TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Ways to Generate Valuable Ideas for Your Blog

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Look at the questions your audience is asking

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Question: What’s one way I can generate valuable ideas for my company blog or social media?

Follow the Energy

“We do not assign content creation, and yet, we create pages every day. It all begins with where the energy flows. We send out a daily email to our staff with inspiring quotes our clients have shared that day. If one resonates with a staff member, they get to claim it and create something around it. I won’t let them write until the fire in the belly is there, so I inspire them.” — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Look at the Questions Your Audience Is Asking

“Look at the questions your audience is asking. There are a number of resources that your audience is already using to find out more about services like yours (e.g., Q&A sites, your social media pages, industry-related FAQ pages, etc.). Scanning through these will give you a wealth of information about what topics your potential customers want to know more about.” — Phil Laboon, Eyeflow Internet Marketing

Listen to Your Clients

“Client feedback is a great tool for improving your business. It’s also a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what matters to your clients, what they are interested in and what they want to know more about. By listening to your clients’ concerns and responding, you can generate a whole host of valuable topics to explore via your company blog or social media.” — David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

Survey Your Email List

“If you want to produce valuable content for your audience, surveys can help you discover what information would be valuable to them. For example, we host webinars every month. A couple weeks before the webinar, we survey our email database asking what specific topics people would like us to cover and what questions they have. This helps us provide content that our audience will value.” — Pete Kennedy, Main Street ROI

Find the Best Sources and Disconnect

“Ironically, blogging and social media inspiration doesn’t happen behind a computer, phone, tablet or any other device. Get out there, talk to the smartest people you know in your industry, have face-to-face conversations, create space to think critically (away from your daily routine) and find time to disconnect. Reading is also invaluable — but pick only the best 10 sources.” — Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, AirPR

Don’t Just Write About Yourself

“All too often, a company’s blog and its social media accounts are devoted to pushing products and services. It’s fine to share successes, but nobody is going to become a regular reader if that’s all you do. It’s good to read widely about the topics you’re interested in, and then re-pot and riff off of these. This approach provides value rather than making readers feel like they’re reading ads.” — Grant Gordon, Solomon Consulting Group

Visit Google Trends

Google Trends is an amazing tool that allows you to create relevant content. Simply go to Google Trends, look at what the world is talking about and see how your company could potentially contribute to the conversation. Not only will your content be relevant on social media channels, but you may be able to capture search traffic to your site as well.” — Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

Read Trade Publications

“A simple way to stay on top of your industry is to read as many relevant trade publications as possible. Identify industry trends, and relate them to your business and your products. Educate yourself first, then educate and engage your readers.” — Elliot Fabri, EcoCraft Homes

Borrow Ideas From Other Sites

“The great thing about being a small business is that there are a lot of bigger businesses in the world that you can emulate. Look for companies that are doing a great job with their company blogs or social media, and figure out how to replicate those ideas on your own properties. Make sure your search is broad enough to include industries other than your own.” — Brittany Hodak, ZinePak

Use Google

“One of the easiest ways to find new content is to Google around and see what your competitors are writing about. I’m not suggesting you copy their content, but usually what’s relevant to them is relevant to you too — just put your own unique spin on it.” — Emerson Spartz, Spartz

Ask the People Around You

“Look to your friends, mentors and people in your industry, and ask what content they are looking for. Take those ideas to help create great content that people can read and share.” — Amanda L., shatterbox

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Best Starting Points for Increasing Overall Happiness

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You are the people you surround yourself with

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When I look at my surroundings I often feel a sense of solitude — not necessarily in a bad way, but not in a good way either. I’ve always been the sort of person who goes after what I believe in, despite the possibility of failure. To me, the worst outcome of all is knowing that you could have achieved something, but didn’t because you never tried. I meet many people who have hopes and dreams of doing great things. But while anyone can dream, very few actually accomplish what they initially set out to do.

There is a fundamental problem with our generation and the ones that came before it: All too often we are told to abide by the norm. We are influenced to think we are happy when in reality we might want more. We are conditioned to be content with average outcomes. Here are a few ways to help you break away from this conditioning.

Think Like Those You Admire

We all have heroes we look up to. So think about what they would do if they were in your position. Would they keep working that $40K-a-year job that shows no upsides for the future? Would they keep slaving away until 3 a.m. for a frustrating boss who takes credit for all of their work? What do you want from life? Is your goal to wake up and do the same mundane thing every single day? If you wish to achieve something great, the time to do it is now. The first step is to forget everything that is holding you back from accomplishing your dreams. It’s scary at first, but it will set you free.

Forget Money

Money should never be your main prerogative. Many of my friends are bankers or consultants pulling in $150,000+ by age 25, but they hate their lives. They burn their entire youth on these jobs, but by the time they realize it, they are already heading to business school and picking up another dull corporate stunt. They get married and have kids, and then it’s too late to find out what they truly love to do. Focus on finding your passion. If you love what you do, the money will come eventually and on your terms!

