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7 Cornerstones of Small Business Success

cornerstonesOnly about one of every 10 businesses started will reach a 10th anniversary and most failures happen within the first few years. Lots can go wrong: an ill-conceived business idea, poor planning or execution, bad business model, lack of capital, ineffective leadership, and poor location, among others.

But business owners who succeed know how to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that trip up other entrepreneurs. They get the foundations right. Bill McBean is one such business owner. He grew a highly successful series of car dealerships in Texas and went on to write about his success in “The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owners Knows that You Don’t” (Wiley 2012).

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Here are McBean’s seven “tried and true” foundations for building business success:

1)    If you don’t lead, no one will follow. Good business leadership begins with defining the goals and direction of your company, and deciding how the business should look and operate. It also requires that you develop and constantly improve the skill sets you need to move your business forward. You must develop a company culture based on expectations and that rewards those who meet and exceed those expectations.

2)    If you don’t control it, you don’t own it. If you don’t control your business by defining key tasks and dictating how they must be handled, you don’t truly “own” the business. You’re more like a spectator watching others play with your money. “Great procedures and processes need controls, and these in turn create great employees,” says McBean. This happens because procedures and processes operate the business, and employees operate the processes.

3)    Protecting your business assets should be your first priority. Surprisingly to some, sales, profits and growth don’t come first. Assets – which include tangible and intangible assets – are what power sales, profits and growth, so they come first. And successful owners don’t stop at protecting obvious assets (with insurance, for example). They understand the importance of every asset, because those assets represent invested cash which should be managed to produce maximum profits.

4)    Planning is about preparing for the future, not predicting it. Effective planning is a mix of science (gather key information, for example) and art – taking that information and turning it into a plan that will move your business forward over a specified period of time. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. But you can make educated guesses with the right tools and effort.

5)    If you don’t market your business, you won’t have one. Some business owners believe their product or service will speak for itself. Others just aren’t savvy about advertising and marketing. But if people don’t know what you deliver, you can’t succeed.  New business owners tend to be especially nervous about spending scarce dollars on advertising. But without marketing, little good can happen. Look at it as an investment, rather than an expense that less successful competitors think it is.

6)    The marketplace is a minefield. Every company has competitors, and if you don’t now – and you are successful – you soon will. “To grow and succeed, you have to continually focus on the market, react to it and fight for what you believe should be yours,” says McBean. “If you don’t, your competitor will win the war.” You need to be cionstantly on your game and follow up your marketing efforts by capturing and retaining each customer your efforts attract.

7)    You don’t have to know the business you are in – but you have to know business.  Sure, you need to know the inner workings of your particular industry. But even more importantly, you need to understand at least something about general business fundamentals such as accounting, finance, business law and personnel, and how these impact each other and the decisions you make. You have to know what’s going on in your market, but it’s just as important to know how to translate that information into more sales and net profits. 

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

9 Time Saving Tips for Your Small Business

Piggy Bank and clockMost small business owners and start-up entrepreneurs hate wasting time. They know from experience that starting and growing an enterprise takes head-down, get-it-done dedication and efficiency.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day to waste them.

But even the most focused business owners can struggle in the day-to-day world with all of the little things that can sabotage efforts to spend time effectively. Whether your business is facing a challenge, or growing like gangbusters, it’s important to get the time management thing right.  Your good organization and time management skills are essential to the success of your business.

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Here are nine time-saving tips that you can put to work in your business right away:

