Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Goal setting tips for your small business

With a new year now on the horizon, it's timely to reflect on some tips to help your goal setting for 2012 be as effective as possible.

You know that setting goals provides you with a reassuring sense of direction - which is essential during times of uncertainty. With clear goals and priorities you become less vulnerable to impulsive decisions or changing winds. You steer your course through stormy weather with much greater composure and purpose.
  1. Review the major achievements, disappointments and lessons for your small business in 2011 - this may influence how you approach 2012. As Churchill said "Those who fail to learn from history are forever doomed to repeat it's failures"
  2. Ensure you have established your long term goals and your broader business strategy before defining your 2012 goals
  3. Write down and record your goals - this is a display of more commitment
  4. Be mindful of the so-called SMART goal setting principles. S for setting some Stretch goals for the business (ie. they pose some challenge for you); M for Measurable, in other words they will have some mile-stomes attached to them which allow you to track your on-going progress; A for Achievable - you see them as within reach and "do-able"; R for Resources - you either currently possess or can obtain the resources necessary to achieve the goal; T for time-frame - you set a deadline to have competed the goal by (so that it's less likely to drag on ...... a deadline helps create a sense of some urgency for goal completion)
  5.  Ensure a sense of balance and set goals right across your business - not just focused purely on sales and revenue targets. For example, think about whether you might set goals in areas such as ... Upgrading technology or business systems . Staff training to improve skills in the team, Broadening your mix of customers (if you have too many eggs in one basket), Improving your network of contacts, Considering sponsorships to lift your business profile in your local community, Enrolling in a business management course to polish your own skills, Reductions in staff sick leave or absenteeism, Improve relationships with existing suppliers - or source new ones .......
  6. Be willing to re-assess your goals if circumstances change too drastically from when they were first set. Flexibility is just as important a business quality as determination. If your store were the victim of floods for example, then your goal of enrolling in that business course may have to be delayed in the light of the more pressing priority of focusing upon store refurbishment and recovery.
But when all is said and done with goal setting, what will ultimately count is the discipline you have with your follow-through.  Perhaps you can recall times in the past when you've been full of enthusiasm and energy, establishing New Year Resolutions for yourself, vowing to change bad habits or to commence a new diet, or to start jogging in the mornings....... And yet within the space of a few weeks you find yourself back to "same old, same old" and those resolutions are a distant memory.

A great article with some good advice on following-through with goals can be found at Performance Development Australia And if you are considering any type of self-improvement goal for yourself, have a look at Personal Development for more resources and ideas

Friday, December 23, 2011

Recruitment Tips for Small Business

When you run a small business, recruiting new staff can be a real hassle.

Whether you're recruiting because someone has resigned, or because the business is expanding, you know it's going to take precious time. And therefore, all the more reason to make sure you get it right. Here's seven recruitment tips that might take some of the pain from the process ......
  1. Recruitment agency. It's tempting to go through a recruitment agency, particularly if there is a local one and you've worked with them before. The advantage is they can save you a lot of time in advertising, going through heaps of applications, and of course in interviewing. They will send you perhaps three different people who you can select from. The disadvantage can be the cost - generally it is negotiable, and between ten and twenty percent of the annual salary of the position. Often, there can be a way of structuring the payment to give you some protection that the person will work out. For example, you might pay the agency half of the fee on appointment of the person to the position, and the remaining half of the payment might be due on successful completion by the employee of the probationary period (ie. after three months)
  2. Tap the networks of existing staff. Sometimes, you may find that your current employees may know of friends or family (?) who have the right experience and are looking for a job. People with a good work ethic will often associate with others who share the same values
  3. Let your customers and suppliers know you have a vacancy. You obviously can save on advertising if you're able to  source applicants yourself
  4. Involve your other staff in the hiring  process. As already mentioned, they may know someone who might be appropriate, but also involve them in the actual interviews. After all, the new employee needs to fit in well with your existing team. There's not a lot of places to hide in a small business, if people don't get along. And if your current staff participate in the selection decision, they'll have more ownership in ensuring the appointment of the new employee works out.
  5. Don't hire someone because you like them. Yes, this is important of course - but also ensure they have the right skills, attitude and experience that is needed for the job. Avoid any impulsive decisions - make sure you do thorough background and referee checks. You might want to do a credit check - and also see if they have a Facebook page, and what that might reveal about them
  6. Telephone screening interview. Sometimes, there will be applications that you read and it's quite easy to decide that the person is worth interviewing, and other times there are applications you read where it's evident the person does not meet your requirements. However, there will be occasions when reading the application leaves you uncertain, and so you should consider conducting a short phone screening interview. This can help save both you and the applicant time, by clearing up some grey areas on their application - and help you make a more confident decision about whether the applicant should be invited to an in-person interview
  7. If in doubt, it's safer not to hire. Keep looking ..... If the problem is that you aren't getting enough applicants to choose from, well either change where you are fishing, or change the bait. In other words, you should perhaps consider whether you need to change the ad you're using so as to better promote the position or your business profile. Or change where you are advertising the vacancy
I hope these recruitment tips help. You will also find some great recruitment and interviewing tips at How To Conduct The Job Interview - in particular good advice on how to prepare . Also, Interview Questions To Ask gives great examples of questions to assess an applicants customer service and organisational skills

