Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Reasons to Co-Work

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” Paul J. Meyer

I started this week talking about co-working as it is an opportunity I am actively looking into at the moment. Given that it is a relatively new concept, many of the individuals I talk to about this have a host of questions regarding what co-working is all about, and ask why they should leave the comfort of their home offices for this. In response to these questions I have created a list of five leading reasons why one should choose to co-work over working from home or a cafe.

1. Networking Opportunities: I believe this is one of the most important reasons why anyone should choose to work at a co-working zone vis a vis working from home, a cafe or a small office. Having the ability to meet new people on a regular basis not only helps us grow as individuals, it provides us with opportunities to take our business to the next level. Networking is an integral part of every entrepreneur’s journey. Integrating it into our busy lives is however always a challenge. Working from a co-working zone makes the integration into our daily routine seamless and also increases the probability of success. To learn more about the benefits of networking from a co-working zone please click here.

2. Accelerated Serendipity: Serendipity is the accidental learning of something while searching for something completely different. As small business owners in the process of starting up or even searching for ideas on what they want to do, co-working is an excellent option to get the creative juices flowing and who knows, perhaps you could stumble onto the next big thing! The constant interaction with individuals from all walks of life provides a great sounding board and accelerates the process of finding your true calling. To learn more about accelerated serendipity please click here.

3. Increased Productivity: Individuals who have worked from home offices realize how challenging it is to be self disciplined and motivated. Co-working zones provides co-workers with a renewed sense of motivation often accelerated when everyone around them has got their head down and getting things done. Also, having others hold you accountable is another factor which motivates individuals to complete planned tasks and projects. To learn more on how to be more productive in a co-working zone please click here.

4. Operating Advantages: In the short term operating from a co-working space may seem to be an expensive option for an independent business owner. However, taking a slightly longer time frame of 6-9 months, operating benefits of a co-working space become immediately apparent. Working from such a space provides business owners the ability to project a professional image, space to increase staff and even share larger purchases. For entrepreneurs and consultants who have large aspirations and want to increase the scale of their business without incurring huge initial costs, co-working zones are an ideal solution. To learn more about the operating advantages of co-working please click here.

5. Work/Life Balance: If you are working from home you understand that the line between your work and life become gray and shadowy. Getting a balance is a critical aspect of life. Without it there are always far too many sacrifices that need to be made and that have major repercussions in the future. There is also the case of burnout, and losing interest in what you do for a living. Most importantly it is your friends and family who are most affected if your work/life balance is not correct. So whether it is through a co-working space or any other way, one should make a resolution to bring a greater degree of balance to life in 2009. To learn more on how you can balance work and life through co-working please click here.

A concern that is brought up repeatedly, is one of cost. As mentioned in reasons #4 co-working zones provide entrepreneurs the ability to scale operations as and when needed. This is in itself a huge advantage which justifies the cost of operating from such a space. Apart from that, for consultants who do not have plans to scale operations, the cost of renting space is usually the same as compared to the price of having endless cups of coffee from your local cafe on  a regular and daily basis. In addition to this, one gets access to networking opportunities, idea generation, increased productivity and help in maintaining a work/life balance. Thus if you are currently working from home or a cafe, looking into co-working spaces in 2009 may just be your best alternative.

* If you currently looking into joining a co-working space but are still unsure, I would appreciate it if you let me know your concerns and I will do my best to resolve them. By the same token, if you currently work at a co-working zone please let me know any additional reasons why individuals should choose operating from a co-working zone. Thank you.

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Work/Life balance

Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance. Brian Tracy quotes

For those of us who have worked from home for a period of time, we know that the entire concept of achieving a work/life balance goes out the window. Mornings are spent in your pajama’s answering all your emails, meals are finished in a flash and we find ourselves somewhat trapped till the wee hours of the morning finishing our work. The entire concept of leaving your work at the office is non-existent and it seems that you are working or attempting to work whenever possible. Ok, so this is somewhat exaggerated, but there are definitely days which go exactly like the one outlined above. It does not take a doctor to tell us this is not a very healthy way to live your life. Sure, the whole concept of getting dressed and heading off to work at 6am in the morning is not something I would really like doing either, but a balance needs to be drawn somewhere in the middle.

