Communication Skills To Succeed In Business

Scientific American blog about the role of luck in success mentions the popularity of magazines such as Success, Forbes, Inc., and Entrepreneur and argues that we can learn to be successful by reading about successful people:

There is a deep underlying assumption, however, that we can learn from them because it’s their personal characteristics – such as talent, skill, mental toughness, hard work, tenacity, optimism, growth mindset, and emotional intelligence – that got them where they are today. This assumption doesn’t only underlie success magazines, but also how we distribute resources in society, from work opportunities to fame to government grants to public policy decisions. We tend to give out resources to those who have a past history of success, and tend to ignore those who have been unsuccessful, assuming that the most successful are also the most competent.

While not discounting the role that luck, or family inheritance and reputation might have in success, consider the massive role that good communication skills play in success. For example, if you cannot express yourself well, your proposal will be unsuccessful. If your business plan is full of grammar errors, then even if the financials add up, and you can show a past history of success, you are less likely to get the funding you’re after.

There are many daily examples where stronger communication skills would have made the difference between success and failure. If a junior data processor bypasses her line manager to ask another manager for help with entering a batch of data in a different format, but is not clear about the batch names, she is unlikely to be successful in getting her job done. Jumping ranks will not go down well in corporate hierarchies, for starters. Moreover, if she lacks the corporate know-how to avoid this faux pas once, she is likely to blunder several times, thus generating the impression that she is disloyal to her own line manager and not a valued team-player. On the other hand, the lack of clarity in her emails can very effectively be overcome by improving her business communication skills.

Effective business emails need to be short and to the point, with very specific detail, especially if a request or instruction is given. The reader cannot be expected to do anything if they do not know what is actually being requested. It may be a simple case of giving the label names of the data batches, as in this example, but often managers grumble about staff being incompetent or lazy when the problem is their own poor communication skills and inability to use email effectively.

The best part of this solution is that it does not rely on luck. We all have the innate ability to improve our own communication skills. For those who want to improve their communication skills mindfully, there are short courses that take only a few hours a week for a couple of months that will give them insights into well researched theories and techniques so that they can apply these strategically in their personal and professional lives.

In the reading about luck, talent is defined as “whatever set of personal characteristics allow a person to exploit lucky opportunities” and talent includes “intelligence, skill, motivation, determination, creative thinking, emotional intelligence”. These skills are highlighted in the Wits Plus Effective Business Communication short course to equip our students to make the most of opportunities. Studies have shown that the most talented people are not the most successful in life, but that luck and opportunity may play an unseen role in that success. Excellent communication skills are key to making the most of opportunities and breaking through to success!

Article by Nicky Lowe, Wits Plus Lecturer in Business Communication.

Source: Entrepreneur Magazine

How Your Clothes Can Help You Get Promoted

Even though it took place 26 years ago, I remember the conversation well. I was a young manager for a conservative Fortune 500 financial services company. My own manager, a VP with impeccably tailored Brooks Brothers style, took me aside one day and said to me simply: “You know, Vic, I think you should consider getting your shirts pressed. You’ll look crisper and more executive — it sends the right message.”

At first I was a little taken aback. I had a young family and plenty of expenses and was dog-tired getting an MBA at night. Pressing my shirts was one more thing to do and would cost an extra $2 a day, roughly $40 a month.

So I talked to my wife about it, who amid the chaos of my own mind I could always count on for wise clear-headed career counsel. As usual her advice was direct and to the point.

“Do it,” she said.

I was disappointed. I’d been expecting more empathy and support for my old look.

“Listen to him,” she said simply. “What do you want to look like — a rumpled editor or an executive?” Before going into the business world I’d worked in journalism, where the general dress code was considerably more casual.

So I went out and bought a bunch of white and blue Brooks Brothers shirts, a couple of good dark suits, had the shirts pressed every day, and that was what I wore to work virtually every single day for the next 20 years.

It was an investment in myself. An investment I never for one nanosecond regretted.

The right message

This old but true story was on my mind as I was reading over some new research from Office Team on clothing and promotability, “What you wear to work may be preventing you from getting a promotion.”

A key finding from the survey: 86% of workers and 80% of managers believe “clothing choices affect a person’s chances of being promoted.”

My own opinion about this? Just seven words: Yep. Yes. Absolutely. No doubt about it.

That’s not to say of course that everyone should wear white shirts and dark suits. Far from it. Every business has its own norms and styles. But given those differences, if you want to optimize your chances of advancing in your career, be conscious of those norms and styles.

Dressing well can’t get you promoted, but not dressing well will work against you. Do you want to send the right message or the wrong one?

Let’s look at a few more findings from this recent survey.

Amount of time spent:

“Professionals spend an average of 11 minutes a day choosing their office attire.” Interestingly, the data showed men spent more time on this activity than did women — 12 minutes a day versus 9 minutes. My own experience: Once I got into the pressed-shirt mode, I’d estimate my daily time spent was about 13 seconds. I’d grab without thinking a white shirt or blue shirt (usually white) to go with a dark suit and the only choice I had was what tie to select, which was actually enjoyable, as I built up a collection of colorful arty ties to brighten the basic conservatism of my wardrobe.

Sartorial trends:

The survey showed that, compared to five years ago, jeans, tennis shoes and leggings are now “more acceptable” to wear to work. And tank tops, “cold shoulder tops” and shorts are “less acceptable.” And I know for sure that suits and ties are way less ubiquitous than they were 26 years ago.

Candid clothing conversations:

So how do managers feel about having candid clothing conversations? Not surprisingly, there’s a wide range of comfort levels. 44% of have spoken to an employee about “inappropriate attire” and 32% have sent employees home based on what they were wearing. Of this group of managers who had such conversations, half were comfortable with them, 35% felt awkward about it, and 15% didn’t want to have the conversation at all.

All I can say is that back in the day I’m grateful my own manager was straight with me.

My current focus is on coaching and developing new managers. My book is The Type B Manager.

