The Perfect Pitch

In almost any real-world situation, you rarely have much time to make a first impression. A polished appearance is important, but that only goes so far – the first few things you say about yourself and your business (or, “what you do”) is paramount to forging a new business relationship. Often, this only takes a few seconds and comprises what most people call your “elevator speech.”

Almost every business professional has (or should have) a short and sweet pre-prepared dialog of what they do as a professional. In the startup industry, this “speech” should actually be designed more like a “pitch,” ready in the event of a spontaneous meeting with a mentor, VC, or potential business partner.

I have had the opportunity to attend – and even judge – several startup competitions over the last few years. At every event, I have seen dozens of startups severely overestimate just how much time 60 seconds (which is how much time these startups usually get to pitch their idea) really is. Just as they are getting to the core of what problem their startup solves, and how they are going to solve it, time is up.

At one of the most recent events I attended, I spoke with a VC who could not agree more with me that the perfect pitch is really quite simple – just explain what problem your product solves, and how it solves that problem. Then, if you have the time, dive deeper into the gory details of marketing plans, the backend of the product, future iterations, etc.

That’s a lot to cover in 60 seconds though, and the biggest thing to remember when pitching your startup is that you are trying to sell it – especially to judges and/or VC’s. A vague pitch, which may be intriguing to other entrepreneurs, will not impress someone who is looking to fund a great idea. Alternatively, a pitch that spends too much time on a backstory runs the risk of missing an opportunity to actually explain what their startup is, and what their product does. That said, if you can sell the premise of your great idea in 60 seconds, you are more likely to get another shot at a little more time to explain your startup and product in more detail in a later round.

For the rest of us, this is a good reminder about how to develop our own “personal pitches.” No one wants to hear a 5 minutes backstory about how you got the job you have. A short, powerful statement about where you are now – and where you are going – can be so much more powerful.

Staying Productive When Wearing Multiple Hats

small_business_image2As a small business owner, are you constantly in a balancing act juggling activities, tasks, and events each day?  Do you ever get to the end of your day and wonder where the time went?  Having good time management skills will not only lower your stress level, but also allow you to efficiently and effectively accomplish the tasks associated with the multiple hats you wear as a small business owner.

Here are 8 ways to make sure you make the most of your precious time:

  1. Start your day by spending 15 minutes planning your to-do list.  A to-do list serves as a reference that allows you to stay on task, so you spend more time getting things done instead of trying to recall what you need to do.
  2. Organize your business cards and make it easy to reach out and follow-up with your contacts.  Implement a CRM tool if you do not have one yet and it will be even easier to keep track of important details and reminders connected to your contacts.
  3. Follow the “2 minute rule.”  If you have a task that can be accomplished in 2 minutes or less (like answering an email or paying a bill), do it right away, rather than put it off for later.
  4. Create an efficient workspace to ensure you can find what you need, when you need it.  If items you use often are within easy reach, it will cut down on the time you spend walking back and forth to retrieve supplies.
  5. Schedule blocks of time to return phone calls, read and respond to emails, and be available to your employees.  Investing the time to respond and interact allows you to be proactive with your time, rather than reactive and constantly interrupted.
  6. Make the most of apps.  Think about a challenge or situation that leads to a loss of your productive time.  If you spend a great deal of your time on the road, consider a traffic app that will help you avoid back-ups and delays.  Does trying to remember passwords take up your time?  Use a password manager app.  With a little research you’ll find, “there’s an app for that.”
  7. Manage your social media efficiently by using apps like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to provide an easy dashboard-like view of your social media conversations throughout the day.  Tools like these enable quick management of your various accounts from a single source.  You will be amazed by how much time you save now that you won’t have to log into six different sites each day to see your messages, news, etc.
  8. When possible, delegate tasks or responsibilities that someone else can handle.  We can’t always do it all ourselves, so when you need to, ask for assistance.

 

This is guest blog post by Innovatively Organized, a productivity consulting firm that helps over-extended executives and teams of small and medium sized businesses become more effective.

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There’s no weakness in forgiveness.

Enter [what’s been on my mind]

Forgiveness is not a natural human response. At times, it’s even easier to forgive people for being wrong rather than being right. In a competitive environment like a workplace, forgiveness can seem more like a sign of weakness rather than a helpful step towards resolution. With so many reasons of why it’s hard to forgive, are there any arguments that can be made for forgiveness?

