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Author: jeanneleez

Best Practices for Strategic Communications

Deciphering Term Sheets - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

Many companies suffer from what I call “siloing” or the encapsulating of departments as walled gardens where none shall enter. Because no company can effectively execute on any business plan without interdepartmental dependencies, this “siloing effect” predictably kills any effective communication across the company, which in turn means poor execution. Milestones are missed, target dates for launches pass without even a whimper from your development team, great people quit because they don’t feel their voice is heard or ideas shared are negatively received… I’m sure many readers will have experienced this situation at some company in their career. Many CEOs like to be the single point of contact for all departments, but if your CEO doesn’t communicate effectively, your company will not grow to its potential.

Establishing a Rhythm of Communications

It doesn’t matter what size company you are. It doesn’t matter whether you are a five-person law firm or a 10,000 employee manufacturing company, all organizations need an established rhythm of communications that facilitates discussion, debate, innovation and feedback in order to remain relevant. If your company is working the same way it did five, ten years ago, odds are that you have not grown much if you are spending all your time working in the business instead of on it.

A basic structure should be:

  1. Daily: 10-minute standup meetings devoted to the focus of today’s work, escalations that need to be addressed, reassignments, new ideas, etc., are discussed, then followed up with additional meetings with the team(s) required to meet objectives.
  2. Weekly: 60- to 90-minute meetings focused on activity, the status of current projects, new ideas, potential threats, etc. These meetings should include all stakeholders of the projects whenever possible, inviting feedback, ideas, and suggestions for changes in processes in order to realign stalled projects or to create new ones.
  3. Monthly: Half-day meeting focused on the one major initiative that was executed last month, and planning of the current monthly initiative. Focusing the entire organization (or department) on one milestone per month will enable your team members to understand the current situation, their role in executing it, and discuss how to address any delays or substantive changes in the industry that affect your goals.
  4. Quarterly: Full-day meeting devoted to company priorities, processes and learning. This meeting should consist of a post mortem of what went well last quarter and how to continue expanding and leveraging that activity as well addressing any delays and finding solutions to issues that came up during the quarter. This is also the right time to plan your next quarter, identifying what projects to focus on as a leadership team, and how to communicate those projects downward through the company.
  5. Quarterly: Town hall company-wide update on all initiatives from the past quarter and plans for the current quarter. With a Q&A session, a brave CEO can answer all the questions your staff may have to address the changes you are making and enabling them to air grievances. Chances are, if one person is saying it, ten people were thinking it. It is important to address the rumor mill before it gets out of hand. If your employees only get their information from hanging around the water cooler or the coffee machine, you are not communicating effectively and your company as a whole will suffer.
  6. Annually: Two-day summit focused on strategy, budget development, market research and learning. This would typically include all department heads and focus exclusively on where opportunities lie in your industry, reports on what your competitors are doing, and discuss distribution of where you need to invest your profits in the coming year. Leadership development can also be scheduled as part of these summits. Many people at the top of the food chain tend to become isolated and while development of others is typically part of their roles, they are no longer given any type of leadership development themselves. Great leaders will do this on their own, even if the company does not support it. Understanding how much money you have in your budget requires discussion on the expected return on investment. Obviously, the budget for finance will be less than that of your marketing department, however finance will not have to defend their spending as vociferously as marketing will.
  7. 1:1 Interviews: Individual meetings with all members of your team to connect, coach, share ideas and learn. These should be done as often as possible, but at least once a year. These should not be performance appraisals but meetings where you ask probing questions to learn what the company can do better, what you can do better, and learn how you can help them become better at what they do.

This may seem like a lot of meetings, but communication is the only way to break down these walled gardens and getting everyone working together to achieve clear, actionable goals. With better communication, workers feel their ideas are worth listening to, that they are empowered to improve and innovate. Leaders are better able to understand the whole company and not focused solely on their own job or their department. They will be better prepared to answer questions from their teams. They will have been included in the decision making, which in turn, gives them insight into why the decisions the business makes are made.

Leaders who don’t have that type of vision, that think that not sharing knowledge secures their position, should be replaced. Leaders like that are insecure, don’t have the confidence in their own abilities and are quick to blame others. Leaders who take responsibility, think about succession, and develop their team members to take on more responsibility, ensure their own seamless and rapid movement upwards.


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How to Hire a Development Company for Your Project if You’re Not Technical

How to Hire a Development Company for Your Project if You're Not Technical - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

I have a confession to make. I’ve never learned to code. Sure I can write HTML and be dangerous with CSS and ASP (which I seriously haven’t used since 2006), so I am pretty dependent on WordPress and Shopify to make web sites and, personally, for brochure and simple e-commerce web sites, you really don’t need anything else. But what about those other web sites and apps that need more in-depth experience or just even tweaks to existing template designs you’ve picked out for your site? If you don’t know how to code, how do you select the right company?

First start by writing your own requirements documentation and use cases. (If you need these, email me. I’m seriously awesome at these.) What is the web site supposed to do? Who will the users be and what will they do when they visit? Once you have that documentation ready, you can then start reviewing development companies for your project.

Ask the Right Questions:

  1. Who are the founders and their background? Are they both previous developers or did they have other positions? Did they work at recognized companies in leadership positions? How are they represented on glassdoor.com? Do their staff complain about them? Double-check their backgrounds. Did they really go to Stanford? Did they really work at Google?
  2. Who’s on their leadership team? Who would be in charge of your project? Do they have experience in your industry? Have they done work similar to yours in the past?
  3. Do they have a full complement of skill sets on their team? Most development companies have a huge team of developers, but no UI/UX specialists, data architects, web designers, quality assurance staff, etc., to fully complete the project. I found this out the hard way when I asked one company we hired to give me the designer who came up with certain designs in their portfolio, only to find out that those were all done by their clients.
  4. Have you called their references? While typically always positive, come up with open ended questions that could open them up to get to some issues, such as “What one thing do you think they could have done better at?” or “What would keep you from recommending them to someone in (your industry)?”
  5. Have you identified other companies they didn’t offer up as references and contact them? Look around and see if you can find anyone who’s used them in your industry or have web sites that have special requirements that are similar to yours. This may not be as hard as it looks since many web firms still like to put their names in the headers of the code, but it may not be that easy. You might try seeing if they come up as the technical resource on whois.org or similar domain registration sites.
  6. What is the experience of the team they intend to assign to your project? If you have special criteria, for example, parsing data or creation of PDFs, does the team have experience in these critical skills? I was burned by getting a new developer whose first job was mine which required parsing resume data from multiple formats and job portals and turning them into lovely pre-formatted PDFs. Had I known her background, she would not have been the one working for me.

It is strongly recommended that you review the contract and ensure language is in place that puts a deadline on the project with penalties for delays. Also, keep to a per project pricing, rather than hourly or retainer pricing. Development companies prefer this type of payment process due to what is called client “scope creep”, where the project keeps changing, adding features and other components not originally in the requirements documentation. It is YOUR responsibility to manage scope creep, not them. You SHOULD be charged for it.

