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Skill #6 Information Management

Skill #6 Information Management

 

Do you feel like you’re drowning?

 
I do. Look at all the stuff that is coming at us. Cable news channels, blogs, podcasts, emails, text messages, Instagram, and on, and on. Thomas Frey in the post on future skills you will need ( http://bit.ly/2yFqvos ) cites a study done by UC San Diego. That study showed in 2008 the average American spent 11.8 hours a day gathering information. The study also stated that number was increasing at approximately 2.6% each year. Fast forward to 2018. If those numbers are accurate, we now spend 15.25 hours per day gathering information.
 
Really? 15 hours a day? That hardly leaves time to eat, sleep, or work. It sure doesn’t leave any time for play. Worse yet, a Temple University study ( http://bit.ly/2qcbl6x ) shows once your brain gets overloaded with incoming information, your pre-frontal cortex shuts down. When that happens, you are robbed of the ability to make rational decisions.
 

This is important because…?

 
In that same post ( http://bit.ly/2yFqvos ), Frey also states, “Our ability to manage our personal information inputs and outputs will greatly determine our ability to compete in the global marketplace of the future.
 

You can’t ignore this

 
This isn’t going to get better. Current estimates are the entire body of human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. IBM estimates that in a few years, thanks to Artificial Intelligence, human knowledge will double every 12 minutes. There is simply no way any of us can keep up.
 
This means you must actively decide what areas you want to be informed about. What do you need to know? You are going to have to choose. Once you pick those areas, what sources do you trust? How deep do you want to go? Don’t forget to pick some sources that will allow you to see some differing opinions. Like it or not, every information source will have some bias built in. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you recognize it. Build in some balance.
 

Your Biggest challenge

 
In the very near future, gathering information is going to be like trying to drink from a 3-inch firehose. You are going to be forced to decide how much time you are going to allow for this activity. You will also need to be very selective in what sources you use. The current estimate is that by 2020, a short 2 years from now, 50% of the US Labor Force will be Freelancers. That number will go much higher as robots and software technology continue destroying existing jobs. What will you do when your job goes away?
 
Start today to build superior knowledge in your area of expertise. Decide how much time you will devote each day to gathering and disseminating information in your particular niche. Cut out the crap. We all have the same 86,400 seconds in each day. It’s how you decide to spend them that counts.
Skill #3 Communication Management.

Skill #3 Communication Management.

Did you know how you manage your communications can affect your mental health?

 

Once long ago, in a land far, far, away, people lived in a simpler world.  There were only 3 TV networks, one or two daily newspapers in your city, and there was only one telephone on a little table in the entrance hall to your home. News broadcasts were two or three times a day, only lasting about 30 minutes including weather, sports, and financial markets.  Who needed something like Communication Management?

 

Fast forward to 2018.

 

Today there is an almost endless list of ways to learn what’s going on and to stay in touch.

  1. 24 hour Cable News channels
  2. Newspapers, both print and online.
  3. Cell phones
  4. Text Messages
  5. Email
  6. Facebook
  7. LinkedIn
  8. Google +
  9. Twitter
  10. Blogs
  11. Podcasts
  12. Instagram
  13. Reddit
  14. Skype
  15. You Tube

And on, and on.

Communication is a necessary part of all our lives and, it’s a highly valued skill.   But, you can have too much or too little.  A 2013 Yankelovich study found the average consumer is bombarded with 5,000 messages a day.  5,000!  On average, the human brain is only able to process 5 to 7 bits of information at one time. Trying to stay up with all the sources available to you can cause stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.

So what happens when your brain receives too much information? Well, a recent Temple University study cited in an article in Entrepreneur Magazine ( http://bit.ly/2qcbl6x ), says when your input reaches the overload level, your prefrontal cortex simply shuts down. In essence, you are unable to make rational decisions past that point.  Keep that up over time, and your mental health suffers as your anxiety levels go through the roof.

Yet the reverse, cutting yourself off from the outside world causes anxiety and stress as well.

 

So, What’s the Answer?

 

Unfortunately, this is something you have to figure out for yourself.   This is a recent phenomenon and one that is not being addressed in our education system.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Only review emails once or twice a day. Pick times in the morning or afternoon that suit your schedule.  Then shut down your email services outside of those times.  This is what I do.
  2. To the extent you can, do the same with phone calls and text messages.  Let incoming calls go to voicemail, then bunch your return calls around the same time each day.  As long as you answer calls and texts the same day they are received, most customers and clients are OK with this.
  3. Limit your news input.  Pick two or three TV news shows and online/print newspapers and let that be it. Review those sources once or twice a day. You won’t miss anything.  In the current news climate, there is a constant, microscopic, never-ending, examination of every event down to who got a parking ticket. It’s almost never one and done.

The point here is for you to put yourself in control of your life by managing how and with whom you communicate. Narrow your focus to those topics that are important to you.  I doubt if you really care if the Volga River floods the town of Astrakhan.  The big plus here too is the amount of time you free up to be doing more productive things.

So pick your sources, limit your exposure, and let the rest of the world go by.

 

Countdown: Skill #2-Critical Thinking

Countdown: Skill #2-Critical Thinking

In my original post in this series ( http://bit.ly/2v8mXJm ), I discussed the 10 critical skills you need to succeed in the chaotic job market of the next few years. Today, I would like to talk about the #2 skill, Critical Thinking.

