4 Online Marketing Trends With Big Potential to Drive Sales

Online marketing constantly evolves, providing you with new ways to attract your target audience and convert them into sales and revenue.

While there are search engine optimization and email marketing will continue to produce results, new trends can’t be ignored. Here are four that you need to pay attention to this coming year — this is where you are going to find a large percentage of consumer attention.

1. Micro-influencers

Influencer marketing can deliver the highest return when stacked up against other forms of online marketing, which is why I founded a second agency that focuses solely on influencer marketing. Some brands have built multi-million dollar companies using influencer marketing exclusively.

The cost has gone through the roof over the past couple years to secure the services of highly desirable social influencers. And not every brand can afford to pay a Kardashian upwards of six-figures for a social plug. This is one reason that micro-influencers are becoming increasingly popular — that and they work extremely well.

Finding micro-influencers with smaller followings that align with your brand can deliver amazing results. They are more affordable that the big names and their engagement is genuine. I have been able to analyze a lot of data through my agency and multiple micro-influencers always outperform a single big name post. Instead of trying to hit a home run and striking out, hit singles and doubles. In the end, you will experience much better results.

Related: Micro-influencers Bring Mega ROI for Brands

2. Live video

Some early adapters dabbled with live video streaming last year, but this is the year it’s going to become part of everyone’s online marketing strategy. Platforms like Facebook Live and Instagram Live Video allow you to reach your customer base in a way that’s very personal and raw.

There are no fancy video edits — your audience gets to take a peek inside and see the real you. There are so many ways to use this to generate buzz. Broadcasting from special events, in-store sales, etc. The opportunity is truly endless, especially for personal branding.

It’s going to take some testing and tweaking to determine what live approach your audience will best respond to. Start testing now before your competition masters live video — don’t get left in the dark.

Related: The Top 9 Social Media Strategists to Watch In 2017

3. Paid social media

The organic reach brands experienced in the early days of Facebook and Instagram is long gone, and this should be no surprise. These social networks make their money via advertisements — if you want to reap the benefits of their reach and audience you need to break out the wallet. Pay to play, baby!

I love when business owners complain to me about diminishing organic reaches. Social networks are businesses — they exist to make money — piles of it.

I would suggest starting small and learning the ins and outs, before dumping large sums of money into paid social media promotion. Facebook ads, for example, can deliver incredible reach at a very low cost, if you have your campaign properly optimized. It can take time to master Facebook ads — and there is no better education than jumping in and learning through hands-on experience.

Related: 6 Tools To Turbocharge Your Content Marketing in 2017

4. AI (Artificial Intelligence) chat bots

Investment in artificial intelligence is expected to triple in 2017 according to Forrester research.

Brands are tapping into the potential of machine learning, with Facebook leading the way with the roll-out of news feed ads that open directly into Messenger chats and hybrid products such as Google Allo, a smart messaging app with an integrated AI assistant.

This gives you the ability to go from mass targeting to one-to-one conversations. Imagine being able to start a conversation with a potential customer rather than have them click-through to your website and hope they submit a form or make a purchase? There is so much potential here and it’s brand new — you will gain a huge advantage over your competition if you are an early adapter.

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The Secret to Getting a Popular Blogger to Review Your Product

Popular bloggers are bombarded with pitches and emails, sometimes hundreds in a single day. As an entrepreneur, how can you cut through the clutter and get your product in front of the right person, at the right time?

At GrowthLab.com, where entrepreneurs go to launch and grow their online business, we’ve seen thousands of product pitches. Most are unfocused and rambling. They try too hard to be clever instead of getting right to the point. Don’t be that person.

Related: You Don’t Have to Be Patti LaBelle to Score a Viral Product Review Video

Here’s an email script that shows the right way to get a blogger’s attention. You’ll notice several things. First, he gets right to the point in the second paragraph. Second, he personalizes the message with a call out to the blogger’s work (with a page number). Finally, he adds credibility with a link to his success stories.

Related: You Just Got a Bad Media Review. Now, What?

Check out the email script below. 

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Dignity and the Pink Slip: What Are You Doing to Bring Decency to the Process?

It is never easy to let someone go, be let go or watch others be let go. I should know: I have had the honor and privilege of experiencing all three.

