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11 Powerful Entrepreneur Podcasts

11 Powerful Entrepreneur Podcasts

11 Powerful Podcasts for Entrepreneurs

Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that one of the keys to becoming successful – and staying successful – is to develop your knowledge. For years I developed my entrepreneurial knowledge through books and blogs (checked out my Required Reading for Entrepreneurs post), as well as in-person networking and learning events.

Last year I discovered podcasts (OK, I knew about ‘podcasts’ for a long time, but I hadn’t paid any particular attention to them or to podcasts for entrepreneurs) and my mind was blown wide open.

There is an incredible wealth of amazing information available in the podcast universe, with some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world sharing their knowledge and wisdom freely with the world.

What makes podcasts so great is that you can listen to them while you’re doing something else, and make effective use of otherwise ‘dead’ time. For 2016 I’ve committed myself to at least 15 minutes of vigorous exercise every day, which I squeeze in to my work day (I keep my sneakers and running clothes at work). Now I throw on my headphone, queue up my favourite podcast, and get the learning flowing while I’m running – exercising both my body and mind!

I’ve scoured the podcast universe and listened to dozens of entrepreneur and small business podcasts, and have narrowed down my iTunes feed to 11 of my favourites.

So without further ado, here are my favourite entrepreneurship podcasts, in no particular order. I’ve included links to the podcast in iTunes, as well as a link to an associated website. 

  

11 Powerful Podcasts for Entrepreneurs

 

1. Mixergy – Startup Stories

Mixergy is a platform that features over 1300 interviews and courses with some of the world’s top entrepreneurs, like Gary Vaynerchuk., Barbara Corcoran, and people from Y Combinator.

Their startup stories podcast is over 1200 episodes strong, and features hard-hitting interviews with startup founders, probing deep into their successes and failures.

Typical podcast length: 1 hour

WebsiteiTunes

2. The Entrepreneur’s Solution (Mel Abraham)

Mel Abraham is the founder of Business Breakthrough Academy and Thoughtpreneur Academy where he helps entrepreneurs bring their businesses to the world and build the lifestyle that they want. I’ve really enjoyed his podcast and his down-to-earth style; his podcasts tend to focus on actionable topics, rather than just fluffy, inspirational stuff, and each episode has an associated download or workbook that you can access to put the actionable tips to use right away.

One of the best entrepreneur podcasts out there.

Typical podcast length: 30-40 minutes

WebsiteiTunes

3. EOFire (John Lee Dumas)

John Lee Dumas is a machine: as of today (March 15, 2016) he’s up to 1240 podcasts! Each day, he releases a new EOFire podcast, interviewing a successful entrepreneur to pick their brains about what does and doesn’t work for them. He’s interviewed some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, including Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin and more!

A fantastic entrepreneur podcast if you’re looking for a daily dose of inspiration and advice.

Typical podcast length: 30 minutes

WebsiteiTunes

4. This Is Your Life (Michael Hyatt)

Although this is could be considered an entrepreneurship podcast, Michael covers a lot of ground with it, including leadership, personal growth, productivity, and other topics that aren’t necessarily just for entrepreneurs, but that are nonetheless valuable to anyone starting or running a business.

Unlike many other podcasts, Michael has a cohost (the fantastic Michele Cushatt), and their rapport and banter is often quite entertaining and useful.

Typical podcast length: 35 minutes

WebsiteiTunes

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5. Redefine – A Social Enterprise Podcast (Agrego)

I just discovered this one recently. My focus with my online course and my consulting work is on social entrepreneurship (entrepreneurs who seek social goals as well as financial ones), so I’ve started to seek out more resources on this topic.

Cohosted by Richard Mands and Joshua Maddox, and presented by social enterprise Agrego, the Redefine Podcast discusses news from the world of social entrepreneurship, hosts discussions with thought leaders, and features discussions on how wealth is produced, used and distributed.

Typical podcast length: 1 hour

WebsiteiTunes

6. StartUp

One of the most popular startup podcasts, StartUp is a podcast diving deep into the world of startups. In Season 1, host Alex Blumberg told the story of launching Gimlet Media, a podcast network. In Season 2, Alex was joined by co-Host Lisa Chow, to follow an entirely new company, Dating Ring.

Following podcast storytelling techniques made famous my podcasts such as Serial, this podcast is a bit different than the others profiled here, as the focus is on one company and the story behind that company, rather than tips, advice or inspiration (but you’ll get plenty of those along the way). It’s easily the most entertaining of the 11 podcasts here and worth your time.

Typical podcast length: 30 minutes

WebsiteiTunes

7. I Love Marketing (Joe Polish and Dean Jackson)

I discovered this one while listening to the School of Greatness podcast interview with Joe Polish. I’m a big student of anything related marketing (and if I have one entrepreneurship skill that sets me apart, it’s my expertise with digital marketing), so this podcast really resonates with me.

Typical episodes focus on and discuss lead generation, lead conversion, email marketing (I’m big on email marketing!), referrals and much more.

If you want to get better at marketing, this is a great starting point and one of the best small business podcasts out there.

Typical podcast length: 1 hour

WebsiteiTunes

  

8. The School of Greatness (Lewis Howes)

This is not specifically an entrepreneurship podcast, but it’s definitely super useful for entrepreneurs. In this podcast former ‘pro athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur’ Lewis Howes interviews successful people on the topic of greatness: what greatness means, how to be great, what are the steps involved in being great, and much more.

His guest list reads like a Who’s Who list, and you will definitely have your mind expanded (and often blown wide open) by some of the insights his guests reveal.

Typical podcast length: 1 hour (plus 5-minute Fridays)

WebsiteiTunes

9. Sproutcast (Julie Duffy)

Another fantastic social entrepreneurship podcast focused on changemakers – the people and companies/organizations that are changing the world for the better. Each podcast features actionable tips, strategies, insights and advice on a wide range of areas, encompassing both the for-profit and non-profit worlds.

Typical podcast length: 35 minutes

WebsiteiTunes

10. The Ziglar Show

Zig Ziglar was a famous motivational/inspirational speaker, along the lines of Tony Robbins or Robin Sharma. The Zig Ziglar show continues his tradition, with hosts Kevin Millar and Tom Ziglar interviewing top world changers and leaders, as well as featuring excerpts from Zig Ziglar speeches and then deconstructing them.

Although the podcast is full of wisdom and inspiration, what keeps me coming back is just listening to Zig Ziglar’s amazing voice and smooth Texas drawl. Just listen to the intro and tell me you didn’t keep listening!

Typical podcast length: 1 hour

WebsiteiTunes

11. What It Takes (Academy of Achievement)

Another one that’s not strictly an entrepreneurship blog, What It Takes is a project of the Academy of Achievement, an organization that brings students face to face with extraordinary leaders, visionaries and pioneers (like Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos, Frank Gehry and more).

A fascinating glimpse into what it takes to be great.

Typical podcast length: 40 minutes

Website |  iTunes

Conclusion

There you have it, my 11 favourite podcasts for entrepreneurs. I hope you subscribe to a few of them, and are impacted the way I have been.

What are your favourite entrepreneurship podcasts? Let me know in the comments below!

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The Ultimate Guide to Funding a Startup

The Ultimate Guide to Funding a Startup

The Ultimate Guide to Funding a Startup

In my work as a consultant to entrepreneurs, the issue of startup funding and capital always comes up. I’ve yet to work with an entrepreneur who says ‘I’ve got all the money I need.’ I often refer them to a few of my favourite funding sources and let them take it from there.

I decided to take it a step further and have put together a pretty comprehensive list of funding options for startups, mostly in Canada and the USA. This includes:

  • Traditional crowdfunding sites (e.g. Kickstarter)
  • Equity crowdfunding (sell shares to the crowd)
  • Peer-to-Peer lending
  • Alternative lenders (i.e. alternatives to the banks)

(stick around to the end and you’ll find a bonus option you’ve probably never thought of)

I’ve left out other forms of startup funding, such as:

  • Banks (it’s beyond my scope and ability to list all of the banks and credit unions out there)
  • Angels and VCs (this will be the topic of another post)
  • Friends and family (you know better than I do how to hit them up for $$$).

NOTE: the options in the list below don’t just apply to startups; existing, established businesses can also use most of these options.

