Entrepreneurial Lessons from Your First Job

We have all had one. A first job. Someone looked you in the eye and said, “You are hired!” The decision confirms they trusted you to represent their business. They were willing to invest in you, train you, teach you how to earn a paycheck.

Your confidence swells with the first yes. Your stride is more brisk, your smile broadens. You did it! You are accepted, wanted and needed. Someone recognizes you for being a contributor. Then, the apprehension begins. What if they don’t like me? What happens if I make a mistake? Can I do this job? The overwhelming reality of being responsible of earning a wage is measured by the sudden onset of nervous excitement.

Many of the emotions and fears of starting your first job are similar to starting your first business. Entrepreneurs have to balance the adrenaline associated with being in complete control with the reality that businesses fail. Lingering in the bravado are facts from the Small Business Administration (SBA) that nearly a third of businesses fail within the first two years. Reverting to your confidence that says “just do it” because you are different and better, you focus on the statistical favor that you do have a 66% chance you will make it.

The first time you do anything is valuable experience. Recalling what you learned at your first job is an excellent way to apply past experience to a new first – starting your own business. Here are some tips to take from your first job that are nuggets of wisdom to apply to your startup venture:

1.  Embrace the Fear of Failing – You have an option to be paralyzed in fear or embrace the opportunity that if you try, you may succeed.  We all know examples of the person who tried over and over again, failing countless times before they finally made it!  They never quit. Using the knowledge of each failure, big or small, prepare yourself for the possibility of next time.

2.  Take Pride in Your Work – Others are counting on you to help them.  Any business is defined by satisfying a need.  If they need you, take satisfaction in your ability to help.  In the early stage of a new business, people will flock to those that are confident in what they deliver.  Uncertainty creates worrisome customers, or even worse, potential customers who never buy.

3.  Always Be Learning – You are glowing green at your first job.  You are a blank slate.  Your training is the groundwork for how you will perform. Soaking up expertise from those that proceeded you is smart business.  What you don’t know today, can propel your business to the next level. Find expertise.  Be a knowledge consumer.

4.  Businesses Reward Hard Work – As you master the skills necessary to do your first job and do it well, you soon learn that businesses reward performance.  Promotions and raises are given to those that work hard and do more than their peers.  Your customers will reward you for your hard work.  Their loyalty is associated to your ability to outperform your competition.

5.  Listening Skills are Important – Listening to your customers in your first job and in your first business is elementary.  Your customer is paramount to delivering products and services that meet the customer’s needs.  Failing to listen increases your odds of an unhappy customer.  Unhappy customers tell others of their experience.  Listening improves potential for high customer satisfaction.

6.  Time Management is Critical – There are no rewards for showing up late or missing work.  One of the most important skills acquired in the first job is how to manage your time.  You soon learn there are no acceptable excuses.  Juggling priorities becomes primary to your success.  Owning a business depends on the genius of multitasking.  You will work harder and that means you have to work smarter to get the job done.

7.  Handling Money Builds Trust – When you take money for any product or service, you are now accepting the currency of trust.  You are expected to provide equal or greater value in the exchange of cash for goods.  Exceeding expectations builds credibility.  Manage others money with the same respect you demand from those that manage yours.

The knowledge acquired from a first job is fundamental to a startup. How you apply that knowledge and skill will often result in similar or better experience as an entrepreneur. The mistakes are lessons of how to do something different. The successes are foundations to build upon.

Challenge yourself to reflect on your first job. What was the best lesson learned on your first job? Can you instill this in your values, culture and standards as a business owner today?

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely. ~Auguste Rodin

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

A Little Civility Thank You

As we live, eat, work, grow and socialize together 24 hours a day, it does make sense we continue to reinforce the basic rules for how to treat one another respectfully.  Under no pretense is this meant to be preaching, it is simply a reminder of our times.  Thank you matters.  You are welcome is appreciated.  Please is polite. I understand does not mean you agree, it means you listened.

Civil nations have rules and expectations on how to interact through defined customs.  How we greet each other, open conversations and end our discourse are all ways to show our civility.  Agree to disagree, we can also always choose to end our interaction with respect.

Governing rules of how we are expected to interact with one another help us all live with some order.  We have attempted to assign rules of social behavior based on principles of etiquette. Read a good Emily Post article lately?

We have golden rules that are taught in almost every religion.  Treat others as you want to be treated yourself.  We have rules surrounding global conflicts, we have rules of order for meetings and legal proceedings, we have rules we follow in business and school.  We also have assumed rules for how we can politely and respectfully engage each other.  We have even gone so far as to teach these principles in schools, churches and other institutions.  Applying them is when it really counts!

