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Four Questions That Every Manufacturing Entrepreneur Needs To Answer

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Talk to manufacturing founders about their fundraising journeys and they’ll tell you how hard it is to raise startup capital for a business that makes stuff. They’ll also tell you it can be done. They did it, and others can too.
But aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors need to understand the challenges and a few strategies for overcoming them. Because in a software-dominated world, there are not a lot of investors throwing capital at startups that would spend it on raw materials and equipment, establishing supply chains, training employees and leasing factory space.
For those who want to understand those strategies, there’s no better person to consult than Brandon Cornuke, vice president of strategy and startup services at MAGNET and adjunct professor of design and innovation at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Cornuke, who has a book coming out on this very subject, has identified four questions that entrepreneurs must answer in order to attract funding via grants, angel investors, venture capital or other sources. While the questions apply to startups in any industry, as you’ll see they are especially important for manufacturing enterprises, given the uphill battle they face. 

Four questions every manufacturing entrepreneur needs to answer.
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Question #1: Are you solving a real problem?
You may think it’s a problem that your barbeque grill doesn’t get hot enough – and you may even convince yourself there’s a market for a device you could attach that would hold in the heat. But are others so troubled by their grill’s temperature range that they would be willing to pay for the device? And if so, are there enough of them to warrant making millions of those devices?

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You’d be surprised at how often founders believe the problems plaguing them are worthy of creating a startup. As Cornuke told me, “I always ask founders how many people they’ve talked to. It’s amazing how often they say, ‘my wife loves the idea.’ I hear that all the time.”
The fact that manufacturing startups tend to play in a B2B space only ups the ante on the importance – and challenge – of getting the initial value proposition right. “For manufacturing startups, getting enough customer feedback is challenging,” says Andrew Lonsberry, CEO and co-founder of Path Robotics.
Whatever the size of the market, you have to test your idea by going out and talking to people making the products or performing the tasks you hope to improve. You should do surveys, conduct focus groups, observe potential customers using similar products – and rejigger your product context along the way.
“It’s never too early to start talking to customers or people you hope would be your customers,” says Onas Bolton, CEO and founder of Octet Scientific. “That’s the most valuable thing.”
Question #2: Does your product actually solve the problem?
It takes a lot of effort to get a manufacturing product to actually work: tooling, manufacturing partners, supply chains, logistics, retail partners, wholesalers. And if it doesn’t work at first – which is highly likely – it’s not easy to iterate. “In the digital world, you can recreate yourself overnight,” Cornuke says. “In a manufacturing context, by the time you realize your product doesn’t work, you’ve likely already burned through all your capital.”
This means it’s critical to build low-fidelity versions of your concept and pressure test them in real-world situations. Typically, this is done with prototypes – early versions of an idea that don’t cost as much as the final product. Most entrepreneurs know that they should develop prototypes, but how “perfect” that early version should be is often a bedeviling puzzle. As a guiding principle, prototypes should only be good enough to show that they can do the job. That might mean they need a lot of help along the way. They might not even survive to the next trial run. But the point is to learn as much as you can about the key aspects of the concept while spending as little time and money as possible. That might seem like the long road, but it’s the shortest path to a product that works.
The onerous iteration process may partly explain why many manufacturing startups turn to non-dilutive government R&D grants for funding. It’s also why collaborations – with nonprofit organizations like MAGNET, manufacturing partners, academic institutions, potential customers (who might test the product) and others – can play such a vital role.
Case in point: Don Scipione, CEO of Roll-A-Rack, has established a handful of partnerships that have helped him develop his solar panel racking startup. He’s working with a gutter and metal roofing manufacturer whose machinery can be readapted to suit Roll-A-Rack’s purposes and a wind tunnel company to compute uplift forces on solar panels when the wind blows. He’s also relying on NASA’s Glenn Research Center for confirmation of wind tunnel results, Case Western Reserve’s SDLE Research Center to evaluate weather corrosion issues and MAGNET for engineering design support. Together, he says these collaborations “are worth a million dollars.”
Question #3: Are you the right person to deliver this solution?
Read the books and magazine articles about entrepreneurs and you might start to think success requires the utter absence of self-doubt. But when you ask investors for more money, your track record will matter more than your iron will. So before you ask, some honest self-reflection is in order.
“You absolutely have to understand whether you have the right assets to bring this specific idea to life,” Cornuke says. “Not everyone is in the right position to bring a product to life just because they have the idea.”
Investors want to hear that you’ve got dozens of years’ experience in this industry, a prototype, a patent or partners and other assets that will set you up for success.
Leveraging professional networks can help here. Bolton, for instance, solidified his credibility by partnering with a respected academic who is an expert in his field. Others, like Aaron Slodov, co-founder and CEO of an emerging hard tech startup, believe that domain expertise is not necessary but stress the importance of building the right team. 
“An individual contributor may be able to make the technology with their own bare hands,” he says. “But investors won’t stake their money unless they can de-risk at least two of three categories: execution, market and technical risk. Which means a solid team needs someone who can paint that billion-dollar narrative and show sufficient product-market fit.”
Question #4: Can you sell it?
At the end of the day, startups have to be laser-focused on sales if they want to attract investors. For manufacturing startups – whose products aren’t as easy to produce and test as, say, a new mobile app – that may mean getting creative.
Scipione, for example, has a “clever way of starting the customer process.” To help evaluate his solar panel racking product, he’s searching nationwide for up to 10 organizations who’d be willing to test it. The process is technically part of the R&D stage, but if it works well for the beta testers, Roll-A-Rack will likely have its first customers.
Lonsberry took a similar route – his industrial robotics company got started when a manufacturer he met doing consulting work put up $315,000 to produce one robot. That became the prototype that helped Path Robotics secure VC funding.
Both of these stories underscore the importance, particularly for manufacturing startups with longer timelines, of using try-and-buy initiatives, getting preorders and gathering extensive information from potential customers. What matters here is that money is actually changing hands. When customers financially commit to a project or put a down payment on a product, that’s worth infinitely more than a customer who says they “would” buy a product but then fails to reach for their checkbook.
One of the themes running through all these questions is the imperative to make the most of any financing. Whether it’s friends and family money, a prototype customer, a grant or your credit cards, if you don’t make every dollar count, you may never get enough additional capital to perfect the product and scale up a real manufacturing process.
This reality only heightens the importance of answering the four key questions, looking yourself in the mirror and getting organized from square one. And start selling – it’s never too early.

