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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PopCom designs smart vending machines to automate regulated products
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) PopCom raises $1.3 million in equity crowd funding to launch smart vending machines that will securely sell regulated products like cannabis and alcohol.
Dawn Dickson is upgrading the beloved vending machine to thrive in the era of COVID-19. Dickson is the Founder & CEO of PopCom, a black-owned retail technology company whose mission is to “equip entrepreneurs and brands with future-ready retail solutions that allow rapid retail expansion, incredible customer experiences, and powerful sales data.”
Dickson started her entrepreneurial career with Flat Out Heels, rollable flat shoes that fit in a purse. The business was an e-commerce hit, relying on online data analytics to drive sales and growth. She found there was a disconnect in leveraging that technology when she looked for traditional vending machines to sell her products in places with high foot traffic like airports. Like any good entrepreneur, she created her own solution to the problem.
PopCom vending machines use facial detection and machine learning to create an interactive and intelligent retail experience. In 2020, the Columbus, Ohio based company is rolling out secure pilots for automated vending of regulated products like alcohol and cannabis. The machines rely on biometric analysis to verify identity, and can even anonymously evaluate age, gender, and emotional sentiment while a customer is browsing to convert sales. Products can therefore be available on demand with minimal human interaction.
The growth of this technology is timely as COVID-19 continues to ravage retail in the United States. “Vending machines and convenience services are becoming more essential, and retailers are looking for more ways to deliver their products direct-to-customer with less human friction. We are excited about what is to come,” Dickson told BlackNews.com.
And what is to come is coming quickly. Dickson just completed a record-setting equity crowdfunding campaign on Start Engine, being the first female founder in history to raise $1.3 million in just 47 days! Previously, PopCom raised an initial $1.07 million from their first campaign. According to SEC regulations, companies can raise up to $1.07 million from regulation crowd funding sources in a 12-month period.
How to choose the right software for your business
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software options for your company? Well, we have a list of suggestions and questions to help you determine what is best for you.
It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.
Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.
Determining Your Core Needs
First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:
- Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
- Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
- Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
- Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
- Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
- Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
- Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.
Key Factors to Consider
From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:
- Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
- Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
- Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
- Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
- Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
- Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
- Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
- Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.
Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.
Finding the Balance
It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.
You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.
‘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.
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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Ladies and gentlemen, the U.S. National Anthem
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