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4 Surefire Ways to Grow Your Circle of Influence

The ability to influence others through words or behavior is an incredibly valuable tool in your relationship toolbox. After all, building a business is more than creating a new product — it’s about building relationships.

“Opportunities are tied to people and people like to work with others that share common interests that they can trust,” says Olivia Gamber, a talent manager and founder of OccupationalOlivia, a website that explores innovative ways to build career success. “Being good at your job isn’t enough in today’s highly competitive environment. You also have to build relationships [and] be able to navigate complex corporate matrices.”

If you don’t think relationships or influencing power are important, ask yourself when was the last time that a salesperson forced you to buy something you didn’t intent to buy, or the last time your friends or parents coerced you into choosing X when you really wanted Y.

The answer is never. Nobody forces you to do anything. Even in the military, there are ranks and orders but, again, there is also choice. Of course, along with choice comes consequence, so if you prefer not to be incarcerated for insubordination then making the “right” choice is definitely preferable.

Think of your circle of influence as the range in which opportunity lies. You can locate the opportunity, build upon it and make connections between different ones the larger your circle expands. If you want to expand your circle of entrepreneurial influence (or any influence, for that matter), try these four strategies:

1. Do what you say.

Nothing erodes personal credibility faster than a lack of trust. Building trust is fundamental to increasing your circle of influence. If you possess the skill to execute project A and the will to do so ethically, then others’ trust in you will increase. Just be consistent because once you break that trust it’s like taking a piece of paper, wrinkling it up and then trying to flatten it out again — it never actually returns to its original state.

2. Choose your battles.

Some fights are worth fighting. Others aren’t. Choosing the ones that serve a purpose higher than yourself builds your influencing power in two ways. First, nobody likes hearing the same voice complain over and over again. Second, if you fight only when it’s your self-interest at stake, then the message people really hear is that you only care about one thing (hint: not them). So the question then becomes, why should they listen to you?

3. Be present.

There’s nothing worse than being in a conversation with somebody who is checking his or her watch or email. When you’re engaged in conversation, put away the laptop and turn off the TV. If you have an appointment and are worried about missing it, set an alarm on your phone or ask to schedule another time to talk. The takeaway is when you make time for people, they’ll make time for you. When people make time for you, it means they’re listening — and you’re influencing.

4. Grow yourself.

Personal development is a building block for extending your influential reach. After all, you can only lead or influence others to the extent you can lead yourself.

The credibility that accompanies positive intent and demonstrable behavior is irrefutable. If you want to extend your circle of influence and get the best out of people, start by getting the best out of yourself. People follow others whom they trust, like and respect, so to the extent to which you align your intentions with communication and behavior, the more your circle will grow.

By Jeff Boss (Contributor)

Sleep makes us healthier, more productive and less stressed. But when starting a new business, it seems like sleep is the least important thing on a serious to-do list.

The reality is that not getting enough sleep is only a detriment to your success, especially when your brain is too tired to make major decisions. Keep these sleep habits in mind when you’re working to launch your company.

Related: A Device to Help You Sleep Better Raises Almost $500K in Two Days on Kickstarter

• Give the bar a wide berth. Avoid drinking alcohol for about three hours before you go to bed.
• Turn your phone off. Phones, tablets and computers should be shut down ahead of hitting the hay. The gadgets will only keep your brain feeling wired. Read a book or magazine instead
• Keep a journal. Starting a company is a stressful time, so write out anything that’s bothering you.
• Create a soothing atmosphere. Ocean sounds, cool room, comfortable pillows — whatever helps you relax.
• Go for a run. Exercise is key in creating healthy sleep patterns and helps regulate your body rhythms.
• Sorry, no sugar. A snack with protein and fat before bed will help you sleep better — a sugar high and subsequent crash will only disrupt your rest.
• Let there be light. Once you get up, bask in the sun and orient yourself for the day.

How much sleep do you get each night? Let us know how the lack of sleep affects you in the comment section below.

By Nina Zipkin

Is leadership for you?

The most important thing to figure out is whether you will like the kind of work you will be doing. Being a positional leader means having responsibility for the performance of a group. That’s different work from anything else you’ve done.

If you like the work, you’re more likely to be happy and successful. If you don’t, every day will be a struggle. That’s important because, in most organizations, if you choose to be “promoted” there’s no going back.

These three questions aren’t about skills. We can teach you skills. What we can’t teach you is aptitude and mindset.

Do you like helping other people succeed?

That’s what leaders should do. If you like doing it, you’re more likely to enjoy a leadership role and to be successful in it. If you don’t enjoy it, being a leader will be hard and frustrating for you.

There’s a bonus, too. You’re evaluated based on the performance of the group. Their success is your success, so helping the team and team members succeed is good for you, too.

