Sunday, February 14, 2016

Movies Every Entrepreneur Should Watch

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The path to becoming a million-dollar entrepreneur is filled with hurdles, obstacles, and other companies who don’t want to see you succeed. As a hard-working entrepreneur, you know you have to keep moving forward even when things get tough. But sometimes you need a little inspiration, and a great source for entrepreneurial inspiration is watching movies. Films can inspire an exhausted business owner to keep pushing forward. Here are the ones other entrepreneurs recommend:

The Social Network

This one is a no-brainer. The Social Network is an account (albeit dramatized) of Mark Zuckerberg’s climb from Harvard drop-out to owner of the most powerful social media company in the entire world. As an entrepreneur, you’ll get a glimpse at the qualities that make for a successful business owner – resiliency, flexibility, creativity. This film will motivate you to be a better, more dedicated, more relentless entrepreneur.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Will Smith’s portrayal of the true story of Chris Gardner is truly motivational. It documents Gardner’s rise from rags to riches, from being homeless with his son to becoming a true entrepreneur. If Gardner can go from living on the streets to owning a company, anyone can follow their dreams and see them all the way through.

Steve Jobs

This 2015 film starring Michael Fassbender depicts the build-up to the launches of the products that made Apple a household name. The movie (like the book that inspired it, Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs) also portrays Jobs personal struggles during this time. Any entrepreneur can glean inspiration by watching this biographical film about one of the most powerful people who ever lived.

Moneyball

Even those don’t regularly watch baseball can get a kick out of Brad Pitt’s portrayal of the general manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane. The story depicts a team didn’t have enough money to pay top players, so Beane had to come up with a more cost-effective, unique way to be competitive. Why should watch? Beane’s innovativeness and creativity are valuable traits any entrepreneur should have. Taking something imperfect and doing it better is what entrepreneurs are best at.

Pirates of Silicon Valley

There’s a reason Silicon Valley breeds countless successful entrepreneur. This movie highlights two of the best known: Steve Jobs of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft. This made-for-TV movie digs deep into the early rivalry between the two, and what ended up launching both to high levels of success.

Movies can teach us a lot by depicting the lives of others who have walked the path of entrepreneurship before you. You can glean a lot of inspiration, motivation, creativity, and ideas from watching such films. Thinking outside the box is an important skill to have as a business owner, and these films all portray people who did exactly that.

Using the 3P Change Equation to Stimulate Sustainable Change

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Making sustainable changes in any organization is not easy: Change is hard. People resist it—even positive change—and they often express their resistance through declining engagement and performance, and by slipping back into old habits.

But, change is necessary to succeed and grow. For change to happen, and for it to stick, tough decisions are needed. Leaders need to be serious about communicating passionately, engaging their people and increasing productivity to improve bottom line results.

Easier said than done, right?

But what if you approach change differently. Leaders first need to understand that you can’t change people—only people can decide to change.

Creating change requires a rational and, more importantly, an emotional connection. No matter how rational an argument you make for the need for change, people will not buy in until you engage them on an emotional level.

This is why creating change is so challenging. People are inherently resistant to change, and connecting with them emotionally will not happen overnight. Change takes time, and you need to have a plan—I use the 3P Change Equation.

The 3P Change Equation

Change in Purpose & Passion + Change in Process = Change in RESULTS

The 3P change equation is a framework that is focused on both the emotional and rational elements of change. It includes 3 essential elements that are critical for CHANGE:

Purpose

State your intent behind the change you propose and define what your organization will stand for and how you will choose to behave/conduct yourself. This also establishes your culture.

In the absence of a clear focused purpose—whether it be for the company or a project you are working towards—people will fill that vacuum with their own and you potentially have people moving in different directions.

However, with a clear purpose in place, it provides your people with clarity and the opportunity to emotionally connect and join you in your journey.

Passion

Once you have a clarified your purpose, you need to tap into the passion/emotion of the people who you are working with. You need to understand who your people are and what drives them so you can tap into their emotions.

This starts with your own behaviors. Leaders need to go first—lead by example and walk the talk. Integrity of your behaviors opens the door for others to trust your vision and decisions—and builds trust and cooperation into your organizational culture.

Process

Finally, you need a clear roadmap of where you are going and how you will get there. The foundational element of any roadmap is a process for building accountability into your organizational DNA. Without that critical ingredient, no process will save your change initiative.

Clarity of expectations creates accountability and ensures the organization delivers against expectations—internally and externally. I call this a No Excuse mindset and it will help you achieve a change in results.

Sustainable Change Improves Performance, Profits, and Results

While difficult, change is essential if you want to see an improvement in performance, profits, and results. People inherently resist change—even positive change that is beneficial—because it is hard, messy and painful. And it should be, otherwise everyone would be doing it. It is much easier to hold onto what is working right now than to make hard decisions, ruffle feathers, and hold people accountable to navigate change.

To succeed, it is essential to stir emotions strongly enough to overcome the natural tendency to slide back into the comfort of old habits. Purpose, passion, and process are the key elements to get your organization fired up and focused on creating real change. When leaders understand the rational and emotional components of change and how to clearly leverage the 3P Change Equation, they will be in a position to achieve desired outcomes.

