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Entrepreneurship Leadership

How To Dress For A Webinar

Webinars are one of the best ways for an entrepreneur to gain traction with an audience. They’re a platform on which a business person can lay their cards on the table. They’re live. They’re interactive. By choosing to host a webinar, you choose to let potential customers know exactly who you are. And showing customers who you are starts with putting your best foot forward. It starts with your appearance.

Appearances matter! Of course the substance of your business and the value of your product are what matter most, but it’s your job to convince customers to discover those things. By making a great impression, you make it possible for customers to find out what’s behind it. By nailing the image, you open the door to the substance. That’s why your appearance— including your clothing— isn’t just some superficial concern.

There’s no “right” outfit for a webinar. Unlike traditional business, modern entrepreneurship doesn’t really have an established dress code. Webinars aren’t corporate board meetings; they can be done from home. They’re as formal or informal as the host decides they are. You don’t have to adhere to anyone else’s standard of dress, but you have to show respect for your audience. You have to be serious and credible, but you also have to be yourself.

Create The Right Energy

I’m no stranger to webinars. I’ve hosted several, and my partner and I founded our sister company, WebinarNinja, to try to make the most host-friendly platform possible (check out our free course at webinarninja.co/course). I’ve studied with public speaking experts Michael and Amy Port of heroicpublicspeaking.com to improve my own webinars.  I’ve been in front of the camera over and over, and in that time I’ve learned a thing or two about performance and presentation.

So much goes into creating a dynamic energy for a webinar. While some might prefer to host a webinar seated, the first rule of good public speaking is to stand up! When standing, your whole energy is altered. Your breath is able to flow more freely, and your voice is able to sound more energetic and authoritative. You’re able to move. You’re guaranteed to be more engaging, even if you’re speaking off camera.

For that reason, it’s important to dress in a way that takes your whole person into account. As tempting as the idea of working without pants is, you’ve got to dress as though your audience will see all of you— even if they won’t. You’ve got to dress in a way that looks sharp, but also allows for dynamic movement, even if it’s only hand gestures. Your outfit has to be the total package, not just focused on the parts you expect to be filmed.

Dressing For Yourself And Your Audience

The unavoidable fact is that people notice what you’re wearing. Subconscious decisions and judgments are made in milliseconds, even by the least superficial of people. In business, first impressions are truly crucial. For that reason, it’s vital to find the sweet spot between over-dressing (as in too formally or even pretentiously) and under-dressing (in a way that signals a lack of effort or polish).

Of course there’s no standard outfit for webinars. Different businesses with different leaders call for different styles. What you decide to wear will depend on who you are, what you’re selling, and to whom you’re selling it. If you’re offering fitness instruction or equipment, a 3-piece suit probably isn’t appropriate. If you’re offering financial management services, workout gear will send the wrong message. The goal of your outfit shouldn’t be to fool your audience into thinking you’re someone you’re not. It should be to present the best (clean, well-groomed) version of yourself possible.

The right outfit comes down to two “C’s:” comfortable and confident. Whatever you wear has to make you feel both. If you’re a jeans and t-shirt person, you may be uncomfortable in even the most impeccable, expensive, beautiful suit. That discomfort will overshadow what you’re wearing, however nice it is. Instead, try upgrading your jeans to a pair that’s dark and fitted, switching out the sneakers for dress shoes, and throwing a blazer over the t-shirt. That kind of subtle adjustment looks serious without looking like a sartorial lie.

The more your outfit reflects who you really are and what your company represents, the more credible you’ll be. Think of those go-to pieces in your closet, the ones that you feel most yourself in. Think of what you wear when you’re doing the work that you enjoy most in your business. While those exact items might not be appropriate for a webinar, some version of them may be.

Of course, you’ve also got to appeal to your audience. If you’re not completely sure how “dressed up” you should be, overdressing is definitely preferable to underdressing. When in doubt, business casual splits the difference well for most occasions. Looking like you’ve put a little too much effort into your outfit isn’t ideal, but looking like you don’t care enough is the greater of two evils.

