Archive for the ‘Mondays with Mike’ Category


Mondays with Mike: Entrepreneur As Warrior – Business Advice From Military Leaders

????????????Whether we realize it or not, business and war have a lot in common.  The same strategies that win battles, create success in business as well.  In addition to reading brilliant books by authors like yours truly, you can also learn from the sage advice of military leaders as well.  Some of my favorites quotes:

  1. “No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.”  George S. Patton, Jr.   One of the greatest generals in American history gives us this reminder that we must get out from behind our desks.  The most successful business owners command respect because they understand every aspect of their company.  They can…and have…and will perform every task that’s necessary.  Get in the trenches!
  2. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.” Sun Tzu.   We must be willing to disengage from our egos if we want to be successful leaders.  Setting the example of making decisions in the company’s best interest inspires selflessness and a devotion to the greater good in our employees as well.
  3. “I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.”  Geronimo.   Thought leaders explore beyond the boundaries of where other people live and work.  They push into unexplored, uncharted territory, and the result is creativity and innovation that inspires the people around them.  Growth and inspiration come from the willingness to free yourself from conventions.
  4. The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr   You started your business because you had a dream, a vision.  You should run that business by living in accordance with your code, your values, and your vision.  Be consistent, and learn to trust your instincts.
  5. “Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.” Winston Churchill.    I see it everyday:  entrepreneurs working themselves into an early grave, pouring their raw energy into their business, as if that energy were limitless.  Working toward efficiency – strategic deployment of resources for maximum long-term gain should be your goal.
  6. My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty… it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein. “  George Washington.   Finger-pointing, inefficiency, blame shifting … all signs that there’s an accountability issue.  Even though much of business requires collaboration, it’s essential that you assign a single person to be the responsible, accountable party for ensuring that a job gets done.
  7. “I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”  Douglas MacArthurWhile it’s important to know what your competition is up to, you must also keep an eye on what’s going on inside your own company.  Lousy morale is contagious and can kill a company from within, much quicker than you’d expect.  

Wars aren’t just won by violent encounters.  They’re won by preparation, vigilance, and the willingness to do what must be done, even if it’s unpleasant.  Taking a lesson from these military leaders helps you prepare yourself to win the battle for your company’s success.


Mondays with Mike: 5 Steps To Drama-Free Discipline

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Over and over, I hear from entrepreneurs who fret over the prospect of needing to discipline an employee.  I get it.  You want harmony and happy, productive employees in your office, and you worry that you’re going to upset your staff when you call a performance problem to their attention.  Stop for a minute, though.  Discipline doesn’t have to equal drama.  Here’s how you resolve problems, keep the office calm, and get right back on track without missing a beat.

  1. Start on day one.  On new employees’ very first day, I always take the time to ask them how they like to handle issues that arise.  I say, “How should I bring things to your attention?” but you can word it any way you like.  Your goal should be to acknowledge up front that there will be issues that need to be addressed, and you’re setting the stage to handle it professionally, calmly, and in a way that doesn’t stress your employee out. 
  2. Document your employee’s preference.  Even small businesses need HR files, and I always make a note of an employee’s stated preference for conflict resolution.  Some staff members like to have problems pointed out immediately; some prefer a closed-door meeting at the end of the workday.  Resolving conflict isn’t one-size-fits-all, and you’ll have much better results if you take your employees’ preferences into account.
  3. Respect your employee’s preference.  When a problem comes up, use the technique you’ve agreed on, and call attention to the fact that you’re respecting the staff member’s request.  When you deliver your message in a way that feels comfortable, your employee will actually hear what you’re saying, rather than getting all wrapped up in the emotion of having to handle a dramatic conflict. 
  4. Document the incident.  Now you may not need to keep a letter on file just because you discover your IT guy passing around a Superbowl block pool during business hours, but you do need to be mindful of the possibility of frivolous employment lawsuits and unjustified unemployment claims.  CYA.  Cover Your Ass(ets,) and make sure that you document serious issues.
  5. Focus on the solution, and follow up if necessary.  The whole point of bringing a problem to an employee’s attention is to solve the problem and move on, so your meeting needs to focus on resolution.  Lay out the problem, briefly discuss the consequences of that problem, and make a plan – with your employee’s assistance – to fix the problem.  Whether you agree to check back in to review sales performance or review a time card in the event of chronic lateness, make sure you follow up and ensure that your employee’s back on track.