When all these elements are in place, then you can expect a sustainable change in RESULTS.

How to Regain Your Productivity with “Meeting Wednesdays”

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For about two years now I’ve only been doing meetings on Wednesdays. I recently told a friend about this strategy, and a few weeks later he sent me a text that read: “I owe you a big thank you. Meetings one day a week are a total game changer.”

He later told me, “Meeting Wednesdays will probably make me hundreds of thousands of dollars more productive over the course of my life.”

It’s not a secret that most people have way too many meetings. Meetings are also a secret killer of productivity. Even when the meeting itself isn’t a waste of time, the mere existence of a meeting during the day just about guarantees you won’t get as much done. As Paul Graham puts it: “A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.”

Meetings are a problem, but they’re also a necessary evil. The solution is something I call “Meeting Wednesdays.” It’s a simple concept: I only take meetings on Wednesdays. I don’t make a big deal of it. If someone asks to grab coffee on Tuesday, I’ll ask if Wednesday works instead. If that Wednesday is totally booked, I’ll ask about the next Wednesday (Sometimes I have to book two or three Wednesdays out.) I’ll usually caveat it with something as simple as, “I only do meetings on Wednesdays.”

Why Wednesday? It breaks up the week nicely. I like to plan for the week on Monday and review on Friday, and picking Wednesday splits the week in half and it offers a nice break.

Related Article: How to Make Meetings More Productive

The net result of doing meetings one day per week is having long, uninterrupted blocks of time during the other days that lets you be incredibly productive. You get to work on things that you otherwise wouldn’t do.

Other things I’ve learned about Meeting Wednesdays over time:

  1. Don’t plan on getting any work done during your meeting day. If you’re doing a bunch of meetings and you feel like you need to finish a bunch of tasks that day, you’ll just stress yourself out. It’s OK, a day full of meetings is enough work.
  2. Schedule your meetings in one area. I try to hold all meetings near where I already am so I don’t waste time traveling, although I rarely do back-to-back meetings in the exact same location. I have a set of default spots near each other. (Although occasionally I have to fake people out by leaving with them, walking around the block and coming back to the same spot. The wait staff enjoys watching this.)
  3. Give yourself in-between time. I take 10 minutes between meetings to decompress, jot down a few notes and/or travel to the next location. The best way to guarantee this time is to set meetings to 50 minutes by default (Google Calendar actually has a setting for this called “Speedy Meetings”). Ten minutes before the end of a meeting I’ll usually look at my phone and say, “I have about ten minutes before I have to run.”
  4. Meetings take many different forms. They can range from a 15-minute phone call to a 30-minute Skype to a 50-minute coffee. It doesn’t matter what it is—keep it to Wednesdays.
  5. Ask for an agenda in advance. If you’re having a meeting with someone, ask then to send over an agenda or a few questions in advance so that you can prepare. This requires the other person think about exactly what they want to talk about, and will make sure they don’t waste your time. Really, it’s the only way to be respectful of your own time. It also means you can potentially shorten your meeting if you’ve covered all the important stuff.
  6. Filter out the unimportant meetings. Forcing people to wait until Wednesday will often filter out the unimportant meetings. It will eliminate people who want some of your time but aren’t willing to wait for it or to work within your schedule. That’s great for me, since I don’t want to meet with those people anyway.
  7. Avoid meetings in the first place. In my Medium post “How to get a busy person to respond to your email,” I mention that I use a template to avoid meetings where someone just wants to pick my brain. It asks that we only chat over email, and that they only ask specific questions.

When I tell people about “Meeting Wednesdays,” I often hear, “But I can’t only take meetings on Wednesday! My boss would kill me!” Which is too bad, though they may be right. Or maybe they don’t have control over their own schedule. That could be the case if their job revolves specifically around meetings, like sales or PR, but in many cases I’ve found it just isn’t true. People think they have less control than they actually do.

What about you? What strategies have you used to avoid meetings? Have you figured out a way to make meetings more productive? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Author: Mattan Griffel is Co-Founder & CEO of Y Combinator-backed One Month, the first-ever online school for entrepreneurs, and the best place to learn a new technical or business skill online in just one month. He was also nominated as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education.

The Worst Reasons to Buy a Franchise

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You want to become a franchise owner. It’s a big decision and one that takes tremendous consideration. Although you have your reasons for wanting to make this important next step, are they the right ones?

Here are five of the worst reasons to buy a franchise and how you can know if your motivations are going to help you succeed.

#1. You’re looking for a get rich quick scheme

Earning a quick fortune sounds like a dream to many people. It’s why the lottery is so popular.

There is a tremendous amount of success to be had in starting a franchise. With growth, you can fill your savings account, put your child through school and give your family a healthy lifestyle. Still, this type of success doesn’t typically happen overnight. It comes from hard work and smart growth strategies.

There are certain financial must-dos before you start your franchise. Not tackling these first could hinder your chances at fast growth.

