Business

The Importance of Market Research Before Expanding Internationally

The goal of all businesses is to grow and expand operations, a task which is often easier said than done. To achieve growth, a business must have a great model as well as generating a healthy profit, which allows it to further market its product/service and acquire more customers in the future.

Those which are exceptionally successful in their efforts may have the opportunity to expand beyond the confines of their national borders and set up shop internationally. Here are some of the reasons market research is incredibly important in this scenario.

Competitors

Whilst a business may have a completely unique, effective business model in their home country, there may be many more competitors overseas, who are likely to be more established in their own country than the business looking to expand. These competitors could pose a significant threat to the business’s chances of success when operating overseas.

Market research allows a business to gauge the number and power of their potential competitors, and make a more informed decision about how/when/where to expand. They could, for instance, begin their expansion in a different area of any given country if one area is saturated which businesses of the same type. 

Customer Base

Without doing market research, there is no way for a business/company to know what its chances of success are in relation to its potential overseas customer base. For it to succeed in the long run, there will need to be a market for its product/service. If there is no market, then it may be up to the company to create one, or expand to a different country with a more established market. 

Having a loyal customer base is essential in helping businesses which expand stay afloat (expansion is, after all, a very expensive process), so market research can give them a good overall impression of how popular they may be before they spend money in expanding.

Investors/Shareholders

It is worth noting that shareholders of any given company will also want to be reassured about overseas expansion, given the risks it poses. Much like CFD trading, there has to be a good reason for investing in expansion, as well as a good chance of making a profit.

Market research also provides investors with hard evidence that expansion will be both successful and rewarding overall.

Clearly, expanding overseas without conducting market research massively contributes to the risk levels associated with expansion. As such, market research is essential for any business considering setting up in another country.

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Jeremy WebbThe Importance of Market Research Before Expanding Internationally
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Remote Entrepreneurs: 7 Tips for a Distraction-Free Home Office

In the last decade, the number of people who work from home has increased by 115 percent. That’s a significant boost. If you’re one of them, you’re part of a fast-growing trend that looks like it’s only accelerating, especially as younger workers enter the workforce.

But though the home office comes with benefits — easier to set the environment, less time-wasting meetings, less likely to get distracted — it also has its own share of possible distractions. You want to maximize your productivity and avoid anything that could slow you down. How do you do that?

1) Only Use the Home Office for Work.

When you go to your office, you should be entering a completely different environment — one that you associate with work. Sitting on your couch isn’t going to cut it. (This will also hurt your back and rear-end.)

Set yourself up with a different computer than you use for non-work stuff. If possible, have a completely separate room set up as your office and only use it for work. Creating a distraction-free office means keeping it organized, too — according to Extra Space Storage. “If your home office is messy, take the time to declutter your desk and get organized. Working at a clean desk will help clear your mind and keep you focused on the task at hand.”

Create a work-centered environment so that every time you sit down at your computer, you’re already thinking about working — not about checking your social media or playing Hearthstone. Make sure that your space is set up in a way that makes you think about working.

2) Set a Schedule.

Just as you need a physical space devoted to work, you need a space of time that’s devoted to work. Working from home means you never quite leave the office behind, and if you aren’t careful, the lines between work time and personal or family time can get blurred.

If you want to get maximum productivity, make sure that you carve out space for work and stick to a set schedule.

That doesn’t have to be eight to five office hours. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be.

Especially if you have kids, the most distraction-free time is likely to be either early morning or late evening. Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, having that quieter, more productive time to yourself can be the difference between a productive day and a non-productive one.

3) Make Sure the Kids (and Others) Have Ground Rules.

If you have children, you know already what a distraction they can be. That’s multiplied by a lot when you’re working from home. If the kids are around, make sure there are some ground rules in place so that they know you’re working and not to disturb you.

Some parents will put up a sign when they don’t want to be bothered. Some will close the door.

Whatever path you take, make sure that the kids know: when you’re there in your office, you’re working, and only to be bothered with emergencies. Make sure you set time to come out of your office and interact with them — they’re less likely to bother you if they know you’re coming out eventually.

You must set firm boundaries with friends and neighbors who use the line, “since you’re at home, could you…” NO, you cannot.

4) Invest In Your Office.

Nothing is more distracting than having to deal with technology issues or things that you don’t have on hand. Stopping your work to drive to a print shop, go buy paper, or deal with a balky computer is both frustrating and productivity-sapping.

Make sure you’ve invested in setting up your home office the same way you’d set up your office in a workplace. Have everything on hand that you need, and make sure it’s up to date and in working order—because having to jury-rig without the right equipment available, or deal with problematic old tech, is a major distraction.

5) Stay On Task and Off Email.

We’ve all done it. Work for five minutes, see an email come in, tab over and read it — maybe quickly answer it — then take several minutes to get back to the task at hand.

That’s not the way to be productive.

When you’re working, make sure that you’re staying on task by turning off your notifications. Don’t leave them on for your phone or computer — email, social, anything. Then have set times during the day where you read and answer emails. 

It may seem like you’re being less productive — but batching your communications all at once — helps you save time and stay invested in whatever you’re currently working on. Batching is also a well-known growth hacking tool for businesses. It takes longer than you think to get back to task after you’ve gotten out of the mindset.

6) Make Sure You Socialize.

