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Build Your Small Business Brand by Avoiding These 5 Common Pitfalls

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Every business starts out with the hope of a bright future, but some companies just can’t build a solid reputation or overcome obstacles as they climb the ladder.

Building your company’s image, or branding, is as essential as the products or services you actually provide, and you’ll want to steer clear of these common mistakes.

 

 

 

 

Common Pitfalls of Branding

 

Offending Consumers

Crass humor, stereotyping and patronizing customers is rarely an effective branding method, but accidental offense is also avoidable. A diverse company and marketing team is one way to make sure you won’t step on any toes. In fact, if you can locate the consumers that the competition offends, you might find yourself a profitable niche.

 

Being Too Rigid

CEO of GoDaddy, the Web hosting and domain company, Bob Parsons, is a creative leader. Not only is he the one who came up with the idea of GoDaddy girls, but businessman Bob Parsons explained his advertising strategy in an interview with Inc Magazine, in which he said there was no real advertising budget. Bob Parsons simply open to opportunities, even ones that pop up at the last minute. Allowing yourself to roll with the punches is necessary. Others will want to work with you when you develop a reputation as flexible.

 

Poor Name Choice

Choosing the right name for your company comes before Web sites, marketing campaigns and printed materials. For many, their own name also represents the business. You may play on words or use industry ideals. Whatever your name, it must represent your company. Changing names at a later date is confusing and costly. Because you’ll use your company name in so many places, consider the following:

  • Is it too long or short?
  • Is it difficult to spell?
  • Is it overly common like “John Smith”?
  • Can you use it as a domain name? Who Represents might be a good business name but “whorepresents.com” is slightly less than ideal.

Test out your company name with friends, family and associates before you print it on your business cards.

 

Broken Promises

While your company might not be running to become President of the United States, you can learn something from the oversized branding that presidential hopefuls, and even winners, participate in. Political campaigns like Obama’s in 2008 involved a lot of big ideas, promises and hope. It was certainly the idea of “Yes we can” that helped to get Obama into the Oval Office, but then reality hit. Obama wasn’t able to make every promise into a reality. Partisan arguing has led to a less effective socialized medicine law, for example, that still has some conservatives upset. Even when you do make good on your word, people will have something negative to say, so it’s best to only make promises that you can fulfill from the start.

 

Lack of Passion

What is causing your customers’ unhappiness? What issue can you solve for them? Once you answer those questions, advertising and branding falls right in place. The things that worry consumers and pull at their heart strings often encourage them to open their wallets, but if you lack emotion, you’ll miss this opportunity instead of empowering consumers. Furthermore, everyone wants to feel as though they’re talking to a real, live human being and not a computer. This is where showing emotion helps you stand out from the crowd.

 

Feature Image: Deposit Photos
 

Meaghan is the CEO of a small PR firm on the East Coast. She loves running with her dogs on the beach, sailing and reading about the tech industry.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Talal

    Aug 19, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Title name of any business matters the most. If it is easy to remember, it’s going to help on the long run.

  2. Antonieter Mwanahamis Majimoto

    Mar 19, 2014 at 6:27 am

    thanks for ur advice,it will help me someday when i start my business

  3. Fior

    Mar 7, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    im wanting to begin an online business bringing in residual income, I have no clue where to get started for it to be succesfull

  4. Errol

    Dec 29, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Well appreciated.

  5. SouthernGal

    Aug 17, 2013 at 12:48 am

    I am currently building a website for a blog and it is exhausting. But I know what I want, so I will continue to write this material every single day.

  6. Khamas

    Jul 10, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Excellent inputs for a business person like me who is trying to grow now .Thanks

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10 Lessons for Bootstrapping Your Startup to $1M Annual Revenue

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In an entrepreneurial landscape dominated by headlines of unicorn startups and billion-dollar acquisitions, getting a company to $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) may sound like small change. Let’s be real, though, hitting $1 million ARR is an aspirational milestone most young companies can relate to. And it’s not that easy, especially if you’ve secured modest investments or no investment at all.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) company I work for falls in the latter category. We’ve never raised a single investment dollar, and it took us four years to reach the $1 million ARR threshold. It was a wild four years. Frustrating, fun, scary: you name the emotion, and we’ve felt it.

But more than anything, it was an instructive four years. We learned so much, and we want to share a few helpful tidbits with our peers out there in the trenches, scratching and clawing your way to your next big milestone.

Here are 10 things we think are most important that you can use in your own start-up journey:

1. Don’t quit

Steve Jobs famously said that the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is perseverance. At one point I remember hearing “Folks, I don’t know if we’re going to be here next month.”

It’s frightening not to know where you’re going to be next month, but you have to continuously figure out how to get a few more customers and extend your runway. You can’t “make it” or succeed if you don’t exist, so you can’t quit.

2. Give your customers everything

At the company I work for, Text Request, we spent hours with our customers. We built whatever they asked for (if it fit with our goals and other customers could use it too). We also gave away a lot of free software.

If you want to grow and gain customers, you have to create a needed product that solves your target customers’ problems. Determine who your target customers are, ask them what they need, and then tailor your solutions for them.

3. Try everything you can think of

The book Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares covers 19 sales and marketing channels for startups to test. We tried all of them. We went to events. We advertised. We started a referral program.

For us, cold calls and cold emails worked surprisingly well. We took an industry, looked for companies in a given city, and reached out to set up product demos. Organic search has increasingly helped our sales funnel, too.

Either of those could be the best plan for you, or it could be advertising in a particular channel. Every startup is different and targets a different niche, but you’ll only find successful strategies and channels for growth by testing all your options.

4. Focus on the basics

When you focus on doing the basics, opportunities open up. When you commit to SEO basics, your targets will find you online, and a big fish will occasionally swim by. When you provide fantastic customer service, a few users will leave reviews and tell their friends. When you keep your head down and do the work, eventually you’ll look up and have hit a big milestone.

5. Get the right people on your bus

This is one of the critical lessons from Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Thankfully, our small team had the right people from the beginning. Brian and Jamey Elrod, our husband and wife co-founders, had already started a successful company from scratch (Educational Outfitters). Our third co-founder Rob Reagan has created software for twenty years and published a book last year on building apps for global scale.

