Great Business Books

Great business books posted by Jeffry schneiderThe next several days, as everybody is out of the office, which allows us to catch up on things that we otherwise wouldn’t have time to do.  And one great thing to catch up on is reading; I love to read, but my work means I seldom get a chance to read.  But nothing is worse than a bad book that doesn’t teach us anything.  Entrepreneur.com recently published a list of five great business books you can read this season that will offer valuable lessons.  I’ve heard of a few of these, and have heard some great things too.  Here are the books:

Tools of Titans (Tim Ferris): A book filled with straightforward tips that you can use immediately, as well as various insights on habit forming, particularly forming the habits of successful entrepreneurs.  

Ten Restaurants That Changed America (Paul Freedman): Great for foodies, history buffs and entrepreneurs, it’s hard not to love this book, which takes a detailed look at various restaurants to see how and why they succeeded and/or failed.  It’s an easy and entertaining read that looks at what it means to stay relevant.  

The Richest Man in Town (Randal Jones): Randal Jones, best known as the founder of Worth magazine, goes through the “twelve commandments of wealth” in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner that goes through how various habits can lead to success.  

Only the Paranoid Survive (Andrew Grove): A look at how Intel became such a major force, as well as how the company dealt with various mishaps (and potential mishaps) along the way.

The Hard Things About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz): This raw, frank and straightforward look at what it takes to run and start a business spares few details.  The author takes a brutally honest approach to detailing the finer points of running and managing a company, but with a fun voice to it.

The Parentrepreneur

The parentrepreneur posted by Jeffry SchneiderBeing an entrepreneur takes a whole lot of time.  So does being a parent.  Many people think that it’s impossible to balance the two, but I can testify that it is indeed possible.  I recently read a blog post that shared some tips from successful “parentrepreneurs” on how you could balance the two.  Here’s what they had to say:

Prioritize your commitments: It’s often hard to figure out whether or not you should prioritize your commitment as a parent or as an entrepreneur.  You’ll of course want to do both, but you need to be realistic.  Even if I’m busy, I make an effort to stay involved with my kids.  The article suggests, something I can actually agree with, that you should keep a routine and always have a back-up plan.  

“Hack” your time: I’ve spoken before about “productivity hacks” meant to make you more productive, and those are particularly important for working parents.  You can use various time hacks to help with your work day: cooking two meals at a time, shopping online instead of driving to the store, doing work in batches, etc.  Removing the distractions from your work lets you save more time and get much more done with what time you do have.  

Outsource and delegate: Family activities often get in the way of business obligations  (and vice versa).  That’s why you’ll want to train or hire somebody reliable who will be able to take your place when you can’t make it.

Grow your network: Being a parent introduces you to a “parent network”: adults whose children go to school, attend soccer practice or are in marching band with your own kids.  This allows you to meet interesting people you might not otherwise meet, that can turn into valuable contacts.  

Tricks to Boost Productivity

Tricks to Boost Productivity posted by Jeffry SchneiderAs a business owner, it can be very easy for me to feel overwhelmed with the workload in front of me, and sometimes it feels like the tasks in front of me are piling up faster than I can accomplish them.  In recent years, the phrase “life hack” has been coined to define a little trick to make somebody’s life more efficient.  In addition to “life hacks”, there are plenty of “productivity hacks” that entrepreneurs and business owners can take advantage of.  Here are a couple of them, taken from an article that I read online:

Stick to your morning routine: Cementing a morning routine prepares you emotionally, physically and mentally for the rest of your day.  Whether it involves a specific type of breakfast, a morning workout or some personal reflection time, a morning routine creates enough certainty to help you be productive no matter what happens the rest of the day.  Few people feel ready to take on the world when they’re waking up, but this helps.

