What Is “The Future of Work”?

21 Mar

I’d like to share an interesting blog post from The Aspen Institute: The 411 on the “Future of Work” published March 17, 2018 & authored by Mark G. Popovich, Maureen Conway & Joyce Klein.

Is the gig economy, that is a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs, just the next evolution of our work force? Or is it something entirely new?

I’m interested in your thoughts – comment below. Thank you.




Live a Good Life!

4 Mar

Charles LaughingOn the occasion of my 48th birthday, I’d like to share a great article by John Rampton that appeared in “Entrepreneur” (online) on February 13, 2018:

10 Ways to Turn Your Life Around for the Better

Sage advice for all of us!

Hustle – Good, Hustled – Bad

17 Feb

Note: I would like to acknowledge and thank my fellow Veteran small business owner, Fred Wellman (https://www.linkedin.com/in/frederickwellman/), for his LinkedIn post on 2/15/18 that inspired this blog entry.

hus·tle (pronounced: ˈhəsəl)
verb: 1) to sell or promote energetically and aggressively, 2) to sell something to or obtain something from (someone) by energetic and especially underhanded activity.

A few years back, I was part of a “reduction in force” at work due to federal budget cuts and contract cancellations. I had worked in government contracting for about a decade at this point, was pretty sick of it, and was looking for a career change. I considered becoming a financial advisor, but the company I was interviewing with wanted me to spend 2-3 years selling life insurance before it would sponsor me for my Series 6 and Series 7 licenses. Their sales formula was 200 cold calls equals 10 customer meetings which would generate 1 policy. I would be expected to follow this formula on a weekly basis. All of my activity would be logged – if I met certain sales targets, I would receive cash and prizes; and if I failed to meet my targets, I would be chastised and ridiculed in front of my co-workers.

Yeah – no thanks.

For years, we’ve been taught that the key to successful sales is ABC (Always Be Closing). For more on this sales technique, I highly recommend watching the movie Glengarry Glen Ross.

Hustle (doing what you do with passion and energy) is a good thing. Being hustled (feeling the need to take a shower after meeting a sales rep) is not a good thing. What distinguishes one from the other? In the former case (hustle) – the sales rep (and we are all sales reps) takes the time to do research and ask questions in order to determine if their product/service is meeting a potential client’s needs. In the latter case (hustled), the sales rep moves from one client to the next as quickly as possible in order to meet a sales target.

Here are a few examples of bad selling (i.e. being hustled) that I have personally experienced this week alone:

1. I received a LinkedIn request to connect; and almost immediately upon accepting the request, I received a message from said individual stating, “Hey Charles, I was looking at your (LinkedIn) profile and it looks like there is a lot of synergy between our two companies. I’d love to see how I could connect with your clients to offer my services.”

I’ve never met this person. In fact, they have had no involvement with me or my organization at all. And notice that this person’s sales pitch was about them, not me (or my clients). Oh, and use of the term “synergy” is a red flag that you are a huckster.

2. An acquaintance made an e-introduction to a person who had just started a small business. When I offered my services to help with their business, I was told they were too busy with their “job” to take any classes/counseling on small business start-up. But would I be interested in learning about their consulting “business” and seeing if there was a way we could work together?

If you are “too busy” to learn about me and my organization, then what level of service are you really going to be able to provide? Again, this person just wanted access to my clients.

3. And finally, another acquaintance made another e-introduction to another small business owner. I invited said individual to attend our free orientation in order to learn more about my organization and what we do.

A week has gone by and I haven’t received a reply to my email. Even a “no thanks” is better than no response.

I have spent the past decade building a reputation (and I hope a good one) as a small business owner, advocate, teacher and counselor. I meet thousands of small business owners each year; and I make hundreds of referrals based on the needs of my clients.

First, I have a responsibility to my clients to provide the best service possible. So, I’m not going to refer my clients to a person who is more interested in the sale than the service.

