Don’t Over Analyze Your Marketing Before You Act

If Apple designed the iPhone with the mentality of “if it works 80% of the time, then that’s good enough,” they wouldn’t have gotten very far.  They spend a lot of time analyzing, testing and tweaking before their final release  (How Apple Works).

Engineers and designers are taught to make sure they account for all sorts of situations in their products. As a result, a technical trained individual who is running a company may view marketing with the same mindset: if it’s not perfect, we’re not releasing it. The thing is, seeking a 99% solution is not as important for some fields as it is for others.

analysis paralysis

There is no way to know whether your marketing material will work until you try it. And if you don’t see traction, you massage your material till you start seeing some progress. And even then, you are never finished. You can always improve it, just like you would improve a technical product.

Continuously making improvements is a key element of any process, technical or business. But often, technically trained individuals – and as an engineer, I put myself into this category – have a tendency to over analyze before taking action. This mentality makes a lot of sense when you’re building a product. But there is a chance that over analyzing your marketing material is costing you business.

Many of my clients fall into this trap. They are engineers who have started a company and can’t make a decision on marketing. This drags out the release of any new marketing material or strategy. In the meantime, competitors who are quick to try different tactics, even if they flop, are speeding by with new sales and faster growth. Their mindset is completely different: “hey, let’s try this… it seems like it makes sense. If it doesn’t work, then let’s change it.”

Just the fact that they are taking action, and willing to make mistakes in their marketing, gets them farther ahead than those who wait. Marketing is not a 100% science. There is a lot of trial and error till you refine the messages that resonate most with your prospects. Large companies with big budgets have the resources to do all sorts of market testing before they launch their campaigns nationwide. As a small business owner, you probably don’t have that kind of budget or time.

If you find that you haven’t made a new marketing-related decision in the last 12 months or if it is taking you more than a few weeks to roll out campaign tweaks, you may have fallen into the trap of analysis paralysis. Sit back and think: what really happens if my marketing gets 80% close to the mark? Answer: you tweak it – after you’ve launched your campaign.

Two Parts of the Startup 3.0 Act That Will Help Small Business

This morning, I will be part of a panel discussion to educate congressional staffers on the merits of the Startup 3.0 Act (H.R. 714/ S. 310) that was introduced in both the House and Senate this February. Startup 3.0 has many provisions that will help small businesses. The panel is being hosted by the House Small Business IT Caucus and includes:

  • Doug Humphrey, Serial Entrepreneur
  • Raj Khera, CEO, MailerMailer (me)
  • Morris Panner, CEO, DICOM Grid.com
  • David Pauken, CEO, Convoke Systems
  • Cynthia Traeger, Director, Founder Institute of DC
  • Lamar Whitman of CompTIA as Moderator

My fellow panelists will go into their own experience as business owners and focus on different parts of the proposed legislation. I am focusing on two of the areas: 1) the elimination of country quotas for H1-B visas so that we can bring more skilled workers to build new products and 2) the ability to offset R&D expenses against payroll tax liability via a tax credit. Both of these provisions in Startup 3.0 will help small businesses get the talent and retain more cash to develop innovative products.

The hearing is at 11:00 a.m. today in the House Rayburn Office Building and is open to the public. Below is my testimony:


House Small Business IT Caucus – Congressional Panel on Startup 3.0

Raj Khera
June 28, 2013

House Small Business Committee Hearing Room, Rayburn Bldg

Good morning everyone, my name is Raj Khera. I’m the CEO of a marketing software company called MailerMailer, located in Rockville, Maryland. This is my third business – like several of my colleagues on this panel, I’ve built and sold other technology companies before and have experienced first hand the challenges that Americans face when building a business.

I was excited about several of the provisions in the Startup 3.0 Bill because they will really help spur innovation and remove some of the obstacles that entrepreneurs face. The really strong job growth in our economy comes from companies with products and services in high-demand sectors.

Many of you may know that there is a severe shortage of qualified engineering talent in the United States.  We have to find the talent somewhere or we can’t grow. A few years ago, I needed to hire an engineer with a unique skill set. After looking for a while in the US, I finally found someone who lived in England. It was April and the quota for all H1-B visas had been filled. Lucky for me, his person wasn’t from a country whose quota limits fill up so fast that you have to enter a lottery just to see if your candidate can even come here. I still had to wait until October before the next fiscal year’s quotas were opened up before I could bring over my new employee. That was extremely frustrating. It delayed the build out and deployment of our new product line. The Startup 3.0 bill removes country quotas so employers like me can get the talent we need to build the products that help grow our GDP. There are thousands of companies just like mine and in the same situation.

