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Inc.com, the daily resource for entrepreneurs.
The Best Quotes of the Week, May 20 May 24th 2013, 17:50
Kick off Memorial Day weekend with these inspiring nuggets of wisdom from real entrepreneurs.

Want to know what it takes to be successful and make a difference? Today, we’re introducing a weekly roundup of quotes that addresses those issues and more. Only a real entrepreneur knows what it takes to succeed, so we’ve scoured the news, Twitter, and Facebook to bring you the best bits of wisdom. Tune in next week for a fresh batch of quotes, and be sure to share yours in the comments.

“Successful adults often worked when they were young. They mowed lawns, baby-sat, or had a lemonade stand. “Learning how to work hard, provide good customer service, overcome challenges, ask for the sale, and understand the value of a dollar are invaluable life lessons that kids simply can’t get from a textbook.”

“Today, if we’re all putting our best foot forward professionally, no one cares whether or not that foot is clad in shiny leather wingtips.”

“Don’t plan forever and build the perfect machine. Listen to customers, all good comes from that.”

“The problem with the ‘follow your passion’ chorus is that we can’t all love the products we work with. “Someone has to do the jobs and sell the things that don’t seem sexy, but make the world go round.”

“Capitalism is about options, so shouldn’t people have the option to start a social business or a profit maximizing business or both? “You have to use your creative power to make it happen. Nothing is beyond the capacity of human beings. “Every time I see a problem I think, ‘How do I create a business to solve the problem?'”

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The Ultimate Motivation for Any Team May 24th 2013, 17:00
Employees will always resist change unless they believe the company’s survival is literally at stake. Here’s how to make it clear to them that it is.

There is no list quite as sobering to an entrepreneur as a list of the most promising young companies of two decades ago–most of which, you can be quite sure, don’t exist any more.

The fact is, as entrepreneurs, you stand on the edge of a burning platform: You have to keep moving to survive. Your ability to define the potentially fatal issues you face and separate them from the routine challenges of the day is your first step in galvanizing your employees to believe in your vision and strategy.

This is a reality of human nature: Most people will change only when anxiety over their very survival outweighs their resistance to learning something new. While employees like the excitement of a challenge, they also like to be comfortable in their work. In a faceoff, comfort usually wins. This is where survival anxiety comes into play; it drives home the painful realization that in order to succeed, you and your employees often have to make themselves uncomfortable.

The key to doing that is not to instill fear, but rather to frame serious threats in honest and real terms that employees can relate to. Before his company’s remarkable recent turnaround, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s sent a jarring 800-word e-mail to all Starbucks employees in which he claimed his company was losing the “romance and theatre” so core to its defining DNA. In short, he said, the company’s drive for growth was diluting its brand, and it was time to get back to the artistry of making coffee–for only such care and skill would allow them to deserve the premium they charged on their goods.

At the core of this idea is helping your people understand “why” your company does what it does. If you want to stress safety, for instance, don’t just concentrate on the tasks; instead remind your team that if they tie off their ladders and wear their hard hats it will help them go home to their families every night. Engage their pride and sense of responsibility by reminding them that junior workers are looking to them as examples.

Great leaders translate the ethereal concept of a business mission into day-to-day priorities for their people. They motivate the team by reminding them that they are building a better future and by providing the clear goals, values, and expectations associated with their role. When it works, your employees respond by focusing their energies on the tasks with the most impact.

No matter the size of your team or the challenges you face, it is your job as a leader to help your team understand why it’s not acceptable to remain where you are. You have to move them toward a better future, and reassure them that it’s safe to do so–in fact, it’s much safer to move than not to.

Chester Elton will be a speaker at this year’s Inc. Leadership Forum. This article was co-authored by Adrian Gostick

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Vooza Creator: Someone has to Tackle the Non-Sexy Issues May 24th 2013, 15:47
Passion is great, but only when it applies to how you’re working and who it will help, says Matt Linderman.

Inventing the next big thing isn’t always about passion.

Sometimes it’s about the non-romantic things that need an upgrade, writes Matt Linderman in a blog post for 37 Signals. Linderman is the creator of Vooza, a weekly web-video comic strip about the start-up world.

“The problem with the ‘follow your passion’ chorus,” he says, is that “we can’t all love the products we work with. Someone has to do the jobs and sell the things that don’t seem sexy, but make the world go round.

“Instead of working with a thing you love, think about how to work in a way you love.”

In other words, find meaning in what you’re doing–and helping your customers.

“Get joy from making a customer’s day,” he urges. “Surround yourself with the kind of people and environment that keep you engaged.”