Nail The Details

While there’s no specific prescription for the right outfit, the guidelines outlined here should make your decisions easier. Beyond that, don’t forget to set the stage.

Make sure that wherever you film, the background isn’t distracting. When in doubt, go for a clean, blank wall. Make sure you’re filling the frame so that there’s not too much space above the head, but don’t zoom in too close (I tend to keep everything from mid-torso up in the shot). Make sure the lighting is coming from in front of and slightly above you; natural lighting is best. If any of these details are off, it can be so distracting that your outfit doesn’t matter!

Presenting yourself thoughtfully isn’t an act of manipulation. It’s an act of salesmanship. Here at The $100 MBA, we believe that great salesmanship comes down to telling the truth— about who you are, what you’re selling, and how valuable you can be to your audience. What you wear should reflect that just as much as what you say.

And seriously…wear pants.

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Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing Uncategorized

The Perfect Business Idea

More people want to become entrepreneurs than actually do. Often, that’s because people think that they can’t start a business until they have a ground-breaking, game-changing original idea that will shake up the market and make them overnight millionaires. So many people simply don’t get started because they think that the first step is to have some “eureka” moment. They wait for a product to occur to them that’s so good, it’ll sell itself.

And that’s nonsense. In my experience— both with my own businesses and in watching others— one thing has become very, very clear: It’s not about the idea. The quality of the idea isn’t the primary factor in determining the success of the company. I know that sounds counterintuitive, maybe even a little crazy, but anyone who’s been around the block a few times can attest to this. It’s not about the notion. It’s about the implementation.

Of course having an incredible, unprecedented great idea helps. But it’s not enough. Without the right marketing and execution, even the best ideas will fail to bear financial fruit. Rather than trying to draw some incredibly creative epiphany out of your head, it’s a smarter idea to simply listen. Listen for a problem that consumers have, and offer a solution. Identify a need that the market isn’t addressing, and let the product be guided by that. It’s that simple.

Be a problem-solver, not an inventor

The idea behind your business doesn’t have to be genius. It simply has to tackle a problem. The product itself doesn’t have to be flawless. It simply has to meet needs that aren’t being met elsewhere. History proves this. Some of the most successful startups stand as testament.

Instagram was purchased by Facebook for a billion dollars. And what is Instagram? A world-altering social media revolution? An unheard-of concept? A cure for some disease? It’s none of those things. It’s a photo sharing app. That’s not exactly the wheel or the light bulb. Photo-sharing and instant filtering were nothing new when Instagram started doing it. They simply made it user-friendly and fun for average people. Eventually, Zuckerberg came calling.

For another example, take Tesla. Elon Musk is undoubtedly an innovator and an entrepreneurial genius. But what is a Tesla? It’s an electric car. Electric cars have been around for as long as cars in general have been around. Musk is not the first person to try to sell them. His approach is what made the difference.

Rather than trying to build the “perfect” vehicle, Musk simply identified the problems that potential electric car buyers faced. Electric cars were slow. They were ugly. They had limited range. They were barely more than political statements on wheels. Musk made electric cars that addressed these issues. He made them quick. He made them practical. He dared to make them sexy, in the exact same way that makers of non-electric cars try to make theirs sexy. And it worked.

The Myth of Perfection

The Next Big Idea isn’t worth chasing. Everyone wants to invent the Pet Rock, while forgetting that the Pet Rock was just a rock. How many times have you seen a product and said to yourself, “I thought of something like that” or “I always wanted something that would take care of that”? The difference between would-be entrepreneurs and actual entrepreneurs is simply action and execution.

Rather than trying to perfect your idea before you launch your business, launch your business. Start addressing a need in the market, and “perfect” as you go along. Refine your idea and innovate your product after you start selling it, not before. Start lean, with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), and modify it along the way. Let the customers be your guide.