#2. You’re thinking of starting a franchise as a side project

Owning a franchise is a full time job. It requires your full attention so you can develop, market and scale your new endeavor.

If you’re interested in starting a franchise as a side project, you might want to think again. Consider this:

  • What is enticing you about the specific franchise you want to start?
  • Is there a reason why you don’t want to jump into this full time, such as fear?
  • Are you able to give a franchise the attention it deserves so it can grow?

Answer these questions and you might find your solution is to go into the franchise full time. Or, you might find the opposite to be true—that a franchise isn’t right for you at this time in your life.

#3. You want to prove your family wrong when they aren’t being supportive of your efforts

Having family support is critical when owning a business. You will likely put in some long hours while you build your staff and establish yourself in the community where you serve. By not having the full encouragement of your immediate family, you could experience unexpected challenges.

#4. You want to change the way a certain franchise operates

Do you have your eye on a specific franchise? Are you eager to change the way they do business and switch up the norm?

If that’s your primary motivation for starting the franchise, you might be better going into business for yourself. Many franchises have specific measures in place to prevent owners from making dramatic changes. Be prepared to listen to corporate before any drastic changes pop up.

#5. You’re not passionate about the industry but the opportunity looks too good to pass up

Owning a franchise is about passion. You must be driven to see it succeed. You must love the market where you work. Without this fire in your belly, growing your franchise will be much harder.

Takeaways

Franchise ownership isn’t for everyone. Before you make your next big investment, consider carefully if it’s the right decision for you and your family.

6 Eye-Opening Mobile Marketing Statistics

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Have you resisted diving into mobile marketing because it seems like a passing fad, one that is too “new” for a small business—or too difficult to execute? These eye-opening mobile marketing facts may challenge everything you think you know about mobile marketing.

  1. The world has gone mobile. Pew Internet Group reports that more Americans now own a smartphone than do not. What’s more, eMarketer predicts that by 2018, half of the world population will own a mobile device. Further, we’re just 12 percent away from the day we officially live in a world made up of more than two billion smartphone users. China tops the list as the country with the most smartphone users (500 million), followed by the United States (200 million users), India, Japan and Russia.
  2. We invest weeks of our lives into mobile devices. Mobilestatistics.com reports that we now spend more time staring at our mobile devices than our television sets; all that mobile use amounts to more than three weeks of our lives each year. Most of that mobile screen time is spent browsing the Web, gaming and staying connected to the outside world — largely through text and email.
  3. Email and mobile go hand in handExperian reported that more than half of all emails were opened on a mobile device in the last quarter of 2014—and most of that activity took place during users’ nonworking hours. Of the 900 million people who use Gmail, 75 percent of them check email on a mobile device, according to numbers shared at the May 2015 Google/TechCrunch developer conference. The popularity of the mobile inbox presents an opportunity for small-business owners to connect with consumers via email, on the very devices they’ve come to rely upon. In fact, Eleventy Group cites a survey in which nearly 70 percent of respondents said they prefer to hear from a business through email, compared to 17 percent who chose direct mail.
  4. Video is prime mobile entertainment. According to technology company Cisco, half of all mobile use involved mobile video in 2012. By 2014, that number pushed to 55 percent. The increasing popularity of video as a marketing tactic and the steadily increasing mobile viewership presents a prime opportunity for small-business marketers to leverage the cost-efficient medium to share brand stories, and form deeper connections with their customers through a multimedia platform.
  5. Social media owes much of its popularity to mobile. Social media has become a norm of communication in today’s digital world, thanks in large part to mobile devices and social media mobile apps. Nielsen data indicates that Android and Apple users over age 18 spend 65 percent more time engaging with mobile apps than they did two years ago, amounting to more than 30 hours a month spent using mobile apps. Further, comScore’s 2014 Mobile Metrix report reveals that nearly a quarter of all that app time is spent on social media. Facebook’s app still holds the top spot, with nearly a 70 percent reach. The next most popular social media app, YouTube, has a 50 percent reach.
  6. There is less competition in the channel than you think. If you’ve shied away from mobile marketing on the assumption that your small-business message won’t cut through the mobile media clutter created by larger brands, you may be missing an opportunity to get noticed by your mobile audience. In fact, 40 percent of marketers polled by ChiefMarketer.com said they never include mobile marketing in their strategy; just 10 percent use mobile marketing consistently enough to consider it a weekly tactic. For small businesses, mobile marketing is a low-cost channel that is largely untapped, and can be used to connect with customers at the very moment they’re looking for a product or service you provide.

Mobile marketing may be a new tactic to many marketers, but it’s one that is ripe with opportunity—as these statistics demonstrate. Regardless of what you sell or to whom, it’s very likely that there is a mobile marketing opportunity you can leverage.

Kristen GramignaAuthor: Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm. She has over 20 years experience in the bankcard industry in marketing, direct sales and sales management. Follow her on Twitter here.

The Ultimate Guide to IRS Tax Audits & How to Avoid an Audit

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Most people cringe when they hear the word audit. Going through the ropes and ultimately resolving an audit is no fun and could be costly, so it’s important to determine a plan of action to avoid being audited in the first place.

