Retro Business Fashions are IN!

I first want to clarify that I’m not talking about parachute pants, body suits or shoulder pads (though I’ve heard that all of these things are making a come back). I’m talking about shaking hands, eye contact and listening.

As we become more and more submersed into the digital age, (like many) I personally find myself consumed with keeping with Facebook, Twitter, SEO and the like. However, there’s nothing quite like a good ‘ole personal interaction.

I know it my sound ‘retro’ or ‘old fashioned’, but truth be told, making the connection is what counts, no matter what the medium. And there’s no better way to make a connection than to have a verbal conversation. Whether it’s over the phone of in person. The nuances of speech and the body language portrayed during personal interactions are priceless. Knowing whether or not your customers is smiling, nodding, or even looking at you, allows you to reach them in ways that Facebook and Twitter just can’t do.

I’m not saying that you should forget this limitless technology, I’m telling you to pick up the phone, go introduce yourself to the office next door, take a client to lunch, hand out your business card after you’ve chatted a stranger up at the deli (you know, those 2×3.5″ pieces of paper with your name and logo on them). Make a connection- in person, follow up with a phone call, you’ll be amazed at the results.

Insanity.

I believe the term is Insanity – to do the same thing and expect different results.

There are two scenarios- when a business is losing money or has hit a plateau.

When this happens, you can’t do the same thing you’ve always done (waiting for the economy to recover is not in your budget, trust me). You’re going to have to change something. Do something different.

Maybe you need to spend less time in the office and more time on the sales floor. Maybe you need to get a new sign and clean up the front door, maybe you need a new marketing campaign.

The moral of the story is that you have to do something new to get a new result.

Here are 3 things you can do to get started.

Look at your front door. Is it inviting? Do your customers know who you are? Go stand out front with an objective lens and decide whether or not you would shop there. Is it too cluttered? Don’t litter your entrance with signs. Keep it simple: business hours and possibly one other promotional sign (NOT handwritten). I also allow “Local First” stickers if they are off to the side and in good condition. But that’s it, nothing else!

Network. Go talk to the other businesses in your area (within walking distance), start a relationship with them. Don’t sell them anything, just go be a good neighbor, learn about what they do and refer some business their way. You’ll be amazed at the effect it has on your business. Givers gain!

Self Promotion. For some reason that’s foreign to me, I find that business owners do not self promote their status as a business owner. I mean, COME ON! Your own a business! When people ask what you do, tell them. Be honest and proud, I assure you it’s not boasting, it’s factual information.

Just try it. See where these thing lead you. They may not all work, but it’s something different than what you normally do. Chances are, you’re going to get a different result.

4 Employee Essentials

So you run a business. In fact, you’ve grown so much that you’ve hired a few employees. Maybe just one, maybe 20. Beyond the complications of just hiring an employee, there’s managing one. Which in the long term, will be much more work than getting them on board.

Interactions with your employees will be complex, however, I have found that breaking it down into 4 categories will make your job much easier.

1. Guidelines

Set the minimum expectations immediately. If there is a dress code, be specific. Using the term ‘business casual’ might be sufficient in your mind, but many teenagers (or even college students) don’t have any clue what you mean. Lay it out in detail – make sure they understand and agree before you assume anything.

Remember to talk about attendance, tardiness and code of conduct. If your employees are customer-facing, it may behoove you to have some type of contract. Let them know upfront what the consequences for failing to meet your expectations will be.

Sit down and make a list of your guidelines. Know them before your preach them. Conversations can get awkward if you’re making up the rules as you go.

2. Goals

It seems so simple. As business owners, we have already set more goals than we can count. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now. Think about how focused and driven you were when you had a goal to achieve. Your employees are going to be the same.

Make it tangible. Don’t ask them to work hard or be nice to everyone. Ask them to get 3 surveys per week or 5 business cards from potential clients. Maybe you’re building your email lists- ask your employee to record 10 per shift. Something worthwhile, tangible and measurable.

3. Critical Conversations

While I will go into this in detail later on, the one thing to remember is that a behavior ignored is a behavior leveraged. Critical conversations have a time deadline – immediate.

If your employee shows up to work late, have the conversation around the expectation they agreed to immediately. If your employee did not greet a customer as they walked through the door, address it immediately.

It sounds like a hassle, but if you don’t address the mistakes, they will become habits.

However, I urge you to give your employee the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they had their back to the customer and was engaged in restocking the shelves. Explain what you witnessed, ask for their point of view and ask them to keep a better eye on the door. Usually, this is all it takes to create a good behavior.

4. Recognition

I love to be praised, it’s in my personality. In fact, I would bet that most people love to get praised. This is the most important part of interacting with an employee. Find something they did right every time you see them. You may have to look for it, but it’s there, and they will appreciate the recognition. Frankly, they will work harder to receive your recognition than your critique!

