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Freelancers, this social site seeks to skyrocket your networking experience

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Contra promises freelancers a new way to flex their experience by leveraging professional relationships in a bold take on networking and – at its core – hiring in general.

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Birds eye view of two women networking at a table with colorful interconnecting pattern on a concrete floor.

In the modern technical world, freelancers act as nomadic one-off hires that come aboard to complete a job and then are released back into the void. The rise of the gig economy and similar services has delivered new opportunities for those who need work and those who want to provide it, with entire platforms built around this idea of temporary employment. This is certainly viable and has given individuals more reach than ever before across networking systems.

However, these services tend to have some limitations – each job is isolated and usually cannot guarantee follow-up work with the same company. Workers may not be building themselves up meaningfully – lasting relationships with businesses aren’t guaranteed, interactions with colleagues might be brief, and long term freelancing might be viewed negatively. It can function alongside a career path, but is not necessarily a replacement for it (or at least is more difficult).

Maybe this could be blamed on the status quo and attitudes regarding employment, where extended tenure at the same company connotes loyalty and merit. There’s been some push against this in recent years given the way widespread platforms have enabled job seekers, but the hesitancy remains. Corporations want to hire quality candidates, but favor in-house employees that have proven themselves.

This is where Contra comes in, aiming to improve how freelancers function in the greater context of their industries. Based on their pitch, it does this by first placing a larger emphasis on networking, and then uses this as a way to reframe how we think about freelancing’s efficacy. Contra suggests that professional relationships hold more significance than traditional metrics. After all, referrals are king.

Put another way – people are your best bet to securing continued and new jobs, so let’s turn away from things like how long you’ve been somewhere and instead favor referrals, offering a path to focus on what you’ve done. As co-founder Gajus Kuizinas says, “…We are giving people the tools to describe their proudest career moments, publicly thank the people with whom they’ve worked with, and begin accepting inquiries for future opportunities.”

The hiring process might need a modern refresh

Maybe Contra isn’t saying it in so many words, and perhaps this is a harsh way to think about it, but maybe our current models for evaluating employment are misguided. There’s an emphasis placed on working at the same place for an extended period of time and at prominent companies. Those aren’t bad indicators by any means – there is something to be said for working at well known and established corporations.

But this can be hazy and gloss over what exactly someone did, which can hurt or diminish their contributions. If we focus on the positive, proactive question here of hiring qualified individuals, then what is the best thing to look at? The work.

Nothing is as accurate as looking directly at the results someone has produced – that is what matters. Quality outweighs where you were or how long you were there. Turn the attention away from “this is a series of one-off projects all over the place” and instead zero in on how all of those things best represent someone’s skill set.

This brings up a second problem – how can you best show this when trying to get new gigs? Sometimes a portfolio can’t speak primarily for itself, or legal contracts prevent divulging assets, or someone may not be the best at selling themselves. Even with a killer inventory of projects, there are still hurdles to overcome.

A one-two punch: Looking directly at what matters

Contra has a solution for this – flex those high profile relationships you’ve made. If you’ve got people eagerly talking about what you’ve done, they absolutely will show off your work. And they’ll do it with a level of excitement that will make a solid and lasting impression. After all, they’ve already received the fruits of your labor, and they’ll happily talk it up.

It’s a brilliant approach that puts a bigger emphasis on reinforcing your experience through the use of those around you. Contra’s solution is elegant – let’s allow our users, contributors, makers, and freelancers have access to a platform where they can build out a network of people who can vouch for them, and then actively utilize that social aspect. Keep your resume and portfolio, sure, but use it in tandem with those who will elevate you.

It’s a move toward something more alive.

Contra’s Community Lead explains, “Before joining the Community team at Contra, I was a freelancer who desperately wanted to make new connections with clients and other freelancers. Though — don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just want to network for the sake of networking. I wanted to make relationships with people who I could learn from and be inspired by. When using other freelancing sites, I realized I needed more from these platforms, not a quick one-off project with strangers (I don’t dig transactional interactions).”

It’s like a supercharged LinkedIn – instead of just listing out a bunch of static bullet points and hoping that coworkers drop by for a kind word, Contra’s hope is to take that latter part and make it the central focus. It’s a one-two punch of having a network of willing hype people alongside a portfolio and/or resume. This can include other freelancers, established employees at respected companies, or even well known veterans striking out with new startups.