He adds, “It might not be the romantic idea of ‘passion,’ but if it provides you with sustainable joy and profit that you can count on, you’ll still be way ahead of the curve–and have extra resources and free time to spend doing whatever you want.”

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How Your Energy Affects Your Team May 24th 2013, 15:10
When you’re the boss, there are going to many times when you’ve gotta put on your “game face” because your energy affects everyone and everything.

Have you ever considered how your energy affects everyone around you? Think about it from the vantage of being the CEO of a company. When you walk in the door, all eyes are on you and your employees’ antennae are up looking for any sign of something being not quite right. No pressure, eh?

When you’re the boss, there are going to be many times when you’ve gotta put on your “game face” because your energy affects everyone and everything.

In the last 12 years at my online marketing company, VerticalResponse, I’ve had some leaders with great energy, and some that could suck the life out of the Energizer Bunny. Whether you’re the CEO or a manager leading a team, here are some pointers to make sure you bring your can-do attitude because if you don’t, your team won’t, either.

All Eyes Are On YouLike I said, even a casual walk around the office can put people in a tizzy if you’re giving off bad vibes and exuding a “stay the ‘f’ away from me because I’m having a real sh*& day” attitude. You might not be aware of it, but like a dog with a bone, your team has a laser-like focus to detect this stuff and they’ll either call you on it or–most likely–just talk amongst themselves.

The same goes for bad-mouthing other executives or team members. Don’t poison your own well. Your employees have to work for–and with–these folks, so if you’ve got a beef with someone, keep it under wraps or between yourself and the person.

Are You Excited?Are you genuinely excited about the products and services your company offers? Do you love your customers? Do you love what you do every day?

I’m one of those people who can answer yes to each of those questions, but not everyone can. So do you fake it till you make it? Because, trust you me, if you’re not living and breathing it every day, your team knows it and it can leach the lifeblood out of them. The energy and enthusiasm you generate and breathe into your company can breed and multiply a thousand times over. You’ve gotta be shakin’ those pom-poms all the way to your corner office. And you’ve gotta mean it.

You (Really) CareI had a VP of marketing once that just didn’t have it in his DNA to lead our team. At the end of the day, he was a super-smart guy and totally got the business side, but when it came to his people? Fail. Why? Because he just didn’t care. And his team could tell.

For example, when he came to work in the morning, he would walk right past a number of his direct reports’ desks without making eye contact or saying a “hello.” A number of them mentioned to me that it felt really odd. I spoke with him about it and he said, “No problem, I can do that.” So he proceeded to walk in, say, “Hi! How was your weekend?” and then … he just walked away. He didn’t have the patience or the desire to hear the answer. It just wasn’t his thing. And his team felt really slighted and devalued. This carried over to the way he treated them in meetings and other office situations, too. It got so bad that we had to part ways. It’s unfortunate, but when you’ve got a team, you have to be a team. And that means you have to care about your team members.

Are you in tune with how your energy is affecting your employees? Got any examples to share?

Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz weekly newsletter and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

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How to Give (and Receive) Positive Criticism May 24th 2013, 14:35
Criticism hurts for most, but given right, it can inspire both the critic and the critiqued. Here are five tips to make your critique a positive experience.

There is nothing pleasant about criticism. Even the best intentioned critique still stings. People like to be right, correct, and accomplished, and when they’re not, it hurts to hear the truth, no matter how nice your critic tries to be. Still, those who strive to improve, value direct feedback no matter how painful. And as long as the critic is not being malicious, he or she can actually build a higher level of trust by providing constructive criticism carefully and empathetically.

So whether you are reviewing an employee, family member or friend, here are five tips for giving criticism in a way it will be appreciated and well received. I also put notes to the receiver as to how you can make the most of the critique.

1. Have Clear ObjectivesAsk yourself what is the best possible outcome of this critique. If you are simply venting with no intention, you won’t likely achieve anything but rancor and resentment. Perhaps you are only prolonging an eventual termination in which case why waste energy and emotion while putting off the inevitable.

On the other hand, if you find yourself the target of an attack, see if you can diffuse the situation by asking your critics what they hope to accomplish. In the best case, you may get an understanding of the real issue. In the worst case, you’ll know it’s time to make a graceful exit willingly.

2. Create a Neutral EnvironmentConsider the time and place for your critique. It usually helps not to critique in front of a crowd, which generally leads to humiliation. Human Resource policies may require a third party, but better to make sure that person is fairly neutral so no one feels ganged upon. The best way to neutralize the tension is with appropriate humor. You can build rapport and take down defenses by sharing your own personal experience of silly mistakes you have made in your career. This helps the subject relate to your humanity before addressing his or her own inadequacies.

