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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Five project management tips

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Taking on a big project can be intimidating. Most big projects are not simple to manage. There are many pieces to the puzzle, and the workflow is never completely linear. Projects usually involve multiple people and have several deadlines that have to be met in order for the next part of the project to move forward.

Here are five tips to help you successfully manage your next big project and keep the ball rolling.

Visual Project Mangement software, DropTask.

Visual Project Mangement software, DropTask.

1. Break the project up into categories or key components. More than likely there are parts of the project that can be worked on at the same time as others, and there will be other critical components that have to wait until others are completed. Let’s say you are launching a new product. One key component of that will be packaging design, and the other key component will be product design. Each one can be worked on simultaneously, but there are also certain aspects of the packaging design that can’t be completed until the product design is finalized. So, don’t let the completion dictate the start of one project when it can be started simultaneously.

2. Map out key due dates. Record every critical due date into your calendar. Going back to the product launch example. Many different things have to fall into place to get the product to market: product finalization, packaging finalization, turning in art work to the printer, producing the product, packaging the product, and delivering the product to distribution. All of these key time sensitive stages of the product launch have to happen at just the right time. So, recording down all the critical dates is crucial to a successful project.

3. Know who is responsible for what. Each key component of a project will have a person responsible for getting that done. It’s your job as the project manager to follow up with them and make sure things are moving forward. If getting packaging printed for your new product launch is a critical step you need to ensure proper communication is made with the printer to ensure they will be able to complete their end of the project on time. Frequent follow-ups are key to make sure a project happens on time.

4. Visual Project Management. I’ve mentioned KanBan in the past for visual task management, and I recently discovered DropTask for visual project management. I have been putting both of them to good use for the project I am currently managing. DropTask allows you to visually see each component of your project, assign deadlines, importance, and people to particular tasks. The white board method works well too in a small office, but the nice thing about DropTask is you can update it straight from your computer, make notes, and communicate with other internal team members involved with the project.

5. Communication is key. The most important component of successful project management is communication! As the project manager it’s your job to communicate with the team and make sure each aspect of the project is moving forward, and remind people of critical deadlines, and offer support if needed.

Project management can seem daunting, but as long as a bit of structure is put into place, managing the project will be easy. That doesn’t mean it still won’t be stressful at times, but with timelines in place, roles defined, and a visual course mapped out, your project is sure to be a success.

How to enjoy Thanksgiving as an entrepreneur  

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Family time on Black Friday

Family time at the park, last Thanksgiving: on Black Friday.

As an entrepreneur you are rarely not working. Even when you are not in front of a computer your mind is always thinking about work, your gears are always churning (thinking of new ideas), and you are likely obsessively checking your phone to monitor social media, your Black Friday sale, and to check email. All of those things can really put a damper on family time around the holidays.

You are likely hard on yourself about taking time off, but Thanksgiving (and the holidays that follow) should be the one time of year that you allow yourself a pass and take some time off to rejuvenate and spend time with loved ones. Being intentional about taking time off will help you recharge so you come back to work refreshed, and your family will appreciate it as well.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy Thanksgiving:

Acknowledge you need to take a break. Chances are you have been working long and hard all year long. You deserve a break, and what better time to take a break than when the rest of the business world slows down a bit? It’s the time of year that most offices close down for at least a day, some take off another day or two to spend with family. You have been working tirelessly, so realize that taking a break is a good thing. A little bit of time off just might be what you needed to go back to work refreshed and with renewed energy. We could all use a little bit of renewed energy, right?

Schedule your Tweets, Facebook posts, and set an email auto responder. The scheduling feature available in Twitter and Facebook will make your life much easier during the Thanksgiving holiday. Having a Black Friday sale? Schedule your Tweets and Facebook posts ahead of time, as well as your email blast. This way your not spending time in front of your computer when you could be sleeping in and spending time with your family. It will also help you avoid distractions such as responding to emails and working on projects. Set auto responders on your email accounts too so your vendors and customers know to expect a delayed response. Chances are they are at home relaxing anyway, so there isn’t much to worry about.

Quarantine your devices. If you don’t have the discipline to leave your phone in your pocket you might want to have a family member put your smart phone in quarantine for the day, or at least for a majority of it. Leave your laptop at home as well if you are traveling. Having your computer readily available will only increase the temptation to work. If you are traveling for an extended period of time and absolutely have to bring the laptop, be sure to set restrictions on how much time you will spend on it each day.

Plan activities. Don’t simply sit around all day. Sure, that sounds relaxing, but you will be numb with boredom and more likely to break our your phone to surf social media or respond to emails. Plan walks with your family, go for a hike if you are near some trails, play a game together. I’m a huge advocate of getting outside, no matter what the activity. Fresh air is good for the soul. Especially for the entrepreneur that spends countless hours behind a computer indoors.


Thanksgiving is one of the best times of the year to take a step back and relax, as an entrepreneur. A little planning ahead will set your mind at ease and make it easier for you to sit back and relax. I’ve actually come to a point where I look forward to turning off the computer and being out of the office for extended periods of times. It helps me to truly relax, and as a result I return refreshed and ready to move forward full steam.

Keeping up with demand

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Last night I had the privilege of speaking on a panel of food and beverage entrepreneurs for McCombs School of Business students at 512 Brewing. One of the interesting things that came up was that the biggest struggle for many of the business owners was keeping up with demand, and with that the fear of letting their customer down. So, how does a small, growing business keep up with demand?