Forget Fear

Many of us are scared to fail. We don’t believe we have what it takes to make things happen. Well, here is a mantra to live by: “Failure is just another opportunity to try again.” Some of the brightest minds in the world were massive failures before hitting it big, like Howard Shultz and Walt Disney. Embrace failure and you will find success soon after.

Forget Toxic Relationships

This is a big one, which breaks down into two categories.

  1. Peers: Think of the five people with whom you spend the most time. Do you like what you see? Are they awesome people doing amazing things? Or are you hanging with a bunch of unmotivated degenerates? Typically, we are a product of these five people. If your friend circle isn’t a reflection of who you want to be, it may be time to find new friends.
  2. Relationships: So you’ve been in a 1+ year relationship with someone. You aren’t quite sure this person is your lifelong partner, but you’re used to having them around and can’t imagine being single again. If after a couple of years you’re already having problems, then odds are you aren’t meant to be. My advice is to end it. Channel your newfound freedom into a passion. This will bring you happiness and fulfillment in ways that your current partner cannot.

Forget Complacency

We are creatures of comfort. It’s understandable to get comfortable with your surroundings, your monthly paycheck, vacations, etc. The problem is when we stop pushing ourselves to be the best we can possibly be. It sounds clichéd, but this is absolutely the worst possible thing you can do. When you’re comfortable, you stop achieving. You hit a plateau and you stagnate. When complacency prevails, enlightenment dissipates.

Forget the Word “No”

Say “yes” more. Saying yes will get you out of your bubble and living life the way it’s meant to be. You will meet new people and have new experiences. You never know where a new adventure will take you. Experience everything life has to offer.

Some say life is short; others live it as if they will be here forever. My theory is that life isn’t short per se, but it is definite. Of the seven billion or so people on earth, very few will be here in 100 years. Rich or poor, the one thing we all have in common is an expiration date. I have made the conscious decision to live my life to its fullest potential. It’s up to you what you want to do with yours.

At the age of 25, Dan Novaes brings a decade of entrepreneurial experience to his role as founder & CEO of MobileX Labs, the app solutions company behind Nativ, a free mobile app builder. He started his first company at the age of 15 with $1000 and built it up to over $2M/year in revenue by age 20. A graduate of Indiana’s Kelley School of Business, Dan is a self-taught entrepreneur, lifehacker, and used his skills to establish his brand across international e-commerce, consumer products, apparel, and web media industries. Dan’s companies have generated over $16M in revenue to date. For more please see Dan’s website, danielnovaes.com.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Ways to Find Forgotten Innovation

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Look to the myriad layers of corporate lore and blocks to creativity that add up to a pile of excuses

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The best and brightest teams can be rendered uninspired, stumped, scared and maybe even lazy when faced with a huge, blank whiteboard titled, “Our Next Big Thing….”

This is because brands, organizations and corporations unwittingly or not create blocks to creativity. One reason Motivate Design developed the What If Technique™, a new way to help organizations and people unstick their thinking and reframe problems as opportunities by flexing their creative muscle, was because organizations tend to build creative thinking roadblocks. This corporate lore (as we call it) — knowledge, beliefs, or traditions employees learn through the ways their organizations operate — strangles innovation.

3 Ways Corporate Lore Blocks Creativity

They See Beliefs as Fact

Blocks often occur when organizations believe that beliefs and opinions are true and treat them as facts, or even irrefutable laws. These turn into mental blocks and prevent people from seeing opportunities: “There’s no way to make renting a car or tooth brushing mind-blowing experiences.” Are you sure? How do you know? These blocks can be social, political and personal, and consciously or unconsciously inflicted. For example, when you want to rent a car, you go to a car rental place and rent one. When you want to buy a car, you go to the dealership. These two options are not only expensive, but they are limiting and are not universally perfect. That’s why two smart women took a chance on innovation, quit their day-jobs, and started a company that addressed the need for something in between. They refused to believe people didn’t have a third option.

The Zipcar founders recognized an under-served market and moved in to fill the gap by offering rental cars billable by the hour and accessible at convenient public parking locations. Once a need is identified, new ideas flow. The list of companies that found success in innovative thinking spurred by people’s needs is innumerable: Apple, Airbnb, Google, Jawbone, Amazon, etc. They did it despite the social, political and countless other beliefs positioned as facts that we’ve heard them speak about when recounting their journeys at conferences and in interviews.

They Think Ideation is Too Difficult

It’s easy to come up with a few ideas. What’s not easy is coming up with another 30 or 50 ideas without judging them. People are great at immediately analyzing ideas to determine the feasibility and solution quickly. Like physical training, training the creative muscle takes work, patience and a little discomfort. It’s hard!

