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What Every Entrepreneur Should Do Before Launching a Startup

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Launching a startup is always exciting. This is your opportunity to accumulate wealth, make a name for yourself, innovate in some unique way, and possibly leave behind a legacy. But too many entrepreneurs end up failing because they were inadequately prepared.

Before you even consider launching a startup, there are many preparatory steps you’ll need to take.

Set the Right Expectations

Before you do anything, you need to set the right expectations. A combination of media attention and survivorship bias has led people to believe that launching a startup is a surefire path to success – and maybe even a path to becoming a billionaire.

Being overoptimistic can cause you to overlook important weaknesses and threats and be disappointed and frustrated when things don’t go your way.

Consider:

  • While it’s easier to start a business today than it was, say, 30 years ago, there are still prohibitive costs to keep in mind. Depending on the nature of your startup, you may be responsible for paying for licensing, an office, employees, technological infrastructure, marketing, and more. If you’re not prepared, these costs could completely overwhelm your budget and make it nearly impossible to recover.
  • Failure rates. Some businesses explode in growth, becoming tech unicorns worth more than a billion dollars. Others make a fair amount on an ongoing basis, becoming a reliable source of income for their founders and employees. But half of all businesses fail within five years of launching. You need to be prepared for that reality.
  • Media stories often make it seem like tech startups skyrocket to success overnight. But the reality is, most successful businesses are the result of many years of hard work – including an entrepreneur’s previous failed attempts that serve as lessons for future development. You’ll need to prepare for a long, complex journey to be successful.
  • Hard work. Being an entrepreneur may seem like a lot of fun – especially when you get to choose your own employees and set your own work schedule. However, no matter what, you’re going to face significant hard work. You’ll be working long hours, often into the evenings and weekends, and facing stress from a combination of many factors.
  • Just because market conditions look a certain way at the beginning of your journey doesn’t mean they’re going to stay that way forever. Many tech startups fold because they can’t keep up with a changing market, new competitors, or other unpredicted factors.

Do Your Research

You should already know the importance of doing your research before starting a business, but many entrepreneurs skip or gloss over this vital step. You’ll need to dig deep into many areas of business development; for example, you should learn about your target demographics, the current competition, future prospects, financial models, and other factors critical to your success.

Objective data isn’t going to instantly make your business more viable, but it will give you something good to start with.

Write a Business Plan

You can’t launch an effective business without having a business plan in place first. Your idea may be brilliant, and it may solve a problem effectively, but does it have a reliable way to make money? Your business plan will force you to think through your entire business concept, modeling financials for years in the future and outlining the biggest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats before you.

This document will serve as a blueprint you can reference as you invest time and money in your business and begin to grow. It’s also going to serve as a persuasion tool, potentially attracting new investors or partners to your startup.

Build Your Network

Not even the most seasoned, inventive entrepreneurs can build a successful business by themselves. Most businesses strongly benefit from the help of a robust professional network. Through networking, you’ll meet potential investors, partners, employees, vendors, and even peers who can give you advice. Throughout the course of your startup’s development, these people will be indispensable in helping your business grow.

It pays to get an early start here. It’s much more beneficial to have a strong network and start a business than start a business and then build a network.

Find What Makes You Unique

Your business is going to face competition, no matter how original your idea is. There may be competitors already on the market, or they may begin to arise only after establishing yourself as a major player. Either way, you’ll need to find something that differentiates you from the competition. What’s something you can offer that other businesses like yours can’t? What’s your unique value proposition?

Don’t start a business without an answer in mind, or else you’ll face significant competitive issues.

Get Support

Hopefully, you’ll have a network in place by the time you’re ready to launch your startup. Otherwise, you’ll need to start reaching out as your startup begins to develop.

Pay critical attention to:

  • You may like the idea of starting a business by yourself, but even a single partner can reduce your fiscal obligations and make your life easier.
  • Investors can make sure your startup has the capital it needs to grow and become successful; they’re also great sources of advice and direction.
  • Your employees are the people responsible for turning your vision into a reality. Don’t skimp on the hiring process.
  • When your startup begins to mature, you’ll want a few eager clients in the wings to step up and provide you with income.

Foster New Skills

Being an entrepreneur means wearing many hats. In the span of a day, you’ll take on responsibilities like accounting, hiring people, making critical business decisions, marketing, making sales, negotiating, making purchases, and more. You’ll also need soft skills like communication and emotional intelligence.

In the months and years leading up to your foray into entrepreneurship, it’s a good idea to develop some of these skills. See if you can land yourself in a leadership position, whether it’s in your job or a volunteering opportunity. Take courses to develop yourself in areas of weakness, and talk to people who may know more than you on these subjects.

Get a Marketing Strategy Together

There are tons of marketing options these days, even if you have a small budget as an emerging startup. But one thing is certain; it’s almost impossible to build an effective brand presence without marketing. Even if you’re relying on positive word of mouth and referrals, you’ll need some initial marketing to attract your first customers.

Some of the best options here include search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing, since they’re both relatively inexpensive, accessible to all businesses, and ideal for long-term growth. However, there are plenty of other options to choose from.

Come Up With Contingency Plans

Don’t forget the failure rate of startups. Even with the best-laid plans, there’s a chance your business will fail. You’ll need to be prepared for that reality with contingency plans – long before you start the business properly.

Consider:

  • Personal financing. Your income may be unstable as your business begins to develop. Can your personal finances take the hit? Do you have another source of income you can rely on?
  • If your business isn’t growing the way you expected or wanted, is there a different business model you could pivot to? What outlets for growth and development are there for your business?
  • Alternate career paths. Finally, are there alternative career paths that could sustain you? For example, is there a different type of business you could start, or could you join an established company in this industry to gain more experience?

No matter how good your startup idea is or how original it is, these steps will be vital to maximize your chances of success. Entrepreneurship is often fun, and always stimulating, but it’s not going to end in success unless you’re adequately prepared.

