Categories
Entrepreneurship Leadership

Worth The Wait? When It’s OK To Delay (And When It’s Not)

As business people, we like to be dependable. We like to show up on time and meet our commitments. Sometimes, though, it just isn’t possible. For various reasons, we find ourselves unable to meet a launch deadline, or able to but considering a delay. Try as we might, reality intrudes and disrupts even the best of plans. So when is it ok to hold off on launching a product?

If you’ve already built the hype, how can you delay a launch and still maintain credibility? Once you’ve done the work to generate all this excitement for a particular date, how can you transfer that excitement to a new date? While it’s certainly not ideal, it can be done. Like any stumble in business, it’s not about avoiding every single mistake. It’s how you handle the mistake that matters.

When It’s NOT ok to Delay

Before we get into the acceptable ways to delay, let’s clear one thing up. It is never— never— ok to delay a launch out of fear. That’s the one time that putting the launch off can’t possibly benefit your customers or your business. Even in the case where a delay could improve the product, getting into a habit of unnecessary delays will catch up to you, and it will hold you back.

New entrepreneurs are often so afraid of scrutiny that they paralyze themselves. They find reasons to delay their launch just long enough to make this fix or that fix. They try to create the perfect product, one that couldn’t possibly be criticized. And they won’t launch until they do. The problem? There is no perfect product. We should try to perfect our products, but we do that by testing it in the market.

Real entrepreneurs have to be willing to roll with the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. When you launch, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It can’t be. You can only make your product better by getting it out into the market and letting your customers use it. Once they do, they’ll find where improvements can be made. They’ll tell you how to make the next iteration better. That’s how products evolve towards “perfect.” Not in the workshop or the lab, but on the street.

Of course, sometimes there are valid performance issues that can reasonably delay a launch. It is possible for your customers to be better served by changing the timetable. How can you tell the difference? Honesty. And not just any old kind of honesty. Knowing whether you have valid grounds for delay requires being honest with yourself.

Before you delay, ask yourself: Is this product viable? If it works, if it solves the problem it purports to solve, then you should launch. Yes, it could be better. That will always be the case, and you’ll make it better going forward. Yes, you’ll wish you had done this or that differently. That’s called learning, and it’s good for you. But if you have an MVP, you do yourself no favors by hesitating.

Entrepreneurs have to be willing to see their products play out on the market. They have to be willing to take risks and learn by doing. They have to be willing to fail! Even selling a subpar product is still selling, and selling is something you can’t learn without doing. We can always find reasons to delay a product’s rollout— but at what point are reasons excuses? If you don’t develop the habit of moving forward with an MVP, you’ll develop a habit of self-paralysis.

Our Delayed Gratification

I’ve had to make the call to delay, even when it was painful to do so. Our software company WebinarNinja has gone through a few iterations over time, from a fairly simple early version to the radically innovative 5.0 version debuting this year. When we moved to the current version, WebinarNinja 4.0, it was a big shift. We actually shut down and stopped accepting new members during the re-launch, so intense was the work we had to do.

Unfortunately, after we announced the release date for 4.0, our head developer fell ill. It wasn’t serious, but it took him out of the game for a full week, slamming the brakes on everything we were doing. Before we knew it, the promised launch time at the end of May was upon us, and we weren’t ready. We needed more testing, more refining, and more tweaking in order to make it something worthy of our existing customers’ trust.

In that case, I could’ve gone ahead with the release by May 31st. Instead, I chose to launch it on June 3rd. In reality, a difference of 3 days isn’t really that drastic. But I’d already told my audience to expect it in May, so I was caught between two options: a small delay for an optimal product, or keeping my word on paper while delivering something that didn’t reflect the work we’d put in. In the end, “May” was arbitrary, and the product wouldn’t have been what we’d promised.

As it turned out, the slight delay only energized our audience. We hadn’t planned on “teasing” anyone, but knowing that we needed just a few more days to go the extra mile was exciting for our customers. The hype was stoked, and in the end it was worth the wait. We had prioritized the users’ experience over our own credibility, drastically improving the former by taking (maybe) a slight hit on the latter.

