Benefits of Small Business IoT
Take a look at these 4 ways the IoT can help your small business work more efficiently.
As a business owner, it’s a good idea to print and use flyers to build awareness and inform potential customers about your business, products or services. The IOT has made information easily available and accessible. One of many amazing things IoT has led to in the healthcare industry is the development of self-monitoring and wearable health technology that will suit almost every type of budget. The availability of smart gadgets to better your health and provide readily available information combine to create a consciousness about health and wellness.
Provide Free Assistants
If you can’t afford a human assistant but could use some extra help to manage your day-to-day tasks, you may consider Google Assistant. Other professionals prefer Amazon Alexa or Siri. People turn to these devices when they’re connected to task management systems and calendars. The devices have the ability to control other smart devices, removing tedious tasks like scheduling and research from the long to-do lists all business owners have. One of many things small business owners should know is that it’s smart to take advantage of free assistants and other tools that simplify your day and boost productivity.
Utilize Smart Locks to Improve Safety
Businesses are turning to smart lock systems; they allow users to give access to buildings instead of tangible keys. Small businesses can control and monitor a door from any location. Smart Lock can also tell if a door is open, and those who use this system can select a package that includes a camera at the door bell, so they can view the visitor before opening the door.
Small businesses can also invest in cameras to monitor security footage in different locations around their business. No need to hire a security guard when you can trust in the IoT options to view your surroundings and boost safety at your brick and mortar location.
Better Transport and Delivery of Goods
If your business has shipments coming in and out, the IoT will help you – it allows for real time tracking. With the implementation of sensors and smart tagging, all individuals with access can easily track the transport and delivery of the packages – something that is very valuable for small businesses that are sending sensitive information.
Smart tags and sensors are game changers for the retail industry. The IoT devices have the ability to track where every item is located in real-time, even identifying the location of an item within a warehouse. This allows for efficient stock and inventory tracking.
The IoT industry is improving the way people work, boosting efficiency. If you’re trying to compete with larger businesses, this efficiency is a key part of your growth and success. The IoT automates office tasks, from customer service to managing resources, to make your life easier and your business run better. Adopt and embrace these offerings if you want to stay competitive in the business arena.
by Megan Totka
A few months ago, a bright young man named Charles came to see me for advice about a business he was starting. The business, he said, was a hedge fund of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. There were actually more than 1,500 types of cryptocurrency at the time, and the number had been growing fast, but he said he was trading only the few that were well-constructed and likely to last. “What do you think about cryptocurrency?” he asked.
I’ve heard some version of the question “What do you think of my idea for a business?” over and over for the past 50 years. First-time entrepreneurs always want to know what I think. I gave Charles the same answer I’ve given all the others: “It doesn’t matter what I think. All that matters is what you think.”
“But you must have an opinion,” Charles insisted.
“Sure, I have an opinion,” I said. “So what? I may be wrong.” And then I told him a story.
It happened in early 1969, when I was a newly minted, 26-year-old lawyer with my own practice in Brooklyn. A guy named Richard Nader came to see me. He had an idea for a rock ‘n’ roll concert business featuring performers from the 1950s. He was planning to stage the first concert at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden. He wanted me to put up $25,000 to help fund it. “What do you think?” he asked.
I told him I thought it was the stupidest idea I had ever heard. Understand, the country was still experiencing the British Invasion set off by the Beatles, who scored three U.S. No. 1 hits in 1969–five years after they first topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Motown was also going strong. I couldn’t imagine that enough people would want to hear a bunch of washed-up rock ‘n’ roll bands to fill the Felt Forum, and I wasn’t alone. Nader had already spent four years trying to interest well-known music promoters, including Dick Clark, in his idea. After striking out with everybody else, he finally managed to borrow the money he needed from a furniture manufacturer and put on his first two Rock & Roll Revival concerts on October 18, 1969, with performances by, among others, Bill Haley and His Comets, the Coasters, the Shirelles, and the Platters.
Both shows sold out. So did almost all of the 25 oldies concerts he went on to produce at Madison Square Garden. They were so popular, in fact, that they had to be moved from the Felt Forum, which could accommodate about 4,500 people, to the main arena, which held up to 20,000.
Over the next 40 years, Nader took his oldies shows to giant venues throughout the United States and Great Britain. He even produced an oldies movie based on the concerts. A company bearing his name that he started in 1989 is still staging oldies concerts today, nine years after his death.
