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The 5 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Going From Employee to Self-Employed

Focusing on entrepreneurship, I’d like to share an article published in Inc.com on February 16, 2017, written by Beth Doane, managing partner of Main & Rose, discussing what you should know what you are getting into before making the leap:

Thinking about leaving your cubicle for the thrills of the startup world? So have 27 million other people like you. The good news is that there are more resources now than ever to help you find success when making this leap. The bad news is that just one small misstep and you can end up right back in your 9-to-5 gig.

I never worked in a corporate environment, started my first company when I was 22, and made a slew of expensive mistakes in those first few years. I attribute being able to survive to the fact that I had great mentors along the way and met fellow entrepreneurs who I could lean on for guidance and support.

I recently caught up with one of these fellow entrepreneurs, Darren Humphreys, who now spends his time tracking lions across the Serengeti or lounging on a remote beach on a hidden corner of Madagascar, but his original career was the farthest thing from this lifestyle. Darren hails from the top ranks of Wall Street and walked away from it to start a travel company. Like me, Darren learned how to scale and be his own CEO through making mistakes.

Below, we compiled the top mistakes founders make and what you really need to know to make it as a true entrepreneur.

Not Finding the Real Niche

Knowing what you want to do — and are passionate about — is not enough to make it a business. Even having a business plan, a marketing plan and a whole lot of venture capital won’t cut it these days. You must dive far enough into your concept to find the niche within it. If you can identify this niche within your “passion” industry, you will be truly distinctive and it will set you up for success.

Budgeting Incorrectly

Don’t leave your career without a plan and enough money to get you through the first six months. A new venture always costs more than you think, and that includes “opportunity cost.” When Darren first started his company, he knew if he had to budget and without a plan, he wouldn’t get very far. It’s worth hiring an expert for your budgeting (and making sure to budget for that expert!).

Underestimating Timeframes

New ventures always take longer than you anticipate. Darren advises that you should aim for validation within the first 12 months, and profitability within the first three years. I found this to be true: The companies I see succeeding wildly are able to bring a simple product to market and test it quickly, so they can make adjustments and improvements on the fly.

Not Being Selective Enough

You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Finding a co-founder who complements you is crucial, and if you make the wrong choices, it can tank you before you even start. We always eventually become what we are surrounded by, so choose your staff and partners very carefully. Both Darren and I learned to hire slowly (and fire swiftly) in our ventures.

Having Incorrect Definitions of Success

Not all success is measured in dollars and cents: Darren knows this to be true, because he sacrificed things to be able to call the ocean his office. It’s easy to forget that success is what you make of it when you are trying to survive and build a business. Quality of life and crafting your own path hold a great deal of value, so before you start on your journey, make sure to write out what is truly most important to you — like family, your hobbies, giving back and learning new skills.

If fulfillment came from cash, America would be the happiest place on earth. Instead, pay attention to what really inspires you — and make sure you include that in your daily life.

Beth Doane is an award-winning writer, speaker and social entrepreneur. She is the managing partner of Main & Rose.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

If you need help getting started in a new business venture, and you are in Chicago, Oak Brook or surrounding areas, contact us today if you feel you need some coaching on this topic!

Greg A. Lee is also available on Advicoach.

ABOUT GREG LEE


What Gets You Up in the Morning?

In keeping with the theme of Leadership, the following is an article published in Strategy-Business.com on March 28, 2016, written by Sally Helgeson, author, speaker and leadership development consultant, discussing positive leadership, asking the question, “What makes me leap out of bed in the morning?” rather than “What keeps you up at night?”

What keeps you up at night? It’s a question we’ve heard posed in nearly every panel and senior leader interview conducted in recent years, and as a result, it has become tiresome and rote. But I believe the effect of this query is more pernicious than simply boring — stay awake long enough to think it through, and you’ll recognize its essentially negative nature. The question assumes that leaders are in the habit — indeed, that they have a responsibility — to let worry pervade their every hour, even those precious few required to refresh, balance, and sustain human effort.

That’s why it was bracing to hear the chief economist of a global bank describe how his CEO responded to this question at a recent meeting of senior employees. “I’m sick of that question,” the CEO had said. “Besides, it misses the point. More important is: What makes me leap out of bed in the morning?

The CEO then told his listeners that “the terror of missing an opportunity” impelled him to get up every day. Within 24 hours, the bank’s shiny new headquarters became known throughout the company as “the tower of terror.” That’s hardly the most positive vision. But if we focus on the invocation of opportunity rather than terror, we’ll recognize that the CEO made an important point: It is vastly more productive to spring out of bed eager to spot new opportunities than it is to greet the day in a defensive crouch brought on by post-midnight agony fests. And it is a far more powerful way to lead an organization.

In other words: In an economy in which the harnessing of human knowledge offers the chief — and perhaps only — competitive advantage, the need to engage human talent has become paramount. And just as leaders on the lookout for opportunity can build and stimulate engagement, they also can undermine engagement by exuding negative energy.

