Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

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.

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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.

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5 Steps to Better Startup Leadership

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There is a school of thought which believes that leaders are born, not made. Others believe the same applies to entrepreneurs. I have yet to see any conclusive evidence to support these claims. I am a firm believer that, with enough passion, hard work and ambition, anyone can achieve what they set out to do. Wanting to become a great leader is undoubtedly a most challenging task. Volumes have been written about leadership skills and how to develop them. However, inspiration and understanding concepts from books will only get you so far. If you really want to test your abilities and believe that you have what it takes to be a leader, you must stand up and take responsibility. It is all about being action oriented and wanting to bring out the best in the people who work with you. 

Over the course of the week I have written about five areas I believe younger startup leaders need to become more effective in. I have seen the positive impact on a team’s productivity, motivation and drive when a leader has focused on the following segments:

1. Vision Development: As a leader, it is your initial responsibility to create a vision with your team, one which is strongly rooted in SMART goals. The team must feel and think that the vision is achievable, and know what action steps need to be taken to reach it. It is only when a vision statement becomes more than a piece of paper, will we actually see a boost in productivity of the overall team. To read more about the importance of creating a vision please click here.

2.  Leaders Attitude: A leader’s attitude is usually the defining difference between a good team and a great team. With the right attitude, we assist the team break down mental barriers which may be holding them back, take away the fear of making mistakes and generally help them push themselves further. Pay closer attention to attitude, it should result in a team having higher productivity,and being more motivated and driven to reach their goals. To read more about the importance of a leader’s attitude please click here.

3. Culture of Candor: The ability to express one’s thoughts, opinions and concerns, free from discrimination is something I believe needs to be infused into every team. As a leader, there must be a focus on breaking down psychological barriers which may be holding certain team members back. Being candid allows the team to work more effectively, brings more ideas to the tables as well as issues which may be disrupting the team internally, to the forefront. To learn more about the importance of candor please click here.

4. Resource Allocation: During your startup journey, you will need to make several key decisions regarding resource allocation. A startup without proper allocation of resources, ends up in difficult situations, which may result in layoffs, discontinuing product/services, drop in quality, overburdening of some assets and may even require shutting the business down as a whole. As a leader, it is your responsibility to put systems into place to allocate resources optimally through a structured and rigorous processes, while keeping in mind the larger picture. To learn more about the importance of resource allocation please click here.

5. Team Management: This segment involves more than just making sure everyone on the team is happy or motivated. It requires the leader to take responsibility to develop structured processes to handle recruitment, evaluations, firing and conflict management. As a leader we have to be constantly in touch with our team and the challenges they face, to ensure we do whatever it takes to help them reach their potential. To learn more about the importance of team management please click here.

Undoubtedly the startup leader is in for a lot of surprises. The aim of this series was to equip new startup leaders with some broad guidelines of areas they should be focusing on. I strongly believe that when enough hard work is put into the development of the segments outlined above, they will definitely have a positive impact on the team and the business as a whole. It is important that you enjoy your journey both as an entrepreneur and a leader. I wish you the best of luck in your future entrepreneurial ventures.

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Managing the Team

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We hear it all the time “People are our most important strategic asset”, it is like a mantra of the business world today, repeated by CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies and new startups alike. However, if  you get down to gauge what leaders and managers are actually doing, to develop and nurture these assets, the standard response includes; our focus is on training and development, creating a conducive work environment or, helping the team achieve a work/life balance. After which there is usually a change of subject, and the topic switches to more ‘exciting’ matters, such as, their latest technology innovation. This has been my personal experience with many leaders and managers. I feel they are missing critical components of what it takes to develop and grow a team. 

I believe the reason too much attention is not spent on the function of ‘HR’, is due to the fact that it’s results are intangible in the short term. What is the ROI of $X on training & development in a year? How does a more rigorous performance management system impact productivity? These are difficult questions to answer. However, trends are now becoming clearly apparent that senior management across the world are beginning to understand the importance of management of this asset. In the coming years, I expect to see radical transformations in this field. So, how does all of this impact a leader of a startup organization? 

