5 costly and time-consuming mistakes to avoid when starting a side hustle or small business

working from home
Entrepreneurs should do what they can to avoid time-consuming and costly mistakes when starting a new business.

  • Jen Glantz is an entrepreneur and founder of the company Bridesmaid for Hire.
  • When she first launched her business, she says she made several costly and time-consuming mistakes.
  • Glantz says having a budget, limiting debts, and seeking a mentor would have helped her business grow faster.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I started my business, six years ago, by accident. I had an idea for a unique wedding business, where strangers could hire me to be their bridesmaid, and decided to test that idea out by posting an ad on Craigslist. The ad drew hundreds of interested people to reach out to me and within a matter of days, I officially launched Bridesmaid for Hire.

jen glantz
Author Jen Glantz.

Because I started my business so quickly, I found that in the first year I made many mistakes that cost me a lot of money and precious time. It’s been six years since then and looking back, I wish I had avoided these costly errors from the very beginning.

If you’re thinking of starting a side hustle, these are the mistakes I made that you should try to avoid.

1. Ditching a budget

When I started my business, I wasn’t sure how much money I needed to get the website up and running, to market to new clients, and to hire professionals (lawyers and accountants) along the way. During the first few months, I was charging every little thing on my personal credit card and not realizing how much I was spending.

I spent close to $500 to launch my website, pay for different software products to help with email marketing and social media, and get official branding for the company. This was all just in the first few weeks of starting the business.

Rather than just paying for things and racking up credit card debt, I wish I’d had a budget. If I could go back in time, I would first decide how much of my personal cash I wanted to loan to the business. Then, I’d create different categories for spending (marketing, software, professionals, freelance hires, etc.) and determine how much of that total cash I’d allocate per category. This would help me stretch a predetermined amount of money to pay for everything during that first year. Instead, I did things in reverse and when I needed something, I just charged it and didn’t keep track.

Set a budget before you start the business. Determine how much of your own cash you’re willing to pump into the early days of getting your idea up and running and stay meticulous about tracking your spending on a weekly basis.

2. Taking too much from my personal savings

When I first started my side hustle I was working full time and took some of my income from that job to help fund my business. Without realizing it, I was slowly draining my savings account to pay for a lot of the early expenses. Since I wasn’t earning that much yet from clients and services, I was using too much of my personal cash, too fast, to pay for things.

Rather than pulling out too much money from your personal accounts, and impacting your personal financial goals (such as saving for retirement or creating an emergency fund), it’s best to put a limit on how much of your own cash you’ll loan the business and have the intention of paying yourself back once the business makes money.

When you start a business, everything always feels urgent. What I should have done was prioritize what needed to be funded immediately and what could wait. That way, I wouldn’t have put so much of my cash into the business up front and taken on personal risk without knowing if the idea would generate income in future months.

3. Not asking for advice or mentorship

I didn’t have any friends who were entrepreneurs when I first started my company so I felt very alone in the process. When I’d ask my friends for help or ask their advice on certain situations (such as how much to charge clients or how much to spend on a logo) they wouldn’t know what to advise me.

I had to learn things the hard way by making my own mistakes, when a mentor or circle of entrepreneur friends could have helped me make better decisions with their lessons learned, industry knowledge, or just entrepreneurial experience.

Even if you’re not surrounded by people creating side hustles, find online communities or reach out and find a mentor who can be there for you to answer questions, help you avoid mistakes, and stay smart with your money.

4. Refusing to hire a virtual assistant

I started the business solo and found myself taking on too much work. I was working full-time and working on my side hustle during any free moment I had (early mornings, nights, and weekends). I could have accelerated the growth of my company, big time, by hiring a virtual assistant to help with more time-consuming tasks that didn’t need to be done by me (organizing emails, uploading blog posts, creating outreach emails, etc.). Instead, I took the time to do these smaller tasks that took hours or a half the day, when I could have been working on more important areas of the business like scaling, growth, or brainstorming ways to get new clients.

Hiring a virtual assistant would have cost around $25 an hour and that’s something I could have budgeted for knowing that if I used those “free hours” I could find ways to double or triple the growth of the business.

5. Setting my prices too low

One of the most rookie mistakes I made was when it came to figuring out how much to charge. I set my prices very low and because of that, I wasn’t profitable during the first few months when I could have been. I had many clients and was working more than 40 hours a week with this side hustle, yet my finances didn’t show success. I was undercharging for my services for two main reasons: I didn’t truly know my value and I was scared if my prices were higher I wouldn’t have any clients.

I was wrong. This was a costly mistake because I found I was providing clients with more hours of my time than they originally paid for at a very low cost. This meant I couldn’t take on new clients (because there just weren’t enough hours in the day) and it meant even though I was working hard, and working long hours, my business wasn’t making enough money to be viable.

When you notice a mistake in your pricing, make changes to how much you’re charging or your business plan. This can make or break a business early on.

Everyone starting a side hustle makes mistakes but when it comes to errors that cost time and money, it’s best to avoid those when you can. Set a clear budget, limit how much you’re pulling from personal finance, and ask for advice so you can make smart and efficient decisions along the way.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Use these 3 lessons from the pandemic to build a stronger crisis plan for your business

frustrated man working on laptop computer at home
During a crisis it is important to communicate with your employees first.

  • Business crisis plans are important for unforeseen circumstances such as this pandemic.
  • Being forced to change routines exposed a lack of preparedness in many institutions that needed to pivot.
  • Keeping abreast of new technology and communication techniques can help strengthen future crisis plans.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When I help a client communicate during a crisis or unforeseen issue, the client will often say something like, “We aren’t sure what to do, because this isn’t in our crisis plan.”

