If You Want Great Results, You Need to Be Committed – Joe Ludson

In the game of life, I have never known anyone who achieved great success by simply being interested in what they do. The road to success is littered with people who are interested in achieving something, but it takes more than interest, or even passion, it takes commitment to be great at something.

This concept of interest vs. commitment is something I share with my sons regularly. At their ages, 13 and 11, this life lesson is easily illustrated through sports. My oldest son has played nearly every sport imaginable and has been interested in all of them. Guess whose time and money have been spent on his interests?

After many speeches about the difference between being interested and being committed, he now understands that I am not purchasing one more football, basketball, baseball or lacrosse stick if I don’t see a commitment to the sport. I now see him practicing a little more than he was just six months ago! He is starting to understand the difference and see the direct correlation between his commitment to practice and the newfound success in his athletic life.

This concept translates to all areas of life, especially business. As a CEO it is my responsibility to set expectations for our organization and show my commitment to those expectations. I suspect there isn’t a single employee at our organization who doubts my daily commitment to the company or to my own development and success. I expect the same from each employee who joins our organization.

When evaluating employees, you need to see commitment in their actions and not just hear a bunch of words about how great they want to be and what they want to accomplish. Talk doesn’t get the job done.

From a sales perspective, if you have a team of people who are interested in being successful or hitting their quota, trust that you will end up investing a lot of time and money for little return. If you invest in developing and helping committed individuals become great at their craft, you’ll surely see a positive yield from that investment.

Everyone has tough days, and there will be days when leaders in the organization will need to challenge personnel to be committed. How do you accomplish this? Find out what drives and motivates the team members, either personally or professionally. Ask them about their goals, what aspects of the job they like or find challenging, where they want to be professionally and even financially over a six to 18 month period.

Keep these conversations restricted to timeframes that are realistic. Talking to people about five years down the road is hard for them to get their head around, especially for young people who are accustomed to instant gratification. People want success now, and few are willing to be patient. However, if you can find those who are committed, you can help them build momentum and ultimately achieve great things for themselves, for you, and ultimately, for the organization.

Building a team or a company is no easy task, and if you don’t currently have committed individuals on your team, rethink your strategy and make the necessary changes. It really is that simple. To have a great organization or a great team, you need the buy-in and commitment of those on the team. Moreover, you as the leader must have an unwavering commitment to the success of yourself and those on your team.

Good leadership is invaluable to one’s career trajectory. Too often, people give half-hearted effort, leading to mediocre results. Success in anything is rarely accidental — ask any successful individual and I bet they would tell you there is no such thing as luck. Luck is created, and it starts and stops with commitment, not interest.

Commit to being successful or get ready to be passed by those who are.

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3 Tips for Designing an Invoice That Gets You Paid Promptly – Ohad Samet

Cash flow is one of a business’s most important metrics. You may have a lot of sales and make a hefty profit margin, but when you don’t get paid on time, your business suffers. You have to pay employees, purchase inventory, as well as other necessary out of pocket expenses – all of which costs money. Yet many businesses report problems with getting paid on time, even for work that has been done and delivered.

You invoice your customers to get paid, but have you ever considered whether you’re using it correctly to increase your chances of getting paid on time? To do that, your invoice needs to include three key elements:

1. Establish rapport.
Establishing rapport means stating the details of what was delivered, what is owed and that the customer committed to make a payment. You need to clearly state what products or services you provided and refer to the agreement you signed as well as the payment terms that you agreed on.

We found that the language you use in conveying the commitment to pay can change the customer’s response. Most of us tend to become rigid and demanding when we refer to legal commitments. We tend to write in what we think is “legalese”. While middle-aged business owners respond well to formal language, millennial business owners are turned off when faced with it since they view such language as threatening. It’s vital to adapt your language to your customers’ expectations to get your message across.

2: Defining a process.
Parkinson’s law says that work will expand to fill the time that’s available to complete it. So will your customer’s payment behavior. You might have a due date on the original agreement but the customer will often miss it, either intentionally or accidentally. Anything that’s more than a few days out often gets forgotten.