Start out with a smaller project. See how they interact when you don’t like how the site looks or how they’ve changed something from the requirements documentation you gave them. See how they react when YOU make a change to the requirements. A great little project is developing a customer survey form or subscription form, maybe even a payment platform for an existing site (you’ll need to have merchant IDs and all your payment options in place in order to offer up that one as a test, however). Unless you plan on doing e-commerce and can use it as part of your later larger project, stick to something else.

Lastly, if you know anyone technical, even a friend or a college intern, who can just take a look, they can can at least give you their impressions, but it pretty much still is a tough call choosing the right company. Good luck!


Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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Promoting Your Small Business to Big Companies with No Budget

Automating Your Marketing Processes for Free - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

Okay, so you’ve decided to start a small business. If you’re bootstrapping your project, odds are you don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing. Been there, done that. One thing I learned a long time ago (and I am repeating myself again and again because it is so true) was what my printing vendor once told me:

Time. Quality. Price. Pick any two.

Here are my top suggestions for promoting your business with little to no budget.

Invest in a decent logo.

Most small companies have really crappy logos. Sometimes the CEO thinks he’s clever and came up with something he likes. Maybe a cousin “is a painter” so he should be able to design a logo for a family member. Not really. Graphic designers are trained specifically for this, while painters, sculptors and cartoonists come from very different disciplines. I would not expect a graphic designer to paint beautiful portraits (though some can). There are many freelance sites online where you can post your design brief (which can be a simple statement of what your company does) and a small fee (anywhere from $50 to 1,000 on most sites). It really is worth the money to get a professional to do the work.

Develop a simple website.

Take your brochures and post that content online. WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal are all open source or free and many of their templates are responsive, so regardless of the device a visitor to your site is using, they can still freely maneuver throughout your site. Domain names can be registered for a few dollars a year now. Many templates or theme designs are paid, anywhere from $29 to $299 for an e-commerce ready website. Once you have posted your content, develop a plan for regular updates. No one likes a stale web site. Develop an editorial calendar and blog regularly. A blog is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Don’t ignore its potential. Blogs carry a lot of weight with Google and other search engines. If your company is providing a trial or freemium version of your product or service, add a call to action to your home page. If you have case studies or white papers that would be of interest to your potential clients, host them behind a registration wall — get their email so you can continue the conversation at a later point. All these web site platforms have plugins you can download and install to support forms, social media, and many other interactive components. Some are free; others paid. Once you go live, you can always add in additional features over the months.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization is all about the content and how that content is read by search engines who crawl the web, link by link, accessing new content. Search engines will look at your content as part of an overall whole — how you identify images, what meta tags you still use, how you tag posts and social media updates — it all adds up to how you will rank for certain keywords people will use to find services or products such as yours. I’ve always been humbled by the search results. When reviewing your google analytics, there is a section that lists the highest ranking search strings people have used to visit your site. They are never what you think they would be and never what you have positioned as primary keywords for your site. Most of these are what SEO professionals call “long tail keywords”, not part of your major top ten searches you want people to find you for (use those for online advertising). Don’t fret or be overwhelmed because overall, great content and expertly curated links to external resources will trump any SEO challenges your site may have. Some of those long tail keywords have real staying power, increasing time on site and decreasing bounce rates (pay close attention to this metric — these are the people who are showing up at your site and immediately realize they are in the wrong place and “bounce” by hitting the “Back” button. Whatever you are doing to attract them, figure out how to change the content on your site to decrease this. It may not be an issue today, but if you’ve ever managed a site getting 12 million page views a day, you want all those visitors to convert. Those that don’t convert are using up bandwidth you have to pay for.)

If you don’t know your way around SEO, you can hire a professional to do this. There are also plugins available to help you with this, both free and paid. One of my personal favorites for WordPress is Yoast ( https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/). I highly recommend it to newbie SEO peeps because it gives you hints and tips while ranking your SEO tags.

Submit Your Web Site to Search Engines

Until you are ready to go live, I highly recommend that you keep your site in development available by IP address only. Once Google spiders your site, it may only show two or three pages in the search results because you did not have the entire site linked and menus structured properly before the crawler came through your site. You may have to wait months before Google and other search engines visit you again. Wait until your site is launched, then go online to the search engines and submit your xml site map (another plugin available in both free and paid versions). By all means, put a link to a site map in the footer of your pages — this enables any web crawler to come through and find all the pages you want them to list in search results.

Social Media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.)

Once your site is live, develop social media company pages on Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, and any other social media sites that would be appropriate and where your potential customers live online. For example, in Myanmar, many internet users think of Facebook the same way many people in the US regarded AOL when they first joined the internet. As if it were all there was to the online experience. These “walled gardens” are useful when you are entering new markets, but beyond that, they are an excellent way for you extend your brand and interact with customers, prospects, analysts, journalists, and the community at large.

There are many ways to use social media. For example, at my present company, we use Facebook to showcase an insider’s view to the events in our company in order to recruit internally. We are heavy users of hashtags, including #iplacelife and #iplaceheroes, which have gone viral in India for certain posts. For a company of 400 people, we have a reach of over 167,000 on Facebook and have a pipeline of people applying to work for the company. We have no problem getting people interested in working for our company.

We use LinkedIn more carefully and with more curation of thought leaders in the industry. You don’t have to actually be the expert; if all else fails, be the expert curator of other people’s content. If you are thoughtful and thoroughly understand your audience, you will know exactly what will be of interest to them and they will follow you and share your posts and updates.

Visual social media, like Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest may not be the best web sites for posting content unless you have the ability to post images and video that are compelling and shareable. Nobody wants to see the crappy video you took on your phone of an office birthday party on your web site. But people may enjoy it as part of a social media program. Keep your individual streams for different audiences separate. What you post for internal recruiting efforts will be very different from what you post to attract potential customers. Always maintain the highest standards possible when it comes to clients and potential clients — your interactions need to reflect the brand and a brand of quality will have quality graphics, videos, and thoughtfully curated links to best of the web in your industry.

Email Campaigns

A scourge for many, email is one of the most efficient and effective ways to reach out to potential customers. There are a number of low cost email service providers available on the market today depending on the number of email addresses you store and the number of emails you send each month. For newbies, select one of their standard templates that work nicely with your branding to get started.

First, where are you getting your emails addresses from? I get emails from people all the time with lists of “thousands of decision makers in your industry”, but this is actually against the law. The CAN SPAM Act and California’s Business & Professions Code § 17529.5 state emphatically that a person must add themselves to your email list, thereby signifying permission to send them emails. You can generate these emails from visitors to your web site by creating objects of value to the potential consumer, like a registration wall before downloading templates, white papers, software tools and other content from your site. For one organization, I worked closely with a sales guy with a tech background and developed two software tools, one that translated measurements, another that measured the accuracy of motion. They were free to download with just the entry of your email address. This will, however, take forever to generate a decent list.

What I have seen, and I am not saying this is legal or acceptable behavior, but many companies will use these email lists as one-time mailings, stating within the content that they will not be contacted again. Email is a numbers game — the more volume you have, the higher the returns.