Rob brought a couple of top-notch developers with him, and the rest of us showed up determined to figure the business out. If you’re going to take a company from $0 to $1 million, every member of your team has to be dedicated to working together for the long-term benefit of the company over self-interest.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

There’s always something that keeps entrepreneurs up at night, but you can put the questions below to rest:

1. How do you build it fast enough?

In the early days, we worried about losing a customer because we didn’t have [X]. It was stressful knowing that So-and-So would move on to the next option if we couldn’t deliver fast enough, and many times they did. But that doesn’t matter.

Losing one customer isn’t worth pushing out a faulty product. Despite the pervasive Lean Startup mindset, it’s more important to your customers that you create needed features (read: solutions) that work great the first time. They have to trust that you’ll give them the tools they need to accomplish their goals, or they’ll leave.

2. How do you keep customers longer?

Our support is perhaps our #1 competitive advantage. One of the things we’ve learned is that a lower price, and sometimes even new features, won’t keep customers around longer.

To keep your customers from churning, you’ve got to do two things: First, provide a smooth onboarding process that immediately teaches customers how to gain value (solve their problems) with your product. Otherwise, they won’t pick it up, and they’ll eventually leave.

Second, always be there with kind words and helpful content whenever a customer needs help. If you aren’t, they’ll get frustrated and find someone else to help them.

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt

3. How do you get people to your website?

Advertising might be a good option, but if targets aren’t already thinking about what you can do for them, they probably won’t care about your ad or purchase. Instead, create content to educate viewers and help them solve their problems.

Focus on growing your organic traffic, becoming a trustworthy source, and honing your brand’s voice before spending lots of money on ads.

4. Do you need investment money?

When you’re floating in the middle of the ocean, you’ll do anything for a ship to pick you up. But sometimes you just need to swim. We chose to swim, and you might want to do the same.

When every dollar spent has to fight to prove its worth, you’re inevitably going to build something more valuable and more sustainable. Plus, bootstrapping gives you more control over what decisions you do make to grow your company.

5. How do you pursue 10X growth?

A growth hack is not going to propel you from 100 customers to 10,000 overnight. It doesn’t take one trick, but lots of little and big things working together to create exponential growth. It also takes time.

Instead of looking for a golden goose, create complete and actionable strategies. Those, and a little patience, will help you achieve exponential growth.

Growing your startup to $1 million ARR is not easy, but it’s possible – even without investors lining up to give you money. Put the 10 lessons above into practice, and, with a little time and a lot of work, you’ll get there.

Is there a business you’d like to start or have started? Share your ideas and suggestions for our readers!

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10 Things The Corporate World *Didn’t* Teach Me

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I’ve just left the corporate world. It’s been seven years and I don’t regret a single second of it.

You’d think I would have learned everything there is to know about business in the corporate world. I didn’t.

There were a lot of gaps which I luckily was able to fill in during my entrepreneur days.

Here’s what the corporate world didn’t teach me:


1. How to think for myself

In the corporate world, you’re often told what to do.

If you don’t have the answer then some smart person, in some department will probably have the answer for you. The answer may not be the latest and greatest strategy, but it will be based on some prior knowledge.

As an entrepreneur, none of this was available to me. I’d roll up to the old Milkbar that was our office, and I’d start stacking boxes into the little van we had. More boxes of soft drink and chips meant more gold coins in our vending machines.

Gold coins could be banked at our local branch at the end of the day and that’s how petrol, electricity, uniforms and the occasional Macca’s dinner was paid for. No one told me how to do that.

I either collected the gold coins, or I didn’t. No gold coins meant game over. As an entrepreneur, that meant failure and during your 20’s that’s often the last thing you want.

Thinking for myself wasn’t taught to me it was a survival tactic. I took this tactic with me to the corporate world and people were surprised.

As my former colleague said to me the other day You don’t overthink Tim youjust get shit done while everybody else is scratching their head.


2. Time management

The corporate world is full of big companies with lots of resources.

With an abundance of anything you always have wastage. The corporate world definitely didn’t tell me how to manage time.

What could have been a five-minute phone conversation often ended up in huge email chains. It was a bit of a game.

“Every email involved another person or persons being cc’d. The ultimate trick was to blind cc people within your company. Like magic, bombs start going off and no one can work out who did what. That’s the power of BCC”

None of this was good for time management though. Lot’s of time was spent trying to communicate with one another. Meetings are a thing in the corporate world.

Every problem that exists must have a meeting. Even if it’s about whether we call the shared folder “Sales” or “Customer Files” a meeting had to be held.

Meetings in the corporate world not only suck up time but are also a fashion parade where all the biggest egos can strut their stuff.

“I’m more important and have a better job title.”

“No, I’m more important!”

This dialogue goes on for days and sometimes months. Understanding the politics is often more critical than understanding the business. Still, none of this is good for time.

The time wasted is used by the tech startup opposition to improve a bug, rethink the customer experience or out-market corporates using social media.


3. A passion for what you love

Passion in the corporate world can often be lacking. Working at a corporate for many is a way to pay the bills rather than do their life’s work.

Passion can often be traded for money, bonuses and even more impressive job titles — all of which leave you feeling more empty”

It’s not all full of zero passion, though. There are a few people that are insanely passionate and those folk shine through.

The corporate world taught me to put my passion on hold rather than use it to WOW customers with the very thing that sets me apart.


4. What people are really buying

Working at a corporate taught me that it’s all about marketing.

I knew, though, from the startup world that this very idea was wrong.

People are buying you. They’re buying the people they deal with and what those people stand for.

No client in my corporate career ever gave a damn about the commoditized products I was selling. All of my clients gave a damn about my obsession to inspire the world through personal development and entrepreneurship. They were intrigued by my five years as an entrepreneur and what I learned.

This led to customers becoming friends as opposed to people that bought widgets from me and had the money they laid tracked in a CRM as ‘revenue.’

Not once in my corporate career did I have something to sell that couldn’t be bought from somewhere else, at a lower price or with better product features. The product feature my clients bought was me


5. The power of an audience

People are often too afraid to be vulnerable in the corporate world.

