Archive for February, 2014


Keeping Your Business Organized Whether You’re a “Piler” or a “Filer”

Stocksy_txp4883eb03663000_Small_53161Take a tour of any office and you are likely to see some immaculate desks and others covered with stacks of papers.  But don’t assume that the neat desks belong to more organized people than the messy ones.  The appearance of a desk often has little to do with how well-organized a person may be (which is good news for me, given that my desk looks like a war zone…).

Your personal sense of organization may depend on something called brain hemispheric dominance.  People controlled more by the left sides of their brains tend to rely heavily on logic.  As long as you can find things when you need them, a clean desk surface typically means that you are left-brained.  If you keep piles of paper on your desktop, your right brain is probably in control.

Regardless of whether you are a “filer” or a “piler”, running a business requires you to find information quickly, successfully manage deadlines and meet all accounting and legal requirements. But fighting your natural tendencies leads to disorganization.  You need to embrace your personality type and use the following tips to develop a system that works for you.

The Pilers’ Motto– Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you are right-brain dominant, filing important information in a drawer often amounts to losing it forever. This doesn’t mean that you are more forgetful than anyone else, but keeping items in view provides the visual cues that you need to stay organized.  Take comfort in the famous quote from Albert Einstein who said, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”  Then, use the following concepts to keep your stacks under control while easing the minds of co-workers who cannot tolerate the seeming disarray:

  • Using file folders is still important:  When a stack of labeled folders replaces a stack of loose papers on your desk, the papers look neater and corresponding information stays together.  Plus, the labels provide a better visual cue, enhancing your productivity.
  • Add visibility to the clutter: Multi-tiered vertical desktop organizers are a great way to keep folders in front of you.  They are neat, they let you see exactly what’s in them with a quick glance and they free up surface area so that you can do your work more easily.
  • Keep appearances in mind:  Face it —customers visiting your office can lose confidence in your abilities if they see you surrounded by clutter.  Not to mention that new accountant you want to hire is likely to quote you a higher rate if he or she expects to deal with excess confusion.  Use attractive systems and color coding to illustrate organizational skills.

For Filers, a Cluttered Desk Equals a Cluttered Mind

For left-brain dominant people, any excess clutter can draw focus away from the task at hand.  Your natural instinct is to create elaborate file systems organized by categories and subcategories.  You keep files on the desk only when you need them and get them out of sight as soon as you’re done.  But too much organization can affect efficiency, so keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid over-categorization: Keep information that you use at one time together.  If you need to extract 20 related file folders just to get through the day’s invoicing, you’ll lose efficiency shuffling through the paperwork — and lose key information in the process.
  • Keep related items together with color: If you can’t resist splitting items into multiple chunks, use a color coding system.  You are less likely to overlook important paperwork if you pull out all green-labeled folders when you do the daily invoicing.
  • Stay organized while away from the office: As you go on sales calls or visit vendors, important notes are likely to get lost without some organizational system.  Shop around until you find a daily planner book, an electronic organizing system or a smart phone app that lets you  organize every random thought in a way that permits you to recall it instantly when you need it.

So, pile or file away using a method that will keep you organized in a way that is consistent with your strengths and preferences.


Why Your Business Is Asking All The Wrong Questions

Stocksy_txp6e171103c53000_Small_17064Many entrepreneurs start a business because they have an overwhelming passion around a certain interest. They want to help people accomplish a stated goal. A problem develops in growing their business because they continually ask the wrong question:

“I wonder if my exciting idea can help other people?”

This question is entrepreneur-centric and does not revolve around what the customer wants. Just because a person is passionate about an idea and its solution does not mean that people will pay for it. This is the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when they try to convert a hobby to a business. They have a dream that they want to earn a living doing what they love. This is a result of a misinterpretation about the feel-good directive that an entrepreneur needs to be passionate about their work. While this is true, a better view is that an entrepreneur needs to be passionate about what the customer wants them to do. Therefore, the better question to ask is:

“I wonder if the customer has the money to solve a pain which I am excited about?”

This question focuses on what the customer wants, not what the entrepreneur needs. The customer cares only about solving their problem, not the passion of the entrepreneur. The answer to this question is the core of what any business needs to focus on. Customers always buy painkillers before they buy vitamins.