Tackle the hardest thing first: Procrastinating or choosing to focus on the easier tasks first is only natural, but that’s not always the best thing to do.  The article points out that whatever you do first in the day sets you up for the rest of the day.  Our brains are most open to influence during the first hour we’re awake and the hour before we fall asleep.  One trick is to plan out your most important tasks the day before.  This gives you time to think of any problems that could otherwise throw you off track, so you’ll be prepared to face them.

The 60-60-30 technique: Here’s how this works: two 60-minute work sessions with a 10-minute gap in-between them, followed by a 30-minute break.  Put your most important tasks in these sessions every day.  Then you can follow the Pomodoro time system: 25 minutes of work, followed by a 15-minute break.  This time system is meant to provide entrepreneurs with the maximum focus and mental clarity.  

Schedule your emails: There are plenty of distractions out there, and one of the biggest is email.  If you’re doing some work that needs to be accomplished and an email comes in, it can disrupt your entire flow if you stop everything to read the email.  Set up times that you check and respond to emails so that you don’t get distracted.

The two-minute rule: Whenever there’s a task that would take two minutes to complete, then always do it.  Whether it’s a call to action from a podcast or setting up a doctor’s appointment, this is an easy rule to follow, and helps you stop procrastinating.  

Killing Employee Loyalty

Killing Employee Loyalty posted by jeffry schneiderEvery employer values employee loyalty, but loyalty needs to be cultivated; it doesn’t simply come from a regular salary.  In the same way that employee loyalty needs to be cultivated, there are steps you need to take to ensure that you won’t undermine it.  Entrepreneur and author Mike Michalowicz recently wrote a blog post about how you can destroy employee loyalty; I read it the other day, and it had some interesting points.  A lot of his points seemed obvious, but some of them surprised me as well:

Make work a 24/7 commitment: Anybody who knows me can say how devoted I am to Ascendant Capital, yet everybody needs some time away from their to recharge so they can perform better.  Staff won’t be available around the clock, and expecting them to be so will just lead to resentment.  In a similar vein, while having happy hours and weekend retreats is one thing, you don’t want to force your employees to make their job part of their social lives as well.

Make your staff do work they aren’t good at: If you take the time to match your staff with responsibilities they’re good at, not only will the work be better, but everybody will be happier as well.  While I do think that nobody is going to enjoy doing work they don’t want to be doing in the first place, I also think that this is a lot easier said than done.  Sometimes, pushing your employees outside of their comfort zone can be a good thing, and is sometimes necessary to get work done.  Nonetheless, there’s a fine line.  

Not treat them like human beings: This should be a no-brainer, but many CEOs and managers treat their employees as resources rather than human beings.  Your staff is made up of people, not “inventory”.  Support your staff and protect them, and in return they’ll be loyal.

Ask for input and then ignore it: Saying “we value your feedback” is almost like a reflex at this point.  It’s great to ask for feedback, but if you just do nothing with it then all it proves to your employees is that you don’t actually care about their opinion.  

Make money the main focus: Money is a big part of any company, particularly when your line of work is, like mine, finance.  But that shouldn’t be your only motivator, otherwise employees will leave the minute they get a better-paying job offer.  Focus on challenges that fulfill and provide a sense of purpose.  

Why You Should Plan

Why You Should Plan posted by Jeffry ScheiderEven if you’re the smartest and most talented person in your field, you can’t accomplish anything if you can’t plan your work.  If you’re brilliant, charismatic and are good at cramming work, then you might be able to do decent work at the last minute.  But that won’t work when time demands inevitably increase.  At some point, it’s important to create plans that will help you manage your time.  Once you get into the habit of planning your work out, then it will make your work more productive, and in many instances dramatically reduce stress.

If you aren’t used to planning, then starting out is a difficult, even painful, experience; sort of like starting out a new and more intense exercise routine.  Planning is something that often takes longer than expected; simply planning for a regular week can often take up to an hour.  This feels like a waste of time for anybody who isn’t used to it.  Yet taking one hour to plan makes the other 39 hours of your work week a lot less stressful and more productive.  It allows you to greater understand how long work actually takes versus how long you think it should take.  Of course, things won’t always go exactly as you expected, but having a general idea will let you know if something goes wrong so you can do something to fix it.  

