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Grow a Powerful Business Network With This 5-Step Strategy

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A comprehensive business plan considers numerous factors, including analyses of your products/services, markets, competitors, sales strategies, financials and much more. Its purpose can vary. For example, you might create a business plan to seek funding from a lender or from venture capitalists. Or, you might simply create a plan for yourself as a roadmap for your business. After all, if you want to arrive at a particular destination, it’s usually best to chart a course first and plan how you are going to get there.

A business growth plan, however, is going to be laser-focused on how to capture market share, i.e., get more of your ideal clients (or customers) in the door as quickly and consistently as possible, and serve them in the most efficient, profitable and satisfactory way. Its purpose is to help you grow your business, increase revenue, and, ultimately, increase profitability for the shareholders of the business.

The cornerstone of any small businesses’ business growth plan is its network. Essentially, the more people who are aware of the business and the services the business provides, the better the odds of capturing more market share (getting more clients). Whether the business is just you right now, or you and a few other people, it is still about meeting the right people at the right time to help you grow the business. Those people can be your best referrers, ideal clients, reliable vendors, collaboration partners, or mentors, coaches and advisors. In the end, it’s a numbers game.

That said, not everyone you meet will be helpful to you in your efforts to grow your business. The issue is: you can’t know who will and who won’t be a key person in your life and the life of your business until you meet them. If that’s the case, how then can you possibly create an effective “networking” strategy?

Quite simply, we start by getting clear on exactly whom we serve, how we serve them in a way that is unique, where exactly they (and people who refer people like them) hang out (online and offline), and what we want to say to them when we get in front of them to further the relationship (create intrigue). Lastly, we create a system for following up in a way that adds value and deepens the relationship.

So, let’s break each element down and go a bit deeper:

  1. Whom we serve. Make a list of the types of people you would like to meet. This could include reliable vendors, collaboration partners, mentors, best referrers, as well as (of course) ideal clients. Once you have your lists, create really detailed demographic and psychographic profiles of each. (Pro Tip: Imagine your phone rings today and it is the one person you would be so thrilled to hear from that it would make your whole month, or even year, that when you hung up the phone you would be doing your happy dance. That’s who we are talking about here. Now, describe that person: How old are they? Gender? Married? Children? Profession? Education level? Title? Position? Community involvement? Hobbies? Board service? How do they make their buying decisions? Who influences them? Think of all the information we need to know to know where they hang out. We want to be able to know what they are thinking before they know it.)
  2. How we serve them in a unique way. This is where we get crystal clear on how we serve our ideal clients. The clearer we are on how, exactly we serve our clients, the better able we will be able to communicate it to others once we are in front of them. The key, here, is to consider what sets us apart from competitors who provide a similar service. What is our unique sales proposition (USP)? How do we provide our service in a unique way? How do we solve their “wake up at 3:00 a.m. problem?” Be ready to answer this question with total ease. But only when asked.
  3. Where they hang out. Now that we know who our ideal clients (and others we want to meet) are, and we are crystal clear on how to communicate our USP, we are ready to find out and go where they hang out. This is networking. Networking can occur online or offline. It can occur at traditional business networking events like Chamber meetings, Bar association luncheons, and tradeshows and conferences. But business networking also can occur on soccer field sidelines at your children’s soccer games, or girls’ nights out, neighborhood gatherings, or in local coffeehouses. It also can occur in Facebook groups, through private Messenger chats, and on Zoom video calls, just to name a few virtual options. So many people get it in their heads that “networking” means putting on a suit and going to a formal “networking” event. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in today’s hectic world, more and more people are appreciating virtual networking options. For example, LinkedIn allows us to very specifically target our ideal clients or best referrers and initiate a relationship with them. (Pro Tip: The biggest mistake people make in attempting to networking on LinkedIn is moving too fast. They want to jump straight from “Hello” to marriage with complete strangers. If you wouldn’t act that way with someone in person, don’t act that way with them in the virtual world. It’s that simple, really.) Make a list of all the places the people you’d like to meet are likely to hang out—whether that’s online or offline. This could include:
    1. Professional organizations they belong to (Maybe you could join, too. Perhaps you could be a presenter.)
    1. Books they read (maybe you could write one)
    1. Magazines they read (ad opportunities and article opportunities for you)
    1. Videos they watch (If they are likely to watch a lot of video content, you need to be on Facebook Live and creating your own YouTube channel)
    1. Social media in which they are likely to engage (Instagram? Facebook? LinkedIn? Different demographics will show up in difference places and at different times. You’ll want to be where they are when they are with content they are most likely to engage.)
    1. Tradeshows, conferences, events (You’ll want to be there, too. Possibly as a vendor or sponsor. Maybe as a speaker.)
    1. Places of employment (Could you be a guest speaker or presenter?)
    1. Community organizations (Could you be a speaker or presenter? Could you join?
    1. Social clubs
    1. Church or religious organizations
    1. Children’s school activities, organizations
  4. What to say to create intrigue. Networking is about building relationships, not making sales. It’s a bit like dating. The purpose is to create intrigue, to get people interested in getting to know more about you and your business. It’s not about being obnoxious and hitting them over the head with your service offerings until they want to run screaming in the other direction when they see you coming. One of the best ways to create intrigue is the focus on the other person by asking them questions about themselves and their business. Ask. Ask. Ask. And then listen. Listen. Listen. In the beginning, it’s best to shower them with attention and leave them realizing that they know very little about you. Why? Because now they’ll be curious to know more.
  5. Create a follow-up system that adds value, deepens relationship. The magic is in the follow-up. Alas, follow-up often fails unless there is a system in place to ensure that it gets done, especially when you are on a mission to meet as many people as possible to increase your odds of meeting the right people. Good tools, like a CRM (client relationship management system), thank you notes, virtual coffees, virtual calendaring systems and the like, can help. However, the first step in creating any system is to sit down and map out exactly what you want your follow-up process to accomplish, and the steps to get you there. Do the same thing, the same way, each and every time, with each person, and your system will serve you well, and likely yield the best (and measurable) results.

    Following up is about deepening the relationship with certain people. There are some people you meet you might never care to see again (again, it’s just like dating in that way). However, there are some people you meet that you’ll want to get to know better because you think you might be able to have a good business relationship of some kind—either as vendor partners or collaborators, as servicer/client, or as referral partners, or as mentor/mentee. After the initial meeting, you’ll want to reach out to these people shortly after and suggest a follow-up conversation. How you go about this depends on 1) how you met them, 2) their status in relation to yours, 3) geographic location, 4) time constraints, 5) each of your goals and objectives, and 6) other considerations.

Not everyone you meet will want to engage in a business relationship with you, and you likely will feel the same way. In fact, over time, only a small percentage of people will have a major impact on your business. If we apply the Pareto principle, only 20 percent of the people we meet will be directly responsible for 80 percent of our firm’s growth. However, you increase your odds of success when you take a strategic approach to growing your business network.

Networking as a Scientist: 5 Tips for Success

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Let me tell you a story.  Last Friday, I escaped my daily routine and hopped a plane to Vail, Colorado.  By 1:45 pm I was on the gondola heading up to the top of the mountain.  Seated next to me was a fellow skier, helmet and goggles on, on a similar mission to reach the top of the mountain.  The gondola ride is about eight minutes long, so we start chatting about the scenery, the snow conditions, and as the minutes pass, about our lives.  He says he is a doctor in a hospital in Africa. We talk about science and the state of the world in general, and in passing he mentions his predominant work is surgery to help rape victims, and well, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for that. Guess what, my seat mate is Doctor Denis Mukwege, a person who has changed the lives of thousands of women in Africa by helping them heal.  How cool is that?

Would you consider that networking?