To counter that, always work in short cycles. Provide ample notice before a payment is due and follow up several times in shortening time frames. We found that three days prior to a payment is the ideal time to send a reminder. This pattern should stop at payment reminders: if a customer happens to be late, and you send a demand for payment, make sure that you give him a deadline for payment, too. Write “Please make a payment immediately or contact us in the coming three days”.

Of course, you have to stay honest to your process. Some follow up has to come when these days pass.

3: Removing obstacles.
Once the customer accepts your authority and is aware that a payment is due, the last thing that remains is excuses and how to manage them, but your invoice can go a long way in responding to excuses even before they’re uttered.

One of the main excuses we see is disagreement with the content of the invoice or the stated work long after it has been delivered. This is really an attempt to renegotiate price. Most business owners tend to assume that if the customer voiced no disagreement when the work was done, he agrees to the charge and will pay. We found that this is not the case. Often, especially when the charge is big, you could run into disagreements long after a payment is due.

Don’t run away from a dispute. Make it part of your process, and set boundaries. Be explicit about the process: write “If you wish to dispute this charge, please contact us in the coming three days”. Be ready to discuss and listen to your customer because losing a customer’s future business is much worse than a 5 percent discount if you accept a dispute over a minor item.

Using the right language in your invoice can significantly reduce your time to getting paid. The right language creates a connection with your customer, defines a process to get paid and removes obstacles that would otherwise hinder payment. These are simple yet effective elements you need to make sure are included in every communication with your customers – not only to get paid, but to also maintain a healthy relationship.

One Kings Lane’s Alison Pincus on the Importance of Coffee Dates and Asking for Help – Nina Ziplin

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Alison Pincus, along with Susan Feldman, seized an opportunity when they founded One Kings Lane in 2009: The recession. Looking to offer exclusive discounts and flash sales to users on curated high-end, vintage and designer home décor furniture and accessories, the ecommerce platform became a beloved brand during this down time. And it still is. This year, after raising $112 million, the company’s valuation is approaching $1 billion. We caught up with Pincus to talk about the importance of doing your research, listening to your gut and not being afraid to ask for help.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting up?

A: As I look back, I wish I had better prioritized time against legal efforts, such as contracts and governance matters, as well as document management. When you’re first starting-up one’s to-do list is incredibly long and endless. There’s just never enough time to get it all done.

So for example, entrepreneurs who are not well versed in the law often rely on the expertise of others for contracts and governance guidance. Taking the time upfront to ask the really hard questions and to go deep on topics will save time and unnecessary burdens in the long run. And it’s important to make sure that you are properly filing all contracts, NDAs and other important documents. It’s easy to think in the early days that you’ll always remember where you placed X, Y and Z, but in reality, your laptop or cloud-management system gets cluttered fast. I learned these lessons through experiences like raising capital and business development deals. It would have been wonderful to have had a startup angel providing me with guidance but like anything, you learn from just doing.

Q: What do you think would have happened if you had this knowledge then?
A: I would have sought more advice from my fellow entrepreneurs and spent more time researching my questions.

Q: How do you think young entrepreneurs might benefit from this insight?
A: Young entrepreneurs will ultimately benefit the most from truly understanding governance, finance — both debt and equity — and legal tradeoffs when it comes to raising a round of capital, so they can set their businesses on a growth trajectory.

Q: Besides inventing a time machine, how might they realize this wisdom sooner?
A: Becoming immersed in the entrepreneurial community can yield a variety of benefits, especially the sharing of knowledge and wisdom. Go on coffee dates, attend conferences, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Q: What are you glad you didn’t know then that you know now? Why?
A: In hindsight, there are many things that I’m glad I didn’t know before I started One Kings Lane with Susan [Feldman]. I think if one knows too much, it’s much easier to walk away from an opportunity to be a change agent.

Q: What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A: Solve a market need; follow your passion; work smartly and efficiently and remember to enjoy the good and the hard days. Most importantly, listen to your gut.

Going the Distance: How Improving Your Health Helps Improve Your Bottom Line – Jake Gibson

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In 2007, I was at the front of the oncoming credit crisis: Working on Wall Street, overseeing interest rate risk and trades at one of the nation’s largest investment banks. I was growing weary of my job — I felt stressed out, uninspired and unhealthy.