Then came 2020, and virtually all business owners could say that a pandemic wasn’t in the plan. Now we’ve been working, living, and (in some cases) schooling for a year as the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. While we may never again witness another unprecedented – aren’t we all tired of that word? – global event like this one, this experience can help us prepare for other unforeseen events and issues.

When you write or rewrite your crisis plan for your business, consider adding these three lessons and implementing them before something you hadn’t planned for strikes again.

1. Staying up to date on technology pays off

For a year or so before the pandemic, I had it on my to-do list to get to know and make better use of videoconference apps like Zoom and Skype. But I never got around to it. In March 2020, we all – and I do mean all – got a crash course in Zoom. While there has been some Zoom fatigue, being able to videoconference has been a game-changer for companies, and it’s so much more efficient than traveling to in-person meetings.

While I can’t wait to see colleagues and clients in person again, I plan to keep using Zoom, too. And I plan to research what technologies and apps I need to get to know next. Why wait until a crisis to find an app or software that can help my business right now?

2. Pivoting opens up new possibilities

I didn’t pivot in my business. But many business owners did with virtual offerings, new product lines and entirely new businesses. For example, “ghost kitchens” made it easier for some entrepreneurs to enter the food service industry. Without the pandemic and our so-called new normal, that idea might never have been dreamed up.

I didn’t have to pivot. I was already working from home, and thankfully demand for communications and PR services stayed consistent. However, I often think about what a pivot would look like for me and my business. The pandemic has made it clear that we can’t always count on things to always stay the same. I’m going to keep challenging myself to think about what pivoting could look like for me: “If x happened, I would…”

3. Communicating effectively is everything

I can’t tell you how many times in the last year I’ve heard someone say that it all comes down to communication. And usually it isn’t because a company or organization is doing a great job at it. Communication really is everything. When it comes to communicating during a crisis, it’s important to start from within.

You can’t communicate effectively with your customers and the rest of the outside world if you aren’t first to communicate with your employees. They are your ambassadors, your frontline. How you communicate with your own team members – in good times as well as challenging times – can make your people feel incredibly connected and valued or just the opposite.

How do you want current and past employees talking about you in the world? The news you have to share might not always be what people want to hear, and people get that. But it’s important to deliver your message in a timely and transparent way.

When clients come to me for crisis communication advice, I always ask first about their employees. How are you communicating with them? I’m of the opinion that if you are drafting a media statement, employees should probably know about it before they hear or read about it in the news.

And from now on when clients come to me for crisis and issues management, I’m going to remind them that we’ve got this. Remember 2020?

Read the original article on Business Insider

3 ways to think like a successful entrepreneur

young creative entrepreneur making website selling online
Successful entrepreneurs recognize the uncertainty of the business is worth it once they’re able to provide value.

  • Successful entrepreneurs put value first, says entrepreneurship professor Per Bylund.
  • Successful entrepreneurs prioritize efforts that ensure they achieve their end value.
  • Consumers are interested in entrepreneurs whose products or services can add value to their lives.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Entrepreneurship is about treading new ground. It is about taking a step no one has taken before, at least not in that same way or in the same place. So it should not be surprising that much of the scholarly literature on entrepreneurship, since Richard Cantillon in the early 1700s, has focused on entrepreneurship as uncertainty bearing.

Although “bearing uncertainty” might be what entrepreneurs do in the economy from a theorist’s point of view, it is not – and should not be – the rationale for starting a business. After all, uncertainty means the outcome is unknown, which, in turn, means it could end up ugly. In other words, uncertainty is a cost – it is a burden on the entrepreneur’s shoulders. Entrepreneurs are right to attempt to avoid the uncertainty.

The fact is that theorists have it both right and wrong. Yes, entrepreneurs bear uncertainty because they are the ones getting the reward as profit and also the ones suffering the loss if things do not work out. But that uncertainty bearing characterizes entrepreneurship does not make it the point of being an entrepreneur. Rather, it is a “necessary evil.”

What successful entrepreneurs understand

Successful entrepreneurs, both in the past and present, understand the actual meaning of uncertainty. Those who already experienced success have often learned it the hard way, through experience. Those who are more likely than others to become successful have understood it in the abstract or have the right gut feeling. Regardless of which it is, past or present, they understand that uncertainty is “worth it.”

What this means is that they don’t focus on uncertainty, but accept it. Entrepreneurs choose to bear uncertainty much like someone putting in the hard work – perhaps 10,000 hours’ worth – knows that hard practice is the means to achieve success. How to endure those endless hours of seemingly never ending tedious work? Eyes on the prize.

Successful entrepreneurs recognize the prize and what it takes to get there. They realize that the only way their business can convince customers to buy from them and to beat the competition is to provide value. To the extent they are not simply lucky, successful entrepreneurs rely on a value-dominant logic: They place the end value of their efforts first and direct their efforts to maximize value.

There are three key components to the value-dominant logic that help you apply it in your business:

1. Value is the entrepreneur’s superpower

Entrepreneurs bear uncertainty because it is the only way of doing something different, something new, and bringing about value greater than everybody else has. After all, doing what someone else is already doing is not a way to set yourself apart. It is also not a way of being truly successful. To be successful, you need to develop your superpower – to figure out, focus on and deliver real value.

2. Value is subjective

It sounds strange, but it is true: Value is subjective. This does not mean value can be anything or that it is relative or that there is no such thing as real value. It just means that value is in the eyes of the beholder. The important lesson here is that you, the entrepreneur, do not determine what value is. Your job is to figure out how what you offer can be of value to others. That is what you should be focusing on, not on what you think would make your offering “better.”