Thank you. Please. You’re Welcome. Going beyond the rehearsed pleasantries, we also have defined ways of showing appreciation and gratitude. I understand. I appreciate your help. I am grateful. Very civil ways to engage with each other.

Recently, I was at a service counter and the person asked me, “How are you today?”  I replied, “Great! How are you?” There was no response.  Then he stopped and starred at me for a good 20 seconds.  He said, “No one ever asks me how I am doing, so I am a little shocked.”  He was a young teenager, probably working his first or second job.  He had been properly trained to say the words.  No one finished his lessons in civility, that polite expression that says I really cared about how you are doing today.  Why? Every person he had asked never cared to respectfully ask him how he was doing.

As we look to speed up how we interact in real-time, access information in nanoseconds and connect with each other around the world, maybe we need to have some basic reviews of 21st century civility.  Thank you. You’re Welcome. Please. Good-Bye. Hello. It is universal. How are you? Can I help you? I appreciate your understanding. They all seem to have use around the world. Maybe if we continue to focus on what we all know is respectful we can accomplish more — together.

As our society enters into greater opportunities to engage with each other, look for more examples of respectful human interaction. Share these examples. Teach others. Respond to the question, how are you doing today.  Rudeness is ugly. We accomplish nothing when we are less than civil.  We don’t teach anyone.  We seem to not care.  Being right, only matters to you.  Being responsive, appreciative and polite matters to everyone.  If we start with respect, maybe we can have a good social relationship with everyone.  It’s worth a try.

Thanks for listening.  I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Jamie Glass, Outsourced CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a strategic sales and marketing consulting company and Sales & Marketing Services Managing Director at CKS Advisors

A Bad Sales Hire Can Crush a Small Business

ImageThe decision to bring a sales person into your business is the most important decision you make as a business owner. Financially, it can be very rewarding or it can be devastating to your bottom-line.  The reality is that your hiring decision can propel you to mega-success, crush your business or land you somewhere in the middle.

There is no absolute science in making good hiring decisions.  Know your associated real and opportunity costs of making a bad hire.  Calculate the risks of the person not working out before you sign the offer letter.  Will your business survive making a bad hire?  How soon will you need to pivot if performance is substandard?

Based on the financial risk assessment, you can qualify whether you should invest in a professional resource or hiring profile tool to reduce the risk.  In other words, decide if you will pay now or potentially pay later.

What else can you do to protect your long-term financial security as a business owner and make an informed decision about hiring a sales person?

Ask candidates questions related to sales activities.  Don’t focus on their industry knowledge.  Industry knowledge is trainable.  You don’t need a nurturer or relationships person.  You need a sales person that will ask for money!  It is the secret skill that will bring revenue in the door.  There are two types of sales people:  hunters and closers.  In the beginning, you will need someone who is good at both.  They will cold call, with or without leads, and they will ask for the close.  These are “rare birds”.  Ask questions about the candidates history with sales cycles, average size of deal, average daily cold calls, number of customers sold each year, and presentation-to-close ratios.  These are all indicators of past performance and predictors of future success.  When a resume lists awards for exceeding quota, that does not tell you what they sold in the past is going to translate.  You want to know what they did to exceed quota.  What activities made them successful?

Invest in training and sales support materials.  Basic training materials should be product feature and benefit lists, industry keyword definitions, product overviews, competitive analysis, market positioning statements and scripts of common objections and how to overcome them. Utilize your team of in-house experts to train your sales people.  Set up daily Q&A sessions with product engineers, marketers, customer service personnel and anyone else that touches the customer.  Share all the secrets, good and bad.  The more knowledge and access to experts the sales person has the better prepared they will be to overcome objections.  The first two weeks of any new sales hire should include at least two hours a day training and practice calls.

Set sales quotes and activities quotas. An experienced sales person may only close 1-2 deals per year, with an average deal size of $2 million.  You need to clearly outline your expectations and what you will inspect regarding number of calls, meetings, presentations, proposals and closes.  Assigning the closing numbers without understanding how many calls that might take will cost you severely.  You must know, for example, 500 calls or 20 face-to-face meetings may result in five closed deals at an average sale of $10,000.  If this doesn’t meet your expectations, adjust accordingly.  Then measure the number of calls to see if you are on pace each week.  Early indicators will provide you the opportunity to pivot quickly.

