Archive for the ‘Mondays with Mike’ Category


Mondays with Mike: Empower Your Employees With These 3 Questions

We’re entrepreneurs at least partly because we want to be in charge.  We have the vision, the plan, and the drive to achieve success.  That’s why it’s hard to loosen our grip on the reins sometimes.  Hard, but absolutely critical.

If you insist on making every decision in your company, you’ll never, ever grow much beyond where you are right now.  Why?  Because no one person can do it all.  I don’t care how smart you are or how many hours you’re willing to put in.  Growth requires that you relinquish some control and trust the good people you’ve hired.

But you can’t just send new hires off and let them start making critical decisions.  There’s a process – three steps that you can use to help your staff (and yourself) make the very best decisions possible.  Use this list of questions to guide your employees’ decision making process.  Until they can answer “yes” to question one, there’s no moving on.  When all three questions get affirmative answers, then they can proceed.

  1. Does this decision further our company’s uniqueness?  Seriously, this question matters more than you realize.  Your points of difference are all that distinguish you from the hordes of competitors dying to steal your clients.  If a decision doesn’t contribute to the unique offerings you provide to the marketplace, then you run the risk of becoming invisible – and that’s fatal.  Push your employees to understand the ways in which your uniqueness is critically important, and if they can’t answer “yes” to this question, they have to stop.  They can’t move on until they’ve reworked an opportunity to reflect what sets you apart.
  2. Does this decision further serve our best clients?  One of the great challenges of running a business over the course of time is being able to reinvent yourself while still preserving what brought customers to you in the first place.  You must train your staff to keep in mind that without customers, there is no revenue.  Unless an opportunity can improve your service, then you shouldn’t proceed further.
  3. Does this decision maintain or enhance profitability?  Once your employees have an idea that preserves your company’s uniqueness and better serves your clients, then the last hurdle is the bottom line.  Companies can’t run on ideas alone.  If a decision doesn’t pass the fiscal test, it’s dead in the water.

Now, it’s important to note that each of these questions can be a dead end, but perhaps only temporarily.  Just because you answer “no” doesn’t mean you can’t rework an idea or an opportunity so that it turns into a “yes.”  Teaching your staff not to be easily frustrated is another big part of empowerment.  Working through options to refine and polish your decisions will inevitably teach your staff valuable skills that will serve them throughout their entire career.

Good decisions are often what separate success from failure.  Training yourself and your staff to make better decisions not only helps you become more efficient (by empowering your staff.)  It also sets your company up for growth and success. 


Mondays with Mike: Preparing To Pitch: Getting To The Decision Maker

There is almost nothing more frustrating than delivering a passionate, compelling sales pitch, only to discover at the end that you’ve wasted your time and spent all your energy making your case to a person who isn’t empowered to pull the trigger.  It doesn’t matter how good a salesperson you are if you’re not sitting down with the decision maker.

But it ain’t always easy to get to the decision maker. 

Let’s face it.  Folks in charge have a million things and people competing for their attention, and if they didn’t figure out a way to make themselves unavailable, they’d spend all day with reps trying to sell alarm systems, better phone service, or advertising.  Decision makers have to say “no,” and they have to get pretty good at it if they want to get anything productive accomplished.  And that makes it hard for you – the one person with something of value to sell – to work your way into an opportunity to pitch the decision maker. 

Until now.

I’ve developed a strategy to get around the defenses and make it into the inner circle.  First, I realized that nearly every decision maker has a sizeable ego.  The ego comes from the hordes of salespeople clamoring for approval, time, and attention, and while ego can be an obstacle to doing business, it can also be a point of entry.

Back when I owned a computer forensics firm, I had my sights set on one particular company – the category leader – who I’d wanted to land as a customer practically forever.  I knew they needed my services, but the challenge was getting to the head honcho and convincing him.  He was impossible to reach.  I called, emailed, tried to leverage mutual friends … no joy.  I swear at one point, I figured he was enjoying my pursuit, and that’s when it occurred to me.

