Political and Civic Engagement Should Be in Your Business Plan

01 (108)Any good business plan includes financial projections, market analysis, growth strategy and a marketing plan, but it’s rare to see a strategy for local civic and political engagement included in a pitch deck.

Time to update your plan!

Your business does not exist in a vacuum. Local government and other civic institutions have a direct impact on your work. You can ensure that their impact is positive by building a relationship with your city and state, or you can court disaster by ignoring them.

The good news? Your elected officials are dying to hear from you because they need your help to avoid debacles, like the Tech Tax in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

This summer, Massachusetts tech companies were blindsided by a plan in the State Legislature to expand the 6.25% sales tax to include software services.

6.25% of a key industry’s revenues…poof…up in smoke. Thankfully, a concerted organizing effort, led by the Massachusetts High Technology Council and supported by the tech community, pushed the Legislature and Governor Patrick to repeal the tax.

The lesson to draw here is that your interests are a mystery to lawmakers unless you make them known. Tech companies and legislators alike would rather see collaborative efforts like Boston’s Innovation District than a new Tech Tax. You can help make that happen through engagement.

Boston City HallWith a brand new Mayor Walsh coming into office in Boston this January and a gubernatorial election coming up in 2014, now is a perfect time to start.

Here are some steps you can take immediately:

1. Budget time, effort and sometimes money to knowing your political, social and civic environment:

Who are your Mayor, City Councillor, State Rep and State Senator?

Does your industry have a trade group?

Who are the leaders in your industry and what is their engagement with policymakers?

2. Educate yourself on the government issues that impact your business:

Are there any legislative efforts underway related to your industry?

Which elected officials are advocates for your work?

3. Get to know your elected officials:
IT Phone Call

Call your City Councilor and State Representative and introduce yourself.

Invite them to your office and teach them what you do.

Make sure they know  about your vision and priorities, and about what issues you face as a business in Massachusetts.

4. Communicate regularly:

When you have news, send it to your State Rep, Senator, City Councilors and Mayor.

If something needs fixing, let them know.

5. Get active:

Find candidates for office who share your views on important issues and support them.

Take on leadership roles in your industry organizations.

Meet others in your industry and share experiences.

Apply your products to problems here in Massachusetts.

This month, I’m putting my efforts where my mouth is and starting a Workbar Political and Civic Group. We’ll meet once a month and discuss issues in our industries, which we will then communicate to our state and local governments.

Through this effort, I hope to keep the public and our elected officials informed about innovation in Massachusetts and engaged in supporting it.

Want to help? Email me at Devin [at] Workbar [dot] com!

Subscribe to the Workbar blog for original content on entrepreneurship, the mobile work style and business topics such as management, productivity and team building.  Our goal is to encourage and educate you on how to be a better worker!  Follow Workbar on TwitterPinterest and check out our Facebook page.
 
About the Author: Devin Cole is the Director of the OuterSpaces program at Workbar. Contact him via email devin@workbar.com or Twitter @devincole.

Moving On: Kids Have All the Answers

New Workbar member Chas Wagner discovers some of the unexpected benefits of coworking. This is a re-post from medium.com.

 

I left my job at RunKeeper nearly two weeks ago to the surprise of some co-workers and even myself. As I sit here at a Cambridge coworking space with no paycheck, legitimate job and defined career path, it’d be really easy to second guess my decision. Why would I leave a growing startup?

One that is riding the wave of the Quantified Self phenomenon. A company that aligns perfectly with my interests in health and fitness. The reasons for my departure are pretty clear in my head, however, super ambiguous to others. Yet, when I sat down my first morning at Workbar, it all crystalized. What was this magical elixir of clarity?

Play-Doh.

Yep, the kids schtuff! No joke, hundreds of Play-Doh jars were sprinkled throughout the co-working space, that Monday morning, after International Play-Doh Day took place the previous week. It’s so clear now that my time at RunKeeper had become far too un-Play-Doh-ish. Rigid, predictable, and constrained was how most of my days felt. Forced to respond to a certain number of support tickets in a certain amount of time with a certain level of customer satisfaction.

Disclaimer: highly encouraged is a better word, since we did have a great deal of autonomy in our jobs, which was empowering! Nonetheless, while metrics are important, I was beholden to the numbers, not empowered by them.

Play-Doh, on the other hand, opens up that world of possibility. Never finished. Always evolving. Constantly adapting. Kind of ridiculous. Above all else, it’s child-like. You are playing, as opposed to working with the compound.