Employee termination is particularly challenging for entrepreneurs and leaders of small companies that may lack established HR best practices, as well as the HR staff to carry them out.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Firing an Employee

In the not-so-distant past, people received a notice or “pink slip” with their paycheck. While very efficient and easy for the employer, this strategy was not exactly humane, measured by today’s standards. So, new dos and don’ts of how to effectively terminate an employee have arisen in their place, and received plenty of press. 

The collective belief, of course, is that there is nothing graceful or elegant about the process of letting people go in small entrepreneurial organizations. It just causes stress for the entire team; everyone is impacted: For the leader(s) involved in delivering the news, there is angst and anxiety leading up to the “event,” as some organizations commonly call it.

That angst reverberates around the company: Just as the bearer of the bad news is done, everyone else is just learning of the “event” and dealing with the raw emotions, as they process what just happened. Of course, for the person being let go, the world has just been turned upside down.

My own termination

I was let go from my role at a small branding agency at 6 p.m. on the Monday after the holiday break. Not a happy start to the New Year. I knew it was coming, that I wasn’t a good fit. But it was still hard hearing, “This isn’t working out, and today is your last day.” I remember that immediate feeling of rejection and the awkwardness colleagues expressed toward me when they found out only after I had packed up my belongings and left the building. 

Related: 6 Ways to Reinvigorate Your Team After Firing an Employee

That’s why I make it a habit to extend my support to close associates who have been let go, an act of kindness that’s met with great appreciation but apparently is not the norm. In fact, it’s shocking to find out infrequently such acts occur. People will say, “You are the only one I heard from,” or “I feel like people are avoiding me.” I’d like to believe that the reason is that people just don’t know what to do or say.

But I do: Given my personal experience and my background as an executive coach, I offer this counsel to leaders when dealing with terminations:  

1. Discourage hallway chatter.

Depending on its scale, a layoff can be quite unsettling. As word spreads, there is a ripple effect. People get nervous, and inevitably there is hallway chatter. “Did you hear . . .” “Can you believe it?” “Are there any more?” “Who’s next?” Left unchecked, the gossip can become all consuming.

As team leader, when you inform the team of the termination(s) ask them, out of respect for those involved, to not speak of it within the office. Instead focus people’s nervous energy on how they can offer assistance to those let go.

2. Ask your team to extend a helping hand.

The experience of losing a job is mortifying. You feel vulnerable and overwhelmed and your ego is bruised. So, for those still employed, the next best step is to reach out and provide the person let go names of recruiters, recommendations on LinkedIn, networking connections, job leads and any other support they need to look for a new job.

Keep the focus on helping, not on «stoking the fire of injustice» about what has happened. I myself found this stance incredibly thoughtful and humane. People appreciate gestures of kindness.

Related: Should That Employee Be Fired? Ask These 5 Questions First

In sum, there is nothing dignified about getting the proverbial “pink slip.” Seldom is it done with a deft touch. Bringing some decency to the process, and respect for the people involved, is an incredibly generous way to help ease its painful affects.

Dignity and decency offered to those involved creates the positive energy they need to reset their career — and to those still employed, the energy to carry on. 

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What Ford Gets Out of CES, and What It Looks for in Startups

Car companies won’t survive without innovating their business offerings.

Ford knows this, which is why the more-than-a-century-old company considers itself a «mobility company.»

At this year’s CES, Ford showed off three of its latest innovations: drivers can now talk to their vehicles’ SYNC hands-free system with Amazon Alexa integration, an autonomous Focus vehicle and one of its vehicles for Chariot, its ride-sharing service.

Related: The Coolest Things I Saw at CES 2017

To get a sense of what these developments mean for the brand, and how Ford looks for and integrates ideas, I spoke with Ken Washington, Ford’s vice president of research and advanced engineering at the company’s CES booth.

Why is Ford at CES?

We think of Ford as a mobility company and the vehicle as just a big consumer electronics device. By being here at CES, it’s a way to advance our perspectives and learn and convey our point of views about technology’s importance in enabling new ways of being mobile and enabling the car to be an even better consumer electronics device.

What you’re saying is that the thinking is not really a shift, it’s kind of Ford fulfilling its mission.

Exactly. A car has shifted from a relatively dumb device to being connected, smart and autonomous. And as a connected, smart and autonomous device that’s fairly sophisticated with millions of lines of code and dozens of computing modules, it’s only going to get more sophisticated with the ushering in of connectivity and autonomy to enable cars to do even more for us. We’re very excited what the possibilities.

Ford announced last year that it launched a ride-sharing initiative with autonomous vehicles and plans to get them on the road by 2021. That seems ambitious, but we’re on our way there with Uber and other companies having similar initiatives.