  1. Discover the power of priority. Every business owner makes dozens or more choices daily about what to focus on first. This is setting priorities. But most of us tend to put out the fires first, and then move to more productive endeavors. If you want to tap into your productivity’s full capacity, however, you need to balance being a firefighter and being a builder.  Try this: List all tasks you face, from big to mundane.  Determine which are “A-list” tasks that must definitely be done today. Divide others into B, C and D-level tasks.  Now you can progressively work through all the minor tasks that lead to the greater steps that, in time, lead you to achieving your goals.
  2. Divide and conquer documents. To make sure you don’t drown in a sea of emails, spec sheets, spreadsheets, and more – either hard copies or electronic — you must decide quickly what to do with each one. You have four basic options: Act on it, file it for later, delegate it or toss it. Make it your goal to touch (or click on) each document only once before putting it into one of these categories. The boldest move you can make is to be honest with yourself about what you can and will make time for—and then having the courage to pitch everything else.
  3. Try the 80/20 rule. About 20 percent of the things you spend time on produce 80 percent of your results. To maximize your productivity, identify the 20 percent activities and prioritize them. Look at how you currently spend time. How many things on your to-do list get checked off? Identify what you’d like your 80 percent—your results—to look like. Now you can reorder your priorities for best results.
  4. Make your desk a no parking zone. A desk isn’t storage space, it’s work space, so treat it that way. The more pictures, notes, boxes and tools you have on your desk, the greater your odds of being distracted. Be brutal. Remove everything that isn’t necessary. If you haven’t touched something in a while and it doesn’t have sentimental value, get rid of it. A clear workspace promotes a clear mind.
  5. Ask specific questions. When you ask a vague question the answer is likely to come back just as vague. Being specific and clear cuts confusion and extraneous detail. Communicate precisely why you need to know the answer, and what its purpose is.
  6. Beware of time invaders. Interruptions are inevitable, so you need to control them. Be on guard against people and situations that pull you away from your objectives and schedule. Be proactive in choosing the ground on which you engage others. Reach out to others so they don’t drop in on you. Schedule meetings ahead of time. Discipline yourself to check email once every hour (if realistic) instead of every five minutes.
  7. Make preemptive “appreciation strikes.” You may have clients or contacts who take excessive time and energy because they want to be involved in every step or they’re just friendly by nature. Making brief but regular calls to them can save time overall and keep you in control.
  8. Plan your procrastination. Let’s just assume we all procrastinate at one time or another. It’s human nature. The secret to successful procrastination is to do it deliberately, based on available time and status of high priority tasks. Choose tasks that are least time-sensitive and least at-risk and postpone them, but still give yourself a deadline.
  9. Check in with yourself each Friday. One way to determine how effectively you’re managing your time is to check your results regularly. Do a weekly review of where you stand in relation to your overall goals. Look at the highs and lows, and make adjustments as needed.

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7 Warning Signs Your Business is Aiming Too Low

Aiming lowNot many business owners strive to be second-rate. Most businesses at least pay lip service to a desire for being their customers’ or clients’ first choice. But all too often, their actions say otherwise.

The solution is actually quite simple: If you put your customers first, they are far more likely to put you first, too.  It’s a two-way street; but not an easy street, says Joseph Callaway, who along with his wife JoAnn, wrote a book called “Clients First: The Two Word Miracle” (Wiley, 2012).

You can’t coast into a “first choice” role. The minute you start coasting – aiming lower than you should – you’ll find yourself falling to second, third or worse in the customer choice derby.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of warning signs that are tipoffs your business is “settling” when it should be succeeding. Here’s what low aim looks like – and what to do about it:

1)    Your top goal is to make money.  Sure, it’s a business, so you need to make money. But if that’s all you want, you’ll never run a business that’s number one in the hearts and minds of customers and clients. Customers are smart. They can sense when money is your first motivation, and they come second.

2)    You let the little things slide.  Little stuff counts. Sending emails full of errors; being late to meetings or failing to remember a name might seem like things that don’t matter much in the long run. But in the long run is precisely when they DO matter. Keeping an eye only on the “big” things such as growth or generating leads can blind you to seeing what customers really want and need. “Promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients,” says Callaway.

3)    You tell little lies. Exaggerating, misdirecting or omitting things might make business run smoother…briefly. But there’s always a chance customers will see through it and call you on the carpet. And even if they don’t, a pattern of “stretching the truth” is indicative of a broader attitude that relegates clients to second or third priority.

4)    You badmouth the competition. As in politics, if you sling mud at the opponent, you’re going to get dirty yourself.  Wouldn’t you rather rise in stature on your own merits? Even better, your goal should be to earn the goodwill and admiration of your rivals.

