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4 things to remember when things look bad for you as an entrepreneur

(EDITORIAL) We obsess about successful entrepreneurs but don’t always see the struggles it took to get to that point. If you’re struggling as an entrepreneur, let this editorial encourage you and give you an honest perspective.

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The American fairy tale of entrepreneurialism

We love a good success story just like the next guy. We love tales of triumph, of someone winning against all odds, and today, the American fairy tale of entrepreneurialism is one that has captured the minds of screenwriters, musicians, and Instagrammers alike. We worship the Zuckerbergs of the world who went from no one to bajillionaire in a short period of time as their lines of code changed how the entire world communicates.

But in that idol worship, we focus on that moment of success and don’t see the tales of failures hovering just below the surface. Every entrepreneur can tell you about the overwhelming nature of those struggles and failed moments, and they can all tell you about the crushing pressure that exists before the dawn of success.

So what should every hopeful, budding, or veteran entrepreneur keep in mind? We asked Victorio Pellicano, Founder and CEO of Verenia for his thoughts on the topic, on overcoming the difficulties of entrepreneurship. He earned his BS in Computer Science from the University of St. Francis, which he followed up with a law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He worked as a software engineer and soon founded Verenia which is a popular CPQ company (“Configure, Price, Quote” is software that accurately prices goods as endless variables change constantly).

Although there were already huge CPQ companies in existence (Salesforce, SAP), Pellicano has been able make his company meaningfully competitive and skyrocket revenue, all without outside funding. Talk about a high pressure scenario.

Below are Pellicano’s words of guidance for entrepreneurs when things look bad:

Starting a business from the ground up is tough

A lot of things need to go right to be successful. Too bad human existence has a funny way of doing exactly the opposite of smooth. Things change, people get into fights, or maybe the overall vision of the business isn’t what it once was. When you’re in business for yourself, the term “bootstraps” can mean a lot of things.

It isn’t easy, but if you do find that mythical “magic quadrant,” the payoff is incredible. You’ve built something you believed in, and you put in the work to achieve awesomeness. There are few feelings as gratifying as being the boss and taking a long lunch whenever you damn well please.

But, it ain’t all roses. Stuff will suck a lot of times. It will be hard. That’s just inherent to the culture of being self-made. I mean hey, busting your ass, coming up from nothing is basically, like – 80% of rap music, right?

As new entrepreneurs set off into the business world, there are some things they should know, what to expect and what to do when things don’t go as planned.

Check out these four things to keep in mind when it feels like the sky is falling.

1. Build a support system stronger than the Great Wall

When in business, stuff goes sideways. Anyone who’s ever held a job knows stuff changes and can go bad quickly – that’s just inherent to the DNA of work. But, when you’re in charge, and it’s your business, you’ll be pulled in a lot of directions. Many times, those directions are uncomfortable whether it be about the staff, progress, earnings, whatever. Because of this, you gotta assemble the All-Star team behind you, the folks who’ll always keep your head in the game and won’t let you get too big for your britches.

As an entrepreneur, you’re inherently optimistic. You had the guts to go it alone and do your own thing. That optimism is what makes you, you. Because of this bold attitude of work-related sunshine, you’ll probably not likely pay attention to that bad stuff, until it’s like, crazy bad.

By keeping a group of advisors, friends, and family close who you can talk to, you’ll have voices who offer advice from a place that isn’t about anything but helping you succeed. Success is a long process, rarely do businesses go from red to black overnight. You need some reliable people to keep you sane when all is quiet.

2. Don’t lose sight

When you had the idea to start your business, it was about more than just making money. You had goals, you had a vision, and you wanted to make an impact on the world. After a while, those emotional price points evolve. When you suffer a setback, or something goes way better than planned, it’s important to stick to your guns.

Keep a list visible near your workspace. You got into this game because you wanted to do better for your family, or maybe your last boss was a jerk and this is your way of paying the universe back. Either way, a little motivation never hurt anyone. You wanted to be the boss of yourself, don’t lose sight of that through the rough patches.

Set small goals to nail, and then work your way toward the bigger rocks. Motivation is hard, just ask anyone who wants to hit the gym, but still has a gut. Business is no different. You need to focus on the stretch goals and fight your way through the murk of self-doubt.

3. Rome wasn’t built in a day

You know why this old cliche sticks around? Because it’s true. Nothing worth doing happens overnight. If being self-made was easy, everyone would be doing it, too. (Just ask Biggie Smalls.)

Read any bio of successful folks who built an empire, or just a solid place to grab a burger in the neighborhood – success took time. For many of these folks, that time was spent worried the dream would go under from lack of early adopters.

But they persisted. They invested their money back into the business, they promoted, they made smart choices instead of the easy ones. Building brand equity will take smart moves and a lot of patience. Can’t be selling that charbroiled cheeseburger when no one’s coming in the door, right?

4. Accept your plan isn’t perfect

Just because you dream it down to the final note on paper, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work out that way.

If you’re a business-type CEO, you’ve spent a lot of time planning, writing business plans and Go-To-Market plans – that’s business 101.

If you’re a technical CEO, you’ve spent a lot of time coding, researching, and watching trends.

