How Entrepreneurs Can Prevent Problems In Their Work-From-Home Strategy

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Contributed by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, disaster avoidance expert, speaker and author. 

In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are asking their employees to work from home. But are they considering the potential disasters that can occur as a result of this transition?

An example of what might occur comes from one of my coaching clients, from a few months before the pandemic hit. Pete is a mid-level manager in the software engineering unit of an entrepreneurial startup that quickly grew to 400 office-based employees doing electronic health records (EHRs). Due to rising rents on their office building, the company wanted to shift their employees to a work-from-home set-up.

Pete was assigned by senior management to lead the team transitioning all 400 employees to telework. He had previous experience in helping smaller teams to working from home in the past. However, this significantly higher number of people was proving to be a challenge—as was the short amount of time available, which was only four weeks, resulting from a failure in negotiation with the landlord of the office building.

3 Key Steps to Preventing Disasters in Implementing Decisions

When Pete approached me for advice, I recommended the “Failure-Proofing” strategy, which is a pragmatic and easy-to-use technique to defend against planning and project disasters.

Step 1: Imagine that the decision, project or process failed, and brainstorm reasons for why your plan failed.

Meet with your key stakeholders and discuss your plan. Make sure to provide all the details. Next, use an approach informed by the premortem technique and ask the participants to imagine a future where the plan failed. Doing so empowers everyone, even those who are confident that the plan will succeed, to tap their creativity in coming up with potential reasons for the failure.

Each participant should anonymously write out three possible reasons that the plan failed. The reasons should include internal decisions within the scope of the project team, such as manpower or budget restrictions. It should also include potential external factors, such as new policies set by government agencies.

Next, the facilitator gathers the participants’ statements. The group discusses the central themes raised as reasons for the plan’s failure. The facilitator should highlight reasons that would not usually be brought up if the process of writing down the reasons and discussing them was not anonymous. If you will be doing this technique by yourself, list down separate reasons for the plan’s failure from the perspective of each relevant aspect of yourself.

Going back to Pete, he decided to gather six stakeholders composed of one manager each from the four departments that urgently needed to be shifted to a work-from-home setup, as well as one team leader each from the two teams which would provide auxiliary support to Pete’s team while they were facilitating the transition of the teams. He recruited Ann, a member of the firm’s Advisory Board, to be an independent facilitator.

Ann discussed the current plan, which was to shift all 400 employees to a remote work setup in four weeks. Everything—even business meetings— would be done online after four weeks. Pete’s team would migrate the 400 employees to a remote work setup in four weeks, and will be doing so in batches of 100 employees per week. The records division would be included in the last batch to be migrated, to give ample time to convert all documents and processes to digital forms.

After outlining the plan, everyone submitted their anonymous reasons for failure. Ann read out the participants’ anonymous statements, which highlighted one key theme: The plan failed because it wasn’t communicated in a clear and timely manner. Most of the participants raised doubts that management can communicate the plan efficiently due to past cases of miscommunication of company policy changes.

Step 2: Brainstorm ways to fix problems and integrate your ideas into the plan

Pick several plan failures that are the most relevant to highlight, and think of ways to solve these, including how to tackle possible mental blindspots and cognitive biases. In addition, present any evidence you might use that would serve as an indicator that the failure you are addressing is happening or about to happen. For this particular step, it is critical to have people with authority in the room.

The facilitator writes down the potential solutions. If you are going through this step by yourself, ask for outside input at this point.

Circling back to Pete’s discussion group, Mary, an HR manager, took on the task of addressing the communication problem proactively.

Mary will discuss the communication issues tackled in the discussion group with senior management. She will then propose for senior management to send out immediately a company-wide announcement on the migration to telecommuting and the steps that will be taken.

Then, each senior manager would have in-person meetings with their direct reports in middle management, to get their buy-in and ensure that the message passed effectively down the chain of command. In turn, the middle managers would meet with the frontline staff and work out details of the next steps for each team.

Step 3: Imagine that the decision, project, or process succeeded spectacularly, brainstorm ways of achieving this outcome, and integrate your ideas into the plan

We tackled failure, so now let’s imagine that your plan succeeded superbly! This way, your company can maximize its success.

Imagine that you are in a future where your plan succeeded beyond expectations. Ask each participant to anonymously write out possible reasons for the plan’s success. After that, ask the facilitator to focus on the key themes.

Next, the facilitator gathers everyone’s statements and leads the group in discussing the reasons given. Assess anonymously the potential of each reason for success, and decide which ones need to be focused on. Check for cognitive biases as well. After that, come up with ways of maximizing these reasons for success.

The facilitator writes down the ideas to maximize the plan’s success. If you are going through this step by yourself, ask for outside input at this point.

In Pete’s discussion group, Ann asked each participant to anonymously write out the reasons for the plan’s success. When Ann read out the statements, there was one key theme: They imagined that the plan succeeded because the management was very responsive to anxieties and concerns from employees during the transition. To address that, Pete’s team set up a number that staff could text or call, which was always staffed by some members of the team. Then, they could quickly answer questions, or route the question to the person who had the answer.