These Female Founders Have Created The Most Comfortable Knickers Ever (And They’re Compostable)

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We may not use the term ‘knickers’ here in the U.S., but we definitely all own a pair or two and they might even be one of your favorites. But Stripe & Stare founders, Nicola Piercy and Katie Lopes are on a mission to change that by making the most comfortable and sustainable knickers, sleepwear, and loungewear ever. 

Stripe & Stare
Courtesy of Stripe & Stare
When I ask the duo, who launched their Britain-based brand in 2017, if they could define what ‘knickers’ are to those unfamiliar, they refer to the dictionary definition: a woman’s or girl’s undergarment covering the lower part of the torso to the top of the thighs and having two holes for the legs.
Lopes tells me, “I know it is not a common word in the USA as it is here. Over 50% of our revenue now comes out of the USA and we have such funny conversations. The women we speak to in the States have often not heard the term, but love it and it makes them laugh.” Piercy adds, “We are on a mission to make it a generic term in America! Being English, we have an aversion to the word ‘panty’. We love the word ‘knicker’ as it is fun, playful, and makes people smile.  What better way to start your day?” 

Lopes, who comes with 15 years of retail experience, developed the knickers during her time as a buyer. “We sold top labels like Zimmerman and Rag and Bone. But we sold these amazingly comfortable thongs. Women would come in and buy 10 at a time—it got me interested in underwear. I tried to source a cool, contemporary, yet ultra-comfortable knicker to sell since our customers preferred this shape to a thong, but could not find one,” Lopes tells me when I ask her how the idea came about. 