That was the right decision, and I’ve carried that lesson to the present. Recently we announced a slight delay in the release of WebinarNinja 5.0. Again, it was a tough decision. Like before, it meant putting the customers’ experience and results ahead of my own ego. Would the software still work well if we launched when we originally planned? Sure. But this isn’t a first-time product, and it’s far more than the minimum viable. Given the fact that we completely rebuilt the entire platform from scratch and engineered an entire exclusive infrastructure for it, we decided that like 4.0, 5.0 was well worth a little extra patience.

As your business grows, delays will become more likely. Each person you add to your team is a variable, and variables detract from predictability. People get sick. People get fired. People underestimate how long things take. Partners fall through. The zone of events beyond your control broadens, and you have to adapt.

Don’t let pressure to rush a launch force you into turning out an inferior product. Don’t delay a launch out of fear of scrutiny. Between the two is the launch date that works best for everyone. With a little reflection and honesty, you’ll know when the timing is right.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Leadership Uncategorized

How To Disappoint Your Audience In The Best Possible Way

Sometimes, we have to break bad news. Things happen, despite our best efforts. We find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to tell our audience— our customers— something they definitely don’t want to hear. We mess up, or something entirely beyond our control goes screwy. Whatever the cause, it’s important to know how to tell people something unpleasant. And it’s possible to do so in a way that not only maintains their loyalty, but increases it.

I was first reminded of this topic by something that happened to an entrepreneurial hero of mine, Elon Musk. Musk, arguable genius that he is, is still capable of mistakes. And when the launch of one of his most innovative products was around the corner, he realized he’d made one— a big one. The Model 3, a revolutionary, affordable, hopefully ground-breaking product, was going to be missing something he’d promised.

When pre-orders were being taken for the Model 3, one of the incentives offered was a pretty huge one: free charges for life! Not only is electricity cheaper than gas already, but Model 3 owners wouldn’t even have to pay for that! Supercharging stations located throughout the US and the world were free perks for other Tesla owners, and Musk had announced that the same courtesy would be extended to owners of the more reasonably priced Model 3. As several analysts had predicted, though, giving away all that electricity wasn’t (pardon me) sustainable.

Musk had to renege on that promise with over half a million pre-orders already in place.

The Relative Value of Reputation

How important is it to keep your business promises? Most people would argue “very,” at least. They’re correct, but like most things, there’s a limit. Is it really worth tanking your entire business in order to keep a promise? Will your reputation (or your self-image) really serve you well if your business is bankrupt? Sometimes, you have to disappoint customers by not coming through in the way they expected, or the way you said you would. It can be unavoidable. What matters is how you handle it.

As long as you have the right strategy for announcing bad news and managing the response, your business will come through intact, or better. There are ways to deliver bad news that minimize the impact. These ways don’t just soften the blow. They demonstrate your honesty. Rather than detracting from customers’ trust in you, well-delivered bad news can actually make you more credible. You can keep the trust you’ve earned, and then some.

Tesla’s announcement didn’t hurt sales. At all. There was no revolt from the audience, no wave of cancellations and refunds. This is because the way that Musk broke the news was framed and contextualized properly. He didn’t shrug his shoulders and say “them’s the breaks.” He didn’t beg forgiveness or martyr himself, either. He simply told the truth in the context of Tesla’s overall mission— and made his audience feel like a part of that mission.

Rather than simply acknowledging the screwup, Musk asked his audience to stick with Tesla out of a shared sense of purpose. He reminded them what they were doing when they purchased his product: standing up to the fossil fuel industry and saving the planet by reducing oil dependence. He explained that free charging made that mission untenable, and he was mistaken for thinking it was possible. He asked his audience to make the sacrifice of a few thousand more dollars in order to save the world. By the time he was done breaking the bad news, his average customer would’ve felt like a jerk for complaining!

