Business School Entrepreneurship Marketing

Getting Started with Your Blog: Your First Three Posts

You’re ready to launch a business. But first, you’ve got to build an audience. Establishing yourself with a base of potential customers is how to lay the foundation for sales. By consistently offering value to a targeted group, you can earn the trust and respect necessary to make conversions. And the first bit of value you can offer is a great blog. An engaging blog is key to building both your credibility and your website’s SEO.

So what should you write about first? It’s crucial that the first few blogs hit home and establish momentum. The effort you put into these early offerings will have a drastic impact on whether (and how quickly) you can build your audience. Fortunately, there are some specific, tried-and-true types of blogs that make for the best possible openers.

By crafting quality examples of the three following types of blogs, you can give readers something to get excited about. You can inspire them to spread the word. You can keep them coming back. And eventually, you can convince them that what you’re selling is worth buying.

Blog #1: The Principled Stand

Your first blog should be a statement. It shouldn’t be neutral. It shouldn’t be safe. It should be bold, assertive, maybe even controversial. It should articulate your take on an issue in your industry, and it should pull no punches. The passion, the daring, and the uniqueness of your point of view are what will make you and your blog stand out from the crowd.

For example, my first blog for the $100 MBA established the philosophy behind our business: that formal business schools aren’t always worth it. The 6 Biggest Lies Business Schools Love To Tell wasn’t just an introduction to our program. It was a statement of belief that caused some real disagreement. Of course business schools have their role, and they can be the right choice for some. But I refused to hold back when describing the false promises that lead so many to choose business school when it’s wrong for them.

Going out on that limb is what established my take on the whole field. It had to be unequivocal. It had to be unique. It had to say something that most wouldn’t. Otherwise, why would anyone read it?

Blog #2: The Personal Portrait

Once you’ve established a defining vision for your industry, it’s time to get personal. Your audience needs to get to know you in order to trust you. To make that happen, you’ll have to offer a different kind of value— you’ll have to offer some of yourself. Show them your personality, your past, and the things that make you you. All of this has basically zero monetary value, but the sense of intimacy you create will go a long way with your readers.

This blog, ironically, will have very little to do with business. It’s simply an act of sharing that allows your readers just far enough into your inner space for them to see you as a person. The kind of niche market customers small businesses aim for don’t want a faceless, anonymous corporate customer experience. They want to know how the sausage made, and they want to know exactly who is making it.

For example, another early blog of mine (and one of the most popular) was 16 Things You Don’t Know About Me…But Should. It had nothing to do with business education. It had everything to do with me. By the time readers were finished with it, many of them saw me differently. I was no longer a random stranger trying to open their wallets, but a genuine person with a backstory who just might mean what he says. Then, when I say that my product is worth their money, they’re much more likely to find out for themselves.

Blog #3: The Competence Post

If your principled stand is a jab, and your personality post is a right cross, this is your knockout punch. This is the moment you reach through the Internet and give your readers something tangible, a takeaway that seals the deal. With this post, you offer a “how-to,” an actionable set of instructions that allows the reader to accomplish something they couldn’t before.

You’re giving the reader a win. By teaching them something they can really use, you demonstrate your ability, your competence and— most importantly— your value. You prove to your audience that access to you is something worth having…maybe even something worth paying for. Make it instructional. Use supporting graphics, charts or videos as needed. When you create it, treat it like something you’d charge money for, even though you won’t. If it’s effective, the word of mouth will be more than worth it.

One of my biggest regrets as an entrepreneur is not getting into blogging earlier. By making yourself into a consistently good writer and providing quality posts from day one, you can build a reputation that drives sales. By producing relevant blogs on a regular basis, your website attracts the attention of search engines like Google and climbs the rankings.

Of all the different forms of free content, the simple, old-fashioned blog might be the best way to shine a light on what you have to offer. Start strong, and watch the momentum carry your business forward.

Business School Entrepreneurship Marketing

Writing Can Be Easy: 4 Hacks

How can we make writing easier? For content marketers, writing is a must-have skill, without which we really can’t connect with our audiences. We need to blog. We need to write website copy. We need to compose effective emails and product descriptions. Even when it’s writing down what we’re going to say aloud during webinars or videos, we’re writing. Almost by definition, every entrepreneur has to be—or hire—a writer.