NOTE #2: the companies listed below are in no particular order – this is a list post, not a ranking.

Have a look at the list, and if you have any suggestions for options I missed or updates to existing information, please let me know in the comments below.

p.s. I’d love it if you shared this post – it took a really long time to put together!

The Ultimate Startup Funding List

Traditional Crowdfunding Sites

Patreon, a very cool startup funding site to allow you to get ongoing funding for your creative efforts.

Patreon, a very cool funding site to allow you to get ongoing funding for your creative efforts.

  1. Gofundme (Global): GoFundMe personal online fundraising websites are perfect for individuals, groups & organizations! Based in San Diego and Menlo Park, GoFundMe was launched on May 10, 2010 and has quickly become the World’s #1 fundraising site for personal causes and life-events. Millions of people have raised over $1 Billion in the past 365 days.
    • Fees: 5%, Processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 applies.
    • All-or-nothing: No
  2. Kickstarter (CAN and USA): One of the first crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter is still one of the biggest. Personal fundraising not allowed. Creative only.
    • Fees: 5%, Processing fees of between 3-5% apply.
    • All-or-nothing: Yes
  3. Indiegogo (Global): Indiegogo is a launchpad for creative and entrepreneurial ideas of every shape and size.
    • Fees: 5%, 3% processing fee. $25 fee for international wire.
    • All-or-nothing: No
  4. Teespring (Global): Design your shirt, set a price, add a goal and start selling. Teespring handles the rest – production, shipping, and customer service – and you keep the profit!
    • Fees: 10%+ (*Fees vary based on t-shirts selected for sale.)
    • All-or-nothing: No
  5. Patreon (USA): Recurring funding for artists and creators. Creators receive millions of dollars each month in support from their patrons. Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs). Fans pledge a few bucks per month OR per thing you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new (whether it’s on SoundCloud, YouTube, your own website, or anywhere). Creative projects only.
    • Fees: 5%, Must pledge an on-going amount. Additional processing fee of 4%
    • All-or-nothing: No
  6. YouCaring (Global): At YouCaring, we focus on compassionate crowdfunding, making it free—and easy—to support personal and charitable causes. YouCaring is dedicated to compassionate crowdfunding, providing free and easy online fundraising and support for humanitarian causes.
    • Fees: none (Processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per donation applies)
    • All-or-nothing: No
  7. CrowdRise (Global): CrowdRise is the world’s #1 fundraising site for charitable and personal causes. Raise money for friends who need help, marathons and events, and over 1.5 million charities.
    • Fees: Free accounts charge 5%, paid accounts are 3%. Processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 applies.
    • All-or-nothing: No
  8. Kiva (Global): Kiva is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.
    • Fees: 15% fee is suggested to campaign micro-lenders. Processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 applies.
    • All-or-nothing: No
  9. GiveForward (USA): GiveForward is the first place to turn when you or someone you love is facing a challenge. It’s the central rallying place for giving and receiving meaningful support. From sending a simple “Thinking of You” to raising money for out-of-pocket expenses, GiveForward empowers anyone to build a community and take action when it counts.
    • Fees: 5% fee is charged to campaign creators. Processing fee of 2.9% + $0.50 per transaction applies.
    • All-or-nothing: No
  10. Fundable (USA): Fundable helps companies get crowdfunded. They’ve built the largest business crowdfunding platform dedicated exclusively to helping companies raise capital.
    • Fees: $179/month
    • All-or-nothing: Yes
  11. RocketHub (USA): RocketHub is the world’s crowdfunding machine. RocketHub is an international, pioneering, open community that has helped thousands of artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and social leaders raise millions of dollars.
    • Fees:
      • Reach your goal: 4% commission fee + 4% credit card handling fee
      • Don’t reach your goal: 8% commission fee + 4% credit card handling fee

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Equity Crowdfunding Sites

Seedups.ca, the newest entry to the equity crowdfunding scene, now finally in Canada!

Seedups.ca, the newest entry to the equity crowdfunding scene, now finally in Canada!

Unlike traditional crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding sites allow you to sell actual shares of your company (as opposed to products/services) to ‘the crowd’. In several of these cases, you can get around the accredited investor requirement and sell to non-accredited investors, which opens up the door to some amazing possibilities.

  1. AngelList (USA): US website for raising equity or debt investments for startups. Only accredited investors can invest at the time of writing.
    • Fees:
      • The total out-of-pocket costs for each fund are estimated to be $50,000 or more.
      • A typical carry for an individual investment is 20%. 15% of that carry goes to the lead investor of the syndicate and 5% goes to AngelList.
    • Minimum raise required:
      • The minimum investment for a lead who is investing her own money is generally 2.5% of the amount that the syndicate raises from individual investors.
      • The minimum investment for a lead who is investing out of a fund raised from limited partners is generally 20% of the amount that the syndicate raises from individual investors.
    • Maximum raise allowed: n/a
  2. Fundable (USA): is a crowdfunding platform that offers both rewards-based and equity-based campaigns for small businesses.
    • Fees: $179 per Month to Fundraise
    • Minimum raise required: $1,000
    • Maximum raise allowed: None
  3. Seedups (CAN): Canadian equity crowdfunding platform for accredited, eligible and ordinary investors.
    • Fees: $1500 fee plus 5% of investment.
    • Minimum raise required: $100,000
    • Maximum raise allowed: $1,500,000
  4. CircleUp (USA): CircleUp helps consumer entrepreneurs and investors do what they do, better. It is an equity-based crowdfunding site based in San Francisco.
    • Fees: There is no initial charge to apply to CircleUp. If approved to be listed on the site, CircleUp will generally assess a commission based on a percentage of the total amount raised.
    • Minimum raise required: n/a
    • Maximum raise allowed: n/a
  5. Crowdfunder (Global): A global social network for equity and contribution crowdfunding for small businesses, startups and social enterprises. Crowdfunder is an all-or-nothing platform and campaigns are recommended to set multiple rounds of financing. This increases the likelihood that you will get funded through earlier rounds with smaller amounts but it also increases the risk to investors. Companies looking for seed funding or proof-of-concept may still be years and multiple financing rounds away from any sales or profits. Campaigns are able to set their own deadline up to the 60-day maximum.
    • Fees: A monthly fee starting at $299 is charged on all projects. Crowdfunder charges a 5% fee on successfully funded campaigns. Payments are only offered through Amazon Payments which charges a 2.9% fee and a $0.30 transaction fee.
    • Minimum raise required: $5,000
    • Maximum raise allowed: $100,000
  6. Wefunder (USA): “We help everyone invest in startups. It’s like Kickstarter, but with equity.”
    • Fees:
      • 10% carried interest
      • $50 per investor for self-service fundraising platform
      • Up-front 4% fee for investor
      • 5%-2% administrative fees
    • Minimum raise required: $100
    • Maximum raise allowed: None
  7. Equity Net (USA): EquityNet is a recognized pioneer of crowdfunding and has operated one of the largest business crowdfunding platforms since 2005. The multi-patented EquityNet platform includes over 100,000 individual entrepreneurs and investors, incubators, government support entities, and other members of the entrepreneurial community. EquityNet provides access to thousands of investors and has helped entrepreneurs across North America raise hundreds of millions in equity, debt, and royalty-based capital.
    • Fees: Much of EquityNet is free, without the need for a credit card. However, certain features require a paid subscription. Paid subscriptions start at $600 for 3 months and can be seen in your account.
    • Minimum raise required: $200,000+
    • Maximum raise allowed: $1M
  8. RockThePost / OneVest (USA): is an equity crowdfunding platform that connects high quality entrepreneurs with accredited investors interested to invest in exciting new start-up companies.
    • Fees: free of management fees or carried interest.
    • Minimum raise required: $5,000
    • Maximum raise allowed: $20-30K
  9. FundersClub (USA): Invest in the world’s most promising startups. Diversify your investment portfolio with insider access to highly vetted startups from Silicon Valley and beyond in just minutes. FundersClub envisions a world where startups that move the world forward more efficiently secure the funding and support they need to innovate and thrive, and where more people benefit from their rise.
    • Fees:
      • Single-company fund terms range from 1% to 30% carry
      • Multi-company fund terms range from 1% to 30% carry and an average annual management fee of 0.25% to 3%
    • Minimum raise required:
      • Single-company fund: $3,000
      • Multi-company, Theme series fund: $5,000
      • Multi-company, Accelerate series fund: $10,000
    • Maximum raise allowed: None

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Lending Loop, a new Canadian entry to the peer-to-peer lending scene.