5)    You feel your only obligation to employees is cutting a paycheck.  Do you listen when they talk to you and try to accommodate their needs?  Are you courteous and enthusiastic with them?  Just keep this in mind: The way you treat employees rubs off, and that’s how they will likely treat customers or clients.

6)    You spend more time avoiding customers than listening to what they have to say. Chances are, you roll out the red carpet when you are pitching prospects.  And you’re more than willing to accommodate whims and requests from new customers who aren’t yet cemented in. But what about older, more established clients? Are you spending the same time with them – or are you taking them for granted? As Callaway says, “Businesses that become number one don’t do so because they win customers over once, but because they do it every day. A good experience once won’t keep them coming back forever if they believe your product or service has slipped.”

7)    You don’t know anything about your customers or clients outside of business.  To some business owners, asking about customers’ family and outside interests seems unprofessional. But to the customer or client, it can make you come off as cold and impersonal. Remember, to truly serve people, you have to care. When you keep yourself at arm’s length, you can’t give clients 100 percent, and you give them a reason to take their business elsewhere.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

5 Ways Business Owners Scare Their Employees

scareWhether you know it or not, being a business owner also requires being a leader – especially if you have employees. If you don’t display good leadership skills, you won’t get the most from your employees, and your business will suffer.

Despite good intentions, many business owners and managers unknowingly strike fear into employees simply by what they say – or don’t say. And fearful employees are not productive employees. They react to fear with the primitive ‘fight, flight or freeze” instinct and begin to focus only on their own survival, says Christine Comaford, a leadership consultant and author of the new book “How Teams Become Brilliant Together” (Portfolio/Penguin 2013).

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Here are five ways that business owners inadvertently scare employees into a dysfunctional state:

1. You “help them out” by giving them solutions. When you constantly tell people what to do instead of encouraging them to figure things out on their own, you develop a business full or order-takers instead of innovators. By training them to always ask, you end up with a group of workers who are perpetually frozen in survival mode.

On the other hand, when you engage people in problem-solving themselves, you create a sense of safety, belonging and mattering.

2. Your meetings are heavy on sharing and point-proving, and light on promises and requests. Meetings that are rambling and unfocused send people into fear and confusion. But short, high-energy meetings that have a clear agenda keep everyone motivated. Ideally you should focus on only enough information sharing to solicit requests from people who need something, and promises from people who will fill that need.

If you tune up your communication, the result will be meetings that are efficient and effective, and that keep your employees happy as well as productive and accountable.

3. You give feedback to employees without first establishing rapport.  In short, you must be able to influence people, not just boss them around.  Here are three shortcut phrases that can help you do that:

  • “What if…” When you use this preface to an idea/suggestion, you remove ego and reduce emotion. You’re curious — not forcing a position, but kind of scratching your head and pondering.
  • “I need your help.” Specialists call this a “dom-sub swap” because when the dominant person (the boss) uses it, they are asking the subordinate person to rise up and swap roles. This is especially effective when you want a person to change their behavior or take on more responsibility.
  • “Would it be helpful if…” When a fearful employee is unable to move forward, offering some options will help them see a possible course of action or positive outcome.

4. You focus on problems, not outcomes.  Instead of asking ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘Why is this happening? You should ask ‘What do we want?’ and ‘How will we create it?’”

Being outcome focused is more energizing and fills people with confidence. Avoid saying things like “Let me help you” or  “I’ll make it better for you.”  Instead, say “What outcome would you like?” and “What will having that do for you?”

5. You talk about change in the wrong way. Most business owners and managers want their businesses to change. That’s the only way to grow and get better. But as we know, most employees – and people in general – fear and resist change.

People tolerate change better if it’s framed the right way – more like “sameness with a difference.” Try presenting change as merely an improvement in what is already being done. The bad stuff is being removed, and the good stuff is being added. You might even avoid using the word “change” at all and instead use “growth” which is less daunting to most people.

“All business owners want to outperform, outsell, and out-innovate the competition,” says Comaford. “And most of us have teams that are quite capable of doing so. We just need to stop scaring the competence out of them.”

