How A Slapshot Taught Me About Business

When I was in college, I signed up for a lot of different intramural sports – many of them I’d never played before.

One evening my team and I were warming up for a hockey match when I noticed some of the guys ripping slapshots that looked like they had been shot out of a cannon rather than hit with a stick.

I secured a puck, wound up, and hit that puck with every bit of strength I could muster.  The puck slid leisurely across the ice.

“What?!” I thought “I just demolished that thing and it barely moved!”

I tried swinging even harder.  I tried holding the stick differently.  I tried twisting my body the wind up.  It didn’t matter what I tried, I couldn’t hit the puck as hard as these other guys.

freeimage-6929741-web

But then…

My friend Garvin skated up to me and explained how it works.  As any hockey player can tell you, you hit the ice in front of the puck.  The stick bends a little bit so when you hit the puck all that stored energy is unleashed.  I tried it and the puck rocketed out like I was Wayne Gretzky.

What That Has To Do With Business

When you’re trying to start your first business (or learn anything new), you’re going to encounter a lot of challenges and wonder why things aren’t working out the way your favorite entrepreneur podcast is telling you it will.

Why are your facebook ads not returning?

Why are people not following your blog?

Why aren’t people following your twitter account?

The slapshot taught me that even though I’m working hard and doing everything I see others doing, things work out a lot better if you stop trying to learn it by yourself.  Find people you can learn from.  Not just blogs and podcasts and online videos… you need real people.

When I was on that ice, I could see everything the other players were doing, but I still couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working for me.

Get help from people that know more than you do. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

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Re-Engage: The Second Best Time is NOW

I’ve been feeling disengaged recently.  The things I’m working on don’t seem to be working. I need to re-engage and find new avenues. More exploration. More learning. More people.

Check out http://www.scrunchieleash.com and let me know if you have any suggestions on how I can drive traffic. It’s up. It works. It looks pretty good. How do I get people there?

The Time Is Now

The Time Is Now

It’s Big. It’s Scary. And it happens ever so quietly…

I haven’t been writing as regularly as I mean to, but I’ve been pretty busy. It’s time to get serious about starting a business. This decision was not easy. It’s big. It’s scary. And it happens ever so quietly with the click of a submit button on a website.

I just withdrew from my Masters of Engineering program. (like 5 minutes ago)

Doing your masters is a part of the overall engineering development program I’m part of, but I realized this week that my requirements to the program had been fulfilled. I have a few other projects and trainings to finish up before my evenings are actually my own, but grad school will no longer be taking my time. Sometimes “time management” means spending less time on facebook, but sometimes it means something much bigger.

“But they’re paying for your grad school! Why don’t you just finish!”

Imagine spending an entire semester – hours and hours every week – learning about how a ball presses into a surface. While useful to some engineering applications, this is not helping me toward my ultimate goal: Starting a successful business. I can’t put this on hold for another 2 years. It’s happening now. I’m taking back my evenings so I can make this happen. I don’t plan to quit my day job any time soon, but grad school had to go.

It’s big. It’s scary. But I know this is ultimately the right move.

 

4 Tricks to Building a Great Network

Networking is key to accomplishing your goals whether you’re in a corporate environment or a budding entrepreneur. You need to meet people. Unfortunately, most of the advice currently available is pretty weak. If I get told to “smile more” or “have a firm handshake” one more time, I might lose it.

I was at a conference recently and here are some tips I picked up. (Thanks Rick Von Feldt – https://twitter.com/hrfuturist)

Networking

1) Form Your Core Structure

Many people think networking just means meeting more and more people. I don’t know about you, but to me that just sounds exhausting! Is it even possible to develop meaningful relationships with so many people? I love meeting people, but a more strategic approach to your network will serve you better than quantity.

This is where the idea of your Core Structure comes in.

  • 1 or 2 Sponsors
  • 5 Mentors
  • 25 Allies
  • 100 Contributors
  • >500 Acquaintances

The goal isn’t to know as many people as possible, the goal is to fill your top 150 roles with the best people possible. Here are the roles you need to fill.

Sponsor (1 or 2) – A sponsor is somebody who is well above you and takes an active role in helping you along. They will provide you with more than advice and guidance, they will take action to help you along.

Mentor (5) – A good mentor is somebody who is a few steps ahead of you in wherever you’re headed. They can give you guidance and help talk you through decisions you’re struggling with. When you find a really good mentor who advocates for you and takes care of your interests, they become a sponsor.

Allies (25) – These are people who are interested in what you’re doing. They know what you’re up to and you know what they’re up to. These are your really good friends and peers.

Contributors (100) – Contributors are similar to Allies, but you don’t stay in as close of contact with them. You know the general changes that are taking place in their lives, but you aren’t involved in the day-to-day.

