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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.

    Y Combinator Files to Create a Venture Capital Fund

    June 17, 2015 - 11:18am

    After months of rumors, the incubator is now taking steps to move beyond only seed-level funding.

    Y Combinator is raising money to create a new VC fund according to forms filed with the SEC.

    It's called the Y Combinator Continuity Fund I. The company declined to disclose the amount raised, and the filing indicated that the first sale has yet to occur.

    Business Insider's Jon Marino first reported that Y Combinator was looking to raise several billion dollars for a fund in March.

    According to sources, that fund would allegedly be used to support some of the incubator's largest investments, although it has told potential investors it would still be looking to continue its investments on the seed level.

    This appears to be the company's first filing of this particular type, known as an SEC Form D. Y Combinator listed the Continuity Fund both as a 3(c)(1), which means the fund may not be owned by more than 100 shareholders, and a 3(c)(7), which narrows the investor pool down to 499 or fewer "qualified purchasers".

    Business Insider tried calling the phone number on the form for comment, but it was disconnected. Y Combinator did not initially respond to a request for comment.

    The Continuity Fund could be Y Combinator's way of doubling down on some of the startup its backed in its early years, like Dropbox, Airbnb and Stripe. With tech IPOs drying up, more companies are staying private longer so Y Combinator may be looking to do some late-stage deals at higher valuations.

    --This story first appeared on Business Insider.

    Love and Basketball: A Leadership Game Plan From Coach K

    June 17, 2015 - 11:02am

    Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been coaching star players for 40 years. At today's Salesforce Connections conference, he shared some touchy-feely tips for nurturing a strong winning team.

    This April when Grayson Allen lumbered across the court in the NCAA championship game to save a loose ball, the Blue Devil freshman roared with enough emotion to raise the hair on every head in the packed stadium. But most affected were a 68-year-old coach and seven other young men in blue, who fought off the struggles seen earlier in the game and swept past Wisconsin to win 68 to 63.

    That was the fifth NCAA title for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who's also coached two teams to Olympic gold medals. He described that moment to a business audience at the Salesforce Connections conference in New York City on Tuesday. With that experience in mind, Coach K recommended some emotive strategies for fostering a championship team that works just as well off-court.

    Cultivate an ownership mentality.

    The 40-year coaching veteran doesn't have any rules in the locker room. Instead, he has standards in which coaches and players alike take ownership. When coaching the Dream Team for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the players helped him form their own list. Adding to Coach K's two original standards (looking each other in the eye and always telling the truth), players like Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant contributed ideas like never being late or having a bad practice; LeBron James suggested, "No excuses."

    Involving teammates in forming an agreed-upon list gives them more ownership in the project and a personal commitment to their own performance. Rather than being dictated to, "All good people want to be part of something great," Coach K says, "and they want to feel appreciated when they are."

    Embrace your team's feelings.

    The secret to connecting teammates, says Coach K, is not just about seeing and listening. Feeling important, recognized, and heard keeps teams alive and retains talent in well-run organizations. If you can't get to the heart of every team member, partnerships won't be as effective.

    Get close to the players on your team and encourage them to not hide their emotions from you. But in turn, you have to honor their vulnerability--make sure they feel understood and appreciated, and encourage others on the team to step up and make everyone feel respected.

    Part of that respect is trusting teammates, especially standout players, to call the shots sometimes. However, Coach K says it's vital to know your team well enough to pull someone out immediately when they exhibit destructive behavior. He warns against letting things slide and instead, looking your player in the eye and saying "What the hell's wrong with you?"

    It may sound harsh, but he says that's just being real. "And if your team is real then it's also going to be tough."

    Never stop innovating.

    Coach K admits that before the 2014 season, things on the operations side at Duke Men's Basketball were a little rusty. Procedures were so ingrained they hadn't evolved with changing personnel and standards. He decided it was time to refresh and "get back to our personality."