3. The consumer is the ultimate valuer

Any entrepreneur, whether in B2C or B2B, should recognize that, ultimately, the consumer is king. Or, as scholars put it, the consumer is sovereign. If you are selling directly to consumers, it is obvious enough. You cannot place a sale unless consumers value your offering. But even in B2B, you cannot stay in business long unless what you contribute to the economy is of value to the final consumer. Even if your customers like what you are doing, you’re not going to sustain profitability unless the consumer of the final good likes it.

Another way of adopting the value-dominant logic is to adopt the “4 Vs” model developed by Hunter Hastings of the “Economics 4 Business” podcast. He summarizes these points for thinking like a successful entrepreneur using four value statements: value potential, understanding and assessing potential consumer subjective value; value facilitation, making it possible for them to consume; value capture, how much the firm realizes of the value facilitated by a value ecosystem that the customer orchestrates; and value agility, how well does the firm respond to changing consumer preferences and competitive propositions and how well does the firm sustain a continuous delivery of innovation to the consumer.

The point is not the terminology or model, but the lesson: that value should come first. And when you place value first and recognize that it is subjective and for the consumer, the burden of uncertainty becomes bearable. It is but a means for attaining the end. It is costly for sure, but it is a necessary cost in order to pioneer production and break new ground.

Importantly, the burden of uncertainty is justifiable because it makes it possible for you to bring about value. This point is key to being successful.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How to prepare your business for unexpected disruptions and remain profitable through uncertainty

man getting into car ride share uber lyft
Business owners should be prepared for industry shifts, like how Uber affected taxicab drivers.

  • Per Bylund, PhD, is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship and at Oklahoma State University. 
  • He says businesses of all sizes should be prepared for unexpected disruptions outside of their control.
  • Make sure your business is consumer-oriented, and focus on keeping your company profitable.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Starting a business and making it break even is an extremely difficult accomplishment. Kudos to entrepreneurs managing this feat. But running a business is also no cakewalk. No profitable niche lasts forever, and the more profitable it is, the slimmer the chances are that it will last. Many entrepreneurs, including those with seemingly safe businesses, lost everything when their industries were unexpectedly disrupted. 

The taxicab industry is a telling example. It was benefiting from protective regulations that effectively had kept competition low for decades, yet all it took was a couple of tech-savvy guys – Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp of Uber – to upend the whole industry. Even though their business was not to provide regular taxi service, their innovation undermined that business. Uber and other similar services caused many taxicab companies to go bankrupt and the market value of taxi medallions to plummet. 

In other words, your business is not safe even if you are already making nice profits and the future looks bright. After all, even protected monopolies eventually get disrupted. What you need is to make sure you can stay profitable in the years and decades to come.

Profitability is to meet the future 

The key to profitability is to recognize what businesses are and do from the perspective of the whole economy. Businesses formulate strategies to position themselves with respect to each other and thereby earn profits. So the economic context matters, because it is within the economy that you run your business. It’s an obvious point, but what it means is rarely considered.

In the startup phase, the entrepreneur tries to find and populate a “gap” that allows the business to become profitable. But the same is true for the existing business, which must continue to consider its positioning to stay profitable. That’s what the old-style “Five Forces” framework helps you do – to position your business so that competitors, suppliers, customers and others have as little sway over it as possible. But there is more to it than positioning.

Profits are rewards for a job well-done. But to maintain profitability, your sight must be set to facilitate future value. After all, the line of production that you’re considering today will not be instantaneously available to your customers. The value they get from the goods and services you set out to produce will without exception happen in the future. In other words, profits indicate you did something right. But profitability is a matter of meeting the future. 

Customer isn’t king, but consumer is

The key to profitability is to imagine how you are contributing to making consumers better off. Note: “consumers” not “customers.” In our advanced economy, with two-thirds of all spending being business-to-business (B2B), your customer may not be the consumer. But the consumer is the user of the final product and therefore the one that determines its value. The consumer, therefore, determines also the value of all contributions in the supply chain, albeit indirectly. 

This subtle point has important implications. Businesses that produce the final product must focus on what consumers want and, more importantly, what they will want in the near future. But the same applies for B2B to maintain profitability. If you produce for other businesses, the viability of your own business goes only as far as your customer’s. When they are no longer profitable, you are no longer profitable. 

To stay profitable over time, look beyond your customer and consider your contribution to the value of the final product. Even if your customer does not recognize it, you should meet the opportunity and innovate to offer your customer an upper hand. If you make your customers thrive, your business thrives. The key is to think about the consumer whether or not you serve them directly.

Microsoft is an example of how to apply this thinking. While the software giant caters primarily to corporations and large institutions, they look ahead and continuously innovate to make it easier for their customers to serve consumers. From software to hardware, Microsoft focuses on providing the tools for productivity. This empowers their customers to serve their customers and, eventually, the consumer. In other words, Microsoft indirectly facilitates value for consumers, which makes Microsoft’s customers competitive and profitable.

Whether or not your business caters directly to consumers, it should still be consumer-oriented. To gain and maintain relevance in the economy, which is necessary to be (and continue being) profitable, requires that you contribute to the value of the final good. The great mistake of the taxicab companies was to focus on their strategic positioning in the market over innovating to facilitate value for consumers. This left the market wide open for a new type of competitor playing by a different rulebook.

All businesses benefit from adopting a consumer-value focus.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Over 70,000 people have applied to work at my bridesmaid-for-hire business – here’s how I decide who to hire

Jen Glantz
Jen Glantz is the founder of Bridesmaid for Hire.

  • Jen Glantz is an entrepreneur and founder of the company Bridesmaid for Hire.
  • Since starting her business in 2014, Glantz has fielded over 70,000 applications from paid bridesmaid hopefuls.
  • Glantz says she scans applications quickly for key details, and then conducts a long interview process to get to know each candidate.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Soon after I started my business Bridesmaid for Hire, clients were requesting something I truly wasn’t prepared to offer. I was the world’s first person offering a service where brides could hire me to show up at their wedding, pretend to know them from some point in their life, and be their bridesmaid for the day. All of a sudden, clients were asking if they could hire me and additional professional bridesmaids as well.

