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5 Indications That Your Work Culture Needs Attention

Whether your company is a startup or a mature business, the last thing you need in the office is a toxic work culture. Yet, according to a recent study, more than half of tech employees see their current office culture as toxic. That can’t possibly be healthy for employee morale, productivity, or customer focus. The sad part is that many executives still don’t know how to recognize the signs. I saw some excellent guidance for all of us along these lines in a new book, “Cultural Brilliance,” by Claudette Rowley, who has been helping both big and small companies recognize and fix their cultural problems for almost 20 years. In my own consulting career, I have observed examples of each of her five key signs that your business work culture is not operating in a state of brilliance: People are ...

7 Strategies To Accelerate Creativity In Your Company

Within the startup realm, there is a big difference between having an innovative product versus an innovative business. Some startups have a new technology, but stick to a tried-and-true business model. Others take an existing product, and give it new life with a creative business model. The most competitive startups do both, all the time and every time. In today’s competitive world, with its accelerating rate of change, no competitive advantage lasts long. According to Josh Linkner, in his classic book “Disciplined Dreaming,” we have entered the Age of Creativity, in which each incremental gain is zeroed out as global competitors quickly copy and adapt. The only sustainable competitive advantage is creativity. He makes the case, and I agree, that creativity in a company, large or small, d...

10 Clues That A New Business May Not Be Your Passion

People who get stressed managing their own lives don’t make good entrepreneurs. Small businesses require multi-tasking, work prioritization, and decision-making, with no assistants or help from specialists. That’s why Fortune 500 executives usually don’t survive as startup CEOs. First you have to learn to accept total responsibility for things that happen to your business, just like you are responsible for everything in your personal life. Maybe you are comfortable with having a spouse in control of your personal life, but couples running a business are high risk. If you recognize yourself in these clues below, you probably won’t have as much fun running a startup as Sir Richard Branson always seems to be having. You don’t even have to try the entrepreneur lifestyle to know if these points...

Businesses Without A Website Are The “Walking Dead”

These days, if your startup does not have an Internet home base up and running, you are not ready for business or potential investors. Customers go there to check on the details of your offerings and verify that you are not a scam, investors look there to check out your management and sales approach, and suppliers expect to find contact information. There should be no doubt that an Internet presence is as basic to success in business today, as brick and mortar was a hundred years ago. Yet I am amazed to see from recent data that nearly 36 percent of small businesses today still have no web presence at all. These are soon to be the walking dead, and the competitors you can beat today. In fact, you need to have at least a prototype web site published several weeks before you expect anyone to...

Do You Know A “Downer” Who Is Killing Your Business?

A “downer” is defined here as someone who seems to dwell on the negatives of every business challenge, and loves to highlight bad news or potential problems. No matter how smart or experienced this person may otherwise be, things must change or they will kill your startup. I’m not talking about someone who has an occasional bad day, but rather people who when asked, “How are things?” will proceed to give you a 20-minute dissertation on their latest health symptoms, the latest company problem, and the sad state of the world in general. This brings down the mood of everyone around them, and often leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We all know this kind of person, but they never seem to recognize themselves. So here are a few clues that you can look for in yourself, to see if you slipping i...

7 Action Items Build A Sustainable Innovation Culture

Every business founder knows the need for a culture that promotes continuous innovation, an entrepreneurial spirit, and one that creates sustainable value across all functions in the business. Yet most don’t really know how to create that environment, or assess when they have achieved it. They only know in retrospect too late when they don’t have it, and the business is in crisis mode. This topic was well addressed in the classic book, “The Invisible Advantage: How to Create a Culture of Innovation,” by Soren Kaplan, who lays out the key steps to assess, disrupt, and reshape the existing culture of a company to get more innovation. Kaplan is a leading expert in building innovation cultures, and speaks from his real-world experience with many companies, as well as academic study. In my own ...