By Victor Lipman 

Source: Forbes

11 Tips to help you with productivity in a coworking space

The coworking space phenomenon that is gripping the business industry is an ingenious and creative concept. Office space is made available for young entrepreneurs, small enterprises and freelance workers to have a conducive space to work on private projects, to share knowledge, exchange ideas and work together on projects that each entity has. It’s an amazing space for creativity, innovation and support.

But being around other people in a vibrant, energetic and buzzing space, can have an impact on one’s productivity.

Noise distractions run rampant, like Sally publicly announcing what ingredients went into her banting salad from the kitchen. Or, listening to a one-sided conversation between Mark and a college mate from yesteryear, reminiscing about the good ol’ days. Alternatively, too strong a work ethic advocated in such a space can also take a knock on one’s productivity in a coworking space. Most people making use of this space are passionate about their work and want to be productive and use their time effectively.

So what can you do to gain the benefit of such a space, but still achieve optimal productivity?

Productivity will be dependent on you and your self-discipline. At Work & Co, we want everyone to do their best work and enjoy the best our environment has to offer. That’s why we compiled the following tips to help you get there!

Here are 11 helpful tips to improve productivity in a coworking space:

1. Keep yourself accountable

It is easy to allow the distractions of a social environment like a coworking space to keep you from achieving your goals for the day. Self-discipline is key here.

Write down the tasks for the day, tick them off as you complete them (there is nothing more satisfying) and do not let yourself go home without completing them all (unless it’s past midnight, then you abort mission faster than dropping a stink bomb in an elevator). Being strict in this department will lay a good foundation for a healthy and productive habit.

2. Make the work meaningful

When you do something that contributes to the end product, it’s easier to do the work. Furthermore, knowing why the work you are doing is important, makes it less laborious to do. This results in faster and a better quality end-result. You will always have certain things to do that are less fun (like administration), but understanding the purpose behind it, makes it easier to do.

3.  Break regularly

The brain is an organ that can only take so much abuse at a time. According to this scientific study, the optimal time work ratio is 52 minutes of hard, constructive and effective work, with a 17-minute break in between. The point? Figure out what works for you, and implement the principle behind the ratio.

A break doesn’t necessarily mean a 20-minute nap under your workspace or picking up dry cleaning. Simply getting up to stretch or moving around for a couple of moments will suffice.

The brain just needs to “reset” every once in awhile. It may even be best to have scheduled, forced breaks (because we all know how young professionals become addicted to working, right?). Another alternative is to make sure you have a rest day scheduled in your bi-weekly routine. This means you can plan your rest ahead and feel like it’s part of a two-week productivity flow!

4. Foster the right kind of engagement

It’s all good and well to work in a space with many people with a variety of skills and talents, but simply engaging with them for the sake of chatting or procrastinating does more harm than good for productivity in a coworking space.

When you work, engagement should be productive and beneficial to your project or to the team. Otherwise, it is simply a matter of wasting time, keeping the other person from doing their work and a nuisance to those who share the same space and wish to be productive. Having good relationships with your coworking space team is important, but there is a time and place to cultivate a friendship. At other times – you will need to exercise restraint!

5. Reward yourself for good work

By rewarding yourself upon the completion of a task or reaching a specific milestone, you encourage hard and productive work.You know yourself best, so if you are a coffee nut, treat yourself with a delicious chai latte with skimmed milk and a hint of caramel (it that floats your boat)! This, instead of the office coffee that has been reheating for the past 3 hours, should make your day feel a little more worth it.

Rewards make hard work easier, and just because you might be a lone wolf reporting to yourself, it doesn’t mean that you should neglect yourself.

6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

In such a social and high-energy environment, it is easy to get swept up in the excitement of things. Next thing you know, 2 precious hours of your day is gone and productivity in a coworking space is an afterthought.

It is also very easy to get distracted by non-trivial tasks and effectively, the day is a waste. Exercising some time management skills are vital in a coworking space environment. Having a general plan for the day, or the week, gives your day direction. A little bit of structure can take you a long way.

It’s not necessary to enforce it with military precision (we all love some flexibility in our lives), but a guideline works wonders. Do some minor recon at the end of the day, see what was done and what was not, and write down a specific task list for the next day.

Not all those items you’re not getting done – the 5 things that will take your business or venture forward!

7. Defeat Procrastination

A coworking space, being an interactive and social environment can lead to procrastination. And quite honestly, procrastination is a problem in any working environment, whether you are a student, postponing studying for the subject you hate. Or, you’re a CEO that deals with smaller matters first before jumping into a 100-page report because it will take a lot of time.

Changing your modus operandi by breaking the task into smaller milestones, setting tough deadlines for yourself and catching a breather when the stress starts strangling you are all great ways to kerb procrastination and boost your productivity.

Many freelancers, entrepreneurs and team members’ success lie on the other side of their consistent procrastination.

8. Avoid monotony

Boredom is a killer of productivity. In this case, it might not the environment that becomes monotonous, but the work.

Keep your day flexible and avoid falling into a boring routine that never enjoys any constructive breaks or engagement. And no, we’re not saying that 6-hour ‘board’ meetings are the ideal either!

9. Keep your workspace clean and tidy.

There is nothing more demotivating than having to work in an untidy space with mounds of papers on the verge of an avalanche and the dustbin overflowing with paper balls. And, the previous night’s midnight snack wrappers when you were playing your work catch up won’t help either! A clean, open space is an inviting space where one will want to work.

10. Use technology to your advantage

There are hundreds of apps and websites out there, designed to make one’s life easier and to save you some time. It can be:

  • An app that syncs your emails and events to the calendars of your portable devices,
  • One that generates “to do” lists for you,
  • Web sites that allows you to store all your documents and data in a cloud,
  • Or apps that check your grammar and record your time expenditure.

Making use of these possibilities and automating a lot of the mundane tasks will save time and boost productivity in a coworking space.

P.S. We’d recommend sharing the apps you use on the Work & Co Slack Channels and check in for recommendations from others!