I was a solo-preneur and didn’t know how to hire a team for a job that I’d just invented. So, I decided to start by simply sharing the news that I was hiring people on social media and my website. After only a few weeks, I received thousands of job applications from people all over the world.

Over six years after starting this business, I’ve had over 70,000 people apply to work for me. I’ve both hired and fired over the years – the job isn’t as glamorous or as easy as it looks. I even found a way to monetize the audience of people who were interested in working for me and bring in an additional revenue stream for my business. 

Now, I have a streamlined hiring process. Here’s how I vet and select applicants to join my small business. 

Scanning applications for key details 

With thousands of people applying to work for my company every month, going through each application is nearly impossible. To organize the hiring process, I scan the applications for key details and keywords that are applicable to what kind of experience the ideal candidate should have.

While a lot of people think the number one job requirement to work for my company is that they’ve been a bridesmaid a handful of times, it actually isn’t something I weigh heavily in my vetting process.

Instead, I like to find people who have experience in sales (so they have top communication skills and the ability to read and react to situations), working in high-stress environments (because what wedding isn’t high-stress?), and work well with groups of people (whether they’ve managed teams or worked one-on-one with lots of people before).

Even though thousands of people apply monthly, only a handful of applicants end up being considered. 

When you’re hiring for a position, it’s important to be clear on what skills are must-haves and what experience is non-negotiable versus simply a plus. It will make the hiring process easier and more efficient. 

Conducting interviews and in-person tests

The job of being a professional bridesmaid at a strangers wedding is more of a complex role than you’d imagine. You’re not only a part of the bridal party, you’re also working as the bride’s personal assistant, on-call therapist, social director, and wedding peacekeeper. Hiring for this role means that the interview process has to be in-depth and oftentimes, in person.

Round one is a video call where I assess the person’s personality, experience, and overall passion for the job. During this round, most people express more of an interest in working as a professional bridesmaid for the perks and the party, so 90% of people don’t make it past this round.

Round two is a test where the candidate is given multiple real-life wedding scenarios and asked how they’d handle them. The candidates that don’t make the cut here are often shocked by these questions and unsure of what to do, while the best candidates bring creativity and problem solving techniques to the table. 

Round three, which very few people make it to, involves an in-person meeting and social situation test. This is the stage where I’ll spend quality time getting to know a candidate. A lot can be known about a person, their habits, and their unique value by spending time with them. By this stage, after a day or two of hanging out with the person, I’ll make my final decision on whether or not they are hired. Usually, more than 90% of people I meet in person will not make it past this round.

Creating a money-making course 

Even though over 70,000 people have applied to work for my company, my hiring rate is very low. If 10 people a year make it to round three, only one might be hired. Because of that, I realized I had to find another way to meet a major need of a large audience of people who wanted to work for my company.

In many applications, there were mentions of wanting to work a cool job, be their own boss, and move away from their current career. Since I knew I couldn’t hire all of these people, I decided to find a way to service these needs.

Four years ago, I created an online training course that helps any interested applicants learn how to start a side hustle in the wedding industry. Not only do they get the behind-the-scenes details on my business (from pricing to marketing strategies) but they get the tools they need to start their own company. 

This course has allowed me to create another popular revenue stream for my business, while also providing a service that benefits this audience immensely.

Hiring for your company can be tricky, especially if the role is unique. If you do get an influx of candidates that you can’t hire, finding an offering or product that can help them get a different opportunity might be a beneficial way to help them and help you scale your company.

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 lessons entrepreneurs can learn about problem-solving from the NASA engineers who landed Apollo 13

Apollo 13
Apollo 13 astronauts treading water as they await their recovery helicopter in 1970.

  • Entrepreneurs can grow their problem-solving skills by emulating the tactics used by the Apollo 13 NASA engineers.
  • Avoid panicking, and take a step back to assess and understand the situation or problem at hand.
  • Weigh each potential solution carefully, but once you’ve made a choice, commit and don’t second-guess your decision. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Entrepreneurs are inherently problem-solvers. After all, we start our businesses because we recognize a need that needs to be filled. Take me, for instance: Part of my previous job at an internet media company was to create tools for editors to build forms, surveys, and polls. The problem was that at the time, the form-building landscape offered few good options. I decided to change that, and my company, JotForm, was born. 

But in the course of solving big-picture problems, smaller ones are constantly springing up and threatening to derail us. Some days, it feels like there are hundreds of fires that need to be put out before I’ve even finished my coffee. 

On those days, I like to think of an anecdote from Jerry C. Bostick, the flight dynamics officer for the Apollo 13 mission. More than two decades after the spacecraft was safely brought back to Earth after near-disaster, screenwriters Al Reinert and Bill Broyles were interviewing Bostick for the script that would become the film “Apollo 13.” One of their questions was, “Weren’t there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?”  

Bostick’s answer? No. 

“When bad things happened we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them,” he said. 

If ever there was a situation when panic would be warranted, the Apollo 13 mission was one of them. But panic wouldn’t have helped Mission Control then, and it won’t help you, either. 

Work the problem

One of NASA‘s most renowned problem solvers was flight director Gene Kranz, who oversaw both the Gemini and Apollo programs during his 34-year career. While trying to figure out how to rescue the three astronauts whose lives were on the line on Apollo 13, he said to his staff, “Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” 

Kranz’s “work the problem” mantra is still used by the agency today. Astronaut Chris Hadfield explained the process in his book, “An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth,” describing it as “NASA-speak for descending one decision tree after another, methodically looking for a solution until you run out of oxygen:”

“When we heard the alarm on the Station, instead of rushing to don masks and arm ourselves with extinguishers, one astronaut calmly got on the intercom to warn that a fire alarm was going off – maybe the Russians couldn’t hear it in their module – while another went to the computer to see which smoke detector was going off. No one was moving in a leisurely fashion, but the response was one of focused curiosity; as though we were dealing with an abstract puzzle rather than an imminent threat to our survival. To an observer it might have looked a little bizarre, actually: no agitation, no barked commands, no haste.”

