One of the best bits of advice I ever received during my intellectual and professional development was from a boss and mentor I had when I was about 25 years old.  I was working as a website manager for a social networking site, and my boss was the CEO of the company that ran it.  After I committed an embarrassing series of blunders that hurt the site and my reputation, I started to feel defensive when some of the individuals who were damaged by my mistakes would challenge my capability.  I responded by reminding them that I was Berkeley educated, hoping that they would take my meaning that I was smart – perhaps even smarter than these people making the accusations.  Jed, my boss, wisely and simply stated, “You know, Drew, people who really ‘have it’ don’t need to talk about the fact that they have it.  You have it, so cool it.”

I think about that experience often, and whenever I am feeling insecure and tempted to showcase my credentials, I’m reminded of Jed’s simple advice.  Obviously, being respected and valued is important to everybody, but it’s important that the respect and value flow from the reputation you have for being a decent person and for creating good things in the world.  Not only will having a strong, credible reputation help you address the aforementioned, fundamental human need, but it will help you in your professional or personal endeavors irrespective of your situation.  If you want to demonstrate to the world that you’re credible, not only should you resist taking shortcuts, but you need to be willing to put in the work necessary to build your credibility.  Here are my thoughts on the kinds of things that you should be willing to do.

 

1. Read. A lot.

According to oft-cited psychological studies, there is a strong positive correlation with a large vocabulary and the quality of being perceived as intelligent.  The best way to cultivate and refine a vocabulary is by consuming the writings of other authors.  Repeated exposure to words that can more precisely describe the idea you’re trying to get across will naturally increase your vocabulary, and you will instantly be perceived as more credible.

Additionally, reading from a variety of sources exposes you to a wide array of knowledge that will give you the ability to be more conversational.  Having the ability to speak intelligently, even if casually, on current events and other areas of interest to people will make it easier to connect with them.  People will also perceive that you are interested and engaged in the world around you, which can also enhance your credibility.

Highly credible people tend to consume large amounts of information (and mostly by reading), and when you’re interacting with other credible people, they will recognize that quality about you and you will be more readily accepted into their professional and social circles.  My advice is to read from several different sources.  Read newspaper articles, read books, read professional publications relevant to your field.  Also read the informed opinions of people who do not share your viewpoints – that will help you understand how to meaningfully address people who have disagreements with you, and it will help prepare you for the emotional and cognitive dissonance that people often feel when their views are challenged.  Of course, all of these things take time to do, but the effect it will have on your reputation cannot be overstated.

 

2. Create Value in Your World

Most people, in assessing an individual’s credibility, will look more to the kind of work she is doing and the kind of value she is creating than they will to her credentials.  Imagine what your perception of an individual with a degree from an Ivy League institution would be if she decided to spend her productive hours playing video games or picking fights on the internet, and she refused to find gainful employment.  Maybe she is even a card-carrying member of Mensa.  Would you feel a little judgmental about the fact that she is squandering her gift and refusing to add value to society?  So would I.  Would you find her credentials unimpressive if she’s not putting her talents to good use?  So would I. High credentials don’t work well as a shortcut to credibility.

Being employed at a company that does work about which you can feel legitimately proud is a great way to create value, but there are lots of ways to create value – many of which do not require high salaries or complicated products.  Perhaps creating value means spending your productive hours volunteering at a non-profit, writing a blog, or otherwise doing things that are going to benefit the world.  Credentials, like degrees, are nice and may demonstrate that you have talent, but in order to have real credibility, you need to create.

Salespeople often like to talk about the “ABC’s” of sales.  Always. Be. Closing.  I’ve co-opted it a little bit, and I like to follow the ABC’s of life.  Always. Be. Creating.  And there are always opportunities to be creative, constructive, and contributive to the causes that are most important to you.  Doing so is the best way to build a great reputation.

3. Don’t Brag

It likely goes without saying that nobody likes a braggart, and a highly credible person ought to avoid earning this label at all cost.  For people with reputations for being highly capable, not only do ostentatious displays accomplish nothing constructive, but there’s a very good chance that you’ll create resentment in the people around you.  Some folks will see the bragging and dismiss it as irrelevant, but some people will strongly resent it.  If you’re serious about having credibility, be careful not to do things that alienate the people around you unnecessarily.

Everybody wants to be valued and recognized for the contribution that they’re making to the world, and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask for a little more positive reinforcement from your coworkers and friends.  But don’t be a braggart – those that know and love you will probably recognize it as a thinly veiled attempt at dealing with one of your insecurities, and those that you don’t know well will like you less and won’t take you as seriously.

 

4. Be Introspective

Lastly, one of the most important qualities of a highly credible individual is the ability to be introspective and to recognize her own flaws.  This goes hand-in-hand with the advice to avoid being a braggart.  Just as bragging can rapidly alienate somebody, introspective statements (and occasionally, the self-deprecating joke) can rapidly build rapport and credibility.  People tend to like other people who are willing to be a little vulnerable and do not take themselves too seriously.  It’s also immensely important to determine where your weaknesses are, and to either discover ways to overcome those weaknesses, or else find other solutions to shore them up.  It takes introspection to do that.

I hope that this guide has been helpful, and that I’m seen as a sufficiently credible person to give advice on the subject!

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Starting a business can be daunting, frustrating, and confusing. If you’re planning on starting a business in California, follow this checklist of 10 easy steps to ensure your best chance of success.