And I’m done responding to unsolicited sales pitches from people who clearly haven’t done even the most basic research about me or my organization. My advice to these individuals – just STOP!

I understand we are all trying to make a living. But consumers today have choices – lots of choices. Including (and more often than not) ignoring us. Stop being part of the noise. Don’t let your first interaction be an aggressive sales pitch. Instead, turn your energy towards doing some basic research. Ask questions. Listen to what your potential client is saying. And only when you understand their needs do you offer your product or service. If it isn’t a good fit, don’t make the pitch.

In other words, make a real connection. Yes, it takes time to build relationships (there is no shortcut), but those relationships will help ensure the longevity of your business. See my blog post on selling for more advice on building trusted relationships with your clients: https://postcynical.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/everybody-sells-not-everybody-sells-well/

Everybody Keep Calm…

5 Feb

After a 665 point drop on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) plummeted 1175.21 points on Monday (2/5/18) to close at 24,345.75 – erasing all of its 2018 gains. Here’s some insight into what happened: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/05/why-the-stock-market-plunged-today.html

Market corrections happen. Throw in the fact that stock valuations were near historic heights in an overheated market and you have the perfect recipe for the kind of pullback we are experiencing right now. I know – that doesn’t help calm the fear as you watch your retirement account dwindle.

Perhaps the most important thing investors can do right now is keep their heads amid the day’s admittedly sour headlines. The more investors pull money out of the market, the more it will drop, which means even more investors will react, causing further decline.

Unless you really, really need that money to survive, stay calm and wait it out. Better yet, take advantage of the pullback and buy more shares. It’s too late to close the barn door after the horses have bolted, so instead start putting money into that emergency savings account you had always meant to start.

The Dangers of Wanting Something Too Much…

2 Feb

I want to share a dream that I had recently:

I’m at a riverfront in a major city waiting to board a ferry. It appears that I’m on a journey of some sort as I’m carrying a backpack full of belongings. When I get to the gangplank, the guy taking tickets tells me that the ferry is full and I cannot board. I protest! I have a ticket! I have to get on that ferry! But no matter how much I protest, I will not be allowed to board.

I’m angry as I watch the ferry pull away from the pier. What am I going to do now?

As I turn to walk away, I hear a groaning sound – and just as I turn back toward the water, the ferry rolls on its side, capsizes and disappears under the water. No lifeboats, no life-jackets, no survivors.

Had I been on that ferry, I’d be dead, too.

Oscar Wilde said, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” In life, work and love, too many times our ambition blinds us to other opportunities. And a disappointing “failure” turns out to be the best thing that could have happened to us.

Now, I think I know what my dream was telling me – about a specific thing I really wanted. Only time will tell – and I’ll keep you posted.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset vs. Business Skills

15 Jan

A World Bank study – jointly released in September 2017 with the National University of Singapore Business School and Leuphana University – reveals that psychology-based entrepreneur training programs are outperforming traditional business trainings amongst microentrepreneurs in West Africa, translating into increased firm profits by 30% compared to 11% for traditional business training.

“This psychology-based training aims at developing key behaviors associated with a proactive entrepreneurial mindset such as self-starting behavior, innovation, identifying and exploiting new opportunities, goal-setting, planning and feedback cycles, and overcoming obstacles,” said Michael Frese, Professor at the National University of Singapore Business School and Leuphana University. Frese developed the alternative approach of personal initiative training and co-authored the study.

However, the findings of this study (in my opinion) do not negate the need for entrepreneurs to have a solid foundation in traditional business training focused on accounting, marketing, and other basic business skills. See my previous blog post for more insight on traditional business training.

