The 4 Qualities of a Great CEO

CEO is a title among titles. Many people hear it and think of sheer double-breasted power and vast mahogany offices. But in the world of small business and entrepreneurship, the Chief Executive Officer is much closer to the ground. It takes a certain, very specific skill set to make the kind of CEO that’s capable of leading a small business to big things.

Being CEO is different from being a manager or a team leader. It requires a completely different temperament, and well-honed abilities that are as creative as they are technical. It’s not for everyone. That’s why it’s important to identify exactly what it takes to do the job.

While great CEOs are a wildly diverse group with a range of talents and personality traits, there are a few common factors that most of them share. These four traits are are the ones found in everyone from Oprah to your local craft brewing company head, and they’re the main ingredients in the recipe for success in the position:

1. Broad thinking

CEO’s aren’t just big picture people. They’re huge picture people. They’re mural people, ceiling-of-the-Sistine-chapel people. The first quality that anyone with the highest authority in a business must have is an ability to recognize and pursue the overarching, all-encompassing vision that defines the overall mission of the company.

It’s easier described than done. To be able to keep a business functioning and profitable is one thing, but to be able to keep it directed towards a certain idea or principle is another. It’s not just driving; it’s navigating. It’s being able to keep one’s eyes trained on something that can’t be seen, on goals that have yet to be realized, while still maintaining a grasp on the present reality.

It can mean making decisions that seem painful in the short term, for the long term’s sake. It means looking beyond the day, the week, the quarter, or the year, keeping and correcting course in ways that everyone else in the business relies on the CEO to recognize. It means thinking and imagining well outside the normal parameters of business, into the realm of principle and belief, and somehow anchoring the facts of the business to that.

It takes a dreamer’s imagination, and a business person’s skepticism.

2. Leadership

By example, that is. The second trait that truly great CEOs share is the one that most inspires employees to give their best. Leadership in this sense isn’t just the ability to make tough decisions or the confidence required to give orders. It’s the ability to make employees feel as though they owe their best work to the company on principle, out of respect for the work the boss is doing.

Great CEOs never let the walk reflect anything less than the talk. They don’t simply demand transparency, they are transparent. They don’t insist on hard work, they work hard. They don’t assume they’re owed respect, they offer it to others. Above all, the great CEO issues a moral challenge to his employees- to give as much to the collective effort as the leader does.

3. Respect for personal limitations

Successful CEOs have to be exceptional at certain things. They have to be exceptionally creative. They have to be exceptionally driven. They have to be exceptionally self-confident. But what’s truly exceptional about the great CEO is that despite those exceptions, they are exceptionally comfortable with not being exceptional in every area.

The CEO does not and cannot have all the skills, nor all the answers. Identifying and enlisting the best people to do the things the CEO can’t is as vital as any other responsibility. Their ability to surrender their judgment to trustworthy, competent people is as much a sign of leadership as their ability to command.

Take the example of Dave Ramsey, whose personal finance lessons have made him one of the nation’s most sought-after speakers and teachers. Ramsey knows money. What he doesn’t know is tech. Fortunately, he knows he doesn’t know it, and he’s smart enough to dedicate himself to finding people who do. So dedicated, in fact, that he offers a $2,000 referral fee for anyone who brings him a programmer worth hiring. Putting that kind of value on the expertise he’s admittedly missing is the definition of competence in a leader.

4. Communication

No one can truly lead without great communication skills. This is mainly because the hardest people to motivate are people who don’t understand what they’re working for (aside from their pay). A great CEO has to be able to communicate the company’s vision to employees in a way that helps them understand the greater context of their work, and makes them want to pitch in.

Not only that, but CEOs also need to communicate their vision to the customers and the general public. This requires an ability to not only envision and articulate the big picture, but to boil it down and make it digestible to others. It requires not just skill with language, but an economy of language that expresses ideas in as few words as possible. It means being able to listen to what people are saying, and to fill in the gaps in people’s understanding.

These four qualities are not something that come pre-programmed into any great CEO. Rather, they are earned qualities, built inside of a person over hours, months, and years of trying, failing, experimenting, and succeeding. It’s a lifelong process. A fantastic CEO isn’t simply the result of a recipe made from the ingredients listed here. He or she is the sum total of a long journey to a place that few have reached.

Entrepreneurship Uncategorized

The 10 Commandments of Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. The challenges are so different from those of a standard-issue job that many budding entrepreneurs can fall into traps they’d never anticipated. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this long enough to have seen (and made) many of the common mistakes that make independent business harder than it has to be.

Some mistakes are minor and inevitable, but some are such deadly missteps that they can derail your entire dream. Avoid these crucial errors in order to stay on the path you’ve chosen- your own.

1. Thou Shalt Not Overanalyze

It’s always great to look before you leap, and preparation is one of the keys to success. However, if you suffer from the kind of pre-planning perfectionism that stops you from making moves, that’s not caution. That’s Analysis Paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis freezes a business in place for the sake of seeking a level of control that no one can ever actually achieve. Business is risky! Accepting that with calm determination might be the most important act of preparation you can make.

