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10 Important Lessons from Working in a Start-Up

10 Important Lessons from Working in a Start-Up

Start-ups often employ a very small amount of helping hands to speed up the growing process of the business. This leads to a significant accumulation of tasks and responsibilities on each employee’s desk, opening up their way of thinking if they wish to provide valuable input to the company.

Working at a start-up was a very rewarding and challenging experience that I would recommend to anyone who wishes to feel a great sense of importance and accountability. After working for about a year at an emerging creative agency, the skills that I have obtained can help me succeed in any industry and in any position. Looking back to the long and often stressful days, there are ten startup lessons learned that will leak into future careers and personal challenges.

1. Never Stop Learning

Never Stop Learning

    With new technologies and software continuously entering the market, start-ups expect you to constantly update your current skills and industry knowledge, and find new ways of simplifying work processes without digging too much into budget. Never believe that you know enough or that you know all that there is to know about an industry. This type of thinking will only place you behind the rest of your co-workers. In order to succeed in your position, buying paperbacks, signing up to online courses, even taking an on-campus course will keep you up to date and ready to provide your employer useful advice and information.

    You don’t have to stick to only educational material to stay ahead of the game; read fiction, learn a new language or program – you never know when this knowledge can be useful or can make a great impression on a client or employer. Stay informed and learn from history to make the right decision in the present.

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    2. Learn to Adapt to Any Working Environment 

      With all this emphasis on online networking it is not surprising that there is a high emergence of in-person networking events and conferences. Past positions that chained their workers to desks are slowly fading away as each employee is now required to engage in more networking events on and off-line. As a Digital Marketing Manager at my past position, I was pushed to attend various events where potential clients and partners lingered and meet with clients face-to-face. My work environment definitely did not keep me at my desk. After consulting various other individuals who work in the marketing field, they told me the same thing – the idea of the work station is changing and those who cannot adjust their work habits or cannot multi-task are becoming overwhelmed and are sometimes even seen as a burden. If you can adapt to any atmosphere, be it a casual environment or corporate, you have a better chance of succeeding in your career.

      3. Take Risks

      Take Risks

        Whether you wish to switch your career or start a business of your own, taking a risk is what gets your gears moving forward. Working for a start-up taught me to take risks even if there is a high chance of failing. These risks help you grow as a person and to truly appreciate the stability that you have in other aspects of your life. A risk helps you try various paths that could get you from point A to point B. After trial and error, you will find the path that is best suitable for your goals and budget. Without taking a risk, you are forced to settle with an unoriginal strategy that so many other people have chosen to follow. Don’t follow the footsteps of the herd; take a risk even if it means isolating yourself from the pack.

        4. Open Your Mind to New Ideas No Matter How Silly

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        Open your Mind

          Originality will always help you get your foot through the door so say good-bye to old ways of thinking and doing business, try new things, research new methods and be welcoming to the unknown. We usually ignore any bizarre or stupid thoughts that enter our minds, but these thoughts are usually the keys to a unique business strategy or can help solve the most basic problem. We often tend to overlook what’s in front of our eyes so open your mind and acknowledge and appreciate new ideas. We all have different ways of looking at things so nobody has the right to put down your insight just because it does not sync with theirs. After working in a small team environment, I learned to appreciate uniqueness as it helped us stand out from our competitors and branded our company image.  Sometimes, if an idea is very silly, it is perfect to capture audience attention.

          5. Find Opportunity in Negativity

            Sometimes life hands us lemons and we start to feel hopeless. Have you ever noticed how the worst situations always lead to better outcomes if examined from an outside perspective? Look at your issues as criticisms to your strategies. If you have many problems with clients or team members than you are doing something wrong. Take this time to re-asses your situation and to find a solution. You never know, these negative situations could be an opportunity for you to bring in more business.

