Recipe for Winning Business Ideas

[Fish market, Bergen, Norway] (LOC)

(Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Entrepreneur-Inventor-Educator Stephen Key had a recent column at the Entrepreneur blog about the five essential ingredients of a winning business idea.  As a guy who has been creating products and helping others do the same for thirty years, he just might know what he is talking about:

  1. A substantial market. If your idea doesn’t appeal to people, you might spend too much time and money getting the item to market. Sure, revolutionary products don’t have markets yet. But, you can do research to find out whether there would be a market for your product before committing too many resources.
  2. Existing manufacturing technology. If it must be built, and the technology must be created to manufacture your product economically, someone will have to invest in that technology. Again, this doesn’t mean that you cannot succeed, but it is one thing to have to work hard to succeed, and another entirely to have to work hard so that you can begin to start working hard to make your idea succeed.
  3. An acceptable retail price point. If you don’t have a good price point, then you will have trouble getting retailers to stock your product. If your cost to manufacture is too great to support the retail price, you need to reconsider your strategy. Perhaps you can find another way to produce? Can you position your product differently?
  4. A benefit that is summarized in a single sentence. Benefits, not features are what people buy. If it is too hard for people to understand (or remember) why they should buy your product, you will struggle. Einstein said that people haven’t mastered a subject until they can explain it simply. Can you explain your product’s benefits simply?
  5. A user-friendly interface. We often think of “interface” and computers, but if your users/customers cannot figure out how to use your product, will they continue to use it? Key shares a story about a rotating label technology that he created. He put a picture of a hand turning a label on the label so people would know what to do.

5 Essential Ingredients of a Winning Business Idea at Entrepreneur


What are the Characteristics of Successful Business Owners?

Marine Institute Ireland, Strategic_Planning_S...

Let’s face it, successful people think differently than others. Even if you don’t want to be a business owner yourself, do you want to have a better family life? Church? Club? Cause? It doesn’t matter what you want to do well, this set of 8 common characteristics of successful business owners by Dave Lavinsky on Small Business Trends is a great group of tips:

  1. Have a Crystal Clear Vision. More than anything, if you want to achieve a goal, you must be absolutely clear about what you are trying to accomplish.
  2. Have a Written Strategic Plan. If your goal is big, you need to think long-term. Want to fit this to your family? What do you want to be able to do with and for your kids as they grow up? I promise you, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” is in store for you if you don’t think about this.
  3. Set Shorter-Term Goals. You have to bridge the gap between now and that strategic plan. Setting and achieving shorter term goals will give you the confidence to succeed.
  4. Ongoing Education. You will need to learn and grow to become the person who can carry out your big goals. Formal education may or may not be what you need, but getting the knowledge (and connections) you need to succeed is critical.
  5. Satisfy Your Customers. Whether a business, family, church, cause, you are serving someone in the end. What do they really want? Find out and your plans and goals will be strengthened.
  6. Be a Great Marketer. I used to think I couldn’t sell. Then someone pointed out that to win the hot girl who became my wife, I must have had a great sales pitch! Marketing is about creating awareness and beginning the process of motivating others to take actions. If you help them win, you can win, too.
  7. Be Laser-Focused in Your Work. There are lots of things you could do. But to succeed with your goal, you have to settle on the limited number of things that will help you get it done. When you finish, then think about something else to do.
  8. . Edison famously found 10,000 ways you could not make a practical light bulb. Are you willing to go the distance for your goal? As sales great Tom Hopkins likes to say, “I never see failure as failure, but as the price I must pay to eventually win!”


8 Common Characteristics of Successful Business Owners at Small Business Trends.

Walking the Talk in Michigan

Man of Integrity: Judge Raymond Voet
The Fayetteville Observer | photo by Greg Barnes

The news is chock full of instances about a leader’s ethical lapse. But how often do we read stories about someone really leading by example? The Associated Press put out a story recently about a Michigan judge, the Honorable Raymond Voet, who held himself in contempt of court in his own courtroom!

Judge Voet has a posted rule in his court that those whose electonic devices interrupt proceedings will be held in contempt. On April 12, 2013, His Honor’s new smartphone started asking for voice commands during some closing arguments in his court. At the break, he held himself in contempt and paid a fine of $25. Judge Voet feels that if he can’t live by his own rules, he has no business enforcing them on others.

My mentor John Maxwell says that you have to live what you teach because you are your message. Judge Voet has sent a powerful message to those who will come before his court that even he is not above the law. That is a powerful message for all civil servants to remember.