A co-working space provides the opportunity to get that level of balance. First off, the feeling that you have to get up and get to a place will be a positive change. It gets you into the habit of actually fixing your internal wiring which tends to go out of whack. It is important that one is motivated enough to actually get up and get to work. This is why it is critical to first test out the co-working space you are wanting to join and see whether it is a place you could find yourself being in everyday. The whole objective of working for yourself is to free yourself from the pressure of having to go to an office come rain or shine. So choose wisely. Once you are done for the day your primary computer can be left at the space and you could use those couple of hours to network, learn something new or go and have fun. It is important that balance be brought into your life.

Getting balance is a critical aspect of life. Without it there are always way too many sacrifices that need to be made that have major repurcussions in the future. There is also the case of burnout, and losing interest in what you  do for a living. Most importantly it is your friends and family who are most affected if your work/life balance is not correct. So whether it is through a co-working space or any other way, one should make a resolution to bring a greater degree of balance to life in 2009.

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Operating Advantages

“If we do a good job, customers pay us more for our products than the sum of our costs in producing and distributing them. This difference, our profit, represents the value we add to the resources we utilize.” David Packard

A large majority of independents work from their homes. This could be a room which they have set up with all their equipment etc. To maintain this room they need to incur a one time capital expense and then they are pretty much able to get by just paying the monthly bills. This sounds ideal to some and they find the entire concept of getting out of their house and going to work at another place quite ridiculous. However I beg to differ from this point of view. Having worked from home for a period of time I came to realize that there were a number of things which restricted me from scaling upwards. The fact that I worked from home sometimes worried clients about whether I would be in business tomorrow or if I could handle increased levels of workload. This is always a worry especially when you need to hire additional individuals to assist in the completion of a project. With co-working this perception is somewhat nullified as the place provides ample space to ramp up your operations at a moment’s notice.

The cost of ramping up operations is an expensive one and sometimes it is only needed for a stipulated period of time. Say you are a web developer and have got a massive project. It requires you to house at least 2-3 other resources who may not need to be at your office all the time but frequent interaction will be required. It also requires you to provide the client updates and this could mean frequent visits to your office. Essentially what you require is a little more space and a meeting room. This is a huge headache because you know you will not require this after the project is completed. Co-working is hence an ideal solution for you if you are currently in this predicament.

Some co-working spaces I visited involved a bunch of individuals pooling together to buy themselves expensive equipment such as large scale printers, projectors or servers. They were also able to utilize the business address of the co-working space to project a more professional image. The last important point which was brought up by many co-workers was that they were paying the same amount for the rent of the space as they were paying for coffee everyday at coffee shops. The cost of Latte’s tends to add up very quickly when working at these spaces. In conclusion, many co-workers were able to potentially keep their costs the same or increase them slightly to get a whole range of facilities that would not have been possible on their own.

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Increased Productivity

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

One of the recurring points made by many of the individuals working at co-working spaces was the level of increased productivity once they joined the space. When I explored this matter deeper there were several core factors which led to why this was taking place. Looking back at my own example, I always work better when I am working as a team. Ideas flow faster, feedback is instant and it is generally a lot more fun. It is when you have to work in isolation that one feels that one does hit a brick wall once too often. The core factors that contributed to this level of increased productivity were:

1. Increased Interaction: Working in isolation is not a lot of fun. From the brief research that I conducted, people generally feel a lot more creative and energetic when they are surrounded by others. Now these are not just some other people, they are individuals who share same interests, hobbies or even values. This helps to create rapport and a level of interaction which goes beyond just the trivial chit chat that you could be involved in at a coffee house.

