Trailblaze & Grow Category: Entrepreneurship

It’s Time to Rethink What Diversity Means for Your Business

When does a company achieve the “diverse” badge of honor? Is it simply when the staff photos on its website no longer favor one gender over another? When the photos show a wide variety of races?

Too many business leaders hang their hats on this physical definition of diversity, seeing it as a checkbox that will earn them good PR; paint them as a progressive, open-minded company; and wow potential investors.

Instead of a checkbox, I encourage people to think about diversity outside the box. Besides gender and race, diversity also refers to different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. When your employees bring a variety of unique ideas and opinions to the table, you can learn so much more about your customers — and it is that intel that will help you stay ahead of the competition.


Diversity Is Not Just Skin Deep

When your perception of diversity is solely based on external characteristics, you miss out on its true power. In reality, diversity goes much deeper. Below the surface, people bring different backgrounds, values, and upbringings to the table that provide companies with unique, innovative problem-solving approaches and opinions that — when leveraged productively — make your company stronger, more creative, and more relevant.

The physical definition of diversity should be constantly in the back of your mind as you vet candidates, and your vetting process should be the same whether you are interviewing a man, a woman, a person of color, a younger person, an older person — the list goes on. But it should not necessarily be your top criterion when making hiring decisions.

Throughout the hiring process, your primary focus should be on skills, abilities, and how well the person will fit into the company culture. Hiring solely for physical diversity — checking that box — will not always give you the best person for the job. You also want to make sure that not everyone at your company is marching to the same drummer, so to speak. There should be conflicting opinions among your staff, and you want your team to collaboratively work through these conflicting opinions. It is when you have achieved this deeper level of diversity that creative solutions emerge that set companies apart.

It is like cooking a stew. If you keep adding salt and pepper as it cooks, the stew will not taste any better. But once you toss in the rosemary, thyme, basil, and paprika, the kitchen fills with glorious smells, and the stew ends up being delicious.


Three Attributes That Contribute to True Diversity

As you set out on your journey to foster true diversity in your company, challenge yourself when looking for the best candidates. Focus on these three characteristics to dig deep and find the perfect people for your team:

1.  Education

So many companies we have worked with are jam-packed with people with impressive alma maters. In some cases, the entire leadership team went to the same university. While that might look great on paper, once you walk into a room with these company leaders, they are all on the same page and agree on what needs to be done. But if you take a step back and really examine the situation, they lack external perspectives and conflicting viewpoints, so they find themselves stuck in neutral with no clue how to jumpstart their growth.

Of course you want people with impressive educational accolades from Ivy League schools, but you also need balance. You need to also hire people who went to public schools and received a completely different (yet still valid and useful) education and overall academic experience. They will have fresh ways of looking at things, which is exactly what your company needs.

2.  Socioeconomic Background

Before we dive into this characteristic, it is important to note that you should not ask job candidates about their household income when they were growing up, their current net worth, or other personal financial matters. However, you can read between the lines.

Did they work while they were in college? Did they rely on scholarships? Do they travel a lot? Or have they never been on an airplane? The ideal makeup is a mix of people who grew up bootstrapping their way to where they are today, as well as people who did not have to. Having a healthy balance of varying socioeconomic backgrounds will yield a mixed bag of opinions, work styles, and problem-solving approaches.

3.  Values and Beliefs

Again, before we dive into this one, remember that you cannot ask job candidates about their religious beliefs. However, you can analyze where they grew up and how they spend their free time. Do they volunteer? What are they passionate about? Did they grow up in a rural or urban area?

There is no question that rural and urban communities in America hold tight to vastly different beliefs and values. In order for your company to become a household name across all communities, make sure you have all communities represented on your team.

Also, while it might seem appealing to solely hire workaholics who pursue little to no passions and hobbies outside of work, you also need people who have lives and passion projects outside of work. They will bring in a broad spectrum of interests, leading to innovative approaches and ways of thinking.


While physical diversity is very important, it is not the end-all and be-all of company diversity. It goes far deeper below the surface. Hiring people from different backgrounds can help businesses thrive. It is time to rethink what diversity means for your business and how you can truly embrace it to your company’s advantage.


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Pivot Hard: Why Decisiveness Leads to Better Partnerships

As a CEO or founder, you have spent years working long hours to make your company a reality. Subsequently, you know the ins and outs better than anyone else, which is why it can be hard to fully rely on your newly hired consultant.

After hiring an outside specialist, it is natural to feel like it will take at least several months to get him or her up to speed before you can trust any input and advice. However, a lengthy waiting period can prove to be a detrimental mistake.


Act Now

Do not doubt yourself. If you are confident in your hiring decision, then the consultant will have valuable input and advice on day one. The ideal hire should come with an impressive pedigree and demonstrate the ability to spearhead marketing strategies that drive results. Your job is not to question the value of these strategies; it is to determine whether they are feasible to undertake with your company’s resources.