Doing these things are a minimum requirement for having employees and keeping them around. Don’t be afraid of any of these steps. You are the boss- as long as you approach your employee with respect, they will respect you in return.

Time Management 101

Question: How often are you too busy to finish your To-Do List?

The better question: Is your To-Do List worth doing? And when are you supposed to get it done?

Answer: Probably not today… But I can give you a few tools to start hacking away at that list.

Step 1: Make a List
Just sit down and list everything you do for your business. I mean EVERYTHING. From checking your email to entering expenses to taking out the trash. Give yourself a working list of how you should spend your day. Don’t be overwhelmed when your list starts moving into the margins of the page. This is good stuff.

Step 2: Break it Down
Separate your list into 3 categories- daily, weekly and monthly (you could add yearly, but I find it to be daunting).  Your lists are probably long and that’s OK. You have a lot to do. Figuring out what you do and how often you need to do it are the first steps to tackling it.

This is how mine started out looking…

Step 3: Where do you Start? 
Now it’s time to figure out what needs to be done first. This is usually the hardest part, but I have a solution. It’s called urgent v. important. They are two very different things. Important are the things that just have to get done. I would say that checking my email is important, taking out the trash probably isn’t. Urgent are things with a deadline. My blog posts have a deadline, backing up my computer does not (even though it’s my most important thing).

You can do this 2 ways. The first is to make another set of lists like this:

Everything on my list gets re-listed twice. Once in the Important/Not Important and again in the Urgent/Not Urgent.

Then take this list and match it up into these boxes:

Notice that I ended up without anything in the “Urgent, Not Important Box.” It happens. Yours will look different. You can skip the first step if you really really really want to. However, it makes your decision less arbitrary.

Step 4: Make Your List
Make your list in this order: Urgent/Important > Urgent/Not Important > Not Urgent/Important > Not Urgent/Not Important.

My final daily list:
Call Client “A”
Listen to messages
Update event page
Check email
Back up PC
Take out trash
Clean up desk

This would be my working list everyday. Repeat the steps for weekly and monthly tasks. In the weekly list, pick a specific day to get it done. For example, there is no way I could finish and post my blog on and complete my expense tracker. Choose a specific day to get that specific task done and hold yourself accountable to it.

Step 5: Be Flexible
Your lists are going to change.  In fact, I would go back and change ‘take out the garbage’ to a weekly task.  I don’t have clients coming to my office (I go to them), and let’s be honest, we both know I won’t do it everyday, so rather than have to look at it everyday, I would prefer to think about it only on Fridays.

Projects happen. Hey, that’s what most of my weeks are. Follow the same steps. Know what you need to do first and get it done. Set deadlines, reminders and try to gauge how much time it will take you- but don’t stop doing your initial list. The first time you ignore your messages or don’t check your email, something important and urgent will be there.

After a while, you won’t have to look at your home-base list – it will be automatic, it will be a habit, your time will free up and your productivity will skyrocket!

Happy Listing!

5 DON’T’S of Doing Business

There are a lot of things that a business owner can do right everyday, yet they will go unnoticed. While we want to be commended for making good choices, we have to live with the fact that when things are going well, there won’t be much feedback (unless you solicit it, but that’s another post). On the flip side, something that goes wrong will not only be noticed, it will be talked about, shared, and could be detrimental to you and/or your businesses reputation.

This is a list of Don’t’s.  There is no way I could list all of the Do’s,  I’m not writing a novel here. Keep in mind that this isn’t an entire list. I’m going to hit the big one’s, the deal-breakers, the one’s that if you can’t get right, you won’t be around much longer.

1. Don’t forget to Communicate.

If you’ve done the marketing and the advertising and the word-of-mouth thing right, you’re going to have potential clients trying to get in contact with you. My biggest irk is when a business does not answer my phone call or doesn’t respond to my email.

I’m a pretty fair person. I realize that others are busy. I understand that sometimes I’m going to have to leave a message- that’s OK. But you MUST call me back. I, like most people, have the patience to give you 24 hours. However, you would be better served to call me back the same day! To even get to this step, you must have a voice mail (or more archaic- an answering machine). Please don’t make me go there.

If you insist that your clients contact you via email, fine. But your response is still necessary and your time-frame for response shrinks dramatically. If I send an email, I expect an answer within about 3 or 4 hours during the business day. If it’s later, I expect it first thing the next morning.

I personally prefer to do my communications with my clients via phone or face-to-face. Afterward, I will send them an email recapping the conversation to verify that we are both on the same page. It works wonders!

2. Don’t have flexible business hours.

Give your clients something reliable. Plan on being available for your business between 9 and 5 on weekdays. If you run a bakery, maybe 7-2. It’s up to you, but it must be consistent and make sense. Even if you aren’t in the office all day, answer/return phone calls and generally be available to your current and potential clients.