With Play-Doh, you are the creator. At RunKeeper, I was the reactor. Always on my heels and at the mercy of our product and the users, I never felt in control. As much as I would have liked to mold the direction of the RunKeeper community, it was a never-ending uphill battle reacting to changes in the product. A perpetual state of reactiveness, unfortunately, led to burn-out. It’s why you see many Community Managers, and support professionals at-large, hitting a breaking point after only a few years on the job.

Now, that first molding of the Play-Doh at Workbar was a complete piece of crap. Who cares? I gave it a freaking try, knowing that the next one would be less hideous, just like my attempts at carving out the next stage of my career.

How about you? Any items around your office that serve as good metaphors for your job/career?

Subscribe to the Workbar blog for original content on entrepreneurship, the mobile work style and business topics such as management, productivity and team building.  Our goal is to encourage and educate you on how to be a better worker!  Follow Workbar on TwitterPinterest and  Facebook.

 

About the Author: Chas Wagner is an entrepreneur currently building a sports marketplace.  Follow him to learn more @ChasWagner.  

 

Never Enough Time?

Workbar member Mike Iamele explores the tenuous relationship entrepreneurs have with time-management, and discusses how setting boundaries and understanding priorities can help you design the life you want and accomplish your goals.  This is a re-post from biznik.

 

I’ve been one of those rushing people my whole life. I never seem to have enough time to do all of the things I have to do. Always brushing my teeth while putting on my shoes, always sprinting after a bus, always making up excuses for why I’m late, It just seems like, no matter what I do, I just can’t get it together.

Sound familiar?

Most frenzied entrepreneurs I know are in the same boat. Stressed out, frantic, always more to do and never the time to do it all.

The life of an entrepreneur is stressful, right? Well, I don’t buy it. You don’t get into entrepreneurship if you’re not at least decent at handling uncertainty—and that’s half the battle with stress. In fact, I’d argue that if you put a group of entrepreneurs in an acutely stressful situation, they’d rock it with their resourcefulness and under-pressure thinking.

When you get down to it, we’re talking here about the imaginary cage we all trap ourselves in: time.

Here’s a little something I’ve learned over the years: time is never really about time.

Sounds like one of those meaningless zen maxims, right? But take this example: You’re too busy to catch up on personal e-mails. But then a friend invites you to the PGA tour with VIP tickets. Do you go? If not, you may be worse off than I thought.

But, seriously, when we get down to it, time is really about priorities. It’s a choice to be stressed out and frenzied. It’s a choice to trap yourself with time.

Don’t like time? Let’s call the trap something else: achieving.

You’ll never achieve enough. You can keep going and going and always have more to do. And, by the way, what amount is enough? And who gets to judge what enough is?

You are the only person deciding what is or isn’t enough. You are the person who set the precedent that you’ll be available after 8 on weeknights or by your phone all weekend. You are the one who responds to e-mails within 5 minutes. Nobody ever made you do that. All they’re doing is responding to the way you’ve taught them to treat you.

I promise you that customers and business associates won’t die if you take a night off for yourself.

Now, I’m not telling you to slack off. And I’m not telling you to stop achieving. But I’m just telling you that this world is of your own making. You can choose to always be rushed, or you can choose to glide in with ease.

Believe me, I didn’t believe it either. In fact, I’ve probably made every mistake that anyone has made, but much worse.

The example at the top was me for the majority of my life. Completely frazzled day in and day out. But it wasn’t about time. When I got down to the root of it, it was about importance.

I was always helping people, always going to events I had to be at, always striving to be the best at everything for everyone. Because being stressed out is cool today. It means you’re important and prestigious. It means that you matter. And, to be honest, I didn’t have the self-esteem to matter without constantly over-delivering.

successful business woman on a laptopSo I hung up my overstressed lifestyle and chose to be different. And then things started falling into place. I started to get realistic. I didn’t commit to 500 things because I knew that it wasn’t practical. I was honest with myself and realized what I could and couldn’t get done. It didn’t make people think less of me. If anything, people were more impressed with my ability to handle things. And, you know what? I wouldn’t really care either way. Because it’s not people who make me significant. It’s how I feel about myself.

So I chose to take back my time. I chose to give up the stressful life. I chose to be back in control.

The secret I’ve learned is that you’re in way more control and way less control than you think you are. You design your life; you teach people how to treat you. But then shit happens. And you’ve got to react. So leave yourself some room to react. It’s about embracing the uncertainty in the structure.

But, come on, you’re an entrepreneur. You already know that.