Trust in the twin truths of your passion and your expertise, and move forward. Try things, and if they don’t work out, try something else. Don’t fall under the illusion that you can control all outcomes by laying the groundwork perfectly; you can’t. Explore, improvise, and don’t be afraid of setbacks. Set deadlines by which you have to act, regardless of the preparation, and stick to them. Even when something could have been better planned, it’s more important to overcome the fear of moving than it is to move perfectly every time.

2. Thou Shalt Not Think in the Short Term (Only)

Short term success may be gratifying, but it can also be intoxicating. It can make you forget the overall, long-term mission of your business. What’s the most important thing you’re trying to achieve? The answer to that question has to keep its place in the forefront of your mind.

While a good day, week, month or even year is worth celebrating, never forget the ultimate goal. What do you want for and from your business in 5 years? In 10? In 20? Entrepreneurship is a long game, a lifetime commitment. The sum total of your work is what will ultimately matter most, so be clear in your long-term intentions, and be guided by them above all.

3. Thou Shalt Not Do it All

You can’t do everything. Many have tried, and all have failed. While the independence of entrepreneurship is part of the allure, no man or woman is an island. Trying to maintain control over every aspect of your business is a fool’s errand, and detracts from the basic principle of entrepreneurship: turning your individual talent and passion into an enterprise.
That means learning the most important skill a leader can ever have: delegation. Find the people who can do everything other than what you decided to make a career out of doing, and let them do it. The time and energy you waste on things outside of your wheelhouse is better devoted to perfecting your own skill, your own art, your own vision.

4. Thou Shalt Not Be A Perfectionist

Nothing, and nobody, is perfect. The illusion of perfection can be a great tool for motivation, but it can also be paralyzing and self-defeating. While every entrepreneur should strive for their best, there are times when getting something done is preferable to getting it done more perfectly.

Have high professional standards. Seek improvement and development at every turn. Chase perfection as if it’s attainable, even though it’s not. The cumulative results of that effort over the course of your career will bear incredible fruit- but don’t hold your business back by insisting on unrealistic expectations.

5. Thou Shalt not Fear Failure

Business is the art of risk. Entrepreneurship is the fullest expression of that risk, since it’s done without the backing of the established powers that be. That’s what you signed up for. That’s why it’s so much more rewarding than working for someone else. The risk is yours, but so is the payoff, including the freedom of forging your own path.

However, it’s going to mean failure. Failure will lurk around every corner, and rustle every hedge you pass. You’ll fail often, mostly in small ways, but always in ways that will teach you something. Poster-child for entrepreneurial success Robert Kiyosaki urges his students to “fail fast;” the more quickly you fail, the more quickly that failure will breed success.

Don’t fear failure. Get comfortable with it. Make failure your friend, your constant companion, and you’ll discover how superb a teacher it really is.

6. Thou Shalt Not Be Anyone Other Than Thyself

Posing is a guarantee of entrepreneurial disaster (unless the field you’ve chosen is modeling, of course). Taking on a persona or fabricating a voice is not branding or image-building; it’s lying. Who you are and what drives you is your greatest asset, not something to be disguised. Entrepreneurship works based on the unique approach of an individual, not an archetype or a character.

Be yourself. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Especially if your business is based on your expertise, don’t be afraid to share your journey of improvement, development and learning. That kind of honesty separates the entrepreneurs from the scammers, and builds the trust that creates real consumer loyalty.

7. Thou Shalt Not Measure Thyself by the Success of Others

Measuring yourself by someone else’s metrics is a self-defeating strategy. There will always be someone more successful- if you choose to define that in terms of sales, income, or notoriety.

The only scale by which an entrepreneur should measure their success is the one that they create for themselves. Am I on the path to fulfilling my long-term goals? Have I improved since last quarter? Am I living with the freedom, determination, and creativity that made entrepreneurship attractive in the first place? Am I enjoying this?

Ultimately, you’re your only competition. If you focus on that, you’ll find that the ups and downs of others aren’t nearly as relevant as they seem.

8. Thou Shalt Not Move the Goal Posts

Setting goals, even short-term ones, is important. Overall goals, sub-goals, even daily goals are healthy metrics by which to keep your business on track. However, one unhealthy temptation to which some (especially very driven) entrepreneurs succumb is to change those goals before they’ve been reached.

If you see that your business is on track to hit a certain milestone, don’t retroactively decide that you’re shooting for a different one. Hit your goal, enjoy the success, and then establish new, more challenging ones. By not allowing yourself to acknowledge an accomplishment, you can damage morale. Worse, goals become negotiable instead of being reliable guideposts.

9. Thou Shalt Not Confuse This With a “Job”

It’s crucial to understand the basic difference between entrepreneurship and a “job” in the traditional sense. They are two very different animals, with two very different requirements.

A job is something you do for someone else. It’s something to which you contribute, and that contribution is well-defined and (more importantly) limited. You do your job, and then you go home. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. It’s the commitment of an entire individual to a goal, and there is no clock on which to punch in or out.

It means that the line separating your work from your life is a fuzzier one, if it exists at all. It’s not something you do; it’s something you are, all the time. Balancing your work/life responsibilities is a trickier and more subtle art for the entrepreneur. Friends and family have to understand this, and be willing to accommodate and support the extra responsibility.

