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Coaching: The Best-Kept Secret To Growing As An Entrepreneur

A good coach can turn raw talent into refined expertise and refined talent into renowned success. But how do we bridge “the coaching gap”?

Zach Ferres

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Sometimes, a change at the top can be the difference between a perennial loser and a surprise contender. For proof, look no further than the Los Angeles Rams, a team which less than a year ago wrapped up a 4-12 season that included a midyear coaching transition.

New coach Sean McVay appears to have energised his players, helping the Rams capture momentum that was completely absent when the team lost seven consecutive games to close out the 2016 season.

Yes, the Rams play football, but there’s a lesson there for startup and small business owners. Because, like professional athletes, entrepreneurs perform better under the guidance of great coaches.

And the news there is good: Due to the competitive advantages entrepreneurs enjoy from expert coaching, the marketplace for coaches has started to swell. According to the 2016 Global Coaching study by the International Coach Federation and PricewaterhouseCoopers, global coaching revenue was estimated to be about $2.4 billion in 2015, besting 2011’s figure by a substantial 19 percent.

Not to mention what’s happening with the bigger guys: Up to 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies now work with executive coaches, according to consulting firm Hay Group.

Related: Paddy Upton: People Centred Coaching

Yet, while executive coaching has gained traction, many start-up founders lack access to high-quality coaches. The paradox? They can’t afford an experienced coach, but need one to be able to build their companies to the point of being able to do just that.

What separates a coach from a mentor

posted about this coaching paradox on LinkedIn a while back, and my post attracted a flood of comments. After reading them through, I realised that many people don’t understand the distinction between a mentor and a coach. While these positions might seem similar, there’s actually a world of difference between the two.

“Mentors,” for one thing, don’t usually follow a fixed schedule or require payment. They help with strategic issues, answering questions for founders without actively participating in company operations.

“Coaches,” on the other hand, are not afraid to get their hands dirty. They are typically paid, and operate on, a fixed schedule to help entrepreneurs make themselves better. Mentors offer great advice; coaches ask great questions.

Based on the comments my post attracted, founders of new start-ups are hungry for a coach. There’s a huge gap in the start-up community as it relates to coaching; everyone needs it, but relatively few people are willing to provide it for free. So, what to do?

How to bridge entrepreneurship’s coaching gap

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The question is, how do we solve the paradox and match enterprising, young CEOs with talented coaches? The answer to this coaching quandary rests in the basic ecology of entrepreneurship. By studying the interactions between entrepreneurs and their physical environment, a cycle of mutually beneficial coaching exchanges begins to emerge.

Here are its three steps:

1. First-time founders: Barter for coaches

Young founders probably can’t afford to shell out more than $1 million a year for coaching sessions with Tony Robbins. Instead, they must find coaches willing to offer their services for a low cost. They also might be able to trade their own services for coaching.

My first coach, James, was also one of my clients when I was running my first company in Ohio. James was a sales coach who asked us to build his new website. When I initially met with him to discuss the project, I accidentally went to the wrong Starbucks. I arrived 15 minutes late for our meeting, which prompted his first lesson: “Be on time when you meet with people. You’re young, and you need to do the little things to ensure that others take you seriously and treat you as a professional.”

Many team members from BounceFire still remember “the call” James made to our office one day when things weren’t going well. We took our lumps, but we learned incredible lessons. He later admitted that he was deliberately hard on me because he wanted to see me succeed.

All first-time entrepreneurs should have someone like that to push them harder and help them navigate the early pitfalls of leadership – inside and outside of work. Work your network to find someone who might be willing to provide a bit of free (or relatively cheap) coaching every now and then to help keep you on track.

Related: How Leadership Coaching Can Lead Your Team To Sustained Success

2. Connect growing founders to paid coaches

Founders of expanding companies have experienced enough success to know where their problems lie, but they haven’t mastered everything. Paid executive coaches can hold founders accountable and provide detailed wisdom during critical decisions, making them a worthwhile investment.