Another one of the provisions of this bill is a tax credit of up to $250,000 of R&D expenses against payroll tax liability. I’ve used previous R&D tax credits that were available against income and they have helped my company build new products that have been very successful in the marketplace. The Startup 3.0 proposed tax credits against payroll tax liability are unique because most startups don’t have income, but almost everyone has payroll. This provision will help startups keep more cash on hand to build new products.

I strongly recommend that you help to get this bill passed because it is going to enable small businesses to create more American jobs and provide incentives for more investment into American startups. Thank you.


Update: pictures from the event… well attended by congressional staffers with lots of good questions.

House Small Business IT Caucus

Raj Khera - presenting to congressional staffers

How I wrote my first book and got it to #1 on Amazon

Many of us want to write our first book, but never get started. Getting your book ranked highly on Amazon is an even greater challenge. There’s good news: writing your first book has gotten much easier in the last 5 years. In case you have book idea in your head and want to get it in print, here’s the tale of how I wrote my first book and got it to #1 on Amazon. I hope the story inspires you to write yours.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I write for my company’s blog, MailerMailer, my personal blog, Creating Luck, and guest posts on other blogs. I write white papers, ebooks, and marketing material. Like many people, perhaps you, I’ve always wanted to write a book. The project seemed so overwhelming that I never got around to it. Last summer, I decided that I would finally do it.

Here’s what I did and my timeline:

Getting Started

itmarketingbook-ipad-pc

1. July-September 2012: Created an outline based on the book’s target market: small technology companies. I researched Amazon thoroughly to see if there are other books of this type and found none, which really surprised me. Most marketing books are very general in nature. There was nothing for such a focused niche market. My goal wasn’t to sell tens of thousands of books. It was to educate small IT companies on how to grow their business. I remember when I started my first company I had no idea what I was doing and a book like this would have given me a solid foundation and numerous strategies to implement. I wanted to share what I learned over the last 20 years in building businesses.

Creating a book outline was the hardest part, especially keeping it focused. My outline was fairly detailed. I included bullet points of the specific topics I wanted to cover in each chapter. I rewrote the outline repeatedly, even as I wrote the chapters. I would always find something to add or remove to keep it tight. One of my pet peeves is books that could have been condensed into an article, where the author deliberately goes on and on with fluff that doesn’t add any value. I didn’t want my book to be like that so I spent a lot of time up front crystallizing my thoughts so that each chapter had valuable insights.

I revised the title at least 25 times before finally settling on The IT Marketing Crash Course: How to Get Clients for Your Technology Business.

2. September-October 2012: Started writing the chapters. I put appointments with myself on my calendar to block off time. That was the only way I was able to set aside the time to do this. Otherwise, my calendar would fill up with, well, life. Hit a snag: this was taking WAY too long. I was reminded of the famous Red Smith quote about how easy writing is: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.”

Moving Forward

3. November-December 2012: Hired a transcriber to help speed up the process. After I wrote the first 3 chapters, which took 3 months, I figured it would take me another year before I finished at my current pace. To speed things up, I would record an audio file of my thoughts for each remaining chapter. My helper was also a writer so if some of my sentences weren’t clear, she could fix them as she put my spoken words in print form. She sent me text versions of my recorded thoughts for each chapter, which I then edited (very heavily) to create the final drafts. Writing the book this way was significantly easier since I could articulate my thoughts verbally by looking at my outline’s notes. This was a more natural way for me to communicate so doing this step sped up the writing process quite a bit. I was able to get the first full draft of the book (14 chapters total) done in another 2 months.

I included an action-item checklist at the end of each chapter and a master checklist at the end of the book so readers had specific steps to take to grow their business. I also added a sample budget of what the marketing investment should be in a small IT company, itemizing each tactic and its estimated monthly and yearly cost.

4. October 2012-January 2013: Interviewed lots of companies. I didn’t want the book to just be a write up of my knowledge. I wanted to include real-life examples of companies using the concepts I presented. I also didn’t want it to be a list of my clients – that would have been too self-serving. So, I interviewed people in my close and extended networks. I reached out to colleagues on LinkedIn and through discussion groups I participate in. Many people volunteered.