And it’s not enough just to be able to write correctly and with clarity (though that’s a definite must). We have to be able to write a lot. To market effectively, we have to be professional, productive writers. We have to be efficient writers who can produce the amount of content required to maintain our relationships with customers. We have to produce quality and quantity.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be born with some literary bug to be an effective writer. You just have to get in the habit of articulating your views on paper (or on your laptop screen). There are ways to do this. I’ve used them myself. In fact, these 4 little tricks are so effective that you probably won’t have to use them for long!

Consider them your writer’s training wheels. They’ll help you develop the mindset and habits that make writing a snap, banishing all sense of “writer’s block.” Once these strategies get the ball rolling, you’ll know intuitively how to create the momentum you need to fill pages.

  1. Start at the peak.

This technique comes from Chase Reeves of First, you identify the main idea or overall point of whatever it is you’re writing. What is it you want the reader to get out of this? What’s the grand takeaway? If a blog or other piece of writing is a mountain to climb, this is the “peak.” Once you know what that is, you simply write that part first.

Yes, you’ll still need to write the introductory and contextualizing stuff. You’ll still need to write a conclusion. You’ll still need to produce the rest of the mountain. But the peak is really the easiest part. It’s the meat of your story, the thing you’re really trying to say. If you don’t worry about finishing the writing or meeting a word quota or anything else and just let it flow, it will. And once you’re done, you’ll probably have half the desired length completed.

From there, it’s easier to build an introduction that works the reader up to the peak, and to summarize and contextualize it all into a strong conclusion. Doing so with the “peak” already in place is a breeze.

  1. Say what you want to say-literally.

For most people, talking is simply easier and much more natural than writing. Maybe it’s because we get more practice communicating that way. Maybe it’s because there’s no “middleman” in the form of a keyboard between our thoughts and our words. Whatever the case, saying it doesn’t seem like as much work as writing it.

Thing is, there’s no difference! The words are the words. Yes, we don’t pay as much attention to grammatical rules and structure when we talk, but that’s window dressing that anyone with an 8th grade education can apply. If we could simply find a way to put our spoken words onto our computer screen, nothing but a little editing would stand between us and completion.

Fortunately, we can. Transcription is easy, whether you do it yourself or hire out for it. iOS has a great dictation app available to anyone with an iPhone. Digital recorders (both of the hard and software varieties) are ubiquitous. You can even have the actual transcribing of an audio file done for pocket change on fiverr.

Once you’ve recorded and transcribed your talk, the hard part’s over. Editing what’s already on paper is much easier than filling a blank page. One of the great secrets of the writing world is that so many authors do this, like our one-time guest teacher Tucker Max. Entire bestselling books are “written” this way.

  1. What, Why, How, Your Thoughts

Before you begin the actual writing process, it can be very helpful to establish these four basic parameters. This will help you boil all your thoughts down to what matters, eliminating much of the rambling roads that take time to write (and ultimately end up edited out anyway). Literally write down these four categories as a precursor to the rest.

First, what are you writing about? Define and describe the subject of your writing. Whether it’s customer onboarding or content marketing, construct a concise definition of it for the reader. Second, why share it? Why is it important to the reader? What problem are you solving for the reader? What’s the writing’s ultimate value? Tailor everything else to this objective. Next, how does the reader apply this? This is the “peak” we mentioned before, the part the reader really came for.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the topic? Add your personal take to whatever it is you’re addressing. Share the opinions that make it truly your perspective. Without this unique, humanizing aspect, your writing will lack the personal aspect that forges a bond between you and the reader.

  1. AIDA

Neville Madhuri writes about AIDA in his book This Book Will Teach You How To Write Better. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. It’s a recipe for almost any kind of writing. First, you write something that will grab the reader’s attention—a hook, something personal or bold that makes the reader want to know more. Then, you develop their initial interest with facts, stories, and supporting details.

From here, you move towards the “peak.” You encourage the reader’s desire by presenting a solution to their problem—the “Why” of the What, Why, How, Your Thoughts technique. You send a message of hope that speaks right to the desire that brought the reader to your work in the first place. Finally, you move to action, or the “how” part. You give your reader something concrete to do, some actionable steps towards their own goals.  

