Let’s Break These Unhealthy Work Habits and Be More Productive

By: Mae Demdam
At Zen Den we’re not the hoodie wearing, Cheetos eating type, although we like both, nor are we Bosu ball sitting and the “shoes off” meeting kind of agency either. We’re a creative agency with individual personalities working together in our best version of a “zen-like” state, but that doesn’t mean we don’t succumb to some of the popular unhealthy work habits.

Since we’re always sharing ideas of how we can improve as a company we thought we’d divulge on the top Unhealthy Work Habits and how to break them:

Staying Put– This habit is visible in any job setting whether you’re in a corporate office environment, hospital, bank, anywhere really if you don’t get up from your desk and move around you are encouraging some unhealthy tendencies.

  • Lack of blood flow
  • Poor posture
  • Weight gain
  • Low Morale
  • Fatigue

We suggest getting up and moving around. Although it may seem silly to get up and walk around the office a bit sometimes it’s necessary to get you out of “production” mode. Immersing yourself in work can be a bad thing.

Here’s some ways to get moving:

  • Get a stand up desk
  • Engage with co-workers at the water cooler
  • Grab a cup of coffee
  • Step outside
  • Take a call standing up

Eating at your desk– Guilty as charged! Our team often eats at our desks because of space constraints, but with weather permitting we’ve begun to take lunch to the streets and enjoy our little neighborhood park, Patricia’s Green. When you eat at your desk it can lead to the following:

It may seem like poor work ethic to leave a project hanging while you step out for lunch, but despite what you may think, that break is necessary. Even if you bring a lunch, step away from your desk and find a new spot to eat. If your office doesn’t have a break room, find an outdoor dining area or a cafeteria setting nearby. Either way don’t eat hovered over your keyboard.

Messy Desks– Things can get chaotic during the workday, thus sticky notes, crumpled papers, stacks or books, etc is normal, but keeping it this way isn’t. Having an unorganized work space can lead to additional stress, anxiety, and also harbors germs. It’s important to learn to let things go, throw away unnecessary papers, clean off your desk with anti-bacterial wipes and organize your files once a week. Not only will you feel accomplished, but when you return to work the next week you’ll come back to a neutral and clean environment.

Laptops– Although these machines are becoming the necessary device to use in the work space they can lead to negative effects. Having a laptop means you have a mobile machine which seems great, but many of us may not be using them wisely, i.e. propping them on our laps or hunching over the keyboard or pulling the screens extremely close to our faces. If you use a laptop try to purchase a tray to elevate the machine as it may improve posture. Make sure your laptop sits in a position that isn’t causing neck pain. Practice chair yoga through the day so you’re joints and muscles don’t stiffen.

Snackingwork snack stash with healthy items like fresh fruit, granola, yogurt and vegetables. Start a healthy office eating campaign and get everyone on board.

Remember a company is only as good as it’s best employees and to be the best you have to take care of yourselves. The majority of our lives are spent at work, thus we need to break the bad work habits to improve our overall health and wellness.

How Business Consulting Can Save You Money

How Business Consulting Can Save You Money

A Guy and His Start-up Idea

I recently met with a potential client to discuss his new website project. Now, I meet or take phone calls on a daily basis with potential clients who have a web based business idea. Its a mixed bag of good, bad, and terrible ideas for the next big Internet sensation. In the spirit of anonymity I’ll refer to this client as Guy.

So, Guy and I casually began discussing the general idea of how he wanted his website to work. The idea was to connect high-school athletes with professional coaches. He had around 20 professional athletes (coaches) who had verbally committed to listing on his site. His revenue model charged coaches an annual subscription fee to be listed on the site. In theory the coaches would fill up their schedules via the website and pay a nominal fee to do so.

Internet Business Consulting San Francisco

In the span of about 20 minutes a lot of flaws were immediately apparent to me. First and foremost Guy had an unrealistic expectation of the costs associated with building his website. In addition, he was not very keen on making adjustments to the scope to bring the project within his budget. I’ve been in this business long enough to know immediately that he needed about 20-25k to execute the project he had in mind. He wanted to spend less than 10k. I could see a clearer path for the project that could be achieved with a smaller budget, but he wouldn’t have any of it. So, he was already on the path that leads many small businesses to failure, undercapitalization, or simply underestimating the costs with starting a venture.

