Picture this: ocean waves are crashing, the sun is beaming, and your children are building a sand castle of grand proportions. Now look more closely at the beach blanket in this mental image . . . are you on it? For many busy entrepreneurs, this idealistic scenario sounds great, but it just isn't in the cards. If you've fallen into the "all work and no play" trap and are neglecting your friends and family, not only is your personal life suffering, your business may be at risk.
No one can immerse himself in work non-stop and maintain a healthy sense of perspective. Try it and you'll surely start to exhibit bad judgment in your business decisions. You'll start feeling the effects of constant stress. You may even burn out, or worse, start experiencing health problems. At that point, your company will certainly feel the effects of your lack of balance.
The good news is, entrepreneurs can balance their "work" and "personal" it just takes a little strategy and forethought. And summer, when the natural tendency is to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather, is a great time to start. Here's how:
Factor your family into your life. The summer is the perfect time to make a new commitment to spending time with your family. You don't necessarily have to work less. All you need to do is integrate your family into your world. Maybe you can coordinate this year's family vacation with one of your business trips, or while the kids are out of school, they could come to your business every now and then to interact and see how you run things. Let them see how much fun you are having. Even small children respond to a parent's genuine excitement about his or her work. As a bonus, you're teaching kids—by example—the importance of pursuing their passion in life.
Make a plan and stick to it. Now is a great time to create a plan for your personal life. If you've got kids who are playing on sports teams, go ahead and decide now on the number of games you think you can attend. Doing so ensures you'll give these family events the same weight you would a critical client meeting.
Don't overestimate how well your business is doing. If you have recently started a business and the money is flowing in faster than you ever imagined, spend with caution . . . whether the "currency" is time or money or both! Just because it seems like the money is there doesn't mean it will always be, so don't book an expensive or extended vacation. A startup usually isn't mature enough to withstand long absences of its founder, and cash flow may be too shaky to justify big, unnecessary purchases. So take the family on a weekend getaway to a local spot or figure out some fun things to do in your hometown. You can enjoy time with them in a way that won't endanger your business.
If you do go on a vacation, make it a real one. What's the definition of a real vacation, you ask? A real vacation doesn't involve having a cell phone attached to your ear, a laptop that is constantly alerting you about new email, or a BlackBerry that can be carried every place you go so that you don't lose touch with the business for even a second. If you're going to do any of these things while you're on vacation, you might as well not even go, because you won't be able to really relax or give your family the attention they deserve.
To avoid these activities, leave detailed instructions about what constitutes an emergency with whoever will be looking after the business while you are gone, and tell them to contact you only if such an emergency happens. You'll be surprised at how much you will benefit from the time away. When you return from vacation, you'll be able to look at the business from a rejuvenated perspective.
Don't make every lunch a business lunch. Entrepreneurs tend to "do lunch," not have lunch. That's understandable. The mid-day meal is the perfect time to woo new clients, shore up relationships with existing ones, or just sit alone in a pub with a legal pad scribbling down new ideas. But do this every day of the week and you'll start wondering if there is life outside the business sphere.
Make at least one lunch a week this summer one that you spend with your family or friends. Take the kids to the park for a bag lunch or meet a friend at his or her favorite restaurant. Spending time with the kids, your spouse, or a friend will be a nice break from all of the mid-day business talk that fills your lunch break the rest of the week.
You don't have to have a family to take a little break this summer. If you've started a business but haven't yet started a family, you may think none of these rules apply to you. Well, you're wrong. Entrepreneurs are known for their inclination to work at breakneck speeds without ever coming up for air. The summer is a great time to take a break from the business even if it is just for one day to do something you enjoy, spend time with friends, or just sleep in.
Common sense is really the best barometer for balancing your life with your work, no matter what the season. Always ask yourself with each decision you make, 'How will this affect my business?' and 'Can I personally live with this decision?' There is a healthy balance for you, and you can find it.
In the end, wise business and life choices will make your profits higher, your blood pressure lower, your family closer, and everyone happier . . . and maybe even a bit more tan!