This wasn’t a case of a rich CEO simply saying, “Hey, I can’t make money if I come through on this.” It was the leader of a movement saying “Hey, we can’t change the world if I come through on this.” He took what he knew about his customers and their reasons for buying his product, and he used it. He remembered what problem he was solving for his customers (in this case, global warming), and reminded everyone that he was still solving it. By letting them in on his mistake and exposing his failure, he made customers more loyal. By asking them to forgive it as an act of purpose, he left everyone still satisfied.

Breaking Bad the Good Way

A while back, I had to break some bad news to my own customers. I had announced that by the end of 2015, WebinarNinja would have a special new feature: full integration with Leadpages and Sumo for creating opt-in pages and boxes. In this case, I thought I had plenty of time to sort out the details and keep my promise. As it turned out, I didn’t. Unforeseen delays on the other companies’ ends made it impossible. Eventually, the feature debuted, but not on time.

Sending the announcement was one of the most uncomfortable things I could imagine doing. Unlike Elon Musk, I wasn’t trying to solve a global crisis. But like him, I was able to minimize the negativity by being transparent and putting it all in context. As long as my reasons for coming up short had to do with solving their problems, my customers would understand. And they did.

When they’re disappointed, some people will be upset. You may get a few demands for refunds or cancellations. Your true fans, however, will stick by you. The ones to whom you’ve been providing rich content and giving wins, the ones whose trust you’ve earned; they’ll appreciate your honesty. You’ve invested your work in them, and they’ll invest their patience in you.

The 5 Steps To Breaking Bad News

Whatever the misfortune you have to explain, there’s a basic system that will give you the best results:

  • Be Transparent. Tell your audience everything about why this is happening, within reason. Don’t get overly technical or go over their heads. In layman’s terms, make it clear that you’re not hiding anything, and that you trust them with this (somewhat embarrassing) information.
  • Announce the plan. Know how you’re going to fix the problem, and tell your audience. Whatever went wrong, explain how you plan to reverse it and prevent something similar going forward.
  • Compensate if possible. Offer everyone affected a bonus, discount, or some other kind of salve for the wound. If you can’t afford to, at least explain that.
  • Update. As you move forward and solve the problem, stay in contact with your audience about it. Don’t just apologize and never bring it up again. Keep them posted on how you’re resolving everything.
  • Deliver and thank. Once you give your audience whatever it was that was promised, or whatever it is they’re getting instead, thank them. Acknowledge their patience and loyalty, and make it clear how appreciated it is.

Delivering bad news is never fun. That said, it can be a classic “crisi-tunity” to deepen the bonds between yourself and your audience. It will also show you who your true followers are. Like any relationship, business relationships don’t always go smoothly. But overcoming the bumps in the road can make relationships stronger.

It’s one of the least comfortable things in business. We love to satisfy customers; it’s what good business people do. But great business people can turn tragedies into triumphs, and parlay an honest account of failure into stronger bonds. In the long term, that’s how your business succeeds.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Leadership

The 4 Keys To Great Personal Salesmanship

Salesmanship is a craft. Unfortunately, it’s an increasingly uncommon one. As the internet has made transactions more and more impersonal, the interpersonal skills needed to effectively do business are becoming undervalued. Yes, it’s wonderful that we can sell to the entire globe without having to physically be anywhere. But whether your business is online or offline, product or service, you’re going to need those skills.

Even if you’re not directly selling your product, the ability to be persuasive to another human face is a requirement. You’ll have to work with business partners and suppliers. You’ll have to address your audience personally, even if it’s online via live video or webinar. Webinars in particular are vital sales tools for any kind of business. There’s simply no way out of meeting other people and convincing them of your value the old-fashioned way.

If that makes you a little nervous, that’s normal. A lot of unnecessary pressure can be attached to the art of the sale. But I’ve seen what works, and it’s got nothing to do with putting on a show or being some skilled manipulator. I first learned salesmanship from my father, a uniquely successful luxury car dealer who made fantastic numbers despite being a new arrival to the country. Watching him work was the first time I discovered the basics of great salesmanship.