11.  Take care of yourself

In such a constructive and creative environment, it is easy to fall into a workaholic mindset and start neglecting your personal health. Sleep is one of the biggest inhibitors of productivity. According to the National Sleep Foundation who ran a worldwide study on sleep, young adults (18-26) and adults (26-64) need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep for optimal function.

Lack of sleep contributes to concentration issues, it stimulates a negative attitude towards one’s work and ultimately, it takes longer to do basic things that would not be an issue with a fresh mind. Further, it is amazing what an injection of endorphins can do to productivity and creativity. Go for a jog or work in a gym session and one will see an increase in one’s levels of productivity in a coworking space.

If you’re getting the work done, it might then even be time for that ‘board’ meeting!

Achieving productivity in a coworking space is not just achieved through constant working, but by taking a break too and giving yourself time to recover! Remember, there is no point in doing something if it doesn’t bring you meaning or joy. So be productive safely, and don’t type and drive!

Source: Work & Co

The Truth about Entrepreneurship Young SA Entrepreneurs want Everyone to Know

This article forms part of SME South Africa’s Youth Month 2018 series ‘A Seat at the Table’ – an exploration of SA Youth’s efforts to step up and and effect positive change. Follow all our #YouthMonth2018 coverage here.

Entrepreneurship has often been presented as the answer to the country’s massive youth unemployment problem, but what do young entrepreneurs want South African youth to know about the reality of entrepreneurship? To find out we presented this question to four successful business founders from varying backgrounds.

Does entrepreneurship live up to its rumoured promise of wealth and fame, or is the reality much harsher?

Trevor Gosling (Top Left), Luyanda Jafta (Top Right), Emma Dicks (Bottom Left), Allegro Dinkwanyane (Bottom Right).

Meet the panelists:

Luyanda Jafta is the co-founder of the the first black-owned crowdfunding platform in South Africa, The People’s Fund which allows individuals, stokvels and corporates to invest in black-owned businesses. Jafta is also the founder of Paybook, a digital marketing company. 

Emma Dicks is the founder of the tech initiative Code for Cape Town (Code4CT) which she launched in 2014 and introduces high school girls to coding and creative problem solving.

Trevor Gosling is behind the online fintech platform, Lulalend, which provides entrepreneurs with short-term funding.

Allegro Dinkwanyane is the founder of 100% black-owned public relations company, Orgella Media, which specialises in brand management, they produce social media marketing and public relations (PR) campaigns.

On the youth’s outlook on entrepreneurship

‘Wealth and stardom’ – “There seems to be a culture gripping South Africa at the moment that looks at entrepreneurship as stardom or a means to get very rich very quickly. I think generally speaking it is the incorrect approach and view to entrepreneurship. This is a fantasy. Entrepreneurship is about solving societal problems that have economic value.” – Luyanda Jafta

‘Unrealistic expectations’ – “From what I’ve seen in my years of being in business as a young person, a lot of young entrepreneurs are impatient, they set unrealistic goals and they move with no sense of direction. You can’t start a business today and expect to be a millionaire tomorrow, it takes time, hard work, dedication and a good team.” – Allegro Dinkwanyane 

The trick is to develop an obsession with learning, not winning – Luyanda Jafta

‘Opportunities over challenges’ – “What I have noticed about most of us is that we’re optimistic-realists. We aren’t delusional, but we do view the world and our business ventures through positively-tinted lenses as we seek out opportunities rather than over analyse the challenges to achieving them. There are times when entrepreneurs need to be more optimistic – perhaps even unrealistically so in order to succeed.” – Trevor Gosling 

‘Overly glorified’ – “I do think that entrepreneurship is overly glorified. What people put out there is not the full picture. Like babies: you only ever see them smiling and cute on social media but never hear about the sleepless nights, endless crying and all the expenses.” – Emma Dicks 

You’ll occasionally make the wrong decisions, you’ll choose the wrong direction, you’ll accept the wrong advice – Trevor Gosling

On the reality that we should be sharing with the youth

‘A long-term journey’ – “It takes about 10 years to be a seasoned entrepreneur or before you see any of the benefits of entrepreneurship in any sustainable way. The reality is that your first two ventures are likely to fail because in that time you are learning all of the soft skills that come with entrepreneurship. The trick is to develop an obsession with learning, not winning.” – Luyanda Jafta

‘Not everyone is entrepreneurship material’ – “Entrepreneurship is not for everybody and that it’s okay to pursue a 9-5 job and excel at that and maybe on the side have a business. Not everybody is skilled to be an entrepreneur. Not everybody has the kind of patience and drive that is needed to survive and later flourish in business.” – Allegro Dinkwanyane

‘Failure is part of the process’ – “The reality is that failure is inevitable. I don’t mean this in the sense that every new business venture will fail, but rather that failure is part of the process. You’ll occasionally make the wrong decisions, you’ll choose the wrong direction, you’ll accept the wrong advice. Accept the failures when they happen, learn from them and keep moving forward.” – Trevor Gosling

‘Not only about the win’ – “Being an entrepreneur is not about not having a boss. Entrepreneurs are those dedicated enough to creating something new to endure the heartbreak, risks and stress of doing so.” – Emma Dicks

I think the classic narrative of “one person has a great idea, overcomes a challenge, now is a superstar” is almost always incredibly inaccurate – Emma Dicks

On the consequences of selling a “fantasy”

‘Fake entrepreneurs and buzz word problems’ – “The consequences are that we have social media famous celebrities who do not have viable businesses, or attract get-rich-quick schemes into the system. People are hungry to make quick money. We also have a buzz word problem: “Innovation”. Most African problems are actually in poor distribution of resources; they do not need an app to solve. They need smarter distribution mechanisms. We need to focus on that first and then do the Silicon style of innovation.” – Luyanda Jafta