Other wrong questions to ask:

  1. Would this product help your company? Again, most prospect will say yes as not to confront or embarrass anyone. Unfortunately, this may not reflect the action they would truly take. Instead ask: What would it be worth to your company if I could fill this need (resolve this pain)? With this question, the entrepreneur establishes what the customer wants and the monetary value of solving their need.
  2. Are you interested in buying the product? Most prospects will simply say yes because they want to be agreeable and not seem negative. What prospects say and what they do are two different things. Instead ask: Where can I send your order? This is an assumptive close and pushes the action to now. It will also immediately raise any hidden objections.
  3. When should I contact you again? Most prospects will give a date in the future and then never respond again. Instead ask: Should I contact you in the future? If so, what will different then as opposed to now? This gives the prospect an ability to say no so time is not wasted in the future. This also self qualifies them for another call and gives insight into what is holding their purchase back now.

What questions are you asking? Are you really listening to the answers?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Steps to Hosting a Good Conference Call

funny-video-conference-call-in-real-lifeHave you seen the funny YouTube video “A Conference Call In Real Life?” With more than 5 million views at the time I write this, clearly this spoof of common conference call missteps is hitting a nerve among businesspeople. To ensure your next conference call is focused, and not a fiasco, follow these steps:

  1. Treat a conference call like an in-person meeting. Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean it requires any less organization. Choose a time that works for everyone, being sensitive to time zones. Send an invitation and get confirmation from recipients (if no one responds, maybe your invitation didn’t work, so doublecheck). Send a reminder the day before for good measure.
  2. Be prepared. Preparation is even more important in the virtual world than in real life. If people need to review data, make sure you send it to them in plenty of time for them to prepare. Create an agenda and let everyone know what you’ll be discussing.
  3. Take charge. Dial into the call early to make sure everything is working. As the meeting organizer, you need to keep the call on track while also ensuring everyone has a chance to speak. Make sure everyone introduces him- or herself at the beginning of the call, as well as throughout the call if there are people who don’t know each other well enough to recognize voices. Periodically check in with those who aren’t speaking up—they may find it difficult to interrupt others, so make sure their opinions are heard.
  4. Learn your conference calling tools and use them. Become familiar with the tools your conference calling system offers, such as the ability to record calls, mute voices or share visuals and data online. The last thing you want is to learn “on the spot” while on a conference call with a big client!
  5. Keep it short. With most participants sitting at their desks in front of their computers, it’s easy for them to get bored and start surfing the web or checking email during your conference call. Keep it moving quickly and try to wrap it up in 30 minutes at most so people stay focused.
  6. Follow up. End the call with action items so everyone knows what their role is. Send a quick follow-up email the same day summing up what was discussed, conclusions, next steps and deadlines. This should go to all invitees (even those who couldn’t attend) so everyone is kept in the loop. 

Mondays with Mike: Appeal to Customers with your Authenticity

A couple of years ago I was scheduled to attend an accounting seminar, and I was dreading it every bit as much as you’d expect.  Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and my experience is that accountants typically aren’t the most lively public speakers.  I arrived at the seminar, armed myself with about a gallon of coffee, and settled in to see if maybe, just maybe, the guy running the show might actually keep me awake.

It was just as awful as I’d feared.  Not only did the accountant show up in a suit that looked like a 1980s KGB castoff, but he also sported a world-class monotone.  He looked like a robot facing the room as he methodically slogged through the agenda.  I found some toothpicks, propped my eyelids open, and I managed to stay alert enough to realize that the information he presented was actually really useful.  As the robot accountant finished up the seminar, I jotted down his name and made a note to NEVER attend another of his meetings.  Even though the guy was smart, he could put a hyperactive Chihuahua to sleep.

Fast forward a couple of weeks.  I attended a party at a friend’s house, and I was headed out back to help with the grill when I saw him.  The robot accountant was at the party.  Panicked, I fled to the bathroom to avoid another snooze fest.  Eventually, however, I had to get back out to the party, and – as you might imagine – there he was.  I was trapped, and of course he recognized me.

Even before we started to talk, though, I realized that he was dressed casually and seemed much more relaxed than he had in the seminar.  He thanked me for having attended, and we made a little small talk.  I was surprised to discover that he was actually really funny, and we were laughing about a joke he’d made when he said something that floored me and inspired this article.  He said, “I hate having to be all professional at work.  I wish I could make money just by being myself.”

Wow.

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I took two important things away from that party.  First, Mr. Robot is now my accountant – the very best one I’ve ever had.  Second, I realized the disservice we do ourselves when we conceal our a

uthentic personalities from our customers to try to achieve some “professional” demeanor.  Now, I’m not advocating littering your next presentation with f-bombs, but when we act rigid and formal, we’re hiding who we really are and missing an opportunity to connect with clients in a more meaningful way.