I never learned the power of an audience during my career working in corporates. All of that was learned between 6 pm and 8 pm every night when I was at home from work posting on LinkedIn.

Social media is not so prominent in the corporate world because it requires you to remove the corporate mask and show your flaws. Fakeness on social channels like LinkedIn just doesn’t work. People don’t engage.

Many people told me that the audience I was building on social media was career suicide. I ignored every one of them and I’m so glad I did.

These same people that warned me to stay off social media are the same ones asking me now to help them with their own social accounts.

With an audience, you can test ideas.

With an audience, you can inspire.

With an audience, you can recruit people to your team.

With an audience, you derive meaning for your life.


6. Doing the important vs. the mediocre

In corporate business, there’s a lot of noise.

Everything looks important. Everything looks like it could become a lawsuit (especially for a corporate). Everything looks like it could become a PR scandal. Everything looks risky to that next job promotion and to the business.

That’s where mediocrity thrives. With so much noise it’s easy to spend your days filing bits of paper or moving widgets from Point A to Point B without having any clue of why you’re doing it or how it contributes to humankind.

I didn’t learn the discipline of doing the important work in corporate life.

Doing the important came out of the entrepreneurial trait of problem-solving through a vision. It came from wanting to see things better than they are.

Doing the important was fuelled by a desire to achieve a goal that everybody said wasn’t possible. It’s a rebellious philosophy that pushes mediocrity the hell out of the way.


7. The way to have a meeting (ideally no meeting)

Running a meeting in corporate life follows a formula.

This formula will put almost all attendees to sleep. It’s why when you walk into a corporate board meeting, most of the execs are looking at their phone rather than paying attention to who’s speaking.

The formula goes like this:

  • Introduce everybody in the meeting (most don’t need to be there)
  • Pretend there’s an agenda (it will get hijacked…guaranteed)
  • Pretend to solve the problem by agreeing to invite more people to a future meeting
  • Pass ownership around of the problem whilst ignoring the potential solutions
  • Assigning action items which everybody ignores (thus triggering another meeting)

“The best way to have a meeting is not to have a meeting”

Meetings are needed in the corporate world because of a lack of trust and having too many cooks in the kitchen.

Have only the people that can solve the problem in the meeting, make it short and trust in the outcome and vision you’re trying to achieve.

That very philosophy makes meetings for the most part irrelevant.


8. How to make better PowerPoint presentations

You’d think with all the PowerPoints you have to do in the corporate world to educate internal stakeholders, you’d be a freaking expert at doing them.

Quite the opposite is true.

Because of the number of PowerPoint decks you have to do in the corporate world, you get worse at them.

The decks get longer, filled with more words, more acronyms and more promises to take more action.

It’s like for every year in the corporate world you add another acronym to the sentence you’re currently writing.

The belief in the corporate world is that all problems must first begin their life in a PowerPoint.

No problem can be solved without a PowerPoint. I once tried to do a presentation with only one slide. Once I explained the one slide I had prepared with a simple diagram that a four-year-old watching Peppa Pig could understand, I then blacked out the screen.

I wanted the attention on what I was saying instead of some Times New Roman, white slide, with Size 12 Font that nobody could read.

Death by PowerPoint is a real cause of death in the corporate world. It kills dreams, ideas, free speech and the will to live.


9. The way to treat people

The corporate world taught me nothing about how to treat people.

Treating people well came from my eBay days where I learned that if you give someone on eBay the thing they want, and do what you say, you’ll get what you want.

This philosophy didn’t translate into corporate life. I was told to treat people well based on what they could do for me. If they couldn’t do anything for me then what’s the point of knowing them? Right?

Wrong.

The people I treated well who seemed to have no benefit to me ended up becoming the Managers, General Managers and Inspiring Leaders five years down the road.

By not asking for stuff all the time, by treating these future leaders with respect and by being as close to a good human being as I could be, I got all the promotions and all the hard to reach opportunities.

My career in the corporate world looked like it was entirely built by luck. It wasn’t. My corporate career was built on respect, honesty and treating people well because it makes sense in the long run.


10. The true meaning of startup buzzwords

Lean startup. Agile. Disruptive. Act like a startup. Minimum viable product.

We hear these words every day in the startup and tech world. Every corporate is trying to adopt them as their own. I didn’t see any of these buzzwords in my corporate career ever be used successfully.

Lean startup meant Throw seven figures at it and see if it swims. If not, kill it fast!”

Agile meant plan the next five years of a new product, try to deal with every possible situation in the beginning and invite some management consultants.

Act like a startup meant adopt the word but still be a corporate because a sizeable business always knows best.

Minimum viable product meant fix every customer pain point in existence and build the mother of all solutions that’s going to take years to build and leave all competitors for dead. Let’s not fix one thing when we can fix everything thus fixing nothing in the process.


So what can you learn from the corporate world?

It’s not all bad. Park my humor for just one second. You can learn plenty in the corporate world and it’s not all bad.

The corporate world can teach you:

1. Leadership fundamentals

2. Corporate decision-making

3. Community values

4. The rate of technology disruption

The corporate world in some ways shows you what the past looks like so you can build the future. It shows you that size does not necessarily mean better results or more improved solutions.

What I’ve outlined above comes from dealing with hundreds of corporates over the last seven years and the commonalities around how they think.


The grass is not greener.

The corporate world sure has its problems. So does the startup world. So does medium sized business as well.

All business just has a different set of problems to solve.

The way to deal with this conundrum is to become an expert problem solver who enjoys the challenge. It’s not always easy to do.

The business world can get you down and suck the life out of you.

That’s why you need to take a break and get some perspective. Try small, medium and big business for yourself and make your own assessment.

The grass may be longer, shorter or in need of a mow but it’s definitely not greener.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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How to Change Your Bad Habits for the Benefit of Your Business

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If you are like most people, you probably like to complain from time to time about the economy, about the markets, about how things are changing too fast or how you don’t get enough time. Moan moan moan!

