Featured in Alltop StartUpRoar

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Insights on - 6 Facts entrepreneurs must know about failure

Reference:  6 Facts entrepreneurs must know about failure

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart
Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed
and the Startup Blog. Connect
with him on
LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup

Sunday, November 15, 2015

3 Considerations that may improve customer experience

Yes, this is the call center!  No one here knows how to help you; Good Bye!
Learning what not to do is one essential part of any entrepreneurial learning experience.  Finding examples of what not to do come from everyday life because problems frequently occur.  Recent interactions with three different service providers provide are a few examples of businesses not working in the best interest of their customers.  The businesses claim to be customer centric and desire to please their clientele, yet their services and service departments fail to measure up.  

The ability to think ahead and anticipate unexpected events is part of the Think Agile concept.  Good service and agile thinking involves more than limited customer surveys, designing new offerings, or project development.  Business leaders must consider what comes next.  They also must evaluate whether unexpected events might affect a business positively or negatively.  

It is great to redesign an internet service to make it easier to navigate, but what about the long time users that hate the new version and are unable to obtain the same perceived value.   Contracting multiple call centers may reduce time on the phone for some, but what happens when the service representatives know less than the customer and are not able to make decisions or resolve a problem.   It is essential that leaders consider how to deliver the best service and products.  They must also learn to anticipate problems and find a means of quick resolution.  A few specific real examples are:

Investment service:  This well-known service changed their web design making it visually more appealing. In doing so, they eliminated the ability to find data critical for long time users that contracted with the service.  The consideration of whether some customers would dislike the new offerings was not apparent.  The same business created 4 call centers for different types of problems.  However, none of the agents at any of the 4 centers work as direct employees for the company.  Making the problem worse they were not knowledgeable about the produce and they had no ability to make decisions or provide the correct information.  Finally and most troubling, it was impossible to find any representative (contractor or employee) that was familiar with the old website or printed products.  Explaining the issues and trying to find a resolution simply fell on deaf ears due to a complete lack of knowledge.  How can anyone help when they know nothing about the product!

Bank:  A local bank offered a free service.  They later changed the service to charge monthly and deduct a fee from an account.  They notified customers by a letter requiring the customer to call to cancel or be charged.  The automated system questions leading to gaining access to a real person were numerous followed by 5 minutes on hold.  Then, the representative spent 10 minutes trying to convince people to retain the service.  Calling in to cancel a service you do not want and never signed up for should be less complicated!

Cable:  Appointments for installation involve two parties, the business and the customer.  On the day of install, a homeowner called to determine why the service person failed to show.  The company rescheduled the install without notifying the customer.  Then when the representative came two days later, no install could be performed without changes to the connections that had to occur at the street level.  Knowing the needs for service in an area should be something the business is aware of!  Oh, and they continued to run advertisements for services the firm did not yet provide.  It does not take common sense to investigate what is required to ensure a good service call and having the correct people show up at a defined time!

Every growing company will experience changes in products, personnel, and services.  Planning for these changes should consider ways to minimize the negatives and enhance the positives.  Great companies want people to perceive their product and services in the best possible manner.  There will always be unhappy people with any change, but by thinking ahead, it may be possible to minimize negatively affected customers. Here are just a few areas that could result in improvements generating a more positive customer impact.  Think more globally as you read these as they are examples.  The real exercise for your business is to find similar problems that may affect your business and fix them before they negatively affect your customers.

1)     Product changes:  Changing an offering to make the product easier to use may cause the loss of utility for some customers.  Once long term clients are familiar with the product the complexity is less a concern.  Changing the product may result in their inability to use the product in a manner that was important to them.  Try to identify ways to help new and old users of the product have better experiences with the new design and still get what they want.  Make sure your staff understands both the older products and new products before you have them engage with customers having issues!


2)     Customer Service:  Call centers should have people that fully understand products and offerings.  It helps if they can make decisions.  Increasing the number of service centers reduces wait times and allows for specialized help, but only if the people know what their products and services.  Customers do not like making multiple calls to address the same issue and they hate it more when no one is able to make a decision or provide real help.   It is even worse when the customer must explain the product to the service center because they do not understand it.  Remember, people want to know how they can get the help they need.  Try to hire and train the service center personnel appropriately!