No man (or woman) is an island, to paraphrase John Donne — and you’re no different. Without getting some time around other people, you’ll probably go a little stir-crazy, and that sets you up to be distracted.

Make sure you’re getting out and actually talking to people, not just parking yourself in a chair and not moving all day. Whatever form that take — client meetings, grabbing lunch with a friend, spending some time with your partner and/or children — staying social will keep you grounded.

7) Take Breaks.

Working straight through isn’t actually the best option, as research has shown over the last several years. A study conducted a few years ago by DeskTime indicated that the most productive interval was 52 minutes of work interrupted by 17 minutes of break.

This doesn’t mean you need to get out a stopwatch. But you should build in time away from work — you’ll be less likely to get distracted and more productive with your time.

The home office can be great for entrepreneurs, but you have to make sure that you’re set up for success. Use these tips to propel yourself to even greater productivity and supercharge your home office.

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Jeremy WebbRemote Entrepreneurs: 7 Tips for a Distraction-Free Home Office
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Remote Entrepreneurs: 7 Tips for a Distraction-Free Home Office

In the last decade, the number of people who work from home has increased by 115 percent. That’s a significant boost. If you’re one of them, you’re part of a fast-growing trend that looks like it’s only accelerating, especially as younger workers enter the workforce.

But though the home office comes with benefits — easier to set the environment, less time-wasting meetings, less likely to get distracted — it also has its own share of possible distractions. You want to maximize your productivity and avoid anything that could slow you down. How do you do that?

1) Only Use the Home Office for Work.

When you go to your office, you should be entering a completely different environment — one that you associate with work. Sitting on your couch isn’t going to cut it. (This will also hurt your back and rear-end.)

Set yourself up with a different computer than you use for non-work stuff. If possible, have a completely separate room set up as your office and only use it for work. Creating a distraction-free office means keeping it organized, too — according to Extra Space Storage. “If your home office is messy, take the time to declutter your desk and get organized. Working at a clean desk will help clear your mind and keep you focused on the task at hand.”

Create a work-centered environment so that every time you sit down at your computer, you’re already thinking about working — not about checking your social media or playing Hearthstone. Make sure that your space is set up in a way that makes you think about working.

2) Set a Schedule.

Just as you need a physical space devoted to work, you need a space of time that’s devoted to work. Working from home means you never quite leave the office behind, and if you aren’t careful, the lines between work time and personal or family time can get blurred.

If you want to get maximum productivity, make sure that you carve out space for work and stick to a set schedule.

That doesn’t have to be eight to five office hours. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be.

Especially if you have kids, the most distraction-free time is likely to be either early morning or late evening. Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, having that quieter, more productive time to yourself can be the difference between a productive day and a non-productive one.

3) Make Sure the Kids (and Others) Have Ground Rules.

If you have children, you know already what a distraction they can be. That’s multiplied by a lot when you’re working from home. If the kids are around, make sure there are some ground rules in place so that they know you’re working and not to disturb you.

Some parents will put up a sign when they don’t want to be bothered. Some will close the door.

Whatever path you take, make sure that the kids know: when you’re there in your office, you’re working, and only to be bothered with emergencies. Make sure you set time to come out of your office and interact with them — they’re less likely to bother you if they know you’re coming out eventually.

You must set firm boundaries with friends and neighbors who use the line, “since you’re at home, could you…” NO, you cannot.

4) Invest In Your Office.

Nothing is more distracting than having to deal with technology issues or things that you don’t have on hand. Stopping your work to drive to a print shop, go buy paper, or deal with a balky computer is both frustrating and productivity-sapping.

Make sure you’ve invested in setting up your home office the same way you’d set up your office in a workplace. Have everything on hand that you need, and make sure it’s up to date and in working order—because having to jury-rig without the right equipment available, or deal with problematic old tech, is a major distraction.

5) Stay On Task and Off Email.

We’ve all done it. Work for five minutes, see an email come in, tab over and read it — maybe quickly answer it — then take several minutes to get back to the task at hand.

That’s not the way to be productive.

When you’re working, make sure that you’re staying on task by turning off your notifications. Don’t leave them on for your phone or computer — email, social, anything. Then have set times during the day where you read and answer emails. 

It may seem like you’re being less productive — but batching your communications all at once — helps you save time and stay invested in whatever you’re currently working on. Batching is also a well-known growth hacking tool for businesses. It takes longer than you think to get back to task after you’ve gotten out of the mindset.

6) Make Sure You Socialize.

No man (or woman) is an island, to paraphrase John Donne — and you’re no different. Without getting some time around other people, you’ll probably go a little stir-crazy, and that sets you up to be distracted.

Make sure you’re getting out and actually talking to people, not just parking yourself in a chair and not moving all day. Whatever form that take — client meetings, grabbing lunch with a friend, spending some time with your partner and/or children — staying social will keep you grounded.

7) Take Breaks.

Working straight through isn’t actually the best option, as research has shown over the last several years. A study conducted a few years ago by DeskTime indicated that the most productive interval was 52 minutes of work interrupted by 17 minutes of break.

This doesn’t mean you need to get out a stopwatch. But you should build in time away from work — you’ll be less likely to get distracted and more productive with your time.

The home office can be great for entrepreneurs, but you have to make sure that you’re set up for success. Use these tips to propel yourself to even greater productivity and supercharge your home office.

