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Here's the 'One Thing' 5PM Daily Ritual to Achieve Success

June 17, 2015 - 4:00pm
Follow this daily ritual right at 5PM to revel in success and track progress.

21 Social Media Marketing Experts to Follow on Twitter

June 17, 2015 - 3:15pm

Don't miss out on the marketing wisdom these social media specialists are tweeting.

Last month, I shared a list of the interesting and influential digital marketers people should follow on Twitter.

As I explained at the time, I spend at least an hour every day scanning social networks, reading blogs, catching up on industry news, participating in Twitter chats and otherwise engaging in the communities in which I'm interested. One of those is the massive social media marketing community on Twitter.

Here are 21 social media marketing experts you need to check out--following these people is a free education! Not only that, there are really nice people in this group. Check them out:

1. Mike Stelzner--Social Media Examiner Founder

Mike tweets like a madman and constantly shares high quality advice from his podcasts, blogs and conferences.

2. Mark Schaefer--{grow} blog

Mark literally wrote the book on SMM. No really, he's the author of Social Media Explained, among other quality marketing books.

3. Amy Porterfield--AmyPorterfield.com

Amy is a social media marketing content-making machine. Between her podcasts, webinar, blog posts and awesome tweets, there's no shortage of social knowledge to go around.

4. Jason Falls--Elasticity SVP

Jason is a digital strategist with a special knack for effective social marketing, which he demonstrates in his writing, speaking, consulting and big brand campaigns.

5. Dan Zarrella--HubSpot

Dan is The Original Social Media Scientist. Enough said!

6. Pam Dyer--Pamorama

Pam is one of Forbes' Top 50 Social Media Influencers and one of the Top 20 Women Social Media Power Influencers.

7. Eve Mayer--LinkedInQueen

If you want to learn how to master LinkedIn, Eve needs to be on your list. She's the CEO of Social Media Delivered and authored The Social Media Business Equation.

8. John Paul Aguiar--The Money Dummy Blog

One of the Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencers of 2013, John generously shares his advice on blogging and social media marketing on his blog and on Twitter.

9. David Meerman Scott--Keynote Speaker & Author

David always seems a step or two ahead of where everyone else is focused. His Twitter is a great resource on the intersection of social, PR and sales strategy.

10. Brian Carter--Author of The Cowbell Principle

Brian's been a social media expert just about as long as social media has been a thing. When he tweets, we listen and learn.

11. Pam Moore--Marketing Nut

She's a nut and proud of it. Why not? Pam's one of the top social influencers on Twitter.

12. Dave Peck--Head of Digital & Social at PayPal

Hey, you know how it seems a lot of really generous, outgoing social media personalities are speakers and consultants, with in-house and brand marketers maybe a bit underrepresented? Well, Dave broke that mold. He tweets awesome, helpful content from all over the web on a regular basis.

13. Mari Smith--Globetrotting Social Maven

Mari is probably one of the best-known social media marketing industry leaders on the planet and still, she's just so nice to people who engage her on Twitter.

14. Viveka von Rosen--LinkedIn Expert

Viveka's specialty is LinkedIn and she trains, speaks, blogs and tweets interesting and helpful content about it.

15. Ann Tran--Luxury Travel & SMM Influencer

Ann Tran is a wildly popular luxury travel influencer and social media strategist--tune in alongside her over 450,000 followers to see what she has to say next.

16. Bonnie Sainsbury--Online Marketing Strategist

From her home base in Vancouver, Canada, Bonnie is plotting world social domination... and she's just about there.

17. Scott Monty--Social Guru

I don't even really like the word guru and try not use it unless it's absolutely warranted. Scott warrants it.

18. Scott Stratten--Un-Everything

From Unmarketing, he branched out to Unselling and even Unpodcasting. And we love it.

19. Marsha Collier--Prolific Author

At last count, Marsha had authored 48--count 'em, 48--books, many about online selling and social commerce.

20. Deirdre Breckenridge--Pure Performance Communications

Deirdre is an expert in integrating social media marketing and PR efforts--in fact, she wrote a book about it.

21. Sarah Evans--Digital Correspondent

Sarah built her own PR brand as a digital correspondent for companies like PayPal and Cisco.

A quick note on the scientific process used to curate this list: there wasn't one. There's no magic formula at work--this list consists of the people I find entertaining and useful to read on Twitter. I hope you enjoyed it!

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June 17, 2015 - 3:07pm

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The Top 10 Jobs For Millennials

June 17, 2015 - 2:38pm

A new study finds that twenty-somethings are best suited to be civil engineers, data scientists -- and, surprisingly, financial planners.

Out with the grey hair and in with the beanies! Research finds that millennials, born between 1981 and 2000, make for top-notch account executives, financial planners and data scientists.

Job search portal CareerCast just released its annual report of Best Jobs for 2015 -- and, for the first time, included rankings of the most attractive careers for millennials. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the site evaluated 200 jobs across several factors, including pay, growth outlook, stress levels, and overall work environment. It then focused on jobs with the highest percentage of young workers to determine which would be the easiest for millennials to secure in future.

Most employers are well aware that the problem isn't so much attracting millennial talents as it is keeping them over a long period of time. To that end, it's important to consider what millennials find valuable in a career. Though the top-ranked jobs offer salaries above the current median for millennials (roughly $30,000 annually for men, $35,000 for women), it's important to note that many jobs well-suited for Generation Y don't necessarily pay the most up front.

"The key is to make it a workplace that is fulfilling to the needs of younger employees," says CareerCast publisher Tony Lee. Those needs including flexibility and room for growth, as younger workers are increasingly willing to work odd hours from even odder locations, such as their own homes or foreign countries in different time zones.

The list also includes new career opportunities thanks to the many advancements in technology. Many of the jobs on the list didn't exist a few years ago, notes Lee, citing jobs like Social Media Manager and Data Scientist.

Below is a list of the top 10 jobs for millennial employees today, including the median salary and possibility for growth:

1. Advertising Account Executive

-Annual Median Salary: $115,750

-Projected Growth Outlook: 12%

2. Civil Engineer

-Annual Median Salary: $79,340

-Project Growth Outlook: 20%

3. Computer Systems Analyst

-Annual Median Salary: $79,680

-Projected Growth Outlook: 25%

4. Data Scientist

-Annual Median Salary: $124,149

-Projected Growth Outlook: 15%

5. Financial Planner

-Annual Median Salary: $67,520

-Projected Growth Outlook: 27%

6. Market Research Analyst

-Annual Median Salary: $60,300

-Projected Growth Outlook: 32%

7. Physical Therapist

-Annual Median Salary: $79,860

-Projected Growth Outlook: 36%

8. Social Media Manager

Annual Median Salary: $46,169

Projected Growth Outlook: 13%

9. Software Engineer

Annual Median Salary: $93,350

Projected Growth Outlook: 22%

10. Statistician

Annual Median Salary: $75,560

Projected Growth Outlook: 27%

Shark Tank's Daymond John to Start an Incubator

June 17, 2015 - 2:15pm

In an exclusive interview with Inc., the Fubu founder talked about his plans to open a startup incubator to help the next generation of entrepreneurs.

There's a reason Shark Tank's Daymond John has earned the nickname "The People's Shark": He's all about spreading the wealth.

In an interview with Inc. Tuesday, John shared his plans to open his own incubator program to help foster entrepreneurship for the next generation of founders.

"I know I’m going to do it, I'm just not certain if it’s going to be an incubator for kids with learning disabilities, like dyslexia or attention deficit disorder, or something else," John says. "I want it to be a little different in regards to the angle."