Acquaintances (many) – This is everybody else. Friends, family, friends of friends, coworkers, old classmates. These are people who know who you are, but you don’t necessarily keep in very close contact. You may like their pictures on facebook occasionally, but you don’t typically talk much.

2) Fill The Roles With Stellar Candidates

Now that you know what your core structure should look like. It is time to start filling the roles. I suggest being deliberate about it. Make a spreadsheet. Figure out who you currently know that reasonably fits those roles.

It can be difficult to fill the Sponsor, Mentors and even some Ally roles. Leave them blank if you don’t have anybody that really fits the bill. If you have some blanks or even if your network seems a little on the weak side, that means you have some work to do and some people to meet.

Fill your network with people who have a network greater than your own. They will help open doors for you when you need help. You don’t want your network to be a small, closed system where everybody knows the same people. Ideally, you would like them to be able to introduce you to the right person when you have a serious need. That’s the whole point.

Actively seek these well-networked people. Fill your core structure with as many as you can find.

3) Communicate With Your Network

Here are some simple communication guidelines. Again, this will work a lot better if you’re deliberate about it. Whether you use a simple CRM or even a spreadsheet, make sure you communicate.

Do a 72-hour followup. Contact people you just met 72 hours after meeting them. It could be a thank-you card or maybe even just a “it was nice to meet you” email.

Also do a 14-day followup.

You should be contacting your network’s top 150 people at least every 90 days. Many of these will happen naturally as you interact with people socially and via work, but make sure you’re doing this with people you don’t see regularly. If you regularly interact with about 60 people, then you should be sending one email each day to keep in touch with the other 90.

Again, be deliberate. Track it.

4) Provide Value

This is really fundamental. Provide the people in your network with value. Always try to give so you don’t have to feel guilty when you need something.

Here are some example ways to provide value:

  • Introduce them to somebody else in your network.
  • Learn about what they’re working on and give them some feedback.
  • Ask if they need anything. Often a facebook post or retweet can be very beneficial to their business.
  • Send them information that directly pertains to what they’re trying to do. It doesn’t have to be anything big. I have a friend who curates a music newsletter every week and when I hear a new song that fits his style, I send it to him. That’s it. Sending a link to a music video. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Also, don’t forget to think about ways that people could help YOU. If your network is good, they’ll ask.

I hope you find these suggestions to be helpful! A strong network is important. I’m refocusing on mine and am implementing everything I just shared in a spreadsheet.

Remember, you become the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose them wisely.

Do you have any tips or strategies that YOU use for networking? Share them in the comments!

 

 

Are You Wasting Your Ad Dollars?

Abamath Series – This is the fourth in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath. (read the 1st , 2nd3rd and 4th)

I hate losing money (you too?). There are few things as frustrating as throwing money at advertising and seeing no impact on your customer base. Here’s the rundown on the first three months advertising my math tutoring startup.

  • Method: Local Newspapers, Google adwords, Facebook Ads
  • Cost: $15,000
  • Timeline: 3 Months
  • New Clients: 1

You read that correctly. I only gained a single new client from the ads. You could argue that we didn’t execute correctly or maybe it wasn’t the right channels. Regardless of why it failed, a small company can’t afford to spend and see no conversions. It was time for a change.

Advertisements aren’t the only way to advertise.

On January 25th, we hosted our first “Abamath Invitational,” a 90-minute math competition for middle school students.  This gave me a great excuse to talk to the schools in the area and spread the word. On the day of the event, 8 potential clients and 5 current clients came to Abamath and had an awesome experience.

  • Method: Math Competition
  • Cost: $500 (including my time, employee time, and the computer)
  • Timeline: 1 Month (including planning)
  • New Clients: 4 and growing (already paid for itself)

Bonus: Kids from the area experienced math insanity, and the winner got a brand new laptop!  I got tons of pictures for our website, and an excuse to build relationships and credibility with local schools. I also had the chance to plug our robotics league.

Everybody wins.

Abamath Competition

Abamath Competition

Give out free high-fives on a street corner, smash a car, sponsor a mission to Mars. Do anything! Companies like Red Bull have mastered event marketing! (anybody heard of Flugtag?) The good news is you don’t need to be Red Bull to pull off an event. This applies to any business, you just need to get creative.

The Bottom Line

Give an advertiser $15,000 and you can get a couple thousand views. Spend $15,000 on a pizza party, and you can get a couple thousand real people in your doors to talk to and interact with on a personal level.

Spend your ad dollars on awesomeness, not on clicks.

Luke Schlangen is the founder and president of Abamath: A Better Approach to Math

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

Is Expert Advice Worth The Price?

I follow a lot of business gurus and most of them offer consulting services for startups. Some come in the form of a direct consultation, others offer classes and communities for you to join. The question that always nags at me: Is it worth the price?

