Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

Icon

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

Lesson #5: Providing Value

Only the man who crosses the river at night knows the value of the light of day Chinese Proverbs

For a blog to develop a readership and grow in popularity, it has to provide value. There are many ways to do this. Some of the ways is providing information, aggregating information or even a real time news service. Either way readers should  benefit from the information being provided and be intrigued enough to come back for more. I have written about developing a value proposition for your product/service (Are you different?). A similar approach can be taken with slight adjustments when we want to do a N(need)A(approach)B(benefit)C(competition) analaysis of a blog.

1. Figuring out the need is actually discovering the niche you want to cater to. This is a critical part of starting your blogging journey and your designated niche should be something that you are passionate about. Once you have selected the need that you aim to fullfill you need to decide how  to go about doing it.

2. The approach we take involves selecting the platform we aim to be using such as (wordpress, blogger, drupal etc), the tools that we will use (text based, audio casts, video casts) and maybe something unique in the way that you present your information. I chose a series format that had me talking about one issue and then breaking it down into 5 manageable components every week.

3. The third aspect deals with how we will provide benefit to our readers. In my case, my blog series offered readers the ability to demystify a complicated topic such as inventory management into smaller components as well as the flexibility to go over the entire series in a summarized version as well. Unlike other small business blogs out there, I made sure I did it in more indepth and it was comprehensive.

4. The last aspect of the value proposition deals with your competition. If you are a technology news blog I am sure you look up blogs such as TechCrunch. They are your direct competitors and it is all about providing additional value. Look at these blogs and identify segments where you  provide possibly more news about a certain niche, country, technology etc. Learn from them and find ways to optimize your own blog.

To tell you the truth I did not spend as much time on this as I should have when I first started this blog. If I were starting a brand new blog for 2009 this is definitely an exercise I would spend more time on. Talk to your prospective readers and ask them what they want to read about, what other services you could provide them, ask them as many questions as you can. This will make writing a lot easier and your readers will enjoy the content a lot more.

Filed under: Advice

Lesson #4: Commitment

There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.Anonymous

There is something about the last week of December that forces us to reflect on the year that has passed and to make resolutions for the new year ahead. In the heat of the moment we make all sorts of large commitments to ourselves only to find ourselves losing steam very quickly when the new year begins and we find ourselves back in the same routines. The fact of the matter is that making major life changes is not the simplest of things to do. To make things worse we tend to make large and bold resolutions without putting enough thought into what that actually entails.

Something prompted me to start blogging last December. I made a bold resolution and commitment to blog everyday. I wish someone had given me a reality check at that point in time and told me that blogging daily was going to be very challenging. However, a factor that differentiated this resolution from many others was that I made this commitment publicly on my blog. That  made me feel accountable to my readers as well as to myself, and hence propelled me to keep on writing.

This lesson applies not only to your blog but should have a broad application on one’s life as a whole. Before committing to something or someone, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Do your homework  before, it is much easier that way. Once a commitment is made, one needs to live up to your end of the deal. To tell you the truth, there were many times during the course of the year when the thought of discontinuing this blog actually did pass through my mind. I am really happy I kept my end of the deal though,  this entire experience has been tremendously defining and beneficial for me.

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 you keep your commitment when you do start? Lastly, make an open commitment to the blogosphere about your aspirations and goals for the year of 2009.I wish you the very best of success.

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

Lesson #3: Have a Goal

“Try not.  Do or do not.  There is no try.” Yoda

A few years back in one of my mastermind groups, one of my mentors mentioned that I should do whatever it took to take the word “try” out of my dictionary. I believe that advice has had a defining impact on my outlook on life. Shades of gray leave us with too much room to wiggle in and out of. Making decisions based on absolute outcomes is what makes life for us and for those around us a whole lot easier. There will be instances where  absolute outcomes are not known at the onset, we must however do whatever we can to ensure that we limit the permutations. When I started writing I had two primary goals:

1. To write something of some value everyday.

2. To develop a substantial content base to leverage off in Year 2 of my blog.

I left out two aspects, design and monetization, that are usually given the most attention. The truth of the matter is that to adequately monetize your blog, it needs to be backed by great content. When you have that settled, monetization becomes easier.  Hence I advise every new blogger to focus primarily on creating great content for their blog. Eventually one must strive to become an authoritative figure in one’s particular niche. When I look at stories of successful bloggers, this is usually the path that was taken. It does undoubtedly take a lot of hardwork and dedication. However to achieve any substantial goal there is no substitute for hardwork.

