Posts Tagged ‘Mondays with Mike’

Mondays with Mike: Taking a Step Back from your Business

11-23 Step back from biz smallMost entrepreneurs I know – myself included – eat, sleep, and breathe our businesses, at least at the beginning.  It’s easy to see how it happens.  We start with nothing but a great idea and determination, and we nurture our companies.  We’re proud of what we’ve built, and we want to see it continue to grow.

But there are times when we need a break, and it can be very difficult to walk away and trust that our business can survive without our hands-on, day-to-day attention.

Meet Donnie Miller, CEO of Technical Adventures.  He started his full-service IT company about ten years ago, and he did it just the way most of us have.  He did everything – sales, customer service, numbers, lead technician, fire extinguisher, and chief bottle washer – all by himself.  And he needed a break.  He hadn’t taken a vacation in years, and his company had plateaued.  What did he do?

He walked away and took a six-month sabbatical.  Now he didn’t just walk out the door one day with no notice and vanish.  He took specific steps to set his company up to run in his absence.  His steps:

  1. Hire the right people and put them in the right positions.  Donnie had hired great, trustworthy people, folks he could rely on to run his business well, but it wasn’t until he actually took a day off – physically left the office – that his employees really started to shine.  If your staff relies on you to be the final arbiter of every issue that arises, you’ll never see them reach their potential. 
  2. Start small.  Donnie started by leaving for a few days at a time, checking in by phone.  He realized quickly that he was used to feeling needed and the phone calls were really more for his benefit than that of his managers.  When Donnie figured out that his staff would call when they needed him, he was ready for longer breaks from the office.
  3. Assess results.  After Donnie’s first six-month sabbatical, his business had dropped by thirty percent, mostly because he’d been the entire sales force before his departure.  He put people in place to handle sales, evaluated the successes and failures of the systems he’d put in place, and made the necessary changes. 
  4. Look at the big picture.  One of the chief benefits of Donnie’s absence was the fact that he knew his company could manage everyday matters without his assistance.  That freed him up for all sorts of new projects.  He could focus on all the new ideas and growth-oriented projects he’d never had time for back when he handled everything personally.  He was finally able to steer his company the way he’d always wanted.

It takes guts (and no small amount of humility) to step back from your business and let it run without you.  We get so wrapped up in thinking our value is in our hands-on micromanagement that we forget it’s our vision that’s our chief asset.  By following Donnie’s example and removing our ego from the equation, we often find the solution is far simpler than we realize.  Stepping back can give you and your company opportunity to grow.  

Mondays with Mike: The 15 Best Business Quotes

Hand holding a note card that reads "What are you waiting for?" with forest background.I’m a big fan of forging my own way, relying on my instincts (backed up by research, of course) to make my business decisions.  But there are times when it’s wise to heed the words of successful folks.  There’s a lot of wisdom in the following quotes:

On Your Employees:

Hire good ones and treat them like gold.  Listen to the experts on how to keep your most valuable business asset around.

1.  “People are definitely a company's greatest asset. It doesn't make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” Mary Kay Ash

2.  “The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them.” Benjamin Jowett

3.   “You don't lie to your own doctor. You don't lie to your own attorney, and you don't lie to your employees.” Gordon Bethune

4.  “Hire character. Train skill.” Peter Schutz

On the Nature of the Successful Entrepreneur:

Though we all find our ways individually, there are certain qualities entrepreneurs possess.

5.  The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows.” Aristotle Onassis

6.  “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” Peter Drucker

7.  “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer. “ Nolan Bushnell

8.  “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Jack Welch

9.  “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. “ Charles Darwin


One of the qualities I most admire is the ability to strip a situation down to its essence – to deal only with what’s absolutely necessary.

10.  “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.” Tom Peters

11.  “If you see a snake, just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” Henry Ross Perot

12.  “That's been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

13.  “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” E.F. Schumacher


We all stumble from time to time.  The successful people are the ones who get back up and keep moving in the right direction.

14.  “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Dale Carnegie

15.  “Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.” Thomas A. Edison

I know inspirational quotes won’t solve all the world’s problems, but when you’re struggling or uncertain, it’s useful to know that other successful people have faced the very same struggles, persevered, and succeeded.

Mondays with Mike: Make Reverse Psychology Work For You!

11-9 reverse psychology smallLet’s face it:  we’re all barraged by marketing, brand impressions, and attempts to separate us from our money – pretty much constantly.  We’re practically immune to high-pressure sales tactics, and we no longer believe the QVC hosts when they tell us to “Hurry.  Time is running out.” 