I wrote a letter (yes, a real paper-and-pen letter) and asked him to be my mentor.  I promised not to make a sales pitch, but I asked for fifteen minutes of his valuable time so I could get some advice.  I was shocked when he agreed, and I kept my end of the bargain.  I told him I wanted his perspective on what I could do to make my company better.  He told me.  I took notes, asked a few questions, thanked him for his time, and I left.

When I got back to the office, I went to work.  I looked at his recommendations, and I make a plan to improve on every area he’d mentioned.  My staff and I worked hard to deliver better service and really improve the company from the ground up.  When I’d accomplished the goals I’d set, I called my new mentor and asked for a second meeting, again making the promise not to make it a sales call.  We met, I showed him the progress I’d made, and I asked for another set of suggestions.  Rinse and repeat.

When I showed up for my third meeting, it was clear that the decision maker – my ideal client – took great pride in the changes he’d helped me make, and then the magic happened.  He looked at me and said, “I want to be your customer.”

I’d kept my word.  I hadn’t tried to sell him a thing, but simply having access to the decision maker gave me the opening I needed to convey the dedication I had to being the single best computer forensics guy on the planet.  If I hadn’t asked for his advice, he never would have had the opportunity to get to know me, and he never would have understood how much he needed me.

Now, you’re not going to get to every decision maker simply by asking for some advice.  Some are too busy; some aren’t interested.  But what I’ve found is that when I can get that first meeting, I know somewhere down the road, I’ll convert my new mentor to become my client.  Build your relationship with decision makers, and you’re opening up those choice opportunities.


Mondays with Mike: Don’t Let Storytelling Ruin Your Message

Storytelling is as old as time, and it’s one of the most compelling ways to get your message across in a memorable way.  Good public speakers understand the power of storytelling, and they also know how difficult it can be to effectively weave a story into a presentation.  Understanding some of the difficulties you may face when you’re telling a story can help you prevent public speaking disasters.  Let’s take a look at some of the common pitfalls.

  1. Putting yourself in the starring role.  No one likes a braggart, and while telling stories that prove your experience and your first-hand knowledge can establish you as an expert, make sure you don’t push your audience away by building yourself up to be larger (and better) than life.  If you must tell stories in which you’re the primary focus, make sure you do it in a self-deprecating, humble way, taking time to make it clear there’s more than just your ego on the stage.  Your audience – large or small – wants to hear more than “me” and “I.”  If you consider part of the goal of storytelling is to create a connection between you and your audience, you’ll be able to avoid this pitfall with ease.
  2. Making the story your sole focus.  Unless you’ve sold tickets, and your audience is simply there to be entertained by you, you’re speaking for a reason.  Don’t ever let your story get away from you to a degree that obscures your message.  Whether you’re trying to make a sale, convince prospective clients to give you a try, or get your employees fired up for a new project, always keep your primary goal clear in your mind so you can clearly articulate it to your audience.  Your story should always function in a supporting role.
  3. Failing to meaningfully link your story to your message.  There’s a reason even the best writers need good editors:  Things that are obvious to you – the expert – may not be clear to your audience.  Think about stand up comics – they use callbacks and repetition to drive home their primary points.  Likewise, you need to make the connection between your stories and your message absolutely, explicitly clear.  Don’t ramble on about a story and expect your audience to understand why you told it.  You have to connect all the dots and ensure your audience is with you all the way.
  4. Neglecting your call to action.  Whether you’re talking to one person or one thousand, every pitch, every speech, and every presentation must move your audience to do something.  Buy my product!  Champion my brand!  Do your very best!  Just like the connection between your story and your message, you must link your stories to the outcome you desire.  Business isn’t the place for subtle hints and innuendo.  Don’t expect your audience to read your mind.  Tell them what you want them to do!  Explain the benefits and be direct.  Don’t ever waste your time with a great presentation and fail simply because you didn’t ask for the sale. 

A great story is one of the most powerful tools a public speaker has, and once you master the skill of artfully embellishing and supporting your presentations with carefully chosen, effectively conveyed stories, you’ll find your audience enchanted and enthusiastic about your ideas.


