Creating Luck

Ideas that will grow your business

Archive for the category “Inspire Me”

Don’t Over Analyze Your Marketing Before You Act

If Apple designed the iPhone with the mentality of “if it works 80% of the time, then that’s good enough,” they wouldn’t have gotten very far.  They spend a lot of time analyzing, testing and tweaking before their final release  (How Apple Works).

Engineers and designers are taught to make sure they account for all sorts of situations in their products. As a result, a technical trained individual who is running a company may view marketing with the same mindset: if it’s not perfect, we’re not releasing it. The thing is, seeking a 99% solution is not as important for some fields as it is for others.

analysis paralysis

There is no way to know whether your marketing material will work until you try it. And if you don’t see traction, you massage your material till you start seeing some progress. And even then, you are never finished. You can always improve it, just like you would improve a technical product.

Continuously making improvements is a key element of any process, technical or business. But often, technically trained individuals – and as an engineer, I put myself into this category – have a tendency to over analyze before taking action. This mentality makes a lot of sense when you’re building a product. But there is a chance that over analyzing your marketing material is costing you business.

Many of my clients fall into this trap. They are engineers who have started a company and can’t make a decision on marketing. This drags out the release of any new marketing material or strategy. In the meantime, competitors who are quick to try different tactics, even if they flop, are speeding by with new sales and faster growth. Their mindset is completely different: “hey, let’s try this… it seems like it makes sense. If it doesn’t work, then let’s change it.”

Just the fact that they are taking action, and willing to make mistakes in their marketing, gets them farther ahead than those who wait. Marketing is not a 100% science. There is a lot of trial and error till you refine the messages that resonate most with your prospects. Large companies with big budgets have the resources to do all sorts of market testing before they launch their campaigns nationwide. As a small business owner, you probably don’t have that kind of budget or time.

If you find that you haven’t made a new marketing-related decision in the last 12 months or if it is taking you more than a few weeks to roll out campaign tweaks, you may have fallen into the trap of analysis paralysis. Sit back and think: what really happens if my marketing gets 80% close to the mark? Answer: you tweak it – after you’ve launched your campaign.

CEOs Seeing Economic Improvement Now, Not So Much Next Year

A new survey by Vistage International today reports that many CEOs are seeing an improvement in the economy with 53% saying that conditions are better than last year. However, only 33% expect this to continue next year. Here’s the infographic:

Vistage CEO Confidence Index

 

(I am a member of Vistage)

Two Parts of the Startup 3.0 Act That Will Help Small Business

This morning, I will be part of a panel discussion to educate congressional staffers on the merits of the Startup 3.0 Act (H.R. 714/ S. 310) that was introduced in both the House and Senate this February. Startup 3.0 has many provisions that will help small businesses. The panel is being hosted by the House Small Business IT Caucus and includes:

  • Doug Humphrey, Serial Entrepreneur
  • Raj Khera, CEO, MailerMailer (me)
  • Morris Panner, CEO, DICOM Grid.com
  • David Pauken, CEO, Convoke Systems
  • Cynthia Traeger, Director, Founder Institute of DC
  • Lamar Whitman of CompTIA as Moderator

My fellow panelists will go into their own experience as business owners and focus on different parts of the proposed legislation. I am focusing on two of the areas: 1) the elimination of country quotas for H1-B visas so that we can bring more skilled workers to build new products and 2) the ability to offset R&D expenses against payroll tax liability via a tax credit. Both of these provisions in Startup 3.0 will help small businesses get the talent and retain more cash to develop innovative products.

The hearing is at 11:00 a.m. today in the House Rayburn Office Building and is open to the public. Below is my testimony:


House Small Business IT Caucus – Congressional Panel on Startup 3.0

Raj Khera
June 28, 2013

House Small Business Committee Hearing Room, Rayburn Bldg

Good morning everyone, my name is Raj Khera. I’m the CEO of a marketing software company called MailerMailer, located in Rockville, Maryland. This is my third business – like several of my colleagues on this panel, I’ve built and sold other technology companies before and have experienced first hand the challenges that Americans face when building a business.

I was excited about several of the provisions in the Startup 3.0 Bill because they will really help spur innovation and remove some of the obstacles that entrepreneurs face. The really strong job growth in our economy comes from companies with products and services in high-demand sectors.

Many of you may know that there is a severe shortage of qualified engineering talent in the United States.  We have to find the talent somewhere or we can’t grow. A few years ago, I needed to hire an engineer with a unique skill set. After looking for a while in the US, I finally found someone who lived in England. It was April and the quota for all H1-B visas had been filled. Lucky for me, his person wasn’t from a country whose quota limits fill up so fast that you have to enter a lottery just to see if your candidate can even come here. I still had to wait until October before the next fiscal year’s quotas were opened up before I could bring over my new employee. That was extremely frustrating. It delayed the build out and deployment of our new product line. The Startup 3.0 bill removes country quotas so employers like me can get the talent we need to build the products that help grow our GDP. There are thousands of companies just like mine and in the same situation.