You can’t avoid conflict, not if you strive for excellence.  Demonstrating that you respect your staff enough to resolve problems without drama shows that you are committed to them and to the health of your business.  Your staff, in turn, will be far more likely to strive to meet or exceed your performance standards.


Mondays with Mike: 5 Foolproof Tips To Make Better Decisions

Stocksy_txpfff38493BN6000_Small_45968When you think about it, running a business is all about making decisions.  Let’s face it: if you didn’t have the drive to be a decision maker, you’d work for someone else, right?  As an entrepreneur, you’re faced with decisions every day – whether it’s a question about hiring a new employee, embarking on a new marketing plan, or managing costs by improving efficiency.  Successful business owners make good decisions, and the good news is that you can improve your decision making skills by following these tips:

  1. Follow the 10-10-10 rule.  Biz guru Suzy Welch gives us this technique for making decisions based on their long-term effects.  Consider the outcome of your decision in ten minutes, ten months, and ten years.  Let’s say you’re struggling with a particularly difficult client – the one who sucks up all of your time and energy and provides little in the way of revenue.  You’re trying to decide if you should kiss up to them for the umpteenth time to smooth over their latest ridiculous complaint or if you should cut your losses, fire them, and move on.   If you fire them, you know that in ten minutes, you’ll be panicked, worried about the loss of revenue.  But in ten months, you’ll realize that you’ll be happier for having eliminated the anguish this client produced, and in ten years, you’ll have been able to generate far more income from new, less problematic clients that you’ve been able to bring in with your renewed energy and freed-up time.  Think long-term.
  2. Create a stop-loss plan.  And follow it!  Entrepreneurs are seldom devoid of ego, and it’s far too easy to make a decision, ignore all the signs that the decision wasn’t the wisest, and continue well past the point at which you should have thrown in the towel.  A stop-loss plan forces you to evaluate your decision based on predetermined, concrete parameters, rather than on the results you’re hoping for.  Whether it’s a trial period for the pricy new sales rep you hired on, or whether it’s a minimum requirement for a new advertising campaign, you’ll make better decisions if they’re based on results, rather than hopes and ego.
  3. Employ split testing.  When you’re torn between two (or more) equally plausible choices, use split testing to try both options out before you commit to one.  Let’s say the sales rep for the community circular that you advertise in brings you two options for your next ad.  If you have the chance to run both ads, perhaps in different areas, or in different months, you can find out definitively whether the ad that touts your long-established history in the area is more effective than the ad that shows off your reasonable prices.  The idea is to make a decision based on hard data, rather than assumptions.  Online advertising makes it particularly easy to run split testing, as you can create and employ multiple variations with ease.
  4. Do thorough research.  You’d feel like a fool if you tried and failed with some radical new tactic to bring in new business only to discover afterwards that your competitor had already tried and failed with that tactic.  Look around you.  See what your competition is up to, and look to history to give you insight into proven – and disproven – strategies.  Fortune does favor the bold – those folks who forge new pathways – but fortune also favors those who do their homework.
  5. Sleep on it.  This last tip is the easiest and most foolproof of all.  People make decisions based on emotion, and that’s often a mistake.  Simply giving yourself time to think a decision over will almost always lead you in the right direction.

Hiring, firing, spending, saving … all decisions that we face every day.  Commit to making better decisions, and you’ll find those good decisions reflected in your bottom line.  