It’s not better or worse, but it is different. Those who choose to create their own careers, to shape their professional lives independently and free themselves from the dictates of an employer have to do so with an awareness of the implications.

10. Thou Shalt not be a Lone Ranger

With all the independence entrepreneurship offers, one can be tempted to think that it’s a one-person enterprise. It never is. Entrepreneurship isn’t about flying solo, it’s about choosing your own path. Even on a path of your own making, you’ll need help and support.

Independence doesn’t mean independence from others. It means independence from the dictates of others. It means finding the people with whom you can go your own way. I tried to go it alone, before finding my partner Nicole and the other members of the team we’ve put together to build our independent living.

That was the idea behind the $100 MBA- to offer guidance to other independent business people, so that we could all reap the benefits. Collaborative support between entrepreneurs might seem less like independence, but it’s at the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit. With focus, honesty, and a little help, anyone can carve out the future they desire for themselves.


8 Ways to Innovate in Your Business

Innovation is a necessity.

Businesses last in the long term by refreshing, evolving, and growing. Too often, success is thought of as a mountain with a top to reach, rather than as a lifelong process of refinement and improvement. This way of thinking is dangerous, as it can turn success into stagnation. Your business may reach the mountaintop, but where does it go from there?

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I’d argue the opposite: a given approach may work well and yield great results, but it’s unlikely to do so forever in a constantly changing business environment. With the point of diminishing returns always over the horizon, it’s important to maintain a permanent commitment to creativity.

Manifesting innovation isn’t always easy. Fortunately, there are several resources that any business person can draw inspiration from. To keep your operation from growing stagnant, look to these tried and true methods.

Innovate an innovation. The idea that breathes new life into your business doesn’t have to come from you; it might just need to be discovered by you. By keeping track of new approaches and innovations in other businesses, you may find that what works elsewhere can be modified to serve your operation.

Take Henry Ford. Historically, he’s credited with revolutionizing the auto industry by using factory-line assembly techniques to make cars affordable. However, Americans today wouldn’t know Ford from any other Gilded Age startup if not for Swift & Company, whose conveyor-driven “disassembly lines” could turn a freshly slaughtered steer into market-ready packaged meat in record time.

Ford didn’t create the concept, he repurposed a meat-packer’s innovation by putting car parts on it and running it backwards. Here at Business Republic, we drew inspiration from Radiolingua, a company that sought to make language education more accessible through short podcasts. As it turned out, business education could’ve used a little democratization too, hence the $100 MBA Show. By being creative enough to mold existing innovation to your purposes, you can identify game changers that already exist.

Ask the customers. Your customers know the most about what they want, so solicit their advice. Some feedback may be predictable- requests for lower prices or faster service, for example. Others may surprise you, like requests for new features or personalization that you wouldn’t have considered had you not asked.

Don’t fear complaints. Customers should feel comfortable telling you what they don’t like, because their dissatisfaction could be the key to your innovation. Let customers know that their feedback, positive and negative, is valuable- because it is. Create contests where feedback can be rewarded with prizes, like the free memberships users who leave reviews on iTunes can win from the $100 MBA. It’s a wise investment.

Don’t ask the customers. Just listen to them. Sometimes, asking the customers directly works. Other times, it’s better to learn from them in a more subtle way. Simply studying your customers can reveal an opportunity for innovation that even they might not think to ask for.

Levi Strauss didn’t ask customers if they wanted holes in their jeans. They simply noticed that people were taking scissors to their denim and reacted accordingly, launching the “distressed” trend. Heinz noticed the cultural running gag about the difficulty of getting their product out of the bottle, and designed an upside-down one.

Sometimes, all it takes is open eyes and ears- even easier today given blogs, chat forums, and social media in which customers discuss their experiences with each other. Sit back and listen, and your next great innovation may be overheard rather than suggested.

Ask your team. Everyone likes to have input, but often employees are afraid to offer too much of it. Make sure everyone on your team feels comfortable offering suggestions for improvements and innovations. In their day-to-day work, they may see trends and opportunities that you can’t.

If employees are afraid of overstepping their boundaries, they may stay quiet. Be sure to encourage creativity and actively solicit ideas. Otherwise, someone may keep a great one to themselves, at your business’s expense.

Collaborate. Reach out to other companies in your field, or in related fields, to find new approaches or co-create new products. If another business with a similar philosophy can complement your business with a different skill set, it only makes sense to team up.

For example, the increasingly popular Smart car is a result of the union between a major auto manufacturer and a watchmaker. Fuel efficient eco-statements are all the rage, but making things that are tiny and economical was never Mercedes Benz’s forte. Finally, they turned to Swatch.

With their help, Benz designed the adorable quasi-cars currently filling Whole Foods parking lots nationwide. If you’re willing to see what other companies can do for you (and what you can do for them), the results can be groundbreaking.

Watch the competition. It’s important to follow your competitors with a critical eye. Learn from what they do right, and wrong. In a crowded field, there’s always a way to stand out, provided you can identify gaps in the service being offered to the consumer base.

Case in point: there were plenty of video rental stores, and trying to open a new one anywhere within sniffing distance of a Blockbuster would’ve been financial suicide in the early 21st century. Then the good people at Netflix realized something critical: people hate driving to video stores.

