These 5 Skills Are More Important for Entrepreneurs Than Any Fancy Degree

By Bill Green

One of the great fallacies about building a professional career is believing where you went to school dictates how successful you become.

This is one of the most heavily debated topics in the business world: the effective return on investment for attending college and/or pursue an MBA. Now, I’m not saying formal education is a poor investment, by any means. For many people, school is an opportunity to “know what you don’t know,” and that in itself makes it a worthwhile pursuit.

Where people make the mistake, however, is in thinking the degree itself is all that’s needed.

They believe that because they attended the classes and passed the tests, then where they went to school will carry them to professional success–and that’s simply not true. As someone who didn’t end up graduating from college, I can tell you firsthand that over decades of building businesses, it’s the working skills I value in my partners and employees over a fancy resume. I would much rather hire the kid who has tried and failed, than the one who passed his or her classes with flying colors, but never attempted to put their theoretical knowledge to the test in the real world.

This is a topic I speak about at length in my book, All In. Again, I’m not saying a formal education or an MBA is a waste of time or money. Just make sure that, in addition to building your resume, you make it a point to acquire the following 5 skills.

These are the things that ultimately make you a professional success story–whether you climb the ladder of a larger organization, or you build your own from the ground up:

1. Honesty (With Yourself)

Lots of people have ideas.

Students, especially, before stepping into the real world, tend to get caught up in their ideas. They love thinking about them, brainstorming them, and sharing them with their friends and family. Unfortunately, ideas without execution don’t go very far. And while there is absolutely value in coming up with great ideas, an idea cannot become “great” until it faces its first customer.

One of the most valuable skills you can acquire early in your professional career is knowing the difference between what sounds great in theory, and what holds real value to a paying customer or a loyal user. And the only way to acquire this skill is to try a lot of different things. The more you create, and the more you try to build yourself, the faster you will learn what people are willing to pay for and what they would rather do without.

You’ll learn how to be honest about whether your idea has real potential or not.

2. Leadership

Entrepreneurship, working within a startup, or being part of a smaller team within a larger corporate environment, all require some capacity of team interaction.

Many entrepreneurs or “intrepreneurs” (those who bring massive value inside larger organizations) tend to forget that the best business ideas in the world require more than just plug-and-chug execution in order to be successful. All execution requires teamwork, and all teamwork requires a lengthy list of soft skills in order to keep people motivated, focused, and loyal. One of those soft skills is the ability to communicate your vision and lead those around you to victory.

The best way I’ve found to acquire the skill of leadership is to put yourself in environments where you either have the opportunity to learn from a talented leader, or to be forced to step up and become a leader yourself. Ideally, you’ll have a number of both of these experiences in your professional career.

3. Discipline

The kind of discipline school encourages is not the same discipline the real world asks of you.

In school, the punishment for not being “disciplined” with your work is quite inconsequential, all things considered. You might fail a test, or get a bad grade for the semester. But when you’re starting a company, or working within someone else’s company and handling paying clients, suddenly the consequences become very real. Your mistakes can be measured in cash.

Taking the idea of discipline a step further, school plans the path out for you. What is much more difficult is determining where you want to head on the path, while simultaneously dealing with unforeseen challenges at the same time. Persisting in the face of uncertainty, pressure, or the potential of failure, requires a level of discipline that cannot be acquired in a semester.

Discipline is something that takes years to master.

The best way to get started, then, is to find as many things in life to become disciplined about. If you can become disciplined with your finances, your daily schedule, your health, etc., then you are creating the habits that will set you up for success.

4. Optimism

This is a skill many don’t consciously acquire.

But the truth is, entrepreneurship and professional advancement is tough work. Every day isn’t great. The wins are far less frequent than the losses. And it can be very easy to fall into a state of mind where your day to day is seen as stressful, overwhelming, and a pain.

Listen, if you want to make it to the summit, remember this: it’s all in your head.

The ability to be optimistic and positive, even in the face of great obstacles, is not to be undervalued. You’re the one who chose to pursue a path of success. You’re the one who wanted to build something great. You’re the one who chose this life, for yourself. So, don’t look for the bad, the ugly, and the stressful. Instead, look for things to be thankful for: like the fact that you even have the opportunity to pursue what you’re passionate about in the first place.

Optimism isn’t a weakness. Optimism is the state of mind that will give you endurance for the long road ahead.

5. Resilience

Last but not least, I firmly believe it’s imperative that every young individual find opportunities, any opportunity at all, to build the skill of resilience.

For me, I gained this skill-building my first company, Wilmar, starting as a teenager in a flea market. There I was, selling hand tools off of a fold-up card table prices–I heard the word “No” dozens of times each day. But when I would eventually hear a “Yes,” I learned the importance of resilience and persistence. Had I accepted the first, or second, or twenty-third “No,” I might never have built Wilmar, a company that ended up eventually being acquired by Home Depot.