There’s a phrase in the military: “Fire and adjust.” It refers to the act of pointing a weapon at a target and firing without the expectation of hitting the mark on the first try. You see where the shot landed, then adjust accordingly. You don’t try to ensure the direct hit beforehand, refusing to fire until you’re positive of success. You make your move. You go from there. Launching a business is a lot like that.

Hear The Idea

The best entrepreneurs in the business world aren’t geniuses with universe-altering ideas. They’re simply observant. They pay attention to the experience of customers in the market, and they figure out how to improve it. They don’t rely on the strength of ideas so much as they rely on their ability to be responsive to consumers. They don’t try to “crack the code” of success. They try to make people’s lives a little better, a little easier, or more fun.

Perfection doesn’t exist. Businesses should always be striving and innovating, and so should the entrepreneurs behind them. The entrepreneurial lifestyle isn’t about conjuring the ultimate idea and getting out of an unsatisfying job. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have an endgame. It’s the act of reevaluating, honing, and growing.

So don’t worry about concocting that “perfect” business idea. Solve a legitimate problem— no matter how many tries it takes— and people will pay you to keep doing so.

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Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing

The Most Important Metrics To Track in Year One

Business is a numbers game. But knowing which numbers to pay attention to takes experience that new entrepreneurs don’t often have. You can measure performance in a hundred different ways, but which metrics really tell the story? What statistics offer the most accurate picture of whether or not you’re meeting your goals? Without a clear sense of what you’re tracking, even the most accurate stats are about as useful as a paperweight for your emails.

Churn rates. Expenses. Revenue. Email open rates. Subscription rates. Page views. Ad clicks. These are but a few of the ways you can slice the analytical pie and peer at the inner workings of your company. But which should demand the most attention? The fact is that some numbers matter more than others, especially in the early stages. In fact, my experience has narrowed it down to two.

Prioritizing two relatively simple measurements is the best way to maintain the kind of consistent, simplified focus that creates the best performance. Instead of being pulled in a dozen different directions and endlessly dividing your attention, give your full consideration to these two things. Yes, it means putting others on the back burner. But that’s exactly what it takes to maintain the big picture view that startups thrive on.

Priority One: Profitability

It may seem like a simple truth. It may even seem like a ridiculously simple truth. But the most obvious things are often overlooked. The most important thing to be measuring, all the time, is profit. Expenses out versus revenue in. That’s it. It’s non-negotiable. Accurately tracking your business’ profitability— and striving to maintain and increase it— should take priority over every other statistical consideration.

It’s vital to track every expense down to the penny, even the ones that may fall into the gray areas between business and personal. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, if you’re not bringing in more than you’re putting out, you’re working with a limited runway.

This is most important for small businesses; startups should be lean if nothing else. It’s not even a matter of how much you’re profiting at first, simply that you are. From the moment you first sell something that cost you $5 to make for $10, not letting expenses outpace revenue is the way to stay on the winning path. This is entrepreneurship, not corporate investment strategy. Don’t overextend. Don’t see debt as an investment just yet. No matter how little it is, make money. Do that and you’ll always succeed on your own terms, however gradually.

Use a simple Google Sheet with two columns, one for expenses and one for revenue. Stay on top of it. If you look at one thing every day, make sure that’s it. See where you can cut the former and increase the latter. Widen the gap between the two, dollar by dollar, week by week. Whatever else is happening, if it’s shrinking that gap (or even worse, creating a deficit), stop it. And remember: paying the interest on a loan or investment is an expense.

Priority Two: You Call It

One thing I learned from Noah Kagan, founder of Sumo and early employee at Facebook, is to have a single yearly goal. This goal should define the needs of the company, and its attainment should be fundamental to its basic mission. In the early days of Facebook, that goal was a straightforward one: growth. Every action, every idea, was measured against this priority. If it didn’t contribute to growth, it wasn’t worth time and resources. If it inhibited growth, it was off the table.

The number to track in order to assess their success, then, was the number of users. Whatever got people to join was the right move. Facebook in concept depended on creating the biggest possible community of other users for each user to interact with. That’s how to judge the success of a social network, and that’s the number Zuckerberg & friends kept their eye on. Always.