What is a Tax Audit?

A tax audit takes place when the Internal Revenue Service or a state agency conducts a closer review of the financial records of a business, an organization, or an individual. The IRS primarily focuses on examining tax returns. This examination is done to ensure that all information is being properly reported on an actual tax form, such as IRS Form 1040.

In addition to traditional audits, there are also joint tax audits. A joint audit is the examination of a business or individual tax return by 2 or more auditors in 2 or more states who examine cross-border tax issues. These auditors work together on a single audit to gain a full understanding of the situation at-hand.

How Does an Audit Work?

While the process of flagging tax returns for potential audits may seem random, the IRS uses the Discriminate Income Function (DIF)—a computer program that compares your deductions with those of others in your income bracket—to search for inconsistencies.

If you get audited, it’s likely you’ll receive a notice in the mail that indicates you’re being audited, along with the specific reason. From there, you can either agree or disagree with the audit. To agree, you must sign off on the paperwork and send it back with any requested documents and payments to account for the inconsistencies on your audited return.

For an in-person audit, the auditor will visit your office or place of business to conduct a thorough review of your records. This process may involve examining your printed documents or computer systems. It varies on how long such an audit can take. In some cases, it could take an auditor several days – or even a few weeks –to sufficiently review the records in your office.

If you do receive a notice from the IRS detailing the issue with your tax return, make the recommended changes and send the requested documentation to fulfill the request. If you disagree with an audit, you can file an appeal with the IRS, which could ultimately lead to landing in a tax court if the issue cannot be resolved between you and the auditor.

What Causes an Audit?

Certain discrepancies raise red flags for auditors, such as miscalculations on tax returns, overestimations on deductions, and other information that appears to be inaccurate, inconsistent, or out of the ordinary.

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example of a tax audit:

Jack miscalculated his home office deduction by claiming more expenses than he actually incurred while running his small business from home. Instead of writing down $500 for his home office deduction, he wrote down $5,000 on his tax return. The IRS agent reviewing the tax form noticed the unusually large deduction and flagged the return for an audit. The IRS then mailed Jack an audit notice, requesting that he clarify the write-off. He submitted his records, and it became evident to the agent that he miscalculated the deduction. It took 3 months to resolve the issue, and Jack had to file for an extension to avoid late-filing fees. He ultimately was able to claim the correct $500 amount for the home office deduction.

Who Normally Gets Audited?

In 2014, the IRS audited more than 1.2 million taxpayers. IRS statistics show that out of every 37 returns for people with incomes of $200,000 or higher, someone will get audited. For those who earn $1 million or higher, the probability is more like 1 out of 13.

But don’t think that the only people getting audited are the ones with yearly incomes that reach 6 or 7 figures. If you are a waitress, bartender, hairdresser, or are involved in any cash-based industry, you’re already more likely to be audited. The same goes for doctors, lawyers, or accountants who normally keep their own books. Sole proprietors and Schedule C filers also have a higher chance of getting audited than formally established business owners who operate LLCs or corporations.

Why to Avoid an Audit

There are several reasons why you should do your best to avoid being audited. For one, an audit can be a time-consuming process that will take away valuable time from focusing on your priorities and could result in you having to pay more in taxes to the IRS. Additional accuracy-related penalties exist for filers whose returns are incorrectly reported. Nobody wants to owe more money than they think they do. Also, the chances of a future audit increase if you’ve been audited before. Getting in major hot water can occur when taxpayers try to evade the IRS or file fraudulent returns. These actions could result in criminal charges.

IRS auditors are instructed to close audits within 28 months of the date you filed your tax return or the date it was due—whichever is later. This means an audit can be hanging over your head for over 2 years.

An audit could involve sending and receiving several pieces of mail in order to fully resolve the issue and pay any requested fees you owe to the IRS. Imagine having to open your mailbox every day wondering what your latest letter from Uncle Sam will say. Audits can be very tedious because of how much detail is involved in getting on the same page with the IRS. It can be what seems like a never-ending, back-and-forth nightmare.

Who wants to deal with the IRS for any reason at all—let alone for a long period of time in order to resolve one audited return? Of course, nobody does.

Tips to Avoid a Tax Audit

There are a few basic strategies you can use to significantly reduce your chances of getting that dreaded audit notice in your mailbox:

1) Ensure your tax return is 100% complete.

After your tax return has been completely filled out from top to bottom, review it with a fine-tooth comb. Make sure that every line that is applicable to your tax situation has been filled out completely and correctly. If you submit an incomplete tax return, a tax authority may question why you did not disclose certain information on your return.

If a line on your return doesn’t apply to you, still fill it in with a “0” or dash (—) so that nothing is left blank. A blank space can raise a big red flag.

2) Report all taxable income on your return.

Taxpayers who are categorized into higher income tax brackets—particularly earners of over $200,000 per year—typically have a higher chance of getting audited. While the good majority of individuals bring in most of this income legitimately from a small business, a W-2 job, or through interest or investments, all taxable income must be reported on your return. The IRS wants to know about every taxable penny you earn, so be sure you disclose it appropriately.