Another one of the provisions of this bill is a tax credit of up to $250,000 of R&D expenses against payroll tax liability. I’ve used previous R&D tax credits that were available against income and they have helped my company build new products that have been very successful in the marketplace. The Startup 3.0 proposed tax credits against payroll tax liability are unique because most startups don’t have income, but almost everyone has payroll. This provision will help startups keep more cash on hand to build new products.

I strongly recommend that you help to get this bill passed because it is going to enable small businesses to create more American jobs and provide incentives for more investment into American startups. Thank you.


Update: pictures from the event… well attended by congressional staffers with lots of good questions.

House Small Business IT Caucus

Raj Khera - presenting to congressional staffers

How I wrote my first book and got it to #1 on Amazon

Many of us want to write our first book, but never get started. Getting your book ranked highly on Amazon is an even greater challenge. There’s good news: writing your first book has gotten much easier in the last 5 years. In case you have book idea in your head and want to get it in print, here’s the tale of how I wrote my first book and got it to #1 on Amazon. I hope the story inspires you to write yours.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I write for my company’s blog, MailerMailer, my personal blog, Creating Luck, and guest posts on other blogs. I write white papers, ebooks, and marketing material. Like many people, perhaps you, I’ve always wanted to write a book. The project seemed so overwhelming that I never got around to it. Last summer, I decided that I would finally do it.

Here’s what I did and my timeline:

Getting Started

itmarketingbook-ipad-pc

1. July-September 2012: Created an outline based on the book’s target market: small technology companies. I researched Amazon thoroughly to see if there are other books of this type and found none, which really surprised me. Most marketing books are very general in nature. There was nothing for such a focused niche market. My goal wasn’t to sell tens of thousands of books. It was to educate small IT companies on how to grow their business. I remember when I started my first company I had no idea what I was doing and a book like this would have given me a solid foundation and numerous strategies to implement. I wanted to share what I learned over the last 20 years in building businesses.

Creating a book outline was the hardest part, especially keeping it focused. My outline was fairly detailed. I included bullet points of the specific topics I wanted to cover in each chapter. I rewrote the outline repeatedly, even as I wrote the chapters. I would always find something to add or remove to keep it tight. One of my pet peeves is books that could have been condensed into an article, where the author deliberately goes on and on with fluff that doesn’t add any value. I didn’t want my book to be like that so I spent a lot of time up front crystallizing my thoughts so that each chapter had valuable insights.

I revised the title at least 25 times before finally settling on The IT Marketing Crash Course: How to Get Clients for Your Technology Business.

2. September-October 2012: Started writing the chapters. I put appointments with myself on my calendar to block off time. That was the only way I was able to set aside the time to do this. Otherwise, my calendar would fill up with, well, life. Hit a snag: this was taking WAY too long. I was reminded of the famous Red Smith quote about how easy writing is: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.”

Moving Forward

3. November-December 2012: Hired a transcriber to help speed up the process. After I wrote the first 3 chapters, which took 3 months, I figured it would take me another year before I finished at my current pace. To speed things up, I would record an audio file of my thoughts for each remaining chapter. My helper was also a writer so if some of my sentences weren’t clear, she could fix them as she put my spoken words in print form. She sent me text versions of my recorded thoughts for each chapter, which I then edited (very heavily) to create the final drafts. Writing the book this way was significantly easier since I could articulate my thoughts verbally by looking at my outline’s notes. This was a more natural way for me to communicate so doing this step sped up the writing process quite a bit. I was able to get the first full draft of the book (14 chapters total) done in another 2 months.

I included an action-item checklist at the end of each chapter and a master checklist at the end of the book so readers had specific steps to take to grow their business. I also added a sample budget of what the marketing investment should be in a small IT company, itemizing each tactic and its estimated monthly and yearly cost.

4. October 2012-January 2013: Interviewed lots of companies. I didn’t want the book to just be a write up of my knowledge. I wanted to include real-life examples of companies using the concepts I presented. I also didn’t want it to be a list of my clients – that would have been too self-serving. So, I interviewed people in my close and extended networks. I reached out to colleagues on LinkedIn and through discussion groups I participate in. Many people volunteered.

My questions during the interviews centered on the book’s topics since I was looking for examples to enhance each chapter. Adding stories made the book come to life. It made it much more enjoyable and easier to read. More so, the interviews made the book much easier to write! Since the questions I posed related to my outline, I was able to tell stories about real experiences from real companies. Much of the text was right there in my interview notes. I simply had to massage it to fit smoothly in each chapter.

5. February 2013: Hired an editor to review the final draft. She found many typos and other issues.

Preparing to Go Live

6. February-March 2013: Prepared the book’s layout in Word. Saved it as a PDF to send as review copy (added security: text in PDF file could not be copied from the review copy).

7. February 2013: Hired a designer to create the cover and the book’s website, www.itmarketingbook.com. She did an amazing job. I included a QR code on the back cover that goes to the book’s website where people can sign up for “extras” like templates, spreadsheets, checklists and other usable files that I couldn’t include in the book itself.