While John hasn't set a timetable or or announced any formal plans for the program, he has begun reaching out to partner organizations and individuals to help him get started on the initiative.

"I’m corralling all our great corporate partners as well as my personal 'sharks' to look into an incubator that I think will be powerful," he says.

If Inc.'s 2015 30 Under 30 list is any indication, accelerators and incubators continue to play a crucial role in helping young entrepreneurs turn startup ideas into fast-growing companies. This year's honorees include Joe Aigboboh, who launched his mobile game company PlayQ in the accelerator Techstars, and Adam Lyons, who started his car insurance startup at Pittsburgh-based accelerator AlphaLab.

So what are John's ultimate goals for his new incubator? "I’m looking for the next Zuckerberg," he says.

To hear more about John's passion for entrepreneurship, check out the video below from this year's GrowCo Conference.

Uber's Legal Setback Casts a Long Shadow Over the On-Demand Economy

June 17, 2015 - 1:46pm

California regulators have ruled that drivers are employees, not contractors. If other states follow suit, a lot of startups will have to reexamine their business models.

Is Uber a marketplace for transportation services or a high-tech taxi dispatcher? It's a question with big implications for the $40 billion startup and for many of its peers in the world of on-demand, and the answer may not be the one any of them are hoping for.

For months, Uber has quietly been strategizing what to do about a ruling by the California Labor Commission, which determined that those who drive for the service should as a matter of law be treated as employees, not independent contractors. The ruling, laid down in March, remained under wraps until this week, when Uber filed an appeal.

It's probably too strong to call it a disastrous outcome for Uber, which has raised more than $4 billion in venture capital and debt financing, and is relatively well positioned for any kind of adversity. But if the California ruling gets treated as a precedent in other jurisdictions, as seems likely, it certainly calls into question the $50 billion valuation Uber is said to be seeking in its next funding round.

It could be very bad indeed for other on-demand companies, especially those that are already operating at a loss in a bid to attract customers and contractors. For firms like Lyft, TaskRabbit and Postmates, having to pay Social Security and unemployment taxes on wages changes the math in a way that will hurt their ability to compete in a crowded marketplace.

In amassing a workforce of more than 160,000 drivers, Uber has been careful to avoid some of the practices that signal an employer-employee relationship, such as telling drivers what hours to work or where to drive. Some on-demand companies haven't been so cautious; Instacart and Homejoy, for instance, both give their contractors T-shirts to wear on the job.

But as Uber wages overlapping PR campaigns to win over drivers, customers and regulators, its own communications at times have undermined its claim to portray itself as a neutral platform upon which third parties can transact as they like. When touting data showing how much drivers can earn through its app, for instance, it has tended to focus on drivers working 40-plus hours per week. For Uber to hold out a driver working 60 or 70 hours a week as representative of the class and then in the same breath claim that driver is not an employee is a straddle regulators will rightly find unconvincing.

Where Amazon, Uber, and Instacart Are Going to Crash Together

June 17, 2015 - 1:32pm

With news that it's developing a crowd-sourced delivery service, Amazon is sure to find itself competing with some well-funded startups.

So, how's that new drone initiative going over at Amazon? The one where octocopters the size of pizza boxes are going to wing lightweight packages directly to your front steps? My guess is meh. At least if today's Wall Street Journal is to be believed.

The paper claims that Amazon is developing a mobile app that will enable you and I, and pretty much anyone else, to deliver Amazon packages while we're on our way to other destinations. The idea is that Amazon would pay other retailers, mostly in urban areas, to store the packages until the crowdsourced couriers could pick them up. The Journal says that the timing for the initiative couldn't be learned, and the whole thing might not even happen.

There are also other big hurdles, including the fact that brick-and-mortar stores aren't exactly dying to lend Amazon a helping hand. And the whole people-as-a-service aspect of the renting economy (sorry, it's not a "sharing" economy if you're getting paid to share) seems to be losing some of its luster as it becomes clear just how little many of these contingent workers, such as Uber drivers, are earning.

But the general idea--that Amazon is looking for a way to provide delivery, not just stuff--makes sense, especially in light of the company's drone initiative. Given that Amazon delivers 3.5 million packages a day, according to the Journal story, if they could deliver a good share of those themselves, it only makes sense that they'd start offering delivery to other companies, too.

The problem is that it doesn't just make sense for Amazon, it makes sense for plenty of other companies with deep pockets as well. The expectation that Uber will soon deliver a lot more besides people is just one of the uncertainties supporting the company's $40 billion valuation. A crowdsourced delivery network for all kinds of things--not just groceries--makes sense for Instacart, another unicorn company, and one that's raised $274 million so far. It makes sense for Deliv, which has raised $12.4 million. The boostrapped SlingShop (although it has its own drivers) is also working on same-day delivery, starting in Atlanta and leveraging its success with Zifty. The list goes on.

The big questions remain: How much stuff do we really need delivered near-instantly, and how much will we pay for that convenience? More to the point: How many fully-funded companies can be supported in the market for instant gratification?

Most likely: Less than these big players think. Obviously, if people are hailing a taxi of any kind, they need to get somewhere pretty fast. It's hard to argue with Uber's original business model (aside from the fact that it was illegal in many cities).

Instacart makes sense, too. If your fridge is empty, and you don’t want to do takeout yet again, you need your groceries to show up before your hunger pangs. But beyond food--which is obviously a big market--you have to wonder how much room there is to expand this app-driven, deliver-it-right-away model.

When you buy a new rug for the bathroom or a gift for a new baby, does it have to show up that afternoon? More to the point, how much would you pay for it to show up in a few hours? And is the U.S. Postal Service's second-day delivery--one of the best bargains out there, if you ask me--really so bad? Fedex, UPS and DHL aren't exactly pushovers, either.

Don't get me wrong: Someone's going to succeed at this, and make a mint. But lots of folks are going to fail, too.

With the success of Prime, Amazon itself has proven that for many, many purchases, two-day delivery is just fine. You can wait two days for almost anything. When I spoke with Forrester vice president and analyst Sucharita Mulpuru for a retailing story last year, she said the dirty little secret of Amazon Prime is that it often doesn't even deliver in two days. Some 20 percent of packages ordered through Prime, she says, take longer than two days to show up. But mostly, people don't care that much. "In most situations, for most customers, three to five business days is good enough," she said. "As long as you do that, people are happy."

Building a Future from Pieces of the Past

June 17, 2015 - 1:32pm

This historic research center spawned a host of Nobel prize-worthy breakthroughs. Now it's poised to provide a home for a new generation of innovators.

In its heyday, Bell Labs was the birthplace of countless world-rattling inventions, from the transistor (1947) to the solar battery (1956) to the laser (1960). But in 2008, when real estate developer Ralph Zucker toured the vacant steel-and-glass facility, it desperately needed re-invention.

“People wanted to knock it down,” says Zucker, founder and president of Somerset Development, which is located in Holmdel, the same central New Jersey suburb as the 472-acre campus. “They were ready to blow it up and cart it away.” Some had hopes that the town could lure a single tenant, such as Google, to occupy the site, which has two million square feet of office space.

Zucker, however, envisioned building on the lab’s legacy of ingenuity -- which includes discoveries responsible for no fewer than eight Nobel prizes -- with an innovative blend of “a suburban location and an urban vibe.” Although it took almost six years before Somerset closed on the sale, in mid-2013, Zucker and his group still hadn’t agreed on a name. “Bell Labs changed the world,” says the 53-year-old developer. “We very clearly wanted to capitalize on that, with a name that was a nod to the past and also showed the way to the future.”