University of Virginia Professor Thomas S. Bateman laid out “working the problem” in eight steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Determine goals/objectives
  3. Generate an array of alternative solutions
  4. Evaluate the possible consequences of each solution
  5. Use this analysis to choose one or more courses of action
  6. Plan the implementation
  7. Implement with full commitment
  8. Adapt as needed based on incoming data

This calm, rational approach to problem-solving works for astronauts and entrepreneurs alike. No matter what you’re dealing with, take a step back, understand the problem, and descend each decision tree until you find a solution. 

Be adaptable 

It might turn out that your original vision isn’t the one that ends up being realized. Or maybe you successfully launched one product, but changing technology forces you to reimagine it a few years down the line. That’s okay. Successful entrepreneurs know that change is inevitable, and if they want to survive in the long term, they’ll have to adapt. 

Nokia, for example, began as a paper company before following consumer demand and transitioning to rubber tires and galoshes. In the 1960s, it began making military equipment for Finland’s army, including gas masks and radio service phones, among other things. It eventually rose to prominence as the most successful cell phone manufacturer on Earth between 1998 and 2012. Even though it was eventually crushed by Apple after the release of the iPhone, Nokia lasted as long as it did thanks to its agility. 

Ask “why?”

Asking “why?” over and over again might make you feel less like a CEO and more like your toddler. But the truth is that there’s a lot we can gain from having an open, inquisitive mindset. Entrepreneur Michelle MacDonald suggests asking “Why?” five times to get to the root of any problem. 

“Many times when a problem arises, we jump to the first thought about why that problem is occurring, and then focus on a solution to fix that,” she said. “This is like putting an adhesive bandage over a hose and expecting it to hold.”

Say you find yourself drowning in work because you keep putting off tasks. Your five whys might go something like this: 

  1. Why am I constantly stressed? Because I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. 
  2. Why don’t I have enough time? Because I often procrastinate. 
  3. Why do I procrastinate? Because I don’t particularly enjoy some of the tasks I have to do. 
  4. Why don’t I enjoy them? Because they’re not a good use of my time, and someone else can easily do them. 
  5. Why isn’t someone else doing them? Because I haven’t delegated them out. 

Doing this will help you treat the actual problem, not just its symptoms, and keep you from trying to resolve the same thing over and over again. 

Positive thinking

Bostick’s answer about Mission Control’s refusal to panic spawned one of the most iconic lines of all time: “Failure is not an option.” Though that exact phrasing is an invention of the “Apollo 13” writers, the sentiment was accurate.

Negative thinking undermines the brain’s ability to think broadly and creatively, because fear and stress obscure options. Of course, you’re going to be stressed if, say, you lose a major client or there’s a freak explosion aboard your space craft. But those who cultivate positivity tend to be more resilient to such shocks, said Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and author of “Positivity.” 

One report co-written by Fredrickson suggests that positive emotions create a sort of buffer that helps people overcome setbacks. In fact, positive emotions were shown to help businesspeople negotiate better, improve decision-making and drive high-performance behavior. 

“Positive emotions expand awareness and attention,” Fredrickson said – critical attributes for anyone trying to solve a problem. “When you’re able to take in more information, the peripheral vision field is expanded. You’re able to connect the dots to the bigger picture. Instead of remembering just the most central event, you remember that and the peripheral aspects, too.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

3 leadership qualities all business owners should have to be successful during a tumultuous economy

small business
Leaders should set clear goals and be flexible to change during the pandemic.

  • Being a business leader during tumultuous times like the COVID-19 pandemic is no small feat.
  • During uncertainty, leaders should be purpose-driven and able to pivot easily to accommodate change. 
  • Leaders should also practice decisiveness, authenticity, and compassion to guide their employees successfully. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the world, businesses were already becoming more accustomed to dealing with uncertainty. The geopolitical landscape was as tumultuous as it had been in many years, rocked by an erratic US administration and Brexit-induced volatility, and digital disruption was condemning a growing number of longstanding incumbents in numerous sectors to the graveyard, having failed to evolve.

Coronavirus, of course, amplified uncertainty by an order of magnitude no living business executive had experienced before, but that doesn’t change the reality that leaders were having to adapt at an unprecedented pace even before COVID-19 exhausted the use of the word ‘unprecedented.’ This means it is foolish for any company to assume it will revert to a state of blissful stability and clarity when the pandemic finally concludes, whenever that may be.  

Instead, it will have served as the latest, albeit the most extreme, example of uncertainty in a much wider period in which such an environment became the operational norm. Succeeding during a time when cycles of change are rapidly accelerated and strategic outlooks much shorter, requires a more fluid approach to leadership. While some leaders have risen to the challenge during the pandemic, others have been exposed for lacking the skills and behaviors that distinguish their more successful contemporaries.

What are those skills and behaviors? Three core attributes define the new breed of thriving business leaders in this age of perennial disruption, in which vital decision-making increasingly has to be based on limited reliable data. Given leaders represent their company’s culture and values, these attributes also speak more widely about how organizations can prosper through not just the new normal but the next one too. 

Agility

Spoiled by the user experience they enjoy on their smartphones and social networks, customers’ expectations have catapulted over the last decade across all manner of products and services. In this landscape, leaders didn’t require a global pandemic to teach them just how important agility now is to businesses, but needless to say, it has accelerated the need.

