2014 Recap – 5 entrepreneurial lessons I learned the hard way

2014 for me is what I’d like to call a “catalyst” year. Those who know me know that I like putting myself in tough situations on purpose, just to see how I can handle them. That’s my own little way of evolving – by throwing myself into the deep. Last year I took the biggest plunge ever, by turning my back on a financially secured life of an employee and founding my own company.  I will never forget the unique combination of anxiety & fear, but also hope & curiosity, which fuelled my motivation for change. Now, a year later, stability is still a word I cannot freely use in my daily life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and here’s why.

Teddy TonevaThere’s the old debate on whether entrepreneurs are born with a set of skills or if this is something that can be learned. If my humble experience is any indication, I would say all entrepreneurs I met last year had one key trait in common – bravery. They were brave enough to dream big and to pursue those dreams with everything they got. I became part of a community of individuals where I could exchange ideas, discuss problems and grow our businesses together. And I’d like to think that I’ve slowly started adapting the mindset of these lunatics, experimenting with different fields and business concepts and seeing through those, which I’ve been able to grow into actionable plans. So what’s the conclusion? The skills you need to be a good entrepreneur are skills learned in the right setting with the right environment, as long as you’re crazy enough to give it a shot.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. 2014 was full of challenges, both personal and professional, and I am so grateful to have come out of it stronger and with a clearer vision for the year to come. Here are 5 lessons about entrepreneurship from my own experience, which I learned the hard way (not that I would have it any other way!).

  1. Actions are always louder than words – It’s easy to get caught into the “think tank” mode, constantly exchanging ideas with fellow entrepreneurs. But ideas are just that – ideas. A good business partner is the one that acts on them in a systematic order and has a clear plan of the steps that need to be taken to get things done. If you have a great idea but cannot imagine the whole process from A to Z, then perhaps you should put it back in the think tank for now and focus your energy on more viable projects.
  1. Choose your battles – If you’re striving to be a flexible entrepreneur with good contacts and the right partners, chances are you will attract many new friends who want to do business with you, because of your background/ profile/ field, etc. One of the hardest things I had to learn in 2014 is to say “no”. Prioritizing is key. Have a clear idea of the pipeline of projects for the year. Which project will take the most of your energy or resources, which will yield the most return on investment and when? What added value will this project bring in the long run? Those are all questions you should try to answer for yourself before you take on more work. You will soon start recognising the good opportunities from the ones you should politely say no to.
  1. Long VS short term goals – this one is tricky. How do you balance your projects in such a way to not lose focus of the short-term deliverables, but also to keep thinking about the bigger picture? My solution is – learn to think in phases. Each project I divide into primary efforts / execution/ results & growth. This way I don’t lose track of where I am and where I need to go in 3, 6 or 10 months. Set best case and worst case scenario goals for each phase and monitor how well you are performing in each. Chances are, by mid-phase 2 you will know which project to drop and which to focus more energy on.

Choosing the right partners

  1. I’m lost without the right team – When I started my first business a year ago, I did it all on my own, which was frustrating, to say the least. Along the way many people wanted to work together on various ideas and through a trial-and-error approach I was able to find the right mindset for my company, making it easier to find new partners, when you have a clear idea of the profiles you are looking for. Don’t underestimate the process of funnelling business partners/ employees. I don’t find the right people for a job, I find the right mindset and create the job around it.
  1. Self-analysis is key – We tend to overanalyse projects and businesses, thinking about ways to better the product, the marketing efforts or the scale model. However, we often forget to do the same about ourselves as entrepreneurs. I like applying the same criteria when working on a project to my own self. The person I was a year ago and the person I am today can’t be further apart, but I choose to analyse each change. When and how did it occur and am I a better person for it? Thinking about my skills as a separate business has really helped me drill on what I need to improve or change to keep growing.

All that being said, I am very grateful for the amazing people I met in 2014, the cluster partnerships I founded with the great companies I work with and the variety of projects I have the chance to be involved in. 2015 is the year of scale and the goal is to take my core business to the next level, by doubling the internal team and the accounts we work on. I believe that if the right foundation was laid last year, this year should be twice as challenging and twice as rewording as a result. I am excited about the opportunity to keep learning every day and I cannot wait to see what this year brings on the table!