Beverly Kaye, founder of Career Systems International, an engagement and development consultancy, is coauthor of the engagement classic Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay, now in its fifth edition (Berrett-Koehler, 2014). She has been examining the sources and advocating for the importance of employee engagement longer than anyone I know. “One of the first questions we asked people when doing our original research on engagement in the 1990s was what about their work motivated them to get out of bed in the morning,” she told me. “If you understand that, you can understand what engages people.”

People want a few basic things in their work, Kaye pointed out: “They want to feel valued, they want to be able to use their skill sets, and they want to be challenged by new ways to exercise and build those skills.” If jobs don’t give people the opportunity to fulfill these basic needs, many employees will leave — and the best are often the first to go. “And those who stay will often check out mentally and simply disengage, which from an organizational point is probably worse,” she said.

Over the years, Kaye and her researchers have also asked thousands of people why they left their organizations. “What we hear usually comes down to some variation on their not being able to see any opportunities in their job,” she said, which is why a focus on opportunities is critical in a leader. “People’s experience at work is determined by their manager, and the experience of managers is determined by those who manage them, going all the way up to senior leaders….Leaders who are optimistic about what their people can accomplish, and see challenge through the lens of opportunity, inspire confidence throughout the organization.” Optimism cascades down.

By contrast, leaders who worry excessively — the up-all-night types — can set a cautious or even frightened tone that spreads discouragement. In Kaye’s experience, “worried leaders tend to fail their people in one of two ways. They may be distracted and overlook signals people send about what they are capable of. Or they micromanage, either because they don’t trust their people or as a way of managing their own anxiety.” Both approaches inhibit morale and make it impossible to build a culture of engagement.

Over the years, Kaye and her researchers have also asked thousands of people why they left their organizations. “What we hear usually comes down to some variation on their not being able to see any opportunities in their job,” she said, which is why a focus on opportunities is critical in a leader. “People’s experience at work is determined by their manager, and the experience of managers is determined by those who manage them, going all the way up to senior leaders….Leaders who are optimistic about what their people can accomplish, and see challenge through the lens of opportunity, inspire confidence throughout the organization.” Optimism cascades down.

By contrast, leaders who worry excessively — the up-all-night types — can set a cautious or even frightened tone that spreads discouragement. In Kaye’s experience, “worried leaders tend to fail their people in one of two ways. They may be distracted and overlook signals people send about what they are capable of. Or they micromanage, either because they don’t trust their people or as a way of managing their own anxiety.” Both approaches inhibit morale and make it impossible to build a culture of engagement.

It’s interesting to note that the CEO who pushed back on the original question — “What keeps you up?” — had been chief risk assessment officer at another large financial institution. A former member of his executive team who heard about the pushback observed that the answer showed how much the CEO had grown as a leader. Worrying about what could happen, Kaye observed, is practically a job description for risk managers. “If you don’t have a few sleepless nights, you may not be doing your job,” she said. “But a CEO has a different brief. He or she needs to prepare the company for the future, which is all about seeing the opportunities in the larger picture.”

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, my gurus in all things leadership, note in their classic work, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (Wiley, 1987), that successful leaders always “challenge the process.” That is, they look for opportunities to go beyond the status quo and innovative ways to improve the organization. Kouzes and Posner are clear that doing so always requires some degree of experiment and risk, as well as a willingness to accept the consequences when a risk does not pan out.

In a highly uncertain environment, that’s a pretty good prescription for what most of us can do. And recognizing it might bring us to a renewed recognition that wakeful worry does not a good leader make.

If you need help with any of this, and you are in Chicago, Oak Brook or surrounding areas, contact us today if you feel you need some coaching on this topic!

Greg A. Lee is also available on Advicoach.


7 Habits of Masterful Managers Who Their Teams to Coach Success

In keeping with leadership, I’d like to share the following article published in Entrepreneur.com on 9/19/16 written by Sherrie Campbell, a psychologist, author, and speaker:

Managers are the quarterbacks and coaches of their teams. Managers with great reputations for producing the most successful teams are those who have cultivated the habits of success and leadership designed to keep their teams cohesive, motivated and driven. There is nothing more powerful than a leader who has faith in their team. Like children, the last thing any of us want to lose is the faith our parents have in us, and this dynamic plays itself out from team members to their manager. To follow are the seven habits that masterful managers utilize to guarantee team success.

1. Collaborative.

Managers who collaborate rather than command create team cohesion and positive morale. Collaborating doesn’t put anyone down. Commanding managers are arrogant, emotionally violent and secure results through the production of fear and game-playing. These types of managers may see results, but their team members and customers will show high turnover, producing only short-term successes.

The most lucrative and stable path to getting results is through collaboration. There is something deeply bonding when working together to secure common goals. Team members learn to model the collaborative vibe of their manager and apply it amongst each other and also with customers. Great managers know that collaborating in any endeavor, inside or outside of the company, produces the most worthwhile results.