When leaders faced challenges in previous generations, most of the time, they were able to turn to a well-established playbook for dealing with them, based on prior experience. However, there can be no playbook for the unprecedented, so leaders have been forced to chart their own course. Agility underpins true resilience, and it can’t be taught on an MBA course.

Few leaders are excellent at both strategy and execution, which is fine, but agility does require the ability to switch seamlessly between the two. Crucially, agility is not simply the preserve of great leadership today – it absolutely must be ingrained throughout the organization.

Agility is often wrongfully associated exclusively with digitization, yet it is not a technology. It’s a mentality. Our responsibility as leaders is to find the right balance between embracing the digital age and preserving the traditional values underpinning the fabric of our business and personal relationships for centuries. 

Purpose

It’s not only a pre-crisis desire for agility that has gained pace during the pandemic but also purpose-driven leadership and ESG issues. During times of difficulty or uncertainty, customers reward brands that behave fairly, ethically, and increasingly wish to purchase from brands that align with their own personal values. Therefore, leading with a social conscience will make businesses and their people more resilient to disruption.

Driving strong financial results for a business during periods of uncertainty is difficult enough, but doing so while also satisfying a much wider breadth of stakeholders, including employees, minority communities, and even the environment, is truly a leadership art form.

While remaining true to the socially-driven company mission and values they have defined, those that do so will be on the strongest footing for success in the years ahead, as customers gravitate to trustful and transparent brands, which inspires me to create The Bruno Effect. The best leaders view transparency not as a barrier but as a real opportunity to connect with staff and customers on a deeper level. 

Authenticity

The best leadership amidst uncertainty and disruption is underpinned by honesty, humility, and an unwavering commitment to really living the company’s values. In this environment, people respond positively to a personal, authentic leadership style, which requires great communication, a strong moral compass, mental agility, consistency – and even more transparency.

More than ever, businesses need calm and compassionate leadership and decisiveness, even when insights to inform decisions are lacking. One of the biggest challenges facing leaders in the post-crisis business world will be inspiring workforces to buy-in to the company’s mission. It’ll require the courage to boldly reset or pivot strategy, culture, and processes when confronted with evidence of change or underperformance.

Authentic leaders, who engage well with their growing array of stakeholders, should aim at evolution, not revolution, in their approach to leadership. The pandemic aligned everyone’s attention on a single objective, but the number of so-called strategic imperatives at a company can multiply outside such times of crisis, resulting in a lack of focus. It falls to leaders to ensure their organization is united behind a clear vision and common set of goals.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I used Tiktok to promote sexual health education after my herpes diagnosis. Here’s how I did it – and my advice for others trying to boost their brand or business.

Jenelle Marie Pierce is the creator of The STI Project.
Jenelle Marie Pierce is the creator of The STI Project.

  • Jenelle Marie Pierce is the creator of The STI Project and an educator and speaker on STIs and sexual health.
  • In January 2020, she decided to begin using TikTok as a platform to promote STI awareness and education, and soon one of her videos sharing her own personal history with herpes racked up over one million views.
  • Pierce encourages other non-Gen Z entrepreneurs to not be afraid of using TikTok, and to learn the formatting and follow trends to get their company and message in front of more viewers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

If someone told you that your most strategic business move this year would be to step back into high school, would you do it? 

That’s essentially what I did in early 2020 when I launched myself into TikTok. There was a time when I said, “You couldn’t pay me enough to walk back into my young adult years.” But then at 37 I decided to give it a go, using a platform that’s populated primarily by teens and young adults. After one of my videos got over a million views, I’ve continued using TikTok as a platform to promote awareness and education on STIs. 

Admittedly, my high school years were tough. I contracted herpes during that time and spent most of my young adult life processing the shame and trauma that accompanies a stigmatizing diagnosis. That experience, however, was also the primary motivator behind my mid-career pivot in 2012 from a healthcare analyst for a Fortune 500 company to an unknown sexual health educator, STI expert, and content creator. 

I saw a need for sex education that wasn’t being met by clinical resources or PSAs plastered everywhere.

When I left corporate America to launch The STI Project, I wanted to curate a comprehensive, relevant, empathetic, and pleasure-focused platform and safe space. I wanted to create the resource I so desperately needed when I was diagnosed in high school.

Read more: ‘It was literally viral, and then I barely got any credit for it.’ Black TikTok creators start dance crazes – and white users profit.

As a solopreneur, I often cycle between extreme motivation, exhaustion, and caffeinated auto-pilot.

There are times when I spend an entire week answering press and media inquiries, and then others where I devote days to curating content for my social media platforms. 

Balance has always been a struggle, because work is never far away, with my phone in my hand and my office in a neighboring room, and other than my team of sub-contractors, I’m just one person doing the job of three or four. So, understandably, when I began reading articles about TikTok doctors going viral and listening to entrepreneurs like Gary Vee insist upon TikTok’s business potential, I immediately rolled my eyes and felt exhausted.

At first, I wasn’t sure I had the time to incorporate yet another social media platform into my to-do list, especially one offering questionable returns. In the eight years I’ve been The STI Project’s executive director, we’ve gained a modest social media following across platforms such as Instagram, but our bread and butter has always been through Google search results, where we receive over 100,000 visits per month. Second, I wasn’t sure if TikTok’s young demographic made sense for my niche taboo content around STDs/STIs and sexual health.

However silly my mindset was, I know similar thoughts may be stopping other entrepreneurs from jumping on the TikTok bandwagon. 

In just a month since joining TikTok, my most viewed video, 15 seconds of cringe-worthy dancing and text inlays talking about how I no longer allow the fear, shame, and stigma of a herpes diagnosis to define me, captured over one million views.  While subsequent videos haven’t always performed as highly, it felt amazing to know my message was shared with one million people.