Lending Loop, a new Canadian entry to the peer-to-peer lending scene.

Peer-to-peer lending allows members of the public (the ‘crowd’) to donate small to medium amounts directly to businesses listed on their sites. Typically the loan rate – and rate of return for the lender – is based on the assessed level of risk of the business. i.e. the safer the business, the lower the loan rate and rate of return for the lender.

  1. Lending Club (USA): Lending Club is the world’s largest online marketplace connecting borrowers and investors. We’re transforming the banking system to make credit more affordable and investing more rewarding. We operate at a lower cost than traditional bank lending programs and pass the savings on to borrowers in the form of lower rates and to investors in the form of solid returns.
    • Loan rates: 00% and 5.00% of the loan amount
    • Maximum term amount: 25 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $300,000
  2. Upstart (USA): A SMARTER LOAN. YOU EARNED IT. You are more than your credit score. On Upstart your education and experience help you get the rate you deserve.
    • Loan rates: Interest rates are determined based on each individual’s education, credentials, work experience and credit. The range is 4.0% – 26.06% for 3-year loans and 6.0% – 27.32% for 5-year loans.
    • Maximum term amount: 5 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $35,000
  3. Prosper (USA): Prosper provides investors direct, low cost access to high-yield consumer loans from creditworthy borrowers. Prosper is America’s first peer-to-peer lending marketplace, with more than 2 million members and over $5 billion in funded loans.
    • Loan rates: APR (Annual Percentage Rate) starting at 5.99% for best borrowers. Rates from 5.99% to 36.00% APR
    • Maximum term amount: 5 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $35,000
  4. Peerform (USA): Peerform is an innovative marketplace lending platform. Simply put, Cross River Bank (the lender) brings together borrowers and investors through the Peerform website. Since the platform is internet based, we can keep costs as low as possible, and therefore interest rates lower than the average credit card or personal loan can be offered with the ease of doing everything from your computer. All this translates into lower monthly payments for the borrower along with a well-vetted choice of investment opportunities that provide favorable risk-adjusted returns for the investor.
    • Loan rates:
      • Fixed rates (7.12 % to 29.99 % APR*)
      • The Origination fee, or activation fee, is a fee that Cross River Bank charges for processing the loan application and putting the loan in place. Depending on your rate, this fee is anywhere between 1% to 5% of the principal and it is deducted at the time the loan is transferred to your bank account. There are no other fees imposed if you do not receive a loan.
    • Maximum term amount: 3 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $25,000
  5. CircleBack Lending (USA): CircleBack Lending… provides prime consumers in the United States with a fast and efficient way to borrow money at attractive interest rates.
    • Loan rates: APRs range from 6.63% to 35.18%. The lowest APR available for a loan term of 60 months is 12.88%.
    • Maximum term amount: 60 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $35,000
  6. SoFi (USA): SoFi is a modern finance company that’s fueling the shift to a bankless world. Our radical approach delivers unprecedented services for lending and wealth management. We evaluate applicants based on a holistic view of their financial well-being rather than a three digit score. Whether our members are looking to refinance their student loans, buy their dream home, or simply seek advice as they ascend in their careers, SoFi provides the best products and tools to match their ambitions and propel them to new levels of financial greatness. (NOTE: while SoFi doesn’t offer business financing, per se, you could use one of their personal loans to finance a business)
    • Loan rates: A cap on a variable rate loan is a maximum limit on the interest rate that you can be charged, regardless of how much the index interest rate changes. Currently, interest rates for SoFi variable rate student loans are capped at 8.95% or 9.95%, depending on the term, and SoFi variable rate personal loans are capped at 11.49%, which means no matter how high interest rates rise, you won’t pay more than those rates. SoFi variable rate mortgages are also capped to limit the change in payments year-over-year.
    • Maximum term amount: 7 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $100,000
  7. Pave (USA): Based in New York City, we’re on a mission to remove a major obstacle young people face: access to affordable funding. We’re starting with the Pave loan. Our technology enables us to give young people the most affordable rate by looking beyond their credit score to who they are and where they’re going. Pave makes credit accessible and affordable to young people, and that mission guides everything we do. We enable the success of young people by connecting them to affordable funding to further their education, relocate for their dream career or get their finances back on track. (NOTE: while Pave doesn’t offer business financing, per se, you could use one of their personal loans to finance a business)
    • Loan rates: Range from 6.02 – 21.67% with an origination fee of 1 – 6%
    • Maximum term amount: 3 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $25,000
  8. Funding Circle (USA): Funding Circle is the world’s leading marketplace exclusively focused on small businesses — more than $2bn has been lent to 12,000 businesses in the UK, USA, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. Today, businesses can borrow directly from a wide range of investors, including more than 43,000 people, the UK Government, local councils, a university and a number of financial organizations.
    • Loan rates:
      • Rates starting at 5.49%.
      • Origination fee ranges from 1.49% – 4.99%
    • Maximum term amount: 5 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $500,000
  9. BorrowersFirst (USA): Our name says it all. We provide personal loans, and give our customers the lowest rates possible. We spend less to save you more.
    • Loan rates:
      • Interest rates range from 5.99% to 26.99% per year.
      • All loans are subject to a non-refundable one-time origination fee of 1-5%.
      • The APR includes the interest rate and the origination fee. The APR ranges from 6.66% to 29.99%.
    • Maximum term amount: 5 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $35,000
  10. Lending Loop (CAN): Canada’s first peer-to-peer lending marketplace
    • Loan rates: 6-15.5% plus 3.5% to 5.5% completion fee upon loan acceptance
    • Maximum term amount: 60 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $500,000

Alternative Small Business Lenders

OnDeck, one of the leading alternative lenders in Canada and the USA

OnDeck, one of the leading alternative lenders in Canada and the USA

The following are alternatives to banks (many of which don’t lend to the typical startup) for traditional debt financing such as term loans and lines of credit.

NOTE: I highly recommend getting set up with a line of credit (LOC) – either via your bank or one of the options below – as soon as possible. A line of credit can help you weather periods of low cash flow, emergencies, market fluctuations, etc. and is also available if you want to use it for expanding your operations. Typically they don’t cost anything if you’re not carrying a balance, so they’re a total no-brainer.

Apply for a small LOC (e.g. $1000) to start, then if you’re accepted, use it periodically but pay off the balance and use it responsibly. Later (e.g. 6 months) you can apply to have your credit limit increased, and as long as you keep using it responsibly your lender will often increase the limit for you. This can be crucial for when times get tough (and they will get tough) – you don’t want to be asking for a LOC when you’re staring bankruptcy in the face (you won’t get it).