Subscribe to the Workbar blog for original content on entrepreneurship, the mobile work style and business topics such as management, productivity and team building.  Our goal is to encourage and educate you on how to be a better worker!  Follow Workbar on TwitterPinterest and  Facebook.

About the Author: Mike Iamele is a Senior Associate at healthcare PR firm Torch Communications and is also a Corporate Wellness Coach.  You can learn more about him at www.bostonwellnesscoach.com.

A healthy “work/life” balance. Now, what the heck is that??

Work Life BalanceMaintaining a healthy work/life balance is something we all strive for right? But, what exactly does that mean and how is it achievable? Wikipedia classifies “work-life balance” as “a concept including proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure,  leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation). Related, though broader, terms include “lifestyle calm balance” and “lifestyle choices”.

The beauty of this….it is different for everyone and the best part, it’s customizable to whatever you classify as “healthy balance”. There is no right answer! Just look at this article on The Huffington Post entitled “Wisdom from the Dalai Lama: Keep Working On It”. Having both read several things written by and about the Dalai Lama and having seem him speak publicly at my university, I can wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. One thing I always try to keep in mind is that life should be thought of as a work in progress. Don’t be afraid to fail when you’re trying to achieve happiness. As George Bernard Shaw says “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

Both my mother and my grandmother were big proponents of “everything in moderation”. I especially loved that during my senior year of high school, a particularly stressful time which included AP exams, a busy softball training schedule, and college applications, my mother encouraged, sparingly, what she called “mental health days”. This was a day where I didn’t have any exams or games and she would take the day off from work so we could grab lunch and do some shopping/walking/gossiping/lounging together. To me, this was her way of helping me understand the notion of “everything in moderation” by practicing a healthy work/life balance.

A fellow Workbarian shared her thoughts on what she feels a healthy life/balance means. Julia Rozier of Found in Translation eloquently says,

ZenI think it means not being stressed all of the time; and being able to sustain productivity in one’s work in the absence of nervous breakdown, burnout, etc. while still producing results. Since some people live to work and others work to live, how much ‘life’ exists outside of work in order to maintain that sustainable energy level totally depends on the person, much like introverts and extroverts need different amounts of ‘me-time’. For some people, balance might mean getting a drink to take a break; for others, pulling an all-nighter so they feel good about what they’ve done that week and can relax when the project is done. I don’t know yet what it means to me.”

This last point resonates with so many people…trying to find out what work/life balance means specifically to them and where exactly their balanced line lies. This is a very personal and individual exploration and that’s okay! It’s important to be comfortable with the idea that your balance most likely won’t mirror anyone else’s notion of balance and that it is something you must discover on your own.

And for more “food for thought”, check out the idea of happiness as the next business metric as seen in The Guardian. This article talks about the differences and discrepancies between personal and professional happiness in various demographic and social settings. Kristine A. Wong, the author of the article asks, “Does happiness matter if daily needs are not met?” In a business sense, Mark Williamson, founder and director of the London-based Action for Happiness Project is quoted as saying “All businesses should care about happiness. The happiness of a company’s people is vital to their business success.” The article further illustrates how happiness can mean different things to different people.  In this year’s World Happiness Report, it’s argued that “improving wellbeing should be our global priority” and I tend to agree. I operate under the personal belief that the happier I am, the happier I can make those around me.  And don’t you want to run a company that is full of happy people including yourself?

How to maintain a work/life balance?

While happiness and wellbeing sound great, it can be an overwhelming notion.  You may ask, “How do I achieve and maintain this??”  Again, this is all relative. Each person’s definition of “balance” is defined as something different so it’s important to recognize what that means to you and moving towards that goal. Part of me fully believes that it’s all about perspective when trying to find that balance and maintain it. For example, when someone states “I like my job. I feel that what I put into it is proportional to what I get out of it” indicates to me that this person enjoys what they do and whether or not they clock out right at 5 pm, isn’t the issue. So the issue then becomes whether you’re doing things that bring you personal happiness as well as professional fulfillment, proportionally. This, as you might imagine, is the crux of the entire idea, but is it even possible? Another fellow Workbarian, Brain Davis of CheerNetworks, very simply stated, “In theory, I try to take time out of my day to do something I enjoy and that adds value.” This is a mantra I personally try and follow. Taking time out of your day, during the work week in particular, to do at least one thing just for you is crucial to maintaining any sort of sanity (read: balance).

