Archive for February, 2014


Delegation Tips for Delegation Haters

Generally speaking, small business owners aren’t the biggest fans of delegating. And it is easy to understand why. Most of them built their companies from the ground up and worry that the addition of a new person may disrupt their business environment and possibly scare away clients. But as Roberta Matuson, HR consultant and author of the new book Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best, explains, delegation is essential to building a business.

“You will never succeed as a business owner unless you let go,” she says. Here are a few of her top delegation tips for business owners who hate to delegate.

Tap into your network

Talk to fellow businesspeople in your area to get the names of possible candidates. If you are new to your city, Matuson recommends joining the local Chamber of Commerce or contacting a nearby college and posting ads on an alumni job board.

Start with small tasks

Now that you’ve hired your first employee (or contract assistant), it is time to give him or her a few job assignments. “Start by giving them tasks that you are confident they can accomplish,” she recommends. “And allow them to do those tasks the way they want. Accept the fact that your way may not be the best way in all situations.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on training

Don’t expect your new hire to know how to do everything, even if he or she has a lot of experience. You may do things differently in your business, so it is important to provide specific training.  “Give them what they need,” recommends Matuson. “You can’t throw something into someone’s lap and expect them to learn how to do it by osmosis. Give them the tools and then get out of their way.”

Be careful what you delegate

You may want to hold on to major tasks like entertaining a new client at a dinner or attending a conference call that helps close a sale. “Delegate the things that are weighing you down so you can be free to do what you need to grow you business,” she says. “An important meeting may better be suited for you, not your assistant.”

Don’t micromanage

Many of us have had experiences working for micromanagers—experiences that most likely didn’t last long (because you quit). Stop yourself from being too overbearing with your new employee by checking in semi-frequently. “There isn’t a rule of thumb for how often you should check in, but I’d say it is best to see how they are doing once per week,” says Matuson. “Every day can be a bit much.” 


Why Big Leaps Are Dangerous to Your Business

??????????????Most small business owners think they have to take giant risks to be successful. They reason that the greater the risk, the bigger the reward. This is common wisdom since when a success story gets publicized, no one hears about all the interim steps that were taken to get to the final result. No one sees the up, down, and sideways paths it took to reach that goal.

Forget the giant risks. It is much safer and ultimately more effective to make a small decision, examine its result, and learn what you can from it. Then make another decision based on that outcome. Think of each small decision as another piece of completing a puzzle. Never pin the future of a company on one decision, action, or resource. “Go big or go home” or “playing for all the marbles” may make a good slogan, but it has no real place in business.

Here is what to do get the most out of each new opportunity:

A huge customer: Downsize expectations. Start with small sales goals. No matter how big the opportunity or how famous the brand, keep the excitement in check. While you may not want to treat them like just another customer, assume sales will build very slowly over a longer period of time.

The next employee: Be realistic. On any team, a new player can have an impact, but typically this takes time. Before hiring, find out if the prospective employee truly has demonstrated what they can do in the job. Having previous experience at a competitor or a large brand-name company may not translate to success at your business.

The next product line: What have the initial customers said about the product? How can it be rolled out to a small release to ensure it works as expected? Have these initial customers paid for the product, and what real results have they accrued as a result? Most products take time to be adapted by the marketplace. This also usually only happens when supported by a substantial marketing budget.

The next consultant: No matter how good their experience is, one person cannot make a huge impact immediately. Start the consultant with a small scoped project with stated goals. At the project’s completion, match the goal against the actual results. If the outcome is positive, do a second project and build scale from there.

The next market change: Test, test, and test. Do this before a large investment is made in project development or a big marketing expense rollout. Have you really identified a pain in the market from people who can pay to fill it? This is only demonstrated by paying repeat customers (and referrals) and not with what prospects say when you survey them. Many people will say yes when surveyed, but few will say yes when you actually ask them for money.

