Columnist (32)

Thursday, 15 August 2013 07:28

Make it count

Written by

A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.

“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.

Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.

Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.

As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.

Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.

Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.

Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.

This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”

That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.

So why write a book?

One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”

As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?

Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.

And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.

Your ability to attract investments can make or break your business. Extra capital allows companies to expand their operations and find new customers. Most business owners do eventually reach the point where they need some sort of outside investment — whether it’s from family, a bank or an actual investor — to help them make major purchases and grow.

One of the most common ways for a business to get extra money is by incorporating and then selling stocks. Unlike a loan, issuing stock allows you to raise money without taking on additional debt.

But there are a few things you need to know before you look at raising capital for your business:

You will have to give up some control of your business.

Incorporating a business turns it into its own, separate legal entity. Your ownership of that entity is dependent on how much corporate stock you own. As you sell off that stock, you dilute the ownership of the company. Furthermore, when you incorporate, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the stockholders and the corporation.

The interests and desires of the stockholders likely coincide with your own — both parties want to see the business succeed and make money. Just remember that when you do begin to sell stock, you are empowering the holders of that stock to influence major business decisions. Before you begin selling stock, make sure you’re ready to take the opinions of your investors into serious consideration when you are running the company.

You will need actual data to back up your pitches to investors.

If you are at the stage where you are ready to start looking for investors to help you expand, chances are that your business has done pretty well. It’s not enough to point and say, ‘Look, we survived and made money!’ You need hard numbers and data — how much revenue is your business generating? What is your current revenue-to-debt ratio? How will this investment impact your future earnings?

Buying stock in a company is already a gamble because if the company doesn’t do well, the investment could be lost. So be ready to show potential investors that your company is in a position where it can create a good return on their investment.

You will have to pitch yourself, in addition to your company.

Everyone is “passionate” and “committed” about what they do when they run a business — investors have heard those buzzwords plenty of times already. Investors want to know who you are, what your credentials are, and why they should trust you with their money. Sell them on your experience, and the experience of anyone else helping to run the company.

If they are confident in you, they will be confident in your business and be much more willing to invest. Issuing stock and finding investors can be a jarring experience. Once you start selling that stock, you lose some control of your business, and suddenly the needs and demands of your investors must be taken into account when you make major business decisions.

You also have to be ready to prove the worth of both your company, and of yourself as one of the company’s directors. If you are ready to let go, and are prepared to pitch the heck out of your business, your employees and your own career history, you will find investors willing to roll the dice and put some of their own money into your business.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney
and @mycorporation.

When you go to the dictionary to look for the definition of focus, you will see such lofty things as:

the point where the geometrical lines or their prolongations conforming to the rays diverging from or converging toward another point intersect and give rise to an image after reflection by a mirror or refraction by a lens or optical system.”

or:

a point at which rays (as of light, heat, or sound) converge or from which they diverge or appear to diverge.”

Luckily, for those of us that are not physicists, I did find one definition that makes sense when trying to understand the meaning of focus:

“a point of concentration or directed attention.”

What do you concentrate on the most with your business? Where do you direct your attention? These are the questions of focus. Over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found them to be of utmost importance to the success of those in the workplace.

Let's look at 5 tips for improving your focus as a busy professional.

1. Stop doing what you are doing.

If you struggle with focus on a daily basis and you continue to think and act in the same manner – you need to stop and stop right now.

The quote that is often attributed to Albert Einstein speaks to us here: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Stop. Breathe. Assess. Evaluate.

This leads us to our second tip.

2. Determine what needs your concentration and attention.

In the workplace, too many people “fly by the seat of their pants” when it comes to what needs to get done. In most instances, it is pure laziness that sustains this way of doing things. It takes work to stay focused and be successful.

As I said above, you will need to assess and evaluate in order to determine what needs your directed attention. Hopefully you have goals in place for yourself and your team. Let those goals be the defining line for your focus.

This leads us to our third tip for improving your focus as a busy professional.

3. Clear all unnecessary distractions.

Once you have determined the areas and actions that need your concentration, it is time to laser target your focus. In order to do this, you must clear away anything that would disrupt, distract or lessen your laser focus.

Things like:

 

 

  • Cell phones

 

 

  • Television

 

 

  • Email

 

 

  • Social Media

 

 

  • Instant Messaging

 

 

  • Coworkers

 

 

  • Tasks that could be delegated

 

 

Make a list of all the things that you must stop doing in order to stay focused. This is the opposite of the normal to-do list.  It will make clear what needs to be cut out from your daily routine.

Some distractions are going to be hard to give up because they have imbedded themselves as habits – and habits take time to change. Development of laser-targeted focus does not happen overnight, but it must be practiced daily in order to achieve its mastery.

4. Work in 60- to 90-minute blocks of time and provide yourself a reward.

Do not expect too much from your focus. Saying that you are going “to work until it's done is an overload for most of us. It is also too vague and not goal-oriented.

Set aside a specific amount of time for a designated task. Studies have shown that we do well when we block off 60- or 90- minute time frames. This allows you to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that a break is coming.