So I laced up my running shoes and hit the road.

Seven years later I’m helping run a company I co-founded, taking care of a pair of newborn twins with my wife and am in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life. While others may view spending an hour or 90 minutes each day on physical fitness as a luxury, I’ve come to see it as a necessity.

I’m not alone. “Executives who exercise are significantly more effective leaders than those who don’t,” according to research from the Center of Creative Leadership (CCL). “Time invested in regular exercise, even if it means spending less time at work, is correlated with higher ratings of leadership effectiveness.”

CCL performed a 10-year study comparing executives who regularly exercise with those who don’t (or only hit the gym sporadically) and compared it with 360-degree reviews of their work performance with their colleagues. “We found that the exercisers rated significantly higher than their non-exercising peers on overall leadership effectiveness,” writes Dr. Sharon McDowell-Larsen, co-author of the study. “They also scored higher on specific traits including: inspiring commitment, credibility, leading others, leading by example, energy, resilience and calmness.”

I know I couldn’t effectively deal with stress on multiple fronts without dedicating time to my physical well-being. (And I am guessing many of you couldn’t either.)

Here are the steps I took that helped me run marathons and run my company.

Choose a practice that’s right for you. You wouldn’t choose to start a business in an area where you have no expertise. Similarly, start an exercise regimen that best fits for interests. When I was looking to get back in shape, I chose running, because it was the easiest to fit into the unpredictable, 24-7 demands of working on Wall Street. I didn’t need to sign up for a class nor did I need special equipment other than a good pair of running shoes.

The most important benefit for your work is doing something that will get you out of your head — which is often just what your head needs to get the creative juices flowing. I can’t tell you how many times an idea for NerdWallet has popped into my head during a run.

Question your assumptions. This wasn’t my first foray into running. I ran cross country during high school but quit my senior year after injuries and problems with my knees. I went to doctors and tried different orthotics, but at the end of the day, the experience left me with the assumption that I’m injury prone.

I had to question that assumption when I became determined to start running again in 2007. To free my body, I applied my mind — doing diligent research on proper training and injury prevention. Turned out my knee problem was a run-of-the-mill issue for runners that smart training helps sidestep.

What assumptions are keeping you from a physical practice? Perhaps you think you’re uncoordinated, or no good at a sport you’ve admired from afar? Maybe you are haunted by painful memories from school gym classes? Question the assumptions holding exercise at bay and good things will come your way.

And questioning notions of yourself helps shake up assumptions you may also hold about running your company. Sometimes the best way to make a quantum leap in your work is to step back and ask yourself, “Is my thinking right here? Am I approaching this from the wrong direction?”

Take it slow. “No pain, no gain,” is not a good aphorism when beginning an exercise regimen. Better to think “slow and steady wins the race.” Believe it or not, this is biggest difficulty you’ll face when getting back into shape.

Why? Your cardiovascular system improves much faster than your tissue and muscles, so you’re going to feel better faster than the physical improvement of your legs and feet. It creates a false confidence in your ability and a desire to push yourself harder than you’re ready.

Like when running a startup, sometimes the best thing you can do slow down: Business is a marathon, not a sprint. And sticking with a physical practice teaches a trait sorely undervalued in the go-go startup culture: Patience. Do the footwork, and the results will come.

Compete against yourself. I run in competitions, but I don’t say I’m competitive. There’s always the reward of beating yourself by improving on my times.Keep your goals and milestones personal. And keep it fun.

Competing against yourself nurtures resiliency, a key attribute that helps entrepreneurs survive the brutal contest of running a business. The competition will beat you time and again. Obstacles — often outside your control — will fall across your path. But focus on what you can control and progress is inevitable.

Create a virtuous circle. The greatest thing about a physical practice is the knock-on effect in other areas in your life. If you exercise, you automatically find yourself becoming more conscious of what you put in your body. I eat much better and keep well hydrated.

The CCL study on executive exercise found that “levels of body fat made no difference in how leaders are rated by their bosses, peers and direct reports.” In other words, consistent exercise matters more than weight loss. Colleagues respond not to a “slimmer you,” but to the energy, focus and mental agility you display that comes with regular exercise.