In the early days of his business, Nader would always send me two front-row tickets to his concerts in Madison Square Garden. It was his way of reminding me how wrong I had been about “the stupidest idea I had ever heard.” That idea wound up making him millions and millions of dollars and transforming the rock ‘n’ roll concert business.
I got the message. Since then, I have never told entrepreneurs starting businesses what I think of their ideas. On the contrary, I have urged them as forcefully as I can not to ask for or listen to other people’s opinions of their ideas. The world is full of naysayers happy to tell you how crazy you are to take a chance on a business.
I think my story convinced Charles that there was no point asking me about his idea. I told him I was very willing to offer my thoughts on how he might implement the idea and what was the likeliest way to raise the money he needed. He thanked me. I asked him to keep me posted on his progress. I’ll let you know what happens.
Xi Jinping has arguably changed China more than any leader since the reform era began in the late 1970s. Much of what is happening in China today would have happened regardless of the leader due to its size and growing wealth, but Xi has provided direction and a compelling vision for the future. With high economic growth rates, rapid infrastructure development and modern living standards (combined with visions of political and social control) China now offers a refined model of ‘modern state-led capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ that is unique – an attractive mix to many emerging market leaders. As this model is promoted by Chinese leaders this is becoming a global competition for market dominance in developing countries, especially in certain key sectors such as SMART infrastructure, high-speed rail, payment apps and satellite navigation.
Xi Jinping and his administration are pursuing five key strategies in developing this new China model, which presents significant challenges and opportunities to foreign companies wanting to do business in and with China:
Reinserting a reinvigorated Party into daily commercial life
As the son of an early revolutionary (a ‘princeling’) Xi believes the Party is central to China’s continued success and stability. An unprecedented anti-corruption drive has seen thousands of Party members removed or jailed. The Party is now leading policy in a way not seen since Mao’s time. Party cells in corporations are now mandated (a tip: you already had the representatives even if you didn’t know it) and tasked with promoting ‘Xi Jinping thought’ and driving Beijing’s agenda – an initiative that is somewhat contentious even in China.
What does this mean for your business? This means Party and state priorities are driven down to the working level in the country’s local and foreign businesses. State-owned enterprises will, of course, be the primary agent of change, and often they are your biggest competitors or clients, so you need to understand their new priorities. But even privately owned businesses are on the hook, especially the bigger ones in sensitive areas like new technologies. It will be increasingly necessary for foreign investors in China to be perceived to be supporting national goals championed by the Party and this needs to be factored into your strategic planning. And don’t be unnecessarily concerned about Party cells being established in your company – as a client of ours said, ‘It’s much better to be upfront and be able to engage than to have everything hidden.’
Recentralizing government to increase efficiency and implementation
Since Mao’s death, China had been run on a broad consensus basis. Power was devolved from Beijing to the provinces and to government bodies beyond the Party. This allowed for rapid economic growth, but also stalled reform and encouraged bureaucratic infighting and corruption on a grand scale. When Xi took over five years ago, he instituted a number of ‘leading small groups’ to address issue-specific reform challenges (i.e. state-owned enterprises, healthcare, banking, etc.). Since March 2018, these groups have been merged into a re-organized bureaucratic structure streamlined by sector and focused on regulation and reform. Think you could count on that latest initiative being watered down or never get the ‘chop’ of approval? Think again. Once fully operational, these structures are intended to circumvent time-consuming consensus and as a result changes are expected to come very rapidly and often without much prior notice.
What does this mean for your business? Any complacency means being caught flat-footed when rapid changes to policy and regulation occur. Companies can no longer focus government relations merely on gaining market access, relying on a slothful retired MOFCOM official sitting in the corner office; rather, companies need to engage with government for the purposes of risk management, proactively reaching out to officials at multiple levels across the bureaucratic structure to understand policy and regulatory changes, and make adjustments before they take place. This is an excellent example of how strategies used years ago when entering China will not work now.