Just What is Critical Thinking?

 
Critical thinking is one of “those terms.” It has risen to near the top of skills employers are now seeking. Go search for a good definition though, and what you get is a lot of big words and phrases difficult to decipher.
 
Here is a list of elements involved in Critical Thinking stated in simple English:
  •  The ability to analyze the way you think.
  • A self-directed way of thinking using high standards of excellence.
  • A systematic, methodical approach to problem-solving.
  • The ability to think independently.
  • The ability to separate rational arguments from emotional ones.
 

Why is Critical Thinking Important to Me?

 
You are a Freelancer. You hire yourself out to clients and companies to work on various types of projects. Robots and software technology are replacing people at ever-increasing rates. What is the one skill technology doesn’t have? Human judgment.
 
This is where critical thinking comes in. Good critical thinking skills give you the ability to:
  •  Identify a bad or false argument.
  • Build and present good arguments.
  • Think better and more clearly.
  • Develop the ability to see things in new and different ways.
  • Question the status quo.

Here is the challenge. The human brain does not think logically. It makes most of its decisions on emotion and/or preconceived ideas. Having made a decision, people then go back and justify it with logic. What’s worse is once a person has made a decision they will defend it to the death, no matter how wrong it turns out to be.

Developing critical thinking skills helps you arrive at better, more logical decisions at the beginning of the process.
 
These are the skills employers are buying today. Doing things the same old way doesn’t cut it anymore. Now clients want new and different ways of accomplishing things. Making progress requires shaking things up.
 

How Can I Learn to be a Better Thinker?

 

There are lots of online resources to get you started. Google “Learn Critical Thinking,” and you’ll get about 29 million results. One challenge here is language. Many of these resources read like college psychology texts (read boring and difficult to comprehend). My research turned up a couple of good sources I think you will enjoy.
 
The first is a website for “The Critical Thinking Community.” This link ( http://bit.ly/2xrZtj7  ) will take you to a page that starts you on a path to learning about critical thinking. If you want to take your education further, there are a lot of wonderful resources on the site. You can join the community for free.
 
There are lots of books on this subject as well. One of the most readable I found was “Critical Thinking for Dummies,” by Martin Cohen. This book delivers a plain English approach to the subject I think you will enjoy. I have included a link below if you would like to order this terrific book. (Full disclosure, I am an Amazon Affiliate.)

The Stunningly Simple Secret Part 2

The Stunningly Simple Secret Part 2

Busy or effective.  Which one are you?  Did you know it’s possible to do away with almost 80% of your to do list?

Here is a myth about being self-employed.  You start a business.  You work 80 hours a week to build it up.  In 5 years or so, you are a roaring success.

In my last post (http://successfulcm.com/2017/04/28/stunning-simple-secret-improves-productivity/) we discussed how you can choose the hours you want to work, and then use the 80/20 rule to accomplish the 20% of important activities to produce 80% of your results.

 

But what about the rest of the pile?

In this post, I’ll discuss ways you can take the other 80% of your To-Do pile and dump it, delegate it, or delay it.

What Can I Dump?

The first thing to do is to look at your pile and pick out the problem areas wasting a lot of your time.

Remember the 80/20 rule works in all kinds of ways.

Who are the 20% of customers, clients, or prospects causing 80% of your headaches?  How much do they contribute to your bottom line?  My experience is the ones who constantly complain about stuff many times are just trying to shift the blame for their own flaws.  Fire them.  You are better off without them.

You don’t have to be nasty about it.  I have said to clients, “I’m sorry.  I think I’ve done all I know how to do for you.  You’ll be much better off finding someone else who can (fill in the blank)”

If it’s a prospect, you can say, “I’m sorry.  I just don’t think I’m the right person for you.”

I think one of the most wonderful things about being self-employed is the ability to choose the people you want to work with.  Helping others to solve their problems or achieve their goals should be a joyful experience.  If it’s not.  Move on.

What are the time wasters?

  • Email- Probably the #1 time killer.  I’d be willing to bet you 95% of the mail in your inbox is crap.  Get rid of it.  If an email does not relate to getting you business somehow, delete it.  If you get irrelevant emails from the same sender more than once, assign the sender to your junk or spam file.Only look at email twice a day.  Pick the times.  I review once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Outside of those times, I turn the email completely off. Those emails that are business related should be answered within 24 hours. Keep your emails focused.  Stick to one subject if possible.  Answer it and move on.

There is one caveat here.  If you are emailing a customer, client or prospect about a specific subject and you find you are trading 3, 4, or 5 emails to no result, pick up the phone and call.