My questions during the interviews centered on the book’s topics since I was looking for examples to enhance each chapter. Adding stories made the book come to life. It made it much more enjoyable and easier to read. More so, the interviews made the book much easier to write! Since the questions I posed related to my outline, I was able to tell stories about real experiences from real companies. Much of the text was right there in my interview notes. I simply had to massage it to fit smoothly in each chapter.

5. February 2013: Hired an editor to review the final draft. She found many typos and other issues.

Preparing to Go Live

6. February-March 2013: Prepared the book’s layout in Word. Saved it as a PDF to send as review copy (added security: text in PDF file could not be copied from the review copy).

7. February 2013: Hired a designer to create the cover and the book’s website, www.itmarketingbook.com. She did an amazing job. I included a QR code on the back cover that goes to the book’s website where people can sign up for “extras” like templates, spreadsheets, checklists and other usable files that I couldn’t include in the book itself.

8. Early March 2013: Sent it to my inner circle for comments and quotes for the back cover. Then, sent it to others outside my close circle. Over 40 people reviewed the book and I got plenty of useful comments. I made so many edits that it increased the book’s length by 20 pages. I also got quite a few wonderful quotes to use on the back cover and on the IT Marketing book’s website.

Coordinating Publicity

9. Early March 2013: Read through Amazon’s publishing pages: CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I decided to go the self-publishing route after reading about how so many famous authors are now abandoning their publishing houses because they can do so much more on their own – and do it faster. Crush It with Kindle is a low-priced Kindle book that does a wonderful job explaining what to do. I used it as my guide. I finally got the book online on Amazon in Kindle and print formats and ordered the proof of the print edition. Loved it! I finally had my book in my hand, no longer just in my mind. Had a sangria to celebrate!

10. Early March 2013: Sent an email to 21 bloggers that cover the business aspects of IT requesting that they review the book since it is a good fit with their audience. Of the 21 I contacted, 7 replied and reviewed the book, posting their review on the launch date which I had set as March 18, 2013. I had concentrated the effort to focus on one day, my arbitrary “launch date,” after reading about how bestseller lists work: all bestseller lists are ranked based on volume over time. If you sell 1,000 books over 1 year, your book is ranked much lower than if you sell 1,000 in a week. The rankings change based on units sold each week, or in Amazon’s case, every day.

11. March 18, 2013: Posted a press release through PRWeb announcing the book and notified a handful of other publications, sending them a copy of the press release. Reminded my reviewers about the book’s launch and provided them with a sample tweet they could share – many of them posted news of the book in their blogs, tweets and LinkedIn and Facebook status updates. I also mentioned the book in a few relevant discussion groups I am actively involved in.

12. Week of March 18, 2013: The book hit #1 on Amazon in 3 business categories due to this publicity effort. Amazon allowed me to make the book available for free on the launch date, which spurred a download frenzy – over 500 in one day for a niche market book! Even after the free download day was over and people had to buy it, sales were strong and kept it at #1.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of several people – including those I interviewed – who provided the support to get it off the ground. The people I hired were staff members that work with me. If you don’t have an existing team that can help, you can find freelancers who can pitch in. Just advertise on guru.com, elance.com or CraigsList under “writing gigs”. If I hadn’t solicited help, the book would still be a dream and I would probably still be writing chapter 4.

So, what do you say? Ready to write your book? It’s actually easier than you might think. Just schedule a little time on your calendar and get started. You could be a #1 Amazon bestselling author before you make your next New Year’s resolution!

Negative Self-Talk: Give Yourself a Cease Fire

Most people have a tape playing in their head. That tape shapes how we react. And sometimes that tape involves negative self-talk. When you run a business, you juggle a lot of activities. You may feel frustrated about the pace of your growth. You may feel guilty about your ability to balance your work and personal life. You may feel like you are unlucky. These emotions happen to everyone, even the most successful of entrepreneurs, not just you.negative self talk

We all have distractions. The danger comes when negative self-talk affects your ability to execute. Stop beating up on yourself. Give yourself a cease fire! Here are some ideas on how to do it:

1. Spot negative self-talk. Margaret Moore writes in Psychology Today that “we have an internal ‘voice’ that comments on, and then determines, how we perceive our every circumstance.” Two people can react to the same situation entirely differently, one seeing an opportunity, the other defeat. “Self-limiting talk creates a self-fulfilling prophecy because we stop looking for solutions and assume defeat,” Moore states. If you find yourself feeling like something will not work out, you are in negative self-talk mode.