That nagging question always stopped me from signing up for anything up until this point. Then this happened on twitter.

Twitter Convo With @Pracly

Twitter Convo with @Pracly

I went to their website to check it out and found a landing page with an email input box. No other info, so I threw my email in the box. Next, they contact me and asked me to fill out a survey about what I specifically needed help with. I said “sure!” But I also informed them that my startup budget was very small and I probably wouldn’t be able to pay for their services.  I didn’t want them to waste their time on me since I had no intention of paying.

They reassured me that the first call was free with no strings attached. So I decided to give it a try. My call was last Thursday.

So How Was The Call?

The call was great. They made the expert (@faheems) aware of my business and situation before the call, so I didn’t have to waste a lot of time telling him what I was trying to do. My needs were digital marketing on a tiny budget.

My fear was that he would tell me, “you need to give engaging content to attract customers, then you can occasionally pitch to them.” I was afraid of this because I’d read it a million times online. He didn’t do that.

He actually showed me different ways to use facebook. He introduced me to facebook groups. He showed me strategies for getting other people to my page. We discussed content strategies for my website and how to launch a google adwords campaign. He gave me suggestions on tools to improve my effectiveness as well as links to some great content online. He gave me some new ideas on who to target to get my leashes out there in the public eye.

We spoke for an hour and I took notes feverishly. By the end of the call, I had a strategy in place for the next 4 to 6 weeks. All I have to do now is execute.

Will I Do Another Call?

I think the call is worth it. In a few weeks I plan to do another one. For the second call, I’ll probably only need a half hour. I want to make sure I have a chance to implement and use everything he told me before we speak again. I want to come to a new call with new questions and new roadblocks – not the same ones I was dealing with last time we spoke.

Here is how I view the value of a business consultation:

Effect of Consultation on Business Growth

Effect of Consultation on Business Growth

You could probably get there by yourself. You could probably learn all this stuff from trial and error and reading lots of business blogs. The problem with being inexperienced is it is hard to abstract the messages in blogs and advice and actually apply it effectively to your business. That’s where a consultation comes in. They’ve seen it done in many businesses and can tell you how to apply it in yours.

Good luck! and if you’re curious about it, talk to the folks at http://www.pracly.com/  (No, they aren’t paying me for this post.)

If you have any specific questions about the consultation, please leave a comment!

 

Editing Photos in Powerpoint

Often when bootstrapping a business, it is better to get things done quickly and cheaply. Perfection can be an impossible burden.

I would like to demonstrate how I make some simple photo edits in powerpoint.  If you read my last post, you will recognize the photo below.

One Leash = One Walk

If you look closely, you’ll notice some yellow tint on the left side of the photo as well as a bit of purple and red.  I took this photo with an iPhone and did all the editing with powerpoint. (You’ll notice the header for this blog has a very similar photo.)

Here’s What I Did

  1. Softened the photo using the “corrections” dropdown
  2. Increased the contrast using the “corrections” dropdown
  3. Added three circles with color gradients and transparencies (70% in center, 100% at edge)
  4. Added Text with slight shadows
  5. Added the Scrunchie logo and used the “remove background” tool to clean it up

It’s not as clean and perfect as you could get using photoshop, but it works.

Never let expensive tools be an excuse for not moving forward.

PowerPoint-Photoshop

 

How I’m Using the TOMS Shoes Strategy

TOMS shoes are nice and stylish, but we all know their earthy flair isn’t what made them so colossally popular. The give away a pair of shoes for every pair a customer buys.  And to their customers, they give meaning.

How I’m Adding Meaning To My Leash

My original plan was to give 5% of profits to local animal shelters. This is good and I’m still planning to do this, however, that doesn’t seem to have the same one-to-one connection that TOMS shoes has.  One Pair Purchased = One Pair Donated.

My wife and I have been meaning to do some volunteering at local shelters, and one of the ways you can volunteer is by talking the shelter dogs for walks.  The dogs get much needed exercise and socialization to help them get adopted.  I decided that this would be a great way to give the customer more value and more meaning.

One Leash = One Walk

One Leash = One Walk

I’ve decided that for every leash sold, we will volunteer to give a walk. In the early days of the business, this should be easy to do between my wife and I. The problem with this idea is that it isn’t as scalable as the TOMS shoes model.

I’m thinking we could utilize our network and do our best to keep up with the dog walks in the beginning. I think publicity for the local shelters could get them more walks than we could do personally. So there are some options for trying to scale this idea, but I’ll worry about that problem when we get to that point.

For now, bring on the walks. :)

 

If you know anybody that might be interested in buying a scrunchie leash (and giving a shelter dog a little exercise) please direct them to http://www.scrunchieleash.com

Thanks!