Refining a strategic national industrial policy for a transitioning economy
Even casual observers of China are awed by the speed and scope of its economic development, not least all because it is a society that is rapidly going cashless thanks to popular mobile payment apps. But the old model, which was successively driven by foreign investment, foreign trade and, most recently, heavy capital investment, is no longer sustainable for a number of reasons – debt, demographics and environmental degradation to name a few. Xi and the leadership have developed a strategic, long-term, robustly funded plan to vault China into the next era. Called the Made in China 2025 program, it focuses on China becoming independent with home-grown technology and launching manufacturers into high-tech production. The government is providing generous financial incentives to a large swath of commercial sectors and emerging technologies from air compressors to AI, robotics to high-speed rail to guarantee dominance in key sectors that Beijing has identified as crucial in its effort to become the leading, global economic power.
What does this mean for your business? This means an increasingly uneven playing field with Chinese competitors moving quickly from ‘good enough’ to being able to provide premium products that compete with any multinational. Made in China 2025 will benefit your domestic Chinese competitors, who will have the opportunity to reap the benefits of tremendous resources – funding for investment, special projects and R&D, tax relief, subsidies – and be favored in the government’s effort to identify opportunities for industrial consolidation and create champions. Some of our clients are scrambling to readjust market strategy after key sectors were suddenly declared off-limits to foreign suppliers. Foreign companies are likely to face a more aggressive regulatory enforcement environment and decreasing access to the China market.
Regulating and enforcing (with Chinese characteristics)
Streamlining regulation, the government entities responsible for enforcement and regulations under which they operate have been a focus for President Xi. Part of the structural changes introduced in early 2018 included the creation of two super-regulatory bodies with immense powers: the National Supervision Commission, which sits at the highest level of the government and is responsible for enforcing Beijing’s edicts and regulations across all levels of government; and the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), which is a ministry-level organization that combines anti-monopoly, anti-unfair competition (including commercial bribery), pricing, food and drug, labor, environmental protection and intellectual property regulators into one powerful body. The SAMR represents the streamlining of supervision, investigation and prosecution, and poses the risk that companies are more likely to face increasingly sophisticated enforcement on multiple fronts.
What does this mean for your business? The long Chinese tradition of broad laws, written vaguely and selectively enforced, is coming to an end. China is increasingly a place where companies are expected to operate according to promulgated regulations or suffer penalties for non-compliance – in other words rule by law (as opposed to rule of law). While this may simplify things and provide greater clarity, some of the consequences are already evident in the ongoing barrage of anti-competition, environmental and workplace safety enforcement – not only has enforcement been sudden and rapid, in some cases it has resulted in immediate shutdowns or detention of factory managers in severe cases. This crackdown isn’t temporary; it will be a regular feature for businesses operating in China. Companies need to look at their China strategies and operations from the regulators’ perspective and identify threats and vulnerabilities in this new environment.
Reasserting China’s role as an emerging regional and global power
As a natural progression to its rapid growth, demand for global commodities and its role as the world’s largest trading economy, China is increasingly a regional and global actor in a way it has not been for centuries. It has reclaimed and militarized large parts of the South China Sea, launched its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to extend infrastructure (and influence) across Eurasia and the Indian Ocean (gaining the controlling interest in 75 ports across 35 countries in the process), and installed its first foreign military base in Djibouti. Approval for global mergers must now be sought in Beijing as well as Brussels and Washington DC, and some companies have had to scupper global M&A strategies when they couldn’t obtain China’s approval (e.g. Qualcomm and NXP). China has also created a series of ‘parallel international institutions,’ including the AIIB, the SCO, and the ‘16+1’ grouping with the states of Eastern Europe. In short, China is intent on setting its own global agenda, a more Sino-friendly world order.
What does this mean for your business? With economic clout and an expanded international presence comes influence, so just as Britain and then the US dominated markets and set global standards in past eras, so too will China in this century. This will naturally cause friction with other countries but it also represents a significant opportunity. China’s planned investment in the BRI alone will allegedly total over USD 1 trillion and some foreign companies are already reaping the commercial benefits of supplying this initiative, often via their China operations. But corporate headquarters have to be aware and stay attuned to the changing nature of China’s influence and sensitivities (e.g. the recent dispute with international airlines over nomenclature referring to Taiwan) as well as the opportunities China’s expansion presents.
The news today is filled with breathless and dramatic accounts of the changes in China and China’s increasingly active engagement with the world, many times ending with zero-sum predictions of a decline in reach and success for multinational businesses. We do not believe this is a foregone conclusion; however, threats to multinational companies abound if they blindly carrying on doing in China what they have been doing there for decades. China is in the process of creating an alternative ecosystem and a systemic challenge to capitalism as practiced in liberal-democratic societies: a state-led, regulatory-driven model governing companies, capital, society and data that will require foreign operators to adapt to a new playbook. The result is that your future China business may not resemble the rest of your business in key aspects, nor will it necessarily be similar to the business models you used when your company first entered China.