We’re really excited about that. What better way to make people’s lives better than enabling them to have a high-quality, safe ride service that will allow them to get time back but also have this ability to move from one point to another at a very attractive price point?

Related: 5 Surprising Things to Come Out of the Detroit Auto Show

So with this initiative, Ford opens its business to people who don’t want to own cars.

You’ve seen that shift already happening because you have driver-driven ride services that are now pretty common. But the business model for those is questionable. It’s still relatively expensive to hail a Lyft or an Uber and even more expensive to use a taxi service. If you can take the driver out of the loop, it lowers the cost point to be competitive to personal vehicle ownership.

That doesn’t mean personal ownership will go away, because you’ll still have the option to buy a vehicle. But having this option of not driving if you’re in an environment where there is a ride service is very compelling and exciting.

An autonomous prototype of a Ford Focus.
Image Credit: Stephen Bronner

Ford also has a presence at Eureka Park (CES’s space for startups) and with the 2021 initiative the company partnered with four startups. What does Ford look for in younger companies to invest in and partner with and what can companies do to make themselves more appealing to Ford?

We’re pretty expansive when we’re looking at the startup community, because we see many great ideas coming out of startups. Part of the formula for being successful in partnering with Ford is on our shoulders. It’s for us to be in the environment where the startups are and for us to be proactively engaged and participating with the startup community.

So we interact with startups and get to know them, learn what they’re working on. We invite them to present their ideas for how they’d like to work with Ford and if we can find common ground and interest. Sometimes that leads us to develop a proof of concept where we try their technology out. That would be the best way for startups to interact with Ford — for them to talk to us and help us get to know what their ideas are. We can then help you understand how your idea might integrate with the automotive and mobility ecosystem.

The idea looks to be the most important factor to Ford.

The idea is always powerful. Keeping an open mind as well. We’ve had lots of startups come to us and say, «here’s our idea, it’s A.» [But creators should] know A can become B can become C. Keep an open mind about how your idea might pivot. That’s sort of startup 101, which is your original idea might not be the idea that gains traction and leads you to a market.

Keep an open mind, work with us and explore the possibilities. That’s a great formula for an entrepreneur to explore working with Ford as we continue on our journey to be a mobility company and a lead in autonomy.

Related: Why Tesla Is Opening Showrooms Where Cars Can’t Be Purchased

What has been the most helpful piece of advice in your professional life that you’d want to share with other people?

For me, it’s about staying curious. If you want to work in a technology rich business, keeping a curious mindset is really important. That will serve you so well in so many different ways. It helps keep you out of a rut, and it helps you avoid missing inflections and transitions. When you see something new, being curious allows you to dig in and ask questions and explore technology proof of concepts.

Do you want to add anything else?

A good way to end is to reinforce that we are really excited about how we can help make people’s lives better. This isn’t just about technology for technology’s sake. This is about ushering in an era of transportation mobility. If people can’t drive because they are disabled or blind or maybe just don’t want to because they’re tired, and by the way, autonomous vehicles and new services open up the promise of reducing traffic accidents. This is about safety, making people’s lives better and opening up new business opportunities for our shareholders. I love technology, but I love it even more when it can make a difference in people’s lives.
His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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The Top 20 First Jobs in the U.S. According to Facebook

The beginning of a new year often has us thinking about how we can advance our careers and the new skills we want to develop. But it’s also a perfect time to think about how far we’ve come from that first foray into the workplace.

Whether it was a retail gig that still has you folding shirts in changing rooms, or the waitressing experience that taught you how to divvy up a check in seconds, first jobs are foundational, even if the only thing they taught you is what you are terrible at and shouldn’t do.

Related: 23 Unglamorous First Jobs of the World’s Most Successful People

If you’ve been on Facebook at all during the past several months, it’s likely you spotted the #firstsevenjobs hashtag that had users sharing the earliest gigs on their resumes. Some big names took part, such as pioneering astronaut Buzz Aldrin (dishwasher), Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (slushee machine operator at his aunt’s store) and Facebook COO and Lean In founder Sheryl Sandberg (swiftly fired babysitter).

With that information in hand, the social giant assembled the top 20 most frequently held first jobs in the United States. Childcare, serving food and drinks (including McDonald’s) and jobs that have a component of answering phones are all pretty well represented. Check out the full list below.