3)     System awareness & scheduling:  Providing some services over a wide area requires significant infrastructure.  A service center may be the correct place to make appointments, however if the appointment must be changed, the service should contact the customer prior to the scheduled time and workout a new appointment time.  It also helps if the center is more familiar with the locale and specific needs for that area.  It is hard to hear that the install will be weeks away because certain equipment is not located nearby.  Try to understand the needs and requirements in advance and schedule events to occur more timely! 


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

3 Areas where finding a business solution trumps the alternative

Sometimes the best plans require extra thought and difficult decisions!

Startups are filled with many twists and turns.  Regardless of how well planned or lucky you are, situations occur that will stress your skills and patients.  It is difficult to recognize every problem in advance or to develop alternatives that reduce the harm your company.  Unexpected events require careful thought and a great deal of patients in order to create viable alternatives.


Issues that elevate stress levels may result in less logical actions and reduced care in planning.  For example, a staff member becomes overly challenging by undermining your authority or finding a way to ditch work assignments that are critical to a team project.  A capital raise slows down as a result of market conditions or delays in meeting defined milestones.  Manufacturing partners fail to meet deadlines and delays start to mount up as well costs.  Nothing prepares you to manage these events and in many cases they can be totally unexpected occurrences. 


Agile thinking and a calm disposition are greatly needed when events shift to really bad or very good.  Agility is also important in order to recognize and capitalize on a key event that can take your company to the next level.  Learning to think and react quickly often reduces further pain and this skill also helps in capitalizing on a lucky break that may enhance your chances of success.  A few examples of difficult issues and possible considerations are provided below to help stimulate agile thinking.


·       Personnel issues:  Employees that act badly or perform poorly hurt your business by destroying morale, reducing team project performance, and sucking valuable time while you deal with the issues.  It is important to keep a record of activity, but finding a way to connect with the offending party often helps identify a route to solve the problem.  Perhaps retaining a consultant to pick up the slack or to provide training for a poor performer would improve the situation.  In the end, the decision to remove the individual is always an option, but finding a way to improve performance is often better and less stressful.


·       Funding issues:  Startups can’t have too many friends or too much money, however, they can have too little of both.  Your network is important because they can help you find funding or other needed resources.  Financial raises do not always go as expected.  It is possible to have no prospects thus forcing the company to become more developed in order to attract investment capital.  Alternatively, many investors may want in on the deal and you must choose who to accept and turn away the rest.  It is always helpful to find ways to enhance the business before trying to launch or relaunch a financing.  It may take more than one attempt to get the needed funds needed. 


·       Development or marketing failures:  It is possible that product development is halted by unexpected event or slowed by high barrier to project completion.  The inability to launch the product on time hurts revenues while failing to meet projections causes concern with investors.  Market assessments are sometimes incorrect and sales are grossly lower than projections.  Either of these causes an unexpected financial burden on the business.  Attempting to have an excess of cash from a capital raise or partnership investment may tide the company over until the problem is solved.  It may be necessary to reduce spending if extra financial resources are not available.


These are just a few places you may have problems in your startup.  Try to remain calm and develop alternate plans to minimize damage and get back on track.  The greatest places requiring effort are controlling your own emotions and maintaining the confidence needed to address the difficulties.  The key is to remain calm and use your agile thinking skills to find a solution.


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 


Thursday, October 29, 2015

5 Actions improve decision making

Rational decisions should move you closer to that light at the end of a tunnel!

Making decisions can often be hampered by fear and by complexity of a corporate structure.  The wrong decision may get you fired or cost the loss of your business.  Fear of negative events reduces the care and consideration of rational thought processes to take decisive action.  Decisions become even more difficult when the entire business is on the line, because the decision maker knows that a poor decision may result in a business being forced to shut down or make the status worse than before. 