  • Phone calls. Turn off your phone during the day.  No…your business will not suffer.  Put a voicemail greeting on your phone that says, “Sorry I am not available to take your call.  Please leave a message.”   If someone won’t leave a message, they are not interested in doing business with you.  That said, here is the caveat.  I call it the “Sunset Rule.”  All calls received before 4 PM should be returned by sunset the same day.  Even if you don’t have an answer for the caller you are telling them you received their call, they are important to you, and you will contact them again when you have an answer for them.  If you are getting more calls than you can handle on an issue, you may want to consider delegating.
  • Meetings. There are two kinds of meetings. One on one meetings with a prospect or client to discuss projects or work in progress.  These are OK.  You should build an agenda for the meeting.  Publish it ahead of time.  Stay focused.  Try to hold the meeting to an hour.  The other kind of meeting is a committee meeting, general discussion, exploration, presentations, pitch sessions, etc.  Avoid these like the plague.  Nothing is ever accomplished here.  One of my favorite quotes is from the humorist Dave Barry, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”

Delegate

If you are a one-person shop, the way I am, this gets a little more challenging.  You have decided how many hours a week you want to work.  You have chosen the most important things to focus on. You have dumped everything you can.  There’s still stuff left. Now what?

One thing you can do is hire a virtual assistant.  Sources for virtual assistants can be found online.  Be very careful here.  The tendency is to hire a virtual assistant and then simply dump on them everything you don’t want to do.  This is a recipe for disaster.  You would be wise to eliminate the activity completely before you delegate it.

A virtual assistant should be treated as any other employee.  Interview them for compatibility.  Pick a specific function you want them to do. Train them how to do it.  Then turn them loose.

Let’s take the example from the previous paragraph.  You are getting a ton of phone calls on a specific subject. Imagine you are a consultant.  You have offered a free half-hour of your time to discuss a certain issue.  People are calling to book an appointment.

Train your virtual assistant on how to answer questions about the half-hour session. Give them the hours and dates you are available.  Have a separate phone number for booking the appointments. Google Voice is great for this. Turn them loose.  Inspect the results daily at first, then weekly.

You can also delegate out to contract workers and/or freelancers.  Again, you must be careful to confine this to specific functions with clearly defined procedures and goals.

Delay

Finally, there is delay.  This is really a default tactic.  There is stuff in your pile that isn’t part of the 20% getting you 80% of your results.  You can’t (or won’t) dump it.  Now what?

Delay it.  Actually, what I mean by this is ignore it.  Most of the time, this junk will just melt away on its own.  If there’s something in there that must be done, it will rise to assume crisis proportions.

In Conclusion

The idea here is to use your work time to be effective.  Focus on only those things that produce results.  Let the rest go.  This isn’t always easy.  Those things outside of the 20% of effort producing 80% of the results will sap your energy and distract you from the important. The inconvenient truth is you’ll never get it all done.  There’s always one more thing getting added to the list.  Focus on the 20%, Dump, Delegate, or Delay the rest.  You’ll be surprised how much you get done and how good you feel.

Stunning Simple Secret Improves Your Productivity!

Stunning Simple Secret Improves Your Productivity!

Getting it all done when you’re the only one there can be frightening. How can you improve your productivity?  Using Pareto’s simple 80/20 rule can cut your work week in half

You wanted freedom.  You wanted to do something you loved. And…you wanted to get paid for it.  So you went into business for yourself.

Now you have this huge list of stuff that needs to be accomplished to get your business off the ground.  How are you going to do it?

Is one of the reasons you went into business for yourself is you were tired of 50 to 60+ hour weeks working for someone else?  Are you now worried all you’ve done is buy yourself another job?

The ugly truth is unless you take control, you’ll never get it all done.

What is The 80/20 Rule?

The 80/20 rule was originally proposed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1896.  It simply states 20% of the causes generate 80% of the effects.

I’m sure you’ve heard this in one form or another.  For instance, “80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers.”

What this means to you is 20% of your effort will generate 80% of your results.  Now you have to figure out which tasks constitute the 20%

Pretty straightforward, right?

But Wait…There’s More

It turns out there’s one additional thing you need to know.  It’s called the law of diminishing returns.  Here’s what it means.

If 20% of your actions deliver 80% of your results, you are getting a 4 to 1 return on your effort.

If you increase your effort (more tasks) to 23% you should drive your result to 92%, right?Chances are it won’t.

The law of diminishing returns states for every added effort, you will receive an ever decreasing result.

So, increasing your effort by 3% might only yield a 5% increase in results.  Another 3% on top of that might yield another 3%.  Keep on that path and you will get to the point where no matter what you add in effort, you won’t get any better results. And…you may never get to 100%

A Radical New Concept

Here’s a radical new concept for you.  Choose how many hours a week you want to work.

Yup, you heard me.  Instead of attacking the entire pile of stuff you think you have to do and whacking away until it’s done, choose how many hours a week you want to work.

Got it?

Here’s your new goal.  Look at your huge pile of stuff to be done.  Remember 20% of the stuff in that pile will generate 80% of results.  Look at each task in the pile and ask if it is part of the 20%. Estimate how long it will take to complete it.  Put it on the list for this week.   

Keep this up, until your weekly hours are filled.

Then resort the tasks in order of importance and put them on your calendar.  Be aware, you don’t want more than 2 mission critical items on the calendar in any one day.

Now focus on each task in order.  Work on it and it alone until it is done or your progress is halted by some outside event.

What Happens to All the Rest?

Everything else in your gigantic to do pile can either be Delayed, Delegated, or Dumped.

This will be the subject of the next blog in the series.