Ultimately, a marketing company came up with the solution: Bell Works. (In a clever twist, they introduced the idea at a meeting where everybody had been issued lab coats.) “I loved it right away,” says Zucker, who had previously wanted to call the project The Idea Factory.

He felt equally passionate about using the domain name bell.works, which was also suggested at the meeting. “We jumped at the idea because it ties very much into what we are all about,” says Zucker. “We thought having the ability to have the name and the domain name exactly the same would be a little more edgy than having a dot-com name. Bell.works goes with everything we’re trying to create.”

In so doing, Zucker has put his finger squarely on the Internet zeitgeist: Companies in a wide variety of industries, from clothing to travel to dental services, are bypassing the standard dot-com naming convention in favor of new domain name options that let them stand out from the crowd and more effectively build their brands.

For technology companies, the location’s current appeal stems in part from its past -- still in place are several useful resources, including back-up generators and access to abundant electric power. The glass-enclosed building, which features a quarter-mile pedestrian walkway, was designed with an eye toward fostering collaboration and cross-pollination among the companies Bell Works hopes to attract. “It’s very appealing to more urbanized tenants, with employees who are more prone to wanting to work in an atrium under a tree while sipping coffee and using their iPads,” Zucker says. “It’s an environment where a community of people can share ideas.”

Those folks can also ruminate on the locale’s storied past. Zucker says a group is working on setting up a museum, and installation has begun on a history wall celebrating the scientists and their inventions. His plans also include constructing a small lab that students can use, modeled on those that existed when the building was still part of AT&T.

Change has been a constant for the site: Ma Bell lost its regulated monopoly as a result of an antitrust suit in 1984. Eventually, Bell Labs became part of Lucent, and, later, Alcatel-Lucent. But changing fortunes, even in the worst of times, creates new opportunities. Zucker’s visit and subsequent vision for the site, actually benefited from the economic downturn in 2008. “Had the bubble not burst, Alcatel-Lucent would have had other buyers,” he says. “But Lucent gave us the time to do it. As a result, what was going to be demolished is being reborn.”

How These Entrepreneurs Turned a Truckful of Meat Into a $70 Million Business

June 17, 2015 - 1:24pm

Down on their luck during the recession, Mike and JC Conrad began selling meat from farms directly to customers in a parking lot. Six years later, Zaycon Fresh has more than 120,000 customers around the country.

In 2009, brothers Mike and JC Conrad were hit hard by the recession. Mike was in real estate and JC was in construction. They got news their father was sick, so they left Seattle to go back home to Spokane, Washington.

"We were all on welfare. I was losing my house. My car was repossessed. I ended up going bankrupt. It was bad times," Mike tells Inc.

Facing a grim future, the brothers, along with their cousin Adam Kremin, were talking about what they could do for work when they landed "on that chicken thing." That's a reference to an idea that germinated about 10 years earlier, when JC was a manager at a grocery store. He would order 40-pound boxes of boneless, skinless chicken directly from the ranchers. He'd have to cut it up, put it on a foam tray, wrap it with cellophane, and put it on the shelf for a couple more bucks per pound than the grocery store had bought it for.

The experience gave him the idea to help the store sell more chicken: Ask people if they wanted to buy boneless, skinless chicken for $1.49 per pound, which would save them $4 to $5 per pound, if they bought the 40-pound box. About 1,000 customers signed up for the sale and the store sold 80,000 pounds of chicken in two days.

Revisiting the concept in 2009, the three men went to their church and started spreading the word about their offer: A 40-pound box of boneless, skinless chicken directly from the farm for $1.49 per pound. They figured that in such a down economy, people would be looking for deals on essential staples like chicken.

The business model was easy: Get people to prepay, rent a truck, go to a farm and buy all the chicken, and meet the customers at the church parking lot. People from all over Spokane started sending them cash and checks in the mail--a total of $40,000 in revenue for their first event in December 2009.

By the beginning of the following year, they formally started Zaycon Fresh and started holding more farm-to-customer events in Spokane.

"None of us are college educated, we're just entrepreneurs who have always run our own small businesses. We opened it up and we started selling anything we could--chicken, ground beef, steaks," Mike, who is the CEO of Zaycon Fresh, tells Inc. "There was no rhyme or reason, we were just trying to create revenue."

Zaycon started to grow in Spokane, and the founders repeatedly were asked if the business was available elsewhere. They decided to test whether they could get enough prepaid customers in other cities to make it worth holding events. First, they tried Seattle and it worked. Then they tried Boise and it worked there, too. Portland was next and they got a big response.

After that success, they built a website so people could register for upcoming events and prepay online, and eventually made the bold decision to expand to parking lots across the country. To get the word out in the Midwest, South, and East Coast, Mike and JC emailed 1,000 bloggers. Mike filled one truck up with boxes of chicken and drove from California to Florida, while Adam took his truck from Washington all the way to Maine, dropping off boxes of meat to bloggers to review. Posts about the products popped up on 400 blogs and they got thousands of signups.

Zaycon Fresh's revenues reached $400,000 in 2010. It began carrying other meats the next year and saw sales balloon to $4.6 million. But perhaps the real tipping point came in 2012 when the company was featured on Good Morning America. After the show aired, Zaycon received a flood of 35,000 registered customers. The surge in interest crashed their site.

"Good Morning America gave us great exposure and verified to the people that we were a legitimate company," Mike says. "It's a little weird buying chicken from the back of a truck, right? But being on TV validated our model.'"

As the pressure of a fast-growing business mounted, JC decided to cash out in 2012, so Mike and Adam bought him out. After gaining tens of thousands of new customers, they realized they needed to raise capital to keep up with demand. In 2012 they secured $1 million from investor Mike Giunta. In a second round in 2014 they raised $1.5 million from Saratoga Equity and fromer Priceline CEO Rick Braddock, who joined as chairman of the board.

From parking lots to politics.

In 2014, Mike and Adam lobbied Washington congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand to add language to the Farm bill enabling people on welfare to buy food online with their food stamps.

"I want to help people who are in the same situation I was in to eat better food at a better price," Mike says. All three founders were at one time on food stamps.

The company continued to grow that year, reaching $17 million in revenue and employing a staff of 92. It now delivers to 1,200 parking lots across 48 states and has more than 120,000 customers and. According to Baird analyst Kurt Roth, Zaycon Fresh should make $70 million this year.

Roth says Zaycon's the greatest advantage comes from cutting out the middlemen and selling direct farmer-to-customer, which eliminates fixed assets like warehouses and ensures the food is fresher and cheaper. Most meat is 15 to 25 days old after going from the farm to the wholesale buyer's truck to the distributor's warehouse to the grocery store shelf.

Mike says his ultimate goal is to develop prepaid farmer's markets. This way, the farmers would know exactly how much food to bring, which reduces waste, and they would make more money selling directly to customers than they do selling to wholesale buyers. The customer still wins too, for they would be getting fresh and natural food directly from the farm but paying roughly half the price.

For now, the company's strategy is to roll out one product at a time and concentrate on pleasing employees, farmers, and customers. With 98 percent of customers referring Zaycon to their friends and family, according to a Baird survey, the model appears sound.

"If we focus on people, which is what this whole thing is about, the business will grow," Mike says.

Why Cambridge Is Seriously Thinking About Hiring a LEGO Professor

June 17, 2015 - 1:02pm

By October, the University of Cambridge might have a fully funded LEGO Professorship in the Faculty of Education, backed by the toy company. Here's why the decision should be a no-brainer.