If you’re the one in the hot seat and you feel threatened or embarrassed by your environment when being critiqued, speak up. Ask to move to a private area or to set up an appointment in the near future. Prepare yourself for the information you will receive. Be attentive with open body language so your critic relaxes as well.

3. Use Fewer Words With More MeaningYour subject has a strong inner voice during a critique and is likely anxious, so keep your critique brief and to the point. The more you say, the more likely you will distract from the key points and make them hard to remember. Plan your conversation in advance and in writing so the subject can walk away with clear direction on how to improve.

When you’re on the receiving end, let your critic speak their mind. If you debate on the spot, you’ll appear closed and defensive. Better to agree to consider the feedback in the moment. Then you can revisit the conversation with careful thought and perhaps a little critique of your own if warranted. You’ll be taken more seriously when your response is thoroughly contemplated and well articulated.

4. Align the Criticism With the Subject’s GoalsA self-serving critique falls upon deaf ears. Know your subjects well enough to explain how your suggestions will help them achieve their desired objectives. If they are invested in the outcome, they’ll likely be more open to suggestion, regardless of how they feel about you or other people involved. For example, if their goal is to be an amazing boss, then dealing with other people’s objections becomes integral to their success. Provide the context for advancement and the critique will be welcomed.

When you’re the one being critiqued try stepping outside yourself. Listen objectively to what’s being said. If you are clear on your goals, you’ll be able to better identify and filter the good advice from the unwarranted ranting of lunatics.

5. Encourage Self-CritiqueInstead of simply laying out a list of offenses, describe scenarios from an objective viewpoint and ask key questions so your subject can draw their own conclusions about their weaknesses. Lead them with questions to understand from a management perspective why a different behavior is more suitable. When making statements, stay away from direct attacks. Use “I” language and speak from your own experience.

Everyone should do their own self-assessment regularly. Try and anticipate the key points of any critique before it happens. If you are able to start the conversation by listing your own failures and suggesting remedies at the outset, you’ll disarm your critics and likely impress them as well. Then the whole experience will feel like a win-win for you both.

Like this post? If so, sign up here and never miss out on Kevin’s thoughts and humor.

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Time to Accelerate? May 24th 2013, 14:13
Entrepreneur and investor Jeff Bussgang weighs the pros and cons of hopping on the start-up accelerator bandwagon.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Jeff Bussgang’s blog Seeing Both Sides.

Today is Demo Day for Techstars Boston. I love Techstars Demo Days for many reasons, not the least of which is the amazing community that gathers to hear the brief, well-rehearsed pitches from the various start-ups who have spent months planning for this big event.

As accelerators like Techstars gain in popularity, many entrepreneurs wonder whether they should be applying and, if admitted, joining an accelerator and when they shouldn’t. I get this question a lot from my students, particularly as they’re graduating and scrambling to figure out where they should start their company, how to raise capital and whether an accelerator is right for them. Here are a few guidelines that I would think about if I were an entrepreneur making such a decisions.

First, broadly speaking, accelerators serve a very valuable role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In many ways, as Eugene Chung of Techstars NY points out, they are like finishing schools for entrpreneurs. Like a college, there is a rigorous admissions process. And once admitted, the participant receives an extraordinarily rich education, in this case in the field of entrepreneurship. Also like college, the best accelerators represent valuable networks, where your “classmates” and even other alumni as well as boosters all become a part of your professional support system. Finally, the brand of the network will always be associated with your brand. Dropbox and Airbnb will always be known as “Y Combinator companies”, which initially helped buttress their brand, and more in more is helping enhance the Y Combinator brand.

So with that in mind, here are a few reasons when I think an accelerator is a great choice for the entrepreneur:

Outsiders to the Entrepreneurial Community.

You are early in your entrepreneurial career and want to super-charge your entrepreneurial network. To be clear, this is not a comment about age – you might be in your 50s and new to entrepreneurship. But, as Launchpad LA’s Sam Teller observes, “Across the board, accelerators provide one key value: dramatically expanding your network.”

Outsiders to the Particular Community.

Every major innovation hub in the world now has an accelerator and most have numerous (Boston alone has over a dozen). If you are from outside that particular community, the accelerator is an amazing way to build a network in that particular city. As Brad Feld points out in his book on innovation ecosystems, there is tremendous power in being connected to a hyper-local, dense entrepreneurial ecosystem. Accelerators are magnets for the leaders in a given community – at Techstars Demo Days, it’s always a “who’s who” of that particular community. The quality of the mentors at the many events and one-on-one sessions over the are course of the program is outstanding – typically, you can’t get access to these people any other way.

