Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Blog Has Been Moved

Dear Reader,

I have recently switched my blog to www.usmansheikh.com. Please visit my new blog site and update your RSS feeds and subscriptions. I apologize for any inconvenience during this migration.

If you have any questions or queries please send me an email or leave me a message on my new blog.

Thank you for your continued readership and patronage. I greatly appreciate it.

Wishing you a very successful and exciting new year.

Best Regards

Usman Sheikh

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Filed under: Change

The Secret to Success

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

Unfortunately there is no magical formula or path to guarantee success. Reading autobiographies of some of the most successful people in the world and engaging in conversations with successful entrepreneurs, the one common tread that is always brought up in one way or other, is their level of persistence. This theme is stressed upon vigorously and they reiterate how they nearly gave up, but something told them to keep going on. I am reading the “Second Bounce of the Ball” by Ronald Cohen these days, a founding member of the private equity industry, and he brings up this point in one of the early chapters of his book. In the first couple of years of setting up his business he lost both of his partners because they did not think the business was going to survive. However he kept faith and persistence in the inner conviction that he was onto something and kept plugging away. Success came 7-8 years into his venture but at the end of his career he was managing $2ob.

Starting an enterprise is hard work. Everyone knows that, but I think many of them underestimate just how challenging it actually is to get a venture past the break even point into profitability. However, plugging away on a venture without changing the strategies that are not working, is obviously not very smart either. Listed below are a couple of pointers to assist you push through the challenges and achieve the goals and results you want.

1. Clarify your goals: I have reiterated this point many a time on my blogs. Before starting any venture, ensure you know what you are working towards. What is the final end goal? What do you want to achieve, and by when? Make your goals as specific as possible and ensure that they are measurable and time bound. Without clear goals, chances are that you will lose steam half way, begin to doubt yourself and lose faith in the venture. You need to be emotionally and mentally connected with your goals and believe with conviction that you have the abilities to reach them.

2. Have a Plan: If you set a goal for your business to achieve a $1m in profits in 3 years time of selling your product/service, then chart out a plan how you plan to achieve the goal. What are the steps that need to be taken? What are major milestones that need to be achieved along the way? What resources will you need to realize your plans? What are your backup strategies if you are unable to hit some of your mini goals? A plan is a critical element in keeping you focused and provides much needed motivation during those rough times.

3. Partners: These could be your business partners or they could be associates from your mastermind groups or mentors who help push you when the chips are down. When you are riding solo and business is not going as planned it can get very lonely, frustrating and demotivating. Without an adequate support system even the most persistent and determined individuals can falter. Make sure you have partners who will be there to catch you in case you fall and will help you get back up again.

4. Shrug of Negativeness: How many times have you heard someone shoot down a business idea that you may want to pursue or tell you that the economy is so bad that your chance of succeeding is negligible. As an entrepreneur you need to be able to shrug of this negativity without letting it affect your mental capacities. By surrendering to external circumstances we will find ourselves paralyzed and often unable to think or act correctly. Have faith and believe in what you are doing  rather than other people, let concerned people give you feedback and take it from there.

Success is usually the last person still hanging on when everyone else has given up. It takes patience, persistence and a level of self confidence that enables you to weather the storms when the going gets tough. Remember not to fight through the challenges blindly without adjusting your strategies along the way. If you really believe that what you are wanting to achieve is possible and you can do it, you are more than half way there.

Filed under: Advice, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , ,

What do you do when you fall?

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” Alfred (Batman Begins)

I was having an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday about the economic climate and the alarming rate of business closures in multiple sectors. We were sharing personal stories about how we had dealt with difficult times in our respective businesses and what things kept us plugging away even when it seemed to be the end of the road. I am sure you understand that problems are part and parcel of starting a new business or being part of a new venture. Some problems will be larger than others but you never really quite run out of them. When you solve a specific challenge in a particular segment of your business it does sometimes manifest itself in another aspect of it.

For example, suppose your business is struggling with sales generation. After brainstorming and overcoming that problem, the next challenge is often managing the inflow of new orders which the business may not be equipped to do. This forms a cycle where it is possible to continue moving forward and facing new challenges as they appear. However, it is not usually as simple as that. There are three potential stages we can go through when facing a challenge.