Mondays with Mike: Do This BEFORE You Hire An Employee

Most entrepreneurs start out as the sole employee of their company.  There are benefits to this setup – you know exactly who forgot to clean out the coffee maker, and you’ll never forget a staff birthday.  But eventually, if you want to grow your business, you know that you’ll have to hire someone to work for you.  You want to accomplish more, and you need additional staff to make that happen.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this decision.  It’s estimated that the cost of acquiring, hiring, and training a new employee is around 15% of their annual salary.  That’s a hefty chunk of change, which means that you need to invest it wisely.  One thing that I’ve discovered is that you can dramatically improve the odds of your first hire being a successful one if you prepare properly.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Evaluate the work you do.  Now you may think that you already know what position you want to hire for, but humor me here.  When you’re finished with this step, you’ll thank me.  You need to take a step back from the work you do every day and look at all of the roles you’re filling – sales, customer service, accounting, technical support, collections, etc.  The list may be longer than you realize!  Then you create an organizational chart, give each position a title, and arrange it on the chart based on who reports to whom.  Post this chart on the wall, and as you go through the next week, jot down the tasks that you perform under each of the positions.
  2. Define the position you’re hiring for.  Take a look at your chart after the week has elapsed and decide which of the roles is the best one to delegate to another person.  You’re not quite ready to hire yet, but you are already prepared with a list of the tasks that your future employee will be charged with.
  3. ???????????Make it concrete.  So if you’ve decided that you’re going to hire someone to handle your accounting and billing, you need to get their physical workspace set up.  You get a desk, computer, chair, adding machine … basically everything that they’ll need to do the job, and you start performing all of the new position’s tasks in the new workspace.  By physically moving to the new desk, you’ll ensure that everything the position requires is handy.  By the time you’re finally ready to hire, you’ll be ready to train your new employee (because you’ve listed all of the tasks) and you’ll already have had the chance to troubleshoot the new workspace.

Systematization is the key to efficiency, and by taking the time to analyze and systematize the new position that you want to fill, you’re setting yourself and your new employee up for success.  Employees who feel like their bosses are competent and organized will be more likely to emulate those qualities and stick around for the long haul.

  


Mondays with Mike: Why You Should Ignore Your Business Plan

Several years ago, I attended a seminar at MIT.  It was geared toward entrepreneurs, and I was in illustrious company – I was in the audience along with the founders of Burt’s Bees, TicketCity, and 1-800-GOT-JUNK, among others.  The speaker – a venture capitalist – asked everyone to stand up.  Then he asked those of us who’d used outside financing to start our business to sit down.  Not a single person did!  Finally, he asked us to sit down if we’d actually followed our business plan to guide our decisions.  Again, not a soul sat down.

Now don’t get me wrong, many of us had developed and written specific business plans, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea, especially if you’re trying to get financing from a bank.  But what’s so telling is that once these plans were written, they were largely useless to us – the entrepreneurs.  Why is that?

  1. Irrelevant Financials.  Let’s face it, if I could accurately predict exactly where my business will be in the future, I’d probably be sitting in the Cayman Islands, trading stock and making millions.  The fact of the matter is that our company’s revenue and expenses can vary because of significant factors we have no way of predicting.  Now that’s not to say that you shouldn’t make an attempt to follow a budget (a completely different animal,) but I am saying that you can’t necessarily rely on the figures that fill out your business plan.
  2. Your Dream Team.  A portion of your business plan is devoted to the people who plan to help you along your way to brilliant success.  Here’s the trouble:  not a single member of your dream team matters as much as you do.  You’re all in; they’re not.  I’m not discounting the importance of having a great management team or looking for sage advisors.  What I’m saying is that relying too heavily on your supporters can be your downfall.
  3. Defining Your Niche.   Finding your niche is key to the success of your business, but the problem is that truly finding that niche – your ideal customer – often relies on real-world selling, rather than trying to predict the future.  If you pigeon-hole yourself too early, you can waste a lot of resources trying to appeal to a market that might not be best for you.  You’re much better off letting that organic niche create itself, rather than chasing an idea just because it’s what your business plan predicts.