Key #1: Confidence

No surprise here, right? You’ve probably already heard that confidence makes all the difference when it comes to closing deals. What may not have been explained is why, or what kind of confidence we’re talking about. It’s not the confidence of the reckless bullshitter or the experienced manipulator. It’s the confidence of a person who believes— who knows— that the deal they’re offering is genuinely a good one.

Your confidence needn’t be in yourself or your ability to “sell.” It should be in the product and its value for the price. That confidence in the product is contagious, and it motivates customers to buy. Think about how you’d recommend a product that you actually love. Would you ever feel nervous about convincing a friend to buy it? Of course not. People who are selling something great don’t need to worry. That’s why they’re confident— not because they have some unnaturally high self-esteem.

Desperation, on the other hand, is a sign that you don’t believe in what you’re selling. If that’s the case, your customers will know it.

Key #2: Transparency

Related to confidence is transparency; the two are mutually reinforcing. If what you’re offering is valuable, you’ll have no problem telling the truth (the whole truth, etc.). If the truth is in your favor, you’ll be confident. The fact that you’re trying to convince someone to do something that’s actually beneficial to them means you have nothing to hide.

The good news is that most people want to buy! Consumers are genuinely excited to buy; they want to make purchases, get excited, and get started. The only thing stopping most people is the idea that they’re being tricked, pressured, or outright bullied into a purchase that doesn’t make sense for them. Your role as a salesperson isn’t to cajole anyone; it has to be their choice. Your role is to make that choice easy, by demonstrating how good a choice it is.

Bringing it back to my father, he used to do one thing that blew my mind. When a customer was unsure whether or not to trust what he was offering, he always had the same reply: check out other dealers. See what offers are out there. If you find something better, take it. Then he would explain why what he was offering was worth the money. He would simply do the most radical trick in the ace salesman’s arsenal: tell the truth.

Key #3: Understanding the difference between price and value

The price is what it costs. The value is a measure of why the product is worth that cost. Be able to articulate exactly what the customer is getting for their money. Generally, customers don’t mind paying a higher price for something they believe to be worth the investment. If something seems like it should be expensive, no one will mind that it is.

For example, take a subscription to WebinarNinja. If a customer held only a single webinar per month (far below average) and converted at a below-average-to-average rate, the profits would still far exceed the cost of that subscription. That’s not a pitch. That’s math! The product more than pays for itself if used only minimally, let alone if it’s used to its fullest potential.

It’s not about what the product is. It’s about what the customer gets out of it. Ultimately, you’re not selling the product. You’re selling the ROI.

Key #4: A reason to buy now AND later

It’s standard practice to incentivize a quicker decision. Buy now, and save this much. Buy now, and get this extra bonus. Essentially, we add to the value in order to expedite the sale. But what if that doesn’t work? Should a customer feel like they only “win” if they reach for their wallet in the moment? Putting pressure on “the now” is pretty common, but it doesn’t build much trust. In fact, it can make a customer feel…well, pressured. And that’s not always appreciated.

That’s why it’s a good idea to offer some incentive for buying later. Yes, offer the bonus or discount for an immediate purchase, but offer a second (admittedly less valuable) bonus or discount if they come back within a couple of days. Being offered a chance to save big in the moment can lead to a purchase. Being offered the chance to sleep on it can lead to real trust. Leave the door open for the cautious customer, and the long-term reward may be more than worth it.

Sales is a learned skill. No one is born to it, no matter how natural they may seem. You too can learn to sell, but not by learning how to hypnotize or delude people. All you have to do is have a genuinely valuable product, and tell the truth about it. If you aren’t excited about the product, the customers will know. Offer real value. Justify the price by demonstrating the value. Watch the sales roll in.

And if you’re worried that you’re not a “natural” salesperson, good! That means you’ll just have to be yourself, and be honest. It worked for my dad, and it will work for you.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Leadership

Learn How Running A Business On “Autopilot” Really Works

Can you make money while doing nothing? Can you build a business, set up its operations, and let it run itself while you lounge by the pool, occasionally checking your bank account and letting out a satisfied sigh? The notion of “passive income” has gained traction lately, with new entrepreneurs aiming to “set it and forget it.” But is this a pipe dream, or can business operations be automated? If they can, to what degree?