  1. CAN Capital (USA): CAN Capital is the largest source of alternative funding for small businesses in the United States. The status of ‘largest source of alternative funding’ comes from their years of experience in the industry and streamlined application process. Since 1998, CAN Capital has provided over $5.5 billion in capital to small business, assisting 65,000 small and medium-sized businesses throughout North America.
    • Types of financing: short term loan, long term loan
    • Loan rates: 59%-158%
    • Fees: Origination fee is 0%
    • Maximum loan term: 24 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $150,000
  2. OnDeck (USA/CAN/AUS): Term Loans up to $500,000 and Lines of Credit up to $100,000
    • Types of financing: line of credit, short-term loans, long-term loans
    • Loan rates:9.9% to 36%
    • Fees: $20 monthly maintenance fee on lines of credit (waived if you draw at least $5000 in first month), 0-2.5% loan ‘origination’ fee on short and longterm loans
    • Maximum loan term: 36 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $500,000
  3. Kabbage (Global): Kabbage is an online lender that provides alternative small business loans. It is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and was established in 2009. It has funded over $500 million to small businesses. As an online lender, Kabbage provides loans to businesses across the country.
    • Types of financing: line of credit
    • Loan rates: 5%-40%
    • Fees:
      • Fees ranges from 1% to 13.5% for the first two months and then 1% for the remainder of the term.
      • Origination fee is 1%
    • Maximum loan term: 12 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $100,000
  4. Lending Club (USA): Lending Club is the world’s largest online marketplace connecting borrowers and investors. We’re transforming the banking system to make credit more affordable and investing more rewarding. We operate at a lower cost than traditional bank lending programs and pass the savings on to borrowers in the form of lower rates and to investors in the form of solid returns.
    • Types of financing: refinancing loan, expansion loan
    • Loan rates: Interest rates start at 5.9%
    • Fees: Origination fee ranges between 0.99% – 5.99%
    • Maximum loan term: 5 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $300,000
  5. Swift Capital (USA): Swift Capital is an independent provider of short-term funding, specializing in merchant cash advances. Swift Capital was funded in 2007 by CEO Ed Harycki. After decades of working in the banking industry, Harycki found that business owners were constantly struggling to access fast and simple working capital, and he wanted to create a quick and simple system for businesses to obtain funding.
    • Types of financing: short-term loan
    • Loan rates: Not disclosed
    • Fees:
      • Quotes and application process are completely free.
      • One-time premium fee on cash advances (between 9.9%–24.9%)
    • Maximum loan term: 12 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $300,000
  6. Funding Circle (USA/UK): Funding Circle is an alternative source for business loans in the United States and U.K. The founders are small business owners that found it difficult to navigate traditional and alternative lending resources. After they applied for and were rejected from their 96th loan, they set out to build a solution for small business owners in 2010. Today, Funding Circle has generated $1 billion in loans to help small business owners.
    • Types of financing:
    • Loan rates: 99% – 4.99%
    • Fees: Origination fee is 0%
    • Maximum loan term: 5 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $500,000
  7. Credibility Capital (USA): Helping established small businesses grow through fast, affordable loans.
    • Types of financing: term loan
    • Loan rates: interest rates from 8-20%
    • Fees: one-time origination fee to cover the cost of servicing and processing, ranging from 2% to 6% depending on the amount of the loan.
    • Maximum loan term: 3 years
    • Maximum loan amount: $250,000
  8. SnapCap (USA): SnapCap is committed to increasing small business access to credit, delivering complete and transparent information, and respecting our clients. We understand that working with an alternative lender can be scary because it’s a new concept in this industry, which is why we are 100% dedicated to confidentiality and providing a fast and secure lending process.
    • Types of financing: working capital loans, expansion loans, inventory loans, equipment loans
    • Loan rates: SnapCap’s loans have a fixed interest rate, but you’ll need to speak with one of their representatives as the company does not list specific rates on its site.
    • Fees: Not disclosed
    • Maximum loan term: 18 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $250,000
  9. Balboa Capital (USA): Balboa Capital is one of the largest independent financing companies in the United States. Balboa Capital’s comprehensive financing capabilities include equipment leasing, commercial financing, vendor programs, franchise financing and working capital solutions. Balboa Capital is the trusted resource of many thousands of businesses across all industries throughout the United States. We are recognized for our technology-driven financing solutions, rapid funding, innovative marketing tools and exceptional customer service.
    • Types of financing: line of credit, short term loan, working capital loan, flexible business loan
    • Loan rates: Interest APR ranges to 4%-8%
    • Fees: Origination fee is 0%
    • Maximum loan term: 84 months
    • Maximum loan amount: $250,000
  10. Dealstruck (USA): Is a lending platform that provides alternative business loans to small businesses. It is relatively new, having been established in 2013. It has provided over $5 million in funding to small businesses. Its aim is to help businesses move away from short-term, high-cost financing toward more conventional bank financing.
    • Types of financing: line of credit, short term loan
    • Loan rates: Interest rate between 14 % and 19%
    • Fees: Origination fee of between 3% and 4%
    • Maximum loan term: 36 months
    • Maximum loan amount: Offers loans up to $250,000 and lines of credit up to $500,000

BONUS: Business Barter

Money is not the only funding option to move your business forward. One commonly overlooked strategy for financing start-up growth is the Barter Economy. Take for example a new co-working start-up that needs logo design. A professionally designed brand can run as high as $1,500 to $3,000, but paying for design services with a few months’ use of dedicated desks at your co-working space could ease the financial burden and conserve your cash.

Barter gives you the freedom to access a wide-range of business services even when you are working with a lean budget. In US and Canada, there are a number of barter options including swapping sites, Time Banks, Craigslist’s barter section, and commercial trading networks that utilize trade dollars. Then there are do-it-yourself approaches within your own network.

Here are two great bartering websites that can really help you access services that you might not otherwise be able to afford with cash payments:

Swapsity B2B (CAN): Swapsity B2B is a Toronto-based social enterprise that offers a highly personalized business barter matchmaking service. They set up mutually beneficial value-for-value service exchanges for entrepreneurs (e.g. a promotional video for accounting help, a new website for dental services, marketing for administrative assistant), conserving your precious cash and time. They attentively take care of all the heavy-lifting—vetting entrepreneurs, finding win-win matches, setting up the barter arrangement—enabling business owners to fully benefit from the fruits of the exchange.

  • Fees: 5% to 10% (tiered pricing depending on the value of the exchange). Membership is free.
  • Minimums: Minimal trade value of $750 for current clients, $500 for new clients.

BarterQuest (USA): New-York based BarterQuest is a marketplace for bartering of goods, services, and real estate among individuals and businesses. BarterQuest employs proprietary technology which instantly matches the haves and wants of users for both two party and multi-party trades. Their users can barter internationally or locally.

Fees: Optional verification fee of $9.99, redemption fee: 3.0% of points value + $1.00

 

Well, that’s it for my pretty darn comprehensive list of startup funding options. Have any suggestions for options I missed? Updates to existing information? Please let me know in the comments below, and hey… I’d love it if you shared this post – it took a long time to put together!

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How To Accomplish Anything In 1/2 Hour (Or Less)

How To Accomplish Anything In 1/2 Hour (Or Less)

How To Accomplish Anything In 1/2 Hour Or Less

(or… “How to get over fear, by Elon Musk.”)

I recently read one of the most powerful blog posts I’ve read in a long time, a post about renowned entrepreneur Elon Musk and the ‘secret sauce’ that allows him to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

In the post I saw a lot of parallels to my work. When I’m not running my adventure travel company, I also mentor and consult with startup entrepreneurs to help them get their entrepreneurial ideas off the ground. Although they turn to me for advice, tips and tools, usually what’s really holding them back isn’t a lack of knowledge or knowhow, it’s something else entirely…

Fear.

As Tim Urban explains in his post about Musk, what makes him so successful in achieving the seemingly impossible is not some sort of superhuman ability or rare genius, it’s simply the ability to view two important things in a more realistic light: 1) what’s possible and 2) the risk involved. With this ability, he is able to manage fear far better than most of us.

TAKING THE LEAP

Many of the entrepreneurs I work with work at full time jobs that don’t provide them with much fulfillment, meaning or joy. Underlying this lack of fulfilment is an idea, a dream that’s been itching away for years without ever being scratched. Typically the first question they ask me is some variation of “Where do I start?’ or “How do I start?”.

The enormity of starting a new business – or any new worthwhile endeavour – typically overwhelms most people, and they feel that it requires a massive commitment on their part: quitting their job, selling their house, moving to a new country… some sort of big change to signify their commitment to their dream.

The problem with that thinking is that it typically kicks our fear response into overdrive. And then we operate from this:

This is taken from the Wait But Why post referenced earlier. As the author explains, ‘chefs’ like Elon Musk, whom we revere as extreme risk-takers, are not actually taking on levels of risk that are truly dangerous. The rest of us are just so risk-averse that their behaviour seems crazy to us.

 

And when our fear response kicks in our self-talk starts to sound like this:

“If I quit my job and this business fails, I’ll never get another job again.”

“If I sell my [house, car, baseball cards, etc.] to fund my business, I’ll end up broke with no assets and have to start all over, and I’ll probably end up on the street.”

“If I commit to this and it doesn’t work out, my [husband, girlfriend, dog, parrot, etc.] will leave me.”

As the above diagram shows, the portion of the fear spectrum most people typically operate in is well to the left of “things that we should be truly concerned about”.

So the first thing is to recognize that that the fear reaction is a normal response, but that it’s often warped well out of proportion to actual risk.

