Guest Post: Your Company, Privacy, and You: What You Need to Know

Guest post this week coming to you from Cassie Phillips of Secure Thoughts. Here’s Cassie:

There is so much that goes into creating a successful business—proposals, investment, content, marketing—that very often the considerations given to online privacy are somewhat less than they should be. Preventing disaster from striking is a practice that is left, far too often, to the last minute, as most business owners don’t believe it matters to them until it actually happens. For the less tech-savvy amongst us, the intricacies of setting up a functioning online security system may seem a little overwhelming, so it’s easier to ignore it until it becomes a significant problem.

However, when dealing with cyberattacks, if it has become a specific problem, then it is already too late. Fortunately, with a bit of research and insider information, it’s easy to gain an understanding of what is meant by privacy, how it is important and why protecting yourself and your company really matters.
Privacy Matters

The online threat continues to grow alongside our virtual and digital lives. As many businesses take to the internet to sell, share and promote, they are becoming frequently exposed to cyber crime.

There are many types of malware designed specifically to take down businesses and countless malicious hackers who are constantly searching for opportune moments to steal your data and personal information, so failing to take these threats seriously is a terrible decision for your business.Whether you’re facing a traditional “denial of service attack,” in which the server is overloaded in order to bring down your site, or you fall victim to the newest, prolific, nasty threat, ransomware, it’s bound to be a disaster for you and your company.

Many people fail to consider the repercussions of an attack until after it’s happened, but a breach of your website could be a disaster for your reputation. Many cybercriminals are aiming to collect details in order to commit identity theft and, if you or your customers end up falling victim, then getting others to have faith in you and what you’re offering may become nearly impossible.

Similarly, if your website itself looks as if it’s suffered an obvious infiltration, customers will avoid your domain in order to protect themselves. It isn’t just a case of fixing some coding or changing your password; if it becomes apparent that you haven’t put successful privacy practices in place, the name and face of your business could be tarnished forever.

Your Privacy

When it comes to securing your business, your own privacy is equally as important as anything else. As the owner, the amount of company data you store makes you the perfect target and by logging into the site via your admin panel you put your company website at risk if you fail to protect yourself. General good computing practices, such as having an up-to-date firewall and security suite installed are essential.

Similarly, it’s worth investing in storage encryption to protect customer details and business data. If you’re working on the go, be sure to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect yourself on public networks as these notoriously unsecured connections can be a hot bed for hackers. Using a VPN will encrypt all your traffic between your device and the internet and will allow you to browse securely. It’s also important to be stringent with your passwords; ensure every one is unique and complex to reduce the chance of infiltration.

Your Company’s Privacy

When considering your business’ privacy, it’s worth remembering that showing your customer base that you have a good security system in place is just as important as actually protecting yourself. Customers are extremely quick to leave websites and businesses that they don’t trust, so making sure you present a secure face is important.

One great way to do this is by using a secure sockets layer (SSL). These online add-ons encrypt traffic between the server and the browser and are one of the most common protection protocols worldwide. The SSL symbol has become so widely recognized that showcasing the badge on your site will immediately instill trust in users.
Another important privacy point to consider for your business is in payment transactions. Although using third-party companies, such as PayPal, automatically increases your customers’ privacy, those who want to handle their own direct debit payments should be sure to complete a PCI-DSS compliance test. Through this test, the Security Standards Council assesses your privacy systems and works with you to help improve them.

Good Practices

Although many business owners feel that creating a good, working, initial privacy set-up is all that it takes to ensure successful online security, this is far from the case. Internet privacy is an ongoing practice, and as the face of the digital world is constantly changing, the threats and ways we deal with them change along with it; therefore, it’s important to stay up-to-date and knowledgeable about potential threats. There are many websites and blogs that regularly post about new possible attacks so by doing the research you can stay ahead of the game.

More specifically, regularly updating all of the programs you use is also important. This is because new security holes are being discovered and exploited by hackers and, subsequently, companies release software updates with patches to resolve the problem.

Other good practices include enforcing strict password rules to any subscribers or members of your websites and using monitoring software to pick up on any suspicious activity or traffic.

Online privacy is extremely important for any business, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By taking these simple steps, you can easily start to protect yourself and secure your company. If you have any more tips for fellow business owners, then be sure to leave a comment below!


Cassie Phillips is an internet security specialist and blogger. She is delighted to share these tips with you and hopes that you will seek out more information on the matter to keep yourself and your company safe online.

The Value of Understanding the Value Chain

Today we’re talking about the value chain and how important it is that you understand where whatever you offer falls on that value chain.

The value chain is essentially a list of your product’s stops along the production and distribution cycle with each stop being a place where someone adds value. For example, a silk scarf may start off with the silk worms themselves weaving the raw silk, which would be stop 1 and then move to a silk refiner where the raw silk is spun into silk yarn, which would be stop 2. From there, the silk yarn would be dyed at stop 3 and then woven into fabric at stop 4. Finally, it would be sewn into scarves and packaged for sale to distributors, which would be stop 5, who would then sell the completed scarves to retailers at stop 6 who then sell those scarves to the final consumer.