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

6 Preventive Steps That Could Save Your Business

preventionIn our fast-paced, ever changing business world, the notion of “prevention” – which generally means doing something you don’t absolutely have to do right now – often gets lost or set aside. But with so much riding on how smoothly things run at your business, that ounce of prevention can indeed far outweigh a pound of cure later on.

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Think of some of the threats your business faces: computer viruses and other tech malfunctions, on-the-job accidents, employee theft, shoplifting, lawsuits, machinery downtime and broken equipment. All of these things can slow you down, cost you money and even put you out of business.

Here are six key areas where prevention can really make a difference to your business success, along with some preventive solutions.

1) Theft and Loss Prevention: Whether it’s stealing client lists and confidential data, fudging expense reports or stealing merchandise and materials, employee theft and fraud is a serious threat to small businesses. Shoplifting, employee theft and other types of “inventory shrinkage” can eat away your profits. Installing a loss-prevention program will help minimize losses. Include background checks on employees as part of your system. The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (www.napbs.com) can help.  Conducting regular audits or “checkups” can help you detect fraud or theft and also serve as a deterrent. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) helps companies of all sizes detect and deal with workplace fraud. Visit www.acfe.com.

2) Lawsuit Prevention: A lawsuit is a huge drain on your time, money and energy. The story is all too familiar: A small business owner and a partner (client, customer, investor, etc.) have a business dispute they can’t seem to resolve. No one will budge. Threats of legal action, emails and letters are exchanged. Everybody is upset, and productivity suffers under the stress. If a lawsuit results, things get even worse. Solution? Use arbitration and mediation to avoid a legal morass. It’s user-friendly (usually avoids lawyers), inexpensive and helps resolve thousands of business disputes yearly.

The American Arbitration Association (ADR.org) and the National Arbitration Forum (arb-forum.com) can help. Judicial Arbitration & Mediation Services, or JAMS (jamsadr.com), offers dispute resolution services, and can do it via videoconferencing.  For preventive help keeping your business in legal compliance, visit LegalWorkplace.com.

3) PC Problem Prevention:  Both Microsoft and Apple offer free security updates — but you have to download and install the latest versions and fixes. Get what you need at the Microsoft Download Center (Microsoft.com/downloads). For Mac OSX, go to the Apple menu and select “Software Update” to check for updates. Microsoft has some good preventive maintenance advice on its website at www.microsoft.com/athome.

4) Accident Prevention: Keeping things safe in the workplace is vital to a successful business. It’s not just good business, it’s also the law. For free information, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is actually a good source for business owners. From the OSHA homepage at www.osha.gov, click on the “Small Business” tab on the upper right. There you’ll find quick links to small business safety resources, help with compliance, web tools and FAQ.

Many companies sell safety products and training materials, including the Workplace Safety Store (safety.1800inet.com), Northern Safety (www.northernsafety.com) and All Safety products (www.allsafetyproducts.biz).

5) Preventive Facilities Maintenance: If your facilities and equipment fall into disrepair, your business will suffer. Grainger (www.grainger.com) is the top provider of maintenance, repair and operating supplies to businesses in North America. And since there are a gazillion products and parts you might need (Grainger carries over 800,000), their online product search is super helpful. If your biz is big enough, consider outsourcing maintenance. USI Building Services, for example, (www.usibuildingservices.com) is a single provider for all maintenance needs. They take care of supplies, equipment management, scheduling and reporting.

6) Data Loss Prevention: You’ll find helpful virus protection and data backup solutions at MacAfee.com and Symantec.com. For web-based backup and data protection solutions, consider SystemSafe (www.systemrestore.com), Iron Mountain (www.ironmountain.com), Intronis.com and RestartIT.com. Carbonite.com is a low-cost service that offers non-stop, automatic backup over the internet for as little as $5 monthly. Imation.com devotes considerable attention to small business solutions, with helpful tips, advice and product information to help get you started.  Second Copy (www.secondcopy.com), from Centered Systems, is inexpensive software for Windows that automatically makes a backup of your data files to another directory, disk or computer across the network.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

 

4 Technology Keys to Guiltless Getaways

Technology keyIt’s an ongoing dilemma for millions of business owners: How to take vacations or other time off and still keep business on track. Not only do Americans take far fewer vacations than workers in other countries (hundreds of millions of vacation days go unused in the U.S. annually), but studies show that business owners take the least amount of time off of anyone.

