customer is what determines your success. If a potential customer comes to your website or store or company and doesn’t have a good experience, they’re unlikely to come back. You need to ensure that they’re satisfied not only with the product or service, but also with how they receive that product or service. This comes back to hiring the right people and making sure that they fit your vision. Selfishness has no place in a company when it comes to customer service, so make the customers feel important and make them satisfied.

4. Two Pizzas, One Meeting

This is a standard that Bezos developed early on. What it means is that there should never be a meeting of more people at one time than can comfortably be fed by two pizzas. What this does is keep meetings focused and project oriented. With too many people in the same meeting, organisation may become a nightmare and the details can get lost and confused with the combination of so many personalities. By keeping meetings small, you making sure they remain functional and productive.

5. Keep it simple.

Business is simple. It never sounds like it and the more you read, the more difficult and complex it may seem. But, at its core, business is simply a transaction between two or more parties. This goes back to keeping your customer in mind. If you leave things simple between you and your customer, it encourages them to come back again and again. No one wants to be burdened by complex ideas or problems when coming to you for goods or services, so keep it simple. Make it about them and get it to them in the simplest way. Common sense solutions are almost always the best ones.

Jeff Bezos is not a voice to ignore when starting up, and following his example may take you from an idea to a real and successful business.

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5 things every entrepreneur should know

It’s frightening and invigorating to head out into the great unknown ocean of business on your own, and it can become extremely stressful as everything seems stacked against you. Some simple ways to keep yourself afloat without losing yourself in the immensity of the journey you just began can be difficult to come by. There is so much advice out there for business professionals, for CEOs, for entrepreneurs, but who do you trust, and how relevant is their information? This can make the risk feel even greater and the pressure to mount even more. But here are five simple tips for keeping your head and building success.

1. Simplicity.

Simplicity can be very difficult but your customers will appreciate it. Part of Apple’s success under Steve Jobs can be attributed to the way he simplified his products and made them easy to interact with, and making them easy to connect together. However, getting that simplicity took a lot of complex and difficult work, but it clearly proved worthwhile. This is what your goal should be in business. Make life simple and easy for your customers. It may mean a gruelling start to an already challenging start, but the rewards will be there.

2. Build sequentially.

This is perhaps the most important when it comes to keeping the stress at bay. When starting off on your own, it will be slow and it won’t be easy. Persevere and take the challenges as they come, one at a time. If you look too far ahead, you’ll see all the thousands of challenges waiting for you, so keep your head down and push through the difficulties one at a time. Get your product or service in order. Double and triple check it. Get your first customer. Get your second customer. Retest your product or service, and work on building a customer base. Almost all successful companies begin slow. Sure, there are those that explode into prominence, but those are exceptions, not rules. Be patient, and keep moving forward.

3. Innovate and rethink.

Once you’ve started and you’re finding customers, don’t be afraid to innovate and redesign. Use your customers to receive feedback and design your products around what customers actually want, not what you think they want. Don’t be afraid to change your aesthetic or design. Trust your vision but be flexible with the details. Above all, your innovation should be centered around the customer’s experience.

4. Collaborate.

Who you work with will determine a great deal of how your product or service works. Finding the right people is the most important step. Look for people who are both capable but can also work together. Having a partner who can’t coordinate or cooperate may sink you faster than any failure of design or product. Your employees and partners need to be able to collaborate and work together, but they also need to be qualified. Never settle for mediocrity or selfishness.

5. Think outside the box.

The best ideas aren’t simply doing things better, faster, and cheaper, but often come from doing something familiar in a new and exciting way. Don’t be afraid to step outside of expectation and try new things. Be flexible and be willing to risk. You’ll find your rewards by stepping outside of familiar routes and trails and rethinking the way we understand a product. Any easy example would be how Netflix re-imagined and reshaped the way we think about movies and television. It was the same familiar feel of television or movie rentals but done in a completely new way.

Starting new and setting off alone is daunting, but if you take it slow and are willing to do something different, you’ll find success. Trust your vision and find those who not only share it, but those who can make it better. Be flexible and remember who this product or service is for, and give them what they actually want. If you can do these simple things, you’ll find success.

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Does higher education kill creativity?

When we think of creativity, usually the first images that come to mind are those of famous painters and musicians who seem able to make new images and sounds out of the thin air. The reality is that artists practice long hours to hone their skills and rely heavily on the influences of other artists’ ideas in order to help them find their own style. So then what is creativity, and who really has this seemingly mystical quality?  (more…)

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Balancing dreams and reality in business

There’s a huge difference between innovative thinking and fantasy. Entrepreneurs need the rare ability to balance their dreams and creativity with the limitations of the market and human capability. If you can’t do this, you’re better off writing science fiction than launching a business.

