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Making the office retreat experience less groan-inducing for your staff

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) No more awkward icebreakers, cheesy trust falls or awkward team pictures jumping like this atrocity.

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Building trust and community

Many leaders consider the company or team retreat a vital part of building their business.

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They view these gatherings as an opportunity to build trust and community among employees, and may also use retreats as meetings, with the premise that a change of scenery could lead to a change in thinking. Especially among startups, the employee retreat has become a kind of hallowed ground.

Make the most of your retreat

The downside of company retreats? A lot of staff think they’re a waste of time or an incursion on their personal lives. At the very least, employees have grown tired of summer camp-style icebreaker games and cliché ropes courses. With that in mind, those in leadership positions are being pushed to revolutionize the staff retreat if they plan to save it.

Luckily, for those determined to stay the course and take their team on a retreat, there are many options to choose from – and plenty of options outside the sitcom standbys.

Here are three ways you can take your business retreat up a few notches.

Give back to get more

Participating in community service events is one of the most rewarding ways to bring your team together while playing down the retreat format.

Depending on your team’s interests and preferences, you could be a fundraising group or sponsor for a major walkathon, participate in a Habitat For Humanity build together, or spend a day helping out at a community garden or urban cleanup.

This type of activity gives your retreat a focus while helping team members build memories together and get to know each other better in a low-pressure setting.

Try a change of scenery

If you are going to make your team travel to go on a retreat, make sure you’re not just replicating your current setting with a different zip code.

Holing up the team in a hotel’s conference suite isn’t likely to encourage revolutionary thinking or redefine the relationships between employees.

You need to make a more dramatic change.

Since many major companies are based in urban settings or suburban office parks, consider finding a nature-based retreat space. For example, the Art of Living Retreat Center offers a Hillside Hall that’s perfect for team meetings, featuring breakout rooms that are great for corporate planning meetings. What makes it different from your average conference room? The Hillside Hall is surrounded by thickets of trees and open to the sounds of breezes and bird songs, ensuring this won’t feel like just another meeting.

For those seeking a more low-key version of the nature retreat, another idea is to take a meditative walk. If you have a nearby nature preserve, that would be an easy place to do this. Giving your team a chance to slow down and reconnect with themselves, rather than with each other, can help them think more clearly and feel less stressed when they return to the office.

Be outrageous

Finally, if your team is really up for an adventure – and in startups where each new venture is about testing the limits, this may be the case – consider choosing an outrageous activity for your team retreat. At the top of the list is blindfolded driving, offered by the UK-based Teambuilding Company. Yes, that’s right. You can drive a car blindfolded… with the help of your coworkers.

As the company explains, the exercise is really about creative problem solving, but when you broach this activity, you team will either jump at the opportunity or think you’ve gone off the deep end. Either way, they’ll never forget the experience – and no verbal directions allowed!

No matter what you choose for your team retreat – if you choose to have one – the most important thing you can do to make it a success is define your goals. Are you hoping to come away with a five-year plan or is this retreat about breaking out of a communication rut?

Ultimately, it’s the aimless retreat that team members rebel against. Use everyone’s time wisely.

#RetreatRight

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.

Business Entrepreneur

All the creative services you need are curated in one place

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Curation as a service as a platform? This new company gives you a way to find the creative services you need to get your business up and running.

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creative services curated

Isn’t it easier when everything’s in one place?

That’s why we keep our clothes and shoes in closets, instead of strewn random places like the top of the fridge and the air vents. Usually.

Point is, curation makes everyone’s life 1,000 times better the more it’s implemented. And now, businesses who either need or provide creative services paid via monthly subscription fee can take advantage of a new platform providing that careful selection and categorization.

Flat Monthly Fee is a company that groups creative services such as graphic design, blog writing, video editing, and so forth while including easily found criteria like refund policies and cost per month before you read through a brand profile.

The advantage to small businesses needing to hire out these services is clear. You’re in a spot where you need more than one-off creations, but not quite yet in a place to hire “STAFF staff”, so you log on here, browse around and find a portfolio that suits.

But I’m way more interested in the secondary benefits to smaller-scale creative ventures. Short story short, the rise of this platform could lift YOUR small business boat as a creative individual or small collective. Much like using Unsplash as a portfolio site, an account with FMF seems like it could get your growing business seen by other growing businesses, as well as help garner work for terms of at least 30 days.

As great as this all seems, I do have a few qualms regarding this new-fangled creative industry catalogue.

Firstly, it’s not immediately clear on the website how one’s business gets a profile set up, pushed ahead, or paid for. For now, contacting the site owners directly seems to be the way to go, but it IS odd to me that sliding into their inboxes is the only way to see whether or not you find their terms amenable.

Secondly, it’s pretty obvious that most of the services there now are being run from non-Anglophone countries. Don’t get me wrong, xenophobia and creativity mix just as badly as sad, racist oil and water do. But for jobs that require a certain mother tongue, business owners seeking creative services may be SOL on FMF for the time being.