Failure Proofing Work-From-Home

To prevent work-from-home disasters in this time of transitioning to telework to manage the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, make sure to use the “Failure-Proofing” technique prior to implementing decisions of any significance, as well as to assess the management of substantial projects and processes.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. With over 20 years of experience as CEO of the training, coaching and consulting firm Disaster Avoidance Experts, he also spent over 15 years in academia as a cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist. He’s an EO speaker, a recent EO 360° podcast guest and author of Never Go With Your Gut (2019)The Blindspots Between Us (2020), The Truth Seeker’s Handbook (2017) and Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic (Changemakers Books, 2020)   

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.

3 Tips for Getting Investors on Board With Your CSR Mission

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Contributed by Kevin Xu, CEO of MEBO International and co-founder of the Human Heritage Project.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not a new concept. Companies have been publicly proclaiming their dedication to sustainability, philanthropy and diversity for decades. But only recently have the true benefits of CSR come into focus for the companies that embrace it.

CSR is more than a PR tool, though. Under the surface, it’s considered an essential element of your business model and a critical driver of your company’s bottom line. According to recent research, companies with well-defined social missions are more likely to attract loyal consumers, recruit dedicated employees, and be recognized as innovation leaders. They also enjoy easier access to finance and face fewer capital restraints.

Given these benefits, many investors take great interest in a startup’s social mission. An Edelman study found that 76% of investors expect companies to address one or more social issues and view CSR as an indicator of long-term viability.

Startups that embrace and exemplify a clear social mission from the get-go will have an easier time attracting much-needed backing.

Express Your Mission

The sooner you can effectively communicate your company’s social mission, the more time you will have to build trust and understanding with investors. These early conversations can be invaluable to your business, both to its short-term funding and long-term direction. For example, a potential investor could identify issues in your CSR plan that would prevent your company from achieving its goals.

In order for a CSR initiative to reach its full potential, a company and its investors must be on the same page, pulling in the same direction, and striving for the same goals. Follow these three tips to foster this alignment:

1. Be specific. Don’t make broad statements like “Our company is eco-friendly.” Instead, describe the specific steps your company is taking to protect the environment.

For instance, if you are proud to use sustainable ingredients in your products, provide a comprehensive list of those ingredients. Or if your company utilizes a zero-waste production process, map it out for investors. Put everything in writing to avoid confusion or misunderstanding.

Also set concrete, quantifiable goals. Investors appreciate entrepreneurs with big dreams, so don’t be afraid to aim high. As an example, Levi Strauss & Co. recently released a “Climate Action Strategy” with lofty environmental goals. By 2025, the company plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% and use 100% renewable energy at its facilities. Achieving these goals might mean slimmer profit margins for Levi’s, but investors still flocked to the clothing company after learning about its plans.

2. Express a compelling “why.” You, as the leader of the startup, should be personally passionate about your CSR mission. Otherwise, your efforts will likely come across as an artificial PR ploy, and investors will not feel compelled to partner with you.

If your company donates a percentage of its proceeds to charity, pick an organization or cause that is near and dear to your heart, and make it clear to investors why you have taken this path. Tell a unique and engaging story that draws in investors and sheds light on your personal passions. Weave this narrative into your marketing material and overall brand identity.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, for example, has always been outspoken about his dedication to social responsibility. CSR is part of his personal brand, and over the years, his company has thrived because of his genuine commitment to ethical sourcingsustainabilitycommunity service, and employee wellness.

3. Find common ground. Do your research ahead of time. Before meeting with an investor, look into his or her portfolio and assess each company’s social initiatives. This will give you a good sense of the investor’s personal priorities. Then, during your meeting, be sure to explain how your company’s CSR feeds into that investor’s goals.

However, before partnering with an investor, don’t hesitate to reach out to a few companies within that investor’s portfolio. Get a third party’s opinion of the investor’s personality, working style, and overall value to the organization.

You should ultimately strive to partner with someone who has a proven track record of success with companies similar to yours. These individuals will possess relevant knowledge, and they will also likely have key connections with individuals and organizations that can help your company better achieve its CSR goals.

Purpose and profits have never been more intertwined, and investors have taken notice. As an entrepreneur, do more than just incorporate a CSR program into your business plan. Embody it to your core and make it a central part of your pitch to investors.

Amazing things happen when startups and investors align around a shared passion for social responsibility. Businesses grow stronger, and the world changes for the better.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Kevin Xu is the CEO of MEBO International, a California- and Beijing-based intellectual property management company specializing in applied health systems. He also leads Skingenix, which specializes in skin organ regeneration and the research and development of botanical drug products. Kevin is co-founder of the Human Heritage Project.

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.

Tips for Leading Your Best Video Conference

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

As a business leader, you’ve probably mastered the art of hosting a meeting in person. But how are your video conference skills? With much of today’s professional workforce going remote, it’s a good idea to get up to speed on best practices for video conferencing.