Stripe & Stare
Courtesy of Stripe & Stare

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Stripe & Stare
Courtesy of Stripe & Stare
Stripe & Stare formalized when the pair, who are old friends and colleagues, met up for coffee to catch up. “As we chatted we both realized we were unhappy in our current work places and wanted to make a change,” Piercy tells me. “Katie had just come out of a trademark dispute and had had to sell her old company to pay the legal bills. I was the managing director at a chain of cooking schools. We realized that this was the moment to start something new and set up a company using all our combined experience—in the way we wanted. The knickers are the perfect way to empower and really represent that. They are so comfortable they leave you free to take on the day and worry about more important things.”
When I ask about the brand’s name Lopes shares, “We ‘ummed’ and ‘arghed’ about the name, but had to make the final decision in 24 hours!  Our cup of coffee meet up was in June, by August we had raised the seed investment and product was ordered ahead of launch in October 2017.  We move quickly!  I wanted two words that were unrelated yet easily memorable together.  Stripes are a symbol historically of power and otherness plus such a fashion staple dating back to Coco Chanel. We love them so this part was decided quickly.” Piercy adds, “So we had to find a second unrelated word. ‘Stare’ came from our love of alliteration and we felt like it was attitudinal—women not afraid to take on the world and confront the challenges that come their way.”
The pair launched Stripe & Stare with a small amount of capital from an angel investor. “He came to me and said that if I was ever interested in starting something new to let him know.  He had been watching what I was doing with the retail and the trademark dispute so offered an investment in something new should I ever want it,” explains Lopes. “I am SUCH a believer in the universe and things happening when they are meant to. The angel investor and Nicola both came along at exactly the right time for us to start Stripe & Stare.”

Stripe & Stare
Courtesy of Stripe & Stare

Stripe & Stare
Courtesy of Stripe & Stare
The ladies currently have over 30 angel investors. “We have had quite a few VCs wanting to invest but we never take more than we need and run things tightly so have not needed to go this route to date. 2021 we might think again depending on how quickly we want to expand,” states Piercy. “We have raised less than £500k to date and are already operating profitably. It is interesting that only 4% of UK venture capital goes to female run businesses. Part of this is because a lot of investment goes into tech, which is traditionally a male dominated industry. But a big part of it is women are not as good at putting themselves out there and are more risk averse.”
When it comes to sustainability, the women acknowledge that the brand is far from perfect, but better than most and constantly looking to improve. “Most underwear ends up in a landfill, which means it can take up to 200 years to decompose. Our knickers can literally be put in the soil to decompose in 3 months.  They are made from wood so come from nature, back to nature,” explains Lopes. “Only 2.4 % of the underwear market is sustainably sourced which is pretty awful for something we all use everyday and cannot buy second hand. Currently, 2% of our knicker will not break down (the elastane). But, we think we have found a solution. So next year, we hope that we can be the first (that we know of!) to launch a 100% biodegradable knicker.”
The fabric that Stripe & Stare now utilizes for their knickers and the rest of their product offerings is Lenzing and it’s beyond comfortable. It’s scientifically proven to be 2-3 times softer than cotton and is made in a closed-loop process that uses 95% less water than manufacturing cotton. “Making the most comfortable knicker in the world was a key mission and this fiber was the softest we felt,” Lopes tells me. “It is also a resilient fiber so as long as not washed on a very high heat it keeps its integrity in terms of color and shape as well as softness.”

Stripe & Stare
Courtesy of Stripe & Stare

Stripe & Stare
Courtesy of Stripe & Stare
“At launch, we were using other fabrics but after 6 months, we made the decision to only use Lenzing TENCEL Micro Modal,” adds Piercy. “Everything we learnt about this company amazed us, truly the most cutting edge in terms of sustainability that we have come across. And the feedback from customers is amazing.  We have heard it described as like wearing a hug or a cloud.  It is brilliant for sleepwear because of the breathability and I only wear this for yoga so I am cozy and don’t overheat!” 
Now that Stripe & Stare has become established with a loyal following, they have set their sights on becoming a full sustainable lifestyle brand over time. “We are launching a collaboration in January with one of our favorite fashion line, LoveShackFancy, so we’re super excited about that. Our subscription Knicker Club launch went really well this year and we would love to launch that in America too,” states Lopes.
As far as what else consumers can expect from the brand in the upcoming year is diversity.  Lopes tells me, “Women’s underwear and the fact we show so much of the body in our images has meant body diversity in all its forms has to be something we address.  And whilst we are very much still learning and educating ourselves, we are rapidly working to incorporate more size ranges and diversity in our representation. We have always seen ourselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret. We are a company run by women, for women and we hope we can make our customers more confident and make choices for themselves rather than anyone else.  Who knew a pair of knickers could be so important!”

9 Things To Ask Yourself Before You Get A Business Loan

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Sooner or later, most business leaders will need to take out a loan. Whether it’s to make ends meet during hard times, acquire a competitor or purchase pricey equipment, loans can be powerful financial tools.
With that said, loans can also work against you. Taking out a loan that’s too big, or one with unfavorable terms, could financially ruin your organization.
Applying for a loan is a serious decision. Carefully consider your options before you sign up for one. 