Related: How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

2. Relationship oriented.

Great managers, manage people not numbers.  Although numbers are important, the purest method to get employees to work hard is for them to work for and receive approval. Approval is the greatest form of payment. Numbers are non-emotional. They have no lasting impact on self-worth because there are always going to be higher numbers to meet.

Under a relationship-oriented manager, where approval and encouragement are woven into the fabric of the relationship, team members become unafraid to reach for higher quotas. They come to believe they can meet them, and to keep the faith of their manager, are more motivated to do so. The more relationship-oriented a manager is, the more team members are willing to perform because they are receiving the guidance and encouragement the need instead of fear and punishment.

3. Give credit.

Great managers give credit wherever and whenever credit is due. They do not have the selfishness or arrogance to need to take credit for the success of their team to feed their own ego. In fact, managers who are collaborative prefer that team members receive the credit for their results. When the team gets the credit, it cultivates a deeper drive within them to work hard to earn that type of credit again and again. This makes work a pleasant and fun place to be.

People who enjoy work and the dynamics they share with upper management, are those who feel good about sacrifice and working hard because there is purpose and reward driving them internally. When teams are given credit it allows them to experience the fruits of their labor, providing them with a deep sense of passion and satisfaction for what they are doing.

Related: 6 Ways to Work Less but Get More Done

4. Equal treatment.

Cohesion on any team is the x-factor for success. For this reason, great managers treat each individual team members according to their unique gifts. Wise managers avoid playing favorites; only preferring to work closely with those members who get their numbers. Equal time and equal treatment are vital to the development of team cohesion, as it rids teams of destructive emotions such as jealousy, which can be hugely destructive.

When managers play favorites, the team is fragmented by the divide and conquer approach set by the manager, creating animosity between members. Animosity inevitably leads to people trying to cheat and or undermine others on their own team. While managers will naturally work better with some members more easily than others, differential treatment goes directly against any formula of success. Equal treatment doesn’t take away individuality. Each team member is coached individually based on the strengths and weaknesses the manager identifies. Equal time given to all members creates positive morale between team members and their manager.

5. Open.

Effective managers are humble, not know-it-all’s. Rank doesn’t always reflect knowledge, especially in a world that is on the fast track of change with the continual advances in technology. Those who manage well, listen and learn from their team members and take in what they bring to table before advising or directing them. Great managers are open to learning and also open to receiving feedback from their team on what more they may need from them or others in management.

Know-it-all managers see themselves as perfect and above their team, instilling a great divide between themselves and their connection with team members. No one wants to approach a know-it-all with a problem, out of the desire to avoid confrontation or condemnation. Hence, more mistakes are made in the know-it-all environment because communication is low, not always forthright and stress is high. Managers who are willing to listen and learn succeed and get results because the issues in need of discussion are comfortably on the table for analyzation.

Related: Deepak Chopra’s 7 Ways to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

6. Sensing.

Successful and well-liked managers are like a “players coach.” They are sensing people who pay attention to both immediate data from their five senses and data from their own direct experience. They develop understanding from conscious thought, rather than trusting their subconscious and are happy to dig into the fine detail of the situations they are in with their team. In other words, they focus on what is immediate, practical and real, and manage in a reality-based framework supportive of their team, rather than trying to change what is not under their control.

Sensing managers are grounded in logic and manage in practical and realistic ways. They like to pursue things with a well-devised plan, having the details worked out in advance. These types of managers are phenomenal because they serve to ground the more emotionally labile moments experienced by team members in uncertain situations. Team members can come to their manager to calm down and gain perspective, giving them the ability to be rational and think things through intelligently.

7. Intuitive.

Masterful managers are able to be sensing and intuitive in tandem. They are able to process data rationally while also following their gut feelings when risk is necessary, or when their gut feeling is so intense that it is the only correct decision to make. Although they often trust and rely upon patterns and practical data, they are also great at predicting or intuiting patterns of behavior and market trends, allowing them to get out of the detail and into a higher level view.

Being intuitive takes managers out of the practicality of the now into a more future-focused mindset.  A future-focused mindset is the driving force of innovation amongst a manager and their team. An intuiting manager encourages team members to dream and imagine, provoking all members out of their comfort zones into acquiring new skills and towards the development of news ideas.

Related Book: No B.S. Ruthless Management of People & Profits, 2nd Edition by Dan S Kennedy

Masterful managers show a high degree of sensitivity to team members, and encourage them to operate with a high degree of respect and sensitivity to each other. When equal-treatment is the management style all members have equal voice where each has the chance to speak and express their ideas. Equal treatment leads to a collaborative environment where everyone feels important. Mangers who create teams with the foundation of these elements are successful in the short and long term. Great managers believe in their purpose, their individual team members and all that it takes for everyone to feel satisfied, happy, motivated and successful. The morale created by these elite mangers guarantees personal and professional success and esteem.