As you get into the habit of planning, and start to reap its positive results, you’ll start to feel a lot better.  Knowing how you can manage your time gives you the chance to quickly negotiate expectations or pull in more resources when necessary.  It also helps you confidently set boundaries and figure out what you’re going to do for the rest of the day, allowing you to consistently set and meet expectations.  

Sort of like the canary in a coal mine, planning lets you notice any red-flags early on.  If there’s a big issue, you might not notice it until it’s too late if you didn’t schedule out anything.  Yet checking against your plan will let you notice any issues early on so that you can confront them as early-on as possible.  

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of planning, then take a look at this article from Harvard Business Review.

Why Tough Clients Are Good

Why tough clients are good posted by jeffry schneiderWe’ve all had difficult customers who are demanding or ask tough questions.  Difficult and confrontational clients, for all of the headaches they might cause, are actually some of the most valuable customers to have.  I found an article online that shared four reasons why those clients who ask the difficult questions are actually good for your business.  The article was more focused on sales, but its lessons are relevant across various fields.  Here’s what the author had to say:

Sophisticated buyers are interested: Somebody who asks hard questions does so because they’re interested in doing business with you.  While they’re fairly intimidating, if you can get past that they’ll often be the best possible clients you can have.  The clients to worry about are the overly-agreeable ones who aren’t asking any questions, since they probably aren’t engaged or serious about moving forward.  If clients are asking hard questions, that’s because they’re really thinking about how your company could fit with them.

They’re great practice: Think about the last difficult client that you had.  Maybe it wasn’t a great experience, but they made you think, and you probably learned a lot from dealing with them.  How you communicate the value of your company is one of the most important parts of both selling and retaining clients.  The tough questions these clients ask can help hone the perfect sales pitch, as well as give you practice in dealing with difficult clients in the future.  If you and your company make the most of these situations, then you’ll be in a better place when the next tough client inevitably comes around.  

They provide invaluable information: As difficult as they may be, demanding clients are taking the time to sit down and talk with you, so it’s important to at least listen to them.  Deep discussions with challenging clients offers a lot of insight about how their businesses operate and what their biggest pain points are.  Even if you lose the client, the information you glean from talking with them is just as valuable as any market research.

They make you more authentic and honest: Nobody likes to be “sold” to, and most potential customers can recognize a phony pitch.  The best deals are mutually beneficial ones.  You might think your client is just being hostile when they interrogate you, but that’s not the case at all.  Rather, they want to know how your company can truly benefit them.  That’s why you need to dig deeper and highlight your company’s greatest strengths.  

How Lego Saved Itself

How Lego Saved Itself posted by Jeffry SchneiderEasily one of the most recognizable toy brands, Danish toy giant Lego has been in operation for nearly 70 years.  Even though they’re one of the most powerful brands in business, there was a time when they were facing near annihilation.  Yet it’s possible that this near-death experience was the best thing to happen to Lego, and allowed them to emerge stronger than ever.  

According to trends forecaster and business analyst Michael McQueen, there were two major factors that contributed to the near demise of Lego: the rise and competition of video games and over-innovating.  Back in 2001, the company was struggling, leading them on a “pursuit of innovation”.  While innovation is often a good thing, only about six percent of Lego’s innovative ideas were actually making money.  Recognizing this, Lego started to compete in the video game market, which came at a massive cost; over-innovation stretched the company too thin and they began to over-produce.  It was a case of too many products and not enough profit.  There was also a huge amount of manufacturing costs, as Lego increased its number of colors from six to 50.  By 2004, the new Lego CEO quickly realized a back-to-basics prun and return to its core products was what was necessary.  