‘Missing out on great opportunities’ – “As much as entrepreneurship is seen as a way out of poverty and unemployment, we also need to encourage young people to aspire to be successful professionals in various industries. If we don’t, we’ll end up with an unemployed generation, living in poverty with unrealistic dreams of one day making it big in business. Young people will miss out on great opportunities purely because their only focus is just entrepreneurship when there are other ways to be financially stable and live out your dreams.” – Allegro Dinkwanyane

‘Unrealistic expectations’ – “Entrepreneurs, particularly young entrepreneurs sabotage themselves by expecting a profitable business to happen overnight. It takes years, long hours and hard work before you’ll see any substantial profit – and even then it’s not a guarantee. This underlines the need for new business owners to have a solid business and financial plan before starting their business.” – Trevor Gosling

‘Not a simple journey’ – “I think the classic narrative of “one person has a great idea, overcomes a challenge, now is a superstar” is almost always incredibly inaccurate. There are many bad ideas that one has to work through to find a good idea, many challenges along the path, and almost always, a group not an individual, behind a successful business.” – Emma Dicks

Once you invest in yourself, others will invest in you too, but it all begins with you – Allegro Dinkwanyane

On what young entrepreneurs need to succeed

‘Education on problem-solving and scaling’ – “I think the number one thing we should be [teaching] is how to identify problems, how to build quick solutions to those problems and then how to scale that [solution] into other markets. In a nutshell it is education on market finding, pricing and scaling.” – Luyanda Jafta 

‘Fund and support yourself’ – “Use what you have, save up if you have to, work extra hours at your job while you save for your business, do something! Just don’t sit around waiting for someone to join your pity party. Once you invest in yourself, others will invest in you too, but it all begins with you.” – Allegro Dinkwanyane

‘Mentorship and skills training’ – “Mentors and entrepreneurial development programmes definitely go a long way in helping to equip young people. Finding mentors who have experience in running their own business can be an invaluable asset and provide helpful insight and first-hand knowledge.” –Trevor Gosling 

 ‘Access to Capital’ – “Access to capital is an important factor. There has to be opportunity for young people to have small amounts of capital to experiment and learn through mechanisms such as competitions.” – Emma Dicks 

Source: SME South Africa

Be honest in your mid-year review

It’s almost the middle of the year, so it is a good time to revisit the New Year’s resolutions that you made six months ago.

As we live in an era of scorecards, what score are you giving yourself? Look back and embrace hindsight.

A good friend of mine, Muhammad Bodhania, once said to me that the great thing about hindsight is that it is an exact science.

Be brutally honest with yourself because you cannot reach your better self if you do not accept your current real self.

Depending on the mind of the analyst, hindsight can be a paralysing weapon of self-destruction, blame and regret, or it can be an open book from which you can derive the lessons that you will use to swish away mistakes of the future before they happen.

The reason so many of us don’t even come close to meeting our resolutions is because we fail on the fundamentals. We find it hard to change our daily habits, which keeps us at ground zero.

Often, the urge and the haste to reach our goals sees us try to make too many changes at once, which can be overwhelming.

Prune your wish list. Start by cutting out the things that your heart does not desire because they are probably a drag that deflavours the spice of life. If it is your job that you hate, quit.

If you find that you are chained to it by your obligations, start reducing them. You cannot add chains to yourself and still hope for happiness.

Most people work while they’re sitting. We are the only mammals that travel long distances while sitting in cars, taxis, trains or buses.

It is an unnatural and unhealthy artificial evolution, so physical exercise and eating healthy must be non-negotiable because if you fall ill, you’ll be unable to achieve your goals. Fitness, as you know, is not something achieved overnight. Like most things, it takes discipline and patience. So exercise, no matter how difficult it may be.

Patience must also be exercised, except with the things that are unimportant – there is no point in wasting time on them.

Since we are human and we are always trying to please, we think it is impolite to say no to others. We are conditioned to think that it is selfish to be stingy with our time. People say time is money. No, it is not. It is much more valuable than that because, unlike money that can be returned, once time has been wasted, it is gone forever. So spend your time on the things that matter the most to you.

Give yourself all the time you need to prepare. Victory is not in the graduation or in lifting the trophy, that is only a ceremony. Victory is in the preparation.

Make an appointment with your goals by putting them in your diary, and protect them from being disturbed by other screaming matters because the urgent often replaces the important. When that happens, the important gets downgraded over time and then, finally, it falls by the wayside.

Be careful of drive-by visitors. They kill your time. Be polite with them because opportunity does not make appointments, but limit them because boundless idleness yields no fruit. Be aware of other interruptions like social media, messaging, email and other addictions to technology.

It is a good idea to switch off so that you can deal with your goals. Switching off your gadgets is the modern equivalent of closing your door.

It’s only half-time, the game is not over yet. This is an opportunity to reassess and put the drive into your dreams.

  • By Muzi Kuzwayo

* Muzi Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency. Views expressed are his own.

Source: fin 24

How to Grow Your Business: Tried and True Ways

Learning how to grow your business isn’t just a worthy goal; growing your business is often a necessity for your business’s survival and your economic well-being. What can you do to get your business beyond the bare sustenance level? What can you do to turn it into the income-generating powerhouse you envision? Try one or more of these growth strategies. All have been successfully used by other businesses and, with some planning and investment, will work for you.

1. Penetrate your existing market.

When you think about how to grow your business, the first thing that probably comes to mind is getting new customers. But the customers you already have are your best bet for increasing your sales; it’s easier and more cost-effective to get people who are already buying from you to buy more than to find new customers and persuade them to buy from you. See 6 Sure Ways to Increase Sales and 10 Low-Cost Ways to Promote Your Business for more.

2. Ask for referrals.

That’s not to say that getting new customers is a bad approach. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask your current customers for referrals. But notice the verb. Having good products and great customer service and just assuming that your customers are passing the word about your business isn’t going to do much to increase your customer base; you have to actively seek referrals. During or after every job or sale, ask your satisfied customer if he knows anyone else who would be interested in your products or services.