Playing with LEGO used to be something you did during unstructured time in grade school, or in the precious hours after the school day ended.

But this week, one of the world's most prestigious colleges--the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England--confirmed it might establish the LEGO Professorship of Play in Education, Development, and Learning in the Faculty of Education.

But don't clear the kitchen table and dump out your colorful pieces just yet. "This proposed Professorship has not yet been approved by the Regent House, the University's governing body," Tim Holt, Cambridge's Head of Communications, told Inc. "We will not be making any further announcements about it till October."

October 1 is when the professorship would begin, pending Regent House approval. Until then, here's what we know, courtesy of University of Cambridge documents:

  • The funding for the LEGO professorship is in place, thanks to a LEGO Foundation gift of £2.5m (about $3.75 million).
  • The LEGO Foundation has also provided £1.5 million in separate funding (about $2.25 million) to support "a Research Centre on Play in Education, Development, and Learning (PEDaL) to which the LEGO Professor will be appointed Director."
  • The ideal candidate for the position is likely a professor whose work pertains to play, education, development, and learning. The university board have agreed that "the candidature should be open to all those whose work falls within the general field of the title of the office."

From an entrepreneurial perspective, teaching LEGO tenets--specifically, the power of play to influence innovation and customer experience--is a fantastic idea. Look through headlines or histories, and you can find countless examples of founders, inventors, or leaders deploying LEGO-like principles in business situations. Here are two examples:

1. Using play to experiment.

The Wright Brothers, whose legacy as innovators is getting some newfound (and well-deserved) attention thanks to David McCullough's recent biography, were masters at playing with models and simulations.

You could argue they grasped what a minimum viable product was more than a century before the term entered the entrepreneurial lexicon. Today's startups routinely apply one of the Wright Brothers' early test methods. As Innosight's Scott D. Anthony, no stranger to product launches, tweeted not long ago, the Wrights "figured out [the] importance of [a] 'minimum viable product' when in 1901 they built a wind tunnel to test ideas."

McCullough describes the wind tunnel as "a wooden box 6 feet long and 16 inches square, with one end open and a fan mounted at the other end....the box stood on four legs about waist high." In other words, the Wrights didn't use anything fancy to build it. They used a box and a fan.

Likewise, they didn't use anything fancy to build the mini-planes they tested in the wind tunnel. They used spare steel from the bike shop they'd owned in Dayton, Ohio, since 1893. The LEGO lesson here is plain as day: You can learn a lot by building mock-ups or prototypes from available materials. So stop talking and start clicking the pieces together. It won't take long.

2. Using play to learn how customers behave.

LEGO itself owes much of its recent success to watching how children behave while playing with LEGO.

As obvious as this might seem to founders schooled in using ethnographic observation to discover your customers' innermost emotions, LEGO itself had "lost touch with its core customers" and was losing $1 million a day back in 2004, write Mikkel B. Rasmussen and Christian Madsbjerg, in their superb story about LEGO's turnaround.

So a team of LEGO researchers began conversing with kids about how they played. And they watched the playing. They searched for patterns. They realized: "One role of play for these children was to find pockets of oxygen, away from adult supervision."

Ultimately, they recognized four key patterns to the ways children play: under the radar (away from adult supervision), hierarchy (the way kids like to sort and structure and rank their toys), mastery (playing with the purpose of becoming amazing at one particular skill), and social play (sharing or displaying that mastery in social scenarios).

These findings and others helped LEGO reconnect with customers and mount a brand comeback. For example, the company learned that boys tend to prefer strong narratives with their toys. LEGO acted on this insight with its hit Ninjago and Legends of Chima lines, which come with "almost comically detailed backstories," reports Jonathan Ringen in Fast Company.

Girls, generally speaking, tend to use their sets for role-play. LEGO acted on this insight with a pink-and-purple set called Friends, which has become globally popular. It comes with "a news van and a farm stand and several sets devoted to the curvy, long-haired characters rescuing endangered animals in a jungle," writes Ringen.

The results don't lie: LEGO grew sales at 24 percent per year and profits at 40 percent per year from 2008 to 2013, according to Wharton professor David Robertson, who with journalist Bill Breen co-authored a book about the LEGO comeback. Last year, thanks in no small part to The Lego Movie (which grossed $468 million), privately held LEGO "briefly surged ahead of rival Mattel to become the biggest toy manufacturer in the world, reporting first-half profits of $273 million on revenue of $2.03 billion," adds Ringen.

Here, too, the LEGO lesson is also straightforward: By watching how kids or any of your users pursue an activity--by watching them play--you can identify patterns and emotional reactions that lead to helpful (and revenue-generating) customer insights.

7 Critical Things to Know Before Giving a Presentation

June 17, 2015 - 1:00pm

Presentations can be critical turning points for a company's direction, decision-making, and even your own career. Before delivering a presentation, make sure you know the answers to these seven questions.

Presentations are forks in the road. If you succeed in your objectives, you may open the door to a new job, a promotion, or funding for your latest venture, but if you fail, you could leave with a damaged reputation and a lost opportunity. The stakes are too high for you to go on stage and "wing it."

Unfortunately, most people--professionals of all industries and experience levels--don't know how to effectively prepare for a presentation. They focus all their energy on making colorful PowerPoint slides, or try to memorize specific facts with which to wow the audience, rather than taking a look at the fundamental environment in which they'll be presenting.

Before you even start creating the outline of your presentation, be sure you're asking these seven questions:

1. Who is the audience? This is the first question you should ask, and you shouldn't always assume you know the answer. Pretend you're an entrepreneur and you have a new product, and a friend of yours asks you to present it for his company. It could be your friend and a few of his coworkers you're meeting with, but it could also be the president and board of directors. Each situation would require a different approach and a different level of formality. Understand exactly what types of people are going to constitute your audience--otherwise, you could end up writing for the wrong crowd.

2. How big is the audience? This is another important question that will help you prepare effectively, though it's more about the actual presentation than the writing process itself. With a large audience, you'll need to be concise, direct, and fast-paced to keep their attention, looking around the room for eye contact and generally going about your presentation with minimal interruptions. With a small audience, you'll have to pace your presentation more slowly, pausing for potential questions from the audience and gearing your body language to engage fewer participants. If you don't know the exact number attending, a range is often suitable here.

3. Where will you be presenting? This will help you determine how to prepare. Imagine you have a prototype of your new product, and you're going to be presenting before a small group of people. If you'll be meeting around a table in a small boardroom, you can bring the prototype itself and show it off firsthand to your audience. If you're in a large auditorium, however, you'll need a much bigger, visually accessible medium for your distant audience. Knowing the location will also allow you to understand and prepare your voice for the acoustics of the room.

4. What materials will be available to you? First, think of all the basics. Let's say you have a PowerPoint presentation ready--will you bring it on a flash drive, or will you need to bring a laptop in? Will they even have the proper equipment to hook your device up to a projector? Will they have a microphone system or will you need to project your voice? Is there a podium or a stage, or is it a more informal gathering? These questions will help you understand what you need to bring as well as how to prepare your presentation.

5. How long will you have to speak? This is a critical question that too many people overlook. It is never safe to assume how long you'll have to speak. If your audience is expecting your presentation to last a few minutes and you end up going half an hour, you could bore them to death. If it's supposed to be more than an hour and it's only a half hour, you'll look like you don't have much worthwhile material. Either way, you'll look underprepared, so find out the ideal length of a presentation and practice it until you're confident that you're well within the time constraints.