Applying for a loan is a serious decision.
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Ask Before You Borrow
You don’t want to find yourself in debt and out of business. Ask yourself these nine questions before you take out a loan:
1. Is a loan the best choice?

Loans are valuable for many businesses, but they aren’t always the best financing option. Consider all of them before you approach a lender.
An angel investor may be willing to provide you with direct funding. Your business may qualify for special grants. Or, you may be able to get some capital from a business partner. 
2. What types of loans are available?
Broadly speaking, loans come in two types: personal and business. Personal loans are riskier than business loans, which protect the borrower’s own assets, but offer more flexible funding options. For example, if you have a pending personal injury lawsuit, you can use a lawsuit loan to help fund your business.

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There are also multiple types of business loans available. For example, you may want to set up an ongoing line of credit that you can tap into as you see fit, or you may prefer an installment or balloon loan. Be sure you understand the differences before you decide on one.
3. What does my credit history look like? 
Is your personal credit history spotless? What about your company’s credit history? Your credit scores and histories will play a massive role in determining your loan eligibility—as well as the interest rates you pay. 
If you’re looking for the lowest rate, consider spending more time improving your credit history. Paying your bills on time and in full is one of the best ways to boost your score.
4. Can I provide collateral or a personal guarantee? 
You can often get better loan terms by offering some kind of collateral or a personal guarantee. This means that if you fail to pay the loan, the bank can seize the asset or take action against you to recoup their funds. It’s a bigger risk, but it could play to your favor. 
5. How much can I afford to pay per month?
The larger the loan and the shorter the timeline, the higher your monthly payment will be. Can your business afford this? How might it impact your bottom-line profitability?
6. Will I need cosigners?
Cosigners are jointly and legally liable for the loan. If you’re running a corporation with multiple partners, most (if not all) of your partners will need to sign. Otherwise, you might consider attaching only one person.
7. Which lender should I choose?
Different financial institutions will offer you different deals, including different interest rates and terms. Shop around to get the best possible deal. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a better rate—especially if a competitor is already offering one.  
8. How strong is my business plan?
Loans are risky. Are you certain your business model is going to generate revenue in short order and over the long term?
Most financial institutions will want to look at your business plan before lending money to you. They’ll look at figures like your monthly recurring revenue, expense, and other debt obligations. Make sure your plan makes a good impression before presenting it to a potential lender. 
9. What’s in the fine print?
Before finalizing any loan, make sure you read and understand all the fine print. Business loans sometimes come with complex terms that can be tough to parse. You don’t want to be surprised months into the arrangement. Look for:
Penalties assessed for early repayment.
Grace periods, payment schedules and late payment fees.
When interest rates will change, assuming it’s variable.
What happens if you default on the loan.
If you’re still shaky on your financing options, touch base with your mentors or investors. Chances are, they’ve taken out a business loan before. Borrow their expertise, and they’ll make sure you don’t borrow your business into the ground.

How To Effectively Beat Social Media Distraction

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By Josh Kohlbach, CEO and founder of Rymera Web Co, the makers of Wholesale Suite, the No. 1 WooCommerce wholesale solution.

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We all love social media. No matter how hard we try, it’s impossible to resist our temptation to scroll through our feeds every now and then. And why not? After all, it gives you a sneak peek into the world without even stepping out of your door. 
But, there’s the added pressure of staying up to date with the latest trends and the need to compulsively post about every little thing and let the world know what’s happening in your life. And not in just one platform but across different platforms. For that, you have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Whatsapp and so many others to take care of. 

But simply posting isn’t enough. You also need to reply to the comments you get on your posts, engage with other posts to get more engagement in yours and do so much more. By the time you’re done, you realize that you’ve spent more than half of the day liking, posting and commenting on social media.
Now, you think it’s time to start working on your most important project. But then, you keep wondering how many likes you might have received. You try not to check, but the urge is too strong to resist. So you give in. 