How It’s Done

The best example of passive income comes from Pat Flynn, friend of the blog and creator of smartpassiveincome. He personally built several streams of income by parlaying his credibility into sales, mostly for other businesses through affiliate marketing. He built his own value by producing great content, engaging with his audience, and building a following that he could then leverage into profitability.

But even Flynn had to work at this. He’s had to constantly create content, and ultimately move away from affiliate marketing and towards his own products. He’s built a successful operation, one that continues to be profitable. His work, though, has been anything but passive. No matter where you look in the annals of successful entrepreneurship, you’ll see that it always takes work, no matter how many things are able to be automated.

The lesson is this: you can automate aspects of your business, but not the business itself. It just doesn’t work that way. Even when passivity is your goal, you can’t run a business by refusing to run it. The conductor doesn’t play any of the instruments, but without him, there’s no concert!

As an entrepreneur, your business is about you. Your personality, values, and vision are its foundation. You and it are inseparable. No matter how much work you outsource, you still have to be there. You have to be the face of your business, whether it’s interacting with your audience via podcast or webinar, or interacting with your peers at conferences and industry events. The content has to come from you, no matter who articulates it or designs its presentation. You have to be the leader, no matter how great your managers are.

In the independent world, you are the company, no matter who’s doing what.

How We’ve Done It

Here at our company, we’ve automated as many aspects of our business as we can, while still guiding its course. Nicole and I are constantly producing content, though we’re now able to turn the presentation over to professional designers and editors. We’re constantly interacting with our audience, though we have dedicated social media experts. We’re always thinking about the next innovations, though we have software engineers to implement them for us. We haven’t passed the work on to our team; we’ve assembled a team that allows our work to bear the most fruit!

This is especially true for our software service, WebinarNinja. Yes, we created WebinarNinja a long time ago. But we certainly couldn’t “set it and forget it.” We’re about to completely relaunch the product in its latest iteration, WebinarNinja 5.0. That’s because the greatest products are never “finished.” Complacency is the best way to guarantee failure, especially with soft products. The last “S” in “SaaS” stands for “service,” not “settling!” We’ve got to onboard, innovate, and market. That never stops. That never goes on autopilot.

That said, we don’t have to be consumed by our work. Because we put various aspects of the business into the hands of people we trust, we can take a step back. We’re free to lead as opposed to manage, because we have competent managers. We still run the business, but we can take a few days or weeks off. We’re making an “active” income, but with a favorable balance of work and rest.

Who Needs Autopilot?

No, there is no purely passive income. There’s simply working smarter, delegating, and putting yourself in a position to lead while others do the work on the ground. There’s leveraging your assets, getting the most from your investments, and populating your team with competent people. But there’s no free lunch.

In the end, do you really want one? In my experience, entrepreneurs are people who want to create something, and want to be free to create it as they see fit. They’re not people who are typically averse to work, they simply don’t want to work for someone else! They’re dynamic, they’re active, and they want to make money that way. Entrepreneurship is fueled by the desire to do something, not the desire to do as little as possible.

Leading, delegating, automating, innovating, being creative, responsive and present: these things all require work. When you do it right, you do it in a way that maximizes your potential. You do it in a way that frees you to play to your strengths. If you love teaching, you focus on that while others do the rest. If you love design, you focus on that while others do the rest. Whatever it is you want to do, build the business that lets you do it.

This way, you can find the joy in work that drives successful independent businesses. As for truly “passive” income, there’s only one way to make money without working: marry rich.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing

How To Create A Consistent Customer Experience (And Why You Should)

Here at The $100 MBA, we talk a lot about consistency. Consistent effort, consistent scheduling, and (of course) consistency in the quality of your product are just a few important examples. The list goes on. What’s often left out of the struggle for consistency is something just as crucial: a consistent customer experience. This kind of consistency is important. In fact, it can make or break your business’ reputation.