I would strongly suggest developing specific goals for your blog in 2009. This helps to 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.

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

Lesson #2: Passion

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive.  And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Harold Whitman

Passion is a subject I have written about extensively on my blog. Doing anything without passion more often than not leads to dissapointment and loss of interest, very quickly. To be able to write everyday, or on a regular schedule about a particular niche is mandatory if you want to make your blog stand out from the rest. There are numerous blogs that I  followed regularly, when they stopped updating themselves with new content I eventually removed them from my RSS feeds. This is usually because either the writer lost the initial vigor that prompted them to setup the blog, lost steam half way through or simply lost interest in the topic. These are problems that individuals with true passion rarely run into when they blog. There will undoubtedly be times when their blogs will not be updated for a while, but they always come back with great content that keeps their readers wanting more.

If one were to study individuals who have achieved noteworthy success in what they do, passion is usually the one constant which comes up time and time again. When an individual has that inner desire to learn more and give more, it has this positive effect on their work. Everything becomes richer, more meaningful and work is no longer viewed as just “work”. Re-reading these last couple of sentences I am amazed at the number of people I know well personally who have abandoned their passions and just settled for something that helps them get by. I guess following your passions is something that requires one to actually discover what they are passionate about and then take that leap of faith to follow it. I can tell you from personal experience that when you do actually follow your true passions, life becomes a lot more fulfilling and satisfying.

Therefore if you plan on blogging for the long term,  make sure that you have a true passion for what you will be writing about. More importantly your blog could be the first step in starting to pursue your true passion. By writing, reading and continuously researching topics, one can unconver opportunities and possible avenues on how to make that leap of faith a lot easier.

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

Lesson #1: Selecting a Niche

“That man is successful who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of the intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.” Robert Louis Stevenson

I set myself a relatively vague goal of blogging everyday in 2008. The first week went off with relative ease, there were many things I always wanted to write about and I got off to a pretty good start. It was around the middle of the first month that I asked myself the important question: where did I want to take my blog for the rest of the year? That was a tough period as I struggled with the direction I should take. Eventually I decided that writing about my experiences as an entrepreneur was what I would write about. I am really fortunate that I decided to choose a niche when I did. Later on I realized that when a blog does not serve any specific niche the probability of it growing reduces significantly.

Therefore if you are planning on setting up a new blog and plan to blog regularly in 2009 pay careful attention to the niche that you want to serve. Do ample research on who the thought leaders in your particular niche are. Find ways to differentiate your content and still provide value to your readers. Some  posts I read that helped me in my decision are listed below:

1. How to Choose the Right Blog Niche: A Simple Three-Step Method – DoshDosh

2. How to Choose a Niche Topic for your Blog – Darren Rowse

Both these bloggers are noted authorities on blogging and run highly successful blogs themselves. I would highly recommend that you subscribe to their feeds to keep yourself updated on the latest from the blogosphere.

Filed under: Advice, , , , , ,

5 Things one Needs to do in College

I learned three important things in college – to use a library, to memorize quickly and visually, to drop asleep at any time given a horizontal surface and fifteen minutes. Agnes DeMille

A couple of days ago I was talking to a group of students from my alma mater. They were all part of an entrepreneurship society which I had founded 6 years ago, a society that has since witnessed a tremendous growth in the Asia-Pacific region. During the course of the discussion an interesting question which was asked of me was, “Looking back ,what are  five things you should have done more of, during university?” I found this a very interesting question and told them I would write a post about it.