Both CEOs have done the homework, they’ve planned, prepared, and are committed to taking on the world, helmet strapped on and mouth guard in place.

But then the world doesn’t give a shit. Doesn’t even kind of care. No leads come in, there is no money to spend to bring in new customers, and no foreseeable change.

All the planning in the world won’t prepare you for the harsh realities of the free market. As you roll out and talk to people about your business, invite criticism and learn from what other people tell you. It doesn’t mean you have to change course every time someone’s opinion is different than yours, but their thoughts and critiques could offer a nugget of truth you may have not considered.

Final word of encouragement

I’m from Chicago, and if there’s one thing we love more than The Blues Brothers, it’s His Airness, Michael Jordan. I rely on one of his quotes to get me through the bad times:

“I’ve missed 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

If that ain’t some #realtalk, I don’t know what is. See you out on the court, folks.

#realtalk

Kiri Isaac is the Web Producer and a Staff Writer at The American Genius and studied communications at Texas A&M. She is fluent in sarcasm and movie quotes and her love language is tacos.

Business Entrepreneur

What to consider before you pivot your business model

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Many businesses have had to pivot during the global pandemic but maybe yours isn’t one of them. Consider these questions first!

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Two women working at a laptop, no need to pivot business.

When Ross asked Rachel and Chandler (Friends TV show 1994-2004) to move a couch, many of us will never forget his voice inflection and how many times he yelled “PIVOT”! It’s actually a really funny scene and if you’ve never seen it, it might be worth 3.5 minutes of your time. Ross had the best of intentions by starting with a sketch and enlisting help from friends but even that ends up in hilarity as getting his couch in to his apartment doesn’t work and he ends up being offered $4 when he tries to return it (stay for the end of the clip).

The best plans and intentions for your business are often met with what the market and customers demand, where technology grows, and where your ROI is the best. You often know that your original plans will grow and evolve, even in uncertainty and now… a global pandemic.

Many entrepreneurs and small businesses have had to lean on technology to add virtual services (or expand their offerings) to meet our current norm where people are just not out and about like they used to be. Some have seen this work well and others have had to completely re-design their offerings to maintain safe and socially distanced considerations.

The thing is, businesses that have pivoted are being highlighted. But it is also worth looking at what has worked for some businesses that didn’t have to completely shift their strategies in 2020. It is likely that they had to adapt but maybe not a ridiculous Ross-type “pivot” that resulted in a complete failure of the mission.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) shared an incredible article, “You Don’t Have to Pivot in a Crisis” with great insights about what to consider if you think you need to make changes or if you want reassurance you are still on the right track.

HBR shares a powerful thought:

“The lesson here is that when a crisis hits, it pays to resist knee-jerk reactions on how to handle external shocks and ask what is going to work best for your company, based on the particular realities of its business. Ignoring the playbook of rapid cuts plus strategic pivoting can be the smart move… However, staying the course doesn’t mean inaction.”

Here are three thought starters you may want to consider for your business:

  1. What product line or service is best serving your customers right now? Is that one of your strongest and/or could it use some attention?
  2. What product line or service is not quite meeting your needs or customer demands at the moment that had seemingly always worked (not forever! Just right now)? For example, in person gatherings and promotions like events, conferences, trade shows.
  3. Is there something you’ve always wanted to explore? And could now be a great time since people want things more virtually? Examples: Selling branded swag, workbooks, content subscriptions, educational webinars.

These are three simple things but could help point you in the right direction of where to focus your time and energy – at least for now. You may not need a complete re-design or to take a new road, it might be some tweaks and adjustments to hang on to what you’ve worked so hard to build.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software products for your up-and-coming company? Use these questions to decide which kind is best for you.

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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.

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Business Entrepreneur

Simple ways to keep your company’s operations lean

(BUSINESS) Keeping your operations lean means more than saving money, it means accomplishing more in less time.

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The past year and a half has been challenging, not just economically but politically, and socially as well. While it would be nice to think that things are looking up, in reality, the problems never end. Taking a minimalist approach to your business, AKA keeping it lean, can help you weather the future to be more successful.

Here are some tips to help you trim the fat without putting profits above people.

Automate processes

Artificial intelligence frees up human resources. AI can manage many routine elements of your business, giving your team time to focus on important tasks that can’t be delegated to machines. This challenges your top performers to function at higher levels, which can only benefit your business.

Consider remote working

Whether you rent or own your property, it’s expensive to keep an office open. As we learned in the pandemic, many jobs can be done just as effectively from home as the workplace. Going remote can save you money, even if you help your team outfit their home office for safety and efficiency.

In today’s world, many are opting to completely shutter office doors, but you may be able to save money by using less space or renting out some of your office space.

Review your systems to find the fat

As your business grows (or downsizes), your systems need to change to fit how you work. Are there places where you can save money? If you’re ordering more, you may be able to ask vendors for discounts. Look for ways to bring down costs.

Talk to your team about where their workflow suffers and find solutions. An annual review through your budget with an eye on saving money can help you find those wasted dollars.

Find the balance

Operating lean doesn’t mean just saving money. It can also mean that you look at your time when deciding to pay for services. The point is to be as efficient as possible with your resources and systems, while maintaining customer service and safety. When you operate in a lean way, it sets your business up for success.

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