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Top 7 traits of successful entrepreneurs you should adopt

Modernizing your brand doesn’t require wearing a hoodie, but times are a changin’ and here’s how to keep up without sacrificing your professionalism.

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young executives

young executives

No hoodies required

When someone says successful entrepreneurial traits that could inject youth into your company, who do you think of? If you said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, you’re in the majority, and you’re probably wondering if you should start wearing hoodies, jeans and flip flops to the office or drinking Red Bull and vodka while you work late into the night.

No, if only being a success in business was that easy! There are dozens of traits that successful entrepreneurs have, but these are seven traits that are adoptable, actionable and can be used in any company or organization to inject youth, innovation or just sheer enthusiasm into the culture.

1. Passion

Everyone says entrepreneurs are passionate, you’ve probably heard this so many times you’re annoyed that it is on our list, but hear us out- passion is more than getting excited about a product, it’s more than burning the midnight oil. Passion is that drive that fuels you in the morning, it’s the belief that you can make a difference in the world with what you are doing, it is the idea that the reason behind what you do is so much more than a paycheck. Passion is found in doing work that you would do even if you won the lottery.

Actions to take: if you or your organization lacks passion, ask yourself why you do what you do? Who do you serve? Why does it matter? Even an agricultural association should be able to write down that they are more than their mission statement, that they spend every day devoted to elevating best practices and connecting even the most rural areas as they protect the rights of farmers, ranchers from Tyson to the tiny organic farm. Ask why. Then, ask why again until you get legitimately excited about going to work tomorrow.

2. Honesty

Transparency has been a hot buzz word in recent years, even used by the Obama administration as they campaigned for office. Being honest isn’t about putting your balanced check book on your blog, it is about being authentic, it is about being honest with yourself about what you are capable of and being honest with your team or your customers when you have fallen short. The secret ingredient to honesty that is always, always, always overlooked in every industry is humility. Honesty sometimes requires apologies, and it requires the ability say that you’re incapable of doing something.

Actions to take: look at your email inbox right now and select the email you’ve been dreading answering. We all have one. Instead of spinning something or putting a press release polish on a response, try some honesty. You’ve let that person’s needs fall through the crack and you apologize and here is what you are going to do to make it right to earn their trust. Or, your dreaded email may be to a client that you have to tell you simply don’t have any news for and although you know they desperately need news, nothing on their account has changed but here is what you are actively doing to help and you will devote yourself to it. Or maybe you need to respond to an email asking for your time and be honest with them that their cause is important to you but your plate is full right now and you aren’t able to devote the attention to them that they need.

3. Informed

Think of the most successful person you know. Do they read books? Do they read the newspaper? Do they read email newsletters and blogs? Or are they already done learning and they’ve quit. Of course they haven’t stopped learning, all successful people have an inherent desire to cram as much knowledge into their brains as possible and it isn’t always work related. Being well informed means you’re in touch with trends and ahead of the curve, you’re raising your competency level every day rather than resting on your laurels.

Actions to take: read at least one physical book each month about business or your industry and subscribe to a monthly print magazine that you read from cover to cover. Subscribe to as many digital magazines (like this one of course) and blogs that your time can possibly handle and read during your down time (on the subway, in dead still traffic, while on hold, etc.). Be a sponge and take in as much information as your brain can possibly handle, then push yourself to cram in more.

4. Accessible

Being accessible is tricky because you’re busy, your day is packed, and we just loaded more on to you by demanding that you read more, we get it. But, every young entrepreneur returns emails quickly and (this is tricky) is kind. The most popular brands and leaders are the ones that remember your name and treat the bagger at the grocery store the same as their investor, as if they are important – not because they’re a lead, but because they are passionate people that will talk about their company at any chance they are given. When you always push people off on to your secretary, they feel unimportant and as if they have no value – successful entrepreneurs work a lot of hours, but much of that is because they are accessible.

Actions to take: if you haven’t turned on email notifications to your phone, do so right now. It will be annoying at first, but as your typing speeds up and you get used to responding quickly, you’ll get the hang of it. If you already have alerts and ignore them, stop it. That kid bagging your groceries is only 16, but he may be a coding genius that could be your next great innovator, and that young startup emailing you asking for coffee may not get that coffee, but may get an email conversation with you that ends in his investing in your company. Inaccessibility implies you’re important than other people, and even if you believe that to be true, stop it.

5. Competitive

There is this notion that entrepreneurs, especially tech entrepreneurs are not competitive simply because they ask for feedback frequently and they are often laid back. Injecting youth into your organization doesn’t mean being cut throat, but it doesn’t mean playing hacky sack on the front lawn every day. Entrepreneurs know that at any time, someone could be 30 seconds behind them with the next big thing and that they have to have to hustle (in a good way). Remaining competitive means studying other companies and not assuming that because they’re smaller or older that they don’t have any market share you can snatch up. Competition doesn’t mean seeing red when your competitor does well, it means pushing yourself harder.