Exclusive Business Resources

We hope you master these 7 habits to lead your team to success. If you are in Chicago, Oak Brook or surrounding areas, contact us today if you feel you need some coaching on this topic!

Greg A. Lee is also available on Advicoach.


Happy New Year!

 

In our world of business, we enter 2017 with great hope and anticipation of an invigorated economy and yes, some trepidation about whether it will all come together once again to lift our businesses, big and small.

We know that in fixing our business climate here in the United State, we have significant hurdles to overcome.  Our labor force participation is at its lowest level in 40 years.  Our principal generator of new jobs, small business startups, is growing at a rate of 30% less than in 2008.  One million new startups have failed in the last 8 years, resulting in the loss of 7-10 million jobs; GDP growth has been less than 3% for 10 years running.  I can go on and on about the issues of our stagnant economy, but we all know that we now have a major opportunity to reverse these negative, confidence-draining trends.

The optimist in me tells me that this is a mountain not too steep and difficult to climb.  Here’s why – we are, at our heart, a nation of doers that want to make things better for all of us, individually and collectively, and when slapped down, we confidently and aggressively get back up, rebuild, innovate and work hard to find solutions that solve the problems that confront us and satisfy our customers’ needs.

To me, confidence and risk taking go hand-in-hand and make our country unique in history.  Here’s my logic flow:  If businesses of all sizes see a favorable business climate with less regulation, lower taxes and available financing, there will be the entrepreneurial and corporate confidence to invest, innovate and take the necessary risks to create new and better goods and services that our customers want and desire today and tomorrow.

It’s all about a business culture in our country that incents and rewards growth, risk taking, entrepreneurship, innovation and community.  If we are smart about it, the rising tide will lift all the boats.  Here’s to a great 2017!


9 More Strategies for Successful Leadership (Part 2)

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Last week I shared a post written by Ed Shultek, Founder and Managing Principal @ Sandler Training, published on LinkedIn July 2016.  This week I’d like to share the follow-up post Mr. Shultek published on LinkedIn in September 2016 after learning of a study out of Duke University that found people were motivated more by pizza than a cash bonus.  These are 9 more strategies for successful leadership that you can implement today and start seeing results.

  • Do things that make subordinates feel good. Little things that show people how much you value them goes a long way.   People like to feel important. Oblige them and they will oblige you.
  • No promises allowed — Just deliver.  There is always a risk in making a promise. Either a fulfilled promise is expected or an unfulfilled promise can end a relationship. You know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.
  • Don’t withhold information.  Information is on a need to know basis and employees always need to know what will help them in their job.   Employees are more motivated to perform at higher levels when they feel empowered with all the information they need to accomplish the organization’s goals.
  • Address disagreements honestly and with no judgment. Employees need to feel empowered by the independence in their roles. One should learn the results of their own conflict resolution style as well as the styles of others and deliver difficult conversations in a manner that best resonates with the communication style of the receiver.
  • Listen to your employees. All people want to be heard and they want to feel that what they have to say is important. Its an easy way to gain their respect and loyalty as well as learn more about what is going on within the team.
  • Provide honest and immediate feedback to each team member.  Not only does this set the expectations regarding their contribution but it tells them how well they are meeting your expectations so they can improve.
  • Reward loyalty and hard work. When you reward good performance, you can expect to see more of it. Don’t take their efforts for granted. The rewards don’t have to be grandiose. Remember the pizza study?
  • Encourage ideas and participation.  No one should ever feel that his or her idea wouldn’t be heard. Set expectations in meetings by rewarding all ideas and contributions.
  • Make time for team building. Encouraging active participation with team members is a great way to keep the team focused on the overall goals.

If you are in management, you have been tasked with the responsibility of achieving results through the efforts of others. Your efforts in making your organization a place where employees can grow should be a part of your own growth plan and is what will turn you into a leader and not just a boss.

Download the Step By Step Coaching Guide for Improving Revenue for quick ways to implement some of these leadership strategies.


Twelve Strategies for Successful Leadership (Part 1)

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In keeping with the theme of Leadership, I’d like to share a post written by Ed Schultek, Founder and Managing Principal @ Sandler Training published on LinkedIn on July 25, 2016, discussing leadership skill sets needed to get others to do things.

So you got promoted to management! Congratulations! By now you realize that you have the most difficult position in the room. You were promoted because you rocked as a sales rep or were clearly the most competent in terms of the technical aspects of the job. How long did it take you to realize that knowing how to do something and getting others to do it are two completely different skill sets?

 Twelve Strategies for Successful Leadership

  • Maintain a good relationship with your boss. He or she will be your champion, information source, and support.
  • Demonstrate to your employees the behaviors that you want them to show you.   Modeling is a very powerful and effective leadership strategy.
  • Be a human first. Laugh at yourself and with your people. Bonding and rapport are not just for the sales call.