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Jeremy WebbRemote Entrepreneurs: 7 Tips for a Distraction-Free Home Office
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Three Economics Truths for Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is about creating a product or service for the benefit and good of others. Since business is about relationships and people, it’s important for every entrepreneur to know and understand how to best serve people.

Knowing marketing, accounting, product development, and every other aspect of the business is important and necessary, but oftentimes the subject of economics gets thrown to the wayside and forgotten.

This is a major folly because economics is about human behavior, incentives, and the allocation of resources, all of which are important for every entrepreneur to know.

Therefore, every entrepreneur should commit to memory the following three economic truths. By doing so, you will take your business to the next level, serve your customers more effectively, and increase profits like never before. 

#1 Economics is not Finance.

The common misunderstanding that I hear all the time is that economics is about making money. This is not true. Other misnomers include how to invest, how to get rich, and how to bank. Being a good businessman does not make you a good economics

Yes, economics may cover each of these topics to an extent, but that’s not what economics is about. 

The textbook definition of economics and said by economist Thomas Sowell is, “the allocation of scare resources which have alternate uses.” 

This basically means that there is a lot of stuff that can be used for many different purposes, but it’s limited, so people have to decide what to make and what not to make. Really, it’s that simple.

Now, where economics becomes confusing and daunting is when you begin to dive into economic systems, how that works, what effects it has on the economy, and the other big topics you read about. But at it’s core, economics is about how stuff gets divvied out.

Entrepreneurs inherently understand this because they have limited money, limited resources, and limited demand, but their task is to increase each.

Knowing the background and foundation of this conundrum is beneficial.

#2 Economics Greatly Affects Public Policy.

It is amazing for me to see how many good entrepreneurs support bad policies that harm their customers, employees, industry, and marketplace. 

I first saw this when I worked at Fidelity Investments right after graduate school. At the time, Fidelity Investments was the largest 401(k) provider in the country, with more than $3 trillion in assets. This is massive amounts of money.

During this time there were also the Occupy Wall Street Protests, people protesting against the greed and evil of Wall Street. This included people protesting at the local Fidelity Investment branches in the California Bay Area, one of which I worked at for my job. 

What I found interesting is that I was hardly rich, in fact, I was just out of grad school and flat broke. But, there were protesters outside and to them, I looked evil because I wore a suit and tie to work. Don’t mind that the tie was a hand-me-down from a retired businessman and the suit was purchased on-sale from Men’s Warehouse. 

What was even more interesting were the comments I heard from my coworkers. The majority were in favor of the protesters and supported their cause, “Wall Street is evil!” I’m over here like, “guys, we work for Wall Street.” But the protestors couldn’t connect the dots. They didn’t see that their direct support of the protesters and the related policies would hurt our industry, make our jobs more difficult, increase the amount of paperwork we already had to do, and create additional barriers to entry that would actually hurt minorities and females from entering the financial world.

There was a massive cognitive dissonance.

The same thing happens all of the time with a million other public policy issues. Too often, good entrepreneurs who are creating wonderful small businesses vote in favor of destructive things like:

  • Minimum wage laws.
  • Consumer protection.
  • Protectionism of an industry.
  • Choosing winners and losers.
  • Tariffs.
  • More regulation.
  • Public-private partnerships.
  • Subsidies.

Each one of the things listed above increases the cost of doing business.

This means it’s harder to start a business, those costs get passed onto the customer, and the entrepreneur is less able to provide his product or service.

An important note should also be made about subsidies and public-private partnerships.

Any time the risk of failure is mitigated or hidden from the entrepreneur, this distorts the business model, the marketplace, and increases the amount of bad ideas. It also creates an uneven playing field for those who can’t get the government protection, usually hurting women and minorities most, unfortunately.

When the government takes the risk, that risk gets passed onto citizens in the form of taxes, bailouts, and failed companies. BUT, when the entrepreneur is forced to take the full risk (and reward!) of the company, you see better, healthier companies.

Economics is About Human Behavior.

Adam Smith is known as the Father of Economics and penned his famous book, The Wealth of Nations, in 1776. What most people don’t know is that before Adam Smith wrote his important text on economics, he was first and foremost a moral philosopher. 

The lesser-known book he wrote prior is called, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The entire book was dedicated to understanding and exploring the concepts of conscience, moral judgment, virtue, and the greater good.

Therefore, it’s massively important for every entrepreneur to understand that economics is about human behavior and every action, product, or service should be in line with right and just behavior. The idea of moral actions that benefit others, mutually beneficial transactions that are not coerced, and the concept of services to others should be at the fingertips of every entrepreneur in the world.

What also gets left out oftentimes is the notion that the world is not perfect and never will be. People are not perfect either and as such, we should not expect perfection. Instead, entrepreneurs are forced to deal with the reality we live in and to deliver our products and services within that reality.

When considering business decisions, you should always keep top of mind the following three questions, coined from Hoover Institution’s Thomas Sowell:

#1 At what cost?

#2 Compared to what?

#3 What hard evidence do you have?

Every entrepreneur should ask these questions to himself often and understand there is no perfect decision, only some decisions that are better than other decisions. But as entrepreneurs, we ought to accept this reality and note how we can best influence human behavior to purchase our products or service. Economics helps you understand that.

How Do I Learn Economics?