While many smart policies carry over from in-office to online meetings, there are distinct tips that apply only to the virtual realm.

Here are the top do’s and don’ts of video meetings.

DO research your tech options. Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting,, Webex, Microsoft Teams or Skype—oh my! The choices seem endless. To find the right one for you, focus on the functions you need.

Expecting a high number of attendees? Check how many participants the application allows. Depending on your subscription, apps allow a varying number of participants—with one option going all the way up to 500 people.

Hoping to encourage attendee interaction? Compare screen sharing, annotation, captioning and user interface.

DO practice. You’ve probably seen video conferences gone wrong—child interrupts dad’s BBC interview, roommate walks by wearing no pants or meeting participant fails to turn off the camera while using the restroom.

Why risk it? Get comfortable with your video conference application by first using it with friends and family members. Practice turning off and on the video and mute functions. Check out the lighting, background and noise levels.

DON’T forget the record option. Presenting on a hot topic or new training? Be sure your platform offers recording.

For example, on Zoom, recorded files can be uploaded to a file storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or a video streaming service such as YouTube or Vimeo.

DO make use of the tech features that support your meeting’s mission. Put another way, don’t sacrifice your meeting’s quality by skimping on digital features.

Breakout sessions are a great function for boosting productivity and brainstorming in large meetings. If you’re trying to promote group involvement, get up-to-speed on your platform’s annotation tools.

DO take advantage of shortcut commands. Familiarize yourself with the keyboard cues on your conference platform to help your meetings run a little more smoothly.

Here are hotkeys in three popular video conference apps:

• Zoom
• Skype
• Google Meet

DO lay ground rules. If your team hasn’t spent much time on video conferences until now, it’s a good idea to set expectations. (Even better, show what you expect of your team by practicing what you preach.)

Nonverbal cues make up a large part of communication, which is a good reason to ask that attendees keep their cameras on. Make the organizational preference clear by always leaving your camera on and consider creating a short list of video conference best practices that you share via email or on a corporate chat platform.

Other items of etiquette you might consider adding to your organization’s video conference must-do list include:

  • Meeting hosts should introduce everyone during the meeting.
  • Focus on the meeting. Avoid distractions, including your phone or emails while on a call.
  • Limit your use of the chat function while on a video conference, unless the host of the meeting invites you to do so or you have an urgent query.
  • Test all technology (including camera/video, Wi-Fi and screen sharing) before the meeting.
  • Come prepared. Hosts should share an agenda and participants should read it.
  • Have related materials on hand.

DON’T forget the basics of facilitating successful meetings. Just as with in-person, in-office gatherings, video conferences must have a clear purpose and goal.

Begin with an agenda, introducing attendees and clarifying why each person was asked to attend. Be sure every participant has reference documents—by attaching them to your invitation, emailing them before the meeting or being prepared to share your desktop.

As the host of the meeting, look out for introverts who are trying to speak up. Be aware of staff who are uncomfortable in front of the camera.

End the meeting with a summary of key takeaways and next steps as needed.

DO build a sense of security. Whether you’re a meeting host or participant, you can contribute to a feeling of encouragement and well-being. Allow space for attendees to share concerns, questions and learning. Reply with curiosity and open-ended questions.

DO make time for casual interactions. Camaraderie and connection is particularly important in these unprecedented times. Just a few minutes of personal interaction before kicking off the agenda can make all the difference in team building and engagement.

Another way to strengthen culture among your team members is by scheduling a recurring, open meeting on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons. Some leaders find daily huddles work well. Simply set up the meeting and encourage colleagues to drop in if they can to catch up on non-work topics.

With video conferencing quickly becoming a critical part of our work day, be sure to make the most of the technology available and explore new ways to promote teamwork and culture in the virtual realm.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.

Answers to 5 Common Return-to-Work Questions

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Contributed by Tina Hamilton, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hamilton is the founder and CEO of myHR Partner, a human resources outsourcing firm that manages HR for small- and medium-sized businesses. The following was adapted from an article in The Morning Call.

As organizations plan their return to work after statewide shutdowns or work-from-home orders, there is much to consider—for both employees and employers.

I’ve answered some of the most common questions related to the return-to-work transition.

1. How do we best address the needs of our employees as part of planning for reopening and managing the new federally mandated leave options and still operate our business?

Prepare your office space or building. If your workplace has been unoccupied for more than a week, a routine cleaning works. Still, consider a deep cleaning for employees’ peace of mind.

Modify the workplace. Separate workplaces at least 6 feet or reconfigure work areas to avoid close back-to-back or face-to-face configurations. Install barriers between work areas.

Reduce touch points. Consider what items can be moved to reduce frequent handling or contact from multiple people.

Provide masks and gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) at the company’s expense based on industry requirements and risk. Provide training to employees on the safe and proper handling and wearing of PPE. (PPE is not easy to come by, so the sooner the better.)