As we work, our alertness drops off, increasing the lure of distractions. Set a timer and take a break at the end of each cycle.

How about a reward? We all like rewards in one form or another – even if we are the one giving the reward. Say to yourself, “After this 90 minute session of work I am going to take a 10 minute break and walk around the building.”

Other possible rewards are:

 

 

  • A snack (be careful not to overindulge and get sleepy)

 

 

  • Text messaging

 

 

  • Fresh air

 

 

  • iTunes

 

 

5. Learn to say no.

I mentioned delegated tasks earlier. Many busy professionals struggle with delegation. We tend to hold the old attitude of“if you want something done right, do it yourself.”This might be true in the here and now, but in the long run it will lead to lack of focus and, ultimately, exhaustion.

Learning to delegate is a form of learning to say no. “No, not me, not now.” When we learn to say no, we are truly saying yes to our focus.

There are many other tips that one can use to stay focused. These are the five that I have found to be the most useful. Take the time today to try one, two or all of them. Your goals deserve your focus.  Your team deserves your focus. You deserve it as well.

DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at info@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Egos are a big factor in business. Egos can cost companies a lot of money.

I learned this simple fact a long time ago, and to this day, it amazes me how much time, energy and resources are wasted by individuals unwilling to check their egos at the door and let their companies be successful. Believe me, I have an ego myself, and I have to remind myself that all the time.

We all know the type — the guy or gal who always has to be right and whose questionable judgment in business stems either from a sense of self-importance or is based upon what they feel others expect from them because of their position. This person can even be fairly pleasant and well-meaning. But when they turn out to be someone with whom you have a working relationship, things can go downhill very quickly, especially when they’re pushing ideas and making decisions for all the wrong reasons.

I sell a line of bison meat products, which is marketed as a healthful alternative to beef. One day, the company with which I was partnered hired a new marketing fellow who immediately wanted to change the packaging. It was clear that he wanted to make a big splash with his new bosses, but I was dumbfounded by his decision.

I argued, “We’ve been enjoying tremendous success, and our branding has been very clear. Why in the world would we want to change it when we have a winner?” I’m a pretty agreeable guy, but I also know when to dig in, especially when I’m fighting for something I believe in my heart is right.

After a brief internal debate, my partners agreed with my logic, and we happily continued on with our hit product.

In business, it is paramount that everyone looks for the perfect solution that works for everybody else. This isn’t about getting along with each other just for the sake of it but rather about learning to be successful together.

Ego, when it comes from a place of experience, confidence and wisdom, actually can be a tremendous asset if properly managed by the individual.

I’ve recently started working with a good friend of many years, and I totally respect his ego. He understands exactly what it takes to be successful and has the experience to enable him to accurately size up a situation and make sound business decisions. He also knows how to work with partners like me, creating a complementary relationship, not one in which there is constant bickering.

When you’re around people with healthy egos, they create an aura of chemistry and trust and can provide a nesting ground for others to be their best. These types of individuals don’t make radical changes on a whim, but they try to understand their business environment, then make decisions to either build upon existing success or fix what is not working. People like this aren’t afraid to make wrong decisions because they have the confidence — the ego — of knowing that eventually they will make the right decision.

In dealing with complicated business relationships, the most critical relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Always ask yourself the reasons behind your decisions, especially if you are challenged by peers, partners or others in trusted positions.

There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you truly believe in. But be sure you are guided by wisdom and a clear thought process with the intention of truly solving a problem or building upon previous achievements. If not, allow yourself to hear other voices and have a healthy enough ego to let them contribute to your success. ?

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

 

I was recently having lunch with a private company CEO and the topic of private equity came up. When asked if he had ever considered seeking a private equity partner to fund and support his planned growth initiatives, his answer was expectedly, “No, we don’t want to sell the business yet. We want to focus on growing the business.”

While I can certainly appreciate his perspective, that opinion is consistent among many business owners and leaders. Namely, that private equity is primarily a liquidity mechanism, not a preferred tool to fund and support company growth. Moreover, many business leaders often see their growth plans as incompatible with private equity, which they associate with high leverage and limited financial flexibility.

This perspective of incompatibility was also on display during the recent presidential election. Private equity firms were broadly characterized as opportunistic value extractors, rather than enablers of company growth and job creation.

While the purpose of this article isn’t to defend private equity (there certainly are some firms worthy of this negative characterization), significant evidence exists to suggest that, in general, private-equity-backed companies experience proportionally greater growth. This is particularly true for small-to-medium-sized businesses.

Private capital a key to growth

According to studies performed by GrowthEconomy.org between 1995 and 2009, U.S. private-capital-backed business grew jobs by 81.5 percent and revenue by 132.8 percent, compared to 11.7 percent and 28.0 percent, respectively, for all other companies.

In California, over the same period, the story was even more favorable to private equity.  Private-capital-backed businesses grew jobs and revenues by 123.1 percent and 155.2 percent respectively, compared to 11.3 percent and 26.4 percent for all other California businesses.

While each situation is unique, there are many reasons why private-equity-backed companies experience greater growth.