            As an example, the start-up company that I worked for introduced social marketing services to their past clients and noticed that their clients were looking for every viable excuse not to subscribe. I was in charge of trying to find out the cause of this issue and after some calling and surveys I found out that these agents feared social marketing because they had no idea what it was and did not trust us to perform the services because they thought it was a scam. After consulting the chairman, we decided to introduce webinars, for a small fee a marketing specialist would go through the basics of social marketing and would teach these clients to engage with their online audience. In the end, the clients realized that social marketing is nothing to be afraid of and after trying it out for themselves asked us to take over as they simply did not have the time to do it themselves. These webinars eliminated client fear, helped us get more clients signed up for additional services, and gave us a small profit as well. Look at every negative situation as an opportunity to perfect current practises.

            6. Don’t Take Criticism Personally

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            Don't Take Criticism Personally

              Everybody has a role to play in a business infrastructure and receiving criticism for work or behaviour can discourage us and make us feel unworthy. Don’t let this get you down, instead, focus on the situation from an outside perspective. It is not your personality or your interests that are being judged but your final product. Be honest with yourself, if you know that you did not put in enough effort into a project, then why are you upset when the employer had made a subtle hint on the quality of your work? Since the company grows based on the accumulative efforts of the team, your contribution is bound to be criticized. Step back and see what you have done from the employer’s perspective, if there is truth to what they are telling you, just disconnect your feelings from the equation and focus on improving the work at hand. By taking negative comments to heart, you are only placing more weight on your shoulders. This could seep into your personal life and will most definitely ruin your day. No one wants that, so step back, re-analyze, and fix the situation. Knowing that everyone receives negative feedback once in a while helps to move on and to focus on other things.

              7. What Works for Others May Not Work for You

              What Works for Others May Not Work for You

                Simply copying your competitors’ business model is not going to place you on top of the ladder. Even taking ideas from a business from an unrelated industry may not advance your business but do more damage. If you think that replicating a product idea from a Fortune500 company will get you on that list, think again. People want originality and uniqueness even if your product or service is similar to those offered at the place down the street. Consumers look for a company personality when deciding on which product to buy and if you cannot provide them that, you simply won’t succeed. This ‘personality’ is what consumers will pay more for even if your friendly neighbour offers the same service but for a significantly cheaper price. So in regard to marketing and structuring your business and personal brand, it is great to see what others are doing to get their named out there, but look for new ways to create a voice and to be different.

                8. Speak Your Mind

                Voice Your Opinions

                  No matter your position within a company, find ways to speak your mind. We all have different experience and educational preparation, you opinion might just provide your employers or partners a different viewpoint on a topic that wasn’t seen before. Additionally, if you see something inappropriate at work, speak up as this unsuitable behaviour may not just be impacting you but your peers as well. By taking responsibility, you are being an active participant of the company and helping the way it grows and succeeds. Even if you are down the chain of command, your opinion matters so don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.  

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                  9. Get Organized

                  Get Organized

                    The best way to plan your day is to make a to-do list each morning and to cross off tasks as you go along. Of course, some people flourish when they have papers covering their entire work station without any real sense of organization, but for the most of us, we need structure to our day and to our priorities. Making lists throughout the day will help you complete more tasks and will remind you of all the small details that we tend to forget. Organization is not limited to your desk, when is the last time you looked at your computer’s desktop? Going through old files on your computer and phone cuts the amount of time that you spend searching for documents and once it is organized, it will be much easier for you to maintain the cleanliness. If you wish to land any managerial role in a company, get organized and it will help with deadlines, meetings, and projects where teamwork is involved.

                    10. Be Active Outside of Work

                    Be Active Outside of Work

                      You will be stressed, you will feel lost, and you will underestimate yourself. The amount of tasks and projects will accumulate, often forcing you to stay overtime while drowning yourself in coffee. Anxiety and pressure is part of working at a start-up, heck it is part of any job so it is very easy to burn-out. To avoid digging yourself a grave at your work station, make sure you are not skipping out on your hobbies and special events. Having a balanced work/personal life is crucial if you wish to stay sane and still be an active team player. Our best ideas come when we disconnect ourselves from the issue, so go for a run, read a book, meet with friends! After all, your boss will not expect you to be a robot so schedule in your personal time and make every minute count. When you will reflect on your life, you will want to remember adventure, happiness, and family gatherings rather than regret all of the time that you spent in front of a monitor.