Metrics to know: Open Rates are the number of people who have opened your email and read it (for some email providers this may also indicate number of people who saw the preview but did not actually open). The Open Rate (or OR) is completely dependent upon your Subject Line and From address. A typical industry OR for B2B with active subscribers from your web site could be as high as 60%. A typical industry OR for B2B using these rented lists, scraped emails (a black-hat option not recommended), etc., is as low as 2%.

Click-Through Rates (CTR) are the number of people who opened and read your emails and then clicked on a link or linked image provided within the email to complete a desired action. Typical rates, depending on the call to action can be anywhere from 2% to 15%.

So let’s do the math. If you want, say, 10 new clients a month, based on a 2% OR and 2% CTR, you will need 25,000 leads per month. That’s a lot to expect from a B2B web site that gets maybe 500 visitors in a month. Focus on building quality followers to your web site by creating emails that people find compelling. Ask them to share your content with colleagues or on social media. Create a referral program rewarding current followers for forwarding your emails. A/B test subject lines and content formatting to see what increases your open and click-through rates. This is not complicated, but it does take time.

Public Relations

Engaging with analysts and journalists can be frustrating. They may not be interested in your story for a variety of reasons. If I hear one more CEO tell me to call a journalist personally, I will quit. I know many journalists and NONE, I repeat, NONE, want you to call them. They don’t want your press release as a Word document attachment to an email you send them for network security reasons. They don’t want daily emails from you to discuss your company. What is the story? Why should they be interested? Come at it from their angle. Why are you interesting? How are you changing the world? What are you doing differently? You need to pitch journalists and the best way I know is engaging with them on twitter.

I haven’t tweeted in a few years. Frankly, I’m tired of the endless stream of crap on Twitter, but when I was active, I carefully curated green tech and the telecom industry. My tweets were that nexus between a dirty industry (telecom) and renewable energy and that was the sweet spot. No one else was tweeting on the same subject matter. I had several journalists following me and asking for responses to issues and events in the telecom industry that I was happy to forward on to my CEO, the only person allowed to speak for the organization. This takes a lot of work, but organizing your time, reading through other people’s lists and links each morning will help you understand what journalists in your industry respond to and how to act accordingly. The key indicator to your success is when they start retweeting your tweets. Direct Message (DM) them with thanks for retweeting and continue the conversation. If you are the only one up at 3 AM when a journalist has a 6 AM deadline, you’ll get the quote in the paper. Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing.

You may also want to research the media kits of industry newspapers, magazines and blogs to see if they have editorial calendars available. When subject matter that correlates with your products or services is scheduled, be sure to approach the journalists you know at that company to ensure a mention or quote on the topic.

There are also numerous free sites that publish your press releases. Every time you send out a press release, send it out everywhere you can to increase the number of links into your site. Search engines love inbound links. The better the quality of the sites linking to you, the better. These free press release site links are just okay compared to actual content in well regarded publications, but they’ll give you some SEO karma.

Speaking Engagements

Every trade show and conference has a Call for Papers (CfP) deadline, usually around six months prior to the show. Do your research and create a calendar of these deadlines for shows in your industry. Develop a Speaker Kit for each individual in your company that is capable of presenting topics that would be of interest to people in your industry. Develop long and short bios, topics and course descriptions, and generate professional high resolution photos of your speakers. If there are videos of them presenting, keep them together in a dossier for each speaker. These kits will enable you to pitch several shows as each deadline opens.

Conference planners like case studies. They prefer a client of yours detailing their challenge, how you addressed their challenge and showcasing the results. Whenever possible, pair up with a favorite client who would be willing to talk on your behalf. Conference planners hate nothing more than sales pitches, so keep executives focused on higher level industry issues (like vision of the future of the industry), technical leads on emerging technologies, innovations, or solutions they’ve created, and lower level managers for panels and “how-to” workshops.

Speaking engagements give you so much more credibility than merely exhibiting at a show. They establish you as an expert or thought leader in your industry. You typically don’t get paid and have to pay for your speaker’s expenses, but that is typically far less than the costs for exhibiting at a show. If you can afford to do both, even better.

PPC Advertising

Pay Per Click internet advertising can generate a wealth of visitors to your web site, but doing this badly will significantly increase your bounce rate without increasing conversions to sales. Google Adwords features tools to help you create your advertising and many professionals may have up to 20 or so different ads running at the same time for the same web site, focusing on both the main keywords as well as long-tail keywords which may be far more affordable. Test everything. I have been humbled numerous times learning what keywords and ad content actually create sales, compared to those that create browsers on your web site.

Marketing to Big Companies

When marketing has no budget, you need to get creative. How do you get noticed amidst the noise online? Small companies need to be bold and think of ways that differentiate themselves from the pack. Early in my career I worked for an organization that trained software developers in object-oriented programming (OOP). We decided to create a glossary of OOP terminology. We were a tiny company — maybe 20 people, and our competitors were huge multinational and publicly traded corporations. Who were we to be publishing a glossary for the industry? We were there first. We worked closely with industry organizations (most notably the Object Management Group) to establish the terms used and their definitions. It became the de facto standard for the industry. People would come to our booths at shows to pick up the most up-to-date edition which we gave away for free. At the back of each was a return postcard which enabled our sales team to contact people interested in our training. We were a company used to selling to early adopters. We were now bridging the chasm (in the 1990’s) to mainstreaming object-oriented software development that we all now use today.

When selling to big companies, they need support for the buying decision. You are small and unproven. Your technology may not be supported by major players yet. You may need a “bottom up” sales approach, coaching lower level employees to seek adoption of your product or service. Using a “top down” AND “bottom up” sales option will significantly decrease the sales cycle. When the CEO knows about your product and a lower level employee seeks budget approval, you will cut the time literally in half. I guarantee it.

What makes you different? Innovative? Memorable? I keep coming back to the axiom of time/quality/price. If you don’t have money, you need to spend the time to develop the quality. You may need to invest in one full time person to focus on these tasks. That person may be you. Investing time in developing a quality marketing program can only be a good thing. With quality will come the perception that you are a quality company. With a perception of quality, sales will always follow.


Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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Steps for Developing a New Business Model

Steps for Developing New Business Ideas - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

I used to teach a lot of leadership development programs in India and a couple in Myanmar to enable middle managers and aspiring individual contributors to excel in their positions and reach greater heights and that meant teaching them basic business management skills.

I had a lot of MBAs in my classes as well as ambitious high school graduates. Which ones would you think performed better by the end of our 16-week program? If you guessed the high school graduates, you’re correct. I noticed a few things in their backgrounds, many of the high schoolers had previous job experience, perhaps working at the mall selling telephones or maybe they were a tea boy to help out the family after school. The MBAs typically went to English high schools or even international schools, then went directly to college and then went directly for their MBA with no previous work experience. When I hire, I have always found that experience trumps education when hiring the right person for the job.

After the 16 week program, the class would split up into teams of four and had to produce a pitch, SWOT, financial projections, and an execution strategy. They then had to pitch our C-level employees who would invest in pitches that were coherent, realistic and broadened our set of services to clients to expand our market to new clients.