Frustrated that Guy had walked into a Lexus dealership with the budget for a Carolla I fired off some very simple questions.

“How many paying customers do you have at this moment?”

He responded, “None, but 20 have say they are interested and want to be listed on the site.”

“How much is each customer willing to pay?”

“I”m going to charge each coach $200 a year for a subscription.” He said.

Here lies another obvious flaw. He didn’t know how much a customer was willing to pay. He only know how much he wanted to charge.

I didn’t need a calculator to figure out that even if he had 100 paying coaches he would generate 20k in the first year and this does not account for the cost of acquiring those 100 coaches and the cost of building and maintaining his website, his time, etc. The math didn’t add up.

He was so focused on minute details of the website that he hadn’t considered costs other than the initial design and build of his new site. When I inquired about PR, Marketing, Sales, and basic economics of his business idea he said he hadn’t figured that out yet.

Your idea may be the best one you have ever thought of, but there needs to be a market for your idea. Guy didn’t seem to understand that he had an idea not a business. The first 6-12 months would prove or disprove his concept.

Why Hire a Business Consultant?

The dictionary defines a consultant as “an expert in a particular field who works as an advisor either to a company or to another individual.”

Many people who initially approach me about a start-up fail to understand that they are starting a business not a website. The website is only one piece of a larger picture. Starting a business takes a lot of resources, both time and money. The Internet does not circumvent this process. In other words, a web based business is exactly the same as starting any traditional business, it’s a lot of work and a website is a component of the start-up equation not the entire equation.

One must still consider marketing, PR, payroll, manufacturing, rent, revenues, accounting, billing, financing, and most importantly customers.

Often founders are too close to the problems to identify them. That’s when a the benefits of a consultant can save the day and your hard earned money. Hiring a consultant could save a lot of wasted time and money on a poorly planned or managed project. In fact, the best advice might be don’t start the business at all.

So, if you are considering a new venture it is in your best interest to bring in a consultant in some capacity. A good consultant provides an objective, fresh, and knowledgeable viewpoint, which provides your venture a greater chance of succeeding.


My Top 6 Business Books to Read for Entrepreneurs

By: Chad Bell
Business school taught me the fundamentals of business which I use in my everyday management of Zen Den Web Design. However, my MBA did not prepare me for the challenges I would eventually face as an entrepreneur. I filled that huge gap with books that have not only taught me valuable lessons, but also inspired me and continue to inspire me when things get rough and I want to throw in the towel.

Being an entrepreneur is the hardest, most grueling, challenging, tiring, rewarding, exciting, and stimulating experience I’ve ever enjoyed and hated all at the same time. So, if you find yourself on this same roller coaster or are contemplating getting on this ride here are my personal top 6 business books to read for entrepreneurs. I’m sure this list will grow and evolve over time. Next on my to read list is Made to Stick, which has been sitting on my shelf for years waiting to be read.

Confessions of a Serial Entrpreneur1. Confessions of a Serial Entrepreneur – This is one of the first biz books I read. I felt a certain connection to Stuart because at the time I had two friends who worked at Elephant Pharmacy in Berkeley, CA and I visited the store frequently. They both loved working at Elephant and my friend who worked in the corporate office would often tell me random stories about her interactions with Stuart and the respect she had for him. I remember thinking to myself,  “I want to run a company in a manner that my employees hold me in such esteem.”

2. The Monk and the Riddle – This book was recommended to me by a successful entrepreneur. At the time I had The-Monk-and-the-Riddle-Randy-Komisarrecently quit a very good job in order to pursue my entrepreneurial calling. I was consumed with self doubt and often thought I had made a terrible mistake. The following quote from the book provided the inspiration to continue on the path I was on in spite of my doubts.

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”

The journey I was setting out on was risky, but not as risky as not taking the journey at all.

The Art of War3. The Art of War – I read this book just before I hired my first employee. It helped shape the attitudes I have towards the people who work not for me, but rather with me. This was reinforced when a contractor who was working with me at the time commented on the fact that I always paid on time. I still always pay everyone else before I pay myself knowing that I can not head into battle with troops that are hungry or worse, disgruntled.