New to Fundraising.

Accelerators pride themselves, and often measure themselves, on their ability to help their graduates raise capital. For example, across nineteen Techstars classes in its four year history, over 70% of all Techstars graduates have raised capital (Techstars publishes an amazing chart that lists every company in every class and their fundraising status as well as employee count). If you don’t have existing relationships with investors, accelerators are great ways to establish instant credibility and an instant network.

That said, not all accelerators are created equal. Just like with a college, your personal and professional brand will always be associated with that particular accelerator, so choose wisely. Some accelerators specialize in certain domains (e.g., Rock Health for healthcare or Learn Launch for edtech). Others have stronger reputations for fundraising vs. product development.

If you want to get a sense of the quality of the particular accelerator you are considering, you should ask around about them – graduates, senior entrepreneurs, VCs, start-up lawyers, bankers and accounting firms will all have their opinions. One tech reporter, Frank Gruber, publishes an annual ranking of accelerators that is pretty good, although it leaves out hybrid organizations that aren’t technically accelerators, like Boston’s Mass Challenge (which is a contest) and NYC’s First Growth Venture Network (which doesn’t take any equity).

Accelerators are thus not for everyone. If you are already well-connected to a particular entrepreneurial community, have a entrepreneurial track record and network, and are comfortable with your fundraising skills and relationships, then an accelerator probably isn’t worth it for you. But if those attributes don’t describe you as an entrepreneur, an accelerator may be an excellent choice.

Now… off to demo day!

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It’s Time to Stamp out the Bull May 24th 2013, 14:00
Our culture has reached “peak BS,” political operative Jon Lovett told grads. Here’s how you can fight it.

The constant presence of half-truths and shameless spin in our lives might not sound like much of an issue, but according to political operative Jon Lovett, all that BS can have serious consequences.

“We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak,” he told the graduating class of Pitzer College. “It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything.”

BS isn’t just a public curse but a private challenge as well, “changing even how we interact with one another,” he added.

It’s easy to point a finger at politicians, but let’s be honest–business produces an an outsized contribution to our supply of claptrap.

So what can you do to fight back? Lovett offers three bits of advice.

Admit your ignorance. Problems only arise when you think you know everything. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be confident in your abilities, just be aware of their limits.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” said Lovett. “That’s what you have to do: you have to be confident in your potential, and aware of your inexperience.

“There are moments when you’ll have a different point of view because you’re a fresh set of eyes because you don’t care how it’s been done before; because you’re sharp and creative; because there is another way, a better way. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you’re wrong.”

If you see something, say something. No one said fighting BS would be easy. Know what you don’t know, but when you’re pretty sure you’re right, don’t be deferential. Lovett calls this “the subway rule: ‘If you see something, say something.'”

Value Honesty. Our culture celebrates financial success, professional achievement, and in some quarters, family values. But how often do we celebrate honesty?

Take a pause now and then to commit yourself to the value of truth. That might sound unfashionable, but Lovett is confident it will pay off.

“Up until recently, I would have said that the only proper response to our culture of BS is cynicism; that it would just get worse and worse,” he said during his speech. “But I don’t believe that any more. I believe we may have reached peak b******t, and that increasingly those who push back against the noise and nonsense; those who refuse to accept the untruths of politics, and commerce, and entertainment, and government will be rewarded. We are at the beginning of something important.”

Do you agree that there’s too much BS?

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Inside the Brain of a Leader May 24th 2013, 14:00
Can neurological rewiring boost leadership skills?

Do great leaders have distinctive brains? Yes, says David A. Waldman, a management professor at Arizona State University. Since 2005, Waldman and his colleagues have been studying the neurological patterns of successful entrepreneurs and senior managers in an attempt to learn what they have in common.

The test they administer is fairly simple. Nineteen electrodes are placed on each participant’s scalp. Participants are then asked a few questions, mostly about their vision for their companies. Their brain activity is also monitored when they are at rest. With help from a neuroscientist and a qEEG machine, Waldman maps out the brain’s electrical activity in both speaking and resting states.

It turns out that the brains of effective leaders exhibit similar electrical patterns. Subjects rated “inspirational” by their employees generate high levels of coherence in the right frontal part of the brain, which is responsible for interpersonal communication and social relationships.

It may even be possible to teach this part of your brain to operate more effectively. Waldman says neurofeedback training–essentially a rewiring of the brain–can hone your leadership chops. He and his colleagues are developing neurofeedback protocols for leadership development.