They had four weeks to create these documents and here is how we worked together to get it done. First, the mentor (me) would meet with the team together to discuss who would do each part of the presentation. It was never a simple voluntary choice – each would explain what skill sets they could bring to the table in order to complete their project. Once we came to the decision as to who would do what, we then documented the team deliverables and then we started on the next set of Advanced Leadership Development Topics.

Our Advanced LDP Programming included:

  • New Business Idea Generation Techniques
  • Conducting Feasibility Studies
  • Techniques for Developing a SWOT Analysis
  • Creating a Financial Forecast
  • Launching a New Firm/Service
  • Performing Profit and Loss Statements
  • Hiring and Structuring Employee Organizational Charts

New Business Idea Generation

Many people in the East are loathe to put themselves out there and risk “loss of face” or feel embarrassed if their idea isn’t accepted. We started by looking at what ways we could expand our business and we used a Product/Market Expansion Grid to get started in generating new ideas. This took some effort and I would bring in Legos and other building toys, and a Nerf ball to throw back and forth to help with brainstorming. Anyone catching the ball had to say the first thing that popped into their heads. It was fun and made people relax and we just kept putting ideas on the board no matter how silly. The CEO, COO, CFO and I (the CSO) would always keep a list of business ideas on hand in order to assist the teams in generating a new ideas. If they couldn’t come up with something they could all agree on, they could select from the list of ideas we wanted to look into, but didn’t have the time. They could identify something not on the list to work on or use any of the ideas on the list, which was constantly updated as the C-Level team constantly shared what our competition was doing, what our partners were considering, etc. Once the team settled on an idea, the next step was feasibility research.

Feasibility Research

This required work from all four team members, splitting up to see whether the competition was doing something similar, what they were charging for it and who their customers were. We also researched internally. Did we have the people and processes in place to produce this product or service? Would we need external partners such as software developers to create the product or service? How much time would it take? How much would it cost to create and to maintain? How much would our clients be willing to pay for it? How many would be willing to use it? How easy would it be for a competitor to create a competing product? And most importantly, does this product or service solve a significant problem that customers were desperately looking to fix? This research could take months to accomplish, but they had very little time to do it. It meant talking to past clients now using our competitors’ services, existing clients, and other potential partners and surveying them with open questions to realize whether to move forward or not with their idea.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s a really basic tool that can assist in documenting further detail as to the feasibility of your idea.

  • Strengths: How unique is your idea? How difficult would it be to copy the idea? How high is the profit margin from what clients are willing to pay? Does the idea lend itself as a viral talking point about your organization, potentially getting press and speaking engagements about it? Does it expand your market share or add new markets to your client mix? How hard would it be for a client to convert to another competitor once they started using the service? What do your clients see as your strengths? What factors would close the deal with your clients?
  • Weaknesses: These are the exact opposite negative responses to the questions asked in Strengths. What needs to improve? What would cost you sales? What needs to be discussed is how to minimize these weaknesses. For example, let’s say you are building out a SaaS HRMS software. There are literally hundreds of them. Why sell the entire employee lifecycle of products when they can be sold as separate components such as Talent Acquisition, Onboarding, Appraisals, Payroll, Leave Management, Travel, Expense Reimbursement, Employee Exit, etc., at a much lower cost and get companies on board with one affordable solution and then upsell as their company grows. Having a solution that addresses each weakness will turn them into strengths.
  • Opportunities: What is the market for your idea? Are there players in the market already providing this service? Would they be willing to partner with you in order for you to have a value add for your existing clients while they sell your services to theirs? Are there changes in technology that are directly affecting your market? How can you leverage this new technology? Are there new trends changing your industry? A useful approach when evaluating opportunities is to look at your strengths and see if any of these can be leveraged to maximize your idea’s potential and also look at your weaknesses and see if there are ways for you to improve in these areas in order to realize your idea and make it successful.
  • Threats: What obstacles are you facing? Do your competitors already have this service or product? Are there regulatory or technology challenges that could significantly impact your idea? What threats do your weaknesses expose you to?

Creating a Financial Forecast

Creating financial forecasts aren’t magic, but for some people, they are incredibly difficult to know where to begin, let alone be able to present and defend those numbers. There are two parts to your expenses:

  • CAPEX (Capital Expenses): These are generally one-time startup costs to get your idea from just an idea to a legitimate minimally viable product (MVP) or service. These could include office space and buildout, equipment purchases, logo development, web site and other sales and marketing startup costs.
  • OPEX (Operating Expenses): These are your monthly overhead costs from the electricity bill, telephones, salaries, insurances, taxes, etc.

Revenue: During your feasibility study, the team will hopefully have talked with clients, potential clients and past clients to discuss their idea and have a fair idea of whether they would be interested and what they would be willing to pay. This part takes a bit of work, but presenting your financial forecast requires you to identify how you can make a significant profit off of your idea.

Some companies use a Cost-to-Company multiplier to assess whether or not to execute the idea. A company that is creating a 2xCTC is paying the bills and making payroll. It may have downturns or sales cycles which could significantly challenge the ability to pay the bills and make payroll. Ideally a 4xCTC is the minimum any company should strive for. It enables a company to weather the ups and downs of the market, evaluate and invest in new technology, and innovate and expand into new markets with new services and products.

When building out our Financial Forecasts, we created three options – a low end that sees minimal growth and starts at around 2xCTC, middle (4xCTC) and a high end (6+xCTC). To get to those numbers, the person who is responsible for documenting the forecast will have to work with the rest of the team to create the value, cut the costs, and maximize revenue wherever it can to get there. The person presenting the execution plan needs to be very involved because the cost to launch the project may significantly hamper the first six months’ income, but create a much higher CTC in the following months. Watch your CAPEX as well. You may find solutions to significantly decrease those expenditures to ensure you start to show a profit by the end of year one.

The Execution Plan

Launching a new product or service can be as simple as adding a new page to your web site and contacting your current clients and giving them a one month trial of your service. It could also require the significant expense of external software developers, PR agencies, advertising networks, and a press launch.

But the launch is only the beginning. You need people who are trained to sell the product or service, execute it, put processes in place, create an escalation matrix for any significant issues that could occur, and everything else required from documenting orders to payment collections. When working with this person on the team, they will be creating a calendar with milestones that match the Financial Forecast (thereby also creating sales goals). The entire team needs to work together to understand if the idea is worth moving forward with.

So What of It All Goes Wrong?

As your team moves through these four parts of the idea development, there may come a moment when the team realizes that their idea doesn’t work. It will cost too much to develop, the pricing that people are willing to pay is too low to make a decent profit margin… there are many, many reasons why some business ideas just won’t work. But it’s still good to know. Having done the exercise rather than jumping in with both feet and all your money, you will have significantly decreased your loss potential and learned a lot from the experience. Even starting down the path with a small seed investment and a year to work on it, is still well worth the time and effort. Doing a post mortem on what didn’t work and sharing this knowledge with other teams will enable them to avoid the same issues should they arise.

Don’t be the disrupted; be the disruptor.


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Why Project Managers Rule the World

Why Project Managers Rule the World

We are the executioners. ? We execute projects, establishing milestones, estimating days of work per resource, scheduling, estimating costs and expenditures and establishing return on investment. Great project managers create immense value for any company they work for. It is in their nature to complete projects and watch them launch. Some people have different titles like Producer, Show Runner, etc., but essentially they are all project managers. Many product managers are actually project managers, too, even though I personally consider them two very different things.