The exercise of creating a business plan can be extraordinarily useful in terms of helping you crystallize and articulate your vision, but it’s a mistake to let a document meant to start a business turn into a manual that you continue to use even after it’s outdated.  Entrepreneurship relies on innovation and a willingness to capitalize on opportunity, even if – or especially if – that opportunity didn’t exist when you started the business.  Don’t let yourself or the growth of your company be limited by your business plan. 

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Mondays with Mike: The Blend Strategy – Building Innovative Businesses

The difference between entrepreneurs and “normal” people is that normal folks may actually believe that it’s all been done before, that the good ideas are already taken.  Entrepreneurs know different.  We entrepreneurs believe that there’s always a fresh approach to a field or a product that can be profitable if it’s launched the right way.

One of the most effective ways to put a fresh spin on a business is by combining, or blending aspects of two different businesses.  Whether it’s as simple as combining peanut butter and jelly together in one jar, or as complex as blending drive-thru fast food service with the wedding industry to create Las Vegas’s drive-thru wedding chapels, creatively fusing two industries can give you an edge and set you apart from all of your competitors.

I’ve found two clever ways that entrepreneurs have used blending to create profitable ventures, and I’m sure there are more!

  1. Shared spaces.  Okay, this concept isn’t classic blending, but it certainly employs elements of the strategy.   The key concept of shared spaces is to place your business in proximity to other businesses so that you get a crack at their existing customers. Here’s how it works.  Grocery shoppers hit the in-store Starbucks for a $5 cup of coffee to sip while they shop.  Grocery shoppers also handle all of their banking needs at the in-store bank at the front of the grocery store.  From February to April, you can even have your taxes done in the grocery store!  My favorite example of shared spaces, though, is the Lowe’s Stocksy_txp7fd1b2b2qB5000_Small_39017hardware store near my house.  There’s a guy with a hot dog stand just as you head out of the exit, after you purchase your light fixtures, bird seed, and drywall.  He’s there 365 days a year – in fact, you can smell the sauerkraut before you get to the door.  It’s genius.  He sells more hot dogs than you could imagine – whether it’s to hungry contractors near lunchtime, or to hungry kiddos helping their parents shop for weekend projects.  Shared spaces can be a great way to get your business started.  The bonus is that your new small business lends added value to the existing store as well!
  2. Duplicating an existing method of delivery.  The Vegas drive-thru chapel fits this technique, as do drive-thru banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, and – my personal fave – drive-thru liquor stores.  Seeing a model of service delivery that works in one business and adapting it to another can be a goldmine.  Think about Ebay – they found a way to combine online product sales with the concept of an auction, complete with all the excitement of worrying about being outbid.  Their marketplace blended online sales with garage sales and added an auctioneer.  Look around you at your local businesses and see if there’s a unique delivery method that you can adapt to suit your vision.

Entrepreneurs are some of the best out-of-the-box thinkers around, and I’m constantly amazed by the innovative blends that smart business owners develop and market to become great success stories.


Mondays with Mike: What Sunsets Can Teach You About Sales

imagesI’m going to tell you a story that never happened.  A man and a woman didn’t stand and watch a sunset and exclaim, “That’s the ugliest sunset I’ve ever seen!”

Think about it.  Have you ever heard someone complain about how unattractive a particular sunset is?  The fact of the matter, though, is that some sunsets have to be better than others, right?  They’re not all created equal, but there’s something about their nature that only makes us remark on them when they’re beautiful. 

Wow.  Think about that.  If you could infuse some of that positive power into the products or services that you sell, you’d have a much easier time marketing your business.  So what is it about sunsets that makes them so powerful, something that we typically only comment on in order to praise it?

Not sure?  Here’s the answer:  it’s scarcity.  Scarcity?  You may be thinking that sunsets happen nearly every day.  They can’t possibly be considered scarce.  But scarcity is the reason we prize these daily, ever-shifting light displays.  We know they’ll only last for a few moments, and then they’re gone.  We know that we have to savor them while they last because there will never be another exactly the same. 