Are you willing to talk to people about their performance or behavior?

If you’re responsible for the performance of a group, it’s your job to make sure that everyone is pulling their weight. If they’re not, you need to talk to them about the situation and then work out a solution.

These conversations can be hard, but they’re easier and more likely to end well if you have the conversation as soon as you notice an issue. If the thought of talking to someone about poor performance paralyzes you, you will probably wait until you screw up your courage. By then the conversation may be harder. The longer you wait, the harder it will get.

If you’re willing to talk to others about performance and behavior, you can learn how to increase the odds of a successful outcome. Otherwise, the work of a leader will be very hard for you.

Are you willing to make a decision and live with it?

If you’re responsible for the performance of a group, a lot of bucks stop with you. If you have trouble making decisions, every decision will make your job uncomfortable. If you’re willing to make the decisions appropriate for your job, you can learn how to make better decisions, but you can’t learn to be willing to decide.

Why these questions matter.

If you’re responsible for the performance of a group, these questions are about the work, the things you have to do every day. Forget about the salary and the benefits and the prestige and the perks. If you enjoy the work, you’ve got a shot at being a great leader.

Do you enjoy being a leader? Let us know why in the comment section below.

By Wally Brock

Meetings will destroy your business — but they might also just save it.

Sure, that might be two contradictory statements, but this is entrepreneurship and we don’t live by the same rules as the rest of society. Get over it or get out while you still can!

Where was I? Oh yeah, meetings. They suck.

Like, not just “I’m-so-bored-I-could-eat-this-table” suck, but “my-business-that-I’ve-spent-years-building-is-imploding” kind of suck.

As Dave Barry said, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”

Meetings eat up the most valuable resource your team has: time.

A one-hour meeting with five of your team members is actually five hours of lost productivity. Not to mention the 30 minutes of lost productivity before and after the meeting for each person present, and untold thousands of dollars can be lost in a single meeting.

Famed businessman Peter Drucker once said, “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.”

I couldn’t agree more. Meetings are often just a way for the boss to feel productive while killing the productivity of everyone else. The boss walks away from the meeting finally understanding all the moving parts of his or her organization while the other members walk away with more confusion and annoyance.

Now, maybe I’m being a bit overdramatic. Meetings are a necessary evil. Things get accomplished. Plans are forged. Tasks are assigned. The business moves forward.

So, as an entrepreneur or other business-type, how do we reconcile these two opposing forces? How do we benefit from meetings but avoid letting them kill productivity?

The key is: meetings must be efficient.

At BiggerPockets.com, the company I’ve been a part of for several years, we’ve made the following five rules of engagement for meetings and we’ve seen an incredible lift in productivity. I know it’ll do the same for your business. I find it best to phrase each as a question, so let’s get to them:

1. Does this meeting have an agenda?

Meetings without agendas are just coffee breaks, but coffee breaks don’t allow you to build the next billion-dollar company.
Every planned meeting must have a detailed, written agenda that states the following:

• Who is leading the meeting?
• What is the goal of the meeting?
• How will we know the meeting is over?

This agenda must be emailed out prior to the meeting or the meeting is assumed “canceled.” (Shout out to J Scott, author of The Book on Flipping Houses, for this tip!).

2. Can this meeting be done over email?

Most meetings are useless, not because of the content being discussed, but the medium by which they are held.

I believe the goal of most meetings could be accomplished via email. For example, if the purpose of your next meeting is to go over what a team member has done and plan their next task, you don’t need to be in the same room to make those decisions. Send out an email and ask your team members for a status update.

Another incredibly effective way to bypass meetings are through business chat rooms, such as HipChat. These chat rooms allow team members to collaborate and share ideas, stories and files without needing to “have a meeting.” HipChat alone probably saves our company a 100 hours a month in avoided meetings.

If the meeting must be done in person or over video conferencing, so be it. But here’s a helpful tip: do all meetings standing up.
Yes, physically.

All meeting members must stand on their two feet the entire time. Implement this one trick to your company and watch how fast and efficient (and healthy) your meetings become.

3. Does everyone need to be there for this meeting?

A common mistake many make is to try and invite everyone on their team to a meeting, thinking that a larger “meeting of the minds” will produce better results.

It likely won’t.

The more people who attend a meeting, the longer that meeting will go and the less that will be decided. Instead, only invite people to a meeting who must be there to make actionable decisions, and fill in the rest of the team via email.

4. Does this meeting give specific action steps?

To transform a meeting from “time killer” to “business grower,” a meeting must result in clearly defined action. If anyone in a meeting leaves without a clear next actionable step, they didn’t need to be there in the first place.