Image Credit: Minervastudio; pexels

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Mindful Technology Use: The Next Digital Revolution

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For the past couple of decades, we’ve seen an impressively powerful technology revolution. In just 20 years, we’ve gone from having less than half the U.S. population with internet access to having the vast majority of Americans rely on the internet for work, socialization, and leisure for most of their day. The movement has been to develop more technology, use more technology, and integrate technology into more areas of life.

Mindful Technology

For the most part, these changes have been positive. Workers are more productive than they’ve ever been before. People are able to talk to friends and family inexpensively, no matter where they are in the world. And, of course, we get a chance to search for movies, TV shows, and even memes we’d otherwise never dream of seeing.

But the next digital revolution may be a more nuanced one. Instead of pushing for “more� technology, it may be time to scale back—at least in some ways. It may be time to spark a revolution of “mindful� technology use. But what is this concept, exactly, and why is it so important for our health, productivity, and daily interactions?

Mindful Technology Use

You may associate the term “mindful� with “mindfulness meditation,� and you’re not too far off. In case you aren’t familiar, mindfulness meditation is the practice of mindfulness, or paying attention to the present moment. In the course of daily life, our minds tend to wander; we drift between an annoying song stuck in our heads, a grocery list, an imaginary argument with someone who upset us earlier, and random stimuli in our environment, all during an important work meeting. Mindfulness encourages us to be presently conscious, if only in brief, fleeting moments between these competing distractions.

Mindful technology use follows a similar principle. The idea is that we’re constantly afflicted with technological distractions, and we’re tempted to use technology far more often than is warranted—and far more often than is healthy.

Some people have advocated abandoning technology altogether, such as quitting social media or abandoning email in favor of traditional phone calls. But the productivity-increasing potential of technology is far too powerful for this to be a smart move.

Instead, our goal should be to become more aware of how and when we’re using technology—and only use technology when it benefits us to do so.

Non-Mindful Technology Use

It’s perhaps easiest to understand what constitutes “mindful� technology use when we illustrate “non-mindful� technology use.

A perfect example of non-mindful technology use: losing time in an infinite scrolling social media feed. Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and dozens of other social platforms now utilize a mechanism known as “infinite scrolling.â€� The users can endlessly keep discovering new content by scrolling — possibly forever. Nearly all of us have fallen victim to mindless scrolling at some point, forgetting that we’re spending time doing this and losing ourselves in consumption.

How much time would you estimate you have lost in your scrolling adventures?

Here’s another example of the non-mindful use of tech. Have you ever found yourself bored for a moment, whether it’s waiting in line or dealing with an unnecessary meeting, and found yourself opening an app on your phone without thinking about it? Suddenly, you’re in the middle of using an app — you didn’t choose this. You didn’t think about it. You just did it. Unconsciously. You maybe even started playing one of your games.

In these contexts, technology functions as a kind of 301 redirect for our minds. We automatically follow this pattern of behaviors, even if it’s not good for us. And the fact that most digital apps are specifically designed to be addictive just makes us more vulnerable.

All of the data about the consequences of  mindless scrolling are complex:

  • Wasted time. For starters, we waste time. We spend too many hours on apps that are meant to provide us with temporary entertainment. We end up dwelling on apps meant to increase our productivity in a way that renders us unable to do any “realâ€� work.
  • Lost attention and focus. We also lose our attention and focus. If we’re compelled to open an app and start scrolling every time we’re bored, we’re practically unable to pay attention in conversation or focus on our more important work.
  • Bad habits. Mindlessly using technology leads to bad technology habits, which can follow us for years if not addressed. For example, we’ve all conditioned ourselves to drop what we’re doing and respond to notifications whenever we receive them—at least at some point.
  • Mental health issues. Some forms of non-mindful technology use are associated with mental health afflictions. For example, chronic social media users tend to be more inclined to feel lonely, depressed, and anxious.

Principles of Mindful Technology Use

Mindful technology use sounds great. But it’s also a bit vague. So what does mindful technology use look like? How can we achieve it?

The principles of mindful technology use include:

  • Simply learning more about the effects of technology can make you a more mindful technology user. If you know that an app has the potential to be addictive, you’ll be inclined to use it less frequently or in less repeatable patterns. If the claims a productivity app makes are dubious, you’ll consider using an alternative.
  • Mindful technology use is also about minimalism. That doesn’t mean restricting your use of technology or using as little as possible; instead, it means avoiding wasted technology use. It means not using more apps than you can reasonably handle and focusing on the tech tools that are most beneficial for you.
  • You need to be transparent and aware of your own habits if you’re ever going to improve. That’s why mindful technology use is heavily focused on awareness. Consider tracking how much time you spend on each of your most popular apps and documenting instances where you feel like you’re not in control of your own use of technology.
  • Mindfully using technology also requires intention. You shouldn’t be using technology because you feel like you have to or because they’re a part of your habits or routine; you should be actively choosing to use technology if and when it suits you.
  • Analysis is the gateway to improvement across all these tenets. You have to understand your own behaviors, feelings, and attitudes if you’re going to change them.

Changing Bad Habits

It can be difficult to change a bad habit—especially if it’s been deeply ingrained and reinforced for many years. However, there’s always time to change your patterns of behavior.

With technology use, most of our patterns rely on triggers and/or repetition. For example, when we receive a notification, we look down at our device; this is a trigger that encourages a natural response, and it’s all too common now that most of us are working remotely. If the trigger continues, your response will likely continue.

Breaking a bad habit reliant on a trigger requires breaking the trigger in some way. Ideally, you’d get rid of notifications entirely and only check your communication channels when you truly intend to do so. However, reducing or changing your notifications may also help.

Repetition is another issue. If you can engage in the same sequence of actions repeatedly, you’ll easily build a habit, whether you mean to or not. For example, you may mindlessly tap an app on your phone, knowing its location so familiarly that you don’t even have to look at it.

Again, you’ll want to break the pattern. In this case, that could mean moving the app to a different location on your smartphone, so you’re forced to think about whether you truly want to open the app or whether you’re doing this mindlessly.