3. Innovate your product or service.

Discovering and promoting new uses for your products or services is a great way to both get existing customers to buy more and attract new customers. Think petroleum jelly and duct tape—and how few of these would actually be sold if they only had one use!

4. Extend your market reach.

There are several ways of growing your business by making your product or service available to a new pool of customers.

The most obvious is to open stores in new locations, such as opening a store or kiosk in a new town. New locations can also be virtual, such as a website with an online store. Another approach is to extend your reach through advertising. Once you’ve identified a new market, you might advertise in select media that targets that market. If your new market consists of a younger demographic, you may want to use social media for advertising, (See How to Create a Social Media Plan.)

5. Participate in trade shows.

Trade shows can be a great way to grow too. Because trade shows draw people who are already interested in the type of product or service you offer, they can powerfully improve your bottom line. The trick is to select the trade shows you participate in carefully, seeking the right match for your product or service. Trade Show Tips will help you get the best return on your investment.

6. Conquer a niche market.

Remember the analogy of the big fish in the small pond? That’s essentially how this strategy for growing your business works. The niche market is the pond; a narrowly defined group of customers. Think of them as a subset whose needs are not being met and concentrate on meeting those unmet needs.

A nursery, for instance, might specialize in roses while a home design business might focus on window treatments.

7. Contain your costs.

Surprised? Bear in mind that when we’re talking about growing your business, we’re actually talking about growing your business’s bottom line. And the difference between pre-tax and post-tax money can make this a very effective growth strategy. There are two main approaches to cutting costs; liquidating your “loser” products and improving your inventory turnover10 Ways to Cut Business Costs provides details on these two strategies and more.

8. Diversify your products or services.

The key to successful growth through diversification is similarity. You want to focus on the related needs of your already established market or on market segments with similar needs and characteristics.

An artist might also sell frames and framing services, for instance. Or a mountain bike rental business might switch to renting skis and snowshoes in the winter season.

9. Franchising

The stories of entrepreneurs who have become both well known and well heeled due to franchising their small businesses are legion – and not just stories. If you have a successful business and can develop a system that ensures that others can duplicate your success, franchising may be the fast track for growing your business. Is Franchising the Business for You?

10. Exporting

Expanding into international markets can also be a powerful boost to your business’s bottom line. Like franchising, this is a way of growing your business that requires quite a commitment of time and resources, but can be extremely rewarding. How to Develop an Export Marketing Plan outlines the process of getting into exporting if this way of growing your business interests you.

Time to Grow

There you have it; how to grow your business. Don’t let this list overwhelm you; pick one or two of these ideas that are suitable to your business and your circumstances and get your plan for growing your business underway. Quick-Start Business Planning will get you started.

While you probably won’t experience growth right away, whichever way of expanding your business you choose, you will see progress if you keep at it, and will successfully transform your business into all you want it to be.

Source: The Balance Small Business

The 17 Best Places Ecommerce Entrepreneurs Go To Find Product Ideas

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least expect it. Many times though, it’s something you need to be proactively on the lookout for.

The internet contains a wealth of ideas and inspiration, but as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin? Aimlessly searching online will only get you so far, so we’ve compiled a list of the best resources to give you direction and get you started.

17 Places to Find Ecommerce Business Ideas:

  1. Start with what you have
  2. Your local community
  3. Online consumer trend publications
  4. Industry leaders
  5. Product and trend discovery sites
  6. Social curation sites
  7. B2B wholesale marketplaces
  8. Online consumer marketplaces
  9. Social forum communities
  10. Social media networks
  11. On-site and third-party customer reviews
  12. SEO analytics and insights
  13. Consumer lifestyle publications
  14. Your competitors
  15. Audience surveys
  16. Crowdsourcing
  17. Look to the past

As you go through all the resources listed in this post, it’s vital to keep two things in mind:

While searching for new product ideas, make sure to look beyond the products themselves. It may sound cliche but as we learned in the previous post, there is heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories. Choosing a different or unique angle can be instrumental to your success. Try not to just look at products, rather look for potential in the product category. Consider new markets, new features and new ways to use the products.

Don’t be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and is usually more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.

In this post we’ll go into detail about the best places to look for product inspiration and ideas. We’ll start with some broad ideas to get your head in the right space to start your search and then get into more specific resources closer to the end of the post.

As you go through this post and the list of resources, it’s best to capture all of your ideas on paper. Once you have all of your brainstormed ideas recorded, you will be able to return to them later and evaluate them for viability and potential.

1. Start with what you have

Before you begin searching the depths of the internet for business ideas and the ends of the earth for product and niche ideas, it’s always best to start with the ideas you already have. Maybe it’s a product or idea you’ve had for years. Maybe it exists in a half-written business plan sitting in a folder somewhere on your computer. Even if you’ve discounted it at some point prior, it’s worth taking a fresh look at it. At one point you thought it was a great idea, right?

Here are a few questions to consider when making your list of internet business ideas:

  • What products, niches or industry you are particularly passionate about or interested in?
  • What products, niches or industries are your friends passionate about?
  • What pain points do you have in your own life?

Example: Sisters/entrepreneurs Lisa Kalberer and Allison Hottinger are passionate about family and tradition. They instill these values in their homes by assembling a manger during the holidays. When friends were interested in starting their own traditions, The Giving Manger was born. The product born of passion attracted the attention of influencers that made the brand a nationwide hit, online and in stores.

Identify pain points and challenges

If there’s a problem, solve it. Consider which pain points you have in your life, or even the pain points of those around you. Active Hound, for example, stepped in to solve the challenge of dog toys that were easily chewed and destroyed. Dog owners would become frustrated with unreliable products, and the expenses can quickly add up. The market for that product was based on this one specific pain point.

Learn More: How to Find a Product to Sell Online: The 8 Opportunity Types

2. Your local community

Sometimes, you don’t need a new idea at all. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have been around much longer than their ecommerce counterparts. Paying attention to trends in brick and mortar retail and adapting them to ecommerce can be just the ticket you need to create a profitable and unique internet business idea. Look around your community and take note of what new or interesting retail concepts people are talking about. Your local newspapers can also be a great resource for this type of news and information.