    So he called the staff together and changed a lot of processes and procedures. Before the championship game he called the staff together and told them that when the team won the title, it will be in large part thanks to the behind-the-scenes work done by people who will never be on TV. That kind of acknowledgement of your team's efforts will only serve to strengthen your bond.

    How Marcus Lemonis Uncovered a Florida Ponzi Scheme

    June 17, 2015 - 10:38am

    Things get hairy when the star of CNBC's 'The Profit' tries to fix a small business tainted by its association with a suspected fraudster.

    Marcus Lemonis has a motto: Every struggling company can be saved. But when he smells trouble, he knows it's time to cut and run.

    On Tuesday's episode of CNBC's The Profit, Lemonis met entrepreneur Erik Leander, founder of a Florida health-food delivery service. The small business, called FuelFood, sends balanced meals to customers across the U.S., but beneath its healthy image is a toxic corporate culture led by the hot-tempered Leander. After addressing a number of problems with the company, Lemonis discovered that its largest investor--a 46 percent shareholder--had recently been charged with running a Ponzi scheme that targeted investors through YouTube videos. Even worse, Leander knew about the charges, but didn't tell Lemonis.

    "I feel like I dodged a bullet," Lemonis said during the episode. "If Erik didn't think that his primary investor being involved in a Ponzi scheme was a big deal, I don't know what other surprises he has in store for me."

    It didn't take long for Lemonis to walk away, and fortunately for him his $300,000 investment in FuelFood never closed, because not all investors signed off the partnership. The alleged fraudster's assets had been frozen. Still, even before learning of the Ponzi scheme, Lemonis uncovered several red flags that had already made him question whether he should be working with Leander.

    "If it wasn't for these employees, I would have walked out of here a while ago," he said. FuelFood did not return a call for comment.

    Here are three serious issues that together signal a business has some fundamental problems. Lemonis saw them all.

    1. High turnover. When Lemonis first met Leander, he learned that the company had been through seven chefs in just a few years, and that almost no women customers used the service for an extended period of time, which Lemonis chalked up to FuelFood's off-key marketing campaign that featured videos of fitness models in tight clothes.

    2. Leading by intimidation. One of Leander's most glaring management problems was his aggressive tone with his employees, and the way he talked over people instead of letting them be heard. "Erik continues to lead by intimidation," Lemonis said, adding that FuelFood's workers didn't feel they were in a safe, secure environment.

    3. Reckless spending. While Leander had drawn more than $1 million from investors prior to meeting Lemonis, FuelFood's kitchen still lacked a lot of standard cooking equipment. Why? Leander spent more than $100,000 on a truck that wasn't helping generate sales, and he had cut a number of employees' pay just to meet payroll.

    Though Lemonis wasn't able to fix FuelFood, he had no choice but to walk when he learned about the company's fraudulent ties.

    "While I leave here disappointed that I'm not going to be able to work with some of the folks, this would have turned out to be an absolute disaster," Lemonis said.

    Stay tuned for more recaps every week.

    The Surprising Way to Energize Your Employees

    June 17, 2015 - 10:30am

    Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network, explains why it's important to hire talented new employees that will challenge and motivate your existing staff.

    Flipboard Launches Resources, Community for Marketers

    June 17, 2015 - 10:05am

    Marketers and brand communicators have long used the platform. Now Flipboard is lending them a helping hand.

    Flipboard has long been a resource to many businesses, used to curate content, build brochures and showcase press coverage.

    The powers that be at the company have noticed, and this morning launched a community and bevy of resources to help marketers, businesses, public relation folks and others to share best practices and figure out how to best use the platform.

    Co-founder Marci McCue told me earlier this week that there were four key components to the program, called Flipboard for Marketers:

    1) A home page for the community: Flipboard.com/@flipmarketer

    This is Flipboard's collection of key magazines by users of the platform. One magazine focuses on the best examples of magazines focused on Content Marketing. Another showcases magazines used to display company news and events. A third hosts terrific examples of company brochures and portfolios. A fourth shows how PR firms and companies are pulling together media coverage. The last magazine, "Marketer's Lounge," shows off magazines curated by community members on various topics related to marketing, such as SEO, brand marketing, and more.