Each stop along the value chain is a place where someone adds value, hence the name value chain. Some stops add more value than others and give the controllers of those stops better profit margins. In order to most effectively plan your business, you need to know where your products and services fall along the value chain.

So, for each of your products or product lines you should:

  1. Identify the complete value chain of the product from the very initial components all the way through to the final consumer.
  2. Identify which stops on the value chain add the most value in the eyes of the consumer.
  3. Identify which stops along the value chain provide the highest profit margins.
  4. Identify where on the value chain your company falls.

Once you’ve done that, think about whether you’re located at the right spot on the value chain and if you may want to adjust your offerings slightly to improve potential profitability. If you’re located somewhere on the value chain where margins are slim, think about whether that’s where you really want to be as you move forward with building your business. Maybe you want to eliminate certain services completely or maybe you want to add more to generate better margins.

Taking the silk scarf value chain example from earlier a bit farther, if you currently spin the raw silk into silk yarn but you discover that those who dye the silk yarn generate huge profit margins, you may want to consider consolidating those two steps and spinning and dying the silk yarn. This is called vertical integration and simply means that a company is taking over multiple steps on the value chain and combining them under one roof. This is one way that companies may expand in the future, but even startups should consider where the best place on the value chain to be is and set up shop there to begin with.


If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, the best thing you can do for yourself is to just get started. Pick up my business planning ebook here to be guided through the whole business planning process for less than $5. More of a video person than a text person? Click here to try my ecourses instead.

Entrepreneurs Beware, You Must Ask the Right Questions to Get Useful Answers

Today I want to talk with you a little bit about how you do primary research when you’re planning your offerings, exploring your market, describing your ideal customer, or any of the million other things you need to research and validate when you’re building your business.

First, a quick story to illustrate: I’m totally addicted to Coursera. For those of you who don’t know, Coursera is an online platform where you can take courses, for free, taught by some of the world’s top professors at the top universities. The offerings cover a huge range of topics so there’s something for just about anyone and I have taken literally dozens of courses because I love to keep learning as much as I can.

Anyway, I was recently watching a lesson in one of my courses and the professor was talking about the field of popularity research within psychology. For years and years, I don’t know exactly how long but for at least a decade, all of the researchers studied popularity using a measure of how well liked various people within a group were by the other members of that group. So, basically, they would poll a class of students and ask them to say who in the class they liked the most and liked the least. They’d tally that up and do some calculation about how often someone was identified as most liked versus how often he or she was identified as least liked and then rank the students’ popularity based on those findings.

Here’s the thing though: One day some researchers were talking about their work with a group of high school students and those students were totally confused. They wanted to know why the researchers were measuring popularity with likeability because, in their minds, popularity was a completely different thing, so who was the most well liked wasn’t going to tell you who was the most popular.

This shook everything up in the field and researchers now have a completely different understanding of what popularity means to different groups and they measure it differently. This conversation with these teens literally changed and entire field of psychological research.

So why am I telling you this? Because the lesson from this example that comes out of psych research is that you need to make sure you’re asking the right questions or the answers you get won’t actually help you measure what you’re trying to measure, and the same holds true for you in your business. By asking who was most liked, the researchers were coming up with skewed views of who was most popular amongst adolescent groups and, therefore, any conclusions they might draw from that data would be questionable.


Now let’s say you’re doing some market research before you launch your new line of cell phone cases and you need to choose which colors to produce. You go around asking your target customers which colors they like best. That seems like it should be an obvious question if you’re trying to decide which colors to produce, right? But it may be the wrong question. Maybe people really like the color red but it would clash with too many of their outfits so they wouldn’t want a case that color. Maybe they think orange is a hideous color but they would buy a cell phone case in orange so they’d never lose their phones. Clearly, I’m just making stuff up here, but I hope you get my point. You have to be very careful and very deliberate about what you ask potential customers or you may get answers that don’t actually tell you what you need to know.

Let’s try another example: Let’s say you’re opening up a bakery and you go around having people taste test a variety of offerings and asking which ones they think taste the best. Again, that seems pretty straight-forward, but it might not actually tell you which items would be the most popular. Perhaps something is delicious but its ingredients would mean you’d sell it at a price point that nobody would be willing to pay; or maybe your ideal customer is super health conscious so if you ask them just, “Which tastes better, A or B?” they’ll say B, but in their daily lives they would never buy B because it has too many calories.

There are lots of variables that go into a customer’s decision to buy or to not buy, so if you want to get any benefit from the market research you conduct, you need to be sure to ask the right questions.

I participated in a market research study once about bras and how they fit. For about 80% of the time, they asked us to compare X feature to Y feature or A brand to B brand. Pretty boring stuff and we weren’t very animated, nor were we in agreement. Towards the end, however, they asked us if there was anything else we’d like to discuss and we all started excitedly sharing what we love and hate about bras and guess what? We all basically had the same loves and hates. That was the real gold for the market researchers but it didn’t come up at all in any of their structured questioning.

So, the lesson for you as an entrepreneur conducting market research is this: be very clear on what information you’re trying to gather, use that clarity to be very deliberate with crafting the questions you ask, and then also be sure to leave some room for whomever you’re speaking to to just talk about whatever he or she wants to talk about. That way, you’re much more likely to get the information you really need to make informed decisions about what to do within your business.