3) Avoid claiming large itemized tax deductions.

If you choose to itemize your tax deductions rather than claiming the standard deduction, the IRS may compare your write-offs to what fellow taxpayers in your income tax bracket claim on their returns. If the agent reviewing your return determines that your deductions are a little high, they might give it a second look.

4) Properly claim all eligible tax deductions on expenses.

Home office deduction: To claim the home office deduction when filing your return, you must use a specific area of your residence for business activities. You can write off either an appropriate percentage of your bills, or you can claim the flat-rate deduction of $5 per square foot with a maximum deduction of $1,500 for up to 300 square feet of home office space. It’s critical to fully document all of your home office expenses.

Meals and entertainment deduction: Self-employed professionals are also allowed to write off 50% of business-related meals and entertainment activities as a tax deduction. But you must follow a few rules to ensure the agent reviewing your return doesn’t question the deduction. Stick to the 50% write-off amount, document who was present at the gathering, and don’t forget to write down the type of business that was conducted or discussed. Saving receipts is a must, and failing to do any of these things could trigger an audit.

Travel expenses: Don’t forget travel expenses you can also write off. As long as you travel by plane, train, or automobile for business purposes, you can deduct these costs. Let’s say you fly from New York City to Los Angeles to meet with a client. You can deduct your flight, rental car, hotel, and any other travel expenses you incur for the trip. If you’re an employee, you may write off unreimbursed employee expenses, which could include travel costs.

Deducting charitable contributions: As a business owner, it’s also nice to be philanthropic. And you can save on taxes while helping others, too. Consider making donations to your favorite charity—clothing, toys, household goods, or even a vehicle. As long as you donate to a qualifying charity and save your receipts, you can deduct 100% of your non-cash charitable contributions on your tax return. Documentation is key here to help you avoid an audit.

5) Always claim accurate deductions on business losses you incur.

Business losses are commonly incurred, especially during the startup phase of a brand new company. To properly deduct any business losses you incur, they must qualify as deductible losses. The best way to meet this requirement is to launch or maintain a formally established business entity, such as an LLC, S corporation, or C corporation. Doing so helps you prove to the IRS that these losses are actually tied to your business and are not simply personal losses.

6) Explain yourself to the IRS.

If you think your tax return has a good chance of raising an audit flag, you should include extra forms, worksheets, or receipts with your filing. Use them to explain inconsistencies on any audited returns from the last few years in areas such as your name, your dependents, deduction amounts, and income. This can help you avoid unnecessary correspondence with the IRS when it comes to clarifying your information.

7) Double-check your numbers.

It’s easy to skip over numbers or calculations, especially when you consider how many figures can appear on your tax form. So, you could easily make errors between the number 100 and the number 1,000 if you’re in a hurry to fill out your return. Calculations should always be done on a calculator—or even with an app on your smartphone—to ensure accuracy. Make the same calculations more than once to guarantee certainty in the numbers you record on your return for income and deductions. Pay close attention to zeroes, decimal points, and commas.

8) Incorporate if you work for yourself.

Filing a Schedule C as a self-employed taxpayer automatically increases your audit risk. If you are your own boss, consider incorporating or setting up an LLC for yourself. In general, corporations and LLCs are audited less frequently than sole proprietorships and partnerships. This is because what would ordinarily look abnormal on a personal return would make more sense for a business.

In essence, having a formal entity proves to the IRS that you are indeed operating a business, rather than claiming you are.

9) Avoid filing amendments to your IRS tax returns.

If you file an amended return, your original return could also come under scrutiny, so make an effort to file correctly the first time around. An amended tax return is filed in order to make corrections to an original return. This may involve correcting income amounts or deductions you are claiming. If you file an amended return, your original return could also get a second look. That’s why it’s critical to file correctly from the get-go. You don’t want the IRS to get suspicious when you’re submitting numerous returns for a single tax year.

The Bottom Line on Audits

There is no surefire way to guarantee that you will never receive an IRS audit notice in the mail in your lifetime. The same can be said for audits from non-federal agencies like state and local tax authorities. However, the aforementioned steps can significantly reduce your chances. It is also wise to work with an accounting professional who has dealt with audits in the past and knows how to avoid them in the future.

8 Essential Etiquette Tips for Your Next Business Dinner

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It doesn’t matter how schooled you are in etiquette. When it comes to business etiquette, there’s a lot more to know than the manners your mother taught you. In some instances, business dinners may hold major significance in shaping the future of your career. You want to leave a lasting, professional impression that will give others confidence in you. Remembering a few small formalities can take you a long way! To help you avoid any social faux pas at your next business dinner, here are 8 etiquette tips you should observe at your next function.

1. Master the art of greeting

Before everyone is seated, this is the best time for all introductions and handshakes. If others arrive before the meal is served, you’ll have to go through the process again on an individual basis. Generally, before another person sits at the table, you’ll want to stand and greet them. It’s not very polite to remain seated when shaking someone’s hand.

