Posts Tagged ‘Mondays with Mike’


Mondays with Mike: 4 Steps To Taking Your Business On The Road

I’m a self-taught mobile business evangelist.  When I made the decision to convert the way I did business from the traditional, office-based model, I literally never looked back, at least not fondly.  Now, everything I need to conduct business is in my backpack, and I can work – quite easily, in fact – from anywhere in the world.

Getting your business ready to go mobile isn’t without its pitfalls, though, so I’ve compiled a game plan for getting there with minimal hassle.

  1. Communication is key.  The single most important component of your mobile business strategy is ensuring that you can communicate reliably with your staff, clients, and key contacts.  Skype is the solution for my company.  It lets me talk by phone, conduct video conferences, and it even lets me send messages.  When you’re on the road, you can’t afford to be out of touch, so it’s worth it to research your options and make the choice that meets all of your needs.
  2. Use the cloud to store and share data.  In addition to being able to talk to clients and employees, you’re also going to need a way to store and share your data securely.  Google Drive works for me, and I simply can’t overstate how critical it is to be able to access, edit, and share files from the road.  Even if you end up paying for your cloud storage, you’ll end up saving money in the long run when you factor in the savings in both time and money.  No more searching for a fax machine or waiting for documents to arrive.  Being able to share files – even large ones – by pointing and clicking is critical.
  3. Create contingency plans.  Ask yourself what you’d do if your laptop battery died.  What would you do if you couldn’t find reliable wifi?  What if Google Drive stopped working in the middle of a negotiation that relies on sending and receiving files?  Think through the problems that could arise and start developing solutions.  Whether it’s a backup battery or a second cloud storage account, you’ll save yourself huge headaches if you do some troubleshooting before you need it.
  4. Take a deep breath and jump right in.  Force yourself to go mobile.  Even if you start with a single day, making yourself actually do it will help you identify problems with your systems and give you the confidence that you can, in fact, survive outside your office and outside your comfort zone.  As you start going through your regular tasks from a mobile office, you’ll start to realize all the benefits.  You’ll appreciate the flexibility, and you’ll quickly see that you’re actually more efficient.

Much of working outside the office relies on technology, but one of the things that I love most about working from my backpack is that I’m free to schedule more face time with my important clients.  Rather than being tied to a desk, I’m free to actually go seal a deal with a real handshake.  Your laptop doesn’t distance you from personal contact; it simply lets you keep tabs on your business while you go forge those important face-to-face connections. 

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Mondays with Mike: Make Micro Employment Work For You

Gone are the days of offices packed wall-to-wall with full-time employees pretending to be busy when the boss walks by.  It’s too expensive to keep a staff waiting around for your busy times, and savvy entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to micro employment to handle their fluctuating needs for staff.

Micro employment is employing contractors on an as-needed basis, and it works best for companies who have varying needs, based either on fluctuations in work load or based on shifting expertise requirements.  IT services is the perfect example:  from time to time, every single company is going to have technical difficulties and need the services of an IT professional.  But think about it … do you need one every day?  Every week?  If your needs are occasional, then you may be better off outsourcing your tech support.

Your first step is assessing your needs.  Do you need occasional articles written for your blog (and spend three days dreading the writing and another half day slogging through it?)  Find yourself a freelance writer.  If you’re an accountant and need additional help during tax time, you can find freelance help to help you get through the busy time.  Is your customer service department overwhelmed at the end of every month?  Find a temp to help ease that crunch. 

One important tip:  always, always try out your new contractor with a small sample job.  Hire your writer for a single article before you commit to a larger project, or bring your temp in during your slow time so that you can assess their abilities.  The point is to line up your freelancers before you need them so that you know you can count on them in a pinch.

It’s a big old world, and you may find that the contractor who best suits your needs lives on the other side of the planet.  While you can find good folks without having to meet them in person, I strongly advocate a virtual face-to-face via Skype.  There’s no substitute for spending a few minutes getting a feel for your micro employee.  You create a connection that’s impossible to forge via email.