Waldman suggests that neurofeedback-based leadership training might have commercial potential. “We’re going right for the jugular when it comes to effective leadership,” he says. “And to my knowledge, we’re the only ones doing it.”

What Brain Science Says About LeadershipThe “aha” spot: At moments of insight, the brain experiences 40Hz oscillations (gamma waves) over the right anterior temporal lobe and just above the right ear.

What does a transformational leader’s brain look like? Inspiring leaders use less metabolic energy in the right temporal lobe and cingulate gyrus, which are associated with creativity and speech, among other functions. This may give them moreresources to allocate to specific tasks.

Is leadership hormonal? Individuals high in testosterone and low in cortisol are more likely to be seen as dominant and confident. Low testosterone and cortisol levels are linked with nervousness and hesistancy.

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Mario Batali: Do Something You Love May 24th 2013, 13:32
Building an empire came easy for celebrity chef Mario Batali, who thrives on cooking and working with people.

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Mario Batali: You Don’t Have to Make All the Money Yourself May 24th 2013, 13:32
Sharing will come back a thousand times more than if you keep the business all to yourself, says Mario Batali.

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Mario Batali: I Build Products With Value May 24th 2013, 13:32
Celebrity chef Mario Batali warns against picking a product and just slapping your sticker on it.

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Mario Batali: Why I Love My Orange Crocs May 24th 2013, 13:32
Mario Batali reveals the story behind those infamous Crocs and his family’s “national color.”

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Mario Batali: What Obamacare Means for My Business May 24th 2013, 13:32
Obamacare might increase business costs, but celebrity chef Mario Batali is willing to pay.

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Mario Batali: How to Build a Successful Restaurant May 24th 2013, 13:32
Celebrity chef Mario Batali explains how he built a food empire from the ground up and kept it going.

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Don’t Let Mistakes Mushroom May 24th 2013, 13:00
Let’s face it, shiitake happens. Here are three ways to make the most of your mistakes.

Let’s face it, shiitake happens.

No, not mushrooms, but mistakes. While some entrepreneurs may have stronger attributes than others, none are infallible. When I meet other entrepreneurs, I am inspired by their incredibly driven and focused personalities and their ability to persevere in the face of ridiculous challenges. Unfortunately, I am more put off by their arrogance and inability to own up to mistakes.

In my book, humility and grace trump perseverance.

The problem is that entrepreneurs are all too often embarrassed by their mistakes. They focus on their successes and will largely ignore their failures altogether. They should not. Honing up to your failures and setting out to leverage the lessons learned is endearing in our leadership culture, which is full of forgivers and providers of second chances. Unfortunately, not dealing with your mistakes properly can be a mistake in and of itself.

Errors are inevitable, so follow these three rules to avoid making your mistake worse.

1. Identify the MistakeEntrepreneurs often misidentify a problem or fail to identify a mistake altogether. Understandably, some mishaps are not obvious, while others may take many months, even years, to expose themselves. The most successful entrepreneurs are great at identifying the root cause of mistakes, while less successful entrepreneurs focus on menial and insignificant causes. Be willing and open to the idea that a mistake may exist, and, if necessary, seek out assistance to find out what the real problem is.

2. Admit the MistakeLike an intervention, the first step in overcoming a mistake is to admit that you have made one. Many entrepreneurs, however, are prideful and painfully relentless in their denial of being wrong or “out of the know,” even in the face of overwhelming evidence and opinion. It is important to understand that admitting that you have made a mistake or are wrong is not bad. Addressing and taking responsibility for a failure is an endearing quality that will make you more respectable and easier to work with.

3. Face the MistakeAn entrepreneur must understand that the “tallest tree gets the most wind.” When mistakes happen, ultimate responsibility lies where the buck stops, with the entrepreneur. All too often, however, “pride-creep” affects an entrepreneur’s ability to constructively receive feedback. Granted, sometimes feedback takes more the form of criticism and can be personal, vile and destructive. Nonetheless, a successful entrepreneur will receive it and turn it into something constructive. Get some thick skin and learn to embrace criticism.

I speak and lecture regularly about my entrepreneurial journey with Wild Creations and I find myself more often than not recanting my mistakes and the lessons learned more often than my successes. It is actually very cathartic to openly discuss the failures I have had, as doing so keeps me grounded. I have even been encouraged to commit these lessons in writing, which is why I started a book project called One Million Frogs. It is therapeutic and humbling, and I believe all entrepreneurs can learn from this exercise.