The next competitor: What a customer substitutes for one product is constantly changing, so it’s difficult to keep up. Know everything customers do with the same money they use to buy your products or services. Keep up to date on all these competitors, and track where they are making their largest investments. As Chinese general Sun Tzu said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” 


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Market on Social Media

Build a social media empire for your business in just one hour per day! Learn how with these 5 tips from Melinda Emerson, The Small Biz Lady.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Perfecting the “Dreaded” Employee Review

Stocksy_txp17ae6739N13000_Small_143559Few small business owners relish reviewing employees, but regular reviews are crucial to making your staff the best it can be. Follow these steps for effective reviews:

Be consistent. Use the same review form for each employee in the same capacity—such as all your hourly employees, all your customer service employees, etc. Check out the forms at DocStoc or Microsoft Office templates.

Be prepared. Reviews should be based on specifics, not on your general feeling as to how the person has done in the last three weeks. Document the employee’s performance during the year, both positive and negative, so you can refer to specific examples during the review.

Get input from the employee. Have the employee complete a self-evaluation before the review and give yourself time to read it thoroughly. This will tell you if the employee’s opinion of his or her performance is accurate or way off base.

Provide a balance of positive and negative feedback. Even the best employees need some ideas for how to stretch or improve, or they will become bored. Conversely, even the worst performers need some positive strokes in order not to be completely demoralized. Find something positive and constructive to say so that the review isn’t all lopsided.

Look back and ahead. In addition to reviewing the person’s performance since the last review, look ahead to what the outcomes will be if the person takes (or doesn’t) the steps you’ll recommend during the review. Will he or she be in line for a promotion, or at risk of termination?

Get feedback. It’s easy for the employer to do all the talking, especially in a review that is strongly negative or positive. But be sure you give the employee time to speak so he or she can clarify any issues that may arise. If you ask employees to share ideas for how they can improve, they are more likely to be invested in the outcome.

Clarify next steps.

  • If the employee got a good review, perhaps he or she is getting a promotion and/or a raise. Let the person know the new title, new wage or salary and when both will take effect.
  • If the person got a poor review, you’ll need to specify what remedial actions have to be taken by what date, and what will happen if the person does or does not achieve these milestones.

Codify the discussion. After the review, complete the form, making sure it’s accurate and that you fill in any details that arose during the review. Have the employee sign and date the review form, and add it to the personnel file.


Mondays with Mike: The Secret to Doing More, Faster

fast_expressions_idiomsWe’re all concerned about productivity – measuring it, boosting it, evaluating it.  Don’t believe me?  If you enter “productivity” as a search term on Amazon, you’ll have access to over 172,000 products.  We have apps that are supposed to make us more productive, and we tend to evaluate new technology based on its potential to help us do more in less time. 

I’m not immune to the siren song of products that consolidate tasks and let me work smarter and achieve better results for my clients, but I have found that sometimes the very best solution can be a low-tech approach.  My primary productivity booster is a two-fold approach.

First of all you must unplug.  Don’t panic – I don’t mean completely.  I’m talking about unplugging from the biggest timewasters while you’re working.  If you take the simple steps of closing Facebook, Twitter, and the dozens of other popular apps, your productivity will increase more than you can imagine.  Don’t believe me?  YouTube reports that more than two billion videos are watched on their site each day.  Two billion.  Let that sink in.  You don’t actually need to see Miley Cyrus’ new video during business hours, and the single best way to eliminate the temptation to meander through social media and similar distractions is to close those apps.  Period. 

Even your email account can be a distraction that inhibits, rather than fosters productivity.  If you can resolve to check email periodically, rather than constantly, you will discover that you can work more quickly and effectively as a result of the focus you can achieve when you eliminate distractions.

We’re going to go really old school for the second part of my approach.   Dig out those archaic tools – pen, paper, and a highlighter – and try my method for organizing and prioritizing your workflow.

Step One:  Divide the piece of paper into two columns:  A narrow column labeled TYPE and a wide column labeled TASK.  In the wide column, list all of the things you need to accomplish.  As new tasks occur to you throughout the day, add them right away, rather than wasting energy on trying to remember them.