Because Flat Monthly Fee is a new kid on the block, I’m willing to accept that the training wheels aren’t completely off yet. If we all waited until everything was perfectly streamlined before debuting it, nobody’d get ANYTHING done, ever. As the company finds its way through feedback and new iterations, I figure they’ll get around to making improvements as needed.

For the time being, it still may be worth your time to get in touch with the curators as part of your publicity strategy! Early adoption has its perks. It just means you may have to change a digital diaper now and again.

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Business Entrepreneur

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.

How to make the most of your funding and increase your odds of 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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Business Entrepreneur

How to know when a candidate is a true fit for your startup

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Knowing whether a potential hire is a good fit for your startup is a difficult one, so we suggest asking these 3 questions at your next interview.

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startup hiring practices

Hiring, in general, can be a daunting task. Knowing whom you like to fill the role can seem pretty ethereal until you put pen to paper. The struggle is even bigger for smaller companies, such as startups, as they’re not only looking to fill a role based on skills, but they’re also looking to find someone who will jive with their existing employees and culture. And while culture-driven corporations like Apple do this to a degree, too, it’s nowhere near as delicate as hiring can be for a startup.

Startups often struggle in bringing on new hires from beginning to end. A lot more is at stake when you’re hiring for a small company. Any missteps can be detrimental to profitability, productivity, efficiency, and even business projections. But if you’re a startup looking to hire, look no further.

Writer and former Google Vice President, Jessica Powell, has some great questions to ask your potential future hires to limit any possible setbacks.

It’s important to realize that Jessica’s experience is pretty limited to corporations and that she’s spent much of her time at one of the biggest of them all – Google. Therefore, as a seasoned businesswoman with vast experience in startup life, I’ll be adding some colorful insights that should help both employers and employees even further.

1. In her article, Jessica alludes that an employee’s resilience is a big part of being able to handle a startup, and I completely agree. Startups are typically very touch and go. Even if the startup appears successful, policies, processes, and even something as critical as re-allocation of budget are all subject to scrutiny – often until a time when the company sells or goes public. This is exactly why Jessica recommends employers ask resilience-related questions, probing for “weaknesses and missteps”.

Our favorite question related to resilience that she suggests employers ask in interviews is: “Some people tend more easily to put responsibility or blame on others, and some people tend to put it on themselves. Where would you see yourself? Can you give me an example of when this happened?”

We like this question because it’s incredibly important to know if a new potential employee has perfectionist tendencies and is incredibly hard on themselves, or if they are incredibly hard on their co-workers. If you’re speaking with someone who already puts the blame on themselves half the time, you may be looking at a self-starter who has the potential to lead – very important when considering future scaling, especially because many startups like to promote from within. If they’re more on the perfectionist side of things, you may also be speaking with someone who is incredibly resilient. Why? Because they’re already hard on themselves, which often times leads to allowing others to be hard on them. That means they’ve probably experienced a lot of defeat, but they keep on going, which, in my opinion, is exactly the type of employee startups need.

2. Jessica also goes over how ambiguity in the workplace (again, something very common for startups) can affect new hires, which is why she makes it a point to ask pointed questions that not only gauge the potential hire’s comfort with ambiguity, but also what they value their work environment and career and “to see how they approach complex problems”.

We actually have 2 questions we think startup employers should ask in the ways of ambiguity. The first is pretty basic: “Do you love your routines or do you like to do things on the fly? How much structure do you like in your work day?”

We love this question because startups are often moving so quickly that any employee needs to be accustom to changes be made on the fly. It’s a question that basically assesses whether or not something is a go-getter and can work with unknowns. Let’s say you’re an employer hiring for a sales role. What someone who has never worked at a startup might think is that they’re 100% supported with consistent documentation, training, and pay.

What they don’t realize is that startups often shift gears pretty quickly, so any collateral they may have provided you (I’ve worked for startups where this wasn’t even offered), for example, can quickly become out of date – and with the limited resources some startups have, it could be a month or longer before someone actually gets you what you feel you need to do well in your job. If that’s too ambiguous for you as an employee, you may consider working in a more corporate environment.

The second question is one that I see fit for anyone above entry-level, but mostly for those potential hires who are looking for an upper management or leadership role. Reason being, this question brings experience into question and obviously, if you are entry-level, you don’t have much yet. The question is: “Where was your favorite place to work and why?”

There’s a lot that an interviewer can learn about an interviewee with this question. Not only does the topic of past employment come up, but it also asks the potential hire to dig deep and explain why they liked their past role. This can often lead to other probing questions, such as “why are you looking to leave your current role” and “was there anything about this role you didn’t like?” Depending on their answer, an employer can quickly see if the interviewee’s past experiences, and their preferences, line up with what the employer is looking for.

There are many more great questions you can ask in interviews, but when it comes down to figuring out if someone is fit to work at your startup, starting with these questions can push you past the average, cliché questions at warp speed, making room in the often time-crunched interviews for solid and valuable data on the potential hire.

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