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After a while, you’re done. But it’s 5 p.m. already, and you have a deadline the very next day. So you end up staying up all night to complete your task. And because of that, you spend the following day cranky, unproductive and sleepy. 
This is just an example. There are likely many other instances when social media kills your productivity and affects you in other ways. 
If you want to end this vicious cycle, it’s time for you to beat social media distractions to stay productive and boost your creativity. Here are a few ways you can try out to combat your social media addiction. 
Create a distraction-free zone.
Social media is extremely engaging, which makes it distracting too. And it’s difficult to stay away from it. But you can stop yourself from indulging in any social media activities by creating a distraction-free zone for yourself. 
All you have to do is to keep your phone away from this zone and resist the temptation to break away from this area. This can be difficult in the beginning. But you can manage it with a little bit of practice. You don’t have to do it for the entire day. Just try doing it for two to three hours a day and see what difference it makes. 
Use a social media blocker.
It’s tempting to open multiple tabs while working, one of which is solely dedicated to social media. And you end up spending hours scrolling through it without even realizing how quickly the time went by. 
If you don’t want that to happen, try using a social media blocker. These blockers come in the form of extensions, so when you add them to your browser, they block all social media from opening even if you try logging in. 
You can also set timers for these blockers. For example, if you set it at 15 minutes, it makes sure that you are denied access to any social platform for those 15 minutes. After that, you can log in for five minutes or so before it blocks it again.
Turn off notifications.
It’s difficult not to check your phone when you hear that beep. So why not turn off your social media notifications entirely to stop them from distracting you? That way, you won’t even know if you have a notification or a message in your inbox. It’s a great way to beat social media distractions and regain productivity.
Set a schedule for checking social media.
Social media can be distracting, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use it at all. You’re only trying to beat the distraction it’s causing, not banish it entirely. So it’s OK if you can use it within limits. 
A good way of doing that is to set a schedule for checking social media. Stop scrolling through your feed randomly during your working hours. Instead, choose a particular time for it. You can pick any time after working hours or when you’re taking a break or not doing anything productive. This will ensure that you’re using it without affecting your daily routine and keep you entertained too. 
Most of us are addicted to social media. It’s a great way of overcoming boredom and keeping in touch with friends and family you don’t meet with often. But using it to the extent that it affects your personal and professional life can be problematic. This doesn’t mean that you’ll ban it entirely. Instead, learn how to contain your usage. The above points can help you do that super effectively, so try them out and see if you can beat your social media distractions.

Five Powerful Ways To Boost Your Attention Span

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By Thomas Griffin, co-founder and president of OptinMonster. Entrepreneur, investor and software expert. Helping you be a better leader in your organization.

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The human mind is extremely fluttery. It has a high tendency to wander away at the very first opportunity that presents itself. But you can’t really blame the mind for its unsettled nature. 
What you can do instead is to train it to be more composed and attentive for better focus. This will boost your productivity and help you accomplish your tasks more efficiently. 
But how do you do that? Here are a few ways that you can try out. 

Get rid of obvious distractions.
The first thing you need to practice is to get rid of distractions. The human mind, by nature, is a frivolous one. This decreases its capacity to focus on one task for a very long time. Digital connectedness has made things even worse. It’s one of the main reasons you’re constantly distracted. 
So why not turn this distraction away? The best way to do that is to take a digital break. To make this task easier, you can create a distraction-free zone. Keep all digital devices, including television, mobile phone and computers, away from this area and spend at least one hour in this zone every day. You don’t have to lock yourself in a room for that. It can be in the open too.