 

xo,

 

Teddy T

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When enough is enough – 8 steps for getting out of the start-up rut

Ger out of the Rut

I’ve never had the urge to celebrate successes. For me those mark the end of a road, rather than the beginning of another. I enjoy them, but I believe tooting my own horn about it is redundant. Failures on the other hand are another story. I love them, and as of lately, they seem to love me back.

In my modest experience both as a human being and as a struggling consultant, there is no balance between good and bad things that happen to you on daily basis. It’s either raining frogs, or every problem you have miraculously sorts itself out in a blink of an eye. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because balance is boring.

Balance = comfort zone = no growth (both personal & professional)

We all welcome the good times, but how we get back on the horse after a fall is what truly defines our capabilities and motivations.  When it comes to business, here’s some of my tips for getting out of the rut:

1. Never doubt yourself – constantly repeat to yourself that you believe in your skills and that you are 110% committed to achieving your goal. Sometimes it’s harder, because people will try to put you down, but you can’t let a random individual define you.
2. Make sure you find the right people along the way – support systems are crucial when you are starting your own thing. Even though you always need an objective opinion, sometimes the ‘mommy’ appraisal gives you the extra push you need to keep going.
3. Select your partners very VERY carefully – think you can make it on your own? Great! If not, make sure you take the time to find the right partner. And if you find yourself in a scenario where you thought you had one, but things go south, don’t be afraid to let go. It’s just business. Look up and move forward.
4. Dream big, but scale with a realistic pace – dreams are sometimes what truly keeps us in the race. However, don’t make the mistake of having 20 great ideas that just rot around in your brain. Pick 1 or 2 and focus all your energy in realizing them. If that doesn’t pan out, at least you have a list of 18 more to try out.
Get out of Rut!5. Don’t be afraid to be yourself – a lot of people start doing their own thing because they saw a model that works and think they can duplicate it at their local market. Do something you are truly passionate about and the model will build itself around that.
6. Network, network, network – worn out, but can’t emphasize it enough. You can’t expand your contacts, potential clients, etc. if you’re not out there mingling. Put your best smile forward and see what happens. I guarantee you’ll be surprised.
7. Have your priorities straight – especially when dealing with clients, you have to have a defined working model or a plan of action, because without one, you end up losing your focus of the big picture and end up wasting time solving irrelevant minor details.
8. Play a little make-believe – I am young enough as it is, so when I am trying to book a new client, there is no room for doubt. I make sure the client knows I mean business and if I have to exaggerate a bit to grab their attention, so be it. Earn your respect.

And if all of the above don’t work, sometimes I just look at myself in the mirror and say enough is enough to snap myself out of it, only to come out stronger. That’s why I’d take raining frogs over unicorns and rainbows any day!

xo,

Teddy T

What if Santa went corporate?

‘Tis the holiday season and as a marketer I can’t help but pay attention to all the holiday ads, ATL & BTL promotions and other consumer gimmicks with which I am currently being bombarded on daily basis. Some naively done, some over-exploiting the same run down holiday spirit mumbo jumbo, but some flawless in their creativity and innovative in their design.

One particular creative piece brought to my attention was the mock-strategy pitch for a corporation called ‘Santa’, created by an UK based Communications agency ironically called Quietroom. See, what the team has done is to create a whole corporate communications and consumer communications strategy for.. well… Santa. And this is no joke! The pitch is complete with brand analysis, communication channels, tone of voice and even a ‘Curve of credulity’ explaining the phasing of belief-in-Santa distributed by the age of the consumer. I have only one word for it: EPIC!

The rest of the presentation you can find here. Trust me, it’s well worth spending 5 minutes on browsing through it and I guarantee you’ll be grinning by the end.

A very creative way of showing the rest of the world what your agency is capable of, kudos to the whole team behind the Santa Branding Book!