Now a quickly-buffering stream of Orange is the New Black echoes through the vacant lots where Blockbusters once stood. That’s not to say destroying competition is the goal. The goal is simply to find opportunities to serve customers that the competition overlooks.

Change the delivery. Sometimes, a major change to the product itself isn’t necessary if you can change the way customers access it. Allowing new trial periods, offering complementary products in a package, or bundling services are all ways to deliver the same things in innovative ways.

Recently, online “subscription box” companies like and Naturebox have been selling everything from shaving accessories to clothing to meal plans as part of monthly membership packages. Rather than trying to sell products one at a time, they simply sell their good reputations and do the shopping for the customer. The key is to find new ways to get the product to them, rather than trying to bring them to the product.

Look to the past. Marketing trends don’t just come and go; they cycle. Sometimes those cycles are long enough for great marketing innovations to have been forgotten, just waiting for a forward (or in this case, backward) thinking entrepreneur to revive them for a new generation.

The recent boom in monthly subscription sites is nothing more than a 21st century retooling of the “of the month” clubs that have been honing in on niche markets for generations. Speed dating services and matchmaking sites are arguably just modern iterations of the Victorian dance cards that first allowed quick and efficient skimming of romantic prospects. Sometimes the best way to change things up is to change things back.

Innovation takes creativity, open-mindedness, and courage. It’s not easy, and it can be especially challenging for entrepreneurs with narrow profit margins or small business trying to grow their way out of tough times. It is, however, critical. Commit your business to a standing policy of innovation. Schedule time for brainstorming sessions and broad strategy meetings to encourage fresh ideas. Challenging yourself this way will keep you sharp, and keep your business moving forward.


How To Sell An eBook

For many entrepreneurs, the question of how to get started is the first major challenge of their self-made careers. You have an area of expertise; a skill, an ability, but how do you monetize it? How can someone take what they know and turn it into a steady living as an independent businessperson?

The first step I’d recommend is to create and sell an eBook in your area of expertise. eBooks are the ideal first step in launching an independent enterprise, because they are low-risk, low-cost ways to start selling what you have to offer. Freed from the whims of paper book publishers, anyone who wants to has the ability to sell a book online. What better way to introduce yourself to the market?

Not only can eBooks be the perfect beginning to a new career, they are profitable in and of themselves. There is money to be made selling eBooks, especially specific niche and technical books that offer instruction or education on a given topic.

Take the example of Bret Kelly, a self-taught expert in using the archiving app Evernote. Kelly didn’t work for Evernote; he just loved the endlessly applicable features of the service. He used it so much, in fact, that he thought it would be useful- and valuable- to publish a guide on how best to utilize it. His eBook Evernote Essentials sold thousands of copies. Not only did he profit wildly from the book itself, Evernote eventually offered him a position.

What’s the lesson? Kelly had an interest, and an area of very specific and useful expertise. He published an eBook (a relatively easy, inexpensive enterprise), and consumers ate it up. The industry in which he was interested took notice, and rewarded him even further for his initiative.

Big Publisher or Solo Marketing?

Writing the eBook is the easy part. Once you’ve committed your expertise to pdf (or iBook Author for Mac users), the next step is deciding exactly how to get it out to the consumer base you’ve written it for. There are essentially two ways to market your eBook: on your own, or with the help of a bigger eBook marketing operation like Amazon. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks.

With Amazon, you have the benefit of their vast reach and sheer promotional presence online. Amazon as a virtual storefront has millions of people passing by every single day, so having your book in the window is a plus. They are the juggernaut of internet publishing, and their infrastructure can handle everything you’ll need done short of actually writing the book for you, including virtual delivery and payment collection.

The drawback is that Amazon takes a hefty cut of your profits in exchange for their services. As to exactly how hefty, the answer to that is as complicated as Amazon’s pricing structure is convoluted. Depending on the format of your book, its price, the direction of the wind and the alignment of the planets, an author can lose anywhere from 30 to 65 percent of their sales revenue. Amazon does all the legwork, but it comes at a substantial (and difficult to estimate) cost.

The other drawback to publishing with a large operation like Amazon is exactly that: it’s large. Too large, in fact, for many authors to stand out in. Amazon’s virtual window is the biggest window in the biggest storefront in the publishing world, and it holds a LOT of books, potentially including books in your subject area. You’ll have to do your own promotional activity outside of Amazon in order to bring consumers to your small corner of that window. As a result of this extremely crowded marketplace, prices are extremely low; to stay competitive, authors have to sell for as little as a dollar or less.

Given these factors, I recommend publishing and selling your eBook on your own. The process of doing so is less daunting than many assume, and a healthy entrepreneurial spirit is what drives the project in the first place. Even with the help of an operation like Amazon (which you can still use concurrently with your own publishing and promotional scheme if you choose), at the end of the day, you’re the one that’s going to have to sell this eBook.

From my viewpoint, it makes more sense to do so without sharing the revenue!