I do, and let me tell you why:  networking is the act of making meaningful connections with other people.  My 8 minute interaction with Dr. Mukwege gave me insight into his passion for his work and his personality.  Reading all of the articles about him when he won the Nobel Prize in 2018, I never knew we shared a love of Vail, Colorado. Will I ever see him again? I don’t know, but if I get an opportunity to support his work, I will be more likely to do so because I made a connection with him.

Networking as a scientist can be a lot like my gondola ride.  If you are at a conference, the likelihood is that you have something in common with the person sitting next to you.  Start the conversation about the presentation you both listened to, and if the conversation flows freely, you will naturally begin discussing who you are and what you do.  You make a connection that can be a foundation for a bigger relationship. 

Networking does not have to rely on happenstance though.  Here are some tips to make your networking efforts pay off:

  1. Do your homework. Scientists are good at research.  If you are attending a meeting or conference on a specific subject, be prepared to discuss it.  Also research the people on the attendee list. Identify who you would like to meet. Do you have anything in common with them– same alma mater, research field, or people you have both worked with?  Look up their professional profiles online so you know what they look like and what they do.
  2. When you get to the event, smile and relax. Focus on the information people are giving you.  People love to talk about themselves and their work.  Ask people what interests them about the meeting, or ask if their work relates to the presentation.  Later, once you have established a rapport, you can share your name.  Try to get a business card or share vcards if you enjoy your conversation.
  3. Follow up.  When you return to your office, send an email or note related to your discussion or invite your contact to take part in some activity that is a common interest.  The idea is to build a relationship with another person.
  4. Look for opportunities to network while doing things you are passionate about.  For example, if you are a runner, attend running events your university or company sponsors; join groups to pursue common interests, like birding, hiking, diving, camping or book clubs; if you are a parent, get to know the other parents at your child’s activities.
  5. Practice.  If you are introverted or socially awkward, it can be hard to talk to strangers.  Start with events and places where you feel comfortable or which are designed to help people improve networking skills.  For example, here is a list of networking opportunities you might want to check out in Tampa Bay this month:
  • Marine Scientist Happy Hour – March 21 at Trophy Fish 5pm to 7pm, located at 2060 Central Ave St Pete 33712.
  • Salty Topics: Florida SeaGrant Spring Speaker Series at Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center 1800 Weedon Dr NE St. Petersburg, Florida 33702.  April Event: http://bit.ly/2H9h7gM
  • RTIC Networking lunch and learn – Keep an eye on our events calendar for upcoming events http://bit.ly/2UuVTgk
  • Mote Marine Laboratory Special Lecture Series: Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s WAVE Center, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL, 34236. Mondays at 6:30 PM

March 11 – Dr. Rob Nowicki, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Mote: “Building a better mousetrap: Hijacking shark biology and behavior to reduce bycatch in Caribbean lobster traps” 

March 18 – Dr. Rich Pierce, Program Manager for Mote’s Ecotoxicology Program: “Red tide: What is it and what can we do about it?” 

March 25 – Gretchen Lovewell, Program Manager for Mote’s Stranding Investigation Program: “Red tide’s toll on marine animals: Stories from Mote’s Stranding Investigation Program

Get a write-up in the paper

Why Earned Media Still Matters and 5 Steps to Create a Winning Pitch

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Some may lead you to believe that a prolific social media campaign can compensate for a lack of attention from traditional outlets. 

And it’s true that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have changed the landscape of how startups and small businesses can extend their reach. Now companies routinely focus on how to build branding through marketing campaigns that weave together such social outlets. 

It’s a mistake, however, to eschew newspapers and television for the newer forms of communications. The smartest companies may craft social media approaches that generate business, but earned media lends an intangible that no Facebook post can deliver: authenticity. 

When your business earns media coverage, it earns credibility. A measurable value comes when you can promote your company with one of these phrases: 

  • As seen on … 
  • As reported by …  
  • As heard on … 

Complete any of these sentences with the name of a prominent newspaper or TV station, and you have an endorsement that money can’t buy. It’s not just a message that reaches the general public, it’s a calling card you can put in portfolios, post on Facebook and Twitter, and link to from your website. An article or news report can catch the attention of potential investors. It sends a signal you’ll explore every avenue in promoting your business and enhancing that investor’s return. It can capsulize your business mission, sometimes better than you can. 

And it’s objective.  

But there’s a reason it’s called earned media. You do indeed have to win over a reporter, editor or producer to give your company a place in the media spotlight. Given the potential windfall that a positive report can yield, you’re wise to make the effort by making the pitch. 

The tried and trusted media release remains viable in the world of journalism, but they must be sprinkled with the proper amount of pixie dust to really fly. Here are five steps you can take to help garner coverage and make the magic work for you.

Step 1: Understand the Mission 

Journalists are busy. Their newsroom staffs have shrunk, while the demands on their time have grown because of the need to expand their efforts to the digital world. So, to efficiently make the connection, you must meet them where they are and speak to their needs. 

That doesn’t require enrolling in a collegiate course on journalism. But it may require letting go of some half-truths like newspapers are going out of business and TV newscasts are comprised only of sensational stories and crime reports. Each outlet continues to have a place for stories on startups and successful businesses. 

It is true that technology has changed the landscape. The business model for newspapers, once stable, now sputters because the money generated by print revenue must be invested in a digital presence that doesn’t offer a high return. The profit margins for local TV stations have narrowed in the new 500-channel universe, especially with people cutting cable cords and turning to downstream services. 

However, the content generated by these media outlets remains valuable. It actually serves as a large part of the foundation for Google and Facebook. They realize massive profits from their digital advertising in part because newspapers and television produce the content that participants post and ultimately drive traffic on social media. Of course, pictures of what someone had for dinner and photos of pets also drive traffic, but informative stories are critical. 

In fact, the information provided by journalists always has held an integral place in our society. We’ve valued storytelling, history, messaging and accuracy since the dawn of time. What’s changed, because of digital advances and social media, is how the story is told, how the history is recorded, how the messages are delivered. If you understand that, you can ignite a conversation with a journalist, but that’s just the first step. 

Step 2: Be A Media Consumer 

If you want to be featured on a television newscast, watch the newscasts to gain an understanding of how that station defines news. If you want to be profiled in a newspaper, read the paper to learn how it categorizes business news. 

Too often, companies and trained public relations professionals make a pitch to an editor or producer that reveals they have no familiarity with the outlet. This is unwise, to say the least. But it happens more than you might think. Some PR practitioners readily admit, “I never read the paper,” or “I never watch a newscast.” Really?  

Journalists have egos. They want to be love. You can’t win them over with an introduction that starts with, “What exactly do you write about?”  

Even if you aren’t a regular media consumer, given the access you have to media outlets through web sites, apps and social media, there’s no excuse not to familiarize yourself with the TV station or newspaper and accordingly frame your pitch. 

The research will not only help you gain a foothold, but it’ll help you target the correct reporter or editor. With newsrooms experiencing tremendous turnover, it won’t help to rely on distribution lists. Blind darts may be a fun pastime inside an Irish pub after a few pints of Harp, but it’s no way to go about earning media attention. 

Step 3: Envision your coverage 

Understanding the mission and familiarizing yourself with the outlet also will help you envision your coverage. The question is not do you want to be featured in the paper or on the newscast, it’s how do you want to be featured? Do you want to be profiled as an up and coming business leader, or do you want the innovation your company offers to be highlighted?  

Do you hope to have the media attend a grand opening or ribbon cutting, or do you want them to advance the event so people will attend? The more you know about the daily operations of a media outlet, the better you can plan the kind of coverage you want, the happier you will be with the result. 

Step 4: Make the pitch  

Once you’ve learned more about journalism’s modern-day mission, increased your media consumption and envisioned your coverage, you’re ready to make the pitch. Most media outlets prefer pitches to be made through emails. It’s difficult to catch a producer, reporter or editor on the telephone. 