The benefits don’t stop there – now a freelancer has greater access to mentors and inroads to bigger companies. Contra is providing solutions to things that plague the independent consultant route by creating support during all parts of the networking process – education, securing relationships, building upon past successes, improving a portfolio, and creating a network of reliable, helpful colleagues. It is empowering a freelancer to realize their true potential.

Voice over text

By providing a social backing component to the networking, job hunting, and freelancing process, Contra effectively resolves many of the shortcomings such a career path might adversely afford. It helps build out a way to repeat contracts, levels the playing field by projecting experience and results, and provides ways toward self improvement. It gives voice to someone by building up a support team – there’s safety and strength in numbers.

In a way, this feels like a modern and refreshing take on the freelancing process – something a bit more real and personal in the business world. We are social beings – let’s let others speak for us at times, even when it comes to our professional lives.

In a new world where there are dozens of communities, why shouldn’t there be one more devoted to the job search and hiring process? Contra’s platform may deliver just that to networking as a freelancer. It will be exciting to watch.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

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Business Entrepreneur

Tips for hosting a successful brainstorming session

(BUSINESS) Brainstorming is a powerful business tool, but most sessions are a waste of time due to being poorly planned.

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brainstorming session

There’s power in numbers – especially when it comes to creativity and innovation. But if you’re going to host a brainstorming session with your team, there have to be some expectations, ground rules, and order to the process. Otherwise, creativity can quickly turn to chaos.

What is a brainstorming session?

A brainstorming session is a gathering of minds with the expressed purpose of generating creative ideas and thoughts around a particular topic, project, challenge, or opportunity. The premise is that there’s exponentially greater creativity when there are multiple minds in the same room.

“Besides simply generating new and unique ideas, brainstorming meetings bring people together where they can all contribute to the creative process,” notes Lucidchart. “Often, this element of brainstorming becomes more valuable than the ideas shared in the actual meeting.”

When you have a successful brainstorming session, individual team members leave feeling valued and empowered.

Not only is there a sense of fulfillment that comes from contributing ideas, but there’s a feeling of being smarter when you leave.

Tips for brainstorming session success:

For best results, brainstorming sessions need to be thoughtfully planned out. And if you put the following tips into action, you will be quite productive:

1. Invite the right people.

Hosting a successful brainstorming session begins with inviting the right people. Typically, it pays to have a variety of people. This includes a mixture of high-level employees and entry-level employees, introverts and extroverts, Type A and Type B personalities, etc.

Likewise, you want to be sure you’re not inviting too many people. When you have too many people present, it’s easy for a few people to steal the show while everyone else remains passive and provides little-to-no contributions.

2. Set the proper expectations.

A good brainstorming session starts with preparing individuals for what to expect. This happens both before the meeting and at the start of the meeting.

Setting expectations begins when you extend the invitation to attend the session. Clearly explain what the session is about and how it will go. Give them a specific timeframe and let them know if they need to show up with anything prepared.

Once the meeting begins, explain what will happen, set ground rules, and make sure everyone understands that a brainstorming session is designed to produce as many ideas as possible (not necessarily pick the best one). In other words, it’s not good practice to shoot down people’s ideas. Instead, everything gets brought into the light and can be filtered and refined at a later date.

3. Use the Right Tools.

Having the right tools on hand can make any brainstorming session much more efficient. One of the best applications is a platform called Box Notes. This online note-taking app allows teams to live-scribe notes in real-time (all at once or individually). This makes it perfect for both in-person brainstorming sessions, as well as virtual ones.

You may also find it helpful to have some sort of timer app or countdown clock that helps you stay on track. It’s easy for time to get away from you, but with a pre-programmed clock, you stay on task and can fluidly move from one part of the session to the next.

4. Promote creativity.

Do everything you can to promote a creative environment where people are most likely to bring fresh, innovative ideas. And this starts with the location of the brainstorming session.

“It’s easy to auto-default to the same old conference room every time you need to call a meeting,” Atlassian admits. “But our brains love novelty, and being in a new location can also exercise our brain’s neuroplasticity, or our ability to think about things in a new way. By switching up locations, you can improve the quality of ideas that come out of that brainstorm.”