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Many business owners feel somehow guilty at trying to get away, perhaps because they are so emotionally tied to their companies. While the best vacation is one that truly allows you to relax and forget your troubles back at the office, in reality that’s just not going to happen for most business owners and entrepreneurs. So more and more are doing the next best thing by using technology to remotely manage their businesses while away.

Several tech-based “silver bullets” make this possible, including smart phones, tablet computers, cloud-based business management applications and wide availability of high-speed Internet connections. With some planning and a bit of tech-savvy, these things are making it easier than ever for biz owners to banish their guilt and feel more comfortable about getting away.

Tom McGlynn, owner of a California-based personal fitness company RunCoach, used to struggle with keeping his business on track while traveling. Then he discovered how technology could come to the rescue. Now, rather than being office-bound for the summer, he travels around the U.S. to coach marathon runners.

After the web became the center of McGlynn’s business, he found that he could do almost anything online – and from the road – including accessing fitness training software, designing workouts for clients and keeping his business books.

Here are four tactics and technologies that can help any business owner achieve guiltless getaways:

1.  Get a smart phone: Busy business owners who’ve embraced smart phones often say it’s a move that has entirely changed how they do business. “I used to carry a laptop when I traveled to keep track of things,” says a tennis club owner who goes to junior tournaments around the U.S. “But now all I need is my iPhone.” He receives and answers texts and emails quickly, keeps track of his schedule, checks tournament draws, gets directions and much more.

For some business owners, the smart phone is also their lifeline to social media while they are away. They can update a Facebook page, send tweets, post content on LinkedIn and monitor results all from their phone.

In just a few short years, smart phones have gone from a technological curiosity to one of the most essential pieces of technology in the small business owner’s arsenal.  If you don’t yet have a smart phone, or aren’t using yours to full advantage, it’s time to step up to the smart phone plate.

2. Run your finances online:  More than almost any other task, the ability to manage the financial side of your business from anywhere is a key to guiltless getaways.  But the days of being tied to desktop software are long gone (or should be). These days, web or “cloud” based applications are the way to go.

You can manage travel expenses, pay bills, do your business banking and keep your books easily online. And that’s just the beginning. QuickBooks Online, for example, is a handy way to keep track of your finances anywhere, anytime – especially while traveling. You can use it to create and send professional looking invoices, check your cash flow and share your books in real time, all without sending files of any kind back and forth.

3. Share and collaborate digitally: It’s never been easier to share files and collaborate with colleagues, vendors and customers online. With services such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Zoho and Basecamp, you can take comfort in knowing you’ll be plugged into what’s happening and can respond to any emergency or opportunity even if you’re away on vacation.

4. Outsource anything you can. Outsourcing is ideal for business owners who want to get more time away. Hire a virtual assistant to help with administrative tasks and scheduling. You might also consider working with other business owners to cover for each other when traveling.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

12 Tips for Naming a Business, Brand or Product

brand croppedWhen it comes to finding a great name for a business, brand, product or service, it really comes down to this:  A good name should make someone smile or nod, not scratch their head in confusion.

But this notion, mind you, is not universally held. Many businesses – and the branding agencies they hire to help them – have lately leaned toward combining letters and sounds into invented names that are hard to pronounce or understand.

Others prefer to aim for fresh, unexpected names that you don’t need a computer to decipher. One such advocate for fun and likable names and taglines is a San Francisco-based naming firm called Eat My Words (www.EatMyWords.com) that specializes in helping people who find themselves in a business or product-naming pickle.

Here are some naming tips from the pros at Eat My Words who come up with creative brand name suggestions and emotionally-driven company tag lines daily:

Naming a Business

1)    Don’t name your business after yourself. As tempting as that might be, the name is essentially meaningless to your future customers and evokes nothing about your business. What’s more, many names are hard to pronounce, spell or remember. One exception: If your name lends itself to clever word play such as a consultant named Steven Lord who call’s his business “Lord Knows.”