My university life was not what I would call a typical student’s life. Within my first year of university I had set up a small business to facilitate printing and designing services to campus based clubs and societies. Things ramped up quickly after that and soon I had very little time to do everyday normal things. It did not help much that I was also involved in a host of extra curricular activities that ranged from toastmasters to setting up the universities first bicycling club. When I look back, the time I spent at university seems almost a blur. Everything happened so quickly and somehow  in retrospect my experience seems somewhat incomplete. When I was asked the ábove question it made me think of some of the things that I feel I missed out on, and would encourage students to look into more.

1. Exchange Program: My university offered some great student exchange programs that sent students to places like Silicon Valley, Shanghai or Bio Valley to learn new cultures and be part of  start-ups whilst there. Unfortunately with my heavy work schedule and commitments, going on an exchange program is an opportunity that I missed out on. My friends who did end up going on these programs had some amazing life changing experiences. Therefore I would highly encourage going on these exchange programs as it pushes you out of your comfort zone, exposes you to a new world and provides a great opportunity to meet new people and travel.

2. Discovering Hobbies:
One should definitely use the time available at university to discover hobbies that could one day become driving passions. Make a pact with yourself to experience something new every semester , something you have never done before. I did a couple such as  joining a salsa dancing class, learning chess and joining the toastmasters club. However ,there are many interests out there that could have been pursued. Your time at university is the best of times to discover what interests you and what you are truly passionate about. Get out of your comfort zone and go do some crazy thing and who knows you may discover something that could become a source of joy and excitement for you for the rest of your life.

3. Making Mistakes: Most individuals I knew including myself, did our level best to keep as clean a record as possible. This included not speaking up in class when things were unclear, not pursuing that wacky idea because everyone said it was stupid, not asking for help when you needed it  most. To tell you the truth it is a lot easier to attempt many of the  things that are deemed wacky and out there when you are at university rather than when you leave. The cost of life experiences continues to increase expotentially as we grow older and have more responsibilities. Use the time at university to make all the mistakes that you can, put yourself out there knowing that if you don’t succeed at first you would have learned a vital lesson that could translate into success in the future.

4. Networking: University is an ideal time to expand your personal network. There are many opportunities to interact with alumni, professors, business owners and seniors. I found many of my mentors through university networking sessions. I started a bit late however and would recommend that students begin building meaningful relationships as quickly as possible. I found that people were a lot more willing to help and give advice when I was a student. Apart from business networking, expand your own group of friends. Do not restrict yourself to the same group of people throughout the four years of college. Use networking sessions, hobbies and other activities to get to know as many people as possible.

5. Learn to Smell the Roses: My mother always kept telling me this when I was at university and my life was in a  constant tizzy. At that time it made no sense to me whatsoever. When I look back now I realize the wisdom of this and just how important this one very simple exercise is. During our time at university there is always something that is happening and life seems to move at a blistering pace. There is always a mix of emotions that keeps us preoccupied at all times. We need to take a breather during these chaotic time and just sit back and reflect on the road that we have taken, where we are and where we want to go. Savor  and enjoy the moment,  life will only become a lot more complicated from here. If someone told me this when I was at university I would probably have given them a weird look. Take my advice though and set out an afternoon alone or with friends and just reflect.

I hope this post will be of some assistance to those of you who are still at university. A lot of the pointers listed above may seem trivial at first read, however I would encourage you to re-read them, then ask yourself the question “What memorable things will I cherish and take with me in life from my time at university?”. If there are not enough things coming to mind then one is not taking advantage of the opportunity at hand. Make sure that you have enough memories, good and not so good to ensure that you made the most of your time. I wish you all the very best of success in all your future endevours.

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

Passion and Satisfaction

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Steve Jobs

I re-read Steve Jobs Stanford address (Link) recently and this point really stood out for me. Over the last couple of months I have met with a lot of individuals who are doing whatever they are doing solely for a pay check. Life is then a monotonous series of events with very few diversions, and often leads to frustrations, stress and in some cases depression. Finding one’s true calling in life is definitely not the easiest of things to do. Many people struggle a very long time to find something which makes them happy in the true sense. The main emphasis however is that one needs to put oneself out there continuously to find what that true calling actually is.