In Conclusion

You will be amazed at how productive you become.  You have to be brutal in your application of the sorting process. Knowing you have only so much time to complete mission critical items forces you to work on those items most important to your success.  Plus you will have the added benefit of creating more free time to do stuff you enjoy.

PS.  This concept and many others are more fully discussed in Tim Ferris’ wonderful book “The 4 Hour Work Week”  I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is running a small business.  You can order a copy of this book by clicking on the link below.  (Full disclosure, I am a Powell’s affiliate)

Best Hire: Employee or Independent Contractor?

Best Hire: Employee or Independent Contractor?

As small business owners, sooner or later we are faced with hiring our first employee.  So which kind is best: full time employee or independent contractor?  Here’s a great post with all the pros and cons. 

The Pros and Cons of Hiring: Employee vs. Independent Contractor

BY LAURA SHERMAN | SMALL BUSINESS


[This article is a piece of part 11 of our Smart and Simple Guide to Starting a Business – scroll to the end to see the other parts]

As a small business owner you will need to determine whether to hire full time employees or use independent contractors. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are basically the same thing. They aren’t.

Although you pay both kinds of workers to do tasks for you, they are not viewed the same by the IRS. And if the IRS suspects that you are not classifying your workers correctly, they might audit you.

The IRS defines independent contractors in this way: “The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.”

So, if you own a restaurant and hire two waiters, they would be employees. However, if you contracted a local handyman to come in as needed to fix anything minor that breaks in your restaurant, they would be an independent contractor even if you pay them hourly. The waiters show up to your place of business and work under you, while the handyman has his own business and simply shows up and fixes things his or her way.

There are pros and cons to hiring full time employees and independent contractors. Most small business owners wish to avoid the added overhead of having a slew of employees, but some don’t have a choice. You’ll need to evaluate your situation to determine what is best for you.

Advantages to hiring full time employees

When you hire full time employees, they will work for you thirty or more hours a week (fewer hours makes them part-time) and will usually have a long-term commitment to you and your business. The advantages to this type of relationship for you, the employer, are:

  • These employees will feel pride in their position in your company. Most people want the security of a job, but they also want to feel the satisfaction of working for a company that they can call home. They want to feel that they are an important part of the team. If you give them that, they may go the extra mile.
  • The hourly wage for a full time employee is often much less, because they have job security. If you were to hire out for the same work with a freelancer, you can often expect to pay quite a bit more.
  • You don’t need to scramble to find help when your workload increases. If you only rely on independent contractors and need urgent help, your favorite freelancer might be booked. Or it might cost you a lot more to hire one last minute.
  • You don’t have to wear all the hats of your business yourself. Instead you can delegate tasks permanently to others. This frees up your time to do the tasks best suited for you.
  • You don’t need to continually train staff on how you like things done. Your employees know you and can do the work without the need for continual direction.
  • If you want to take a vacation, you can be assured that someone is holding down the fort for you in your absence.

Disadvantages to hiring full time employees

As you consider whether you want to hire full time employees, you’ll need to consider the downside as well. There are certain requirements that come with having employees:

  • Although it isn’t mandatory, most full time employees expect benefits, like health care and vacation time. As you interview potential candidates, they will most likely be interviewing with other companies as well, who offer such benefits.
  • You’ll need to pay their salaries like clockwork, even if your business has a lull. In order to cover their paychecks, you’ll need to have a reserve of money in your bank account.
  • You’ll have specific payroll paperwork that is legally required. Along with this, you’ll need to withhold your employees’ taxes, social security, and Medicare.
  • You are responsible for your employees’ training and professional licensing requirements. These vary from state to state.

Advantages of hiring independent contractors

Small business owners usually prefer to hire freelance workers for jobs when they need help. There are distinct advantages to sticking only to independent contractors:

  • Although you usually pay more per job or per hour, you will most likely save money overall since you aren’t required to pay them any benefits and do not need to commit to a salary.
  • You have greater flexibility. When you work with an independent contractor and it isn’t a good match, you simply don’t hire them again. When you have an employee that doesn’t work out, you may need to fire them, which isn’t always easy.
  • You can hire the right person for the task needed, contracting someone with a specialized service. They often have many years of experience, so you don’t need to train them.
  • They are responsible for their own permits and professional licenses.

Disadvantages of hiring independent contractors

While hiring independent contractors has many advantages, there are some drawbacks as well:

  • You lose some control over how tasks are preformed, because you can’t closely monitor their work. You can guide them, but usually they aren’t on site and will run their business their way.
  • They are hired short term, so you might not get the same worker for the next project. They usually operate on a first term, first serve basis.
  • They have no sense of company loyalty, but are a hired gun for one specific job. They are not part of your staff.
  • They will not promote your brand, but their own. Their work is done under their business name, with their logos, etc.
  • All copyrights will be owned by the independent contractor, unless you draft an agreement stating otherwise.

There are times when the line between employee and independent contractor can become blurry. For instance, how do you classify a virtual assistant? In order to answer that question, you must evaluate the situation.

Does the virtual assistant have her own company name, work for you on a project-by-project basis, and operate independently with limited supervision? Most likely, they would be an independent contractor. However, if she works for you forty hours a week and you are her only client, she might be an employee.

Understanding the difference between an independent contractor and a full time employee will save you a lot of headaches in the future. Set up your business with the type of workers that you need for long-term success.