I can’t tell you the number of meetings in my life where, at the end of the meeting, we simply say “OK, sounds good, let’s meet again next week at the same time.” No action steps were taken. No decisions made. Often these are just “progress report meetings” where one person shares stats and everyone pats themselves on the back or walks out ashamed. Progress report meetings should be done via email. Meetings are for deciding on action.

Make sure every person at the meeting has action steps that they are responsible for following the meeting. Better yet, follow the methodology of The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan and make sure each team member has only one action item, and make it a big one. Each “action step” should extend a full week or longer, not a day or two.

For example, no meeting should end with “OK, let’s check back tomorrow and see the progress.”

Give your team larger action steps and let them work for a week or longer on that big task. Stop micromanaging their jobs through daily meetings and destroying creativity.

5. How will we know the meeting is over?

If you successfully have asked yourself the four previous questions, number five should be simple: end the meeting successfully and succinctly.

To do this, you must know exactly when the meeting is over, and I don’t mean a specific “time.” The meeting is over when the goal listed on the agenda has been met, and not a minute longer (or shorter.)

After you’ve accomplished the goal of the meeting, get back to real work.

Your company needs that more than it needs meetings.

Meetings are a necessary evil in some case. What tips do you have for keeping meetings focused and fun? Leave your tips in the comment section below.

By Brandon Turner

Gallup has just published their “State of the American Manager” report. “Managers,” according to Gallup, are people who are “responsible for leading a team toward common objectives.” The vast majority of managers are “wrong for their role” and they account for “70 percent of the variance in employment engagement across business units.” If you didn’t know it before, picking the right people to lead your teams will go a long way toward achieving great performance.

According to Gallup, “talent is the most powerful predictor of performance.” I disagree. I’d rather look at prior behavior. “Talent” is a guess. Behavior is reality. To understand what behavior I think is important you need to know my assumptions.

Important Assumptions about New Leaders

Assumption number one: Leadership is a different kind of work from the work of an individual contributor. The main difference is that the leader is evaluated based on the performance of others.

Assumption number two. Most people don’t change their basic psychological make-up much after they leave young adulthood. So you can use the way people have acted in the past as a guide to how they will act after they become leaders.

With those assumptions in mind, here are four kinds of behavior to look for in people you are considering moving into a leadership role.

Look for a positive work ethic

“As Lee Iacocca said, “The speed of the leader is the speed of the team.” You want people as managers who set the example.
Look for the willingness to confront others about performance or behavior

This is one of the most important things that a leader will do and to be done well it must be done quickly. People who aren’t willing to confront others when necessary will put off the tough conversation and their performance and behavior issues will get worse. We can teach people to do this well, but we can’t teach them to be willing to do it.

Look for the willingness to make a decision and be accountable for results

In most situations, team leaders are the default deciders for their teams. Again, this is something we can teach you to do well, but we can’t teach you to be willing to decide and then be accountable for results. You have to show up with that.

Look for behavior that indicates a joy in helping others succeed.

This is a biggy. Great leaders, especially first line leaders, love to help other succeed. That’s the kind of team leader you want throughout your organization.

Bottom Line

You can poke, prod, test and hope to wind up with the right talent. Or you can observe prior behavior as a guide to how a new leader will perform.
What qualities or behaviors do you look for in a manager? Leave your comments below

By Wally Brock

She called in sick her first day, was late on her second, and by the third she had to be fired. Not exactly what I expected after hearing all the wonderful things about working with virtual assistants (VAs).

Authors such as Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) and Chris Ducker (Virtual Freedom) proclaim great things about working with overseas virtual assistants, and they are not wrong. Virtual assistants can help you get more done because they work on the administrative tasks on your to-do list while you work on the high-value tasks that only you can do. (See my previous article, “Want to Make $1,000 or More Per Hour?”)

But success with a virtual assistant doesn’t come naturally. Like any skill, it must be learned, developed and mastered. Over the past two years, I’ve hired several virtual assistants and had both good and bad experiences, including finding Dave, my rockstar VA who has become one of the most valuable team members at BiggerPockets.

Finding rockstar VAs to help you get more done is not rocket science. Hopefully, these three tips will help you find the perfect assistant for your team.

1. Don’t hire a VA until you are ready.

One of the first things I realized when I hired that first “disaster VA” was that I wasn’t ready for an assistant. I didn’t know exactly what that assistant would do, I just assumed they would jump in and start helping. I also had very little time to train that assistant, so in the end, there was nothing for them to do.

Before hiring your first assistant, be sure to have a clear idea of what tasks they might be able to take over from you. I now use Evernote to keep track of every repetitious task I do each day, week or month so I can decide later what can be outsourced. When I get enough stuff on that list, I’ll hire an assistant to help manage those tasks.