Do’s and Don’ts For Entrepreneur Business Networking

I often recommend business networking as the most effective way for a startup founder to find investors, advisors, and even key executive candidates. But what if you are an introvert, or new to this game, and don’t know where or how to start? The answer is still the same, but I have learned over the years that there is an etiquette to this process, just like there is for social networking. Here are a few of the “do’s”: Post your profile on LinkedIn and Twitter, and join in startup discussions. There are other social networks in the list of 200 “major sites” recognized by Wikipedia that entrepreneurs use for networking, depending on where you are in the world, like Orkut, Viadeo, and Sina Weibo, but talking to friends on Facebook probably won’t help you. Join and actively participate in loc...

10 Ways To Improvise, Thrive And Survive In A Startup

As an entrepreneur, you have to improvise and adapt quickly to survive and thrive in the face of the unpredictable challenges of the market. But this improvisation a not a comedy, although there are some distinct correlations, in relation to reacting, adapting, and communicating. In business and in comedy, you win most often with “Yes, and …” instead of “Yes, but ….” I definitely learned a few things about how to improvise effectively in business from the classic book, “Getting to ‘Yes And’: The Art of Business Improv,” by Bob Kulhan, who is a master of the art in both comedy and business. Kulhan is a professor at the Duke University School of Business, but was trained in improvisation by some comedy greats, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. He draws on cognitive and social psychology as...

5 Keys To Mitigating New Venture Tax And Legal Issues

A frequent concern I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs is “I have invented a great product, but I have no idea where to start in setting up a company, to avoid all the tax and legal problems I hear about on the news.” In fact, this is a complex question, with answers that are different all around the world, but I have some general rules of thumb that apply here in the USA to get you started: Create a business entity early to encapsulate your venture. To avoid the tax implications of co-mingling personal and business funds and assets, create your business entity before you hire anyone or spend money building the product. Don’t wait for that first investor or prototype. The primary business entity options include a sole proprietorship, Limited Liability Company (LLC), or a Corporation (B-Corp...

10 Areas Where You Can Win With Predictive Analytics

Traditional business intelligence (and data mining) software does a very good job of showing you where you’ve been. By contrast, predictive analytics uses data patterns to make forward-looking predictions that guide you to where you should go next. This is a whole new world for small businesses seeking enterprise application opportunities, as well social media trend challenges. According to Eric Siegel in the updated version of his classic book “Predictive Analytics,” it’s the power to predict who will click, buy, lie, or die. He calls his book a primer, but his real-life examples illustrate well how predictive analytics unleashes the power of data, and how “big data” embodies an extraordinary wealth of experience from which to learn. Eric provides many examples of potential and real appli...

5 Unique Elements Make A Winning Selling Proposition

If you are looking for funding and customers for your new business, you need to identify your “unique selling proposition” (USP) right up front, in 30 seconds or less, to differentiate yourself in today’s information overload. That may sound obvious, but as a new venture investor, I rarely see it happening. Investor and customer attention spans are short, and both will write you off quickly. A winning USP example is the FedEx lead “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” This statement leaves no confusion in the minds of investors, or customers, of what the company does and how it is different (and better) than the competition. Now we are ready to listen longer to hear all the details and decide if the potential sounds real and doable to anyone. Of course, now that you h...

10 Thinking Methods That Foster Business Innovation

Innovation is the key to long-term business success, both in startups as well as established organizations. Yet every business and every entrepreneur I know struggles with this challenge, focused on hiring the right people and implementing the right process. Yet, in my experience the key seems to be more a discipline of innovative thinking from everyone, driven from the top. I was happy to see my own view reinforced in the classic book, “Innovation Thinking Methods for the Modern Entrepreneur,” by long-time entrepreneur and innovation expert Osama A. Hashmi. He provides dozens of ideas and examples to illustrate how this discipline can work, and the power it brings to any organization. Here are ten key lessons from his book that we can all learn from: Utilize first principles thinking. The...

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