Step Two:  Go down your list of tasks and in the TYPE column, put a $ next to each task that will bring in revenue in the next thirty days.  Put a smiley face next to each task that’s for an established client.  You’re going to use these symbols to help you prioritize your workload.

Step Three:  You’ll notice that most of your tasks neither generate revenue nor serve an existing client – these duties are going to be sorted to the bottom of your to-do list.  Work your way through the list, beginning with the tasks that have both the $ and the smiley face:  jobs for established customers that produce revenue are your priority.  Next, work on the tasks for existing customers – the smileys.  Third priority is the revenue producing tasks for new clients, and fourth – only when you’ve taken care of your existing clients and generated some revenue, do you attack the chores that are left on the list.

Step Four:  One of the key elements of this strategy is the way you manage your list throughout the work day.  When you start on a task, highlight that line.  That way, when you’re interrupted by a phone call or an urgent matter, you don’t have to waste time recalling where you were when you get back to your list.  When the task is complete, cross it off your list (so satisfying!) and highlight the next task.  You’ll have a concrete plan to help you work through your day and get the most out of your time.

Real productivity isn’t about the latest app or management buzzwords.  It’s about disconnecting from distractions and focusing your energy on the tasks that best reward your time and energy.   


The 10 Best Interview Questions of All Time

??????????????????????????????????????????While unemployment is the lowest in 5 years, it is still challenging to find the best employees for your company. Not only do they need the skills to perform their job well, but they also have to fit within the company’s culture.

To hire the perfect people, it’s important to ask the right questions. This is a challenge for many small business owners because they typically talk more than the job candidate or they just ask questions which review their resume. Here are the best 10 questions to ask:

  1. Tell me about yourself. This is always a good introductory question. Ask and then don’t say another thing until they are done. What they actually say is not critical, but how they answer this question is. Do they focus on personal or professional details? How do they see themselves? Does this view fit into the culture of the company.
  2. Tell me about a time when…Many job candidates can talk in generalities about their skills and accomplishments. However, asking for a specific example is a much more effective why to discover what they have really achieved. For example, when interviewing a sales candidate, ask “Tell me about a time when you won a customer from a competitor.”
  3. How will you contribute to the company? This will highlight their goals for the specific job and which of their skills would be most beneficial for the company. It also will tell you how they see themselves as part of a team. Remember, their goals should match the company’s. When they deviate, employees leave.
  4. What is a specific example of the biggest professional challenge you have faced? How a candidate faces adversity is key. Even if a project didn’t go as planned, it’s important to find out how the applicant would reacted and would remedy the problem in the future.
  5. Test them. In a professional setting, these are typically hypothetical situations or ones that have actually occurred at the company. They should demonstrate job-specific and problem solving skills. Don’t be afraid to ask them to solve problems they would face in the first month of their job at the actual interview.
  6. Why are you here? Andrew Alexander, President of Red Roof Inn, says it helps reveal what the person’s passion is. The applicant should want to work at the company, not just want a job. Employees that are passionate about the company’s mission excel at their position.
  7. What is your ideal job? Liz Bingham, Partner at Ernst & Young, says it helps match if the person is suitable for the open job. It reveals what their passions and strengths are.
  8. What areas of improvement were identified in your last job review? Andrew Shapin, CEO of Long Tall Sally, says it can show self-awareness and weaknesses when people answer this question honestly.
  9. Where’s your passion? Hilarie Bass, co-president of Greenberg Traurig, says they only hire people who are passionate about that profession. It helps attract committed employees that will make the business successful.
  10. How do you measure success? This answer will tell you what the candidate values and if it matches the job compensation structure.

What are your favorite interview questions?


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Have an Impact with Your Blog

Do you write a blog for your small business? In this week's Work Your Biz Wednesday video, Melinda Emerson, The Small Biz Lady, has some tips on how to ensure your blog is making a big impact.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Tips for Keeping the Peace in Family-Owned Business

If you run a family-owned business, you know that hiring, managing and motivating non-family employees can sometimes be a challenge. Employees may think there’s no room for advancement or that the decks are stacked against them because they aren’t family members. How can you avoid these problems? Try these tips.