If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, the best thing you can do for yourself is to just get started. Pick up my business planning ebook here to be guided through the whole business planning process for less than $5.
More of a video person than a text person? Click here to try my ecourses instead.

Before Entering a Partnership, Be Clear on What Each Side Gets and Is Expected to Give or Your Startup or Small Business is In For Some Trouble

This week, I want to talk a little about the importance of being crystal clear on what everyone’s expectations are when you enter into any business agreement like a partnership or other contract. We all know this, but we also all sometimes forget it. I did just that awhile ago (oops!) and it cost me quite a bit of time, effort, and frustration simply because my expectations were out of line with the reality of the deal.

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that I teach a few online courses including the Business Builder Workshop and How to Fund Your Startup. I started out teaching on Udemy and have switched to Curious. Because I teach these courses, I recently participated in a market research study about what it was like to teach an online course through platforms like these and what I like and don’t like about doing so. Answering those questions got me thinking about some of the misconceptions I had before my first course launched and how the lack of consensus on how the teacher/platform relationship would play out lead to quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the arrangement…eventually leading me to switch platforms.

The cliff’s notes version: I felt that I was promised promotion for my courses by Udemy in all of the materials they gave me to pitch the idea of me becoming an instructor on the platform. That made sense to me: I provide the content, they provide the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing and promotions, and we split the revenue; win, win. As it turned out, however, Udemy really doesn’t do jack to promote a course. From my perspective, that makes them useless. If I have to do all of the marketing myself anyway, I could throw up a members only portion of my website and have my course materials there with very little effort. In this case I would take orders myself and pay waaaaaaay less to a payment processor than I do to Udemy. So, again, if I am responsible for all of the marketing, Udemy gives me nothing but takes a sizable percentage of my revenue. That’s a craptastic deal for the instructor, if you ask me, and that’s precisely why I moved my course from Udemy to Curious and my second course and soon to be released third course are only on Curious and I didn’t even consider putting them Udemy.

I wasted a bunch of time and initial promotion energy on Udemy, however. Why? Because there was a lack of consensus between the two parties – myself and Udemy – about what each party’s responsibility was in the context of the arrangement. This is a long-winded personal story to try to highlight to you the importance of being sure that everyone is clear, from the beginning, about what is expected of all parties involved in a deal from the beginning if there is any hope of that deal being successful.

With that said, here are some tips for making sure you have that clarity:

  • Firstly, be very descriptive, in the contract, about who does what, when they do it, how they do it, etc. If you’re interacting directly with a human being and negotiating a contract, you can work together to draft comprehensive terms that both sides are comfortable with. If you’re working with a boilerplate agreement from a company, like with me and Udemy, you can carefully read through all of the details. Udemy made vague statements about how they could promote my course but there is nothing that requires them to do so.
  • Secondly, if you can’t have super clear requirements in writing because it would be unrealistic, as with my deal with Udemy, you should do extensive research about the organization you’re getting into bed with. I did some research on Udemy, but once I began to get frustrated I dug deeper and found lots of other instructors who were unhappy with Udemy’s lack of promotion and utterly opaque payment terms. These were overshadowed in my initial, cursory research, because Udemy is an SEO powerhouse.
  • Building on that point, if at all possible, actually talk to other people who’ve done business with whomever you’re thinking of partnering with so that you can ask specific questions about what to expect, and what not to expect, from the relationship.
  • Finally, if something feels fishy, don’t do it. If you’re a new business owner, you probably feel like any deal you pass on could lead to the demise of your business, but it’s unlikely that’s really true. It’s typically much easier to get a business deal later than to get out of one that has turned out not to be what you’d hoped. Trust your gut and if you feel like things aren’t going to go the way you want them to, don’t do it.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, the best thing you can do for yourself is to just get started. That first step is huge!
If you’re not ready for a big commitment, check out my business planning ebook here. It will take you through the whole business planning process for less than $5 so you’ll at least know if you can and should move forward.
More of a video person than a text person? Click here to try my ecourses instead.

Entrepreneurs Should Always Follow Their Target’s Lead

This week, we’re talking about how you, as an entrepreneur, should interact with any of your targets – potential investors, potential partners, potential customers, whomever. What I have to say is pretty straight-forward, but it can really make or break the relationships you have that in turn can make or break your business.

No matter where in the business world you work, you’ve probably been to a gazillion workshops or trainings that talk about sales or networking and how best to build relationships and make sales. Now, I always find these things really interesting? curious? odd because the vast majority of the advice that I hear given over and over would have the exact opposite of the desired effect on me:

If I asked someone what they do for a living and they came back with a question trying to get me to admit I have a problem that they’re then going to say they solve for people just like me, I’m annoyed that they didn’t answer my question and plotting my escape route because I see the sales pitch coming. If they give some bullshit response about how they make entrepreneurs’ lives easier or happier by doing xyz amazing thing, I’m focusing all of my energy on not rolling my eyes so I don’t look like a bitch and plotting my escape route. If they call me and leave a message – because I never answer the phone if I don’t recognize the number – there is a less than 1% chance I will call them back, no matter what they’re pitching. Yet, I have heard over and over and over and over again the advice that, when you’re introducing yourself, you should make yourself memorable by starting with a question or saying how you solve a problem. I’ve heard even more often that, in today’s tech-heavy world, a good old-fashioned phone call is the best way to build a relationship with people.