I believe the litmus test outlined by Steve Jobs simplifies this seemingly difficult task. Personally I always knew that I wanted to go into business. That was the first step. Eventually I realized I wanted to be involved with businesses which dealt with  people on a daily basis. Today, apart from running an HR consultancy business I serve as an advisor to many startups and businesses. Everyday brings with it new challenges and the ability to meet new people. This keeps me motivated and I look forward to each new day.

I have spoken to many people about passion throughout this last year. When we do not  have passion for what we do on a daily basis, life is bound to get monotonous and unfulfilling. Therefore, we have to make a conscious decision to ask ourselves on a regular basis “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”. When we answer “no” too many times in a row we have to make a pro-active effort to change.

Related Posts:

Expertise & Passion by Seth Godin

Filed under: Advice, , , , , , ,

5 Steps to Navigate through Difficult Times

There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative. W. Clement Stone

The global economy these days is not in the best of shapes. There are endless stories circulating about how the world as we know it is about to come to an end. I was at a workshop last week and someone was talking about the alarming rate at which Chinese factories were closing down. An older gentlemen who had recently set up his first business turned to me and said “Doesn’t all of this affect you as an entrepreneur?”. I explained to him how the businesses I was involved would not be directly affected and in the end it was up to me to allow such news to affect me or not. Later on I decided to write a series about the question to articulate my thoughts on the matter. Listed below are five steps that every business owner should take to re-evaluate their business during these difficult times.

1. Reality Check: A reality check comprises of taking into account the performance of each one of your businesses major components. These include, sales & marketing, operations, human resources and finances. Each division needs be re-evaluated and adjustments need to be made to cater for the changed external environment. Adjustments can include adjusting your pricing models, laying off staff who are not performing, cutting back on unnecessary perks for executives etc. The primary objective of this exercise is to break each division down and build it back up to cater to the changes. To read the adjustments that need to be made to each division in detail please click here.

2. Communication Channels: Without clear channels of communication a business is in a constant state of flux. During turbulent times communication between management, employees and investors needs to be done at regular intervals. This is vital to diffuse the anxiety, frustration and stress that everyone may be feeling due to the current state of affairs. Mechanisms need to be developed to allow management to talk regularly to their star performers, group sessions need to carried out to get everyone on the same page and most importantly, senior management needs to continuously update the team. To learn more on improving your communication channels please click here.

3. Getting an Outsider’s Perspective: When things are difficult and we are busy putting off all the small fires in the business we tend to forget the bigger picture. An outsider in the form of a mentor or a business coach can assist in making sense of things when everything is in a mess. By leveraging on their experience and rolodex, a business has the capability to dodge pitfalls and possibly make some large sales. Also, having someone from the outside affirm the direction that has been selected and the tactics  being used can greatly enhance the confidence level of a team. To learn more about the benefits of an outsider’s opinion please click here.

4. Focus: As a small business we have to realize from the very beginning that we cannot provide every service under the sun. We need to find a niche where we can develop a competitive advantage that will differentiate us from the rest. During difficult times it is paramount that we focus our resources on our core product/services to achieve optimal results. During these times we cannot afford to experiment and lose sight of our regular clients. All efforts need to be geared to ensure that we provide as much value as possible to our existing clientele. To read more about the importance of focus please click here.

5. Positive Outlook: Our attitude towards the changes taking place externally or internally will decide how we navigate our way through these difficult times. We have a choice of either allowing the negativity to get to us and plague the workplace, or to put a positive spin on things. It is critical that the leader’s attitude be one of positivity and optimism. His/Her attitude is very important to the business as a whole and is used as a gauge by everyone else. To read more about the importance of having a positive outlook please click here.