I spend my day all over the city. I am rarely in my office at home before 4 pm. However, I have my phone with me and I make it a priority (unless I’m with a client- or in the bathroom) to answer those calls. I’ve also gotten to know my clients. Most of them have daytime hours, some of them don’t. I know that the Personal Trainers I work with are busy till 6 or 7, sometimes later. Sure, I’ll call and leave a message during the day if I need to, but I know that I won’t receive a call back until late evening. Most of the time I will wait to even make the call.

I am definitely not saying that you should answer your phone all hours of the day and night. There are limits you should set based on your work-life balance. But it needs to be just that, a balance. When can your clients expect to get a hold of you?

3. Don’t get political – or religious.

It is definitely OK to have both political and religious views, but don’t share them. Keep those conversations at home with your close friends and family. Potential and current clients don’t care about your views. And if your views differ, most likely you will lose them or lose their trust (which is just as bad). If a client wants to know your opinion, they will ask for it.

4. Don’t forget about the people who have helped you.

Your best marketing tool, no matter who you are or what you do, is word-of-mouth. People that have worked with you and your business and have liked what you did for them will tell other people. Thank them for their referrals. Thank them for the awesome comment they left on your facebook page. Don’t forget that they are the one’s keeping you in business.

Don’t forget about your family and friends. Most likely, they are sacrificing something for you to be successful. My family has been absolutely priceless in my business endeavors. I have their full support, and there is nothing more important. As for my friends, I am constantly digging through their brains with ridiculous questions and ideas to help make my business better. These are the same friends that are telling others about me. I know there are people out there doing the same for you.

5. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

This is just a reminder to move at a pace that you can afford both physically and financially. There’s no sense putting up a billboard if your store front is still under construction.

Don’t go spending a few thousand on hardware upgrades until you actually have enough clients to support that cost and necessity.

Be thoughtful about the next step before you jump.

50/60/70/80

The buzz on Twitter right now is all about finding your customers and actually listening to what they have to say. I’ve been thinking long and hard about this concept. As a business owner, I tend to find myself assuming I know what my current and potential clients want. My dad clearly repeated to me throughout my childhood and beyond what exactly “assuming” does. In case you haven’t heard, I quote, “It makes an ass out of u and me.” So I came up with the 50-60-70-80 rule. And it works.

50
This one is straight forward. Go find your customers. Spend (at least) 50% of your time finding your customers. You will never know what your customers want, or even who they are from inside your store-front or office.

Truth: Your customers don’t care about you. Heck, they don’t even know you exist.

Solution: Go find them. Figure out who they are, what they do, where they live – narrow it down.

It’s much easier (and more cost-effective) to market to a smaller audience, but you can’t do that until you know who they are. I understand your challenges. You are busy, you don’t have any other employees, etc., but you will not- and cannot grow unless you roll up your sleeves and get out there. You want to hire someone to answer phones? Then you’d better have customers calling. Check out the Customer Manifesto from Steve Blank. He sure knows how to hit that nail on the head.

60
While you’re out there finding your niche, you need to listen. This is not the time to market yourself. Your mission is information. Not marketing. We just established that you need to find out who your customers are and what they want before you market to them.

Fact: Marketing can get expensive.Why waste valuable resources on groups of people that will never be your customer.

Listen to what your customers are saying- minimum 60% of you time while your out should be listening. What do they like, where do they shop, who are they, what social media do they use, where do they get their news, what activities do they like? You have to find the answers to these questions before you start anything else. You need to know what type of media they like. There is no sense on putting your efforts into a daily blog if your customers are on twitter – but we’ll talk about this in the “80.”

Spend your time listening while you’re out there. Image

70
Once you’ve listened, or I should say are listening (because this is ongoing, people change), you can start narrowing your focus. Spend 70% of your time in the office on efforts towards attracting and appealing to your target group. You don’t have a business without customers. Yes, you have expenses to manage and sales to achieve and possibly employees (which are also very important, but that’s a whole other blog), but you won’t have those things if you don’t have someone buying your product.

Make these soon-to-be customers your priority. They are your present and your future.

80
Don’t spread yourself thin. Now that you know who your audience is and what they like and want, you can make that your priority. Like I said earlier, don’t spend all your time on a blog if your audience is on Twitter. Don’t ignore your blog, maybe cut it down to once/week or twice/month, you still need to stand out as an expert, but spend 80% of your marketing efforts on things that you know your new found niche will like and respond to.

Check out what Gini Dietrich has to say on this matter, specifically on the social aspect. It follows the same idea for both social media marketing and more traditional approaches.

Not to sound too mushy, but I have complete faith in you and your ability to be successful. I’m sure you do too. Just take a deep breath and don’t assume anything.