What’s even more quantifiable is that I’ve received a growth in direct traffic from TikTok to my website, and earned paying customers for my online masterclass on unlearning STI stigma and overcoming shame, without any additional advertising or promotion.

Read more: I’ve sold thousands of my books on Instagram. Here are 6 steps entrepreneurs overlook when trying to acquire customers on social media.

TikTok does have its downsides – it’s not for the faint of heart. 

One quick look at the comments section on some of my most popular videos and you’ll see why.

Adolescents, teenagers, and young adults are some of the most brutal critiques you’ll meet, but they’re also our cultural change-makers. If you want to expand your business, your influence, your message, and your opportunities, starting with a younger demographic is key. As with all social platforms, TikTok is spreading across different age groups and appealing more and more to professional, middle-aged, and even older demographics.

If you want to strategically launch your business onto TikTok, here’s my advice:

  • Do you research on what does well and goes viral on the app. Some advice, such as YouTube videos about how to become TikTok famous might seem rudimentary, but most of these videos are published by young people who know the platform best. In the same way your child is able to navigate your iPad with ease and finesse, their TikTok know-how can be applied to all genres and all businesses.
  • Decide what message, product, or service you’re promoting. TikTok is already populated by fitness professionals, chefs, amateur photographers, activists like myself, mommy bloggers, and everything in between. There’s really no limit to what you can promote, as long as you keep an open mind and a fun spirit.
  • Play with different formats like dances, short explainers, comedy skits, or lip syncs, and see what fits you and your brand best. Not sure? Try them all. It takes a few minutes to put together a 15 second video, and if it flops, try something else, but don’t forget to have fun.
  • Watch the trends and play along. Being a “follower” on TikTok has its upsides, because it gets your content seen, but no matter how much you copy another person’s idea, it will always be unique to you and your brand, because it’s featuring you. Picking trending hashtags, music, and formats will ensure you are relevant, but it doesn’t always mean your video will hit viral gold.
  • Don’t be afraid to look stupid. TikTok is not a platform where you should take yourself, your work, or your brand too seriously, because it’s temporary. What was interesting or catchy one week will fall flat the following. Your comments section will be full of critique, no matter how perfectly you replicate the most recent trend, so do what feels best for you, and don’t stop creating.

Jenelle Marie Pierce is the creator of The STI Project, the founder of the herpes activists network, HANDS, and an STI and sexual health educator and freelance writer specializing in dismantling STI stigma. She writes about prevention, safer sex, and transmission risk; symptoms and testing; personal narratives, disclosure, and stigma. Follow her on Twitter.

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 decision-making tactics that can help you master the art of making better choices

business woman thinking coffee
Our decision-making skills deteriorate over time if we don’t properly manage stress and distractions.

  • The best entrepreneurs are great decision makers, especially when they’re facing countless tough choices on a daily basis. 
  • Smart decisions are objective, informative, aligned with your core values, and made with neutral emotions. 
  • Practice strategies to reduce decision fatigue and stay neutral by walking away, meditating, or consulting outside perspectives and experts when faced with a tough choice. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Entrepreneurship is, in large part, reliant on decision making for success. After creating your business plan, you’ll have a blueprint for what you want your business to be and how you’re going to develop it; but moving forward, you’ll be faced with countless tough decisions.

On a small level, how do you want to prioritize your day? How are you going to negotiate this deal? On a larger level, who are you going to hire for this position? How will you challenge this new competitor? How are you going to pivot the business to escape bankruptcy?

It’s no surprise that some of the best entrepreneurs also happen to be the best decision makers. They’re able to take any decision, big or small, and address it in a way that’s both objective and appropriate. That doesn’t mean they make the right call every time; we all make mistakes, and successful entrepreneurs are no different. But over time, their decisions tend to lead them in better directions.

So what actionable steps can you take to make smarter decisions in your business?

Read more: I’m a partner at Menlo Ventures. Here are my 3 most important tips for startups to make sure they’re not leaving money on the table.

What is a smart decision?

First, we have to define what a “smart” decision is. Smarter decisions tend to have a few things in common:

  • Objectivity. Good decisions are objective, based on facts and logic.
  • Stoicism. Decisions shouldn’t be influenced by raw emotions (in most cases).
  • Full information. The more information you have, the better.
  • Alignment with goals and values. Good decisions should be aligned fully with your company’s goals and values.

How can you achieve these qualities in your decision making?

Reduce decision fatigue

Decision fatigue is a simple psychological concept that many of us underestimate, but the more decisions we make in a given period, the weaker our decision-making abilities become. Over time, we become bogged down with stress and distractions, and ultimately make worse decisions for ourselves and our businesses. This even occurs with tiny, seemingly inconsequential decisions.

Many famous entrepreneurs and leaders, including Barack Obama, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg, have strategies in place to reduce decision fatigue by stripping away unimportant decisions. For example, you might wear the same thing every day or have the same thing for breakfast. It may not seem like much, but over time, making fewer decisions each day can make you a better decision maker.

Get all the facts

As a leader, it’s important to be decisive, but it’s also important to have all the facts before you move forward with any decision. Are you sure that all the information you have is accurate? Are there any details you might be missing? What are the alternatives?

Read more: I started my new role as LinkedIn’s CEO during the pandemic. Here’s what I learned from my first 6 months on the job.