OSHA recommends providing tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to clean their work surfaces.

Adjust workplace hours and shift design as necessary to reduce density in the workplace.

Stagger shift starts and end times or establish alternate days to limit large groups entering or exiting the workplace.

Require all employees to maintain 6 feet or more social distancing.

Leverage technology to limit interaction. Conduct meetings and training virtually.

Close or limit traffic to common spaces such as break rooms, hallways and elevators.

Prohibit nonessential visitors.

Enact a continuous health screening process for individuals to enter the workplace. Conduct temperature checks—with noncontact thermometers if possible.

Prepare for your workers: Consider appointing a chief COVID officer who is responsible for ensuring that all public safety and health guidelines are implemented and that employees follow them.

Explore establishing policies and procedures for:

  • Remote work.
  • Flexible work hours or staggered shifts.
  • Sick leave policies to provide job-protected paid or unpaid leave for sick or symptomatic employees.
  • Harassment policies to prohibit harassment or discrimination based on positive test results.

Post notices for employees and customers regarding mitigation measures:

  • Identification and isolation of sick people.
  • Social distancing practices.
  • Screening protocol.
2. How do we handle sick calls from employees?

You may ask if they are having coronavirus-related symptoms. If feasible, appoint a person or people for all call-outs and establish a process for screening employee absences and returning to work.

For those experiencing coronavirus-related symptoms, follow CDC guidelines for returning.

3. If an employee refuses to come back to work and we have done everything to create a safe workplace, what are our options?
  • If the employee is concerned about unsafe conditions, you may be able to resolve some of their fears by talking through their concerns and the steps you have taken to ensure safety. Make sure the conversations are well documented.
  • You may need to accommodate any underlying medical issues. The interactive dialog is required under the ADA.
  • Be aware of any state or local leave laws that could come into play based on their reasons for their inability to return to work.
  • In terms of unemployment, employers may wish to advise employees that the offer of work has been reported to the state and this could result in a loss of benefits. Dishonest statements made by employees to unemployment agencies would be considered fraud and may be subject to penalties.
4. What if I am an employee at high risk and do not feel safe returning to work?
  • Before making any assumptions about how your employer will respond, talk to them.
  • They may be able to provide accommodations, or you may qualify for programs noted below. Give your employer a chance to respond.
  • If you are being advised by a health care professional to self-quarantine, you may be eligible for paid sick leave or FMLA.
  • You may be eligible for accommodations under ADA. Check with your HR representative or employer
  • Lastly, consider using your PTO/sick time/vacation time if there are no other options.
5. What if I have no one to watch my children since schools and child care programs have not reopened?

You may qualify for leave under FFCRA, a new program created specifically in response to COVID-19. Under this act, you could be eligible for up to two-thirds of your pay so that you can stay home with your kids. Some companies can claim an exemption from this benefit, so check with your employer.

You may be asked by your employer to verify this leave is necessary.

Communication Counts

Overall, we highly recommend that employers and employees communicate openly and calmly. Try to work out a solution that satisfies everyone’s needs and concerns.

One glance at social media and you will see that there are varying opinions on whether we should return to work. We all have a right to our feelings. It is in everyone’s best interest to listen and attempt to understand each other’s needs.

Right now, no one has all the answers. But if employers are open and honest with their teams and communicate and check-in regularly, everyone will be more likely to transition smoothly.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

For more tips and resources about carrying your business forward after the coronavirus pandemic, check out the #EOTogether platform

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.


How to Build a Team That Can Navigate Your Business Through Difficult Times

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Contributed by Chen Amit, co-founder and CEO of Tipalti

Entrepreneurship is one of the most challenging vocations on earth. Even during the best of times, it requires long hours, endless devotion, and a willingness to take big risks and make gut-wrenching decisions.

Today, as we navigate an unprecedented global health crisis, an entrepreneur’s role becomes even more demanding. The amount of difficult tasks and important communication threads business owners must juggle every day has grown by an unimaginable magnitude. It’s also worth noting that employees are looking toward leaders for guidance and reassurance.

They want to know that their professional lives are in good hands and that their company will emerge from this crisis stronger and healthier.

One person can’t shoulder all of these tasks and responsibilities successfully, which is why startup CEOs need to assemble strong leadership team that they can lean on during difficult times.

Traits to Look for When Hiring Your Leadership Team

I cannot imagine confronting the coronavirus crisis without my leadership team by my side. Every day, we meet on Zoom not only to discuss pressing issues impacting our business, but also to bond over books we’re reading and television shows we’re watching.

Besides this, we’re also working on several projects that will help our company thrive during and after the pandemic. This includes building out personal development plans to keep employees engaged and challenged and refreshing our core values to ensure they remain relevant in a post-coronavirus climate.

In my time as the co-founder and CEO of my company, I’ve identified a few traits that are incredibly helpful for leadership teams to possess.