Additionally, factors like lighting (natural sunlight), music (jazz or instrumental tunes), and even aromas (like tangerine oil, frankincense, or clary sage) can all boost creativity.

Supercharge Your brainstorming session.

Hosting regular brainstorming sessions is always a good idea. And if you implement the aforementioned suggestions, you’ll find that your sessions are even more creative and productive than usual. What are you waiting for? Get started today!

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Here’s why receiving big funding doesn’t guarantee startup success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You finally got that big funding check that allows you to make your dreams come true, but most startups fail because they shoot for the moon.

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funding box

The first thing every startup needs to get off the ground is funding. It’s crucial to have enough capital to cover equipment, inventory, and employee salaries, along with other basic expenses unique to the industry. Most startups cover these initial costs through business loans and capital from private investors.

Some business owners perceive getting funded as the first milestone toward success. While receiving capital is critical for success, being well-funded doesn’t guarantee success. Plenty of well-funded startups have failed, gone bankrupt, and all but disappeared.

How could so many well-funded startups possibly go under? The 90% failure rate for startups is due to a variety of factors including bad timing, no market, and most of all – mishandling of finances.

Here’s why receiving big capital doesn’t guarantee success.

Getting investment capital provides false hope.

Getting funded can make you feel invincible and cause you to be too relaxed about spending money. It’s a powerful feeling to have plenty of money and know an investor believes in your business. Investors are smart; they wouldn’t throw money at a startup unless they had every reason to believe it will succeed, right? Not exactly.

Startups in big tech areas like Silicon Valley and San Francisco often have an easy time generating large amounts of capital from investors who can’t wait to throw money at the latest startup. Many investors ignore risk and throw their money at long-shot bets hoping to invest in the next Facebook or Instagram. The size of the pot is too mesmerizing not to take the risk.

These long-shot bets carry similar odds to winning a “Pick 6” bet in horse racing. The Pick 6 is one of the hardest bets to win because you have to pick the winning horses for six consecutive races. What if the top horse becomes injured before the sixth race? Investors who toss money at random startups have to pick a startup that will continue to meet all the right circumstances to become profitable long-term. Some of those circumstances are unpredictable.

No business owner wants to view their startup as a long-shot bet. However, the reality is that many startups are. You can’t gauge your potential for success based on how much funding you receive.

Having plenty of cash encourages premature scaling.

When you’ve got the cash to scale your startup it seems like a waste not to dive in. Just one look around the internet reveals plenty of videos and articles encouraging entrepreneurs to scale their business. Advice online gives the impression that if you’re not scaling your business, you’re falling behind. However, scaling too soon can tank your startup.

Research conducted by Startup Genome found premature scaling to be the number one cause of startup failure. Nathan Furr from Forbes.com explains this finding and what it means for businesses. Premature scaling is defined as “spending money beyond the essentials on growing the business (e.g., hiring sales personnel, expensive marketing, perfecting the product, leasing offices, etc.) before nailing the product/market fit.” Furr says any business is susceptible to premature scaling – not just startups.

The problem is that premature scaling depletes your cash reserves more quickly. This leaves you with less cash to fix mistakes and readjust as you go along. Failure is what happens when you don’t have the necessary cash to fix mistakes and move toward success.

To increase the odds of developing a long-term successful startup, here’s what you can do:

Save as much money as possible. For instance, you don’t need a giant office with expensive furniture right away. Work from home and hire a remote team until an office is absolutely necessary.

Make sure the cost of acquiring each customer makes sense. Know how much money you’re spending to acquire each customer. Track all marketing efforts and eliminate the avenues that don’t generate paying, loyal customers. If the cost to acquire a customer is more than what they spend with your company, revisit your marketing strategy.

Aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement with your innovation. Skip Prichard advises startups to strive for a 10x increase in the value of whatever innovation is being provided to the world. For example, if your company is offering a lower price for a greater value, aim to increase the value 10x. Attract the early adopters who want big improvements and they will validate you.

Money is a tool – use it wisely

Celebrate when you get your funding, but keep that money in the bank for necessary expenses. Money is a tool that doesn’t guarantee success, but if you budget wisely, you’ll have a better chance at beating the startup odds.

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Reclaim your precious time as a burnt out freelancer or entrepreneur

(ENTREPRENEUR) Being your own boss comes with great reward, but one major risk is time inefficiencies – let’s discuss how you can streamline productivity.

