Why Odd Couples in Business Can Be a Good Thing

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg

This fall, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg will co-host “Martha & Snoop’s Dinner Party,” a new weekly TV show. She’s a home decorating guru. He’s a rapper. She’s 75 years old. He’s 44.

As unlikely as this duo may seem, it’s a reminder that opposites attract. Odd couples with the right chemistry can generate results that are different, creative and edgy.

If you’re exploring prospective partners for a startup, new program or another endeavor, why not widen your net and consider a few “oddballs”? Some possibilities:

People who are younger than you – Energy, tech know-how, new ideas and a youthful perspective are just some of the advantages of teaming up with someone from a younger generation.

People who are older than you – Wisdom, experience, perspective and seasoned judgment typify those in the second halves of their lives, as demonstrated by the 40-and-older entrepreneurs featured on this blog.

Competitors – Joint initiatives are possible, especially if you’re in different markets. My spouse, who owns several bicycle stores in the Washington, D.C. area, works regularly with another dealer in California. They visit each other’s stores. They exchange ideas. Each has benefited as a result.

People from other industries – This can open your imagination and expose you to ideas or ways of looking at things that you might not encounter otherwise. Proctor & Gamble had a program where it swapped employees with Google and encouraged “open innovation” with those outside the company.

Sure, oddball relationships take work. But they make life richer and more fun. What can be better than that?

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What Business Owners Can Take Away From Pokémon GO

Okay, so what’s the big deal about Pokémon GO?

You may be wondering because you’ve seen news stories. Or had groups of people milling around your business who look like they’re using their smartphones to hunt for something.

First, a quick crash course: Pokémon GO is a free mobile game app. As explained here, “it uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where you are and make Pokémon appear around you (or on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them. As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is.”

The game app has only been out a short while so there’s still a lot to learn. But here a few quick observations:

What’s old can become new again. Pokémon became super popular when it was first released in 1998. Now here it is, two decades later, and the game is again taking the world by storm. Who knows – it could come out in yet another form in another 20 years.

Persistence pays. Pokémon GO seems to have come out of nowhere but it’s been in the works for years. That seems to be the case with many “overnight sensations.”

Hype fosters creative marketing. Businesses aren’t wasting any time to leverage the increased foot traffic that’s resulted from the mobile game. Among the tactics so far:  activating “lures” that attract virtual Pokémon characters to a business location; posting about Pokémon that have been seen nearby; offering services to help players “catch ‘em all”; and providing discounts to customers who have the Pokémon GO app on their phones.

Augmented Reality (AR) is a game changer. This technology gives a live view of a real-world environment with elements that are augmented by a computer. Or to put it another way, you’re able to actually be in life and in your phone or computer’s screen at the same time. For the business owner, it’s good to be aware of this trend and keep tabs on what’s going on. No doubt it will be interesting to see how AR evolves in the future.

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Five Places to Look for Your Tribe

When I left my job six years ago, I freed myself from a daily commute that could take several hours. Today, I’m a solopreneur with a lot more control over my schedule. I rarely wear suits and often sport t-shirts and sweat pants while typing away at my computer.

But there’s a flip side to this new entrepreneurial lifestyle. After decades spent working in a traditional office environment, I now work in a home office. It’s a great arrangement — but I do miss the brainstorming sessions, feedback and social interaction with co-workers who were just down the hall.

Maybe you can relate to this experience, which seems common among those who leave the corporate world and become sole proprietors or independent contractors later in life. Working solo on a project for days or weeks (or longer) can leave you feeling lonely and isolated. That’s why it’s important to stay connected with others who can offer ideas, a different perspective or maybe a laugh when you need one.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s much easier to “find your people” than it was just a few years ago. If you’re interested in joining a new community of business owners, professionals or other like-minded individuals, here are five places to look:

1) Associations – Just about every industry has one. The key is to attend meetings and participate as an active member. Join a committee or a task force where you can work closely with others and get to know them in a smaller-group setting.

2) LinkedIn groups – These provide a place for professionals with similar interests to share content, find answers and post/review jobs. Check out this directory to browse groups in alphabetical order.

3) Facebook community pages – One example: Your Next Chapter, which describes itself as “a place for women who are stepping into their Next Chapter in business and life to connect, share, support and grow.”

4) Groups for exploring second acts – The Transition Network, AARP, 40Plus and encore.org, among others, offer conferences and other ways for members to network.

5) MeetupThis online social networking portal facilitates offline group meetings in localities around the world. Enter your city and a topic to find nearby groups who share your interest.