Dane Chamorro is a Senior Partner and Bliss Khaw is a Director at Control Risks – they are both former residents of Shanghai and fluent Chinese speakers.
The traditional business plan has seen its ups and downs over the years. While still recommended for start ups, especially those seeking funding, business experts and assorted talking heads waver on the role of the traditional business plan for existing firms. The necessity and value of a lengthy document stuffed with research, carefully worded text, and financial analyses is often seen as too cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive. “The business world is changing too fast! By the time the plan is done, it’s outdated!” they say. Besides, an existing business already knows what it does well, who it targets, and how to reach their goals, right?
Not so fast.
Here is the reality: businesses always need to plan effectively, regardless of how long they have been in business. The questions that effective planning seeks to answer are always relevant.
- “What are we trying to accomplish?”
- “What will be required?”
- “Who are we targeting, and how will we reach them?”
- “How much money will we need?”
- “Will we make any money?”
- “What is our competition doing?”
Here are six great reasons why your business needs a plan.
1. To define success:
The planning process helps you get very clear about what success will look like for your business. If you don’t know the target, how can you hit it?
2. To assess your market:
Proper planning helps you validate both the size and makeup of the market. Are there enough customers who want what you offer? What do they look like and where are they? What is your competition like, and can you compete effectively?
3. To discover what it will take:
A good plan helps you ‘count the cost’, so you know what you are getting into.
What will it cost, in time, effort, and resources to attract your ideal customers, to expand your reach, add staff, or build that new location? What will you need to learn? How much money will you need to invest? Can you get there from here?
4. To identify ways you will achieve:
Planning helps you uncover the strategies that will generate the results you seek. What methods will be used to get your message to the right market? What marketing tools will you use? What kind of skills do you need on your staff? What partners will you work with to increase your odds for success?
5. To avoid mistakes:
Too many businesses fail in the early years. Many mistakes are probably preventable, if you take the time to learn from those who have ‘been there, done that’ and lived to tell the tale. Mistakes will be made, no question about it, but a good plan will help minimize the most common mistakes, and potentially uncover and correct others before they happen!
6. To engage your team:
A growing business depends on a team of talented and dedicated employees. A solid business plan, effectively communicated with your employees, helps them better understand what the overall business goals are and how their efforts will contribute to hitting the target.
Writing an effective business plan has many benefits, whether your business is just starting out or in the third generation. Take advantage of what the planning process can do for the future of your business. It’s not the Plan; it’s the PLANNING that makes the difference.
Mobile streaming is a great way to help you build your business. It is a way to connect with your customers and ensure that you have access to a powerful tool. The best tool out there is Periscope. This is one of those tools that is becoming the social platform of the future and it is offering a great and innovative way to reach new people. Here are the top 5 creative ways to use periscope to build your business.
- Live Demonstrations of Your product: Periscope is the perfect platform to allow you to share the details of your new product on the web. You are able to do an amazing interactive display with all of your followers and you can answer questions from them in real time as well. You can show all of the features and all of the bells and whistles of the product.
- Update Industry News: When you are in a certain niche, one of the best things about that is that you are able to break news that is going to be important to your industry. You can share trends, new products and other news that is going to allow you to update all of your readers with what is happening in your industry. You also can invite others to the discussion with a blog post or with a video about what is happening.
- Connecting With Influential Minds! There are many people out there in your industry, you want to make sure that you are taking the time to show up to all of the broadcasts out there which are important to you as well as to ask questions and interact with them as well. A large part of that is also making sure that you share the questions and the broadcasts as well on social channels. By using Periscope to its fullest advantage you can also develop a relationship with that influencer as well and see how you are able to have a more personal one on one session with them
- Show the Behind The Scenes View: When viewers feel like you are taking them on the inside, you are instantly making a connection with them and that will ensure that you are able to know that you are making a connection and making your viewers feel really special.
- Get New Subscribers: You want to make sure that you are able to always share your mailing list when you are going to provide a live broadcast, there are many ways that you will be able to have access to some of the best options when you offer an incentive for people to sign up for your newsletter as well. You want to offer a value of some kind like an ebook, a newsletter, a download or something that will ensure that there is going to be a new way for your clients to have value in what you have provided to them by them sharing their email address with you.