We start hearing that there’s no time for innovation sessions or workshops, let alone time to think through the details of radical ideas. Let’s go back to the Zipcar example. You don’t have a car, but you need one. So, you go rent one. That’s usually the easy part. But what if more than one person needs to drive it at once? What if it breaks down? Where do you put the key when you are finished using it? This level of detail — the questions without answers, the problems without solutions — this is where the meat of great ideas come from. It’s also the area that people tend to avoid because it gets tough. Do you want Bluetooth tech in a toothbrush? Will waterproofing be an issue? Would users want to charge or exchange it? Will it be profitable? You’re just digging deeper and deeper into the problem space. It’s hard stuff, but it often allows the needed perspective to get to that awesome idea.

And awesome ideas make the ideation pains go away.

Organizations Don’t Play to Win

Are you playing to win or are you playing to not lose?

If a company is not clear on that answer, it’s hard for people to align with the overall goals. Performance reviews and rules prevent people from trying things that might fail. This all adds up to an environment where ideas are not likely to thrive. Innovation is about big wins through big experimentation. What happens when a company limits innovation and their organizational integrity is misaligned or scarce?

Here’s an example: We had a financial client that spent over $1 million with another agency to identify their target audience. We were brought in to use all prior research to recruit people who fit the persona and run user reviews to analyze the new design comps. The problem was we couldn’t find anyone who fit the persona, even with the help of professional recruiters. We discovered the persona the client was looking for didn’t exist. After some deliberation, the recruiting criteria was adjusted to align with a more realistic persona. Then we recruited participants and observed that they didn’t like the design comp. The financial information was not presented in a way they could understand, the context was lost and the new features didn’t solve their problems. This was a very scary discovery for everyone since major money and time was invested to discover what people wanted from the website. The review report went back and forth multiple times, so as not to offend anyone: the first agency; the agency’s client; the CMO, who was waiting for the results; our client — it was endless. Everyone was so worried about who would get blamed that the target audience’s critical issue (the new design wasn’t effective) was buried in the blame game.

This story epitomizes the way fear, when embedded in corporations, can block innovative thinking. The incentive for employees is to make the boss happy and use resources to justify actions or place blame elsewhere, rather than nurture an idea that solves customer problems and betters their experiences.

So, when we ask, “Why isn’t innovation happening here?” we can look to the myriad layers of corporate lore and blocks to creativity that add up to a pile of excuses (internal, sanctioned or enforced). Fortunately, we can overcome them by recognizing them, deciding to take a stand and flexing our creative muscle to come up with ways around them.

This post is excerpted from the forthcoming book Reframe: Shift the way you think, work, and innovate.

Mona Patel is Founder and CEO at Motivate Design, a user experience and design thinking agency, and the recruiting firm, UX Hires.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

12 Reasons (and Ways) to End a Business Partnership

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It happens — here's how you know it's time and how to do it properly

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Question: When (and how) should you fire a customer?

If They Cause 80 Percent of Your Headaches

“The 80/20 rule states that 20 percent of your customers are accounting for 80 percent of your headaches. Fire those customers who are zapping your time and energy, and re-invest it in the 20 percent of customers who create 80 percent of your revenue. There’s an abundance of great customers out there, and no reason to cling onto the ones who make you miserable!” — Patrick Conley, Automation Heroes

When Expectations Are Not Aligned

“If it becomes clear that your product or service is not going to be a good fit, it’s time to let go. Continuing on risks building ill will. Often, your product isn’t the right fit for a given customer, but he or she can still refer you to contacts who would be a good fit.” — John Rood, Next Step Test Preparation

After Disrespecting Employees

“If a customer repeatedly disrespects your employees, if employees are afraid to pick up when the customer calls or if the customer sucks up a disproportionate amount of your time by being indecisive or making constant (and unwarranted) requests for changes, it’s time to move on.” — Matt Mickiewicz, Hired

If They Violate Your Contract

“For coaches or consultants, a good client contract will detail how both parties can end the relationship. Follow the guidelines you set out at the beginning of the contract, and give clear notice that you are ending a contract. If your contracts don’t have this clause, get a lawyer to edit your agreement right away!” — Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

After You Know Your Worth

“You have to be aware of how much your time and effort is really worth. Once you know your value, you can better evaluate what business to pursue and which customers to seek or avoid. When you figure out your worth, it helps you zoom out of a difficult situation and look at the larger picture, so the conflict doesn’t dominate your decision process.” — Seth Talbott, CEO and Startup Advisor

When They’re More Trouble Than They’re Worth

“The customer is not always right, and all customers certainly aren’t always right for your business. The moment one of your customers becomes more trouble to manage than their business is worth, cut them loose and look for a better partner. You should also refuse to work with customers who are disrespectful to your employees. Having bad customers is the quickest way to poison office morale.” — Brittany Hodak, ZinePak