“Sandler rule: People respond to people they trust; people trust people like them.“

  • Effectively use up front contracts to make your expectations known. An up- front contract establishes who is responsible for what and identifies the desired outcomes.
  • Encourage idea sharing. Run meetings that encourage participation and strengthens the team. Keep the group focused on outcomes and goals.
  • Identify employees’ unique abilities. Communicate that some people will prosper in jobs that cause others to stagnate. Encourage all employees to recognize where they shine, not just the superstars.
  • Use assessments to identify strengths and gaps in the team. There are tools to help employees communicate more effectively with each other as well as tools to develop a roadmap based on the expectations between management and employees.
  • Hire the right people. No amount of training will make a reluctant employee a rock star for you. Screen candidates carefully and stop wasting resources when trying to reform mistakes.
  • Get “buy-in” on the goals, visions, and reasons. When you tell people what to do without them knowing the motivation behind it, you will find yourself in arm-wrestling matches. Explain what your needs are in a situation and get them to help you decide the best way of accomplishing those goals.
  • Admit your mistakes. Demonstrate this as a sign of strength and expect the same from them. Establish a no judgment policy so everyone can benefit from the learning opportunity (See no. 2 on the list).
  • Help employees find the jobs that they both enjoy and will meet the needs of the organization. By identifying their unique abilities, they will be more motivated to perform their jobs well.
  • Manage your time well. Delegating and outsourcing are not a sign of incompetence. It is recognition that someone may be able to do it better than you or that it is simply not the best use of your time.  

3 Leadership Skills Critical for Driving Change

In keeping with the focus on leadership, I’d like to share the following article written by Brent Gleeson, Keynote Speaker and Leadership Coach, published in Inc.com on August 16, 2016.  This article proides some key takeaways from the book “Change the Culture, Change the Game” authored by Roger Connors and Tom Smith on the skills leaders need for improing organizational culture to drive better results.

All organizations experience periods of much-needed culture change in order to achieve the results they need to grow, compete and win. Changing or improving the culture of a company or team requires focus, accountability and consistency. And it must be led from the top. Without total and complete buy-in from the senior leadership team the desired culture will fail to be achieved.

Leaders either move actively through an organization or unconsciously. When an unconscious leader attempts to fake their way through culture change they will not create the necessary experiences required to instill the correct beliefs. Without the needed cultural beliefs, actions will not achieve results.

There is also a misconception that leaders driving significant culture change must be bold in nature, give inspirational speeches and take wild leaps at greatness. That is simply not true. They must be honest and sincere in their effort exhibiting true passion for change. They must take aggressive strides in mastering three critical culture change leadership skills. And most of the time the organization can’t wait for them to do so, it must be done in tandem with driving change. This requires a consistent and deliberate effort and places this ability within reach of leaders at all levels.

These three skills are: leading the change, responding to feedback, and having a facilitative communication style.

Leading the Change

Culture change initiatives are not something that can be delegated to Human Resources or any other department. This is a leader-led model which must start at the very top. Every experience a leader creates, communication they deliver and action they take will either support or undermine the effort. The senior leadership team must actively manage the process and make sure that it’s at the top of every manager’s priority list.

Some of the best practices leaders must own include: establishing accountability across the organization; defining the results needed from the culture change (what are we trying to accomplish?); developing a cultural beliefs statement (again, this shouldn’t belong to the marketing team); developing and communicating the case for change; and consistently ensuring alignment across the leadership team.

For leaders to master the ability to lead the change, it requires learning and practicing the tools, planning what to do and what to say, and internal and external coaching.

Responding to Feedback

Without the team there can be no leadership. During a change effort the team will scrutinize the leadership team more than ever. They will be hopeful for new change they have been craving for a long time, but they may also look for signs of potential failure.

Providing feedback

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

focused on supporting the desired cultural beliefs and desired outcomes to team members is critical for success. But it goes both ways. Senior leaders must ask their reports, or anyone for that matter the question, “What feedback do you have for me?” Leaders must create a culture supportive of managing up and transparency.

Some leaders are good at taking constructive criticism and other are not. Responding with an excuse or dismissing the feedback as irrelevant or incorrect will foster beliefs about that leader’s willingness to change. In times of culture change, leaders must usually be the first to change the way they think and act.

Feedback will not always be accurate or grounded in reality but it is the leader’s duty to ask for it, as well as respond to it. Letting the team know that their voice is heard and what you are going to do to take action when necessary is the most important component to mastering responding to feedback.

Facilitative Communication Style

When I speak to organizations or perform workshops with their leadership teams, communication is always a key component. As a former Navy SEAL, we used to evangelize the saying “move, shoot and communicate.” We work in highly chaotic environments which require effective communication in order to adapt to change.