2. Choose your dish wisely

What you ultimately choose to eat should be influenced by the person hosting the business dinner, and also by what’s least likely to get on your clothes. Greasy or messy foods are always a no. What could be more embarrassing than sitting through a business dinner with stains on your shirt? You’ll also want to take note of what the host orders. Never go for the most expensive thing on the menu, and if your host orders a light dish, you should do the same.

3. Never assume alcohol is okay

If your host doesn’t order alcohol, or ask if he or she should order wine for the table, avoid ordering an alcoholic beverage. If your host doesn’t see anything wrong with having a drink or two during dinner, have a drink or two, but keep it to a maximum of two to avoid getting sloppy and tipsy.

4. Don’t monopolize the waiter

There are plenty of valid reasons for inquiring about a dish, such as making sure it won’t conflict with any food allergies. Having the waiter explain everything on the menu will give the impression that you’re rude and indecisive. If you have questions, limit them to one or two dishes, or explain your food allergy and ask what the waiter can safely recommend.

5. Eat neatly

This means taking small bites of food and working your way through your plate slowly. Obviously, you should be cautious to avoid taking with your mouth full. Lay your utensils down back where you found them, and never gesture with your hands while you’re holding utensils or glassware.

6. Carefully consider topics of conversation

Sex, politics, and religion are considered the three most controversial conversation topics. You’ve come to have a business dinner, not a debate. If other people engage in those topics, avoid putting your two cents in. Allow them to discuss things, and keep your opinions to yourself.

7. Excuse yourself correctly

You don’t need to tell everyone you have to pee. It’s a natural thing, and it happens to everyone, but your associates would rather not know where you’re going. Simply say, “please excuse me” before removing yourself from the table and pushing your chair back.

8. Don’t squabble over the bill

You may think you’re being the nice, but your host may perceive it as insulting if you offer to cover part of the bill. They invited you there, and they’ve likely already planned to pay for the bill. Business dinners can often be written off, and your host already knows what they’re doing. Simply thanking them and shaking hands upon departure is good enough.

Remember that your guests and hosts will also help set the tone of the evening. Some business events are more casual than others, but it’s always best to walk in assuming that the bar is set high for formalities. You can always reduce the level of your proper presentation, but you can’t take back any mishaps.

Author: Zoe Anderson is a marketing assistant at StudySelect. She’s keen on learning about new branding strategies and digital marketing tools.

 

7 Inspiring Books You Must Read

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She told me to turn off the light.

It was 8pm and it was time to sleep according to the adult’s house rules. These were non-negotiable. My desire and passion for reading that I had discovered after mastering “the cat sat on the mat” sentence at the age of five, made this a cruel and arbitrary time.

And a seven year old’s passionate response…

“…But I want to keep reading.”

Despite protestations and mumblings, the light switch was flicked to the off position. First battle lost. The adults (sometimes referred to as my parents) had all the fun. But they didn’t count on my patience that was driven by an inherited trait of passionate persistence.

As the house went silent I grabbed my bedside lamp and positioned it under the bedcovers so that an orbiting spy satellite would have trouble knowing what I was doing. Parents score zero and child chalks up a win.

This was the start of a reading habit that has sometimes bordered on obsessive.

Glimpses of genius

Books are your access to the best minds in the world. From creativity, to business and marketing and beyond. They distill the essence of what often is a life of learning into a few pages. It is where you will discover ideas, tactics and habits that are the seeds to success.

A great book is one that reveals the ideas with clarity. They expose the genius but don’t hide it in dross and words that don’t matter. Often the best books are the short books.

It’s also what you do with those concepts that will define you.

Self publishing doesn’t need permission

Some of us may want to not just read but write. Today you do not need to beg for permission to publish a book. You can write it in a word document, send it to your designer (that you found on Freelancer) to create a great looking cover and then upload it to Amazon.

You are now an author!

New age writers and authors are taking advantage of that and building a lifestyle and businesses based on their creative output.

But you must keep in mind that becoming a good or even a great writer requires practice and also that means reading and more reading. Steven King said that, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Great ideas do not emerge from a vacuum.

It’s a new age and you need to reinvent yourself

In an age of video, multimedia and digital innovation the book and the business landscape has evolved. You can read books on tablets, book readers and even your smart phone. You can gain ideas that were made public just a few seconds after the author hit the publish button on their blog.

In a digital age that changes every day, the role of books, blog posts and self-education are more vital than ever. We cannot rely on just the wisdom of the last century or even a decade that has just passed. We need to continue to hunt down the new ideas and innovations that are driving an ever changing world.

Here are some inspiring books that I have read recently and are also woven into my creativity, business and marketing habits.

1. Elon Musk: Tesla SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

In this book, veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance provides the first inside look into the extraordinary life and times of Silicon Valley’s most audacious entrepreneur. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, the book traces the entrepreneur’s journey from a rough upbringing in South Africa to the pinnacle of the global business world.

Vance spent over 40 hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to 300 people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk’s world-changing companies: PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, and to characterize a man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation while making plenty of enemies along the way.