  1. Babysitter
  2. Cashier
  3. Lab assistant
  4. Newspaper delivery
  5. Teacher
  6. Camp counselor
  7. Retail
  8. Dishwasher
  9. Receptionist
  10. Manager
  11. Waiter/server
  12. Hostess
  13. Intern
  14. McDonald’s
  15. Student
  16. Barista
  17. Store clerk
  18. Pizza delivery
  19. Lifeguard
  20. Research assistant

We want to hear from you. What was your first job? What did you learn from it? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter.

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10 Entrepreneurs Share Fail-Safe Strategies For More Effective Meetings

This story appears in the January 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We asked readers: How do you make the most of everyone’s least favorite work routine? Here’s what they had to say.

1. Plan ahead. Set the agenda one week ahead of time. Allow employees to comment on it prior to the meeting so they have time to really think about it — and then stick to the agenda. — T.J. Allan, owner, Ageless Fitness, Gillespie, Ill.

2. Be holistic. We use the principles of sociocracy to make meetings valuable. It’s a whole system approach for inclusive decision making, effective governance and the ongoing evaluation and improvement of your organization. — Abhishek Gupta, technical consultant, Creative n Innovative Research, Jaipur, India

Related: 5 Rules for Successful Meetings

3. Stand up. Have all-hands-on-deck meetings standing up. We stand in a circle at 9 a.m. every morning and one by one state our goals for the day. Because we’re standing, we’re energized and we move fast. We’re done in 15 minutes. — Aidah Omar, consultant, Leads Gen Expert Pte Ltd., Singapore 

4. Make notes. Always have someone taking notes on actionable items — who said they would do what, and when. Then have that person send the notes around after. It helps to move things along and make the meeting meaningful. — Sandi Danilowitz, founder/CEO, The Health Engine, Toronto 

5. Get clear. I have people state concerns or questions beforehand. I call this “clearing.” Without it, people will be focused on their problem throughout the meeting — and may derail it to get their point across. Clearing makes the team more focused. — Dylan T. Dahlquist, research assistant, Canadian Sport Institute Pacific,Victoria, B.C.

Related: 6 Easy Ways to Make Your Workspace Happy, Productive and Organized

6. Clarify tasks. Everyone writes their weekly must-dos into a Trello board for all to look over. Then we do a quick roundtable to reiterate and clarify. Sometimes verbalizing what’s written makes it appear more or less important. — Cliff Harvey, founder, Holistic Performance Institute, Auckland, New Zealand

7. Ask and listen. I like to stick to an agenda, but that doesn’t work with every client. For the non-agenda types, I ask what technology problem has been bothering them. (We do IT solutions.) The client is able to vent about their previous experiences and then can communicate what they actually need. — Mike Perez, founder and CEO, With Perez, New York 

8. Do lunch. My most productive meetings follow a simple formula: no more than five people, and over lunch. When only the key people attend, it prevents loss of focus and time. Lunch is optimal because it removes stress — and the odds that everyone will attend are high. — Dr. Naim Drid, clinical research fellow, Paris VII University, Paris

Related: Fresh, Fun Ideas to Bring Your Team Together

9. Constrain them. I worked halfway around the world from my team for a year, and we had enough time for a single 30-minute meeting each day. That forced meetings to be front-loaded with clear action steps. We got very good at asking questions. — Jason Lengstorf, consultant/owner, Bearstone, Austin, Tex. 

10. Stay on task. When the discussion starts to digress and it isn’t productive, peers may be hesitant to stop it. A leader will suggest that we discuss the new topic at a later time. Post-meeting I can decide whether to handle via email, call or another meeting. — Andrea Spirov, CEO, The Boss Food Company, Houston, Tex.

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4 Easy and Highly Effective Business Development Tactics

In this video, Entrepreneur Network partners Jason Balin and Chris Haddon discuss four easy, highly effective business development tactics that you can implement today. 

To start, Balin and Haddon suggest doing Facebook Live broadcasts on a consistent basis. From giving people a behind-the-scenes look at your company, teaching your audience something new or showcasing your product or service — doing a little on-camera blurb will engage and entice your audience. 

The pair also suggest sending email blasts to your database of contacts. That way, you’re able to reach a number of clients (or potential clients) in an effective manner. Getting something nice for your top clients is also a great way to show your top spenders that you care. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money, just think of something thoughtful. It can be as simple as a handwritten note. 