How do you become a great project manager?

There are numerous online courses and certifications one can complete that will teach you the nuts and bolts of project planning, but one skill is never really addressed — communication. A great project manager is an excellent communicator. They need to work across numerous departments to execute a project and keep people informed about progress (or lack thereof). Providing a rhythm of communications to inform, advise, escalate and seek approvals from all stakeholder groups is a primary key to a great project manager’s success.

Great project managers are creative AND analytical and that is asking a lot from any employee. The creativity usually comes from the experience of working on many projects and dealing with conflict, missed deadlines, and underperforming departments creating junk. Project managers need to learn how to “put lipstick on that pig” at least until launch, then clean out the junk. Creative problem solving is an aspect that is critical to innovation and good project managers always seek out the less obvious solutions because that’s where a lot of the magic happens.

At a firm I co-founded, we couldn’t afford to hire a team of ten programmers to build out our custom content management software for web sites. The founder and I left after lunch on a Friday afternoon, bought a big bottle of wine and worked through the night to figure out how we could accomplish the project. There were two “aha!” moments — one, when we realized that most of our components needed only three web pages: to show a list, a detail page, and a back end moderation page. Two, was once we realized that we only needed to code three pages instead of looking at all the components separately, we realized we could still ship in six months with two programmers. We still did not have money to pay even two programmers, so we decided to go for unpaid interns from masters programs in the Chicago area. They loved the idea of working on live products and were willing to work for free. We gave them great feedback and helped them find paid work after we completed the initial launch. We shipped in six months on schedule with nine different components.

The analytical side plays with spreadsheets and calendars, establishing dependencies and milestones, and reviewing the costs of the project to keep it within budget. The analytical side understands the importance to the following quote:

Price. Quality. Time. Pick any two.

As you get more experienced, you will realize that this axiom is very true. You cannot get a great quality project completed quickly without paying dearly for it. You cannot get good quality if you have no money and no time to get it done. You can get good quality at a decent price if you are willing to wait for it.

At one company I worked at early in my career, the local printer was quoting a price of around $3.75 each for a four-color coated stock 32-page full bleed brochure. A company out of Hong Kong could print the same exact document for 36 cents each. The issue? The brochures would need to be shipped by sea, meaning we would have them in 90 days, not next week like our local printer could. The company was practically broke, so we waited the 90 days. It was worth it. The catalogs were a smash and the number of orders doubled and the quantities in those orders tripled after we started using them.

How do you supervise a great project manager?

Get out of their way. Clear obstructions for them. Enable them to focus on the project and facilitate an open door policy for them to vent, rant, or escalate issues that are affecting their project. If the project is being shut down (could be a change in corporate strategy, a buyout, a new competitor in the landscape, perhaps a pet project of the CEO who is now bored and off onto something shinier; many things can happen to projects), listen to their concerns and seek to understand their point of view, then explain the situation as best you can. If you don’t have clarity, seek it out for them. They need to feel safe in discussing difficult topics and be able to depend on you to address their issues. Especially when the shutdown is out of their control (maybe the CEO decided you had to use his vendor who did a terrible job and now your project manager is being blamed for it), they will need support and some sort of idea about the safety of their position in the company and vision of where they go from here.

Whenever I hear a CEO or other executive talk about a project “being on autopilot”, it will inevitably insult the project manager. Great project managers make it look easy. When it looks easy from the outside, people think there’s not much to the work, but that is hardly the case. So give your project manager the recognition and support they need to carry on. The job is far more difficult than it looks.

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Questions to Ask Yourself Before Launching Online Services in the Developing World

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Launching Online Services in the Developing World

There are at least one billion people on this planet with no access to electricity or telecommunications. There are at least 1.5 billion more that have either unreliable or unstable connectivity, most of which is powered by diesel generators that contribute to global warming. This large and untapped market does not have the spending power of those in urban centers, but they want connectivity due to the increases in productivity and economic opportunity that this access provides. Once connectivity arrives, marketers need to be ready with services to address these unique users. Here are a few questions to ponder as you build your ideas into something for the developing world.

How many native languages are spoken in the region?

Depending on the country, you could be looking at several different languages to support and localization of your web site involves more than just a web site translation. You need to support the language holistically, throughout your company. Any touch point, from calling customer service, instruction manuals, packing slips, etc. all must support each language. Prioritize your language translations based on market share and potential opportunity, then roll out other languages in phases.

What is the typical connectivity available in the region?

Electricity usually shows up first, then telecom, but not always. Regardless, much of the developing world survives on unstable grids, many supported by diesel generators, even in urban centers. India alone used 4 billion liters of diesel to power its existing telecom networks in 2012.

With no electricity, people cannot charge their phones. In some villages, small entrepreneurs invest in a small generator (even a car battery) and charge people for access to charge their phones. Reports from the ITU indicate that many rural markets rely mainly on local calls in and around their village. Once internet and data services are made available, customers in these areas may not be able to afford high speed broadband, but those that can afford slower connections, will download what they want from the internet for later reading or watching. Most phones in rural areas are not internet-enabled, simply voice, which means getting the right kind of devices into consumer hands at a price point they can afford in order to use your online product or service. Smart phones and data-enabled tablets shouldn’t be a problem in urban areas, but the percentage of users with access to these devices may still be low depending on the country.

What percentage of the community owns devices capable of accessing your services?

There are a few studies out there that indicate that once the internet shows up in a village, economic opportunities increase by up to 11%. Local entrepreneurs open phone shops to cater to the rural consumer (just because someone lives in a rural area does not mean they are below the poverty line, but for the majority worldwide, this is still true). Adoption of smartphones capable of connecting to the internet are much more expensive and consumers need to see them in action to be compelled to purchase them. If you cannot source a reputable report on the data for the country in which you are planning to introduce your services, you may need to do some field surveys in these areas to understand the proportion of internet-enabled devices and the speed of the typical connections in the area before you begin building your product or service. Coming from the West, internet speeds in many parts of the world are not nearly as fast as they are in the developed world, so your online service needs to address this, even in urban areas.

Does your service require delivery of actual products or services to the customer?

Logistics of delivery can be mind boggling in developing countries. This is where a lot of companies fail — getting products and services ordered online to the customer. In some organizations, they may use temp workers on motorcycles driving individual orders out into the hinterlands or they restrict their orders to urban areas only. They may send trucks out once a week (or month!) to address rural areas. If you need to deliver, solving this issue should be a primary focus before launching anything online.

Who else is doing what you are considering doing?

Has it been done elsewhere? Are there existing competitors in this space? How are they addressing issues like pricing, support, languages, etc.? Mobile-first application interface development is most likely the best way to move forward since most consumers in developing countries access the internet over a smartphone much more than through other devices. Understanding how other companies in the developing world have solved similar challenges in other countries could keep you from reinventing the wheel and save you considerable time.

How much would a typical user be able to pay for your product or service?