My key lessons from this book are the three vital ingredients that all successful people have. An appetite for hard work, passion and a higher purpose that is not about money. It’s what you need if you want to change to world or make a dent in the universe.

Sorry…I forgot one other lesson. Dare to dream big.

2. The One Thing

This book by Gary Keller reveals the power of focusing on your “one thing.” His New York Times bestselling books have sold more than 2 million copies.

He also reveals the “One” thing that made Keller Williams Realty, Inc., one of the largest real estate companies in the world. What was that? It was writing a book that positioned him and his company as the authority in real estate in the USA.

In The ONE Thing, you’ll also learn productivity tips such as:

  • Cut through the clutter
  • Achieve better results in less time
  • Build momentum toward your goal
  • Dial down the stress

 3. Steal like an Artist

Creativity and genius is sometimes thought of as being that one insight or flash of inspiration that appears from nowhere. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In this this very insightful book by Austin Kleon explains that you don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself.

That’s the message from Austin, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.

4. Now, Discover Your Strengths

The biggest challenge for all of us is discovering what your mission on this planet is. That is often the journey of a lifetime.

It also means working on your strengths but many of us don’t know what they are.

Or how to find them.

Unfortunately, most of us have little sense of our talents and strengths, much less the ability to build our lives around them. Instead, guided by our parents, by our teachers, by our managers, and by psychology’s fascination with pathology, we become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair these flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected.

Marcus Buckingham, (who was also coauthor of the national bestseller First, Break All the Rules), and Donald O. Clifton, have created a revolutionary program to help readers identify their talents, build them into strengths, and enjoy consistent, near-perfect performance. At the heart of the book is the Internet-based StrengthsFinder Profile, the product of a 25-year, multimillion-dollar effort to identify the most prevalent human strengths.

This book comes with free access to the web based “Strength Finder Test” that you will find very revealing. I know I did.

5. The Lean Startup: How Relentless Change Creates Radically Successful Businesses

The digital age has turned almost every aspect of our world on its head. This extends to our personal lives and how we do business.

Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs—in companies of all sizes—a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. The author Eric Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in an age when companies need to innovate more than ever.

I found this a great book to challenge my thinking and grow my business.

6. Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success

This book by Ken Seagall caught my attention after reading Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson while travelling by train through Italy. After that 630 page exposure to the mind of a genius, I became a bit of a Steve Jobs fanboy. So finding out more about the person that has redefined our world was tempting.

To Steve Jobs, simplicity was a religion. It was also a weapon. Simplicity isn’t just a design principle at Apple—it’s a value that permeates every level of the organization. The obsession with simplicity is what separates Apple from other technology companies. It’s what helped Apple recover from near death in 1997 to become the most valuable company on Earth in 2011.

What does this book cover?

  • Think Minimal: Distilling choices to a minimum brings clarity to a company and its customers—as Jobs proved when he replaced over twenty product models with a lineup of four.
  • Think Small: Swearing allegiance to the concept of “small groups of smart people” raises both morale and productivity.
  • Think Motion: Keeping project teams in constant motion focuses creative thinking on well-defined goals and minimizes distractions.
  • Think Iconic: Using a simple, powerful image to symbolize the benefit of a product or idea creates a deeper impression in the minds of customers.

Put it on your reading list!

7. Do the Work

This short but powerful and inspiring book by Steven Pressfield was revealing about a problem that many of us have. Having a lot of great ideas but not doing the work. This book led to me adopting the Mantra “Done is better than perfect”.

It also helps answer questions such as:

  • Could you be getting in your way of producing great work?
  • Have you started a project but never finished?
  • Would you like to do work that matters, but don’t know where to start?

So the answer is Do the Work, a manifesto by bestselling author Steven Pressfield, that will show you that it’s not about better ideas, it’s about actually doing the work. Do the Work is a weapon against Resistance—a tool that will help you take action and successfully ship projects out the door.

Over to you

Books are great and reading them is fun. You can gain many great ideas that are inspiring, motivating and lead to many conversations. But if you don’t take the key lessons and start the work then nothing happens.

Over to you.

Mailing Lists, Email Marketing, Errors, Oh My!

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Using old email lists for the first time is like eating really stale doughnuts. The taste is pretty bad, and the side effects could be disastrous.

Email companies like Constant Contact, MailChimp and many others all have strict rules they follow to avoid being caught in spam hell, with their servers blacklisted and worse. Each has automated software watching over your uploads of new lists. And each will block the use of any list they detect may be suspicious.

If you have 4,000 names and add 12,000 more, that’s a red flag. Most services will automatically block you until you fill out a form and even speak to a representative. They will ask where you got the list, and was it single or double opt-in? Did you get the list from any third party? Is the list tested with opt-ins less than one-year old?

Now the last question is a daunting one for any of us. Which one of us has run any of our lists through the opt-in process each year with a special email to everyone on the list essentially telling them that they must opt-in to continue receiving material from us? I’ll bet the answer is “none of us.” Yet that is what some of the mailing houses insist upon if they suspect a list is not generated by you directly through opt-in sign-ups.