And, as for shiitake mushrooms, aside from being a great battle cry when you mess up (“ah shiitake!”) remember that mushrooms, like mistakes, typically grow from refuse and in unexpected places, but can actually be very useful at times (not to mention tasty). So do not fear mistakes, but make certain you know how to handle them when they happen.

Shiitake!

Please share with others below a mistake you have made and lessons you learned from it. Others will benefit! Cheers!

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11 Tips and Hacks for Using LinkedIn May 24th 2013, 12:32
LinkedIn is bigger than ever as a business tool. Are you actually making the most of it? Try some of these little-known tricks and tactics.

LinkedIn is a powerful social network–not just for making connections, but for sharing content, recruiting talent, and keeping customers in the loop. We asked 11 successful founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council to divulge their favorite hacks to get more out of LinkedIn.

1. Join Key LinkedIn Groups

Join all the national groups that are related to your industry. Once you’re a member, post your best content articles in the group discussions and you’ll see a big spike in targeted traffic from your niche. Some of our best content has really taken off using this method–it really is a quick and easy LinkedIn hack. —Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings

2. Make Your Article “Trending in Your Network”

LinkedIn has a feature called “Trending in Your Network.” This feature is reserved for articles that are being shared by multiple people in your network around the same time. If you have an article that features your company, ask your team to share it around the same time. Since many clients will be connected to multiple members of your team, this increases the likelihood that they see your article. —Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

3. Keep in Touch With ‘Five Hundred Plus’

Use a new tool called Five Hundred Plus that reminds you to keep in touch with your LinkedIn contacts–something that’s very important, but most people forget to do.
Ben Lang, EpicLaunch

4. Use Rapportive

Rapportive is a free Gmail plugin that replaces the ads on the right side of your screen with details from the LinkedIn profile of the person emailing you–his or her picture, company, title and location. It’s an invaluable tool to help you determine the appropriate response to his or her message. It also helps you find the LinkedIn profiles of people who are hard to find. —Emerson Spartz, Spartz

5. Make an Original Tagline

Want to stand out from the crowd? Don’t have your tagline read “Position, Company Name.” Rather, make it something like mine, which reads, “Matching you with the best fit for Merchant Services with no contracts and no shady business at Equitable Payments.” It gets me laughs, as well as business! —Darrah Brustein, Finance Whiz Kids | Equitable Payments

6. Reconnect With Classmates

One of the best-kept secrets of LinkedIn is the Classmates tool. By visiting LinkedIn.com/classmates you can access your college alumni network and tap into those that you share an existing common bond. Sort, filter, and search your way through the database to find the professionals that can best help you using criteria like where they live, what industry they work in, and where they work. —Benjamin Leis, Sweat EquiTees

7. Use It as a Source of Warm Referrals

I am very active on LinkedIn. I use it to keep our partners and all of my connections in the loop on our activities via tweets and blog posts. It’s an especially effective tool for creating a point of commonality with potential clients. When I am introduced to a new potential client, I immediately reference LinkedIn to see how we’re connected and from what shared source I can get a warm referral. —David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

8. Request Product Recommendations From Customers

We have two parts to our business, direct-to-consumer and custom products that we make for major organizations. LinkedIn allows you to highlight recommendations and reviews of your work product. Many prospective customers will Google “Modify,” and our LinkedIn profile stands out. Having recommendations provides instant credibility. —Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

9. Use Job-Change Alerts

Use a resource like JobChangeAlerts.com to be notified when one of your LinkedIn contacts changes titles or positions. Having this in your inbox provides you with the opportunity to quickly reach out to that individual to congratulate her on the raise or move. These transition points are often when business decisions are made, so the timing couldn’t be more ideal to reconvene with her. —Logan Lenz, Endagon

10. Export E-mail Addresses to Google+

If your LinkedIn network is truly compiled of people who know and trust you, you can export those e-mail addresses into an .xls format. Upload this document to your Gmail contacts, and you will quickly and easily be able to add these people on Google+. Both social networks are very important for different reasons, but overlapping the two creates better engagement and gives you two platforms to share your message. —Matt Wilson, Under30Media

11. Utilize Free Entry-Level and Intern Positions

I’m not sure people realize this, but you can post jobs for free on LinkedIn if they’re designated as entry-level or internship positions and posted through their university platform. Jobs posted there collect just as many, if not more, eager and qualified applicants. —Carlo Cisco, FoodFan

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The Real Truth About Sales Process May 24th 2013, 12:00
Sales process is not about how you sell but how the customer buys.

Every company needs a sales process, right? Well, sort of. The sales process inside most firms look something like this:

Engage customer. Investigate needs. Present a product. Demonstrate the product. Propose a purchase. Negotiate terms. Answer objections. Close the deal. There’s only one problem: this kind of sales process never works.