Marketing Your eBook

To market your eBook on your own, you’ll need a sales website. Depending on your skill set, you may be able to use your own site, provided you can design an effective sales page. For those who aren’t coders or experts in sales-page specifics, there is Leadpages. Leadpages designs landing pages for sales projects like eBooks, and while the cost of their service is significant, the ease with which you can build a high-functioning sales page may be well worth it.

You’ll also need a digital collections and delivery system. For help with that, there’s Gumroad, a digital payment processor that’s particularly good for eBook sales. For 5% of each sale and 29 cents per transaction, Gumroad can handle all transactions and deliveries securely and easily. Not only does Gumroad not charge unless you make a sale, it also comes with an attractive html overlay that won’t interfere with the aesthetics of your site.

Monetizing Your Expertise

Once you have an attractive and dynamic site, promote sales by employing a tried and true strategy as old as business itself: the free sample. Offer a free chapter or other excerpt to your site’s visitors. The key is to offer something of value that will showcase the expertise that makes the whole book worth paying for. Most importantly, require an email opt-in from the visitor in exchange for this sample, and be sure to follow up with promotional emails.

Another strategy for maximizing sales revenue from your eBook is to use tiered pricing. The beauty of digital products is that they can be “packaged” in infinitely variable ways. Nathan Barry, eBook publishing expert and author of Authority, the definitive guide to niche and technical eBook publishing, developed a three-tier price structure. The lowest price point includes only the eBook itself, while midrange and top tiers include extras like interviews, video tutorials and graphic guides.

The attraction of the tiered system is that it not only generates more sales generally, it increases profits exponentially. As a matter of basic sales psychology, consumers are generally more inclined to make a purchase when more choices are presented, rather than simply responding to a “yes” or “no” proposition.

On top of that, technical and how-to eBooks are considered valuable tools for professional development- which means the customer buying it is likely doing so using a company account, making him or her more likely to spring for the upper tiers. While a quality eBook alone can be sold for anywhere between $12 and $30, a top-tier package can be sold for over $100, well worth it to a company who sees it as an investment in their employees.

Finally, offer a money back guarantee with your product. Some shy away from offering the money back guarantee for fear that it will be abused, but statistically returns are actually pretty rare. For consumers, the sea of conflicting information (and empty  promises) the Internet offers can be frustrating. A guarantee, along with an impressive free sample, makes them comfortable enough to commit to the purchase. As long as your product is up to snuff, a guarantee is a promise, not a liability.

Writing and marketing an eBook is the perfect first step for a budding entrepreneur willing to make their way into 21st century business. They’re low-risk, low-cost, and they provide the opportunity to articulate and showcase the expertise and passion at the heart of your aspirations. The sale of your eBook will be the first time you exchange the value of that expertise and passion for money. That makes it your introduction to the marketplace, and to the future you hope to build.


How to Find the Right Business Partner

Starting a business is always daunting. The courage, skills and adaptability necessary to invest in your dreams is considerable. One way to make the experience more manageable, more enjoyable, and more likely to succeed is by finding a good business partner to help shoulder the challenges you’ll inevitably face. Finding the right person, with the right skill set, and with whom you have the right dynamic can multiply your business’s ability to succeed and grow.

A good business partner is like a teammate, a spouse, and a battle comrade rolled into one. Like any of those partnerships, a business partnership has to be carefully considered, and committed to fully. That’s why it’s vital to identify the right partner: one who will share your vision, complement your strengths, and be there through thick and thin.

Do You Need a Partner?

The first question that needs asking is whether or not having a partner is right for you and your business. Depending on the type, size and scope of your venture, a partner may be redundant, or even a liability. In deciding whether to seek a partner, two areas of concern need to be addressed: one business, and one personal.

On the business side, the solo entrepreneur simply has to determine whether a partner would facilitate growth and help the business run more smoothly. Does your business have a need that could be better met by someone other than yourself? Are you creative, but lack marketing skills? Are you a great marketer, but lack design capabilities? It all comes down to the needs of your business, and your own strengths and weaknesses.

Also, the size of your business and its current stage of development can be the difference. Many entrepreneurs start off alone, refining their product and learning as they go. With initial success, perhaps the business grows. That’s a good thing, until it grows beyond one person’s capacity to manage. Ask yourself if the cost of having a partner share in the rewards is worth the projected increase in those rewards.

On the personal level, it’s important to ask yourself if you would enjoy working with a partner. It’s tempting to think of business as a matter of cold calculation, and assume that major decisions are subject only to the whims of the bottom line. However, a small business runs above all on passion, and passion can be quickly dampened by a bad interpersonal dynamic.

Remember, choosing a business partner means starting a relationship- a human relationship that can either add or detract from the desire that motivated you in the first place.

Finding the Right Partner

Once you’ve decided that adding a partner is the best move, the real challenge begins. Where does one find the ideal business partner? Unfortunately, there’s no Partner Store where an entrepreneur can browse shelves of candidates.

Ironically, finding a partner actually starts well before you’ve decided to have one. The most crucial factor in finding your ideal companion is building your professional network. In business, you can predict with reasonable accuracy what you’ll need, but it’s almost impossible to know who will turn out to be a key figure for you. Someone you met and exchanged business cards with at a conference a year before may turn out to be the one. With a strong network in place, the partner you’re looking for is likely to already be someone in your circle.