Chances are, you’ve already gotten a taste of the power of review sites and what a single customer review can do for (or to) your business.
Review sites are no longer reserved for consumer products and restaurants. Now, they’ve taken on professional services such as medicine, hospitality and beauty as well as a recent surge in brick and mortar businesses such as grocery stores and gyms. They even have a place in our capital management firm, where we find review sites useful for seeing behind the scenes and helping to guide our underwriting decisions.
And, what’s more, BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey found that 93% of consumers read local reviews to make a shopping decision. In other words, no one’s getting away from the consumer-driven economy.
For that reason, if you want to build a successful small business in today’s market, you need to know how these sites can affect you, what they are and what you can do about it.
Review sites can affect your business.
Just how much can customer reviews – and your reputation on a relevant review site – affect your business?
The 2018 ReviewTrackers Online Reviews Survey found that negative reviews convinced 94% of consumers surveyed to avoid a particular business.
In addition, the BrightLocal survey found that 73% of consumers surveyed said they trust a local business more if it has positive customer reviews, whereas 50% of consumers said that negative customer reviews make them question the quality of a business.
More surprisingly, 85% of consumers in the BrightLocal survey trusted online reviews as much as they did recommendations from friends and family, which suggests that online reviews now hold nearly as much sway as personal referrals.
However, as powerful as positive reviews are, it’s negative reviews that I believe are more likely to spread through word of mouth.
Word of mouth has been – and, in my opinion, always will be – a powerful form of marketing and social proof. However, with the internet and the review sites that have grown from it, the equation is now more complicated.
A bad customer review on the right high-profile or niche review site can make a real impact on your business. On the other end, an amazing one can provide just the social proof your business needs to take it to the next level.
If you want to develop a positive reputation in the eyes of consumers, and maintain that good reputation, I believe you need to stay on top of customer reviews as closely as you would anything else.
Doing that is easier said than done, but the process for staying on top of customer reviews and your reputation on major review sites can be fairly straightforward.
Here are some tips for taking charge of your reputation on review sites and handling customer reviews.
Monitor all relevant review sites.
First, you need to know what the major review sites are for your industry or niche before you can do anything about them.
Here are some of the biggest and most important:
• Yellow Pages
Keep in mind that your industry might include one or more important niche review sites, so I recommend doing your homework to find all of the relevant review sites to follow.
Once you’ve gathered a fairly comprehensive list (even the major sites, such as BBB, Yelp, Facebook and Google is a good starting point for now), you can start to monitor your reviews on those sites once or twice a week depending on the volume of reviews you’re receiving.
Turn negative reviews into positives.
In my experience, one of the most important things to do when it comes to handling customer reviews is to reply to negative reviews.
According to the ReviewTrackers survey, “45 percent of consumers say that they’re more likely to visit a business if it responds to negative reviews.”
While I believe you should first look for a way to resolve the issue, sometimes there is no way to do so. In that case, it will still look a lot better to visitors looking over your reviews if you’ve replied and assured the reviewer that you’re sorry for their bad experience and want to reach out to reconcile.
There may or may not be any hope for fixing the review itself; however, at the very least, new visitors will see your efforts and know that you care, which can go a long way toward helping negate the effects of that bad review in the eyes of consumers.
Be persistent about obtaining positive reviews.
I believe customers are more likely to leave a negative review after a bad experience, so you need to be diligent in attracting positive reviews to relevant review sites.
In many cases, simply obtaining enough positive reviews to drown out any negative ones will be enough to maintain a good rating on any average review site. However, this can be difficult to do.
The best time to ask for a positive review is typically after a customer has had a great experience (i.e., they’re emotionally motivated to take action), as those customers will often want to give back for the amazing service you provided them. Even just a “We’re on Yelp!” sign that’s visible as they walk out can make a big difference.
Stay away from fake reviews.
Eliciting fake reviews is completely unethical to me, so this should be a given, but just in case it’s not: I believe you should never attempt to obtain fake reviews.
The last thing you want is to be kicked off a review site for violating their terms of service.
The ability to reply to negative reviews can be one of your most powerful weapons, and that’s placed in jeopardy by soliciting fake reviews. That’s aside from the fact that if you’re found to be obtaining fake reviews, you can be fined, as illustrated in a 2013 New York Times article (paywall).