Toward a More Mindful Future

Almost anyone can benefit from practicing more mindful technology use. It’s challenging to break bad habits and resist the natural tendency to engage in behaviors encouraged by modern tech. However, it’s extremely rewarding to regain control of your own mind, health, and productivity.

Image Credit: armin rimoldi; pexels

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How to Start Monetizing a Popular Website or App

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Your business or your personal brand may be focused on creating a popular website or application. The idea here is to generate users or generate interest; you might encourage people to read your blog frequently because you offer fantastic, in-depth posts, or you might have an app that makes people’s lives easier in some crucial way. Here is how to start monetizing a popular website or app

In any case, making an app or website popular is a challenging, multi-step process. But translating that popularity into a consistent stream of revenue is even more challenging. How can you take a popular online asset like this and effectively monetize it?

Monetization in a Nutshell

Monetization is a term that refers to the simple process of making money from something that didn’t make money before. If a person walks dogs for fun, then begins to charge money for their services, they’ve essentially “monetized� the service.

This is an ambiguous term, but it’s ambiguous for a reason; there are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to monetize a popular website, app, or other online service. Generally speaking, if your channel is popular enough, you should be able to monetize it.

How Popular Is Popular Enough?

How popular is popular enough? That’s going to be different for every app and website; it depends on the nature of your audience, the specific appeal of your content, and of course, the monetization strategy you choose. If you’re selling a major service to wealthy clientele, you may be able to make money with just a handful of leads and sales. However, if you’re interested in monetizing the data you collect from your users, you’ll need a base of hundreds of thousands—if not millions of users to do this effectively.

In any case, if you have thousands of regular users, you can definitely count on being able to monetize effectively. You may be able to do it with just hundreds of regular users.

Monetization Options

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular monetization options available to websites and apps today:

  • First, you could consider displaying advertisements on your website or app. You can tap into one of many different advertising networks to do this, with Google Ads being one of the most popular. Generally, you’ll earn a fixed rate for every click your app generates; for example; you might earn $0.50 for each ad clicked by one of your users. Advertising is reliable and relatively consistent, but it also depends on your audience being a match for the ad content. On top of that, poorly placed or “spammyâ€� advertising can weaken the average user’s experience.
  • Affiliate linking. Alternatively, you could set up an affiliate linking system. The idea here is to include links to various product pages across the web; if one of your readers clicks an affiliate link and buys the product, you’ll get a share of the revenue—like a commission. This is tricky to pull off with small audiences since the commission tends to be small, but with a large enough fan base, you can make significant income this way.
  • Paid access. If your app or website is valuable enough, you may require payment or a paid subscription to access it. This can be a source of steady, significant income, but only if your content is seen as truly “worth it.â€� This is tricky to pull off since so many modern apps and websites are completely free to access.
  • Premium features. You may choose to adopt a “freemiumâ€� model, wherein the core content is free, but users have to pay for additional features. For example, they may have the option to pay for an ad-free experience, or may get access to additional tools to use the app more effectively.
  • Transactional fees. Though this is mostly for apps, you may be able to impose small transaction fees. For example, if your app functions as an online marketplace, you could take 10 percent of every purchase made on the platform.
  • Extra content. If you have a popular blog, your readers may be interested in paying for “premiumâ€� content—like an extended eBook. Just make sure you offer plenty of opportunities for conversion throughout your site, and price your premium content fairly.
  • Additional services. Depending on how much time you have and the nature of your brand, you may be able to sell additional services as well. For example, if you’re a blogger who’s an expert in a certain field, you may be able to teach, coach, or consult with readers who want a more personalized experience.
  • If your blog or app is popular enough, you may be able to make money through merchandising. Selling shirts, mugs, calendars, or other items with your logo on them could function both as a direct revenue stream and as a secondary form of advertising.
  • Data monetization. If your audience is large enough, you may be able to monetize the data you gather from them. For example, you may learn about the buying habits of a specific target audience, then sell that cluster of data to an advertising company that wants to learn more about that audience.

Can You Monetize in Multiple Ways?

As you can see, most of these monetization strategies have strengths and weaknesses. You may be interested in using multiple monetization strategies simultaneously, allowing them to compensate for each other’s flaws. There’s generally nothing wrong with this; however, you’ll need to make sure that stacking monetization strategies has no measurable negative impact on your average user’s experience.

Choosing the Right Strategy

Whether you’re investing in one or several monetization strategies, how can you be sure that you’re selecting the right tactics?

Consider:

  • Your target audience. First, you need to think about your target audience. Not all people will be okay with advertising, and not all people will pay $5 for an eBook when they can get blog content for free. Different audiences have different desires.
  • The core experience. Next, consider the core experience of your app or website. This is what made your asset popular, so you shouldn’t compromise it. How will your monetization strategy affect the average user experience? Will it make it better, worse, or keep it the same?
  • Number of users/scale. Some monetization strategies only work if your audience is sufficiently large. How popular is your app currently, and how far can you scale it in the future?
  • Long-term plans. Where will you be taking this app or website in the future? Is the core experience or user base going to transform?
  • The competition. What monetization strategies are your competitors using? If your competitors find success with one strategy, you may consider adopting it as your own—or you may try to deviate from them to differentiate your brand.
  • Potential profitability. And, of course, you should consider the potential profitability of each strategy. How much money do you stand to make by adopting this?

The Importance of Measurement and Analysis

Additionally, you’ll need to carefully measure and analyze the results you get from your strategy. This is a business, and there’s no guarantee it’s going to be successful. Only by objectively measuring your results will you be able to definitively determine whether your monetization strategy is actually making money.

If the strategy isn’t making money, see if you can figure out why (and correct the error). For example, if people aren’t clicking on advertisements, is it because you’re displaying ads that aren’t relevant? Or is it due to poor positioning? Experimenting with the variables and measuring the differences can help you figure this out.

Conclusion

Monetization strategies can help you make money from any app, website, or other online asset that’s sufficiently popular. Choosing the right strategies can be difficult, but if you invest in the right techniques and consistently improve with the help of ongoing measurement and analysis, you can build something both profitable and sustainable.