Judge Holds Himself in Contempt for His Smartphone by the Associated Press

Empowerment is Influence

MP900341425Susan Mazza, a fellow leadership coach, on her blog at Random Acts of Leadership shared a powerful and touching story about empowerment, taking risks, and the influence it gives a leader… and as my mentor John Maxwell says, “The true measure of Leadership is Influence–nothing more, nothing less.”

Susan’s father, Jim, was faced with a dilemma. Walt was a valuable employee. Walt  was also unhappy. Jim visited him in Walt’s office. After reassuring Walt that he was not going to fire him, Jim offered the junior man two recruiter contacts and suggested that he explore what were his options. “Personally, I hope you stay, but I know a bright guy like you has options,” Jim said. “It is important for you to know what is out there. Please keep me posted. My door is always open.”

Why do this? Walt’s unhappiness was becoming clear to all. Jim realized that creating awareness of the problem and helping Walt figure out what he was going to do would be much more helpful to everyone than Walt continuing to stew and affect the team. Addressing the problem made it safe to discuss openly and constructively.

In the end, Walt stayed. He and Jim became close, lifelong friends, and continued the mentor relationship throughout their careers.  Choose to empower those around you. When your people know that you value them and you help them do their best, you will be able to accomplish so much more than you ever did before. As Steve Jobs said, “Managing is getting people to do something they don’t want to do. Leadership is helping people discover they can do much more than they thought they could.”

The Ultimate Source of Empowerment at Random Acts of Leadership

Related Posts

Leading People: A Guide to Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws (Part 1) at Leading in the 21st Century

The Joys of Mastery

Bond as Lady Angela in Patience, 1881

It is a joy to watch a master at work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In today’s microwave mentality society, we tend to think everything is easy and instant. The truth is that most things need time and effort to master.


Mastery is a joy to witness. There is a difference between being good and truly mastering anything. So how can you master you skill set? Pamela Slim at Escape from Cubicle Nation shares 10 ideas with us:


  1. Learn Patience
  2. Practice the Basics
  3. Appreciate the source of your materials
  4. Deconstruct everything
  5. Set boundaries
  6. Make your space holy
  7. Cultivate your voice
  8. Swallow your pride
  9. Punch through the bag
  10. When imitated, don’t retaliate, innovate


Some of these things are obvious, others not. As an Executive Coach, many of her suggestions rang true and are things I regularly recommend to clients. I especially loved #3 and #6. Mastery comes not just from making you better, but by appreciating all the elements of your process, including the raw materials. As for making my space holy… well, let’s just say I am working on that one. I appreciate the challenge Pamela offers with it and am working to make it true in my space. (My wife appreciates this!)


Mastery makes you more attractive. I hope this list gets you thinking about how you can become a master, too.




10 Ways to Develop a Mastery Mindset at Escape from Cubicle Nation




Finding the Secret

I love the people at Under 30 CEO. They find really insightful people to share their secrets on any number of topics. Entrepreneur Chuck Wall, no longer an Under-30, but a sage none the less, has offered up The Secret to Your Business Success. Here are some he has considered. Can you guess the one he believes today?

  • Listen to Customers
  • Learn to Sell
  • Mitigate Risk

His answer? Listen to your customers instead of yourself. (Did I fool you putting it first?)

When you think about it, doesn’t that really cover the other two? Good selling is about learning what it is your customers need and then giving it to them. By understanding what they really want you will cut your exposure, too. Chuck offers four tips to help you listen to your customers:

  1. Get a clue
  2. Listen to customers’ ideas about everything
  3. Quit expecting to find the answers in Big Data alone
  4. Discover the why in Big Insight

The Secret to Your Business Success at Under 30 CEO



Mediocre Success

Entrepreneur, author, and blogger James Altucher has written a contrarian post about successful habits called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mediocre People. The first person I heard use this provoking style was my first coaching mentor, Thomas Leonard. Thomas used to teach that to be attractive, you need to “become incredibly selfish.” He loved that selfish provokes a huge reaction. Thomas then drew the distinction between being selfish – taking care of your needs first – and self-centered – caring about yourself to the exclusion of others.