1. Ignore it: How many times have we been faced with a problem either of a personal nature or in a professional aspect of our life and chosen to ignore it. There have been many times that I can personally recall where we knew something was wrong with the way our business was doing a certain process yet we never changed it. Wanting a different reaction from the same action is unfortunately something that many of us find ourselves doing when we do not want to move out of our comfort zones. We pretend that our problems do not exist or are not affecting us and hope for a miraculous change. Unfortunately that usually never comes and most of the time we just end up amplifying the problems.

2. Blame somebody: This is probably the most used excuse whenever we are faced with a problem. The economy is bad, my partner cheated me, we lost our star sales person, we do not have the funds or I am not skilled enough. This is another easy way to deal with problems. We shift the blame to anyone we can, including ourselves sometimes in the face of problems we cannot pass on. This creates a detrimental and negative cycle that ends up sapping all motivation and drive we may have left in ourselves and we let our environment condition us in whatever way it deems fit. This is giving up  control in our lives by burying our head in the sand.

3, Solution: The most productive thing we can do for ourselves whenever we face a problem is to correctly identify it, document where it is stemming from, brainstorm with individuals who will be able to pinpoint pain areas and develop a set of options that can help us deal with them. As start ups, we go through some tough challenges such as getting your first big reference customer, securing funding or convincing a star player to join your team. We have to look at each of these problems with an open mind and no matter how many times we fall down, we must learn the lesson inherent in the fall, then learn to pick ourselves up again.

Most of the things discussed in this post may appear extremely obvious. I mean who wants to admit that they are actually not dealing effectively with a problem that they may have in their life. I recommend getting a piece of paper and writing down all the major problems that you may be facing in life right now whether of a personal or business nature. Next, identify how you are dealing with these problems. We are often surprised to discover that we focus so much on the fact that we have these problems, that we forget to think of  necessary solutions. In order to move forward we need to understand that problems are a natural part of life, the quality of our lives however depends primarily on how we deal with them.

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Focused Are You?

“Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” Anthony Robbins

The pace of our lives is increasing on an almost daily basis. Sometimes I just don’t know where the day goes between phone calls, emails, blogging and dealing with customers. What happens though is that we tend to begin autopiloting a lot of daily tasks and instead of working towards our goals we get stuck in just maintaining the state we are in. I have seen people maintain this state for years, months or weeks on end without realizing that they are just not making any significant progress in their lives. Yet when you talk to them and ask about their schedule and business it is usually packed. I have gone through several periods like this myself and I think one of the most significant changes that I made to my daily schedule was adopting the GTD methodology. For those of you not familiar with the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology please click on the link below to a series explaining it.

The GTD methodology has helped me tremedously in keeping my eye on bigger goals while making sure that all the mini steps that need to be completed are clearly marked out as well. Early last year I started reading Leo Babauta’s  Zen Habits blog seriously. He also follows the GTD methodology and has modified the original methodology in some places. One of the modifications that really helped me was his concept of setting the three most important things that one needs to accomplish in a day. Instead of having your usual to-do list which can often be a little overwhelming, he trimmed it down to 3 things that would have the greatest impact on your day, week, month and year. This has helped me prioritize my action items and has helped me in getting a lot more of the critical things accomplished, sooner rather than later. 

Focus is a key success factor that is found in all great individuals. Whether they be entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers or even bloggers. The ability to concentrate our energies on activities that yield the highest output will result in accomplishing our goals faster and with greater efficiency. This being the start of the new year I would highly recommend integrating the ‘3 most important things list’ to your daily schedule and see whether it makes an impact on your life. I wish you all the best of success in 2009. 

Related Posts:

5 Steps to Get Things Done

Filed under: Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , ,

Inspiring Entrepreneurial Story

“I’ve always learned on-the-job, in real time. A problem comes up; I research it, and try to solve it. You can’t study to be an entrepreneur; you have to develop those skills day in day out. “ Tom Szaky

I have memories of going to a video rental store over the weekend when I was around 6-8 years old. The video store was called Star Video and when they gave us the videos they were packed in a paper bag which had the logo of a restaurant called Barbeque Tonite on it. The restaurant was the final aim of the owners of this small video rental franchise that had a couple of locations. The owner’s son used to school with me  and was a friend. Eventually they opened a small restaurant that served traditional barbeque food and very wisely paid an exceptional amount of attention to detail and quality. The place could probably hold a maximum of around 50 odd people in those early days. Fast forward to today, the restaurant has witnessed an absolutely explosive level of growth. Today it probably has a capacity of at least 500+ customers spread over 4 floors. They have a limited menu but the quality has remained evenly and  exceptionally good, this has kept most of us coming back for more week after week.