However, in addition to this, consumers can generally smell fake reviews from a mile away. If you’ve ever come across an obviously fake review or multiple reviews with the same general written format, you know it’s a bit of a turn-off. Ultimately, I believe it will do your business more harm than good.
Business owners should constantly be looking for technology to make their business and employees more productive. While computers and smart phones come with a calendar, it might not be the best option for you or your business. Thankfully, there isn’t a shortage of other options.
Shared calendar apps make it easier to collaborate with co-workers and schedule meetings. Business News Daily talked to business owners to learn which shared calendar apps they use and why.
Here are the top six shared calendar apps they recommended.
Asana is more than a shared calendar app. While it has calendar features, it also makes it easy to manage team projects and tasks. The Timeline feature shows every piece of a project, how it all fits together and helps you track changes. Asana has a mobile app and has more than 100 integrations.
Asana doesn’t have a free plan, but it offers free trials and a lite version.
“Asana isn’t just a calendar though, it’s an enterprise resource planner that includes a shared calendar function, but it also provides other collaboration tools we require,” said David Alexander, designer, developer and digital marketer at Mazepress. “The pro of this approach includes having task management, communication and reporting tools all within a single interface … put simply, it’s one of the tools I couldn’t live without.”
Calendly is automated scheduling software that works with your calendar to automatically check your availability. It claims to help schedule meetings without a lot of back-and-forth emails. Other features include the ability to schedule buffer time between meetings, time zone detection, compatibility with apps like Salesforce, GoToMeeting, and Zapier, and it grows with your team.
“I use Calendly. I like to set up my podcast interviews,” said Michelle Ngome, host of the Networking With Michelle Show. “There is a free and a paid version. The free version allows you to use one category, while [with] the paid version, you can set up multiple categories. Plus, you can customize the URL.”
Ngome said her favorite feature is that it syncs with Google Calendar, and she can schedule personal appointments in Google without updating her schedule on Calendly. The program also integrates with Outlook, Office 365 and iCloud calendar.
3. Google Calendar
Google Calendar is an integrated online calendar designed for teams. This calendar integrates seamlessly with other G-Suite products, including Gmail, Drive, Contacts, Sites and Hangouts. This app can be accessed on laptops, tablets and phones.
“I use the Google Calendar app to book all my appointments with clients,” said Ana Santos, UX Consultant. “It’s also handy for video meetings, because it syncs with Google hangouts if we assign a video conferencing option to the event.”
Santos’ favorite feature is Google Calendar’s ability to sync your calendar across all devices and browsers if you’re logged in with your Google account.
Outlook is a common calendar app, which makes it easy to use for business because it’s familiar. If you have an Exchange, Office 365 or Outlook account, you can share your calendar with other users. You can also create additional calendars for specific projects and share it with co-workers.
Teamup offers shared calendars for groups to simplify organizing, scheduling and communication. Businesses can choose from both a free and paid plans. Further, Teamup offers a live demo of its software as well as a three-day trial so you can see for yourself if this app is a good fit for your team.
This program was built specifically for groups, and its calendars are easy to use. Calendars are organized by color, and they can easily and securely be shared with other team members through a secure URL.
“I spent ages looking for a good shared calendar to manage events and holidays for a spread out team of people,” said Ben Taylor, founder of homeworkingclub.com. “I eventually opted for … Teamup. It gave me the ability to set up lots of different even categories, [it] allowed staff to pull their choice of calendars into their own software using ICS feeds, and [it] even comes with an app for iOS and Android.”
Credit: Teamup Solutions AG
With a lengthy list of features such as team timelines, zoom levels, project roadmaps, and a sharing timeline, Teamweek makes it easy to collaborate with your team. Its free plan works for a team with up to five people, and its mobile app lets you collaborate on the go. Paid plans start at $39 per month for up to 10 people and include projects roadmaps, annual view and custom colors.
“This is a visual resource for planning, managing, and scheduling our team’s projects,” said Alexis Davis, founder and CEO of H.K. Productions. “It serves as an open calendar so everyone knows who’s working on what, when, and how far we are from reaching our intended goals. I think intention, communication, transparency and everyone’s awareness of their roles and responsibilities is essential when choosing the right technology for your team’s productivity.”
