Posts Tagged ‘Productivity’


7 Ways To Make Money In Your Sleep

3-2 Make Money While you Sleep smallIf you think about the way your business works – you find clients, pitch your goods, land the sale, deliver the product, build repeat business, and work for referrals – there are loads of challenges entailed in every step.  If you want to generate more income with less effort at every stage, the key is automation.  Finding ways to implement systems and maximize efficiencies helps your business earn an income even when you’re not actively working.

  1. Turn yourself into the product.  Once you’ve established yourself as a credible authority in your field, the logical move is to develop a way to market your expertise.  Whether you sell a book or instructional videos, once you’ve created your product and implemented a marketing plan, the hard work is over.  You collect your money while you’re moving on to the next challenge.
  2. Do fewer things.  The surest recipe for failure is trying to do everything under the sun that could possibly be relevant in your venture.  If you settle on a few key services or products, then you can perfect the systems for producing and delivering your offerings.  Always remember that the riches are often in the niches;  if you can offer customers something unique – and do it efficiently – then you’re a standout.  You don’t have to be everything to everyone.
  3. Create continuity.  If you can find a way to build a recurring service plan for clients, you’re maximizing efficiency in two main ways:  you’re creating predictable expenses for your clients, and you’re ensuring continued revenue for your company.  Recurring billing – the subscription model – capitalizes on efficiency both for the client and the service provider.
  4. Sell the system cheap and make money on the refills.  One word:  Keurig.  The dominant entry in the single-cup coffee industry doesn’t actually make that much money on its high quality brewers.  The real bucks are in the coffee refills.  Millions of dollars in revenue are derived from individual sized coffee pods.  Proprietary design is the key to recurring purchases.
  5. Become the middleman.  There’s a reason middlemen exist, and it’s the economy of scale you can find when you consolidate the transportation, sales, and delivery of goods.  Look at Amazon:  they don’t produce the stuff they sell.  They simply attract vendors and find a way to sell, collect money, and deliver products – faster than nearly anyone else in the world.
  6. Become a teacher.  Much like turning yourself into a product, becoming a teacher lets you market your expertise.  Whether you become a part time consultant for other entrepreneurs in your field, or you write a how-to guide for starting your kind of small business, you’ll reap dual benefits from becoming an educational resource:  income from the time you spend consulting or writing, as well as increased visibility for your brand.
  7. Become an investor.  When you started your business, you did it to fill a need you saw in your market.  My advice to entrepreneurs who want to invest is to look at needs (other than the ones you supply) that your existing clients have.  By partnering with other companies who service the same clients, you can find efficiencies and provide an overall better level of service.  It’s a win-win for both entrepreneurs and their clients.

There’s no avoiding the hard work it takes to get a fledgling business off the ground, but once you’ve achieved a measure of success, your most profitable moves will be those that maximize efficiency and generate revenue – even when you’re not actively working.


Mondays with Mike: 15 Email Mistakes To Eliminate

Man Writing an E-Mail on a LaptopGiven that many of us can conduct business without ever touching a piece of paper, email has become the single most important method of business communication.  Appointments, negotiations, confirmations, even billing can be handled via email, which means it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re communicating carefully and professionally.  Here are 15 mistakes you should never make in your business emails:

  1. Irrelevant (or missing) signature lines.  Your signature line should contain your contact information and nothing else.  That inspirational quote from your favorite author is just clutter in business communications.
  2. Cutesy emoticons.  Just don’t. 
  3. Using “Reply All” for every message.  Think about whether your reply really needs to go to everyone on the list.  Send information only to those recipients who really need it.
  4. Speling and gramer erors.  Nothing makes professional correspondence look sloppier than misspelled words and careless grammar errors.  If your email program doesn’t have spellcheck, take the time to copy and paste your messages into a word processing program to clean up any mistakes.  Put your best foot forward.
  5. Including long previous conversations.  Forwarding irrelevant portions of earlier conversations just means folks have to wade through more noise.  Strive to keep your emails clutter-free.
  6. Being too long-winded.  Email is supposed to make us more efficient.  Get to the point and wrap it up.  Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary information.
  7. Altering previous conversations.  Never, ever, ever should you edit earlier conversations to alter their meaning.  Not only is it completely unethical, but you’re likely to be called out for pulling an underhanded stunt.
  8.  Revealing you’ve been BCCed.  If you’re blind copied, it’s for a reason.  If you hit “Reply All,” you’re outing the sender of the original email.  Make sure you’re careful if there’s under-the-radar communication occurring.
  9. Irrelevant or vague subject lines.  If you’re sending an email, it’s because you have important information to share.  Using specific subject lines helps your colleagues wade through their inboxes and identify the emails which need their attention first.  A subject line like “Oh, by the way” is far less effective than “Change in meeting time.”  Be clear.
  10. Burying your point.  In the cases in which you do need to send a lengthy email, make sure your main point is covered early on.  You want to avoid the TL;DR effect – Too Long; Didn’t Read – by getting to the point right away.  Don’t make folks wade through a bunch of fluff to figure out what’s important.
  11. Babysitting your email.  It works just fine, even if you’re not watching it.  Email is supposed to enhance efficiency, but it doesn’t work that way if you’re interrupting your day every time you hear a “ding.”  Similarly, I see people pretending to be busy with their inboxes when they really could be doing something far more productive.  It’s a tool.  Use it at your convenience.
  12. Ignoring critical emails.  Don’t be a lousy correspondent.  So often we read an email and intend to come back to it later.  What ends up happening, though, is we forget, or when we do get back to it, we have to reread it to refresh our memories.  It’s far more efficient to handle important emails right away, or if you can’t, flag them so you don’t miss them when you’re reviewing your inbox.
  13. Replying too quickly.  We often get sucked into the trap of replying in a less than professional manner, simply because email is so quick.  Just because you’ve read a message doesn’t mean you have to answer it right that minute, though.  If you’re upset or confused, sometimes all you need is to take a little time and handle the email when you’re better equipped to do it calmly.
  14. Using a gushy closing.  These are business communications, and there’s really no place for flowery sign-offs.  Keep in mind that if your sig line has your name and contact information, you may not even need to sign off at all.
  15. Attaching enormous files.  Bear in mind that email has limits.  If you absolutely must send a large, critical file, compress or zip it so it doesn’t fill up the recipient’s inbox.

In short: be concise, be professional, and be clear. 


6 Steps to Systemizing Your Business

2-13 business systems smallWhether you recognize it or not, your business already has a system. But when tasks take too long, cost too much or create substandard results, your system needs anything from a little Botox to a full face lift. Here are six-steps to help you see what you’ve got, identify where it’s going wrong and fix your system to get your business humming.

Step 1: Document Your Current System

Without documentation, you can’t get a clear picture of what you’re doing now, much less how to make it better. Don’t assume that you know what each employee does. Talk to them before you write down every step, identifying who is responsible for performing each task and the flow of work from one employee to the next.

Many employees will have opinions regarding what tasks need to change (or go away entirely). Encourage them to voice their thoughts so that you can note down that information, too. You are now armed with a playbook that you can review before moving to the next step.

Step 2: Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks

Scan your documentation for clearly unnecessary or redundant tasks (including those exposed during employee feedback), and get rid of them. If your employees are performing ten steps when five steps would do the job without loss of quality, they are wasting valuable time. And the extra steps may even make their work less accurate.

This is not a do-it-yourself process. Before eliminating tasks, talk again to the people who perform them, as well as everyone connected with the process. If Joe recommends eliminating two quality checks in his process, but Mary says she spends too much time correcting Joe’s errors, you need to figure out why Joe is so error-prone, and then fix it.

Make sure that you enter these and other changes into your documentation. You’re going to need it later (and forever).

Step 3: Automate

Your employees can become more effective when you judiciously introduce some automation to the process. With technology costs coming down and becoming easily accessible through the cloud, this is now more viable than ever.  Sometimes, you can also automate with a simple tweak. A tool as simple as setting up an auto-responder provides amazing value by buying extra time for responding to email requests.

Step 4: Monitor Results

Until you try out your new system, you cannot be sure of its success. After implementation, keep a sharp eye on the results. Are operations moving along more efficiently in the hands of happier employees? Or is the process hitting bottlenecks while your employees have become numb with boredom? If the latter, work may slow down, leaving you with a system that looks good on paper, but requires further adjustment.

Step 5: Make Tweaks

If you expect to get everything right the first time, think again. This is typically an iterative process involving testing, tweaking and documenting. You probably will see improvements on your first attempt, but no system is perfect. A tweak made to one task may create issues in a later step.

After tweaking problem areas, change the documentation so that your employees will know the steps that they need to perform, and monitor the results again. Rinse and repeat until the system works well.

Step 6: Update Documentation

Once you are satisfied with your new system, it’s time to formalize the documentation. Your employees will need to follow a procedures manual until they know all of the steps. And, when you hire new employees, you can reduce training time while increasing accuracy when they have a step-by-step manual at their fingertips.

Of course, no system is forever. As your business changes, additional changes to the process are almost inevitable. And, let’s face it: busy business owners don’t have the free time to change documentation on the fly — or even think about it, so put a periodic review on your calendar.