Blink [see a new perspective]

Studies completed by the scientific community (such as the Mayo Clinic) illustrate the positive effects of forgiveness. They have found that resentment impairs your thinking and negatively affects your health (i.e. high stress and blood pressure). Therefore, freeing yourself of resentment by practicing forgiveness can actually benefit your health. It also creates a more effective work environment where communication flows more clearly (and without the passive aggressive undertone).

Shift [try it out]

Keep in mind that forgiveness is a choice. No matter how you feel about the situation, you can always choose to move through it and take steps towards forgiveness and reconciliation. A book that I’m currently reading explains this process perfectly:

“You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding…If you forgive you may indeed still not understand, but you will be ready to understand, and that is the posture of grace” Home, by Marilynne Robinson.

This week, do a self-check and ask “Who am I resentful towards?” If a person comes to mind, remind yourself about the benefits of forgiveness, stop defining the situation based on emotion and hurt, and take the steps to forgive.

Listen [hear from our community]

Forgiveness is the choice to not hold the wrong-doer accountable anymore. Holding a grudge only hurts the grudge-holder, but forgiveness frees you up to have more and better opportunities. Forgiveness doesn’t have to mean reconciliation or closeness, although it can in the best case scenarios. Forgiveness means that you give up your right to be angry, bitter or vengeful toward the wrong-doer. The result is peace and personal power.

  1. Identify the wrong that’s been done.
  2. Identify what justice would look like.
  3. Choose to forgive and let go of your right to get even.
  4. Be released of the power that person’s wrong-doing has had over you.
  5. Verbalize well-wishes for the person.

– Michelle Holloman, Eastside Counseling and Coaching

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Health Insurance for Entrepreneurs

By the sheer definition of who they are, entrepreneurs are risk-takers. Many have quit a 9-5 job to start their own business without a financial safety-net, living month-to-month, not 100% certain that the mortgage or rent (let alone everything else) will be covered next month.

One of the biggest risks entrepreneurs take is with their health. A recent Gallup Poll revealed 25% of entrepreneurs don’t have health insurance, compared to 10% of other workers. Gallup says that, “the reason for that difference is not clear, but it could either reflect the high cost of health insurance for individuals and small business owners, or a greater willingness on the part of entrepreneurs to accept the risks inherent in not having health insurance.”

Health Insurance for entrepreneurs as individuals – and even entrepreneurs with families – doesn’t have to be expensive. As someone who has been “self employed” for almost three years, I’ve relied on a plan through Regence that covers prescriptions, office visits, and lab work. While some of my “employed” friends have luxurious benefits such as acupuncture and unlimited chiropractic visits via their health insurance, I’m at least covered should I have a true health emergency – without it breaking the bank.

Of course, the cost of a health insurance plan can still add up – My $233/mo plan isn’t exactly cheap, especially for those who have a business that’s not making much revenue yet. The good thing that entrepreneurs tend to be healthier than the average worker. Gallup found that, “Entrepreneurs report better health habits than other workers. [They] are more likely than other employed adults to say they exercise frequently (60% vs. 54%) or eat fruits and vegetables regularly (61% vs. 55%) and are more likely to say they ate healthy all day “yesterday” (67% vs. 61%). However, smoking rates were about equal among entrepreneurs and other U.S. workers.”

Since entrepreneurs are apparently not only risky, but also healthy, health insurance for entrepreneurs could be more of an option. That said, it may be worth looking into if a plan could potentially save you money on prescriptions or just reducing the cost of an office visit, since insurance plans will only “allow” your doctor to charge you a certain amount for a visit. Consider comparing plans via a site like ehealthinsurance, or check out plans offered by trade groups like the Freelancers Union or the WTIA, which offer employee-like group plans to their members.

If you’re an entrepreneur, how did you choose – and afford – your health insurance plan? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!