Ten Tips for Appealing to Angel Investors
Written by Ty Freyvogel
It's time. Your hum-drum day job just isn't cutting it anymore, and a disagreement with your boss was the final push for you to take the plunge and start your own business. Or maybe you're fresh out of college and the suit-and-tie life that seems so appealing to your friends isn't your cup of tea. And a business plan you developed for one of your classes has got you thinking it could turn into the real thing. But there's only one problem: while you're ready to start your own business, your bank account isn't. It's not a time to worry because angel investors are becoming more prevalent than ever.
Angels are private investors who finance start-up businesses and new business explorations with their own money. Usually, they have been entrepreneurs themselves and delight in helping start-up or even established companies grow toward success. There are countless angels out there just waiting for a worthy project to fund.
In fact, a study conducted by the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire shows that angel investors put $25.6 billion in new ventures in 2006, up 10.8 percent from 2005.
The money is certainly out there for potential entrepreneurs. But they're not going to throw it to just anyone who walks off the streets. To get an angel investor interested enough in your business idea to make the investment, you have to know how to approach him and how to sell your ideas in a way that appeals to the angel's interests.
Here are ten tips on how to convince an angel investor to invest in your new business:
1. Perfect your pitch. The pitch is the product or business idea that you will present to your potential angel. It should be well thought-out and fully developed. Remember that the pitch will provide the investor’s first impression of your project, so it needs to be powerful and convincing. Your pitch can either impress or bore. Obviously, you want to impress! Preparation is the most important factor in a powerful pitch, so practice, practice.
2. The big picture is bigger than the product. When you pitch your idea to investors, remember that your product or idea is not as important as the background work you've done. Spend time thinking about not only the selling points of your product, but also the strengths of your work team and any marketing information you may have already collected. Note the accomplishments of your team's strongest members and study the competition that you will be dealing with. Remember, many angels are or were entrepreneurs. They will be impressed by your initiative and by the fact that you knew to research the above elements.
3. Keep your pitch plain-spoken and dynamic. Strike a fine balance between being informative and clear and exciting and energetic. Angels want the facts, but they also want to be inspired. You want your pitch to briefly explain the product you will sell or your company idea. Do not use big flowery words meant to impress them with your erudition. (For example, don't use erudition!) Most importantly, don't lie or exaggerate. Investors will learn the truth and then they won't support you. You also need to remain calm. If you are not a good speaker, bring a member of your future team who is a people person. Being nervous and awkward won't help your cause.
4. Remember that angels invest in people more than ideas. Improve yourself. It is not uncommon for investors to become very active in the life of your company. Therefore, they will be more likely to invest in energetic, friendly people. So if you are not a kindhearted, likeable person, become one now. Work on becoming a better person and you will be much better equipped to woo potential angels.
5. Confidently approach angels with the assumption that they to help you. Remember, angels have been there! As former entrepreneurs, most angels know what it's like starting at the bottom and working their way up. They take personal satisfaction from helping new business owners make their own dreams come true. So don't worry. You are imposing on an investor by asking for money. They really do want to help.
6. Know which angels are appropriate for your company. To save yourself a little time in your search, be sure you approach only angel investors who would be interested in your kind of business. There are all kinds of angel investors out there, and they all have their preferences. Some prefer investing in start-ups, while others go for established businesses looking to expand. And they'll all have limits on the amount they are willing to invest. Associations exist solely for the purpose of helping entrepreneurs connect with the appropriate angels. Ask around. Do your homework. And don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
7. Pony up the dough. Investors want to see that you believe in your own product, and nothing talks louder than money. It is mandatory to put some of your own cash on the line. Angels understand that you don't just have millions lying around, but they will expect you to put up some of your own net worth (the going rate is about 20 percent) toward your business before they contribute. Dip into your savings, or if you have to, put your house on the line. When you are willing to risk your own assets, angels will know that you are a worthy candidate.
8. Stay in your own backyard. Angels often want to be actively involved in your business, so you need to seek an investor who is relatively close to you, geographically speaking. If possible, seek out investors who live within 50 miles of you. Like a nervous parent who likes to unexpectedly drop in on her child's daycare center, your angel should feel free to check on you at any time. If you're within driving distance, it will be easier for her.