The most important benefit for me is improved energy levels. One of the things that stood out in my 360-degree reviews is that I clearly take on a lot of stress — I’m a high-strung person and tend to be anxious. At the same time I’m described as consistently high-energy. I attribute that to my running regimen.

Talent is no substitute for hard work. What I love about running is it’s not something where you have to be naturally good at it — you put in the work and you get better.

I honestly believe anyone could run a marathon if they put in the work. That’s a philosophy that’s also helps improve my work. If I don’t accept it’s out of reach, I can get it or, at least, I can get close enough.

This November I’m running the Quad Dipsea hill race for the first time. Seven years ago if you told me I would do that, I’d think you were crazy, like saying I’d help start a company.

Now I just view it as an exciting goal — and wonder what vistas I’ll see ahead of me after I complete that last mile.

Your Business Plan Must-Haves

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In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer words of wisdom from business plan experts on the key parts of your plan.

What are the most important parts of a business plan? Four experts, who’ve read hundreds of business plans, weigh in on this critical topic.

“This changes with the stage of the company,” says Robert Roeper, managing director of venture capital firm VIMAC. “In a very early-stage company, the key components are the definition of the need/projected market, the buyer and the product or technology that will be used to fulfill the need. Next comes the business model that speculates on the cost to acquire a customer and the anticipated revenue from that customer.

“Then comes a rational review of potential competition,” he explains. “Finally is a presentation of the management team that will get you to the next stage of growth. The reason for this order is that, in general, if the potential market isn’t big enough, all the other things don’t matter, and if the market is big enough but you can’t identify the buying chain, then you don’t know enough yet to position the product or technology, etc. Bad positioning is epidemic in early stage companies, but it can be corrected.”

Donna Maria Coles Johnson, author, speaker, and founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, thinks it depends on for whom the plan is prepared. “If it’s for a venture capitalist, the most important part would be the financials because they want to know how they’ll make money and how quickly they’ll make money,” she says. “Same if you’re seeking a bank loan or investors. Also important, no matter who the audience is, is the executive summary because it’s often the first thing people read. If the executive summary does not succinctly and enthusiastically convey the business concept, the reader will move on quickly to something else.

“Attention has to be captured quickly and held in order to obtain funding,” Johnson notes. “If the plan is geared toward attracting top management to become part of the team, the financials are important. But the executive summary is also important because it’s the part of the plan that demonstrates the idea that the management team will be part of a new, exciting, innovative venture with maximum chances of success. Everyone wants to be a part of success!

“Overall, there really is no ‘most important part,’” Johnson says. “A business plan has to tell a story. It has to flow with a fluidity and consistency throughout. If it doesn’t, and even one section falls flat, the entire story can be called into question. Each section should build on the other and refer specifically to the other when appropriate. There must be no inconsistencies that would call your planning and management expertise into question. A business plan should create a synergy, where the whole is greater and more credible than the mere sum of its parts.”

Scott Simpson, a former associate at Battery Ventures Associates, thinks there are three important parts of a business plan: the problem statement, the explanation of your solution to the problem and the explanation of your differentiation from your competitors. “The best plans clearly explain the reason for the proposed product or service’s existence,” he says. “For example, ‘My software will allow large manufacturers to integrate with their suppliers, which is something that they cannot do today and is necessary for them going forward.’ The explanation of a product or solution should clearly explain exactly what the product, service or business is going to produce or sell. The best plans are as specific as possible.”

“Finally,” Johnson adds, “explanation of a company’s differentiation usually focuses on the competition that will be encountered, the barriers to entry for potential competitors, and the sustainable long-term advantage of the business over other competitors. Some other very important components of a plan include market data and description of the management team. It’s crucial to understand exactly what skills each member of your team will bring to the business.”

Ronald Peterson, president of Three Arrows Capital, thinks that the most important part of your business plan is the very first paragraph. “Often, that’s the only part that most people will ever read, and of that, the opening sentence is the most important portion,” he says. “At Three Arrows Capital, we wrestle with that opening for days, and once we have it right, the rest comes far easier. The competition section is extremely important since not only does it demonstrate and give assurance that you have done your homework, it also alerts you to other business models and solutions in your chosen industry that you need to read and consider.”