You don’t need to attend school again to get a good grasp of economics. But, here is a very short list of where to start so you can build a good foundation of economics knowledge:

  1. Watch the, Fear the Boom and Bust Cycle– this is a rap video made by economics and it is hilarious, but historically accurate. This will help you love economics.
  2. Read, Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell- this book is easy to read, has no confusing charts and graphs, and will give you a wonderful introduction with historical context to understand economics.
  3. Next, go through, Economics in 1 Lesson– written by a newspaper editor, this book is short, simple, and covers the big topics in economics.
  4. Diversify your reading. Read both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Watch CNN and Fox News. When you come across an issue, read both sides of the issue.
  5. Remember, there are always trade-offs. No solution is perfect.

By understanding economics, you will gain insight into human behavior, which will allow you to better serve your customers and your company.

The entrepreneur who chooses not to understand economics will commit follies and impede the growth of his company. You are different though, you have what it takes to connect with people on a deeper level, serve them, and deliver a wonderful product or service that will make their life better. 

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Pros and Cons of Preventive Maintenance for Businesses

Several factors can come into play when there is need to choose a fertile option between reactive and preventative maintenance for maintenance of your business assets and equipment. Since both approaches are employed by business organizations and companies to keep up their business assets and tools in best working condition, they both have positives and negatives that you should consider before moving ahead with any of them.

What is preventive maintenance?

It is a business assets maintenance approach that involves periodic or scheduled inspection of business assets, equipment, tools, machines and their parts even when they are operational at workplace or plant. Basically, preventive maintenance is a routine maintenance to keep business equipment up and running to prevent unexpected and expensive downtimes.

Facility managers inspect business tools and machines periodically during the preventive maintenance before there is breakdown or equipment failure.

Reactive maintenance.

Whether your facility managers are comfortable with preventive or reactive maintenance, you must have a glance at pros and cons of each maintenance approach in order to determine which one is suitable according to your business needs and what benefits it can offer to your facility managers in results.

Below I am about to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of preventive maintenance to help you understand why it is the best choice for you and what side effects it can have for your business or company.

Pros of preventive maintenance.

Reduced risk factor.

During the preventive maintenance, business assets and tools are inspected and checked on regular basis (according to a maintenance schedule) that enables a business or company to experience reduced risks of unexpected breakdowns and a safer workplace environment for employees to complete their tasks efficiently.

Longer equipment life.

When all business assets and tools are being checked according to a pre-planned maintenance schedule, almost all business assets would be in good working condition with a longer lifetime. Since poorly performing parts are also changed during this maintenance approach, every equipment or asset can perform more productively than ever.

Flexible maintenance schedule.

As its name shows that it is the preventive maintenance to prevent unforeseen downtimes and failures. Every business follows a flexible maintenance schedule to let the management know when the equipment will be down for maintenance.

Management and employees should be used-to and up-to-date on replacement orders to keep the business operations running smoothly.  In this way, a business can enjoy increased productivity without facing the issues of equipment breakdown and failure — with the resulting time delay waste.

Reduced costs.

When you are taking care of your business assets by using the preventive maintenance system you will see that the business is bearing reduced costs in terms of less breakdown and a fewer expensive repairing costs. In this way, you can also replace a business tool or machine at the right time instead of spending a lot of money in its repairing or maintenance.

Use of the maintenance management software can help you keep up with preventive maintenance schedules by providing the all essential equipment details and breakdown history in real time.

Less consumption of energy and resources.

When a businesses asset or equipment is not maintained well, it is more likely to consume more energy (fuel or electricity) than normal condition. When you are keeping up your business tools are assets with preventive maintenance, the issue can be identified quickly to save energy and other business resources for well-being of the business. The more business energy you will save, the higher of business profits would be.

Fewer disruptions.

Due to the regular inspection and maintenance of business tools and assets, the chances of disruption are always fewer. By having a maintenance schedule on hand, you will have better information about when to close down the machine or equipment for maintenance without having an impact on business productivity and efficiency.

Did you know that hotels even have an exact maintenance schedule for their mattresses? If you are a business owner — pull up those sheets and check it out. It’s marked in black marker on the corners. The mattresses are turned an exact direction every week — with a resultant time and equipment savings of millions across the industry. That is what a scheduled maintenance can do for you. Your equipment is much more expensive than a mattress.

Cons of preventive maintenance.

You may need more budgets to get started.

Initial implementation costs of CMMS for preventive maintenance can definitely be higher for small businesses or even unbearable if there is limited business budget for asset management and maintenance.

As it is the process of inspecting and checking assets for maintenance regularly, you may need to invest in latest tools and equipment to carry out the maintenance jobs accordingly that will definitely increase the overall business costs.

More resources required.

As you are following a maintenance schedule, there will be need of more resources in terms of manpower, parts and finances to perform preventive maintenance. On another hand, you may need to call a mechanic for a onetime fix when relying on reactive maintenance.

Over maintenance.

By having a regular maintenance plan on hand, you have to check and inspect business assets that may not need to be checked as they are working properly without creating troubles. In this way, you are spending more business resources and money on over maintenance of business assets that can be spent on other productive areas to increase the overall revenues.

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5 Tell-Tale Signs Your Startup Is Ready to Scale

The early days of any startup are often filled with uncertainty. How are you going to reach your target audience? Will your team help you get to the next level? As such, few things are more exciting than seeing your startup really begin to take off.

As Your Customer Base Grows

As your customer base grows and you start to make a profit, it’s only natural to start thinking about your next steps. If you’re like me, you’ll begin seriously asking yourself: is it time to scale?