Not sure what to look for in a good executive coach? Countless executives have gleaned incredible insights from the likes of Jerry Colonna, who uses self-inquiry to help executives hone their leadership skills and better understand themselves. Others take a more solution-oriented approach, asking questions to steer executives through routine business issues. Such was the case with Silicon Valley legend Bill Campbell. Find someone who meshes with your personal style, and view the monthly fee as a worthwhile investment in your company’s future.

According to the study by the International Coach Federation, 23 percent of coaches surveyed said they primarily focus on executives. Growing founders should not hesitate to invest some time and money into someone who can help them get more out of themselves.

3. Develop successful founders into coaches and advisors 

The path to coaching is relatively simple for successful entrepreneurs, because it’s typically one of the key traits you develop as a leader. Find one or two first-time founders whom you truly believe in, and give them an hour or two of your time every month for coaching sessions. This will keep your coaching and leadership skills sharp, and you will be helping the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I am still working to become a better coach and leader, but I do advise several start-ups across the country. I also find myself in an advisory role for many of our accelerator start-ups. We recently took seven of them to GITEX Technology Week in Dubai, and it was great to spend time mentoring start-up founders while learning about their unique struggles.

Related: How Business Coaching Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Once you have some experience, you might consider doing a paid coaching engagement with an active or growing founder. As you break your way into the coaching scene, don’t forget to continue to work with your own coach – you’ll still need some help along the way.

Executive coaching shouldn’t be rare or reserved for well-connected entrepreneurs. A good coach can turn raw talent into refined expertise or refined talent into renowned success. From the greenest start-up to the most seasoned veterans, coaching is the key to unlocking untapped potential.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Zach Ferres is the CEO of Coplex, a startup studio and accelerator that works with noncoding founding teams to start software companies. He is also a founding partner at Coplex Ventures, the venture capital arm of Coplex.

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Successful Entrepreneurs Know The Difference Between Taking Chances And Taking Risks

To come out on top, build a process-driven company.

Brian Fielkow

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An outsider might think that entrepreneurs take chances. That’s simply not true. They take risks – and there’s a profound difference.

You’re taking chances if you act on the assumption that everything will go your way, if you rely on variables that are outside your control, if you do not understand the fundamentals of the market you are about to enter and if you cannot measure your actions.

On the other hand, you are taking calculated risks if you perform reasonable due diligence before executing, you seek input from trusted advisors, you rely on experience – not luck – and if you can measure results against your plan.

The savviest entrepreneurs prepare for all possible outcomes. They anticipate what can go wrong, and they prepare for it. When the unforeseen happens, they adjust quickly.

Each entrepreneur’s challenges are unique. That said, I have had the most success managing risk by infusing an intense focus on process into my business. I can trace most of my company’s failures (and my own) to deviation from process. Often, this is caused by lack of focus.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way to create a process-driven company that enables me to take risk with clarity.

1. Forget about the complicated handbook

Instead, let your team write the processes. Have your subject matter experts define best practices to execute successfully and mitigate risk. Keep it simple. Use checklists to supplement your process manuals. A one-page checklist beats 1 000 convoluted pages of process.

Related: 5 Infamous Risks Every Entrepreneur Must Face

2. Do not become upset automatically when people fail to follow the process

Ask whether the process was understood and properly communicated. Have we considered that the average American reads at a junior high school level? Yet many of our handbooks are written at a much higher level. People can be accountable only for what they understand. As our teams perform with greater understanding of process, the risk of execution-related failures drops dramatically.

3. Update your processes regularly

What makes sense today may not make sense tomorrow. In an environment of continuous learning, our processes are always evolving. Think of your process book as the place to institutionalise memory. As stated above, the unforeseen will happen. It’s a matter of when, not if. The first time the event occurs, it is unforeseen, and you address it. If the same event happens again, then it is a process, management or employee failure. Ensure that your new hire integration plan allows plenty of time for process absorption.

When problems arise, it’s tempting to ignore the small deviations and errors. If you have enough small deviations, it will build to a major failure. To manage risk, it’s important to dismiss paying attention only to severe issues. Whether a failure created a minor problem or a large one is purely a matter of chance.