However, moaning doesn’t solve problems. Instead, you can follow the “No BCD” theory and avoid blaming, complaining and defensiveness. This way you will have a totally different outlook, handle situations a lot better, and take control over your destiny. A really practical way to do this is to develop better habits.

What are the bad habits you have?

Everyone has different bad habits, but when it comes to business here are the 4 most common ones:

  • Lack of focus: Every single day, there are going to be things you intend to do and then you “run out of time” or succumb to distractions. But if you’re honest, you had the time and there was a way – you just lacked focus.
  • You’re too kind: How many times have you taken on a project which wasn’t profitable, because you “felt sorry for them”. Not only does this actually hurt you, but it also in many ways hurts the relationship you have with that client or customer.
  • Promising and not delivering: Whether it’s something you said to your team, your clients, or your suppliers, if you’re not matching your words with your actions, over time others will believe you less and less.
  • Leaving opportunities on the table: So often people complain in business they don’t have enough (money/sales/support), when actually they do – they just didn’t ask for it. Within your existing network there is probably everything you need, you just have to ask.

“Successful people are simply those with successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Think about it. You can look at each of these bad habits and replace them with new and better ones. Imagine…

  • If you created habits that made you focus better: you’d be more productive, with the same amount of time.
  • If you learned good ways to set boundaries: you’d have a better time delivering your services or products, and you’d feel more rewarded.
  • If you kept better track of your promises: You’d feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
  • If you picked up on more of those opportunities: You’d make more money, and inject welcome energy into those who are ready and willing to work with you. The side effect would be that you could delegate things you don’t love and aren’t good at to others more capable, and replace those activities with the things you love!

Breaking those bad habits

Over the years, I have managed to create more boundaries and space for me to be efficient and effective in my work. There are ways to do that  – some habits I have learned from others who have experienced and overcome similar issues, and some are the product of my own experiments. See below!

1. Sprints (for productivity)

I have to say this is so effective. I meet at least one other person at a coffee shop or members club – if it’s not in my office with my fellow team members. We plan to do 30 or 45 minutes of work and do between 3-5 sprints in a session. Blocking out 4 hours together I find works well.

We each say what we will work on and then we get going. No talking allowed, focusing only on the task we talked about. When the timer rings we stop, compare notes on progress, have a mini break and do another one. It’s honestly my most productive time, and it makes you realise how much time we waste on distractions and even moaning about having too much work on!

“A bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project.” – Abigail Van Buren

2. A tiny assignment (for motivation to break a bad habit)

I have done this now twice with 2 different friends. We talk about the bad habits we each have, whatever they might be. We give each other a new rule or habit to follow over a two week period. It has to be a “SMART” goal assignment – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

3. Low hanging fruit (for grabbing opportunities)

You simply make a list of people you already know who:

  • Fit into your target market but don’t work with you yet
  • Fit into your target market but haven’t worked with you for a while
  • Experience problems you know you can solve
  • Have their own network of contacts or audience which is very similar to the people you want to talk about
  • Have the expertise in things you find challenging, and very likely the answers to your current challenges

Once you have this list, you come up with some drafted initial outreach scripts for either text, email or phone calls and then you work through your list – sending out the requests, hellos, questions, etc. If you draft your communication well, considering the mindset of the people who are receiving these outreach messages, you will find each conversation will be at the very least a learning opportunity and would certainly lead to more “yeses” than if you didn’t do this exercise.

4. The minimum criteria (for setting boundaries)

If you find that your bad habits involve you saying “yes” too often when you should be saying “no” – then this one works great. You just need to write a specific list of criteria to answer the question “Any time I will do this, I need the following things to be true first”.

For example, you only take on a client who pays less than a certain minimum threshold, who has made a written commitment that they will comply with your specific set of guidelines for their responsibilities during the project. There are so many ways you can use the “minimum criteria” technique and you can share your rules with friends and colleagues to hold yourself accountable.

Now, with all this insight I hope you feel more motivated and you can’t even remember your excuses anymore!

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Starting a Business in College

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College is a time of opportunity. Students are given a chance to learn a variety of new skills and to put those skills to use. One way to do this is to start a business. Starting a business isn’t something you should jump into without careful consideration, though. You need to take a look at what you stand to gain from it and what negative aspects come from starting a business are.

Sole Proprietorship or Partnership

The first distinction that needs to be made when you start a business is what kind of business it’s going to be. Will you be the sole owner? Will someone else be co-owning with you? If it is the former, this is referred to as a sole proprietorship. The advantages of this type of business are the fact that they are easy to start up and close if need be as well as giving the owner the flexibility of being their boss. Owners of this type also retain all profits earned.

There are downsides to this type of ownership. The biggest one is that the owner has unlimited liability. In other words, if the business fails, struggles, or falls into debt, it’s entirely on the owner.

On the other hand, if a student wanted to start a business with a friend, they could go into it as a partnership where each person holds a certain level of responsibility for the company. For one, two students starting a business can pool their resources and knowledge. Unfortunately, the development of a partnership doesn’t take away the idea of unlimited responsibility for the owners if they are general – meaning equal – partners.

“Never start a business just to make money. Start a business to make a difference.” – Marie Forleo

A Chance to Do Something Important to You

When a student is in college, they might end up taking whatever job they can to make ends meet. After all, the price of college is high, and many college students work entry-level jobs. It means that the posts you work at the start of your career might not be the ones that you are passionate about.

Owning a business, on the other hand, gives you more freedom. This is because a student’s business can be revolved around anything they are knowledgeable about. It gives them a chance to find their passion and profit off of it while having a job that they love.

The opposing side to this is that college students do work on lower funds than someone who has settled into a career further down the road and has savings built up from that. It means that for a student, start-up costs can be a little more challenging to reach.

The silver lining to that train of thought is that college students are only starting their career. They don’t have to worry about leaving a job that they’ve been working on for decades to take a risk and start their own business.