The stresses of a failing business causes some to go into a survival mode.  Their thinking shifts wildly among potential alternatives while they attempt to keep a business operational. They may fear changing course because of unknown consequences of a decision, so they keep doing what is not working hoping it will improve. Sometimes it helps to reduce the number of options to a more manageable set before maximal effort is focused on the activities that may yield the greatest payoff.  In any event, finding a way to reduce the fear, anxiety, an stress is important to rational planning.

In larger corporations, the manager may be removed from the group tasked with examining a change or new direction.  This results in the team having limited feedback along the way and the manager having to review the data from the team before finalizing a decision.  If this decision requires approval several layers up the chain, the team may fear looking bad and be far too cautious in providing the best input for the final decision makers.  It is very hard in such situations for the team to make the bold recommendation that may really catapult the business to new heights.  

It is clear that stress, anxiety, and fear will complicate decisions.  No matter what decision one makes there is always a feeling of what may have happened if an alternative path was taken.  One way to help improve the process is to take the most rational approach possible that works in the time frame required for the decision.  Keep in mind that a decision required in 1 hour forces movement through the process faster than a decision that may take a month! Consider follow the flow listed below and see if it helps you next time.

  1. Take a deep breath:  Recognize that whatever you are feeling is only going to complicate the process.  Stepping back and taking time to compose yourself and reduce any fear, anxiety, and stress will allow you to approach the issues in a more rational manner.  You are not the first person to be in a difficult place nor will you be the last.  The better the plan you create, the better the chances of coming away with a winning scenario. 

  1. Make a list:  Listing out all the issues and possible steps to resolve them is an important step.  Remember to consider the time required and cost to complete each step.  This information will help assign importance and likelihood of completing the steps. 

  1. Rank according to potential impact:  This is where you decide if task completion will be a game changer or not.  The greater the impact, the higher it should be on the list.

  1. Review time and costs:  A review of the time is not simply the time to complete the task; it includes the time you have left.  For example, a business with 6 months of funding left taking should not work on a high value task that takes 1 year to complete, nor should it work on a task that cost more than the business can afford.  Adjust tasks not you are unlikely to complete due to money or time downward on the list.  The top tier tasks be those you can complete in the remaining time with the dollars available. 

  1. Limit the number of tasks:  The listing, ranking and review will create an optimal order of those items you can complete in the remaining time with the resources available.  It is often better to select one or two of the top items and focus the remaining attention and resources to completing those tasks.  The goal is to get the greatest impact that will help the company survive and grow again.

The process helps reduce the anxiety in any decision making and it improves the selection of just enough from the list to gain the best impact with remaining resources.  As someone told me recently, when standing on the edge of a cliff, you can jump or go a different direction.  Both are decisions, but the analysis of the situation will tell you which has the best chances of yielding a positive result.  It is important to remain AGILE in Thinking, because most decisions may be altered along the way.  Monitoring the results and adjusting is essential to getting to a WIN!


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 


Monday, October 26, 2015

4 Sources of business intelligence often overlooked by entrepreneurs

Spend more time engaging sources than trying to extract every last penny!

Business planning requires a knowledge of the commercial landscape and potential competition.  Entrepreneurs spend countless hours researching technologies and business directions so they can develop a successful plan for their businesses.  Internet and libraries provide fantastic information that fits many needs, but the more experienced individuals also tap into data available via the US Patent office, Security Exchange Commission, and scientific literature to identify other information critical to their businesses.   


Networking is a critical function entrepreneurs must embrace to move from the drawing board to a commercial entity.  Networking is a special skill that allows entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to meet a wide range of individuals.  When done well, entrepreneurs will eventually meet investors and potential business partners.  What is not always so obvious is that the people one meets may also be great resources of information that will help refine a business.  The new people added to a network do not need to work on behalf of the business for you to learn from a discussion.  The key is asking the right questions and listening!


Information obtained from each of the following groups when matched with what you have learned helps you formulate better directions.  Learning and strategy development is part of growing a business.  It is not necessary that all information come from your hard work or on the job training.  You may be able to piggyback from knowledge of others.  Give the some thought to possible questions you may ask when interacting with a member of one of these professional groups.