However, here’s a note about emails: More than 100-billion business emails are sent every day. On average, an editor or reporter will receive between 75 and 100 emails during business hours. So, when you email your pitch keep this in mind: The primary objective of a news release is to influence coverage, but your first goal is to make sure it gets read. Consider these three steps: 

  • Send a direct email. Again, email blasts prove impersonal, and making the pitch personal will heighten the chances of it being read. 
  • Utilize the subject field. If you put the person’s name in the field, it distinguishes the mail from other emails. If it’s about an upcoming event, put the event name and date in the subject field. Almost anything is better than “MEDIA RELEASE.” 
  • Follow up with a second email. If you haven’t received a response, you can forward the same email or take the time to send a second email with “RESENDING” in the subject field. Be considerate and respectful, try not to pester, but understand that emails can get lost. 

As for the content, be succinct but include the needed information. A headline or phrase that reflects your business can help: “Widgetry: The Uber of Widgets.” Start with the trusted 5 Ws and H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Don’t worry if you struggle with the Why and How. After that, highlight surveys or trends that reflect positively on your pitch. Are there internet metrics that reflect a rise in popularity? Also, is there statistical data that backs your product’s or company’s potential success? 

You also want to make sure you include contact information and be prepared to be contacted. Your web site and/or Facebook page needs to be up to date. If you promise to do an interview, be prepared to deliver on that promise with flexible times and accommodating locations. Sometimes, the difference between gaining coverage and not gaining coverage can be as simple as availing yourself when it’s convenient for the journalist. You might be surprised to learn those willing to rise for early morning newscasts often find themselves gaining valuable airtime. 

Step 5: Make the Personal Connection 

 The success of a media pitch and earning prized coverage can hinge on personal connections. The value of networking is as high with journalists as it is in other situations, maybe even higher. If a pitch arrives from an acquaintance or someone the producer or editor met in a professional situation, it invariably will carry more weight than if it’s coming from a stranger. 

It all goes back to the Chinese proverb: “Dig a well before you’re thirsty.” 

  • Meet before the pitch. Invite the reporter to coffee or a tour of your cowork space. Share some casual information. It’ll be challenging to establish a face to face connection, but it doesn’t hurt to try. 
  • Send emails – again, before your pitch — that reflect consumption. Compliment or comment on an article. Even a valid criticism might help you establish a connection. Some journalists don’t care what you call them, as long as you call them. 
  • Use social networks. Every journalist has a Twitter or Facebook account. You often can establish a connection via social media. 

In the end, these results may or may not yield success. Sometimes, media pitches fail to connect through no fault of the person making the request, and through no fault of the journalist. With shrinking newsrooms, the demands on journalists are greater than ever. But if you succeed, you’ve gained a valuable tool to help launch your business. Earned media often leads to more earned media which ultimately can be a key factor in your success or failure. 

Make the pitch, and you might just end up making magic for your startup or business.  

How to Transform Your Business in Just One 12-Week Year

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If, at the beginning of the year, you got one of those cool new calendars for your desk – maybe one with cute kittens or funny puns or beefy firemen – you may have a problem. 

The months and dates on the calendar are incorrect. They lead you to believe there are 12 months and 52 weeks in a year, and the end of 2019 occurs on Tuesday, Dec. 31. Wrong, wrong, wrong. 

Well, sort of. Sure, the calendars reflect an adherence to the Gregorian calendar most of society has embraced for more than 2,000 years, but according to authors Brian P. Moran and‎ Michael Lennington, the dates also create a mindset that can impair your bid to achieve your business goals.  

In their best-selling book The 12 Week Year, Moran and Lennington challenge business owners to redefine the calendar and create a new endgame when it comes to setting goals and reaching benchmarks. The authors’ invitation to infuse your work ethic seems simple in concept, but dynamic in its results. 

If you’re laying out your business plans, you need to read this book. It may redefine how you approach every aspect of your work. 

From the start, Moran and Lennington lay out their perspective with a challenge to maximize your abilities. To engage and excite readers about their personal potential, they embrace a quote from Thomas Edison on the first page: “If we did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” 

This is not a book for slackers. 

Or maybe it is, if the slacker wants to shed the shackles that have held them back. 

The 12 Week Year asks us to look within and determine if we possess two lives: the one we lead and the one we we’re capable of living. 

“It’s the latter that intrigues me,” writes Moran, an industrial ecologist, lecturer who possesses more than 30 years of experience as a CEO and entrepreneur. “It’s the life that we know exists somewhere deep inside us that we wish could actualize. This life isn’t driven by the you who settles or gives in to procrastination and doubt, but by the optimal you, the best you, the confident you, the healthy you. The you who shows up with your best stuff, making things happen, making a difference, living a life of significance.” 

The motivational words are an important place to start. Moran promises his advice will help business owners produce “staggering results,” but almost as a caution, the book notes that, “creating greatness in your life isn’t complicated. In fact, it’s quite uncomplicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.”  

The book downplays some conventional tenets of business. While it concedes knowledge, new strategies, networking and talent are factors in the world of business, they put the emphasis on execution as the greatest differentiator. The words almost come across as the hardened demands of a taxing fitness instructor or drill camp sergeant. 

“The barrier standing between you and the life you are capable of living is a lack of consistent execution.” 

Of course, sometimes changing a mindset requires that kind of urging. 

And The 12 Week Year is all about operating with a sense of urgency – every day, every week, every month, every moment. 

Yes, it discards what the book calls “annualized thinking.” It’s simple. They say a lot of companies achieve their annual goals by meandering through most of the year and then making a big push in the final quarter. They don’t deny the exhilaration that comes from the rush to meet annual goals in November and December.  

“Year-end is certainly a rousing time in most industries. Activity is up and people are focused. With little time to waste and with clear objectives to meet, workers focus on the critical projects and opportunities. Tasks that are not directly related to driving results are pushed aside for what really matters in the short term.” 

So, the authors ask, what would happen if a business operated with that intensity and focus throughout the year? Surely, the results would improve. 

Thus, you shorten the year into incremental 12-week periods. You bring that year-end rush to each day. Procrastination gives way to action. Achievement becomes more attainable because the finish line isn’t some far-away benchmark that comes after Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

“The great thing about having a 12-week year is that the deadline is always near enough to get things done, yet short enough to create a sense of urgency and a bias for action. It’s human nature that we behave differently when a deadline approaches.” 

See, simple. At least in theory. 

One caveat they explain in later chapters: the 12-week year is not creating “quarterly plans.” That, they say, is part of outdated annualized thinking. With the 12 week plan, every period stands alone as a separate “year.” 

“Every 12 weeks is a new year and a fresh opportunity to be great.” 

But Moran and Lennington don’t just espouse tips. They lay out a structured approach to help implement the theories: 

    • Emotional Connection challenges business leaders to create a long-term vision, a “life vision,” of their future; they desire more than the comfort of short-term accomplishment. 
    • Planning and Goal Setting stresses the advantages of periodization and an incremental approach. Those advantages include predictability and focus. 
    • Weekly Planning explains how the incremental approach can lead to daily action. 
    • Confronting the Truth illuminates the importance of measuring achievement or as the authors say, “keeping score.” 
    • Intentionality stresses the importance of managing your time, a “supply that is completely inelastic – and perishable.” 
    • Accountability challenges the entrepreneur to redefine the word and see it as “ownership,” an empowering outlook that, “… confronts the truth and confronts with freedom of choice and consequence.” 
    • Commitment explains how people need to keep their promises to others and themselves to achieve, create strong relationships and build character. 
  • Greatness in the Moments speak to the importance of committing to being great each day. 

The second half of the book takes all of these tenets and more explains how to implement. It provides charts and work sheets to layout the plans and goals. A subsequent companion piece, The 12 Week Year Workbook allows for greater organization. 