Once the candidates have been established, there are a few key things to look for when narrowing the field. First and foremost, a potential partner must share your vision. When discussing the possibility of a partnership with a candidate, find out exactly what their goals and aspirations are. Do they align with your mission statement? The most qualified, amiable partner in the world will be nothing but a source of conflict if he or she doesn’t share your endgame.

Equally important is the personal connection. It may sound a little Hollywood, but partners have to have chemistry. This requirement is too often overlooked. In business, it’s often assumed that people don’t have to be friends or even get along in order to work together effectively. In some cases that’s true, especially across different levels of business or between rarely intersecting departments. A partner, though, is another matter.

At the partnership level, especially in a small business, the relationship is far too intimate for antagonists to function effectively. Coworkers and colleagues may have to work together, even through personal differences, but partners need to do more than that. Partners need to depend on each other, and be mutually supportive. When disagreements arise between partners (which is natural and acceptable), there may not be a chain of command to grant the final authority to one or the other; that means that partners, as equals, have to esteem each other enough personally to find a solution.

To put it bluntly, there’s nothing unprofessional about choosing a partner you like. In fact, it’s crucial.

Balancing Skills

Another requirement for a good partner is a complementary skill set. Two partners with the same exact areas of expertise and abilities are not a team; they’re redundant. No one would want to watch Miami Vice if Crockett tooled around Miami with…Crockett. The concentration of pastels alone would have ensured the supremacy of the drug cartels. As an entrepreneur, you’ll need to find your Tubbs, whose muted palette and easy humor will take your business to places you couldn’t take it alone.

Here at Business Republic, for example, my partner Nicole and I occupy different spheres of our operation. While my business expertise provides the analytical and sales aspects, Nicole as production manager employs her creative expertise to make it all smooth and presentable. Neither of us can do what the other does (or not remotely as well), and that’s how our partnership produces the best overall product. Before seeking a partner, identify exactly what your business needs that you’re not the best person to provide. Then, find the person who is.

Once you’ve identified a potential partner who shares your vision, brings a needed set of skills to the table, and with whom you get along, it’s time for the final phase: the trial run. Choose a single project or temporary period in which you and the candidate can test your dynamic. Try to engage in something that will test a wide range of scenarios, and see how you jell.

Sharing the Spoils

When it comes time to decide how partners will share in the profits, different businesses and different types of partnerships will seek different arrangements. Overall, the guiding philosophy should be that both partners feel respected, and that their work is valued. Codependency means co-profiting, and any partnership in which one partner seeks to get the most for themselves rather than seeking to be equitable is beginning badly.

Honor your partner’s contribution, and be very clear about the terms before the partnership is made official. Make sure that each partner’s role is clearly defined, and that each is secure in the knowledge that their contribution is valued appropriately. Make clear the fact that lines of communication will always be open, and that alternative views will always be welcome and honestly considered.

Multiple Partners

Running a business with multiple partners creates more variables. If your business reaches a point where yet another partner or partners are required, make sure that that decision is also one in which existing partners have a say. The decision to add a partner, and the decision as to which candidate is best, should be team decisions if all partners are expected to work together fruitfully.

When assembling a team of more than two, this is a delicate process. If any parties on the partnership level feel as though their input was either not solicited or ignored, resentments will be sown. The most dangerous situation for a business run by a team of partners is one in which Survivor– style alliances or camps are formed, fueling conflicts and breeding animosity. Always remember to assemble your team as a team.

Having a partner should be a great experience, one that enhances both the success of your business and the joy you experience in running it. At the end of the day, we humans are social creatures who survive and thrive on our interdependence. In business as in life, it’s rarely a bad idea to share the challenges and the rewards.


How to Defeat Distractions

Focus is the root of success. Anything that robs you of focus is literally robbing your business! That’s why it’s vital to defeat the many-headed Hydra that is distraction. Distraction is the ever-present threat that lurks around every corner and plagues every businessperson, especially entrepreneurs.

The advantage of entrepreneurship is the freedom that comes with being your own boss. Unfortunately, that freedom is also the freedom to divide your attention. This is true for everyone, no matter how skilled one is, or how desirable a product one sells. Distraction comes for us all.

They may not seem it, but distractions are a bigger business killer than many realize. If time is money, distractions are thieves, stealing small amounts of valuable time little by little. Those mini-robberies add up, often to a legitimate damage to productivity. While there are plenty of productivity hacks and efficiency strategies out there, none can compensate for a failure to guard against the insidious distractions that are always ready to eat away at your bottom line.

The bad news is that they never end. There is no finite supply of distractions to exhaust, only an endless stream of reasons- many of which seem perfectly legitimate- to stop doing what needs to be done. In fact, the most common distractions don’t seem like distractions at all (more on that below). The good news is that by employing a few tried and true techniques, distraction can be recognized and defeated. By implementing a simple protocol of focus, you can eliminate the power of distraction to undermine your business.

Defining Distraction 

Distractions come in many forms. The obvious distractions are fun: social distractions, games, entertainment; anything that you know shouldn’t intrude into work time. But these are not the only distractions. The really insidious distractions, the sneakiest time thieves, are the work-related ones.

