How To Start & Grow Your Business

Veteran startup mentor, Martin Zwilling, shares his knowledge

Asher Fergusson
Apr 13th, 2016
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  • Biography

    CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management. Published on Forbes, Gust, Young Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review, and Huffington Post.

  • #1 Tip for Startups

    I think one of the most common questions I get is, where do I start? And my answer to that really is just start. There’s a thousand ways to start and there isn’t any formula for running a business.

Martin’s background and how he grew his blog

I’m actually semi-retired at the moment. I’ve had a good career at IBM for many years and I spent years in Silicon Valley doing consulting with large and small companies. I got interested in helping startups because I had worked with some investors and venture capital people, as well as startups.

So what I do is really try to help early stage startups. That means I’m an adviser on their advisory board. I help write a business plan. I actually charge money for these things, writing business plans and advisory services, but I do some volunteer work at local universities and with common people as well.

I’ve also had a blog for about seven years I think. I write something and I publish something almost every day. Either my blog or one of the other blogs that I frequent. I actually write a blog once a week or an article once a week for Forbes. I write 2 per-week for Entrepreneur and Inc. I kind of syndicate those back to my own blog as well and publish on a few other sites.

I started my own website and I created a website that had all kinds of credentials, but it turns out the phone didn’t ring. And so, I talked to a friend of mine in Silicon Valley and he said, “You really need to write a blog. You need to make yourself visible and define yourself as an expert in this phase.” So I started writing every day basically.

Success/Fireworks over water

How to Stick Out on the Internet

I definitely believe that you have to get outside your own blog. In other words, you have to go to places like Forbes which has something like two million page views per day on their site. So anybody that publishes there gets visibility, or Entrepreneur, Inc., similar kind of thing. It’s hard to get that visibility amongst all of those other blogs without it.

In addition, you have to do promotion of your own blog. I have something like 800,000 Twitter followers and it means every time I write an article or publish an article, I go to my Twitter feed and say, “Hey, I just wrote this new article” and give the link to it. I do that for not only my articles, but maybe two or three good blog articles that I’ve written.

In other words, I try to make my feeds a curator kind of thing. In other words, try to pick some important articles. I publish or I promote myself on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and several other sites. So, it’s a combination of several things.

Sitting around waiting for people to find you is a long wait. You have to find out where people are going to get yourself visible in that regard. And of course then, you have to interact with people. Meaning, you have to respond to comments.

I started on Twitter. I think when I started my profile, I kind of said, “I will answer any business questions known to man.” Now, I thought that was a little risky, but it turns out, people asked me very simple easy question like, what do I have to do to be an entrepreneur. Pretty hard to answer in a 140 characters, but not so technically difficult. But that’s a way of promoting yourself.

I’m actually a big believer in what I call Pull Marketing, which is the opposite of Push Marketing, where you say, “Hey, I have these products, these services and I’m an expert.” You tell everybody what you do and kind of beg them for your business. I believe that you push out value. You say, “Here’s an article which talks about crowd funding a thousand different things.” You offer to respond to any question and you assume that people that really need more help will say, “Wow! This guy might really know something and maybe I will go look at his website and see what he could offer me in addition to those simple questions.”

Close up of a female hands typing on keyboard.

Finding Work-Life Balance

First of all, I only work half time, which is 40 hours a week. I used to work 80 hours a week.

I try to keep half a dozen clients that I’m advising or I’m on their board. I do the writing and in fact, I can do that pretty comfortably. I have no real expectation of growing my business to the point of needing to hire a bunch of people and/or trying to work 20 hours a day. I really do feel that you have to be comfortable and love what you do. And with that, it doesn’t seem like a lot.

The writing that I do requires that I do some research, because when an entrepreneur asks me a question that I don’t really know, that gives me incentive to go spend some time on the internet. After, I try to answer the question and maybe I’ll write an article about it. I learn from everyone and I learn from every new situation. To me, that’s the most fun there is, is learning new things.

Favorite Tools of the Trade

I use Dropbox and I’ve used Google Drive. I’m a techy at heart. In other words, I was born and raised in IBM and at the PC. I helped the original PC development team and so, I try out all new tools. I’m an early adopter, so I’ve probably tried most tools that people have heard of. But, I’m a hard pressed to fall in love with one and to the degree that I would say, “Well, this one is really the ultimate tool.”

The Art of Start book

Recommended Reading

I would have to say that Guy Kawasaki is kind of a hero of mine. He wrote a book called The Art of the Start, which is really about startups. He has written a couple of those and I think that’s really for my area, entrepreneurs and startups’ kind of a bible that everybody should read. Definitely, I am going after him as a model for my writing.

Internet Giants

I actually know Bill Gates from Microsoft. I met him when I was working at IBM and he was working at Microsoft. I think a lot of Microsoft. As a matter of fact, they’ve done a lot in changing the way software is done and helped the computer business grow. So, I probably respect them as much as anyone.

On the other hand, I use Google every day. I think Google has done a fabulous job of automating the access to information to me, which is like the Library of Congress, only updated daily. I pride myself in being able to find anything that’s out there as readily or more readily than anybody else.

His #1 Tip for Entrepreneurs

I think one of the most common questions I get is, where do I start? And my answer to that really is just start.

There’s a thousand ways to start and there isn’t any formula for running a business. So to me, pick something that you love or that you’re passionate about. Go to the internet and figure out how to build a business whether it’s a C corp or whatever you choose and then find the steps from there.

There really isn’t any formula that everybody is looking for. Everybody is, “Well, what do I need? Am I doing correctly? What’s the next step?” I think that’s an indication that you don’t have the confidence that you need in yourself. With the information that’s out there, they give you plenty of options.

About the Author

Asher Fergusson

Asher has a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) degree and was the CEO of his own startup Internet marketing business for 6 years before selling it in 2014. He specializes in fields such as Search Engine Optimization and Facebook Advertising where he's helped countless small businesses successfully compete with large corporations. He is now the full-time CMO at bizHUMM sharing all his knowledge of how to start and grow small businesses in the most powerful and cost effective ways.