6. Will there be a Q&A afterward? If you walk into a presentation and get hit with a Q&A session you aren't prepared for, you could be assaulted with tough questions that undermine whatever reputation you built up during the course of your initial speech. Find out if there's a Q&A session afterward, and find out approximately how long it will last. Think of the hardest possible questions someone could ask you, and have answers ready for each and every one of them.

7. Who else is speaking? Unlike the other questions in this list, this question won't ruin you if you don't know the answer. Your presentation won't change much based on who else is presenting before or after you, but knowing the answer will help you better understand the dynamics of the event. For example, if you're the only speaker, there's going to be more pressure on you than if you are only one in six. It won't kill you, but it's worth knowing in advance.

Hopefully, you can answer most of these questions on your own or with a bit of research. If not, ask the person who invited you to present, or call the venue to get more specific information. These should always be your first step in preparing a presentation, and only then should you move onto sketching an initial draft. The better prepared you are, and the more you know about the circumstances of your presentation, the better you'll perform in the end.

4 Tips for Managing Employee Communications

June 17, 2015 - 1:00pm

Here are four steps to properly managing the disparate communication channels and inherent risks of apps in the workplace.

Email is being rapidly overtaken. Quicker, easier to use instant messaging services, collaboration tools, and unified communication platforms are now popular alongside email. For example, in 2015, the employees of one of the largest banks in Switzerland will send more instant messages than emails for the first time. This, according to a new whitepaper by social media compliance company Actiance.

Skyhigh Networks tracked cloud usage data from over 13 million enterprise employees and 350 companies to see which apps employees use most by calculating how much data is generated by each (see full list).

  • Box.com (23%)
  • Dropbox (11%)
  • YouTube (9%)
  • Microsoft Office 365 (7%)
  • Jive (5%)
  • New technologies are enabling more and more sensitive communication, as well. Anonymous communication app Memo, positions itself as a channel to produce more business transparency. Its platform offers company groups where anonymous gripes can be shared. Memo users are required to verify their affiliation with a company before being admitted to a company group. Makers of the app are now selecting companies who will be testing Memo Enterprise starting in summer 2015

    The Actiance whitepaper recommends four steps to properly managing these disparate communication channels and inherent risks. I've paired each with practical constraints and considerations.

    1. Communications Audit

    Organizations should first conduct an audit to find out what sorts of electronic communications are being used. The objective should be finding a balance between letting employees use the apps they need while still protecting the companies' digital assets.

    At the same time, organizations need to be aware of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects employees in certain work-related social media conversations. Since 2010, the National Labor Relations Board has investigated complaints related to employer social media policies, to mixed findings. Following investigations, the agency found reasonable cause to believe that some policies and disciplinary actions violated federal labor law. In other cases, investigations found that the communications were not protected and so disciplinary actions did not violate the Act.

    I was able to do this in my company and saw a 8% lift in sales productivity. We found more employees were using apps than their mail to communicate. Knowing what's going on can help improve.

    2. Monitor and Supervise

    Next, organizations should monitor and supervise employee communications in order to manage communication flow. Popular internal communication and chat apps like HipChat, Slack, and Yammer all offer varying degrees of monitoring options in their internal messaging tools.

    But according to research by SaaS marketplace and data provider GetApp, nearly 39 percent of businesses surveyed think communication monitoring is an invasion of privacy. Only 18 percent regularly monitor employee communications.

    3. Consider Compliance

    Firms operating within regulated industries should consider compliance requirements. In some industries such as, financial services, firms are required pre-review certain content such as LinkedIn profiles before employees publish that content on social media. Financial services firms are also required to prevent employees from using certain features on social media networks.

    This requires the right tools to run analytics on combinations of apps, users, and other parameters to be alerted when people in Investor Relations, for example, share content during the company's quiet period.

    4. Establish Clear Policies

    Finally, organizations should establish adequate employee use policies, use disclaimers, and retain communications in line with organizational objectives, and as necessary, regulatory compliance requirements. Cisco, for example, accomplishes this via an electronic store where employees can search, download, and update apps approved for use. Apps are approved by a board that includes representatives from different businesses within the company.

    Ultimately, businesses need to train their employees to exercise a level of responsibility when transferring sensitive information. And that level of communication can be tricky given the proliferation of telecommuting employees.

    Lastly, whatever you do, don't fire an employee and then leave them with access to your social media accounts. British entertainment retailer HMV learned this the hard way back in 2013. A recently released community manager, released in the midst of a broad cost-saving effort, took to the company's Twitter account to express her displeasure. Introducing the hashtag #hmvXFactorFiring, the company's 60,000 followers (at the time), were treated to revelations like, "There are over 60 of us being fired at once!", and "mass execution, of loyal employees who love the brand."

    5 Signs Your Master’s Program Will Make You a Better Entrepreneur

    June 17, 2015 - 12:40pm

    Professors, courses and fellow students should show you if a program is the right fit.

    Even the best master's program can't magically turn you into an entrepreneur overnight. A diploma doesn't come with mystical qualities any more than slipping on that graduation gown instantly turns you into the next startup success story. Your master's program can however be the ideal training ground to hone your skills. Some entrepreneurs are born to start a company but most of them learn and grow into that role, flailing and adjusting their product as they go. A reputable master's program is often the factory where good businesspeople are made.

    Not all master's programs are created equally, and not all offer a focus on entrepreneurship. If you know you want to run your own business, picking a solid master's program can be key. There should be plenty of opportunities to test out your ventures, electives that match what a future entrepreneur needs, and a business/leadership focus that's clearly centered on helping students achieve entrepreneurial success during or after graduation.

    Do you think your master's program is giving you the leg up you need to become the next great entrepreneur? Here are a few signs you, and your program, are on the right track.

    1. The right departments, programs and courses are in place.

    Look for courses such as "Strategies for Starting a New Business" or anything with "entrepreneur" in the title. There may be options for testing entrepreneurial ventures, clubs, and mentors who have "been there done that." The course options available make it very clear if this is an entrepreneurial-centric program or not.

    2. You find like-minded entrepreneurs in the making.

    Your program might just be where you find a partner, co-founder, employees or even an investor. Many of the startup founders I've interviewed over the years say they first met their co-founders through business school or master's programs. Like attracts like, and if you notice a lot of inventors, startup wannabes, and entrepreneurial spirits in your program, you're on the right track.

    3. You got in because of your essay on entrepreneurial dreams.

    Many master's programs are on the lookout for candidates with entrepreneurial drive--especially if that's one of their major focuses. They know these candidates are ambitious, will make the most use of the program, and will be quick to dive right in and become an integral part of their classes.

    4. Your professors have a history with startups.

    Does your professor double as an inventor? Are they founders of small businesses? Take a look at the background of the professors in the program, and see if they're entrepreneurs themselves. If so, they're likely teaching because they want to share their knowledge with other entrepreneurs (like you).

    5. You're given plenty of creative leeway.

    Some programs are incredibly stringent and have a clear outline of what you're expected to do as a student. Others want you to take the lead. If there's an opportunity to use your program as an incubator for a venture or startup, take advantage of it. Look into all potential resources, reach out to others for help, and you might even be able to use your startup efforts for credit. Experience is the best teacher of all, and it's even better when in a structured and supportive academic setting.

    Ultimately, your master's program is what you make of it, but you could be in a much better position if you find the right program for you. Dig deep, look at the electives, and only apply to programs you believe can bolster your entrepreneurial ambitions. Otherwise, an ill-matched program can help you somewhat, but may not optimize your startup goals. It all begins with location, including exactly where you pursue your degree.