Your review may uncover missing information or, more importantly, the need for system enhancements. A semi-annual or annual review requires only a small effort (sort of like regularly straightening your closets, rather than waiting for a major mess). This effort ensures that your information is accurate, while alerting you if it’s time to go back to Step 2.

A Good System Does Not Stifle Creativity

Remember: a great system for your business does not equate to a mindless factory assembly line. Remove unnecessary, confusing or redundant tasks, and you free minds to develop new ideas. Everyone, from yourself on down, can add meaningful contributions to your business.


7 Things Successful People Never Ever Do

happiness & freedomIn a business person’s day, there is always more tasks than hours. The key to being successful is not to do more multitasking in an effort to cram more into each day. It’s not to work harder with longer hours to get everything done. What separates very successful people from the rest of the pack is not what they do, but actually what they never ever do. For example:

  1. Never hold on to the past. Successful people don’t let the future get shaped by what happened in the past. They don’t hold a grudge. They evaluate results of their success or failure, let go of it and move on within 24 hours of any event. Successful people realize that there is more opportunity in the future than the past.
  2. Never make big decisions. They never bet the company all on one action. They prevent this by making small incremental choices. Successful people test every result and then make another small decision to get to where the business needs to go.
  3. Never focus on perfection. It costs too much to achieve and there is that constant nagging feeling of failure. They would rather be done than have the job be perfect so they can learn from the results. This doesn’t mean successful people ever do a bad job, but rather, they do 100% and then move on to the next opportunity.
  4. Never do it all themselves. Successful people know that small business is truly a team sport. They know how to leverage each opportunity using other people and outside resources to accomplish their goal. Successful people realize that this is the key to building a company that is not just about them.
  5. Never say yes to every customer request. They know what their company is good at and carefully choose the problems they solve for their customers that will show the most value. As a result, they are able to honor existing commitments. In addition, successful people do not work with every interested customer and fire the ones that don’t match their culture.
  6. Never multi-task. Successful people know that multitasking only gets more things done poorly. They focus on the tactic at hand and then move on to the next one. They know how to block out common distractions like email and social media notifications.  Successful people can intensely focus for short periods of time.
  7. Never hang out with “Negative Nellies”. Successful people don’t keep company with other folks that are constantly telling them why something can’t get done. They don’t feed the neurosis of complainers who always want to say that the sky is always failing. Instead, successful people work with a team that has a can-do attitude where anything is possible.

As a successful person, what do you never ever do?


Breaking Bad Business Habits

1-9 breaking bad habits smallSmall business owners are among the hardest-working people in the country. They get in early and stay late, handle every business detail and bend over backwards to meet and exceed the needs of their clients and customers. On the surface, these traits are admirable. But they can also stifle the future of your company. Here are five habits to kill so that you can work smarter, instead of harder, and maximize your success.

Working Non-stop

When you turn your computer off at the end of each day, it re-starts completely fresh in the morning.  When you don’t, it starts to work sluggishly and sometimes, it even crashes.  Don’t you think that your mind needs the same break? A little R&R (and a good night’s sleep) gives your brain a chance to process the previous day’s events. And, since it’s not uncommon to go to sleep with an unsolved problem and wake up with the solution, you can sleep guilt-free, knowing that you may continue to work after you hit the sack.  Even just taking some time to exercise, watch television or engage in a hobby allows you to be your best self and in turn, that makes you better in your business.

Short-term Thinking

With cash-flow a common issue for small business owners, it’s tempting to chase every dollar. Granted, you’ll get a quick hundred bucks now if you take on a two-day special project for a client. But, those two days might be better spent going on sales calls to acquire new business or starting a large project that will realize major income, even if you won’t see it until next month.  Or perhaps you have a temporary solution to a business issue that doesn’t take into account future issues that the new solution might cause to your customers.  Don’t just think about today; be focused on your ultimate goals.

Doing Everything Yourself

Most entrepreneurs wear all hats in the early days of their businesses, but during times of growth, they have to learn to let go of the daily minutiae. At some point, you need to outsource or delegate, even if you don’t think others can handle every task as brilliantly as you do it. You definitely should continue to monitor the progress of all business operations, but let your employees, contractors and/or service providers do things in the ways that they are comfortable while you focus on the aspects of your business where you can add the most value and be best utilized.

Addressing the “Urgent” Rather than the “Important”

The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but a wheel might make no noise before falling off of the car. So, even though Customer A is yelling the loudest — or yelled most recently — Customer B (or even a new customer that you are courting) may have more important issues.