As a startup leader, one has to play multiple roles. One of the key roles is to focus on being responsible for the management of your team to the best of your abilities. Until you can afford a good HR resource, this is a responsibility that falls in your scope of work. A couple of key areas where a startup leader should spend time during the early stages of the organization are:

1. Hiring: This component encompasses adding new people to the team, evaluating prospective partners and even vendor selection. In the beginning, adding an additional resource to say a team of 4, is a substantial percentage increase in head count. This resource will have a deep impact on the rest of the team and requires careful selection. As a leader, you are responsible for coming up with basic job descriptions, required competencies and the preferred type of personality needed for the role. Learn to trust your gut instincts as they are usually right. Develop a structured process for the hiring and evaluation stage to streamline future requirements when the team is growing at a faster pace.

2. Evaluation: When we think performance reviews, many imagine complicated forms which take forever to complete, and have no real impact on the individual. This is very true of a lot of performance review processes found in many organizations. I like to keep things simple, a couple of questions relating to past performance, areas where development is required, issues brought up by other team members is all that is needed. I think it is important to have metrics in place which can tell your team members how they are doing and where they need to develop. Develop a short evaluation form and conduct them candidly every quarter if possible.

3. Firing: This is a tough one. I am not comfortable with the firing process yet, it is however an important aspect of being a leader. When a team member, whether a partner or an employee, in spite of repeated reminders and warnings regarding performance or behavior, does not change, a difficult decision needs to be made. This process becomes easier if you have a culture of candor present in your team. One needs to communicate the basis of the decision clearly and be firm. One bad team member is all it takes to drastically reduce productivity and team spirit. The sooner these situations are handled the better.

As a leader it is your responsibility to be in touch with your team constantly. This helps to understand where they need assistance, what their concerns are, as well as be a source of inspiration and guidance. If  all we do is keep paying lip service to ‘developing our most strategic asset’, the team will not be able to reach its potential and we would not have fulfilled our duties as a leader. 

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8 Characteristic of ideal business partners

5 Steps to creating winning teams

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Optimizing Resource Allocation

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Resource allocation is an area I believe many startups pay inadequate attention to. It does not matter if you are bootstrapping or have just received a massive cash injection, planning resource allocation is a critical function. A startup without proper allocation of resources, ends up in difficult situations, which may result in layoffs, discontinuing product/services, drop in quality, overburdening of some assets and may even require shutting the business down as a whole. I have personally witnessed repercussions of misallocation of resources, this has made me realize even more, the vital importance of this function. 

During your startup journey, you will need to make several key decisions regarding resource allocation. Some key ones are hiring, purchasing of equipment,  investment in new products/services, upgrading of office premises, expansion, marketing and staff development. Apart from this, there will be a constant flow of new proposals and investment opportunities, these will make the allocation process even more challenging. As a leader, it will be your responsibility to manage the expectations of the business, stakeholders and your team, to reach an allocation mix, aimed at satisfying each one of them. In my experience, aiming for a perfect equilibrium is a great challenge, difficult sacrifices will need to be made and not everyone will be completely satisfied.

I like to keep things as simple as possible, here are a few basic steps I take when thinking about resource allocation:

1. Planning: If you are at an early stage in your business, use the business plan to give you a holistic picture of goals, and a time frame for achieving them. Use that as your guide plan for resource allocation to various segments. If you are already well into your business, take a look at the historic performances of your products/services, evaluate your cash flow positions for the coming year and allocate resources appropriately. It is important to be in a position to see the bigger picture before any resource allocation is done. 

2. Analysis: During the planning stage, there will undoubtedly be several options for resource allocation. It is important that all the opportunities are carefully evaluated. Conduct feasibility studies and market research before making any substantial investment. It is important to look at future requirements the investment will have as well. Overlooking future implications of current investments, can result in massive cash flow problems which can literally bring business to a halt. Where necessary, use a ranking matrix to evaluate your decisions.

