Archive for the ‘Mondays with Mike’ Category


Mondays with Mike: Sure-Fire Techniques For Cutting Costs

Every entrepreneur knows that minimizing expenses is essential to maximizing profit, but we don’t always know how to go about cutting costs – especially for big ticket items.  The longer I’m in business, the more I realize that paying full price for something is rarely necessary.  Here’s my list of tactics to avoid spending more than you have to:

  1. Buy generic.  Whether you’re talking about antibiotics or office equipment, insisting on a brand name will nearly always cost you more.  Shopping based on reviews, rather than name recognition will get you better quality for a better price.
  2. Borrow.  Look around your office, and I guarantee you’ll find a piece of equipment that you don’t use very often.  Whether it’s a box truck that you use twice a year, or whether it’s a fancy printer/scanner/copier that you only use to do your quarterly newsletters, examine your purchases and find someone to lend you the big-ticket items that you only need infrequently.
  3. Lease.  For seriously big-ticket expenses, especially those that you only plan to keep for a short while, or will incur significant maintenance charges, you should consider whether a lease is a good option.  If you must have a late model car, but you don’t need to put lots of miles on it, then a lease may be ideal.  Large office equipment can be cheaper to lease than purchase as well.
  4. ??????????????????????????????????????????Be patient.  We often don’t realize it, but a lot of purchases are made because of emotional, rather than practical reasons.  If you force yourself to sleep on a decision, you’re taking emotions out of the equation, and you’ll find that you frequently choose not to buy after all.  Make yourself wait, and you’ll inevitably save money.
  5. Barter.  Trading your unique skill set for talents you don’t possess is one of the best ways to save money – and strengthen community ties as well.  Trading your pizza shop’s delicious fare for business card printing services can benefit everyone involved with very little outlay of cash.  While you used to be limited to your immediate community to make bartering practical, there are now websites like TradeAway and BarterOnly that facilitate trading using sitewide credits so that you don’t have to find someone who needs exactly what you have to offer in order to get what you’re looking for.
  6. Buy used.  Products start depreciating as soon as you purchase them, and finding lightly used alternatives can save you a boatload.  If you’re savvy, you can often even find products that are still under warranty, and you may even find ones that are sold with an extended warranty that protects your investment. 
  7. Share.  Whether it’s infrequently used equipment or facilities like break rooms in your office space, if you look hard enough, you’ll find that you and other businesses are spending far more than you should on things you don’t use very often.  Working with folks in close proximity and finding the ways in which you’ve duplicated purchases can clue you in to options for making more efficient use of items you can share.  Think about negotiating a lease at a lower rate for shared restrooms on your floor, rather than several individual ones, or sharing a microwave or refrigerator with your neighbors in the office building.

I’ve always admired entrepreneurs who find innovative ways to spend less, and I constantly strive to be a better penny pincher when I can.  I don’t advocate cutting corners or sacrificing quality where it matters, but I do suggest taking a look at your business and identifying areas where you’re spending more than you have to.


Mondays with Mike: Secret Weapons – Contractors You Can’t Live Without

Mad_Men_season_5_cast_photoThe traditional office, staffed with full-time employees with full-time benefits is a relic from Mad Men days.  Most of us have to move quickly and operate on razor-thin margins that make it impossible to afford a complement of workers waiting for something to do.  It’s become far more feasible and profitable to assemble a team of contractors – specialists in their niches – who are on call, command high rates for their expertise, and appreciate the flexibility of working when they want to. 

What’s essential is that you assemble your contractors ahead of time – locate, vet, and create a relationship before you need them for big projects so you don’t have to scramble last minute.  Here are the people you should look for:

  1. Web Designer – There’s really no good excuse for a lousy website.  Most people will encounter your company on the web, and you want to put your best foot forward.  Finding a web designer who designs your site and stays on call to give you the ability to adapt your website to particular client needs or conditions is key. 
  2. Web Administrator – As more of us move our businesses online, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of web security and web reliability.  This position is perhaps the most important contractor you’ll hire, because they’ll literally have the keys to your online kingdom.  When there’s a problem with your system, you want immediate availability from your administrator.
  3. Core Competency – Find extra local talent in your field and keep them ready for when you have big jobs that require you to be able to scale up rapidly.  Whether you’re a chef who needs catering staff for special events or you’re an accountant who needs additional help at tax time, doing the legwork ahead of time can give you a competitive edge when it comes to winning new clients in a clutch situation.
  4. Writer – We may not want to own up to it, but most of us aren’t great writers.  As important as our written messages are, it’s worth locating a skilled wordsmith to polish our prose.  Weigh your options:  you could spend all day working on a company newsletter (and hope no one catches the grammatical mistakes,) or you can call your professional writer, share the details, and get to work doing what you do best while your writer pens a perfect account of what’s current in your company.
  5. Translator – If you don’t need one now, odds are very good that you will before long.  The broadening global marketplace means that if you’re not working with clients in other countries, then you’re probably missing opportunities.  Identify the languages that are most likely to be relevant in your field and line up translators before you start losing jobs because you’re not fluent in Mandarin or Spanish.
  6. Administrative Assistant – This position is your key, backup, catch-all.  Whether you need timely follow-up on a new marketing campaign, or whether your full-time admin needs help handling the seasonal rush in your field, it’s wise to find a good admin to be at the ready.

So where do you find these folks?  You’ll be shocked at how many resources are out there.  Freelance websites like Elance and ODesk connect you with contractors all over the world in a variety of niches, and community-based sites like Craigslist or Patch can connect you with local talent.  The keys to successfully working with contractors are these:  first, get them lined up and vetted – with a small project to start – before you have a critical need for their services.   Second, always pay them promptly and treat them like gold.  You want that contractor to always be happy to get your call and eager to get to work on your next project. 


Mondays with Mike: Productivity Killers – Apps You Should Prohibit in the Office

I don’t consider myself a dictator, but I do operate on the principle that no one cares about my company as much as I do.  I keep up on current research, and I’ve experimented with ways to boost my own productivity, and one thing is certain:  there are applications that have NO business in your workplace.  Assuming that you don’t run your office in order to entertain your employees, here are some apps that you absolutely must banish from the office:

  1. social-mediaSocial Media.  Facebook., Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr … not a single one of these apps belongs in your office (with the possible exception of the staff who handles social media for your company.)  They’re colossal time-suckers, and in addition to offering your staff games, quizzes, and celebrity news to occupy their work time, these platforms also offer a window into your office that you can’t control.  Do you want your competitors knowing that your customer service reps have the highest Candy Crush scores in the industry?  These apps – used on company time – provide absolutely zero benefit to your business.
  2. Media Players.  While it’s technically possible to come up with a legitimate business reason you might need YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Google Play on your computers, the odds are much greater that these apps will be used to divert your staff’s attention from their work.  Don’t make it harder than it already is for your staff to stay focused.  Have your IT folks block these apps from your company computers.
  3. Addictive Games.  The aforementioned Candy Crush, as well as Angry Birds, Words with Friends, the notorious Flappy Bird – all of these games are expressly designed to keep us playing longer than we’d planned.  While we all need breaks in order to stay productive, it’s much better to stand up, walk around, and get a change of scenery, rather than wasting half an hour trying to match up candies on a smartphone.  Games like these do not belong in the office.  ßSee the period?
  4. Illegal Sites.  It should go without saying, but prohibiting your staff from accessing pornography and gambling sites from the computers you own is just common sense.  Not only are these sites productivity slayers, but they also often contain illegal material that you could be prosecuted for.  Head these problems off before they start.
  5. Interoffice Chat and Text.  Now you may balk at this one, but I’ve found that almost never have these apps made my staff more productive.  You not only run the risk of your message not being conveyed as clearly as it could be by simply walking down the hall and delivering it in person, but you also wind up with off topic material that distracts your employees from their work.  An icon that chimes each time a new message comes in is a distraction that requires recovery and refocusing time to overcome.  Just eliminate it altogether.

Employee satisfaction is hugely important to me and other successful entrepreneurs who know that keeping good people on staff is cost effective.  What I’ve learned, though, is that while you may ruffle a few feathers by banning Facebook in the office, it’s always worth it.  If you’re serious about pushing your staff to produce work they’re proud of, you’ll be able to create that culture by banishing unwanted distractions.    