Six Months Ago

“By the time you decide to fire your customer, you probably should have done so six months ago. Are there certain customers who are taking up a disproportionate amount of your time for the amount of profit that they generate? Then it’s time to let go. However, don’t just fire the unprofitable ones. If they cause a lot of stress, get rid of them gently but firmly and find replacements.” — Emerson Spartz, Spartz

When It’s Not a Good Fit

“When a client and provider aren’t a fit, neither one wins. Let them down easy by grounding in what’s true about the situation — it doesn’t feel like the best fit, but you want to ensure they get the top-notch service they deserve. Their time and money are precious and would be better served by someone who (fill in the details). Try to recommend at least two other providers they can contact. ” — Jenny Blake, Jenny Blake

At the End of Every Year

“Identify the value of each customer and how much time you are spending on them versus what you are bringing in. At the end of every year, try to get rid of the bottom 10 percent of customers who take all your resources and provide the least ROI. As for firing them, just be honest that it is not working out, and give them the resources to easily make a transition.” — Kevin McGann, GraduationSource

When They Violate Your Client Standards

“One of my best friends fires clients for being abusive to his coworkers or employees or demanding unreasonable expectations of the company. This friend has been firing clients for a decade and has found that staying with that decision — no matter what the immediate financial consequences are — has earned him more respect within his industry than if he took on a lot of problematic accounts.” — Robby Hill, HillSouth

When the Value Is Diminished

“A client-vendor relationship is a valuable thing. If one of you no longer sees the other as valuable to the business, the relationship will disintegrate on its own. It’s tempting to keep relationships going past their “sell-by” date, but don’t. By stepping back when it was right for my customers, I’ve gotten repeat business and referrals instead of frustration and stress.” — Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media

Before Things Go Sour

“If your customer is costing you more in time, energy and stress than they are providing you in compensation, it’s time to end the relationship before things go sour. Make it as friendly as possible, with the “it’s not you; it’s me” and “lets be friends” route. You never want to burn bridges if you can avoid it.” — Benish Shah, Before the Label

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

12 Best Online Courses for Learning Practical Business Skills

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Some of the websites offer learning opportunities beyond the business world

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Question: What is your favorite online course (or site) to learn practical business skills and why?

Mixergy

“I’ve always loved the interviews on Mixergy. You get key lessons from people who have absolutely transformed industries. Each one is concise, fun to listen to and packed with powerful ideas to implement in your own business strategies. They are also available as a podcast, so it’s easy to take them with you.” — Patrick Conley, Automation Heroes

Hacker News

“I read Hacker News religiously. Even if you aren’t a programmer, it posts a ton of high-value content. In particular, keep an eye out for articles on startups written postmortem. Seeing what other founders wish they would have done in retrospect can save you from making the same mistake.” — John Rood, Next Step Test Preparation

Startups For the Rest of Us

“I’ve become addicted to the podcasts on Rob Walling’s site,Startups For the Rest of Us. The site is designed for entrepreneurs who have no intention of becoming backed by venture but have a goal of creating sustainable, profitable businesses. The hosts give practical advice on the strategies, processes and tools needed to create lasting companies. If I had to survive on one knowledge site, this would be it.” — Lawrence Watkins, Great Black Speakers

Udacity

“I am currently supporting my efforts as a product CEO by learning Python through Udacity. It has built-in quizzes and video tutorials provided by experienced professors, and it is a huge improvement over traditional textbooks. It offers a large number of valuable classes for many aspects of business for free.” — Brennan White, Cortex

B-School

“Marie Forleo’s online course is top-notch when it comes to building a profitable business in the modern marketing world. I’m a four-time graduate of her B-School program, and I highly recommend it to all my clients.” — Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media Inc.

Udemy

Udemy has more than 10,000 online courses that teach practical business skills from well-known names. I’ve used Udemy to learn very specific skills around Internet marketing. Some courses are free while others are paid. My suggestion would be to visit the site, type in the skill you’re looking to learn about and try to find a free course for a test run.” — Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

Fireside Chats

“I have to say the most surprising source I’ve found lately has been the PandoDaily Fireside Chats with some of today’s best VCs, startup CEOs and more. The information they give in these one-hour interviews is priceless for anyone starting a business, working on a startup, looking for funding or just working in business in general.” — Pablo Palatnik, ShadesDaddy.com

Coursera

“I love Coursera and have been able to take amazing courses from schools like the Wharton School of Business. The content is easy to digest — even on an extremely busy schedule. It also offers a wide variety of courses, so you can pick and choose different interest areas.” — Erin Blaskie, Next Dev Media

General Assembly

General Assembly, originally known for its in-person classes and co-working space, has built a great online course community. Subjects covered range from Web development and technology to business fundamentals, such as how to write great emails to your users.” — Andrew Fayad, eLearning Mind