The book and the philosophies espoused by Moran and Lennington, when applied properly, can infuse the success of any business. However, its popularity also may lie in its constant emphasis on using the principles to not only change your business, but to change your life. 

It pushes to make the most of every life, but it never ignores the need to refresh, recharge and make time for pursuits outside of the business. 

If you spend too much of your time staring at the calendar and daydreaming about funny puns and cute kittens, this is a book that can electrify your outlook.

Want to read all about it? Click here to grab your copy. 

Deploy This Strategy to Map Out Your “Best Year Ever” for 2019 

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Every year, we turn to those fancy year-end lists and retrospective reviews of all that happened in the year. 

It’s an irresistible deep-dive into those memories you cherish and some you may have forgotten. Did you marvel over the wedding of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle? Did you wonder if North Korea’s vow to denuclearize was real? Did you root for the brave rescuers to free the 12 boys trapped in the Thailand cave? Who didn’t? 

From Bitcoin’s fall from grace to the instability of the stock market to the midterm elections and the controversy over illegal immigration, the year filled with notable news and memorable moments. 

And when you turn to pop culture, it’s a reflective look that leads to a responsive debate. Wait, Vanity Fair called NBC’s The Good Life the top show on television? While we’re at it, how come Paddington 2 keeps popping up on best-of lists? And why didn’t Ella Mai’s Boo’d Up make Billboard’s year-end top 10? 

But after you read all the articles and watch all the shows that capture the good and bad of 2018, or maybe before you do that, you need to produce a show about your own 2018. Don’t leave it up to Facebook to put together one of those animated collections of top photos. 

If you really want to develop a clear image of your 2018 business venture and create a strategic vision for 2019, you’ll have to do it yourself. Yes, every business consultant stresses planning, but if you do it correctly, it can be fun. 

Here are five steps you can take to help you land on one of those “Best of” lists in December 2019. (Okay, maybe not, but at least your own, personal, “Best Year Ever” list.

 

Review Your History 

Remove the rear-view and side-view mirrors from your car, and then try to drive somewhere. You may arrive at your destination, but if the journey is of a considerable distance, you’ll find it difficult to make the trek. 

The point is you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re coming from. How can you build a plan without a review of what you achieved in 2018? 

Professional development specialist Ellen Huxtable says look closely at the successes you enjoyed: “(Look at) the clients you especially pleased, the marketing channels and messages that worked, the processes which were efficient and effective, and anything else which was a winner, and which propelled your business forward.” 

This is a process that needs to be empirical, not emotional. 

Of course, just as those big-event lists contain highs and lows, so too may your business year. The question is what are you going to do about the bumps in the road that made your path more difficult? 

Everyone makes errors. Don’t ignore them, but don’t obsess over them. 

“Take the lessons you learned last year and apply them to the next,” said Louis Mosca, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of American Management Services. “Don’t dwell on your mistakes. It’s how you perform versus your plan, not versus last year.” 

 

Check Out the Trends 

Once you’ve figured out where you’ve been, turn your focus to where you want to go. 

There’s probably some market data and research that prompted you to launch your business. As you focus on 2019, it’s important to revisit the data, trends and inclinations that first inspired you to become a startup entrepreneur. What’s changed? What’s expected in the New Year? 

Crafting a plan and preparing for another year means embracing a life-long learning approach. Continuing education matters, from sales to technology to the rising importance of remote working and cowork spaces, it’s critical to read, watch and learn. Here’s one article from Business News Daily forecasting 20 business trends and predictions for 2019: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7605-business-trend-predictions.html. 

It’s equally important to continue developing specific expertise about your business. Consult with those who operate in your industry. What were their highs and lows? 

You also can benefit from developing relationships with mentors and those with more expertise. Let them help shape your plans for the future. Also involved key stakeholders, even assistants. 

As Mosca notes, if key people “aid in the development of your plan, they’ll be more invested in the plan.” 

If you don’t have someone who serves as a font of advice and information, identify two or three people and work to develop a relationship with them in 2019. 

  

Set The Business GPS 

To plot a course for continued success in 2019, you have to program your destination. Where do you want to take your business in the new year and what is it going to take to traverse the pitfalls and obstacles to get there. 

Setting the GPS must involve both the short- and long-term goals you want to reach. Maybe you need to address some pressing issues that created detours in 2018. Or, perhaps you need to make a U-Turn and steer your business in a completely different direction. Most business consultants will tell you goals need to be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely). 

Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software, advised dividing the goals into three distinct categories:  

  1. The Obvious: sales, costs, expenses, savings. 
  2. The Business Specific: repeat customers, renewals, leads. 
  3. The Milestones: Opening a new location, refreshing the website, reaching a specific number of customers. 

Berry added that it’s important not to over-complicate your plan. 

“Start with a simple plan that just covers your main goals or what you focus on first,” Berry wrote. “Don’t sweat making it perfect. Just get it started.”  

 

Create ETAs    

This is all about prioritizing. Some goals can be achieved in a relatively short time, others take longer. Targeting an estimated time of arrival for each goal heightens the possibility you’ll show up on time. 

Deadlines also will help you determine what goals can be achieved first and what goals need to be set aside for the future. It’ll also help you determine if you’re trying to move in too many different directions. Your business can’t be all things to all other people, especially if it’s still in upstart stage. 

Huxtable says it’s a matter of being realistic. 

“One or two specific tasks with deadlines you meet are far more effective than ten great ideas which you never implement,” Huxtable said. 

 

Be Flexible 

On the road to a successful 2019, you might hit a pothole. Or you could get a flat. Chances are something will go awry. Boxer Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” 

A solid plan for 2019, however, will allow you to get off the canvas and keep fighting. If (or when) something goes wrong, don’t look at the plan as a list of failures, see it as a motivational roadmap. Pat yourself on the back for realizing it’s better to dig a well before you are thirsty.  

Most of all, be flexible. Maybe the plan will need an adjustment. Maybe the deadlines can be set back. But the most important thing is to keep going.

“There is no such thing as a perfect business plan, and the closest anybody comes is a plan that helps you manage by laying out goals, tracking results, and highlighting the progress and problems along the way,” Berry says. 

If you’re not in the right environment to build a success plan for 2019, if you’re uncertain about the support you have for your business, consider joining the Rising Tide Innovation Center. We’re all about maintaining a community that can help you create the right course in 2019.

As Drake would say, perhaps it’s God’s Plan.  

And in case you’re wondering, yes, that was the No. 1 song for 2018.

 

No. 1 Tax Tip for 2018: Hire a Professional to Help You With Your Biz

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Go Your Own Way may have been a hit for Fleetwood Mac, but it’s not good advice for small businesses and startups when it comes to dealing with taxes.

Theresa Turner, a certified public accountant who operates Tax Happens LLC in Tampa Bay, describes getting the help of an accountant or attorney as a priceless investment. Consider the expense of hiring a CPA versus the cost of fines if you make incorrect deductions or claim a business expense and the Internal Revenue Service comes back three years later and assesses fines and penalties.

“The cost of a consultation with a qualitative licensed professional is minimal in comparison,” Turner says. ”

“You simply don’t know what you don’t know,” Turner added. “At a minimal, have a consultation with a CPA and or attorney to assure you are in compliance and to know when you will need their services.”

The need to get professional help only heightened in 2018 with companies now operating under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the new tax plan ushered in by President Donald Trump.

According to Fundera communications manager Shira Almeleh, the new tax code sets into motion new deductions and credits that will affect each small business’s tax liability differently. And what’s most important is that those changes have already kicked in.

Turner says expect the new tax laws to have a mixed impact.

“Some taxpayers are better off, and some are worse off,” Turner says. “It depends on where you live and if you have business expenses.