That’s only a brief summation of the AIDA method. For more detail, I highly recommend picking up the book.

In my view, the ultimate “hack” to anything is best articulated by the good folks at Nike: Just Do It. Maybe “It” won’t be exactly what you were hoping for in your imagination, but simply getting started will take you down the path to realizing your goals. So many of us get trapped in the planning phase, frozen by the need to have everything perfectly arranged before we can move forward. This is a mistake, and the reason so many things remain undone—especially writing.

With these techniques, you can get over that initial hump. You can build the momentum that will carry your writing to its completion. You can develop the approach to writing that makes it easy, natural and conversational.

Business School Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing Sales Uncategorized

4 Essential Teaching Principles For Business People

Teaching is the new marketing. Traditional marketing and advertising is useful, but they aren’t enough to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Today’s consumers don’t just want to know about the product. They want to know about where it came from. They want to know who it came from. And they insist on having their trust earned by more than just a pop-up ad.

That’s where teaching comes in. Making yourself into an effective educator is the most important part of being an effective salesperson. Offering valuable insights, information, and experience earns the trust that leads to sales. Proving your own value as an expert builds the credibility that inspires genuine brand loyalty. A great salesman can move product. A great teacher can earn “true fans.”

Of course you don’t need a classroom or a chalkboard to be a teacher. The entrepreneur teaches through blogs, podcasts, interviews, public speaking, tutorials, and all the other modes of content marketing. Whichever methods you use, there are few principles that will ensure your lessons hit home—and drive sales.

The 4 Essentials

I’ve been a teacher for most of my working life. Before I struck out on my own as an entrepreneur, I taught at the high school and university levels. I was also responsible for observing teachers to evaluate their effectiveness. Now that I’m in business, it’s no coincidence that my products are educational. In all that time, four things have struck me as being common threads in great teaching:

  1. Starting with a clear outcome in mind. Some in education call it “backwards design.” Essentially, the first thing you do in designing your “lesson”—your blog, your webinar, your podcast—is identify the desired result. What do you want your audience to know or be able to do when it’s all over? Once you know what that is, you design everything towards that end.

Remember, this isn’t about the desired outcome for you. The outcome for you will always be the same: earning trust, credibility, and eventually sales. As a teacher, you need to prioritize the outcome for your “students.” What will the audience walk away with? How will their outlook be changed? What skill will they possess? What value will they come away with? What will they want to thank you for?

Identify this. Write it down. Keep it as a mantra as you design and execute your content. Anything that doesn’t serve that end, get rid of. Strip your “lesson” down to only those things that lead to the outcome. That’s the difference between a simple sales pitch and a learning experience.

  1. Making it interactive. As much as possible, that is. A blog isn’t immediately interactive, but that doesn’t mean I’m writing this in a vacuum. This is coming from years of not only speaking to audiences, but listening to them. This is the answer to a question I perceive my readers to be asking, from countless exchanges with them.

The same holds true for any content. Videos, books, live events; all can be interactive if you make the effort. Everything you do should be one side of a conversation with your audience. Encourage feedback. Encourage questions. One of the worst mistakes a teacher can make is to be a simple lecturer.

Side note: This principle is why I believe so firmly in the power of webinars, and why we created our own webinar platform, Webinar Ninja. Webinars allow you to interact with a wide-ranging audience in real time through chat and Q&A features. I think this is the future of the “teaching” model of salesmanship.

  1. Having fun. Seriously. That’s not some vague New Age quasi-spiritual advice. If you’re not having fun with it, it’s not genuine. If it’s not genuine, it’s not honest. If it’s not honest, your audience has no reason to trust you. While I’ve said before that “passion” in business is overrated, you have to enjoy your work on some level. Why would anyone follow the advice of someone who isn’t making themselves happy?

Enjoyment is contagious. Enjoyment takes the “lesson” out of the lesson and turns it into something more meaningful on a human level. If you’re stiff or unhappy or unenthusiastic in your delivery, it builds walls. It creates a barrier between you and your audience that makes it impossible for them to see the “person” in the sales person. It’s simple, but it’s true. The fun comes through no matter the medium—be it a live webinar or a simple blog. Have. Fun.