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Man working on laptop representing time well-spent.

As we all know too well, entrepreneurs are time-poor.

Changing the world of technology, developing a life-changing product, or finding a new process to a complicated, lengthy task, entrepreneurs are continually moving, shaping, and evolving their world around them, but frequently run out of time at the end of their day.

Now many modern entrepreneurs have some form of productivity in place. Whether this is an A3 piece of paper with jottings of what needs to be done next or a manageable to-do list provided by their smartphone where they can brain dump all of their ideas and to-dos into one space.

Working smarter, and harder is usually the object of all those looking to create a new business. But respecting the value of productivity applications can play into the hands of those building the next Facebook or Amazon.

By all means, this doesn’t mean you need the correct productivity tools to become the next prominent entrepreneur, if that’s the case we’d have much fewer businesses than we have now thriving, the thesis of this is for entrepreneurs and business owners to begin embracing productivity apps to help them scale and capture essential parts of their day to help get more done.

So where does an entrepreneur start?

It’s straightforward. Begin with three core tools.

* A to-do list application.
* A note-taking tool.
* A calendar application.

These three resources will provide you with the fundamental pillars of productivity in your hectic schedule. Let’s examine how that is the case for each one.

A to-do list application can be a primary list of actionable items for the next 30-days. Think of a to-do list application as your day planner, an actionable set of tasks to get done on the workday.

This window of to-dos will determine your ground-level work and checklist for the day. Traditionally they are prioritized allowing you to accomplish the most critical tasks first or get them done by the end of the day so that you can help progress forward.

This is a potential master tool for the entrepreneur. A to-do list app can help you capture, deter and plan things to do helping to reduce stress and reliability in your brain to remember critical tasks and actions. A proactive theory from the book Getting Things Done by David Allen helps to define this as “open loops” a process that highlights a need to reduce active to-do’s in your head and to capture them on paper or another form of capture method to relieve your brain’s activity focusing on this.

A note-taking tool provides you with a way to capture essential data or information. Unlike a to-do list application, the information you’ll be capturing is static. This means it isn’t necessarily actionable but provides value for reference or planning. Notes are handy for planning and reference purposes. When it comes to planning your projects and high-level work (like clients, product updates, accounting, etc.) using notes will help you to collect everything into one hub to help you to complete all your major projects and tasks.

And finally, a calendar application works as how you’d expect. A way to capture events and activities. Not to be confused with a to-do list application, the calendar application should solely include events and activities, not tasks. Feel free to use the calendar layout to block out time but don’t get into the habit of adding tasks to your calendar application, it’ll make things very messy!

So what productivity apps should I start with?! Let’s give you some recommendations.

For a to-do list application, an entrepreneur should look for flexibility to scale with the application but the patience to stick with an application to help them get more done. To-do list applications perfect for entrepreneurs include Todoist, TickTick, Asana, Nozbe, or Trello. They are strong starting points and will provide you with all the features you’ll need to start capturing and sorting those important to-dos.

Note-taking tools come highly recommended. To help the scale-driven entrepreneur, there are two tools that stand out as the resources entrepreneurs should consider when looking at note-taking applications. They would be Evernote and OneNote. Both provide you with functional experiences for bringing notes in from email, documents, and other files helping you to free up time and space. Avoid Apple Notes as your default and sole way of the organization as due to the lack of folders/notebooks you struggle to keep things as organized as you would with the likes of Evernote and OneNote.

Calendar resources are rare to find. Entrepreneurs will discover themselves freeing up a lot of stress by using a calendar tool, by being able to see all the activities coming up, and help free up your calendar for important meetings. The features within the calendar tools like “invite a guest” will provide a way to connect with your invitee and avoid any miss-capture of time/date for the meeting.

Try Fantastical 2 (Mac/iOS), Google Calendar, Kin Calendar, or Calendars 5 (iOS). These are more advanced calendar tools, so if you are concerned, it’s okay to try Apple Calendar or Outlook Calendar, just make sure you solely use one calendar and not multiple to avoid missing those meetings.

In essence, entrepreneurs should consider productivity app to help control their time. Helping to implement a system might take a few weeks to get used to and a few tweaks along the way, but it’ll undoubtedly free up time from stress and worry, helping you to do the more valuable things like communicating with your customers, chatting with your clients or growing your team.

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