But we’re business owners.  We have goods and services to market.  How can we appeal to prospective customers without looking like we’re trying too hard?  The answer is reverse psychology.  When customers expect to be pressured or misled, the antidote is honesty.  Be honest, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well you’re received, especially if you follow these tips:

  1. Use the Inoculation Effect.  William McGuire developed the theory of the Inoculation Effect based on the way our bodies develop resistance to disease after exposure.  It turns out the same thing is true of repeated efforts to sell us something.  We become immune to sales tactics.  How do you use this effect to your advantage?  Point out your competition’s sales tactics.  You’ll make comparison shoppers hyper aware of the sales pitches to come, and you’ll appear the sound choice by comparison.
  2. Explain your point of difference.  If you begin by talking about the way everyone else in the business does it, then you’re positioning yourself to stand out.  For example, if you run a cleaning company and the standard practice is to include a fee for cleaning supplies in any quote, explain that you only charge clients for the products you actually use.  Again, if your prospect gets quotes from other companies and hears “it’s all included,” then they’re primed to think “I’m overpaying for products I don’t use.”
  3. Don’t offer more; offer less!  It seems like everyone’s gone the a la carte route, which means there’s a staggering array of choices.  Rather than inducing analysis paralysis in your clients, offer them three (no more, no less) excellent choices.  They’ll still feel like they’re in control, but they won’t feel overwhelmed.
  4. Give ‘em an easy out.  We get used to a “sell at all costs” mentality, so if we hear a sales person who’s ready to walk away – leaving the decision in our hands – we’re taken by surprise.  As it turns out, relieving your client of the obligation to buy doesn’t negatively affect your close rate, and the clients who do buy feel better about the sale.  They’re less likely to suffer from buyer’s remorse since they weren’t pressured into their decision.
  5. Use the 1-10 rating system, but with a new spin!  After I make my pitch, I ask prospects to rate how they feel about my service.  They typically throw out a number in the high middle – a 6 or 7.  Rather than telling them why I’m a 10 (which is what they expect,) I tell them I’m surprised, that I figured they’d be a 2 or 3.  What happens is magic.  They start explaining why I’m so much better than a 3.  They list my attributes, and before you know it, they’ve talked themselves into being a 9, and they’re ready to sign on the dotted line.  I just sit back and let it happen.

The key to using reverse psychology effectively is honesty.  You’re not going to sell jaded consumers by pulling the same old marketing tricks.  You have to go with something novel, refreshing, and unusual:  the truth.

Mondays with Mike: 5 Ways to Get Paid Faster

11-2 Paid Invoices smallThe default payment period for most of us who bill clients after services are rendered is 30 days.  When you examine your receivables, though, you see those 30 days often turn into 45 days or even longer.  Think about the difference it could make to your cash flow if you could significantly reduce the time you wait for folks to pay your bill.  As it turns out, you can.  And it’s not even that difficult.

  1. Change your terms.  So simple, most of us don’t even think about it.  Why exactly do we offer 30-day terms?  Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.  Now your established customers might not be thrilled if you suddenly changed your terms to COD or Net 10, but there’s no reason on earth you can’t bring new customers on with terms that bring your cash in quicker.  Just do it.
  2. Offer bank financing.  Now this option works best for high-dollar purchasing, but if you set up a program through a local bank to offer free or low cost financing, you can remove all objections to purchasing.  You’ll pay a fee to the bank for the service, but the best part is you get your cash up front, and any collections in the future are the bank’s responsibility.
  3. Accept credit cards.  I’m astonished how many businesses still go the paper invoice, antiquated check route.  You can literally turn any smartphone, iPad, or tablet into a credit card reader, so there’s no reason not to swipe your customer’s card on the spot.  You’ll pay a small percentage for processing, but you have access to funds right away.  No need to remember to pick up stamps and wait for months for a check to arrive.
  4. Build a reverse cash flow model.  The old-fashioned model is to build a product or deliver a service and wait for the customer to pay.  But think about the way Dell revolutionized the way we buy computers.  Rather than building machines and waiting for people to show up at a store, Dell took orders (and payment,) built their machines to customers’ specifications, and then shipped the computers out.  Even if you’re delivering a service, find a way – like an annual service fee – to get your payment up front, and you’re radically altering your cash flow.
  5. Change your billing frequency.  If you provide a service on the 1st of the month, but don’t bill until the end of the month on 30-day terms, you’re looking at roughly two months before you see your money.  If you start billing weekly, or even daily, you’ll see payments arriving throughout the month, ultimately far quicker than you would if you held your billing until the last day of the month. 