Here’s the thing though: even if that advice is true in general, it may be terrible advice for you to follow. Let’s say it’s been studied and calling someone on the phone has been shown to get higher response rates than email. Great. Who was doing the calling and who was receiving the calls in the study? If you don’t know that, you don’t know if this info is useful to you at all. Maybe 99% of people do prefer a phone call, but if your target customer is in that 1%, you’re hurting yourself, not helping yourself, by calling everyone on the phone trying to give a personal touch and make a connection. Some people blacklist anyone who insists on calling all of the time because we don’t find this “personal touch,” endearing; we find it incredibly annoying. If your personal touch strategy is getting you blacklisted with your potential investors or customers, you’re in trouble.

People always talk about the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have done onto you. Well, I don’t really give a crap if you would like me to call you if I were going to sell you something. If you’re trying to sell me something it matters what I want, not what you want; and you need to be very careful about assuming those are the same thing. You may find someone who answers a questions with a question memorable, be intrigued, and want to follow up. I find a person who answers a question with a question annoying and salesy and want to run in the other direction. So, if you’re trying to sell to me, which do you think you should do, what would get you interested or what would get me interested? Clearly, it’s option B here folks.

So, my take is that you should forget all of those stupid rules about how and when you should contact people and what you should say. The most important rule is that you should follow the other person’s lead. How do you do that when you haven’t even met the person yet? Trust me, there are clues.

Let’s take me for example. If you go to my website you’ll find an email address there to contact me. You’ll find links to all of my social media profiles. What you won’t find is a phone number. Why? Because I hate the phone. Take the hint and don’t call me. My email signature also doesn’t include my phone number. It’s because I really don’t want you calling me!* Taking it a little further, I admit I was exaggerating, slightly, when I said that if you call there is a less than 1% chance I will respond. The more accurate answer is that there is a 0% chance I will call you back, but there is a small chance I will respond – via email – if what you said was particularly intriguing or if I’m just bored that day. Once you’ve called and I’ve emailed, however, if you call me back again there is zero chance that I will get back to you. Why? Because you should be following my lead at this point: you called and I did not call you back; I emailed you. That is a clear indication that I prefer email and if you want my business you will interact with me in the way I want to be interacted with, period.

I know that sounds harsh but, in all seriousness, there is no shortage of options when it comes to places any of us could spend our money or people we could do business with so I’m not going to go out of my way, at all, to do business with and give money to someone who doesn’t make it as painless as possible for me. For me, email is painless. For someone else it may be the phone. For someone else, it may be text messaging. It doesn’t matter. The point is you need to follow their lead, not expect them to follow yours.

Let me give you a few more examples: Back when I worked at a non-profit in DC, I got a lot of insurance agents who wanted me to recommend their services to my clients. When I got a voicemail from one of them, I always emailed and asked them to email me some materials clearly stating what they offer/specialize in, how best to make an intro between them and a client, and anything else that might be useful like additional languages they speak. About 80% of them called me back again and left another message saying they’d like to set up a time to talk through everything with me, and didn’t give me any of the info I’d asked for. They never got a referral from me, ever. Why? Because I told them exactly what they needed to do to make my life easier and get what they wanted out of me and they flat out refused to do it. Why would I send any of my clients there to get that level of service? I wouldn’t. The 20% that emailed me what I asked for, however, I usually ended up having a conversation with and referring the smart ones some business. The exact same thing happens with web developers, designers, small business bankers, and a million other vendors that want to sell to my clients.

If you stop trying to follow the golden rules that your sales trainer or business coach set out for you and start paying attention to what that potential investor or client or partner wants from you, I bet you start having much greater success. Just listen and they will tell you exactly how they want to be interacted with. If you give them what they want, you’re already a step ahead of the competition in getting what you want. Compound that across all of your relationships and your ignoring of the supposed golden rule will leave you and your business golden.

*I meet with my consulting clients via video chat, so they’re generally tech savvy and have no interest in calling me either


If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, the best thing you can do for yourself is to just get started. That first step is huge!
If you’re not ready for a big commitment, check out my business planning ebook here. It will take you through the whole business planning process for less than $5 so you’ll at least know if you can and should move forward.
More of a video person than a text person? Click here to try my ecourses instead.

Will Entrepreneurship Ruin Your Passion?

We’ve all heard the refrain, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s especially popular in small business and entrepreneurship circles because it encourages people to leave their dreary day jobs behind and exchange them for a career full of passion and fulfillment in entrepreneurship. I absolutely believe that many people can find much greater happiness and fulfillment if they build their own business and I’m not saying that entrepreneurship is a bad thing at all. My experience as a business owner has been amazing and has allowed me to find a level of satisfaction in life that was elusive to me before. I am saying, however, that entrepreneurship isn’t all smiles and sunshine so you should be aware of what you’re in for before you begin the journey. Too many people don’t anticipate the struggles of entrepreneurship and allow their businesses to ruin their passions.