Your job is to correctly prioritize every task and stick to your decisions. If newer issues are more important than others on your to-do list, place them higher on the list. This simple method allows the most trivial issues to naturally fall to the bottom of the list (which, by the way, might help identify great tasks to delegate).

Being a “Yes Man” (or Woman)

Every business owner needs to learn how to say “no.” You can only take on so many projects at once. You can lose your reputation and clients if you have to cut so many corners that you turn out less-than-stellar products or services. Before taking on new work, remind yourself of your end goals as a business and use those goals as your litmus test. If you’re already short on time and responding to a request does not further those goals, you need to turn it down.

Let your business habits match your business cycle. The habits that served you in the early days of your business do not necessarily make sense as your company becomes more mature. Don’t be constrained by the “I’ve always done it this way” attitude. Take a little time to determine the best ways to use your time and resources to take care of your business and yourself. 


How to Do Multitasking Right

1-8 multi-tasking smallIn most cases, multitasking only accomplishes one thing: it gets more things done poorly. However, there is a way to do multitasking that can increase productivity.

When running a small business, everyone and everything demands your attention all at once. With so much to do against so many distractions, it’s amazing that anything gets accomplished well. The answer can be multitasking, but it’s important to clarify what multitasking should be and just what can never ever happen.

If you are constantly shifting back and forth between tasks or allowing interruptions to determine what gets done, you are doing multitasking wrong. This type of activity has been reported to cause as much as a 40% reduction in productivity. Not surprisingly, it also increases the incidents of mistakes and errors.

While people shouldn’t perform several tasks at once, they can manage several tasks at one time. Multitasking should be thought of as a system for being able to make quick decisions about the importance and sequence of tasks, and then proceeding to complete those focused tasks efficiently.

Here are steps for doing multitasking right:

  1. Prioritize. Make a short list of the things to be accomplished (five or less) and which needs to be accomplished first.
  2. Organize. Once tasks are prioritized, decide which tasks on the list can actually be done together. This is efficient and saves more time than starting and stopping different activities. For example, instead of calling four prospects at random times throughout the day, set aside two hours to make the four 30 minute phone calls back-to-back. Also, checking email only two to four times a day is more productive then looking at each notification.
  3. Focus. Complete the task at hand and don’t think of all the other things that need to get done. Block out all other interruptions. Everything should be on the prioritized to-do list and out of mind until the more important tasks are complete. 
  4. Finish what you start. Going back and forth between tasks wastes time because it ends up being more difficult to complete the task when you try to go back to it. Aim to finish the task, in one or two work sessions, before moving on to another one.
  5. Delegate. There is a certain point where not even operating at 100 percent efficiency can get everything done. It’s important to recognize as soon as you can’t do everything yourself. The best course of action is to delegate your tasks to employees and other outside resources.

This is what multitasking should look like. The sooner you stop doing multiple things at once and start managing multiple things at once, the better off your businesses will be and the more you will actually get done. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Be Productive During the Holidays

Mother and Daughter Making Christmas Cookies for SantaAre you one of those small business owners whose holiday wish would be for “more hours in the day”? Even if you’re usually a model of efficiency, the holidays—with their hectic schedules, family visitors and employee vacation days—can throw everything off.

How can you stay productive and still enjoy the holidays? Try these tips.

Plan ahead. Let employees know how far ahead of time they should put in requests for time off. Employee scheduling software tools can make things simpler, especially if you run a business like a retail store or service provider that gets slammed this time of year. And be prepared for employees to call in sick at the last minute—that’s simply what happens this time of year, so have a backup plan in mind.

Prioritize. Both in your personal and your work lives, it’s important to know which battles to fight. If you’ll save time, money and sanity by sending e-cards this year instead of mailing 200 paper cards to your client list, do it! If you always knit scarves for family gifts but this year a huge project is getting in the way, take a break from the tradition to do something simpler. Know what you aren’t willing to compromise on, and stick to that decision.

Hand it off. You can delegate almost anything these days. Try services like TaskRabbit to handle time-consuming chores like running to the post office or picking up your drycleaning. Holding a family gathering? Hire a cleaning service and get the meal catered or at the very least, have your groceries delivered instead of heading to the store. The concept works for business, too—if your staff is overloaded, call a temporary help agency, enlist a teenage relative home from college to help out for a few days, or connect with a virtual assistant.

Tap technology. Use mobile devices, apps and cloud services to access your business files, data and documents wherever you are so you can get work done wherever you are. Devising templates, auto-responses and keyboard shortcuts lets you create files or reply to inquiries quickly so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time.


Go Find the Thin Places in Your Business

Wide avenue with trees on each side forming a shaded tunnel.When was the last time you felt inspired and then fundamentally changed your view of the business world?