The reason why I always take fancy resumés with a grain of salt is because a resumé doesn’t always show you how resilient someone is. Sure, I want to know where you went to school, but I also want to know about a time in your life when someone told you, “No, that’s not going to work,” and you pressed on anyway. Regardless of whether you were successful or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that you tried, and you became a little more resilient in the process.

This article was first published at Inc

Launching Your Business in 2019? Consider These 5 Tips

By Young Entrepreneur Council

If your New Year’s resolution is to launch a business, then keep reading. More and more people want to ditch their 9-to-5s and take control of their futures by starting their own businesses.

But starting a business isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter whether you want to start a small business from your spare room or create the next multimillion-dollar global phenomenon — if you’re not prepared, your business won’t succeed. Luckily, though, there are a number of tips you can adopt that will make the likelihood of your success that much greater.

If you’re launching your business in 2019, here are my tips for success.

1. Stop aiming for perfection.

When launching a new business, it’s natural to want everything to go smoothly. But if you want to be triumphant, you must let go of your perfectionist tendencies. While you might think that being a perfectionist will be beneficial to your new endeavor by making you more motivated and pushing you to strive for success, that’s not always the case. In fact, as reported by Harvard Business Review, perfectionists have higher levels of stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Stop aiming for perfection. When starting a new business, you’re bound to experience bumps in the road. If you expect them to happen, you’ll be better prepared. Mistakes don’t make you a failure — they help you learn and become a more successful entrepreneur when you overcome them.

2. Build a support system.

Building a business is difficult and you can’t do it alone. And I don’t just mean financially. Having a support system in place when you dive into your new business venture will make all the difference. If you think you already have a support system — after all, your parents and your spouse are supportive of your business — that’s great. But you also need to need to surround yourself with people who understand what you’re going through.

If you don’t have that type of support system yet, build it. Start networking with other local business owners in your area or get online and join some LinkedIn or Facebook groups for entrepreneurs.

Plus, according to Psychology Today, being a part of a group is motivating and increases feelings of warmth. This can be incredibly beneficial to you on the rocky road to starting a business.

3. Think about the long term, not just day to day.

As reported by the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, only about 50 percent of small businesses survive five years or longer. This statistic can typically be attributed to business owners getting caught up in the day-to-day minutia of the business.

Make sure to take some time each week to think about the long-term health of your business. Think about the goals you’ve set and how you’ll get there. Do you need to invest in marketing or employee development and training, for instance? Planning for the future will help ensure that your business is around for a long time.

4. Grow your skills.

As a business owner, you never stop learning. You may be starting a business because you have a lot of knowledge and experience in a field, but running a successful business requires a wide variety of skills and expertise. So, as a new business owner, you’ll need to be a jack or jill of all trades.

Spend some time growing your expertise in marketing, writing, SEO, bookkeeping, sales, general management, etc., to develop a well-rounded entrepreneurial skill set. There are a number of free resources online that can help you boost your skills. For example, HubSpot offers free courses on SEO, content marketing and more.

5. Start small.

Your biggest dream might be for your business to become a multimillion-dollar enterprise overnight, but that probably won’t be your reality — at least not immediately. Many new business owners try to do too much too soon because they think it’ll bring them success faster, but it won’t. Instead, start small and grow.

Starting small might mean bootstrapping your startup instead of trying to get a bunch of funding right out of the gate. It also might mean releasing one product or service first and getting some traction and experience instead of trying to put out an entire catalog of offerings. Starting small and giving your business time to grow will make things easier to manage.

Over to you.

Now that you’re more prepared for starting your own business, what are you waiting for? 2019 is yours for the taking. With these easy-to-follow tips, you can ensure that this year will be the year your entrepreneurial dreams come true.

This article was first published at Inc

Change the Way You Think About Your Business With These 6 Thought Exercises

By David Finkel

Many entrepreneurs have taken to wearing the same thing day in and day out to reduce decision fatigue and free up their time to focus on more important matters. Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late Steve Jobs all believed in minimalist wardrobes. And while I agree the concept is a sound one, I want to challenge the idea a bit and encourage you as a business owner to mix things up, even if it’s only metaphorically.

Here at Maui Mastermind, we often teach our mastermind groups about the power of the six hats, and I want to share the concept with you today.

What Is a Hat?