I’m reminded of Dr. Seuss, who wrote some lines that we should keep in mind when we’re deciding whether to be a robot professional or ourselves for our next meeting.  He said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”  The fact is that not all clients are a perfect fit for you.  Now it’s possible for you to put on a faux persona and woo them, but then you’ve landed a customer for whom you’re going to continually have to put on a show.  Far better to find the clients who actually like the way you work naturally than to spin your wheels chasing customers who aren’t a great fit for you.

Authenticity creates trust, and being yourself lets you connect with the clients for whom you’re a natural fit.  Resist the temptation to act like a robot professional, and you’ll not only be happier, but you’ll also be more successful.


4 Ways To Be Happier (and More Successful) Every Day

Are you happy every day? Most days? Not very often? Happiness is a tricky topic, especially for small business owners. Many entrepreneurs feel that happiness comes only after a business has reached a benchmark, but as Elaine Suess, leadership and talent management coach for Beyondbeing Coaching & Consulting in Cincinnati, explains, success before happiness is a misconception.

“Science has proven that it is the other way around,” she says. “Happiness comes first and it helps our brains work more productively to then be successful.”

Need help boosting your feelings of happiness? Take note of the following recommendations.

Meditate at your desk

Meditation has been proven to increase feelings of happiness. Try doing it for two to 10 minutes at your desk by taking deep breaths and focusing on clearing your mind. “Anything that creates more of an open space in your mind makes room for innovation, kindness and curiosity,” says Suess, adding that it is best to sit up straight with your feet on the ground and just letting go of whatever enters your mind, “without judgment.”

Practice being a “hero”

Suess says it is important to prepare yourself for positive thoughts. One way to do this is by assuming a “hero pose” before going into a big meeting or a stressful work situation. “The hero pose is the same gesture people make when they cross a finish line and lift up their arms,” she says. “Strategically making use of that one pose helps increase testosterone and decrease cortisol, the chemical related to stress.”

In addition, try taking an exercise break in the middle of your day. If you don’t have a gym at your office, consider walking around your building or parking lot. The movement will help you produce feelings of happiness.

Be grateful

Spend time every day thinking about what you are grateful for. Consider writing down three specific things that you are grateful for and continuing that practice. Your focus on being grateful will train your brain to look at the positive aspects of your life, says Suess.

Positively review your day

On your way home from work, instead of rehashing mess-ups or aggravating situations, try to focus on the positive things that happened in your day. “Think about what went well,” she suggests. “We all have a tendency to focus on our problems and wanting to fix those problems, but if we train ourselves to amplify what is going right in our lives, it will make us more effective, more positive and increase happiness.” 

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Why It Was Good That Shaun White Lost

Shaun+White+Portrait+Session+ElxITyhEXx9lLike small business, the Olympics don’t always work out the way they are planned. One of the poster athlete’s for Sochi Games is Shaun White who basically put half-pipe snowboarding on the map. He won the gold medal at the last two Olympics. He was supposed to be a repeat winner this year. After he arrived in Sochi, he pulled out of the slope style event because he thought the course was too dangerous. With all the pressure now on winning the half-pipe event, he lost and came in fourth.

While I cheer Shaun White’s decade of success, it’s good that he lost in front of millions of people. Here is why and what you can learn from it:

Things don’t always go as planned. Even with endless hard work and preparation, sometimes you just lose. Similar to White, the course may be rough (the market) or the other athletes (competitors) may be better that day. No athlete or company can control all the conditions. Every small business owner needs to get used to not knowing what will happen. There are no sure things in sports or business and this pushes everyone to work harder.

Even the favorites lose. No matter how dominant your business may be in the market place, you won’t always win. You have to earn a victory each time you compete and not mail it in. While White’s competitors were well qualified, no one would have predicted 15 year old, Ayumu Hirano from Japan would win the silver. The favorite has to work just as hard and the rivals always have an opportunity to win.

How you lose counts. White did not let this one loss define him. He said, "I don't think it makes or breaks my career, one night;" he never blamed the course or the other competitors. After his failed run, he agreed to celebrate with Swiss Gold Medalist Iouri Podladtchikov (IPOD).

The best push the rest. The top dog gets everyone to improve until they get beat. This is good for any competitive market because in the end, the customer (or viewer) gets a better product or service. The best business always gets pushed by other companies that want to be them.

What will White do next? Looks like he is going to dust himself off and compete in 2018.