“My client base here in central Florida most negativity impacted are W2 employees with out of pocket expenses their employer doesn’t reimburse them for.  These are mainly sales people who incur travel and other expenses to make the sale. They can no longer deduct these expenses as a miscellaneous business expense.”

Here are six areas that need your immediate attention as tax season approaches.

Always Keep Separate Books and Records  

Inaccurate record keeping can lead to inaccurate tax returns and that can lead to fines and penalties. It’s that simple.

The IRS lists the expenses you should track on its site: https://tinyurl.com/hxdntxy. These include gross receipts, purchases, expenses, travel/transportation, assets and employment taxes.

StartUp Magazine suggests using online tracking software or — stop us if you’ve heard this before — or hire a tax attorney or professional.

Turner says the most efficient way to track expenses is to run the business through a separate bank account or credit card.

“Keep all receipts,” Turner says. “You will need them if audited.”

 

Track Those Miles

Business miles are deductible. There are countless phone apps that can do that for you. Remember, Turner says, business miles are not just to and from clients or customers.

“Miles to meet with your CPA, insurance agent or attorney regarding business are business miles,” Turner says.

 

Know the Definition of a Business Expense

Business expense must be “Ordinary, Necessary & Reasonable” or the IRS will not allow the expense. Turner says it’s important to understand the type of business you operate. That’ll help define the expense.

“What qualities for one business may not qualify for another,” Turner says.

 

Start Up Costs are Deductible

Make sure you track money spent before you started your business. This is particularly important in regard to large equipment purchases. The change in the tax law offers an increased benefit if you buy heavy equipment, a vehicle for work.

According to Jean Murray’s blog on The Balance Small Business site, “These accelerated depreciation deduction limits have been increased as an incentive for businesses to buy.”

 

Don’t Make It Personal

Personal expenses are not deductible. That suit you picked up from the dry cleaner closed the sale but unless it is a “uniform” that someone wouldn’t wear outside of work it is not a business expense.

“Yes, some of us wear makeup and get our nails done for business purposes, but it’s still not deductible,” Turner says. “However, clowns can deduct the cost of their makeup and clothing.”

 

Dinner and A Show?

Meals with a business purpose or related to a business event are now 50 percent deductible. Eventually, you won’t be able to deduct them at all. And, as of 2018 entertainment is no longer deductible.

“Enjoy taking your clients to that hockey game but you cannot deduct that business expense,” Turner says.

Some experts say the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act won’t be fully understood for at least a couple of years. It’s critical that businesses pay close attention to not only the tax codes but how the U.S. Treasury Department frames and rules on the legislation passed by Congress.

Handling your taxes independently through an app or web site might have made sense when you worked for another company, but now, it’s not personal, it’s business. Get some professional help, and remember, Go Your Own Way was about a breakup, not about being a solo entrepreneur.

 

5 Tips to Get More Out of Holiday Events than Cookies and Cheer   

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If you believe holiday events and parties represent a time to indulge, imbibe and ignore business opportunities, you’re totally missing why entrepreneurs and start-up owners consider this the most wonderful time of the year.

  

Sprinkled sugar cookies in December may have you baking up new business in January. Ugly sweaters can have you dressed for success after the new year. With the right approach, you can turn holiday events into business happenings.

  

Here are five actions you can take to get more out of your next holiday event. 

  

Have A Holly, Jolly Good Time 

It’s imperative you show up with the right attitude for holiday parties. If you arrive with thoughts of, “I should be shopping” or “I hope my mother-in-law doesn’t come early,” it will dent your efforts to not only network, but to have a good time. Wrote Uber Brands founder Jonathan Long in a blog for Entrepreneur, “It’ll be obvious to everyone around you that you don’t want to be there.”

 

Of course, putting on a happy face can prove challenging during the holidays, especially if you haven’t had a good business year. The experts, however, say a lack of success makes it even more important to be present and start building towards the next year.

 

“You gotta show up like you belong,” career coach Kathleen Brady told Inc. 

  

Wrap Yourself Up 

We don’t mean put on a jacket before you go outside.  We’re talking about playing to party themes and meeting expectations. If it’s an Ugly Sweater Party, wear an ugly sweater. That sounds so obvious, but every year you can find Scrooges at a holiday event who refuse to play along or underdress for more formal seasonal gatherings. Make the right fashion choices, and since it’s that time of the year, consider accentuating outfits with something special. The kids will say you’re being “extra,” but a Christmas tie or themed piece of jewelry can work to your benefit.

 

Sherry Alcorn, an author and entrepreneur, takes it a step further, suggesting in an Entrepreneur article that people don Santa hats.

 

The beauty of a Santa hat is that it tells the world that you’re approachable,” Alcorn said. “You’ll attract conversations by wearing it. Be bold, funny and cheerful by wearing your Santa hat and you’ll never know where a conversation will lead you. 

  

The Best Present Is Presence 

Networking always requires striking a balance between quickly sharing your aspirations while learning about the hopes of the people you engage. You need an introductory statement, an elevator speech, to initiate conversation. Make sure it contains those positive affirmations and avoids the negative buzz words.

 

 You’re not trying to start a new business, you’re not trying to develop a new app, you’re doing it. Full stop. Avoid a tone of desperation or uncertainty. Exude confidence and let the offers of help come to you. Be clear about your goals, but also be clear about where you want to improve. 

 

 The key is striking the balance between confidence and cockiness. The former should be authentic but positive and leads to gifts under the tree. The latter is defined by humble brags, fake boasts and will result in only a lump of coal. 

  

All You Want for The Holidays Is Dialogue 

Of course, after you serve up your hopes and goals on a silver platter, you want to pivot and invite the person on the other end of the discussion to deliver their own treats. 

 

Job search expert Alison Doyle says, “Your contacts can provide valuable information if you aren’t too busy doing all the talking.” 

 

Business consultant Molly St. Louis suggests taking it a step further and becoming a connector, learning of someone’s passions and then helping them connect with another person at the party who can potentially help them fulfill those passions. 

 

“People appreciate it when you do the networking for them,” St.Louis wrote in an Inc. article. “They come to know you as someone who is connected, and gets things done.” 

  

We Three Kings Travel Together 

The experts vary on if you should arrive at an event with partners or follow that North Start alone. St. Louis says bring a “wingman” because two people can cover more ground. Alcorn, however, says going it alone will keep you from congregating in the corner with your pal. Clearly, you want to make new connections. 

 

Perhaps, it’s best to bring a friend or two, but make a promise to each other to spread out and work the room. One of your three kings can arrive with frankincense at a moment when the conversation lags and help you ease out of the discussion. They also can find someone whose business interests may align with your goals. If you’re talking to a friend, others may be more inclined to approach you. 

 

But make sure you don’t sequester yourself in the corner and strike up a conversation only the two of you can enjoy. You can’t deliver the gold or receive.  

  

Make A List, Check It Twice 

So how do you avoid getting caught up in the revelry and failing to make the event pay off for your business? Enter the festivities with some specific benchmarks. 

 

Of course, be reasonable. You may come off as overbearing if you try to seal a new deal with someone downing eggnog. St. Louis cautions to never ask for money. Restraint will come if you look to plant seeds for a future harvest. 

 

“You’re trying to create on-ramps to build relationships,” Brady said. 

 

Targeting a specific number may seem to take the joy out of your holiday spirit, but it fuels the focus needed to walk away with more than just a sugar high after overdosing on homemade fudge and gingerbread. Long, the Uber Brand founder, says goal setting can help determine how long you stay at the party. 

 

“For example, you might want to establish three connections that can develop into business relationships. Do the same with holiday parties. Go in with a goal and work the crowd until you meet and exceed that initial goal.”

Holiday celebrations

5 Marketing Ideas to Make December a Month to Remember

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It’s more than the season of giving.