Think Digital

“I just love Think Digital, produced by Justin Wise. He teaches how to best use social media to gain more traffic and more customers. Social media is still a mystery to many people, and creating a Twitter, Facebook or blog simply isn’t enough anymore. You need to use these platforms as a way to get your message out and gain a loyal following.” — Amanda L., shatterbox

Codeacademy

“My favorite online class is Codeacademy. It’s a great free resource to use when learning the basics of programing. Even the mayor of New York City has said he used it to learn how to code. My other favorite website to learn practical business skills is Jeff Bullas’ blog. I learn so much on social media marketing from his site, and he really is a leader in the field.” — Kevin McGann, GraduationSource

John Gallaugher

John Gallaugher, one of the top business school professors in the country, has some of the most high-impact online courseware I’ve seen. Concise and powerful, his site turns the hottest tech companies’ successes and failures into no-nonsense learning opportunities for all.” — Phil Dumontet, DASHED

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

8 Ways to Create a Morning Routine That Works

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Keep your alarm away from your bed

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The benefits of getting out of bed early can’t be denied — it’s why so many top executives are early risers. Our days become chaotic quite quickly, but there’s a tranquil feeling in the early mornings. When you get up early, very few people will be calling you, emailing you or texting you. With so few distractions, you can enjoy the most important meal of the day (while 31 million other Americans skip it) and then start your day off strong by working out early (which increases your mental clarity for 4-10 hours). And just imagine the time you can shave off your commute by dodging morning traffic.

Time is your most important asset. But it’s still a struggle for many to get up early enough to make the most of it. How do you go about creating a repeatable morning ritual that works? Here are eight ways I’ve found:

  1. Keep your alarm away from your bed. This makes it impossible to hit snooze. You have to get up and walk over to your phone. Since you’re up, you’re already that much more committed to staying awake.
  2. Turn all the lights on when you wake up. As soon as you get out of bed, turn on all the lights. Your body will probably be angry with you, but it’s an effective way at speeding up the process.
  3. Be grateful for something or someone. It helps to start the day off on a positive note. Think about someone or something that you’re grateful for. It can be one of your best friends or even something as simple as having electricity.
  4. Recite your goals. With so much going on in our lives, it’s hard to remember what we’re after. Recite your goals to yourself and how you’ll reach them each morning so it’s easier to stay aligned. Studies show that only 40 percent of Americans set New Year’s resolutions and only 8 percent achieve them.
  5. Meditate. Meditation is a powerful practice for providing your mind with more clarity, less anxiety, more creativity and less stress. Investing 10 minutes of your time can be extremely beneficial. There have been reports of executives who credit meditation with having the largest impact on their lives.
  6. Disconnect before bed. In an increasingly mobile world, more and more people are taking their mobile devices to bed. The blue light that emanates from these devices suppresses melatonin, making it tougher for people to sleep. Try disconnecting at least 30 minutes before bed to make it easier to fall asleep.
  7. Sleep early. Adults need at least 7-9 hours of sleep. Naturally, this means you need to sleep earlier if you want to rise early and join the 5 a.m. club.
  8. Do NOT go back to bed. Going back to bed for “just another five minutes” is an easy trap to fall into. Don’t do it.

If you haven’t tried it already, give waking up early a shot. The competitive advantage you get from doing this is almost unfair, and there’s plenty of data to show how it can help you.

Eric Siu is the CEO of San Francisco-based digital marketing agency Single Grain. He also interviews entrepreneurs on his podcast, Growth Everywhere.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Use Your Lunch Hour to Grow Personally and Professionally

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The days of investing in a “power lunch” aren’t gone — they’ve just changed

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A couple of years ago, NPR did a piece on the origin of the power lunch. In short, the famed power lunch started at the Four Seasons in NYC and was the epitome of status. Under the guise of cutting deals, VIPs (from politicians to CEOs and celebrities of the week) would contribute to the ‘scene’ of making things happen. This all occurred while they ate a meal that took less than 12 minutes to prepare, accompanied by a libation or three.

From there, the power lunch grew. And restaurants ran with it. But as expense accounts are trimmed and increased productivity is increasingly expected, the power lunch is becoming a relic of the past. Besides, who can still crank out solid work after a two-martini lunch? The media does still shed light on the occasional power lunch, like in this article about Julia Louis Dreyfus and Nancy Pelosi. But the meal has transformed and trickled down to the rest of us in a whole new way.