Scaling your startup isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. Premature scaling has been found to be the number one reason why startups fail, with scaling mishaps contributing to as many as 70 percent of all business failures.

Successful scaling is filled with challenges. If you’re not careful, it’s all too easy to make cash flow mistakes, overvalue certain sales, hire the wrong people or even let your customer service fall behind.

So how can you know when your startup is truly ready to scale? Here are a few signs that will help you know when you’re ready to grow.

1) You Have a Strong Core Team

Your startup is only as strong as the people who help run it. When speaking with my friend Jason Bliss, co-founder of Healthy Living Network, he was quick to cite his co-founders as a key contributor to his company’s success.

“Even if you only have three other people working with you, it’s important that you have a team that you know is committed to your business for the long run,” he says. “The people that have bought in to your startup and are equally passionate about your goals will execute better and be willing to adapt to the challenges associated with scaling.”

Of course, if your current employees are stretched too thin, it won’t matter how talented they are or how much they love your business concept. One Gallup poll cited “on-the-job pressure” as the top contributor to employee dissatisfaction. Too much stress, too much pressure, and your core team members will get burned out.

Worse yet, they won’t stick with your company in the long haul. On-boarding new talent will help lighten burdens so everyone can give their best effort.

2) A Sturdy Infrastructure

Far too many startups fail because they become so focused on growth that they forget about the basics that are essential for long-term success. Even something as seemingly simple as defining your target audience and value proposition can go a long way in helping you create a proven concept.

Before you focus on growth, you need to first prove that your product or service will actually sell. You need to have the right organizational structure in place to keep everything organized (especially when it comes to managing finances).

Even your mission statement and company ethos should be firmly put in place!

You shouldn’t be trying to find the solutions to these problems as you scale. Putting the proper framework in place beforehand will allow you to make better use of your time and energy as you try to grow.

3) Positive Cash Flow

It’s one thing to generate a profit. It’s quite another to create a positive cash flow for your business. Cash flow describes the amount of money going in or out of your business — not payments that are still pending with clients, but payments that have actually gone into your company’s bank account.

As angel investor Martin Zwilling explains, “Good cash flow management, in simple terms, means understanding every inflow and outflow of cash, and never delegating this function. In principle, you must delay every outlay of cash as long as possible, while [incentivizing] everyone who owes you money to pay it as rapidly as possible.”

Scaling will naturally increase the costs of your business, often before you will be able to generate additional revenue. Using your current cash situation to project future income and expenses will help you prepare for unanticipated setbacks so your growth efforts don’t send you into bankruptcy.

4) You’re Turning Away Clients

When I first started my business, I was able to take care of most client projects on my own.

But I quickly ran into a problem. I had more clients coming to me than I could handle by myself. This left me with two options: either I could turn away these clients, or I could hire additional writers to help me manage the load.

Needless to say, I didn’t want to lose these new business opportunities. The fact that I had clients coming to me was a clear indicator that there was strong market demand for my services. It showed that the concept was sustainable and that I was providing quality work.

Rather than become my own productivity “bottleneck,” so to speak, it was clearly time to scale.

Regardless of your industry, steady demand is one of your best signs that you’re ready to expand, especially when that demand is outpacing your current supply capabilities.

5) You’ve Done Your Legal Research

With so much focus on maintaining profitability, it can be easy for those considering scaling to overlook the legal aspects of growing their business. But this is one area you should never neglect.

“As business grows, the list of government regulations to which they must comply with also grows,” writes Lauren Gilmore. “This includes everything from laws concerning consumer and employee data security to minimum wage variances – and these regulation pressures do not disappear…if you’re expanding internationally, things can get pretty hairy if you’re unfamiliar with the rules and regulations of your new target market.”

Regulatory issues associated with business expansion are just as important as determining whether you’ll be able to maintain a positive cash flow. When you do your research, you can have confidence that you won’t run afoul of any local or federal regulations that could put a sudden (and possibly permanent) stop to your growth.

Planning for the Future

It’s tempting to try to rapidly scale your startup after you’ve tasted your first success. But I’ve seen far too many associates crash and burn because they tried to grow before they were truly ready.

Sometimes, the old cliché of “slow and steady wins the race” really does ring true.

As you take the time to lay the right foundation for your startup, you’ll be able to create a framework that helps you build up your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. By ensuring that your startup is truly prepared to scale, you’ll enjoy long-term success as you grow your business.

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Jeremy Webb5 Tell-Tale Signs Your Startup Is Ready to Scale
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Trouble Finding Startup Cash? Launch A Drop-Shipping Business

Studies have shown that 50 percent of new businesses fail after just two years of operation. Of those still standing, 50 percent more fail within another two years. DON’T YOU GET SICK OF HEARING THIS? I DO.

Did I say, “Drop-Kick?” I meant “Drop-Ship.”

Either action can do something for your business.

One of the biggest reasons so many startups fail is lack of funding. You need proper capital to be able to build out your products and services, market them properly, and build effective funnels and strategies. Not to mention that launching a startup is a timely venture, and unless you have plenty living costs saved up, you’ll be forced to continue working a full-time job, leaving your entrepreneurial dreams to fall apart.

How?

One way to raise your own money for your dream company is to start a drop-shipping business. A drop-shipping model is when a customer orders a product on your site, and you act as the middleman, sending them the product from the supplier.

