You don’t have enough Mentors

One way to keep from making the basic mistakes that kill most start-ups is to remain engaged with mentors. Notice the s on the end.  A proper mentor can offer a couple of things:

  • Expertise in things you are less knowledgeable in (see the Golden Boy sin)
  • Perspective on short-term problems: It’s nice to have someone who is not embroiled in whatever you are facing to help you
  • Long term dedication to your strategy
  • Grown-up logic

Who Suffers Most?

There are many versions of the old adage, “When the economy catches a cold, the poor have pneumonia.”

Who's spending and who's hurting?
Who is spending and who is hurting?

A poll on LinkedIn asking about business spending patterns shows a wide range of responses to how much the economic downturn is effecting spending patterns (self-reported) of businesses.  At last look, 100% of those in large enterprises reported that the economy had no effect on their spending, while 76% of those in small businesses report that they are scaling back or operating on necessities.

I hate to be grumpy about this, but I have to make these two points:

  1. An awful lot of money was pumped into the economy – guess where it went. Large enterprise, though it is easy to write just one large check rather than thousands of small ones, do not represent either most of the spending or most of the jobs in the economy.
  2. The small businesses are the ones that innovate, create substantial new value, and are most at risk of failure.

Healthcare socialism would benefit small business substantially. Bail-out socialism helps only those at the top.

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Sales Training for Entrepreneurs

My father always told me that every job is a sales job. That’s at least a little bit true, but in my experience, most entrepreneurs are a little disconnected from their inner

Harvard Business Review offered a special issue on Sales in 2006 (Vol 84, Issue 7/8) that included a number of articles that offers a number of quick reads that should at least help you purge whatever negative image you might have of sales and begin replacing it with an appropriate understanding of where it fits operationally across the life-cycle of an enterprise and as am integral part of the Sales and Marketing continuum.

Psychologist and Anthropologist G. Clotaire Rapaille is interviewed in a piece that presents a concise discription of the sales person archetype as Happy Loser, someone as motivated by the hunt as the kill.  Usually entrepreneurs need to develop rejection coping skills, but they don’t enjoy rejection. Sales people love it…according to Clotaire anyway.

For entrepreneurs, I suggest you learn a few solid basics:

  1. Focus on zebras – Even though your business plan says you are targeting a huge market, chances are your initial offerings will only really appeal to a small portion of the market in a particular place in their life-cycle (there are lots of horses, but you only want the zebras). In marketing, we might develop a persona of the most likely customer so that the sales team can ask just a few qualifying questions to can help determine if they are talking to the right people at the right time.  Remember each sales activity has a cost and spend your budget wisely. You’ll still face rejection for reasons you may not understand, but you can optimize your closure rate and minimize your funnel by maintaining focus.
  2. Mostly listen – The shape of your products and services and the way they are priced should evolve with your understanding of the customer. Listening to the way customers think about your product, what their expectations are, and what created the situation where they are considering your offering are invaluable as market research, engaging as a business development practice, and a time-tested means of closing a sale.
  3. Respond – Remember that “time kills all sales.” Respond in a timely fashion – think about the service you expect in a restaurant, except the tips you’ll get as an entrepreneur will likely be in the form of a positive referral.

It would be helpful for you to have an objective sense of where you are on your sales skills. I love the very affordable assessments available from the managment psychologists at Pradco. For $50 you get an assessment of your skills and attitudes and a prescription for improvement.

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New Products (Like the iPhone): Announce Early or Go for the Surprise Rollout?

I love when I find a resource that distills a common strategic question down to a few simple calculations. This article on doesn’t quite get to the paint-by-numbers status, but it does lay out a clear set of topics to consider when thinking about your product launch.

Vaporware or surprise attack?

So often your fortunes are dominated by thigs you cannot control, having a checklist of things that you can clearly make some predictions around should help minimize risks and allow you to make a decision with confidence.

Click here to see this article.

Free Web Application Tools for Non-Techies

Most of our projects end up requiring us to manage a bunch of data. Usually that data includes the need for entry forms and reports. For our start-up clients, in particular, this is where the projects can get bogged down or the costs become troublesome. Luckily, it has never been easier to collect and manage data, even for the non-technical worker, even for little or no money.

This article from Network World offers an announcement that IBM has joined Oracle and others in offering free on-line app building tools that are aimed at enabling the non-technical user.

Customer lists, data that’s manipulated for an event, data that needs to be shared by a bunch of people…none of this belongs in a speadsheet on someone’s desktop. Wrong information is much worse than no information and sharing files always [ ALWAYS ] leads to version errors (Is this the latest version? Does this copy have those important changes in it?).

These tools make it easier and give your operation a professional boost. It’s worth spending a few minutes to learn the interface.

IBM alphaWorks tools site

Office Software – free without compromise…or stealing

No matter how much you don’t like monopolies, it is hard to question the wisdom of owning Microsoft Office…except that there are some prettty decent alternatives.
Internally, we have taken to using OpenOffice. With version 2.2 nearly all of the quirkiness that made it “not ready for your Mom” is gone and all of the functionality that we commonly rely on in that product from Redmond is there.
We test everything we can get our hands on, but the thing we are most excited about is Google Docs.

Not only can you build robust documents, but you can also collaborate on the documents with other users.

Documents are saved remotely and can be exported in a wide range of formats.

We are also very interested in the launch of Scrybe. Watch for details.

BizDevGuy's favorite hosting service

A basic website includes both Domain Registration and Hosting. Anymore, nearly everbody offers both in one form or another.

1&1: Very large, low-cost hosting, email and other services firm. Very scalable offerings and lots of extras to make it easy to get started. This is the host for this website. Click here for more information.

Disclosure: BizDevGuy is an affiliate of 1&1 so we make a few coins when we sign-up new clients. It isn’t enough, though, to make it worth sending our clients to the wrong place.

How to write an executive summary on the west coast

Guy Kawasaki is both an exceptional entrepreneur and an exceptional supporter of entrepreneurs. Rather than the hazing that much of the VC game feels like, Garage has put together some excellent resources for people looking to pitch them. This support includes both clear guidance on how to develop documents that they can easily parse and exacting detail on what sort of deals they are looking for.

I must say, however, that their approach is quintessentially West Coast. I have worked on both coasts (and some difficult years in the middle) and, for me, the differences in expectations and approaches are dramatically different.

http://garage.com/resources/writingexecsum.shtml

I will post an East Coast comp soon.