Helpful Tips and Other Resources

If you’re still finding that you’re having trouble finding ways to achieve a meaningful work/life balance, here are some other articles and tips which may prove to be helpful as provided by the Huffington Post’s “GPS for the Soul” series:

Tips to avoid work burnout

 6 ways to be happier at work

Why our ideas about work and happiness are backwards

Subscribe to the Workbar blog for original content on entrepreneurship, the mobile work style and business topics such as management, productivity and team building.  Our goal is to encourage and educate you on how to be a better worker!  Follow Workbar on TwitterPinterest and  Facebook.

About the Author: Lauren Bell is the Community Concierge at Workbar Cambridge and is responsible for running the 1st floor Cafe.  She also knows an unreasonable amount about fossils. Contact her via email at lauren@workbar.com.

Collaborations in Coworking

There’s lots of talk about coworking being good for your business as a result of being surrounded by like-minded individuals. One might assume that a certain level of competition might arise as a result of the close proximity to others in your field when working in a coworking space. Perhaps the occasional occurrence of client poaching, or monopolizing job prospects, or even stealing employees might occur. What we’ve noticed at Workbar is that instead of issues arising from proximity to peers, we’ve seen examples of collaboration, mentorship and helpful connections made from being part of a supportive community.

questSome of these connections occur through organized networking events or specific group email queries, but often this type of collaboration happens spontaneously, through daily interactions during coffee breaks, lunches or over a beer after work. We spoke to a few Workbarians and asked them to share their experiences with spontaneous collaboration while coworking.

Minh Nguyen is the development and communications coordinator for New Sector Alliance. He was searching for ways to refine the communications strategy for New Sector, with specific attention to thought leadership. Then he remembered a conversation he had with Larry Yu, a communications consultant and CEO of Meritage Media, and decided to ask him for advice.

Untitled-3“I knew that Larry Yu was a communications consultant, but wasn’t sure what his expertise was. So I casually asked him what his professional focus was on, surely enough he said ‘thought leadership’.”

Minh, without realizing it, had found the exact person who could provide him with this very specific type of information he was looking for. The only step left was to see if he’d be willing to share his knowledge.

“Larry was kind enough to set aside an hour of his time to help me go through the process in which he helped his clients develop thought leadership, and he certainly gave me a nice birds-eye view of how to approach the process of developing thought leadership.”

Later in the week, Minh was struck with another problem and found the solution from another helpful member…

“I encountered a challenge with my database system, and turned to Conrad Chuang from the software management company Orchestra Networks. I found out that he actually specialized in enterprise data management, and helped me look at a problem I was having.”

One might be wary of giving away your trade secrets for free, but there are rewards to be gained from this. Sometimes giving advice on subjects you are knowledgeable about reminds you of how much you know and can stir your mind into learning more. Other times sharing ideas can help you flesh them out or discover details you may have missed. Also who knows, the fresh faced entrepreneur in front of you could be the next CEO of a successful business, who will remember the kindness you shared with them along the way. As long as you are willing to stay open to conversation and provide assistance to others when needed, you will benefit from what coworking has to offer.

Bartering is another great side effect of working with people in your field. Trading skills or equipment is a huge money saver and having a network of people to draw from in one community saves you the time of having to go searching for someone who is willing to trade with you. An example of one of our most proactive and helpful members is Adam Howitt of WalkJogRun. Adam is a constant source of assistance for members as well as the Workbar staff. As a result he has developed several great working relationships with other Workbar members, including Nick of Social Contests, another very engaged member of our community, who helped WalkJogRun launch a Facebook contest in exchange for some feedback on his evolving product and admin tools…

nickadam“SocialContests helped us grow our audience by 50% over a two month period to 15k Facebook fans.  As a small team, it was great to work with Nick because he handled all the creative so our team could stay focused on the rest of our business.  His guidance throughout the contest and delivery of a contest marketing plan made it simple to execute.  We’re thrilled with the results.”

This example of helpful bartering is a direct result of the type of worker that coworking attracts; likeminded people who want to be a part of a thriving community and give back to it whenever possible. It’s impossible to have these types of spontaneous collaborations when you are tucked away in your living room or hidden in a single office space.

Minh puts it best here…

“There are resources around us that we can strategically leverage. As startups, entrepreneurs, and innovative companies, I think the energy that resides at Workbar is collaborative, powerful, and productive. People have many different skills and expertise here, it’s just a matter of knowing who to reach out to!”

Subscribe to the Workbar blog for original content on entrepreneurship, the mobile work style and business topics such as management, productivity and team building.  Our goal is to encourage and educate you on how to be a better worker!  Follow Workbar on TwitterPinterest and check out our Facebook page.

About the Author: Abigail Taylor is the Digital Media and Events Manager for Workbar. Contact her here to set up your event.