Here's a short video clip that explains the potential use of telephone screening to help with recruitment

Friday, December 16, 2011

Problem Solving Tips for Small Business

Things don't always go smoothly in small business, do they?  

For example, perhaps there‘s been an unexpected drop in weekly sales, or over-spending on the monthly budgeted expenses, or you're running late in completing an important job for a customer . Or maybe you/ve heard one of your major accounts is talking with a competitor

Problem solving skills are a crucial capability for the small business owner - and yet problem solving is something that you may do instinctively, rather than using any particular method or structured approach. If you think there are times when you could do this better, then here are some problem solving tips to consider ....
  1. Step back and carefully assess the situation. How big a problem is it really? What priority is it, given other issues you might be facing - do you need to address it now?
  2. Before acting, investigate the situation. Make sure you have all the facts and information about the issue, so that you have a complete picture, rather than just a few pieces of the jigsaw. This way, you're much less likely to jump to the wrong conclusion - and you're more likely to have identified the caise of the problem.
  3. Take time to consider all of your options. The first solution that comes to mind is not necessarily the best one. Be willing to seek advice or counsel from others whom you respect, they may have faced similar problems
  4. If you've thought everything through, gathered all the information, weighed up all your options - when you do eventually decide what to do, act with confidence. This is not the time to second-guess or doubt yourself. Sometimes, the solution might not have been perfect - but as long as it moves things forward, then that's an improvement.You can always make some adjustments to your actions along the way.
    For more useful advice, visit  Problem Solving Tips

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Small Business Trap

Are you working on your business, or in your business? This was the provocative question that Michael Gerber posed in his classic best-selling book, The E-Myth.

He explained that many people were motivated to start up a small business because they were fed up working for someone else and believed that being good at their craft, they would make more money and have more independence working for themselves.

This is what Gerber termed the Myth of the Entrepreneur ....... because the reality was often very different. Many small business owners would find themselves working long hours - in the pursuit of profits that too often proved elusive.

In the more recent edition of the book, The E-Myth Revisited, Gerber explains that the small business owner must be capable of performing three different roles - the Technician, the Entrepreneur and the Manager.

Usually the owner is naturally a technician, but if he or she is going to grow the business, they need to become an entrepreneur and listen to their customers, assess their competition and recognise where the opportunity gaps in the market may be. In the role of manager, they need to establish efficient systems, procedures and processes that will enable the business to become less reliant upon the owner. This is what working on the business means, but to do so requires working less in the business.

Learning to let go of the technical work, gradually training others to be able to do this work and supporting them with adequate documented procedures - this is one of the keys to growing your business successfully. By systemising your business with documented procedures, Gerber says you help to ensure consistency in the delivery of your service or product. You also establish a framework that potentially lends your small business to a franchising structure - and an expansion of your revenue stream

You might also like to have a look at Common Small Business Pitfalls

Small Business Tips - Managing your cash flow

Managing your cash flow

How to get control of your cash flow

If you're running a small business, then you know how imperative it is to effectively manage cash-flow,, the lifeblood of any healthy enterprise. Cash flow difficulties are identified as one of the most common sources of stress and anxiety among small business owners.