The second thing to recognize is that the fear response shows up in devious ways: it typically manifests not as a conscious response of “holy crap, if this doesn’t work out then X and Y are going to happen, and my life will be over”, but rather as some variation of:

“This idea is really dumb. No one is going to buy this from me.”

“I don’t have the [knowhow, knowledge, willpower, brains, personality, etc.] to pull this off.”

“There’s another more-established competitor already offering this. I’ll never be able to compete with them.”

“Someone’s going to come along and steal my idea and put me out of business.”

“I’m not an [entrepreneur, singer, artist, athlete, etc.]. What was I thinking?”

When you hear self-talk like this, it’s important to recognize that you are probably not operating from what Elon Musk calls ‘first principles’, or objective information, but rather from a perspective of fear. That self-talk is a direct manifestation of your fear centres – mostly that pesky amygdala – trying to keep you unnecessarily safe.

When you hear this type of self-talk, ask yourself:

Am I operating from objective, ‘first principles’ information, or is there some sort of distortion going on?

Typically it’s the latter: your idea is probably not that dumb, you probably do have the knowhow to pull it off, and you are an entrepreneur/singer/artist/athlete/etc.

The third thing to recognize is that even if you do recognize this self-talk for what it is – your innate fear response – it’s still incredibly difficult to overcome.

Fortunately, there’s a way around this.

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HOW TO ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING IN 1/2 HOUR OR LESS

OK, I’ll admit it, that headline is a little clickbait-y. I’m not suggesting that you can accomplish anything in just 1800 seconds. What I want to demonstrate is that you can accomplish just about anything you want in life by applying a very simple strategy to it.

How?

By focusing a small, very manageable amount of time, every day, toward a chosen goal.

When I work with people who are not happy with their current career path and are considering a switch to entrepreneurship, but are concerned about leaving the safety of their existing job, I’ll usually work with them to help them clarify their idea and turn it into a viable business model, then outline next steps to help them validate their idea.

Once we’ve outlined those next steps, I’ll encourage them to break them down into small bite-sized chunks, then get them to commit to doing some small daily action or actions that will get them a little bit closer to their goal, every single day.

I usually suggest 1/2 hour a day, but for especially time-challenged people, I suggest they at least commit 20 minutes per day to working on their ‘escape plan’. One woman I recently worked with was working 75-hour weeks at her current job, so her time was pretty limited, but she wanted to get the hell out, so she was very motivated – she has committed to doing 20 minutes a day, and has managed to do it consistently.

That’s the strategy in a very simple nutshell: commit a small amount of time (at least 20 minutes) every day towards your dream. If you can spare more, then commit more time, but only commit to what you can realistically pull off.

If you say you’re going to commit 2 hours a day, but then do 3 days in a row where you only do 1/2 hour, you’re going to get de-motivated by not hitting your goal, so you’re better off committing to 1/2 hour a day.

It’s a powerful strategy because:

  • You’re not overwhelming yourself with a monumental task, and not letting your natural fear response overtake you.
  • While you’re moving towards your goal, you get to appease the safety-seeking, risk-averse side of you and stay in your current reality (while still moving away from it).
  • Every day you make a small bit of progress toward your goal, which is extremely motivating and helps build momentum towards your goal.

I’ve applied this strategy to a number of projects over recent years. For most of this year my daily 1/2 hour was applied to building out a comprehensive online course for social entrepreneurs. There’s a massive amount of content in the course (over 300 pages and dozens of videos), and a lot of technical setup involved to make the course function the way I wanted it to.

Had I sat down without a strategy and thought about the enormity of the task ahead of me, and how I could fit that in to a busy life that already entailed running a 50-person adventure travel company, parenting 3 young children, supporting my wife and everything else in life that I have a responsibility to, I probably would have thrown in the towel and said “No way I can pull that off.”

Instead, I just told myself I would commit 1/2 hour – every day – toward building out the course. Every day I would write some content, build out the website, whatever it took to move closer to that goal. And lo and behold, here I am 11 months later with a complete entrepreneurship course that is already being used by hundreds of people.

Want more proof? This blog post was written in three 1/2 hour chunks: once while I was at the pool while my daughter was doing her swimming lesson, once while sitting on the subway traveling to an appointment, and once during my morning routine.

KEEPING ON TRACK

To keep me on track with my 1/2-hour-a-day commitment, I use an app called Way of Life (here’s an Android version):

It’s a pretty simple app: you start by creating up to 12 ‘habits’ that you want to track. They can be either good habits (like spending 1/2 hour a day on your project) that you want to encourage, or bad ones (like too much coffee) that you want to avoid.

Then you log in to the app every day (I find it easiest to log in once in the morning and once in the evening), check in on the habits you want to encourage/discourage, and mark off whether you’ve achieved your goals or not that day. So if I actually did 1/2 hour of work on my ‘muse’ (I borrowed this term from Tim Ferriss’ excellent book, The 4-Hour Workweek), then I just click on ‘Yes’ under this habit and I get a nice green checkmark for my efforts.

The app offers a reporting feature where you can track your progress both on a macro (i.e. all of your goals) or individual goal level (‘how did I do with regards to exercising every day?’), but that, to me, is less important than the simple act of having to report on my progress each day. Reporting my progress in the app is an act of accountability that reminds me, every day, what is important to me. And as silly as it sounds, I don’t want to let the app down (and by process of extension, let myself down).

HOW WILL YOU USE YOUR 1/2 HOUR?

I’ll finish off with a question: how will you use your daily 1/2 hour? What dream will you pursue? What idea will you launch into the world? What long-buried goal will you finally bring to life?

Just commit 30 minutes every day and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Want some help starting or growing your business? Check out The Social Entrepreneur, a comprehensive online course I spent 11 months developing, to help entrepreneurs like you build, launch and scale businesses that change the world for the better.

I also work with a (very) limited number of committed, passionate entrepreneurs on a consulting basis.

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Starting a Business in the 21st Century – A Complete Guide

Starting a Business in the 21st Century – A Complete Guide

Starting a Business in the 21st Century – A Complete Guide

We live in a golden age of entrepreneurship. Now, more than ever before, it’s easier to start a business, and easier than ever to scale that business to stratospheric heights.

Witness Uber. The darling of Silicon Valley (if not the media or the taxi industry) is just 6 years old yet has managed to achieve a market capitalization (the total value of its stock) of over $50 billion. That’s 50 billion dollars in just over 6 years. That’s higher than the market capitalization of GM, which was founded in 1908.

Another comparison? It took GM 30 years to reach a market cap of 1 billion. Uber? Just over 3.

The technological tools that entrepreneurs have at their disposal now give them an unprecedented ability to build a business model, find customers, test their business model, and reach a large target market – just some of the activities that entrepreneurs need to undertake in order to get traction for their idea.

STARTING A BUSINESS – THE OLD WAY

Flash back 25 years or so. This is how you might have gone about starting a business back then:

  1. Come up with an idea.
  2. Spend 3-4 months writing a business plan.
  3. Go to a bank for financing.
  4. Get rejected by the bank.
  5. Approach another bank.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 several times. 
  7. Get financing.
  8. Spend 6-12 months building a prototype.
  9. Spend 3-6 months customer testing.
  10. Build the product.
  11. Approach the bank for production and marketing $$$.
  12. Repeat steps 4 and 5 again.
  13. Get 2nd round of financing.
  14. Launch your business.
  15. Pray.

By the time you felt like you had a product that’s ready to go and were ready to launch, you’d have probably spent 2-4 years of your life, $50,000 to $500,000, and probably felt and looked something like this:

old guy with beard.png

STARTING A BUSINESS – TODAY

Contrast the method above with a new way to launch a business today, with minimal risk and maximum efficiency.

When I work with and advise startup entrepreneurs, I follow a well-defined method for clarifying, testing and validating the business model – before going to market and spending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on prototyping and/or marketing.

The method looks like this (I’ll describe each step in detail):

  1. Discover a problem.
  2. Build the business model (not the business plan).
  3. Validate the business model.
  4. Test the business model.
  5. Get some startup $$$.
  6. Launch a Minimum Viable Prototype.
  7. Get customer feedback.
  8. Improve the product.

This methodology is based around lean startup principles (for a great read on this topic, check out Ash Maurya’s great book, Running Lean.