In this context, a hat is not a physical piece of clothing but a state of mind. It is a tool that can be used to push the boundaries of thinking and help you grow as a group and as leaders. There are six different types of hats:

  • White Hat: The Professor or Thinker Mode. Focus: Exclusively on the objective facts, information and data without any interpretation or “story.”
  • Red Hat: The Emotional/Intuitive Hat. Focus: Exclusively on feelings, emotions, and intuition.
  • Black Hat: Your Bodyguard. Focus: Exclusively on what is wrong or could go wrong.
  • Yellow Hat: The Enthused Champion. Focus: Exclusively on how to make an idea work and looking for what’s good about a specific situation.
  • Green Hat: Your Creative Genius. Focus: Exclusively on new ideas and creating possibilities and new combinations and mixtures.
  • Blue Hat: The Organizing Hat. Focus: Exclusively on the thinking process itself and how we are recording, organizing, harnessing, and putting to work the thinking we are doing.

What Are the Benefits of the Hats?
In our mastermind group, we regularly sit down together as a team and put on a different hat. We will discuss what hat we are going to wear and explain the ground rules before sharing our ideas.

This exercise has many benefits:

  • It lets people play and relax into the fun of the hat in question.
  • It reduces people’s perceived risk in contributing to the group and helps them feel safer playing a role that they put on…it’s not “them,” only a hat they are wearing.
  • It helps people avoid arguments, which is rarely needed in masterminding and almost always detrimental and destructive. Now you can simply note all sides in parallel and move forward in your masterminding. In the rare case in which you need to choose, you lay out the map and eventually let your red hat choose.
  • It simplifies the thinking process. Rather than use all thinking styles all at once in a great big muddle, you can break out the parts and really flesh out the ideas.
  • It helps people switch thinking patterns and avoid thinking ruts.

Three Final Tips to Harness the Power of the Hats
Remember, the hats are about direction, not description…. They are about influencing the way you are behaving and thinking, not a label you put on your thinking in retrospect.

When you use a hat, make sure everyone wears the same hat at the same time (the only exception is if you want to keep a facilitator wearing the blue hat).

The hats are tools. You don’t need them all the time. You use them when you want and put them away when they become too much. Avoid living in any one particular hat.

In upcoming articles, I will dive into the differences between the six hats in greater detail.

This article was first published at Inc

How to Figure Out What’s Holding Your Company Back (And Push Past It)

By Ami Kassar

A significant part of that process should include taking the time to understand what is limiting the growth of your company. And because there are different constraints at various points in time, this is an exercise best done at regular intervals.

Every business has a constraint. It could be analytics, operations, marketing, sales or any one of multiple drivers that are slowing you down. And sometimes in the day to day grind of running our business, we lose sight of working on this restraint. We get stuck in our habits and accept our day to day grind as the norm.

Unless you understand your constraints and develop a strategy to handle them, you will always be a slave to it.

When I started my business, everything was a constraint. And over time we built processes and systems, the challenge became to find quality customers that we could help.

And then I became a popular speaker. I’ve had great success marketing my business by speaking to small CEO groups of 10 to 12 business owners around the country — probably 90 percent of my speaking appearances.

It worked: I’ve been able to develop my business and increase my name recognition around the United States.

But I confess that I got lazy. I accepted it as a norm that I would spend one day in Omaha, the next day in Dallas, and the next day in Los Angeles. I got into a rhythm. The constraint of our company became my complacency.

As I mentioned, things change. While it was okay for me early in my company’s life cycle to slowly build a name, I’m way past that point now. Not that I’m a financial conglomerate or a nationally prominent commentator, but my business is on sound ground, I’ve published a book and have developed at least a little bit of cachet.

Fortunately for me (although I didn’t know it at the time) I had a disagreement with the CEO groups parent company and am no longer speaking before the organization’s groups.

Since then, I’ve realized that I’ve been passing up opportunities to speak to much larger groups, as well as other opportunities to market my company. Not only are these new opportunities, but I’ve been invigorated, too.

A change will do you good.

In college, one of the first things I learned (and one of the few things I still remember) is that most conflicts throughout history are the result of old ideas clashing with new ones – in other words, change. In general, people don’t like change, especially if they’re comfortable with their current situation.

I’m the perfect example. It was comfortable speaking to small groups. In the process, I was passing up more significant opportunities.

Change can be a good thing. People like to talk about the good old days, but were they that good? For example, cars from the 1950s and 1960s are always fondly remembered, but anyone who drove them can attest to their poor handling, terrible gas mileage, frequent rusting and suspect durability.

You certainly don’t want to run your business like it’s still the 1950s or 1960s (or the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or 2000s for that matter). That’s why you always need to be looking ahead – and to do that you have to figure out the constraints that keep you from reaching the next level.

Remember that it never hurts to be bold and look to get better. So what is your constraint and what is your plan to address it?

This article was first published at Inc

How to Strengthen Your Company From Within by Volunteering

By Tanya Hall

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” This quote from David Viscott may ring true for many of you on a personal level, though in the business world, giving anything away (time, earnings, or otherwise) may not mesh with your profit-driven nature.