Multitasking became a buzzword several years ago, and the concept has been plaguing the business world ever since. While it’s tempting to see multitasking as the mark of a truly dynamic professional, the fact of the matter is that multitasking often means doing several things poorly instead of one thing well. Spinning all those plates may seem like diligence, but it can be negligence. What looks like productivity can be extremely counterproductive when it detracts from the quality of the work in favor of the quantity.

To defeat distraction, you have to recognize it for what it is. A distraction is anything- anything – that takes you away from the Task at Hand. That’s “Task,” as in singular. Even something that’s work-related is a distraction if it detracts from another business task. When so many aspects of your business need attention, focusing on each one individually is the the best way to handle them all.

Scheduling Against Distraction

How does a businessperson keep distractions at bay, including the insidious work-related ones? The answer is time management. The competent entrepreneur has to identify the tasks that need to be done, prioritize them wisely, and decide on a reasonable time allotment for each. Once that’s done, each task can then be addressed individually. Each task must, in its own inviolable allotment, be the Task at Hand.

Once the schedule for each task is established, it’s simply a matter of temporarily closing the door to everything but the task in front of you. Distractions are like vampires; they can only enter when invited. That’s why it’s important to eliminate the possibility of distraction before you begin working on each task.

We like to call this “cutting off the pretext” for distraction- closing the office door, turning off the radio, silencing the phone – in other words, preemptively striking out against distractions before they happen. By creating a secure workspace, you can make sure that no distraction has the chance to derail your focus.

Internet and Distraction

One of the most important ways of cutting off the pretext is also the most challenging for today’s entrepreneur: going offline. In the age of instant communication, update, and web-powered business, detaching yourself from the grid may seem ludicrous or antithetical to modern business. However, strengths are often weaknesses, and the Internet that makes so many of our businesses possible can also be our greatest distraction from it.

For example, when writing a report, article or blog post, it’s vital to go offline. You may think otherwise, given that quick online references make writing and fact-checking so instantaneous, but that’s just the demon of distraction at its most diabolical. A better method is to write the entirety of your piece without stopping and leave notes to yourself: “hyperlink here,” “confirm statistic,” “synonym?”

It’s tempting to address those needs while writing, but in going online, you’re only re-inviting the pretext for distraction. You may log on to copy a link, and an hour later find yourself having answered 3 emails, updated your business’s Twitter account, and looked over stock reports- all without finishing the Task at Hand.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t answer your emails, update Twitter, or look over the stock reports; all of these things may be relevant and vital to your success. The key is to do those things in their own allotted time, when it’s their turn. By setting aside time for social media work, emails, and other tasks, you allow yourself to do the best, most focused work on blog posts, accounting, or even meetings.

Keeping Groups Focused

The same principle of cutting off the pretext applies to group endeavours. When you and your colleagues are in a meeting or other collaborative exercise, it is the Task at Hand. That means that unless it’s absolutely necessary to the goal of a meeting, there shouldn’t be a laptop, phone, or any other device that establishes a pretext for distraction. This may seem counterintuitive, especially to your employees, but what looks like dynamic utilization of technology may in fact be a detriment to the goals of the meeting.

It may be low-tech, but limiting yourself, your partners and your employees to a simple pad and pen can result in far greater productivity than that which results from a group of half-attentive people sharing each other’s time with their iPhones. When colleagues take the time to truly listen to each other, the results can be surprising.

The Rewards of Eliminating Distraction

Getting serious about eliminating distraction (and giving up the false triumph of multitasking) is well worth the effort. Entrepreneurs who “singletask” find that the improved quality of their work is a game changer. Best of all, focusing on one task at a time doesn’t cost you anything. As long as everything that needs to be done has its own time in the budget, the amount of work you complete will stay consistent- but the value of it will increase.

In addition to the business benefits, defeating distraction results in undeniable personal benefits. The psychological effects of calmly focusing on one task at a time, completing them in succession, and doing so without the feeling of being pulled in a dozen different directions can’t be overstated. Try it, and note the reduction in stress. A happy businessperson is a productive one.

Once you implement a time-management strategy that allows you to give each task the attention it deserves, you will find yourself more productive, more dynamic, and more successful than any amount of multitasking could have made you. This doesn’t mean being overly strict with yourself or having a strictly regimented schedule. Feel free to experiment with different daily schedules, and adjust them when a given task requires more or less of your time. In doing so, you may even discover hidden truths about your business’s priorities and efficiency model that lead to improvements you never expected.


How To Fire Someone

Fired. It’s an ugly word. It conjures painful images of bowed men and women clearing desks into cardboard boxes and trudging away into the future’s uncertainty. Firing is a reality of business, as immutable as a law of nature. Employers have to recognize that unfortunately, for the sake of the whole enterprise, sometimes a part that isn’t functioning needs to be cut. That’s why they call it “severance.”

Just because it’s an ugly word, however, firing doesn’t have to be an ugly process. Because it’s a reality of business, it’s a professional’s responsibility to do the deed with a certain level of grace. With the right tactics (and the right tact), firing can be done in a way that is as humane and compassionate as it is necessary for the survival of your business. It can be done kindly, allowing both yourself and the person you’re firing to move forward with dignity and optimism.