Image Credit: mayofi; pexels; pexels

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How to Practice Greater Transparency in a Startup

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Transparency is becoming increasingly important for startups, both as an internal policy and as a way of engaging with the industry and external world. In case you aren’t familiar, transparency is operating in a way that allows other people to see how those operations were performed. In the physical sense, you could think of this as offering a literally transparent “windowâ€� to the actions you’re performing — but of course, in the startup world, things are a bit more complex.

Why exactly is transparency so important for budding startups, and what steps can you take to ensure you’re operating transparently in your organization?

The Value of Transparency

Let’s start by examining the importance of transparency. What is it that makes this approach so valuable?

  • Your online reputation. First, your transparency will play a massive role in determining your online reputation. If you operate transparently, both internally and externally, you’ll instantly be seen as more trustworthy. People will feel as though you have nothing to hide and that you’re a positive force in the world. Obviously, transparency also means disclosing bad or questionable news, so your reputation may take temporary hits—but overall, transparency will only help your brand’s reputation flourish.
  • Internal trust. You can also foster more internal trust with higher levels of transparency. Employees who feel they’re working in a transparent environment will naturally have more faith in their leaders. They’ll have more trust in major decisions and will become more loyal followers. They’ll also feel more comfortable voicing their opinions and contributing to the shared conversation.
  • Openness to criticism and feedback. Sharing information about your decisions and policies will leave you more open to criticism and feedback—and that’s a good thing. Employees, customers, and public onlookers alike will be willing to explain the flaws in your plans and approaches, and you can use this information to improve.
  • Higher morale and happiness. Employees who work in transparent environments tend to be happier, with higher morale. They’re much more appreciative of their workplace and are better collaborators. They also tend to be more productive. Compare that to a workforce that feels the organization they work for is unnecessarily secretive or even deceptive; such a hostile work environment can only increase employee turnover and reduce internal trust.
  • Thriving in an untrusted industry. Let’s face it. Tech companies tend to be untrusted by default. Too many big (and small) players in the industry have violated consumer trust with shady practices, lax security, and unclear motivations. Being forthright and transparent will help you overcome the stigma of being a tech-related company and will help you forge a good reputation from scratch.
  • Brand differentiation. Not all companies are transparent in your industry. Marketing yourself as more transparent and working harder to provide full disclosure is an important way to distinguish your brand. You can instantly set yourself apart from the competition.
  • Meeting public expectations. Public consumers are increasingly demanding transparency from the companies they buy from and work with. Consumers are more likely to spend money with companies they trust, and companies that are transparent, than they are with companies that attract skepticism and distrust.

Internal vs. External Transparency

It’s important to note that internal and external transparency are somewhat different and will need to be practiced with different sets of strategies.

Internally, transparency is all about sharing information with your employees, partners, and coworkers. An internally transparent environment is one in which everyone within the company knows what’s going on and feels free to share information independently.

Externally, transparency is all about sharing information with customers, shareholders, followers, and the general public. You’ll use press releases, social media, and other outlets to ensure that your public audiences are up to speed on your latest work.

Internal Transparency Strategies

Here are some “tried and true” strategies you can use to increase internal transparency.

  • Explain your decisions. As a leader in your organization, explain your decisions. If you decide to change a work policy, or stop offering a specific service, state the decision clearly and explain why it’s happening. This is especially important if something employees could be concerned about; for example, if you’re cutting hours, they may be worried that the business is going under.
  • Encourage employees to voice their opinions. Next, work to make sure every employee feels they have a voice. When someone expresses an opinion, thank them for their contribution even if it goes against something you said. Make them feel heard. This is conducive to an open, expressive environment, and it will increase trust throughout the entire organization.
  • Keep workflows open. The workflows in your business are responsible for its overall productivity, and the average experience of your employees. They should be justified—and frequently updated. Make it clear why you work the way you work, and be open to hearing new perspectives on whether those workflows function efficiently.
  • Collect (and listen to) feedback. Go out of your way to collect feedback from people of all levels and share that feedback publicly when it makes sense to do so. Act on feedback when appropriate, improving the business in some small way, and if you’re not going to act on feedback, explain why.
  • Answer questions directly and honestly. When employees ask questions about your decisions or your business practices, try to answer those questions as directly and honestly as possible. You won’t always be able to give a clear and concise answer, but even something like, “I don’t have the answer to that question right now,â€� can go a long way in building trust.
  • Openly socialize. People trust each other more when they have a bit of a personal bond in place. Encourage employees to openly socialize with each other and get involved in those conversations whenever you can.
  • Be honest when it’s hard to do so. The best test of transparency is being open and honest when it’s hard to do so. Don’t be afraid to share bad news or admit to your mistakes; being honest during these difficult moments will build significant trust.

External Transparency Strategies

External transparency is a bit more complex, not only because you’re working with a much larger audience and more potential channels, but also because there’s more room for misinterpretation.

Let’s look at some of the best strategies for improving external transparency:

  • Publish public reports. Consider publishing more public reports about your company’s performance in various areas. For example, it’s increasingly common for businesses to publish sustainability reports, acknowledging their impact on the environment.
  • Get ahead of bad news. If your company has bad news to announce or if there’s a scandal involving your company, get ahead of the news—be the first to share it, and share it openly and honestly. If it seems like you tried to hide or lie about the news, it will work against you.
  • Report honestly. It’s common for startups to stretch the truth to make themselves look better, even if it’s just inflating a few numbers. It’s much better for your reputation long-term to report honestly to the best of your ability.
  • Answer questions directly and honestly. Just as you did with your employees, it’s important to answer public questions directly and honestly. Don’t change the subject or give empty, generic answers; provide whatever information you can, and if you can’t provide information, explain why you can’t.
  • Coordinate your PR team for consistency. Ensure you train everyone on your marketing and PR teams on the importance of transparency and educate them on best practices. This will ensure that you have a consistent approach across all channels.

Achieving transparency in an organization is often easier said than done. However, with the right strategy and a coordinated team, almost any startup can adopt transparent practices and make themselves more visible, both internally and externally. From there, the benefits will become evident.