Actions to take: pick one competitor and track your company’s performance against theirs. This could be in dollars, in client acquisition, in investment, or in other results. Keep this at your desk and manually write down the key performance metric you’re charting. Writing it manually will commit it to memory and make you commit to the reality that there are competitors no matter who or where you are. Even Zuckerberg has major competitors.

6. Positive

Have you ever noticed how magnetic truly successful entrepreneurs are? They may not all dress well or be well spoken, but there is something about them that inspires others, and often it is that passion but moreso, it is an unrelenting positive attitude about their company and not a smiling-through-their-teeth kind of positivity, but an I-built-this-wonderful-company-from-the-ground-up and a this-company-is-my-baby kind of positivity. Want that youthful feeling at your company? Be a leader that inspires and motivates rather than asserts authority.

Actions to take: Tomorrow, when you go in to the office, go to the employee’s office that is the lowest on the totem pole and ask what they think of a project they are working on. See if they exude positivity about your company. If they are unenthusiastic or if there is a glimmer of boredom in their eyes, it isn’t their fault, it’s yours. A genuinely positive attitude about a company’s mission is contagious and should shine in everything a company does, no matter how menial. If your staff is bored, you need to stop what you’re doing and inspire those around you by telling them why the company exists, what’s in its DNA. This isn’t a pep talk, this is a culture injection that needs to happen asap.

7. Open

That hip, collaborative environment in Silicon Valley (where everyone has an open door and they toss ideas around openly and get pumped up about a tiny tweak to the website) is real and you can have it too. As a leader, are you open to criticism from staff, customers, press or yourself? Are you open to rejection? Some leaders struggle with this and believe they know best and one in a trillion leaders are right (ask Steve Jobs who never used focus groups rather used his young staff’s ideas mixed with his gut instinct on product marketability). Good leaders ask people they trust for input, but great leaders are open to feedback from everyone, no matter how small.

Actions to take: if this is hard for you, remember that rejection is part of business. Start small. Email a friend in your industry that doesn’t work with or for you and ask for their feedback on the latest changes to your company. It can be a website redesign, a staff change, a simple press release or a new service offering. Practice with someone you trust and build from there with the goal of not being defensive when you get an email (because you’re now accessible, right?) that says your website sucks, rather ask critics what they would do differently.

The takeaway

By being passionate, honest, informed, accessible, competitive, inspirational and open, your company will have the vibrant feel of a brand new startup and inject youth into your company. It all starts with you and what your motivation every morning is, so cram your brains full of information and find a way to tap into the reason why you got into this industry to begin with, then let it flow through everything you do.

Business Entrepreneur

5 ways productive business owners fight through distractions and stay focused

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) No, multitasking isn’t something you should brag about. Retrain your brain to stay focused and boost your productivity with these simple tips.

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business owner staying focused on work without distractions

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate. And if you aren’t careful, daily distractions can prevent you from accomplishing what you need to get done. But how do you stay focused?

Practical suggestions for eliminating distractions

Research suggests that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds today. For perspective, that’s shorter than the average attention span of a goldfish! And if certain offenders are worse than others, business owners would have to be near the top of the list.

It’s not that the human brain is less capable of focusing today than it was a decade ago. The problem doesn’t lie within – it can be found without. It’s the direct result of the onslaught of new distractions competing for our limited focus.

As a business owner, your responsibilities run deep and wide. And if you aren’t careful, you can easily become overwhelmed and rendered useless. Here are some practical ways to fight back:

1. Centralize communications

As a business owner, it’s not uncommon to have half a dozen communication channels open at one time. Between email, phone, SMS, Slack, and social media messages, you find yourself constantly tending to notifications across a spectrum of isolated platforms. The result is constant back and forth movement that’s difficult (if not impossible) to keep track of. One way to fix this is by centralizing communications.

There are numerous ways to centralize communications, but a social intranet is a fantastic option – particularly if you can find one that integrates with G Suite (or whatever collection of tools you use).

2. Block distracting websites

We all have our favorite go-to websites. These are the sites that we mindlessly browse when we’re looking to kill time or avoid doing work. News sites, blogs, and social networking sites are all good examples. And though there’s nothing technically wrong with any of these, they become problematic when they keep you from important tasks.

If sheer willpower isn’t doing it for you, try using some sort of website blocking tool that prevents you from visiting these websites during work hours. (Here’s a list of some of the top options.)

3. Create email time blocks

Email is a time killer! The average business owner receives well over 100 emails per day and, if you aren’t careful, managing your inbox can become a full-time job.

One of the best techniques is to create email time blocks. These are blocks of time – between 15 to 60 minutes – that you dedicate exclusively to email. And then during the rest of the day, you log out of your email account and reserve your focus for other tasks.

You might think this sounds impractical, but it’s really not. A 20-minute email block early morning, late morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon is enough to keep you in the loop without totally eating away at your schedule.