4. Reality Check – I had a professor that frequently dropped Guy’s name in our class discussions so I went out and bought this book. I still incorporate lessons from his pages titled ‘The Art of Bootstrapping.’Guy-Kawasaki-Reality-Check

5. The 4-Hour Work Week – I’m not the only skeptic who approached this book under the assumption that it was a get rich quick kind of read. However, by the time I was half way through the book every other page was dog eared. One of my favorite chapters is ‘The End of Time Management.’ I used to be a 4-Hour-Work-Week-Timothy-Ferrissbig multi-tasker, but Timothy impressed on me just how inefficient and unproductive this habit is. Now I always start my day with a task list and tackle one task at a time rather than 12 tasks at a time. I get a lot more done in a day. Although I’m still seduced by the illusion that if I do more I’ll get more done I start and stop tasks throughout the day much less.

6. Pour Your Heart Into It – I’m sure there are plenty of Starbuck’s haters out there, but no one can deny the success of the company. I have a friend who worked there when he was in graduate school. He took the job because he needed health insurance and could work part-time to receive benefits. He actually liked working there. At the time I was perplexed that a company could create an atmosphere where people felt valued and also liked to work. Now after reading Pour-Your-Heart.Into-It-Howard-SchultzHoward’s book I have a better understanding of how some companies do so.

By this time next year I’ll probably have a top 10 or 15 business books which have influenced me. I actually have left off at least 5 others books so perhaps in the near future I’ll at least get a top 10 list. One thing is certain, I draw on the experience contained in these books not some days, but rather everyday because if I’m not working I’m at the very least thinking about how to be a better entrepreneur almost every waking moment.


Project Management and Client Expectations

A major challenge in our industry is project management and client expectations. We’ve all experienced the project that went south resulting in major stress and a frustrated or angry client. However, most of these problems can be resolved before hand if you set reasonable expectations up front. Easier said than done in my experience. So, here is what I’ve learned from many sleepless nights.


Ask clients before a project what they expect from you. If they are expecting something that can’t be delivered it’s best to work this out before hand. For example, perhaps a client wants an immediate response to his/her emails. This is unrealistic because it disrupts the workflow in your office and consumes resources especially if you have an email happy client. Have language in your contract or project proposal that states response times, for example, all non-urgent emails and phone calls will be responded to within 24 hours. Don’t forget to define urgent because in the mind of a client everything is urgent.

On the other hand it is necessary to communicate your expectations of your client. We often need a decision or clarification from a client in order to proceed with their project. We send an email and after a day or two we get no response or the “We’ll get back to you shortly on this.”  Then what happens? The client responds on a Friday evening and expects us to continue as if no time was lost, same deadline, same deliverables. In order to protect yourself from such a scenario be sure to have language in your proposal to mitigate this issue.

Project Scope

Scope creep is a reality of any project-based business. Despite your best efforts to define the specs and requirement of a project additional requests start to come in from the client. As soon as you agree to accommodate any additional specs you’ve opened the floodgates. Now your client expects that all requests will be met with the same response and you are now a yes man or woman. It is much easier to put your client on a short leash at the beginning than try to shorten the leash at a later point in the project.

First, it’s important to define all the specs and moving parts of a project with as much clarity as possible and to include these details in a project proposal document. We explicitly state that any additional work to the project scope is billable at an hourly rate. Clearly defining boundaries at this early stage will help limit potential scope creep.

So, you don’t have to say no to your client. Instead explain how the changes will affect the existing project. Then if they still want to proceed explain how the change will require documentation, adjustment to delivery date, and most importantly additional billing. It’s interesting how changes become less important to a client when they have to pay for these changes.

Although it is impossible to anticipate all challenges that will or could arise with your clients; you can ask yourself where the most stress is emanating from. From this point you can begin to set clearer expectations for yourself, employees, and/or clients.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business

By: Chad Bell
Recently, I met with a prospective client who had an idea to develop an eCommerce store for a new product he had created. He waxed on about how great the product is as well as the value that it would provide his future customers. Having met too many people who have not stopped to consider whether or not their brilliant new product or service will actually provide significant benefits, I was impressed. Excited, I asked, “Who is going to buy this?” That’s when we hit a brick wall. With an empty stare he responded, “I don’t know.”