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The Communication Pain Points for Remote Teams (and How to Solve Them)

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Working remotely offers an incredible assortment of advantages to businesses willing to adapt. Instantly, your workers will skip the commute, reducing stress and freeing up time. They’ll have more flexibility and more control over their work environments, thereby increasing morale and productivity. And of course, without a central office, the business itself will save a ton of money. Here are the communication pain points for remote teams — and how to solve them.

What are the Issues Surrounding Remote Teams?

There are a few problems associated with remote work. Notably, one of the biggest issues is communication. When workers regularly see each other, they have a chance to bond, make small talk, and casually discuss work-related topics. They can meet in person, freely and easily.

By contrast, you’ll deal with a number of pain points related to your internal communication in a remote environment. Acknowledging and addressing these issues proactively is necessary if you want your organization to continue running smoothly.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest communication pain points in remote teams — and how to solve them.

Reimagining Meetings

Meetings have long been a staple of every business’s communication strategy, bringing people together for collaborative discussions, problem-solving, and brainstorming. Obviously, meetings haven’t gone away; virtual conferences have replaced them.

However, virtual conferences come with a share of problems that compromise the effectiveness of meetings overall. Bad connections, interruptions, and role ambiguity can all make a mess of a traditional meeting.

There are several easy ways to solve the virtual meeting problem:

  • Meet less frequently. Remote work is highlighting just how unnecessary some meetings are. Consider cutting back on the number of meetings you hold. You might be surprised how little you miss them. Instead, send an email as an update, or ask for contributions over instant chat.
  • Meet for shorter intervals. Similarly, try meeting for shorter spans of time. With a stricter time limit, you’ll likely be forced to communicate more clearly and concisely. You’ll also minimize the chances of extended interruptions.
  • Invest in quality. Video conferences run much smoother when you’re using the right software, devices, and other equipment. Ensure everyone on the team has a decent internet connection, a good webcam and microphone, and a software platform that’s up to date. Most of your issues will disappear once these are in place.
  • Prioritize monologues. Avoid interruptions by allowing people to speak individually, with all other participants on mute. Otherwise, even the best-organized meeting can quickly devolve into chaos.

Making Effective Use of Multiple Channels

Most teams have various channels to call upon for communication, such as email, SMS texts, phone calls, instant chats, video calls, and project management platforms. But how are you supposed to know which channel to use for which message?

Using these channels effectively and appropriately can be a major struggle. Here’s how to solve the issue:

  • Create clear parameters for each medium. Start by making it clear which platforms should be used under which circumstances. For example, email is a great medium for one-sided, relatively short communication, but text chat is better for extended dialogue. Make a list of each platform’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Train and educate employees. Next, train your employees individually to use each platform. Most employees have an innate preference, and if left alone, they’ll try to use only that medium for all their communication. It’s important that all of your team members are using all available platforms to their best strengths.
  • Keep your options to a minimum. It may seem like investing in lots of different communication options is the best approach; having access to more channels will give employees more options for communication. However, there’s such a thing as too much technology as well; too many platforms will make it confusing to find information and could overwhelm employees with notifications. Instead, keep the number of options to a minimum — and ask employees to respond from the channel they are contacted on. (e.g., don’t contact me on slack and then send a reply in outlook.)

Ensuring Collaboration Potential

Remote employees can’t collaborate directly the way they can in person; you can’t stop by a coworker’s desk or sketch out a brainstorming web on a whiteboard together. If you want more effective collaboration in a remote environment, you have to work for it:

  • Create an availability plan. Make sure there’s a plan for when employees are available for communication. Depending on your work environment, that may mean mandating that employees work specified hours, like 9 to 5, or it could mean setting specific public availability times; for example, you might request that all employees are available from 2 to 4, but that they may otherwise work in whatever ways they see fit.
  • Utilize collaborative platforms. Certain platforms make it easy for workers to collaborate. There are built-in tools that allow employees to contribute content to a document or file at the same time, even if multiple versions of the file exist simultaneously. There are multiple modes for contribution and communication, such as the ability to upload documents and comment. Utilize these platforms as much as you can.
  • Encourage self-direction and autonomy. Oftentimes, the best way to get employees to work well together is to allow them to figure out what work styles work best for them. Encourage self-direction and autonomy to make this happen.

Developing Team Bonds

Teams with strong individual bonds to hold them together tend to be more productive, consistent, and more positive than their counterparts. But how can you encourage team bonding when your employees all live miles away from one another and never see each other face to face?

  • Host virtual teambuilding events. Consider hosting a video chat where the team has dinner together, or play a game on a virtual conferencing platform. Just because you’re physically separated doesn’t mean you can’t have fun together.
  • Encourage private communication threads. Your team members won’t be able to strike up casual conversations by the water cooler, but they should be encouraged to have similar conversations when possible. Strike up casual threads via email, chat, or other platforms to encourage employees to connect.
  • Allow casual forms of interaction. Other casual forms of interaction can also be beneficial. For example, you can allow employees to award each other with digital badges or other forms of congratulatory sentiment. It goes a long way to support a more collaborative atmosphere.

Facilitate Ongoing Improvements

No organization will communicate perfectly, especially when scrambling to assemble a good remote work strategy on short notice. If you want to keep improving, you have to invest in ongoing positive changes.

These are some of the best ways to do it:

  • Educate yourself. First, educate yourself. Go out of your way to read books and online articles about the nature of communication and how communication standards are changing due to increased remote work. The more you learn, the better equipped you’ll be to proactively deal with issues and streamline efficiency improvements.
  • Listen to other professionals’ approaches. It’s also useful to listen to how other professionals are handling remote work communication. For example, you can listen to podcasts from other entrepreneurs or network with peers and ask them about their communication habits. Are they using platforms you aren’t? Do they have a different communication philosophy? Consider experimenting with their approaches to see if they work for you.
  • Collect feedback from the team. Finally, make sure you’re regularly collecting feedback from your team. Do your team members find certain platforms to be valuable and others to be unbearable? Do they have recommendations for how to communicate more efficiently in the future? Collect anonymously to encourage honesty, and take action on the points you find to be most insightful.