Access to capital

With the continued tightness in the credit market for small-to-medium-sized businesses, private equity can be a source of capital to support growth initiatives.

Additionally, private equity firms often have preferred relationships with lenders, giving businesses more access to attractive and flexible debt financing where appropriate. With greater access to capital, companies can more quickly, nimbly and opportunistically implement growth initiatives.

Strategic guidance and ongoing operational support

A private equity partner can provide much-needed strategic and operational resources to support the company’s growth initiatives and ongoing operations. This often leads to more thorough and refined growth strategies, as well as more effective plan execution and implementation.

Private equity firms often have large networks of industry experts and experienced operators that they can bring to bear to support company growth and operations.

Increased capacity for acquisitions

Private-equity-backed companies are significantly more acquisitive than other private businesses. Acquisitions can be an attractive source of growth, allowing companies to increase their customer footprint, expand geographically, create greater scale and enhance capabilities in a relatively short time frame.

However, successfully identifying, executing and integrating acquisitions can be very difficult. Many business leaders don’t have the time or experience to effectively pursue acquisitions. Private equity firms generally have expertise executing acquisition strategies and can be valuable partners in supporting companies as they identify, negotiate, execute and integrate acquisitions.

Private equity can be a compatible and effective tool to support and achieve company growth — not simply a mechanism to achieve liquidity. While private equity is not appropriate in every situation, and not all private equity firms are growth-oriented, business owners and leaders should carefully consider a private equity partnership when evaluating their ongoing growth initiatives and funding options.

Josh Harmsen is a principal at Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com) a private equity firm in Newport Beach, Calif. Solis focuses on disciplined investment in lower middle-market companies. Harmsen was previously with Morgan Stanley & Co. and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Monday, 06 June 2011 16:28

Think big, win big

Written by

Former President George W. Bush recently asked me to offer my perspective on economic growth at the launch of the Bush Institute’s 4 Percent Project. The idea was to pull together the very best ideas on how to get the economy growing again — and growing fast. The Four Percent Project refers to growing the U.S. economy at a 4 percent gross domestic product annual growth rate.

Some suggest that 4 percent growth is too ambitious. Yes, it’s ambitious, but it’s necessary. In America, we achieve big things when we need to. Big goals lead to historic achievements, innovations and incredible benefits previously thought impossible. The most ambitious of goals are called BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). BHAGs work because they become a symbol of what we stand for and strive for as individuals, organizations and as a country.

OK, so how do we achieve the 4 percent BHAG? It starts with partnership. Businesses cannot do it alone. Government cannot do it alone. They have to work together.

There’s a rich history of collaboration between business and government in America. From the creation of the “arsenal of democracy” in World War II to the race to space, government investment in high tech made innovation scalable and affordable. Even the Internet was originally a government initiative embraced by business to change the world.

By its actions today, however, government policies are hurting economic growth. They’re driving U.S. companies’ operations away to foreign shores at the fastest rate in history. If we want to do what’s absolutely essential to restore job growth, strengthen our economy and get more revenues flowing again, we need government to reconnect with entrepreneurs on three dimensions: tax reform, regulatory and tort reform, and education.

We’ve got to make the tax code competitive. We cannot have a 39 percent corporate tax rate when the competition is less. The average European tax rate has been declining for the past 15 years and is now 24 percent. Also, we must make the tax code fairer, simpler and, yes, close loopholes. Business should also be able to repatriate profits at a more reasonable tax rate. The crazy policy of taxing overseas cash at high rates is an incentive to keep billions out of the U.S. that should be invested here.

Next, we need more incentives for research and development. The R&D tax credit is a proven job creator. Our competitors know this and are beating us in this area. Sadly, we haven’t improved our position in years. Finally, we should reform the personal income tax. Its complexities and inequities hurt a struggling middle class and debilitate small business owners who file individual returns.

Regulations are also a job killer. My favorite description of their effect came from a small-business person who compared it to “swimming through peanut butter.” He’s right. Today, it costs nearly 18 percent more to do business in the United States, a serious handicap in the global economic arena. Companies want regulations that are reasonable. They want to play by rules that are based upon rational, broadly beneficial objectives.

Tort reform is also mandatory. Our well-intentioned litigation system is distorted and manipulated by frivolous claims that paralyze progress. California’s tort system, for example, imposes about $32 billion in costs annually.

Finally, we need a herculean effort to improve education — the biggest long-term threat to our economic growth. We have to get more dollars to the classroom while rewarding outstanding teachers the same way we reward excellence in other professions — with more money. We should allow more charter schools to increase competition and innovation, and we should increase investment in higher education.

Just as wildfire can foster new growth from ground that has been long shadowed, the worst economy since the Great Depression can be the catalyst for reform. It won’t be easy, but failure isn’t an option. America depends on actions taken right now by government and business. Working together, we can make this BHAG reality.

Meg Whitman is the former CEO of eBay and was the Republican nominee for governor of California in 2010. She currently serves on the board of directors for Procter & Gamble, Hewlett-Packard, Zipcar and Teach for America. She is also a strategic adviser with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Page 3 of 3