Mondays with Mike: 4 Signs of a Lousy Business Opportunity

Opportunities are a dime a dozen, so the real problem isn’t a shortage of opportunities, but the difficulty in discerning which ones are good.  Some opportunities aren’t even worth your dime.  You’re not helpless, though.  Here are four signs you should walk away from a partnership, buyout, merger, or investment:

  1. More talk, less action.  Everyone can talk a good game, and in fact, there are many great prospects with slick, buttoned-down pitches.  How can you tell when an opportunity sounds too good to be true?  One way is when you’re seeing all talk but very little in the way of evidence to support grandiose claims.  If an offer’s legit, there will be more than just a sales pitch.  How can you sift out the real deal from the pie-in-the-sky?  I suggest building milestones into any deal.  Set clear, measurable goals that must be met for the deal to proceed.  If a prospective buyer fails to submit satisfactory financials or if a potential partner doesn’t have anyone willing to vouch for her, then you should build fail-safes into your deal that let you get out without a loss.
  2. Sketchy history.  The surest way to predict what a business (or person) will do in the future is to look at the past.  Take the time to vet the people you’re looking at doing business with.  If you’re considering selling your company to a firm known for gouging customers on price, then you’re not likely to be more fairly treated.  If there’s a partnership on the table, but your prospect has a history full of unhappy clients, then you should ask yourself how you can expect to be treated.  I’m not saying a leopard can never, ever change its spots, but I am saying that leopard is unlikely to be transformed into a lapdog. 
  3. Radically different goals.  This sign is most relevant for budding partnerships, but its importance can’t be overstated.  Before you begin negotiations, it’s critical that you ask any potential partners what their goals and objectives are.  If you’re fundamentally interested in raking in as much money as possible, while your partner values giving back to the community regardless of the cost, then there’s no way on earth your partnership is going to work.  While different approaches and perspectives can absolutely enrich joint efforts, fundamentally different goals will kill your venture before you begin.  Make sure you have a heart-to-heart before you ink a deal.
  4. You’re desperate.  We’ve all been there.  You need a cash infusion, and you have a prospective buyer, or you’ve been looking for the right company for a merger to alleviate a thorny challenge.  Anytime you’re really desperate to close a deal, you’re vulnerable.  Make sure you take a step back, take a look at your motives, and be aware of any circumstances that might lead you to make a foolish decision.  You can’t eliminate the reasons you might have for needing to close a deal, but you can certainly be aware of your desperation and take extra steps to evaluate the pros and cons objectively. 

We all enter into business opportunities for different reasons, but my single best piece of advice is this:  make sure your business is in good shape before you take any leap.  Getting your expenses under control and your financial house in order makes you a more attractive prospect for a sale, a partnership, or as an empire builder. 

 

    


Mondays with Mike: 7 Secrets to Stellar Speeches

Whether it’s a Cub Scout awards ceremony or an address to the Chamber of Commerce, every one of us is called on to speak in public from time to time.  While the notion of giving a speech makes some people anxious and others invigorated, the truth is we can all improve our public speaking skills with just a few simple strategies.  Here are my secrets for memorable speeches.