Leaders must not just ask for feedback every now and then but create organizational experiences that foster ongoing collaboration and communication. It doesn’t happen on its own. These experiences will empower the team and involve everyone in being accountable for driving the positive change forward.

Needed change is usually created through many internal and external environments. Either way, it can be scary for the team. It is up to the leadership to drive the change, ensure alignment, and see it through. It can have revolutionary effects to the bottom line when done right.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

4 Ways to Kick Into Hyper Growth This Year

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With a new year on the horizon, I’d like to shift the focus to Leadership and share the following article by  Adam Fridman, Founder, MeetAdvisors,  published August 19, 2016 in Inc.com, which discusses what INC 5000 honorees are saying about what high-growth companies are doing to be competitive in this landscape with the tools we currently have available:

Every year around this time, the INC 5000 list comes out and our collective conversation turns to growth. And since the latest technology is always changing the way business is done and stories of other disruptors constantly fuel entrepreneurial creativity – the formula for growth keeps evolving.

Last year, Mintigo conducted a study to identify exactly what INC 5000 companies were doing to surpass their success metrics. Among the qualities of the fastest growing companies in America were: efficient use of technology, having an in-house marketing team, hiring with future growth in mind, and focusing on high-growth industries.

The findings of this study have become more and more relevant in growing startup trends – and years from now, those key elements to success will likely continue to be true (even in 2030 when hologram versions of our staff will be teleporting into work!). But let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What specifically are high-growth companies doing to be competitive in this landscape with the tools we currently have available? Here’s what some of the honorees said:

Focus on What You Really Do
In your first years of business, it’s easy to try to be everything to everybody. More services, more opportunities for customers, right? Not so much. It seems that if you want to grow quickly, you need to focus on what it is you really do.

Constance Aguilar, Co-Founder of The Abbi Agency believes that getting hyper-focused was her company’s number one growth driver. “We streamlined our departments, creating a 4-pillar system for business development, which put our leads into industry categories staffed and lead by experts in those particular areas of business,” she said.

Creating a framework for the agency allowed them to expand their marketing agency’s business in specific areas, rather than simply go after ‘anything and everything’. The result was the agency growing 191 percent over the past three years.

Don’t Skimp on Talent

You’ll see this recurring theme across the map with high-growth companies. While technology is great, it’ll never replace the power of human connection.

“High growth is about hiring the most talented team that shares a common vision. Our team’s collective vision is to change the way the world pays,” says Tom Villante, CEO of YapStone, a fintech company that powers payments for global marketplaces and large vertical markets. This past year, Villante added numerous seasoned executive to his team, hailing from companies like Twitter, Paypal, and Salesforce; YapStone was ranked in the list for the 9th consecutive year – having grown 136 percent over a three year period.

Revolutionize Your Customer Experience

Look, we live in a fast-paced world where consumers expect a certain level of customer experience. If they don’t feel taken care of – they’re not likely to darken your door again, no matter how much they need your service.

“We built a company that treats every decision for our customer as if we were making the decision for ourselves,” says Joe Pervan, Partner at The Fulfillment Lab, a fulfillment house that provides customized solutions for global companies. In an industry that is not traditionally customer-focused, this company went against the grain to create technology that fit each customer’s individual needs. A longer process, for sure – but at a whopping 1,735 percent growth in the past three years, they’re glad they took the time.

Anticipate Future Need

Our world is moving at lightning speed and what might be so relevant to your customer today, may not suit their needs tomorrow. This is why it’s important to constantly innovate new ideas that anticipate the future needs of your customer.

This is the 4th year that Madison Logic made the INC 5000 list, and this year they moved up 500 spots. “We attribute this to constantly innovating and staying ahead of the B2B marketplace, while also making it our priority to understand our clients’ needs and create products that help them achieve success,” says the company’s CEO, Tom O’Regan.

It has becoming increasingly clear that, like Madison Logic, we need to listen to our customers and have them tell us what they need.
Judging by these responses, it seems that true entrepreneurial companies are most concerned about creating something great and disrupting their market. In the entrepreneurial world, passion is power – and it seems that if you have that passion for greatness, the growth will come with it.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

 


Happy Thanksgiving

thankfulness-image1

We all have so many things to be thankful for over this coming Thanksgiving holiday – family, friends, loved ones, and so much more; and one in particular for me in 2016 is our country.

Three incredibly special experiences that I’ve had in 2016 cause me to thank God for the country that we call home as Americans, the good ol’ US of A.  I’d like to share these with you.