However, incorporating volunteerism into your company culture will certainly reinforce its deserved role in your company’s overall values and esprit de corps.

For the business owner or executive with bottom-line responsibility, office-wide volunteerism may feel like a frivolous waste of valuable company resources and billable hours. Certainly, having half (or all) of the office off the clock for any portion of the day is a direct hit to the bottom line.

But if we look past hourly billings and productivity reports and consider overall culture, the cost to replace employees, the strength of a tight and collaborative team, and the fulfillment that comes along with volunteering, the business case for carving out dedicated time for volunteerism becomes clear cut. Here are a few benefits to consider:

Connection

Company-wide volunteer efforts allow your team to interact and connect with other employees who they may not often work with in the course of regular business. The personal connections that are forged during volunteer efforts create lasting bonds that build interdepartmental relationships and general camaraderie. The respect and human connection from that bonding will positively impact future collaboration, problem-solving, and crisis management.

Values

Identifying volunteer efforts that are aligned with company values helps to reinforce the all-important purpose of why the team shows up each day. This is especially important for employees in roles that focus on a micro-aspect of the bigger picture, so that they are reminded of the bigger “why” around company purpose. For example, here at Greenleaf Book Group, we might choose to support the local public library by volunteering to clean and re-shelve books, reminding everyone on staff, from the receptionist to the technology team, of the value of making knowledge and growth available.

Career Advancement

Your team cares about career advancement and anything that helps to make their résumés a bit shinier. This can be a hard pill to swallow for a leader–you don’t want them to focus on the next step towards leaving! But realistically, career advancement is important, and even if you can’t promise an outcome, you’ll come out ahead if you can help boost your employees’ overall chances of demonstrating growth and contribution.

Volunteerism on a résumé is a strong indicator of someone who walks their talk. Your staff will value this résumé booster and will likely show more loyalty to you because of it.

New Skills

Certain volunteer opportunities can open a door for your staff to learn new skills that make them more valuable on your team. For instance, a volunteer role that requires someone with no management skills to oversee a project or launch can provide an experience for them to develop in that area, if it’s attractive to them. That experience may help them gain clarity around their future development goals without you having to take a risk on it in the day-to-day operations of your company.

Recruitment and Fulfillment

Getting out of the office to do something completely different is generally welcomed as a fulfilling benefit for your team. Breaking monotony, trying new things, doing work with purpose, and feeling like a part of a greater goal is important to any employee’s satisfaction. If you can’t compete on salary, offering up a culture ripe with the opportunity to give back may be the tipping point required to recruit the talent you need.

A company-wide volunteerism program may look like a waste of resources at first glance, but once you quantify the value of the benefits outlined above, it’s clear that giving back transcends the bottom line to create an environment of dedicated, purpose-driven teams supported by strong interpersonal connections.

Whether you think your culture is strong or in need of repair, consider the benefits of volunteerism and how you might use it to build a culture that is fulfilled, aligned, committed, and productive.

This article was first published at Inc

The 1 Temptation Every Founder Needs to Resist

By Kevin J. Ryan

The idea of growing your company’s product line can be very tempting. But sometimes, you need to tap the brakes.

That’s the advice offered by Carey Smith, the founder of Big Ass Solutions, at the Inc. Founders House on Monday. Smith founded his company–initially called Big Ass Fans–in 1999 as a manufacturer of ceiling fans for industrial spaces. The startup later expanded into other products such as lights and residential fans, and revenue climbed, reaching $240 million in 2016. The following year, Smith sold the company to private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg for $500 million.

Despite that success, Smith advised resisting the common urge to quickly roll out new offerings. “Everybody has it, because you’re afraid you’re going to miss something,” he said. “I hate to say ‘slow down’–but you need to step back and take a look” at the market.

Smith was joined on stage by Chris Anderson, founder of pool furniture maker Ledge Lounger, whom he will be advising as part of the Inc. Founders Project, which pairs early-stage entrepreneurs with established mentors. Since founding his startup in 2009, Anderson has expanded from underwater chairs to products like deck furniture and cabanas.

“You have to be very careful at this juncture,” Smith told him. “It’s easy to overdo it.”

Smith admitted Big Ass Solutions looked at some markets way outside of its natural sphere, ranging from robotics to yogurt. The company never strayed that far, but it did release several products that failed to catch on with consumers.

A good way to avoid that problem, Smith said, is to do your homework. While proper market research could take several weeks and thousands of dollars, that’s less costly than creating something that bombs. “It could take you a year to develop a product,” he said. “We developed products that didn’t go anywhere, because it turned out people just didn’t understand them.”

And if you need help coming up with ideas in the first place, remember you have a valuable resource available: your own customers. It’s wise to talk to them about what kinds of products they crave.

“Not because you need to make everything they want,” Smith said, “but to get into their brains.

This article was first published at Inc