  1. Use the power of eye contact.  Right from the beginning, you should make an effort to connect with every single member of your audience, and the single most efficient way to do it is to look everyone in the eye.  Bill Clinton was the master of this technique, and his audience left his speeches feeling like they’d had a personal connection with him. 
  2. Stand up straight.  It may sound simple, but this is the one single tip that every public speaker must remember.  Your posture affects your demeanor, your confidence, and your audience’s impression of you.  Back straight, shoulders back.  That must be your mantra before you even say a word.  If you don’t appear to be confident, your audience won’t be convinced by your message.  Whether you’re nervous or not, good posture make you appear calm and confident.
  3. Give a performance, not a speech.  Shifting your focus from just the words you say to the entire experience helps you deliver your message memorably.  When you broaden your preparation to encompass movement, gestures, and methods of engaging your audience, you’re amplifying your power.  Speeches are so much more than just saying the words.  Think of yourself as an actor in a one-person play, responsible for delivering a message and entertaining at the same time.
  4. Change up your speech patterns.  No matter how compelling your stories and facial expressions may be, any speech can be boring if the speaker doesn’t play with the pace and delivery.  If you know you’re a fast talker, build in some spacers that let your words sink in.  “Now think about that for a second” can not only give your audience a brain break, but it also breaks up the predictable rhythm of your speech in a way that keeps your audience engaged.  Make sure you’re not burying your brilliance in a dull monotone.
  5. Focus on topics that matter to you.  If you couldn’t care less about the topic of your speech, I guarantee your audience won’t care either.  When you’re genuinely invested in an issue, that passion translates into enthusiasm – a highly contagious state.  Even when you have to transmit information that’s not inherently riveting, taking the time to relate the subject to your greater purpose – what really matters – gives you a chance to make the topic matter.
  6. Use the power of storytelling.  Nothing creates a closer, more meaningful connection between you and your audience than a powerful, shared narrative.  Weaving a compelling story into the fabric of your message makes your speech both more memorable and more likely to spur your audience to act.
  7. Don’t use the lectern as a crutch.  Just because there’s a podium or a lectern in front of the room doesn’t mean you’re confined to one spot.  In fact, many of the least interesting speeches are delivered by terrified speakers who cling to the podium for support and who don’t realize that moving around gets blood flowing and keeps an audience engaged.  Don’t let a hunk of wood come between you and your audience.  Get out there and make a connection!

Some of us are always more naturally composed, while others wake up in a cold sweat, terrified of our upcoming presentation.  Here’s the good news, though:  You can measurably improve your public speaking skills, and you can – with a little practice – be a powerful speaker, even if it’s not your favorite way to communicate.  If you’re passionate and determined, you can get your message across. 


Mondays with Mike: 4 Ways to Make Better Decisions in 2016

12-28 2016 business decisions smallEven though I can hardly believe it, it’s that time of year again – when we resolve to do better than we have before.  While I’m not a big fan of grandiose resolutions that are built for breaking, I am a proponent of stepping back, looking at your year, and making thoughtful, deliberate changes for the better.  While some of your 2016 will depend on factors beyond your control, you will be making decisions.  Here are four concrete strategies to make them good ones.

  1. Employ a 10-10-10 strategy.  Suze Orman deserves the credit for this strategy that guides your choices for the short, medium, and long-term.  Ask yourself about the effects of your decisions in ten hours, ten months, and ten years.  What you’ll inevitably discover is that often short-term discomfort from having to make a hard choice is mitigated by the long-term benefits of that decision.  Don’t short-change your company’s future simply because you don’t want to deliver bad news or disappoint a colleague. 
  2. Try to make your plan fail.  Okay, I know that sounds crazy, but bear with me.  Once you’ve made up your mind, start thinking about all the things that can go wrong with your decision.  Then, on a very small scale, see if you can hunt for weaknesses, find pitfalls you might not have anticipated.  Though it sounds counterintuitive, finding ways to make your plan fail actually prepares you for success.  When you’ve explored all the possible negative outcomes, then you’re ready to launch full-scale.  You’ve refined your plan so its odds of success are dramatically improved.
  3. Implement a stop loss.  Everyone wants to succeed, but the truth of the matter is not every decision you make is a good one.  It’s critical that you establish – ahead of time – how you’ll measure your decision’s success, and at what point you’ll abandon your new idea.  Part of making better decisions is being willing to admit when one has flopped.  Cut your losses and move on when it becomes clear your plan isn’t working out the way you’d hoped.
  4. Avoid an either/or perspective.  Real innovators see beyond the obvious binary options and realize the best ideas often require thinking outside the box.  When you’re planning your next move, push yourself to look for solutions that didn’t immediately occur to you.  Brainstorm for inspiration and push yourself to find the best – rather than just the easy – options.  Don’t forget about your staff; you’ve hired great people, and it’s possible one of them sees a solution that didn’t occur to you.  Cast your net wide when you’re evaluating your options.