7 Steps to Defining Your Niche Market

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In their book, Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting a business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors explain how you can find the right niche for your entrepreneurial needs.

You’ve come up with a great idea for a business, but you’re not ready to roll yet. Before you go any further, the next step is figuring out just who your market is.

There are two basic markets you can sell to: consumer and business. These divisions are fairly obvious. For example, if you’re selling women’s clothing from a retail store, your target market is consumers; if you’re selling office supplies, your target market is businesses (this is referred to as “B2B” sales). In some cases—for example, if you run a printing business—you may be marketing to both businesses and individuals.

No business—particularly a small one—can be all things to all people. The more narrowly you can define your target market, the better. This process is known as creating a niche and is key to success for even the biggest companies. Walmart and Tiffany are both retailers, but they have very different niches: Walmart caters to bargain-minded shoppers, while Tiffany appeals to upscale jewelry consumers.

“Many people talk about ‘finding’ a niche as if it were something under a rock or at the end of the rainbow, ready-made. That’s nonsense,” says Lynda Falkenstein, author of Nichecraft: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market and Make Customers Seek You Out. Good niches don’t just fall into your lap; they must be carefully crafted.

Rather than creating a niche, many entrepreneurs make the mistake of falling into the “all over the map” trap, claiming they can do many things and be good at all of them. These people quickly learn a tough lesson, Falkenstein warns: “Smaller is bigger in business, and smaller is not all over the map; it’s highly focused.”

Creating a good niche, Falkenstein advises, involves following a seven-step process:

1. Make a wish list.
With whom do you want to do business? Be as specific as you can. Identify the geographic range and the types of businesses or customers you want your business to target. If you don’t know whom you want to do business with, you can’t make contact. “You must recognize that you can’t do business with everybody,” Falkenstein cautions. Otherwise, you risk exhausting yourself and confusing your customers.

These days, the trend is toward smaller niches. Targeting teenagers isn’t specific enough; targeting male, African American teenagers with family incomes of $40,000 and up is. Aiming at companies that sell software is too broad; aiming at Northern California-based companies that provide internet software sales and training and have sales of $15 million or more is a better goal.

2. Focus.
Clarify what you want to sell, remembering that a) you can’t be all things to all people and b) smaller is bigger. Your niche isn’t the same as the field in which you work. For example, a retail clothing business is not a niche but a field. A more specific niche may be “maternity clothes for executive women.”

To begin this focusing process, Falkenstein suggests using these techniques to help you:

  • Make a list of things you do best and the skills implicit in each of them.
    List your achievements.
    Identify the most important lessons you’ve learned in life.
    Look for patterns that reveal your style or approach to resolving problems.
    Your niche should arise naturally from your interests and experience. For example, if you spent 10 years working in a consulting firm but also spent 10 years working for a small, family-owned business, you may decide to start a consulting business that specializes in small, family-owned companies.

3. Describe the customer’s worldview.
A successful business uses what Falkenstein calls the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would do unto themselves.” When you look at the world from your prospective customers’ perspective, you can identify their needs or wants. The best way to do this is to talk to prospective customers and identify their main concerns.

4. Synthesize.
At this stage, your niche should begin to take shape as your ideas and the client’s needs and wants coalesce to create something new. A good niche has five qualities:

  • It takes you where you want to go—in other words, it conforms to your long-term vision.
    Somebody else wants it—namely, customers.
    It’s carefully planned.
    It’s one-of-a-kind, the “only game in town.”
    It evolves, allowing you to develop different profit centers and still retain the core business, thus ensuring long-term success.

5. Evaluate.
Now it’s time to evaluate your proposed product or service against the five criteria in Step 4. Perhaps you’ll find that the niche you had in mind requires more business travel than you’re ready for. That means it doesn’t fulfill one of the above criteria—it won’t take you where you want to go. So scrap it, and move on to the next idea.

