Welcome To A New Decade

Better Than New Year’s Resolutions

Ok, it’s 2010! Shocking as that is, it’s a good time for taking stock. In some area of your life or business, there’s something you want to improve, adjust, or change.

Getting More Of What You Want In 2010

Preparation: get two pieces of paper, or index cards, or post-it notes. You’ll need to write down a few words for these techniques to work.

Technique #1 – End Some Insanity

You’ve probably heard of the definition of insanity:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

– Benjamin Franklin

You’re simply going to write down at least one thing you are going to do differently in the future. Please be specific. “I’m going to go for a walk at least three times per week, at least around the block” will be much more effective than “I’m going to get in shape”.

You don’t need to create a huge list. One item you really want to change will do – but you must write it down. Bonus points if you put the piece of paper where you can see it regularly.

Technique #2 – Create Some Lighthouses

The second technique is to choose three words that represent your direction for the new year. These are “lighthouse” words – very personal. They’re not necessarily the goals themselves… more markers for the general direction you want to travel in.

Mine are Mark, Grasp, Ferret.

For more explanation of the technique, and why I choose those words, read “Three Words For the New Year” at Bootstrap Blogger.

Make sure you write your words down.

My wish for you is that you take action towards your dreams and goals in 2010.

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The Main Thing is the Main Thing

What Do You Do?

The first thing anyone coming to your website or business wants to know is what you do. If you don’t communicate that immediately, you lose them. If you’re a complete wizard, you tell them what you do for them.

The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. – German proverb

Try this at the next tradeshow you attend, bearing in mind that everyone displaying has spent at least $5,000 in booth, printing, display and staff costs just to be there. Walk past 10 booths without stopping and count how many make it clear specifically what they do. It’s not enough that it says “staffing”, for example. Do they help recruit for companies? Do they find you a job?

If there’s any possibility you don’t understand what I’m talking about here, read Naomi’s post at Ittybiz about the business elevator speech and Vegas hookers. If you do understand, read it anyhow because it’s fun and makes the moral of the story utterly clear. While you’re at her site, notice how clearly the site communicates what her business is – in six words.

People Are More Receptive to Things They Understand

Your potential customers don’t want to chance looking stupid. They don’t want to humiliate themselves by asking a dumb question about what you do. If they aren’t clear about what you can do for them, it’s easier for them to pass on and find someone who is.

Your Business Will Fail Without Communicated Focus

The 5-second test you need to pass is simple. Anyone, including your internet-resistant great aunt and the most attention-deficient teenager you know, needs to know what you can do for them within 5 seconds of hitting your website. Seriously. FIVE seconds. This is difficult, and you may need to get help. Do it. There is no other single thing you can do with your web presence that is more important than this.

Go to Your Website Right Now

If you look through the eyes of a first time visitor, what does this company/person do? Can you tell if you, the visitor, may be in the right place for what you need, within a few seconds? If the answer is no, the 5-10 words you’ll need to write to fix it may be the most challenging phrase you’ve ever had to write. You need to distill your business down into a few words that tells, as much as possible:

  • who your customers are
  • what problems they have
  • how you fix those problems
  • what your customers gain because you fix those problems

Three Last Tips

  1. Watch for opportunities to tell a story or create a visual image in your phrase. An evocative image can be very powerful.
  2. Slip in at least one of your keywords if you can.
  3. If you can’t make it perfect, make it better.

Show Me What You’ve Got

So here’s my challenge. Show me what you’ve got. In your comment, tell me in 10 words or less what your business does. It doesn’t have to be perfect – mine isn’t. But if you don’t play, you can’t win.

Are You Meant to Be a Manager?

Jekyll AND Hyde Management

I have a good friend who started a new job less than three weeks ago, and he’s considering quitting. So are the other staff that work there. Their workload is fine, their working conditions are adequate, their boss is intelligent and creative, they’re being trained effectively by a business consultant who makes weekly visits, and their customers are no different than yours or mine. They get paid on time… so what would drive them all out?

Simply put, their boss has a mercurial personality. The same person who praised you yesterday may go for your throat first thing in the morning. His mood swings are making them all crazy. Those of you who are pet owners know that training a puppy requires consistency and patience. If you cuddle and pet the pup most of the time, but randomly assault it unexpectedly, you’ll make it nuts. And that’s what’s happening to the staff in my friend’s office.