2)    Don’t date your business name. If you select something trendy or numerical (i.e. Women 2.0) the name might appear dated in a few years. Stick to names that can withstand the test of time.

3)    Use a name that will scale to fit future products. As Eat My Words notes, you don’t want to outgrow your business name. For example, if Amazon.com – which originally sold only books — had named itself Bookstore.com, they’d have painted themselves into a corner that would have made it difficult once they started selling anything and everything.

4)    Your name doesn’t have to convey trust and credibility.  That’s something you build through your logo design and marketing materials. If you try to build that into your name, you’ll likely end up with some hopelessly boring options.

Naming a Product

1)    Keep it simple and conceptual.  According to Eat My Words, basic yet powerful words make for the best product names. A few they’ve created include a travel make-up kit named Dash; an all-natural energy drink called Bloom; and a line of gourmet dips for kids called Monkey Dunks.

2)    Avoid acronyms. You should only expect people to remember one name, not two. Brand your product with a full name and let the acronym be something you only use internally.

3)    Name you product before your company. That’s not always possible, of course, but if people only remember one thing, it’s better they remember the name of the thing they will actually be buying (and searching for online).

4)    Select names that work as a family. Apple, for example, created a family of products that all fit together by using the same naming convention around “i” including iMac, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and iPad, among others.

Naming a Brand

1)    Define the personality of your brand in three words that will be your acid test. When Alexandra Watkins was naming her naming agency, she wanted to convey that the brand was “playful,” “creative” and “unexpected,” which lead her to Eat My Words. Something like ABC Name Bank simply wouldn’t have cut it.

2)    Your brand name should be spelled exactly how it sounds and be easy to pronounce. This certainly bucks a popular trend these days, but if you don’t follow this rule you’ll be constantly telling people how to spell or pronounce it. Your brand should be approachable – not something people struggle with and are embarrassed to try and pronounce.

3)    Choose a brand name that’s meaningful to your customers. Names with hidden meanings or foreign phrases can’t stand on their own, and you won’t always be there to explain. Each time you have to explain what your name means you are apologizing for it.

4)    The name should create a picture in the customer’s mind.  That’s because people remember pictures more easily than they remember words or letters.

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10 Ways to Amp up Loyalty for Your Business

loyaltyIs customer or employee loyalty lagging at your business these days? Even under the best circumstances it can happen if you take your eye off the ball for even a short while. With so many things to focus on, many business owners sometimes lose sight of just how important customer as well as employee loyalty can be.

Right now, you’re probably scrambling to find new customers or clients. You’re hustling to handle 101 day-to-day tasks and perhaps manage employees or independent contractors as well. No matter what the economic conditions are, however, it’s vital to be vigilant in two key areas:

  • Keeping the customers or clients your business already has; and,
  • Keeping employees loyal and motivated even if raises, bonuses and benefits aren’t in the cards.

Now that the job market is improving a bit in many industries and areas, restless employees may be less inclined to stick around. If they don’t feel like you’ve treated them well or appreciated their hard work, they’ll look for something better.

Customers present an even greater challenge. For most growth-minded entrepreneurs, the tendency is to focus on new business development. But that might have it backwards. The first move should almost always be to keep what you’ve got, because it costs twice as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain an existing one.

Here are 10 tips to amp up loyalty at a small business – five ways for customers and five for employees:

Keeping Customers

1) Provide more frequent progress reports: Show your customer or client the work you’ve been doing and the results you’ve achieved. This will help answer un-asked questions and allay latent fears.

2) Get some face time: If you deal mostly by email, web-connection or phone, make an effort to meet in person. Seeking “face time” says you are interested and gives you an opportunity to literally see things for yourself that can lead to improvements or new business. It’s also a great way to generate referrals.

3) Ask for feedback:  Never assume a customer is completely satisfied. Throughout the sales or work process (whatever that might be for your business) ask how your customer feels about what you’re doing. Then take action on any suggestions. Think of yourself as a waiter who checks back periodically throughout the meal to see if everything is okay.