To be clear, you’ll still need to invest some amount of money. After all, no business has zero set-up costs. However, the overhead costs will be much lower than starting your own business straight out the gate. Sure, margins will be smaller because the products aren’t wholesale or manufactured by you, but there are plenty of other benefits.

You can start a full drop-shipping business with as little as a $500 investment — even less if you plan to be very frugal. For a $1,000 investment, you can really take your drop-shipping business to the next level. In addition to low startup costs, it will also teach you plenty about running a business.

You’ll have to deal with marketing, handling customers, and working with suppliers. These are all great learning lessons for the future. Here’s what you can do to start a successful business to help fund your startup:

Use The Right Platform

Hands down, WordPress and Shopify are the most intuitive and easy platforms to launch your drop-shipping business. There are hundreds of online guides that teach you how to learn WordPress, and just as much educational material for Shopify.

But the great thing about WooCommerce (WordPress’ ecommerce platform) and Shopify is that they offer plugins and applications that make the process of choosing products and importing them easier than ever.

Oberlo for Shopify is one of the best products on the market; it allows you to seamlessly add products from drop-shippers like Aliexpress directly into your own marketplace. You can then edit descriptions, change price, rearrange photos, and so much more.

WordPress has its own set of drop-shipping plugins that take your efforts to the next level. For example, Beeketing shows your customers automatic upsell and cross-sell opportunities, while the Refer A Friend plugin rewards customers who refer others.

Relate It To Your Startup Dream

If possible, your drop-shipping business should be related to your startup business. For example, if you’re launching an itinerary planner/travel app, then you might want to stick to drop-shipping products in the travel niche.

This might include different types of maps or travel-inspired home decor. This will make it easier to marry your two ventures if you choose to later down the line. It will also help you start working on related content. For example, you might want to start creating blogs that are applicable to both businesses.

Invest In Your Products

Before you start drop-shipping products, collect a healthy sample of the products you plan to sell on your website. This serves multiple purposes. For starters, you’ll be able to gauge the quality of the products before you begin ordering them for others, which can prevent bad reviews later down the line.

It also allows you to photograph your products in a more marketable way. Some products on supplier sites aren’t the best, and might even look like stock photos. With your own products, you can stage your photographs as you see fit.

Selling a scratch off map? You can place it on a wall with decoration that embody the brand, and even throw in other products as accent pieces in the same photo. This type of tactic allows consumers to shop the entire look. You’ll also be able to use the same product over and over again, for your website, social media, and various other marketing materials.

Include Your Own Marketing Materials

Once you’ve ordered your products, you can see how they’re packaged. Some–but not all–suppliers will allow you to include your own marketing and packaging. This is something you’ll need to work out with them beforehand. Marketing materials might include an invoice with your logo, coupons, or other promotional cards.

If you have the budget in the beginning, you could ship your products to yourself as they’re ordered and package how you see fit. Keep in mind this will take longer for the end consumer to actually receive the package, and you should factor this extra shipping cost into your pricing.

However, once you increase your sales volume, suppliers will be more likely to work with you as far as incorporating your marketing.

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6 Reasons Why Optimal Sales Performance Should Be Reported

There are some key sales and sales management trends, but one particular trend is exciting and transformative – the trend of Sales Performance Management (SPM). SPM is an innovative discipline of sales management focused on delivering the best sales performance with next-generation tools and best practices based on metrics.

Here are some reasons why optimal sales performance should be reported:

Many sales teams are over-managed and under-led.

This means that many sales managers rely heavily on metrics and deadlines for driving performance. Highly effective sales managers find countless opportunities to join, motivate, and reward team members in the social format that brings the best in them in a way that inspires all.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

It’s just the way that highly effective sales managers do not rely on theoretical or arbitrary programs that help sales. Yes, every team has to have a sales process and set goals and measure the pipeline, but it’s best to combine those social networking goals.

The influence of social goals gives people a sale of goals that are practical, comfortable and therefore more natural. Of course, behaviors that appear more natural will always work better and last longer than activities that do not.

The glue of your communication strategy.

An integral part of the winning cadence is the tone and theme of your communication with your sales team. Nothing is more important to sellers than knowing what is expected of them and when it is expected. Effective sales managers communicate clearly and their expectations so that team members know what they are looking for and understand what happens when they are useful or not.

The difference between the pipeline and the forecast.

Most sales managers understand the need for regular communication with team members concerning pipeline and forecasts. However, very effective sales managers recognize that there is a difference between them. The forecast is geared to later periods. This will help a bit in future quarters. The focus of the pipeline is the future sales development, which ultimately affects later forecasts. Most managers do not distinguish or understand the difference between them. Remember this when you set new goals. When you’re training for performance, you help some reps to better understand your training by pointing out their influence on pipeline or forecasting.

Process.

Each sales team works in a standardized process that defines how a customer is reached, qualified, operated and closed. It’s good. However, very efficient sales managers know that many good things are possible. A powerful process of complex sales processes can confuse and bind suppliers.

In this way, an efficient sales manager will use all available tracking technologies as great example and tools in real time. Effective tracking enables managers to adapt to the latest opportunities and give teams “management flexibility” ideal for today’s dynamic sales environments.

Coaching.