At our software company, WebinarNinja, our most important number is that of active users. Not members or the number of people with access to our software, but the amount of people who actually use it regularly. We know that creating a collective experience of use is the key to spreading the word about the product and its merits. Whatever makes it easier or more attractive to not only pay us, but use the thing, is what we’re going to do. If that means constantly making the dashboard more user-friendly, so be it. If it means creating more templates, fine. Whatever makes a customer more likely to take advantage of what they’ve bought is what we’ll do.

Define your own goal, and identify the statistic that best represents it. We know what will bring about the fulfillment of our ultimate goals at Webinar Ninja. Zuckerberg knew what would make Facebook truly work. The challenge for every entrepreneur is to focus their work on what number will bring the company to its fullest potential.

That’s going to be a different number for everyone, but once you’ve discovered what it is, never take your eye off of it. Create long and short-term goals. Establish time frames. Identify milestones. Celebrate statistical achievements that represent the specific progress you want most. Reward yourself and your team. The numbers game can be as exciting and fun as..well, an actual game.

Focusing on just a few key stats can be incredibly motivating, and— perhaps more importantly for new entrepreneurs— incredibly simplifying. Be lean, not just in your strict management of expenses, but in the strictness of your focus. Your brain can only track so much. Avoid “analysis paralysis.” Sink your teeth into what matters most, and don’t let go.

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How To Be A Young Entrepreneur

I got into entrepreneurship at the adorable age of 20. Barely out of my teens, I waded into independent business with all the confidence and naivete of youth. Frankly, the early years were when I screwed up the most. But that’s normal! Now, with a few years in my rearview, I’d like to share the most important things I learned about getting through the early years.

New entrepreneurs (be they young or not-so-young) experience a unique set of challenges. It’s just a different place from which to approach the business world. The young are confident, but lack experience. They’re bold, but don’t have quite the amount of sense that comes from being in the game a while. Acknowledging the pitfalls of being new can make all the difference.

If you’re young, or just new to entrepreneurship, consider these common challenges and this advice for working through them. It just may put you ahead of the game.

The Challenge: Overconfidence

The negative way to look at this challenge would be to say that the young are too ignorant to realize how little they know. In fact, that’s a common thing for seasoned adults to say about the young no matter what! I’d say that not realizing how thin the ice is can be an advantage, because it lessens the apprehension. But it can also lead to totally avoidable mistakes.

The key is not to let confidence become cockiness. If the folly of youth has an antidote, it’s humility. Don’t assume that you know it all. In fact, don’t assume that you know anything! You’re figuring it out, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Being headstrong and opinionated has its uses, but it’s important to realize the limits of inexperience. Don’t let confidence blind you to the opinions of others or the experience of people who’ve been further down the path.

The worst thing overconfidence can do is deprive you of the opportunity to learn. If you think you know more than you do, you won’t be very motivated to seek lessons. Thing is, there are people everywhere, all around you, who know things of inestimable value. Business isn’t a sport; youth doesn’t give you an edge. Mostly, it gives you a handicap. So take advantage of any and every opportunity to listen to those with experience.

The Challenge: Physical Endurance

This one is rarely discussed, but deceptively important. The young have a great deal of physical endurance, able to stay up all night and rise early with a smile on their face. They can indulge in all kinds of excesses, both professional and personal, and barely feel the effects. Unfortunately— and I say this from experience— it all catches up eventually.

Treat your body right. Make time for nutritious foods and planned meals rather than living off of packaged junk and convenience store ready-mades. Take it easy on the caffeine (and the alcohol…you know who you are). Exercise. Regularly. And most importantly, if you value your long-term health, sleep. Sleep every night, and sleep well. You won’t need to in your 20’s, but you’ll be glad you did.