Here are a few tips from what I have learned along the way that have helped us meet the ever-growing demand:

Hire slow, fire fast
We haven’t been so good on the firing fast, but in the future we certainly won’t hesitate to send a bad apple out the front door. Hiring slow is extremely important because it ensures you get a quality team member. The last thing you want is for somebody to work for you for 4 weeks then leave. That only complicates your struggle to keep up with demand because you are now back to trying to find more help and will have to retrain another person. So take your time in the hiring process to ensure you get a quality candidate.

Anticipate growth
Planning your growth is important because it allows you to prepare to hire the people you need to keep up ahead of time. This goes back to hiring slow. If you know you have a new account in the pipeline you better start culling through resumes so you can take the time needed in the hiring process.

Preparing early for the growth also allows you to order the ingredients or materials you will need to make the product. The last thing you want is to run out of a particular ingredient in your product and not be able to fill an order. So ordering your product in advance of production runs is crucial, especially because your supplier will occasionally run out and that will leave you scrambling to find another source. So it’s also always good to have back up suppliers on every ingredient.

Invest in Equipment
One of the biggest things that have helped us keep up with demand is equipment. In the early days we did everything by hand, other than mixing the ingredients in a mixer. As we grew we improved the process. First we added a larger capacity mixer, next we improved the mould we used to press out the bars, and later we eventually added a machine to press out the bars. That was a difficult decision for us because we wanted to keep everything done by hand, but the overhead cost and logistics of managing large amounts of people outweighed how much time and money we would save by having a machine press out the bars. We still do a large portion of our process by hand, but having machinery was necessary to keep up with demand.

Work with your customers
Lets say you are struggling to meet orders. It’s important to be honest with your customer and let them know what is going on. We have had a couple instances in the past where we had to let the customer know we couldn’t meet the entire order and requested they decrease the order and let us fill the remainder of it at a later date. Each time they have been more than happy with the outcome.

It’s important to under promise and over deliver. If you think it will take you two weeks to fill a large order let your customer know you need a one month lead time, then wow their socks off when you deliver in two weeks. Having the longer lead-time gives you a cushion of protection too, in case something goes wrong. So, always make sure your customer lead times are ample to fill orders.


It’s also important to remember that problems will arise, delays will certainly occur. So, be flexible, learn to adapt, and don’t fret when issues do arise. Problems have a way of working themselves out if you are aware they exist and put a little bit of pressure to the problem to solve it. Rarely will a demand problem be so catastrophic that you lose the business of that customer. If anything it will make you stronger so you can continue serving your customers with excellence.

Persevere through all your challenges

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Guadalupe Peak

On top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. Perseverance got Zack to the top (with a Bearded Brothers bar in hand)!

Setbacks are inevitable, hard times will come, running your business will never be easy, and will be down-right challenging at times.

Here are a few things to remember when things get a bit crazy:

This is only temporary

The challenging times won’t last forever. Generally challenges come when a huge project consumes most of your time, or your business encounters a problem that it has to address. That project or problem won’t be there forever, so hunker down and power through.

Make a road map

Take a step back and write down everything that has to happen to get you through the turmoil. Then outline everything on a calendar or project management system with key deadlines highlighted with their due date. Failure to plan will just amplify that crazy feeling.

Take some time off (exercise)

This may sound counter intuitive when things are busy and you are working extra hours, but trust me, the relief you will get from getting outside will make you feel a thousand times better. As you probably know (but refuse to remember when times are tough), releasing endorphins helps curb stress. Even if you don’t get out for a run, bike ride, or intense weight training circuit, you can at least get outside and go on a walk. The fresh air will be reviving and you just might come up with some new ides to help you through the challenge.

Challenges make us stronger

Just remember that even though your challenge may seem negative, it’s actually good! I don’t believe there is such thing as a bad challenge. Challenges serve to strengthen us, help us learn and grow, and ultimately make us stronger. Every challenge has a takeaway that we will always remember.

Follow the 10% rule for creating products and services

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If you are looking to start a business there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. You just have to make it better. 10% better to be exact. Why not develop something completely new that nobody has ever seen before? Because, the market is not proven, and there is a huge consumer education factor you would have to over come.

New products hit the market every day, and most of them are just an improvement on an existing product. Take the Pebble Watch for example; they took your everyday watch and mixed it with smart phone capabilities. Even iPhone wasn’t that revolutionary, but it was exactly a product I wished existed. When iPhone first came out I carried to work every day: a PDA, a cell phone, and an iPod. Apple simply combined the three devices into one. Thank you, Apple!

When I launched Bearded Brothers, A Wholesome Snackfood Company that makes organic energy bars; I wasn’t looking to re-invent the energy bar. I simply sought to improve on what I saw was missing from bars on the market: great taste, raw, unprocessed, gluten & soy free, and organic. We even eventually switched our wrapper to a compostable one.

The 10% rule even applies to those offering a service or software product. Take career coaches for example. They are a dime a dozen. What is going to set you apart from the next guy is the value you offer. Many times it will come down to personal preference, but as long as you are offering something that somebody will see as more valuable you are setting yourself up for a win.

Creating and launching new products doesn’t have to be that difficult. You don’t have to spend years doing research and development, especially in markets that are already proven. Just follow the 10% rule, make a product that is at least 10% better than the competition and you stand a good chance at competing with the big guys in competitive markets.