First, this summer I had the good fortune to spend some quality time in seven different Baltic countries.  Each country with its people and culture was uniquely memorable and fascinating with their rich histories.  I enjoyed and learned from them all, but the one visit that contrasted most with my own sense of well-being with living in America was the trip to St. Petersburg, Russia.  While the weather is not always the most uplifting part of visiting Russia, and certainly doesn’t make Russia in and of itself unique, I did notice something unusual.   Of the many Russians we met and observed, what stood out was their very somber and serious tone in which they set about to do their everyday business.  Not many smiles or warm greetings to be had.  Not mad or angry mind you, just not a very happy tone.  I did my upbeat and positive best to earn an acknowledging smile but I clearly failed.  Granted that I don’t have any corner on creating happy faces, but this was a pretty dour crowd in a city of 5 million people.  One could assume a very heavy hand on the socio, economic, political environment in Russia as the cause of this malaise; but whatever the reason, it sure made me feel thankful to be an American and live in a country, that while far from perfect, gives us real hope for the future.  And a country that even can put a few smiles on the faces of our citizens.

The second wonderful experience this year was a trip this fall to learn about and meet some of the young men and women of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Carson, Colorado.  Believe me when I say these men and women and their families are the best of the best – patriots and protectors of our constitution and freedoms, acting with absolute selfless courage no matter the mission.  I’ve never been more proud to be an American when hearing the real-world stories of what it really takes for this country to be free and safe.  We can all thank our lucky stars this country produces incredibly talented and knowledgeable soldiers with their supporting families willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so we can live our lives as we desire.

The last of the events that I experienced this year that make me thankful for our country is the one that all of us just experienced, the 2016 Presidential election.  Regardless of political persuasion or position on the issues, I am so thankful that we live in a country that no matter how bitter the discourse we can all move ahead as a people to make all of our lives better.

So much to be thankful for and God bless the United States of America!


The Top 10 Stats from 2016 that Show the Importance of Email Marketing

In keeping with the focus on marketing, I’d like to share the following article by  Linsey Morse in the B2BSalesNewsletter.org, originally published at skyword.com, that takes a look at the top stats of 2016 that highlight the importance of email, and a few tactics for effectively wielding it effectively in your content strategy.
When I think about digital storytelling, there are a few images that come to mind. I picture crisp, vivid photography that draws my eye to a publication. I picture articles so compelling I can practically hear the clear voice of the writer who composed it. I think of catchy hashtags and emotional Instagram campaigns. And I think of videos, whose power to transport has rendered the medium invaluable for a solid content strategy.
But in all that, it’s easy to forget one key element of a comprehensive storytelling strategy that’s too important to leave behind: email marketing.

Even in 2016, where spur-of-the-moment, blink-and-it’s-gone content reigns ever supreme, you need email. And, more importantly, you need to storify your email strategy. It’s not enough to have a newsletter or a targeted approach to distribution. Today, your email approach has to demonstrate a deep understanding of (and respect for) your audience and their needs, with rich visuals and irresistible subject lines.

According to Salesforce’s 2016 State of Marketing Report, “80 percent of marketers agree that email is core to their business.” Are you among them? If not, take a closer look at the top stats of 2016 that highlight the importance of email, and a few tactics for effectively wielding it effectively in your content strategy.

Why it’s Important to your Strategy

1. Email pays for itself–and then some.

If you can work your email strategy into your broader content strategy, the results will prove worth the work (especially where ROI is concerned): according to the Direct Marketing Association via Outbound Engine, “Email marketing yields an average 4,300 percent return on investment for businesses in the United States.” What’s more, as Hubspot pointed out, Forrester Research found that “companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales ready leads at 33 percent lower cost.”

Furthermore, Salesforce’s report noted that 49 percent of marketers (up from 20 percent in 2015) claim email is ” directly linked to their business’ primary revenue source.” And for businesses who are already using email as part of their strategies, they’ve likely seen a payoff even as recently as the close of Q2: as Experian’s Quarterly Email Benchmark Report (from Q2 2016) showed, while “quarter-to-quarter volume [for email] remained the same for Q2 compared to Q1 2016…revenue per email rose from $0.06 to $0.07 in Q2.”

2. There’s power in its personalization.

One of the best things about email–and automated email marketing in particular–is that it enables marketers to create personal experiences that speak to their recipients. And those extra efforts to personalize pay off: Campaign Monitor discovered that “emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened, and marketers have found a 760 percent increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.”

That’s not surprising. As with any good content strategy, email’s efficacy lies in its ability to prove a sender knows and respects their audience. And remember, you need both to ensure your campaign’s success. The majority of people claim they open all emails their favorite companies send; confirming this, according to Chadwick Martin Bailey, the organization sending an email and that email’s subject lines are the two most influential factors in open rates. Proving your company deserves a spot among those favorites necessitates care and consideration for readers–just as it does with your blog and on social.

3. Speaking of social�

According to McKinsey and Company, email far surpasses the social media giants where generating customers is concerned–in fact, it’s 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter. That might seem surprising, considering the number of people who actively engage on social on a daily basis, but it’s easy to understand how email facilitates a quieter, more intimate, and (most importantly) less distracting environment for a conversation or transaction. Beyond that, the company cites the fact that, (as of 2014,) “ninety-one percent of all US consumers still [used] email daily.” And that number’s expected to grow: The Radicati Group predicted that the number of email accounts worldwide would increase to 4.3 billion by the end of this year.