Though ruminating on your failures (and we all have ‘em) isn’t the most productive way to move forward, it can be helpful to look back at your year and assess what worked and what didn’t.  Priming yourself for success in 2016 can be as simple as resolving not to repeat behaviors that didn’t yield desired results.  Get yourself ready for a bright new year by improving your decision-making skills. 


Mondays with Mike: 3 Reasons Why Small Businesses are Better than Big

12-21 Small is better smallWe all know big businesses have a number of advantages.  They’re better capitalized, better known, and many of them have the benefit of years of history.  It’s easy to get caught in the trap of wondering if small companies will ever have a chance to catch up.  Here’s the good news:  Not only do small businesses have a shot at taking a piece of the market, but there are actually advantages to being the little guy.  What makes your small business better?

  1. Speed.  Say you decide your business needs to begin taking advantage of the positive exposure Twitter can give a company.  You can literally get started in a matter of minutes.  Your ability to make changes at lightning speed is a definite advantage over massive corporations that would take months to assess the problem, make recommendations to the powers-that-be, and maybe – sometime in 2016 – get around to setting up a Twitter account.  You’re able to take action right away.  Given the speed at which markets shift, being able to move quickly is more important then ever before.
  2. Efficient decision-making.  When Amazon started the Kindle Unlimited program last year, I decided right away I wanted to participate in order to get my books into as many readers’ hands as possible.  Big publishers – the kind that require analysis, market research, and the agreement of a committee – took far longer to make the decision, and that gave independent authors like me a big advantage.  Until the big guys got in the game, independent authors had the advantage of a large pool of readers with limited choices.  Getting into a new program or a new method of going to market early means far less competition – an advantage for those of us who can make decisions quickly and efficiently.  Again, efficiency makes you able to pivot at light speed, while big companies are like unwieldy ocean liners that require miles to change direction.
  3. The underdog role.  Don’t ever underestimate the public’s love for the little guy.  We root for small business, and the growing emphasis on shopping local benefits those of us who operate small companies.  Anything you can do to emphasize your role as the challenger, the underdog, will rally support for your brand.  Focus on your company’s relationship to your community, and make it clear that you’re in business for reasons other than just stacking up a bunch of cash so your CEO can get an 8 million dollar bonus. 

Your ability to move quickly and make decisions independently allows you to interact with consumers efficiently and with a personal touch.  You’re not a faceless corporation shifting profits overseas; you’re a local employer whose roots make you just like the people your company serves.

Emphasize your independence.  Embrace it.  Let your customers know they matter far more to you than they ever could to a big, faceless business.  Make the advantages of being lean and agile work to your very best advantage.


Mondays with Mike: 6 Sure-Fire Tips for Better Flying

Crying babies.  Delayed flights.  Uncomfortable seats.  There’s a lot to hate about flying, but it’s a fact of life for many entrepreneurs.  The global marketplace means I have clients all over the world, and since I typically rack up about 100,000 miles every year, I know a thing or two about making it less painful.  Here’s my list of top strategies for getting from here to there without losing your mind.