Example: Grocery-delivery service InstaCart is a perfect example of a company that saw a way to take a brick and mortar concept and put it online. Most grocery shopping happens in-store, according to PwC’s 2017 Total Retail Survey, but with the growing popularity of services like Amazon Pantry, there’s an opportunity to drive and capture online sales. Though many consumers may be apprehensive to online grocery shopping, InstaCart partners with brick and mortar retail stores so customers are still shopping from the same grocery store they know and love. This also supports the small business movement, allowing customers to buy from select local grocers.

3. Online consumer trend publications

A great place to start your search for product ideas is to look at some top consumer product trend publications. Following trend publications is great way to begin getting a sense of the direction consumer products are going and the ideas other entrepreneurs are introducing to the market. Following these publications can also expose you to new product categories and industries that you previously didn’t know about. Following what’s trending can help you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for your online business.

There are several popular trend publications online including, but not limited to:

TrendWatching: TrendWatching is an independent trend firm that scans the globe for the most promising consumer trends and insights. TrendWatching has a team of professionals in locations like London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos who report on worldwide trends.

Trend Hunter: Trend Hunter is the world’s largest, most popular trend community. Fuelled by a global network of 137,000 members and 3,000,000 fans, Trend Hunter is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.

Jeremy, the founder of Trend Hunter says, “Like many of us, I was an entrepreneur at heart, but I didn’t know what idea I wanted to pursue. I chose careers that I thought would lead me to my business idea… but after years of searching, I was still hunting for inspiration. It was then that I started Trend Hunter — a place for insatiably curious people to share ideas and get inspired.”

PSFK: PSFK is a “business intelligence platform [that] inspires creative professionals as they develop new products, services and experiences across retail, advertising and design.” It analyzes research-based consumer trends and insights that you can use as a jumping-off point and validation for ecommerce business ideas.

Example: A great example of someone who noticed a trend from another country and brought it home is Dan and his product, Inkkas. Inkkas are beautiful, unique shoes made of authentic South American textiles. The idea came about when Dan noticed the trend for these style of shoes in Peru. Determining this was a great product that would also do well in the North American market, he brought the idea home and successfully funded his Kickstarter project, raising over $77,000 in pre-orders.

4. Industry leaders

If you know the industry or niche you would like to be in you can use various tools to discover the influencers in the industry. Following the right people on social media can help inspire new ideas through a constant stream of carefully curated content from the people in the know. It’s up to you to uncover the opportunities.

There are several online tools you can use to discover the influencers online for a particular industry or niche:

5. Product and trend discovery sites

Product review and discovery sites can also be a fantastic source for product and internet business ideas. Sites like Uncrate (men’s products) and AHALife (luxury products) are great ways to see new curated product trends daily. What better way to get inspired than to get a daily glimpse into the new and interesting products other entrepreneurs are bringing to the market.

Here are just a few examples of popular consumer product blogs to get you started:

Don’t just look at the big and popular sites but explore niche reviews sites as well. Consider what types of products and niches you’re particularly interested in and search for consumer product review blogs in those niches.

6. Social curation sites

Polyvore and other similar image curation sites can be a goldmine for product and niche ideas. Many of the images contain interesting, new and trending businesses and consumer products. Using the built in social signals you can sometimes get a sense almost immediately of their popularity. This could be your first clue if there is a market for the product or niche.

Several of the larger social curations sites that may inspire niche business ideas are:

  • Polyvore: Polyvore is a way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore’s global community has created over 80 million collage-like “sets” that are shared across the web.
  • Fancy: Fancy describes themselves as part store, magazine and wish list. Use Fancy to find a gift for any occasion and share your favorite discoveries with all your friends.
  • Wanelo: Wanelo (Want – Need – Love) describes itself as a community for all of the worlds shopping, bringing together products and stores in a Pinterest-like product posting format. You can start by checking out out trending people.
  • Wishlistr: Wishlistr is a way to collect, organize and track products you want, as well as share that list with others. More than 9 million “wishes” have been listed to date.

7. B2B wholesale marketplaces

What better way to get product ideas than right from the source? This has been a popular option amongst ecommerce entrepreneurs for a while, and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Wholesale and manufacturer sourcing sites expose you to thousands of potential products ideas. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of products available, so take it slow.

Alibaba: Alibaba is one of the biggest ecommerce companies in the world, up there with Amazon and eBay. The platform connects consumers all over the world with wholesalers and manufacturers from Asia. With hundreds of thousands of products, there’s not much you can’t find on Alibaba.

Although it’s generally accepted that Alibaba is the largest online wholesale and manufacturer database, there are many other sites similar to Alibaba you can use for inspiration and to find product ideas.

Oberlo: is a marketplace owned by Shopify where you can purchase products to sell on Shopify from suppliers. These suppliers provide automated order fulfillment services, so it’s a popular turnkey option for many entrepreneurs deciding what to sell on Shopify. Browse what’s available and review Oberlo’s trending products to help come up with your own ideas.

Some other B2B wholesale marketplaces include:

8. Online consumer marketplaces

Another rich source for product ideas are online consumer marketplaces. Millions of products is probably an understatement, so you may want to begin your search with some of the popular and trending items and branch out into other interesting categories that catch your eye from there:

eBay: eBay is the largest online consumer auction site. Use eBay Market Research to find some of the most popular product categories on eBay.

Amazon: Amazon is the largest internet retailer.Amazon Best Sellers shows Amazon’s most popular products based on sales. Amazon Movers & Shakersdisplays the biggest gainers in sales rank over the past 24 hours. Both are updated hourly.

Kickstarter: Kickstarter is the largest crowd-funding website. Browse all projects by popularity, funding, staff picks, as well as many other options with Kickstarter Discover.

Etsy: Etsy is a marketplace for handmade items. Look up what’s trending to find the most popular listings.