Let’s go through these steps in detail.

1. DISCOVER A PROBLEM

Instead of starting with an idea, start with a problem. Ask yourself these two questions:

What customers have a problem that needs solving?

Can I solve it for them?

If the answer to the 2nd question is yes, then learn everything you can about those customers and their problems.

I’ve seen too many would-be entrepreneurs fail because they fell in love with their idea. Their whole business was so oriented around their idea, their product, and their vision that they forgot that the central goal of business is to solve a specific problem (or problems) and create value for its customers.

To this day it amazes me how many entrepreneurs totally leave their customers out of the equation.

So shift your thinking, and start thinking about who your customers will be, what problems they have, and how you will solve them better (cheaper, faster, more elegantly, etc.) than their status quo. If you can imagine that, then you have yourself the beginnings of a viable business.

2. BUILD THE BUSINESS MODEL

I’m not a fan of business plans. In fact, I think they’re pretty much worthless, unless you need one to pull the wool over an investor or bank manager’s eyes.

They’re worthless because:

a) they take a ton of time to put together, and then they gather dust on a shelf or hard drive and are rarely ever referred to on an ongoing basis

b) they’re laden with assumptions, many of which are typically disproven once you actually launch.

What’s the alternative?

Build a business model, using one of the many modeling tools out there.

I started using the Business Model Canvas (download available here) about 6 years ago, when I launched my first social enterprise incubator, Project Wildfire.

 

Starting a Business In the 21st Century - The Social Entrepreneur

A completed business model canvas

It was, at the time, a revolutionary tool for describing the workings of a business, with ‘blocks’ that described the most important aspects of a business model, such as Customer Segments, Value Proposition, and Revenue Streams.

Unlike a business plan, the canvas was and is meant to be a dynamic, living document of your business, adapting constantly to shifting conditions and new information. If you find, for instance, that a particular customer segment isn’t responding to your Value Proposition, for instance, simply add another to the canvas and then get to work testing your business model with that new segment.

A few years later, I discovered the Lean Canvas. I found this canvas more suitable to the entrepreneurs I was working with, most of whom were in startup (or pre-startup) mode and didn’t have things like Key Partners or Key Resources (two of the blocks of the Business Model Canvas).

The Lean Canvas is a fantastic tool, but it was lacking some key information pieces that the entrepreneurs I worked with – most of whom were social entrepreneurs looking to achieve a societal benefit as well as profitability – needed to capture in their business model.

Hence the Impact Canvas was born. This is a tool I developed in 2014 based on the Lean Canvas, but with modifications designed to capture the ‘social good’ aspect of the business.

The Impact Canvas

These are but 3 of many tools in existence to help you capture your business model. Take a look at them, and others, and see which works for you, then use it to take your idea out of your head – or off the napkin – and into a full-fledged business model.

It’s important to note that this stage simply involves capturing your Plan A – an initial draft of what your business might look like. As you get into the process further, testing and validating your business model, chances are that significant aspects of your model will change – and that’s OK (and expected).

3. VALIDATE THE BUSINESS MODEL

Now that you have captured your initial business model, you’ll want to get some feedback on whether you’re on the right track or not. This is where those all important people, customers, come in.

In the beginning stages of developing your business, your focus needs to be squarely on customers: who they are, what makes them tick, and what their problems are (this should always be a significant focus of your business, but particularly during the modeling and validation phase. This is where good ol’ fashioned sit-down-and-talk-to-people work comes in.

Start by identifying at least 3-5 people who fit the customer segment profile you outlined earlier in the ‘Build The Business Model’ phase. Perhaps you already know this people, but if not, use your network – identify the types of people you want to talk to as clearly as possible and with as much detail as possible, and then ask your networks (friends, social media contacts, etc.) if they can introduce you.

Once you’ve identified your first 3-5 people, you should be able to get referrals from them to more.

Schedule meetings (face to face whenever possible, or phone meetings if in-person meetings are not feasible) and get to know them. These are the questions you should keep in mind when talking to potential customers:

  1. Who are they? (ask demographic questions that are relevant to your idea)
  2. What are their wants/needs/fears? (what are the problems that keep them up at night?) 
  3. Is their problem worth solving? (how badly do they want to solve it?)
  4. What is their status quo – how do they solve the problem right now?
  5. What would convince them to switch to another solution (yours)? What would hold them back from doing so?

Your goal in this stage is not to sell people on your idea – this will turn them off and make them unlikely to open up to you – but to learn as much about them (in the context of your idea) as you can.

When you’re done talking to people, ask them if they can recommend 2-3 other people that fit the same profile/have the same problems. This will allow you to quickly expand your network of interviewees.

At bare minimum you need to talk to at least 10 people, and have significant evidence from a majority of them that there is a problem worth solving – one that you can feasibly solve.

10 is a bare minimum, but I recommend talking to at least 20 people. This may seem like a waste of time when all you want to do is get busy building your website and marketing to customers, butevery minute you spend talking to potential customers at this stage of the process is many minutesof time not wasted marketing and selling the wrong product to the wrong people.

Also, keep in mind that the people you talk to who validate your business model are also your first leads, for when you actually launch the business – so keep track of them in a spreadsheet or database tool.

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4. TEST THE BUSINESS MODEL

Once you’ve gotten some initial validation from talking to customers (if you haven’t gotten validation, it’s time to revisit your business model), then it’s time to actually test your business model.

This is where free and inexpensive tools really make the job of launching a business much easier. For a few hundred dollars, you can get real feedback on your business model.

An example of a pre-launch landing page

Here’s how I test two of the most important parts of my business model, Customer Segments and Unique Value Proposition:

1. I set up a landing page with a headline summarizing the Unique Value Proposition (also known as UVP – a concise summary of the value my product will create for my customers), a bit of descriptive text, and an email capture form. To do this I use landing page software such as Unbounce (they offer a free 30-day trial, more than enough time to test out a business idea).

2. I then use Unbounce’s split-testing feature (otherwise known as A/B testing). This allows me to set up an identical clone of the landing page, but change the headline and text to reflect a different Unique Value Proposition.The software will show version A to 50% of the visitors, and version B to the other 50%. After I’ve sent enough traffic to the page to get statistical significance, Unbounce will show me conversion data – the version with the higher conversion rate (the % of visitors who enter their email address) represents the winning UVP.

3. I set up a mailing list in Mailchimp (free for up to 2,000 subscribers) and integrate the landing pages with that list in Mailchimp (there’s a pretty easy integration between Unbounce and Mailchimp). The bonus is that after I’m done testing my business model, I have a list of potential leads that I’ll email when I’ve launched, with a special launch offer.

4. To test Customer Segments, I’ll use Facebook ads. I can easily test 2 customer segments against each other by creating 2 different ad sets, each targeted at a different audience. If I run the same ad to those 2 different audiences, both pointing to the same Unbounce landing page, I’ll eventually get some good data telling me which audience is responding better to the ad and landing page. This will tell me which Customer Segment is more responsive to my idea!

EXAMPLE: I had a woman in one of my workshops a few weeks ago who wanted to start a Jamaican restaurant. To help her avoid spending $100,000 opening a restaurant without any evidence of a need for another Jamaican restaurant in Toronto, I suggested she test her business model. We explored a couple of innovative ideas for a Jamaican fusion restaurant:

1) Jamaican pasta (there’s already a successful Jamaican pasta restaurant in Toronto called Rasta Pasta – and there’s surely room for more)

2) Jamaican sushi (we were brainstorming quickly).I suggested she could set up a landing page similar to the one above, with version A offering a headline like ‘Love Jamaican food? Love pasta? Enter your email address below to be notified when we launch!’ and version B offering the same but with ‘sushi’ instead of ‘pasta’.

She could then target an ad on Facebook to 2 different customer segments, for example, people in Toronto who like ‘foodie’ type Facebook pages and people in Toronto who like Jamaican-themed Facebook pages.

After spending a few hundred dollars on ads (typically you can expect to spend anywhere from $200 to $500 to get statistical significance), she should have a pretty good idea of which restaurant concept resonates most, and which customer segment (foodies vs Jamaica lovers) is more promising. This process can be repeated, of course, to test additional UVPs and additional customer segments.