 

1. Have an Idea
All businesses start with an idea. Usually, it begins when a prospective business owner becomes aware that he/she can be particularly effective at providing goods or services, or the individual identifies that the people around him/her have a need that is not being met. When you have a good idea on how to provide a solution for your potential customers, it is time to start planning and strategizing on how to effectively deliver that need, and make a profit in the process.

2. Choose a Business Name
Naming a company can be difficult, especially if you have limited access to the market research done in your particular field. The types of names that consumers consider effective varies widely with the industry and the modern trends, but this decision is an extremely important one for branding purposes. While it is often technically easy to change the official name of the business, it can be very difficult to get your potential customers to recognize the change when you are marketing to them. You also want to make sure it is a name you can protect, and that you are not using a name that violates another business’s intellectual property rights. It is always wise to consult with an attorney prior to picking your business name to avoid future headaches. Do not be lazy about this step – make sure that you pick an effective and appropriate name!

3. Write a Business Plan
When you have an idea for a business, the very first thing that you should do is begin to write a comprehensive business plan. These plans should include information about all relevant steps of getting your products or services to your customer (e.g. marketing, manufacturing, distribution, etc) as well as a plan for managing the finances and accounting. For many people who have never started a business, this can be a very intimidating task. Luckily, there are several resources for future business owners to access available for free on the internet. For example, The US Small Business Administration (SBA) has several instructional articles and tips on how to write a solid business plan. Make sure you have one of these in place before you do anything else – it will be important to present to potential investors, banks, and high-level executives. And if you ever feel like you are getting lost in the process, a business plan is a great reference to have to guide you back to your course.

4. Decide on the Optimal Location
For many businesses, location is everything. Finding a good location for certain types of businesses, such as retail stores or restaurants, can be the difference between success and failure. Any business, however, benefits by positioning itself in a strategic geographical location. Whether you require a large commercial space, small storefront property, or you can operate your business out of your home, make sure you do the necessary research and take the necessary time to determine what you will need to properly run your business. When you talk to your local business attorney, you can ask him/her about any local zoning ordinances, permits, or licenses that you will need to consider when you set up shop.

5. Secure Funding for your Business
Most businesses require a fair amount of money in startup costs, and once the business is running, businesses have overhead costs that require money to maintain. Additionally, if your new business is your new full-time position, you may want to set aside a small salary for your living expenses. No matter your business, you will want to determine how much money that you think you will need, and start talking to potential investors or lenders to secure the funding. There are several funding types you can get, including Small Business Loans (SBA), venture capital, business startup grants, angel investors, or investing partners to name a few. Be aware that getting investments from non-relatives or qualified investors triggers securities laws, so if you are looking for initial investment capital from outside sources, you should speak with a business attorney and make sure you stay within the safe harbor protection rules for small business.

6. Choose the Proper Business Entity
In almost all circumstances, creating a separate business entity is an important step when starting a new business. While technically individuals can run businesses as sole proprietors or general partners, operating your business in this way can come with tremendous risk. If you ever run into any kind of legal trouble, people with claims against you can sue you individually, and you have no corporate-shield protection against lawsuits. Additionally, there can be several tax advantages to establishing a business entity. Consult with your local attorney or tax professional to determine whether a corporation, limited liability company, professional corporation, trust, REIT, or some other entity is the best fit for your business needs.

7. File the Necessary Documents with the Government
Most types of businesses require multiple filings with the Secretary of State where your business is located, and where you do business if you are in multiple states or countries. Occasionally, there are advantages to creating a business entity outside of the state in which you reside, but make sure to consult with a tax professional or business law attorney before you make that decision. If you are starting a corporation, for example, you will be required to file articles of organization, a statement of information, and several other documents from time to time with their respective filing fees. Building a relationship with a business attorney is a vital step to guiding you properly through this process. Additionally, before you can do several important things that are necessary for your business (such as setting up a bank account), you will need to receive an Employer Identification Number, or Tax Identification Number from the IRS. This can be done through an online application, but if you need help your attorney or tax professional can help you through this process too.

8. File for the Appropriate Business Permits and Licenses
Most businesses are required to operate with some type of license or permit. There are several resources at your disposal to help you determine what the necessary permits are for your particular business. You can consult with your attorney to help you determine what you will need, or you can use free government resources such as http://www.calgold.ca.gov to assist you in finding the information you require.

9. Hire Employees
Most businesses are difficult to run with one person, and it quickly becomes necessary to hire some additional help. Navigating the waters of properly establishing an employer or contractor relationship can be one of the most treacherous, difficult, and confusing undertakings for individuals starting a new business. Do not attempt to do this by yourself. California law heavily favors employees whenever an employment dispute arises, and the regulations surrounding the proper practices when maintaining the employer/employee relationship are dense, complicated, occasionally overbearing, and always dangerous. Above all else, this is one part of establishing a new business where enlisting the help of a business or employment attorney is imperative. One of the biggest reasons California based small businesses file bankruptcy or fail is due to improper employment practices. Violations of laws protecting employees can result in astronomical penalties and fines, especially here in California!

10. Set up a Double-Entry Bookkeeping System
Once you have everything else in place, you must set up an effective bookkeeping system to ensure you can keep track of how your business is performing. It also helps keep your business compliant with reporting and tax regulations. Proper bookkeeping, can also protect you from different types of liability when others make claims against you — especially any alter ego liability. The simplest and safest way to do this is to consult with an accountant or QuickBooks Certified Bookkeeper to assist you in getting started, but there are other free resources available on the internet to assist business owners in this part of the business’s administration. If you do not have an accountant that you know and trust, you can ask your business attorney for a referral to a trustworthy and fair accountant to help you get your bookkeeping system started correctly.

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