This shift proved life-saving for the company; by the end of 2005, Lego rebounded from a $292 million loss the previous year to a pre-tax profit of $117 million.  The company posted sales of $1.2 billion, but more importantly, profitability more than tripled.  Just two years ago, Lego overtook Mattel to become the world’s biggest toymaker, and is now the most popular toy of all time.  Its sales continue to grow, thanks to strong demand in Europe and Asia.  Lego sets are sold everywhere across the planet, with the company’s extensive network of factories churning out roughly 500 bricks per second.  Yet this momentum only comes from the fact that Lego was willing to prune.  While innovation is necessary for success, the trick is to do it intelligently.  According to McQueen, the trick is to be ruthless with what you’re good at.

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Is Your Workplace Too Competitive?

Is your workplace too competitive posted by jeffry schneiderIf you feel like you’re constantly competing at work, then you aren’t alone.  In a new OfficeTeam report, nearly one third of 306 managers said employees are more competitive with each other now than 10 years ago.  66% of the 355 employees surveyed labeled their workplace either as “very competitive” or “somewhat competitive”.  Compare that to the 10% who said their workplace was “not at all competitive”.  What is to blame?  The app economy, the Great Recession, or the “Participation Trophy” generation?  Whatever it is, there are ways you can find out if your workplace is taking the competition too far.  Here are 10, based off an article I found online:

There’s a chart for everything: From your latest sales numbers to Fitbit stats, everything you do is put into chart form and posted for everybody to see.  While this is meant to motivate people, it’s only pushing people away.

Your co-workers time you: If you know that you’re late for something because your coworker told you, that means you’re being compared.  The implication here is that this is a race, where you’re meant to do everything on time.  

The goalposts keep moving: One month the quota is 5 sales.  The next month it’s 10 because you did so well the last month.  It will eventually feel like you can never succeed at work, because the goals keep changing.  

Assignments are based on “fit”: In this meritocracy, your manager decides who is the “best fit” for every project.  However, assignments don’t actually seem to be based on skill, and instead on who the manager likes most.  

Nobody sits around: Standing desks, ball seats, treadmill desks.  The point here is that you might have stood up today, but not nearly as long as your coworkers.  

Everybody at work is a one-upper: No matter what it is, your coworkers have done something bigger, better and faster.  Even casual conversations feel like contests.

Nobody goes on vacation anymore: People always want to stay in the office, since taking long vacations is viewed as a sign of weakness.

Everybody jumps on each other’s mistakes: We all make mistakes, but sometimes your coworkers take note on one mistake you made and talk about it for weeks.  If there’s that much blame happening, then nobody will want to take a risk.

Nobody helps each other out: Great offices thrive on collaboration, but if you collaborate, that takes away from individual glory, so it’s less common in more competitive offices.  

Your personal choices are scrutinized as well: Your choices outside of the office start to get assessed, whether it’s your fitness habits or your love life.  Ultimately, what you do at work is important, and what car you’re dating/what you eat is irrelevant.  Maybe you should eat healthier food, but that’s not really your coworkers’ business.

What Successful Leaders Do Automatically

What Successful Leaders Do Automatically posted by Jeffry SchneiderUndefined leadership is learned behavior that becomes automatic overtime.  Many people wonder how leaders know how to make the best decisions.  The truth is that it comes from an accumulation of experiences and encounters with a variety of circumstances, personality types and unforeseen failures.  Over time, successful leadership becomes learned and instinctual, with leaders learning the mastery of anticipating business patterns, finding opportunities, serving the people under them and overcoming hardships.  I recently came across an article featuring what successful leaders do automatically, listed below:

Make others feel safe to speak up: Many leaders intimidate their colleagues when they walk into a room, yet successful leaders are able to encourage others to voice their opinions and deflect attention away from themselves.  They’re experts at making others feel safe to speak up and share their perspectives, using their executive presence to create an approachable environment.  In addition to encouraging others to speak up, successful leaders provide feedback, creating mutually beneficial and trustworthy relationships.