5. GET SOME START UP $$$

Just 30 years ago, your main sources of funding would have been friends and family or a bank (equity investing of the type found in Silicon Valley was – and still is – not available to most of us). These days there is an explosion of innovative business financing tools.

These include:

Of all the many options available these days, crowdfunding remains my favourite, mainly because not only is it a source of potentially significant financing, a successful crowdfunding campaign is also a significant additional validation of your business model. People who are willing to pre-pay for your product are showing that there is a demand and willingness to pay for your product.

For a great guide on crowdfunding, check out CSI and Hivewire’s excellent Crowdfunding Guide for Nonprofits and Charities. Although it’s targeted at nonprofits and charities, much of the advice is also applicable to for-profit businesses.

 

A friends Kickstarter page – it went on to raise over $800,000

6. LAUNCH A MINIMUM VIABLE PROTOTYPE

Once you’ve validated and tested your business model and have raised some startup funds, it’s time to launch an MVP. Note that my definition of MVP is not the standard ‘Minimum Viable Product’ but rather ‘Minimum Viable Prototype’. I feel that this more accurately describes what you are looking to launch in those early days.

The simplest definition of an MVP is the most basic product/service I can launch that will solve my customer’s #1 problem better than their status quo. 

It doesn’t need to be way better than their status quo – just better enough that they can justify spending the money (and time and effort) to switch to your solution.

Any time and money you spend on developing a better/more elaborate solution than the MVP is time and money you could have spent soliciting actual customers’ feedback (and generating actual revenue) – rather than relying on your own intuition to build out a more advanced product/service (and spending more money).

These days it’s cheaper and easier than ever to build a prototype. For actual physical products, technologies such as 3D printing have lowered the cost of prototyping exponentially. Self-publishing platforms such as Lulu allow you to self-publish a book cheaper than ever, allowing you to completely circumvent the publishing industry. Services such as InvisionApp allow you to prototype an app for free.

Once you’ve got the product/service figured out, you’ll need to get set up with some basic digital tools:

WEBSITE

It used to cost $5000-$50,000 to pay a developer to build you a website, even a basic one. These days, you can build a beautiful website from a pre-designed template for as little as $8/month. My preferred options are Squarespace or a Bluehost managed WordPress account.

ECOMMERCE

Nowadays you can quickly and cheaply set up an e-commerce system that will allow you to list products and take orders online. Both of the above options include e-commerce capability (Squarespace comes with it pre-loaded, while WordPress offers plugins like WooCommerce), or you can launch a Shopify site.

ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS

It used to be you had to apply to one of the major merchant credit card providers – with a lengthy and tedious application process – in order to be able to accept credit cards. These days, service providers such as Stripe and Square can get you up and running, and accepting credit cards, within minutes.

GET SITE TRAFFIC

When I work with startups with limited marketing budgets, my advice is almost always to start a blog.

Why?

A blog is a proven, and free, tool for getting targeted traffic to your website. Almost every website platform, from Squarespace to WordPress, offers blog functionality built in. Once your blog is set up (and capturing leads via tools such as SumoMe), you can use it to write content that is useful and interesting to your target customer. This will draw visitors to your website and help you generate leads.

With the help of tools like BuzzSumo (what’s with all the ‘Sumo’ tools?) you can find the content that’s out there and already doing well, and use this as a starting point for writing your own content. You can also use BuzzSumo to help you connect with influencers in your industry – develop mutually beneficial relationships with them and you’ll soon find them sharing and spreading your content, bringing thousands – or even hundreds of thousands – of visitors to your website, all for free.

TOTAL OUTLAY FOR ALL OF THE ABOVE: $8-$40/month

Contrast the above expenditures with the $50,000 or more – and hundreds of hours – you might have spent a decade ago to get set up with a website, ecommerce, credit card processing and marketing!

7. GET CUSTOMER FEEDBACK

Now that you’ve launched your MVP, you want to ensure that you are getting feedback that is going to allow you to improve the product (by product, I mean product or service).

Build feedback into your product. Set up an autoresponder to email your customers a few days (or a few weeks, whatever’s appropriate for your product) after they purchase your product with a link to a Surveymonkey survey. Ask them for feedback on your product – how are they using it? What do they like? What don’t they like?

One of my favourite companies in this regard is Freshbooks. They offer their users a $100 gift certificate (of their choice) if they’ll come in and spend some time (an hour, I think) with one of their staff, showing them how you use their service.

From these experiences Freshbooks staff get invaluable advice for how their users are using it, what frustrates them, what they love, and additional opportunities for features or services (i.e. additional revenue opportunities!) they might be missing.

Make customer feedback an integral part of the customer experience and your operations!

This is the end-of-trip survey we use at my adventure travel company Sacred Rides, just one of 4 surveys (post-booking survey, pre-trip customer service survey, mid-trip survey, and end-of-trip survey) our customers get between booking their trip and the end of their trip.

8. IMPROVE THE PRODUCT

Now that you’ve got the feedback, keep iterating and improving the product, based on your customers’ feedback. If you follow this process, you’re sure to develop a devoted and loyal following.

 

To your success,

Mike Brcic

Mike Brcic, founder, The Social Entrepreneur

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18 Powerful Questions To Ask Your Customer

18 Powerful Questions To Ask Your Customer

18 Powerful Questions to Ask Your Customer

or The Art of the Customer Interview

At Sacred Rides, my adventure travel company, we use Lean Startup principles to guide our constant learning (although we’re far from a startup after 19 years in business, there are many elements of the Lean Startup rapid learning process that are applicable to any business).

Specifically, we’re heavily focused on learning and getting as deep an understanding as possible of our customers. We’ve done a great job of that through extensive surveying, including:

  • A short post-signup survey (about 12% of our customers fill this out and give us great feedback and why they purchase)
  • A pre-trip customer service survey (this is just three questions: 1) on a scale of 1 to 9 how satisfied are you with our customer service so far? 2) Comments/Questions about your customer service experience 3) Anything else we can do to improve your pre-trip experience?)
  • A mid-trip survey: our guides hand out tablets for our customers to fill this out around day 3 or 4 of their trip (depending on how long the trip is). This helps them see where there might be areas for improvement and issues to address for the remaining days of the trip.
  • An end-of-trip survey: This is a detailed survey that dives into every aspect of the trip our customers have just completed. The two metrics we pay extra close attention to (they end up on our metrics dashboard) are the trip satisfaction rating and the likelihood to recommend.

talking to your customers, by The Social Entrepreneur

Despite all of the great feedback and data we get from these surveys, one thing was missing this past year: actual conversations with our customers. Specifically, conversations between me and my customers.

The past 2 years have been a high-growth phase for Sacred Rides. Much of my time has been spent managing that growth: hiring and training the team, developing metrics to track our performance, putting out the inevitable fires that come with rapid growth, etc.

In the process, I became somewhat disconnected from our customers, especially since I haven’t been joining any of our trips (I have 3 young kids to co-parent). So at the conclusion of last year, when I sat down to review my goals from the past year and develop my new ones for 2016, I made speaking to my customers one of my top priorities.

My goal for 2016 is to speak to at least 5 customers per week, every week, either on the phone or in person. It’s a relatively modest goal – certainly not as ambitious as GrooveHQ founder Alex Turnbull’s decision to speak to 500 customers in 4 weeks), but it’s difficult nonetheless to pull this off in the context of all of my other priorities, as each conversation typically lasts between 20 and 40 minutes.

Multiply that by 5 and you’ve got between an hour and a half to three hours, every week, just to have the actual conversations (farther down in this post, I’ll show you how I’m managing the interview scheduling and data collection as efficiently as possible to minimize the draw on my time). But the insight I’ve gained from these conversations so far has been amazing, and it’s helping to guide the whole company’s strategy and execution.

The goal of these conversations is fourfold:

1. Deeper Understanding of our Customers

Through strategic questions as well as the organic flow of these conversations, I learn a lot about my customers through these interviews, particularly about their primary motivators and driving forces in life.

2. Strategic Insights

I include questions in the interview that help drive our positioning strategy, specifically around what aspects of our service our customers truly value and which aren’t that important to them. As I gather more feedback, it will drive our product development, allowing us to focus more time and resources on the things that are really important to our customers, and take focus away from the things that aren’t.