4. Silence your phone

Your phone is another attention magnet. By silencing your phone for large chunks out of the day, you can keep your focus on the tasks that matter. (If you have an assistant, ask them to filter your calls for you and only pass along the ones that are urgent and necessary.)

5. Avoid multitasking

 As Americans, we love to brag about multitasking. We flaunt our ability to juggle multiple tasks at once like it’s a badge of honor. But no matter how skilled you think you are at multitasking, there’s simply no evidence to suggest you’re getting more done. In fact, all of the research indicates you’re preventing yourself from being as productive as you could be.

As Travis Bradberry writes for Forbes, “Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.”

Bradberry points to additional research from the University of London that found multitasking also lowers your IQ and leads to long-term cognitive impairment. In other words, it doesn’t just impact short-term focus. It also inhibits long-term results.

Reclaim your focus and boost productivity

Focus can be difficult to cultivate. But if you want to enhance your productivity and output, it’s a critical element in the equation. From centralizing communications to eliminating your reliance on multitasking, a quick and thorough response is a must.

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Business Entrepreneur

‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.

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American small business

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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Business Entrepreneur

Why and how to acquire a business – 4 tips for radical success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Acquiring a business can be a key part of your business’s future growth, but there are some factors you should consider before signing the deal.

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A meeting room with people shaking hands over acquiring a business

Growing businesses have multiple levers that can be pulled separately or in unison to continue scaling and expanding. And while many companies choose to grow internally, there’s always the option of acquiring other businesses to supercharge results and instantly expand.

Why Acquire?

Acquiring a business is certainly a complicated path to expansion, but it’s also a highly attractive one for a variety of reasons. This includes:

  • Increased market share. If you’re acquiring a business that happens to be a competitor, you can instantly increase your market share. If you currently own 20 percent of the market share and the competition has 15 percent, you suddenly catapult to 35 percent. That might make you the industry leader overnight!
  • Expansion into new markets. Sometimes you acquire a business outside of your industry or niche. In this case, it allows you to expand vertically or horizontally. This can improve top-line revenue and/or reduce costs and benefit profit margins.
  • Advanced tech and IP. In some situations, an acquisition is about acquiring a specific piece of technology or intellectual property (IP). This may prove to be the final boost you need to accelerate growth and initiate further expansion.
  • Talent acquisition. One of the secondary benefits of an acquisition is the opportunity to welcome new talent into your team. Whether it’s a seasoned executive or a highly effective sales staff, this is one benefit you can’t ignore.

Mergers and acquisitions aren’t the correct solutions in every situation, but they often make sense. It’s ultimately up to your team to sit down and discuss the pros, cons, opportunities, drawbacks, and possibilities of pursuing this option.

Helpful Acquisition Tips

Should your business choose to move forward with the acquisition route, here are some essential tips to be aware of:

1. Assemble a Talented Team

Don’t do anything until you first develop an acquisition team. This is a very important step and should not be delayed. (Many businesses make the mistake of starting the search and then forming a team on the fly, but this results in missed opportunities and foundational errors that can compromise an otherwise smart acquisition.)

A good acquisition team should include an experienced mergers and acquisitions advisor, a responsible executive, an attorney, an HR professional, and an IT expert. You’ll also want to bring on a public relations professional as soon as possible. This will ensure you control the messaging that customers, investors, and even employees hear.

2. Do Extensive Due Diligence

With the support of a talented dream team, you’re equipped to find the best acquisition opportunities. As you narrow your targets down, you’ll want to identify and implement a very detailed due diligence process for acquiring a business. This may include an extensive, objective analysis that consists of a letter of intent, confidentiality agreement, contracts and leases, financial statements, tax returns, and other important documents.

3. Make an Initial Offer

If the due diligence checks out, then it’s time to work on formulating an offer for acquiring a business. While the first offer almost certainly won’t be the offer that gets accepted, it’s the single most important offer you’ll make. It frames the transaction and sets the tone for the rest of the negotiations. It’s generally a good idea to offer no more than 75 to 90 percent of what you’re willing to pay. It should be low enough to leave room to inch up, but not so low that the other party could potentially see it as an insult.

4. Negotiate

Your first offer won’t get accepted. But unless you’ve totally insulted the other business, they should come back with a counter. Now is where things get really interesting. Negotiations ensue and it’s time to counter back and forth. The offer consists of a variety of elements – not just a price tag – so consider all of these variables in your subsequent counters.

Adding it All Up

As valuable as an acquisition can be, the process is often filled with friction. It’s up to your team to make the transition after closing as smooth as possible.

It’s very important that you respect the products, services, employees, and customers that the acquired business has. If you come into an acquisition and attempt to shake things up on day one, you’re going to get backlash. There’s nothing wrong with making changes – you now own the business – but be diplomatic and patient. Build trust, work together, and gradually introduce changes.

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