  1. Following through. The last thing that has to happen is ensurance. You’ve got to make sure that the audience has actually learned—that the desired outcome from Tip 1 has been achieved. You’ll have to recap, to constantly put information in context. It may seem to you like it’s repetitive, but to audience members, it’s crucial.

Different people learn in different ways and at different speeds. In order to reach everyone, it’s important to break the information down into bite-sized, digestible sections. This not only makes it easier to process, but makes the content more dynamic. After each section, contextualize what you covered, always bringing it back to the desired outcome. Show a bit, show how it fits into the bigger picture. Repeat. At the end, sum it all up. Even blogs are broken into headings and subheadings for this very reason.

I understand that many people go into business not expecting to have to “teach.” You may have a great product, great marketing ideas, and even business experience. But as an entrepreneur trying to earn a following, there’s no way around it. You’ve got to be a good teacher.

If it doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it. Teaching is hard for most people; that’s why most people aren’t teachers. But it is a skill you can develop. It’s ok to be self-conscious at first. It’s ok to be nervous. When I was a new teacher, I could barely contain the fear and apprehension at first. Who was I to tell anyone else what to do? We all feel some version of “imposter syndrome” at the beginning. It’s normal. It’s natural. And it’s no reason to give up. Trust in your own expertise, and your own genuine intentions.

Donald Kelly, founder of the Sales Evangelist, has a philosophy: if you have the skills, experience or knowledge to help somebody, you should share it. If you have the genuine ability to improve people’s lives, it’s your obligation to tell people about it. Let that be the antidote to any apprehension you might have about teaching. You’re offering something valuable to your audience. With that mindset, you can’t go wrong.

Business School Entrepreneurship Leadership Uncategorized

Turning Ideas Into Action

Most people are full of ideas. The light bulb comes on, a brief internal conversation ensues, and then…well, that’s usually it. The reason most people aren’t entrepreneurs is because most people end up leaving ideas—even really good ones—exactly where they found them: in their head. Ask yourself (and answer honestly) how many times you’ve thought of a potentially great idea, and ultimately done nothing with it. Chances are, for each one you’ve remembered, you’ve forgotten a few.

I’m of the opinion that an idea is a terrible thing to waste.  It’s not our fault, per se; the human mind tends to generate far too much thought to be actionable. Plus, great ideas come at the weirdest times. It’s hard to start implementing your latest stroke of brilliance when you’re on the subway or at your bi-weekly chest-waxing (right, fellas?). Fortunately, technology has given us a solution to the problem of idea neglect. It’s called Evernote.

Before you get the impression that this is an advertisement, it’s not. My job here is to muse as honestly as possible about business, based on personal experience. It’s been my experience that Evernote is invaluable for turning thoughts into results. Nobody is paying me to say that, any more than Google pays me to recommend using Docs or Apple pays me to use iTunes. It’s just that kind of blog, friends: honest.

Rather than trusting in my flawed human brain to store my best ideas, I reach for the nearest connected device and open the app. Evernote is accessible on laptops, desktops, phones and tablets. The mobility means that no matter where I am or what I’m doing, short of giving a keynote address or delivering a baby in the back of a cab, I never have to worry about forgetting an idea.

So how do you go about using Evernote to turn ideas into reality? I use a fairly simple 3-step system to store, organize, and act on the whims of my businessman’s brain.

Step 1: The Brain Dump

Evernote allows you to create multiple “notebooks” with which you can categorize different texts, links, web pages, images, and in this case, thoughts. The first place a new idea lands is on my “Brain Dump” list. It’s important to use the to-do list feature here, because you can check the ideas off as they progress to the next notebooks. At first, though, I simply jot down whatever inspiration has struck me, without bothering to think about how to move forward…yet.

In this step, it’s important to be specific. Often, people are tempted to write only a keyword or two that makes perfect sense at the moment but isn’t very useful later. With so many ideas and so much to do, it’s important to describe to your future self exactly what you were thinking in at least a sentence. You may think you’ll remember what “hamster manicure” means, but by the time you get around to it, you may not. Was it a new spa service? A short story idea? A band name? Be clear and direct with yourself.