3 Steps to Charisma

Charisma truly is a learned art. Some people are gifted with the ability to command attention as soon as they walk into a room.  The stage is set, the question is whether they can keep their audience engaged. Sure we want to hear about your latest product line, and of course we are interested when you tell us a marketing disaster story, but if you fail to connect with us – we’re going to stop listening, and likely stop caring. You’ve missed one of the pieces of the pie and potentially lost a sale.

There are 3 distinct features of charisma. With practice and self-awareness, there is no doubt you too can be a least little more charismatic.

  1. 1.       Confidence

Before you can begin any conversation, or presentation or sales pitch, you must be confident. Essentially, you must already know you are a success before presenting yourself (and your product) to your audience. More and more we are told through this social media age that we don’t sell a product or service, we sell its value. To do that, we sell a connection with our audience. To even begin the connection, you must exude a confidence that makes people want to hear what you have to say.

Confidence cannot be taught. The best advice I can give you is to remember that you are an expert in your field. You must know more about what you do than the average person, use that as leverage next time you walk into a crowded room.

However, if that’s just not enough, and you need a little more than a lifetime experiences check out “10 Ways to Instantly Build Self Confidence” be Editor in Chief, Pick the Brain.

  1. 2.       Assertiveness

The dictionary defines assertiveness as confidently aggressive or self-assured; positive. Notice that you cannot be satisfactorily assertive until you’ve mastered the confidence. This feature of charisma is by the far the most difficult to balance. While you want to put your ideas into the hands of your audience, there is only a thin line between confidently aggressive and overly dominant and bombarding.

Don’t be afraid to let people know that you are the owner of your company, or the head of marketing, or whatever fancy title you prefer. Not only do these titles give you a more memorable appearance (you’re not just Joe Schmoe, you’re Joe Schmoe the Owner of “insert your business here”), you also open the door to assert yourself into conversations where you can be the expert on the subject.

Being assertive is the trickiest part of being charismatic. It’s a demonstration of self-control.

  1. 3.       Genuine Interest

I personally find this to be the most difficult part to master. Of course we have a genuine interest in our own careers or family, but that’s not what I mean here. To truly be charismatic, you must show a genuine interest in what other people have to say. Ask a question then listen to the answer and respond accordingly.

Not everyone is going to enjoy talking about that same things all the time, but you will never know unless you ask. Likewise, they may have valuable information to share, or a product that you personally wouldn’t use, but you know someone who would.

Showing a genuine interest in the people you strike up a conversation with is priceless when networking and building clients.

I cannot claim to be an expert at achieving a perfect charismatic balance. However, I do my best to remember all three pieces of the pie. As long as I am keeping a decent balance, my interactions with others usually go very well.

Quick Fix – it IS the Small Stuff

I tried to come up with a catchy introduction to this week’s blog, but there is nothing ‘catchy’ about it. In fact, I would like to propose a new word, ignoritis. Let me explain.

People are creatures of habit. We do and see what we want to do and see- a vicious little cycle. When I make the trek from my car through the house, I notice the clutter on the garage steps and the pile of mail making a home on the kitchen table. When my husband follows that same path, he sees my pile of shoes. However, I still don’t understand why the convenient selection of heels and flats are a problem.

The same selectiveness applies to just about everyone. It’s especially important when you bring clients, customers and guests into your place of business.

Let me give you an example. I frequent my bank (the silly think about checks is that they have to be cashed) for both personal and business needs. Most banks are bare and pristine. Oh, there may be a hint of color on the advertisement for an incredibly low auto loan, or strategically placed house plants to make you feel at home, but for the most part, I expect my bank to be pristinely clean. We’re talking feather-duster-daily clean. Until my most recent trip, I would say that my local branch exceeds my ‘bank criteria.’

Last weekend, I stepped into a branch of my normal bank located several hundred miles away from home.  The glass door and the tile leading into the bank were filthy. I live in Utah, and I completely understand the dirty tile floors when it’s raining and snowing. However, this specific day was a beautiful spring day in the southern end of the state. No excuse for a dirty glass pane. I don’t know how to express the amount of dirt that had accumulated onto a single glass door, and the grime layering the grout and tile. It had obviously been ignored longer than several days (I would venture to say that it had never been thoroughly cleaned).

The good news is that the interior of the bank was beautiful and clean. The bad news is that the first impression that the branch was giving was pretty dirty- and it left a lasting impression on me.

The lesson? We have already established that we are likely to pass by the things we see everyday. We contract a severe case of ignoritis and stop noticing the little stuff.

I challenge you to walk into your space with open eyes and a clean slate. Is the front desk cluttered? Is the lighting to dim? Are the window seals or fixtures dusty? Take ten minutes to fix the problem (quick, huh?), and repeat next week. You’ll be amazed at the results.