Consistency in your customers’ experience means this: your customers become accustomed to a standard. That standard is met in every single interaction they have with your business. Yes, your product is great. But what keeps your customers coming back is their certain knowledge of what’s going to happen. Consistency is about eliminating the element of surprise; aside from the occasional pleasant one, customers hate those.

The Models

Even for small businesses, the best model for this is big business. Look at Starbucks. Every single cup of coffee sold at every single Starbucks is of a standard quality. More importantly, what happens in a Starbucks is the same for the customer each and every time. The procedure is the same. The result is the same. It takes about the same amount of time. It’s one of the reasons big chains dominate, besides their vast resources: there are no surprises. They streamline. They standardize. Every customer knows exactly what’s going to happen.

Small businesses can do exactly the same thing. Not on the same scale, mind you, but you can provide that level of consistency of experience. Not only can you do it, but doing it will set your small business apart. It will create trust and comfort, and therefore repeat business. Your business can offer all the personalization of a mom-and-pop, but the predictability of a large chain. It’s the best of both worlds.

No matter how big or small, whether online or offline, the experience can be standardized. Again, that’s not to say that the product is consistent in its quality (though it should be). It’s to say your customers’ interactions— all of them—- conform to the expectations you establish.

Establishing The Experience

To bring this consistency of experience about, start at the beginning. Whether the customer is entering a website or a building for the first time, the first interaction sets the tone. It’s important to create as easy and comfortable an initial experience as possible, so the customer “settles” into what will be a consistently pleasant pattern.

The key to this initial experience is simplicity. The customer needs as little to do as possible— no overwhelming menu of choices, no complex initiation. On your website, there should only be a single call to action on each page, not some chaos of options. All you want is a simple, direct explanation of why they should continue, what value they’ll get in return, and a single next step.

As the customer experience continues, so should the simplicity and ease of use. At The $100 MBA, for example, every page has one call to action. You watch a video. You sign up. You opt-in for a gift. When you join, you get an orientation video with a follow-up call to action. The pattern is consistent: a video, a step, a thank you, a step, some value, a step. The customer is only ever given essentially one thing to do as they progress. They’re never overwhelmed. They’re always made to feel at home.

As the course actually begins, this consistency of experience continues. Even as the tasks grow more involved and complex, our system and our team are holding their hand along the way, always ready to guide them to the next step. From the customer perspective, this means convenience. It means trust. And it means they actually use our product and reap the results, because we’ve made it easy for them.

Why Bother?

Some may be tempted to ask: Why go to all the trouble? If the product is good, the product is good. They’ve given you money, you’ve given them the product. It should work itself out, right? Unfortunately, it’s never that easy. We could just give our customers access to all the lessons and resources The $100 MBA has to offer with no guidance. But that would be suicide. Yes, the product would be the same. But the experience wouldn’t be.

You’re not just selling the product. Or rather, part of “the product” is the experience— a big part. A big part of the value of the product is that customers actually apply it. You could have the greatest product in the world, but if it takes too much effort (or even thought) to use, only a minority of customers will ever be satisfied.

As for your reputation, it’s rarely the product itself people talk about. When people describe a product they love, they typically describe the experience of using it. Only advertisers describe the construction and features of a bike; customers describe how much they love riding it. Think about it: how do you talk about a product you’re truly excited about? Word of mouth is rarely about what was purchased. It’s about what happened. How will your customers describe their experience?

As for surprises, remember that even pleasant ones have a point of diminishing returns. If you can provide something wonderful occasionally, why not just provide it all the time? Customers don’t love a service because it might be awesome sometimes. They love it because they know it will be, every time.

Give that to your customers. Get feedback. See it from their point of view. Learn how to meet their expectations consistently, and they’ll repay you.

Categories
About Omar Entrepreneurship Leadership Uncategorized

Don’t Hustle Too Hard!