So often we blindly follow established practices – like 30-day terms – with no good reason other than that’s the way it’s always been done.  In today’s market, though – given that you can send money anywhere in the world instantly – there’s no reason we can’t change the way we do business in a way that benefits cash flow.

Mondays with Mike: 8 Ways To Keep Employees From Wasting Your Time

Though I’m on the road a lot, I love the days when I work from my office.  I get so much from my staff – inspiration, constructive criticism, and an excitement that only comes from pulling together to accomplish great things.  But we all know that putting people together in a workspace often leads to serious time black holes – conflicts, gossip, and confusion that eat away at productivity.  Here are my eight tips for keeping you and your staff on track:

  1. Institute a daily huddle.  I run my daily huddle standing up.  People don’t settle in with a cup of coffee and notepad for doodling.  I cover the day’s objectives and challenges, and we get right back to work.  It’s not a gab session, and it’s not interactive.  I transmit critical information to keep us on the same page, and we get right back to work.
  2. Maintain 360 communication.  Though I don’t use my huddle for gathering information from my staff, keeping lines of communication open is critical for eliminating confusion.  Sometimes I’m the problem; if I haven’t clearly delineated responsibilities and goals, I need one of my staff to let me know what needs clarification.  Keep your door and your ears open.
  3. Manage conflict.  Conflict is inevitable.  You can’t avoid it altogether, which means you must actively manage it.  Watch for inner-office rivalries and disagreements and step in to diplomatically resolve conflict when it’s necessary.  Ignoring problems can result in bigger blowups later on.
  4. Eliminate chronic problems.  The 80-20 rule holds true when it comes to problem staff:  80 percent of your problems are caused by 20 percent of your staff.  Warn and then weed out the folks disrupting your company’s progress.
  5. Trust your staff.  If you realize you’re dealing with a mountain of questions from staff who are afraid of making the wrong move, then it could be the stakes are too high.  You have to realize that mistakes will occur, and you will benefit from creating a climate in which your employees learn when it’s okay to take a chance.
  6. Get the right people doing the right things the right way.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, and taking a step back to observe how your office runs can highlight staff members who aren’t in their ideal positions.  Shuffling responsibilities can make your company far more efficient.
  7. Give your staff the pride of ownership.  If your employees see a personal benefit from improving the bottom line, they’re far more likely to give it their all.  Profit sharing and phantom equity can be powerful motivators.  You can also include an update on the company’s health as part of your daily huddle to keep your staff focused on the ultimate mutual goal.
  8. Praise your staff publicly.  Not only do you want to reinforce the good behavior of your stellar staff members, but you also want to make sure you’re not spending time publicly addressing undesirable behavior.  Praise in public, and chastise in private.  Great work earns your staff recognition and a sense of satisfaction.

Finally, here’s a bonus tip: make your workplace fun.  Now, don’t get me wrong:  We work hard, and in fact I’ve instituted library hours in the office – chunks of time when it’s all business and we work quietly.  But during break time, you might walk in on a nerf gun battle or trashcan basketball.  We work hard, and we take the time to blow off steam so we can focus better when we return to our desks.

Mondays with Mike: 8 Ways To Alienate Your Employees

I recently ran into a friend of mine who works for a Fortune 500 company. He’s absolutely miserable, and while he’s been looking for another job, he’s been doing the absolute minimum he can to keep his boss off his back. He’s just marking time, and while he was running down the list of things he hates about his company, it occurred to me there’s something we can learn from my friend’s misery. Here are the things we need to be on our guard against, the ways in which we destroy employee loyalty.