AliExpress: AliExpress is Alibaba’s consumer wholesale marketplace that allows you to order in smaller quantities. AliExpress Popular reveals the most-bought products.

Jet: Jet is another internet retailer that continues to grow in popularity. Each product category has its own list of best sellers, such as this one for wholesaleand this one for books and media.

9. Social forum communities


Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and is enormously influential. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and and areas of interest. It’s within these subreddits that you can find lots of inspiration for your next product or business idea.

If you have an idea for a particular industry, niche or product category, it’s worth doing a search and finding a suitable subreddit community to join and actively become a part of.

There are also many product focused subreddits that are packed with ideas.

Here are a few examples:

There are also several subreddits for curated Amazon products, make sure to check out the following:

If you’re active on Reddit and pay close attention, occasionally you have come across interesting posts like this one, which asks commenters to share their best purchases for under $50.

No matter which approach you take, Reddit has been and continues to be a valuable source of ecommerce business ideas and inspiration, coupled with a great and supportive community.


Quora is a community question-and-answer site, “a place to gain and share knowledge,” as the company says. Essentially, users come to Quora to ask and answer questions about pretty much anything and everything. Like Reddit’s subreddits, Quora has topics that you can choose to add to your own customized feed. Consider adding some product- or industry-related feeds, as well as anything else inspired by online business.

Quora also shows which topics and questions are trending, as well as a count of the total number of answers (each with a number of upvotes and downvotes from the community).

Once you populate your feed, you’ll start to discover questions and answers that may inspire ecommerce business ideas. Here are a few:

Industry and niche forums

Depending on the industry you’re targeting, there may be niche forum sites that you can tap into for product ideas to sell. Gaming is one industry that has an active online community, and you can check out forums like GameFAQs or NeoGAF. Here are a few other industry forum sites for niche product ideas:

10. Social media networks

There are a few ways you can use social media to search for product and niche ideas.

Hashtag: If you have a particular interest in a product category or industry, you can try searching for applicable hashtags. Another great option is to do a search on social media for hashtags that indicate buyer interest and intent like #want and #buy.

Product curation accounts: There are many accounts on Instagram that post curated product content. Like many other examples above, you’ll likely want to search for and find accounts within the niches you are particularly interested in.

Audience insights: If you already have a business page on one or more social media platform, you may be able to use your audience data to find ecommerce business ideas. Understand which pages, hobbies, interests and other characteristics they have in common and brainstorm products based on those insights.


Instagram isn’t just pictures of food and dogs, it is also an interesting option for inspiring product and ecommerce business ideas. Because it’s photo-based, it’s easy to scan through many ideas and photos quickly.


Facebook still has the most active users out of any social media platform. If there’s a market you’re trying to reach, there’s a chance they’re on Facebook. In addition to hashtags, trending topics and popular pages, check out which Facebook groups are popular in your niche. You may be able to participate and find inspiration through those communities.


The average order of value of sales coming through Pinterest is higher than any other social channel. This indicates that Pinterest users are browsing, shopping and buying, making it an ideal spot to research popular products and trends. Another visual platform, it’s easy to scan and find inspiration for ecommerce business ideas. Don’t forget to check out the popular section for what’s trending.


Especially ideal for a younger demographic, Snapchat admittedly has more limited capabilities in terms of identifying trends. Use the Discover option to find out what the Snapchat community is talking about and follower influencers in your niche to gain more insight into their needs and motivations.


Twitter trends will be helpful in finding new ecommerce business ideas. You’ll be able to see what’s popular in your network or a chosen location. You’ll find these trends on the left-hand side when you log in at, or look for the Explore option when you’re on the mobile app.

Niche social media sites

If you’re searching for niche product ideas, social media sites dedicated to related topics and hobbies are another way to gain insights into new product ideas. Here are a few, as examples:

11. On-site and third-party customer reviews

If you already have a business (online or in real life), check out your own customer reviews. Savvy entrepreneurs consider customer recommendations, the motivation behind it, and respond accordingly.

If you don’t have any reviews of your own to consider, look at reviews of companies and products in your niche. Identify commonalities, paying careful attention to customer complaints, and determine how you can create a product that will address those concerns. Amazon is an especially great place to find honest customer reviews.

12. SEO analytics and insights

Search engine optimization (SEO), insights can show you what’s trending on search globally or targeted to specific geographic locations. Google has a number of free and paid tools you can use

Google Trends: Find out what’s trending, globally and regionally, and choose from specific topics like Business, Health and Sci/Tech. You can also browse Top Stories to see what’s most popular. If you have a specific market or idea, you can also research keywords to find common related searches, as well as anticipated peaks in search volume (which can help dictate timing for your product launch).

Google Keyword Planner: Keyword Planner will help you find average search volume and related keywords to your chosen phrases. You can also look at AdWord competition to gauge whether someone else is bidding on your targeted phrases for your ecommerce business idea.

Google Analytics: If you already have a website, use the data from Google Analytics to find out which terms users are searching to find your site. Volume isn’t always important: There may be a longtail, descriptive search phrase that makes you think of your next big idea! You can also use data from your onsite search to find the same insights.

Google search: is an often-forgotten tool to use in your SEO research. There are a few key areas to look when you’re look at a search on predicted text (as you type your query in the search bar), paid ads at the top and on the side rail, suggested searches (at the bottom of the page), and Google Shopping results. Remember to check out images and news, too.

Learn More: 8 Free and Simple SEO Tools for Bootstrapped Business Owners

13. Consumer lifestyle publications

Consumer-facing publications in your industry can reveal a lot about a market segment and what’s trending. Consider what these publications are talking about and which articles resonate most with the audience. To find out which articles are most popular, look at how many comments, social media engagements, or social media shares the content has received. The more popular articles could inspire niche market ideas.

14. Your competitors

Learn from the successes of your competitors and popular businesses in your chosen industry. Which products have they launched with the most success? Why were they so successful? Sometimes, brands will share the why and how behind new products.