Here’s where developing robust financial models are required. If there is already competition in the space, understanding their business model and how they are monetizing their services will help you understand the feasibility of launching your own product. Developing target personas, e.g. “rural user”, “young urban professional”, and estimating the potential in each market will enable you to create your online presence, messaging, and set of products/service offerings that would be attractive to each persona who could use your product.

The developing world is largely untapped and ignored. It is a good time to be looking at fast growing economies in the East, South America and Africa where demand is huge, but the infrastructure is poor. Making services mobile first will enable you to build stable and robust products that can be enhanced as more sophisticated internet-enabled devices come into the market and are adopted by local consumers.

How are you managing your product development projects in the developing world? Any insights to share? Please add them to the comments below.

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The Value of Quality Brand Management

What is 360 Marketing and Why Most Fail at It - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

“Hello. My name is Jeanne and I am a brandoholic.”

I have suffered from this affliction since a very young age as my grandfather used to redesign company logos for fun and send them to companies with an invoice. Sometimes they actually paid for them. I used to watch him create these new logos from a pad of paper, pencils and tracing paper. It was like magic to watch him create new imagery and I was hooked.

During college studying design, I became a fanatic about typography and calligraphy, carefully kerning and re-inking type to suit the brief. I loved improving on bad work. Since then I have become the “Brand Nazi” for many companies.

Why Companies Pick Bad Logos

Typically the Marketing Head or a CxO decides that there is a need to upgrade their branding. No one asks why it needs a change and there should be significant and measurable reasons to do so. Perhaps you’ve expanded beyond your current industry and need a brand that encompasses all the new lines of your business. Perhaps your company has outgrown a dated design and need something more in keeping with the times. Perhaps there is a complete renaming of your organization due to a merger or acquisition. Sometimes the trigger is simply moving to a new office and since you have to update the stationery anyway… Once the decision is made, what usually happens is that a few companies or designers are interviewed and their portfolios reviewed. Based on the taste of those reviewing the portfolios, they pick a designer based on what they liked. This is the wrong way to go about it on so many levels.

What is the purpose of branding? To create an instant emotional recall in a consumer that equates with the values of your company. Who’s opinion really matters? Potential customers.

When I was working with a slightly crazy CEO who did not understand the nuances of design, he made a good point. He wanted to show our top three designs to his best customers for their opinions and they picked a solid logo. Although it wasn’t my favorite, it was exactly what our clients felt when seeing it — one said, “It shows that you examine bits and bytes and the one dot in a different color is the one piece that could win us our case. We want that level of detail from a computer forensics firm.” Done. He was right. Let your customers have a say. If your branding is not translating to potential customers, the logo has failed.

Maintaining Brand Guidelines Across the Company

Most organizations do not create a formal set of branding guidelines and templates, but it is in your best interest to get this professionally done. Every client-facing document should reflect positively on your brand. Companies pay a fortune to create and defend their brand. The smaller the company, the worse the overall branding will typically be. A bad logo, used inconsistently, in numerous sizes and colors, different fonts for different documents, and poorly designed documents and forms will make your company look sloppy and unprofessional, so spend a few bucks to get something done well.

Have your designer create a Branding Guidelines document. Developing a formal set of branding guidelines will show employees how to use your logo appropriately and what is and what is not acceptable use. Make this document available to all employees. As part of their on-boarding at your company, introduce this document and processes for using the brand. Their computers should have limited options for fonts and have all of your templates loaded up. Some companies have intranets or online storage where the latest versions of these documents are stored. This is ideal if your documents get updated regularly. Ensure that you have internal audits of documents to ensure adoption of all templates by all employees. For important documents, have them cleared by your Marketing department to ensure adherence to the brand guidelines.

I’ve seen newsletters go out to clients in COMIC SANS. All professional designers are completely offended by that typeface and IT MUST DIE.

Expanding Your Branding

Your brand is everything that comes in contact with an employee, a client, a prospect, the press and more. Your brand should extend to how you design your work environment, using brand colors to reinforce your branding. When I worked for a telecom group of companies, we had several companies occupying different floors of the same building. Each floor reflected the brand of the company within through paint color and other finish choices. Uniforms and other cool stuff for employees (like hoodies, travel mugs or sports team uniforms) should reflect the brand.

Writing sales and marketing materials, social media updates, and for your web site should all have a consistent “voice”. This can be accomplished by ensuring all staff are following a particular editorial standard (I’m personally a fan of the Chicago Manual of Style; others have their own preferences.). This voice should be intuitive and closely match the look and feel of your brand. For example, a large law firm’s brand will be typically be sober in colors, in traditional serif fonts, and may perhaps even be engraved or embossed. These all indicate traditional values. Their office space is probably deeply carpeted, with expensive furniture and bookcases. They probably have a formal dress code and well written processes. Another example may be a small IP-specialty law firm that specializes in working with VCs and other institutional financial organizations in the tech sector. They may have an entirely different logo indicating a technology forward, futuristic sensibility. Their office may match more closely with their tech clients and wear more casual business attire at the office. Their web sites and communications could feature similar tones of voice, but consistent branding should create enough difference in their tone for the viewer to understand their organizations clearly.

The Brand Experience

Branding should incorporate and instill company culture, which means that the experiences an employee, client, prospect or journalist has with your company is also part of the brand. How the receptionist greets you, the way you are managed through the interview and hiring process, the on-boarding process, the exit protocols, all are part of the brand experience. How your web site traffic flows through your web site (or doesn’t) is another extension of your brand experience. How your customer service representatives conduct business on the phone is part of your brand experience. Every communication is part of the brand experience, even those you have no control over.

Protecting Your Brand

With the proliferation of social media options, your clients, past employees, even your vendors can voice their opinion on interacting with your company (and your brand). You have no control over what they may say, but you have full control over how you respond. While some companies are loathe to respond at all citing legal concerns, others secretly hire internet marketing companies to help remove these negative comments online by burying them deep in search results. Others address them head on trying to defend themselves in the heat of the moment. Sometimes a rogue employee goes off without understanding they are representing the company online. All these are methods which are not effective and some could blow up into viral nightmares.

To protect your brand, the best methodology is authenticity. Take time to listen, own up to your responsibility, and explain the decisions made. A new story will go viral in another minute or two and hopefully, this will be forgotten.

Branding is a critical component to any organization and if you equate brand with your corporate culture, it should all match and create the same emotions in your employees, which will ultimately do the same for your customers, partners and the world at large.

How do you manage your brand? What areas do you think are the most vital for developing, extending and establishing your brand? Are war stories to share? Please leave them in the comments below. Cheers. 🙂


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Is Job Hopping Such a Bad Thing?

Is Job Hopping Such a Bad Thing?

Millennials have been charged with the crime of serial job hopping, never staying anywhere more than a few years. I counter that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As employers, we’d love people to be happy doing the work they do today for the next decade, but most humans need challenges and ways to learn new skills to maintain their enthusiasm for their role. Most jobs change anyway with advances in technology and new channels to do business, which require training and new skills development. The company may not have growth opportunities. Some companies don’t need a 25-person marketing team. The top job may only be Marketing Coordinator or part of the receptionist’s duties. Turning that into a full-time job may be a huge risk for the organization. Employees want to feel part of something and work for people who share common values.