  1. Demand 24/7 access. Your company is your baby, and it makes sense for you to work around the clock to nurture it.  You can’t expect your staff to make the same commitment, though.  We need downtime to rest and recharge, and pushing your staff to be available all the time will push them away.
  2. Require your employees to do work they hate.  We all have unique skill sets, and if you’re forcing your staff to work outside their areas of expertise, not only are you not getting the most from them, but you’re also damaging company morale.  Take the time to sort your staff into jobs they enjoy.
  3. Call your staff “human resources.”  I just sat in on a meeting in which a guy lamented the fact that his company was “low on human inventory.”  He’s a real gem, that guy, and he is probably clueless about why the company can’t recruit and retain great staff.  I see that it’s because he treats people like numbers.  If you value your staff, treat them like human beings.
  4. Require your staff to make the company part of their social life.  Not only do you need to allow your staff to keep their private lives private, but you also should avoid the potential for inappropriate Facebook posts about your company.  Don’t tell your staff you want to see them promoting your business on their personal social media.
  5. Blame the rules.  You’re the boss.  That means it’s up to you to make and adjust the rules as necessary.  If you’re hiding behind rules you’ve made to explain your decisions, you’re missing an opportunity to earn staff loyalty by demonstrating your flexibility and changing rules to benefit both your staff and your business.
  6. Ask for feedback and ignore it.  If you ask for input from your staff, you owe it to them to consider their suggestions.  You needn’t implement everything an employee suggests, but you need to make it clear you value your staff’s input.
  7. Use money as the sole motivator.  It is important to compensate your staff fairly, but there are a host of other benefits that can matter even more than money to your employees.  If you focus on finding ways to challenge and reward your staff that have nothing to do with a dollar, you’ll learn just how effective fulfillment is when it comes to retaining good employees.
  8. Put your company ahead of your staff.  If your employees feel like you care more about the bottom line than anything else, you’re liable to lose them at their first opportunity to jump ship.  Make an effort to support your staff, and you’ll have ‘em for life.

Many times we push our staff away completely by accident.  We think we’re doing the right thing for our business, but we end up making decisions that are penny wise and pound foolish.  Take a step back and make sure you’re avoiding the common traps and strengthening your staff’s ties to your company.

Mondays with Mike: Win Customers With Your Authenticity

6-15 Be Authentic smallEven though I’m not an accountant, I understand just how important effective accounting and accountants are to running my business successfully.  A few years ago, I attended an accounting conference, and I’ll admit it:  I wasn’t very excited about it.  I hire accountants because that’s not where my natural talents lie.

But there I was, armed with a gallon of high-octane coffee, committed to sitting through what I predicted would be a boring presentation.  The featured speaker stepped up to the podium, and I nearly groaned out loud.  He was everything I was afraid he’d be:  boring suit and matching monotone voice, with a heaping helping of a snooze-worthy Powerpoint.  Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and this guy didn’t even try.

I made it through the presentation without falling asleep and drooling on my neighbor, and I hightailed it out of the seminar, glad to be gone.  You can imagine my dismay when I attended a friend’s barbecue a few weeks later and literally bumped into the accountant speaker.  Since we were face-to-face (and because he recognized me,) I was stuck.  While I was thinking of excuses to escape, he surprised me, though.

He was actually funny.  He was relaxed, dressed casually, and he was really interesting.  It was like it had been his boring clone making the presentations, because this guy was nothing like he’d been the first time we’d met.  We were laughing about a joke he’d told when he said something that simply stunned me.  He said, “Man, I hate having to be all professional at work.  I wish I could make money just by being myself.”

I’m pretty sure I spaced out for a moment as I though about the weight of what he’d just said.  He had no idea that he was more compelling, more appealing, and even seemed more trustworthy when he was being himself.  By putting on a false front in an attempt to appear professional, the accountant was making himself fit a mold that not only wasn’t comfortable for him, but was also unappealing to his clients.

I left that barbecue with two important takeaways.  First of all, that guy is now my accountant – the very best I’ve ever had.  Secondly, I realized just how important it is to be brave enough to be our authentic selves.  In fact, it’s when we give ourselves permission to let our real personalities emerge that we’re most likely to find clients who really connect with us, our values, and our big-picture goals.

Now I’m not advising that folks stop showering or litter their sales pitches with dirty jokes, but what I am advising is that we stop trying to pretend to be someone we’re not.  Let your creativity peek out.  Give your quirky sense of humor a chance to brighten your sales presentations.  Will everyone get your off-the-wall jokes?  Probably not.  But the ones who do are more likely to end up as customers for life.

I’m reminded of the wise Dr. Seuss’ timeless advice:  “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”  Let your authentic self shine through, and you’ll find your best, most loyal customers.

Mondays with Mike: 5 Changes The Cloud Will Force Your Business To Make

5-25 cloud changes smallWhether we like it or not, change is inevitable.  Even though we know a change will ultimately be for the good, some of us have to be pulled kicking and screaming into the light of new technology and new practices.  So maybe you’re one of those folks who’s put off transitioning your business to the cloud.  Knowing what’s ahead can help you be best equipped to handle what’s ahead.