2. Add two words to your vocabulary. You’ve heard these two words before: “what if…” but you might not be using them as frequently as you should. For example, if part of your business is doing well and another part isn’t, you don’t have entertain thoughts of shutting down the underperforming unit. What if you looked for someone to buy it so you could focus on your strengths? Instead of continuously worrying about a money-losing headache, you can turn the situation into a money-making opportunity.

3. Make a daily “to do” list. Many entrepreneurs have a set of goals for the year. That’s usually part of a business plan that includes benchmarks for measuring achievement. Extrapolate key goals down to a daily task list, something that gives you the opportunity to check off items as you complete them. This will give you a sense of accomplishment which, in turn, invokes a desire for more accomplishment. It is a positive feeling that nurtures positive thinking and helps get rid of negative self-talk.

4. Share your story with other entrepreneurs. Being a business owner is a lonely position. Nobody in your company can share in the experiences you face: meeting payroll, monitoring cash flow, identifying where to invest for growth, managing staff. Sharing an issue with a peer helps you get perspective. They might have gone through your situation before and can offer guidance – or at the very least, commiserate with you. Sometimes, just knowing you’re not alone gives you the comfort and strength to overcome negative self-talk. I use a group called Vistage to serve as my sounding board. It is comprised of a dozen or so CEOs from non-competing businesses so we can exchange notes and learn from each other. The experience has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and has helped get through challenges that at one time seemed daunting.

Think about the tape playing your head right now. If you spot signs of negative self-talk, give yourself some good luck: declare a cease fire today!

5 Surprises About Running Your Own Business

Starting and running a business is not for the faint of heart. There is an element of luck involved and you need to be able to stomach some major ups and downs. When I started running my own business, I expected hard work. I was hoping that good luck would be on my side. What I didn’t expect were these 5 surprises:business surprises

1. It is very emotional. I am fairly even keeled guy. It takes a lot to get me upset. When I worked for another organization, someone else was in charge. They made the big decisions, they took the risk and usually there was little consequence to me for someone else’s mistakes. I could go home and have a life outside of the office without feeling guilty. Not so when you run your own business. Every decision affects you, even if you didn’t make the decision. This increases your level of work stress. Even when things are going well, you sweat the details. You worry about how the economy will affect your customer base, how your competition just came out with a cool new widget that would take you a year to build just to catch up, how to make sure your next hire works out so you don’t end up throwing money away, whether you are properly balancing your time working and being with your family. No matter how stable your temperament, there are so many moving parts that it becomes an emotional ride. You have to get used to this.

2. You will be shocked at how many times you want to quit. Ask any successful entrepreneur if they felt this way and they will tell you they wanted to throw in the towel more than once. You need to have or build a thick skin to handle the obstacles that pop up out of the blue. One of my first web sites, morebusiness.com, was doing very well in the late 1990s. When the dot com bubble burst, the ad revenue plummeted. The site was no longer able to sustain the number of salaries it was supporting. We had to retrench and redefine our focus very quickly. It was painful. There will be times, especially when you start, that you take no salary for long stretches of time. You pay your staff first, possibly out of your own savings, and hope there is something left in the pot for you. You hear about everyone else succeeding and wonder what you’re doing wrong. There are 100 reasons to quit and only 1 to stay: faith.

3. You will lose money on many of your activities . In an ideal world, every dollar you allocate for staff, marketing, product development or support will result in more money being returned to you. Unfortunately, there is a lot of waste, even in small companies. Nobody intends to waste the money, it’s just that things don’t work out. Several years ago, MailerMailer explored offering a bulk text messaging option for some of our email marketing clients. We spent time and money building a prototype and showed it to our clients. When we explored pricing models, which had to account for our direct expenses, our focus group testing revealed that we wouldn’t be able to sell the product at the price points our existing customers were willing to pay. If we continued, we would have to pursue a new marketing channel, which would be very expensive and shift our core focus. After all of that time and energy, we abandoned the project. It cost us a good deal of money. I’ve lost money on so many projects that didn’t work out so I stopped counting. If I dwell on those “failures” I would avoid taking the risk on new projects. That would be a bad move because some investments pay off very well.