Training is the most neglected responsibility of the sales manager, as he/she needs time from his already difficult day. Highly effective sales leaders know that setting high priority training will increase confidence and produce a vehicle for your team better and faster than any other individual practice. Therefore, they take every opportunity, planned or otherwise, to give feedback that improves their sales staff.

Dealing with high performers.

A special kind of person is needed to progress as a professional salesman. An extremely competitive profile of a successful sales representative can be a challenge for work and leadership. Effective sales managers can motivate and reward this unique breed of cat to maximize performance and minimize conflicts so that “good” salespeople make them “great.”

Great managers also explore social networks and capitalize on the success of high-performing people to motivate others by turning great individual artists into leading teams.

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10 Questions to Ask Before Partnering With Somebody

One of the biggest decisions that an entrepreneur will ever make is whether or not to partner with somebody. This seemingly simple decision is fraught with complexity and can make or break your fledgling company.

Factors

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding if you should bring on a partner. Aspects such as religious views, political bents, work ethic, and financial situation all play a part in deciding who you should partner with.

Make no mistake, when you choose to share your company with somebody, you are inviting that whole person into your enterprise. This includes the good, the bad, and yes–the ugly.

Questions

When considering if and who you should partner with, ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. In some of my companies, I call this process the “getting naked” part of the relationship, where both of us can agree that no question is off limits.

The purpose of “getting naked” with your potential partner is you need to know everything about this person that could affect the business. Here are a handful of questions to start with to know whether you should partner with somebody.

Is anybody suing you right now?

You need to know if your potential partner is immersed in litigation and you should ask this question. The last thing you and your startup need is lawyers taking up your time, money, and partner’s capability to contribute to the company.

This could be a bankruptcy, fraud, or any other litigation. Ask this question, listen intently, and probe if you have to. Remember, part of doing business is getting sued, so this is not necessarily a bad thing. You should know what you are getting into beforehand, though. 

What is your credit score?

This is not the end-all and be-all, but it is a good baseline for you to understand your potential partner. A credit score can tell you if your colleague pays his bills on time, is consistent in repaying obligations, and how serious of a financial person he is. Not only that, this could seriously affect the type of loans your company may qualify for.

On the other hand, any entrepreneur who has gone through the ups and downs of building a company knows that credit scores tank at times. Take this with a grain of salt, but you should know the financial literacy and integrity of the person you are considering doing business with. 

How much money is in your bank account?

You need to know if your partner is self-sufficient, relying on you, or wishing for the moon to “make it big”. If it’s the last one, get rid of this guy immediately.

Bank accounts don’t tell the whole story but it can tell part of the story to help you understand who you might be doing business with. Your potential partner does not need to have $1M in the bank, but if he has a negative balance for the last 3 years, that might be worth asking about.

If nothing else, asking for this transparency shows whether your potential partner is willing to be transparent and share the nitty gritty financial details with you, or if he’ll try to hide something from you in the future. 

What are you ashamed of?

This may sound like a strange question to ask, but there is a lot of value in it. Depending on the answer given, it will tell you a lot about the value system of the person.

For example, if somebody tells you that he is absolutely ashamed of walking out of a job when he was 16 without giving a 2-week notice, that can tell you a lot. It tells you he has a sense of empathy, regret, wisdom, discernment, and the ability to look back on past mistakes and learn from them.

On the contrary, some people are not ashamed of anything and that is a major red flag. We all make mistakes and there are things we’ve all done that are shameful. Being able to own your poor behavior, learn from it, and share it, is a valuable trait to have in a business partner. 

Any outside relationships? 

This could be a major deal-breaker for some business partnerships. What you’re trying to get at here is whether or not there are mistresses or “other” relationships on the side. This may sound edgy, and it is, but it’s absolutely important for you to know the answer.

If you are considering sharing your company with a partner, then you need to know if there is a crazy ex who will come around and start demanding profits by getting attorneys involved or going public with some sort of news.

Again, this isn’t a value-judgment, it’s just covering your risk and knowing what you are getting into by partnering with somebody. We all bring baggage, you need to know what your partner’s baggage is. 

What will you sacrifice?

Without a doubt, you need to know the answer of this question from your potential business partner.

This includes not only material things like money, luxury items such as house or car, but immaterial things like time, relationships, and career opportunity.

Perhaps more importantly, you need to find out if your potential business partner will sacrifice things like integrity, honesty, contractual obligations, and principles of moral character. When you partner with somebody, you partner with that whole person and you need to have somebody who matches your moral fiber, otherwise your business will be in a whole world of pain.

If you were me, what would you want me to know about you?

This is a terrific catch-all question if you feel like there might be something you’re still missing. Potential answers could include nothing at all, all the way to some totally crazy, random thing that you would have never thought to ask about.

When I was 20 years old and living off-campus, I decided to share a nice town-home with a handful of friends. We did the usual preliminary questions about drugs, drinking, expectations, and we thought we were set to go. After signing the lease contract, one of the friends decided to tell us that he was a male stripper and that part of his life would overlap with our time together in the house with his guests and work-hours. This is one of those things we would have never thought to ask, but would have been good to know. Yes, it’s a true story.

Will you be in the news or any reason I need to know about?

Very similar to the question above because there some things you just don’t know to ask but should know before partnering together. This could include big scandals, political events, financial fraud, or allegations.

What you’re trying to discern here is if there are big, public things that would detract from your business or seriously harm it. For example, if your would-be partner is about to be featured in the New York Times as one of the top ten crony financial advisers in New York, you should know about that.