3. Consensus: It is important to get feedback and have open discussions during the resource allocation exercise. Wherever possible, use experts in their respective areas to help guide and educate the rest of the team. The last thing you want to do as a leader is to appear to make key decisions such as resource allocation autonomously. As a leader, it is your responsibility to present all available options and give your point of view for the optimal course. 

The objective of this post is to emphasize the importance of proper resource allocation. The steps outlined should help in developing a basic framework to help you during this process. I intend to do a more detailed post regarding various resource allocation strategies soon for specific types of businesses. 

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How Participative is Your Team?

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I was introduced to the importance of candor in the work place in Jack Welch’s book Winning. Candor is essentially, the ability to express one’s thoughts, opinions and concerns free from discrimination or dishonesty. However, it has been noted by several psychologists, that the reason most of us do not integrate more candor into our daily lives, is because it goes against societal norms. It is essentially because we are constantly protecting our self interest, that we do not share our opinions candidly in sensitive matters, and do our best to ‘stay out of trouble’. We may survive without brutal candor in our normal daily lives, however, the absence of an environment of candor in a startup or business entity, will lead to missing out on many lost opportunities. 

It is the leader’s responsibility to integrate candor into the team. I believe that leading by example is the best way to fast track the integration of candor into a team. I remember the first couple of performance reviews I had with members of a team I had recently begun working with. Initially, when I asked questions relating to productivity levels of other team members or their last quarter’s performance, there was  a palpable  sense of discomfort. When I raised concerns regarding the performance of the business and asked the team to share their concerns, I was initially met with much silence. Eventually however, these psychological barriers will break down with adequate effort put into the process. As a leader, it is vital to help others feel comfortable in expressing their concerns and desist from becoming defensive or abrasive if they do not like what they hear. 

A couple of ways to introduce the concept of candor into your team is by:

1. Rewarding: During discussions and meetings, individuals who bring up viewpoints other’s have ben tip toeing around, should be rewarded through a pre-formulated mechanism. I incorporated this into a team I was working with, we kept a tally of who was adding the most constructive thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Keeping score, is in my experience, a great way to get people to participate.

2. Feedback: Institute monthly or quarterly feedback session among employees and yourself. If possible use a tool such as a 360 degree questionnaire to help get the process started. Everyone should provide their assessor and participant with a score on how helpful the session was. This helps get people talking and brings issues which may be bothering them, to the surface.

A word of caution,  integration of candor into your team environment may be met with initial skepticism. However, if the aim is to remain committed to making this a part of your team’s culture, it will most certainly give rise to more productive meetings, better ideas, faster approvals and eventually, lead to higher overall  productivity. 

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It is all about Your Attitude

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Startups usually comprise of small, tight knit teams. As the leader of this group, your energy level and mood is a compass for the rest of team. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that he/she does whatever is required to keep the team motivational level and outlook positive. I have found this to be very tricky sometimes. There are times when , a lack of sleep, or not feeling too well, leads to not having the required positive attitude at work. This is clearly visible to the rest of the team and has a viral affect on the rest of the team members and productivity does suffer. By the same token, if there is a member of the team who always seems to have a negative outlook, the leader has to combat these views with positive ones to bring a level of overall equilibrium. 

There will always be times when the economy is bad, the competition released a superior product, the team lost a critical member, or a host of other situations which bring the team morale down. I have experienced several of these situations and have learnt that my response to the situation will go a long way in deciding its eventual outcome. If I choose to give up, get depressed or blame others because of a particular situation, it has a domino effect on both the business, as well as the team. As a leader, we have to be aware of changing dynamics both within the team, and externally, and adapt to them seamlessly.

Listed below are a couple of ways to keep your attitude and energy in constant check:

1. At the end of every week/month ask for feedback from your team regarding your attitude during the time period, on a scale of 1 – 10. If you get a score of 6, ask about specific areas which you can work on to bring it to say 8 next week. This may seem forced and uncomfortable at first. However if there is a culture of candor present at your startup, this will be a breeze.