I have managed risk in my business by treating all process failures the same. By discovering the root cause quickly, we can understand what happened and develop measures to improve execution on our plan.

When your plan is challenged, here are a few questions you should ask and steps to take to better manage risk:

  • Describe the incident. What happened? How often has it happened?
  • Investigate the incident. Assign cross-functional teams to investigate. Ensure the team produces documentation to support its findings. This may require meetings with people inside and outside the company. Outside perspectives are often helpful. If we are involved directly with a situation long enough, we can easily develop blind spots. Outsiders will not have the same blind spots.
  • Investigate the process. What process was supposed to be followed? Was it followed? If not, specify where the process was not followed and why. As stated above, was the process properly communicated and understood?
  • Define solutions based on the investigation. Ensure the solutions are both practical and highly tailored to the issue. Once the solution is defined, what is the plan for implementation and measurement of success?
  • Communicate liberally. Too many companies share their successes and bury the failures. It’s critical to communicate what went wrong and the solution with all parties involved. This is how you institutionalize knowledge.
  • Document and review. Document the resolution in your process manual, and review at defined intervals to confirm the resolution has taken hold and that no course corrections are needed.

Related: Evaluating Risk in your Business

These simple steps will help you build better processes and a culture of continuous improvement. In the end, there’s no better way to mitigate risk.

Entrepreneurs distinguish themselves by being able to manage risks in the face of uncertainty. There is an undeniable element of intuition and luck inherent in their decisions. When faced with these variables, most people will freeze. They will be afraid to take a risk, because they cannot distinguish it from chance. In contrast, an entrepreneur understands the variables and addresses those that he or she can control in a process-driven environment. The bases are not always all covered, but the known variables are controlled.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Crisis Management In A Digital Age

If you’re at a loss for how to go about jumping into the fray of social media commenting and opinions, here are a few tips to protect you, your business, and your brand’s reputation.

Darren Mansour

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In business, you can’t ignore what’s being said about you online. Most importantly, you need to respond appropriately. The internet is a free-for-all of consumer commentary, inevitably, some of it can be damaging.

Crisis management comes with the Online reputation management (ORM) territory of changing negative sentiment around your brand into a positive.

It can be difficult to know how to respond, keep things positive, or change the sentiment around your brand. If you’re at a loss for how to go about jumping into the fray of social media commenting and opinions, here are a few tips to protect you, your  business, and your brand’s reputation.

1. Avoid a Knee Jerk Reaction

Reading what could be perceived as negative commentary on your brand, business, products, services, or employees, can cause you to jump straight into responding by justifying yourself or trying to show that the consumer is off the mark and misinformed. These are normal reactions, but it isn’t necessarily going to help your brand or positively push your online presence.

Rule number one is not to place blame, especially on the consumer or commenter, even if the comment is negative, false, or misleading. Rule number two is never to take it personally and do not to respond emotionally or in an accository fashion.

Pay attention, think it through, then respond in a calm, professional and appropriate way. Set a clear ORM response policy around commenting and responding to comments.

Related: Crisis Management: Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail

2. Consider Comments as Free Research

Think of the comments you receive on social media, both good and bad, as consumer research. Keep a record of your comments and responses, tips, questions, suggestions, and key problems. You’ll find that your customer, fan, and follower will give you valuable information that you would not otherwise have.

The idea is to change negative sentiment around your brand into positive while at the same time leveraging off the information and data gained through this process. This perspective will assist you to see the value in this engagement with your brand. Online Reputation Management should be a daily task. This is all part of maintaining your online reputation and digital media presence.

3. Remember That Everyone’s Reading Your Responses

The most important reason to respond to both positive and negative comments is because everyone else on that thread is reading the banter. The amount of people reading the comments usually outweighs those actively participating in the conversation by commenting. They are all paying close attention to how the business and brand responds.

Related: How To ‘Crisis-Proof’ your Company

Appropriately responding to less negative comments presents the opportunity to demonstrate how connected the brand is with their consumer, it is the perfect platform to solve potential problems and defuse particular situations. When a business listens and responds to feedback online, in an appropriate manner, a sense of trust is created. It shows that the brand is prepared to go above and beyond. This can stretch far beyond the commenter.