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How a Late Bloomer Built a Coaching Business to Help Others Like Himself

By Lynne Strang, Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs

Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams

If you’re a late bloomer who’s struggled to get traction with your business idea, here’s good news: the selection of companies and individuals providing startup coaching includes a growing number that specialize in helping older entrepreneurs.

One of them is Chicago-based Bizstarters.com, which focuses on fledgling business owners who are age 50 and older. Bizstarters program is virtual – a format that appeals to older entrepreneurs who want schedule flexibility and access to a full-range of support services from the comfort of their homes, says founder Jeff Williams.

Clients participate in weekly planning calls with a coach, who guides them through an eight-module online program that involves the completion of business planning decisions and tasks. The coach provides mentoring and assists with the development of a concept-to-product strategy (all of Bizstarters’ coaches are business owners who are at least 50 years old).

As the strategy progresses, a team of specialists provides services in fourteen key areas that range from logo design to accounting software setup. Once the business launches, clients continue to have monthly calls with their coaches for six months.

It Takes One to Know One

Williams, 67, knows the joys and challenges of being a late-blooming entrepreneur. That’s because he’s one himself.

After earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and an MBA from Northwestern University, Williams entered the corporate world. “I worked as a vice president of marketing for several Fortune 500 companies and a small, family-owned company but I never felt comfortable,” he says.

By age 39, he’d had enough. He began searching for a business idea where he could channel his passion for teaching. When a friend needed assistance to buy a franchise, Williams agreed to help. He enjoyed the experience so much that, by the end, he decided to “build a business about starting a business.”

His next step was to create a curriculum, a process he knew nothing about. One day, Williams’ wife, Marianne, flagged an article about an Indiana college professor who had written a business startup curriculum to help unemployed farmers. Thinking it was a shot in the dark, Williams cold-called the professor. The two connected, which led to the professor providing Williams with the foundation he needed to develop and launch his own training course on opening a business.

Going Virtual

In 1990, Williams opened the Go Smart Entrepreneurial Center when he was 40 years old. Initially, he marketed his curriculum to colleges with adult education programs. Then the Internet’s commercial use came along – and with it, the capacity for Williams to cast a much wider net. He began publishing a series of digital workbooks and changed the company’s name to Bizstarters.com in 1998.

Another turning point occurred in 2003, when Williams received an invitation to tour what was then Northwestern University’s business incubator. “That’s when the idea of calling our coaching program Virtual Incubator™ came to mind,” he says. “It dawned on me that we were providing all the same services as a physical incubator, but at a distance and with our clients providing their own office space.”

Williams estimates that his Virtual Incubator coaching program has helped more than 600 clients start businesses in publishing, life coaching, health and plant safety consulting and the online sale of vintage musical instruments, to name a few examples. The average age of a Bizstarters client is 57 years old. Sixty percent are male and 40% are female.

Most of the aspiring boomer entrepreneurs who come to Bizstarters want a business that’s derived from a passion, says Williams.

“The first question I ask is, ‘What’s your life plan? Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?’ If someone says, ‘I don’t want to work for three months during the year’ then I say, ‘Well, that’s possible but you have to be honest about the potential effect on your earnings.’”

About a third of Williams’ clients opt for a $750 concept development process to vet the prospective business and create a business model before committing to the full Virtual Incubator program.

“Sometimes You Fail, Then You Succeed”

After more than 25 years of guiding older entrepreneurs, Williams still enjoys helping people transition from the corporate world. He has a good feel for what separates those who make it as business owners from those who don’t.

“Successful entrepreneurs are pretty clear on what problem they can solve,” he says. “They’ve determined that the problem is a major one and can do a good job in describing why their solution is superior.”  They also use independent contractors to grow their businesses and tend to stay in an industry they know.

“By the time you get to be 55 to 60, you’ve had challenges in your life – which allows you to put things in context,” says Williams. “Sometimes you fail, then you succeed.”

Note: Williams is hosting an August 4th webinar on starting a business after age 50.  Here’s a link to get info and/or register. 

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How Jon Bon Jovi’s Restaurants Are Making a Big Difference

Jon Bon Jovi is a world-famous rock star with numerous albums that have sold millions of copies.  But there’s another side to him that some fans may not know.

He’s also a social entrepreneur who is dedicated to fighting hunger.

The 54-year-old Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea Bongiovi, just opened a second location of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen, whose mission is to feed people in need and make them feel empowered. Soul Kitchen’s newest location is in Toms River, New Jersey (Bon Jovi’s home state), an area devastated by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.  The restaurant’s first location opened in 2011 in Red Bank, NJ.