Business takes hard work. But can you work too hard? I believe you can. Crazy as it might sound, hustle has a point of diminishing returns. Many think that effort is something you should apply as much as possible, pushing the limits in order to reach peak productivity. The more hustle, the better.

I happen to disagree.

Experience shows that overwork backfires. Productive hustle is different. The best kind of hard work comes from a healthy, well-rested place. An excess of effort doesn’t just hurt your personal life and well-being, it hurts your business. A healthy mind makes the best decisions, and an overworked entrepreneur is bound to be a less successful one.

Willing To Work

Independent business demands sacrifice. You do have to work harder than many. You do have to take time away from social life, leisure, and media. This is because you’re doing something that most people don’t do. You’re doing something unique and improbable and liberating, and it comes with a cost. If you’re not willing to give up some of the creature comforts of the standard work/life dynamic, it’s best to stay out of entrepreneurship.

That said, hard work and the sacrifice of time comes down to a simple cost/benefit analysis. Hustle is the price of converting dreams and talk to reality. It’s what you pay for the freedom to beat your own path, and the opportunity to be in command of your own success. Because of this, there’s a strong temptation to work too hard. When all the skin in the game is yours, it’s hard not to overdo it.

Here’s what’s important to remember: working too hard won’t give you a leg up. Running yourself ragged won’t help your bottom line. Depriving yourself of the rest and relaxation that every human mind and body needs is depriving your business of your best effort. A candle that burns at both ends goes out quickly.

What You Owe

As entrepreneurs, we all believe in hard work. But what’s often missing is a belief in a healthy lifestyle. A loss of health (physical or emotional) is too high a price to pay for any business. I learned this the hard way. During crucial periods for some of my businesses, I wasn’t willing to give myself the space and time I needed to stay healthy.

While I thought I was making greater sacrifices in order to get greater returns, I was really only setting myself up for setbacks. Excessive hours, stress, and refusing to devote time to my mind and body’s needs could only have one result: fatigue and illness. That fatigue and illness held me back as a business person. All my hustle didn’t mean more productivity; it meant less.

The same goes true for social life. Sacrificing too much as regards friends and family may lead to some gains, but is it worth it? What’s the point of success if you have to be isolated to achieve it? With whom can you enjoy the fruits of all your hard work if you have to push everyone away to earn it? Again, it comes down to a cost/benefit analysis.

All of us owe certain debts. We owe to our bodies, to our overall selves, to our friends and to our families. These things deserve our time and attention. They deserve our effort as surely as our businesses do. The time we give to our health, and the people who support us, isn’t time we’ve stolen away from our work. It’s time that our bodies and minds deserve. It’s effort our friends and family are due.

Keeping The Balance

To keep yourself— and your business— in good shape, take the time and make the effort. Schedule regular breaks daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Maintain a steady pace, not a self-destructive one. Keep the pressure at the right level by taking your downtime as seriously as you take your work. You’re not doing this to give yourself a break. You’re doing it for the sake of your business and everyone that depends on it.

If you’re a habitual over-worker (like myself), the first step is to admit it. In my case, I know that I tend towards a counterproductive level of hustle. Because I’m aware of it, I can take proactive steps. For now, I make sure that no matter what’s going on with The $100 MBA (or our software company WebinarNinja), I never let a week go by without taking off a day and a half. My goal is to make that a full two-day weekend, as soon as it’s feasible. I take that goal as seriously as any other goal I have for the business.

To be at your best, plan your down time. It may be necessary to literally schedule time to not work, and to do so in a way that keeps you regularly refreshed. Once you see down time as another responsibility, as a component of your overall ambitions, you’ll get over any apprehensions about slowing down. You’ll see your down time as another task to accomplish, no less important than anything else on your calendar.

As for the time you do devote to work, make it count. Schedule your time so that you’re working consistently, not sprinting until you burn yourself out. Reality will catch up to you no matter how enthused you feel at the beginning of an overwork/crash cycle. There’s always more work you can do. Since you can’t do it all, trying to won’t get you any closer to your ultimate goals.