4) Tune your product or service offerings:  As proud as you may be about your product or service, remember it’s being made or done for the customer or client – not you. Make certain you know what they want, and when they want it.

5) Be open to making changes: Customers may want to change terms, conditions, purchase orders, payment processes or other things. Customers will appreciate if you show a willingness to work with them on adapting to new conditions.

Gaining worker loyalty

Ed Hess, a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, offers these employee loyalty suggestions:

1) Say thank you:  It seems so simple, but just telling your employees “thank you” when they’ve done a great job will go a long way. Verbal recognition boosts morale and builds mutual respect. “As a result, employees will not only work hard for you, but they’ll stick with you through thick and thin,” says Hess.

2) Give low-cost bonuses and perks: If you can’t give significant raises or bonuses, show appreciation with less pricey rewards. Options include gift certificates to local restaurants, movie tickets or maybe a paid Friday afternoon off. Also, providing a catered lunch once a month or doughnuts in the morning is a good way to boost loyalty.

3) Help them improve themselves: Your employees will appreciate your willingness to help them invest in their futures. Consider paying for them to attend a class at a local community college or a seminar that interests them (and could help your business, too).

4) Help them get healthy: Providing employees with a gym membership is a great way to say “thank you” and can have multiple benefits. Find out if a local gym will offer a group deal.

5) Ask their opinion:  Employees appreciate being asked what they think. Solicit their ideas on how the business can be improved. You might be surprised by what you hear.

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8 Keys to Re-energizing Your Business

energize keyIt’s a tough world out there. Customers are demanding more. Competition is keen – sometimes from unexpected places. Your business must work harder and smarter to improve profits. And on top of it all, there always seem to be new taxes and regulations to deal with.

Sometimes however (not that this includes you, of course), business owners don’t make the best planners. “We are action-oriented people,” says Bill McBean, who launched and sold several businesses and is now General Partner in the family-owned firm McBean Partners. “But by taking a hard look at a few key places and putting a plan in place you can bank on a more prosperous future,” he says. McBean, author of The Facts of Business Life (Wiley, 2012) suggests these ways to put your re-energizing plan in place:

1) Improve your own leadership skills

Since success starts at the top, you should evaluate where your own leadership skills need improvement. Start by looking at what’s working for your business and what’s not. Evaluate honestly how things are going. Are you supplying the business with what it needs to succeed – equipment, time, capital and resources? Are you paying employees based on what you want them to accomplish? Have you let any bad habits slide that need addressing? Now you can look ahead and decide what you need to do differently.

2) Do a full review of systems and procedures

In essence, systems and procedures actually operate your business, thought many owners misunderstand this concept, says McBean. Again, evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. Look for outdated processes that continue merely because “it’s the way we’ve always done it.” For example, inventory must change with the market, along with pricing and policies, since what sold well a few years ago might not sell well now.

3) Go on a gross profit-building mission

This step alone is one of the business owner’s most powerful weapons. Look for ways to cut costs and increase gross profit. “Don’t assume you know how much things are costing you,” says McBean, “or that your employees are reacting to new sales opportunities.” Ask yourself: What expense mistakes did we make last year and how can we avoid them now? But don’t cut just for the sake of cutting. Look for smart ways to save money and start building a cash cushion.

4) Re-engage employees

A successful business needs employees who care as much about the company as you do. “Engaged employees are energized,” says McBean. “They handle problems on their own and actively look for ways to improve the business.” Seek out new ways to show employees you care. Even a simple “thank you” can help tremendously. A paid afternoon off, movie passes or other small perks also work wonders. Find out what frustrates employees most in their jobs and – if possible – supply tools or training to improve the situation.

5) Set specific goals and amp up the energy

Your goal with goals is to aim high, but be specific, says McBean. And remember that goals must be measureable. If goals are not measurable you can’t gauge progress and will eventually abandon them. What gets measured gets done.

6) Boost you product or service offerings

Can you squeeze out another product or service from what you already have in place? “For example,” says McBean, “there’s nothing stopping an auto parts store from selling marine industry parts, especially if you’re located near water.” People need what they need, when they need it, so make it easy for customers to get what they want. And don’t ignore the power of impulse purchases or convenience items – even if they aren’t matched up with your core products.