Get to a neutral emotion

When it’s time to make a final decision, you have to remove emotion from the equation as much as possible. If you’re making an impulsive call about an emergency situation, this can be extremely difficult. However, there are a number of techniques that can help you, such as:

  • Walking away. Sometimes, moving to a different physical location is all it takes to shift your mindset. If you’ve ever experienced road rage, you know that as soon as you’re parked, away from the road and out of your car, the situation doesn’t seem so bad. Try walking away and thinking through your decision in another, less intense location.
  • Meditating. Many people swear by the power of meditation. Simply taking a few minutes to reflect on your own state of mind can be enough to dissolve the emotions that might otherwise influence your decision.
  • Considering the decision from an outside perspective. You can also get a better sense for the objective reality of the situation by considering it from an outsider’s perspective. A common trick is to make your decision as if you’re advising a friend: If one of your closest friends were in this position, what would you tell them to do? You’ll suddenly consider more variables, and you’ll feel more detached from the situation (in a good way).

Talk to other experts

While the final decision is yours, it can be helpful to learn about the perspectives of other experts in this area. Do you have employees or partners who can share their ideas and gut feelings? Do you know of mentors or experienced professionals you can call for some quick advice? If you don’t have anyone to personally contact, you can substitute reading or podcast listening; what do other experts have to say about this situation?

“Good” decisions and “bad” decisions aren’t defined by the outcomes to which they lead; instead, they’re defined by the process used by the person making them. You can make better decisions by reducing decision fatigue, getting more information, clearing yourself of emotion and talking to other experts. This doesn’t guarantee all your decisions will work out, but it will increase each decision’s likelihood of success.

Read the original article on Business Insider

7 ways to prepare your small business and increase profits during peak holiday season

small business owner
Your website needs to be mobile friendly to capture the most customers this holiday season.

  • It’s time to start preparing your business for the holidays, especially if you want to maximize time, profits, and sales. 
  • Most people will be online shopping this winter, so it’s critical your website updated with new pictures, products, and a smooth and flexible checkout flow. 
  • Engage with your customers by responding to comments or reaching out to “abandoned cart” customers, and show off your excellent customer service with a self-help resources page. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The holiday sales season is here, and if you haven’t already started preparing your business to maximize your time, you could be missing out on major profits. In 2019, over $135 billion was spent during the holiday sales season.

For most small businesses owners, particularly those in the retail and consumer products space, Q4 is their largest quarter for gross revenue. Yet, most small business owners are leaving money on the table during this time because they are not adequately preparing.

Read more: A 37-year-old entrepreneur created a card game right before the pandemic that became an instant hit. Here’s how she made 6 figures in revenue in less than a year.

Here are seven things you should be doing now to prepare your business for the upcoming holiday season.

1. Update your website

Online sales for my clients have skyrocketed this year. With everyone at home, online shopping is a necessity for most. Therefore, keeping your website up-to-date and easy to use should be one of your top priorities,

This could include updating your product photos, reviewing descriptions of your products and services, confirming your prices are correct or making necessary adjustments to shipping rates.

Also use this time to plan promotions or set up any promo codes that you will be using in your marketing during the holiday season (think Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc).

2. Test your checkout process

If you haven’t done a test run of your check-out process recently, now is the time to do one.

Potential buyers are looking for a seamless experience and if the check-out process is clunky and cumbersome, you could lose sales. Just remember that one-click buying is now at consumers’ fingertips, so simplicity is key.

3. Consider additional payment methods

Most online businesses accept payments through credit cards, debit cards, or PayPal, which are great but customers are looking for increased flexibility and an easy buying experience.

For example, Apple Pay makes it easy for people to pay with their phone (online and in-person). After Pay allows you to offer payment plans to customers.  

Consider adding alternative payment options if it makes sense with your ecommerce system and makes it easier for your customers to shop with you.

Read more: Entrepreneurs say Instagram Stories have helped them sell products faster and attract customers from home. Here’s how they leverage the social media feature to grow their businesses.

4. Recapture “abandoned cart” customers

Cart abandonments account for $18 billion in lost revenue annually across ecommerce stores. It’s an astounding number.

Win back customers who fill their carts, but fail to complete the checkout process by sending abandoned cart emails.  

Send two or three fun, on-brand follow-up emails to remind your customers to head back to your shop and complete their order. You can set these up ahead of time and automate the process.

Reminding and incentivizing customers who have abandoned their shopping carts will build connections with your customers and increase your profits – with little effort on your part!

5. Mobile-friendly is a must 

A mobile-friendly website is an absolute necessity. 34.5% of ecommerce spending during the 2019 holiday season was made via smartphones.

Use tools like MobiReady to test your website on different browsers and devices to make sure it’s a smooth experience for the customer.  

6. Communicate clearly

Communication is always key, but during a pandemic, it is critical. Now is the time to communicate and educate your customers so they are informed on your business’ return policies, shipping delays, or deadlines, etc. 

One example of this are holiday shipping deadlines. 

Most online retailers have strict deadlines of when orders need to be placed to guarantee arrival by Christmas. Display these deadlines prominently on your home page or an announcement bar across the top of your site, highlight them in your check-out process where customers choose their shipping options, talk about these deadlines on social media and in your marketing emails.

Overly communicate important details with customers in a clear and concise manner.

7. Provide excellent customer service

Exceptional customer service creates loyal customers who are willing to refer your business to everyone they know. Poor customer service can also be magnified in the same way.

How are your customers engaging with your brand? How are they impacted? How could you make it a better experience for all?

For example, build out a self-help resource section on your website to reduce customer service inquiries. A FAQ page won’t solve every issue but it may minimize questions and give you a place to direct customers when needed.

Aim to strengthen interactions with your customers at every touch point. This includes responding to comments on social media, timely responses to email inquiries, and finding ways to surprise and delight them at different phases of their customer journey (sending birthday cards is one example!).

These seven strategies will ensure you head into the holiday sales season with a strong foundation. You’ll be able to easily layer in your sales and marketing strategies because your products will be ready, your site will be ready, and your company will be focused on providing a positive experience for your customers.

Read the original article on Business Insider