What Are You Thankful For

This week we posted a turkey on the wall and asked people to write down what they are thankful for. Here’s a sample of the things that our community wrote:

“My family, my faith, my health, my business, my friends, and my whiskey” – Matt Heinz, Heinz Marketing

“To God for His blessings. To my husband for his love.” – Michelle Hollomon, Eastside Counseling and Coaching

“All the amazing people in my life. They keep me strong!” – Savannah Bridge, thinkspace

“I am thankful to Apple Crate Marketing, I like to work here.” – Swati, Apple Crate Marketing

“Faith, family, friends, and our amazing country” – Dan Vache, United Fresh Produce

“The two cutest nephews in the world – Cooper and Jack!” – Anon

“My family. They support me no matter what I do… or where I move.” – Jamie Sturn, thinkspace

“PointGrow is thankful for thinkspace!” – Anon

“My family, for the unconditional love and support they give me” – Katie-Marie Allworth, thinkspace

“For my daughter, family, God, friends, I am thankful for all of you” – Anne Marie Bachman, Hammerhouse

“My Dad. He’s the most amazing person in my life and I’m so lucky to have him!” – Sami Dyer, thinkspace

“I’m thankful for over 3 years at thinkspace! Thanks guys!” – Michelle

“I’m thankful for my family, my health, friends, my team (Savannah, Sami, Katie, Jamie, Annie, and Shonda), my company, and all the thinkspace members. I am blessed to have you in my life!” – Peter Chee, thinkspace

There are a lot of things to really appreciate. What else are you thankful for?

Thankfulness vs Stressfulness

I'm thankful for...

Enter [what’s been on my mind]

Many of the things that I’m thankful for also tend to stress me out.

Blink [see a new perspective]

As an avid list maker, I recently made two lists.
The first list: ten things that stress me out.
The second list: ten things that I am thankful for.
In comparing the two lists, I noticed crossover between them. Because while family and friends stress me out, they are also the source of my deepest gratitude. And yes, finances can definitely be stressful. But at the end of the day, I am so thankful for the roof over my head and the resources I have access to.

Shift [try it out]

This Thanksgiving, keep your stresses in check. Chances are they might also be what you’re thankful for.

Listen [hear from our community]

“I am so thankful I have a daughter. She is the greatest gift God has ever given me. But having a daughter is also stressful because I have to make sure she is taken care of, and I am responsible for her growing up to have strong values and work ethic. Plus, make sure that she is good to others and is a contributing member to our society.”
-Anne Marie Bachman of Hammerhouse

The Best Perks of Coworking Spaces

One of the biggest expenses for a growing startup is the need for office space. A garage or a spare room at one of the founder’s house is great for initial collaboration and planning, but once you have a few employees, that probably won’t work for very long. You could lease a small office somewhere and spend your entire savings on a few month’s rent, or you could opt for a a less expensive and potentially more luxurious coworking space (like here at thinkspace). Add to that all the perks many of these spaces make available to their members, and you have a pretty compelling case for seeking one out in your area.

But let’s get one thing out of the way right now – coworking spaces aren’t just for freelancers. Startups and even established companies are quickly migrating to the idea of utilizing a coworking space over an independent office. In fact, many of our members here are well beyond the startup stage themselves – but just in need of little extra space.

One of the most compelling reasons for businesses to consider coworking spaces are the numerous perks the spaces themselves provide. Because the rent for the physical location is being distributed among its many members, additional perks such as a kitchen and meeting rooms become available.

Here’s a look at some of the best perks offered by coworking spaces offered around the country (and even the globe.)

Virtual Receptionist

Having a place to collect your mail is one thing, but having someone to help answer calls while you’re busy doing what you do is another matter entirely. Virtual receptionists working for coworking spaces are specially trained to handle calls for a variety of different businesses, take messages, and make sure you get the information you need quickly and accurately.

Typically, you’ll only pay for the calls you receive and/or a fraction of the costs of having a member of your own staff sit at the ready to answer the phones during business hours.

Kitchen

Never underestimate the value of a kitchen at your office. Having a counter to prepare a sandwich or a fridge to put your lunch in is a benefit not every stand-alone office can afford for its employees. Many offices break the budget just giving you enough space to put a desk and a chair down for every employee. Having a dedicated kitchen and/or break room to escape to is a big deal, and a common perk coworking spaces offer their members.

Access to Shared Resources

Printers, copiers, fax machines, desks, chairs, and even your Internet connection costs a lot of money to set up and maintain. Coworking spaces take care of this, and many of these tools are available to you for pennies on the dollar. This is in addition to maintenance, repairs, and IT costs associated with keeping these vital systems up and running.

Collaborative Benefits

Collaboration is one of the many unlisted perks coworking spaces make available to its members. If your business needs the help of a graphics designer, there’s a chance one is actually at your coworking space, available to take on an assignment and pitch in. Likewise, your startup might benefit from collaborating to help other businesses in the space. It’s a community, and that means folks tend to help each other out.