Step 2: Idea Implementation

Schedule a time every week (about 30 minutes or so) for the next phase Take an idea from the Brain Dump, and create a new to-do list under the notebook heading “Idea Implementation” (or whatever you’d like to call it). There, list what needs to be done in order to move forward with the idea. For example, let’s say I had the idea of collaborating with John Corcoran of Smart Business Revolution on a webinar. In my implementation list, I’d have items like “create a proposal,” “email John,” “meet with John”, “create webinar,” “promote webinar,” etc.

Once you’ve established everything that would need to be done, cross it off the Brain Dump list. In this way, you can take your ideas one by one from the Dump to this more actionable phase, ensuring that no idea gets left behind (unless the idea turns out to be unrealistic or impossible). If you’re not sure how to implement it, simply leave it on the first list. Either way, the app functions as your memory while you move on to real-world action.

Step 3: Order of Operations

The last notebook to create is what I like to call the “Order of Operations” list. All you’re doing here is taking the necessary steps identified in the “Implementation” list and putting them in the order in which they need to be accomplished. This is where the plan becomes concrete. This is where the path to realizing your ideas takes its ultimate shape, becoming the roadmap to fruition.

Again, use the to-do list feature. Once the Order of Operations is established, you simply have to check off the actions one at a time until your idea is a reality. Careful planning and solid critical thinking in this stage is what will make execution strictly a matter of doing. You’ll be free to take the bull by the horns without second-guessing or strategizing on the fly.

Why Ideas Are Lost

Great ideas are lost far too often. That’s not because they’re unfeasible or the resources aren’t there. It’s because most people lack the organizational skills to see them through. Even people who take the time to write down their ideas (or enter them into Evernote) tend to let them stagnate indefinitely, as the rest of life happens around them.

This is because a list of ideas is NOT a to-do list; it’s the seed of a to-do list. So many factors have to be negotiated between the idea phase and the action phase that simply having ideas is no guarantee you’ll ever do anything with them. Actionable steps have to be plotted and planned in a way that maximizes efficiency.

Evernote is a free app, with a premium pay version that offers even more organizational tools. Start with the free version and create your three notebooks. Schedule your weekly “idea time.” Go where those ideas take you. They won’t all work out. Even if half of them don’t—even if most of them don’t—some of them will. On top of that, you’ll develop the organizational habits that make an entrepreneur effective, not just creative. By developing this consistent approach to translating your thoughts into action, you’ll find your way to success one great idea at a time.

Business School Entrepreneurship Leadership Uncategorized

4 Things Women Entrepreneurs Should Know

Entrepreneurship is never easy. For everyone who attempts it, there are hurdles galore. In fact, the greater part of succeeding as an entrepreneur is simply learning the skill of obstacle navigation, regardless of the business you’re in. The challenges, however, are not necessarily the same for each individual. Depending on your demographic, you may face challenges—and possess advantages—that others simply don’t. For women, breaking into independent business involves a host of factors that don’t affect men, for better and for worse.

Let’s address the elephant in the room first: I am male. I type this with a fully functioning Y chromosome at my disposal, and I’m not unaware of the irony of our tasking a man to chart the lay of the land for the ladies. However, that’s part of navigating the gender gap—understanding that men and women both have insights to offer each other, even concerning each other’s perspective. My writing this blog while producing testosterone also serves to illustrate what I think is a dearth of female voices in independent business, and my conviction that women entrepreneurs are an underserved market.

I’ve known and worked with many outstanding female entrepreneurs, not the least outstanding of which is my partner in business and life, Nicole (who personally edits this and all my blogs, in case you thought I was doing this all by my manly self). I want to see more women use their unique advantages and break through their unique obstacles, as she does on a daily basis. Hopefully, these few little insights can encourage that:

1. Women entrepreneurs don’t have to cater exclusively to women. One obstacle faced by women entrepreneurs is assumptions, and not just those of men. Often, a woman’s own assumption is that her best chances are with exclusively serving other women. There’s nothing wrong with catering to women or having a feminine brand—unless you’re doing so simply because you don’t think you can cater to both genders, based on your own.