Focus on hiring people who embody the following attributes—these are traits that can help carry any startup through a crisis:

1. Action-oriented

Difficult situations often call for quick, decisive action. Plenty of candidates for your leadership team will have big ideas, but few will have a proven track record of transforming concepts into tangible solutions. When conducting interviews, be sure to ask for specific examples of each candidate’s ability to act decisively; look for a quick, strategic mind that can develop and implement innovative solutions.

Meanwhile, it’s incumbent on you as the CEO to create an environment that encourages action-oriented behavior. This means granting autonomy to your leaders, rewarding them for taking risks, and recognizing their efforts when their bold moves are successful.

2. Collaborative

Great leaders understand the value of collaboration. They work well with others, consider a wide range of perspectives, and challenge their colleagues respectfully. Even when extenuating circumstances (such as social distancing) drive them into isolation, they still regularly brainstorm with their teammates. They know collaboration yields the best, most innovative ideas.

3. Communicative

Communication is key to building trust, ensuring alignment, and boosting companywide morale during a crisis. Your leadership team should be able to clearly express your company’s mission and vision as it adjusts to ongoing changes across the business landscape. The right candidates will possess excellent written and verbal communication skills. Likewise, they should also feel comfortable speaking in front of larger groups, fielding questions, and addressing concerns.

One thing I’m doing right now to keep up with communication is providing frequent Slack updates to my entire company. These are transparent check-ins regarding the state of the business during these rapidly changing times. Taking the company’s pulse in this way isn’t benefiting executives alone — it helps everyone.

4. Resilient

All entrepreneurs, business leaders, and employees experience adversity throughout their careers—but their ability to conquer challenges and bounce back from failure is what sets them apart. During interviews, ask candidates for specific examples of setbacks they have overcome.

Ultimately, your aim should be to hire leaders who repeatedly exhibit resilience. A leadership team full of resilient individuals can help motivate your company to maintain its energy, enthusiasm, and ingenuity while confronting challenges—even in changing times.

A startup’s CEO is only as strong as his or her supporting cast. Starting on day one, surround yourself with a capable, trustworthy leadership team. Regardless of your company’s age or size, set a high bar when vetting candidates. These are the individuals you will lean on for years to come while navigating challenging scenarios. Approach this team-building task wisely, and you’ll certainly position your company for scaling and prosperity.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Chen Amit is the co-founder and CEO of Tipalti, a payment automation software that helps businesses manage their entire supplier payments operations by streamlining all phases of the AP and payment management workflow in one holistic cloud platform. Formerly the CEO of Atrica and Verix, Chen is a veteran high-tech executive and repeat entrepreneur.

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.

Startup Owners: Have You Considered This Often-Overlooked Growth Strategy?

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Written for EO by Michael Kiel, a serial entrepreneur.

Startups often focus most of their attention on securing funding from potential investors. That’s not a bad strategy—particularly considering how much money it takes to get a business off the ground. However, there might be another strategic partnership that can benefit small businesses seeking exposure: partnering with bigger brands.

Yes, bigger brands might be your competition. They could even target the same customers as your company, but they can still be potential allies. In fact, bigger brands may need your company as much as you need theirs. Smaller businesses are often more nimble than the giants of the business world, for instance, which allows them to react quickly to changes in market trends. They also tend to have a pulse on the needs of their customers—especially in more niche markets.

When HubSpot first launched its partner program, I was intrigued. It felt like a risky move, but my previous company decided to pursue a partnership with the marketing powerhouse. Considering we were also a marketing agency, the risk involved our choice to pivot our services to complement HubSpot’s platform. Combined with our pivot, this partnership increased our inbound leads and helped our revenue jump by more than 100% in a year. We were also able to generate predictable recurring revenue by referring current and prospective clients to HubSpot’s platform.

In other words, partnering with a big brand can help your startup grow in ways that aren’t possible on your own. This doesn’t mean you should enter into any partnership lightly, though. Partnerships must make sense for both organizations involved, and there are several ways to evaluate these potential relationships:

Conduct a values appraisal.

Entering into a partnership can appear to be an endorsement of the other party’s values. Ensure you and any potential partners align in this regard before you make anything final. Your venture will forever be associated with your partner, and it will affect business going forward—either positively or negatively.

The female social network findSisterhood understood this when partnering with Reebok. Within weeks of Reebok’s #BeMoreHuman campaign, findSisterhood launched its new app. Because both brands are passionate about empowering women and showcasing female strengths, the partnership worked out well for both parties.

Weigh risk versus the reward.

Most partnerships involve significant time or monetary commitments. For example, you may need to develop new products or services that complement your partner’s offerings. View this aspect of your partnership as an opportunity to create new revenue streams for your business.

Ayesha Curry, an actress-turned-celebrity cook, in 2017 started developing meal kits by partnering with Blue Apron. Curry may have tapped into the meal-kit provider’s existing delivery service, but the partnership required her to commit a significant amount of time. That investment is significant, but both parties are likely to expand their reach and potentially increase revenue with time—which is a win-win.

Consider development opportunities.