2. Motivation: Ever been working on a report, blog post or project and half way through decided that you wanted to watch the latest Heroes episode, and before you knew it hours had flown by? I have many times. However the story is completely different when I am surrounded by co-workers or people who are working hard on their respective projects or assignments. A co-working space provides you with this atmosphere and it makes it a lot easier to stay on course and get motivated by those around you.

3. Accountability: Ever joined a gym and dropped out after the initial month of fervor? I have, and I am guessing there are many more people out there who have probably had similar experiences. However, when I got a gym buddy things changed, I became regular, made fewer excuses and lasted a lot longer. At a co-working space one can find many such individuals who can ask each other to hold them accountable to ensure that they finish a certain project or report. This creates a level of accountability which motivates you to get the job done.

The points listed above are just a few reasons why I believe people were more productive in a co-working environment. In the end it does however depend on your personality and attitude towards life. What are your objectives? How committed are you to get them? Even the most committed individuals find themselves slacking at times. It is only natural, and it is at times like these that you need someone to give you that shove or to get you motivated enough to reach your goals.

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Accelerated Serendipidity

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” George Bernard Shaw

A term that is getting around the co-working community, coined by Julie Gomoll of LaunchPad co-working is…. accelerated serendipity. Serendipity is the accidental learning of something while searching for something completely different. Imagine an open space where individuals from all walks of life are busy talking and working on projects. In this environment, say you are a freelance graphic designer and there is a business consultant working with a photographer on increasing the value of his brand, there could be some great tips here for you to pick up. Just the fact that so many people will be talking about a whole range of ideas and concepts is exciting and provides the oportunity to learn something valuable almost daily.

This is a level of exposure very unlikely to take place anywhere else. If you are working in an office, most everyone is pretty much focused on the job at hand and are working collaboratively on designated projects.  By the same token working from home the greatest level of interaction one could be part of is looking at what is happening on your twitter feed or forums that you visit frequently. The opportunity to ‘accidentally’ learn something is a low level opportunity here because this is often a one way dialogue. Research also tells us that working alone often stymies creativity. Which is why there is a large influx of independent consultants working from coffee shops. The fact that they can listen to people and sense life around them provides them the creativity stimulus.

As small business owners who may be in the process of starting up or even searching for ideas about what they want to do, co-working is an excellent option to get the creative juices flowing and who knows, perhaps we could stumble onto the next big thing! This is also a reason why many co-working spaces have been thought of as a step before business incubators. It provides individuals the ability to get exposure from a diverse group of people and possibly helps them test their concept before actually plunging into it.

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Networking Opportunities

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” Theodore Roosevelt

Networking is an essential activity, and every entrepreneur must learn how to do it well. If we do not give ourselves the opportunity to meet new people and create lasting relationships, we will not be able to accomplish very much. If you look at successful entrepreneurs you will see that there is always a group of people behind them who made them what they are. If we are to achieve the goals and targets we want to, then looking into opportunities to increase our social networks is of vital importance. For all of those entrepreneurs who are independent consultants or work from home, there is an inherent inability and opportunity to get out of the house and make an effort to meet new people. Undoubtedly the internet has provided us with a host of tools which can help increase our networks online. However, being able to network in the real world requires us to have a lot more skill sets.

Having worked from a home office for some time I realized that the opportunities for off-line social networking from this environment had greatly decreased. Sure there were events, seminars and workshops that I would go to occasionally, but the ability to meet with people on a daily basis was lacking. Which is why when I heard about co-working environments it just made so much sense. Here was an opportunity to go to a place and meet like minded individuals sharing similar interests, goals and skill sets as I did. To tell you the truth it was pretty exciting and since then I have ventured into many Jelly’s (Informal gatherings of individuals at coffee houses) and co-working spaces to see what was really happening.

Just about everyone I spoke to had positive things to say, above all they said that since joining the space they had been introduced to new partners, clients and investors. They were given opportunities to learn something new everyday from a fellow co-workers and hence increased their own knowledge pool. In conclusion, one of the biggest benefits of joining such a space is the ability to increase and enlarge your personal networks and find ways to take your business to the next level if you want to do so.