Seeing the level of success of this restaurant, many have attempted to replicate it, as close to them as possible, to cash in on the spillover since there are always  huge crowds waiting to get into the place. However, none of them have succeeded in coming close. Having dinner there tonight, I was once again amazed at the level of success that they enjoy and whenever I visit their restaurant it renews my faith as an entrepreneur. The owners knew from the very beginning what they wanted. The vision to be the leading provider of local barbeque food was something that each of them were passionate about and they figured out a way to raise money for the venture. Once they had managed to do that, there was no looking back.

There are two important lessons from this story. The first is, before you start whatever you want to,  ask yourself  “Is this something that I am truly passionate about?” If the chosen line of business is something you are passionate about, the next step is the need to articulate a vision for the business you want to run. I have made the mistake of not thinking through the second aspect with enough detail on several occasions and have paid a price for it. Without a clear vision one usually spends a lot of time going round in circles not quite knowing which direction to take. This problem is overcome when you think things  through and know and visualize exactly what you want. During the course of working it out practically things will change somewhat but the fact that there is a guiding principle from the very beginning is essential for starting on the right foot.

Filed under: Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Top 5 Posts for 2008

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Herman Cain

The first day of the new year is always a special time. It is like you have a fresh start, and can start off with a clean slate. Undoubtedly the forecasts for 2009 are not as rosy as the year before. However, I believe that we are all in charge of our own future. If we want it to turn a certain way, we have to make a conscious and concentrated effort to make sure we do whatever we can to ensure we achieve what we want. It is a lot easier to sit on the sidelines and just accept the fact that it is going to be an extremely difficult year and do nothing about it. If however you do want to bring about a particular change in your life, there is really no better time to start than…. now. Listed below are my top 5 series posts, traffic wise. I hope they will help make 2009 a great year for you.

1. 8 characteristics of Ideal Business partner

2. 5 Steps on How to Make a Decision

3. 5 Steps to Write a Customer Value Proposition

4. 5 Steps to Creating Winning Teams

5. 5 steps to Ensure Effective Meetings

Filed under: Advice, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , ,

Looking Forward to 2009

“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” John M. Richardson, Jr.

As I look back at 2008 it seems a bit of a blur. Everything moved so fast I can’t believe the year has already come to an end. I can clearly remember setting up this blog exactly a year ago and posting my first entry in the early hours of 2008. A lot has happened in these last 365 days. I am really happy that I was able to keep my resolution of blogging everyday and to tell you the truth, I am quite relieved that the pressure has finally been lifted today. However, what I have gained is hopefully a lifelong habit of documenting my thoughts in writing and also sharing them with the rest of you. The act of writing down your thoughts on a regular basis has been therapeutic and a great learning exercise. A lot of things have become much clearer and more importantly my thoughts seem to be much more structured.

Looking at 2009 I have not really had the chance to sit down and think about the resolutions I want to make for 2009. My life has been a bit of a tizzy these last couple of weeks with a lot of traveling and more recently being down with a nasty bacterial infection. However, I plan to use the next couple of days to reflect and think about what I want to achieve this year. There are many new ventures I have planned for the coming year which I will be sharing with all of you in greater detail in the coming weeks. There is an e-book I want to publish this year. Lastly I want to really improve this blog in 2009 and actually convert it into a profitable one with strong growth prospects. What I need to do with the goals listed above is to convert them into SMART goals. Ones which I will be able to measure and be specific about in order to reach them.

Unlike last year I do not plan on making any one major commitment without giving it adequate thought and research. This year my resolutions are going to be well thought out and be formed on the basis of some larger goals I want to achieve in the next couple of years. Keeping the bigger picture in mind when developing your goals is essential. We need to take these small steps in order to finally reach our destination. Expecting to make huge leaps is possible, but that is associated with enormous levels of risk. One of the things that this year of blogging has taught me is that slow and steady wins the race. We need to begin our journey somewhere to be able to make a impact. I will keep all of you updated on resolutions in the next couple of days. I want to thank all my daily readers for their continued readership. I look forward to serving all of you in 2009 and if there is anything I can do to help improve your experience on my blog please let me know. Happy New Year to everyone.  I wish all of you the very best of luck and success.