Mondays with Mike: Secret Short Cuts – Legal Aid

What’s the difference between a bad lawyer and a good lawyer?  A bad lawyer can drag a case out for years.  A good lawyer can make it last even longer.

All kidding aside, legal fees aren’t necessarily the first thing entrepreneurs think of when they’re adding up the costs of doing business.  As litigious as society is, though, you’re foolish if you don’t engage an attorney to ensure that you’re legit and covered in case of legal action.  Don’t have the $350/hour lying around to consult a lawyer?  Keep reading.

Here’s my secret for low (or no) cost legal aid.  Head to a local university and talk to the head of the legal department.  Offer your business up for use by students (under the professors’ supervision, of course) as a real-life example.  Your business and its legal needs become coursework for up-and-coming attorneys.  There aren’t many situations in business that are truly win-win, but this is one of them.  Students benefit from concrete experience, rather than boring hypotheticals, and you get your legal work done for free.  Professors love it; students benefit; you save big bucks.

????????????????????????????????????????????????Rather than trying to do it yourself with old legal documents that you dug up online (and which might be completely outdated,) you’re going to get cutting edge, custom work.  Students can draw up your incorporation paperwork, make sure your legal disclaimers are airtight, draft your employment contracts, and basically ensure that you’re covered and are in a position to head off most legal problems that could arise.

You’ll literally get thousands of dollars of work for free, and I strongly recommend thanking the classes who work on your case with pizza or coffee from time to time.

One final benefit from offering your business up to a college department is that you get a preview of the talent that’s emerging from your local universities.  In fact, one of the times that I approached the head of the legal department at my local college, the professor recommended that I work with his best student who was about to graduate.  The student prepared my contract, and the process served as a great extended interview.  I hired him after he graduated, and he ended up being one of my most valuable employees.

Now think a little bit bigger…let’s see how this little secret can work in other areas as well.  Are there marketing students in your area?  Students of web design, graphic design?  Think about all of the exciting, creative work you can cash in on while at the same time providing local students with exciting, valuable real-life experience – experience that they can use to get an edge on the fierce competition they’ll face once they’re out looking for work.  Don’t pass up a chance to get a great deal on the services your business requires, while fostering closer ties to your community and helping better prepare the workforce of the future.


Mondays with Mike: Fast Flow Prospecting

Stocksy_txpaa3f874fBY3000_Small_164426The business world moves too fast for any of us to rest on our laurels.  While Monday might be great, smart entrepreneurs worry about Tuesday, knowing that ensuring a steady stream of new clients is essential for a healthy business.  It’s a struggle we all face – finding high quality prospects to convert and keep our companies growing. 

Client referrals have always been a traditional source for new prospects, but there are some problems with getting good quality referrals.  If we assume that you’re providing outstanding service to your existing customers, they’ll have two primary concerns about sharing your services with their competitors.  First, they’ll want you to continue to be available to serve their needs.  They don’t want your success to get in the way of their demands.  Second, if you’re providing a service that gives them a competitive edge – whether it’s personal or professional – they’ll be reluctant to share their brilliant discovery – you – with their competition.  They may want to keep you all to themselves.

The gold ring is the organic referral – when a friend of your client is desperate for a plumber, asks for a recommendation, and the client shares your name.  An associate asks who designed your client’s logo, and they give you a rave review and pass on your contact info.  The problem is that these high quality referrals are few and far between, and they’re also – by their vary nature – inconsistent.

So what do you do?  You require new clients, but cold-calling is expensive and yields poor-quality results.

The answer is fast flow prospecting, and here’s how it works:  You approach your clients and ask them for a referral to their other vendors.  They may look at you like you’re crazy.  The angle, though, is that you’re going to reach out to their other vendors and work with them to provide even better service for your mutual clients.  Whether you can consolidate shipments to save your clients money, or whether you can bundle services and offer predictable monthly payments, working with other vendors can help you create efficiencies and provide better service at a reduced cost for the client who referred you.

Here’s the key, though – once you’ve established a relationship with your vendor partners, then you ask for referrals to their other clients.  You’ll be presented with a pool of new clients – clients to whom you’ll be recommended by your partners, and clients for whom you can provide outstanding, streamlined and efficient service.  You’re expanding your network via new partnerships.