Sadly, my new client was following in the footsteps of many before him, particularly those who found themselves broken down on the side of the new business highway. He, as so many others, fall prey to the belief that the criteria for a successful business is comprised solely of a good idea. The idea of ‘build it and they will come’ worked in “Field of Dreams”, but it won’t work in business. The art of business is spotting an opportunity, or an unmet need in the marketplace, and filling that space with your product or service.

So before you invest your, or worse – someone else’s, money you should be able to answer these 5 simple yet very important questions.

  1. What value will my product or service provide for customers? In other words, what pain will my product or service alleviate?
  2. Who will my customers be? More precisely, who is going to buy my product or service?
  3. How much will customers be willing to pay for my product or service? It is important to differentiate between what you provide and its perceived value.
  4. Why would customers choose my product or service over competitors’? “I don’t have any competition” is not the correct response here.
  5. What resources will I need to provide my product or service? Think production: financial, tangible, intangible (e.g. trademark), human capital, etc.

Whether or not you are beginning a new venture, you can minimize the risk of losing customers to competition by focusing on ways to better provide your services. Asking yourself these questions will serve to help you launch a new product or service, or to improve your existing business.

What questions did you ask yourself before starting your business?

E-mail Rules I Try to Live By

By: Chad Bell
A recent article in Business Week, Respond to All (Relevant) Email Yourself (April 13, 2010), started me thinking about the nature of building client relationships and the use of email. As business owners, we are acutely aware of the marketplace becoming more competitive everyday. Whether our business is acupuncture or general contracting, we will need to find ways to differentiate our business from competitors. One way to do this is to build strong relationships with our clients through email. While oftentimes email can be very impersonal, it doesn’t have to be.

Through the process of making many mistakes, I have learned some valuable lessons on how to use email effectively in regards to maintaining relationships with my clients. I want to share the 5 email rules that I believe have directly contributed to building stronger relationships.  Some of these may seem so obvious that we tend to neglect them in our day-to-day correspondences.

1. I respond to every email that a client sends! Even if I do not think it requires a response, I guarantee that the client does.

2. I respond to emails ASAP! I always respond the same day I receive the email and try to do so within 4 hours. I am mindful however, that my timeliness will set a precedent. If I respond to a client within 1 hour, then he/she will come to expect that in the future.

3. I send emails- not text messages or tweets! I am a professional, so my emails should be too. I always begin an email with “Hi (client’s name)” and sign off with “Thanks”.

4. I never attempt to resolve a conflict through email! This deserves repeating. I never attempt to resolve a conflict through email. I learned this the hard way, so now I always pick up the phone for this purpose. Email has its limitations and this is just one example.

5. I do not delete client emails! It never fails; whatever it is that I delete ends up containing a piece of information that I need at some point in the future. Whenever I feel the urge to delete something, I create a folder and label it with the client’s name or business and keep it there until that project is completed. I have 7GB of space in my Gmail account; that is a lot of emails, so I don’t worry about using up precious inbox space.

As my client list grows, I’m sure this list will as well. I have found that the quality of my relationships with clients has improved since I made a conscious decision to follow these rules. What are some of the lessons you have learned about email and client relationships? Feel free to share by adding a comment.

Client Expectations and Google AdWords

By: Chad Bell
Having worked with clients to manage their AdWords campaigns, I have discovered a common theme. They don’t have clear goals for their advertising campaign. Everyone wants to join the AdWords gold rush, but very few people know what to expect. I asked a client, “What do you want to achieve through AdWords?” He responded, “I want to make more money!” Well, we all want to make more money but there are steps that we need to take before revenues start to increase and a good starting point is to increase traffic to your website. AdWords, as with any form of advertising, is a way to introduce your business to potential customers and get them to walk through the door of your company, in this case, your website. So, the firstgoal of a new AdWords campaign should simply be to increase traffic to your site in the most cost effective way possible. This is where the value in hiring someone to manage your advertising comes in. Most people don’t have the time or resources to monitor the effectiveness of the ad campaign, let alone make the necessary changes to address inefficiencies.