While remote work will always have some communication challenges that aren’t present in a traditional work environment, most of them can be overcome with a handful of strategic changes. Devote time to rethinking and rebuilding your communication strategy from the ground up, and your team will be able to work together as efficiently as ever.

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What Makes a Startup Resilient?

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In the startup world, resilience is vital for success. As an entrepreneur, you’re going to face countless challenges, both internally and externally, that threaten your longevity and profitability. The best, most successful businesses aren’t the ones that are able to prevent or eliminate these challenges, since such a feat is practically impossible; instead, they’re the businesses that can survive through these challenges and adapt.

Resilient startups are much more likely to succeed. But what is it that makes a startup resilient?

Capital

The majority of problems can be solved with an adequate amount of money. If your business is struggling to pay its vendors and employees, you can tap into an emergency fund and get through the rough patch.

If you’re looking to expand in a new market, you can dump a massive sum of money into your expansion and not worry about exhausting your budget. If you’re not generating enough recurring revenue, you can invest heavily in marketing and advertising to get more visibility for your brand—no sweat.

Accordingly, resilient startups tend to have access to a lot of capital. They had multiple rounds of successful funding or generated enough revenue to build up significant cash reserves. Unfortunately, this is a pipe dream for many startup entrepreneurs, since the lack of access to capital is one of the main challenges threatening them. However, there are many other factors to improve the resilience that you can rely on.

Decentralization

You can also improve startup resilience with the help of decentralization; decentralization allows you to distribute your business in a way that prevents it from becoming too dependent on any one variable. For example, you can physically decentralize your business by adopting a remote work model. Rather than relying on a single main office building, you can allow all your employees to operate remotely; no single point of failure can wreck the business.

Many businesses use cloud computing for this reason; rather than storing everything on local physical servers, you can store your data in the cloud. This way, a single catastrophic event won’t be capable of eliminating your access to data.

Cross-Training

Cross-training can be thought of as a form of decentralization, but since it applies to the skills of your employees, it can be a bit harder to manage. The idea of cross-training is simple. You’ll have the individual employees within your startup train each other on their respective responsibilities. You can achieve the extra, yet critical training within a single department. With this cross-training, you’ll strengthen the capacity of the department, or allow each department to train the others.

As a result of each employee having knowledge, individual employees can take time off (including vacations) without impacting your startup’s capacity to perform. It also means you can afford losses of talent. While it’s never ideal to lose one of your star employees, it’s much easier to manage if there are other people on your team who can handle their responsibilities when they’re gone.

As an added bonus, cross-training allows each individual on your team to gain a better understanding of how the organization functions overall; they get to see the context for each person’s responsibilities and understand how the company works at a high level.

Willingness to Cut Losses

Next, a resilient startup must be willing to cut losses. This can be exceedingly difficult due to the sunk cost fallacy; when we’ve already invested significant time or money into an endeavor, we’re much less willing to cut our losses and move on. Instead, we want to make our investments “worth� something by continuing to invest in them, hoping that they’ll eventually pay off.

Startups that are unable or unwilling to cut losses, suffer heavily. It’s much better to identify areas of waste and cut them before they do any further damage. For example, you need to be willing to fire your marketing agency if you’re not getting the results you want. You need to be willing to pull out of a major city if the market isn’t there for your services.

Risk Management and Adaptability

Resilient businesses also have a risk management strategy in place. CEOs are keenly aware of the biggest risks to their startup’s success, and they know what’s necessary to mitigate those risks.

In line with this, one of the most important factors for resilience is adaptability—the ability for your startup to change in response to new information, newly available resources, or new circumstances (as well as new risks). If your competitors introduce new products, your customers’ opinions change, and your entire niche begins to evolve, you can’t survive if your business remains exactly the same. Instead, you need to be willing to try new tools, new workflows, and new approaches.

Gradual Changes

That said, it’s important that all of your startup’s changes be somewhat gradual. Many startup entrepreneurs are excited to grow the business as quickly as possible, making the business as large as possible, but this can ultimately work against you if you aren’t careful. If you invest too much, too quickly, you’ll end up paying for things you don’t really need and failing to pay for things you do need. You may also spread yourself and your team thin in an effort to achieve some arbitrary expansion goal.

Taking your time with new changes allows you to invest more deliberately. It also allows you to see the results of your efforts in real-time, so you can tell whether your strategies are working and update them if necessary.

Multiple Revenue Streams

Next, you should think about creating multiple revenue streams for your business. Most startups operate with one mechanism for generating revenue—a core product or service that drives the entire business model. However, it’s much more effective to create multiple revenue streams simultaneously, with several products, services, and alternative ways of making money.

The obvious benefit here is that increasing your number of revenue streams will increase your total amount of revenue. But this is also important as a protective measure; if any of your major revenue streams fails, you’ll have multiple other backups to make up the difference. This is also important for managing your client portfolio; you never want to be overly dependent on any single client.

Openness to Feedback

Feedback is the best way to improve your business, since it tells you things about your business you might not be able to discover on your own. Collect customer feedback to learn more about what they think of your business and collect employee feedback to learn more about how you can make the business run more efficiently and improve morale. Of course, collecting feedback is just the first part of this process—you also have to be willing to act on it.

A Strong Leader (and a Strong Culture)

Finally, a startup can benefit greatly from strong leadership and a strong culture. The leader of your startup will be responsible for setting the tone and making critical decisions for the business’s success. They’ll be the person in charge of identifying risks and avoiding threats—and the person capable of motivating employees even in the darkest times.

Leaders also work to build and preserve the culture within a startup. The culture itself can increase resilience to threats. If you train employees to see challenges as exciting, and see mistakes as learning opportunities, and see hard times as opportunities to build character, you’ll be much less likely to suffer from low morale or unmotivated workers.

Making your startup more resilient demands a significant investment of both time and money, but you’ll be better off for it in the long run. You can’t prevent all the challenges, obstacles, and detriments you’ll face as a business owner, but you can make your startup strong enough to resist them. Unfortunately, resilience is a difficult factor to measure objectively, but you can always make progress to improve your capabilities here.