6. Test.
Once you have a match between niche and product, test-market it. “Give people an opportunity to buy your product or service—not just theoretically but actually putting it out there,” Falkenstein suggests. This can be done by offering samples, such as a free mini-seminar or a sample copy of your newsletter. The test shouldn’t cost you a lot of money: “If you spend huge amounts of money on the initial market test, you’re probably doing it wrong,” she says.

7. Go for it!
It’s time to implement your idea. For many entrepreneurs, this is the most difficult stage. But fear not: If you did your homework, entering the market will be a calculated risk, not just a gamble.

44 Apps That Turn Your Smartphone Into a Productivity Powerhouse (Infographic) – Geoff Weiss

In today’s mobile landscape, where unfocused pedestrians regularly walk into walls and a majority of Americans prize their beloved gadgets above sex, smartphones have come to serve for many as dangerous agents of distraction. But when optimally harnessed, they can serve as powerful productivity tools.

From to-do lists to time management to goal-tracking to file storage, here’s a look at 44 of the best apps to help entrepreneurs systematize the unwieldy process of building a business, as compiled by British IT company Conosco.

Among our favorites? HabitRPG, a task manger that gamifies your habits and accomplishments, and Focus@will, which combines background music and neuroscience to purportedly boost productivity by up to 400 percent.

Related: Does This Desk Increase Productivity or Simply Make You Look Ridiculous

Check out the full list below

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8 Writing Rules for Entrepreneurs – Ann Handley

There are two kinds of people: Those who think they can write, and those who think they can’t. Very often, both are wrong. The truth is this: Writing well is part habit, part knowledge and part giving a damn.

But, you may be asking, who cares about writing anymore? In a world dominated by the short and snappy–click-bait headlines, tweets, Instagram, GIFs, Vine, Snapchat and YOLO and LOL–it might seem pedantic to focus on quality writing.

In fact, writing matters more now, not less. Business is driven by online content, and words are our emissaries. They tell our customers who we are.

Yet so often, they are overlooked. Think of it this way: If your website did not have its visual branding in place, would a visitor recognize it as yours?

Are you telling your story from your unique perspective, with a voice and style that’s clearly all you? You should be.

Here are eight rules to help you hone your writing voice on your website, blog and social channels.

1. Use real words. Is your website or blog littered with revolutionary, value-added, impactful, cutting-edge, best-of-breed, mission-critical words designed to leverage and synergize the current paradigm? Words like that are the chemical additives of business writing: Maybe one or two used sparingly won’t matter much, but too many will poison your content. Forget the buzzwords, and say what you really mean.

2. Avoid frankenwords, weblish and words pretending to be something they’re not. Frankenwords are words weirdly bolted together to create stiff, bizarre versions of themselves, typically ending in -ize or -ism or -istic (incentivize, bucketize). Avoid nouns masquerading as verbs (workshopping, journaling) and verbs masquerading as nouns (learnings). And definitely avoid weblish like k thx ur welcome.

3. Use the active voice. The passive voice isn’t technically incorrect, but it tends to sound stilted and awkward. You’ll vastly improve your writing by making your verbs active. Active sounds zippier and more alive.

So, instead of “The video was edited by a guy named Hibachi,” try “A guy named Hibachi edited the video.” A simple but surprisingly effective change.

4. Ditch weakling verbs for more descriptive ones. Bold action words will breathe life into your writing. Avoid generic phrases; use expressive language that paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.

Instead of “It might seem like a good idea, but it’s probably not in good taste to put a QR code on a tombstone,” try “It might seem like a good idea, but it’s probably not in good taste to etch a QR code on your loved one’s tombstone.”

5. Lose adverbs, except when they enhance meaning. Most writers use adverbs gratuitously, tossing them in when they add nothing. In the previous sentence, the adverb gratuitously is necessary, because it tells you how most writers use adverbs. Without it, the sentence reads “Most writers use adverbs.” Well, duh.

Novelist Stephen King says the road to hell is paved with adverbs. It’s preferable to convey mood and explain things more subtly in dialogue and action, as opposed to inserting an adverb and expecting it to do the work for you.

“Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly,” King writes in his memoir On Writing. “It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there.”