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5 steps to ensure effective meetings

Boss Ramblings

Meetings are and have always been a critical tool to get the job done. All successful meetings have several common key factors. When we incorporate them into our daily meetings we will see a surge in productivity and efficiency. This will have a direct impact on the results and bottom line. Listed below are five key factors which should be incorporated into every business meeting:

  1. The Agenda: An agenda brings focus to the reason a meeting is being held. It outlines all the key factors which are going to be discussed and what is needed to be achieved during the course of the meeting. It helps the facilitator to decide who should be invited and why. This will help create a blueprint for the meeting and will also help keep it on track and to reach the required goal. To read more about how to create an ideal agenda please click here.
  2. Time & Focus: These two building blocks must be tracked meticulously during the course of the meeting to ensure that adequate time is allocated to each agenda item and that the course of the discussion remain in line with the agenda. Deviation from these two factors result in meetings where all the participants get frustrated and no consensus is reached. To read more about how to keep your time and focus in line please click here.
  3. Group Participation: Meetings are most productive when you have everyone contributing to the discussion. This results in a group generated consensus to be reached which is free from any sort of bias. A conducive environment needs to be maintained to get everyone to contribute. To read more about how to get participants to contribute more please click here.
  4. Decision Making: Meetings provide a forum to reach decisions on issues through a collaborative process. It is essential that key steps are taken to ensure that everyones opinion on the topic are heard and a collaborative decision is reached. When there is resistance to a proposed decision it needs to be handled with care to ensure that there is no passive resistance which could jeopardize the project. To read more about how to reach decisions effectively click here.
  5. Minutes & Action Items: During the course of a meeting several topics are discussed and decisions reached. Each one of these needs to be recorded for reference purposes. Meeting minutes provide participants with an easily accessible document and reminds them of what tasks were delegated and to whom. Action items need to be delegated with clear instructions and should be time bound for optimal execution. To read more on how you can incorporate minutes and successful action item delegation please click here.

Meetings are a critical business component. To run them successfully will result in better communication. Once a team or a business is at a level where communication flow becomes more efficient and effective it will have a direct impact on its productivity and results. Incorporate these factors into your daily meetings and let me know if you have noticed better results or performance. Also if anyone else wants to share other factors which have helped them run more effective meetings please let us all know. Thank you.

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Minutes and Action Items

Action Items

Minutes are a critical aspect of any successfully run meeting. Before the start of the meeting a participant should be delegated the role of taking them down and emailing them out to the rest of the group after the meeting. This will provide all the participants with an easily accessible reference point. The rationale that everyone will remember all that is discussed during the course of the meeting is not valid and could lead to confusion in the future. Provided below are some of the key aspects which should be included in the minutes;

  • Details regarding the date, time, participants and primary objective must always be included.
  • Notes regarding every pointer on the agenda sheet provides a good framework for easy reference.
  • Clearly outline the decision or consensus which was reached during the course of the meeting.
  • List down delegated action items with proposed deadlines.

Another key aspect of successful meetings is the delegation of action items. When a consensus has been reached and an implementation strategy outlined action items need to be clearly and concisely delegated to members of the team. Some key points for successful delegation of action items are;

  • Clearly and concisely state the action item to the delegated individual. A rationale behind the item and methodology to be used is essential.
  • Action items need to have time constraints. It provides an outline in which the task needs to be completed in.
  • Follow up action needs to be allocated if the action item is complicated. This helps to keep the team in the loop regarding the implementation. It also provides checkpoints which provide valuable feedback during the implementation process.

It is the meeting facilitators responsibility to ensure that the minutes and action items are successfully delegated. Incorporating them into your next business meeting will ensure that the responsibility for these tasks is efficiently delegated and discussion points are created for future references.

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Decision Making

enforcing decisions

Meetings provide a forum to reach decisions on issues through a collaborative process. Decisions which are taken without the consensus of all the affected departments or individuals leads to confusion, frustration and an unhealthy work environment. Listed below are a few guidelines on how to reach decisions within groups or teams effectively.