Lastly, Balina nd Haddon recommend to organize and host group meetups or networking events. Start off by only inviting around 10 people for a roundtable. You’ll be able to connect with people inside and outside of your industry, and make it a regular event. 

To learn more, click play. 

Watch more videos from Hard Money Bankers on their YouTube channel here.

Related: When to Hire Virtual Assistants and Outsource Help

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What Big Tech Companies Can Teach Your Business About Going Green

Messaging, sharing photos, streaming videos — can you even recall what life was like before the internet? Those days are long gone, and today the internet is the backbone of the modern economy.

All of this connectivity comes at a price, however. The amount of energy it takes to manufacture and power our devices and data centers accounts for nearly 7 percent of global electricity, explains environmental organization Greenpeace in its recently released “Clicking Clean” report.

Related: 9 Easy Ways Companies Can Save Money By Going Green

Greenpeace has been measuring energy consumption and performance in the IT sector since 2009. In its new report, the organization issued letter grades to major tech companies based on their green efforts. Big players Google, Facebook and Apple each received an overall grade of “A.”

The scores are based on five categories: energy transparency, renewable energy commitment and siting policy, energy efficiency and mitigation, renewable procurement and advocacy. Apple and Facebook both earned all As and a B in advocacy, and Google received all As and a B in energy transparency.

Unfortunately, a number of major tech players have yet to demonstrate similar efforts. A high number of Ds and Fs were reported among video streaming companies including Netflix, HBO, Hulu and Vimeo. (YouTube, which is part of Google, received an A.) Video streaming generated 63 percent of global internet traffic in 2015, and Greenpeace expects that share to increase to 80 percent by 2020.

Related: 4 Ways Transparency Separates Companies That Thrive From the Ones Lucky to Survive

Netflix, which earned a D overall, accounts for one-third of internet traffic in North America. Because the company provides no regular data regarding its energy consumption, energy sources or greenhouse gas emissions, it scored an F in transparency. In the past, Netflix has claimed that streaming its videos is “more energy efficient than breathing,” but Greenpeace identified room for improvement.

Because of their size, the tech companies mentioned above have the power to sway others in the industry to go green, and these efforts also factored into their overall grades. Although smaller businesses don’t wield the same influence, here are three lessons they can learn from the tech giants about transitioning to renewable energy.

Transparency

Facebook and Apple lead the industry in transparency, providing easy-to-access information about their facilities and their consumption. By releasing this data to the public, they’re holding themselves accountable. Not all companies are big enough, or have a large enough budget, to invest millions of dollars in green energy, but transparency indicates that a company takes the issue seriously.  

Goal-setting

Transitioning to renewable energy won’t happen overnight. After pledging to become 100 percent renewable, Facebook broke down its commitment into smaller, actionable goals. The company set the goal of being 25 percent renewable by 2015 — and 50 percent by 2018.

Related: 3 Simple Steps for Company Goal Setting

Google took a similar approach, although before getting started, the company clearly articulated its own set of principles and criteria for renewable energy. It created a plan for executing its goals.  

Partnerships

A key to transitioning to renewable energy is partnering with companies or clients who also commit to this green effort. In some cases, that may mean drafting guidelines and company policies require production plants, data centers or any other partners to use or be moving toward renewable energy usage.

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A CEO’s Tips for Raising Work-Smart Kids

What one issue is most likely to keep parents awake worrying at night? Ask around. The answer likely goes something like this: “How can I help my children, who have grown up with everything they need, to understand the importance of hard work and the joy that can come from it?”

Instilling an appreciation of work wasn’t something my parents had to think about much: Our financial situation was such that my sisters and I were simply expected to contribute to the family. I had a job from the time I could safely ride my bicycle around town and deliver newspapers.

Later I took other jobs — working at a garden center, managing an apartment complex, refinishing antiques — that allowed me to (mostly) pay my way through college. My wife also worked her own way through college, but we both graduated with debt.

Value and joy through work.

Is it unrealistic for successful business leaders to expect children who have grown up in more comfortable circumstances to feel that same urgency? Perhaps. But there are few lessons more fundamental to communicate to children than the value of hard work and the satisfactions it brings.

When we talk about our children “reaching their potential” or “being themselves,” this is key. Whether they are investment bankers or poets or carpenters, they will only find value and joy in the labor that fills up so much of their lives if they learn the benefits of applying themselves to a task they care passionately about and of being driven forward by the desire to better themselves and perfect their skills.