Beyond your competitors’ products, examine their community. Who is their audience and why do they love those products? Look at what the brand is saying to consumers, as well as how customers are interacting with them online. Identify gaps in your competitors’ product offerings and look for ways to fill those gaps with your new product.

15. Audience surveys

Surveys are one of the best ways to get qualitative and quantitative insights into an audience. Craft questions about the problems and challenges they face, which products they love most and why, and what they wish they had to enhance their everyday life. Keep a mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions that will let you inside respondents’ heads. Use this information when you brainstorm your ecommerce business ideas.

Here are some tools you can use to create and distribute your survey:

16. Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is along similar lines as surveying, except when it comes to crowdsourcing, you’re asking for ideas more overtly. LEGO Ideas is a prime example of a brand that uses crowdsourcing to find new product ideas to sell. Consumers can submit their ideas for LEGO sets, and the site also features popular and successful ideas. Create your own crowdsourced ideas or look to those hubs for inspiration.

If you want to organize your own crowdsourcing campaign for product ideas to sell, check out the following:

17. Look to the past

One way to learn is from the past. Through examining history and old trends, you can come up with a list of revived product ideas to sell. This is one tactic that Dogfish Head Craft Brewery came up with their product series of Ancient Ales, which uses old-school brewing techniques.

But history doesn’t necessarily mean historical events and techniques. It’s also about pop culture trends. In fashion especially, we often see the resurgence of trends, and consumers love nostalgia. Choker necklaces have made a comeback, and countless movie and TV show reboots have created renewed interest and passion for consumers. You can evoke this sense of nostalgia through a product that is no longer available or highlights a seemingly forgotten subject likely to inspire fond memories.

Source: Shopify Blogs

3 Things That Define Strong Work Ethic

A simple search for the term ‘work ethic’ yielded this explanation from “A belief in the moral benefit and importance of work and its inherent ability to strengthen character.

I love the idea that truly putting effort into something strengthens your character. What does work ethic mean to you? Do you believe you have it?

Kiaran McLaughlin does.

McLaughlin is a well-known Thoroughbred racehorse trainer. Born in the heart of horseracing country (Kentucky), McLaughlin got involved with the business at a young age. Since, he’s worked for Wayne Lukas, one of the biggest horse trainers back in the ‘80s, lived in Dubai for several years working for the Maktoum family, and has trained a number of famous horses including Invasor and Frosted.

As the owner of KPM Racing Stables in Boynton Beach, Florida (and a PrimePay client), this accomplished trainer has another unique storyline that makes his journey to success that much more incredible.

But first, let’s dive into this characteristic that McLaughlin attributes his success to, and how you can use it to garner inspiration for your own small business.

1. Putting in the time.

For McLaughlin, work ethic means putting in the time.

“I personally work seven days a week. I get to get up every day, seven days a week, and come do what I love to do. And that’s to be with the horses and train the horses,” he explained.

Did you catch that? McLaughlin describes his job as a privilege to be able to get up every day and do what he loves. Tap into that same passion that you had when you started your small business, or even the last time you handled a big project.

It’s not easy to balance everything and you’re certainly not required to work seven days a week. So if you’re teetering on the edge of burnout, Jayson DeMers, a VIP contributor at Entrepreneur magazine points out these three things you should do:

  • Identify the root causes of your stress-related burnout and eliminate them:  Automate, delegate or rework the process.
  • Manage your stress through a variety of healthier lifestyle choices: Energy-boosting foods, good sleep, and exercise.
  • Take breaks…and a vacation.

What the casual horseracing fan probably doesn’t realize is that there are races happening almost every day. So these simple reminders are a great guide to balancing it all and finding that passion to continue to do amazing work.

2. Quality.

Keep in mind that just because you put in long hours doesn’t necessarily mean that you have strong work ethic. Busy people aren’t always productive people; it all comes down to the results.

Results are what keep McLaughlin motivated each day. From the surprise second place finish in the Kentucky Derby from underdoghorse Closing Argument, to the somewhat unknown Jazil who won the Belmont Stakes by a full one and a quarter horse lengths, McLaughlin and his team always aim to “take good care of the horses, win races, and keep clients happy.”

McLaughlin prides himself on the quality KPM Racing Stables provides to clients. They divulge weekly reports to the horse owners so everyone stays on the same page and vow to be regularly available if a need arises.

In order to be able to keep clients as happy as possible, McLaughlin must hire the best employees as possible. It’s a challenge to find them, but it’s worth the effort.

“I hire the most qualified people I can find. My staff is super talented and they truly love the horses and do a great job with them. This industry is tough, because we’re constantly trying to get the owners to give us their horses to train. We have to win and be successful in order for them to do so. My staff makes it possible,” he explained.

When you put in the time to deliver your absolute best, rather than rushing through important decisions just to get them off your plate, your true work ethic shines. Quality over quantity always wins.

3. Overcoming obstacles.

When is the last time you were faced with a truly difficult obstacle to overcome?

Maybe your supplier was a day late on your delivery or a great employee left you for a competitor- these are all real challenges that come with running a small business. Attitude is absolutely everything in these scenarios. How you respond to adversity and behave towards unforeseen circumstances is a true indicator of your character.

McLaughlin’s obstacle is a bit different. And excelling beyond it just proves his dynamic work ethic even further.

“Another big chapter in my life is that I have Multiple Sclerosis. I was diagnosed in 1998, but I’m lucky to be able to keep going,” McLaughlin admitted.

McLaughlin does not let his MS get in the way of doing what he loves. He’s very open about it – explaining to the National MS Society that he has developed coping mechanisms to help manage his symptoms when on the racetrack.

This piece of his life just makes his commitment to work ethic that much more incredible and inspiring.

Do you possess any of these traits? They’re a great indicator of your level of work ethic, which has a direct impact on your success.

To learn more about KPM Racing Stables and Kiaran, click here to visit the website.

Source: Prime Pay

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