                      Working at a start-up will introduce you to many new ways of thinking and lessons that could be helpful in your future career.

                      Featured photo credit: Le Temple du Chemisier via flickr.com

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                      Published on September 18, 2018

                      17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

                      17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

                      Have there been instances when you noted a drop in your team’s productivity or observed a behavioral change in someone who used to be an excellent performer?

                      Before you blame the team for not being motivated enough or worse still, choose to ignore these warning signs, look inwards and ask yourself if YOU are doing enough to keep your team motivated in the first place.

                      Motivating employees is extremely crucial. As the leader of the pack, it is your responsibility to ensure each and every member of your team feels valued, driven and motivated.

                      After all, you cannot expect a bunch of disengaged and demotivated people to deliver results and grow your business, can you?

                      Here are 17 surefire tactics for motivating your employees and building a productive team:

                      1. Show your appreciation

                      In the whole race to achieve external business goals, leaders often forget to value their most important assets — their employees.

                      The least you can do to boost performance and morale is to appreciate your employees, recognize their efforts and give them credit when it is due.

                      Whether it’s sending a personalized note, recognizing achievements publicly during team huddles or even rewarding top performers at the end of every month, you will be surprised to see how these small acts of appreciation can go a long way.

                      2. Communicate effectively

                      Effective communication can do wonders in motivating employees. Who is a strong communicator? Someone who knows what they are talking about and are able to convey their message accurately.

                      Communication is a lot more than just language and talking. Factors such as eye contact, active listening, hand gestures and postures also say a lot about a person’s communication skills.

                      3. Be open to dialogue

                      Gone are the days when leading through fear and putting on the tough, distant leader act would work.

                      New age leadership is all about instilling trust by being accessible and encouraging discussions. Your team needs to feel comfortable speaking to you and you need to set the tone for such a camaraderie.

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                      In spite of having a busy schedule, you can still show you care through simple, effective acts.

                      For instance, having an open door policy, showing genuine interest while interacting with your employees or even greeting your team members helps breaking barriers and projects you as an accessible leader.

                      4. Provide constructive criticism

                      Giving negative feedback is always tricky — you don’t want to hurt feelings nor do you want the feedback to be taken lightly.

                      So, what do you do? The idea is to offer criticism such that it inspires change and delivers results.

                      Firstly, take criticism behind closed doors because nothing breaks self esteem the way calling out employees in public does.

                      Have a one-on-one discussion with the concerned person and make your feedback very specific. Be clear about your expectations and offer guidance on how they can improve.

                      Most importantly, give them the chance to explain their side of the story too instead of jumping to conclusions.

                      5. Conduct one-on-ones

                      Yes, you conduct weekly meetings with the team but how well do you know them on a personal level?

                      While you may think this isn’t an important practice to follow, it is one of the best ways to engage with your employees and identify what drives them.

                      Conduct a one-one-one session every month and use it to understand how your employees are doing and if they are facing any roadblocks.

                      More than reviewing performances, consider this as a relationship building tool to ensure you are aligned with your team and are working towards a shared, common goal.

                      6. Build training programs

                      In this ever-changing business landscape, it is important to ensure your employees are updated with the latest, relevant skills that can help boost productivity and performance.

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                      From imparting technical and soft skills to offering mentoring programs – investing in training and development significantly helps in motivating employees and keeps the learning going.

                      While conducting training programs, remember to keep them engaging and interactive. They need to ultimately drive value and reinforce learnings.

                      7. Offer growth opportunities

                      Every employee envisions a different career path for themselves and demotivation strikes the day they feel they have reached stagnation. As a leader, you need to first be aligned with their goals and offer ample growth opportunities that constantly keeps them engaged and motivated.

                      Growth opportunities go beyond just financial growth. While money is a huge driving factor, what makes most people tick is making progress in the company and going up the career ladder.