I’m sure this manager tells himself he’s “keeping them on their toes” or “motivating them”. What he’s doing is making their work life horrible, and he’ll never retain staff for long. If he can’t retain staff, recruiting costs will be high, productivity will be low, and his customers will see the constant turnover and hesitate to do business with his company.

Not Everyone Can be a Direct Manager

A Gallup poll of more 1 million employed U.S. workers concluded that a bad boss or immediate supervisor is the Number 1 Reason people quit their jobs.

“People leave managers not companies…in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue,” Gallup wrote in its survey findings. The effect of poor management is widely felt. Gallup also determined that poorly managed work groups are on average 50 percent less productive and 44 percent less profitable than well-managed groups.

In May, Report on Business reported that a Canadian survey of more than 1,600 respondents  suggested a lack of trust in senior leaders is the main factor in people quitting their jobs.

It’s My Company And I Can Do What I Want

There’s no doubt that some people running businesses place more value on feeding their egos than making a profit, but unless you are one of them, it’s worth asking yourself a few honest questions. Your head may lie about the answers, but your heart won’t, if you really listen. Your profits will thank you.

  • Is my staff turnover higher than typical for my industry?
  • Do my staff trust me enough to criticize or disagree with me?
  • Do I treat my staff with respect, consistently?
  • If my staff could fire me and replace me, would they?

If you need improvement in this area, work on it. Read a book. Take a course. Get a coach. If direct management of staff is really not in your skill-set, have someone else manage your staff who can do it effectively. That will allow you to learn from them, if you choose, and cushion your staff from you. Go do what you do best, and let someone else do what you don’t.

See Also

The Report on Business related story

Reducing Office Politics

Office Politics Can Get Out Of Hand Fast

“I hate the office politics here”.

Whether you are in a management or staff position, the taint of office politics can sour an otherwise tolerable, or even pleasant job. Office politics breeds back-stabbing, power-brokering, brown-nosing, favoritism and information silos within an organization. Surprisingly, reducing these behaviors can be fairly simple once you understand the cause, particularly if you’re in a senior-enough decision making role in the organization.

The Cause

Widespread office politics are bred by secrecy – usually organizational and management secrecy. The behaviors are closely related to and usually accompanied by gossip. The cure for both is eliminating secrets and broadly disseminating information throughout the organization. Information on operations, profits, human resource decisions, organizational goals, bad news, anticipated new markets, marketing strategy should all be available to every employee interested. You don’t need to give out corporate secrets – the recipe for the “secret sauce” can stay inviolate, but all executive decision-making must default to sharing information. That means that unless there is a good reason not to tell, you make the information generally available throughout all levels of the organization. A culture of secrecy makes organizations sick.

And It’s Just Good Business

Particularly in times of extreme change or market pressure, excellent information flow cushions organizations and makes them more resilient. Employee understanding brings trust, and even during stressful times, employee retention rates are higher than in a “political” organization.

Employees are also better able to contribute by making innovative suggestions, when they understand the “why” of corporate decisions. A process or technique that has become outdated is much likelier to be identified and improved when information flows freely.

This Is Hard On Bad Managers

In a culture that chooses to minimize office politics, rewards are earned, not granted in return for favors. Every promotion comes as a result of performance factors that are clearly understood by the organization. Performance-based systems allow what matters to the organization, rather than to individuals trying to build a power base, to take precedence.

Managers that promote primarily based on whether they like the candidate, or feel that they will be supported by that person, are part of the problem. Demand measurable, performance-based factors in justification of promotions and pay increases. Insist on fairness in management, and remove or demote managers who refuse to play by a teamwork paradigm.

And Good For Productivity

Make sure every manager can answer the question “How do you know when one of your staff is doing a good job?” The answer needs to be based in measurable performance. Once your managers learn to identify the substance of performance rather than the appearance of it, productivity will increase and the right values will be rewarded.

Improve Your Organization’s Performance

Here’s a checklist for reducing office politics and improving teamwork in your organization:

  • Publish most corporate decisions and the reasons they were made.
  • Encourage and answer “Why” questions.
  • Invite and consider good ideas.
  • Measure performance.
  • Publish performance data.
  • Promote and reward based on performance.
  • Eliminate secret deal-making.
  • Remove or demote managers who are not team players.
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Start Big, Not Small!