When it comes to new business, it’s the season of receiving.

It is not uncommon for service-based entrepreneurs to grow disenchanted with December, assuming no one wants to invest in services during the holidays.

However, savvy business leaders insist you can develop new leads, new conversations and, most important, new customers during the season.

Crankset Group founder Chuck Blakeman told Inc. it’s a mistake to think people are so focused on gift shopping and parties they have no time to conduct business. Blakeman said while holiday obligations fill the nights and weekends for potential customers, the days stand as remarkably quiet.

“I used the holidays to push my business forward significantly while other businesses were focused on opening and throwing away fruitcakes,” Blakeman said. “In fact, between Christmas and New Year’s I had three to four high-quality appointments every day, and in most cases, I was the only business activity those people had on their calendar the whole day.

“They were glad to get out of the house for a cup of coffee and I had their full, rested attention.”

With planning and preparation, you can turn the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day into Happy Holidays. Here are five steps you can take unwrap success before Jan. 1.

 

Leverage Your Email List

You’ve spent all year making connections and building your email list. Now enlist the holiday season to make those connections count. It’s a reflective time of the year and people want to be greeted by genuine sentiment. Reach out and touch someone. Thank them for being a valued supporter, express hope that you’ll strengthen the relationship in the new year.

Then, consider one of those added bells to turn the friendly email into a business generator.

Utilize the Subject Field with a special holiday greeting.

  • Extend an email invitation to meet for coffee or hot chocolate. As Blakeman said, they’re not as busy as they think.
  • Craft a series of promotional emails with a special discount to boost business. Count down to the special day and tie inspirational messages to the promotions. Marry the holiday spirit with special offers.
  • Offer solutions like, “How to handle the holiday rush?” or “Great gifts for great prices.” Even if they aren’t related to your business, people will remember you helped them ease the strain of the holiday season when it comes time to do business.
  • Aim your messages towards connecting in the new year. Be specific in setting a date in time, if possible.

 

Holiday-Themed Promotions

The holiday sale comes across as remarkably unoriginal but change your mindset. There are ways you can frame your business solutions to make a connection. Consider these:

  • It may sound trite, but the “12 Days of Christmas” approach can actually work. It fits into the theme of the season and can boost business. Wrote AppInstituteblogger Chris Meier: “A ’12 Days of Christmas’ campaign might seem cliched, but aside from being thematically fitting, it lends itself very well to time-limited offers, and the ability to create a sense of urgency. Alternatively, style it like an advent calendar.”
  • Another approach can opt for building brand over building business. Some companies use the holiday season to generate donations for a specific cause or nonprofit. You can promise a certain percentage of your service fee to an organization looking to service the needy.

 

Have An Event

Sure, people already have a lot of holiday parties on their list, but if you wrap your event in the right theme, it can be a fun time for customers and prospects and a business generator. Certainly, it requires a deft touch, and you need to get a return on your investment instead of just feting people for the fun of it.

Here are a few considerations:

  • Partner with a related company to minimize costs. Consider teaming with other coworkpartners who are not competitors but compliment what you offer.
  • Keep the length short. Sure, partying from “7 p.m. until the cows come home,” worked in college, but a more measured approach is required here. A simple happy hour or reception from 5-7 p.m. will do the trick.
  • Create a good mix. An accountant shouldn’t invite only accountants. Look to bring together people from different businesses who might benefit from connecting. If possible, including a media member or two who might be receptive to a pitch (see below).
  • Give away raffle prizes that include discounts on your services. Of course, mix in a prize to draw folks in, but also include lures for your business. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be a grand give-away. People are as enamored with the since of winning something as the actual value.

 

Make Greeting Cards Meaningful

A lot of folks send greeting cards with all the zeal of taking out the trash, and consequently, that’s where they end up. If you’re going to send them — and it’s a questionable practice given the environmental impact — make them count. Here’s how:

  • Be thoughtful. A hand-written message will carry more weight than a scribbled signature. Personalize it with words that reflect appreciation, even if it’s a potential customer and not a regular customer. If it’s a customer you lost contact with, use the holiday card to re-establish the relationship.
  • Create a better photo bomb. A picture related to your business or services, themed for the holidays, will be more effective than a cliched Hallmark artwork. Remember, people are receiving a lot of greeting cards. Distinguish your piece. Have fun. Maybe feature you and your pet or you and your family. Even consider being goofy.
  • Include a small gift card. A slight discount can, again, distinguish your card from others, and they serve as a reminder to think of you in the coming year.
  • Tie your greeting card to a nonprofit effort. Like the aforementioned ideaabout a promotion tied to a nonprofit, it also can work with a card. ValPak, a St. Petersburg-based direct mail and digital marketing company, once sent out holiday greeting cards made out of a special biodegradable paper and embedded seeds that you could plant in your backyard and nurture. The fact a company that deals often in paper products delivered a card that reflected a care for the environment did wonders for its brand, even if few actually planted the card.
  • Forgo the Christmas card. How about a New Year’s greeting? From a business perspective, it makes sense because people will begin to assess where they are and where they want to go in 2019. “Don’t get lost in the Christmas card shuffle,” Blakeman says. “And everyone celebrates New Year’s.”

 

Push for Earned Media

The holidays possess the reputation for being a slow time for business, but it’s dreadfully slow for media outlets. Staffers at newspaper and television stations often take vacation during the holidays, and those who work through December long to find a story that hasn’t been done before. The opportunity to win over a reporter or editor may be the highest during the holidays, but you need to have the right pitch.

  • Be unique. Every reporter out there has grown weary of doing the story about the Christmas tree tent and the mall Santa Claus. If your greeting card features a unique photo, if your holiday event benefits a nonprofit, if your holiday-themed promotion stands out, it’s a potential opportunity to be the subject of a story.
  • Media outlets are undermanned all year and even more so in December. If your promotion or business idea represents a trend, include other businesses engaging with similar practices in your media release. It saves the reporter a step and backs your assertion that this really is a trend.
  • Include empirical data. If your unique holiday offering addresses a rising issue or taps into a burgeoning trend, reflect that with a little research. It may be as simple as surveying your customers and presenting the reporter with a percentage: 68 percent of the respondents surveyed believe the holidays is a good time to generate new business.
  • Make your pitch personal. In the release, which should be emailed, include a couple of asides that indicate you’re a regular reader or viewer of the media outlet’s content. Go beyond the standard compliment and offer details from a specific story or report the person you’re pitching recently produced.

 

At Rising Tide Innovation Center, we can help you parlay the holidays into a happy season of business success. And in case you’re wondering, our ugly sweater party is Dec. 7.

 

Thank you!

Can ‘Thank You’ Notes Change Your Business and Your Life?

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Thank you, take-out restaurants who put two spoons and two forks in the bag, for being nice enough to assume that all this food I ordered is for two people.

— Jimmy Fallon, May 23, 2014

Comedian Jimmy Fallon’s reoccurring routine of writing “thank you” notes on the Tonight Show stands as one of his best trademarks.

Fallon regularly brings attention to the mundane and the trivial by pretending to write notes on fancy stationery to everything from cotton candy to delayed flights to the comic villain Venom.

They lead to big laughs, but entrepreneurs may not realize the comical expressions reflect the importance of weaving gratitude into their daily lives. A focus on what motivational speaker Curtis Zimmerman calls an “attitude of gratitude” can lead to greater personal and professional growth.

From a personal perspective, new age leaders like Deepak Chopra point to research that indicates gratitude, along with love, compassion, empathy, joy, forgiveness, and self-knowledge, is a vital attribute of our wellbeing.

“Gratitude magnifies the spirit and promotes well-being,” wrote authors Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine in their book The Power of Thanks. “In good times and bad, authentic appreciation creates perspective, literally stepping back from the distractions of the moment and affirming something more lasting than passing circumstance.”