In the hustle and thickness of every day, it is rare to have a transformational experience. Most small business owners see their days as a list of to-do’s they must check off. Typically this provides nothing more than a sigh of relief or a sense of frustration at the conclusion of every day.

This is one reason why taking scheduled breaks to recharge from the daily routine is so important. It can thrust you into places where you can have new experiences and gain totally different perspectives. These are called thin places.

Characteristics of a Thin Place

According to Eric Weiner, cultural traveler and writer for the New York Times, thin places can be charming, enchanting, and awe-inspiring. They can be calming, yet stir feelings and emotions. Time passes pleasantly in these places, without feeling a need to track it. They are places where one can’t help but marvel at beauty, efficiency, and the power of everything. Thin places are where wisdom just sits. They prompt you to ponder rare and new thoughts. They help you make thought associations that have alluded you.

In his article, Weiner explains that thin places are not necessarily tranquil, beautiful, or fun. They usually aren’t places like Disney World or an awards dinner. Thin places are where there is not agenda. They can be natural places like the Sonoran Desert or the ocean. They can be man-made parks or city squares. For some people, thin places can even be an airport or a local bookstore.

Purpose of Thin Places
Thin places give people new perspectives. They don’t necessarily provide “spiritual breakthroughs”, but they do change the way one sees the world. They disorient, confuse, and transform. People leave as different, yet perhaps more authentically themselves, after encountering a thin place. They see themselves and their business from a different place.

How to Get to Thin Places
Usually, thin places are just stumbled upon. In order to increase the likelihood of encountering thinness, you must start by having no preconceived notions. Thinking you will walk out with a brilliant idea or revelation will probably mean disappointment. There are no guidebooks to take you there since thin places are not the same for everyone. Each person must discover what thinness looks like to them.

Whether you are traveling the world or a local neighborhood, be open to new places and experiences that don’t exist inside your office or your company. It’s not so much the place itself as it is how you feel in that place. You must find the places where you feel thin – where you feel really you.

My thin place is at Wallace Desert Gardens in Scottsdale. Where are yours?


Developing a Quality Employee Review Process

10-12 employee reviewIt’s in your own best interest to nurture your staff and make sure they’re productive and thriving at your company. After all, turnover costs you money, in searching for a new hire and training him, so you’re better off making sure the staff you have is optimized. One way to do that is to set up an employee review process that not only helps you, but also helps your team understand your expectations and strive to meet them.

Set Them Up Regularly

You can adhere to the typical once-a-year employee review schedule…or you can meet more often, like two or three times a year. More frequent (and more informal) reviews can keep your employees on track to goals, and leave less time in between reviews so they stay motivated.

Think about your timing: is December really the best time for your reviews, given that half the staff is out of the office, and you’re time-crunched getting work done before the end of the year? Instead, schedule them based on their hire date so you don’t have dozens of reviews to get through in a single month.

Establish Goals Together

As I said, your review process should benefit you and your employee. Discuss goals together that each individual staff member can strive for. Perhaps you’d like to see one turn out two extra reports a week. That’s a reasonable goal.

Or if he’s angling for a promotion, make a list of goals he needs to accomplish in order for you to consider him for that promotion. This makes getting a promotion very black and white: if he can’t successfully accomplish the list, he won’t be eligible for something he wants.

Provide Constructive Criticism

This isn’t a time to sugarcoat your honest assessment of an employee’s work. Nor is it an opportunity to berate someone if they haven’t lived up to your expectations. Emotions shouldn’t be in the review process.

Find ways to constructively tell an employee about something you want him to work on. For example, if you find his work as of late to not be the quality it used to be, you could say:

“A few months ago, you were delivering top-notch work, and I was so impressed. But lately it feels like you haven’t been putting in that same effort. Is there a reason why?”

This approach does several things. First, it puts him at ease, because you start off with an honest compliment. It also opens the door for further conversation. Maybe he recently had a baby, and his lack of sleep is attributing to his lower quality work. Or maybe he didn’t feel you appreciated his efforts, so he slacked off a bit. Taking the right approach can mean the difference between you putting your employee up in arms and actually getting to the bottom of what’s changed.

Develop Metrics

The only way you’ll be able to measure where your employee is next year is if you first set up a baseline to measure against. Consider it your report card. Pick the areas that are most important to you (timeliness, quality work, motivation are a few examples) and give him a number, 1-10, for each. Then next year you can compare the new numbers to the previous ones and see if there has been an improvement.

Staying in touch with your staff this way helps you avoid potential loss of productivity and keeps your staff better, now that they know your expectations.




 
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