It Takes Dedication

Starting a firm, as we’ve pointed out, isn’t something that you do on a whim. The owner has to be dedicated to the business to have a successful company. It can be difficult at first because many people start their own business with the idea that they will create their hours. The truth is that you will probably find yourself working overtime and doing every menial task that the company needs to be done at first

It is mainly because you will be starting out on your own. Even if you have a partner, you won’t have employees to start out so there won’t be many delegations of tasks. If you are genuinely passionate about a topic, you will be able to find the dedication it takes to get your business off the ground. Remember, as the company grows, you’ll be able to hire more help – if the industry is a success, all responsibilities won’t fall on the owner forever.

“Don’t wait for the right moment to start a business. It never arrives. Start whenever.” – Lauris Liberts

Leadership

We already looked at the fact that owning a business means that you are in charge of all the goings on within your business. As such, this is an excellent opportunity to show your skills as a leader. If you don’t have strong leadership skills, this is a great chance to develop them fast because, without them, you will be watching your business go under.

Leadership doesn’t just mean organizing teams and delegating tasks. You will also have to take responsibility for less desirable functions within your business. For instance, as the owner, it is your job to fire someone when it comes time to let them go. It isn’t a job that anyone wants, but it is a task that needs to be done to keep a business running smoothly.

It all boils down to risk and reward. Starting and owning a business in college is something that can bring you a lot of good as well as a lot of bad. If you want a company to succeed, you have to consider both sides of this and decide if starting a business in college is the right choice for you.

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10 Lessons for Bootstrapping Your Startup to $1M Annual Revenue

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In an entrepreneurial landscape dominated by headlines of unicorn startups and billion-dollar acquisitions, getting a company to $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) may sound like small change. Let’s be real, though, hitting $1 million ARR is an aspirational milestone most young companies can relate to. And it’s not that easy, especially if you’ve secured modest investments or no investment at all. (more…)

Kenneth Burke is the Marketing Director at Text Request, a business texting software company.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Talal

    Aug 19, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Title name of any business matters the most. If it is easy to remember, it’s going to help on the long run.

  2. Antonieter Mwanahamis Majimoto

    Mar 19, 2014 at 6:27 am

    thanks for ur advice,it will help me someday when i start my business

  3. Fior

    Mar 7, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    im wanting to begin an online business bringing in residual income, I have no clue where to get started for it to be succesfull

  4. Errol

    Dec 29, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Well appreciated.

  5. SouthernGal

    Aug 17, 2013 at 12:48 am

    I am currently building a website for a blog and it is exhausting. But I know what I want, so I will continue to write this material every single day.

  6. Khamas

    Jul 10, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Excellent inputs for a business person like me who is trying to grow now .Thanks

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Startups

10 Lessons for Bootstrapping Your Startup to $1M Annual Revenue

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In an entrepreneurial landscape dominated by headlines of unicorn startups and billion-dollar acquisitions, getting a company to $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) may sound like small change. Let’s be real, though, hitting $1 million ARR is an aspirational milestone most young companies can relate to. And it’s not that easy, especially if you’ve secured modest investments or no investment at all.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) company I work for falls in the latter category. We’ve never raised a single investment dollar, and it took us four years to reach the $1 million ARR threshold. It was a wild four years. Frustrating, fun, scary: you name the emotion, and we’ve felt it.

But more than anything, it was an instructive four years. We learned so much, and we want to share a few helpful tidbits with our peers out there in the trenches, scratching and clawing your way to your next big milestone.

Here are 10 things we think are most important that you can use in your own start-up journey:

1. Don’t quit

Steve Jobs famously said that the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is perseverance. At one point I remember hearing “Folks, I don’t know if we’re going to be here next month.”

It’s frightening not to know where you’re going to be next month, but you have to continuously figure out how to get a few more customers and extend your runway. You can’t “make it” or succeed if you don’t exist, so you can’t quit.

2. Give your customers everything

At the company I work for, Text Request, we spent hours with our customers. We built whatever they asked for (if it fit with our goals and other customers could use it too). We also gave away a lot of free software.

If you want to grow and gain customers, you have to create a needed product that solves your target customers’ problems. Determine who your target customers are, ask them what they need, and then tailor your solutions for them.

3. Try everything you can think of

The book Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares covers 19 sales and marketing channels for startups to test. We tried all of them. We went to events. We advertised. We started a referral program.

For us, cold calls and cold emails worked surprisingly well. We took an industry, looked for companies in a given city, and reached out to set up product demos. Organic search has increasingly helped our sales funnel, too.

Either of those could be the best plan for you, or it could be advertising in a particular channel. Every startup is different and targets a different niche, but you’ll only find successful strategies and channels for growth by testing all your options.

4. Focus on the basics

When you focus on doing the basics, opportunities open up. When you commit to SEO basics, your targets will find you online, and a big fish will occasionally swim by. When you provide fantastic customer service, a few users will leave reviews and tell their friends. When you keep your head down and do the work, eventually you’ll look up and have hit a big milestone.

5. Get the right people on your bus

This is one of the critical lessons from Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Thankfully, our small team had the right people from the beginning. Brian and Jamey Elrod, our husband and wife co-founders, had already started a successful company from scratch (Educational Outfitters). Our third co-founder Rob Reagan has created software for twenty years and published a book last year on building apps for global scale.

Rob brought a couple of top-notch developers with him, and the rest of us showed up determined to figure the business out. If you’re going to take a company from $0 to $1 million, every member of your team has to be dedicated to working together for the long-term benefit of the company over self-interest.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

There’s always something that keeps entrepreneurs up at night, but you can put the questions below to rest:

1. How do you build it fast enough?

In the early days, we worried about losing a customer because we didn’t have [X]. It was stressful knowing that So-and-So would move on to the next option if we couldn’t deliver fast enough, and many times they did. But that doesn’t matter.

Losing one customer isn’t worth pushing out a faulty product. Despite the pervasive Lean Startup mindset, it’s more important to your customers that you create needed features (read: solutions) that work great the first time. They have to trust that you’ll give them the tools they need to accomplish their goals, or they’ll leave.

2. How do you keep customers longer?

Our support is perhaps our #1 competitive advantage. One of the things we’ve learned is that a lower price, and sometimes even new features, won’t keep customers around longer.

To keep your customers from churning, you’ve got to do two things: First, provide a smooth onboarding process that immediately teaches customers how to gain value (solve their problems) with your product. Otherwise, they won’t pick it up, and they’ll eventually leave.