This requires obsessive attention to detail. Absolutely no aspect of your business plan can be left to chance. Even if you find short-term success in marketing your product on a local level, don’t rest on your laurels assuming that expansion will just naturally happen. Always remember that the devil is in the details, and even the grandest dream can be dashed by the tiniest pitfalls.

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5 things I have learned from Bill Gates

Remember high school? Remember how the world was divided into semesters, into castes of popularity? Appearance was everything and it didn’t matter how hard you worked. People you knew never opened their books and got good enough grades to get into college. Maybe you were one of those people who partied all weekend and slept through classes and still managed to graduate in the top 20% of your class. What you didn’t realise then, what you maybe still haven’t realised is how important hard work is. More important than hard work, is working efficiently. Remember that nerd you didn’t talk to? Remember how you mocked the way he looked, the way he dressed and talked? That kid might one day be someone like Bill Gates.

Bill Gates is one of the most successful CEOs of the 20th century and it was no accident that got him there. He’s a great role model for those planning on heading out on their own, or for those already in the midst of a career. One of the richest men in the world, he came from humble beginnings to rise to the top of the business world. According to his own reports, he never took school seriously, rarely bothering to study, and never took business seriously until Microsoft was already on its way to success. His life shows that it’s never too late to start trying and pushing to find real and lasting success. Here are some of the best lessons he’s given in his long career.

1. Life is not fair. Get used to it.

Most of us won’t start out with a rich dad or uncle or grandfather to leave us a fortune so we can start our business. Most of us have to work twice as hard as the next person just to stay one step ahead of them. That’s life. There’s no secret there. Life is hard and success is harder, so if you want the world to take your business seriously, you need to stop waiting for gifts and start making your own success. No one is waiting or expecting you to succeed. No one wants you to succeed. It’s up to you to make this happen.

2. Learn from your mistakes.

When bad things happen, don’t blame your parents or the economy or your boss. Learn from every mistake. Every failure is an opportunity to learn. There are those who learn from their failings and those who pass blame or wallow in how unfair it all is. Which one are you going to be? Which one do you think finds success? Stop feeling sorry for yourself and go do it again, but this time better.

3. Life is not divided into terms.

When school ends, so do summers off. Your employers don’t care about you ‘finding yourself.’ Do that outside of work. When you start your first real job, work begins. There’s no final test and you don’t get three months off every years. You’re expected to do your work and do it well. If you fail this month, you don’t start with a clean slate for the next one, so keep pushing yourself to do better.

4. You won’t make $90,000 a year right out of high school.

You just won’t. Even if you start your own business and it’s the greatest idea anyone’s had for years, it’s very unlikely that it’ll be super successful right away. Even with a Bachelor’s Degree, most of us won’t be making $90,000 right away. Even with a Master’s we might not see that kind of money our first year. But that should motivate you. Push yourself to get there as fast as you can rather than complain about how unfair it is.

5. Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

This is sort of a joke that’s also very true. Don’t look down on people who seem less socially functional than you. While you’re out partying, they’re figuring out how to change the world. Learn from the nerds. Learn from the outcasts. If you’re doing the same things everyone else is doing, you’ll always only be doing what everyone else is doing. If you want to succeed and get ahead, you need to separate yourself from the rest of the pack. Nerds know this and that’s why they run the world.

While Bill Gates didn’t set out to make a million or billion dollars, he ended up there. With all of his experience, it’s well worth your time to take notes and learn from what he has to offer. Let’s face it, you don’t get to be Bill Gates by being lazy. Most of his advice may just sound like he’s telling you to work harder, but look at it in a different way. He’s telling you to work smarter. Hard work only gets you so far, but working smart can really get you to where you want to be.

Check out my related book:

Cool Boss: The Art of Leadership in the 21st Century

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Attitude is everything?

“Attitude is everything”? If now you’re thinking “yeah, everybody knows it, just give me a break already, it’s overrated”…well, from my personal experience I can tell you it’s not overrated. Attitude is what builds reputation, is what brings attention to you, is what tweaks the result of your encounter with ‘misfortune’, is what makes a difference at the end of the day – maybe you and I shared the exact same experiences today but one will go to bed feeling all miserable and depleted and the other is struck with how today’s lessons just enlightened him or her. That mental angle constitutes the difference in perception.

The right one is the one that leads you to feeling good about yourself. Yeap, it’s that simple. Perhaps even simpler is to spot the wrong one – if the results you are getting are not those desired and you don’t find gratitude in your life there you have it, right in your crosshairs. Furthermore, attitude can get you hired or fired. There are people with whom I’ve worked in the past and very good at what they did but with whom I’ll never consider collaborating again and that simply due to their attitude. Always try to find out how you are perceived by others objectively just to have it clear, in case you don’t, on the kind of attitude you are pumping into your engines. Sometimes that can be quite an easy task – if people are fond of talking and sharing stuff with you, asking for your help or opinion then you are on the right track.

(Image is from here.)

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