The power lunch is now more of an opportunity to invest time in ourselves by helping others, improving our health, or getting help. To get more out of your lunch this week, here’s what to pack:

  1. A 30-minute workout (if only a 30-minute walk), followed by a salad. Try doing this just once a week for one month. You may be surprised that this habit might stick and that you may even find yourself doing it more and more often. The Power of Habit is a great read on this topic, and may help you stick to it. Re-energizing physically is important.
  2. Positive company. Go out to lunch with people who you feel energize you. If you find yourself going to lunch with someone who enjoys complaining about work and office politics, distance yourself. Believe it or not, studies show that this type of person can put you at risk for adopting an unproductive mindset. That’s not to say that being reflective isn’t valuable, but there can be a fine line between reflective and de-energizing conversations.
  3. Your listening skills. Empower others by making yourself available to listen to what projects others are working on. Find out what they took away from their projects and see if you can apply their findings to whatever project or initiative you’re working on. By making yourself available as a sounding board, you could be helping others. The byproduct — besides learning on someone else’s dime — is longevity. Studies show that a “helper’s high” contributes to living longer. It’s the science of doing good deeds.

Once you get to the top of the summit, there will be plenty of power lunches to enjoy. In the meantime, while you’re climbing, pack your lunches powerfully with the items above.

Mary Ray is the co-founder & COO of MyHealthTeams, which owns and operates social networks for chronic condition communities. She is always on the lookout for A-players. She drives the product vision and product development of all the MyHealthTeams’ web and mobile applications, oversees marketing, UX, design. Follow her at @marycray.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

Read next: 5 Words to Include in Your Email Subject Lines (and 4 Words to Avoid)

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10 Ways to Make the Most Out of Conventions and Trade Shows

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Take a look at these 10 simple tips for getting your brand out there at trade shows

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Every startup CEO needs to sell. Nothing is more important than getting your product out in the market and finding folks to pay real dollars for it. There’s no shortage of sales approaches — emails, cold calls, networking events, catchy banner ads, knocking on doors, etc. They’re all worth a shot.

But I’ve found that for my companies, I get the best ROI from attending conferences, conventions or trade shows. In two days at a conference, you can achieve what could take months sitting at your computer, all in a fun location. I’m writing this surrounded by palm trees in Miami, where it’s 75 degrees.

As with anything else, it pays to prepare for a conference. Based on my experience, I’ve come up with 10 tips to help you get the most out of every conference you attend.

  1. Plan ahead. Figure out the conferences that work best for your business (hint: they’re rarely the hyped startup conferences like SXSW, although those are a lot of fun). You’ll be amazed by how many associations and trade groups there are in every industry. Get creative. Go where your competitors aren’t. Keep a running list of all the conferences you hear about, and prioritize that list based on two key metrics: Who you will meet and how much it will cost.
  2. Do your homework. Look through every detail on the conference website. Check out who’s sponsoring, speaking and exhibiting. If that information isn’t available on the website, look at last year’s program. Decide whether it’s a conference worth attending. And once you pull the trigger, plan for specific sessions. Leave plenty of time to walk the exhibit hall floor. I’ve found that the best time to do this is during a keynote speech you don’t mind skipping. The floor is empty, so vendors will spend more time chatting with you.
  3. Be frugal but smart. Don’t let a limited budget get in your way. Go to a few conferences as an attendee before shelling out the big bucks for an exhibit booth. Find conferences that are close to your home. When traveling, crash with friends or use AirBnB to save on hotels. Conference registration fees aren’t cheap, so always ask for startup discounts. They’re not listed on the websites, but the organizers may just hook you up. Even if they say no, they may offer to walk the floor with you to show you around and make valuable introductions.
  4. Schedule meetings. Reach out to industry experts, vendors, and conference organizers in advance. Introduce yourself and ask them for a few minutes of their time while you’re at the conference. I’ve found that sending an email and a LinkedIn message at the same time gets the highest response rates. Before sending out cold emails, check LinkedIn for mutual contacts who may be able to introduce you. And write concise messages (five sentences max)!
  5. Be persistent. You won’t hear back right away from most contacts. Conference speakers and organizers tend to be busy folks. Give it a few days, then send a follow-up note. If they don’t reply before the conference, don’t take it personally.
  6. Stay organized. I email anywhere from 50 to 200 people per conference. There’s no way to keep track of all those emails without a system. I use Google Docs spreadsheets, where I list all the key information for each contact (name, title, email, status, interesting facts, etc). Use whatever system works best for you to stay organized. And stick to it.
  7. Know what you’re looking for. On the plane to the conference, write down key objectives and critical questions. Then show up with a laser focus. It’s all too easy to get distracted by the overwhelming number of sessions, exhibit halls full of tchotchkes you’ll never use and free booze. But remember that you are there to learn and establish connections. Ask questions. Sales will come if you approach the conference with patience and humility. Companies want to help you if you’re a startup looking for advice, rather than a nagging salesman.
  8. Be social (media). You’re probably younger and more social-media savvy than the rest of the attendees. Use that to your advantage. Tweet about the conference using the official hashtags. I did that recently, and on the last day they presented a wrap-up full of attendee’s tweets. Mine kept popping up on the screen, and the presenter thanked my company for its “terrific tweets.” As you can imagine, this was great free publicity for us.
  9. Be social (-izing). Don’t get stuck on your phone or sitting in conference sessions all day. Networking events are where you’ll strike up those all-important conversations. Even if they cost an extra few bucks, sign up. Remember to bring lots of business cards, and go light on the vodka shots (unless you’re at the U.S. Drinks Conference, in which case the shots may be acceptable). And don’t just limit your socializing to the formal events. The more open you are to striking up conversations, the more doors you’ll open.
  10. Follow up. If you follow these tips, you’ll collect dozens of business cards at the conference. But that’s just the beginning. On the plane back home, write a personalized email to every contact. Briefly rehash what your company does and why it could be interesting for that contact. Send emails that are friendly, personal and short, and watch the replies fly in.