9. Look for risk takers and live it up types. Angels are generally quite wealthy and by their very natureenjoy taking risks. The same impulses that led them to be successful in their own ventures also shape their leisure pursuits. The combination of a) plenty of discretionary income and b) a propensity to adrenaline rushes means you'll often find them climbing Mount Everest or participating in some other extreme sport or adventure. So if you meet someone who just went on a month-long tour of Nepal or rode along on an African safari, keep him in mind as someone who may be willing to throw a little extravagance your way.
10. If you don't desperately need an investment, you are more likely to get one. You know the cliche. It's easier to find a job when you have a job. The same principle holds true here. Proving that you have the ability to get the business up and running on your own will be a big encouragement for potential angel investors. Create a steady customer base and stay current on all of your bills. Then pitch to an angel explaining that you would like her investment in order to further develop and grow the company. Explain to your angels how they would get returns on investment in your business and be clear and precise about their planned exit strategies. Your prospective angels will be impressed by your independent progress and consideration of their positions in the deal. And as a result, they will want to help your business become bigger and more profitable.
Above all, remember that angels are people, too. While investors do have the money and power to fund your business endeavors, don't be intimidated by them. Just prepare your business plan and your pitch. Approach them with the same enthusiasm that they approached their own businesses when they were in your shoes.
Angel investors respond very well to entrepreneurs who are prepared and confident about their future plans. Most of all, know that they to help you. Make sure you’re a worthy candidate, set your snares well, and go catch an angel of your very own!
Everyone Can Use A Holiday
Written by Robert Ashton
Even the most dedicated, hard working entrepreneur needs to take a holiday sometimes. Robert Ashton offers ideas to help the workaholic in you take some time out.
1. Mark the calendar. Holidays won’t happen unless you plan them. If you can’t manage to take a fortnight, why not take a short break away and also take one day off a week during the summer. Blank out those days and keep them free.
2. Delegate! Taking a holiday is a great way to let your team prove that they can manage without you. If they do a good job whilst you’re away, let them carry on running the show when you return!
3. Forget the phone. Ringing the office from abroad is costly and spoils your holiday. Leave the mobile locked in your car at the airport.
4. Buy a book. Find out who is writing about new ideas in your industry. Buy their latest book and read it on the beach. Call this ‘work’ and you’ll feel better!
5. Write some cheques. If you sign the cheques, make sure that you’ve written the important ones (wages, tax and VAT) before you go.
6. Forward emails. If you’re a heavy email user, make sure you set your emails to forward to one of the team and if necessary leave your PC on so it happens. Do not check emails from abroad, it’s as bad as phoning in.
Now – if yours is one of the 70 percent of businesses that has no employees to share the burden, here are four tips just for you.
7. Ask a friend. Get someone you network with and trust them to field your emails, calls and post. Then, do the same for them when they go away.
8. Close the door. If you work regularly for a few clients, warn them you’re going on holiday and shut the door. New enquiries can wait until you’re back.
9. The 10 month year. For many of us, August and December are quiet months. Plan to earn your budgeted income in ten months a year and enjoy the rest.
10. Volunteer. Perhaps your business is really young, you work alone, perhaps even a £99 last minute break in a head-bangers paradise is beyond your means. Check out the Internet and find a volunteering holiday. Build a wall, clear some woodland or help some people worse off than yourself. Remember, we all need to stop sometimes. Enjoy your break!
So much of training and development is focused on skills that attitude is often overlooked. Attitude is what makes you and your team get out of bed on cold windy mornings and rush to work. It’s what makes you look for a yes when all you’re hearing is no. It’s what makes you see the opportunity when everyone else is seeing the threat.
Here are ten ways to get attitude!
Know that you can – Look at how other people have succeeded against the odds. Work out what they’ve got that you haven’t. Go and get it!
Know a man who can – Too often, you ask your people to struggle with something they’re not really hired to do. It might save you a few pounds, but it damages attitude. Focus folk on what they do well. Outsource the trivia.
Set visual goals – What’s got to be done before you can take the team out for an amazing night on the town? Get brochures, pictures of where you’ll be taking them and put them where they can be seen. Bring goals to life.