Here’s why. Customers don’t want you to sell anything to them. Customers have their own idea about how they want to buy something. They deeply resent it when you try to make them dance to your pre-determined tune.

To be effective, a sales process must be based upon the customer’s buying process, which is the set of decisions that the customer wants to make, in the order that the customer wants to make them. In B2B selling, the buying process usually looks like this:

The customer decides there’s a problem or opportunity. The customer quantifies the economic consequences. The customer decides to commit funding. The customer defines their selection criteria for a solution.

The customer evaluates alternatives for benefits and risks. The customer selects a vendor (or decides not to buy at all). Your “sales process” must adapt to the decisions that the customer needs to make at each stage of their buying process. Your job is to help the customer make the best decision, for that customer (and not necessarily for you or your firm!)

For example, suppose a customer accesses your website and asks for some information about, say, your supply chain software solution. At that point you already know that the customer has decided there’s a problem or opportunity.

Therefore, the next step in your sales process is to help the customer quantify that problem or opportunity in financial terms so that it can be prioritized versus all the other financial demands inside the customer’s firm.

If you followed the old “vendor-centric” sales process, you’d probably try to get into a discussion about needs (too late for this) or perhaps try to demonstrate a product (way too early for this).

More importantly, introducing those elements into the discussion will distract you from the next two steps, especially defining the selection criteria, where your real challenge is to ensure those criteria emphasize your offering’s unique features.

Furthermore, if you’re trying to answer objections and close the deal before the customer has quantified and prioritized the finances, you’re setting yourself up to spend a lot of time selling to a customer who may not really see the need to buy.

So here’s the real truth about sales process: it must be adaptive rather than manipulative.

Make that crucial distinction and your sales process will help, rather than hinder, your sales efforts.

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The Key to Great Office Design May 24th 2013, 07:00
The Zappos office in Las Vegas, Nevada.Want to create an office that truly reflects your company’s culture? Forget about inspirational posters and the color of your logo.

When it comes to design (and office design in particular), I spend a good portion of my day talking normally forward-thinking people out of backward-facing decisions. Recently, I spent the better part of an afternoon convincing the executive team of a sustainable technology start-up that their space did not need to be painted the same Pantone color as their logo to be considered creative. The CEO expressed concern: “How will someone know this was their office if the brand assets aren’t directly represented?”

Granted, it seems obvious in theory. Our logo is green, so the walls should also be green. But this way of thinking fails to acknowledge the most unique and important aspect of any company: the people and the culture they have created. Businesses spend countless hours reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, and agonizing over each addition to the team; yet the space where staff will spend the bulk of their time is often designed to highlight marketing jargon or worse, not designed at all.

Successful offices aren’t about highly appointed lobbies, posters with the core values printed on them, or even the free snacks and lunches so prevalent in Silicon Valley start-ups. The best design is intrinsic. Facebook’s campus, with its art program and Analog Research Lab, encourages the company’s hack culture. The Zappos offices emphasize personalization and fun, growing organically from the culture Tony Hsieh champions. (Employees have playfully decorated the executive area as a jungle with Disneyland-level detail.) Even Apple’s future spaceship-inspired Campus 2 is an expression of the brand’s clean, unabashed minimalism.

We convinced the CEO who wanted to paint his office green to highlight the innovative, research-based nature of his company’s work instead. We strategically placed dashboards in the office’s kitchenettes to allow employees to get excited by the research as well as promote transparency. We created interior gardens that doubled as meeting rooms and used reclaimed wood to highlight the company’s commitment to sustainability. (Full disclosure: green did make one appearance, in the company sign behind the reception area.)

When we designed the San Francisco office of Studio O+A, we avoided the stereotypically sleek architectural look and intentionally left the space, a former printing press and its adjacent apartment, a raw canvas for our designers. As a company, we value the informality and creativity that comes with thoughtfully un-designed spaces; our workspace can be anything our team wants or needs it to be. Over the years, our humble office has been transformed into a think tank, a doggy day care, a dining hall, a print shop, a library and a college lecture hall–and, oh yes, an interior design studio. Just last week, I sat down with another designer and sketched out a new layout to change the entire team workflow to allow for more centralized collaboration. This week, the conference room will transform into a war room for a design presentation given on Friday.

So how can you ensure your space is a reflection of your company’s culture? First, step back and allow all of the brilliantly creative people you hired to make the space their own. Hang up corkboards to allow employees to pin up inspirational ideas and whiteboards to facilitate brainstorming. Encourage people to move around furniture that isn’t working. Allow them the flexibility to arrange desks based on teams. Your company is more than the Pantone color of its logo. Find the character and quirks that make your business unique and let your space reflect them.

