Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

Icon

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

My Big Challenge for 2009

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

I have been thinking about my goals and aspirations for 2009 for the last couple of days. I have been setting goals for various aspects of my life. When I reached the category of personal goals, I began thinking on similar parallels to my goal of starting this blog in 2008. I believe starting this blog was one of the most rewarding goals that I have set to date. It has come to a point that I am motivated on a daily basis to write something and if I don’t, it feels as if I have forgotten something during the course of the day, in short I miss it! While thinking about this I began debating the idea of possibly writing a book in 2009. It would be a book about entrepreneurship and detail the major joys, hurdles and learning experiences I have had on my journey so far. The primary objective would be to assist others out there who are wanting to start a business or have started a business recently. After thinking about it in depth, I know that such a book would have been of great help to me when I was starting up a couple of years ago. I have thus decided to set myself the goal of completing the e-book version by Dec 31st 2009.

I realize there are many “How-to” books on starting a business as well as entrepreneurship in the marketplace today. My only gripe with most of them has been that they are very technical in nature and instead of always inspiring someone to take the leap, they often lead to self doubt. The objective of my book would be to provide advice on some of the biggest lessons I have learnt during my entrepreneurial journey. That would include setting visions, finding the right partners, the importance of marketing, how to manage cash flows and other very expensive lessons that I have learned over time. After reading this book I hope the reader will be able to see entrepreneurship from a 30,000 ft level as well as some of the intricacies that need to be addressed during the first year of starting up.

I would really appreciate feedback from readers of this blog about whether this is a book that would be of interest to you and what you would want to learn about, and see included in such a book. Your feedback will be critical in assisting me to choose the right focal point of the book. I look forward to hearing from you either through email at blog (at) usmansheikh.net or in the comment section below.

Advertisements

Filed under: Ideas, , , , , , , , , ,

The Little Things

“People expect good service but few are willing to give it.” Robert Gately

I was having a meal at a restaurant today (Nandos) where I experienced a very high and professional level of service. This is a place I frequent occasionally. On some occasions the level of service is high for a mid tier eating place where the emphasis really is on turn-around time on the tables. However there have been occasions when the level of service has left a lot to be desired. Thinking about it today as we were being served and looked after by the individual assigned to our table, it really takes very little effort to make such an experience turn around from an average one to one that gets me blogging about it. There were a couple of things that I think were done really well:

1. We were greeted with a smile and asked about our day. That just made the entire relationship get off to a good start.

2. I wanted to make some difficult changes to what I was ordering and he made sure it got done without getting flustered. He did not give me a flat out yes or no when I asked him whether the changes could be done. He merely said he would do his best and let me know as soon as possible. Needless to say the changes were made and I was very happy when I got my meal.

3. During our meal he checked up on us a few times. He was never hovering around the table while we were eating, but was always there when we needed something.

4. Upon presenting the bill he asked us to fill out a feedback form on his service during the meal. This was a person who was serious about the job he was doing and was making sure that he got feedback to ensure he could do better.

The things listed above can surely be duplicated relatively easily among the staff of a restaurant. It depends largely on management to ensure that their staff provides customers with superior service and provide them the necessary training to help deliver it. The importance of good customer service is paramount irrespective of your  line of business.

Are you doing all that you can to ensure you give your customers the best level of customer service possible?

Related Posts:

Non Financial Metric #1: Customer Satisfaction

5 Steps to Better Customer Service

Filed under: Customer Service, , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lesson #8: Patience

“Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.” George-Louis de Buffon

Instant results and gratification seem to be the mantra of my generation. It is undoubtedly and definitely nice to get things whenever one wants them. However there is usually a fair amount of work/effort that needs to be put in before you see any tangible results. Blogging works in the same way. Expecting to make 6 figures from your blogging efforts right off the bat is wishful thinking. One can use all the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tricks out there, but the truth of the matter is, if we want to see sustainable long term results it is only going to be through pure hardwork. It sounds cliche’d as I write this, everyone knows that it takes a lot of effort to do anything of substantial value. What we tend to lose sight of along the way is the patience to hang on to what we are doing. I personally know many individuals who started blogging only to leave the habit a couple of weeks or months later. They may not have got the level of traffic they wanted or made the sort of money they were looking for.