How about a list you have that is over a year old that hasn’t been used lately? You can pay about a penny per name with a usual minimum of $100 to clean the list, which is quite effective. The list cleaning service will separate your list into five groups: verified (good name and not a trap), unknown (may be good but careful), undeliverable (bounced), unreachable (invalid domain), and illegitimate (known trap, monitoring domain, or black hole.) The first group is the only safe one to trust. Many of the common portals like AOL, Yahoo and MSN do not return a response to an email ping, leading all of those addresses to be classed as “unknown.” And that’s a large part of anyone’s list.

Your mailing list company must protect themselves, and in doing so, protect you. A large number of bounces or many unsubscribes in a single mailing are red flags that will be caught by the mailing company system. Depending upon the size of the list in relation to the total size of all of your lists with that mailing company, your account may be placed on hold while you complete a form with detailed answers about where you got the names, if you got them yourself, and if you have verified them with an opt-in during the last year.

So how do you grow a list if you purchase names from a service? The first answer is in the form of a question. Does the service guarantee that the names have been run through their verification filter in the last month or two? If not, the bounce rate will be as much as one percent higher for each month the list has not been trimmed. That amounts to big numbers in a short time.

The second answer is to divide the list into small bites that are less than a third the size of your present lists in sum, and feed those in slowly into the system.

Another protection with an incremental benefit is to register your domain with emailreg.org, which will verify that your domain for mass emails is legitimate and not spam, then provide a whitelist of legitimate email servers with their domains—to reduce the chance of false positives while spam filtering. Many ISP spam filters check the legitimacy of domains as one test before tossing your email into their spam filter. The cost is a minimal annual fee, and may be worth it, especially if you use your “regular” email address for mass mailings and do not want to have normal email traffic challenged as spam.

The days of spam mailings to spam lists are gone, and we have all benefited by the enforcement of laws in many countries, especially in the United States. Follow the rules and suggestions above, and your doughnuts will not be stale. And you’ll not suffer a stomach ache or worse.

Benefits of Video Marketing for Small Businesses

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Video marketing is often seen as an expensive, luxurious form of marketing, reserved only for big brands with equally big marketing budgets.

When it comes to getting (and keeping) consumer attention, there’s little doubt video does the job. Video marketing is bigger than ever, with online video accounting for a staggering 50% of mobile web traffic. We just can’t get enough of those cat videos it seems.

Beyond better bounce rates and having the rapt attention of your visitor, there are other compelling reasons to go video. For one, on a mobile device, a video takes up the whole screen. So it’s almost a guarantee you have the full attention of your visitor. With large amounts of text your customers can quickly lose focus. A video helps to get the same message across in a lot less time. A video can be a great tool for making a memorable impression.

Using videos is a proven way of increasing trust in your brand. In many cases a video is a far greater way to showcase the benefits of your product than plain text alone. A video makes for a welcome change for many prospects. According to Forbes, 59% of executives would rather watch video than read text.

Overall a video helps you build a relationship with your audience. When it comes to creating content online, it’s often better to think about how you can maintain relationships, not just try to sell to people.

Video Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, or complicated

There is often an assumption that video marketing is too expensive or time consuming. In reality a smartphone or budget camcorder can look just as good. You can get hold of some cheap lighting and hire a video editor on Fiverr to add a professional touch to your video, all for a small cost.

In fact you can use video marketing without creating a video at all. Think about all of the videos available on YouTube, if a video gives value to your audience; ask the content creator if you can use it on your website. Very often they’ll be happy for you to share their video for them.

Why use video marketing?

Thinking about using video marketing? Here are some reasons why you should start:

  • Video marketing improves email campaigns. Using the word “video” in an email subject line can increase open rates by 19%.
  • Video marketing increases the time people spend on your site. Visitors spend 2 minutes longer browsing websites with video than those without.
  • Video marketing increases your search ranking. If you want to increase your search ranking, a video is a great way to achieve it. Research by Forrester found that having a video on a web page makes it 53x more likely to appear on the first page of Google. How much value can you put on that?
  • Video marketing helps make purchase decisions. In a survey by swimwear boutique, over 90% of shoppers surveyed found video useful in making purchase decisions.

These are just some of the benefits of using video in your online marketing.

Video marketing tips for small businesses

Creating a video is one thing, making sure it has an affect is another. Before you start with your first video, take a look at some of these video marketing tips for small businesses:

  • Keep your videos short. People will be far more likely to click a video that’s 2 minutes than one that’s 15 minutes. Equally they’ll be more likely to view it to the end.
  • Link back to your website. There’s no point using videos if you don’t get your visitors to take action from it. Website links or landing page links with an email capture or other call to action will get you prospects while they’re hot.
  • Make your video valuable. People want to gain some sort of value from your video. Whether that is learning something new or being entertained, value must be derived. Don’t make your videos solely promotional in nature. Your audience will lose interest and you’ll lose prospects.
  • Show your personality. Be true to your business, what makes your business different?

Simply put, video is an affordable marketing tool that makes an impact. Video can help your business to stand out from the crowd and keep people interested in your brand.