    7 Common Business Deductions You're Probably Missing

    June 17, 2015 - 12:29pm

    You're busy. I get that. But there are some simple ways that you can pay lower taxes on your business income.

    It's easy to get overwhelmed when you're an entrepreneur. With all your responsibilities, we sometimes miss some deductions that could have a significant impact on reducing our taxes. Here are some deductions that we frequently see omitted on business tax returns:

    Start up costs for new businesses. When you are investigating setting up a new business there may be significant costs that could be expensed or amortized. Some examples are travel and lodging costs, consultant fees, expert fees such as a CPA or attorney, meals and entertainment for meetings, mileage expenses and vehicle tolls (I'll write more on this in the coming weeks, as it's one of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make). Also, don't forget state fees for establishing the business entity, and franchise fees.

  • Cash expenses. Don't overlook expenses that you paid with cash. If these are ordinary and necessary expenses for your business, these expenses should be accounted for in the business bookkeeping.
  • Credit card expenses. Like cash, you may use a personal credit card and not provide receipts to the bookkeeper. Keep receipts for everything.
  • Wages and payroll taxes. If your business entity is an S Corporation or C Corporation, I suggest you consider paying him/herself wages rather than distributions or dividends. If this business is your 'primary job,' definitely pay wages rather than distributions or dividends. This avoids payment of self-employment taxes on the your personal tax returns and passes the payroll tax deduction to the business.
  • Health Insurance. Depending on the type of business entity, many business owners miss the self-employed health insurance deduction on their personal tax return. This can be a significant deduction and include insurance paid for you as well as your family.
  • Retirement Plan Contributions. Again, depending on your type of business entity, your business or personal tax return can be significantly impacted by retirement contributions over and above a typical IRA contribution. Businesses can establish inexpensive 401(k) plans including higher contributions for owners. Establishment of a SEP IRA is another alternative. These plans can result in significant deductions as well as increase your retirement savings.
  • Interest. If you borrowed money to start the business, this loan should be recorded as a business liability and interest expensed accordingly. If you 'loan' money to the business, this loan should also be recorded as a liability with interest expensed. Promissory notes should be on file to cover owner loans to the business.
  • Is It Ever a Smart Move to Finance Your Business With Your 401(k)?

    June 17, 2015 - 12:25pm

    Here are the pros and cons of risking your retirement for your business.

    The internet is full of creative ideas. Some good. Some questionable. Some downright inaccurate. This is particularly true in the world of small business and startup financing, where every impresario is on the hunt for new and different ways to fund businesses without taking on debt or giving up equity stakes to investors.

    As entrepreneurs comb the internet to research their options for financing new businesses, most eventually uncover the prospect of financing their business with a 401(k) investment account accrued with their former employer.

    Technically, it is perfectly legal to finance your business with a 401(k) account, or even with your IRA--and you can do so with pre-tax funds without paying penalties for cashing out of the retirement account early.

    This business financing trend first grew in popularity in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, when middle-aged white collar professionals were being laid off in record numbers while simultaneously watching their corporate retirement accounts plummet in the struggling stock market. The overwhelming sentiment at the time was, "if we're going to lose our retirement savings anyway, wouldn't we rather invest in ourselves?"

    But that was then. Now, in a recovered and relatively stable financial market, is leveraging your 401(k) still a wise choice to fund your business? Before I explain how this financing method works, let's look at the pros and cons to determine whether financing your business with your 401(k) is the right choice for your financial future.

    PRO: No debt means no interest or fees.

    Going into debt to start your business is certainly a scary prospect. Depending on your credit history, you could be stuck with a less than favorable interest rate to pay back your loan, and you may have to offer a personal guarantee or put up your house or other property as collateral on the loan.

    Add on the accrued fees and other costs of taking out a business loan, and for some entrepreneurs, the cost just isn't worth it. If you're strongly against borrowing funds for working capital, financing your business with your 401(k) could be a decent alternative.

    CON: If the business goes south, so does your retirement fund.

    And by south, I don't mean to the Florida Keys. The harsh reality is that nearly 50% of new businesses fail within the first five years. With your golden years' income at stake, those odds are far from ideal.

    Of course, the exact degree of risk involved in leveraging your 401(k) depends on how close you are to retirement age. If a 35 or 40-year-old entrepreneur drains their retirement fund on a failed business, they still have some time in their careers to accrue some retirement savings again. For an older entrepreneur, the prospect is more risky. Consider, if your business were to fail, what is your backup plan?

    PRO: No investors means you decide how the money gets spent.

    Venture capitalists, angel investors, and well-off friends or family members can all be great sources of funding for your new business. But of course, along with the funds that these individuals provide can also come a lot of opinions as to how the business should be run and how their money should be spent.

    For some, the expertise of an experienced entrepreneur is invaluable. For others, it can feel intrusive and controlling. If you'd rather maintain total autonomy over how your business is run, funding your business yourself through your 401(k) is a great way to stay in control. But that freedom comes at a price.

    CON: You still have to answer to the IRS.

    When you finance your business with your 401(k), you are essentially creating a corporate retirement plan for your new business, and you'll have to follow all the IRS regulations and procedures that go with this process. The 401(k), after all, is acting as the "investor" in your business. This means filing regular reports and making the plan available to any future employees.

    At first, this process may be fairly simple. If you are your company's only employee, you simply file an annual report along with your business taxes. But if your business grows and adds many employees, having a corporate retirement plan can get complicated and expensive. You'll need to work with an experienced third-party company to establish your business correctly and to make sure that your dealings with the IRS are all above board with regard to your corporate retirement account.

    How Financing a Business With Your 401(k) Works

    Should you decide that funding your business with your 401(k) is the best option for your particular financial situation, the process itself is relatively simple.

    First, contact the appropriate authorities in your state to establish a C-Corporation for your business. You'll then create a self-directed 401(k) plan that is tied to that C-Corporation.

    Once your company's self-directed 401(k) has been established, you'll be able to roll over funds from your existing 401(k) and/or IRA accounts into the new 401(k) account. Finally, as the trustee of your new 401(k) plan, you can direct the plan to purchase shares in your corporation, providing your business with the funding it needs.

    Again, because of the legal and tax implications of this process, it's best to work with a third party that specializes in 401(k) funding. This can cost a few thousand dollars up front, as well as an annual fee for managing the account.

    Bottom Line: Financing a business with your 401(k) is a huge risk.

    Ultimately, only you can decide whether the benefits--namely avoiding debt to start your business and remaining in control of how investment funds are used--are worth the huge amount of risk involved in using your 401(k) retirement fund.

    If you're confident in your business plan and your ability to succeed, and if you have some degree of backup plan for retirement... Well, people have done crazier things. But this business financing route certainly wouldn't be my first choice.

    What You Can Learn From Starbucks's Closure of 23 La Boulange Bakeries

    June 17, 2015 - 12:08pm

    The coffee giant made a big bet on baked goods; now it's back peddling. Here are some takeaways from the gambit.

    Three years after Starbucks moved into the bakery business, the coffee giant has announced a retreat, closing all 23 La Boulange bakeries in San Francisco and the two manufacturing facilities that serve them. Acquired in 2012 for $100 million, La Boulange was deemed "not sustainable for long-term growth," according to a Starbucks press release.

    Over the past few years, Starbucks has diversified its offerings, acquiring Evolution Fresh juice in 2011, Teavana in 2012, and launching soda brand Fizzio last year. But with this recent announcement, which also includes closing one Evolution Fresh juice store, it looks like the biggest coffee chain spread itself too thin and is now taking a step back.