The temptation to push yourself physically will always be there. Why get 8 hours sleep when you can publish more blogs? Why spend 10 minutes making a salad when you can nuke a Hot Pocket? The problem is the consequences. For every youthful indiscretion regarding your health, you’ll add to the pile of effects that will make you sluggish and worn out in your 30’s and 40’s. As we age, our bodies respond to the abuse we’ve accumulated. The energy we lose dealing with that is energy we don’t have for creativity, for endurance, and for the work that keeps our businesses fresh and vital.

You are not invincible. It just feels that way.

The Challenge: The Urge to Impress

For all the confidence of youth, there’s an undeniable level of insecurity. The need to constantly demonstrate your competence, your skill, and your overall awesomeness can be one of the worst distractions from the really important work. There’s nothing more counterproductive than trying to impress your colleagues, especially your elders.

Realize that your youth is the best time to screw up. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And don’t expect anyone to care— at all— about how great you are. You’re not that great. Not yet. And even if you were, the people you think are paying attention are almost certainly not. When you try to impress, it has the exact opposite effect. It comes off as a need to be accepted. It looks like what it is: a weakness. Just do you.

The Challenge: Short-term Thinking

Long-term thinking is particularly difficult for those who are new to business and life. Often, the young are so intensely focused on short-term successes and immediate wins that they neglect the bigger picture. They fail to plan for the coming decades in favor of the coming months. They see the distant future as abstract, and the present as all that could matter.

Make time for the future. Think of projects and products and plans that could take years to develop. Plan for the longevity of your business. Look as far up the road as you can. Ask yourself what you can accomplish given 5 or 10 or 20 years. Consider the marathon, not just the sprint.

The young have advantages that the old don’t, but they also have special obstacles. Being young is a challenge in and of itself, with the sheer lack of experience leaving so many things vague and poorly understood. Those disadvantages are unavoidable, but they’re easily minimized.

With a humble attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to learn from others, youth can be enjoyed more than regretted. Overcoming inexperience is just another one of the obstacles that make entrepreneurship challenging and fun. And if youth at its best is about anything, it’s about challenges and fun. Right?

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The 10 Causes of Online Business Failure (Part II)

Welcome back to our breakdown of the profit-killingest, motivation-destroyingest, dream-crushingest causes of online business failure. If you haven’t, read Part I of our top 10 list before continuing here. If you have, get ready: these last 5 are the ultimate doozies, the things that shatter more would-be successes than anything else. I’ve seen them all done. I’ve done a few myself. By being aware of them, you can choose not to.

  1. Lack of Fundamentals

Yes, entrepreneurs come from all kinds of educational backgrounds, including little formal education at all. However, trying to run a business without the basic skills necessary is a fool’s errand. No one is born with the fundamental knowledge and abilities that are prerequisite to success. At some point, you’ve got to learn what you’re doing.

Salesmanship, marketing, content production, SEO, scheduling, budgeting…the list goes on. No, you don’t have to learn them all at once. No, it doesn’t require formal business training. Yes, you can learn much of it as you go along— but learn it you must, and sooner rather than later. Good business is the result of a skill set, not just the inevitable outcome of a great product idea. It takes a leader, and one who knows what they’re doing.

  1. Lack of a Business Plan

That is to say, a specific, written proposal as to how you plan to profit. This plan doesn’t need to include all the details— a page will suffice— and it can be subject to change based on realities in the field. But there has to be a well-thought out mission based on a plausible approach. It has to include who you intend to serve, and how you can serve them in ways others can’t. It has to include a path to viability and profitability. And it has to be brought out from inside your head into the real world.

Download our website’s super-easy one-page business plan template at 100mba.net/guides. It’s free, it’s simple, and it can show you how to think about your overall goals and long-term strategy. Without that context, you’re steering blind into whatever happens. Instead, aim true for what you want to happen.

  1. Lack of Personal Visibility

It’s the 21st century. Consumers today don’t shop blindly. They want to know where their products come from, how they’re made, and what else their money is supporting. More importantly, they want to know from whom the products come. They want to know you. Not letting them suggests you have something to hide.