There are two reasons why, despite what the famous quote would lead you to believe, you’re going to work, and work will feel like work, no matter what you choose to do:

  • The first is that bringing an extrinsic reward into the equation for an activity that you used to be intrinsically motivated to do because you simply enjoyed it actually ruins that enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. This is called the overjustification effect and has been shown in a number of experiments. (Have at it on Wikipedia here, if you’d like.) That means that even if you used to love to paint, once you start being paid to paint, painting will begin to feel like something you have to do instead of something you want to do. You’ll lose a bit of your love for painting if you get popular enough that people regularly commission paintings.
  • The second reason is that, in the real world, there a whole ton of things that need to be done to run a business that have absolutely nothing to do with the original thing you’re passionate about but are essential to keeping the business alive. Stuff like marketing and sales, tracking your finances, ordering supplies, and managing your staff will suck up huge amounts of your time. Basically, you might open a gym because you love training people but then spend so much time running the gym you never actually get to train anyone.

Let’s take a look at how both of these issues may work together to ruin your passion a bit, and then we’ll talk about how you can build a business that doesn’t make you hate your hobby once you turn it into a company.

Assume you love to bake. Right now you spend 9 to 5 Monday through Friday at the office but whenever you have time in the evenings and every single weekend you’re mixing batter, baking cookies, experimenting with pie crusts, and frosting cakes. The act of baking relaxes you and makes you feel accomplished. You enjoy your time in the kitchen and those around you enjoy the fruits of your hobby. In fact, they enjoy your treats so much that they encourage you to open a bakery and you finally take the plunge.

Now you have to get up at 3AM in order to have fresh bread ready to go at 6AM when your store opens. Now you worry that honey’s gotten really expensive and you might have to change the recipe for your famous glaze so you can improve your margins. Now you’ve gotten carpel tunnel from mixing so much batter and your arms are covered with burns because you haven’t gotten used to your industrial oven yet. Now you’re stressed about making payroll because one of the sandwich shops you sell bread to is behind on their payment to you. Now you need to worry about following health codes whenever you bake anything. Now when you go home after work the last place you want to be is the kitchen and you need to find another hobby to help you chill out.

Well that sounds pretty sucky and depressing. Unfortunately, this is what happens to a lot of entrepreneurs who open a business because they want to make a living through their passion. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Here are some tips to help you avoid the fate of our imaginary baker:

  • Firstly, think long and hard about whether or not you really want to build a business out of your passion. I’m willing to bet there are a number of things that you enjoy and are good at that could be turned into businesses. There’s no reason to pick you absolute favorite activity of all time and turn it into a business. It may be the better decision to keep your passion hobby a passion hobby and build a business around something else that you like, but that isn’t such a big part of your leisure time. That way, you can still enjoy the work you do and you don’t run the risk of ruining your passion. You’ll want to still have that outlet available to you for the times when the stress of entrepreneurship is really hitting you.
  • Secondly, be realistic and have a plan before you launch your business. There are tons of resources available out there that can help you plan for business ownership, many of them right here on this site. Before you launch, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Dealing with the credit card processor and balancing your books won’t seem as terrible to you if you’ve been planning for these activities all along. It’s when you imagine a day filled with blissful baking and then are surprised by these other business tasks that you’ll feel overwhelmed and disappointed. Having them on the schedule makes them less painful.
  • Thirdly, outsource what you can. Depending on the financial situation you’re in, this may be more or less of a reality to you, but you should always do what you can to focus your energies on the parts of your business that you are good at and enjoy and outsource the rest. If you think 2+2=7, perhaps you should hire a bookkeeper or accountant to track your finances. That will free up your time to spend on the fun stuff.

In the end, turning a passion into a business will steal a little bit of your love away. You can make sure it’s just a little of that love though, and not end up hating your business like you used to hate your boss, if you follow some of these strategies.

Your Pitch is as Much About Strategy as it is About Marketing – If You’re Doing it Right

Today we’re going to talk about your investor pitch…not in the way you might expect, though. I’m not going to tell you what should be in your pitch deck and how to make sure you wow the investors. Obviously, all of that stuff is important and I have a number of other videos that address those things. Today though, we’re going to talk about how your pitch is actually a strategy tool.

As you begin building out your investor pitch, you’ll need to tell the investors the story of your business and explain to them why it would be a good decision for them to invest in you. That means you tell them about the problem you’re solving, the size of the addressable market, how you’ll get access to that market, how you’ll deliver your solution to them, and why you and your team are the best people for this job. Clearly, startup investing is one of the riskier investment strategies out there, but these investors are still trying to mitigate their risk on the investments they make within this very risky asset class. Your job is to make them believe your company, with you at the helm, has the greatest possible chance for success. Additionally, you have to do all of this in a very concise way because you don’t have 5 hours to make your pitch.

Someone once told me that a person’s ability to explain a concept in the simplest, most straight-forward terms is an indication of his/her understanding of that concept. Said differently, if you can’t tell your company’s story in a quick, concise, and compelling way, it’s likely that you don’t totally understand that story yet, and that’s an issue you want to address before you get in front of investors.