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How Startup Founders Should Practice Creative Brainstorming

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Creativity is an underrated skill in the world of entrepreneurship, in part because it’s hard to exercise deliberately. We think of the biggest breakthrough ideas as being the byproduct of a coincidental flash of inspiration — not the final product of a focused creative brainstorming session.

There’s an important takeaway from this idea. You can’t force creativity—at least not directly, and not in the same way you can force a nail into a piece of plywood. However, you can create environments and circumstances that greatly improve your ability to be creative—and can potentially improve the final ideas that result from your exercises.

Why Creative Brainstorming is so Important

Creative brainstorming is important for startup founders to master because it has the potential to affect your business in so many ways.

Through creative brainstorming, you can come up with:

  • A better business name. One of the first things you’ll decide in a startup is the name and overall direction of the business. You need something compelling, exciting, and original if you want to choose the perfect domain name and create a brand that people remember.
  • Innovative product ideas. Creative brainstorming is a great way to develop ideas for new products—or ways to improve your existing line.
  • Original marketing ideas. The best marketing campaigns are ones that stand out from the crowd. But how can you come up with something truly original? Creative brainstorming can help.
  • Solutions for complex problems. Your business will face a litany of tough problems to solve, and not all of them can be solved in straightforward ways. You’ll need creative ideas and novel angles of attack to be successful.

In each of these areas, brainstorming allows you to see past the obvious. It gives you a chance to come up with something original, which no other brand has done before. It also gives you a chance to see the flaws and weaknesses in the early ideas you generate, which you can use to polish those nuggets to perfection.

On top of that, if you creatively brainstorm with a team, this is a valuable opportunity to build team bonds. You’ll have multiple team members working together to solve a single problem. They’ll be hearing each other’s perspectives, ideas, and insights and collaborating for a common cause. Ultimately, this can make your team stronger—as long as you do it right.

So what’s the “right� way to creatively brainstorm?

Pick the Right Team

First, you need to pick the right team. Including several people in a brainstorming session is usually a good idea because it allows you to capitalize on different minds. Different people typically have different backgrounds, different specialties, different opinions, and different perspectives. When these come together, they can result in much more original ideas being created.

At the same time, you don’t want your group to be too big; if you have too many people in a room, it will be hard to focus on one voice at a time. It also tends to waste time.

It’s not just about numbers; however, you also need to pick people who are most likely to contribute positively to the problem at hand. Are these team members well-versed in this issue? Do they have the skills or experience to be meaningful contributors?

Choose the Right Medium and Setting

For most teams, the ideal setting for a creative brainstorming session is a traditional meeting room. You should be able to see each other’s faces and engage in person, and you should have access to tools like whiteboards and shared screens to articulate your ideas better.

Of course, this isn’t always possible. If you’re working with a remote team, or if you can’t meet in person, make sure you’re using a mode of communication that allows all people to contribute equally. You want each person to be able to express themselves in a variety of different ways.

Do Your Research in Advance

Don’t introduce the problem at the creative brainstorming meeting. Instead, introduce it well in advance of the meeting. This will allow your team members to do their own research, independently, long before they get together.

Each person will come to the meeting with all the background information they need to discuss the issue and may already have some ideas to bring up. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting the first half of the meeting getting people up to speed.

Practice a Blend of Different Techniques

There are many different individual techniques designed to help people come up with more creative ideas. For example, you might practice word association. You could use an idea web to connect concepts together in novel ways.

You could pull random words or ideas out of a hat and try to work with them. You could even use an AI-powered idea generator to help spark inspiration.

None of these techniques are strictly better than the others. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and may be better suited for some creative brainstorming sessions than others. Try experimenting with a variety of different techniques to get the most out of all of them.

Get External Inspiration

Too many teams get stuck in a rut. They get contributions from the same people. They fall victim to the same patterns of thinking. And ultimately, they come up with the same types of ideas.

If you want to push to the next plateau of creativity, you need external inspiration. That could mean talking to other people, reading new books, or even engaging with different types of art for new inspiration.

Allow Boredom and Silence

We tend to come up with our best ideas in near-silence, or when we’re bored. When you’re trying to force an idea, or when you’re thinking hard in a distracting environment, your mind is too active to make new connections.

But when you take a moment away from the problem, those novel connections can develop; this is why people stereotypically come up with ingenious ideas in the shower. Give yourself and your team more boredom, more silence, and more space to develop new ideas.

Embrace and Challenge All Ideas

It’s important to both embrace and challenge all ideas brought up by your team. Embracing ideas is all about encouraging contributions and giving each idea the time and consideration to reach its full potential.

Thank team members for coming up with new ideas, and don’t dismiss anything immediately. Spend time seriously considering each contribution and making team members feel good about contributing.

Once the idea has been carefully considered, make sure you challenge it. What are the weaknesses? How could this idea fail? How does it stack up to other ideas? This will help you retain a critical eye.

Revisit

You’ll view ideas more objectively if you revisit them after some time has passed. Whenever you come up with a new idea as a team, spend a day away from it (when possible), and revisit the idea together. Chances are, several people will have new perspectives on the idea—or new ways to expand upon it.

Collect Feedback and Improve

Finally, make an effort to collect feedback from your team about how your creative brainstorming sessions have gone in the past. Do they think these sessions are productive? Do they feel like their ideas were heard?

Are there techniques they think would be better to try? Incorporate these pieces of feedback into your future brainstorming sessions and keep improving.

With better creative brainstorming tactics in place, your organization will almost immediately grow stronger. You’ll have access to smarter, more original ideas, you’ll come up with more ingenious solutions to the problems you’ll face in the future, and your team will be much closer and more collaborative.

You may not be able to build the perfect think tank overnight, but with focused effort, it’s a possibility for any startup.

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How to Optimize a Startup for Remote Work

startup remote work

Increasingly, startups are adopting a fully remote work model. With no headquarters, no central office, and no physical location for operations, startups rely entirely on digital forms of production and communication. Here is how to optimize a startup for remote work.