When a new employee is on-boarded, they’ll know quickly if the work environment and the interactions with fellow employees are conducive for them to accomplish their goals. When I joined a large online search engine, I knew that first week that this company was completely wrong for me. I accomplished my professional goals, but it was fraught with insider cliques which got preferential treatment. I constantly brought up revenue, which was not a priority for anyone else. I was essentially ostracized and left nine months later. Was this bad? No. It was the right decision for me and the company. There was a misalignment in our core values; there was a lack of respect for my experience (I was once told, “Great that you have 15 years of experience, but we consider every year of online marketing equal to five years of brick and mortar marketing. No disrespect.” Yeah. None taken. Have you ever even seen a P&L statement?).

I don’t think job hopping is necessarily a bad thing. I think hiring managers don’t like it because it means the person has no loyalty. I see it very differently. I think hiring manager subconsciously know that people who job hop demand more accountability from their managers. They have higher standards, better skills, which make it easier for them to say, “I don’t need this. I’m outta here.” And they are very qualified and typically find work quickly. As many management books say, “Hire slowly, fire fast.” In this case, it’s the employee doing this and that can be viewed very negatively by the company as the employee has, essentially, fired them. Most companies don’t handle that well.

Job hopping CAN be a red flag, so it is important to follow up with your background check. They may be arrogant individual contributors that don’t play well with teams. They may have erratic personalities, substance abuse issues, or other negative character traits that cause them to frequently change jobs. It may also be because of lifestyle choices, such as starting a family, being a caregiver for an elderly parent, writing a book, or other personal choices, so give them a chance to discuss their reasons.

I’ve worked in 13 companies since 1993. Only three lasted longer than three years. Part of that has to do with the nature of what I do — taking companies to the next level. Usually that means working towards a founder’s exit strategy, typically buyout, merger or IPO. When these activities occur, two people are usually the first to be let go — the person in charge of finance and the person in charge of marketing (for some reason, incoming investors seem to think they can always cut the budget, change strategy, and create new programs better than someone that has been immersed in it for the past few years). Years ago, I was shocked to be let go the day that it was announced that the company was purchased by Nokia. At the time I did not understand. I knew I launched our products flawlessly and engaged an entirely new sales channel. I grew that business and earned it. What I learned later was that Nokia was more interested in hiring our R&D department and our development staff and were planning to put our entire project in a closet, never to be seen again. It clearly threatened software products they were going to be introducing the following year.

So lots of people look at my profile and see short stints at one or two companies, followed by longer stints at others. I view my entire career differently. I work WITH companies. I have never felt like an employee and perhaps that shows in the way I follow through with other departments as if they were my clients. I work under the radar a lot, with the smallest teams possible, to get stuff done. I cannot stand office politics and dealing with “seeking buy-in from stakeholders”. The best advice I ever got was from the superintendent of a large school district who told me, “What you are planning to do is going to be very, very hard to do. I recommend that you seek forgiveness rather than permission.” When I succeeded, not only was the district delighted, I won a Webby Award for it.

So what’s a company to do? Understand that job hoppers can be great people with incredible skills that only need a few years to dramatically change your business. After that, they’re on to new challenges. Think of them as more economical consultants. In fact, treat all your employees as if they were full-time in-house consultants. You have a employment agreement with them. As they join, learn about their past experience and how they could put it to use in your firm. Learn about the processes other companies in their backgrounds have used to streamline their businesses. Ask about their past incentive plans and benefits to compare to what you offer. Their experience in a number of companies can be valuable information to a first-time entrepreneur who keeps trying to reinvent the wheel again and again with each new product, venture, business line, sales channel, etc.

And leaders need to understand that job hoppers need to be heard. The primary reason people leave companies in the first year is due to poor communication with management. When people are engaged, feel supported, recognized for their work, they will stay longer, even when the systemic problems cannot be solved. Give the space to expand outside of their current roles. Give them stretch tasks or projects to allow them to experiment. I highly recommend conducting regular Stay Interviews. We have implemented them in our current workplace and our attrition rate, once 6% a month is now down to less than 1% (granted, we are a 24-hour workforce and most people leave due to reluctance to work night shifts). It’s still dramatic.

Give a job hopper a chance. You may be one of those companies they stay a few years at because you made it worthwhile for them. The employer-employee contract is not what it used to be. Employers don’t take care of you after 30 years of working at their firm any more. No more gold watches, no pensions, nothing. White collar employees have never even had the support enjoyed by blue collar union employees. (I remember a company where as the Marketing Manager, I was making less than the janitor who was in a union.) The only way employers can generate that undying loyalty is through alignment of values, goals and mission. People want to be part of something special and employers need to communicate effectively about what makes you special. Be that. Be special. Make your people feel special. You may find a lot of talented job hoppers lining up to work for you.

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Five Tips for Finding Jobs as an International Worker

Five Tips for Finding Jobs as an International Worker

International workers are candidates with experience in more than one country, some having experience in many different countries. They may work in the oil and gas industry, telecom, even global FMCG companies where their work changes location every few years. Some folks may work in an MNC (Multinational Corporation) and may move from country to country as they enter new markets. Others may never leave their country of origin, but work in an MNC where the work culture is based on the foreign parent company. I get lots of connection requests on LinkedIn, many looking for work overseas or in MNCs here in Myanmar. Many are looking for advice on what to do and where to start. I can only speak to those interested in working abroad about the realities of finding those jobs. Here are a few tips to help you on your journey to the job you’ve always dreamed of.

1. Do Your Research On Foreign Worker Laws in Your Country of Choice.

If looking for work overseas, it is your responsibility to completely understand what visas you will need, what companies you can work for and for what duration. Understand that any extra work or costs a company has to pay to hire you will go against you. A hiring manager wants someone hired NOW, not after a lengthy and expensive H-1B Visa process. He will hire the local candidate before you. Lessen the impact on this by highlighting in your cover letter anything you can offer above an beyond the other potential candidates. Most companies will hire a foreign worker under two conditions:

  1. You are such a proven, valuable contributor to their organization that they want to make you a permanent offer, or feature unique and valuable experience they cannot identify in local talent;
  2. They can’t find anyone local who will work for them (their pay is less than industry norms, poor work environment or reputation, limited potential for growth, or location issues).

If #1, you may have done freelance work for them or perhaps a remote project for the company. You may have previous experience that is hard to find or you have demonstrated experience they cannot find in their local talent pool. If B, they’re desperate to solve their hiring challenge and willing to spend money to get a body in a seat. Either way, unless you have U.S. citizenship or a Green Card (Residency Status), you will always be Plan B. This is a reality many potential applicants make and “sucking up” and begging an HR person for a job won’t help you. You will cost more upfront and it will take longer to get you on board. You are a higher risk than a local candidate.

As an expat myself, most of the companies I have worked for had never hired a foreign worker. The country I live in requires sponsorship from a company registered in the country. I can only work for that one company and must leave the country within 30 days should I quit my job. When I worked in India, I had to reapply for a work permit every year (sometimes an 8-month process!!!). In Myanmar, it is every six months. I had to completely understand the process and advise the companies I have worked for that I will handle the process and give them the documentation for labor compliance. While I most likely missed out on some great opportunities because I am a foreign worker, I completely understand their views and try to mitigate their risk as much as possible.