When creating your to-do lists for any time period, make them priority-based. Keep the most urgent things at the top so that when time runs out, you’ll rest easy knowing that what’s pushed off can wait. Keep track of your progress, and notice how consistent effort— not excessive effort— really does get the job done. Take comfort in that. As your health and attitude improve, so will the numbers.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Leadership

5 Low-Cost Ways To Motivate Employees

Here at The $100 MBA, we always preach the philosophy of lean business: keeping expenses low and maintaining profitability. So when the margins are thin, it’s important to know how to keep your employees happy and motivated. It’s not always possible to give bonuses or other financial rewards, but there are other ways to inspire loyalty and get the most from your people – most of these can be figured out after personal background checks of the employee.

Money isn’t the only motivator. In fact, it’s the intrinsic rewards that often draw the best effort from employees. Feeling valued, appreciated, and relied upon can do more for a given person’s attitude towards their work than a bump in pay. That’s not true for everyone, but it’s true for the kind of employees worth keeping around. And it’s true for the kind of employees that are worth rewarding financially when their work contributes to a better situation.

In my experience, there are a few key factors that make employees want to give their best. Make sure that these few things are in place, and you’ll have a team that’s eager and willing, even through the lean times.

  1. Honest Praise

To the cynic, praise might seem like poor compensation compared to cash. But heartfelt expressions of appreciation for someone’s competence and effort go much farther than many realize. Psychologically, the affirmation of someone’s professional acumen is the kind of boost that leads to real productivity. Who works harder (or better): the employee who’ll see a few more dollars, or the employee who feels like he’s earning respect?

Especially for online businesses with remote teams, it’s important to stay in regular communication. Reaching out just to let team members know how well they’re doing isn’t time spent idly. It’s time spent keeping your employees in a frame of mind that translates directly to productivity.

Keep employees in touch with each other through services like Slack, and let the whole team know how valuable each member is. The atmosphere that’s created that way is worth the effort.

  1. Fun

When people think of fun places to work, often the first that comes to mind is Google. Google has developed a legendary reputation for making the workplace enjoyable, from the humorous attitude to the luxe employee lounges and recreational facilities. By any measure, it’s a fun place to earn a living.

Because it’s so exceptionally fun to work there, Google draws the best. Their employee-first approach is how they ensure that everyone on the payroll is grateful to be there regardless of their salary. In fact, for many positions Google actually pays less than the competition. Google understands that money isn’t the only thing that gets their team out of bed in the morning.

Create your own fun for your team, whether it’s at a physical business or online. Celebrate successes together, encourage a sense of humor, and get together physically or virtually. You can even host remote get-togethers via webcam, just to have a chance for some social interaction and “break room” banter.

  1. Promotion

While promotions usually come with a raise, they don’t always have to. Sometimes, offering a new level of responsibility and recognition is enough to give an employee a sense of ownership and investment in the business. A promotion is an act of trust that’s as personally validating as more money. If their work in their new role leads to a better bottom line, then they’ll have earned whatever financial rewards come.

  1. Training

Professional development opportunities are valuable, period. Any chance you can offer employees to expand their skill set is a service to them. In essence, training employees in new skills is adding to their personal market value, and it will be appreciated. Use services like lynda.com to make employees better at what they do, and it will come back to you.

Not only does training benefit the employee enough to inspire their motivation, it makes them more valuable to your business. Offer regular training opportunities, even if you don’t have a specific project in mind for them to apply it to just yet.

  1. Leadership

Often, an example is the greatest motivation. People crave leadership, especially in a small business where the stakes are higher and the ups and downs hit closer to home. Showing your own dedication makes employees feel as though their own fate is tied to yours, and inspires a greater level of personal loyalty.

Be hard-working. Be decisive. Be confident. The effect will be that your employees will trust and value your effort enough to match it with their own.

A tight financial situation is challenging, and often frustrating. You need your employees’ best efforts when you’re least able to reward them financially. That’s why it’s crucial to keep them happy in other ways, until the profit margin widens enough to show them some love they can spend.