2. Document all the incidents you feel caused your attitude or energy levels to drop drastically. Were the changes directed to any one person? What caused them? What were the repercussions? Once we have some patterns regarding when and what is causing attitude and energy levels to drop, we can take specific steps to stop them from doing so in the future.

A leader’s attitude is usually the defining difference between a good team and a great team. With the right attitude, we assist the team break down mental barriers which may be holding them back, take away the fear of making mistakes and generally help them push themselves further. Pay closer attention to attitude, it should result in a team having higher productivity,and being more motivated and driven to reach their goals.

Related Posts

Event + Response = Outcome

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5 Steps to Better Health

“Without health, there is no point. To anything.” Everett Mámor

Health is one of those things in life you value once you lose it. Ill health propels us to value it a lot more for a while, then we lose track of it yet again. We fail to understand that without good health, there is very little we can do. Ill health makes us realize that all the things we take for granted should be the very things we ought to be thankful for, day in and day out. As entrepreneurs we tend to push ourselves harder, as great things can only be achieved by great efforts. During this process one of the things we tend to lose track of is our health. I made that mistake recently and hence dedicated this series to help remind myself of the importance of good health.

Listed below are five factors critical to good health:

1. Sleep: Having sporadic sleep cycles can be most damaging to one’s health. Lack of sleep or inadequate and untimely sleep patterns cause lethargy and lack of concentration. This in turn results in not being able to perform optimally and eventually leads to developing related illnesses due to exhaustion. Developing and having the discipline to stick to a sleeping routine can have a positive impact on your health. To read more about developing better sleeping habits please click here.

2. Exercise: A lot of people feel tired at the mention of the word exercise. The association may be a result of associating all forms of exercise with the tedium of weights , running for miles, monotonous repetition and sweating through it all. Developing a healthy exercise routine however can start from something as simple as having a yoga or stretching routine when you wake up in the morning. It is vitally important to establish some form of exercise into your daily routine. To read more about easy exercise routines that you can adopt please click here.

3. Eating Right: Other than staying off the fatty junk food, there are many simple tips we need to integrate into our daily diet plan. I wrote about ensuring to drink enough water during the day and making sure that a healthy breakfast is how you start your day. These small changes impact greatly on energy and fitness levels. It is not necessary to go on strict diets and give up eating all favorite foods . What is important is that we make the small but important changes which will help us live a healthier life. To read more about eating right please click here.

4. Having Fun: Doing the things you love and enjoy has a deep impact on your health. It helps exude energy and a zest for life which is infectious. We have to stop sacrificing the things that bring joy to us simply to be able to assimilate into the society we live in. If you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing, there is no better time than ‘Now’ to start making the necessary changes. To read more about the importance of having fun please click here.

5. Positive Thinking: Having a positive attitude has a major impact on the quality of life. It has the ability to remind us how fortunate we are for everything we have. It helps us to shift focus from all the things we do not have, to all that we need to be grateful for. This level of inner peace creates an aura of positivity around us, which in turn attracts our wants and desires to help make our life a more fulfilling one. To learn more about the power of positive thinking please click here.

Losing perspective of the truly important factors in our lives is a mistake committed by too many people. We become so lost in the daily humdrum that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Life is way too short to miss out at truly living life to its optimum. It is important that we keep a healthy balance between work and fun in our lives. Only through such a balance can we experience a level of inner peace and help bring perspective to the chaotic lives we lead today.

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The Little Difference

“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

All of us have fundamental choices in life. We can either embrace life for all its worth and live each day to make a difference, or we can simply go about, just living. This seems like a fairly easy decision to make, and it should be, because it is! Each and everyone of us is in control of the sort of life we want to lead. The decision is completely ours, and our life is a reflection of the decisions which we have chosen to make. If anyone is not satisfied with the results so far, it is up to them to change the way they may be doing things. In truth it all comes down to, whether we are looking at the glass half empty or half full. Two people can look at the same glass with radically different perspectives. In the end, what matters is our attitude, and whether we choose it to be positive one or negative.