8. Early March 2013: Sent it to my inner circle for comments and quotes for the back cover. Then, sent it to others outside my close circle. Over 40 people reviewed the book and I got plenty of useful comments. I made so many edits that it increased the book’s length by 20 pages. I also got quite a few wonderful quotes to use on the back cover and on the IT Marketing book’s website.

Coordinating Publicity

9. Early March 2013: Read through Amazon’s publishing pages: CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I decided to go the self-publishing route after reading about how so many famous authors are now abandoning their publishing houses because they can do so much more on their own – and do it faster. Crush It with Kindle is a low-priced Kindle book that does a wonderful job explaining what to do. I used it as my guide. I finally got the book online on Amazon in Kindle and print formats and ordered the proof of the print edition. Loved it! I finally had my book in my hand, no longer just in my mind. Had a sangria to celebrate!

10. Early March 2013: Sent an email to 21 bloggers that cover the business aspects of IT requesting that they review the book since it is a good fit with their audience. Of the 21 I contacted, 7 replied and reviewed the book, posting their review on the launch date which I had set as March 18, 2013. I had concentrated the effort to focus on one day, my arbitrary “launch date,” after reading about how bestseller lists work: all bestseller lists are ranked based on volume over time. If you sell 1,000 books over 1 year, your book is ranked much lower than if you sell 1,000 in a week. The rankings change based on units sold each week, or in Amazon’s case, every day.

11. March 18, 2013: Posted a press release through PRWeb announcing the book and notified a handful of other publications, sending them a copy of the press release. Reminded my reviewers about the book’s launch and provided them with a sample tweet they could share – many of them posted news of the book in their blogs, tweets and LinkedIn and Facebook status updates. I also mentioned the book in a few relevant discussion groups I am actively involved in.

12. Week of March 18, 2013: The book hit #1 on Amazon in 3 business categories due to this publicity effort. Amazon allowed me to make the book available for free on the launch date, which spurred a download frenzy – over 500 in one day for a niche market book! Even after the free download day was over and people had to buy it, sales were strong and kept it at #1.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of several people – including those I interviewed – who provided the support to get it off the ground. The people I hired were staff members that work with me. If you don’t have an existing team that can help, you can find freelancers who can pitch in. Just advertise on guru.com, elance.com or CraigsList under “writing gigs”. If I hadn’t solicited help, the book would still be a dream and I would probably still be writing chapter 4.

So, what do you say? Ready to write your book? It’s actually easier than you might think. Just schedule a little time on your calendar and get started. You could be a #1 Amazon bestselling author before you make your next New Year’s resolution!

Negative Self-Talk: Give Yourself a Cease Fire

Most people have a tape playing in their head. That tape shapes how we react. And sometimes that tape involves negative self-talk. When you run a business, you juggle a lot of activities. You may feel frustrated about the pace of your growth. You may feel guilty about your ability to balance your work and personal life. You may feel like you are unlucky. These emotions happen to everyone, even the most successful of entrepreneurs, not just you.negative self talk

We all have distractions. The danger comes when negative self-talk affects your ability to execute. Stop beating up on yourself. Give yourself a cease fire! Here are some ideas on how to do it:

1. Spot negative self-talk. Margaret Moore writes in Psychology Today that “we have an internal ‘voice’ that comments on, and then determines, how we perceive our every circumstance.” Two people can react to the same situation entirely differently, one seeing an opportunity, the other defeat. “Self-limiting talk creates a self-fulfilling prophecy because we stop looking for solutions and assume defeat,” Moore states. If you find yourself feeling like something will not work out, you are in negative self-talk mode.

2. Add two words to your vocabulary. You’ve heard these two words before: “what if…” but you might not be using them as frequently as you should. For example, if part of your business is doing well and another part isn’t, you don’t have entertain thoughts of shutting down the underperforming unit. What if you looked for someone to buy it so you could focus on your strengths? Instead of continuously worrying about a money-losing headache, you can turn the situation into a money-making opportunity.

3. Make a daily “to do” list. Many entrepreneurs have a set of goals for the year. That’s usually part of a business plan that includes benchmarks for measuring achievement. Extrapolate key goals down to a daily task list, something that gives you the opportunity to check off items as you complete them. This will give you a sense of accomplishment which, in turn, invokes a desire for more accomplishment. It is a positive feeling that nurtures positive thinking and helps get rid of negative self-talk.

4. Share your story with other entrepreneurs. Being a business owner is a lonely position. Nobody in your company can share in the experiences you face: meeting payroll, monitoring cash flow, identifying where to invest for growth, managing staff. Sharing an issue with a peer helps you get perspective. They might have gone through your situation before and can offer guidance – or at the very least, commiserate with you. Sometimes, just knowing you’re not alone gives you the comfort and strength to overcome negative self-talk. I use a group called Vistage to serve as my sounding board. It is comprised of a dozen or so CEOs from non-competing businesses so we can exchange notes and learn from each other. The experience has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and has helped get through challenges that at one time seemed daunting.

Think about the tape playing your head right now. If you spot signs of negative self-talk, give yourself some good luck: declare a cease fire today!

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