Will you cross the line in gray areas?

This might sound like a complete no-duh answer to you, but many people are willing to cross the line and work in gray areas. At the end of the day, it comes down to your ethics and what you want to work with from other people.

Surprising to me, some candidates for employment or partnership positions will quickly answer, “of course, I’ll do whatever it takes!”. This is exactly the wrong answer.

What you want to hear is somebody who can think through a complex problem, understand the options available and that no option is perfect, and then begin to reason through the options, ultimately landing on the ethical options, even if they are inferior in results to the unethical options.

Why do you want to do this?

This is probably the biggest question to ask and his answer is important. What drives your potential business partner and what is his big end goal?

Is it money? Fame? These are fine, but might not be a good fit if your purpose is to build a company that generates enough wealth so that you can donate millions to nonprofits. 

You and your potential partner need to be in alignment. You don’t have to be perfect together or exactly the same, but both of you need to share a common vision, purpose, and intent for the company.

To partner or not to partner

At the end of the day, you need to determine what the purpose of your company is and why you are considering a business partner. 

I can tell you from personal experience that having the right partner can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life because you get to share the journey together and build something wonderful.

At the same time, picking the wrong partner can be devastating, painful, long, and ultimately end in your company failing. This happens….all the time.

So, be sure to do your due diligence, ask the hard questions, and pick the right partner so that your company can go to the next level.

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Better Service at Restaurants — With AI and Deep Learning

Coming soon to a restaurant near you: Artificial Intelligence.

AI is making appearances these days in many industries. 

AI is actively changing healthcare and finance every day. However, AI is still an infant in the foodservice industry. In 2016, food service accounted for 2.1 percent of the U.S. GDP. While that’s not massive, restaurants are the second largest employer in the U.S., and people interact with restaurants nearly every day. That means AI will soon find its way into your eating experience. Here’s how:

AI in Restaurants 

Robots will not be taking your order at the fine dining establishment down the street just yet. AI’s initial inroads in food service are an easy one: online ordering.

Chatbots are already working here, offering assistance as you place an online order for pizza. Chatbots and AI-based online ordering systems may fully automate restaurant takeout and delivery. That means fewer human errors in your food order.

Here’s how else AI will aid food service:

  • Recommendations. 
    — Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon are already telling you what you want. The natural next step is to have AI recognize our food preferences, even allergies or dietary restrictions. Food ordering apps can remind you of that dish you loved last time (or the one you hated) and recommend trying similar items if you’re nervous about something new.
  • Assessing food quality. 
    — Video intelligence can determine the quality of food to make sure things are fresh and have a good appearance.
  • Kiosks
    — Self-ordering kiosks are already appearing in some counter-service and fast food restaurants, including Panera and McDonald’s. These kiosks cut down on errors because people are putting in their own order instead of first telling someone else. Kiosks can save money for management and make the overall customer experience smoother, so you can expect to see more of these popping up in casual dining places.
  • Robots
    — While not appearing en masse, robots are helping in food service. A more common use is with food preparation or with delivery and optimization in warehouses and distribution centers. However, “Flippy” is helping cook burgers at CaliBurger and an actual robot waiter.

    “Pepper” takes your order at the MasterCard cafe and other locations in Asia, including Pizza Hut.

    (One company proposes a robot in consumer kitchens to prepare food and clean, but it may be awhile before you see it in your neighbor’s kitchen!)

AI in Restaurant Management

One of AI’s most valuable uses is data analysis. So far, there’s little mention of companies using AI to predict food orders, revenue, inventory, or customer traffic, but a few companies are starting to offer that data to restaurant groups.

One such program, Ingest.AI, takes volumes of data about food deliveries, shift hours, staffing, reservations, vendors, and bill paying. Most restaurants use a variety of software programs to manage related tasks, but none interact or generate a big picture, resulting in both food waste and wasted time and money.

This AI program “stitches all the data bits together and uses the data amalgam to give the restaurateur a 360-degree view of its operations, increasing the restaurant’s overall efficiency,” according to Wired Magazine.

Data can help restaurants automate scheduling.

 More than just scheduling is the forecast of busy or slow nights. Menus design based on popular items, manage inventory, and track staff who are better at up-selling or those give away too many freebies.

A restaurant might even know your preferences, making it easy for your server to offer your favorite dish and store your credit card on file for a hassle-free experience.

Deep Learning in the Food Industry

Deep learning may have a place in our food intake as well. Deep learning is a subset of AI. Deep learning uses artificial neural networks (ANN), a way of computing that mimics the human brain — except we have billions of neurons, while a large ANN consists of thousands of neurons.

These neurons work in many layers, from which we get the “deep” part of deep learning. Each layer can add and compute new information.

A Deep Learning Project

A group of Harvard students used deep learning in a project for TripAdvisor to help those searching for restaurants. The program took images uploaded by restaurants and visitors and classified them into five categories: food, drinks, interior, exterior, and menu. The results were 87 percent accurate on average. 

Photos

A similar project aims to predict restaurant attributes by analyzing user photos using 200,00 images on Yelp.

The Future of AI and Eating

The costs associated with AI and deep learning are too high for single-owner restaurants to manage. But as AI becomes less expensive and begins to save people money and time, you can bet it’ll be serving you up a plate of food in one way or another very soon.

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