4. No matter how good your product or service is, there is always somebody trying edge you out. This ties in with surprise #1 – the emotional roller coaster. Someone is always breathing down your neck. They are trying to take your customers away from you so you have to pull out all the stops to make sure you retain your client base with the products and services they need and the stellar customer support they deserve. In my earlier company, GovCon, we were the number one destination for federal government contractors when our closest competitor came out with the first online version of a federal procurement database. This data was used by contractors to find existing contracts that were coming up for renewal. Nobody had done this before and we were caught blindsided. They started gaining market share and we knew we had to act fast. It took us over a year to build a competing product. There is always something else lurking around the corner and it will keep you up at night.

5. There are a lot of people who will blatantly steal your articles, designs, marketing content and more and then promote them as their own. This is my biggest pet peeve about running your own business. People who are too lazy to do original work themselves just steal yours and pawn it off as their own. I’ve found word-for-word copies of our marketing material, blogs, white papers, graphic designs – even components of one of our logos and other copyrighted content all over the web. One company stole parts of our article library that we spent tens of thousands of dollars building up. They took the articles and created their own password-protected site and sold access for a subscription fee. When we are able to chase down these perpetrators, we contact them to remove our original work. Finding every infringement is challenging and requires a lot of time. I’d much rather be spending my time and money elsewhere.

Don’t let any of these surprises discourage you. I started my company because I had an itch I had to scratch. I always wanted to run my own business and through faith and persistence I have been able to make it work. You can, too.

Do you run your own business? What surprises have you faced?

Want More Luck? Count Each Small Win

Getting lucky involves opening your eyes to every small win you have. Every year at our business planning meetings, we come up with ideas for new features for our email marketing service that would take a very large amount of engineering time to build. Some of these are feature requests from customers, others are things we think would be pretty cool. What sometimes gets overlooked is what you might call the “small win.”  These are the little projects, the ones that took just a few days or weeks to do but left a tremendous imprint.

The thing with a small win is that people can forget about it. Yet tracking small wins can make you happier and more productive. When I look back at my last 12 months, I sometimes have trouble remembering each small win. They might have seemed insignificant at the time.  And often, they do not end up on my company’s action list of top priority projects – those that do tend to be our long-term projects.many small wins equal a big win

Every small win has an impact. Prof. Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School writes “Big breakthroughs at work are really rare. But small wins are something people can experience pretty regularly.” She found that 28 percent of small events of all kinds had a major impact on inner work life.

The opportunity to recognize small wins lies all around us. A recent small win my team had was to make some seemingly minor changes to our pin pad security feature. This took less than a week to do and resulted in a much stronger trial-to-paid conversion rate.  All of the other features we were working on, all of the marketing we were doing and all of the customer support we were providing was wonderful, but this little tweak that took so little time was a home run.

Acknowledging that small win was also important. It became a catalyst for other things that followed, helping us to create more of our own good luck. Once we saw the impact that this quick project had, it got my team looking at the other seemingly small projects on our list. I know not all of these tasks will have a major impact, but each “win” is motivational.

Our pin pad task was on our project list for a long time. It just didn’t bubble up to the top of our priority list for a variety of reasons. Once we implemented it, it was like a bolt of lightning hit us – why didn’t we do this quick and easy task earlier? Was it worth breaking open a bottle of Dom Perignon? No. But if you can count a dozen small wins in a year, you’ve got a lot to feel lucky about.

Limiting Beliefs: What Stops You?

Your limiting beliefs are holding you back. Even high achievers develop a hidden demon – a mental block that stops us from getting what we really want, from attaining what we would like realize, from naturally thinking we deserve better. This demon stops us before we can act. It’s the conversation that goes on in our heads, the negative self-talk that adds to our anxiety, the presumption that things always go an unlucky way. The demon is our limiting beliefs.

Everyone’s demons are different. They grew in our minds because of our experiences and what we were taught. Our beliefs can limit how we grow. There is a flip side to this. If we learn to expect that the normal path things take is positive and that we should just presume that we will get what we want, we would view the world in a completely different way. Imagine the mental freedom you would feel if your natural thought was “oh, I’ll get that client” or “it’ll work out – I’m confident about it.” You would be the luckiest person in the world. You would dispel the things that hold you back.

limiting beliefs

Knowing What Stops You

Knowing what stops you is the first step to overcoming your limiting beliefs. Here’s a technique I use to clarify my own limiting beliefs. It can help you figure what stops you from gaining ground toward a happier, luckier life.