Who here has ever been tempted to cut corners with their business? I’ll admit it, I have.Sometimes, you get that voice at the back of your head, saying: You’ve already spoken with your sales reps last week; that’s good enough. You have a gazillion things on your to-do list… you don’t need to check in with them again.
Now, I call this the “creative justification” trap. You know those justifications that sound as though they make sense, but are actually a cop-out? Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
In your personal life, you might say to yourself “I’ve been sticking to my diet the whole week, so I deserve a cheeseburger this weekend,” or “I’ve saved a lot of money this month, now I can finally buy that new smartphone.”
You get the point.
Now, when you take a step back and think about it, you’ll realize that these creative justifications are nothing but excuses for you to cut corners.
And when it comes to your business, creative justifications can be very dangerous. In particular, make sure you avoid coming up with justifications in these three areas…
1. Blaming external factors.
When things go wrong, plenty of entrepreneurs look for external factors to blame.
“Clients aren’t buying our new products because of the economic downturn.”
“I’m getting bad reviews on Yelp because my competitors are creating fake profiles.”
But here’s the thing — while these creative justifications might make you feel better, they won’t help you grow your business.
So what if there’s an economic downturn? Are you going to cancel all your product launches, and let your sales stagnate? No, you have to figure out a way to work through it, and drive more sales despite the downturn.
2. Compromising on ethics.
Making money is pretty dang important to me, but you know what’s more important? Being ethical and honest.
Say your supplier tells you they can swap out your materials for something lower-grade (and cheaper!), and your customers won’t know the difference. If you’re really struggling, you might be tempted to take up the offer, and use creative justification to ease your guilt.
Don’t do it. In this day and age, consumers value authenticity and honesty above everything else, and being ethical is the key to building a great business.
3. Moving away from your core business.
Your core business is your strength and your foundation, and you should never get distracted or move away from it.
I know, it’s easier said than done. You’ll always hear of exciting new opportunities and projects that you can jump in on. Your customers might also tempt you: “Why don’t you also offer X? If I pay you extra, can you do Y?”
It’s easy to come up with a creative justification — you might think to yourself, I need extra cash to pay for the unexpected costs that came up last month, so I’ll just do this one thing.
Well, here’s the problem: the first step in the wrong direction will open up the possibility for the second step. And before you know it, you’re moving away from your core business. So don’t waver, and politely turn down any opportunities that are not aligned with your core business.
Creative justifications make you feel better about yourself, but as an entrepreneur, you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand and cut corners with excuses. Ditch these justifications once and for all, and make the right decisions for your company!
Startups struggle with volatility. Scaling companies struggle with volatility and complexity. Like the bodies of adolescents, these developing organizations behave in unexpected, sometimes unnerving ways.
Their leaders, consequently, require new skills and approaches to navigate this challenging stretch, says Scott Belsky, the chief product officer at Adobe and founder and former CEO of Behance, a platform where artists and designers showcase creative work. Belsky characterizes this “middle” period as a time of swiftly alternating lows that must be endured and highs that must be optimized.
Belsky’s new book, The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture, addresses founders and others in the middle of both ambitious undertakings and their own leadership journeys. Here are three of his useful tips.
1. Take a light touch to process
Belsky calls process the “excretion of misalignment.” Startups, he explains, comprise small teams in which everyone understands the vision and acts on it. Communication is frictionless. To the extent leaders can maintain that alignment through the middle stage they will need less process. “It is only when people start giving you different answers to questions like ‘What are we trying to do?’ or ‘What are our priorities?’ that you [need] to process,” Belsky says.
Leaders can’t avoid process but they can minimize it. For example, founders who fret they’re losing touch with their expanding organizations may set up unnecessary sign-offs or regular check-ins just to maintain the feeling of control. Don’t do that, Belsky cautions. Also, don’t create processes in a vacuum. Instead, A/B test them to see, for example, whether it’s better to brainstorm as a group or have people dream up ideas on their own and submit them for discussion.
Also: always be auditing. “Processes may outlive their usefulness,” Belsky says. “Are we meeting every Tuesday just because it’s Tuesday? Why are we having 360-degree reviews at the end of the year?” Improving or outright killing processes frees up time and releases creativity.
Belsky tempers his personal anti-process bias with this warning: If teams devise their own work processes, don’t interfere. You may know better than anyone else what the business needs to succeed. But your people know better than you what they need to get things done.