Later he adds, “What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?”

6. Use clich?s only once in a blue moon. They’re for lazy business writers. You’ve heard them all: at the end of the day, move the needle, take a 30,000-foot view, open-door policy, all things being equal.

Sometimes, clich?s can offer a quick reference or shorthand (on the same page). But too many will make you sound just like everyone else–exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.

7. Trim word bloat. Say things simply, with empathy for the reader. The use of more words does not make you sound more smart. On the contrary, it contributes to content obesity. So, instead of “in order to,” say “to.” Instead of “ways by which,” use “ways.” Trim “despite the fact that” to “although.”

8. Break some grammar rules. It’s OK to start a sentence with “And,” “But” or “Because.” It’s OK to write a single-word sentence. And a one-sentence paragraph? Why not? Now that we’re grown-ups, we can safely break some rules we learned in school when doing so adds energy and momentum to our writing. Grammar does matter. But readability, personality and emphasis matter, too.

Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace. – Lindsey Kaufman

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A year ago, my boss announced that our large New York ad agency would be moving to an open office. After nine years as a senior writer, I was forced to trade in my private office for a seat at a long, shared table. It felt like my boss had ripped off my clothes and left me standing in my skivvies.

Our new, modern Tribeca office was beautifully airy, and yet remarkably oppressive. Nothing was private. On the first day, I took my seat at the table assigned to our creative department, next to a nice woman who I suspect was an air horn in a former life. All day, there was constant shuffling, yelling, and laughing, along with loud music piped through a PA system. As an excessive water drinker, I feared my co-workers were tallying my frequent bathroom trips. At day’s end, I bid adieu to the 12 pairs of eyes I felt judging my 5:04 p.m. departure time. I beelined to the Beats store to purchase their best noise-cancelling headphones in an unmistakably visible neon blue.

Despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country. Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association. Silicon Valley has been the leader in bringing down the dividers. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Goldman Sachs and American Express are all adherents. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisted famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers. And as a businessman, Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. He famously carried the model into city hall when he became mayor of New York, making “the Bullpen” a symbol of open communication and accessibility to the city’s chief.

These new floor plans are ideal for maximizing a company’s space while minimizing costs. Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees, ensuring clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone use isn’t occupying billing hours. But employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity. A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. Meanwhile, “ease of interaction” with colleagues — the problem that open offices profess to fix — was cited as a problem by fewer than 10 percent of workers in any type of office setting. In fact, those with private offices were least likely to identify their ability to communicate with colleagues as an issue. In a previous study, researchers concluded that “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”

The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Furthermore, a sense of privacy boosts job performance, while the opposite can cause feelings of helplessness. In addition to the distractions, my colleagues and I have been more vulnerable to illness. Last flu season took down a succession of my co-workers like dominoes.

As the new space intended, I’ve formed interesting, unexpected bonds with my cohorts. But my personal performance at work has hit an all-time low. Each day, my associates and I are seated at a table staring at each other, having an ongoing 12-person conversation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s like being in middle school with a bunch of adults. Those who have worked in private offices for decades have proven to be the most vociferous and rowdy. They haven’t had to consider how their loud habits affect others, so they shout ideas at each other across the table and rehash jokes of yore. As a result, I can only work effectively during times when no one else is around, or if I isolate myself in one of the small, constantly sought-after, glass-windowed meeting rooms around the perimeter.

If employers want to make the open-office model work, they have to take measures to improve work efficiency. For one, they should create more private areas — ones without fishbowl windows. Also, they should implement rules on when interaction should be limited. For instance, when a colleague has on headphones, it’s a sign that you should come back another time or just send an e-mail. And please, let’s eliminate the music that blankets our workspaces. Metallica at 3 p.m. isn’t always compatible with meeting a 4 p.m. deadline.

On the other hand, companies could simply join another trend — allowing employees to work from home. That model has proven to boost productivity, with employees working more hours and taking fewer breaks. On top of that, there are fewer interruptions when employees work remotely. At home, my greatest distraction is the refrigerator. ​

20 Questions You Can Ask to Validate Your Startup Idea – Sujan Patel

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Do you have a million-dollar idea in your head, just waiting to be acted upon? Or will it be a complete bust — an idea with no actual potential for return?