Second, always be there with kind words and helpful content whenever a customer needs help. If you aren’t, they’ll get frustrated and find someone else to help them.

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt

3. How do you get people to your website?

Advertising might be a good option, but if targets aren’t already thinking about what you can do for them, they probably won’t care about your ad or purchase. Instead, create content to educate viewers and help them solve their problems.

Focus on growing your organic traffic, becoming a trustworthy source, and honing your brand’s voice before spending lots of money on ads.

4. Do you need investment money?

When you’re floating in the middle of the ocean, you’ll do anything for a ship to pick you up. But sometimes you just need to swim. We chose to swim, and you might want to do the same.

When every dollar spent has to fight to prove its worth, you’re inevitably going to build something more valuable and more sustainable. Plus, bootstrapping gives you more control over what decisions you do make to grow your company.

5. How do you pursue 10X growth?

A growth hack is not going to propel you from 100 customers to 10,000 overnight. It doesn’t take one trick, but lots of little and big things working together to create exponential growth. It also takes time.

Instead of looking for a golden goose, create complete and actionable strategies. Those, and a little patience, will help you achieve exponential growth.

Growing your startup to $1 million ARR is not easy, but it’s possible – even without investors lining up to give you money. Put the 10 lessons above into practice, and, with a little time and a lot of work, you’ll get there.

Is there a business you’d like to start or have started? Share your ideas and suggestions for our readers!

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Startups

10 Things The Corporate World *Didn’t* Teach Me

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I’ve just left the corporate world. It’s been seven years and I don’t regret a single second of it.

You’d think I would have learned everything there is to know about business in the corporate world. I didn’t.

There were a lot of gaps which I luckily was able to fill in during my entrepreneur days.

Here’s what the corporate world didn’t teach me:


1. How to think for myself

In the corporate world, you’re often told what to do.

If you don’t have the answer then some smart person, in some department will probably have the answer for you. The answer may not be the latest and greatest strategy, but it will be based on some prior knowledge.

As an entrepreneur, none of this was available to me. I’d roll up to the old Milkbar that was our office, and I’d start stacking boxes into the little van we had. More boxes of soft drink and chips meant more gold coins in our vending machines.

Gold coins could be banked at our local branch at the end of the day and that’s how petrol, electricity, uniforms and the occasional Macca’s dinner was paid for. No one told me how to do that.

I either collected the gold coins, or I didn’t. No gold coins meant game over. As an entrepreneur, that meant failure and during your 20’s that’s often the last thing you want.

Thinking for myself wasn’t taught to me it was a survival tactic. I took this tactic with me to the corporate world and people were surprised.

As my former colleague said to me the other day You don’t overthink Tim youjust get shit done while everybody else is scratching their head.


2. Time management

The corporate world is full of big companies with lots of resources.

With an abundance of anything you always have wastage. The corporate world definitely didn’t tell me how to manage time.

What could have been a five-minute phone conversation often ended up in huge email chains. It was a bit of a game.

“Every email involved another person or persons being cc’d. The ultimate trick was to blind cc people within your company. Like magic, bombs start going off and no one can work out who did what. That’s the power of BCC”

None of this was good for time management though. Lot’s of time was spent trying to communicate with one another. Meetings are a thing in the corporate world.

Every problem that exists must have a meeting. Even if it’s about whether we call the shared folder “Sales” or “Customer Files” a meeting had to be held.

Meetings in the corporate world not only suck up time but are also a fashion parade where all the biggest egos can strut their stuff.

“I’m more important and have a better job title.”

“No, I’m more important!”

This dialogue goes on for days and sometimes months. Understanding the politics is often more critical than understanding the business. Still, none of this is good for time.

The time wasted is used by the tech startup opposition to improve a bug, rethink the customer experience or out-market corporates using social media.


3. A passion for what you love

Passion in the corporate world can often be lacking. Working at a corporate for many is a way to pay the bills rather than do their life’s work.

Passion can often be traded for money, bonuses and even more impressive job titles — all of which leave you feeling more empty”

It’s not all full of zero passion, though. There are a few people that are insanely passionate and those folk shine through.

The corporate world taught me to put my passion on hold rather than use it to WOW customers with the very thing that sets me apart.


4. What people are really buying

Working at a corporate taught me that it’s all about marketing.

I knew, though, from the startup world that this very idea was wrong.

People are buying you. They’re buying the people they deal with and what those people stand for.

No client in my corporate career ever gave a damn about the commoditized products I was selling. All of my clients gave a damn about my obsession to inspire the world through personal development and entrepreneurship. They were intrigued by my five years as an entrepreneur and what I learned.

This led to customers becoming friends as opposed to people that bought widgets from me and had the money they laid tracked in a CRM as ‘revenue.’

Not once in my corporate career did I have something to sell that couldn’t be bought from somewhere else, at a lower price or with better product features. The product feature my clients bought was me


5. The power of an audience

People are often too afraid to be vulnerable in the corporate world.

I never learned the power of an audience during my career working in corporates. All of that was learned between 6 pm and 8 pm every night when I was at home from work posting on LinkedIn.

Social media is not so prominent in the corporate world because it requires you to remove the corporate mask and show your flaws. Fakeness on social channels like LinkedIn just doesn’t work. People don’t engage.

Many people told me that the audience I was building on social media was career suicide. I ignored every one of them and I’m so glad I did.

These same people that warned me to stay off social media are the same ones asking me now to help them with their own social accounts.

With an audience, you can test ideas.

With an audience, you can inspire.

With an audience, you can recruit people to your team.

With an audience, you derive meaning for your life.


6. Doing the important vs. the mediocre

In corporate business, there’s a lot of noise.

Everything looks important. Everything looks like it could become a lawsuit (especially for a corporate). Everything looks like it could become a PR scandal. Everything looks risky to that next job promotion and to the business.

That’s where mediocrity thrives. With so much noise it’s easy to spend your days filing bits of paper or moving widgets from Point A to Point B without having any clue of why you’re doing it or how it contributes to humankind.

