This year, I had the privilege of sharing wisdom from some of the most intelligent, successful, and creative Upstarts and Alpha Dogs I know. I learned a lot from these amazing entrepreneurs, and I think you did as well. Here just a few highlights from this year that I think are worth revisiting, and taking in to the New Year.
- Social media is a curse and a blessing. Corporate blogging diva Debbie Weil told us about how blogging can do more harm than good in The Case Against Blogging; and Issamar Ginzberg shared Five Social Media Tips For Fun and Profit. Bottom line: If you can't resist the urge to constantly pat your own back, you're endangering your social media footprint. Being responsive, helpful, and engaging goes a lot further than chest beating. In 2011, do it right or don't do it at all.
- All customers are not created equal. In Weed Out Your Customers From Hell, four entrepreneurs shared stories about customers they had fired, and we discussed the kinds of customers that will suck the life out of your business: Tightwads, Bullies, Manipulators, Fraidy Cats, to name just a few. Now that we're seeing glimmers of economic recovery, take a good hard look at every customer and do what Peter Justen, the CEO of MyBizHomepage.com, calls the "grief to revenue ratio" test. Sometimes even customers who write big checks are more trouble than they're worth.
- GenY is force to be reckoned with. They're spoiled and entitled, bla, bla, bla. Get over it, already. People in their twenties make awesome employees if you know how to manage them. As we discussed in GenY: Employees From Hell or Your Best Secret Weapon, if you capitalize on their affinity for teamwork, their strong desire for feedback, and their love of civic engagement, you'll see just how loyal and productive they can be. Tom Walter of Tasty Catering actually handed his company over to his GenY employees. But if that's not your cup of tea, no worries. If Scott Gerber, author of Never Get a Real Job, has his way, the bulk of his contemporaries will start their own companies. And you won't have to worry about employing them because you'll be too busy competing against them.
- Public relations is not a no-brainer. On behalf of journalists and bloggers everywhere, I implore you to re-read The Seven Deadly Sins of PR. Our mailboxes are overflowing with pitches that are impersonal, spammy, off-topic, and poorly written. And sometimes we even get follow up calls two hours after the impersonal, spammy, off-topic, poorly written pitch is sent. We love great stories and we want to hear from smart CEOs, but write to us with a little forethought, please. References to a recent story or book we've written tell us that you know what we're interested in and feed our fragile little egos. And remember to be very specific about the story you're pitching and how it fits in to what we write about.
- It's not what you do, it's how you do it. I love companies that manage to be wildly successful in mundane industries, like the companies in How To Make a Big Impact in an Ordinary Industry. They teach us that the secret to starting and growing a great company isn't in the "what" but the "how." Whether it's finding an untapped niche, out-servicing the competition, or professionalizing a company in old-economy industry, these companies are "Alpha Dogs" because of their expert execution of business strategy, not because they've created a cool new product or technology. To see how it's done, check out How Does a Cupcake Company Rock the Inc. 500 List?
- All things are possible with the right employees. My most popular post this year was, hands down, The Only Interview Tip You'll Ever Need: Don't Pee in Your Soup. In it, Larry O'Toole, CEO of Gentle Giant Moving Company, talks about what he learns about job candidates by asking them to run the 37 sections of stands at Harvard Stadium. It takes more than strength and stamina to get a job at Gentle Giant. Honesty, enthusiasm, and positive attitude also weigh heavily on the decision making process. "People reveal themselves at the stadium," O'Toole says. They also reveal themselves after a trial run on the job. In The Weirdest Interview Advice You'll Ever Get: Don't Ask Questions, Rich Sheridan, the CEO of Menlo Innovations, explains how his practice of asking job candidates to perform tasks in teams mimics the collaborative work environment at Menlo and thus teases out the kind of behavior he's looking for in his employees. Both Gentle Giant and Menlo Innovations have received Top Small Company Workplace awards from Winning Workplaces. So if you plan to hire next year (and we hope you do), remember that skills can be taught, but behavior and attitude typically cannot.