7) Revamp your marketing

Look careful at who your customers are now. Have they changed? Are you trying to reach them in ways that make the most sense? For example, might the money you’re spending on ad placement be better spend on direct mail or online? Does social media marketing make sense?

8) Look for ways to impress loyal customers

Your customer base is critical so it’s essential you find ways to foster loyalty. Beyond offering a great product or service, what will keep customers coming? The prize goes to business owners who are more creative in answering this question, and who offer more than simply what customers “expect.”

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

5 Ways Mistakes Can Make a Business Better

mistakeWith little cash, and even less wine industry experience, Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey launched Barefoot Wine in – where else – their laundry room. They built the brand and later sold it to wine giant E&J Gallo.

Now the business owner duo share what they learned along the way with other business owners. One of their major lessons: Improving your business by admitting mistakes. Houlihan believes that customers judge you more by how you react to mistakes than how you behave when all is well. “Every business makes mistakes,” he says. “Denying that they’ve happened only makes an already awkward situation worse.”

In short, dodging responsibility hurts your reputation more than if you’d owned up in the first place.  (In this vein, my posts on avoiding the accountability blame game and how to create a winning business culture might also be of interest.)

Since they knew almost nothing about wine making or the wine business at the outset, Bonnie and Michael – who’ve written a book called “The Barefoot Spirit” (Evolve Publishing, 2013) – made their share of doozies. Some even threatened the entire business. So they quickly resolved not to fret errors, but rather make them opportunities to grow.

For example, Barefoot once put the wrong bar code on a store’s shipment of Cabernet, causing it to ring up at a lower price. Barefoot itself caught the mistake and Michael quickly showed up at the store’s corporate office with a check for the store’s loss, plus extra for the expense of dealing with the mistake. He then informed the manager in detail how Barefoot was changing its internal processes to make sure the bar code problem would not happen again.

Here are five things that must happen for mistakes to make your business better:

1)    You own up

This can be tough, and uncomfortable. But you need to utter the mea culpa and acknowledge that you are, in fact, not perfect. The sooner you own up, the easier it is. There’s less drama and you can get on with fixing the situation faster. Besides, says Houlihan, people actually like a little imperfection now and then. It shows a level of authenticity, vulnerability and humanity. And it’s hard to be angry with someone who says, “You’re right – I messed up.”

2)    You figure out how it happened

Admitting fault, however, isn’t enough. If you simply try to put it behind you you’ve just increased the chances it will happen again. Dig into it. Find out why the mistake occurred so you can fix the faulty procedure or process. That’s why Barefoot Wine made sure its employees weren’t afraid to make or report mistakes – those that involve technical errors, that is. Houlihan is adamant that bad behavior or inability to perform should not be overlooked. “Real progress in progressive companies is often built on the backs of mistakes and the improvements they spark,” he says.

3)    You don’t blame, you aim

Sometimes it might be easy, and temporarily satisfying, to point the finger at someone for a mistake. But if it happened on your watch, and you are accountable for the finished product, you ultimately share the blame in the customer’s eyes. So get to the bottom of what happened and aim your focus on what you and your business can do to prevent the mistake from happening again.

4)    You write it down

This is an important but often overlooked step. If you successfully resolve whatever sparked an error, pat yourself on the back and say, “Well, that’s cleaned up!” you’re making another mistake. If you don’t write down or record it in some way, even you (not to mention others) are in danger of repeating the original error. Says Houlihan, “When you’re still smarting from the pain of a mistake it’s easy to think you’ll always remember what went wrong. But over time things get fuzzy and you won’t.”

5)    You resolve it won’t happen again

Along with your apology, assure the injured parties that it – whatever “it” was – won’t happen again. Voluntarily describe how the mistake happened and what changes you are implementing to prevent its recurrence. And most importantly, tell the other party how you and your business are going to make things right. Handling an error this way will reinforce the feeling that you are, ultimately, a trustworthy company.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main