                      Being faced with new challenges and responsibilities lets them push the envelope and broaden their knowledge and skills.

                      8. Reward them

                      Go beyond verbal recognition and reward employees for their notable work. You can start an incentive program and reward top performers. This ensures increased productivity and brings out the best in them.

                      If you don’t have enough budgets for that, you can also reward top performers with movie tickets, a paid vacation or something as simple as giving them the option to work from home.

                      Rewarding employees promotes healthy competition and motivates them while meeting business goals.

                      9. Encourage team outings

                      Employee motivation also stems from how connected the team is. Invest time in team building because a team that works collaboratively is likely to deliver better results.

                      From bowling nights to hosting team dinners – team outings are a great way to get to know each other and bond. Assign someone from your team to be in charge of organizing these monthly outings and make sure you join them too!

                      10. Involve them

                      Involve your employees in decision making because when they are involved, they feel more valued and part of a larger cause.

                      Seek your team’s opinion and encourage healthy debates within the team. This boosts employee morale and challenges them to work harder as they know they are in a position to make an impact and will be taken seriously.

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                      11. Set meaningful goals

                      In the beginning of the financial year, make sure you sit down with each employee to set meaningful and realistic goals. The goal-setting conversation is an extremely crucial one and needs to be a two-way street.

                      Whether your employee feels burdened or doesn’t feel inspired enough by the assigned goals – this is the time to come to a consensus and assign goals derived from business objectives that foster individual development while keeping in mind their strengths and weaknesses.

                      12. Empower them

                      You cannot expect employees to be motivated for long if you micro manage the team and do all the talking.

                      Trust your employees and empower them to take decisions. Mistakes will happen but that is the only way they will learn.

                      Be open to discussions, delegate effectively, set your expectations and give your team the freedom to do it their way.

                      13. Deal with conflict

                      A conducive work environment is one wherein there is open communication and trust, but every once in a while, you do encounter people in the team who indulge in office politics and spread negativity.

                      How much ever fulfilled an employee feels with their work, gossiping co-workers are bound to ruin it for them. Workplace gossip if not tackled hampers productivity and soils working relations.

                      As a responsible leader, you need to maintain a conducive work environment and act as a mediator in such cases. Don’t be the leader who is locked up in his/her cabin and is unaware of what is brewing within the team.

                      14. Implement a flexible work culture

                      Flexible work cultures are a growing trend and are here to stay.

                      Whether it is offering flexible working hours or allowing employees to work from home once in a month – a flexible work culture promotes work-life balance and aids in employee satisfaction.

                      It shows that the management is sensitive to employees’ schedules and is thereby highly appreciated.

                      15. Host engaging activities

                      All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and we cannot agree more! So, why not devote one day of the week to employee engagement activities?

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                      From hosting baking competitions to introducing wellness programs in the office – let your team have some fun beyond work. This keeps the environment engaging, light-hearted and interesting, giving them all the more reason to look forward to coming to work.

                      16. Maintain a positive work space

                      Your employees spend more than half their day at work and in order to keep them energized and motivated, it is important to maintain a positive and inspiring work space.

                      Have a recreation center where employees can unwind after a hard day’s work, offer free snacks and beverages and invest in an open office design that promotes socializing and conversations.

                      These are simple yet effective ways to create a space your employees will love coming to.

                      17. Avoid discrimination

                      Any kind of discrimination, be it due to age, gender, religion or race hugely impacts employee motivation and performance.

                      In order to avoid such cases, you must lay down rules against discrimination and take strict action against accused employees. Lead by example and make sure no one in the team is a victim of bias and discrimination.

                      The bottom line

                      Don’t underestimate the power of motivating employees. Understand that the more engaged and motivated they are, the better their performance will be.

                      It is also a good idea to send out a survey and get feedback from your employees on the company culture, work environment and their motivation levels.

                      This will help you be more aligned with their expectations and further improve your efforts in building a stronger, engaged team.

                      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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