Oh, The Hat’s We Wear.

As a business owner (or even a manager) we tend to wear all the hats- or at least most of them. From manager to marketer, HR to customer service. It can get overwhelming. Sometimes we need a little help.

I’m not recommending that you drop what you’re doing and post a help wanted sign or ad in the classifieds. What I am telling you is that there is way to make wearing all of the hats a little easier to manage. And someday, when you are ready to hire, you will be prepared with a job description, payroll costs v. value and an idea of the type of person you are looking for rather than general ‘help’.

Every time you start a project or task, take a quick moment and decide which ‘hat’ you are wearing. Start making a list of all the hats and which tasks you do while wearing that hat. What you are doing is defining the responsibilities of that position.

The Marketing Coordinator Hat may have a list that contains mailer for holiday sales and Facebook page updates. The Customer Service Hat would have answer phones, balance till and greet customers.

Creating these lists are going to do two things for you.
1- You are going to be able to be more productive throughout the day. Since you are doing tasks of the same nature, you won’t be spending the extra time changing hats.
2- When you are ready to hire some help, you already have clear job descriptions. If you need a part-time person but don’t have enough administrative work, look at your other hats that you wear and see if you can combine the job duties into 1 position. Maybe look for someone that can also take care of your marketing or be able to manage merchandising as well.

“Spend time working on the business, not just in the business.”

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.

Business Card Challenge

I have a quick challenge for you over the weekend.

Clear your mind, for a moment, forget who you are and take a good look at your business card.

What does it say about you and what you represent?

Does it accurately portray the image you want your clients and customers to grasp?

Food for thought.

Spend $$ to Make $$$$

We’ve heard it before. “You have to spend money to make money.”

It’s true, but that doesn’t mean you have to waste money! As you start your next quarters marketing strategy (I’m thinking Christmas?), keep a few things in mind. It will help you stay on the right track with your effort, outcomes and budget.

1. Demographics

That’s right, what’s your demographic? Who are you trying to reach? Where do they live, work and play? How old are they? Do they have kids?

You have to know your target before you can appeal to them. I’ve talked about this before. If you need a brush up, check out 50/60/70/80.

2. Product v. Value

What are you selling? This can be a product or a service. More importantly that the product, you need to be able to explain and show the value. Why does your demographic want what you are selling?

Once you have pinpointed the answer– sell the value. It’s truly the only thing that separates you from your competitor.

3. Voice

How are you going to reach your clients? Mail, email, web, TV, radio, etc.? Knowing your audience will help you make this decision. How you choose to contact your ideal customer is crucial. Spending thousands on a magazine ad is silly if your ideal customer is age 21-35, drinks coffee regularly and has a smart phone- just sayin’.

How you choose to contact them is going to reflect directly on your business and its vibe. Your advertising is essentially your voice. Yelling through a loudspeaker on a busy street might be exactly what you need. Maybe you need to sponsor a local event or school, maybe an old fashioned newspaper ad is more attune to your demographic. Do the research to find out.

4. Execute

Even the best plans are unsuccessful without execution.

Once you know what you’re going to do. Do it.

Don’t put it off- get it done, now. Set yourself a deadline. If you don’t have the time, find a company near by that does. Spending an extra couple hundred may be well worth the time you don’t have. If someone else can do it for you and do it better, than it’s usually worth the extra money.

5. Track Results

Sending a mailer to every resident within 5 miles doesn’t matter if you don’t know how many of your customers are here because of that flyer. You need to know how effective your efforts were. You need to know why they came in and keep them coming back.

So ask them. I mean right there, at the register ask “Did you get our mailer last week?” “Wonderful! If you would like to add your email to our list, we’ll send your our monthly offers.”

 

Plan well, plan effectively and execute.

Networking: The Golden Rule

After writing my last blog on networking, I decided that a follow up was in order.

Networking is not about selling your business to the first person you run into. If that’s what you do, just stop. Instead, find out about the other person. What do they do? How can you help them?

The best way to gain someone’s trust is to give away information. Maybe you don’t need the services of his printing company, but so-and-so from place is looking for new business cards. 

Set up the referral. “Hey printing dude, I have a friend that does something really cool and needs business cards. Would you mind if I send her your way?” Exchange business cards, small talk and polite goodbyes as you find someone new. 

When you have a second, note what you plan to do. Actually SEND the referral. Do them a favor. These favors come back two-fold. Some day, Printing Dude will have a client who needs a new website, or house remodel, or (insert your expertise here) and will recommend you.

Why? Because you sent business his way. And if he did it well, you’ll probably continue to do so. It’s reciprocal.

Remember, try not to sell your business at networking. Instead, pinpoint the people you can help, help them, and they’ll help you!

 

Networking?

I’ve spent the last few months going out of my way to get to local Networking Events. To be honest, I have been quite disappointed by most of them.

I’m not sure what I expected from the first one that I went to,  but I really didn’t get much out of it (in fact, even the speakers were lame). So I turned to a few books and blogs to find out what I did wrong. Apparently, I’m supposed to command a room upon my entrance. I’m sure I turn a few heads – being a female and wearing ridiculously high heels (see, I have this thing for shoes…). However, the room is usually packed with people deep in conversation.

So the next time I listened in on those conversations. Most of the groups huddled throughout the space already have an established relationship with each other – which begs the questions as to why they even attended the networking event (free breakfast?).

Then it hit me. Sure I can go to every event I can get my hands on. It’s only a few hours and I usually do meet new people (I really have to go out of my way to be VERY social), but networking isn’t about some 2 hour conference or presentation.

Networking is the relationship.

I still go to networking events. I’ve come to quite like the free breakfast (joke). But they are no longer my only chance each month for networking.

I network EVERY DAY. I meet new people every where. The grocery store, the salon, gas station – you name it. Just strike up a conversation. Make a relationship. You’re probably not going to exchange business cards with everyone. But out of the hundreds of people you talk to every week, there’s sure to be at least one or two that can do something for you (or you can do for them).  Now that’s what I call networking.

You don’t need to spend time at special events to make connections. Make connections during your normal routine. Most likely, they’re going to be more meaningful.

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.