It’s a reality of modern business in a hyper-connected, socially engaged marketplace. If you’re not comfortable being transparent and open, get out of the game now. It’s crucial to not only cultivate your brand, but to stand in front of it as a living, breathing person. Your marketing depends on your ability to be a relatable human capable of earning customer trust. Get comfortable on camera. Study public speaking. Learn how to express yourself. Whatever happens, don’t be shy.

  1. Doing it All On Your Own

A common misconception is that independence means being free from the input of others. In business especially, nothing could be farther from the truth. Being independent doesn’t mean being free from the support of (or even obligations to) other people in the industry. It simply means you get to engage on your own terms.

You can’t know everything, or have all the skills. If you’re a great content writer, you’re probably not also a tech expert and marketing whiz. It’s important to take advantage of the skills of others, to network and cultivate relationships that will strengthen your business. It doesn’t have to mean hiring actual employees; it could simply mean attending Masterminds or generally learning from your peers. But no one does business in a vacuum.

We all need a community, and we should all contribute to one. The only alternative is to get overwhelmed, frustrated, and burnt out from carrying too heavy a load.

  1. Comparison

This is it. The single worst poison that can infect the mind of an entrepreneur. Nothing destroys motivation, builds frustration, or takes the joy out of independent business like yoking your idea of success to other people’s performance. And without the joy, no one can sustain the effort it takes to succeed.

Your business can only ever be your business. Your goals can only ever be set by you. Comparing stats with other businesses will tell you absolutely nothing useful, even if it’s your direct competition. That’s because in independent business, you’re not trying to beat the competition. You’re trying to solve people’s problems in a unique way that only you can deliver. You’re trying to create a scenario where ultimately, there is no competition.

You’re seeking your own niche market, your own approach, your own goals and sub-goals. No one else is running in this race. You will never be able to achieve someone else’s personal best any more than they can achieve yours. Be the best at what you do. That’s you, and you alone.

Take this list and keep it in mind as you move forward with your business goals. Be aware of these 10 pitfalls, and know that we’re all susceptible to them. Invert them; make each potential killer a reversed reflection of your approach. Commit fully. Plan ahead. Take consistent action. Use social media only with specific marketing intent. Have the sense to learn the skills you need, and the courage to ask others for help. Be visible and real. Be yourself, and stay true to the vision that you create.

Do all of this, and your business can be one of the ones that makes it.

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The 10 Causes Of Online Business Failure (Part I)

There’s never been a better time to be an online entrepreneur. If you’re like many, many millions of people, you’re considering starting your own business because the Internet has made it possible. The problem? Standing out from among those other millions, and succeeding where (statistically) most of them will fail.

That’s not meant to be pessimistic. A recent Huffington Post study claims that up to 90% of online businesses fail within the first four months! That number is no joke, but it shouldn’t discourage you— it should focus you. If you’re going to do this, you’ve just got to give yourself every advantage possible. And that means avoiding some very common, very avoidable mistakes that take down the vast majority of amateur business people.

Fortunately, we here at The $100 MBA have seen quite a few businesses succeed and fail. Heck, I’ve even made some of these mistakes myself in previous business ventures that— obviously— didn’t work out. So let our experience be your guide. Here are the first 5 of the 10 most common online biz-kills:

  1. Lack of Commitment

This may be the most common of all. Innumerable business die before they’re even born, because the person behind it never moves past the planning phase. It’s not laziness, and it’s not even necessarily inexperience. It’s a refusal to accept the scary reality of unpredictability.

The problem is that too often, would-be entrepreneurs try to create— or wait for— the perfect conditions. They try to get the idea perfect, or the marketing scheme perfect, or the financial situation perfect. But it never is. The reality is that starting a business requires working with what you have, making moves, taking risks, improvising, and yes, accepting the possibility of failure.

You can’t failure-proof any business. There will be risk no matter what. No one can set their venture up to guarantee success. While the idea phase and the “talking” phase are certainly comfortable, they’re not going to turn any profits. At some point, you’ve got to move.