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3 Clichés to Live By May 24th 2013, 00:04
Clichs exist for a reason: They usually contain a grain of truth. VC Fred Wilson explains when conventional wisdom is just that–wise.

Choosing the road more traveled isn’t always a bad idea, according to venture capitalist Fred Wilson.

Wilson is the managing partner of two VC firms–Flatiron Partners and Union Square Ventures–and author of the blog AVC. His blog has featured several posts on the subject, highlighting situations in which the conventional wisdom is… well, wise. Here are three instances, compiled from Wilson’s “VC Cliché of the Week” blog series, in which following the norm isn’t such a bad thing.

Cliché:

When it comes to raising money, a rifle shot is better than a shotgun approach.

Why you should embrace it:

Netting VC funding is tough. But you can save yourself–and your investors–from wasting time by thinking carefully about the firms you want to target when fundraising, writes Wilson.

“There is a tendency to build a short list around brand name firms,” he writes. “How many times have I heard, ‘We need a top tier West Coast VC in this round’?”

While the top tier West Coast firms are often good investors, he explains, their brand reputation doesn’t necessarily make them the ideal investors for your business. Wilson suggests building a short list of firms that are already highly likely to be interested in your venture, and concentrating your efforts on those groups–rather than making scattered attempts at the big name firms.

Getting it right the first time will make a big difference, he says.

Cliché:

It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

Why you should embrace it:

“Call it the Napster effect,” Wilson writes. “You’ve got to steal the labels wares, because you’re never gonna get a license.”

According to Wilson, technology is moving fast and savvy entrepreneurs should focus on innovating first and creating a rule book later. In instances when you are pioneering uncharted territory, he advises, the best thing to do is hit the ground running–and make adjustments as you go along. If you can gain enough support from your customers, you can actually influence the way “rule makers” react to your product–just look at share economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, for example.

“That’s why YouTube is going to win bigtime. They’ve built the audience. They’ve built the value added services that make their service fun to use. And eventually they are going to get the content owners to play ball,” writes Wilson.

Cliché:

People fear what they don’t understand.

Why you should embrace it:

To illustrate this point, Wilson cites a real-life example from his earlier days as an investor:

Once upon a time, we had a very early stage company in our sights. We met the company shortly after it was formed, became users of the service, promoted it to a lot of our friends, and got to know the management team really well.

When it came time to consider an investment, we did what all good VCs do: We got on the phone and called 10 people in the industry that we knew really well to get their take on the company’s service. We heard pretty much unanimously that they would never use it. We passed on the investment.

But it was a huge headfake.

According to Wilson, within six months, all of the people that he had called became customers of the company–despite their initial reservations. Wilson suggests that his own proselytizing may have been the very thing that changed their minds.

“When you get unanimous rejection you are actually hearing fear,” he writes. “And fear should be interpreted positively, not negatively. It meant that all of our friends didn’t understand the company’s service and were afraid of it. Probably because it was highly disruptive.”

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JLo, Verizon Target Latinos With Viva Movil May 23rd 2013, 21:30
Does your brand have what it takes to unlock whatThe chief creative officer promises a new kind of retail experience.

After conquering the worlds of music and fashion, Jennifer Lopez is taking on mobile.

The star has partnered with Verizon Wireless to launch a service called Viva Movil that is strictly aimed at Latinos, reports All Things D‘s Ina Fried.

“We do things differently, including how we shop for wireless devices,” said Lopez, who will serve as Viva Movil’s creative officer, during a press conference held in Las Vegas. The Latino market represents $1.2 trillion in purchasing power and, on its own, would be equivalent to the world’s 14th largest country, notes Fried.

Whether you agree with its strategic branding or not, Viva Movil promises a different kind of retail experience. The staff is bilingual, there’s a play station for kids, and naturally, it will carry a range of Lopez-crafted accessories.

Viva Movil’s first bricks-and-mortar store will open in June at a “very busy intersection” in New York, said Fried, with 15 more planned for cities like Los Angeles and Miami.

But while it have retail outlets, the store will sell goods online. The digital site went live on Wednesday. So far, Viva Movil is selling Verizon’s standard shared and non-shared mobile plans, along with a decent lineup of phones that includes the Droid Razr Maxx and Galaxy S III.

JLo said the company isn’t remiss to to launch its own devices, but for now will stick to selling those in stock. Viva Movil will be more social, however, and feature Facebook integration on its site.

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