Again, if your product is strictly for the ladies, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What’s bad, though, is when an entrepreneur accepts baseless limitations, or imposes them on herself for fear of an inability to compete. Most of the most successful female entrepreneurs I’ve seen have made unisex products, catering to the fellas as well or better than the fellas themselves do. Marketing expert Dorie Clark, Heroic Public Speaking cofounder Amy Port, Arianna Huffington: none of these women allowed themselves to be boxed into women’s markets, and we’re all better for it.

The reality is that the unisex business world is dominated by men. I don’t think that’s because men are inherently better than women at business. I think it’s because of limits that are imposed on women artificially. Businessmen rarely feel incapable of marketing to women, so why should the opposite be true? And why confine yourself to only ever selling to half the population?

2. Opportunities abound for women entrepreneurs. Related to the first point, there is definitely room for more female entrepreneurs in the market. This is because, again, the artificial limits imposed by sexist assumptions are keeping the supply way behind the demand. The different experience and unique perspective of women is simply something that consumers (and other budding business people) don’t get as much of. It’s a classic case of “who goes first?” With relatively few female mentors and role models to follow, the market needs pioneers. Remember: entrepreneurship is all about solving a problem. If you’re an independent business woman, you can help solve the problem of female underrepresentation. Why not you?

That’s not to say that only women need female leadership. Men need it too. Everyone in business can benefit from as many perspectives as possible—especially the ones that aren’t their own. For that reason, I hope to see more women acting as ambassadors; learning public speaking, taking on leadership roles, and generally putting themselves and their perspective out there.

3. It’s still an uphill climb for women entrepreneurs. This is just a cold, hard reality. While modern society likes to congratulate itself on making progress from the past, true equality of opportunity has not yet arrived—though it’s closer than ever. Regardless of how far the business world has come, a woman will be asked to prove herself more thoroughly, demonstrate greater competence, and work harder than her male counterparts to achieve the same status, pay and respect.

If you’re a woman, your competence and confidence will have to be the twin hammers with which you smash through what’s left of the glass ceiling. I advise every entrepreneur to lead with value, to make substance the basis of their image. That goes double for double X. Don’t hesitate to demonstrate your abilities and tout your successes. Look at the language on your website or in your professional dialogues. Are you underselling yourself? Are you focusing more on how you feel than on what you can do? You’re under no obligation to be submissive, however much it may be expected of you.

4. Many women entrepreneurs have abilities that many men don’t. While we can’t assign a certain skill set to all women, there are some things more common to women than men. Emotional intelligence. Empathy. Emotional endurance. It’s been my experience that our culture has encouraged these abilities less in men, and more in women. Men being subject to irrational and sexist expectations as well, many are underdeveloped in these areas. That’s where women can have a huge advantage, and why the female perspective is so desperately needed in business.

Being a woman in business (especially independent business), is a fundamentally unique experience. For all its disadvantages, the advantages are there. The need for a stronger female influence can be felt across many strata of the business world. I think that’s an opportunity. I hope that down the road, enough women will have seized that opportunity to make blog posts like this one much less relevant.

Business School Entrepreneurship Uncategorized

The Case Against Passion

Find your passion. Follow your dreams. Do what you love. This seems to be the standard advice straight from the budding entrepreneur’s manual, but is it really that useful? Over and over (especially in ads) we’re exhorted to start with a passion—some burning compulsion for cooking or photography or or rollerblading—and monetize it. We’re told that in the Land of Opportunity, making it as an independent business person comes down to simply tapping into our heart’s desire and building a business model around it.

I think this approach holds people back. I think it discourages real and viable entrepreneurship.

The problem with passion is twofold. First, not everyone has a “passion.” Real passion, the kind that drives starving artists and weekend rock-climbers alike, is actually not that common. Most people are passionate about their families, not their hobbies. Secondly, not every passion makes for a viable business. Yes, Steve Jobs had passion. So does the lady down the street with a separate custom sweater featuring a screenprinted image of each one of her 17 cats.

I think there must be a significant number of would-be, could-be entrepreneurs out there who haven’t started a business simply because they can’t identify their “passion.” I think this is tragic, because I think that passion, at least as the basis of a business, is seriously overrated.