5 Dangers of Fast Growth.

5 Dangers of Fast Growth.

As Small Business Owners we know growth is the name of the game.  But, did you know you can grow too fast?  Here’s a great post warning you about what can happen.

5 Dangers of Overly Fast Small Business Growth Strategies

By Suzanne Kearns
Posted in: Small Business

 

Comments1

business growth team plantWhen you start your own small businesses, you immediately start thinking about growth. Maybe you just dream of eventually opening a second store, or you might envision becoming a huge conglomerate or one day franchising the business.

Growth isn’t just admirable – it’s expected. But often, small business owners don’t consider that growing a business too quickly can eventually cause the company’s demise. You can easily find yourself lacking working capital, which is one of the biggest contributing factors to the failure of one in six new small businesses.

You and your business can avoid the dangers of overgrowth. By managing your business correctly and scaling up at a good pace, you’ll guide your company on the path to success. Whether you’re running a home office or a company with many employees, the key is planning.

Make sure you know the five biggest risks associated with sudden, unexpected growth.

1. An Overbearing Debt Loan

If you don’t plan properly for an increase in business, you can wind up taking on far too much debt. Growth takes money, and especially during the early stages of growth, working capital will be low. Many business owners take on massive debt to feed the growth machine, and a vicious circle begins. Increased orders require you to take on more debt, and so on. Too often, the cycle breaks only because the debt becomes so high that it topples the business. Even though more money is coming in, you owe even more and can’t cover debts.

 

For example, if you owned a housecleaning business and suddenly began to get more customers, you’d need to purchase more supplies and probably hire some more help. These positive developments would involve a lot of cash flow, and they can quickly turn negative by eating up all of your reserves. The new business is good, so you give incentives to your existing customers to send you referrals, leading to even more customers. Again, you need more staff and supplies. Perhaps you go as far as adding a company car with your logo to spread the word and support the increased workload.

Your working capital completely depleted, you take the next logical step: getting a loan. At first, it looks like the increased profits will more than cover the credit payments. But while the client list is growing, the debt is piling on more quickly, and keeping up with payments becomes a struggle. The growth was good, but it came too quickly and caught you unprepared as a business owner. Better fiscal management would have allowed for controlled growth based on revenue and profits.

2. Being Unable to Satisfy Your Customers

As a small business owner, you’ll be thrilled to be in high demand. But you need to be sure that you can supply the level of service your customers expect. Personal attention is a key selling point that attracts customers to a small business, especially when you’re involved in an active local community. In the face of unexpected growth, you’ll face the challenge of maintaining quality with the increase in quantity.

Consider the case of the home cleaning service. With a manageable number of clients, you can easily give each one the personal attention that makes your company special. In fact, that personal touch is what got everyone talking about you, spurring the recommendations and the increase in business. While it’s inevitable that the bigger a business grows the less interaction the owner will have with the clientele, unless you manage expectations, some clients may end up feeling put out – and they’ll stop coming to you.

The answer to this problem is – again – managed growth. Calculate how many new customers you can take on without turning your back on the clients who got you started. As you grow, bring on a customer support staff to promptly attend to all of your clients’ needs.

3. Forgetting Your Original Goal

In an effort to expand your business, you’ll be tempted to move into somewhat related – but unexplored – territory. The housecleaning business, for example, could be growing at a comfortable pace when a satisfied residential customer encourages you to bid on the contract to clean a commercial building. It’s tough to resist the prospect of big contracts and new opportunities, but straying from your original business model too quickly can create a volatile situation. While you’re striving to succeed in an untested aspect of your business, you’ll be forced to turn your back on the duties and client base that got you started in the first place.

Entrepreneurs naturally want to try new things, and success often requires taking a risk on new ideas in unproven areas. But you have to carefully consider how much time you can devote to a new plan, and budget accordingly. More importantly, make sure you maintain the safety net of your current customers and business model. If your expansion effort doesn’t pan out, you need to be able to rely on the original concept.

4. Losing Employees

Any small business owner will tell you that your best employees are the lifeline of the business. But when a business experiences quick growth, lines of communication can break down. If you’re surprised by your business’s growth, you’ll get preoccupied with keeping up, and if your employees aren’t ready for it, you’re in trouble. You need to let your employees grow with the business, but training them for management and leadership positions takes preparation. If you catch your staff members by surprise, and you’ll likely lose them. For a small business, losing employees – especially longstanding ones – means losing institutional memory, customers, and money.

In the case of our cleaning business, getting wrapped up in all the new business could easily alienate an unprepared employee in charge of the residential aspect of the business. Without guidance and support, that staff member is left in the field guessing at what decisions are best for the company. Since this employee isn’t trained for management and doesn’t have your insight into the business model, you’re probably going to be unhappy with those decisions, and your customers will be dissatisfied too.

5. Focusing on the Short Term

It’s amazing to watch a company in the middle of a growth spurt. Cash rolls in and business owners think that they’re on the way to the top. Profit and loss sheets look good, and it starts to look like worrying about bills and cutting  business operating costs and expenses will be a thing of the past.