4. It’s only ever a thumb’s press away.

According to statistics from emailmonday (via Adestra’s 2016 Consumer Adoption and Usage Study), more email (55 percent) is read on mobile than on desktop clients. What’s more, emailexpert found that “sixty-four percent of decision-makers read email via mobile devices.”

Courtesy of emailmonday

With readers embracing mobile as a means of all communications, that means you’re able to send your personalized stories to readers and reach them wherever they are. While this does lead to the risk of catching someone in a moment when they’re not willing to consider your product or service, the likelihood is good that if your audience considers your brand a trusted name, they’ll engage.

5. B2Bs are in the lead.

According to emfluence’s Email Marketing Metrics Benchmarks 2016 report, “B2B marketing email averaged over a 47 percent higher click-through rate than Business-to-Consumer (B2C) email and boasted a 23 percent higher click-to-open ratio.”

Does this mean B2B companies are better email marketers than their B2C counterparts? Not necessarily, but it does indicate that they might be more well acquainted with their target audience’s needs and interests. For some B2B newsletter inspiration, check out the tips FreshMail offers.

How to make it work for you

6. Optimize for mobile.

Outbound Engine puts it best: “If an email does not display correctly, 71.2 percent will delete it immediately.” That makes optimization crucial. Responsive email templates are not always ideal, serving more as one-size-fits-most (but-certainly-not-all) solutions to the optimization problem. However, knowing that approximately 90 percent of all mobile email opens happen on an Apple device is a good start. Consider your user base and their devices when creating your next email template–it’ll pay off.

7. Contribute to your brand’s story.

Think about your emails as one more way to reinforce your brand’s story–they’re almost a publishing destination. Case studies, firsthand accounts from customers, content written by employees and relevant stories about the ways in which your brand is contributing to the world are all great approaches you can take–provided you do so in an authentic way. According to Headstream’s Brand Storytelling Report 2015, 80 percent of surveyed adults want brands to tell stories. And as you already know, authenticity is crucial in developing a relationship with your audience. Find a way to create email content that’s true to your brand’s voice and tone and aligns with its goals, and segment your audience wherever possible. Readers will take notice.

8. Automate, automate, automate.

Automation is a marketer’s best friend when it comes to crafting comprehensive campaigns and making sure your stories get where they belong–so it’s no surprise that an average of 49 percent of companies is currently automating in some way. It almost goes without saying that having a month to sculpt a story with gorgeous video or photography and an attractive headline about your brand’s latest product or service makes for an infinitely better experience than developing on the fly. To that end, scheduling goes a long way. But when you automate, you can track email success, monitor your leads, and refine your process for the long term. You can conduct A–B tests to determine the best ways to frame content–and the best content to frame. It’s like having your finger on your audience’s collective pulse.

9. Monitor your subscription (and unsubscription) rates.

With global unsubscribe rates averaging at a seemingly negligible .127 percent, it’s easy to write this problem off. But, as IBM Marketing Cloud pointed out, “improving your unsubscribe rate just 0.1 percent would save 1,000 subscribers every time you send to a database of 1 million people. That’s more than 200,000 contacts retained over a year if you send four emails per week.”

Don’t underestimate the importance of unsubscriptions–and if users unsubscribe, consider the cause. Are you sending emails too frequently, or not frequently enough? Is your content relevant, engaging, and segmented appropriately? Are you using a responsive template? Turn to your audience (and your automation software) for clues.

10. Test (and retest) your cadence.

Just as you’d develop a regular publishing cadence for your digital publication and meter your social posts, it’s crucial that you deliver your emails with the right frequency. More often than not, your cadence is going to be unique to your audience’s behaviors, so there’s no one best answer to this question–although Vertical Response’s compilation of research provides some great references. Good rules to abide by when you’re just starting to test the waters with a new email newsletter include ensuring you can deliver fresh, relevant content consistently with each newsletter, while simultaneously ensuring you’re not bogging readers down with a content excess.

Remember, too, that you’re no longer restricted to the Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five schedule of old. As Vertical Response noted, “With consumers becoming more and more active on their mobile devices, especially outside of standard nine to five working hours spent at an office desktop, testing sends outside the traditional morning hours is essential.” Take time to experiment and find out what works best for your readers.

The Future of Email

The major tenets of email are clear: to be successful, your brand needs a keen awareness of its audience’s behaviors, a finger on the pulse of their devices, and an eye for optimal design. As future updates to email clients make it easier for your readers to ignore your messaging completely, it’s becoming increasingly crucial that your brand keeps up with fresh, relevant, engaging email content that goes the distance and brings readers back for more insight. Brands that take the time to get to know their readers will have the upper hand in the email sphere–and the value of that, as these stats have shown, cannot be overlooked.


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