As you begin building your pitch, pay extra attention to those areas that you’re having particular difficulty with because it probably means that your strategy isn’t fully fleshed out in that area. For example, you want to know what problem you’re addressing and for whom. This should take 2 sentences, max. You can probably do it in one: A snow-blower clears snow from driveways and sidewalks in a much faster and less physically taxing manner than shoveling and is perfect for those living in areas with more than a few inches of snow fall per year. Done. If someone asks me what a snow blower is for and my response is, “Well, you know, in some places there’s a lot of snow and it’s hard to shovel, or people don’t like to shovel, and you just start it up and push it along and then you don’t have to shovel but your driveway gets cleared, so it’s good, because lots of people have heart attacks shoveling their driveways, you know, and this can help you avoid that. Or for women or older people too. Or just if you’re busy, because it’s faster.” Um, whats?!? Clearly, this second person has some idea of what the problem a snow blower solves is, but s/he isn’t fully clear on it or this rambling response would not have happened.

Let’s give another example: your ask. You’re pitching investors because you want them to invest money in your startup, so you have to tell them how much you need, right? And when you ask for that money, you’re going to have to tell them what you plan to spend that money on and how it will help your business grow to the next level where you can either raise another round at a higher valuation or be making enough money to grow on your own, right? So what’s your answer to how much and what for? If you can’t clearly state how much money you need, how long it will last you, and what you’ll use it for, you need to keep fleshing out your strategy before you get in front of investors.

This isn’t just and issue because an investor won’t like that you can’t explain your plan. It’s an issue because it means you don’t have a plan and we’ve all heard the refrain that failing to plan is planning to fail. An investor doesn’t like a lack of clarity because it’s a bad sign for your business…that’s my point here: if you’re unable to craft a detailed and compelling pitch it’s almost certainly because you don’t have a detailed and compelling plan or story to tell.

In the words of Alejandro Cremades, the Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of OneVest, “Your ability to tell a concise, compelling story about your business is a sure shot barometer of your own strategic clarity. So, use the pitch development process to actually improve the truth you’re telling.” [Click here to tweet this quote!]

As you craft your pitch, take note of any weak spots in the presentation and address them as weak spots in your strategy. That way, the exercise of improving your pitch isn’t just an exercise in good presentations, it will actually help your business’ chances for success.

A Note to Aspiring Millennial Entrepreneurs: I’m With You, But Remember That There Are No Participation Trophies in Business

This week we’re talking about millennials and entrepreneurship. Admittedly, it’s going to be a bit of rant, but I hope you’ll stick with me for a minute here because it seeks to get you thinking honestly about whether you’re ready for the realities of entrepreneurship…fair warning, Debbie Downer alert.

In case you’re unsure, I am a millennial. I’m definitely at the older end of the generation and I wouldn’t say I wear the millennial badge with any particular honor, but I don’t wear it with shame either. Now, I say we’re talking about millennials and entrepreneurship this week, but we’re really talking about entrepreneurship in general. What millennials are accused of is true of the vast majority of aspiring entrepreneurs across all age groups, and that’s a misguided belief that you’re somehow special and, therefore, deserving of great success.

Depending on whom you ask, millennials are those born in or after either 1980, 1981, or 1982. It seems nobody’s really decided on the end of the generation yet either, but as many of these millennials have clearly started having kids of their own at this point, someone needs to get on naming the generation that follows us.

Anyway, a lot has been said about our generation. Apparently we are spoiled, entitled, lazy, and believe we are all special snowflakes and deserve to be rewarded greatly for merely existing. We grew up with our parents protecting us from the evil outside world and we received trophies just for showing up to the competition, even if we were terrible and came in dead last, and that’s why we now suck. At least according to some. Basically, the older generations think we’re brats. Even my boyfriend, who by many definitions is, in fact, a millennial himself as he was born in 1981, loves to trash talk the millennial generation and will vehemently deny he is a member of it because he doesn’t want to be associated with the rest of us narcissists. I’m probably going to be sucked into a 20 minutes argument about this tonight, actually, once he’s read this post, because he won’t take kindly to my public accusation that he is *gasp* a millennial.

While there are certainly aspects of this brattiness that may be present in millennials, I would argue that that has more to do with the fact that we are the youngest professionals out there. We’re talking about a generation that is – for the most part – in their teens and twenties right now. Weren’t you all brats in your teens and twenties too? Come on. The way I see it, we’ve been at war for our entire adult lives, next year will mark as much of my life being lived in a post- 9/11 world as in a pre- 9/11 world, we’ve suffered the fallout of the great recession for most, if not all, of our adult lives, and, despite being the most educated generation ever, we’re drowning in the debt we had to take on to pay for those educations because we’re still hugely underemployed. The Boomers who raised us to believe we could be anything we wanted to be love to tell us life is tough and get over it; that we should feel lucky to have a job that requires zero brain power and doesn’t pay us enough to cover our student loans, let alone our rent and our student loans, but “requires” a master’s degree. Well, perhaps we are brats, but many of us have started to call bullshit on that.