 

But a dangerous trap lurks in these bright days. In the search for good news, you can make the easy mistake of looking only at short-term profits. Instead, consider the plans that you’ll have to implement to sustain long-term growth and success. Don’t lose control just because you see a few good weeks and months in store. Making rash decisions to boost one day’s profits can cost you something – your cash reserves. And if you’re unprepared, those good days will suddenly end.

Remember that company car with the cleaning service logo? It may have been a little premature to have taken on the expense of a brand new car and decal work. Celebrate your success, but don’t overindulge.

Final Word

For your small business to succeed, the name of the game is growth. But growth is very complex. It’s hard enough to grow in the first place, so make sure that you handle it properly when that success comes. Keep your eye on three areas of the business: your systems, your staff, and your cash reserves. Successful growth requires taking the time to plan and prepare to sustain all three as your business increases.

4 Simple Steps for Winning Customer Service

4 Simple Steps for Winning Customer Service

What is the biggest challenge facing small business owners today? “How do I compete against the big guys?”  Here’s a simple two word answer: Customer Service.

How many times have you heard it?

  • I could never talk to a real person.
  • They kept switching me from department to department
  • I was on hold for 15 minutes and then got cut off.

Do you think these folks will ever come back?  91% of them won’t (source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner)

Here is a startling statistic.  80% of companies surveyed say they deliver “superior” customer service. Only 8% of their customers say those same companies deliver “superior” customer service. (Source: “Customer Service Hell” by Brad Tuttle, Time, 2011)

This is a huge need in the marketplace just waiting to be filled.  And…guess what?  People are willing to pay for it.  According to an Experience Impact Report by Harris Interactive/Right Now in 2010, 9 out of 10 U.S. Consumers surveyed would pay more to ensure a positive customer experience.

Everyone Counts

Tapping into this unmet need does require you, as a small business owner, to adopt a certain mindset.  I’m going to quote Michael Connelly’s hero, Detective Harry Bosch here, “Either everyone counts, or nobody counts.”  This means there is no deal too small, no request too unreasonable.  Your goal is to say, “How can I help?” and then try to provide a solution.

I’ve had people ignore me because a deal was too small.  I have news for you.  You never know where a deal is going to lead.

When I was in mortgage banking, I had a nice couple come to me for a small house loan. The Realtor representing them was new in the business and didn’t understand financing very well.  This couple owned a house free and clear.  They had a contract on it and were going to put the entire proceeds from the sale into the new home they were purchasing.  As I remember, the new loan was about $40,00 and I had no trouble getting them approved.

A week before the closing, things began to go wrong.  The buyers of my clients home couldn’t get their loan approved because of poor credit and were going to back out.  Without the proceeds of that sale, my borrowers couldn’t go forward with the new purchase.  My borrowers called me and explained they wanted to help the couple buying their old house if possible. Could I figure something out?

I sat down with my borrowers and their Realtor.  I showed them how they could take a small equity line on their existing home and use it as the down payment on the new home.  Then I showed their Realtor how to write a lease-option agreement on the old home with a purchase date 3 years down the road.  This meant the purchasers of the old home had 3 years to straighten out their credit.  My borrowers would have three years of rental income. They could use this toward the payments on the new home and pay their loan down when the deal finally closed.

The result?  I turned a small loan into a bigger one.  My borrowers were happy.  They referred 4 of their friends who were buying or refinancing to me.  The Realtor starting giving me first shot at all her business.

My point? Ya just never know.

Now, I know, we can’t help everyone. But…we can try to make them happy even if we can’t help them.  If you can’t solve their problem say so. And, tell them why.  Then try to refer them to someone who might be able to help.

Basic Stuff

Vince Lombardi, the famous coach of the World Champion Green Bay Packers, would start each new season by standing in front of his players, raising a football in his hand, and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”  He would then proceed begin practicing the most basic blocking, tackling, running, and passing drills.

His message?  The basics count more than anything else.

Here are 4 basic rules of customer service.  Follow these and you will be richly rewarded.

Rule 1.  Treat everyone you meet as though they were your highest paying client or customer.  You never know.  They might turn out to be just that.

Rule 2.  Answer your phone calls.  Some years ago, I worked for a medium sized commercial bank. They had a rule called “The Sunset Rule.”  This meant if you received a phone call from a customer before 4 PM, you were to call that customer back by sunset the same day.  Even if all you did was call them back and say, “I’m working on your issue, and I don’t have an answer for you yet.  I should be able to let you know by_______.”  That customer knew they had been heard.  That bank had the highest customer service ratings of any financial institution in town.

How do you feel when your calls aren’t returned?  When companies don’t call me back, I assume they aren’t interested in my business.  That’s OK with me.  I’ll find some body else.  But guess what?  If someone asks me about XYZ company, I’ll say, “Don’t bother calling them.  They’re not interested.”

Which way do you want people to remember you?

Rule 3. When you tell someone you’ll do something by a time certain, do it.  Better yet, do it before it’s due.  Why is that so hard?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to call people and say, “Where’s the thing you promised me last week.”  When you don’t deliver on time, you’re telling your customer they aren’t important to you.

If you can’t deliver as promised, call the customer on the phone.  This is crucial.  Do not email, do not text.  Do not leave a voice mail (unless you are asking them to call you back).  Speak to them directly and say, “I’m sorry, I’ve run into an issue and have to move the delivery date to X.”  The customer may not be happy, but they’ll know where they stand and that you cared enough to let them know.