Soul Kitchen is a community restaurant with a unique model.  Once seated, guests may find themselves next to someone they don’t know.  The menu has no prices.  Those in need can bus tables, wash dishes or do other volunteer work in exchange for a nutritious meal.  Paying customers donate toward the cost of the volunteers’ food by purchasing a “Pay It Forward” certificate.

The Toms River Soul Kitchen is in the B.E.A.T. (Bring Everyone All Together) Center, a one-stop facility that includes a food distribution center, a production kitchen for at-risk children in after school programs, a food pantry and a culinary skills training program, among other resources.

The center is the latest of several initiatives undertaken by the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation to assist struggling families. The foundation also has built hundreds of affordable housing units and shelter in 10 states for low-income or formerly homeless people.

Bon Jovi took on the issue of hunger because it’s an area where he could make a real difference.

“We didn’t need scientists to find a cure,” he says in this Associated Press article. “There are so many wonderful causes and so many passionate people that are addressing them. We have been inspired by so many of our in-need neighbors who have come seeking help.”

Maybe Soul Kitchen will inspire others to find ways to pay it forward within their own communities.  For a better idea of what the restaurant is like, check out this video.

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Life is Sweet for this 60-Something Entrepreneur

When Carolyn Hartz of Perth, Australia started her business 14 years ago, she didn’t exactly fit the mold of an entrepreneur. She had no business experience. She had been out of the workforce for 25 years raising a family. She had no idea how to send an email or turn on a computer.

On top of everything else, she was 55 years old.

What she did have, however, was confidence, optimism, drive and a strong work ethic.  Ultimately, those personality traits and her passion trumped her initial lack of business know-how.

Today, Hartz is the exclusive Australian distributor of xylitol, a natural sweetener that tastes and looks like sugar. Her company is SweetLife, which offers baking mixes, jams, dental care items, a nasal sinus spray and other products made with xylitol.

As explained in this Sydney Morning Herald article, Hartz began educating herself on sugar-free eating after receiving a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. In 2000, she accompanied her husband to a conference in New York and met a woman who told her about xylitol.

After that chance meeting, Hartz contacted the U.S.-based company that sold xylitol and made a deal. She brought the first xylitol shipment to Australia in 2002. It sold out within three months. From there, SweetLife started growing and hasn’t looked back.

The journey hasn’t been easy, however. Hartz has had her challenges, including a huge learning curve.  She took a computer course and a three-year-online business course while running her business.

“I was often at my home desk from 7:00 am to 2:00 am at least five days a week and many weekends. I was truly out of my comfort zone, but had little time to think about it. Everything was challenging, but also exciting. I was on a mission,” says Hartz in this article.

Last October, Hartz released a book, Sugar Free Baking, in response to customer demand for recipes. Her main reason for starting the business wasn’t to make a lot of money. It was to help others who, like herself, forgo sugar but still want to enjoy the sweet things in life.

Now in her late 60s, Hartz sees her age as just a number.

“It is true that you reach a point in life – usually in your 40s – when there are two ways you can go,” she says in the Herald article.  “You can go one way, or you can choose to own your own life, be positive and choose that path.”

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Nine Business Book Takeaways That Can Help Your Startup

Whether you’re new to entrepreneurship or been at it for a while, these ideas from noted business books can help you reach your goals:

1) Don’t try to win by competing in an already crowded market space. Create an uncontested new market space that makes the competition irrelevant. — Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim

2) An effective advertisement depends upon using the right appeal. The wrong advertising can actually reduce the sales of a product. – Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

3) A critical question is not whether you’ll have luck. It’s what you do with the luck that you get. Great by Choice by Jim Collins

4) Thinking big can get you somewhere. But combine it with thinking long and you have a recipe for greatness. – Never Too Late to be Great by Tom Butler-Bowdon

5) When we resist something, it can seem harder than it really is. But when you decide to stop dreading a chore and focus on getting it done, it won’t seem nearly as painful. – The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan by Stephanie Chandler

6) If you excel in a particular area and can channel it into a business, chances are you are going to do it better than your competition. – The Pampered Chef by Doris Christopher

7) Followers want someone who will tell them the truth, be with them when the going gets tough, give them optimism and hope in the future, and keep the ship on even keel. – Positive Leadership: The Game Changer at Work by Steve Gladis, Ph.D.

8) Anytime you’re tempted to upsell someone, stop what you’re doing and “upserve” instead. Don’t try to increase what they can do for you. Elevate what you can do for them.  – To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink

9) Building a great business isn’t about the destination. Enjoy the journey. You’ll be sorely disappointed if you’re racing to get to the end. – Traction by Gino Wickman

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