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Try going for a walk or doing some yoga. You can even read a book, engage in some outdoor activities or spend time in nature. This will keep your mind occupied, and you’ll not feel overwhelmed by the absence of your phone or laptop. 
It can be a difficult exercise, but once you start practicing, you can easily master it. Getting rid of distractions is a great way to boost your attention span and increase your focus. 
Stop multitasking.
If you’re someone who likes multitasking, you should stop doing that now. Instead, try accomplishing one goal at a time. 
Although you might feel like multitasking helps you get more work done, it does just the opposite. When you’re constantly switching between tasks, you have to spend a little extra time repeating some of your work to find out where you left off. This shifts your attention and dilutes your focus. 
So instead of doing things faster, you end up spending more time getting things done. This causes unnecessary stress and anxiety. Concentrating on one goal helps you achieve laser-like focus and makes it easier to reach your goals faster. 
Take a break.
Another very efficient way of increasing your attention span is to take breaks between your work. Studies have shown that the brain is designed to detect and respond to change. This means that it stops responding when you’re constantly doing something for a very long time. 
That’s why when you work for long hours at a stretch, you feel exhausted, even if you haven’t engaged in any physical activity. This creates a mental block and results in decision fatigue.
Taking a quick break can help stimulate your brain and regain your focus. You can either take short breaks at quick intervals or take a longer one after working continuously for some time. That way, your mind gets a chance to recharge itself and be more focused and productive.
Meditate.
One of the most powerful ways of increasing your focus is to meditate. It’s a great way of training your mind to be more aware of where you are and what you’re doing.
This helps you bring back your focus the moment you realize that your mind is drifting away. Meditation is just like an exercise, where you train your brain to stay focused without letting it wander away. 
Many people think that meditation can be done only by sitting down with closed eyes. But there are other techniques of meditating too. You can try doing it through practices like deep breathing and yoga and see how effectively it helps you regain your attention.
Sleep well.
Proper sleep is extremely important for you to stay focused. But nowadays, many of us stay up late for various reasons. This results in different problems like stress, anxiety and lower concentration levels. It also slows down your reaction time, making it extremely dangerous to continue engaging in focus-oriented activities like driving. If you don’t want that to happen, make sure to get at least seven hours of sleep every day. 
With proper sleep, your brain gets to reinforce the connections between its cells, reactivate old memories and pass on different information from the short to long-term memory. As a result, you wake up with a fresh mind and a better attention span.
Staying focused at all times may not be possible. But the problem is that without proper focus, even the simplest task appears to be more complicated. This can directly affect your productivity and cause stress. 
If you want to stop that, train your mind to be more focused, and learn how to boost your attention span. This will quickly help you gain clarity of thought, work with more efficiency and make better decisions.

How To Achieve A 2021 Mindsight

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By Andrew McConnell, Co-Founder and CEO of Rented.

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The year 2020 was unlike any other. We can either lament the year that was, or we can reflect on what the year taught us. In my attempt at the latter, I have five takeaways I want to share in case they prove helpful for others as well. 
Mind Tenancy
The first is how easily I gave away my mind to events outside of my control. Early in the year, I kept the stats on infection rates and fatalities by country and state on my phone. I refreshed the screen constantly. It was a train wreck I could do nothing to prevent, yet I couldn’t stop watching it. Why?

Knowing the ever-increasing numbers did nothing to impact how I lived my life, at least not positively. It certainly made it more difficult to fall asleep at night and concentrate on the things I told myself I wanted to focus on during the day. My actions and where I chose to spend my mind told a different story. The things I told myself were important to me were relegated to only that which was left after the rest of my energy was consumed with tragedy voyeurism.
As the year progressed, I began to see these unhelpful and unhealthy tendencies for what they were. These events outside of my control did not have to dictate my time or my mind. Giving them away was something I controlled. If I was giving them away cheaply before, I could also choose to “raise the price” going forward. Having seen the mistakes and costs in 2020, taking ownership of my mind in 2021 and beyond will be my top priority.

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What Did I Miss?
In-person time with loved ones, travel, live events and more populated people’s lists of what they missed most in 2020. Yet so many of these things we previously took for granted. Had we known how much we would miss them when they were gone, how much more would we have enjoyed them when we still had them?
2020 gave us all the perfect training for the Stoic practice of “negative visualization.” The central concept of this practice is to take something you have today, be it your physical health, dinner with your family, in-person company meetings or anything else, and imagine you no longer have it. Just a few minutes of thinking about this in the past tense will begin to give you nostalgia for what you previously took for granted. When you get back to it, you will have a newfound appreciation and joy in still having it.
This past year meant many of us did not have to use our imagination to visualize losing something we previously took for granted. It showed us how much more we appreciated things once they were gone. This insight, and this practice, is something well worth carrying into 2021 and beyond.
What Did I Not Miss?
Just as important as recognizing what we missed is assessing what we lost and have not missed. A friend shared an example of how he and his wife used to attend what seemed like a gala a week, all for “worthy causes.” These black-tie functions had, over time, filled up their calendar.
In a year in which all such functions were canceled, my friend and his wife realized they did not regret missing a single one. They didn’t miss spending hours getting ready, sitting and listening to speeches and eating mass-produced banquet food rather than cooking and eating as a family, in sweatpants, around their dinner table.
Looking forward, this provides a lesson in avoiding the urge to slip back into patterns of behavior like filling our calendars through inertia. It is a wake-up call to reassess what we value and to design our calendars, and thus our lives, around those values. If we don’t do it for ourselves, someone or something else will do it for us.
Live Where I Am
Another common complaint throughout 2020 has been that people are not where they want to be. They were supposed to be on a vacation that was canceled, traveling to visit family members or attending a conference that would have been a boon for their sales. While all true, this focus on where we are not blinds us to where we are. Just as the corollary of what we miss is what we do not miss, so to is where we are rather than where we are not.
By not being constantly on the move, where has that left you? Are you getting more in-person time with your family? Are you getting more time alone? Is this a terrible thing? Yes, we are social animals, but at the same time, we can use activity and motion as a distraction from truly getting to know ourselves. By just being where you are, by embracing being “here,” wherever that may be, what can you gain? What can you learn?
Live When I Am
How many times have you heard “I can’t wait for 2020 to end?” What magical thing is supposed to happen on January 1, 2021? Once upon a time, many people couldn’t wait for 2019 to end in anticipation for what would come in 2020. By constantly thinking ahead to a time that is not yet here or back to a time that is now gone, we lose the present, yet that is all that we truly have.
No doubt there are things about any present moment that we would want to change. That will always be true. Rather than living in a past or future time that does not exist, how much better would it be to live now and work to change those things in the present that warrant changing?