There are high risks when it comes to waffling and keeping all available strategies on the table. Either a competitor can beat you to the punch, or you can end up losing valuable time. In some cases, you might completely miss the boat on a marketing opportunity.


Here are three situations that can be avoided by being more decisive:

1.  Driving in the Slow Lane
It is quite common for clients to spend some time debating the positioning strategies that we recommend. In one instance, however, a client went overboard. In the time it took the client to think over our suggestions, the competition got a ton of media coverage and made waves while our client was left in the dust. Three years later, the competitor enjoyed a phenomenal exit. In the meantime, our client was in the process of pivoting to a new market.

Consultants use their expertise to pick the strategy that best aligns with the goals of your company. There is nothing wrong with thinking things over, and it is critical to fully understand how to implement the strategy. At some point, though, you will have to trust your consultant’s recommendation.

2.  Time Well Wasted
In a particularly memorable instance, a client was not hitting its numbers, so the company decided — against our recommendations — to replace its SEO agency. When the client transitioned, traffic began to plummet, and the downward trend only continued as the remaining individuals spent more time on fire drills and finding ways to look busy and valuable.

Afterward, we were able to use data to illustrate that the failure came from the affiliate program. The client needed to reallocate resources, and it took three months for us to regain the SEO losses. Initially, the company balked at our advice because we had not yet gained an understanding of the intricacies of its organization. What the client failed to realize, though, was that metrics-based business decisions remain consistent regardless of the organization.

3.  Missing the Boat
When opportunities come knocking, be ready. We had a client prepped for an opportunity to appear in The Wall Street Journal. When the business leaders got involved, they decided to change the direction of the story to what they thought would be “something more interesting.” After the change, they stalled and demanded a “better” reporter, and they refused to answer questions they thought were uninteresting. Following a few interviews, we lost the feature article, and the reporter moved on to a different story.

Throwing away an opportunity because it is not perfect is like sabotaging your big break before it even starts. Keep in mind that opportunities are rarely perfect, so take the ones that come along and use them to their full extent.


Trust your consultant. After all, you made the decision to hire him or her. However, blind trust can be just as harmful as a lack of trust. To avoid this, ask for data and qualitative backup for recommendations, and stay in the loop. While it is tempting to think you can gain amazing insights on your own by reading 800-word articles online, your consultant has a thorough knowledge of his or her expertise area. And you know your company best. With those powers combined, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you can achieve together.

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Save Time

Analysis to Help You Stop Wasting Valuable Time

How useful would it be for you to know exactly where your time was best spent? How would it improve your productivity if you could quickly and reliably determine which customers were most lucrative for your business, and which ones were costing far more than they were worth holding on to? Fortunately, the ability to determine exactly that was established more than 100 years ago.

Back at the dawn of the 20th century, an Italian economist realized that he could mathematically calculate the fact that 20% of Italian citizens owned about 80% of the nation’s wealth. This equation proved to be valuable in analyzing far more than just the wealth distribution in Renaissance Revival-era Italy. In fact, the so-called “Pareto Principle” has been (and continues to be) used as an effective method of measuring distributions of wealth, effort, sales productivity, and countless other applications. This is because there is a fundamental truth — what some might call a philosophy — associated with the 80/20 equation discovered by Vilfredo Pareto.

What is the fundamental philosophy of Pareto?

At it’s core, the philosophy of the Pareto Analysis is based on an understanding of the fact that a relatively small percentage of input is responsible for a significant amount of the output. More specifically, that 80% of output can be attributed to 20% of input. This, of course, works when analyzing wealth distribution (as it was originally used by Pareto), but it also works in a number of other applications as well.

Perhaps the most compelling application — at least in our entrepreneurial and capitalistic society — is use of the Pareto Analysis when assessing productivity. More specifically, an entrepreneur, or salesperson, can usually attribute about 80% of their profit (or sales volume) to about 20% of customers. On the other hand, about 20% of customers often take up about 80% of the bandwidth available to an entrepreneur or a sales team.

The Pareto Analysis can be applied to any number of things:

  • Customers – both the time demands and their profitability
  • Daily tasks – where your time is spent productively and unproductively
  • Wealth – where the majority of your wealth is coming from, and where the majority of your expenses are derived
  • Anything else you can think of!

Using Pareto Analysis to become more productive

In order to use Pareto Analysis effectively, you must first be willing to accept a couple of facts: The first is the fact that some of your clients or customers may not be worth your time. Even if they are paying you what seems to be a valuable amount, the reality is that the opportunity costs associated with highly-demanding clients may be preventing you from gaining more worthwhile (in the long term) clients. The second thing you must be willing to accept is all work is not equal.