Happy Holidays Everybody!

xo,

Teddy T

P.S. Special thanks to a dear friend and a brilliant social media marketer – Gergana Tyaneva, for showing me this great advertising piece, go and check her out.

Is organic chocolate the new hype in hedonic eating?

green and blacks organic

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working for the most delicious brand portfolio, not only in the UK, but dare I say it – Europe. Green & Black’s is an organic and fair-trade chocolate that has been around for more than 20 years. Being the first organic and fair-trade product in the UK would most definitely guarantee the brand a phenomenal market share, right? Wrong!

See, Green & Black’s, among other organic ready-made products on the market, put all their money in advertising exactly what they are – organic. All that, under the assumption that the British consumer cares about eating healthier, better quality products. Although that may be true in the case of organic fresh produce, where people more easily associate their lettuce, tomatoes or carrots with the notion of ‘healthier food’, was that the case for organic chocolate? This is precisely why Green & Black’s hired me – to find what the British Consumer associates with the word ‘organic’ in the current economic environment (post-recession) and how the brand can use that knowledge to re-position itself to a younger audience.

After shadowing company executives and senior-level managers for a while, I was ready to conduct my own research on the matter. I interviewed 19 individuals that fitted the narrow demographic and psychographic profile of the desired ‘new consumer’ and a very interesting picture started assembling. I will try to shortly paint it for you, as I do believe it accurately represents an idea of the modern organic consumer in the UK:

Demographic profile:

  •  Mainly female, middle age, with children or a significant other. Reasoning: This individual is the decision maker in the household, especially when it comes to food-related products.
  • Mid to high annual income and well educated (university and above). Reasoning: ‘Organic’ remains largely considered as a premium good and is often associated with higher than average pricing.

Psychographic Profile:

  • Adventurous, likes to try out new things. Reasoning: ‘Organic’ is still seen as an ‘avant-garde’ food alternative, where one has to get out of their established purchasing routines in order to consider consuming.
  • Is moderately susceptible to peer pressure. Reasoning: This consumer is willing to change their shopping habits if a friend recommends a product, but they have to personally believe that product will prove to be better than what they currently consume.

Now, all previously mentioned consumer profiling has to do with general organic purchases, where that consumer sees ‘organic’ as a healthier, free of chemicals food option, but often associated only to fresh produce. In order to unlock their potential regarding organic packaged food purchasing and specifically the brand I was representing, I had to dig a little deeper.  So I had to see how and why the average UK consumer eats chocolate. Previous conducted research, internal company documents, own findings and all that mambo jambo led to a ridiculously simple conclusion: People eat chocolate because it tastes good.  EUREKA! So where did the ‘organic’ part belong in that message?

Simple, yet genius. Women like to eat chocolate → they eat it, because it tastes good and it makes them feel good → they often justify buying chocolate, because they ‘deserve’ to treat themselves to it. Chocolate, therefore, is a purely hedonistic product and is meant to be enjoyed as such. However, after consuming it, there comes the guilt – why did I eat so much of it, this will make me fat, it’s unhealthy, etc. Let’s be honest, we’ve all been on that road. But if that chocolate is ‘organic’, that’s a different story. The post-consumption guilt is now eliminated.  Therefore, the reasoning is as follows: This is great-tasting chocolate, I deserve that chocolate + it’s organic, therefore it’s better for me and I should not feel guilty for buying and consuming it.

new campagin greem & blacks

* part of Green & Black’s new 2013 ‘This is not a chocolate bar’ advertising campaign  focusing on taste attributes

Sounds almost devious of us marketers to formulate such a message, doesn’t it? However, people will continue to buy chocolate and continue to feel guilty about it afterwards. Why not help them get rid of that guilt and actually treat them to a great quality chocolate made with nothing but fresh, organic ingredients? By simply re-focusing on taste attributes, rather than organic attributes, Green & Black’s was able to speak to that hedonistic hunger in every consumer and to toot their own horn with superior tasting chocolate. And I should know! When my consultancy work was done with, they sent me a box full of that stuff. The little girl within me was overwhelmed with joy, and no, I don’t regret eating every single one of them!

Till next time,

xo

Teddy T