Startups have limited time and resources to properly train employees. Some partnerships have the added bonus of professional development, which can be beneficial during times of growth. Every aspect of your operation needs to scale in tandem with your business—otherwise, you may fail to meet demand.

As with any business strategy, building a relationship with a big brand shouldn’t leave customers confused. The partnership must work on a number of levels: from values and goals to messaging and target audience. Anything else will just dilute your startup brand.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Michael Kiel is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for boating and online marketing. He is the founder of the startup Boat Planet, an online marketplace for connecting boat owners with trusted marine professionals.

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.

Are You Using the Best Time Tracking System for Your Organization?

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Written by Alex Tolbert. Alex is the founder and CEO of BerniePortal, the founder of Bernard Health and an EO Nashville member. The following article appeared on the BerniePortal blog. This column was originally published in HR Technologist.

If you have hourly employees, you know how important it is to keep an accurate and compliant record of employee hours. On paper, this is challenging, and it has traditionally created a significant administrative burden for the human resources (HR), payroll, or project management departments.

As a result, more and more employers are taking their HR administration online, including time and attendance tracking. But how do you know if you have the right solution for your organization and whether your time-tracking processes are optimized for compliance and efficiency?

In general, there are five criteria that will help the HR department evaluate the best time and attendance system for their needs.

1. Ability to clock in and out

If you aren’t familiar with time and attendance systems, it may surprise you that many of them do not actually allow the employee to clock in and out within the system. Some are manual entry systems, which require employees to keep their own record of how many hours they worked.

This raises some compliance concerns. Some organizations with this type of system find it incentivizes a culture of rounding up or “just clocking eight hours,” regardless of how long employees actually work. If there is ever a compliance audit, this puts the employer in a disadvantaged position. If your organization intends to invest time and money in a system to track time compliantly, it’s worth asking if this is the best type of platform to accomplish that goal.

Alternatively, a system that tracks the precise minute employees clock in and clock out keeps a better and more accurate record of hours, giving employers more compliance confidence.

2. Editing functionality

Anyone who has worked in HR knows that tracking employee hours usually results in a lot of edits. Employees may forget to clock in, forget to clock out or forget to take a lunch break, requiring an edit to their timesheet.

A nice feature to have in a time and attendance system is a prompt asking employees if they need to request an edit at the moment they clock in or out.

Many time and attendance systems don’t have this ability, and employees have to send an email to their manager—or even leave a note on his or her desk—to request an edit. The result is an electronic system that requires managers to make lots of manual edits, which isn’t the most optimized solution.

An additional benefit of a system that manages edits natively is that the HR department can track edit patterns. In the event that there are consistent issues regarding an employee’s time tracking, management can address them.

3. Location-based clock-in / clock-out

Another beneficial feature is a platform that restricts the ability to clock-in exclusively to devices getting WiFi from a certain IP address. In other words, employees can only clock in or out on their device while present at the office. This prevents the potential issue of early clock-in, also improving compliance.

4. At-a-glance in-and-out time board

A visual representation of who is clocked in at any moment is important for managers, especially for larger organizations. This makes it easy to see who is present at a glance.

5. Payroll reporting

Reporting time tracking to payroll is a process with a lot of complexity. The easier it is to get hours worked out of the time and attendance system and into payroll, the better. One area of complexity is differentiating the types of hours worked. The time and attendance system need to be able to communicate how many total hours were worked, how many of those hours were overtime, how many were at a normal pay rate, and how many were paid time off hours, if any. This can be tricky to understand. To explain, let’s look at an example.

Let’s say over a two-week pay period, Jane worked 78 hours at Acme Company. Overtime hours are any hours worked over 40 hours per week, per federal regulations. Is Jane eligible for overtime pay? Some might say no—she was under 80 hours worked for the two-week period. But this thinking isn’t accurate.

You can’t tell if Jane is eligible for overtime without a breakdown of the total hours worked. If Jane worked 45 hours during week one, and then 33 hours during week two, she would need to be compensated for five overtime hours. This is why you want a system that can differentiate between the total 78 hours worked, the 73 normal pay hours, and the five overtime hours.

Traditionally, figuring all of this out is a huge burden on the HR department. Without a robust time and attendance system, tracking this requires calculating all of these hours across multiple reports and platforms that don’t talk to one another.

This complexity is a big part of the reason many small and medium-sized employers choose to have only salaried employees, even in circumstances where that approach isn’t the right fit for the organization—or even compliant with federal labor laws.

By contrast, using a robust time and attendance system streamlines this process and allows employers to better optimize the structure of their workforce. Especially for organizations that are in growth mode, there is a tipping point where tracking hours becomes necessary and painful.

Using the above criteria to evaluate systems can ensure your organization finds a system that best meets your needs.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Alex Tolbert is a member of EO Nashville, one of EO’s largest US chapters. A recognized expert in technology, HR and benefits, Alex is the founder of Bernard Health

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Marketing

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Written for EO by Danielle Canstello, a member of the content marketing team at Pyramid Analytics.