  1. The transition is inevitable.  Seriously, you’re going to have to do it sooner or later, if for no other reason than you’ll have to if you want to retain good employees.  9-5 office jobs have gone the way of cocktail hours in the office.  It’s going to be harder and harder to find staff who don’t demand flexibility in terms of hours and even working locations.  Moving to the cloud lets you enable staff to work at hours and locations that suit their needs.  It’s a good thing.  You can either become flexible or lose your great staff to employers who are.
  2. Consumers demand convenience.  Okay, we’re spoiled.  We expect to be able to Google anything and have answers at our fingertips within seconds.  If your business doesn’t provide mobile apps or instant access, you’re less desirable to consumers who want it all now.  Having your business running on the cloud means you’re able to work wherever and whenever, offering your clients speedy and high quality service.
  3. You’ll need to train your staff.  Just like any new piece of office equipment, you’ll need to set aside time to make sure your employees are up to speed on the new cloud functions.  You may need to schedule time in the future to deal with inevitable upgrades, so you can be sure your staff is equipped to give great service throughout the transition.  You may also need some new hardware – think touch screens, dual monitors – in order to maximize the results from your move to the cloud.
  4. Sharing and securing information are the new priorities.  The biggest benefit of the cloud is that you and every member of your team can access information from all over the world.  The biggest liability is that you’ll need to make sure your data is secure.  You’ll have to protect what’s confidential and make sure only authorized users have access to confidential materials.  The good news is you’ll find lots of resources to make securing and sharing your information as safe and easy as possible.
  5. Bandwidth is everything.  Once you’re up and running on the cloud, you’ll have to make sure you have consistent, reliable access for all the members of your team.  You’ll also need to develop contingency plans for how you’ll handle power outages, Internet service problems, or the host of other problems that can disrupt the way you conduct business. 

While you may not initially be enthusiastic about transitioning to the cloud, you’ll be better positioned to capitalize on its enormous benefits if you’re prepared to manage the changes. 

Mondays with Mike: Boost Your Bottom Line With Recurring Fees

5-18 recurring fees smallAttracting and converting new customers is an important part of any business.  Revenue is the lifeblood of our companies, and it’s important to devote time and energy to ensuring we have a steady, fresh supply.  One source of revenue we shouldn’t overlook, though, is our existing customer base.  If we’re chasing down new clients without first looking at how we can maximize revenue from our current clients, we’re missing out on real opportunities.

One of the very best ways I’ve found to bump up my billing is by converting customers to a recurring fee plan.  Here’s how it works:

Say you own an HVAC company.  You have a stable of corporate clients, and when they call you for a repair, it’s never cheap.  Your average call results in a bill for $2000.  You make an average of one call per year to each client, but you’re looking for a way to increase your per client earnings.  So you offer your clients a plan.  They pay $200 each month, and when they call you, their service is covered (with appropriate restrictions of course.)  Your revenue per client has gone up to $2400 per year, and you’re providing a huge benefit to your clients as well.  Rather than having to scrape together $2K when the a/c goes on the fritz in August, they know they’re covered.  They benefit from predictable costs, and you benefit from increased revenue and predictable income.  It’s a win-win.

But there’s more: your technicians have added incentive to work efficiently, since they’re not billing by the hour.  They also have incentive to fix things properly the first time, since any shoddy work will come out of your bottom line, should they have to go back for a second repair.  Likewise, your customers will call you at the first sign of trouble, rather than waiting for a small problem to turn into a large one.

You’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll be able to convert customers to a recurring fee model.  We’re far less likely to balk at a low monthly fee than we are to experience sticker shock when we look at the annual total.  Once your customers get used to your new model, they don’t even think about that predictable monthly expense.  It’s practically invisible to them.

Nearly every business can find some way to implement a recurring fee program.  Whether you’re a liquor store that enrolls clients in a Beer-of-the-Month Club, or you’re an office supplier who bills monthly for copier servicing plans, you can find a way to make recurring fees work for your company.

The best of both worlds is when your recurring fees bring your customers even closer to you and your staff.  Creating an elite program for your top-drawer clients gives the client an ego boost and gives you a revenue boost.  You’re preserving future business, and you’re doing it in a way that lets your clients manage their costs effectively. 

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