So let’s say that you’re a small, independent internet access provider.  You get some vendor referrals from your satisfied clients and you connect with a company that installs and monitors security systems.  The two of you offer bundled services to your existing shared clients, providing them with better, more affordable internet services that improve the reliability of the security system.  Win-win.

The security company shares its client list with you, and you can now pitch your combined services to a whole new group of prospective customers – customers who can get reliable references from the provider of their security services.

Working together with your clients and their other vendors gives you a much wider field of clients, and provides ample opportunity to improve efficiency and profitability for everyone.

 


Mondays with Mike: The Quick Qualifier – The Secret To Better, Faster Hiring

For entrepreneurs with a sizeable staff, payroll can be one of the biggest expenses.  That expense can multiply quickly if we don’t hire the right people, so any techniques we can find to improve our hiring outcomes can make a huge difference in our bottom lines.  The fact is that there aren’t a whole lot of shortcuts when it comes to running your business better, but I’m going to share one that can help you simultaneously speed up your hiring process while sifting out your best choices – automatically.

????????????????????????????????Conventional wisdom may tell you that casting as wide a net as possible in your hiring search will yield the highest quality result, but given today’s job market, your problem is unlikely to be a shortage of applications.  Rather, you’re likely to be buried under a sea of resumes, and your greatest challenge will be separating the wheat from the chaff – reducing the flood to a manageable stack of resumes from qualified, competent folks.  That’s where my technique comes into play.

When I post an ad for a job, about 75% of the way through the ad, I insert the following:  “To prove that you’re a meticulous reader, you have to include the following sentence when you send your resume: ‘It is with my utmost respect that I hereto surrender my curriculum vitae for your consideration.’”

Now here’s where the automation comes in.  You create an email filter that searches for the specified sentence, and sorts all of the qualifying resumes into a folder for you to review.  Think it won’t make a big difference?  Think again!  I’ve had as many as 80% of the resumes for a specific position eliminated by this filtering tactic.  Now you may be worried that you might discard a great resume, but let me tell you why this technique works:

  1. The unemployment rate is still so high that folks are desperate, sending off resumes to any ad they read, regardless of whether or not they’re qualified.  In fact, the applicants who don’t include the sentence may not have even read the application, and might have zero relevant experience.  They’re not the employees you’re looking for.
  2. Regardless of the field, attention to detail is crucial, and including the sentence demonstrates that an applicant cares enough to get it right.
  3. You’re looking for candidates who can follow instructions, and applicants who comply with your directions demonstrate a willingness to do what you expect them to.  They’re eager to please, and that’s important for nearly every position in a business.

I’ve used this technique repeatedly, and it’s proven to help select the very best candidates for my careful consideration.  In fact, one of the best employees I’ve ever hired responded by writing: “Yes, I’m so detail-oriented I am including the sentence you requested. However, I also noticed you spelled the word ‘meticulous’ incorrectly, and here’s the correct way to spell it.”  She ended up being a partner in one of my companies.


Mondays with Mike: The Sure-Fire Plan For Killing Your Business

2014-02-27_1405I’m sure you’re wondering if I’ve lost my mind.  Why on earth would you want to read an article telling you exactly how to kill the business that you’ve worked so hard to build, nurture, and grow?  The answer is that it’s useful to take a step back from all the hard work we do to make sure we’re not inadvertently doing things that damage our companies.  Here’s a look at what not to do:

  1. Turn your hobby into a business.  Just because your friends tell you that your spicy barbecue sauce is the best they’ve ever tasted, that doesn’t mean you have to find a way to profit from it.  There’s a difference between a hobby – something you do to relax and release energy – and a passion – something you do to create energy.  While successful businesses thrive on passion, they can also destroy the pleasure that we take in our hobbies.  Not everything you enjoy needs a business plan.
  2. Get rich quick.  You may be thinking, “Isn’t that the point?”  The fact of the matter is that the best way to get rich is by investing your time and energy in your passion and organically growing your business, rather than chasing what you think is the next trend in an attempt to cash in and get out.  Isolate your passion and nurture it, rather than trying to work in a field just because you think it’s the next big thing.
  3. If things are going south, work harder.  By the time most businesses fail, the entrepreneurs who started them are absolutely exhausted.  Instead of trying to add hours to the day or taking time away from family and friends, spend you time finding ways to work more efficiently.  If you can automate aspects of your business, you’ll be working smarter, rather than harder, leaving you time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. 
  4. Nurture the weak.  I’m constantly amazed by how many companies cater to the least lucrative (and most difficult) clients, at the expense of building business with the big customers – you know, the ones who keep the lights on.  Rather than trying to squeeze an extra few bucks from the reluctant spenders, commit to cultivating your heavy hitters and providing them with excellent service.  You can’t please everyone.  Why not please the ones who are the most valuable?
  5. Measure revenue from the top line.  Yes, it’s essential to bring money into your business, but that’s only part of the equation.  You could land a million dollar contract tomorrow, but if your expenses eat up $990,000 of it, your bottom line is only $10K.  Focus on what’s left after you’ve paid your staff, covered your other expenses, and paid yourself.  That’s what you’re really earning.
  6. Focus on your wallet.  When you realize that every single business decision you’re making is based on money, it’s time to take a step back.  Successful businesses make money, but they do it by working with passion and ensuring that their customers are satisfied.  Steve Jobs didn’t build innovative products just to make money (though he certainly did profit.)  He wanted to introduce elegant, functional solutions for everyday problems.  Remember why you started your business and work to leave a positive impression on your community.

There will never be a shortage of businesses in trouble, and savvy entrepreneurs will learn from the mistakes of others.  Make sure you’re not sabotaging your own success.   


Mondays with Mike: Boost Your Revenue with Recurring Fees

While some of us derive great satisfaction from the role our business plays in the community, the services we offer our clients, and the rewards of having built a successful business from scratch, we’re all – at the end of the day – concerned about growing our company’s revenue.   In order to keep the lights on and pay the staff, we have to bring in money, and it seems like we need a little more if it each year.   One of the most effective methods I’ve found for managing and increasing revenue is by converting customers to a recurring fee plan. 

Here’s how it works:

Say you’re in the office equipment repair business.  Your average visit costs $200, and you visit each of your customers an average of twice per year, for a total of about $400 annual revenue per client per year.  If you were to offer an annual service plan, billed at $40 per month, you would be providing a solution that benefits both your company and your clients.  You give your clients predictable expenses, alleviating the stress of funding the entire cost of a repair all at once.  You get the benefit of predictable revenue.  You can count on the monthly payment and bridge the gap that slow months can create, and at the end of the year, you’ve brought in $480 per client, increasing your overall revenue. 

Makes sense, right?  Now here’s why it works:

In addition to establishing consistent expenses and income, there’s another key benefit.  Once you’re no longer billing for the service itself, you have new motivation to operate as efficiently as possible.  Your new goal won’t be increasing billable hours, but will be doing every job quickly and properly.  You know that poor quality work will end up costing you more in the long run, so you provide the best service possible the first time.

Stocksy_txpd093e56ePf2000_Small_27507Skeptical about your customers’ willingness to commit to a contract?  Think about gym memberships.  Millions of people pay $29 monthly for a gym membership they seldom use.  They sign up (usually in January,) go regularly for a little while, and by the time they stop using the gym, they’re so used to the monthly debit that they don’t even notice it.  Sure, some members will cancel, but others will not.  Once your clients are used to the monthly premium, they will cease to think about it.  You’ve gotten them accustomed to a steady-as-she-goes expense that lands in your bank account each month.

Think that your business won’t support a recurring fee structure?   Think again!  Nearly every business has an aspect that can be transformed into a regular fee cycle.  If you own a candy shop, you can sell monthly subscriptions with seasonal offerings available exclusively to your subscribers.  They get special treats, and you get regular revenue.  Own a bookstore?  Offer an annual reader rewards card with a modest fee that entitles customers to exclusive events and special discounts.  Challenging yourself to find ways to reward customers for committing to you in the form of a recurring fee can – if managed properly – yield both steady income and consumer loyalty: a magical combination.


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.




 
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