5 Steps for Starting Your Business (Revised for 2018)

2 Jan

starting a businessIt takes more than just a good idea to launch and grow a successful business – it requires patience, determination and a willingness to start small and to plan, test and revise your business idea. It’s easy to become overwhelmed in the early stages of starting a business. Here are five key steps to starting your own business:

1. Connect with an SBA Resource Partner: There is no reason for a would-be-entrepreneur to try to start their business alone. The Small Business Administration (SBA) directs a national entrepreneurial network that provides business assistance to more than 1.2 million entrepreneurs and small businesses each year. These SBA resource partners (SCORE, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) and Women’s Business Centers (WBCs)) provide quality training, one-on-one counseling and networking opportunities that can help you start, grow and compete in the marketplace. And they have helped small businesses across the country to raise start-up and growth capital and sell billions of dollars in products and services world-wide. You can find the SBA resource partner nearest you at https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance

Note: If you started your business without seeking guidance or without a plan, you should still reach out to an SBA Resource Partner. There is no magic bullet for fixing a struggling or failing business, but an advisor can keep you from spending even more money on bad ideas with limited results.

2. Do Your Research: There are two great myths in the start-up community – 1) Everybody wants/needs what I’m selling and 2) My business is different/unique – and so potential business owners fail to do the proper market and industry research. I highly recommend using The Lean Start-up Method (http://theleanstartup.com/) and The Business Model Canvas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks68qw5cBMc) to conduct Customer Discovery and build a Business Model before taking any other steps in starting your business. Here is another great resource to help you through the research process: https://steveblank.com/tools-and-blogs-for-entrepreneurs/

3. Educate Yourself: You probably have a fair amount of expertise in your chosen field (IT/cybersecurity, consulting, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc.) or you wouldn’t have the passion to start a business based on it. Equally probable is that you lack the requisite knowledge to turn your passion into a successful business. That’s not an insult – most of us are not born with an innate understanding of business entities, small business taxes, registration and regulations, finance, accounting, marketing, etc. You don’t need an MBA – your local SBA resource partners offer monthly classes on all these subjects and more.

4. Draft a Business Plan: Once you have determined that your idea is feasible as a business, you want to draft an action plan. Most lending institutions will want a 3 year financial forecast which is absurd at this point. Instead, this first draft (that’s right, the first of many) should focus on only those actions you need to take to start testing your business. If your plan calls for half a million dollars in funding or signing a 5 year lease for office space – STOP! See step 1.

5. Test Your Plan: Repeat after me: “think big, START SMALL!” Too many times I meet entrepreneurs who were overly ambitious in the startup phase and are now struggling to generate revenue to cover all of those unnecessary fixed costs. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I test this idea without spending a lot of money?” Again, opt for lean. Start a home-based business or use a business incubator for part-time office/meeting space, prototyping (http://www.techshop.ws/) or as a commercial kitchen (http://www.eater.com/2016/2/26/11110808/food-incubator-accelerator-small-business). Try selling on-line, at the local farmer’s market or try a pop-up (http://www.dummies.com/business/start-a-business/just-what-is-a-pop-up-business/). Can you test your services (and build past performance) by teaming, sub-contracting or forming a joint venture with another, established, business? Not only are you testing your business idea, you are building brand awareness and, hopefully, generating revenue.

In closing, I want to address three issues:

  1. Start-up Capital: You are an unknown would-be entrepreneur with an unproven business model, so traditional lenders are going to be reluctant to fund your venture. Instead you are going to have to count on self-funding, microloans and crowdfunding. You want revenue, not debt.
  1. Start-up Timeline: Building a successful business takes time. If you are planning to start your business in 2018, I suggest planning to take the whole year to work through these 5 steps. It takes time to conduct 100 customer interviews, attend small business classes and test your business idea. The most important thing to do is to start. Too many would-be entrepreneurs spend too much time refining and re-writing their business plan without ever testing a prototype, talking to a potential customer or teaming partner.
  1. Check Yourself (Before You Wreck Yourself – and Your Business): It’s great to have passion, a positive attitude and confidence in yourself; but arrogance can be the death of a business. You can choose to take business classes or not, take advice or not, conduct research or not. At the end of the day, it’s your business. If you find yourself blaming your advisors, your business partners and even your customers for issues with your business, then it’s probably time to consider a career change.

Now, go forward and thrive!