    While eventually expanding from original products is a core growth strategy for some businesses, Starbucks's latest step back represents a good lesson on smart product additions.

    Maximize Your Resources

    Adding juice and new baked goods to the Starbucks menu is not necessarily a bold move for stores that already sell coffee and pastries. But acquiring 23 new La Boulange retail stores added expensive weight to the company's business, especially because the stores didn't bear Starbucks' iconic brand name.

    With more than 21,000 stores in 66 countries, the world's largest coffee chain already had ample channels for selling new products. And the two manufacturing facilities that served La Boulange were likely redundancies in Starbucks's existing supply chain.

    By absorbing new products into existing menus, Starbucks could have avoided the costs of maintaining the La Boulange stores. Now the company is scaling back by adopting this strategy. In yesterday's announcement, Starbucks said it will continue to sell La Boulange products in its stores in the U.S. and Canada.

    Find the Right Balance

    Though Starbucks will continue to sell La Boulange products in-store, the bakery's founder Pascal Rigo is out. According to the press release, Rigo will focus on nonprofit projects, supplying food for under-privileged children and supporting after-school clinics for children with learning disabilities.

    We can only speculate that Rigo has recognized that it's time to let go of the bakery he created. Though the Starbucks release speaks glowingly of the man behind La Boulange, it would be understandable if the founder was disappointed with the fate of his bakery. Whether you are acquiring another entrepreneur's project or putting your own up for sale, it's important to reconcile your expectations with all potential outcomes, whether they are sweet or bitter.

    With an Exploding Market for Consumer Loans, Even Goldman Sachs Wants In

    June 17, 2015 - 11:38am

    Goldman Sachs will soon offer consumer loans online, as some established competitors wonder where else the banking giant will surface.

    Watch out fintech companies, there's a new, moneyed competitor in town.

    After nearly 150 years of catering to the wealty elite and helping fast-growing startups either go public or sell themselves to larger competitors, Goldman Sachs is finally getting into the consumer lending market, and will soon offer small personal loans.

    It may not be that surprising that white shoe investment bank Goldman Sachs is getting involved in making consumer loans. After all Goldman, along with Morgan Stanley, were re-chartered as a bank holding companies 2008. At the time, the move was largely seen as a strategy for accessing federal bailout money in the aftermath of the financial crisis. So by offering loans to consumers, Goldman is simply becoming more of a bank.

    What is more surprising is that Goldman, also a wholesale bank that serves as an underwriter for some of the most promising alternative finance technology IPOs, will be competing with alternative lending technology platforms that facilitate similar types of loans. It’s also an investor in some of the most promising alternative finance companies out there.

    While its entry into consumer finance is a sign that that market is ripe for some new players, and lends validation to many companies that are already there, it raises questions for some potential competitors about where Goldman will appear next.

    The Bank's Past, Future

    Most recently, Goldman served as underwriter for Lending Club in its 2014 initial public offering. Lending Club, which uses a marketplace approach to financing, primarily makes consumer loans for consolidation of debt, and has recently gotten involved in lending to small businesses.

    Over the past few years, Goldman has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in an assortment of payments and alternative finance companies including Square, Bluefin Payments, Bill Trust, Revolution Money, as well as newly public OnDeckCapital, an Inc. 5000 company. It’s also ventured into digital money, including the bitcoin startup Circle Internet Financial, venture capital research company CB Insights reports.

    In an internal memo from Goldman in May, when it hired Harit Talwar, an executive from Discover Financial Services, to head up is online lending division, the bank talked about its opportunity to participate in disrupting traditional finance, including with small business loans.

    “The firm has identified digitally led banking services to consumers and small businesses as an area of opportunity for GS Bank,” the memo reads. “The traditional means by which financial services are delivered to consumers and small businesses is being fundamentally re-shaped by advances in technology, maturity of digital channels, use of data and analytics, and a focus on customer experience.”

    Details of how the loan product will be made available to consumers are a bit thin, although according to the New York Times, which first reported the story, the loans could be for between $15,000 and $20,000, and will be made available either through an app, online, or via a prepaid card, or a combination of all three. A Goldman spokesman said in an email the bank had not decided on timing for the launch.

    Why They Want In

    Certainly consumer loans are a big market. Non-revolving debt, which excludes credit card debt, currently stands at about $2.5 trillion for 2015, compared to $1.8 trillion in 2010. That's according to CEB TowerGroup principal executive advisor Brian Riley, who cited Federal Reserve data.

    By comparison, revolving debt for credit cards, where many banks have also sought their fortunes in the past, stands at about $850 billion, which is essentially flat compared to 2010.

    “There is room for growth, and [consumer loans] does fit within the traditional banking space,” Riley says, adding that Goldman will have to continue developing more products and services in order to appeal to a consumer clientele.

    In addition to personal and small business loans, Goldman could get involved in student loans and even auto loans, Riley says.

    Still, the prospect of Goldman establishing itself in small business lending has some of the entrenched alternative finance players leery.

    “The boat has already left the docks, and there are some really respectable players in this space,” says Dan Goldin, founder and chief executive of small business lender AmeriMerchant, of New York. “Unless Goldman Sachs has no problem losing money for the next three to five years, they have a long road ahead of them.”

    Don’t Make These Costly Mistakes When Building Your Sales Team

    June 17, 2015 - 11:30am

    If you pay under-market, you get bottom of the barrel.

    This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some mistakes startups make when building out a sales team?

    Answer by Jason M. Lemkin, Co-Founder/CEO, EchoSign, NanoGram Devices, on Quora

    #1. You hire a sales rep to sell before you can prove you can do it yourself. You have to prove it's sellable first. You can't outsource this.

    #2. You hire a VP of Sales to sell before you prove you can do it yourself. You gotta prove the process is at least just barely repeatable before you hire someone to turn up the volume and spin the wheel faster. You gotta build 2 reps that can hit quota before you hire a real VP of Sales.

    #3. Any of your first 2-3 sales reps are folks you personally wouldn't buy from. Because then you'll never trust them with your precious handful of leads, and they will fail. No matter how well they did in their last start-up.

    #4. You insist reps #4-400 are folks you personally would buy from. It takes a village.

    #5. You underpay. The best salespeople want to make MONEY. COIN. If you pay under-market, you get bottom of the barrel. Huge rookie error.

    #6. You don't fire reps that fail in one sales cycle. If you can't close anything in one sales cycle, you never will.

    #7. You ask your VP of Sales to carry a bag. Her job is to recruit a great deal and hit the overall plan. Not sell herself, not mostly.

    #8. You hire someone that last sold Nu Skin. This can work later, but not in your first reps. They need to understand how to sell vaguely similar products at vaguely similar price points.

    #9. You hire because she worked at Salesforce/Box/DropBox/whatever. Hire because they can close. Not because they are one of 4,000 reps at Salesforce that sell a product with $6,000,000,000 in revenues, a proven brand, with a huge infrastructure behind it.

    #10. You allow any great reps to leave. You should strive for 0% voluntary attrition. Not to fire the bottom 1/3rd. That's for boiler rooms. Great sales teams stick together. Great sales teams inspire each other. Great sales team attract higher and higher quality of reps as time goes on.

    What are some mistakes startups make when building out a sales team?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

    My Father's Big Question

    June 17, 2015 - 11:30am

    The Dinner Table Question That Shaped The Professional I Am Today

    As a young kid, I didn't work very hard and managed to get by with minimal effort. While I was competitive to a fault, I would also stop pursuing things I couldn't win easily.