Make decisions: Successful leaders are expert decision-makers, focusing on making things happen at all times.  Successful leaders have mastered the art of politics, and don’t need to waste their time on issues that disrupt momentum.

Communicate expectations: Successful leaders are great communicators, especially when it comes to discussing performance expectations.  They remind their colleagues of the organization’s core values and mission statement, ensuring that their vision is properly translated and that objectives are carried out accordingly.  

Challenge people to think: The most successful leaders understand the mindsets, capabilities and areas for improvement of their colleagues.  They then use this knowledge to challenge their teams to think and stretch them to reach for more.  If you aren’t thinking, then you aren’t learning anything new, not growing and becoming irrelevant in your work.

Be accountable to others: Successful leaders let their colleagues manage them by being proactive to their needs.  This is a sign that you’re focused more on the success of everybody than just yourself.  

Lead by example: This sounds easy, but few leaders are consistent with this one.  Successful leaders practice what they say they will, knowing that everybody is watching them.  

Measure and reward performance: Great leaders have a strong “pulse” on business performance.  Not only do they review the numbers and measure performance, but they also acknowledge hard work and efforts, never taking consistent performers for granted.  This will create a positive and inspiring workplace culture, setting the tone and bringing an attitude that motivates their colleagues to action.

Learn and teach: Successful leaders ask questions and seek advice all the the time.  While they appear to know it all, in reality they’re always looking to learn new things.  This constant search for knowledge will also motivate them to teach others.  

Avoid procrastination: Successful leaders tackle issues head-on, and know how to discover the matter at hand without delay.  

Enjoy responsibilities: Successful leaders are successful because they genuinely love being leaders, not for the sake of power but for the meaningful and purposeful impact they can create.  Reaching a senior level of leadership means serving others, which can’t be accomplished unless you genuinely enjoy what you do.  

What to Learn From Serial Entrepreneurs

What to Learn from serial entrepreneurs posted by jeffry schneiderAccording to serial entrepreneur Tomas Gorny, who promotes the idea that creating great things is more important than making money, the key to being a successful entrepreneur is to not try chasing money.  Gorny grew up poor in Poland, came to America in his late teens and made his millions at a startup before losing it all and having to start all over again.  He then founded the cloud-based communications provider Nextiva, and now oversees over 500 employees.  I just read an article from somebody who spoke with Gorny about what he learned as an entrepreneur.  Here’s what he had to say:

Don’t underestimate people based on their appearance or speech: At the start of his career, Gorny’s thick Polish accent meant he had trouble earning respect.  Yet that just encouraged Gorny to work harder to gain the favor of vendors and business partners until he was a respected force throughout his industry.  This taught Gorny to not let looks, demeanor, accent or dress influence his attitude towards somebody.

Don’t be afraid to fail: One of Gorny’s earliest ventures was a PC distribution business he launched in Germany at 17, which he then sold to earn the money to come to America.  He joined a startup and took odd jobs to scrape together the money for his business, which he then sold after it became successful.  Gorny then invested the cash from that in various real estate ventures but then nearly lost all of that after the tech bubble burst.  Yet that setback didn’t discourage him, and Gorny only worked harder to succeed.  

Approach everything from the customer’s perspective: The customer is a great teacher for entrepreneurs.  A business that can deliver quality products to solve a customer’s problems will become successful and earn plenty of referrals.  Figure out what problems customers are struggling with, and see how you can make their lives easier.  As opposed to assuming your solution is the right one, try soliciting customer feedback.  

Focus on building your business: Thanks to his fluctuating success/failure/success again career path, Gorny has learned to not focus on money, and instead on providing value to customers.  Gorny also believes that taking outside capital to build a business forces entrepreneurs to focus on their exit strategy instead of business growth, which is shortsighted.  Business owners should focus on building an exit strategy for a worst-case scenario, yet you might forget to build your business if you’re solely focused on an exit strategy.  Focusing on building your business yields a much better outcome.