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Develop an App for your Small Business

Use the mobile web to develop your small business! Learn how with these 5 tips from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Give Your Customer Service a Checkup

Is your customer service up to par? Even if your business starts off with stellar service, it’s easy for your standards to slip as your business grows and you become less hands-on with all aspects of the company. Plus, consumers’ standards for service are higher than they’ve ever been,–and they have many options if your business doesn’t live up to their expectations.

How can you make sure your customer service stays stellar day in and day out? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my website user-friendly? Can customers easily tell what to do when they visit your business website? Make sure key information, like your business’s phone number, hours, address and directions, are visible right near the top of the home page.
  • Stocksy_txpc1714160lD3000_Small_130635Is my physical location welcoming? A clearly-marked entrance; an inviting store window or lobby; and employees who make eye contact, smile and greet customers with a friendly welcome as they walk in the door all combine to kick the customer experience off on a positive note.
  • Are my employees empowered to give great service? If employees have to “get a manager” to make any exception to a rule, irate customers are likely to get even more annoyed. Set parameters, but within those guidelines, give your employees leeway to make their own decisions about how to satisfy a customer.
  • Are my employees educated about my product or service? These days, customers can instantly turn to the Internet on their smartphones to get a wealth of information about the products you sell—and the other companies that sell them. It’s crucial your employees know your wares thoroughly so they can answer questions, make suggestions and offer expert advice before customers turn to your competitors.
  • Do I listen as well as talk on social media? Social media is a great way to engage with customers, but make sure it’s not a one-way street. Don’t just share info about your business; also listen to what customers are saying about your business. If what they’re saying is negative or critical, or if a customer is asking for help, respond immediately and take steps to make changes.
  • Do I offer lots of customer service options? Customers today want choices in everything—even in how they communicate with your company. Offer as many options as possible for how you provide customer service—from in-person and by phone to email and live chat. If you have something for everyone, you’ll keep everyone happy. 

Mondays with Mike: The Tier Method for Increasing Revenue

A disclaimer of sorts:  This method of boosting revenue is intended for entrepreneurs who own businesses that are already making a little money.  This strategy can help you look down the road if you’re just getting your business up and running, but the method I describe in this article is intended for established businesses, rather than those just starting out.

More money.  It’s an appealing prospect, but it’s not always easy to achieve.  One of the most versatile solutions I’ve ever found is the tier method, and it’s successful because it’s such an elegant and simple strategy. 

Here’s how it works:

Your business is established, and you have a good product, but you’re looking to increase sales.  The answer is simply to create additional, higher quality (and higher priced) offerings. 

Let’s look at some examples:

  1. ????????????????????????????????????????You own a restaurant, and you’ve found success with your weekday, prix-fixe menu.  Folks love coming in and selecting three courses for a set price.  How do you step it up?   Add on the option for wine pairings for each course (with an additional fee, of course.)  You’re adding an additional tier of services that will entice your existing customers.
  2. If you own a cleaning service and have regular customers, but need a way to get more from them, create tiers of service.  Your existing contracts – let’s call that your Silver Service – is offered at the current price.  You add Gold Service with additional services – periodic window cleaning or carpet shampooing, as well as Platinum Service – where you clean everything that doesn’t move.   You’ll inevitably find some clients who want to step up to a better plan, and your new clients are likely to settle for the option in the middle, so you’ll be starting them at the Gold Service – it’s your new default setting, complete with higher price tag.
  3. You sell original artwork, either online or in a brick and mortar store.  Your customers love your work, and you decide to offer additional options.  Your first tier is the watercolor painting – the work your clients know and love.  You offer one option of adding a frame, and a second option of high quality mats and a custom frame.  You’re adding tiers of service that save your clients the time they’d have to invest in selecting the perfect frame that shows off your valuable artwork.  

Why is the tier method so successful?  You’re starting with an established brand – a product or a service that your customers already trust and enjoy – and you’re offering a better version of that product.  We all want the best, and we’re conditioned to think of selecting the least expensive option as settling for less than the best.   Airlines make bank on pricier seats in first class.  People pay extra to buy iPhones with more memory than they’ll ever use.  If you offer your customers pricier options, it is inevitable that some of them will take you up on it.

The key here is to offer authentically better options.  We’re not talking about smoke and mirrors  — playing games with your clients is a tactic that can alienate loyal customers.  Rather, you want to develop tiers that are meaningful and offer additional value that’s appealing to your customers.  You’re finding a way to enhance your existing high quality offerings by creating options with added benefits to your clients and added revenue for your business. 




 
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