4. Hire Talent To Do Your Responding

In order to fully tap into the benefits of social media you should consider getting a specialist on board to manage your social content along with the responses that this content creates. It is important to be on the same page as your marketing team. If you are looking for an agency with the experience, guts, and glory to carry your brand, then get in touch with So Interactive for your digital marketing needs.

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How Entrepreneurs Can Make Good Decisions Quickly

Below are some tips on how you can do just that.

Amy Galbraith

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As an entrepreneur, you have to face difficult decisions on a near-daily basis. These can range from deciding on what marketing strategy suits your business best or choosing what new talent to hire for your team. Making good decisions quickly can be tricky, even more so if you are pressed for time. However, there are methods you can use to do this.

Decision-making is an intrinsic part of being an entrepreneur, and once you know the answer to “What is decision-making?” you will be better able to make good decisions, quickly. Below are some tips on how you can do just that.

Acknowledge what you are trying to accomplish

Making decisions can be difficult if you do not know what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish. Before you reach a decision, you will need to carefully look at what you are trying to accomplish and optimise. Once you have done this, you will be able to make the right, and quickest, decision.

An example of this is changing a marketing strategy. Are you trying to reach a new audience? Are you trying to release a new product to the public, or are you trying to change your brand’s image? Once you have acknowledged what you are trying to accomplish, you can decide on what options best suit the situation. This process might take time at first, but, once you have done it a few times, it will become second nature.

Related: 6 Common Decision-Making Blunders That Could Kill Your Business

Use available data

Having evidence or data to help with a decision can be highly useful for any entrepreneur. And in today’s online world, you will be able to find enough of both to help you make any decision, whether it is big or small.

Using data and evidence, you will be able to see how your company is currently performing and make a business decision based on this data. The key to making good decisions in the shortest amount of time possible is having the right evidence and information available. You will need to be sure that you understand the data and evidence in order to use it as part of your decision making.

Give yourself a deadline

It is important to set deadlines for decisions. This way, you will be able to make them quickly, effectively and before any problems become bigger than they need to be. For example, set a deadline for deciding on a new employee a week from their interview date. This gives you time to examine their strengths and weaknesses in depth before deciding.

Having a deadline creates a sense of urgency, meaning that you will spend less time procrastinating and more time on the actual decision-making. It will keep things moving forward and you will avoid “paralysis by analysis”, a common occurrence in entrepreneurs and business owners. Deadlines help to keep the goal in sight, allowing you to make a decision quickly and easily without overthinking it.

Get an outside opinion

Even the Khaleesi in Game of Thrones has an advisor to help her make decisions. And if she has one, it makes sense that a business owner or entrepreneur should too. It is a good idea to get an outside opinion, especially if you have been thinking about a decision for a long time.

An objective voice can help you to reach a final decision, as they can help you consider points that you might not have thought of. You could ask your friends or your colleagues for help, but be sure that they do not have any attachment to the decision. This can make it difficult for them to give objective advice. If you have a mentor, this is the best person to ask for advice.

Related: 5 Bad Decision-Making Habits That Can Destroy Your Business

Reframe the problem

Step back from the problem or decision you are facing and look at it from another angle. Often, reframing a problem or situation can help you to reach a speedy conclusion, especially in terms of business.

Try to see the issue from as many perspectives as possible, as this will help you to ensure that you are not emphasising one aspect and neglecting another. This is all a part of the answer to “what is decision making?” as seeing a problem from another perspective can help you to see the bigger picture. You should try to think of at least three different ways to see the problem and work from there.

Keep calm

One of the most important ways to make good decisions quickly is to keep calm. By keeping your emotions in check, you will better be able to make a decision that is smart and objective. The steps in decision-making include knowing what you want to accomplish, using the data available to you, giving yourself a deadline and asking for an outside opinion. Once you have taken all of these steps, you will be able to make efficient and effective business decisions.

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