    2) The hashtag #FlipMarketer

    By using the hashtag, marketers, communicators and others will be able to easily find one another to share ideas and tips.

    3) A refreshed and renamed Flipboard for Business blog

    Previously the "Brands Blog," the blog will be a place Flipboard showcases the stories of marketers and brands using the platform. It will provide how-tos and ideas for collaborative use.

    "If you're new to Flipboard," McCue said, "it does take a little bit of thinking."

    4) A monthly newsletter

    This will be a roundup of the best new resources and tips from the month.

    "The whole purpose here is to allow marketers to learn from each other, and advance how they learn technology," McCue told me.

    This isn't the first resource community Flipboard has built for its users. #FlipEDU, for educators, students and parents, showcases the best use cases in how Flipboard is used in classrooms and for sharing information and resources on learning and innovation in education.

    The magazines featured in today's Flipboard for Marketers launch range from Jim Stengel's guide to the Cannes Lions to Ben & Jerry's view of their corporate culture. Flipboard staff found the magazines through brands they already had relationships with, keyword searches on the platform, and via the unaffiliated Flipboard Club community, McCue said. (Disclosure: I am a sometime administrator of that community's Facebook group.)

    Mark Traphagen, senior director of online marketing for Boston-based Stone Temple Consulting, curates a magazine on SEO best practices and is among those featured in today's launch.

    "I commit time every day to reading and gathering the most useful content and news from my industry," he told me via email this morning. "I've found Flipboard to be both the easiest platform for curation as well as the best way for others to consume it. Whenever I show my mags to others, I always create new Flipboard users and fans."

    Scott Monty, the former social media voice of Ford and an internationally known marketer and speaker, said he used Flipboard as his "go-to" bookmarking resource. His "This Week In Digital" is among the magazines Flipboard has included in today's launch.

    "Curation is an important part of thought leadership," he told me via email. "If I can provide links to sites and sources that have a wide variety of news about the industry, my readers and followers get value from having a single source of aggregated content."

    The visual nature of Flipboard makes it the best option for his weekly newsletter, he said. "After throwing links in all week, I go in and rearrange them as part of the editing process, to make for a sensible flow of stories for me and my followers."

    Monty happily embraced the launch of FlipMarketer.

    "Having a business community sponsored by Flipboard will make finding curated content even easier for me," he said.

    How to Feel Confident About Your Decisions

    June 17, 2015 - 10:00am

    Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work, describes how you can know whether the path ahead is clear or not.

    The Surprising Reason You Need to Become an Entrepreneur

    June 17, 2015 - 10:00am

    Owning your own business is like getting on a rocket ship--the ride can be a nail biter, but it's the best view of the stars.

    Sheryl Sandberg is credited with saying "If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat! Just get on."

    My seat on the rocket ship

    Anyone who mustered the courage to leave a predictable corporate job to start a business can relate. I certainly can. And 20 years later, I can say I'm the better for it.

    Because some people just can't do the easy thing, or the sane thing, or the common sense thing, or the smart thing-some people just have to do their own thing.

    Making the break

    When I made this break-when I grabbed that seat headed for the stratosphere--a neighbor and friend of mine was an editor at a magazine where most of his readers were thinking about how to acquire ungodly sums of money.

    After all, anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with human nature knows that most of us are fantasizing about our future wealth at least 50% of the time. In one issue of the magazine, my friend wrote:

    "I watched with a mixture of concern and awe as a friend, Sims Wyeth, walked out of a perfectly good vice president's post at a consulting firm, in large part because he thought he could make more money on his own as a public speaking coach for executives. It took him six nail-biting months to land his first customer. But now that his business is thriving-with clients like KPMG, McKinsey & Co. and Pfizer-Wyeth can be philosophical about why he took the risk. 'If you asked me to choose between being bored and being terrified,' he says, 'I'd rather be terrified.'"