Preparing the Ground

The first rule of firing someone is that it shouldn’t be done until it has to be. Letting someone go should be an absolute last resort, both from a humane perspective and a financial one. The cost of firing and replacing someone can be more than many an entrepreneur realizes. Between the cost of severance and the cost and time required to find, sign and train someone else, firing an employee is also a blow to the employer. If it can be avoided by successfully addressing the employee’s shortcomings, that’s the best course of action.

It’s rarely appropriate to fire someone suddenly. A firing that comes as a surprise to the employee is automatically a sign that the employer has failed in their due diligence. Unless something very egregious (illegal activity, harassment, etc.) has occurred, a dismissal should be the culmination of a process of evaluation, attempted remediation, and clear communication from the employer about the employee’s shortcomings.

Like a prosecutor building a case, you’ll have to carefully document and organize valid evidence to support the claim that an employee is a detriment to the business. No one should be fired on a whim- not only can this constitute unlawful termination, it may actually constitute a poor decision, having not been properly thought out.

Instead, your business should have in place an evaluative process that begins on every employee’s first day. There needs to be a way to keep track of each employee’s progress (or lack thereof) through regular checks on productivity, sales, or other appropriate metrics. This way, when someone needs to be fired, it can be clear that it’s for an objective set of reasons, backed up by objective data.

A good employer takes the time to regularly measure progress against expectations in a way that’s collaborative and mutually beneficial, rather than just hoping the employee will do well and kicking them to the curb when they don’t. Here at Business Republic, for example, we have a quarterly meeting with members of staff for exactly this purpose. Every three months, we sit down with each employee to assess their achievements and address anything that might be subpar. These meetings are not negative or punitive, and include positive feedback.

Not only should there be formalized evaluative sit-downs, there should also be less formal check-ins, always with the goal of maintaining a running evaluation. These interstitial checks can be done electronically, through Google Drive or email, as long as they fulfill the need to fairly measure employee performance- both laudable and poor.

The overall goal is to avoid arbitrariness, both in fact and appearance. To fire someone for no reason (or for reasons that aren’t clear to the person being fired) is at best sloppy and at worst despotic. It’s a sign of the kind of unprofessionalism that is virtually guaranteed to do serious damage in the long run, creating a culture of wariness and defensiveness that makes a team effort impossible.

By consistently reaching out to employees, an employer not only ensures that dismissals are warranted, but creates the opportunity to avoid them by encouraging desirable habits and finding solutions to problems.

The Firing Process

When an employee fails to meet expectations, that failure needs to be tracked, documented, discussed and investigated before the final dismissal. What constitutes demonstrable failure will vary depending on the type of business, so it’s important to have clear expectations against which employees can be measured in a fair and consistent way.

When you notice a consistent problem, first operate under the assumption that the employee in question is unaware of their mistakes. Meet with the employee, identify the problem, and agree on a firm and specific correction plan. Included in the correction plan should be exactly what’s expected to change, and specific consequences for continued failure. This way, the employee is given a reasonable opportunity to shape up before being shipped out.

Documentation is key to this process. As long as there is a clear record indicating that demonstrable failure occurred, that the failure was addressed to the employee by the employer, that a plan to correct the underlying problem was implemented, and that the employee failed to hold up their end of that agreement, the employer is unimpeachable. With a proper paper (or electronic) trail, it will always be clear that while firing someone is your responsibility, it isn’t your choice.

Lastly, the process of replacing the employee should begin as early as possible. Ideally, you should hire someone well before the final dismissal, so that the replacement can move seamlessly into the departed’s role. A temporary overlap is preferable to scrambling to train and acclimate a new hire in a short period.

The Final Act

The final dismissal should be done with the seriousness that the occasion warrants. It should be done privately, and it should be done in person. By this point, the decision has long been made, the justifications are clear and well documented, and all that’s left to do is make it official.

In your final meeting with the employee, explain clearly and honestly why they’re being let go. There’s no point in trying to sugarcoat or deflect the truth. In fact, anything less than the absolute truth is a disservice- to you, because the firing must be justified, and to the employee, who deserves the opportunity not to repeat the same mistakes in the next phase of their career.

Confirm with the employee the severance details that were agreed on upon hiring, and honor that agreement. Make it clear that this decision is a strictly professional, not personal, one. Explain to them exactly what made them a poor fit for your business, with the implication that they may be perfectly suited to succeed elsewhere.

Be polite and respectful, but don’t allow the employee to engage you in any argument or debate on the matter. Shake their hand, and wish them well. Afterward, send a follow-up email. Thank your former employee for their time, reiterate your well wishes, and offer a letter of employment (Different from a letter of recommendation, it simply states that the employee worked for you, which can be valuable or even necessary for some application processes).

Business, like life, has its ups and downs. Even the best business people occasionally face periods of poor sales, projects that don’t work out, and – yes- regrettable hires. Use this opportunity to reflect on why this particular employee didn’t work out, and use what you learn to make more precise personnel choices in the future.

Done correctly, a firing can be as much an opportunity as a crisis, for both parties.The way you let someone go can be the be the difference between their future success and their continued failure. More importantly, the respect you with which you do it is part of what defines you as a professional.