  1. Use TSA PreCheck.  You know those lines at security that raise your blood pressure as you stress about making your flight?  Yeah, you can just skip those.  TSA PreCheck lets you take the fast lane past the crowds, and you can also leave your laptop in your bag and your shoes on your feet.  The $85 every five years is more than worth it to breeze through security.
  2. BYOB and BYOF (food).  Now, the disclaimer is that airlines don’t want you bringing your own booze on the plane, but the TSA doesn’t stop you.  Bringing your own 50ml bottles lets you have a cocktail for way less money, and if you stop by a local sandwich joint before your flight, you can get a meal to go (condiments on the side so it stays fresh,) rather than starving on the plane.  Don’t get stuck on the runway without provisions.
  3. Get up.  I always choose an aisle seat, and I get on my feet every chance I get.  Sitting not only compounds the physical discomfort of flying, but it also measurably shortens your life span.  As soon as that fasten seatbelt light goes off, I’m standing in the aisle, Kindle in hand.  I always feel better after a flight if I’ve spent some time standing.
  4. Let the music play.  Screaming kids?  No problem.  Loud talker behind you?  No worries.  I rotate a couple of flight playlists – one for sleep, one for energy – and the flight goes by in a flash.  Bonus:  a number of new planes now have power outlets at each seat, so you don’t have to worry about running out of juice on a long flight.
  5. Ask for a new seat right away.  If you’re uncomfortable – whether it’s a large passenger spilling over into your space or a couple of squirming toddlers, ask a flight attendant immediately if there are open seats you can take.  Asking ASAP improves your chances of getting the available seat, and there’s simply no good reason for you to be uncomfortable if there’s another option.
  6. Join an airport club.  Whether you get access via frequent flier miles or you have to pay an annual fee, it’s so worth it to have a place of refuge in a busy airport.  I typically arrive at the airport hours before I have to just to settle into the lounge, use the free wifi, take advantage of the snacks, and get some work done.  My memberships are worth their weight in gold.

Airplane travel doesn’t have to be miserable.  Sure, you can’t control flights cancelled due to lousy weather or mechanical difficulties, but planning ahead can certainly make your flight more pleasant.


Mondays with Mike: 5 Steps to Winning Back a Client

12-7 winning back a client smallNo matter how good you are at what you do, it’s going to happen.  You’re going to lose a big client.  It might not even be your fault; clients are seduced by promises of lower cost, better quality, or faster turnaround.  Whatever the client’s reason for leaving, don’t despair.  You may still have a chance to win that business back.  Want to learn how?

  1. Be gracious and grateful.  When clients tell me they’re moving on, I always take the time to offer a sincere thank you for the business they’ve given me.  My goal is to be the most composed, gracious, classy guy they’ve ever fired, and I do that for a couple of reasons.  First, your client has probably agonized over the decision, and there’s no sense in adding more guilt to the mix.  Second, it’s just the right thing to do (and sometimes, doing the right thing pays dividends.)  Here’s the key part of this step, though:  after you say thank you, ask if you can keep in touch.  It may feel strange the first time you ask a client who’s just fired you, but trust me.  I’ve never been turned down.
  2. Maintain the relationship.  Once your client has moved on, it’s critical that you keep communication lines open, because you never know what the future holds.  I typically check in once each quarter just to say hello and ask how business is going.  If I see their business mentioned, I may send them a Tweet, or even cut a print article out of the paper and send them a copy – a particularly memorable tactic since few people use snail mail anymore.  Your goal here is simply to stay in touch.
  3. Make the transition easy.  I learned this lesson by example, both good and bad.  The first time I moved my accounting business from one CPA to another, it was a nightmare.  I guess the accountant wasn’t happy about my departure, and he made the transition just awful, hanging on to documents and making everything harder than it needed to be.  When I moved on from my second accountant to a third, the transition couldn’t have been smoother.  My second accountant was a class act, and when I needed to move on a third time, who do you think I chose?  It sure wasn’t the first guy, the one who’d thrown up roadblocks.  I went back to my second accountant – the one I’m with to this day.
  4. Conduct an exit interview.  Now, depending on how closely you have worked with your departing client, you may want to designate another staff member for this task, since you want your client to be honest.  The goal here is to find out why your client is leaving and what you can do to improve your service.  Take the criticism from your client, and make your company better, both for your existing customers and for ones you land in the future.
  5. Never say “I told you so.”  When a client returns to you, don’t ever make them feel guilty for having left, and don’t ever act smug.  Simply be grateful for the chance to offer your services again, and move on.  We all want to feel good about our decisions, and rubbing clients’ return in their faces isn’t smart.

In the big picture, the key to winning and keeping clients is to constantly keep improving on the service you provide.  With all the price shoppers around, customer loyalty is at an all time low, and the only companies who get that loyalty are the ones who earn it.




 
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