  • Ensure that the meeting facilitator or any other participant doesn’t take all the limelight. This will lead to an extremely biased view which will not be well received by all the participants. Every person in the meeting has the right to voice his/her opinion and have them factored into the decision making process.
  • Maintain an optimal size and type of the group to ensure you don’t reach a deadlock. This requires you to be selective in who you invite to the meeting. Calling two aggressive participants with three passive individuals will not yield an optimal outcome.
  • To reach an effective decision make sure that all participants have clearly understood the problem or issue which is being resolved to avoid any sort of confusion. An incorrect perception of what is being discussed is common and should be clearly stated in the agenda sheet for reference.
  • Once all the solutions to the problem have been discussed a decision used should be reached by a consensus. A voting systems will clearly identify those individuals who are for the solution and against it, this can be later explored in individual meetings if time is limited in the group meeting.
  • When a decision has been made and has received a majority consensus those individuals who were not in favor of the decision should do their best to buy into the proposed solution. Passive resistance to the solution becomes a major threat in implementing the solution. If you are strongly not in favor of the decision you may call another meeting to convince key individuals, however if the rest of the team is behind the decision you must do your best to go with the majority.
  • The facilitator of the meeting should do a summary of the decision which was reached through consensus at the end of the meeting. This will outline the problem we tackled, the solutions and the groups choice. This provides a great time for participants to clarify any confusion that they may have had.

If senior management has already made a decision on the particular issue do not call meetings to re-iterate the decision. If you need input from some departments calling a “review” meeting about the option selected is a better strategy.

Good decision making skills is a critical success factor for all teams. By leading meetings where you can reach timely and collaborative decisions you will be able to help your team reach fantastic results. Poor decisions which do not have the buy in of the team will result in poor performance which has a detrimental impact on your team.

Help your team to start making better decisions today!

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Group Participation

Business Meeting Participation

Business meetings are productive when all the attendees are active contributors to the discussion. Without adequate participation a biased decision may be formed based on the input of only a few participants. As the facilitator of a meeting it is your job to make sure that you get everyone in the meeting to become active contributors. Being a facilitator doesn’t require you to be extremely knowledgeable of the discussion. The following tips will help increase group participation in your next meeting.

  1. Take a count of who is going to be attending the meeting. This will help you seat the participants in a manner where all the quiet individuals will not be isolated into a corner. It will also help you structure the list of questions, specifically when you are talking about certain agenda points. Lastly knowing the participants background and personalities will help in anticipating barriers which may act as impediments.
  2. Avoid times such as right before lunch, right after lunch or nearing the end of office hours. These are times when the participants are least attentive and will not be very willing to provide feedback. Choose your time wisely, early morning meetings or an hour after the lunch break are optimal timings for meetings.
  3. Introductions from all the participants helps break the ice and allows for free flowing conversation. This helps to create a friendlier environment to encourage participation.
  4. If the meeting has a technical focus do your best to keep the jargon to the minimum. This will allow all the participants to get an idea of what is being discussed and to provide their opinion or feedback.
  5. Ask open ended questions such as “What are you thoughts on this method?” “How do you think you would implement this process?”. If you do not get appropriate answers to your questions then paraphrase them to make the respondent understand the question correctly.

Everyone at a meeting assumes a certain role. These roles may be habitual or may arise during certain discussion. Examples of roles which may take place during meetings are, the constant nit picker, quiet listeners and yes men. Take a look at your participation in meetings you attended recently. Did you take on any one role in the meetings you attended? If you did, you need to fix this by bringing balance to the image you are portraying.

You have to remember that you were invited to the meeting to give your insights on what is being discussed. You have to take this responsibility seriously and make sure that you voice your opinions in a clear and concise manner. This will give you greater visibility in your organization as well as help you establish a level of authority on a given subject matter.

Do your best to be an active participant at your next meeting!

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