  1. Write down something you want but don’t have. Some ideas:
    • Vacation to Hawaii
    • An advanced college degree
    • A new car
    • A better job
    • A house
  2. For each item, write down why you don’t have it now. Examples:
    • It’s no fun traveling alone
    • I can’t save enough money on my current salary and expenses
    • I probably wouldn’t get a loan for the amount I want
    • I don’t know how to start so I keep putting it off
    • It’s just a pipe dream anyway

There you have it. You now have a starter list of your limiting beliefs. These are the things that stop you from getting what you want and from being that lucky person you would like to be.

The Law of Attraction says that universe responds to you in kind with your thoughts. Thinking “I can’t buy a new car because I probably won’t get a loan” results in you achieving exactly what you expect: no loan, no car.

How to Get Lucky

There is an amazing opportunity here. Just knowing what to challenge about yourself gives you the power to redefine and reinvent. Take the next two steps:

  1. Think about – and write down – what you can do to remove each obstacle in your way. Start with “I can”:
    • I can join a singles travel club and meet people on the trip
    • I can explore student loans and scholarships; plus I can study hard to score really well on the admissions tests
    • I can find out about new opportunities within my current company, update my LinkedIn profile and check out job boards
    • I can learn how to start my own business by reading books and talking to others who have done it
  2. Create calendar entries to block off time and focus on what stops you. This one’s easy and very important (start with “I will”):
    • Next Monday after dinner, I will research singles travel clubs and sign up to attend their next meeting
    • Wednesday morning, I will call up all 5 of my local universities and find out the loan and scholarship requirements so I know what to shoot for
    • After work today, I will buy a book on writing a great resume and read it by Saturday; Sunday after breakfast I will create a new resume; Monday at 8:00 a.m. I will start my job hunt
    • This Saturday at noon, I will go to the library and check out books on starting a business; I will return to the library every 3 weeks when the books are due and check out more books so I know how to start
    • Friday morning at 9:00 a.m., I will identify 3 professional networking events to attend each month to grow my circle of contacts

Go ahead, do it. Overcome your limiting beliefs. What’s stopping you?

Not Enough Time? Here’s the Fix

If you ask average person to do an additional task, they say they are usually too busy to take on anything new. Their typical response: “not enough time.”

If you ask the same question to a busy person, someone who clearly has a packed schedule, sits on boards, volunteers their time for charitable causes, is an executive or on track to become one, they will think for a moment and then give you one of two replies: 1) “Sorry, I can’t take that on because …” (they tell you why) or 2) “Yes, I can do that. When do you need it by?”not enough time

Not enough time? Give a busy person something you need done and they will find enough time to get it done.  They work late, cut down on television, get into the office early, squeeze out time during lunch or on the weekend and get assistance when they can. They are busier than most, yet they know how to manage their time well enough to be able take on new tasks. It’s not that these people do anything extraordinary. Yet we see them as extraordinary because of the amount of things they are able to accomplish. How do they do it?  For starters, they don’t complain. It’s not in their nature to whine about problems. They don’t focus on “not enough time.”  They would much rather put their energies toward finding a solution.

Which one of those reactions best describes your behavior? Are you the “not enough time” person or the “sure, I’ll do it” person?  You can mold yourself  by asking these simple questions that adjust your frame of reference and have a big impact on your ability to manage your time:

  1. How much time will this task really take?
    1. Are you just being bothered because someone asked you to do something that wasn’t initially on your plate or does this task really require a major investment in time?
    2. Or are you disturbed because of the nature of the person who made the request?
    3. Will you meet new people and expand your network of contacts as a result of working on this task?
    4. Will this add to your resume?
    5. Will you be doing someone a favor (which is a good thing, by the way)?
  2. What are the ramifications if you personally don’t take on this task?
    1. Is someone using you as a crutch to avoid doing the work themselves? If so, then that’s a good reason to use the opportunity to encourage them to stand on their own feet.
    2. Would the task not get done at all if you didn’t agree to do it?
    3. What are the benefits to all involved if you did this task?

Dig deep and you will probably find that you have the time to do a lot more than you do now. Your actions will change your reputation so you are regarded as the highly prized person that people turn to when they want to get something done. There is always enough time.

Quid Pro Quo: Taking Help and Giving Back

Taking help without giving back can create resentment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. And don’t be selfish with your time when others could use some of your expertise. Quid pro quo – giving back is important.