Happy hunting! Looking forward to seeing you at a conference soon.

David Adelman is the Head of Business Development and Growth Strategy at Snagajob, America’s largest marketplace connecting hourly job seekers and employers. Prior to Snagajob, David founded two video startups- Reel Tributes and ReelGenie. David graduated with an MBA from Wharton and an AB from Harvard, and lives in Washington, DC, with his wife Melissa and Shih Tzu puppy Samson.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

4 Ways to Make a Real Change Without Huge Investment

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Tap into the knowledge already available and think of ways this knowledge can be spread

startupcollective

In India, 600 million people live in rural communities, where agricultural instruction is essential. For decades, the Ministry of Agriculture would broadcast how-to videos, but they weren’t specific to the vast cultural and ethnic differences within India. The one-size-fits-all approach did not translate across the different farming communities.

Enter Rikin Gandhi, who tackled this problem from a radically different angle with the creation of Digital Green, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that gives phones, handheld cameras and videography training to farmers from different rural villages all over India, enabling them to create low-cost, how-to videos on farming strategies and techniques.

The next step was creating Farmerbook, a social media platform that hosts the how-to videos and allows farmers from all over India to connect with one another. (So far, the platform hosts more than 2,600 videos in 20 languages.) Since many farmers don’t have Internet access, Digital Green also tours the country to offer local screenings.

Gandhi helped create a tailored educational program that serves the diverse needs of India’s huge rural population by spending even less money than the government.

4 Ways to Make More with Less

Below are four key lessons to make real change without a huge investment by tapping into today’s connective possibilities.

1. Don’t rely on top-down approaches to problem solving. The best way to help people is to tap into the knowledge already available and think of ways this knowledge can be spread. Cheap technology, like smartphones and handheld video cameras, means lower production costs. The sometimes-out-of-touch authorities no longer have the monopoly on information. In India, Digital Green has been far more successful than the existing government-sponsored program. In fact, when compared with the educational farming tools offered by the government, for every dollar spent, Digital Green has persuaded seven times as many farmers to adopt new practices.

2. Listen to feedback to see where you can create more connection. This is marketing 101: Listen to your customers. But ask yourself if you are really open to hearing the needs of your clients, even if they may be about something you don’t normally do. Sometimes we filter when we listen, having a preconceived notion of what our product is and how we can be of service, but new connections are made and new companies are launched when we listen openly. Gandhi offered the farmers a needed product — the videos — but he didn’t stop after the product was delivered. He listened and realized that the first question always asked was not about the farming techniques, but about who the farmers in the videos were. This led him in a whole new direction, fulfilling the need for connection, with his creation of Farmerbook.

3. Look for where your product can be used for something other than its intended purpose. Look at where the product you already have could serve a different need. This is the beauty of open source data collection. Farmerbook was collecting all sorts of data about which farmers adopted different practices in which districts, valuable information for agricultural NGOs. Now data collected by the project and Farmerbook is saving money for NGOs by tracking the effectiveness of the projects they manage and making appropriate, informed changes to those that aren’t working.

4. Turn failure into opportunity. Rikin Gandhi didn’t go to India to create Farmerbook or Digital Green. He had no intention of building a video catalogue to help farmers. He went there on a proposed biofuel business venture. But the key to his story is that Gandhi learned valuable lessons even in the midst of failure. His eyes were open to learning about the culture of rural India, and even though his original purpose failed, he was exposed to something that led to success in another arena. In a country as large and diverse as India, it makes sense to connect those who live in similar climates and who speak the same language — they can benefit from each other’s wisdom. Gandhi wouldn’t have been able to help that problem if he hadn’t taken lessons from a failure and transformed them into the seeds for a truly breakthrough idea.

Erica Dhawan is the CEO of Cotential and keynote speaker driving innovation across generations and cultures to prepare the global workplace for tomorrow. Order her new book: Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence by Erica Dhawan and Saj-nicole Joni.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

17 Simple Ways to Master the Art of Networking

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Aim to meet a few people and begin a meaningful dialogue

startupcollective

You arrive alone. Your heart is beating a little faster than normal and suddenly all of your charisma and charm go out the window. You try to lock eyes with someone so that you can find a temporary home in what can feel like a sea of strangers. But everyone looks happily engaged in conversation.