And that brings me back to entrepreneurship. Given the craptastic job market millennials have been faced with since we entered the workforce, it’s not tough to understand why “71% of millennials at ‘regular’ jobs would prefer to quit and work for themselves.” While I do eventually plan to head back to the “normal” workforce, I built my own business because it was the only way for me to make anything resembling a reasonable amount of money while still being able to truly enjoy my work. The flexibility to travel the world as I do was also quite the perk that would have been absent from a standard job. Am I millennial princess to think that I shouldn’t have to work 80 hours per week at a job I don’t enjoy in order to be able to save some cash or buy a house? Maybe, but that’s neither here nor there.

So let’s finally get back to the title of this post. Millenials, if you think you deserve better than your day job and you want to start your own business, I completely understand and I support you. However, you probably have a bloated sense of self-worth by virtue of the fact that you’re part of this generation so it’s important to note that you’re not alone in this desire and:

  • It’s unlikely that you’re bored at work because you’re way smarter than everyone else and will, therefore, succeed overnight when you launch your own business. It’s much more likely that you’re bored at work because your work is boring.
  • Barriers to entry for launching a business are, indeed, lower than ever due to technology, but those barriers of entry aren’t just low for you, they’re low for everyone. That means massive competition and the need for you to figure out a way to truly be a special snowflake.
  • Your amazing business idea is almost certainly not one-of-a-kind.
  • Your crushing student loan debt won’t go away when your paycheck does.
  • If your business doesn’t succeed, you won’t get a ribbon just for trying. Instead, you’ll have an even harder time than you had before finding a job because now employers think you’re either a failure or will quit to start another venture or both.

Remember, there are no participation trophies in entrepreneurship and you are not a special snowflake. By all means, follow your entrepreneurial drive, but remember to do so the right way by properly developing your idea and creating a plan for your business before you risk it all on the belief that you will succeed because you somehow deserve to succeed. We’re millennials, we grew up with technology, we should be sure to put it to use to help us get the information we need to successfully build a business before we get too deep in. Do some market analysis, learn who your competition is, find out how much a real marketing plan will cost you to implement. You get the idea. Google is your friend.

Oh yeah, and since you’ll likely not make much (if anything) your first year in business (even if you do eventually succeed), check out this article from my favorite millennial-basher (a.k.a. my boyfriend) about how to use a year without income as a tax strategy.

What Travel Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

As many of you know, I have spent the past 2 years as en entrepreneurial nomad moving to a different country every couple of months and exploring the entrepreneurial ecosystems in each. I’ve interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs, investors, and incubator and accelerator managers to learn more about what’s happening in the startup scene in cities around the world. If you want to see some of those interviews, you can check out my Startup Nomad blog.

This type of travel poses its own particular set of challenges and adventures and it’s surprised me how much I’ve learned about myself and about entrepreneurship by living out of a suitcase and having to find my place in a new community every couple of months, so this week I’m going to share some of the insights I’ve learned through travel that can help any entrepreneur in his or her business. Fair warning, there will be a little more fluff and smushy stuff than is normal in my posts.

The first lesson I learned is to expect the unexpected. Now, clearly, this isn’t a new concept, but anyone who’s ever tried to fly anywhere knows that you can’t count on your plane leaving on time, you might miss connections, your bags may never show up. There’s a lot that can go wrong when you travel and any setback usually has a ripple effect that causes a host of other problems down the line. If you let the fact that your flight was canceled mean you didn’t take your trip or the fact that the airline lost your suitcase mean you didn’t enjoy your cruise, however, you’d be making yourself miserable for no reason and failing at being a good traveler. Yes, unforeseen issues are going to arise that make your travel frustrating and will require you to alter your plans, but that doesn’t mean that your entire trip is a failure. The same holds in entrepreneurship: I can pretty much guarantee that not everything will going according to your business plan and you’ll have to quickly adjust your strategy if you want to stay in business. Not being able to predict every scenario is not what leads to failure in business. Letting those unforeseen issues fluster you to the point where you can’t simply adjust and keep moving forward is what leads to failure in business. Just as you would simply find another flight or a completely different means of transportation if your flight was canceled, you just need to find another customer or a new line of revenue if your biggest contract goes south.

The second lesson builds on the first and it’s that there’s always a solution. As I just said, if your flight is canceled, you find another way. If a customer goes to a competitor, you adjust. When properly managed, it’s incredibly rare that a business will fail because of one bad bit of luck. What’s more common is that an issue in a business is not addressed and so it cascades out, causing a whole host of other problems in the business, which, in combination, eventually lead to its failure. Adjusting your business strategy when an issue arises is no different than changing your itinerary to account for bad weather. There’s a solution out there, just don’t panic and you’ll find it.