I didn’t learn the discipline of doing the important work in corporate life.

Doing the important came out of the entrepreneurial trait of problem-solving through a vision. It came from wanting to see things better than they are.

Doing the important was fuelled by a desire to achieve a goal that everybody said wasn’t possible. It’s a rebellious philosophy that pushes mediocrity the hell out of the way.


7. The way to have a meeting (ideally no meeting)

Running a meeting in corporate life follows a formula.

This formula will put almost all attendees to sleep. It’s why when you walk into a corporate board meeting, most of the execs are looking at their phone rather than paying attention to who’s speaking.

The formula goes like this:

  • Introduce everybody in the meeting (most don’t need to be there)
  • Pretend there’s an agenda (it will get hijacked…guaranteed)
  • Pretend to solve the problem by agreeing to invite more people to a future meeting
  • Pass ownership around of the problem whilst ignoring the potential solutions
  • Assigning action items which everybody ignores (thus triggering another meeting)

“The best way to have a meeting is not to have a meeting”

Meetings are needed in the corporate world because of a lack of trust and having too many cooks in the kitchen.

Have only the people that can solve the problem in the meeting, make it short and trust in the outcome and vision you’re trying to achieve.

That very philosophy makes meetings for the most part irrelevant.


8. How to make better PowerPoint presentations

You’d think with all the PowerPoints you have to do in the corporate world to educate internal stakeholders, you’d be a freaking expert at doing them.

Quite the opposite is true.

Because of the number of PowerPoint decks you have to do in the corporate world, you get worse at them.

The decks get longer, filled with more words, more acronyms and more promises to take more action.

It’s like for every year in the corporate world you add another acronym to the sentence you’re currently writing.

The belief in the corporate world is that all problems must first begin their life in a PowerPoint.

No problem can be solved without a PowerPoint. I once tried to do a presentation with only one slide. Once I explained the one slide I had prepared with a simple diagram that a four-year-old watching Peppa Pig could understand, I then blacked out the screen.

I wanted the attention on what I was saying instead of some Times New Roman, white slide, with Size 12 Font that nobody could read.

Death by PowerPoint is a real cause of death in the corporate world. It kills dreams, ideas, free speech and the will to live.


9. The way to treat people

The corporate world taught me nothing about how to treat people.

Treating people well came from my eBay days where I learned that if you give someone on eBay the thing they want, and do what you say, you’ll get what you want.

This philosophy didn’t translate into corporate life. I was told to treat people well based on what they could do for me. If they couldn’t do anything for me then what’s the point of knowing them? Right?

Wrong.

The people I treated well who seemed to have no benefit to me ended up becoming the Managers, General Managers and Inspiring Leaders five years down the road.

By not asking for stuff all the time, by treating these future leaders with respect and by being as close to a good human being as I could be, I got all the promotions and all the hard to reach opportunities.

My career in the corporate world looked like it was entirely built by luck. It wasn’t. My corporate career was built on respect, honesty and treating people well because it makes sense in the long run.


10. The true meaning of startup buzzwords

Lean startup. Agile. Disruptive. Act like a startup. Minimum viable product.

We hear these words every day in the startup and tech world. Every corporate is trying to adopt them as their own. I didn’t see any of these buzzwords in my corporate career ever be used successfully.

Lean startup meant Throw seven figures at it and see if it swims. If not, kill it fast!”

Agile meant plan the next five years of a new product, try to deal with every possible situation in the beginning and invite some management consultants.

Act like a startup meant adopt the word but still be a corporate because a sizeable business always knows best.

Minimum viable product meant fix every customer pain point in existence and build the mother of all solutions that’s going to take years to build and leave all competitors for dead. Let’s not fix one thing when we can fix everything thus fixing nothing in the process.


So what can you learn from the corporate world?

It’s not all bad. Park my humor for just one second. You can learn plenty in the corporate world and it’s not all bad.

The corporate world can teach you:

1. Leadership fundamentals

2. Corporate decision-making

3. Community values

4. The rate of technology disruption

The corporate world in some ways shows you what the past looks like so you can build the future. It shows you that size does not necessarily mean better results or more improved solutions.

What I’ve outlined above comes from dealing with hundreds of corporates over the last seven years and the commonalities around how they think.


The grass is not greener.

The corporate world sure has its problems. So does the startup world. So does medium sized business as well.

All business just has a different set of problems to solve.

The way to deal with this conundrum is to become an expert problem solver who enjoys the challenge. It’s not always easy to do.

The business world can get you down and suck the life out of you.

That’s why you need to take a break and get some perspective. Try small, medium and big business for yourself and make your own assessment.

The grass may be longer, shorter or in need of a mow but it’s definitely not greener.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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How to Change Your Bad Habits for the Benefit of Your Business

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If you are like most people, you probably like to complain from time to time about the economy, about the markets, about how things are changing too fast or how you don’t get enough time. Moan moan moan!

However, moaning doesn’t solve problems. Instead, you can follow the “No BCD” theory and avoid blaming, complaining and defensiveness. This way you will have a totally different outlook, handle situations a lot better, and take control over your destiny. A really practical way to do this is to develop better habits.

What are the bad habits you have?

Everyone has different bad habits, but when it comes to business here are the 4 most common ones:

  • Lack of focus: Every single day, there are going to be things you intend to do and then you “run out of time” or succumb to distractions. But if you’re honest, you had the time and there was a way – you just lacked focus.
  • You’re too kind: How many times have you taken on a project which wasn’t profitable, because you “felt sorry for them”. Not only does this actually hurt you, but it also in many ways hurts the relationship you have with that client or customer.
  • Promising and not delivering: Whether it’s something you said to your team, your clients, or your suppliers, if you’re not matching your words with your actions, over time others will believe you less and less.
  • Leaving opportunities on the table: So often people complain in business they don’t have enough (money/sales/support), when actually they do – they just didn’t ask for it. Within your existing network there is probably everything you need, you just have to ask.