This question is one that stops many would-be entrepreneurs in their tracks before they even take the chance and launch their potential business ventures. Fortunately, it is possible to make a more educated guess on your idea’s likelihood of success or failure by taking the time to validate your idea before moving forward with it.

Here are 20 questions you can ask to validate your startup idea — before you commit significant time, money or other resources to its launch:

1. What problem are you solving?
If you can’t clearly state the problem your product or service solves, you probably don’t have a successful idea.

2. How have others attempted to solve this problem before, and why did their solutions succeed or fail?
There’s a lot you can learn from those who have gone before you.

3. How many specific benefits for your product or idea can you list?
The more you can think of, the more likely it is that you’re meeting a real need and can be successful.

4. Can you state, in clear language, the key features of your product or service?
Not being able to easily describe the key features of your idea is a warning sign that the idea isn’t well thought out yet.

5. Does your idea already exist in the same way you were going to create it?
If a similar solution exists, how will yours be different? If you don’t have any clear differentiating benefits or features, you likely need a new idea.

6. Who are your potential competitors?
Having competitors isn’t a bad thing — it means a market exists. However, knowing what you’ll face if you launch is important, as an overcrowded marketplace or one where consumers have a strong affinity for the dominant brand may be more difficult to break into.

7. What key features does my product or service have that others will have a hard time copying?
Before you go into business, you need to be very clear about what sets you apart from competitors.

8. Have you done a SWOT analysis?
This framework helps you to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that your idea has, giving you a better idea of the overall likelihood for success.

9. Do you have access to the various resources you need to launch a business?
While you don’t need to be rich to launch a business, you will need some combination of time and money, depending on the scope of your idea. If you have no way to access everything you need, you’re better off waiting to launch your company until your situation is different.

10. Do you have a mentor or industry advisor that you can call on?
Certainly, you can go it alone if you have to, but when you start a new business, having the advice of others in a similar business space can prevent unnecessary expenditures or missteps.

11. Can you name somebody who would benefit from your product or service?
This is the beginning of market research — who do you actually know that would use your idea? A general demographic isn’t enough, so take the time to hone in your target buyer personas.

12. What is the size of the market that will buy your product or service?
If you don’t know the size of the market, you have a lot of research ahead of you. Understanding how many people need your idea — and what they’re willing to pay for it — will help you determine whether your concept is viable.

13. Have you reached out to potential customers for feedback?
Getting feedback before investing further money can help you avoid creating a product or service that nobody really wants.

14. Can you set up a landing page and encourage interested people to sign up for more information?
This can be an easy and inexpensive way to test interest in a product or service. If a lot of people are interested, it’s a great sign that you’re on the right track!

15. What would it take to build a minimum viable product to test the market?
One mistake many entrepreneurs make is thinking that they have to launch a finished concept right away. Consider starting small, gauging interest and iterating as you go.

16. Can you get paying customers from your target market to pre-order based on a blueprint or mockup?
Pre-orders are a solid sign of customer commitment. Someone saying they’re interested is one thing, but seeing people actually pony up their credit card information is a much stronger sign of potential success.

17. Can you produce the actual product yourself, or do you have a partner who can?
As you might expect, before launch, you need to know who’s actually going to produce the first set of products or services, as well as whether they can do so within your budget.

18. Do you have distributors or partners to help you scale your business?
Once you have paying customers, you’ll need to ramp up actual distribution to meet demand. Do you have access to the partners and/or money needed to do so?

19. What will it take to break even or make a profit?
Some ideas take a lot of upfront investment, while others don’t. If yours does, it’s a good idea to plan for how you’ll handle your finances and daily needs while you’re waiting for your product or service to gain traction.

20. How can investors in your idea make a profit?
If you want others to come alongside your business and help you grow, you’ll have to know how they can benefit.

It may take some time to come up with answers to all these questions, but once you have them, you should have a better idea about how viable your idea is. If it passes these tests, go for it! If not, keep thinking — your next idea may be the one that changes the world.

How do you validate your business ideas? Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments section below.