NOTE: Although it’s tempting to try and just build the best damned product or service possible, and satisfy every customer need, tradeoffs are at the heart of powerful, meaningful business strategies. While it may be able to pull it off in the short term, a business can’t sustain satisfying every customer need better than the competition forever – competitors will catch up, resources will run out, problems will creep in.

Focusing on a few key factors that mean a lot to customers, and really killing it on those factors, is how great companies are made – more on this in an upcoming post, but for now think of Ikea: they trade off a satisfying shopping experience and convenience of fully assembled furniture (which many people do value) for affordability, selection and value.

In order to tease out those factors that really matter to customers, you have to talk to them.

3. Discovering Opportunities

As I speak to customers, I often discover opportunities for new products and services. For instance, our Bring-Your-Partner trips were born directly as a result of talking to customers a couple of years ago.

I used to follow up with as many of my customers as possible after they finished their trip; many of my customers were telling me they had an amazing experience, but when I asked “Great! When can we get you back?” they would often tell me that they used up a lot of their vacation time on our trip, and that for the next year or two they would have to spend more of their vacation with their partner. This led to the insight that the partner was the limiting factor in their being able to do more mountain bike trips, and this led to the lightbulb moment of creating trips where mountain bikers could bring their partners along, with their partner taking part in a non-mountain-bike adventure (e.g. hiking, rafting, cultural tourism, etc.).

Talking to your customers will often reveal opportunities like these.

4. More Business

My conversations with customers inevitably lead to more business. Speaking to our customers at length, and really listening to who they are and what their needs are, makes them feel valued. And customers who feel valued are more likely to purchase more products/services from you, become repeat customers, and refer their friends (I specifically ask for referrals in my interviews).

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Making the Process Efficient

To make to process of speaking to 5 customers per week as time and cost-effective as possible, I use a few tools:

1. Template emails with Mixmax: I just started using Mixmax and love it. It’s an amazing Gmail plugin that offers a host of useful features, replacing three other plugins I was using separately – all for free! For the purposes of this process, I use their template feature, which allows me to create a template that I then load and slightly customize before sending to my customers:

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 11.25.32 AM

I could of course automate this process and just send this email to my customers automatically as soon as they sign up for a trip, but I want to customize the email a little bit, and send it directly from my Google account as opposed to our booking system’s automation feature – this has helped my conversion rates significantly (over 50% of the people who get this email book a chat with me)

2. Timetrade.com: To avoid all the back and forth of scheduling these chats, I use an app called Timetrade, which allows me to set availability for these chats, then send my customers a link that shows them my available times. They can then choose the time and date they want (in their own timezone no less). This saves a lot of back and forth to pick a time, and the appointment gets created in both of our calendars once it’s booked.note: Timetrade is a paid app, but if you want most of the functionality that Timetrade offers, for free, check out Youcanbookme.

The Art of the Customer Interview - 18 Powerful Questions to Ask Your Customers

3. Google Forms: I’ve set up my customer interview as a Google form. Before I call my customer at the prearranged time, I open up the Google Form so that I have the questions in front of me. Then as I go through the interview I enter their responses (or as much of them as I can enter with my typing prowess) into the form. After the interview is over I add a few notes and hit the submit button – the entire interview is then saved in a Google Sheet, with all my previous interviews, so that I can review both individual interviews and aggregate responses to individual questions.

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 10.01.48 PM

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR CUSTOMERS IN THE INTERVIEW

The best time to conduct these interviews is shortly after your customers have purchased from you. Their excitement is high, as is their motivation to want to talk to you. You should also reach out to customers who haven’t bought from you in a while, and you should definitely conduct interviews with your best customers (the ones who buy from you frequently and refer their friends to you).

Below is a selective sampling of questions that I ask my customers. This is more of a ‘question bank’ than an interview guide; I typically only ask about 60-75% of the questions in the script, depending on how the interview is going and my customer’s willingness to talk beyond the 20 minutes scheduled. I improvise on the fly and choose which questions will yield the most insight with that particular customer.

I’ve included some notes in italics about my motivation for asking each particular question.

    1. Demographics (Age, Location, Occupation, etc..)Whatever is relevant for you and your company – you want to hone in on 3-5 demographic indicators that are most useful to you. If you’re going to ask potentially sensitive questions such as relationship status or income, let them know in advance that they can skip any questions they’re uncomfortable with.
    2. Why did you purchase our product/service? This gives you insight as to the motivating factors they have for using your product/service
    3. What alternatives to our product/service have you used in the past? These could be competitors or DIY solutions. Self explanatory.
    4. Why did you use those alternatives? Tease out why they use alternatives to your product/service. This can help guide the development of your product/service, as there may be things you are missing in either your product or messaging.
    5. Why did you choose us this time? Something convinced them to choose you over their typical alternative. You want to know what that is!
    6. How long did you ponder making a purchase before you actually made the purchaseThere might be a long waiting period for your customers to purchase from you.
    7. What made you hesitate? These are the psychological objections that get in the way of people buying from you.
    8. What finally convinced you to make the purchase? And this is the voice in their head that tells them why they should overcome their internal objections. For our customers, it’s usually some variation of ‘Life is short’.
    9. What’s your biggest consideration when purchasing this type of product/service? Is it price? Quality? Convenience?
    10. I’m going to list a few features/aspects of our product/service. Of these, what are the 2 or 3 that are most important to you, or let me know if there’s something I missed? [This will help you make the tradeoffs I mentioned above. For Sacred Rides, these features include things like well trained guides, spectacular scenery, challenge, nice lodging, great meals,  great trails, shared group experiences/ group bonding, affordability, pre-trip customer service and pre-trip planning, integration with local communities and cultures, etc.]
    11. Of the ones you listed, which is the single most important factor that we’d have to get right in order for you to have an amazing experience with our product? This is the thing you have to focus a lot of your energy on, if you start to see your customers repeating the same thing over and over.
    12. What are the least important factors? This is stuff you can take resources and energy away from, freeing them up to focus on the most important thing(s)
    13. What are some of the companies or brands that you love, or that really impress you? This helps you get a sense of what impresses them, the types of companies they love and how they spend their money
    14. What have other companies – or people – done to show their appreciation for you that really resonated with you? This will give you ideas on how you can really impress your best customers
    15. What would make you come back to us over and over again? Here’s some clues as to how to boost your repeat customer rate.
    16. How would you describe our company to a friend? You may have a picture of what your brand represents to your customers, but if you let them describe you in their words, you may be surprised.
    17. We rely heavily on referrals from our customers, but we also try and reciprocate and refer people to our customers. In your line of work, are there opportunities for us to refer specific types of people your way, and if so, who might those types of people be? This is an interesting one that always gets a good reaction – people are typically surprised that you are interested in helping them out. Your customers probably share a lot of similar characteristics, and may often work in the same industry, so you’re in a good position to help your customers out with a referral or two. If you can do that, you’ll have yourself a customer for life.
    18. On that note, is there anyone you can think of that would be interested in our product/service? We’d be happy to reach out to them on your behalf. If there are, I’ll follow up with an email and you can send me their details. We’ll give you ____ (e.g. $100) for every new customer you refer to us. If you don’t ask, you usually don’t get. There’s plenty of debate on whether to offer people incentives to refer friends to you; some say that it gives people a bit of extra motivation; some say that it poisons their motivation to naturally want to refer their friends to you because they like you. 

Some examples of the questions I ask that are specific to my company/industry include:

  • What’s your mountain bike skill level?
  • What role does mountain biking play in your life?
  • What’s your relationship status?
  • How much vacation time do you get per year? How much of it do you actually take?
  • Besides Sacred Rides trips, what other types of vacations or adventures do you typically do when on holiday?

You’ll have to, of course, develop questions that are relevant to you and your industry.

There you have it. I promise you if you make the time to speak to you customers – talk to at least one per week (I recommend five if you can), it will be the best possible use of your entrepreneurial time. You will end up with a stronger company, happier customers, and more revenue.

To download a Word doc of these questions that you can use for your own purposes, please enter your email address below.

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I’d love to hear more about your experiences with interview and speaking to your customers. Do you do this already? Are you going to start? What are some of the most powerful insights you’ve gained from your customers? Let me know in the comments below!