Still building on the first two lessons here, number three is that you control how you react. We’ve all seen those jerks that have complete meltdowns if there’s a flight delay or start screaming if the wrong kind of pillows are put in their hotel room. Sometimes there are even those awful people who go to a country where English is not the native language and are somehow enraged when they come across someone who doesn’t speak English. Imagine if a tourist came to see the Grand Canyon and then started cussing the tour guide out for not speaking Chinese or German. It’s ridiculous and, quite frankly, you’re not very likely to see anyone but a person from the good ol’ US of A behave that way. Given the poor behavior of some that I’ve seen, when I travel, I am always incredibly conscious of how I present myself because I know that there are stereotypes of how Americans behave out there and I never want to perpetuate those stereotypes. So, even when something really frustrates me while I’m abroad, I make a conscious decision not to react to it. It began because I didn’t want to be “that hot-headed American” but then I realized that it was really nice to just let stuff roll off my back. It made life way more enjoyable and then I had an epiphany: if I can control how I react when I’m abroad and that choice makes life better for me, I can control how I react wherever I am. I used to roll my eyes and be annoyed when people would say that it’s up to you how you feel about situations, but now I am a believer. It’s just a muscle that needs to be exercised and you’ll get better and better at consciously choosing your reaction the more you do it, and there is no place where this skill is more useful than in entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur is stressful, uncomfortable situations will constantly be thrown at you, and your every action will affect the reputation of your business because you are the owner. Therefore, the ability to control how you react to certain unexpected issues or problem customers will have an incredible impact not only on your business’ likelihood of success but also on your own sanity and happiness as a business owner. I’m really tempted to splice in some of my favorite renditions of “Let It Go” from Frozen right here, but I will resist. You’re welcome.

One way to help yourself out with controlling how you react to things is to realize that you can’t know the intent behind someone’s actions. Different cultures have different cultural norms, so you don’t always know why someone is doing the things they’re doing. For example, I’ve been out to eat abroad with many people from the U.S. who become frustrated or even angry about the service at restaurants abroad because they feel the wait staff isn’t attentive enough – they don’t come check in often enough, they don’t automatically bring the check when they see you’re done eating, stuff like that – so they decide the server is lazy, not paying attention, or has some problem with them. The reality, however, is that in a lot of places around the world it would be rude for the waitstaff to behave the way they do here because constant interruptions would be considered intrusive and bringing the check before it’s requested would be like asking a diner to leave before s/he had said she was ready to go. In the past, as soon as I’ve explained this, the people I’m with completely change their emotional state. It’s like a flip is switched and they’re no longer pissed. In this situation, they thought they knew the intent behind the action and their assessment of that intent made them angry, but they were wrong. The same applied in business. You have no idea why your jerk customer is acting like a jerk or why your supplier is raising prices. Yeah, of course, sometimes they’re just being jerks, but you’ll save yourself a lot of angst if you just assume the kindest possible explanation for any action instead of the most negative one, unless you have a reason to think otherwise. Still make sound business decisions – if the supplier’s prices are too high, switch to another supplier – but there’s no reason to bother wasting your energy being angry about it.

Finally, whatever issues you’re having in your business, appreciate what you have. If you travel outside of your own country or even, sometimes, outside of your own neighborhood, you’re likely to see you have it pretty good. You’re watching this video right now, which means you have a high speed internet connection and some free time. You’re doing pretty well. When you have a shitty day in your business, just remember you have your own business and be thankful for it. Yeah, maybe you didn’t hit your quarterly revenue target but you’re not a child begging in the streets in India or a young adult in Argentina who just found out that your parents are actually adoptive parents who murdered your biological parents because of their political beliefs. Things could much worse.

The Startup Pitch Advice, “Tell a Story,” Doesn’t Mean Tell Your Story

If you follow the general rules of giving good presentations, especially giving a good pitch presentation to an investor, you’ll see the idea of telling a story repeated over and over. Unfortunately, I think a lot of entrepreneurs misunderstand this advice a bit and take it to mean that they should tell their story, and that’s not actually what you should be doing. If you’re an entrepreneur prepping your pitch you’re probably thinking, “Wait, if I’m not supposed to tell my story then whose story am I supposed to tell?”

Well, you’re supposed to tell the story of a successful investment, of a business that makes a lot of money for an investor, not of a successful entrepreneur. When you’re pitching, an investor only cares about your success in so much as it means s/he makes money. Your mom wants you to succeed. Your mentors want you to succeed. Your spouse wants you to succeed. These people are interested in a story with you at the center conquering the challenges put in your way and living happily ever after at the end of your made for TV movie. An investor wants the business to succeed so that money is made on the investment. Your success, eh, whatever.

Yes, that sounds harsh and, of course, there are investors out there that will have relationships with founders and become invested in the success of the individual. But we’re talking about your pitch right now so it’s important to realize that your individual success isn’t what’s paramount when you’re trying to convince someone to invest in your startup. Instead, you should focus on telling the best business story that you can and that means addressing the problem, the addressable market, the growth strategy, and yes, of course, a bit about you, but only is so much as it serves to show an investor why you are the best person to lead this company to success. It’s more important that we know about the company than it is that we know about you, so you have to set the stage before you launch into your own personal history. Guy Kawasaki explains in a blog post about the Art of the Pitch that:

“Entrepreneurs believe that a pitch is a narrative whose opening chapter must always be autobiographical. These personal tales are supposed to convince the audience that this is a great team. Meanwhile, everyone is wondering, ‘What does this startup do?'”

Now, I’m sure some of you are out there thinking, “Okay, but what about all of that talk of how investors value the team and founder as much if not more than the business idea?” That’s still true, but one of the best ways to convince an investor that you’re the rock star founder s/he should be working with is to show her/him that you understand what’s important and what’s important is the business, not you.