Filed under: About Me, Advice, Change, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Lessons from a Year of Blogging

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” Denis Waitley

I made a resolution on the 31st of Dec 2007 to blog every day for an entire year. Not quite knowing what I was getting myself into I started writing and have not looked back since. Through the course of the year I realized that the goal I had set for myself was very challenging and required a lot more time and effort than I had expected. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed writing on a daily basis and aim to continue blogging through 2009. Next year I do not plan to blog everyday but have added some new twists along the way to help differentiate my blog from others in my niche. Listed below are 10 lessons that I have learnt after a year of blogging. If I had read these lessons prior to starting my blogging journey I would have been more prepared for what was in store for me. I hope these lessons will help new blog writers on their journey.

Lesson #1 – Selecting a Niche: Before one starts to blog, clearly identify the target market that you want to serve. This will provide definition and boundaries for your blog and help you to be more focused and become an authority figure in that particular niche. To learn more and access some helpful links on selecting a niche please click here.

Lesson #2 – Passion: The niche that is selected must be something one is truly passionate about. If you just begin writing about something that seems to be the buzz these days, it is most likely that motivation levels will fall drastically over a short period of time. To learn more about passion and selection of your blog niche please click here.

Lesson #3 – Have a Goal: This helps put things in perspective as well giving you achievable targets. Some metrics to track progress by are, number of posts, number of blog hits, number of comments etc. Set specific goals that can be measured and tracked. By doing this simple goal setting exercise , you have a far greater chance of success. To learn more about goal setting for your blog please click here.

Lesson #4 – Commitment: If you are planning on starting your blog next year, I suggest you give serious time and thought  to evaluate how much time you can actually spare in your day to blog. How long does it take you on average to write a blog post ? What other factors will help your commitment when you do start? Lastly, make an open commitment to the blogsphere about your aspirations and goals for the year of 2009. To learn more about commitments and blogs please click here.

Lesson #5 – Providing Value: I use the NABC formula to develop most of my value propositions. It simply helps you identify the Need, Approach, Benefit and Competition. Based on these core principles you can come up with a proposition that will help generate considerable value for your target segment. To learn about this formula in greater detail and how to apply it to your blog please click here.

Lesson #6 – Importance of Reading: If you plan to write a new blog in 2009 then reading is something I highly recommend integrating into your daily schedule. This will not only increase your knowledge base it will also help you get a better command over how to write as well. One needs to be constantly aware about the changes taking place in one’s niche and what authority figures are talking about. To learn more about my daily reading schedule please click here.

Lesson #7 – Dealing with Writers Block: Writing on a regular basis is a challenging feat. One which is bound to frustrate and irritate you at times,  it is also one of the most satisfying and rewarding things to be able to integrate into one’s life. Dealing with writers block is a part of being a writer. Some of the things I use to deal with it are taking short walks, doing a brain dump exercise or even using mind maps. To learn more about the strategies I use along with some helpful links please click here.

Lesson #8 – Patience: Developing a readership and increasing your daily traffic takes a lot of hard work. Expecting to make 6 figures a year from part time blogging is wishful thinking. One needs to focus on developing great content and using it to drive traffic to your blog. The beauty of the internet is its ability for the rapid exponential growth of your blog. A blog that is growing at a monthly pace of 10% will see traffic increase steadily through the course of the year and eventually those numbers will begin to multiply. To learn more about patience and blogging please click here.

Lesson #9 – Networking: A lesson I learnt late in my blogging journey was networking effectively through the blogsphere. If I were to start a new blog in 2009 I would spend more time building a comprehensive blogroll, concentrating on cross linking from high traffic blogs, commenting regularly and using social media to develop strong relationships with authority figures in my niche. To learn more about these techniques please click here.

Lesson #10 – Having Fun: This is an essential factor if one is wanting to blog on a regular basis. If one does not enjoy writing or reading, blogging on a regular basis is going to be more of a chore rather than something to look forward to. Pick a niche that excites you and half the battle is won. For the other half I recommend you should just write,  slowly and over time the content of your blog will become better and eventually blogging will become a lot of fun. To learn more about having fun while blogging please click here.