How does the existential focus translate to more business success? When people who embrace a positive attitude and transfer it to those they encounter, they attract people who can help build their success. It’s not just about possessing a positive attitude about yourself, it’s about possessing positivity about those you work with and those you encounter.

Zimmerman’s trademark response when someone greets him is, “I’m living the dream.” Chopra says colleagues will be more interested in helping someone who is optimistic, constructive and encouraging.

Tim Askew, founder of the sales firm, Corporate Rain, makes a habit of saying, “thank you” not only to the CEOs and business leaders he deals with, but to their assistants and receptionists.

“Research increasingly shows that thanking folks not only results in reciprocal generosity (where the thanked person is more likely to help the thanker), but stimulate eleemosynary (charitable) behavior in general,” Askew wrote in an Inc. article.

Gratitude also can help managers build more successful teams in the workplace. Vibe communications president Lori Worth said practicing and showing thankfulness helps the manager connect with more people and be more receptive to learning.

“Our business and personal lives collide, like it or not, and one affects the other,” Worth wrote for the Thinking Bigger blog. “The ability to be grateful is key to life balance and happiness, and this transcends into business.”

The question becomes how you go about infusing positivity into your life. Here are four “Be’s” to Being Big on Gratitude, with a little help from Fallon.

 

Thank you “everything bagel” for being the only breakfast food that looks like it was dropped under the couch two weeks ago.

— Jimmy Fallon, July 20, 2018

Be Mindful

You may not want to start the morning with an “everything bagel” from under the couch, but you should consider a moment of reflection that both unclutters the mind of stress and anxiety and refocuses it on positive attributions.

Many consider meditation a key step to generating the positive attitudes that can lead to peace of mind and happiness. ABC News anchor Dan Harris, who once had an on-air panic attack, touts the virtues of meditation in two best-selling books, including 10% Happier.

“I would say the biggest difference for me is not being so owned by my emotions,” Harris told the Washington Post. “I still experience plenty of difficult emotions – most notably for me is anger. But it’s like you have an inner meteorologist who can see the storm before it makes landfall. You’re less likely to be carried away by it. That makes a huge difference.”

A lot of tips exist on how to begin a meaningful meditation routine, and there are a lot of different forms of meditation. Harris said a good way to start involves sitting in a reasonably quiet place and focusing on the feeling of your breath coming in and out.

“Every time you get distracted, you start over again – and again and again,” Harris said. “For many people, the moment they get distracted their ego tells them that they are failed meditators. What you need to know is that the moment you notice you were distracted, that’s a victory. It means you’re doing it correctly.”

Another misconception is that meditations requires an inordinate amount of time. Yet Harris and other experts believe 5-10 minutes a day can make a difference in your life.

Chopra recommends starting with what he calls “The Four Soul Questions:”

  1. Who Am I?
  2. What Do I Want?
  3. What Am I Grateful For?
  4. What Is My Dharma or Purpose in Life?

Along with meditation, visualization can help. The related practice focuses on envisioning your success and how you need to reach out.

Sometimes success can stem from doing something visual. Robert Emmons, a University of California-Davis psychologist and author of, Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, says simply keeping a gratitude journal — regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful — can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.

Two studies cited by HappierHuman state a gratitude journal increases optimism anywhere from 5-15 percent.

The gratitude journal is essentially a version of Fallon’s “thank you” notes, just without the sardonic wit.

 

Thank you clogs for combining all the frumpiness of slippers with all the discomfort of having a cutting board strapped to your foot.

— Jimmy Fallon, Oct. 12, 2018

 

Be Positive

Of course, the positive person learns to appreciate the slipper-like quality of the clogs instead of the sensation of having a cutting board strapped to your foot.

A simpler application involves appreciating the blessings of life.

Zimmerman, who has delivered his motivational musings at Florida State University’s freshman orientation sessions for more than 10 years, says his motto of “Living the Dream” stems not from a desire to be catchy or cute, but a sincere effort to be positive.

“After realizing the amazing opportunities I’ve had in my life, I began saying ‘I’m Living the Dream’ every time someone asked me how I’m doing,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t say this out of blind optimism. I say it because it’s a constant reminder of how blessed I really am.”

Such greetings seldom fail to elicit a smile from the greeter. There’s a positive energy that connects with strangers and coworkers.

According to a HappierHuman.com article, multiple research efforts have revealed that gratitude makes people kinder and friendlier, and that because of that, grateful people have more social capital. This means that grateful people are more likely to receive help from others for no reason other than that they are liked and appreciated.

The research also indicates that gratitude demonstrations lead to less pressure, stress and anxiety. Those who embrace gratitude also feel more supported by their peers and colleagues.

Business coach Michael Jacobs told Entrepreneur that changing his mental attitude led him from several failed startups to a successful app business.

“Being thankful for what you currently have immediately releases any negativity that you might be holding onto,” Jacobs wrote. “Gratitude instantly puts you in touch with the feeling of love. Where love resides, fear and all other negative emotions cannot.”

 

Thank you, unused chip clips in my kitchen for letting me pretend I don’t finish the entire bag of Fritos all at once.

— Jimmy Fallon, Sept. 28, 2018

Be Aware

Meditation and positivity should lead to heighten awareness on a number of fronts. It’s awareness of your God-given gifts, awareness of life’s positives and awareness of how opportunity can arise out of crisis.

Chopra said the answers people seek during meditation may come later in the day, when awareness and appreciation of inherent gifts begin to materialize.

“Pay attention and notice when time seems to stand still, when you feel completely absorbed in what you’re doing as you use your talents to serve yourself and others,” Chopra writes. “Following these steps will expand your ability to follow the trail of your destiny as it unfolds before you moment by moment.”

Gratitude for blessings and gifts will help shape your purpose, and the sense of purpose will allow you to more successfully take on challenges. There’s a spirituality associated with this level of awareness, but it’s practical applications in business cannot be ignored.

Sharing your gifts can boost your purpose and capitalize on the advantage positivity delivers to your entrepreneurial effort.

“If someone is looking for advice, help them out,” Michael Jacobs writes. “Do not hesitate or doubt your value. Even the smallest of gestures or thoughts shared can cause a massive shift in another individual’s perspective.”

 

Thank you, hard taco shells, for surviving the long journey from factory, to supermarket, to my plate and then breaking the moment I put something inside you.

— Jimmy Fallon, March 24, 2014

 

Be Driven

Yes, even after you incorporate mindfulness and meditation, re-enforce your attitude with positive admonitions and grow more aware of your purpose — even after you do all of those things — you may sit down to dinner and have your hard taco shell break the moment you put something inside it.

It happens.

Just as we suggest beginning the day with meditation, you can end it with a fair and upbeat assessment of what you achieved in the last 24 hours.

Start with all you have to be grateful for on that day and every day. It’s particularly good to identify different aspects that merit appreciation. The emphasis on gratitude should shape your actions.

“In my experience, if you have a goal to improve something in your life, starting with gratitude can be extremely effective,” wrote therapist Ryan Englestad for the website Shine. “I have noticed in my own practice that if I acknowledge being grateful for my wife first thing in the morning, I am more likely to make her tea or get a chore done that she then won’t have to do.”

Next, review specific goals and tasks you set out to meet that day, whether it’s meeting a deadline, appreciating your wife or simply extending your gratitude to others. A hand-written or electronic to-do list can help with the assessment.

Idealist.org author and nonprofit expert Allison Jones found herself bored keeping a gratitude journal, so she shifted to setting specific goals and sharing appreciation with others.

“Instead of focusing on the idea of gratitude, I’m much more specific about completing acts that demonstrate gratitude,” Jones wrote on FastCompany.com.