Social media is an ideal way to engage with customers and potential customers, and drive people to your business site.

But that doesn’t make it simple. There are plenty of potential potholes in social media marketing. Maybe your Facebook page is popular, but your Instagram account isn’t. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your competitors have been amassing followers at a higher rate than you.

Don’t despair! Follow these guidelines to improve your social media marketing efforts. 

DO Set a Strategy

Just as in every other aspect of your business, you should begin by developing a strategy.

With social media, a sample strategy would include your goals, your target audience, your key messages and the amount of time and budget you or your team will spend on social media. It can even get right down to creating a schedule of posts, including the best time of day to post.

DON’T Spread Yourself Thin

With a strategy in place, you should be able to determine the best social media platforms for your business. It’s OK to start small. It’s not OK to set up a profile on every available social media platform, and then fail to post to those platforms consistently.

For instance, let’s say you sell cupcakes. This means your business marketing will be heavy with photographs and images of your beautiful, tasty cupcakes. In that case, it’s best to choose a media platform that showcases imagery—for example, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.

DON’T Forget About Follower Numbers

Part of your strategy must be boosting your follower base. That means actively working to increase the number of followers by promoting your social media presence and interesting content.

Also, ask customers to follow you on social and encourage your current followers to share or like your posts.

DON’T Focus Solely on Promotion

Obviously, part of the reason for being on social media is to advertise your products or services. But promotion should be only a small part of your content strategy.

It’s called social media for a reason. People don’t go to their chosen platform to look at advertising. Therefore, you need to be communicating with customers and potential customers. Engage with them. Post content that addresses their interests and needs, and doesn’t just shamelessly promote your business.

For example, thank a customer who posts on your page, post articles or infographics that interest your audience, or share humorous quotes that relate to your industry.

DO Post Regularly

How often you post can be a double-edged sword. Post too little and your followers will give up on you. Post too often and content becomes repetitive or low-value. Followers will become tired of hearing from you.

Instead, post high-value content consistently and regularly—and at the times that are best for engaging your audience.

DO Measure Results

Like any business strategy, you need to measure success toward your goals.

There are a variety of ways to do this with social media, including analyzing posts to see which ones led to engagement. Most importantly, use a systematic tracking system that provides hard numbers on your performance. You can then make adjustments and improvements to what isn’t working, and replicate what is working.

Google Analytics, for instance, can tell you which social media site drove what traffic to your site. It can tell you whether that traffic converted to goal completion—a sale, for instance.

Define KPIs and examine the demographics of your audience.

Define and Refine

Social media can be an important component of the marketing efforts of your business, but it has to be done well to be effective. Start by avoiding common social media mistakes, and then follow up with assessing and improving upon your efforts.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Danielle Canstello is a member of the content marketing team at Pyramid Analytics, which provides analytics and business intelligence software.

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.

Simple Ways to Refresh Your Brand

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Written for EO by Jessica Thiefels, social media coach and organic marketing consultant.

A brand refresh is critical for all companies, from worldwide organizations to small local businesses. “As businesses grow and change, it’s important for their brands to reflect the current marketplace. Simply put, if you stayed the same while all the companies in your industry changed, adopted fresher logos, and newer ways of communicating with their audience, then you’d end up losing your competitive edge,” explains branding experts at Fabrik.

A brand refresh gives you a chance to evaluate both your customers and the evolving industry. Much could have changed since you last re-branded or first started your company. Updating messaging, brand colors and imagery ensures that you’re appealing to the right audience while remaining competitive in your space.

Use these ideas to give you brand a refresh this spring and step out with a new look that says, “We’re here to stay!”

Update Your Logo

If your logo is as old as your business, this may be the time to give it an update. This is common for brands both big and small, as Carrie Cousins, designer and content marketer shows with the progression of the Starbucks logo:

As you consider what your updated logo should be, Cousins explains, “Modern logo styles are streamlined and simple. Most contain a visual element of some sort with the brand name, which may or may not always be part of the logo … Most logos aren’t packed with color—one or two colors are common. And there’s not a lot of graphic adornments, such as shadows or embossing.”

For inspiration, take a look at other people’s business cards, or browse sites like Dribble or Wix. Look for out-of-the box ideas that could apply to your brand too.

Re-Think Your Brand Colors

When refreshing your brand colors, it can be helpful to start at the beginning. While you don’t need to make a drastic change, following best practices for choosing colors that will have an impact, while staying true to your brand, is the best way to ensure your refresh is effective.

Adobe recommends starting with a neutral color. This acts as your base: “One-to-two neutral covers will act as the canvas on which you’ll paint.” Neutrals include, black, white, silver, ivory, gray, brown, tan, gold and beige.

Next, choose two colors that will pop against your neutral. This may be a brighter or more stand-out shade of one of your current brand colors. Adobe explains, “This is the color that grabs the attention of your audience and becomes the star of your visual identity.” If you’re looking for inspiration, check out this example:

Finally, tie it all together with a call to action (CTA) color. This includes the colors for buttons, along with the text. These colors should stand out and be complementary to your main brand colors, advises Adobe.