    Taking the leap

    Let me say that my friend the editor was right to be concerned, while his awe was probably similar to the feelings most people have when watching Evel Knievel jump his motorcycle over three-dozen parked school buses.

    I also admit that while I may have been born with-well, a pewter spoon in my mouth-I spat it out in order to be an actor, which is a profession in which your job is to get the next job. I think I'm basically an adrenaline junkie.

    Confessions of an adrenaline junkie

    As an entrepreneur, I have sacrificed my health, my sleep, my sense of belonging to a group, and my security in order to satisfy my truly stubborn need to not have a boss.

    I did not go to business school, never thought about going, and have walked forward on the only two legs that work for me: trial and error.

    I'm not boasting. I'm confessing.

    Keeping up

    So I've enjoyed a career as an actor, taught several graduate and undergraduate courses in theater and communication, raised a child and sent her to Yale, remained happily married to a woman who has been called by the New York Times "mercurial," and all while sailing through the uncertain air of the dot com bust and the global financial crisis, straddling a rocket with a landscape dotted with school buses far below.

    It's the only way I could keep up with my friends in high places.

    21 Digital Marketing Experts to Follow on Twitter

    June 17, 2015 - 10:00am

    Don't miss the tweets, tips and tricks of these 21 digital marketing smarties.

    I often go in search of interesting new people to follow, especially in digital marketing. I spend at least an hour every day reading and engaging communities--consider it part of my lifelong education.

    Relevance is important and so is overall reach, so one of the metrics I use as my yard stick for top digital marketing experts is Retweets, as measured by awesome influencer and content discovery tool BuzzSumo.

    However, my completely unscientific method also includes checking out influencers on specific hashtags using TweetReach (which shows you how far tweets and topics travel), and even going back through the list of people I've followed lately to get to know them better. After all, if they said something to pique my interest in the first place, this could be someone worth connecting with on LinkedIn, as well.

    It also matters to me a great deal that people are engaging and not just autotweeting out a feed of stuff. I mean, we follow publications and expect that, but it's nice to see industry experts and thought leaders participating in conversations, too.

    Here are my top digital marketing experts to follow on Twitter--people whose expertise and advice I enjoy, and think you will, too:

    1. John Shahidi--CEO of Shots app

    John shares a ton of interesting interviews, blog posts and relevant news articles with his 354,000 followers and gets an astonishing average of 3,800 retweets. He's just started publishing on Medium and is sure to have plenty of interesting content to share in the future.

    2. Donald Miller--StoryBrand founder

    Donald shares a lot of marketing advice with his 219,000 followers, but also tweets inspirational content for entrepreneurs and business people. While his company StoryBrand helps businesses, Don just wrote ScaryClose, a book on relationships that's climbing the bestseller list.

    3. Rand Fishkin--Wizard of Moz

    Rand has built an impressive following of over 228,000 people in his lengthy online marketing career. He has a super engaged audience who retweet 66% of his tweets thanks to the superior depth of his knowledge and his generosity in giving it away.

    4. Mike Street--SmartBrownVoices Podcaster

    Mr. Mike Street has over 49,000 followers and releases a new digital marketing podcast called Smart Brown Voices for them each week. Almost half of his tweets get retweeted thanks to the awesome quality of the content he produces and shares.

    5. Tabitha Naylor--Sales & Marketing Pro

    Tabitha is a pro at curating interesting, timely and relevant content for sales and marketing people. She shares tweets from around the web with her 37,400 followers and regularly engages in conversation with her audience.

    6. Jay Bear--Business Strategist, Keynote Speaker & Bestselling Author

    Jay's kind of a big deal--a prolific blogger, he's amassed 150,000 Twitter followers who hang on his every piece of marketing advice. Still, he's down to earth and a great conversationalist. In fact, 43% of his tweets actually get replies, indicating a super-high level of relevance and engagement.