Accept good advice – Half the world wants to provide business advice these days. Find a good adviser, ideally SFEDI accredited so proven ‘user friendly’ and listen to what they say. Share the challenge; accept good advice.
Trust people – Delegating is tough and every boss thinks they can do it best. Give responsibility freely and let people make the job their own.
Love mistakes – Children learn to walk by falling over. Adults learn by making mistakes at work. No business makes progress without making mistakes. Accept it!
Passion is proportional to reward – As boss, your reward is the company’s profits and increasing market value. Don’t expect people to be as keen unless there’s something really good in it for them.
Money alone does not motivate – Status and recognition are as important as money when it comes to creating attitude. Start by saying thank you, then show it in increasingly tangible ways.
Social responsibility creates attitude – Pulling together to paint the scout hut, reclaim a nature reserve, or provide work experience for kids with special needs unites a team. It also shows that you care.
Democracy is cool – Sure as boss need to make the big decisions, but let the team make the rest. Does it matter if your van fleet is Mercedes or Ford? Let the drivers do the test drives and make the final choice.
As you can see, attitude is something you grow in house. It’s not something your people can learn on a course. Attitude overcomes barriers; course sometimes highlight barriers. To be successful you need both, but always start with attitude!
12 Ways Small Business Owners Can Keep Good Workers… …Even If An Employee Leaves
Written by Ty Freyvogel
Every entrepreneur knows the hectic lifestyle that comes along with starting and running a company. (Heck, most of us live for the craziness!) But have you ever considered how this work schedule affects your employees? You can bet the fate of your business on the fact that they don’t enjoy the long hours or the days (and nights) they must unexpectedly come into the office to handle the latest emergency. If too many such days come and go without any acknowledgement from you, you can bet they’ll be handing out their resumes all over town. And since your employees make or break your business, you must keep your best ones around.
Employees of small businesses are often asked to go way beyond the call of duty. And they usually do it without receiving huge paychecks. But not being able to pay hefty salaries doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of a million other ways to create happy, loyal employees.
Small business owners may feel that they are at a disadvantage compared to CEOs of large corporations precisely because of the lack of deep pockets. But nothing is further from the truth. Because they work so closely with their employees, rather than being separated by layers of bureaucracy, it is easy for them to get to know their employees well.
Think about it. You know your employees’ points of pain and you know what makes them happy. If you use this information to meet the special needs of your employees, and even surprise them with a few extra perks, you will be able to build strong relationships with them—and they, in turn, will be willing to go the extra mile for you.
Here are 12 ways to keep your overworked and (perhaps) underpaid employees loyal to you and your company:
Provide them with much-deserved time off. Time off doesn’t have to translate to the business being understaffed for the day. There are all kinds of ways to give your staff a little break without slowing the business down. Give them Friday afternoons off in the summer. Or give them either the day before or the day after their vacation off to relieve the stress that always accompanies taking off work.
Another option is to set up a compressed work week for your staff so that they get time off at the end of the week. You’ll help them ward off burnout, and after a little break, they’ll be ready to get to work and do a great job for you.
Give them bonuses at critical times. Presumably, you work closely with your employees and know a lot about their lives outside of the work. Act on this knowledge in ways that benefit them exactly when they need it most. If one of your employees has a new baby or a sick spouse or child, a bonus will help ease the financial burden during these times.
Be flexible. Your employees are working hard to make your business the best. The least you can do is be flexible when they have to take unexpected time off or need to work a new schedule. If an employee is having a personal problem, work with the person to create a work schedule that allows him to solve his problems without feeling like he is going to be in trouble with the boss.
If your employees have children or are taking care of their parents, you may even want to consider providing childcare or eldercare assistance to reduce their scheduling burdens. Either would be a huge benefit. And one of the perks of living in the Age of Technology is that location is no longer an issue with a huge number of jobs. Your employees might be interested in telecommuting at least part of the time or working flexible schedules. If your business can operate this way, talk with your employees to see what they prefer.
Be sensitive about their strengths and weaknesses. Carefully evaluate where your employees do their best work, and ask them what jobs they feel the most comfortable doing. For example, if an employee isn’t a people person, chances are he or she won’t excel working the front of a store.