1.      Networking:  Networking to meet a wide range of individuals places you in front of professionals in different fields.  Legal, financial, technical, business and other backgrounds are part of the skills of each person you meet.  Each person has a different background and most often is willing to answer questions during discussions.  Discussions should have some give and take; they learn something and you learn as well.  Learning from the experience of others is a great way to ensure you are heading in the correct direction and avoid traps.  You may be surprised by the number of times information on competitors or market directions advice are supplied by potential investors!


2.      Investors: Investors usually have an interest in your technology because of their understanding or experiences in the field.  The more sophisticated the fund and investor the more likely they are meeting with other technology companies in the same technology area. They sometimes share non-confidential information or ask questions of you that are informational.   Professional and Angel investors may have direct hands on experience in your business area as well.  Sometimes the prospective investors will provide information without questions, but asking questions ensures you at least explore whether they are willing to help.  In fact, you may receive an introduce you to other investor even if the one you are meeting with declines to invest!


3.      Contractors and personnel:  Interviewing contractors and personnel is important.  One way you can learn about them and your business is exploring how they would approach an area or problem.  You may learn something and can better assess the candidates to find the best fit for your company. Asking the right questions may even help you alter the positioning of your business to a greater advantage!


4.      Business partners:  Partnerships focus on general needs of the parties.  Each brings something special to the table or you would not be talking with them.  Asking the right questions can help you better understand their business and evaluate their ability to work with you.  Partners are almost always interested in your wellbeing because it may improve their business as well!


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

6 Facts entrepreneurs must know about failure

Hiding is not the best action after failure!

A topic covered extensively by many entrepreneurial writers is FAILURE.  Many startups are going to fail and the sooner it is recognized the better off you will be.  Even fear of failure keeps entrepreneurs from starting a new business or that fear alters their ability to take the risks that may improve chances of success. The uncertainty of future events can generate fear that influences decisions. Negativity may prevent the bold moves needed to turn-around a bad situation.  Negativity may prevent one from entering into a discussion with a potential business partner. In fact, fear of failure can be a greater problem than actually failing! For these reasons and many more, it is useful for entrepreneurs to better understand the dynamics of failure and reduce their fears.

Businesses fail for many reasons; i.e., issues with technology, regulatory problems, commercial issues, and human factors are all potential contributors. Some situations are avoidable and others are not. Unknown events can greatly affect a business making the downward spiral irreversible. Great teams may devise ways to overcome the problems and find a new route to success. Even the best people may experience failure due to factors that alter the landscape. In fact, many famous business executives failed somewhere on their road to success. There are a few facts to remember when faced with impending doom or fear of failure.  Maybe these will help you look at things in a different way and overcome fear so you can succeed.

1. Failure happens: Whether it is your fault or not, failure happens. The fear of impending failure only adds stress that may inhibit good decision-making. Some narrow-minded people think because a business failed that you are no good, but more knowledgeable people recognize that failure happens and it is a learning experience that may help in the future business activities. Your primary goal is to ensure you did everything humanly possible to succeed and made all decisions in a logical and informative manner. It is important that you do not fail for lack of trying.  Take pride in what you learned, your hard work, and the knowledge that you tried!

2. Fear increases risk:  Concerns of losing a job often prevents people from trying something different and, it happens with your boss too. Fear can alter the ability to accept risks because of the uncertainty of the outcome. Try to use your logic and knowledge to do what is best for the business. Sometimes that is scary, but if you put the time into studying the issues and seeking advice, you may have a better chance than you think.  It is better to make decisions than let fate direct your company!

3. Learn from it: Failing comes with at least one upside, you leaned things along the way! The knowledge is going to be useful in your next venture thereby increasing the odds of a future success. Your biggest failure would be not learning anything or simply giving up. Great entrepreneurs know they will eventually succeed and they keep on trying.

4. You will survive: Failure is not a death sentence and you will survive. It may not seem that way in the short term, but the facts remain that you are alive and can try again. The only thing stopping you is your fear of failure. Get over it and move on!