Ok, sounds like contrarian advice. Lots of business books and advisers will tell you to be realistic, start small, limit risk. And that’s all very well in its place.

Dreams Are Free

However, dreams are free. When you are just beginning, when you are planting the seeds of your future enterprise, take a few moments to ask yourself what you really want. What would you ask for if you were not capable of being afraid, nor capable of failure? What business would you build? Napoleon Hill speaks of this in chapter two of Think and Grow Rich, and offers this poem by an unknown author:

I bargained with Life for a penny
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store.

For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.

I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
Than any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have willingly paid.

Taking the time to envision what you truly would build if you had no fear and no limits. Then, if you must, you can start being “realistic”.

This post is dedicated to my friend John Campen, who is dreaming big!

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Overcoming the Urge to Fail

So, here you are with this dream, or better yet, a viable business you’ve started building. In fact, maybe you’re already a success! And yet most businesses fail in their first five years, and although I’d agree with the experts that cash flow is the usual reason, that doesn’t mean that it’s the actual cause.

Many of us are programmed extremely well by our parents, teachers, cultures, religions or other influences, and many of those messages are about NOT succeeding, NOT being outstanding, NOT standing out. In many cases they mean well. They want us to have “realistic” expectations. Happy “normal” lives. They want us to be safe, and not to suffer the pain of failure. They’re not entirely wrong, either. Choosing to be a mover, an initiator, an entrepreneur has risks that their vision of a “normal” life for you wouldn’t have. So let’s concede that many of them mean well.

But here you are, reading this blog – so you’re probably an entrepreneur, a creator, or you have dreams of being one. So let’s talk briefly about some of the ways you may choose to trip yourself up. A little checkup now and then to make sure you’re playing on your own side can’t hurt.

Self-Doubt

This one’s common enough, and I’m sure feeling some self-doubt is normal for most of us. Where it becomes a problem is where it’s expressed frequently. You see, even if it feels at times like nobody listens to you, you always have an audience of at least one. You are listening, and a frequent, repeated refrain of failure messages… will eventually work. So you need to become adept at hearing your inner voice, acknowledging it with a pat on the shoulder, and then reframing the message a little. Changing “I can’t” to “This is challenging!”. Switching from “I’ll never…” to “I’ve gotten the first steps done!”.

Procrastination

Volumes have been written on this topic, so let’s cut to the chase. You know when you’re procrastinating. You know when you need to get things done. There are two ways to deal with this.

  1. Break the task into smaller parts. Start with one piece and tell yourself you will work on it for a minimum of seven minutes a day. If you get stuck on that piece, pick a different piece, but always commit to a minimum of seven minutes per day. Get a calendar and put it up somewhere prominent and put a big red check on each day when you’ve achieved that goal.
  2. If you can’t get past it that way, you need some help. Get someone else to help you who can understand what you’re dealing with and who will help you move through it. Folks that are getting into (or getting serious about) personal fitness often hire a Personal Fitness Trainer. At Corestone, we can be your Personal Business Trainer. Once you develop the habit of taking successful action, it’s much easier to keep momentum on future projects.

Bad Planning

I’d like to comfort you with “everyone makes mistakes”, and it’s true, but a failure to plan isn’t a mistake. It’s a choice to fail. Since winning and success and financial freedom are far more attractive, I’d suggest switching your choice to that side of the spectrum. If your favored method of choosing failure falls in this area, get some help. Again, two choices. Either take a course on Strategic Planning or Project Management, and learn some skills to help you, or work with someone who has those skills.

We’re not talking a lot of time or expense here. If you don’t have the knowledge to do a cash flow analysis or don’t know how to calculate how much you need to charge per hour to break even, speak to us here at Corestone. You’re talking about less than an hour’s time for a completed spreadsheet analysis, in those particular cases, that is critical to the success of your business. You don’t need to know how to do everything yourself, but you do need to have good judgment about when to get help.

Self-Sabotage Has a Thousand Faces

Well, ok, I hope I’m exaggerating. But it has a lot.