How Do You Know When It's Time For A Career Change?

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By Jennie Yoon, founder & CEO at Kinn, modern heirloom jewelry brand, made to last a lifetime — then, now, always.

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Covid-19 has thrust many changes upon our professional lives. And while some of the changes are not welcome (Zoom fatigue, anyone?), for many of us, the new normal has given us the gift of perspective. Whether it’s as simple as having more time in our day because we are not commuting or looking at our job through the new lens of working from home, this can be an ideal time to reflect on your career and think about the possibilities going forward.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are far too many people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are experiencing fear and instability. Yet, in seeking to regain stability, this can also be a time to consider starting fresh on a new career path. 

So how do you know when the time is right for a career change? While there’s no simple answer to that question, there are guideposts to look for along your decision-making process. Sometimes the decision is forced upon you because of layoffs or furloughs. Other times it’s a nagging voice inside your head that can no longer be ignored. If you’ve thought about jumping ship, here are some practical things to consider as you ponder making a leap.
‘I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes.’ 
They are catchy Ace of Base lyrics, and they are also a warning. When you’re considering moving on, keep your eyes open to the outward signs coming from your employer, as well as your own gut. Have you been passed over for promotions? Are you constantly watching the clock or telling yourself that this is just a steppingstone and you’re paying your dues before your next big thing?

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Ignoring these signs can be a fatal mistake and can lead to hanging on to a job well past its expiration date. The signs are not always negative, however. What if you love your job, but you find yourself rushing home to read books about that side project that you’ve wanted to finish, whether that is tie-dyeing a sweater or putting together a digital portfolio of your work?
Take the time to pay attention to those signs, and in those, you can often find your answer. 
You are the smartest person in the room.
It can be very rewarding to reach the point in your career where you serve as a mentor and leader to the next generation coming up through the ranks. When you’ve advanced in your job to the point where you are teaching and training, but you’re not learning and you’ve hit the ceiling in terms of being challenged yourself, it might be time for a new chapter.
Were you a rock star early in your agency career because you did your research, had your finger on the pulse of industry and wowed CEOs, therefore getting them to sign on the dotted line, but now you’ve been relegated to new business pitches? Or what if that valuable (and sometimes thrilling) lean startup experience you wanted has transitioned from excitement over building something from scratch into frustration from perpetually wearing too many hats?
Of course, it’s important to add that especially in challenging economic times, it’s a luxury to even consider leaving a secure job for the unknown. We can be thankful that we are still employed in these challenging times and at the same time consider if we’re growing. While many things in our economy have ground to a halt, there are still exciting and new opportunities to be had. 
You already have a fan base.
You’ve already started your project on the side. Your family and friends started asking you for your opinion about something, or are buying a product from you. Now their friend’s friend asked for you to make them a sweater. You then posted about it on your Instagram, and your friends are so excited for you. You have your validation already.
Or maybe if it’s a firm, you think the company that you’re currently working for is missing something and that you can do it better (of course, mind your noncompete agreement if you have one signed). Your passion and love for this new project shows, and your network can feel it. 
Perhaps there is a middle ground.
Maybe you’ve checked several of these boxes, the signs are clearly there, but you’re still not ready to leave. Maybe you love your job, but that nagging voice in your head is saying you’ll regret it if you don’t go all in to see what you can make of your side hustle. You most likely will not magically jump into your next dream job, so instead of grumbling, use your free time wisely and take positive, productive steps toward an eventual switch. 
Do you dream of starting your own business? You can start by researching competitors in the space, finetuning your idea, writing a business plan and pulling together a pitch deck for potential funding down the road. 
We are all living and working longer in this era. And the benefit of that is the chance to have a second or a third act. So do yourself a favor and take the time to check in with yourself and see if it’s time to start planning for that next career adventure.