I hope these lessons will be of some help to first time bloggers. If you have been blogging for some time and have learnt or experienced some other lessons please share them so that we can build a repository to help first time bloggers. I wish you all the very best of success in future blogging ventures.

Filed under: Advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lesson #10: Having Fun

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” Dale Carnegie

Blogging on a regular basis is hard work. I am pretty sure most of us who blog on a regular basis have days when we just do not want to even look at a blank piece of paper that we need to convert into a worthwhile post. However, after a while,  inspiration does come and one begins writing. Sometimes it really feels like magic to me when you have just get started on a single point and suddenly….. you have a post, one that you can be proud of. I don’t always think its magic! More often than not it is a mixture of passion, hard work and persistence. However the most important ingredient in all this is that we need to enjoy the process. When you have fun doing something it becomes easy to do it and you no longer need to push yourself too hard. To top it all off, a single good comment on the post makes my day and it  all worthwhile. The fact that someone out there was able to connect with what I have written is an awesome feeling.

When one starts to blog just for the sake of blogging, it saps out all the fun from the process. That is why I had mentioned passion being supremely important when selecting what one wants to blog about. In the end however it all comes to down to doing something you have fun with and enjoy doing. It’s almost a year since I first started blogging,  I don’t think I would have made it all the way here if I had not had so much fun along the way. Seeing my readership numbers steadily increase, increased number of comments and the links that I have made this year have all been an added bonus.

This lesson has a wide application through our life. We sometimes make choices and decisions that appear to be the ‘right’ one at that point of time  because society deems it to be so. It takes a lot of courage and faith in one’s own ability to go off the beaten path, specially if that is one that does not bring us the sort of excitment and joy we want. Going off the beaten track is almost always a much more challenging route to take, with a whole bunch of obstacles along the way that remind you it is not too late to turn back and get back on the accepted track. However, if you follow a path that brings you a level of excitment, joy and most importantly the satisfaction you desire, very few things should persuade you to stop doing it. I hope everyone has the strength and courage to follow their heart  and may they find great success in doing so.

Filed under: Advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lesson #9: Networking

“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Keith Ferrazzi

A lesson I learnt late in my blogging journey was networking effectively through the blogsphere . When I started this blog I had a tiny blog roll and did a poor job of linking it to other articles and posts. It is only recently that I have discovered how effective linking can be, not only to promote  visibility of your blog but to network with other bloggers who may be writing in the same niche as you. The fact of the matter is that the multiplier effect gets amplified definitively through the internet. A blog post can suddenly become viral, and  your blog can experience an enormous amount of traffic. Even though I have put much heavier emphasis on creating quality content for my blog since the beginning of this year, I should not have neglected the power of developing deeper relationships with authority figures in my niche to help in the expansion of this blog in year 2.

If I were to start my blogging journey again from the very beginning, I would place much greater emphasis on networking and linking . Listed below are a couple of steps I would have followed to build up my blog’s visibility through networking and linking:

1. Join twitter as soon as possible. Thanks to twitter I have built up close relationships with many bloggers since I started actively using the service a month ago. If I had put in the same amount of effort from the very beginning of this year I am pretty sure my blog’s traffic would be much higher, I would have had better relationships with  many prominent bloggers and I would hence have developed a channel through which my blog posts could become viral almost instantly.

2. The blogroll on my blog is very weak. It barely includes any of the blogs that I read on a regular basis. Developing a substantial blogroll is another factor that I would pay more attention to if I were starting this blog over again. This way I would appear on the radar of some larger blog sites and it would also help my readers to link to many relevant blogs in the same niche.

3. Commenting is a powerful strategy to bring visibility to one’s blog as well as to integrate it into conversations taking place online. Comments provide a great platform to showcase opinions and suggestions which could help attract new readers to one’s blog as well as develop closer relationships with other bloggers.

These are some straegies that I would use to build stronger networks and deeper relationships with prominent bloggers in my niche. The sooner we begin putting in that extra effort to develop these relationships the sooner we will see results of our blogging effort. If any reader has any good link to articles that discuss linking or networking through blogs I would appreciate it if you could post the links. Thanks.

Filed under: Advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,