2. Market internally
Alignment trumps process. But as companies grow, alignment weakens. New folks sign on, new products and projects pile up, and the mission gets obscured. So in the middle, Belsky says, leaders must convey the company’s message to employees as loudly and clearly as they do to customers and the public. “It is wild how much money companies spend marketing themselves to the world, yet they do so little to market themselves to their own people,” he says.
A company’s external marketing can help. Employees are more likely to believe promises made to the public, whose trust it must earn, “than some kind of internal rah-rah email,” Belsky says. He advises, for example, that companies create external collateral–such as the splash page for a new product–to share with engineers before they start developing. Then everyone coalesces around that vision as they bring it to life.
Belsky also recommends liberating signs of progress from spreadsheets and project management tools and mounting them on large public dashboards that denote metrics like bugs quashed and customers landed. At Behance his team plastered “Done Walls” with completed project plans, checklists, and sketches. When making presentations about future work, he began with slides recounting what teams had already accomplished.
The leader’s main job is constantly to remind employees where to focus, particularly when change and growth throw out so many new narrative threads. Belsky likes the approach of Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann, who treats every year as a new chapter for his business with a central theme: For example, the “Year of Going Global.” That way,” Belsky says, “even with all the volatility, everyone has the same answer to the question, ‘What is our No. 1 priority this year?'”
3. Help your hires
Hiring for cultural fit has both yea- and naysayers. Belsky is strongly agin’ it. Small startup teams are typically pretty homogenous, so scaling is an opportunity to enlist discordant viewpoints, he argues. “You want people who can spot an edge that in the future will become the center,” Belsky says. “That means you need edgy people.”
Such people can be polarizing, but that’s what produces bold outcomes. “On your due diligence calls you are probably asking, “Is this person easy to get along with? Did the team like him or her?'” Belsky says. “Those are the wrong questions.”
Post-hiring, leaders must act like surgeons, grafting on new employees–particularly senior people–to the existing team and suppressing the cultural immune system so it doesn’t reject them. Belsky advises checking in often to make sure new hires are settling in and to solicit feedback while their impressions are still fresh. Make sure they’re invited to all the relevant meetings and that everyone on the team understands their new colleague’s role.
Leaders must also foster psychological safety so new people know they can speak up without getting shut down or mocked. That includes safety when challenging the CEO. “I love it when people disagree with me in an interview,” Belsky says. “Sometimes I’ll say something I think they’ll disagree with just to make sure they are going to stay in the fight.”
M.I.T. neuroscientists have found that our brains can process images in as little as thirteen milliseconds — that’s faster than reading a sentence. Our brains are wired to absorb visual information, yet as we get older, we’re taught to “use our words.”
But when a disruptive idea is so unfamiliar that people have no context for it, how do you use words to explain it? When words fall short, a visual approach can help you more fully develop your idea — and more easily connect the dots for others.
To strengthen your skills of visualization and your ability to better describe innovative ideas, try a technique called Picture the Future. Not only can it help you communicate really big ideas, it can help align the vision for your company and inform strategic planning. In fact, a VP at Sprint used this same exercise to create a vision of Sprint’s Future for Content Development.
It all starts with a group visualization exercise. You’re ten years in the future, and your organization is a leading innovator. You’ve achieved a position of dominance in your industry. How did you get here? As in, what specific decisions and actions got you to this level of success? To focus your thoughts, capture your answers to the following:
What new things will our business or team be selling or doing?
What changes will enable us to sell and do those things?
What skills will we need to be successful?
What will be different about the structure of our business?
Now, start drawing your vision of the company ten years from now, using your answers as a guide. Maybe your answers included things like “all employees work remotely” or “A.I. will have a much larger role in operations” or “we will only sell our products through a subscription model.” Whatever your vision, convey it through a mix of words and images and then share with the class.
As you look around, take note if any team members’ sketches are really similar. Ditto if everyone drew something different. Generate a discussion around the implications of having aligned or differing visions for the company. Then decide, as a group, which drawings represents the ideal version of your company’s future. Once you’ve narrowed it down to one or two drawings, identify what you can act on today to start fulfilling your vision of tomorrow.
Visualizing your company’s innovation success in the future is essential to achieving it. Use the actionable ideas from this exercise to strategize, align, and implement a ten-year plan for innovation success.