Why Passion Doesn’t Work

Building a business around a passion is far easier said than done. You might enjoy something, but doing it for a living may quickly turn that labor of love into a chore. You may love cooking for the family around the holidays, but 60 hours a week in a kitchen may turn that passion for cooking into a passion for quitting.

Frankly, the notion that anyone’s living should be a passion project is a little smug, since the vast majority of working humans don’t make their living that way. For most of us, reality doesn’t consist of chasing the fulfillment of some personal obsession. It requires making ourselves valuable to our employers, our customers, and the families we help support with our paychecks. If someone can make a living off of their passion, great. That someone is exceptionally fortunate, not necessarily savvy.

Rather than asking yourself what your passion is, a wiser approach might be to ask yourself what your value is. What skills, interests, or expertise do you possess that people would pay to access? To paraphrase a president, ask not what you can do for yourself; ask what you can do that’s worth something to others. People who make money from their true passion aren’t rare because they’re the only ones bold enough to follow their hearts. They’re rare because most people’s private interests aren’t worth money to anyone else.

Identify Your Value

Your abilities, not your passion, are what can form the basis of a viable independent business. By recognizing problems that you can solve for other people, you define what makes you uniquely positioned to address the needs of potential customers. What’s the most valuable service you can render?

I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve parlayed a relatively uncommon combination of both business and educational experience to create an alternative to traditional business schooling. I didn’t grow up with a burning desire to do this. I don’t create business tutorials in my spare time for fun. I have simply recognized that I’m able to provide something that certain people want, and that not many people offer.

There are multiple ways to find value in each person’s unique set of experiences—which is why choosing your “passion” is so limiting. Again, take me: I happen to be Egyptian. I spent most of my childhood splitting time between Egypt and the US, growing up fluent in the languages and cultures of both places. Again, this is not a passion, but it has potential value. Tourists, educators, and business people traveling between the two places would benefit greatly from my intimate knowledge of two very different places. How many business opportunities might that represent?

Of course, discovering your own unique value isn’t easy. Many people don’t have an obvious talent or skill that leaps out and declares itself the basis of a potential business. My being Egyptian doesn’t seem like a product to me; it’s just who I am. It’s easy to overlook your own potential value, because most of us don’t think of ourselves as a collection of business proposals. If you’re stumped as to what yours is, ask around. Friends, family, and coworkers can offer perspective. For what do people come to you? On what do they seek your advice?

Action Over Passion

Even once they’ve identified their potential value, many would-be entrepreneurs fear that they’re not valuable enough. You may not think that your skills or expertise really qualify you as an authority. Again, a dose of calm realism can help. Consumers don’t need a guru. Your average customer doesn’t need the world’s leading authority in the same way your average school kid doesn’t need Stephen Hawking for a physics teacher. All people need is someone who can give them more than they can give themselves.

In fact, entrepreneurs who position themselves as gurus tend to be (or at least come off as) scammers. Often, all consumers want is someone who’s been a little farther down the road than they have. You only need above-average experience, and honesty about how far above average it is. To savvy consumers in the Internet Age, an honest, relatable person selling their expertise—with all its flaws and limitations—is preferable to a self-professed messiah.

Try this exercise: List 3 or 4 things with which you have unique experience. Then see which of those experiences could potentially be monetized. Which of them could be converted into a product? Some of them may even be genuine passions, but the point is that they don’t have to be. The only qualification is that they represent something you can do for people that many can’t do for themselves.

Next, sell something. Anything. From your list, create one product. Write an e-book, create a course, hold a paid webinar; the options are many. Simply develop one small product and exchange it for money. It doesn’t matter if you make $100 or $5. The point is proof of concept. Get your feet wet in the art of monetizing your value. It’s not about turning your love of baking into a multi-million dollar empire. It’s about developing your ability to make money by sharing a skill. Start with one product, and move from there.

Down the road, you can decide what to develop into a real business. Try several different products. See how the process of converting your most valuable traits into pay works. That process is what will eventually reveal the path to a solid, viable independent business model. It’s not about being the best at something, or caring about it more than anyone else. It’s about establishing a minimum viable product, and developing the skill of moving it.