  • Perfectionism
  • Greed
  • Passive Agression
  • Failure to Follow Through
  • Tardiness
  • Egotism
  • Altruism
  • Humility
  • Moodiness
  • Temper
  • Immaturity

Warning: I’m about to generalize horribly. In the context of our businesses, these are usually games we play with ourselves, because we’re not yet ready to succeed, or change. We’re still too caught in fear, and usually enmeshed in the past or the future rather than the now.

If you tell yourself that one of your prime goals in life is the success of your business venture, you only have three choices.

  1. Quit
  2. Keep it like it is now
  3. Change it

Change can be done alone, or with help. You have to be ready, and only you can choose.

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Building Your Team Without Employees

I have to shake my head a bit at entrepreneurs who believe they are serious about building their businesses, and yet think they can go it alone. If pinned down, they respond with “of course I need staff, I just can’t afford them yet”.

That mindset is self-sabotage. I’m not telling you to run out and hire people you can’t afford. I’m suggesting you look for other alternatives. This isn’t the business world it was in your father’s day (I’ll be gender-specific there, since your mother was probably frowned upon if she aspired to a job, let alone to being an entrepreneur). There are other ways to get help besides hiring full-time staff, and some of them are so new you may not have even heard of them.

First, Let’s Get Clear on Why You Need to Hire Help

You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s applied in many ways, but in this case what we’re after is that 80% of the work you’re doing in your new business should be being done by someone else, as soon as possible, so that you can focus on the 20% that is your unique gift. If you’re a service professional, you need to be doing what you do best (which is usually where your core revenues lie), while others handle the rest.

My brother-in-law is an amazing dentist. He has at least seven full-time staff (and a few part-time) that manage his clients, his bookkeeping, his office. Some assist him, or handle basic client needs such as cleaning teeth, taking x-rays, or explaining dental hygiene. In short, you never see him unless you need the skills he alone can bring to you, but when you do see him he gives you his full attention, confident that every other part of his operation is running smoothly.

Whatever your gift is, whether it’s marketing, program creation, sales, networking, writing, you need to be doing more of that, and getting creative about doing less of what you don’t do well. Do what you’re good at, turn that into money, and hire out the rest to whatever extent you can. Perhaps that just means paying less than $100 a month for someone to do your bookkeeping. It’s a start. Don’t know how to hire a bookkeeper? Ask around as you network. If that fails, Craigslist will take care of you.

You Can Get Help

Full-time, employer/employee relationships aren’t your only option. You can hire a reliable online Virtual Assistant from anywhere from $30-$90 per hour, depending on what you need done. This could be one PowerPoint presentation, or having your email filtered for you every day so that you only see a few messages that matter. You can hire a VA that will Twitter for you, or research, or write Blog posts, or answer your voice mail. Ask yourself what administrative activity you spend the most time on for the least return, and then hire a VA for a few hours and try them on that. If you don’t know how to find a VA, email us, and we’ll send you information.

If you don’t have time to manage/supervise your VA, you can hire an Online Business Manager to do that for you, as well as many other management tasks. I spoke to a busy entrepreneur who can’t find the hours he needs to grow his business, yet he told me he’d put 60 hours in the last two months into having his website redesigned. He’s not great at that work, and he doesn’t enjoy it much. He told me himself that it would have been trivial for him to make far more in those 60 hours than it would have cost him to pay us to do the work for him. You don’t need to commit for life – many OBMs will work by the project with you. Try a reliable OBM for one project, see how that goes, and take it from there. You’ll be thrilled. You might start with hiring an OBM for 10 hours a month and find that you are eager to increase that, when you see the impact it has on getting things done to move your business forward!

Non-Employee Sources of Help

So, to recap, there are lots of ways to get some help with your business before it reaches the full-time employee stage.

  • Independent professional specialists such as Bookkeepers, Web Designers, IT Consultants
  • Virtual Assistants who work for you online, for just the hours you need
  • Online Business Managers who take a single project, or a larger amount of running your business off your shoulders
  • Temp or contract staff that work for you at your place of business

Start today to build your Virtual Team. Find one small thing that eats your time that you can let go of. Do it. If you continue to do it all yourself, you’ve created a job, not a business which can grow and thrive.

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