I must admit, most of the time I do not understand why so many people have such a negative outlook on life. The mind boggles that someone deliberately chooses to look more at the negative side of life. There has to be some driving force behind such behavior, I have yet to understand it. Being negative not only brings your own spirits down, it has a domino effect on all those who come into contact with it. It permeates into every aspect of your life, from the way you walk, hold a conversation, relationships, social interaction and the vibes you give out. An aura develops around you which only seems to attract all the things you do not want in life. Why anyone would want to do something like that to themselves is a mystery.

Life is way too short for us to be worried about all the things which are not in our control. We need to focus on factors we can do something about, and our health is one those key factors. Having a positive attitude has a major impact on the quality of life. It has the ability to remind us how fortunate we are for everything that we have. It helps us to shift our focus from all the things we do not have, to all that we need to be grateful for. This level of inner peace creates an aura of positivity around us, which in turn attracts our wants and desires to help make our life a more fulfilling one. We all have the same fundamental choices in life. The decisions we make about these choices will impact and determine the sort of life we choose to live.

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5 Steps to Close Your First Sale

“Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” Malcom Forbes

Closing your first sale is one of the greatest highs you experience in your journey as an entrepreneur. It is a validation of your skills, passion and commitment to achieving something more than just the ordinary in life. There is no doubt that the journey to this milestone is a challenging one, it will test to the max and you will be able to gauge whether you have it in you to actually persevere and reach your goal. Having been through this exercise, I am now part of other teams on this leg of their journey I have put together a list of five concepts which have helped me .

1. Envision it: Before starting this journey, clearly identify where you want to go, how you want to get there and by when. Establish a picture of the entire process to enable you to visualize how you want everything to work. Once you have this image deeply embedded in your subconscious, you are ready to begin your journey. To read more about envisioning the sales process please click here.

2. Be Proactive: To be able to reach any goal in life you have to take action. Without it you will not be able to gather the momentum that is required to close that first deal and then successive deals after that. There is a need to be continuously proactive if you want to have success in any part of your life. If you want to achieve your goals and close that sale, you need to start taking responsibility for your success and action, today. To read tips on becoming more proactive please click here.

3. Ask: If you have hit a point where you are meeting a lot of people, pitching your idea and getting some interest but no sales then you are not asking for the sale correctly. Subconsciously we do not want to be the pushy salesperson . We begin to let this thought influence the sales pitch process and what happens is that the prospect is never really posed the question to buy. You need to start asking for the sale much more proactively to start closing deals. To read more about asking for the sale please click here.

4. Patience: There will be times during this journey where you will get frustrated, irritated and sometimes quite angry because you are unable to hit your targets and goals. This impacts detrimentally on the entire sales process as it decreases productivity, efficiency and your positivity. Having patience during this journey will be critical in your progress, remember, research shows that we usually quit just before we are about to hit something really big. To read more about this critical success factor please click here.

5. Learn from Failures: There is no failure only feedback. When times are tough, patience is low and we face setbacks, an entrepreneur starts to question everything. We begin to start blaming external factors, our team, our product or the economy. However this stance will not change the outcome or increase the probability of your closing the sale. You need to take the failures that you face and convert them into feedback to help you succeed. To read about strategies to convert failures into feedback please click here.

I sincerely believe that by following these steps coupled with hard work, determination and belief in your capabilities you will achieve your goals. We have to stop making excuses for ourselves and playing the blame game. If we truly want to succeed we have to do whatever it takes. Believe in yourself, your product/service and the your ability to successfully sell. No hurdle will be too high and when you finally get there, embrace the moment. Be thankful that you have been given the opportunity to prove yourself because, believe me, the journey is just starting, and it doesn’t become any easier!

I wish all of you the best of luck!

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