So many potential entrepreneurs never get started because they think they don’t have what it takes—things like fame, capital, or an expensive education. The truth is that in a free market, none of those things are requirements. I would argue that neither is passion.

Business School Design Entrepreneurship Uncategorized

The 3 Tech Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

Advanced technology can be intimidating for new entrepreneurs. While the stereotype of millennials being born with smartphones in their hands has something to it, that doesn’t mean we’re all programmers or coding experts (or even millennials, for that matter). The inescapable need to be wired in to today’s online techno-scape can be a hassle for people who aren’t confident in their skills. Unfortunately for them, tech skills are becoming a requirement, even for brick-and-mortar businesses.

Fear not, though. Anyone can learn the basic tech skills that most businesses require. Even if you’re not exactly Richard Hendricks, you can do it. Even if you can’t program a VCR, you can do it. Even if you’re a person who still owns a VCR, you can do it. The key is to learn just the few most important, basic, widely-applicable skills that apply to pretty much any industry. They’re not too hard to learn. Once you’ve got them down, running your business is as easy as updating your Myspace page (first tip: do not have a Myspace page).

Full disclosure: some of the following recommendations include recommendations for products and services. Some of them have been sponsors. One of them is our own company. However, we haven’t been paid to mention any of them in this article. They are products and services we genuinely use, and we sincerely think you should, too.

1. Editing and modifying your website. Every. Business. Needs. A. Website. Even if your business isn’t an online business, your business needs to be online. That doesn’t mean you have to be a web designer (you can just pay one of those), but you should be able to update your own website when and how you choose. Otherwise, you’re surrendering too much control to whoever’s running it.

The key to a successful website—one that converts browsers to customers—is that it stays active. New blogs, new pictures, new videos, new anything keeps your website alive and interactive. Otherwise, it’s just a virtual flyer. You’ve got to know how to share the experience of running your business with your audience, and that means being able to get in there and add, subtract, or otherwise modify your site. The good news is that this doesn’t take that much skill.

You can hire someone to create your website, but part of the service they provide should be some basic training in how to do simple updates without being at the mercy of their schedule. Alternately, you can sign up for a ready-made website template service like SquareSpace, which gives you complete control of your site while doing most of the work for you. You can also create a WordPress site and use OptimizePress. You can even get a crash-course in how to run a website on The resources are there, so take advantage of them.

2. Using Google Apps. Google has bestowed upon us a wealth of great business applications that everyone should be using. They’re mostly intuitive, they perform beautifully, and they do everything short of showing up to your house and doing your laundry. Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, it’s all there, and it’s easy to learn how to use.

Google Calendar in particular is fantastic for scheduling, especially since the calendar can be shared among multiple employees to coordinate schedules and avoid conflicts. Sheets works like Excel, only better, and is perfect for budgeting and inventory. Any other “paperwork” can be created and shared via Google Docs, on which I’m writing this very blog.

The best part? All of it is completely mobile and accessible from any smart device. Simply set up a Gmail account, and Google’s own tutorials will show you the way.

3. Hosting webinars. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: webinars are the best way to make sales conversions. Whatever you do, whatever product or service you sell, a good webinar can establish the kind of credibility that breeds unparalleled customer loyalty. I’m not just saying this because we created our own webinar platform—quite the opposite. We created WebinarNinja because we love webinars so much.

Whichever platform you go with, you won’t regret putting on a webinar. At the very least, webinars are proven to build email lists like nothing else. As long as email marketing remains demonstrably the most effective kind, that’s something of a big deal. Learning how to host one isn’t hard, either. With some basic presentation and public speaking skills, expertise in your field, and some good intuitive software, anyone can do it. Webinar Ninja in particular features extensive tutorials.

As an entrepreneur, your job is to grow. That doesn’t mean just growing your revenue and growing your business. To do either of those, you have to grow as a business person. You have to grow in experience, in wisdom, and definitely in skills. Taking the time to learn, read, take classes, and to otherwise add skills to your arsenal is the difference between growth and stagnation. These three skills are a great place to begin, and they’ll open the door to even more growth down the road.