“Successful people are simply those with successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Think about it. You can look at each of these bad habits and replace them with new and better ones. Imagine…

  • If you created habits that made you focus better: you’d be more productive, with the same amount of time.
  • If you learned good ways to set boundaries: you’d have a better time delivering your services or products, and you’d feel more rewarded.
  • If you kept better track of your promises: You’d feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
  • If you picked up on more of those opportunities: You’d make more money, and inject welcome energy into those who are ready and willing to work with you. The side effect would be that you could delegate things you don’t love and aren’t good at to others more capable, and replace those activities with the things you love!

Breaking those bad habits

Over the years, I have managed to create more boundaries and space for me to be efficient and effective in my work. There are ways to do that  – some habits I have learned from others who have experienced and overcome similar issues, and some are the product of my own experiments. See below!

1. Sprints (for productivity)

I have to say this is so effective. I meet at least one other person at a coffee shop or members club – if it’s not in my office with my fellow team members. We plan to do 30 or 45 minutes of work and do between 3-5 sprints in a session. Blocking out 4 hours together I find works well.

We each say what we will work on and then we get going. No talking allowed, focusing only on the task we talked about. When the timer rings we stop, compare notes on progress, have a mini break and do another one. It’s honestly my most productive time, and it makes you realise how much time we waste on distractions and even moaning about having too much work on!

“A bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project.” – Abigail Van Buren

2. A tiny assignment (for motivation to break a bad habit)

I have done this now twice with 2 different friends. We talk about the bad habits we each have, whatever they might be. We give each other a new rule or habit to follow over a two week period. It has to be a “SMART” goal assignment – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

3. Low hanging fruit (for grabbing opportunities)

You simply make a list of people you already know who:

  • Fit into your target market but don’t work with you yet
  • Fit into your target market but haven’t worked with you for a while
  • Experience problems you know you can solve
  • Have their own network of contacts or audience which is very similar to the people you want to talk about
  • Have the expertise in things you find challenging, and very likely the answers to your current challenges

Once you have this list, you come up with some drafted initial outreach scripts for either text, email or phone calls and then you work through your list – sending out the requests, hellos, questions, etc. If you draft your communication well, considering the mindset of the people who are receiving these outreach messages, you will find each conversation will be at the very least a learning opportunity and would certainly lead to more “yeses” than if you didn’t do this exercise.

4. The minimum criteria (for setting boundaries)

If you find that your bad habits involve you saying “yes” too often when you should be saying “no” – then this one works great. You just need to write a specific list of criteria to answer the question “Any time I will do this, I need the following things to be true first”.

For example, you only take on a client who pays less than a certain minimum threshold, who has made a written commitment that they will comply with your specific set of guidelines for their responsibilities during the project. There are so many ways you can use the “minimum criteria” technique and you can share your rules with friends and colleagues to hold yourself accountable.

Now, with all this insight I hope you feel more motivated and you can’t even remember your excuses anymore!

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Starting a Business in College

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College is a time of opportunity. Students are given a chance to learn a variety of new skills and to put those skills to use. One way to do this is to start a business. Starting a business isn’t something you should jump into without careful consideration, though. You need to take a look at what you stand to gain from it and what negative aspects come from starting a business are.

Sole Proprietorship or Partnership

The first distinction that needs to be made when you start a business is what kind of business it’s going to be. Will you be the sole owner? Will someone else be co-owning with you? If it is the former, this is referred to as a sole proprietorship. The advantages of this type of business are the fact that they are easy to start up and close if need be as well as giving the owner the flexibility of being their boss. Owners of this type also retain all profits earned.

There are downsides to this type of ownership. The biggest one is that the owner has unlimited liability. In other words, if the business fails, struggles, or falls into debt, it’s entirely on the owner.

On the other hand, if a student wanted to start a business with a friend, they could go into it as a partnership where each person holds a certain level of responsibility for the company. For one, two students starting a business can pool their resources and knowledge. Unfortunately, the development of a partnership doesn’t take away the idea of unlimited responsibility for the owners if they are general – meaning equal – partners.

“Never start a business just to make money. Start a business to make a difference.” – Marie Forleo

A Chance to Do Something Important to You

When a student is in college, they might end up taking whatever job they can to make ends meet. After all, the price of college is high, and many college students work entry-level jobs. It means that the posts you work at the start of your career might not be the ones that you are passionate about.

Owning a business, on the other hand, gives you more freedom. This is because a student’s business can be revolved around anything they are knowledgeable about. It gives them a chance to find their passion and profit off of it while having a job that they love.

The opposing side to this is that college students do work on lower funds than someone who has settled into a career further down the road and has savings built up from that. It means that for a student, start-up costs can be a little more challenging to reach.

The silver lining to that train of thought is that college students are only starting their career. They don’t have to worry about leaving a job that they’ve been working on for decades to take a risk and start their own business.

It Takes Dedication

Starting a firm, as we’ve pointed out, isn’t something that you do on a whim. The owner has to be dedicated to the business to have a successful company. It can be difficult at first because many people start their own business with the idea that they will create their hours. The truth is that you will probably find yourself working overtime and doing every menial task that the company needs to be done at first

It is mainly because you will be starting out on your own. Even if you have a partner, you won’t have employees to start out so there won’t be many delegations of tasks. If you are genuinely passionate about a topic, you will be able to find the dedication it takes to get your business off the ground. Remember, as the company grows, you’ll be able to hire more help – if the industry is a success, all responsibilities won’t fall on the owner forever.

“Don’t wait for the right moment to start a business. It never arrives. Start whenever.” – Lauris Liberts

Leadership

We already looked at the fact that owning a business means that you are in charge of all the goings on within your business. As such, this is an excellent opportunity to show your skills as a leader. If you don’t have strong leadership skills, this is a great chance to develop them fast because, without them, you will be watching your business go under.

Leadership doesn’t just mean organizing teams and delegating tasks. You will also have to take responsibility for less desirable functions within your business. For instance, as the owner, it is your job to fire someone when it comes time to let them go. It isn’t a job that anyone wants, but it is a task that needs to be done to keep a business running smoothly.

It all boils down to risk and reward. Starting and owning a business in college is something that can bring you a lot of good as well as a lot of bad. If you want a company to succeed, you have to consider both sides of this and decide if starting a business in college is the right choice for you.

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