Related: 6 Skills to Learn Online for a Lucrative and Productive 2017

So how can we as parents instill a love of work in our children? 

Teach responsibility early.

The paper route I had as a kid was a revelation. Sure, I learned to show up every day whether I felt like it or not, which was important. But I’d expected that. The bigger thing was that I had to go collect the money from my clients and turn it over to the person who organized the paper routes. And there was always a problem with somebody paying late, or somebody I just had to keep going back to again and again in order to persuade them to pay their 25 cents.

I learned about tenacity and follow through and being assertive with people who had more power — grownups. And I learned that some people really hate to part with money. Those weren’t lessons I was getting in my eighth grade classroom.

Let kids fail.

This cannot be overstated in a time when “helicopter parenting” is a best practice in many households. Yes, it’s hard to watch our kids stumble and fumble. And parents who live and breathe a culture of winning and performance at work may find this especially hard.

But allowing kids of all ages to make mistakes and learn from them teaches them to weather tough situations, reflect upon them, bounce back — and, yes, win. As parents we really should practice standing back more often than stepping in — from the playgrounds and the playing fields to the classroom. 

Encourage college work that is aligned with studies.

Every parent has to decide on the value of summer jobs for their kids in high school. My wife and I pretty much left the job decision up to them when they were younger — Lifeguard? Ice cream scooper? Landscaper? Fine by us! But by the time college rolls around, college students should be strategic in shaping their summer work choices and matching them to their college major — already an area of interest.

Is your daughter going to major in political science? Perhaps she can work at a non-profit. Does your son want to break into marketing? Encourage him to find an internship at a marketing firm or advertising agency. It’s valuable for kids to get a glimpse at life in their chosen fields. It might just stoke their ambition while they start building a resume.

Related: 5 Components of an Attention-Grabbing Resume

Ask young adults to open their wallets.

Who foots the bill for college is a highly personal decision for families. Partly because of what my wife and I went through, and the student debt we carried in our 20s, we haven’t asked our kids to shoulder that responsibility. We are also incredibly fortunate, and don’t take that lightly. But I can tell you from experience that paying for college yourself magically sharpens your focus on your school work and the decisions you make.

Perhaps you ask your child to pay some of the cost — books, room and board, study abroad expenses or something along those lines. Or you can decide they will be the one footing the bill for those late night pizzas and off-campus meals. That used book or night out may be cherished by a student paying for it with her hard-earned money!

Adjust expectations of success.

Ok, so perhaps you always hoped your daughter would be a doctor or join the family business. Your son may have yearned to be a newspaper reporter. But these dreams don’t always work out in the face of experience. Sometimes igniting an ambition means being flexible enough to change direction. An internship I had in commercial banking in college was a coup for me to get. I applied myself to the work and absorbed everything I could. As part of my training I worked in all different aspects of the bank, and I was grateful for the opportunities it presented to me.

But at a certain point I realized I was far more fascinated in how businesses worked than in how to lend money to them. I gave myself permission to switch tracks, and never looked back. That child you observe dawdling his way through law school might actually shine as an entrepreneur or a salesman or — who knows? — a commercial fisherman. You need to enlarge your vision of your children’s possibilities, and help them enlarge theirs, too.

Related: How to Change Careers in 2017

Having conversations with our kids about our expectations for them isn’t always comfortable. On top of that, framing those talks so they actually engage and absorb this guidance can prove challenging for parents. However, watching a child blossom, seeing him or her reaping the personal rewards that come from success —however it is measured — is excellent for them and one of parenthood’s greatest satisfactions.    

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This Entrepreneur Lives in the Back Room at a Gym While Building His Business

The walls of my makeshift room rattle to the bass of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The floor under my back rumbles from the impact of heavy weights hitting a concrete floor. With my head pounding and my eardrums aching, I slowly stand. My bloodshot eyes open to the sunlight peeking through my cardboard-covered window. I peer through the crack and my nightmare is realized. It’s 5 a.m., I live in a gym and there’s a damn CrossFit class outside of my door. My day has begun.

I drop my head and begin the walk of shame. I can feel the eyes of these morning warriors tracking me as I disappear into the hallway. My self-esteem drops with each step. I’ve slept on couches in Harlem with nothing but a fan to fend off the July heat. I’ve crashed on beanbags in Wall Street offices with nothing but the echoes of free market capitalism to keep me company at night.