2. Create solid systems first.

I’ve found the greatest success when I’ve created a system, mastered that system myself, created a training program for that system and then handed it off. If you’ve read The E Myth by Michael Gerber, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

For example, each week I record an episode of The BiggerPockets Podcast and need to have it edited. At first, I did all my editing myself, but once I mastered that entire process, I made a training video showing exactly how I edit the podcast. I then turned that video into a written training manual.
I handed the system off to my assistant Dave and trained him on exactly how to do it. Dave now edits every podcast, and I don’t even need to review them to ensure they are right. They always are.

If Dave decided to leave at some point (don’t do it, Dave!), I could easily hire another assistant for that same role and use the existing training material, resulting in a much less stressful turnover.

3. Hire like your company depends on it.

Most virtual assistants are going to be terrible. It’s not because they are virtual assistants, though. It’s because they are human.
If you’ve ever had to hire employees before, you’ve probably discovered that less than 10 percent of applicants are worth hiring. Most are simply not going to cut it. So why do we expect virtual assistants to be any better?

You wouldn’t hire a lead developer for your company after a five-minute Skype interview, so why would you hire a VA with that process? Sure, the developer might cost significantly more, but in reality, the assistant is more important to the future of your company. No, you didn’t read that wrong. An assistant should be your number-one most important hire because they are freeing up your time, which is worth far more than the developer or whoever else you might be hiring.

So treat your virtual assistant role like it’s the most important role in your company — because it just might be.

A virtual assistant can change your life, giving you back your day so you can work on the tasks that will take your business to incredible new places. However, if you think you can simply hire any ol’ virtual assistant and improve your business, you are naive. Instead, get prepared, take the role seriously, build solid systems, create in-depth training and hire only the best.

Do you have any other tips for hiring a virtual assistant? Leave them in the comments section below.

By Brandon Turner

We may be in the Digital Age, but there’s something about having a physical business card that continues to be useful, particularly when networking and trying to bring on new clients.

When presented the right way, a business card can serve as a powerful branding tool and allow people to quickly remember who you are and what you have to offer.

Use these business cards tips to showcase your professionalism and attention to detail.

Opt for a professional design. Your business card should look consistent with your other printed materials. Generic designs will make your business card blend in with the crowd. Instead choose a design that reflects your personal or professional brand. Hire a reputable designer for the most polished layout.

Prioritize readability over creativity. Decorative, whimsical and heavily styled fonts can be beautiful, but difficult to read. Simple fonts are best. Keep the font size large enough so that potential customers don’t have to squint or take out their glasses to read your contact information.

Choose the layout wisely. The traditional size for business cards is 3.5 inches by 2 inches. Odd or die-cut shapes are memorable but difficult to store. If you print any information on the back, make sure it is vital. For example, a person who does business in the U.S. and Japan may want to have his information printed in English on one side and Japanese on the other.

Avoid garish colors. A pop of color can make your business card stand out, but ensure it stands out for the right reasons. Choose a color that won’t distract from your logo or business information. For easy reading, print text in a dark hue such as black, navy, or a dark shade of gray.

Include multiple ways to contact you. At a minimum you should include three pieces of information: your name, phone number, and e-mail address. If space permits, include your company name, address and website. Fax numbers aren’t as relevant as they once were and can be omitted. It’s also not necessary to print the links to all your social networking sites. The key is to keep it simple, yet professional.

Double-check for typos. Misspellings and errors tarnish your personal brand. Potential customers will judge you on the quality of your business card. Attention to detail is important. Reprint your cards as soon as your information changes. It’s best not to handwrite updated information on the back of your card just to save a few dollars. Your business cards should always be up-to-date and presentable.

Never leave home without your business cards. Business cards are called business cards for a reason ? to generate business. Store your cards in a nice holder to keep them fresh and protected. Make it a habit to keep a stack of cards in your car, desk, handbag and briefcase. You never know when a casual encounter may turn into a business opportunity. When you attend business meetings, hand the receptionist your card each time so he or she can announce your name and company properly.

Don’t hand someone your card too early in a conversation. In most cases, it’s best to wait for someone to request your card before giving it out. If you offer your card too early in the conversation, you may appear too forward or pushy. Build a rapport and offer your card before you finish your conversation. To segue say, “May I give you my card?” Hand the recipient your business card with the words facing their direction. When you receive someone’s business card, show interest and take a moment to read it over before putting it away.

Use business cards to remember names. If you’re in a meeting and you’ve just exchanged business cards with others in the room, place the cards on the table in front of you so you can remember names and distinguish who is speaking.

One of my pet peeves is business cards that don’t tell you what the person does. What is one of your DON’TS for business cards? Leave your comment below.

By Jacqueline Whitmore