Stocksy_txp28c9325ayB7000_Small_210944The key to finding – and keeping – good contractors at the ready is to pay them well.  The rule of thumb is that you’ll always pay more per hour for a good contractor than you would for a full-time staff person, but in the long run, it’ll almost always save you money.  How?  You only pay for the hours that your contractor is actually working, and you save on the benefits package as well.  I’m not advocating that you strip benefits from deserving staff, but I am suggesting that you have a responsibility to your company to staff it according to your needs.  In the long run, if you’re paying a highly hourly wage to a skilled contractor, they end up with the flexibility to work when they choose, and you end up with high quality work at a relative value.  Another tip:  always, always pay your contractors promptly.  You want them eagerly anticipating your next call, rather than looking for excuses not to work with you again.

At the end of the day, micro employment provides both you and your contractor with flexibility; you have the option to scale your staff up rapidly, as needed, and your contractors earn a higher hourly wage than they would if they were full-time, and they can schedule their work to suit themselves.  Micro employment works for everyone.


Mondays with Mike: Improve Your Client Relationships With Social Media

In the olden days – you know, before Facebook – the success of a marketing campaign was often simply a measure of how much money you had to spend.  After all, we know that if you repeat something often enough, then people will believe it. 

My, how times have changed.

People consume information so differently now, that the weight of a single television commercial or magazine ad is often diluted by all of the impressions that we get from other forms of media, and that’s a huge opportunity for small businesses.  You can build your brand without investing tons of money, if you’re willing to invest a little time.  Consumers are looking for a genuine connection and a way to interact with a company, and you can give them what they want by using social media.

There are lots of serious minded folks who dismiss Facebook and Twitter as frivolous fads – wasters of time and energy.  What those folks don’t know is that their company is most likely already being discussed on social media.  Whether you run a restaurant or a carpet cleaning service, chances are good that there are online reviews of your business.  If that doesn’t scare you, it should.  The conversation is happening.  The only question is whether you want to participate and start to shape that conversation into one that presents your company in its best light.

Responding to reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor is a great opportunity to thank happy patrons for their business, and it’s also a chance for you to see what your customers didn’t like about their experience.  If it’s appropriate, a public acknowledgement of their complaint and a promise to make it right shows that you value your customers and are invested in providing excellent service.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Social media also gives you a chance to invite prospective customers in for a virtual visit.  You can post pictures of your daily special at the restaurant, or you can write a quick blog post about why you’ve chosen a particular brand of environmentally safe cleaners for use in your customers’ homes.  You can run silly little contests on your Facebook page, inviting folks to provide suggestions for your newest drink creation or offering a freebie for the 1000th person who likes your Facebook page.  The idea is to get your customers involved on your social media platforms.  Invite them to share pictures of your business on Instagram, and make sure you monitor all of the possible sites that might have reviews of your business.  It’s possible that you’ll luck into some great, unsolicited free advertising, but if you carefully cultivate your social media presence, you’ll end up interacting with far more consumers.

Your company’s reputation depends on your relationship with your customers, and you can manage that relationship – in part, anyway – by using the free social media tools available to you.  Whether you’re in love with Facebook or not, you’re missing out if you don’t acknowledge the powerful opportunities that it provides you.


Mondays with Mike: Keep ‘Em Coming Back – Rich, Relevant Content

???????????????????Even if you don’t have a product that you sell online, nearly every business benefits from having a website.  It’s how you build your brand, reach new consumers, and share the important details about your business.  Whether you build it yourself or hire a web designer, though, getting the site up and running is only the first step. 

If you want repeat visits to your website, you have to give folks a reason to come back.  Especially if you’re not using the site for online sales, you’ll find that providing articles or blog posts with fresh and interesting content is one of the best ways to get consumers in the habit of coming back.  If your customers look forward to the new content you post, you have a much better shot at creating a lasting impression of your brand.

The key is to make your content fresh and relevant, though, and that’s no easy task.  Entrepreneurs with new websites often worry that they’ll have trouble continually coming up with a new story to tell.  Here’s the secret:  you don’t have to tell a new story with every post; you simply have to tell the same story in a fresh way. 