The primary objective of the steps outlined above is to get everyone to think about their business and how the changes in the external or internal environment are going to affect them. I have relied heavily on these steps to help me navigate through difficult times. On the surface they appear to be relatively straightforward, however, I find that when we are down, our thought processes do not function optimally. Negativity seems to penetrate our thoughts and obvious answers elude us. I hope these steps will help you get started on your journey through the tough times ahead. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

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

Positive Outlook

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Winston Churchill

When I selected this step I thought to myself, it is such a ‘cliche’ to tell people to remain positive during tough times. It is something which is repeated day in and day out and is, common sense. When things look bad hope for the best and things should get better. Sure, now tell that to someone who lost a fortune in the recent stock market crash or someone who was forced to shut his/her business down. When someone is hit with such a harsh blow and someone comes up to them and tells them everything is going to be alright, one can understand the frustration that he/she may feel with such a comment. Due to this reason I think it is necessary to provide enough space and time to digest what has happened. It is only through reflection that we can understand what went wrong and what we should avoid in the future. At this moment though, we have a choice to make. We could either remain depressed and frustrated or pick ourselves up and get back into the ring.

Along this journey, as entrepreneurs we are bound to fall many times. Some falls will hurt a lot more than others. However we need to learn to pick ourselves up and keep going. When you start your own business there is no longer just yourself to worry about. There will be partners, employees and possibly investors. Our attitude, whether we are the leader or someone who works at the business is very important. As a leader everyone looks up to you to determine how things are going. If we have a negative outlook our attitude would be a direct reflection of our mental state. This will in turn spread negativity through the organization and essentially bring it to a standstill. Therefore, it is essential that correct vibes are dessimated from the top down. It is also equally important to talk to your partners and employees during this difficult period and see if there is any way you could help them out if needed.

As mentioned in the first post of this series, our attitude towards the challenge will decide how we deal with it. Without a positive outlook our problems appear bigger than they are, things move a lot slower and people generally are a lot of less productive. Therefore it is critical that we ensure that our organization deals with the challenge in a healthy manner by talking things through, evaluating their current standing and then selecting the path to reach end goals.

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

Communicating Effectively

“The difference between a smart man and a wise man is that a smart man knows what to say, a wise man knows whether or not to say it.” Frank M. Garafola

Will the business survive this downturn? Will I be able to hang on to my job?  Common questions on the mind of all business owners and employees alike in these difficult times. It is only natural to have an heightened level of anxiety during stressful periods. However, if we were to hold all of that stress within ourselves and not have an outlet to release it, things could become ugly very fast. People begin to talk, rumors about layoffs begin to circulate, productivity levels fall, anxiety increases and just about any call from senior management begins to imply that you are about to be fired. All of this can be dealt with reasonably through effective communication. Senior management needs to provide all stakeholders with a clear and candid message about the health of the business and where it is headed. If a culture of candor has not been created in the organization this can lead to uncomfortable and awkward situations. Such an environment needs to be created.

Listed below are some ways to communicate effectively during such periods:

1. One on one sessions: Ensure that you have individual sessions with key players on the team, assess their current needs and answer any concerns they may have. I have found this to be a most effective strategy as it gives the person concerned a platform and ability to speak his mind, at the same time enjoy privacy about his concerns.

2. Group information sessions: Individuals who are responsible for broader functions like operations, marketing, finance and human resources should give talks on how the current situation is likely to impact the business and strategies that can be used to get through this period. Once again this provides the ability for individuals to get an idea of the company from different angles and provides valuable feedback.

3. Layoffs: Firing people is never easy and is something I really do not like doing at all (I don’t think anyone really enjoys it). However, when it needs to be done it should be done swiftly and as soon as possible. Delaying the inevitable is not a smart strategy and only compounds the problem.

4. Updates from senior management: I usually send companies I am involved with updates after every quarter. When times get tough I increase the updates to a monthly or even bi-weekly schedule depending on the situation. This keeps everyone focused on what is important and on the same page.

Depending on the structure of your business I recommend doing whatever is necessary to ensure that everyone is able to bring their concerns forward. Whether it is through group meetings, online forums or one on one sessions. Mechanisms need to be in place so that communication is made feasible as easily as possible. Failure to do so will further deteriorate the business and one could end up losing a lot of key players.

Filed under: Advice, Communication, Strategy, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,