5. Take multiple shots on goal: Even in a successful business, developing multiple shots on goal can increase odds of greater success. Develop more than one path to the success of in the business. It may be engaging more than one business partner to develop competing deals. Perhaps consider developing two products initially, or adding an additional business site. Decide which added paths make the most sense for the organization, but ensure the direction increases odds for success. For example, buying one lottery ticket provides you with the least chances of winning when compared to buying multiple tickets for the same drawing. You may not win, but your odds for winning are greatly improved.

6. Success is up to you: You and only you can decide that success is important and that you want to try again. Nothing but you can prevent you from starting a new business. In the end, it is really up to you and having a great attitude can make a huge difference. You are a winner; all you have to do is find the correct path!


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 



Sunday, October 11, 2015

4 Fears that may motivate entrepreneurs

You must overcome fear if you want to climb to the top!

Discussions with entrepreneurs taking the role of a CEO often highlight emotions many may experience.  It is rather common that an entrepreneur may choose to leave a job to start a new business.  In some cases, new businesses appear to have the ability to obtain immediate contracts and be financially viable within the first few years.  New business always seems to have great potential before the reality of running the business sets in.  It is important to remember that things rarely go as expected and that great flexibility (i.e. Think Agile) is a true asset.

In a recent discussion, a CEO wanted to pull several essential employees from a failing business to start a new more improved business.  However, he felt the employees would not leave to join the new business.  Rather than start the business and hire a different team, this CEO decided not to start the new venture because of the fear of being alone in the startup business. Being alone in a startup on day one is common and not new!  It is important that one learns to set realistic expectations and consider steps to resolve the issues causing the fear in order to move forward. 

Many entrepreneurs quickly learn that startups are not for everyone and that the need for a salary and benefits can trump the desire to be part of a startup.  The fears experienced in a startup can cause entrepreneurs to believe the startup process is overly complicated.  It is often the fear of failure that leads to entrepreneurs failing to try to realize their dream.  Many different emotions experienced by entrepreneurs inhibit the desire to start a business.  Entrepreneurs that do engage in business startups have found a way to overcome these fears and move on, possibly turning the fear into a motivation. 

Concerns are natural and will always exist, but try turning the fear into a success driver or you will never start anything.  The list below contains a few areas requiring an ability to master the emotion and turn it into a driver to succeed.

1.      Social acceptance – The sense that others will not accept you or your business ideas generates a type of fear that some find difficult to live with.  Everyone wants to be loved, but entrepreneurs learn to put this in perspective.  They realize that the social acceptance is not as important in their lives as is their need to succeed in a business endeavor.  The drive to succeed in an exciting business you start can help tame the fear of being alone.


2.      Loss of income – Income is important to everyone’s day-to-day living.  A stable job is important to many people because they fear a loss of income and the consequences of limited cash resources.  Entrepreneurs fear the loss as well, but they see an upside following the periods of no or low income.  They are willing to take the risk because the drive to succeed overcomes their fear of short-term financial issues.  They still worry, but they work even harder to create a success.  The more difficult part is managing the concerns the family may have during the low earning periods.  Income reductions can have an impact on the entrepreneur and the family. Managing through the low earning periods is essential since there is no money in many startup companies for the first few years. 


3.      Business success   The degree of success a business experiences is dependent on many factors.  People often worry that they will not see the success they desire and may fail to start a business.  Fear of limited business activity and concerns of never reaching a booming success story is a great demotivator.  Entrepreneurs learn that it is impossible to have a wildly successful business if they do not start the business and give it their full energy and attention.   Success comes in many different forms and learning to enjoy the minor successes along the way to the big win is an important part of the process.


4.      Complete Failure – One of the most difficult issues to resolve is the fear of complete failure.  Failure is a process that most entrepreneurs will experience in their lifetime.  Failures do generate many learning aspects.  It is important to remember the following:  a) failure happens, b) fear increases your risk, c) you learn from failure, d) you will survive it, e) multiple shots on goal may improve your chances of success, and f) success is up to you.  Failure happens and it is important to recognize it is not the end of the world.  Many learn from failure and move on to great successes in their next ventures.  You can too!


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group.