Rule 4.  When you make an appointment, show up on time.  When I was in the Navy, we used to go by Navy time.  That meant if you were due to be somewhere at 2:00 PM, you showed up at 1:45.  No excuses.  If you showed at 2:00, you were late.  If you can’t be there on time, call or text.

Whose time is more important, yours or your prospects?

Think these simple things aren’t important?  Think again.  According to the American Express Survey of 2011, 78% of consumers surveyed have bailed on a transaction, or not made an intended purchase because of a bad service experience.

An Inconvenient Truth

Today it is possible for you to reach millions of people on the internet. But, you still build solid business relationships one customer at a time.

As a small business owner, you face competition that is bigger, better funded, and offering cheaper prices. It seems as though it’s David against Goliath.  But you can beat Goliath every time with superior customer service.

Why Customer Service is Your Most Important Function

Why Customer Service is Your Most Important Function

As small business owners, we are all worried about going up against the “big guys”.  Great customer service is the best way to out perform your competition every time.  Here’s a great post telling you how.

How small businesses can deliver good customer service

Satisfied customers remain loyal to you and recommend you to others. Alastair Kight, managing director of GRITIT, offers five simple steps for delivering good customer service

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Skills can be taught, so it’s more important to employ staff with the right attitude, says Alastair Kight. Photograph: Paula Solloway/Alamy

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About this content

Alastair Kight

Monday 5 November 2012 05.46 ESTLast modified on Tuesday 6 November 201210.53 EST

Customer service is the badge that every company wants to wear because satisfied customers remain loyal to you and recommend you to others. New customers require time, effort and a significant marketing budget to acquire.

It’s not hard to keep customers happy, even though we all know from bitter experience that few companies get it right. All that’s needed is to put their needs at the heart of everything you do. Following these five simple steps will help.

Engage with your customers at every opportunity.

Communication is vital because your customers want to feel valued and respected. They’re also looking for peace of mind that they can trust you will deliver what you promise.

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Tracking the market and anticipating your customers’ changing needs will enable you to think innovatively and stay ahead of the competition. This can be done by:

• Communicating regularly with your customers to understand their changing needs.

• Conducting regular customer feedback surveys so you get an honest assessment of your business from the people that matter.

• Monitoring the wider economy and analysing how changes will impact your customers.

• Tracking your competitors so you understand where you are in the market and how you can differentiate.

Offer clients flexibility, so they get exactly what they want

There’s no point listening to customers if you don’t then give them what they want. One size does not fit all, particularly in a tough economy, and you have to be able to cater for most budgets. Put systems in place that enable your staff to work within a framework, but also give them enough flexibility to offer bespoke packages. This could be, for example, a pay monthly option, or a rebate agreement, which pays a refund to clients when the average number of service visits are not required.

Employ the right people

You are only as good as your weakest member of staff, so you need to hire carefully. It doesn’t matter what the management team promise, you will only deliver when the people at the sharp end are doing their jobs well. At GRITIT, we’re not focused on a candidate’s qualifications or skills because our comprehensive training programme will teach them. Instead we hire people for their attitude, which is far harder to teach. Those with the right attitude are also often the most willing to learn.

In our business, operations staff work under the most extreme conditions, are on call 24 hours a day and they never let our clients down. In fact, they often go beyond the call of duty: this may involve spending extra time, for example, clearing snow that is a potential hazard from areas of a site that are not part of our contract.

Develop your staff

Even if employees join with the right attitude, they may soon become disillusioned if you don’t involve them in your decisions and give them the opportunity to develop.

Making your staff feel valued will help them to give their very best every day which in turn benefits your customers. Some approaches will suit individual businesses better than others, but these programmes have helped us:

• Mentoring: encourage staff members at all levels to mentor newer team members. Not only does it give them pride and drive to unlock other people’s talents, it develops stronger teams.

• Training: put a comprehensive training programme in place so that staff can see how their development will progress step by step.

• Additional opportunities: use regular appraisals to identify other opportunities which will broaden your employees’ skills and add value for your customers.

• Internal awards: public recognition when a member of staff has gone over and above for your clients will encourage others to do the same.

Invest, invest, invest

Investment in staff is vital, but to be able to offer the best in customer service, you must also invest in the best equipment and systems. If you don’t, then you’re asking your staff to keep customers satisfied with one hand tied behind their backs.

Finding the right systems for your business is vital. If you don’t have the skills internally consider outsourcing or recruiting an expert. You’ll need to spend time working out exactly what you need technology to do to support every aspect of your business and then develop a system that’s customised to your needs.

We’ve invested in a pioneering management platform that enables us, among other things, to communicate instantly and effectively with customers and the operations teams, and track vehicles and operators in real-time. Importantly, we can utilise the most up-to-date weather forecasting services and automatically, via weather forecasts, trigger gritting and snow clearance services. These innovations undoubtedly help our staff to deliver an exceptional service.

Customer service has never been more important; in the current climate consumers are shopping around and demanding more value for money. Businesses that thrive will not pay lip service to customer service, but instead ensure that everything they do is based around doing the very best by the people who choose to buy from them.