Even some of the less-critical components of running a business can be made easier in a coworking space. Holiday parties are commonly coordinated between members of coworking spaces and thrown at a fraction of the costs associated with a single group doing so independently. Some coworking spaces will even manage these types of events for you so you can concentrate on the things that matter most.

Meeting Rooms

Having a conference room to meet with members of your team and/or clients that stop by is a big deal for many startups. Often, new businesses have to make do with turning every coffee shop and restaurant in the immediate area into a meeting room to avoid the embarrassment of attempting to play host to clients in a shoebox office.

Coworking spaces commonly give members dedicated meeting spaces where they can have their morning meetings, meet with clients, and handle one-on-one reviews without having to do so in the main space. It’s one of those small things that makes a huge difference in how your startup works.

No matter your reason for considering a coworking space, it’s clear that the perks many of these spaces offer their members can far outweigh the costs involved. Often, we overlook the simple things that makes a simple workspace easier to work in and around for everyone involved. Not everyone has to have a kitchen or a meeting room to be successful, but it can certainly help.

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The Secret To Success

The other day I was having a meeting with the founder of a local startup, who some have described as a “serial entreupreneur”. I asked him the “secret” to his success, and without hesitation, he said it was simply about “relationships.”

I immediately knew what he meant. I began my official career in social media at a startup working with a founder who spoke almost daily to our small team about the impact of relationships on business development, client acquisitions and most importantly, client retention. At the time, I admit I found this constant talk about relationships to be somewhat like talking about other buzzwords like the need to be “engaging” or “influential”.

The reality is, though, relationships are the key to building a business – any business. Solid relationships (and several of them) in the early stages of your startup will help you find the right team and also find the resources you need (perhaps even at a lower cost.) They will also help you find those first few crucial leads, especially if you’re more of a service-oriented than product-oriented.

Either way, you’ll need to reach people, and having strong relationships with people who trust and believe in you will help spread the word about your idea, your product, or your service, thereby getting your startup off the ground and actually launched as a business. This is part of word of mouth marketing, and it relies 100% on relationships. Of course, if your colleagues, friends, and acquaintances don’t have great relationships themselves, this is a dead end – but if you have already done a great job building up dozens (and hopefully hundreds) of great relationships, this won’t be an issue.

It’s important to keep in mind that as a startup, you need to build relationships with several types of people, and like a plant, keep nourishing them on a routine basis. This doesn’t mean you have to (using this analogy) “water” the relationship everyday, but if you know you’ll need press in the future, you’ll want to start interacting with specific writers at specific blogs now (such as by commenting on their posts, sending them an occasional email, and interacting with them on Twitter), so you actually have a relationship with them when you hope they’ll write about your new app when it launches in a few months. (As I mentioned at a talk at thinkspace a few weeks ago, the press is much more inclined to write about something when its pitched from someone who has taken the time to get to know them.)

On the flip side, if you have not built, maintained, or leveraged relationships prior to or in building your new business, you may find it difficult to get, well, really anywhere. You’ll likely find it difficult to find business partners, and especially find it hard to land clients as there will be few others in the community who will vouch for your credibility. If you’re still in the early stages of your startup – or still thinking about one – consider what bridges you may have burned, and what relationships you could strengthen to not only benefit you personally, but also professionally.

But don’t just stop there. The importance of relationships when running a business only increases as your business grows – and as you do as well. It’s critical to keep this in mind during difficult situations – especially those that are internal. Every relationship you form will have an impact on the entire lifespan of not just your business, but your career.

While the “secret” to success might be relationships in and of themselves, the real challenge is learning how to maintain and build upon them to achieve the success you desire.

What’s your secret to success as an entrepurener? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Holiday Party Ideas for Startups

Big, lavish corporate holiday parties are a great way to help startups and teams unwind after a very busy and stressful year. This is the one time of year where winding down is acceptable for startups, though investors are understandably very alert to overspending on holiday festivities and other non-critical tasks.

So, what do you do when you want to throw a holiday party for your startup? Do you throw caution to the wind and break out the credit cards, or do you attempt instead to take the moreconservative route and keep it simple and casual?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: A holiday party is not something you want to use as a
promotional tool for your business. No matter how great the party might have been, history shows that startups with large party budgets tend to turn out to be bad investments in the long
run.