Know your exit strategy.  What is the maximum time you can invest in a bad hire?  The answer can not be zero, because every hire has inherent risk.  If it is 90 days, then have a very specific plan with measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can inspect every week.  You only have 13 weeks to determine if you will terminate employment or keep on staff.  Sales people are used to 90-day probationary periods.  You should have inspection points with planned exit strategies at 6 weeks, 90 days and 180 days.  Cut sooner and learn from your mistakes.  A year-long bad hire could close down your business if you are not well capitalized and depend on this new hire’s revenue to sustain your business.

Identify the characteristics that could be a threat or high risk to your business.  Character matters as much as sales skills.  You need to adequately assess the “fit” of this person in your business.  You are handing over the keys to your future.  Can you trust this person? Is this a person you would take with you to all your important meetings?  Does this person dream big?  Are they kind, friendly and positive?  Will your customers like this person?  If you can afford a hiring assessment by a professional, with tools that can define their character and skills, it will be worth the investment and potentially save you from making a big mistake.

Do your homework.  Never, ever skip reference checking.  Dig deep!  Ask community and business people that might know the person, look at their LinkedIn connections and recommendations.  Reference and background checks are as important as due diligence when buying a business.  You will be writing substantial checks to this person on a promise.  They will be creating your business first impression.  Reduce the risk by learning from other’s experience.  Again, it may be in your best interest to hire someone to do your reference checking to get a complete picture.

Finally, use your gut.  Do they represent you?  Your professional and personal instincts will serve you well.  A bad hire can scar you and make you timid in making a future decision.  Know that it can take four or five hires to find a rock star.  An early success in hiring a sales person is rare, so have a backup plan.

Sales people can make or break a business.  Know your upside and downside when hiring a sales person to promote your business.

Jamie Glass, CMO and President of Artful Thinkers.  Creative. Strategic. Results.

Who Makes the First Impression for Your Business?

Who Greets Your Potential Customers?

First impressions for your business are made by people that open doors, make cold calls, attend networking meetings and answer your phone.  They are delivered by your marketing communications like social media and websites.  How confident are you that your potential clients are greeted warmly and with a direct invitation to do business?

Years ago businesses paid someone to sit at a front lobby desk and answer every inbound call and greet every walk-in appointment.  The receptionist qualifications were measured by friendliness, service-orientation and attentive disposition.  The standard phone greeting of this time was “Thank you for calling, how can I help you?”

When is the last time were greeted this way?  Today we are often met with automated attendants and empty lobbies.  Some businesses have completely eliminated any dedicated space to a welcome station and filled it with another cubical. My impression is that first impressions are not a priority for this business.  The decision that customer experience may be too costly to employ a dedicated person, may be costing you business.

It is not difficult to think back to a bad first impression.  I recall three in the past weeks.  One top restaurant asked me to wait outside in 110 degrees because they did not open for four minutes, yet the door was unlocked.  Another restaurant hostess asked me to stand until my party arrived even though every table was empty.  A technology company, which had a sitting place upon entry, left me for 20 minutes while employees stared at me.  Not one person asked why I was there or if I needed help.  I remember all of these first impressions, vividly.

Noted in a recent New York Times article Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” Sited from Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University in a journal article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.”

How your employees are greeting the public, networking, making introductions, and opening doors for others is a direct reflection of hiring skills, company culture and leadership.  Business owners, CEOs and managers own the customer experience.  Every employee is responsible for making a positive first impression.  How are you reinforcing how positive first impressions are made in your business?

Customer experience is a financial decision in business, unless revenues are low on the priority list.  Reputation management is critical and costly.  A bad review is hard to overcome.  You can’t erase the Internet or someone’s memory.  People use others professional and personal experiences as a reason to buy or not buy. Bad experiences are viral, whether online, through social media, on sites that track reputations or by word-of-mouth.  Once word is out, it is permanent.  You own it!

Welcome!

Every experience starts with the greeting.  Take time to review how your potential and existing customers are greeted today.  This applies whether you are selling B2B or B2C, for every industry, in a building or online.  Use “secret shoppers” and have them rate how inviting, caring, and enthusiastic they were welcomed to do business with you.

Customer service is a pillar to good business.  Customer experience starts when the phone is picked up, the door is unlocked or a web site is visited.  We may not all have the luxury of hanging up a flashing “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign to greet everyone.  We do have the luxury to manage and train our messengers to provide an outstanding first impression.

Invest in your greeting.  Define, train, test and continually reinforce how you want to insure a positive first impression.  It your opportunity to create a long-term valuable relationship with your customer.

Jamie Glass, CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company.