Alastair Kight is the managing director of GRITIT, the winter risk management specialists.

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6 Simple Steps to Starting Your Own Business

6 Simple Steps to Starting Your Own Business

Ever wanted to start a small business?  It can be the most fun you’ve ever had.  Here’s a great post telling how to do it it in 6 simple steps.

 

A Simple 6-Step Process to Starting a Small Business

Image credit: Shutterstock

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A great small business always starts out as an idea, but you have to transform that idea into action. That’s where many individuals can start to feel overwhelmed. It’s understandable to freeze up at the deluge of things that are required to get a business started, but getting going is actually easier than you might think.

Like any big goal, if you start by breaking it down into smaller tasks, you’ll be able to tackle enough of the actions necessary to get started. Here are six ways to break down the process and simplify getting started with your own small business.

1. Write a one-page business plan.
The key to a successful small business, especially in the startup phase, is to keep things simple and costs low. Costs don’t just mean your monetary costs, but also your time.

Many would-be small-business owners fall into the trap of trying to create the world’s biggest and most robust business plan. You’re only going to need that if you’re seeking investment or financing, and even if you will be seeking either of those things down the road, I always recommend small-business owners start out with by testing their ideas first before investing lots of time and money.

Related: Why You Must Really Know Yourself Before Starting a Business

So to get started, create your own simple, one-page business plan that is a high-level overview of the small business you’re about to start.

Define your vision. What will be the end result of your business?
Define your mission. Different to a vision, your mission should explain the reason your company exists.
Define your objectives. What are you going to do — what are your goals — that will lead to the accomplishment of your mission and your vision?
Outline your basic strategies. How are you going to achieve the objectives you just bulleted?
Write a simple action plan. Bullet out the smaller task-oriented actions required to achieve the stated objectives.
That’s it. It might be longer than one page, but it will surely be more organized and shorter than a full business plan, which could take weeks to write. If you need more information on the one-page business plan, or want to write out a full-blown finance-centered business plan, you can check out the book I co-wrote with my brother that has a robust explanation of both, Small Business, Big Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market From Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who did it Right.

2. Decide on a budget.
While I highly recommend you keep your costs as low as possible, you’ll still need to determine a budget to get started and how much you’ll be able to spend. If you’re self funding, be realistic about numbers and whatever you anticipate your budget to be. I’ve found that an additional 20 percent tacked on for incidentals is a realistic overage amount that helps you plan your burn rate.

Your burn rate is how much cash you’re spending month over month. It’s an important number for you to figure out to determine how long you can stay in business before you need to turn a profit.

You should set up your business with profitability in mind the first 30 to 90 days. It’s possible. But have a budget reserve so you can survive if things go leaner than expected.

3. Decide on a legal entity.
Filing paperwork to start a business costs money. Often, depending on your state, it can be a lot of money. You’ll need to account for city or municipality licensing, state incorporation or business entity fees and more. Do a thorough search ahead of time to determine what the filing fees are for your city, county and state before starting any business.

Often in the initial “test” phase for your small business, it can be wise to start as a sole proprietor, as it means less paperwork and up-front expenses. That can save you some big-time cash while you determine the viability of your business. Do be aware though that acting as a sole proprietor can put you at personal risk, so you’ll want to weigh the benefits vs. risks and then speak with a local attorney or tax professional to decide which is smarter for your short-term vs. long-term goals.

You can always file for a business entity once you’ve proven in the first three to six months of business that you’ve got a viable, sustainable model.

Related: When Starting a Business, Beware All the Taxes and Regulations

4. Take care of the money.
Whatever business entity you decide on, keep the funds separate from your personal accounts. This is a big mistake that makes tax time and financials so confusing. It’s really easy to set up a free business checking account with your local credit union or bank. All you’ll need is your filing paperwork, sole proprietor licensing information and an initial deposit to get set up from most financial institutions.

Don’t pay for an account or get any kind of credit lines yet, just get a holding place you can keep your money separated from your personal accounts. This should take you no more than hour at the financial institution of your choice.

5. Get your website.
Regardless of whether your business will be brick or mortar or online, you’ll need a website and that means securing a URL. Popular domain sites such as HostGator and Go Daddy will allow you to search for the website domain address of your choice and purchase it for as little as $9.99.

If you’re starting an online business, you can tie your domain to an online shopping cart and store front such as Shopify for a low monthly fee, or you can build a basic website yourself on top of your URL with do-it-yourself drag-and-drop site builders such as Weebly for a low fee. Both are less than $100 a month.

6. Test sales.
You have enough of a foundation now that you can start testing some sales. Try to spread the word in inexpensive and creative ways.

If you have a service-based business, get involved with your local chamber of commerce or small-business chapter immediately and ask what resources are available for you to speak, present or share information about your business. If you have a product-based business, test the viability of your product at local swap meets, farmers markets or other community events to test what the public really thinks (and if they’ll purchase) from you.

Drive traffic to your website through simple Facebook Ads with capped budgets, or set up a simple Google AdWords account with a budget cap to test if traffic is going to your site.

You can follow these six steps by yourself for not a lot of money. It’s a fantastic way to test the viability of your small business before throwing all your time and money into an unproven idea.

Related: The 5 Daily Essentials for Building a Successful Online Business

 

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