    7. Ann Handley--Author, Marketer, Chief Content Officer

    Ann is a pioneer in the content marketing industry and is always generous with her time and advice. Her almost 12,000 followers enjoy the quality content she shares from MarketingProfs, industry events and around the world. Her feed is a treasure trove of knowledge for marketers.

    8. Matt Heinz--Heinz Marketing

    Matt has diverse interests within the digital marketing spectrum, which makes for an interesting read for his over 56,000 followers. Tune in for a variety of information and insights about content marketing, leadership, marketing strategy and demand generation.

    9. Avinash Kaushik--Digital Marketing Evangelist, Googler, Author

    Follow Avinash for a peek inside the brain of the man who serves as digital marketing evangelist for Google and wrote both Web Analytics 2.0 and Web Analytics: An Hour A Day. His 152,000 followers retweet his tweets an average of 13 times each and hang on his every word for the next forward-looking marketing gem.

    10. Shelly Kramer--Marketing & Brand Strategist

    Shelly, from v3 Integrated Marketing, has a highly engaged audience of 77,700 followers who reshare 32% of her tweets. She tweets several times daily on social media marketing, content and branding.

    11. Mark Schaefer--Author & Consultant, Schaefer Marketing Solutions

    Mark shares a ton of great info from popular industry publications with his 104,000 followers, but also a great deal from smaller sources you might not have discovered.

    12. Jeff Bullas--Chief Evangelist at ShuttleRock

    As a Forbes Top 50 Social Media Influencer, Jeff is a must-follow for anyone in the digital marketing realm, but especially in social media marketing. He has over 301,000 followers and averages 6 RTs per tweet.

    13. Amber Naslund--SVP Marketing at Sysomos

    You might remember Amber from her time with Radian6, or her blog, Brass Tack Thinking. Now with social analytics and intelligence platform Sysomos, she still shares her marketing advice and tons of personality on her Twitter with over 55,000 followers.

    14. Danny Sullivan--Founding Editor at Search Engine Land & Marketing Land

    Danny is fast closing in on half a million followers, and it's no wonder; he's been an industry leader in search as long as search has been a thing. He's usually the first out with news about Google, Bing, or other search engines and is generous with the knowledge he's willing to share with others.

    15. Dharmesh Shah--Founder/CTO at HubSpot

    Dharmesh's 254,000 followers are regularly treated to an experienced insider's point of view on all things marketing, but also startups, entrepreneurism and funding. A renowned expert and leader in inbound marketing, he's also an angel investor in over 40 startups.

    16. Brett Tabke--PubCon and WebmasterWorld founder

    Brett built two incredibly successful digital marketing resources from the ground up and regularly shares his unique perspective with his 38,000 followers. His PubCon is indisputably the most popular online marketing conference in the states, while WebmasterWorld was for years THE place to be to learn about SEO.

    17. Duane Forrester--Bing Webmaster Tools

    Duane returned to Bing and the entire community rejoiced! A popular fixture at digital marketing conferences and online, he's a smart, insightful guy with an 11,000 person following on Twitter. Moreover though, he's generous with his advice and just a nice person all around.

    18. Greg Gifford--AutoRevo

    Why doesn't this guy have 100,000 Twitter followers? I have no idea, but this is why follower count alone is a poor indicator of quality. I've been super impressed with Greg's digital marketing tips in his video blogs and at conferences. Also, he tweets about bacon. What's not to love?

    19. Joe Pulizzi--Z Squared Media

    Joe is the brains behind a series of super successful marketing publications and events: Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing World and Chief Content Officer. His 68,800 Twitter followers enjoy a first look at emerging trends in content marketing and uber-insightful columns from his publications.

    20. Will Critchlow--Distilled

    Will has 27,500 followers and is an engaging speaker at conferences like SearchLove. He tweets often techy and super in-depth content about search and mobile. If you want to learn about the inner workings of search in an understandable way, Will's your guy.