    In many ways, I was the exact opposite of what I look for in a great salesperson. I wasn't persistent, hungry or determined. I didn't have grit--the most important attribute of a successful salesperson or entrepreneur--or "the willingness to persevere at a hard task until you have mastered it."

    But my father changed all of that for me, not by pushing or cajoling me, but by repeating a simple question again and again. Of course, when advice, (especially advice veiled as a question) comes your way, you have to be receptive to it. Luckily I was receptive; I listened hard. I idolized my dad then and still do. He is the archetypal over-achiever, doing more in one generation than I think most of my ancestors had since they emerged from the primordial swamp. So when advice was dispensed in small quantities I listened and reacted.

    When I was a child, I was lucky that most nights we would sit and eat as a family. Every evening, my father quizzed me about my day. However, unlike many nurturing parents, he quite rarely asked me what had I learned at school, if anything interesting had happened or how the sport I played had gone-at least not straight out of the gate.

    He always led with the same question, "What did you achieve today?" It's a simple question that I learned to expect. As a consequence I would spend much time each day figuring out what my purpose for that day would be, so I'd be able to answer it well. Looking back now, it was that question that shaped the professional I am today more than anything else.

    The question made me paranoid... but in a good way. I never settle for a good try or my best shot or anyone else's for that matter. I focus on the ultimate achievement of a specific goal rather than the journey of how to get there. Intention and process are so much less important than the outcome to me.

    I know this goes against current thinking that everyone should win a prize for taking part. Many people new to the workforce today expect to be nurtured and encouraged along their path towards goals for which they have no history of achievement. That type of hand-holding would have been pretty horrendous for me as a child, since I would have been happy to skate along on false accolades and empty encouragement. I would probably not have achieved a great deal. Instead, my father's question made me continuously orient myself as well as others whom I guide. I always ask myself, "What am I going to achieve by doing this?" or "What is the purpose of this person's approach?"

    It turns out that this works pretty well with salespeople. Successful salespeople orient to a goal and then move every barrier out of their way until they achieve it. The best salespeople figure out the straightest line between where they are and their goal, and then focus on following that line until they get there.

    Good salespeople know that they are judged and should only judge themselves on one thing--their results. That realization has always helped me as a sales manager. The goal of a sales manager is first and foremost to set goals and remove processes that are an impediment to achieving those results. In many ways this insight is the cornerstone for how my company, Velocify, has created one of the most successful sales acceleration platforms in the market today.

    So dads, enjoy your time with your family this Father's Day, but remember: the questions you ask your children may be more influential than you can possibly imagine. Make them count.

    5 Tips for Getting More Work Done While Traveling

    June 17, 2015 - 11:20am

    Don't waste your travel days--here's how to take advantage of the time you're stuck in transit.

    I’m all for actually unplugging when you’re on vacation. If you’ve put in for PTO and your boss assures you that you’re covered, go ahead and spend your upcoming flight engrossed in a good book.

    But for everyone else--for the commuters, the super-commuters, the people on a business trip--your work won’t wait!

    I used to take 10-day business trips every other month, and here’s what I learned: If you squander your travel day, you’ll arrive at your destination tired, maybe even jet-lagged, and with several hours of work to make up before you do things like unpack and sleep.

    I became an expert at getting work done while traveling. Here are five tips I recommend for optimizing productivity on a travel day.

    1. Book Wisely

    You know those TV commercials targeted at the people who research every trip on a half-dozen different websites to see if they can save $15 on their hotel room? That’s me.

    But, for my recent train trip, I took the Acela. I knew I’d need to get work done on the train and while, in my personal life, I often book based on price, I had different priorities for this trip. A faster train meant I’d have a fuller day without having to wake up before 5 AM. It meant fewer stops, so I could really focus in on my work. And it meant the Wi-Fi worked the entire way.

    If you work for a nonprofit or company with a tight budget (I’ve been there, too), talk to your boss about elements of your trip where paying a little more will make it easier for you to complete your work. See if there are trade-offs you can make. Maybe you stay with local contacts for a night or two to minimize hotel costs, or plan to use the subway, or rent the cheapest car--but get a direct flight to cut out the hours wasted on layovers.

    2. Hurry Up and Wait

    While I am not a fan of layovers (let’s keep the missed connections to personal ads), one of the most productive times on a travel day can be when you’re waiting for your plane or train. Of course, you need to set out a chunk of time, because it doesn’t make any sense to pull your laptop out for 10 minutes of work.

    Here’s what I do:

    I try to budget at least 45 minutes between when I’m sitting at my gate-;through security, bottle of water in carry-on and latte in hand--and boarding. I find it hard to focus before I leave for the trip (Did I pack everything? Water the plants? Turn off the coffee pot?), but that time at the gate can be invaluable if there’s a work crisis. If you build in a half hour (or more) in between each portion of your commute--e.g., you drive or take the bus to the airport, go through security, and have legit time before you board--you’ll be able to respond with more than “I’ll be in touch in three hours, when I arrive.”

    3. Pack Your Tools

    The right tools are critical to getting your work done while traveling. Yes, it’s great that you can read emails on your phone, but I doubt you’re going to type out a report on it. Not to mention, if you do rely on your phone all day, you’ll have to deal with your data plan and a dwindling battery.

    Of course, if using your cell for all it’s worth is your game plan, you’ll want to be armed with more than your typical charger. If you have a long way to drive, consider packing a car charger or investing in a spare battery cover. You’ll find great peace of mind--and productivity--knowing that you’ll have the battery power you need to take the call you have scheduled.

    Additionally, if you travel regularly for work, consider investing in a few items that will make you more productive. For example, I used a Logitech keyboard cover so I could really type on my iPad mini while traveling, and it made a huge difference. Portable MiFi devices can also come in handy. If there’s some item that will help you work better, think of it as a tool in your arsenal.

    4. Rearrange Your Project List

    Some projects lend themselves to being worked on throughout a travel day--and some really don’t. If you’re driving a route you’re familiar with and you know you’ll have strong service (and plenty of time on your hands), schedule calls. If you’re going to be at an airport with boarding announcements every five minutes, avoid them.

    Tasks that require Wi-Fi are less advisable on travel days. Some airlines offer Wi-Fi, but it can be costly or unavailable. I prefer to choose projects that will be improved--rather than limited--by the fact that I’ll be stuck in a seat for a long period of time.

    5. Work in Advance

    OK, so now that you know you you’ll have a travel day that won’t be good for Wi-Fi, you can just push off any major projects that require it--right? Not so fast: Deadlines won’t evaporate because you’re in the vicinity of a tarmac.

    Even on my most productive travel day (i.e., one in which I accomplish everything on my list), I rarely get as much done as I would on a normal workday. So, it’s important to plan ahead and knock out an extra project or two before you go. This will give you a cushion, so that if you spend an extra hour in traffic or sitting at your gate, you’ll only have one deadline looming overhead upon arrival.

    If you’re not feeling motivated to put in the extra hours before your trip, think through best and worst case scenarios. If you get extra work done in advance and everything goes so smoothly that you have additional time on your hands on your travel day, so be it-;you can sleep, workout, or explore wherever you are. If you don’t do anything in advance, and then have a traffic day from hell, you’ll get to chase it with a full day’s work. (Spoiler alert: This option is terrible.)

    For some of us, traveling while working and working while traveling is inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be counterproductive. Make the most of your journey with the tips above.

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