Re-Design Your Print Materials

Print materials are still critical for businesses of all sizes, especially if you attend trade shows and conferences, or simply promote your business around at local coffee shops and stores. Your print materials—from brochures and flyers to banners and business cards—represent your brand, making them critical for your business. A fading flyer with low-quality images will make a bad impression.

If you’re not a design aficionado, use these three tips to update your print materials:

1. Re-think your font: Choosing a font that’s both unique and legible can be challenging, which is why many big brands actually create their own. While there are no hard and fast rules about choosing a font, make sure your font is easy to read and fits with your brand. Choose just one to three complimentary fonts to ensure you have a variety of options that still tie together.

2. Choose the right images: When choosing images, consider both quality (no pixelation, bright colors, easy-to-see), and the Rule of Thirds. Design experts at MyCreativeShop explain in their guide for choosing the best images for your flyer design:

“When considering what photos to use in your flyer, a Rule of Thirds image can naturally create places for you to include important text alongside an amazing image. Images that disobey this rule can leave you struggling to find places to include important text.” See what they mean in their guide below:

3. Make them interactive: The line between the online and offline world is blurring as businesses realize they can bring the interactive world of online to their offline marketing. For example, check out how 19 Crimes makes their labels interactive.

Refreshing print materials with this digital element is as simple as adding a QR code or shortened link that encourages viewers to further their experience online.

Refresh Your Brand This Spring

Give your brand the refresh it needs as the seasons change. Consider how you can make your brand colors pop, your print materials more engaging, and your logo more modern and streamlined. Use these ideas to get started with your brand makeover.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.

Why Every Startup Needs to Shift Its Focus From the Checkbook to Cash Flow

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Written for EO by Terry Lammers, certified valuation analyst and managing member of Innovative Business Advisors

After 24 years of raising children, my wife and I will become empty nesters soon. When I see a young couple with children, I think, “How the heck did we raise three kids into responsible adults?” That feeling reminds me of what starting a business can be like: It’s expensive.

Starting a business comes with a hefty price tag. You have to buy equipment, lease an office and hire staff. When fighting for survival, you aren’t reviewing financial statements. You know only what’s in your checkbook.

Your vision for the company started long-term, but in the trenches, all you can consider is how to make it through the day, the week, the month.

When I returned to the family fuel business, the twentieth of every month was stressful because motor fuel taxes were due from sales the month before. I’d head to the post office hoping there was a pile of checks. I wasn’t thinking big-picture; I was trying to manage my checkbook. Going the extra mile to make the next milestone was almost like a badge of honor.

Shifting Your Focus to Cash Flow

Hopefully, you can get your head above water and have some predictability month after month, like when your kids grow up and don’t require constant supervision. You can take the time to prioritize your finances and see how healthy the business is.

Now is the time to switch your focus from the checkbook to key performance indicators—accounts receivable days, accounts payable days and inventory days—that will help you manage cash flow.

The turning point for me was when my company got a line of credit on a borrowing base certificate. Getting a line of credit to support receivables was going to release monetary stress. But our value and ability to succeed were going to be judged by others.

It’s at this point that you need to understand how to generate positive cash flow to the bottom line. Comparing the cash flow to the company’s net income helps analysts and investors see how well a business is run and how much money the company brings in.

My company had to fund 15 days of sales before it received money from what was sold, which only became harder as sales increased. If my sales were US$100,000 a day, times 15 days, that was US$1.5 million in capital I needed to fund that gap. When sales shot up to US$200,000, that gap ballooned to US$3 million. If the bank had blinked on my line of credit, I was done.

We usually earned a profit at year’s end, but we were starving for cash to run the company. It’s like stretching a rubber band: If you go too far, it snaps.

Useful Tips for Understanding Cash Flow

When your kids mature, you send them to school to learn and from teachers. As your business matures, you need the right people in your corner to help you grow it—a CPA and a business coach. Your team can challenge ideas, refocus and mentor you to stay at the top of your game.

Creating a set of KPIs to assess the financial performance of your company makes it easier to create long-term goals and monitor what your bank thinks of your business’s progress. That’s why accounts receivable days, accounts payable days, and inventory days should be kept on the top of your mind.

You might be in the weeds and thinking about your next loan payment instead of the long term—and that’s OK. But soon, it might be time to look to accrual accounting so you can shift your thinking to a cash flow mindset to better grow your business.

Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO New Jersey helps over 100 business owners grow.

Terry Lammers, certified valuation analyst, is managing member of Innovative Business Advisors. He and partner Steve Denny launched the business in 2014 to perform business valuations, help people buy and sell companies, and provide exit planning and consulting. Terry is the author of “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know: Everything You Need to Know to Buy or Sell a Business,” and he was president and owner of Tri-County Petroleum for more than 20 years.

This post was originally published on the EO Global Octane Blog.