  1. Lack of Planning

Conversely, while some entrepreneurs never stop planning, some don’t do enough! While over planning is a one-way ticket to nowhere, under planning wastes just as many good ideas. Again, the goal is not to create the ideal conditions for success. Mainly, it comes down to dedicating the right amount of time.

That’s it. Time. Too many overconfident entrepreneurs think that they can tackle their responsibilities whenever, in their spare time. They aren’t specific in dedicating the spaces on their calendar to meeting their business goals. In fact, they aren’t making specific business goals. Launch dates, content production, meetings: these things need to be scheduled.

Think of it like exercise. If you want to get in shape, you can’t just work out “whenever.” You have to consciously put aside a given number of hours in the week, working each time towards specific sub-goals that add up to an overall result. Business is the same. You don’t have to know everything, but you have to know what you’re trying to do— and more importantly, when you’re trying to do it.

  1. Lack of Action

This problem, like #9, also comes down to the one component no business can survive without: consistency. While entrepreneurs in the early stages have all the manic energy of the honeymoon phase, a flurry of activity quickly dies down to a trickle, then to nothing. Sooner or later, an un-updated website is taking up cyberspace and receding into memory.

Again, scheduling is key. Setting aside time to regularly accomplish specific tasks creates the consistent, steady momentum business really thrives on. Resist the early urge to pour all of your efforts into the business every spare moment, leaving nothing for later. Parcel out your enthusiasm in a thoughtful way, so that you’re still getting things done 4, 6, and 12 months later. As an entrepreneur, you have freedom. You’ve also got to have discipline.

  1. Over Reliance on Social Media

Too many people think that social media is some kind of magic shortcut to notoriety and success. They think that if they can just get the Twitter followers, the Facebook friends, or get their content to go “viral,” they’re in the money. It just doesn’t work that way. Even the most wildly successful social media campaigns have serious forethought behind them, and the businesses in question don’t just do business on these platforms.

The key to marketing success— even on social media— lies in creating and producing quality content from your own website. You must have your own headquarters, your own “storefront” in cyberspace. Your business has to be centered on a home base that you control, not Facebook. Create awareness on social media, engage in social media. But be aware of its limitations, and always make your own website the fount of value for your audience.

  1. Not Targeting an Audience

This point is absolutely crucial for small business— the key word being “small.” As entrepreneurs, we’re not Wal-Mart. We’re not Apple. Our job is not to appeal to the masses and try to win the lowest common denominator. Mostly because we can’t; that requires resources independent businesses don’t have. But also because it’s contrary to the goal of any great independent business: solving specific problems for a specific audience.

Don’t try to cast your net too wide. Take the skill and expertise you have, and use it to address the needs of a small group that only you can serve. What you eschew in quantity of customers, you gain in loyalty of customers. Go for the niche, and the niche will reward you. Not to mention the fact that even a small niche can grow into a significant following if you’re later willing to branch out. Develop a strong, personal connection with a targeted audience, and your devotion to it will sustain real success. Otherwise, you’re just shouting into an unimaginably large crowd.

These are the obstacles that plague online business. They’re not the reasons you can’t succeed. They’re the things you’ll succeed despite, as long as you’re aware of them. Keep them in mind. Maybe even keep them written and displayed somewhere as you begin your journey. Check back for Part II of this list, and the final five pitfalls to avoid.

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The “Why” Behind Your Business

There are so many variables to address when starting a business. Idea validation, overhead estimates, revenue estimates, your marketing scheme; the list goes on. But there’s one critical factor that gets overlooked far too often. Just as important as any other consideration is the answer to one question: why are you building this business at all?

That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question that needs a clearly defined answer, because that answer is the foundation of your business. It’s the key to its possible success— not because answering it “correctly” will make your business succeed, but because the answer is your definition of success. Without that definition, you lack an overall goal. Not knowing what you’re aiming for is the easiest way to miss.