Here is a summary of Altucher’s thoughts:

  • Procrastinate. As we posted recently, procrastination is your mind trying to tell you something. Figure it out and you can move forward effectively.
  • Zero-task. We tend to want to multi-task. We often feel if we aren’t doing something, we are falling backward. But when was the last time you did nothing and just took time to think? Doing nothing can free your mind and allow you to be creative.
  • Fail. Most of us aren’t Mark Zuckerburg or Bill Gates. We don’t succeed first time out the gate. Failure isn’t our enemy. It creates persistence, which is what most of us need to succeed.
  • Be unoriginal. Solomon said “there is nothing new under the sun,” so why are you trying to find it? Most ideas are the combination of existing ideas combined with other existing ideas. That is something new. Russell Conwell, in Acres of Diamonds makes the point that there are riches right in our own backyard.
  • Exercise poor networking skills. Entrepreneurs are working hard to keep their businesses going. When you are working 20-hour days, be extremely selfish and take care of yourself. You will have time later to network.
  • Do anything to get a “yes.” Getting to a deal means others will have a stake in the outcome. You will also find opportunities you might not otherwise access without the association that comes from a “yes.”
  • Be a poor judge of people. You don’t have to be a good judge of people. Rather, reserve judging them at all and get to know them. Going slow might take time, but the long-term result will be solid relationships that will sustain your businesses and causes.

Mediocrity in some areas of your life does not mean you have to be mediocre in all areas of your life. Attitude and persistence are the real habits of effective people. Everything else will work out.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mediocre People

Fixing your fix on Fear

Over in the blogs recently, Eric V. Holtzclaws, CEO and founder of Laddering Works, talks about four major fears facing entrepreneurs. Not an entrepreneur? These may be keeping you held back in your work or calling. He also offers great prescriptions for each:

  • Fear of Failure. The obvious one. who wants to suck? Holtzclaws says pay attention to what works and doesn’t, and deal with it. This translates to regularly review your operation so you can act.
  • Fear of Success. If it works, you must perform. Can your operation meet the demand? Plan ahead and find someone in your industry you can partner with. My buddy Phil Leonhardt of CSL Media in Fredericksburg found another printer to handle specialty jobs he doesn’t have the equipment to service so that he can still meet customer needs.
  • Fear of Starting. Things seem too large? Not sure what to do? Just start! I teach clients, when setting goals to think of something, however small to do today when getting started. Even a small step will give you confidence to take more action. After all, you will have started!
  • Fear of Loss. Risk and loss can freeze us. As Holtzclaws points out, the status quo doesn’t really stay static. If you don’t control change it leads to risk — and loss.

My tip for facing fear: gratitude. Faith is the slayer of fear. Gratitude is faith in active. Don’t just be thankful to yourself. Let others know you appreciate them and you will discover it is hard to be afraid when focused on others.

Fear is a 4-Letter Word

Related Posts

Traditional Leader or Innovator?

Dan Rockwell at the Leadershipfreak blog posts short, pithy messages. I don’t want mine to be longer than his, so let’s jump into it.

Dan posits distinctions between traditional leaders, especially in 3 areas:

  • Receptivity. Do you try to make others do what you want, or are you willing to embrace other points of view?
  • Withhold judgment. Never making decisions leads to chaos, but are you always in a hurry to decide and move along, or are you willing to let new ideas play out for a while before deciding about them?
  • Curiosity. Do you need to appear to beall-knowing, or are you willing to celebrate and explore the unknown?

Where do you fall in the dynamic on each question? Remember that in today’s fast moving marketplace you cannot afford to ignore those who want to help you succeed. As a leader, your big job is to articulate the vision and help everyone get there. Others can be experts and not threaten your leadership if you keep the vision in front of the team.

Three Qualities Traditional Leaders Reject

Note: Originally published under title Three Qualities Traditional Leaders Reject. Originally submitted to the blog via email, I messed up the subject line.

Color my world

My new friend Justin Buck wrote a great piece the other day. Using a very interesting story about the paints Picasso used in his art. Read this great blog post, but the theme is that Picasso took the ordinary and made it extraordinary. We have the opportunity to do this, too, and Justin shares 5 points:

  1. Starving Your Talent is a Mistake
  2. Even Limited Resources Are Resources
  3. Your Greatest Resource is YOU
  4. Even Great Resources Can’t Guarantee Great Results
  5. We Choose Our Own Means

When coaching clients, I often have to remind them about points 2 and 3. The seeds for your success lay in your current environment. You will have to take action to germinate and grow your resources. What is key is changing the way you think so that you can see and act on the opportunities before you. Then you will be able to turn common house paint into a masterpiece.

Paint Does Not a Painter Make