Technology is your friend.

Let’s say that your family owns a farm – you have orchards, a bakery, a produce stand, and wagon rides so that customers can pick their own fresh fruit.  You want your website to tell your story and to encourage folks to support your small local business.  But what will you write about in your blog?

You start out with blog posts about what’s in season, but it doesn’t have to end there.  You can include recipes that feature your fresh produce, and move on to other topics.  Take your website visitors on a virtual tour of your bakery, or of the farm, using Skype.  Interview your visitors and get their permission to include their favorite parts of their visit in a video collection.  Show off the new water recycling system you’ve installed and take the opportunity to talk about sustainable farming and how important it is.  Invite a local chef to feature your produce in their restaurant and post the menus on your website.  Create an infographic that talks about the nutritional value of fresh fruit, or that shows a breakdown of all the crops you raise and where you have them planted on the farm.

You’re telling the same story about a hardworking, family-owned business, but you’re using technology to share that story in fresh and interesting ways.  Your website analytics can give you valuable information about which pages get the most views and are shared with others, and you can use that feedback to tailor future content.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important tool – so important that lots of websites simply hire someone to spin (rewrite) articles to fool Google into thinking that the site is materially different from the last time it was crawled.  The benefit of creating genuine rich content is that you don’t have to fool a search engine – your site actually has new, relevant, and engaging content.  There’s so much more to building a vibrant, successful website than simply securing a web address and slapping up some graphics.  If you’re not using the incredibly power of your site to tell your unique story, then you’re missing the boat.


Mondays with Mike: Great Meetings In 4 Simple Steps

We’ve all had to sit through them – big old snoozefests of meetings full of buzzwords and BS.  Hell, I think I even conducted a few of those before I figured out how to get the most out of the times when I bring my staff together.  Meetings shouldn’t be a chore; they are an opportunity to share ideas, devise solutions, and inspire better performance from your whole staff – but only if you run those meetings right.  Here’s how it’s done:

  • Outline objective as a group.  My meetings start with a blank whiteboard.  I kick things off by establishing the reason for the meeting, and then every member of the group contributes an objective they want to accomplish in that meeting.  I write the objective down or designate another staff member to record our objectives, and the amazing benefit is that every single person is immediately engaged.  They have a stake in the meeting, and they know their priorities matter.  Don’t worry if you have more objectives than time … you’re about to refine and focus your list.
  • Consolidate your objectives.  Combine and condense your list of objectives into a manageable number – three to five is a perfect number for a brief meeting – and list those goals for everyone to see.  Tackle each objective – collect information, collaborate to find a solution, and move on through your list.
  • Confirm that you’ve achieved each objective.  Not only does this step ensure that you’ve accomplished the meeting’s goals, but you’re also modeling a thoughtful, efficient approach to problem solving.  Focusing on measurable progress sets a good example.

Not every problem needs a major meeting, and my next and final step lets you address smaller issues by holding a meeting with an appropriate scope.  These micro meetings can be held on short notice and should only involve the essential staff. 

  • ???????????????????????????????????Hold a stand-up meeting.  When you sit folks down for a meeting, they tend to settle in.  There’s no hurry, and there’s little excitement in a room full of people looking at their watches.  I like the stand-up meeting, and I keep ‘em brief.  We use raised tables for standing note-taking, and I always appoint a timekeeper, with instructions to cut the meeting off at fifteen minutes.  Giving yourself a brief window means that you have to prioritize your objectives, and you’re eliminating unnecessary fluff.  You have to be prepared, and you must be efficient.  Training yourself and your staff to stay on topic in these quickie meetings will pay dividends when you discover how much you can accomplish in a relatively short period of time.

A meeting should always, always be the means to an end.  The point of holding a meeting is to accomplish an objective, not to appear to be busy and engaged.  If you’re meeting just to have a meeting, you’re doing it wrong.  If you see your staff propping up their eyelids to stay awake in your meeting, then you need to examine and improve your meeting protocol.   Your objective should be efficient, effective, goal-oriented gatherings.  


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 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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