Four Tips For Publishing Powerful Blog Content

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By Chris Christoff, co-founder of MonsterInsights, the leading WordPress plugin for Google Analytics.

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Content marketing is one of the best ways to connect with customers and secure more sales. How often do you go to a website to look at the product selection and immediately leave? Odds are, not often. The same can be said for your target audience. 
Consumers want longer, more interactive experiences with companies. Blog content is an excellent way to keep existing customers engaged while building trust with new visitors that land on your website for the first time. But creating great blog content isn’t always easy. Business leaders need to consider a variety of factors when developing their content marketing strategy. 

Today, we will take a look at four things companies across all industries should keep in mind if they want to publish powerful blog content. 
Understand Your Readers
The first step to writing compelling content is understanding your audience. You can’t have a successful blog without readers. This step will require some research, but it’s an investment that will help you maximize the long-term value of your blog. 

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If you haven’t created segments for your audience, now is a perfect time. Look at your website’s products and services, and figure out the personality traits, demographics, pain points and goals of a person buying each product. 
Even brands selling virtually identical items will see slight variations in their segments. For instance, a website selling gardening products would establish separate profiles for people who want to grow fruit or vegetables. Of course, they could create a third segment for people interested in growing both. 
The key to creating excellent blog content is to write posts that appeal to all your audience segments. Research social media interactions, Google Analytics data and customer feedback to learn about your readers’ goals and needs. Use this information to create blog topics that appeal to as many readers as possible. If posts resonate with your readers, you’ll see more engagement and conversions. 
Make Navigating Seamless 
You can take your valuable content and make it even more powerful by connecting it to similar posts. When a reader visits your blog, they will click hyperlinks within the text if there’s something that catches their attention. Take this opportunity to guide readers to other helpful pieces of content on your blog.
Navigation should be seamless for visitors as they click from one page to the next. Ensure that readers can find what they are looking for, and you can bet that each post will be that much more impactful. 
We also recommend adding a search bar to your blog. Sometimes, a visitor will come to your website and know exactly what they need. Instead of having them click through pages of posts, subtopics, or hyperlinks, you can help them get to the right place with a search bar. 
When it comes to creating effective content, the way people travel from one piece to the next plays a significant role in the process. Keep navigation in mind as you publish new articles on your blog. 
Emphasize Personalization
Personalization has fundamentally changed the way businesses interact with their customers. Instead of showing everyone the same exact promotions and content, we can diversify our content marketing efforts based on the customer segments mentioned earlier. 
If you know what kind of content your readers want, you can create it. But if you know what each person wants to see based on how they interact with your site, you can create brand new experiences for each individual that makes it to your site. 
Imagine you have a website that specializes in antiques. You can now set your website up to look at what products or content a reader has viewed and offer relevant promotions and posts. So, if someone was looking at a bunch of posts about antique rocking chairs from the 1920s, you can show them featured content from your blog with the keywords 1920s and rocking chairs. 
Adding personalization to your company blog can make a big difference in how users engage with your post. Showing relevant content means users are more likely to stick around, which could lead to an email signup, purchase or more time on your website. Regardless of the outcome, personalization ensures that the reader has more reasons to stay on your blog. 
Take Requests
Finally, you can improve the effectiveness of your blog content by taking requests from readers. You may be surprised how many people will put in suggestions for specific topics that didn’t cross your mind. 
The best part about taking requests is you can put up a contact form on your blog in just a couple of seconds. Ask users to request topic ideas, and pick the category where it would fit. Now, when it comes time to plan your content calendar, you’ll have a list of ideas submitted by your dedicated readers. 
Look through the topics and find the ones with the most requests first. As you start publishing customer requests, you’ll begin to see more engagement as users come back to see what you wrote. You’ll also notice more diverse suggestions coming in as you cover new topics.
Final Thoughts
Publishing powerful content is about a lot more than the words you choose to write. Your audience is the No. 1 deciding factor in your success. Turn to them as your blog evolves so you can continue publishing relevant content that gets your business big results.