  • Stocksy_txp4bfbd52fKr2000_Small_131353 (1)Compensate them fairly. Family employees typically have ownership or stock in the family business or enjoy other perks in addition to their salaries. While you may not want to reward non-family employees the same way, it’s important that you find other ways to compensate them financially. Consider offering bonuses or setting up a profit-sharing plan so employees feel they are sharing in the success of the business they work hard to grow.
  • Offer them opportunities for advancement. Promoting from within is a smart strategy for any small business, but particularly in a family business. This practice shows non-family employees that working hard, getting results and being loyal to the business pay off…even if your last name is different than the owner’s.
  • Empower them. Non-family employees in supervisory or management roles often become disgruntled if they feel like they have no real power in the business. If you give a non-family employee a management position, be sure you also give him or her the authority to make the decisions that go with that role, including disciplining family members who aren’t living up to expectations.
  • Communicate with them. Family members who work in a business naturally end up discussing business during their off-hours, which can leave non-family members feeling left out if they don’t get the same information. When your business includes non-family employees, it’s crucial to communicate openly and clearly. Otherwise, non-family employees will feel as if they’re being kept in the dark, and rumors and misinformation will start to spread.
  • Treat family members professionally. It’s easy to slip into a trap of treating family employees one way and non-family employees another. Be sure to maintain professionalism when dealing with family employees—it makes everyone on the staff feel like they’re on a level playing field.

By following these tips, you’ll build lasting bonds and loyalty among your non-family employees.


Mondays with Mike: The 7 Techniques for Cutting Costs with Zero Downside

coin-jar (1)The start of a fresh year is the perfect opportunity to take a look at your business and assess the ways in which you can improve your bottom line.  Cutting costs can yield benefits, but it’s important to make changes that don’t end up stifling growth or affecting your ability to bring in revenue.  Let the notion of productivity transfer – achieving the same results with alternative resources – guide your steps.

  1. Pool your resources.  Consult with other small businesses in your area to determine which products you all need to run your businesses and commit to working with one supplier exclusively for a period of time in exchange for a discount.  Your supplier will be thrilled to have guaranteed revenue, and you’ll see real savings.
  2. Hire contractors.  If you’re paying full-time staff to sit around and wait for work, then you’re not using your payroll dollars as effectively as you could be.  Find contractors, pay them a higher hourly rate for their expertise, and you and your staff will be more efficient. 
  3. Free advertising.  Ever see billboards that advertise for a business that’s closed up shop?  Call the phone company and have the phone number redirected to you. After you inform the callers that you’re ready to supply the goods or services to satisfy their needs, you have instant prospects! Why pay for advertising when you can get it for free?
  4. Cut phone costs.  So many businesses bleed enormous sums of money in their phone plans.  Check out the free and nearly free options that you have. Nextiva is one example that lets you actually improve the number and quality of services you enjoy, while slashing costs at the same time.
  5. Assess your office space.  Look at what you pay to rent your office space and take a hard look at your options.  If your staff can operate from home, you can eliminate your office rent altogether.  If your business requires a physical office, look around for other businesses that may be renting more space than they need and see if they’re willing to share some space for a reduced cost.  Also, keep in mind that landlords with vacant space may be willing to renegotiate rent if they’re anxious about keeping you as a tenant.
  6. Train your own talent.  Experienced staff is expensive, no two ways about it.  If you have positions that you can fill with inexperienced folks with great potential, you can train your staff in-house.  Accepting applications from inexperienced folks also lets you take a look at interns and people with disabilities – folks who might have trouble gaining experience, but can be gems once they’re properly trained.  Think outside your typical talent pool.
  7. Get your staff involved.  Sit down with your employees and lay it out for them:  explain that you want their expertise and suggestions for how to cut costs and make the company healthier.  You’ll get ideas that would never have occurred to you, and your staff – rather than worrying about their job security – feels like a vital part of a team.

The overall measure of success for cost cutting measures is the bottom line, and it’s important to take the time to ensure that you’re making changes that result in a leaner, healthier, and more efficient company.   




 
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