Not all clients are worth keeping. Many businesses, particularly those that are just starting out, are reluctant to turn down any work that comes their way. After all, money is money, right?

In fact, taking on a client that continues to be unprofitable or is demanding a disproportionate amount of your company’s time can ultimately prevent you from developing new, more profitable business elsewhere. You can use the Pareto Analysis to determine which clients are taking a disproportionate amount of your time (so you can try to phase them out) while also helping identify which clients are producing the vast majority of your revenue (so you can nurture and grow those clients as well).

Some of the work you do isn’t worth the effort. The bottom line is that you simply cannot do everything, and you certainly cannot do everything well. As such, you should use the Pareto Analysis to determine which specific aspects of your day are producing the majority of benefit, then work to eliminate or delegate/outsource anything that does not fall into that category.

Try using the Pareto Analysis yourself, and see if you can make your day more productive by eliminating the time consuming, unproductive tasks and focusing on the high-yield tasks.

Fundatmental Truths

Five Fundamental Truths from an Entrepreneur

April marks the 2-year anniversary for Trailblaze Growth Advisors. In that time, I have learned a great deal about what it means to be an entrepreneur and what it takes to succeed when I am directly responsible for my ultimate success or failure.

Being an entrepreneur is the most difficult but rewarding experience I have ever embarked upon. Looking back, I am so glad that I decided to make the difficult leap, and I hope that the fundamental truths I learned along the way can help other aspiring entrepreneurs on their journey.

According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, the number of new businesses started by entrepreneurs is starting to increase to levels not seen since before the 2008 Great Recession, and furthermore is trending toward the massive numbers (in excess of 85%) seen during the boom times of the 1990s. In addition, the Wall Street Journal has reported that about 54 million Americans – or about one-third of the workforce – are now freelancers or contractors, and that number is expected to increase over the next few years.

Clearly, the trend is moving toward Americans charting their own path through entrepreneurialism, and my hope is that the lessons learned by previous and current generations of entrepreneurs – myself included – can be used to the benefit of the new generation.

With that said, the following are five fundamental truths I have learned over the past years as the founder of Trailblaze Growth Advisors.

Prepare for the leap

There is no question that making the transition from a full-time salaried employee to an entrepreneur with no income guarantee is scary. If you are fortunate enough to still have a “regular” job, make the most of this time by preparing for the leap to full-time entrepreneurialism.

Take this time to aggressively network with your target market. Make as many connections as you can, and try to establish yourself well before actually giving up the regular paycheck. If at all possible, try to start your entrepreneurial venture as a part-time project while keeping your job, so that you can make the transition as smooth as possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

One truth that I actually found to be a bit surprising at first is how willing people are to help. The concept of paying it forward is alive and well, particularly among fellow entrepreneurs.

You should learn as much as you can from experts in your field and anyone else that has experience and expertise that could benefit you and your business. The key, of course, is to ask for their help. Don’t be afraid to ask, and remember to return the favor when you are in a position to help an aspiring entrepreneur sometime in the future.

Always remember that you are the face of your company

As the founder of your company, you are the brand – particularly during the early stages. In addition, you are the Chief Sales Person at your company. Every major deal will ultimately involve you, even if you have hired a sales team. For people who are natural introverts (like myself), this can be a challenging truth, but ignoring it, or pretending that it isn’t the truth, is simply counterproductive.

You need to always be ready to give an elevator speech and a sales pitch. If you are an introvert, that just means you need to put more effort into practicing.

Don’t sacrifice your being

This is perhaps the hardest lesson to actually execute. When you are starting a business, you are going to be working nights, weekends, and holidays. In order to differentiate yourself from your better-established competition, you are going to have to work far harder than them. However, it is absolutely imperative that you also reserve time for you. Stay active and exercise, meditate (if you don’t meditate, you need to learn—it is an absolutely essential practice for an entrepreneur’s mental health), make time to spend with family and friends, and do your best to maintain a hobby you genuinely enjoy.

The importance of making time for yourself cannot be overstated. If necessary, write it down into your schedule as an appointment to yourself!

Balance being flexible and knowing when to say no

When I was first starting out, I wanted to accommodate every client that came my way. Conceptually this makes sense, since the need to generate revenue for the business is paramount in the early stages. However, the reality is that not every client and customer is going to be worth the time it would take to provide them with the level of customer service you want to provide. Not all customers are profitable, so learning how and when to say “no” is an essential part of being a successful entrepreneur.

Hopefully you can learn something from the fundamental truths I learned during my first two years of Trailblaze Growth Advisors. It has been a great ride, and I am proud to say that Trailblaze Growth Advisors was named a “rising star” of VentureScape’s Office Hours Class of 2015 by John Backus.  Feel free to reach out to me any time at

Photo credit: Julian Partridge / Foter / CC BY-SA