While this might sound like your experience at a middle school dance, it’s also what many people feel when they enter a networking event. These are completely natural reactions, even for the biggest extroverts. The great news is that people go to these events to meet strangers, so you’re in the same position as everyone else. Here are 17 helpful tips for navigating a networking event and making the most of your time there:

  1. Find the bar! Whether or not you’re drinking, it’s always a great idea to position yourself at the edge of the bar. Many people run for the bar when they get to a networking event in order to get a short respite from an overwhelming entrance. If you position yourself a few steps from the bar, you can easily strike up a conversation as people turn with drink in hand.
  2. Be yourself. Networking events are meant as jumping-off points for relationship building. If you can’t be yourself, you’ll be starting off these new relationships with a lie. Don’t try to be the person you think others want to meet. Be genuine. The people you connect with when you are authentic are the ones you’ll want to stay in touch with.
  3. Set reasonable expectations. When attending an event, understand what you are there to do. Is your goal to feel out a new organization and get to know the vibe? Is it to meet five new people? Is it to meet one or two specific people? These are all reasonable expectations and it takes a little pre-planning to set these goals.
  4. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Start by spreading a large net to test out a handful of organizations and then commit yourself to a only a few as time goes on. You want to become a staple at these events. When you bounce around to too many events where no one knows you, you’re doing yourself a disservice by having to build your brand from scratch in each environment. You’ll also find that networking is a lot more fun when you become a regular. People will sing your praises to new attendees (this is always better than you doing it yourself) and you’ll see lots of familiar faces.
  5. Take notes. When you ask for someone’s card after having a great conversation, take notes on their business card after they walk away or immediately after the event. This will help you to be more specific in your follow-up.
  6. Introduce yourself to the organizer. A great way to get to know more about an organization and who is involved is to seek out the event organizer and introduce yourself. He/she can then help point you in the right direction and can introduce you to other attendees to get you off on the right foot.
  7. Treat people like friends. Would you go to a friend, interrupt his/her conversation, hand over a business card, talk about yourself and then walk away? Of course not. Treat new networking relationships as you’d treat your friendships. Build rapport and trust that business will happen.
  8. Ask great questions. The only way to get to know someone else is to ask them genuine and thoughtful questions. It’s always best to walk away from a conversation having allowed the other person to speak more than you did. Not only will they feel great about the conversation, but you’ll have gotten to know a lot about him/her, helping you plan and execute your follow-up more thoughtfully.
  9. Sharing is caring. This is no less true now than it was in kindergarten. If you are willing to share your contacts and resources, others will be more likely to help you as well. Develop a sincerity in your giving nature without expectation of something in return.
  10. Consider their network. When meeting people, it’s important to remember that even if they can’t help you directly, someone in their network probably can.
  11. Treat connecting like a puzzle. If you’re asking great questions and considering how you can help others, you’ll naturally start to draw connections between who you are talking to and others in your network. Offer to make these connections! Perhaps they are two people who have the same target client industry, or maybe you know that a contact of yours is looking for the service the other provides. Encourage both parties to follow up with you after they meet so that you can hear what came of their interaction. It will not only pay dividends for you, it will also help you hone your matchmaking skills.
  12. Don’t be a card spammer. The closest thing to you throwing all of your business cards away is handing them out to anyone and everyone you meet without them asking. If you haven’t built enough rapport with someone to encourage them to ask for your card, don’t offer one.
  13. Be specific. The more specific you can be about what you do and what others can do to help you (if they ask), the better. Tell them the names of a few specific companies you’re looking to work with.
  14. Ask yourself why they should care. Consider why the person you’re speaking to should care about what you’re saying. Craft your conversations accordingly. You only have a short time to make an impression, so try to make it favorable.
  15. Be engaged. Keep eye contact with your conversation partner. Nod your head and tilt your body towards them when you’re speaking. These small cues go a long way towards making them feel like you care, which helps you to build rapport and trust: the foundation on which you can later do business.
  16. Do NOT “work the room.” Don’t try to meet as many people as possible in a room; focus on making just a few solid connections. People can sense when you’re simply speaking with them to grab their card and go. These short interactions will not be memorable and therefore work against you. Aim to meet a few people and begin a meaningful dialogue.
  17. Don’t be afraid to join in. There is nothing wrong with joining a conversation and waiting for a natural break in the chatter to introduce yourself. In most cases, the people who are already speaking will enjoy the interruption because it gives them a chance to meet someone new. If you sense that you’ve entered into a serious discussion, it’s okay to politely excuse yourself.

Now you’re prepared to rock your next networking event and hopefully build some meaningful relationships in the process. And remember; do talk to strangers!

Darrah Brustein is a writer, master-networker, and serial entrepreneur with businesses in merchant services, networking, and financial education for kids.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

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