Celebrate the good deeds done and commit to completing the unfinished acts.

Weaknesses are not to be ignored. Everyone possesses areas of improvement. As Zimmerman says, optimism doesn’t have to be blind. But shortcomings shouldn’t dominate your thinking.

“If you focus solely on what you’re not, you’re not going to experience joy or success,” Zimmerman writes in a blog. “Don’t let the world define you by your weaknesses, and don’t define yourself by them either.”

 

Networking in St. Petersberg, Florida

St. Petersburg’s Best Business Networking Opportunities

By | Business 'How-To' | No Comments

Networking over lunchJessica Rivelli can stand in a ballroom filled with 400 women entrepreneurs and business leaders and, seemingly, know them all.

It’s a reflection of how the Working Women of Tampa Bay founder has built her organization into one of the state’s fastest growing women’s business groups. In nine years, Rivelli’s group has risen to include nearly 1,000 members, and she’s expanded with a second chapter in the Orlando area.

Through monthly events, periodic seminars and annual conferences, Rivelli has managed to foster an atmosphere of motivation, education and inspiration.

Yet it’s Rivelli’s natural ability to enter an event teeming with people and emerge with new friendships that serves her so well.

Rivelli knows all too well the importance of networking, and she encourages those to engage with fellow businessmen and businesswomen, even when it can be daunting.

For the shy, the introverted and the increasing number of young people more accustom to communicating via emails, texts and social media, the idea of stepping into an organization’s luncheon or happy hour can be an intimidating challenge.

“If you’re new to the networking world, no need to be nervous,” Rivelli says. “Just remember everyone in the room is there for the same reason you are: to make new connections.

“One tip to make connecting easier is to ask people about the things they are passionate about like family, food and what they do for fun.”

Rivelli identifies approaching every opportunity with a genuine and authentic attitude as an important tenet, and the networker must go beyond what they can gain from the connection.

“Caring about others and creating value for them is the key,” Rivelli said. “Ask them how you can help them. Offer to make a connection for them or send them a referral. When those kinds of relationships are cultivated over the long term, you now have a network of people to draw upon when you have a need.”

But with so many networking options in Tampa Bay, and so little time to invest in events, how does one go about choosing the best opportunities?

Kyle Parks, principle and co-founder of B2 Communications in St. Petersburg, said he aims to go macro and micro. He frequents chamber of commerce events on both sides of the bay to connect with a diverse group of businesses. However, he also targets smaller events that focus on his specific interests.

“We stress to our clients to go narrow and deep with their involvements,” Parks said. “Don’t obsess about how many events you go to in a week. Instead, think about picking groups that match your interests, and also will help your business.

“Get on a committee, get involved,” Parks added. “That will get you a lot further than just going to events and hoping you meet the right people.”

Whether you’re looking for an organization that features broad collections of professionals, or smaller groups that target folks with similar interests, here are six great networking recommendations (in no particular order of preference).

No. 1: Rising Tide Innovation Center

Founded by the attorneys of the Fletcher and Fischer law firm, the cowork space burst onto the scene earlier this year and quickly established itself as a go-to for those looking to connect with a supportive community.

But it also hosts a multiple networking events including a monthly gathering staged by Rivelli.

The center’s other monthly events range from learning events to guest speakers. It also serves as a gathering spot for specific groups. Located in downtown St. Petersburg, the center sits in the heart of the business district and offers a smartly appointed environment in a convenient location.

Says Rivelli: “I admire what the founders of Rising Tide are doing by creating a gathering space for entrepreneurs and executives to connect and create together.”

No. 2: St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce

The chamber continues to reinvent its traditional role as a networking organization. Executive director Chris Steinocher says innovation is key.

“We’ve learned our members want unconventional opportunities to collide,” Steinocher said.

The chamber’s efforts include a weekly “Million Cups” event staged every Wednesday morning where it offers Kahwa coffee and two 9-minute presentations from local entrepreneurs.

At its “Member Appreciation Nights,” the chamber spotlights a new hotspot foodie/beverage place to check out. “Now Trending” is the lunchtime opportunity to network, eat and learn about the next hot topic in the burg.

Of course, the chamber still maintains one traditional approach: ribbon cuttings are a weekly if not daily occurrence. It introduces new entrepreneurs/businesses to the community, maintaining a mission it first started as the Board of Trade in 1899.

Steinocher, however, says the chamber has made a concerted effort to move into the 21st Century with an emphasis on diverse events and times.

“We’ve learned some want to connect in the morning, some at lunch and some after work – so we offer it all,” Steinocher said.

Learn more at www.stpete.com.

No. 3: Network Professionals Inc., South Pinellas County

This group provides a platform for small businesses to expand their salesforce by networking with a diverse group of professionals. It’s on the micro level, with one person exclusively representing a specific professional category. The group maintains a reputation of being friendly and outgoing, but it’s focus is definitely on business.

The strategy? Members refer business to each other, effectively becoming each other’s sales force. Meetings are weekly and structured for maximum results. Members join to grow their business, cultivate business resources and expand their networking sphere of influence.

In South Pinellas, the organization maintains a number of geographic chapters with some meeting in the morning and others gathering for lunch. For more information, visit https://www.npiflorida.com/chapters/?chapter=4

No. 4: Keystone Mastermind Alliance 

Co-founded by small business owners Liz M. Lopez and Tracie Thompson, the Keystone Mastermind Alliance touts itself as an organization that provides a high-quality and active networking environment. It’s particularly focused on helping professionals of all backgrounds.

The KMA Network offers a variety of events that combine networking opportunities with marketing information, access to business leaders and educational workshops. It strives to replicate a corporate support system for small business owners.

“Big companies don’t just have one person making decisions,” Thompson wrote on the KMA site. “They have an executive leadership team and a board of directors. Together they make healthy decisions for the growth of the company, bring new ideas to the table, and join forces to overcome challenges.

“Through our … events, we offer business owners a trustworthy and effective source of guidance and support that actively contributes to their growth and development.”

The networks stages events throughout Pinellas and routinely holds gatherings in St. Petersburg on Fridays. For more information, visit https://kmanetwork.com.

No. 5: LinkedIn

Okay, this isn’t a macro group or micro interest organization, but for those seeking the convenience of a targeted audience, this social medium can prove valuable. It’s not the face-to-face encounter of a traditional networking event, but LinkedIn often gives entrepreneurs the chance to make a direct connection with someone in their field.

“Social media can be incredibly helpful throughout the networking process,” Rivelli said. “I especially love LinkedIn. I consider it my digital Rolodex. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be helpful as well especially for small businesses with small marketing budgets.”

If a specific person could serve as a cog with a major business goal, bid to link with them, but remain open to a future face-to-face meeting.

No. 6: Working Women of Tampa Bay

We end where we started. Rivelli continues to offer varied meetups in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. The former television producer prides herself on the geographic diversity of her meetings as well as the size and scope. Working Women may offer a simple morning coffee or a luncheon with 200 people and a well-known speaker all in the same month.

It helps that Rivelli strives to make the group all-inclusive.

“It embraces everyone, every woman is welcomed,” she said. “There aren’t criteria on how much you make; you don’t have to be at an executive level.  It’s all women who work. That’s what makes it special.”

Yet it’s the supportive nature of the group that helps it thrives. In a world where women can, at times, be their own worst enemy, Working Women fight against the broad-brush assertion and genuinely fosters strong relationships between its members.

“I’ve experienced situations where a woman wasn’t always my best advocate in the workplace,” said Rivelli. “We want Working Women to be a place where women can be each other’s best ambassadors.”

We second that sentiment at Rising Tide Innovation Center. We’re striving to create a team of ambassadors for those who join our cowork collaborative. Every successful entrepreneur and business person rises with the aid of a community, and we enhance our community every day at Rising Tide.