    21. PPCHero--Expert contributors

    Following PPCHero gives you access to the insights of numerous digital marketing experts from Hanapin Marketing. With an epic conference series and an industry-leading blog, they have plenty of expert paid search advice and tips to share.

    Looking for more great thought leaders to follow? Check out these 17 VCs and Angel Investors to follow on Twitter.

    How to Create a New Relationship in Seconds

    June 17, 2015 - 9:49am

    Marcus Lemonis demonstrates the power of getting personal--quickly.

    Working With a Tech Incubator Might Be the Best Thing You Do This Year… Here’s Why

    June 17, 2015 - 9:35am

    If you're on the fence about applying to startup incubators, this may give you a push.

    Tech incubator Techstars has just announced their 2015 class in Boston and the lineup looks awesome!

    From a white-label grocery delivery service to an engagement platform for international students, Boston-area startups are coming up with increasingly creative ways to solve real-world problems for consumers.

    One company I'm directly involved in mentoring, ThriveHive, is trying to make marketing infinitely easier for small businesses by automating some of the marketing channel recommendations, measurement and more, as well as guiding them in actually getting the work done.

    It's all very cool and useful-for me personally and professionally as much as for the companies we mentor! Exposure to all of these different types of businesses I would not have otherwise had exposure to is incredibly valuable. Working alongside other business leaders, who have accomplished amazing things in their own entrepreneurial efforts, is really motivational, as well.

    If you're considering applying to a startup incubator (or maybe hadn't thought of it but are considering it now!), here are a few reasons to give it a go:

    1. You get to pick the brains of experts.

    Participants in startup programs like Techstars get to ask very specific questions of their advisors and mentors, like "How will we know when we have the right product/market fit?" They can get expert advice on a wide range of topics and disciplines, eg.: structuring a sales commission plan, increasing customer engagement, scaling their marketing, etc.

    2. You can avoid unforced errors.

    I mean, you can't avoid them entirely, but one of the biggest forms of leverage in growing a business is making fewer mistakes. Unforced errors in business strategy and operations are incredibly costly -- sometimes the cost is as high as the failure of that business.

    When I first started WordStream, I made a ton of mistakes that might have been avoided if I'd had advisors with the experience to navigate the specific issues I was facing. I later created a board of advisors, which has been hugely beneficial. The thing about advisors though, is that they're only as good as the advisors you bring on. It can be incredibly difficult to find the best experts if you're just getting started on you own. Belonging to a startup incubator gives you this edge right out of the gate.

    3. You may be able to access huge benefits.

    On top of seed funding and mentoring, startup incubators can offer some very real, tangible benefits for entrepreneurs and fledgling businesses. For example, Techstars offers their startups things (in exchange for an equity stake in your company) like:

    • a $100,000 convertible debt note, provided by top venture capital firms, Techstars Alumni and several individuals.
    • opportunities to spend time on site with relevant corporate partners, engaging with larger corporations in their focus area.
    • up to $10,000 in hourly fee discounts for legal services.
    • free banking and financial consultation services.
    • credits for hosting services, email marketing platforms, etc.

    All in all, the Techstars Boston class of 2015 are eligible for $457,500 in resources and funding to help them get off the ground and succeed.

    It's been really surreal to me -- to think that just six years ago, I was in the same position the class of 2015 are in! It really puts things in perspective.

    Participating in a program like this in Boston is super exciting, because we have such a vibrant startup scene here. In addition to the top schools we have here, like MIT, BU and Harvard, we have thousands of great companies like WayFair, HubSpot, Acquia and more. All of the ingredients you need for a successful startup are right here.

    I can tell you from experience that starting your own business is an incredibly journey, but it's not at all what you're expecting! To give yourself the best chance possible and accelerate your growth, seriously think about applying to a startup incubator.

    Are you wondering if startup life is for you? Share your questions in the comments.

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