Its quite disheartening to check your stats and see that only 3 other people on the web have read your post. All the hardwork that has been put in still does not us the results we ‘think’ we are due. Here lies the problem, our expectations  from our blog need to be tempered right from the start. If you are really serious about making money or reaching a certain traffic level for your blog then one needs to put in an adequate amount of work. If there is something I have learned over the course of the last year, it has been that making a living solely by blogging is very hard work. It is not impossible, however it requires the same level of persistence, determination and effort that any other startup venture may require.

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. Therefore, focus on your content before anything else, build a group of readers that follow you on a regular basis and continue to grow your base on a steady basis. With good content, regular updating and being relatively proactive through online social mediums you will reach your goal. Just don’t lose hope half way through… success usually comes to those who have the ability to continue hanging on when everyone else has given up.

Related Posts:

5 Steps to Patience

 

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Steps to Better Conversations

There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation. James Nathan Miller

In today’s fast paced world, we may have many virtual conversations, but, we are losing the ability to sit across a person or a group of people and have a real conversation. We are pre-occupied with the myriad of things happening in our life, or are constantly being beeped by one of the many gadgets we carry. This does not bode well for our generation, because a breakdown in the ability to communicate in the real world can have disastrous repercussions. We see that today in the increase in divorces, suicides and depression related illnesses. Somewhere along this rapid technological progress, we are losing touch with the fundamental bonds which hold us all together. The art of conversation is one such bond, it has been pivotal in our development. Listed below are five steps, to assist and benchmark conversational and communication skills.

1. Knowledge: When it comes to being a good communicator, knowledge is a defining aspect. Without it, we can talk without actually saying very much. When an individual is knowledgeable, it comes across even when you talk to them about the most trivial of subjects. One must constantly keep learning and growing. With the proliferation of information today, there are so many ways we can keep ourselves abreast on current affairs as also increase our knowledge on subjects we are interested in. To learn specific tips on how to increase your knowledge base, please click here.

2. Confidence: Being confident about oneself is an integral part of being a good communicator. Without this characteristic, knowledge will not help you to communicate in an effective manner. To assess our confidence, we have to identify instances where we lack the confidence to take a stand or share an opinion. Watch the best communicators in the world and visualize yourself communicating in similar manners. We have to get rid of negative thoughts which give rise to self doubt. At the same time, we have to keep a fine balance between being confident and over confident. To learn specific tips on how to increase your level of confidence, please click here.

3. Clarity: Without clarity, the message we want to communicate can get lost somewhere in translation. This will result in both the speaker and audience getting frustrated and tune out. There needs to be substantial and adequate thought put into the organization of our ideas. At the same time, we need to make sure that the language we use is not too convoluted that it confuses rather than impresses the audience. Lastly and most importantly, pronunciation is of critical importance. These factors put together, form the basic foundation of clarity of speech. To learn about each component in greater detail, please click here.

4. Enthusiasm: No one really wants to talk to someone who is sick of life and has lost the passion for living. Individuals who attract us are those whose body language, tone and words express their zest for life. They have a certain type of energy around them which makes just about anything they say a lot more enjoyable. Since 93% of all conversation is based on non verbal cues which include your body language and tone, it is essential that we pay more attention to them to ensure that our conversations are an accurate reflection of our persona and the message we want to convey. To learn more about these three factors, which determine the enthusiasm level in your conversations, please click here.

5. Listening: The art of listening is a dying art in our world today. Conversations are constantly and rudely interrupted, or the audience distracted, either due to information overload in their minds, or one of the many gadgets on them, which keep beeping or ringing. In order to become better listeners there are three areas we should focus our attention towards. Firstly, are we actively listening to the conversations we are part of? Secondly, do we have internal filters which are impeding our listening to the entire message. Lastly, are we paying attention to the subtle clues in each conversation conveyed through tone, body language and choice of words? To learn more about each of these three areas, please click here.

As an entrepreneur we have to work towards making great first impressions to colleagues, investors and customers. Our conversational skills are a large component of the overall impression we project. We have to ensure that we are conveying the impression we wish to. The steps provided above should assist in evaluating your present conversational skills and subsequently used to benchmark how we measure up on each one . Better conversational skills and abilities will not only increase the quality of your professional relationships, it will do wonders for your personal relationships too. I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeveours.

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