Back in the late ‘90s, the startup world was high on the dotcom bubble. Companies like Razorfish, a web design and marketing startup with clients that included Charles Schwab, went the lavish route and dropped five figures on a holiday party that included bellydancers, copious amounts of free food and beverages, and a line around the block. The party was seen as a tremendous publicity boost as stories of strippers and excessive drinking (likely just made up) became the buzz around town for several months after the party took place.

A little over a year later, the founding partners stepped down from senior management positions after several quarters of reported loss. The company eventually sold under new management.

Planning on a Budget

So, what can you do to make a budget-conscious holiday party work for your startup? First, be sure about how many people you’re throwing it for. Unless you are in the party business, it might not be the wisest idea to throw a major bash for the entire world to come and enjoy an open bar. Instead, consider your staff and their families the guests of honor. Here at thinkspace, we think planning a party for around 60 people with a budget of around $5k is ideal. This breaks down to about $80/person, but smaller companies have been known to spend as much as $100/person for a holiday party.

Depending on your budget, renting out a banquet hall and handling everything yourself allows you a bit more freedom to make the party match your particular company’s style, but this could also be an expensive and time-consuming option. Not all startups may have these resources, so you may want to think about renting a large meeting room inside a popular restaurant instead. This frees you up from cleanup, makes catering costs more predictable, and might even cover the issue of decoration. Sometimes, the best decorations are the ones that slowly disappear throughout the night. Jars filled with candy make an excellent and enjoyable centerpiece for any table, and anything left over can easily be trucked over to the office and made available to staff during the following workweek.

If you happen to be the in Seattle area, some great venues that fit into any startup’s holiday budget might include a party at the Garage, a night out at Teatro Zinzanni, a Christmas Cruise, or renting out Dilettantes on Broadway. (What’s better than celebrating the holidays than with chocolate and drinks?)

Combine Forces With Other Startups

As we all know, startups can’t exist without the rest of the community. You may be located in a building shared by other startups (such as thinkspace), or part of a collective that would be open to planning a join holiday party in which costsare split between the businesses involved. This would enable you to easily scale a cozy and intimate party up to a more lavish and open one where attendees can meet new people with similar backgrounds.

Everything is less expensive when its costs are distributed. A joint holiday party may even make it easier to justify the costs involved with an open bar, band, or who knows… maybe even some bellydancers…(just kidding, of course.)

If you’re in charge of organizing your startup’s holiday party,  how are you planning to celebrate? Share your ideas & advice in the comments!

Want To Be More Productive? Work Slower

It seems that everything we do today is done at an increasingly accelerated rate. I’m not just referring to the ability to quickly access movie showtimes or send a large file to someone across the world. Instead, take a step back and look at just how much you are asked to accomplish in a given day at work.

Startups are always in a big hurry to get things done. The has typically been that the faster you can get things done, the better your chances of success. There might be a multitude of different examples where this is true, but a growing trend in the business world seeks to challenge this philosophy.

A cultural trend known as the Slow Movement which started in protest against fast food and has since branched out to a number of different similar philosophies targeting the world of parenting, gardening, and art.

Slow Work, as described in a blog post by Pete Bacevice on his blog, is an answer to the increasing demand on workers with knowledge and creative positions which threatens to degrade productivity over time. The idea is that with so much information and various tasks being thrown at workers on a daily basis, the individual’s ability to keep up with demand is falling short.

Ultimately, the stress of being creative in a rushed environment can have a counterproductive result. Imagine going back in time and asking Leonardo Da Vinci to finish the Mona Lisa in half the time while throwing additional tasks at him in the interim. The Mona Lisa would probably have turned out very differently. Would she have the same charm? Would Thomas Edison have created the light bulb if he were working in an environment and pace we are subjected to in a modern workplace?

Humans are not machines, and we don’t retain information as quickly as the computers we use. Our ability to absorb and understand information is limited by our mental capacity — and rushing someone in a knowledge-based position to accomplish things faster than they are comfortable or able – either by imposing time limitations or requiring employees to multi-task –  is an open invitation for errors and additional stress.

On the other side of the issue, a business environment that encourages a deeper connection between the employee and the project encourages free thought and the creation of new ideas. This is a philosophy that can be seen in the products of generations past. From the tea ceremonies of old Japan to the assembly line at the early Ford plants, the value of slowing things down and allowing enough time for the worker to put pride and creative efforts into their work is immeasurable.