It’s a viable model and potentially a very profitable, efficient, and fulfilling one for everyone involved. But if you want to be successful, it’s not enough to simply adopt a remote work strategy—you have to optimize your startup for remote work.

Why Remote Work?

Remote work is in fashion these days, so many people already know the benefits — or at least some of the benefits. But if you want to make the most of your remote work optimization strategy, you should be familiar with the setup’s greatest strengths.

  • Lower costs. Naturally, working remotely allows a startup to save money. You won’t have to pay thousands of dollars per month to lease an office. You won’t have to pay for office supplies or utilities. And your employees can save money too—they won’t need to pay as much for transportation, parking, or attire (in most cases).
  • Bigger talent pool. Operating remotely also gives you access to a wider talent pool. Without a central location, you can feasibly hire employees from all over the world. That means you’ll have a much higher likelihood of finding the right person for each role on your team.
  • Higher productivity. Studies show that people who work from home tend to be more productive than their counterparts in traditional workplaces. There are many proposed explanations for this effect, including greater employee comfort, fewer distractions, or even a sense of pressure to perform—so employees can retain the perceived benefit.
  • Finally, remote work affords employees and employers with significant flexibility. Without a central office, consistent hours become less of a concern, and people feel more capable of utilizing a wide range of communication tools—rather than heading to the meeting room every time someone has a question or comment.

Of course, there are some downsides to remote work as well. For example, communication can be more challenging, you won’t benefit from the physical presence and brand exposure of an office building, and over time, your employees may suffer from burnout and/or loneliness. However, you can compensate for these with the right remote work optimization strategy.

The Nature of Remote Work Optimization

Remote work optimization is all about restructuring your business in a way that makes remote work even more efficient. It’s a way to play to the strengths of remote work while minimizing the weaknesses.

Note that remote work optimization isn’t just about making your business functional in a remote work environment. Many businesses transition to a remote work model in an overly straightforward and seemingly efficient way — but it’s the wrong way. In this approach, businesses simply take operations as they know them in a traditional work environment and shoehorn them into a remote work mold. It’s like fitting a square-shaped peg into a circle-shaped hole.

In this inefficient model, you might translate all previous in-person meetings into video conferences. You might make all employees work 9 to 5 like usual. You might even have lunch breaks at the exact same time and in the exact same way.

But if you want to achieve your true potential as an organization, you need to take a different approach. You need to structure your organization with remote work in mind, rethinking or restructuring work aspects from a fundamental level.

Key Principles for Success

How can you do this?

  • Build a remote organization from the ground up. As a short-term, duct-tape style fix, it’s okay to create a remote work environment based on your traditional approach to work. But as a long-term fix, this is much harder to pull off successfully. Instead, tear down everything and try to rebuild from the ground up. With no traditions or expectations to fulfill, does it really make sense to have this daily meeting? Is there a better system of communication and collaboration that you can create?
  • Prioritize digital visibility. Without a physical office, you’re not going to have much of a ground presence. That means you’ll be almost exclusively reliant on digital strategies for increasing visibility (like search engine optimization—SEO). Fortunately, there’s no shortage of digital marketing strategies to choose from, and many of them are highly cost-efficient. Try using a combination of content marketing, SEO, social media marketing, email marketing, and other digital outlets to make up the difference.
  • Invest in the right tools. Without the office to bring people together, your team will rely on digital tools to accomplish their tasks, including communicating with other workers. Your choice of tools will dictate your team’s success; intuitive, efficient, functional tools will increase productivity, while inefficient, clunky ones can make remote work practically impossible. Don’t be afraid to invest a little more to get the right tools for your team.
  • Embrace minimalism. That said, it’s possible to go overboard. If your team is overloaded with apps to use and tools to leverage, it’s going to be more of a burden than a help. It’s important to invest in good tools, but those tools should also be minimal and streamlined. There’s no reason to add a new tool to a system that works perfectly well as is.
  • Rethink basic assumptions. Take the time to question and rethink even your most basic assumptions about work. For example, is the 9 to 5 workday really the optimal way for your team to spend their time? Are emails truly the most viable mode of consistent communication?

Hours and Compensation

One of the most important areas to consider is how your employees spend their hours. In many roles, the sheer number of hours a person spends doesn’t really matter. They have a set of responsibilities and a set of tasks to accomplish; as long as they accomplish these, they shouldn’t need to spend a certain number of hours or be present at certain hours of the day.

Many workplaces can afford to grant workers some flexibility in this regard. You may allow employees to set their own hours, or at least be accommodating with occasional deviations from the standard schedule. You may even change how you compensate employees, accordingly, paying them based on what they accomplish, rather than with a set salary or on an hourly basis.

Communication

Communication can make or break your remote team’s productivity, so it needs to be one of your biggest areas for development. Utilize many different communication channels, including things like email, project management platforms, video chats, phone calls, and instant message platforms. Each channel has strengths and weaknesses, so using many platforms simultaneously can balance.

However, you should know that while technology can solve many communication problems, it can also introduce some problems of its own. Scrutinize your communication channels carefully, and be careful not to overwhelm employees with too many apps or too many notifications.

Security

Working remotely introduces new security risks, so you’ll need to adjust your standards and procedures. Document new security policies for all employees to follow, and educate them on best practices like network connectivity and password management. Additionally, you’ll need to invest in tools like VPNs and firewalls to ensure your remote organization remains secure.

Feedback and Ongoing Changes

If you want to maximize productivity, efficiency, and morale in your remote organization, you’ll need to commit to making ongoing changes. Your initial systems and procedures won’t be perfect, and the only way to accommodate and improve those imperfections is to evolve.

Collect feedback from your employees to get a feel for how your remote work changes are playing out in practice. They may have suggestions for further changes to make or complaints about specific tools or setups. Listen to these notes and be prepared to address them, one way or another.

Optimizing a tech startup for remote work is much more than just saying goodbye to the office. If you want to succeed in this increasingly popular and competitive space, it’s important to take your strategic planning seriously.

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