2. Research the Companies You Are Interested in Working In.

Most MNCs are recognizable global brands. Myanmar’s market is highly attractive to marketers, with its burgeoning middle class and growing economy (estimated to grow at 7.7% this year). MNCs need people with in-country knowledge to set strategy and communications appropriate to the market. There are famous business cases, such as the McDonald’s debacle of bringing over an American menu without understanding the sensitivity of India’s Hindu population. There are also very successful cases like Unilever, whose Hindustan Unilever division managed to expand into rural markets through small unit packaging of personal care products and enabling village entrepreneurs with minimal investment to sell their line of products. Because of your understanding of the culture you grew up in, your voice matters when an MNC enters a new market. Unilever would not have been successful if not for the village-to-village research they did in-country before launch. Keep tabs on fast growing companies in expansion that may be entering your market. Follow their careers page and watch for signs they are gearing up to move into your market. Be there when they are ready to move.

3. Align Yourself to the Foreign Work Culture

Become that in-country specialist, but also invest time in understanding how the parent company operates. You want to operate in the same work culture as the parent company in order to make yourself more visible. For example, an American tech firm will operate far more casually than a German one, but you will probably be expected to work far more hours with the American firm. Adherence to process, perfection and precision may be highly valued by the German firm, while innovation may be more prized in an American firm. An American firm will want you to participate in brainstorming ideas, execute on commitments, and learn from your failures. Many traditional Indian firms don’t work that way and are far more bureaucratic with only the CEO making decisions. You will need to feel comfortable with ambiguity and tolerate risk with far less support in MNCs.

When I first went looking for companies in India and Myanmar that might be able to leverage my experience, I focused on marketing myself to companies that relied heavily on American revenue. I positioned myself as someone with familiarity (not understanding) with the local culture who could invest time in developing teams in the American business mindset, generating more traffic and revenue from American sources. I also positioned myself as someone with contacts in American venture capital. These two points made me attractive for the organization that hired me. Your cover letter is key.

Ensure you market your strengths and unique experiences that would make you interesting and memorable enough for the hiring manager to want to meet you.

4. Authenticity is Key

Never lie on your resume/CV. Do not cut and paste someone else’s resume as your own, even if they do the same work. I’ve received resumes from people with several different fonts and writing styles. Simply copying a line and googling it, I found where the original resume came from; this has caused many people from never getting an interview with me. I’ve received designer samples that were pulled down from web sites WITH THE WATERMARKS STILL ON THEM. I’ve interviewed job hoppers and when questioned, responded with, “How do you think I got to 1.5 lakh rupees a month?”. Why would I hire these people? Why would anybody?

MNCs will do proper background checks, calling previous employers and your schools. They may do credit checks and drug tests. MNCs expect your ethics to match theirs, which means being honest. Use your honesty, especially in a situation like seeking advice. In your cover letter, explain your ambitions and how your background meets company goals. Show how you have created value at other organizations and explain how that experience can translate to their company.

Another critical point — PROOFREAD your resume carefully. Have two other people review and provide you with feedback. Simplify to one font — Arial or Times Roman will be fine for anyone other than a designer. Test the English. Is it written in British or American English? If you spell words in British English, an American hiring manager will view it as a mistake and assume you are uneducated. For realz. Unprofessionally designed and written resumes will never see a hiring manager and you will never see a job offer. Be safe and create one with both sets of spellings for British and American firms.

5. Develop Quality Connections Online

If you have no such experience or just starting out, try identifying hiring managers within the organization and ask them for advice, not jobs. People aren’t going to give perfect strangers a job, but they may be much more open to giving you advice and perhaps share the contact information of a person who can actually help you within the organization. They may be able to refer you to alternative organizations, professional groups, and industry news and job web sites where you can network. Consider every online contact you make as a job interview and conduct yourself accordingly. An ex-colleague once told me:

Don’t post anything online that you would not say in front of your grandmother in a court of law.

This is true in the case of hiring managers as well. As part of their due diligence on you, they may google your name and see what comes up. Carefully check the top 100 responses. There are web sites out there that can help you manage your online reputation to ensure what shows up is the professional you, and not the sex offender with the same name. Those pictures of you doing keg stands with your bros probably won’t help either. Ladies (and some gents), selfies in your underwear only work if your last name is Kardashian. Bad mouthing your current boss or company will significantly count against you. No one wants to hire someone who publicly badmouths the company they work for.

Authenticity works both ways. Companies spend fortunes defending their brand but there are plenty of ways to find out more about the inner workings of these companies online. Glassdoor and Indeed are two sites that showcase employee reviews, questions asked at interviews, etc. They can tell you whether the company in your sights is worth your time and effort. It could indicate that your dream could actually be a toxic workplace nightmare.

Using sites like LinkedIn are great for professional networking, but look also to more niche sites in your area of interest, say, Marketing or Software Development. Connect with speakers at conferences and other thought leaders. Be aware that their time is precious, so don’t spam them with pleas for jobs. Connecting with lower level employees can give you insight into how they got their jobs, what the interview process was like and what they think they did differently that got them the job. They may call you up or email you when they hear of an opening if you consistently stay in contact and develop a relationship. Make quality connections and treat them as such. Quality connections will be there for you throughout your career.

Finding the job of your dreams takes a lot more work than people think. Persistence is key. How have you managed to accomplish this? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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ibuildcompanies.com Offers Free Download on the Hierarchy of Competence

"Four Ways to Build Out an Effective Board of Directors" ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker
Download your free PDF: "Hierarchy of Competence" - By Jeanne Heydecker - ibuildcompanies.com

ibuildcompanies.com is pleased to release a free downloadable PDF for anyone interested in the hierarchy of competence. Most people consider themselves above average; when you ask them how they would rate themselves as, say a driver or a parent. However, there is bell curve to the skills and logic would say that most people are simply average, some being very much above average, and very much below average. The same thing applies to companies. This white paper helps you assess what your company is doing wrong and how to fix your service business for operational excellence and increased profits. Nobody wants to work for an average company. “A” players only want to work with other “A” players because they challenge each other and get better.

“Operational strategy is different from your overall business strategy. Business strategy usually is a higher level view – where the company is going, what industries you plan to serve, what products or services you plan to launch, increasing revenues, countering threats, minimizing risks and how best to grow your organization,” said Jeanne Heydecker, Founder and CEO of ibuildcompanies.com. “Operational strategy focuses on how you operate internally – the process you use to improve your products or service delivery, and ultimately grow through incremental improvements in processes, procedures, oversight and monitoring, data collection, etc. This typically leads to increased customer delight and loyalty, and increased market share and revenues.

What affects employees the most is service delivery. To do their jobs well, forward thinking organizations should use a four-prong approach to solving this critical issue. We call this methodology the Hierarchy of Competence.”

To get your own copy of the “Hierarchy of Competence”, please email us and we’ll send you our ten-page white paper in PDF format or you can  download it here immediately.

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