Motivation Matters

All things being equal, no one is more successful than someone who knows why they’re doing something. This is true for everyone from athletes to politicians to business people. In business, the motivation may seem obvious: profit. But there has to be more to it than just that, even if it’s only to define how much profit and what, exactly, all that profit is for.

Before you make the huge commitment that the entrepreneur’s lifestyle requires, explore your motivations. To define success in a way that’s personal to yourself is what will give you the edge. It’s what will allow you to push forward when the well-paid but poorly motivated would maintain the status quo. It’s what will move you to innovate and test your limits, even when you don’t have to.

For example, some want financial independence. In that case it’s not the money a person’s after. It’s the ability to put their conventional job behind them. Some want to take care of a struggling family, or provide their children with an education. Some just like to compete. For alpha-types, the amount of money doesn’t matter as long as it’s more money than their competitors make! The point is that there’s a “why” beyond the profit.  

For some, the goals are even less tangible. Some entrepreneurs mostly seek recognition. The satisfaction of being a trendsetter or thought leader is worth just as much to them as their earnings. Some seek validation, the sense that their audience proves their worth in the industry. Some work on sheer principle, with a genuine wish to change an industry for the better, angry at the thought of customers being underserved or competitors profiting from sub-par products. These people have a “why” that’s more potent than any promise of revenue.

The Right Biz For Your “Why”

It’s important to not only start with a clearly defined “why,” but to periodically check in with it. You may find that your aspirations should be changed or modified. You may also find that your business—regardless of profits—is moving you further from your ultimate goal instead of closer.

For example, let’s say your hypothetical “why” is a vision of independence that would allow you to travel. Lots of entrepreneurs (especially the online kind) use the freedom of self-employment to see the world while they work. But what if you’re working so much that you don’t have time to travel? You may be making money, and business may be booming, but if your passport doesn’t have any new stamps you’re not succeeding!

Alternately, say you’re writing books. These books are informative, helpful, and well-received by a grateful audience, but they’re not making a lot of money. Books usually don’t! While writing books can be a great marketing tool, it’s not usually that profitable. If a certain level of financial success is your “why,” it’s not going well. Perhaps what you really enjoy—what you really want—is recognition, to be influential in your subject area. Maybe it’s time to realign your “why” with the reality of your work.  

Soul Search

Tony Robbins likes to say that different people have different values. That’s not a moral judgment. It’s meant literally; we each find value in different things. Some value security. Some prize family or spontaneity or influence. What’s your own priority? Do you value freedom more, or stability? Fame or craft? Money or recognition?

Only you can answer these questions, but answer them you must. You’ve got to discover your “why,” and it has to go beyond the obvious profit motive. Yes, we all want to make money. But some of us make far less than we actually could, because we make enough to get what we value. Some people make far more than they could ever use, simply because they value competitiveness.

If you want to travel frequently, you can do so on a relatively modest salary. If you want to provide for a family, you can do it without becoming a mogul. If you want to educate people or change the way a certain service works, or simply kiss your corporate job goodbye, you can. You simply have to ask yourself what it would cost, and then make that much!

Put this principle into practice with a simple exercise. Sit down with a piece of paper (or word doc), and ask yourself what success would look like to you. What is winning? Where exactly would you be if you “made it”? Write it down. Be ruthless in your honesty, even if it means reevaluating your approach to your business. Every so often, repeat this exercise to make sure that your business is taking you where you really want to go.

There are no wrong answers. No one’s values are more valuable than anyone else’s. It’s ok to want money, if you know how much and what you want to spend it on. It’s ok to want to have an impact, to be known for changing the way something works. It’s ok to just want to live near the beach. Whatever it is, have the courage to define it before you chase it down.

The boxing biopic Cinderella Man tells the true story of a mediocre fighter who is only able to keep his children fed during the Great Depression by becoming a champion. Asked by a reporter how he so drastically improved his fighting record, the protagonist explains that he started winning once he knew what he was fighting for. Asked what that was, he replied simply, “milk.”

Work hard, and you’ll move forward. Know why you’re working hard, and you’ll be unstoppable.