Keep the lines of communication open. If an employee expresses an interest in getting trained for a different job, by all means get her trained! If your employees feel passionate about their jobs, it increases the chances that they’ll want to keep working for you.
Help them better themselves (and in turn improve your business!). You can do this by paying for employees to take a class that will help them improve on their job skills or on something that interests them—even something unrelated to their current position. Or take an interest in their health. Provide your employees with health club memberships or enroll in a business-wide wellness program that everyone (including you!) will take part in.
Your employees will appreciate that you care about their health and your healthy employees will help you save money in health care costs. Like each of these loyalty-building exercises, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Feed them! A free meal every now and then is one of the easiest (and most appreciated) perks an employer can provide. It’s a great way for any employer to say, “Thank you” after a particularly rough work week or for a job well done. Another great idea for employers is providing a catered meal for any employee who is working late. You’ll be surprised how far a full stomach goes in building employee loyalty.
Constantly recognize a job well done. Everyone likes to be told they’ve done a good job on something, especially your employees. Typically, people who are interested in working for small businesses are driven more by recognition than by dollars. So whether you implement an Employee of the Month plaque or simply say, “Thanks for the great job!” never miss an opportunity to give your employees the recognition they deserve. And when a client compliments an employee’s work, never steal the credit—indeed, be sure to pass the glowing review along to the rightful owner!
Make them feel like owners. Whether it comes from having a voice in major decisions, being able to work directly with clients or actually owning stock, a sense of employee ownership will go a long way toward instilling loyalty. Nurturing your employees to love your business as much as you do will strengthen your company’s foundation—and your business will be that much more likely to survive setbacks and grow to great heights.
I like to use what I call A Stock and B Stock. Here’s how it works: A Stock is voting stock and B Stock is nonvoting stock. The B Stock is distributed among my employees and myself, while I keep all of the voting stock. While the employees have no final vote in what happens with the company, they still receive all of the benefits of owning stock. This helps me create employees who feel like partial owners of the company, which makes them work harder and take more pride in what they do.
Make sure they have everything they need to do their jobs. Nothing frustrates a high performing employee more than having to struggle to do his job because he doesn’t have the right computer program or because he must make do with faulty equipment. Be the boss that constantly communicates with his employees, and ask them whenever you have the chance if there is something you can do that will make their jobs easier. Sometimes you’ll be able to take care of it right away; other times it will take awhile. But the simple act of showing you care will go a long way.
Pamper them! Show your employees that you know working for you and your business can be stressful by providing perks every once in awhile, maybe even once a month. Examples include gift certificates, spa treatments, tickets to concerts or sports, or buying everyone a round at the local bar after work one day.
Provide employee attendance incentives. It’s likely that your best employees are high performers who come in even when they’re feeling a bit under the weather, and don’t hesitate to come in on the occasional day off to take care of an emergency. These are the employees who deserve attendance benefits. For example, for every month without an absence, give employees an extra vacation day, a gift certificate, or a bonus of some kind. It’s that simple. The reward they received for their perfect attendance will make them happy they worked so hard for you throughout the month.
Help them leave if it isn’t the right job for them. Working in a small business isn’t for everyone. If you notice that one of your employees is struggling in the environment or simply isn’t happy, talk to the employee about whether or not your business is the right place. If the two of you decide that it isn’t, help the employee find a more suitable job. How does helping an employee leave build loyalty? Well, the exiting employee will spread the word about what a great boss you are. Plus, your other employees will see that you are a caring and understanding employer, even when someone is ready to move on. Seeing how well you treat other employees, even those on their way out, will make others think twice about leaving—believe me, not all employers are so gracious!
All of the perks in the world won’t mean anything if you don’t show your employees the respect they deserve. As a small business owner, you can’t treat your employees like cogs in a machine and expect them to keep coming back to you. Frequently ask them what they think about certain areas of the business. And if at all possible, implement their ideas and suggestions—there is no more powerful way to say “I value you.”
Your employees are your greatest asset. Anything you can do to ensure that they stick with you is worth it. As you can see from the examples, you don’t have to break the bank to show them a little extra appreciation. The loyalty these actions build between you, your employees, and your business will be priceless.