Related: Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian: Building a Business Mostly Isn’t Fun

Hell, I even moved back in with my parents well after they turned my bedroom into an office. I thought I was finally immune to this never-ending state of anxiety. Nope. I can’t help but feel defrauded. This is not the life Hollywood promises. This is nothing like all those commencement speeches that told me to “follow my passion” and “all it takes is ambition.” Maybe it takes more than a black turtleneck, vegan diet and a gigantic ego to “Think Differently” and change the world.

As I place a thin strip of toothpaste onto a dying electric brush, I search for motivation. Jobs. Gates. Musk. They were the geniuses of their generation. I’m a former pro hockey player with more scars than accolades, a night school degree and a goal to change a game dominated by moguls with Monopoly money. Still practically in REM, I think back to the phrase in broken English that ended my hockey career and turned my world upside down.

“American[sic] drink this shit!?”

I wasn’t sitting in a Cambridge lab concocting formulas with MIT professors. All it took was a tiny locker room in northern Scandinavia, the overbearing scent of mint Snus and my captain staring down disgusted at a 5-Hour Energy bottle that changed my life forever. I honestly don’t know why this struck such a chord, but it did, and my pursuit of an energy shot fit for athletes began. TruEnergy was born.

Maybe, I received one too many blows to the head that caused me to live in my own alternative reality. How can I possibly impact the beverage industry while living in a gym, babysitting on the side and coaching tennis to 5-year-year olds for lunch money? If this were March Madness, I am the 16th ranked team with a handful of undersized guys and they are Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team. The odds don’t seem favorable.

Related: How Jack Ma Overcame His 7 Biggest Failures

I take a swig of Listerine, hoping to chase away the doubt, but it just keeps coming. My friends with their slick jobs, big paychecks and healthy relationships. My Facebook feed with its relentless optimism. The wedding invitations flowing through my mailbox (at my parents’ house). I feel lost. I’m the CEO of an energy shot company who spends more time flirting with an empty bank account than with pretty women at the bar.

I stare into the mirror, struck by the drooping eyes looking back at me. Apparently, I have aged faster in the 20 months since taking TruEnergy full-time than I thought biologically possible. The consistent stress, inconsistent food, and all-nighters are finally catching up to me. My waistline is shrinking and the full head of hair that once flowed beneath my helmet is disappearing. Maybe it’s time for a vacation. I think about taking up my brother’s offer to join him on a quick trip to Belize where I could take in some much needed sun. I contemplate jumping at my friend’s suggestion to take a break, head to Colorado and carve up the slopes. Except those things take money and I’m broke. But more than that, I need every second for the business. And while I’m devastated by the reality of my circumstances, I remember that this was no one’s fault but my own. I chose this.

Now fully drained of life, I splash a wave of freezing water onto my face with one last hope of jump-starting my day. The water succeeds where the Listerine failed. Everything becomes clear. Maybe, this is not the life that was architected by my formal education, my family or even God; however, I am addicted to the rush. Keeping my head above the quicksand of our burn rate is a constant struggle that I strangely enjoy. Wearing more hats than a mannequin exposes creativity within me that I never knew existed. Poking the giants of the beverage industry leaves me exhilarated as they ignore my jabs due to my small stature. I am not a Monster, a Rock Star or a Red Bull. I antagonize, disrupt and irritate. I am the little brother that you wish you never had. I am a tick that one day the industry will notice after it’s too late. The journey is my passion while my legacy will be the outcome. This is my chance.

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After all, I know why I’m here. There is something inside me, inside everyone like me. It pushed me into that first incubator and then dragged me through the next two accelerators. It’s not dumb luck that people invested their hard earned money in the company and that friends and family backed the crowdfunding campaigns. There is a reason why so many people helped me to get to this point without asking for a damn thing in return.

The reason is simple. Those people believe because I believe. I towel off my aging but energetic face. Sure, I may never be the next Richard Branson, but that’s not the goal. I will never be a self-made man as it’s not really a battle of me against the world. Everyone around me has made sacrifices so I could get to this point. People have come out of the woodwork to help turn my dream into a reality. I owe my friends, family and investors everything. Self pity won’t pay the bills while quitting is treason. A spirit-crushing dose of reality from a locker room mirror will be profitable. I can’t give up now. This is where I belong.

I take one final stare into the man looking back, droopy eyes and all. He is not the smartest guy in the room, the most commanding leader in corporate America or the finest creative mind in the world. He is an ordinary guy willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish something extraordinary. This is just another day at the office, and he is going to crush it.

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