Offering Helpquid pro quo

An acquaintance of mine once asked me for comments on his company’s web site. He was looking for suggestions that would help generate more site traffic and provide an easy to navigate experience for visitors. Their goal was to increase awareness among their client base, agencies within the Department of Defense, so they would have stronger brand recognition as they bid on contracts.

The reason he asked me is because this is my area of expertise. My company has a good bit of experience building business web applications. Before we embark on a project, we do a lot of research to simplify the design flow. If we can make the site so straight forward that it doesn’t take much thinking to find and navigate, then we know we are on the right track. This kind of work takes a lot of time to ensure we are using the right words, images and structure.

I was happy to help and quickly put a plan together, which his staff implemented. I didn’t charge him for this since I was doing it as a favor.

What Happens When You Don’t Reciprocate

A year later, I needed a some guidance on a project. I asked him if he could spare some time to chat.  No response. I politely asked again. Radio silence.

I was not terribly bothered by this since I figured he must have been very busy at the time. Quid pro quo didn’t even enter my mind.

Then, another request came in. He asked if I could look over a new web-based human resource system they put together for sourcing candidates for their job openings.

I gave him a few pages of comments which his staff took and improved their system. It didn’t take me much time because a lot of this is second nature to me. Again, I did it as a favor and did not charge him.

A while later, I needed some input on reaching buyers at government agencies and knew he had the expertise that could help me sort out some questions. I asked for help and got the same lack of response I had experienced earlier.

This time, it did bother me. His silence portrayed him as a very selfish person, someone I no longer cared to help.

The concept of quid pro quo bubbled to the top. When someone reaches out and you help them, but they don’t help you when you are in need, it gives rise to resentment.

Making Yourself Aware

He is a very nice guy in every other respect. But he is not tuned into giving back and as a result he doesn’t see that his lack of response turns people off.

If someone asks for help and you have the expertise to chip in, do it. If you think this type of thing isn’t for you, look back to the last time someone helped you out. You might be surprised to see the village you live in has been giving you a boost. Quid pro quo.

The 4 Worst Investment Decisions I Made for My Company

When you build a company, you have to make investment decisions on where to put your money to achieve the highest growth. Here are the 4 worst investments I’ve made and my lessons learned:

  1. B and C quality staff members. An average performer costs twice as much as a top performer. A below average performer costs you many times that. This is hands down one of the worst investment decisions I have ever made. I used to think that some people were too expensive for me to hire and so I would hire a lesser qualified person whose salary was more within my self-allocated budget. Bad move. Hiring anything but an A player for your team spells trouble. A players may appear to cost more initially, but their productivity level far exceeds anything a B or C player can do. A players spot opportunities, B and C players just get by or look for the status quo. To infuse innovation in your company that will fuel your growth, invest in the top performers. A really good A player will do more for your company than hiring two B and C players.
  2. Products we built without sufficient market research. Ugh, the money I lost not thinking through our products and feature sets gives me a twitch. We built some of our products based on instinct thinking “of course people would love this, we’ll save them so much money and it’s faster, too.” Had we just asked potential clients whether they would buy such a product, we could have saved an immense amount of time, money and lost opportunity costs. The worst investment decisions ignore basic market research.
  3. Print advertising. I’ve had a lot of sales people from publications call on me and several of them were so polished that I succumbed to their pitch and bought print advertising. While this type of advertising might work for some companies, I have never seen it work for any of mine. Maybe it’s my price points which require a lower cost for customer acquisition. I just don’t think as many people respond to print advertising these days. It is certainly not an easy metric to measure compared to online advertising. Whatever the reason, I have found print advertising to be one of the worst investment decisions for my businesses. I should have put that money into public relations.
  4. Consultants hired without setting extremely concrete goals and expectations. Consultants are valuable. We finally got the hang of hiring them – after losing a lot of money to ones who were better at selling their services than doing the work. When we analyzed what went wrong with previous contracts, we found that we never really set extremely clear expectations. It was our fault. Had we outlined in detail what we wanted out of the project, we would have had a much better chance of success. We goofed up like this with technical consultants, marketing consultants and even business advisers. Lesson learned. We now list out specific goals with absolute clarity on the results we expect. If a consultant isn’t on track, we terminate the contract quickly to cut our losses.
In the end, each one of these so called investments turned into an expense and, in some cases, a burden. This list doesn’t include the investment opportunities I missed – there are plenty of those, too. In terms of allocating existing dollars with the intent of earning more dollars, these are by far the worst investment decisions I have ever made. What are some of yours?