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How to host a truly productive 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!

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Business Entrepreneur

Lenders need to see these 3 things to get your LLC off the ground

(ENTREPRENEUR) Securing a small business loan is tedious, but there is a shortlist of requirements you should be aware of before getting info from lenders.

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401k retirement fund lenders

If you are reading this, you probably have an LLC for your small business already, or money talk gets you going. If it is the former, let me say CONGRATULATIONS, and insist you pat yourself on the back in honor of your small business’s progression. Your arrival at a point where expansion is necessary is no small feat given half of small businesses fail in the first year. So, kudos to you.

Now, back to the money talk…

For LLC businesses looking to expand, please don’t fret about all of the information you’ve seen on the web. Yes, securing a small business loan of any kind is tedious and depends on varying lending organizations and business needs, but there is a list of general requirements small businesses should be aware of before getting knee-deep in conflicting information about lenders.

After some extensive research posing as the owner of imaginary businesses and annoying every loan officer who’d take my call, I’ve found three general lending requirements. I also provide a collection of the tangible information banks will likely review to meet those requirements. Take a gander:

Assets
Small businesses must have necessary assets: steady cash flow, financial reserves, personal collateral to support a variety of business fluctuations (i.e. unexpected employee loss), and a realistic payoff plan. These assets and financial safety nets are necessary for any lending organization to be confident in your business’s ability to support employee expansion in lieu of current expenses.

Proof of past
Just as you will come to expect from your soon-to-be employees, lenders want proof of the past and how you’ve managed past loans to align with your business goals. Historical evidence will further determine if your expansion is feasible, but also if it is worthy for the company to accept the lending risk.

Specific plans
Finally, be prepared to provide your small business’s explicit expansion plan, including how you arrived at your suggested loan amount and how you intend to divvy out the funds. It is important that you are as specific as possible in your projected numbers, seeing as one employee could make a $60,000 difference, and largely affect your expansion plan and financial need.

Before you go…

Now that you’re equipped with the magic three, you’re probably feeling empowered to walk into your nearest bank and demand your small business loan. Let’s first be sure you have all of the necessary information on hand and ready to produce.

Lenders that look for the magic three before investing arrive at their conclusion after collecting data from the following pertinent information:

– Proof of collateral
– Business plan and expansion plan
– Financial details
– Current and past loan info
– Debts incurred
– Bank statements
– Tax ID
– Contact info
– Accounts receivable information
– Aging
– Sales and payment history
– Accounts payable information
Credit references
– Financial statements
– Balance sheet
– Profit and loss history
– Copies of past tax returns
– Social Security Numbers
– Assets and liabilities details

Now, my friend, do I release you as proud as a parent unto your nearest bank to secure your small business loan and begin growing your staff the way you’ve dreamed. I’m confident you will find the aforementioned information helpful in the said quest and would like to wish one last time (because it’s impossible to over-congratulate) a sincere CONGRATULATIONS on your business’s growth.

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Business Entrepreneur

What to consider when relocating your business near the holidays

(ENTREPRENEUR) When can you pack everything up without disrupting operations, going offline, and sinking your sales? The answer may surprise you.

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boxes for relocating

If your business has outgrown its current space, it may feel like there’s never a good time to think about relocating. When can you pack everything up without disrupting operations, going offline, and sinking your sales? The answer may be during that post-holiday slump.

Though the holiday season is marked by increased shopping and general economic activity during the run-up, once the holiday season actually begins, we tend to see a slowdown that leads to low first-quarter profits. Decreased profits during this period don’t mean we’re looking at an overall economic slump, but rather that everyone is recuperating from holiday spending sprees, while companies assess and prepare to launch their start-of-year marketing strategies. It’s a time of renewal and reconsideration, from an economic perspective.

If you’re thinking about relocating your business this holiday season, you’re on track for decreased business disruptions, but that doesn’t mean you have an easy road ahead of you. Here’s what you need to know to execute the move smoothly.

Have a loose timeline

One of the most challenging things about relocating is that it can be hard to predict how long it will take to properly execute your move. That means, even if you tell your customers you’re relocating, you shouldn’t expect to give them a hard re-opening date. Rather, the length of time it takes to move tends to hinge on a number of factors, including distance, size of your business, infrastructure issues, and regulatory concerns, not all of which are easily predictable.

You’ll also want to leave some buffer time when planning your move because you can’t predict problems that might arise with the moving company. Bad weather or a broken-down truck can delay a move, especially if you’re working with a small company. Moving companies may also offer you a lower rate if you’re flexible with your move dates.

Consider your employees

Another question you’ll want to ask before moving is, “Where are my employees in all this?” Some companies firmly believe in giving employees holidays off, even if it means closing a profitable business like a restaurant during an otherwise profitable time. Other companies, however, typically assume employees will be in the office during or immediately after major holidays.

Regardless of your usual philosophy, you need to determine what role your employees will play in your move.

While they shouldn’t be responsible for the physical process of moving, do you expect them to participate in packing and setting up the new location? You should be clear about your expectations while recognizing that moving is outside the scope of typical job duties. You also will need to budget to pay your employees during this downtime while also financing the move, even though you won’t be bringing in a profit.

Mind the locals

If you’re primarily an online business, you may not have to worry about how relocating will impact customers – other than some downtime, these individuals will be minimally affected. However, for businesses that run a brick-and-mortar storefront, changing locations can have implications for your community relationships.

If you move outside your original area, for example, you may lose customer goodwill or even sacrifice some of your customer base altogether. Depending on the service you provide, they may come back, or they may find another option closer to home.

The holidays are a busy time in general, but they’re an unusual time for businesses since economically it’s the pre-holiday period that’s actually the most hectic. Take advantage of this imbalance to move your business with the least fuss during the last few days of the year or at the start of the first quarter. You’ll be pleased to find how smoothly a company move goes when customers are otherwise occupied.

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Business Entrepreneur

Choose your startup business partner wisely

(ENTREPRENEUR) Creating a startup business with a friend sounds amazing, but consider carefully if you may be better off as friends.

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Young couple working on startup together.

So, you want to be your own boss? Maybe get out and into a new career to crawl out from under the corporate drone motif? What better way to do it than to go into a startup business for yourself?

Hundreds of Americans have ideas that could turn into a new career. But not as many have the support structure, either financial or social, to make these dreams become a reality. A few of these people might look for someone to go into business with to help with the financial burden.

Can you think of a better way to start off a new business than with your best friend by your side? I sure as hell can.

My best friend and I get along great in our personal time. We’re both zombie horror nerds. He’s straight, I’m gay. He’s a cop, I’m an out-of-work geophysicist/bartender/writer – the jokes don’t quit with us. Our typical nights together include drinking at bars and smacking the other one upside the head as deemed necessary. We’re both slightly better than Neanderthals some days. And most importantly, neither of us should be trusted to work together.

Now of course that’s probably more specific to my situation, but let’s just realize that finding two people who can be the closest of friends and business partners is pretty rare.

There are a few people who have figured it out though and you can find a number of pointers online for new/established startup companies. A few of these tips include lots of structure to try and keep the fun at home and the business in the office, clearly defining roles, honest open communication, and strictly defining fiscal expectations.

So basically, it’s like committing to another marriage, which is what another set of people do for their startup business as well. Numerous married couples have put together careers and their relationships, and a great many of them are very successful.

So, if you have someone who you can commit to another potentially lifelong relationship with, and you trust to follow all of these rules, then go for it.

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