That’s the kind of scarcity you want to cultivate for your business.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Limit Access.  Reserve certain products – or unique bundles of products – only for your best clients.  If you create a special club of sorts, whose members get access to products other clients don’t, then they’ll see more value in those products.  They’ll feel special and will be predisposed to find their exclusive offers to be valuable.
  2. Create Beauty in your Business.  If you display your special offering for a limited time only, then consumers will be more apt to snap it up right away.  Limited time offers give customers a sense of urgency for the purchase, and a sense of relief when they receive their exclusive product.  Showing the special benefits that your customers with exclusive access receive makes other customers want that privilege as well.  Whether it’s a section of your website, or a special area of a retail store, find a way to showcase your special offers.
  3. Raise your Prices.  We value that for which we spend more money.  If you create an exclusive, limited time offer for your customers, then they’ll be willing to part with more money in order to secure your special deal.  Pack in tons of added value, and it’s a win for everyone.  They key here isn’t just to slap a higher price tag on the same old product.  You must create an authentically more valuable offer, and your customers won’t be able to resist it.

The ultimate marketing win is when you can get consumers so excited about your product or service that they start to market it for you.  We see this happen all the time on Facebook.  People “share” books they’ve bought on Amazon or “share” the outrageously expensive eyeshadow palette they just bought from Sephora.  Why do websites prompt shoppers to “share” their purchases?  Because we see value in the things our friends buy.  Use the sunset effect in your marketing, and you’ll start to see excited customers sharing the news about your brand.


Mondays with Mike: Words To Strive For – Stellar Customer Service

Most of the entrepreneurs who read my articles and my blog aren’t necessarily famous in their fields.  Most of us aren’t considered industry experts, and we don’t have the Wall Street Journal calling us for our opinions on current business events.  If there’s one way in which we can excel, though, and I mean really stand out from our peers, it’s in our customer service.  You may not be able to service all the customers, but you can service the happiest customers. 

All of my employees who have customer contact are armed with the following four phrases that encapsulate our attitude as a company committed to delivering stellar customer service … every time.

  1. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????“I don’t know, but here’s what I’ll do.”  It’s unrealistic to expect every member of your company to have the answer to every possible question or the solution to every problem.  What is reasonable is to require that they commit to finding that answer and following up with the customer.  Train your staff to clearly communicate their plan: “I’m going to get that answer for you and call you back by 2pm,” or “I will do some research and let you know before noon tomorrow.”  When customers understand that your staff takes their needs seriously, and that your staff will follow up on time, every time, you’re setting yourself up as a leader in customer service.
  2. “I am very sorry.”  When a customer’s unhappy because your company has failed to meet their reasonable expectations, they want you to own up to your mistakes.   Acknowledging that customers are right (when they really are) helps to defuse potentially angry clients and gets your staff started in the direction of resolving the complaint.  One caveat:  save the apologies for when you’ve genuinely made a mistake.  We’ve all dealt with clients who are impossible to please, and apologies for not having met wildly unrealistic expectations don’t accomplish anything productive.
  3. “Yes.”  “Yes” is the magic word that consumers want to hear more than any other, and your customer service reps should strive to say it as often as they reasonably can.  Now you’re going to have to empower your reps with a little discretionary power, but imagine how this scenario plays out.  A customer comes in displeased with their carryout food order from the night before.  Your cashier offers them a free sandwich to replace the one they didn’t care for, and they walk out impressed with your company’s handling of their complaint.  If your cashier has to fetch a manager, the customer seethes, perhaps causes a scene, and still walks out with a free sandwich that it cost you two employees to handle in addition to the potential fallout from an unhappy customer in your restaurant.  If you can reasonably accommodate a customer’s wishes, then do it right away!
  4. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”  Whether you’re wrapping up on the phone or in person, using this phrase accomplishes two goals:  it lets you ensure that your customer is satisfied, and it also lets the customer have the pleasure of having the last word.  Whether they leave after telling you that they’re completely satisfied or they give you one more opportunity to meet their needs, you’ve won with this phrase.

The key to superior customer service is authentically caring about your clients’ satisfaction.  Training yourself and your staff to use these phrases creates a climate in which serving customers is the highest priority.


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.




 
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