It may be timely to review nine essential disciplines around good cash-flow management ....
  1. Understand and plan for your natural business cycles, where there are predictable seasonal ebbs and flows to your business finances. Like a squirrel, have the discipline to store away some of that cash-flow to draw upon during quieter times.
  2. Offer as many ways as possible for your customer to pay, making it easy for them to do so quickly (cash on delivery, EFT, various credit cards accepted, cheque with ID)
  3. Late payments from your customers have a flow-on effect to your ability to pay your bills. So, either offer an incentive to your customers to pay before the due time (eg 5% discount), or ensure that you politely follow-up at the first instance of an overdue payment (be careful to avoid any heavy-handed approach with this - although with regular late payers you might need to consider charging late payment penalty fees being charged)
  4. Offer a discount for cash up-front payment, or at least request a significant deposit when you are receiving payment on a later delivery
  5. Try and build a relationship with your bank. Explain your business cycles and talk about setting up a special overdraft facility that can ease your cash flow stresses and carry you through the tough times
  6. If your customers do not pay at point of sale, ensure that you send your invoice out on the day of purchase, rather than at the end of the month for example. Also ensure you do a credit check before taking on a new customer making a substantial purchase
  7. Seek to take advantage of economies of scale when you purchase. There may be opportunities to purchase some goods in greater volume by forming a purchasing alliance with a business association, or with similar although not competing businesses in your local area. For example, if you needed to purchase new office furniture, .maybe there are some small businesses around you who can join with you to benefit from discounts through greater buying power.
  8. And let's not forget the simple and essential rule for small business, avoid spending more than you earn. Yes, there will be times you need to invest in significant equipment or technology upgrades, but make sure such an outlay is carefully evaluated against the cost-saving efficiencies that it will produce, or weighed up against a realistic financial assessment of new revenue streams that the purchase will generate for your business. In the latter case, although you need to generally have an optimistic outlook as an entrepreneur, you are usually better served by adopting a conservative approach with your revenue forward projections. If need be, ask your accountant
  9. The only way you increase your profit margin us to increase the volume of your sales, reduce the cost of your sales or increase your prices - whilst obviously keeping a close eye on your competition.
And a fantastic article titled the E-Myth - Why Businesses Fail is fascinating reading to help understand the complete skill set needed by anyone starting up in business. Research into the reasons for small business failure have revealed that quite often the business is initially founded by a person with strong technical skills (a printer, a builder, a mechanic, a baker, a lawyer..) who is highly skilled in their craft, but often do not possess or do not develop the additional skills required to run a business.

The technician must learn to become an entrepreneur (customer and market focused) as well as a manager (process and procedure focused) if they are going to succeed in building a business that can run independently of them.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Small Business - The Chistmas break-up party

There was an interesting article recently in a Small Business blog that offered some useful reminders on holding the annual Christmas Party. The article noted that the Christmas function is a perfect way to show your staff how much you have appreciated their efforts throughout the year.

Thinking about what your staff might actually appreciate in return is important, if the function is going to serve the purpose of helping to strengthen morale and team spirit. The Christmas function for your business should be an event that is personalised, relaxed and enjoyable. Here are some tips on how to plan a great work event: for your small business ....

1. Try not to be a scrooge

We’ve all got at least one horror work Christmas party story, where there was nowhere near enough to eat, nibble or drink. Yes, it's been a tough year for those of us in small business, however try and be as generous as you can afford - or maybe consider choosing something else instead of a Christmas break-up function..

2. Make it personal

Memorable gifts for your employees do not need to cost a fortune; it’s the thought behind it that counts. You must plan well ahead so as to allow extra time to purchase personalized gifts - it might be a subscription to their favourite magazine, or a family movie pass, or tickets to a concert. Reflect on what your staff like to talk about during the year. Make sure they haven’t already gotten it for themselves before holiday time, and if not then you might buy it for their holiday gift.

3. Be responsible with the drinks

Make sure any alcohol at your event is served responsibly. Choose a safe venue with access to public transport, perhaps provide cab vouchers or encourage nominated ‘non-drinking’ drivers. Ensure that serving staff at the function are briefed on limiting or denying alcohol to intoxicated staff and make sure that you yourself set the right example with the consumption of alcohol. Many of us have heard stories of the intoxicated boss who turned into a ridiculous buffoon after a few too many Christmas drinks.

4. Plan for both your staff and your budget

Consider what your staff would enjoy - however,obviously you must plan within your budget and what your business can afford.  From experience, staff tend to be more interested in a family friendly, open and relaxed affair than a more exclusive event.

With the above suggestions in mind, I think you'll find a well-organised Christmas function that helps to reward staff for their efforts and loyalty during the year is a sound business  investment for retaining a motivated workforce for next year. All the very best to you for Christmas - and thanks for visiting our blog.

By the way, if you're after some more ideas that might help in running your business, perhaps visit Business Management

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Motivating Your Staff - A little appreciation goes a long way

If you own or manage a small business, and have staff working for you - then this could be an important reminder of a powerful management principle.

You want your staff to be good ambassadors for your business, right? .... Every time they interact with one of your customers, you want your staff to be positive, bright and friendly, so that your customers will gladly return

Well, here's the thing about staff motivation to remember as a manager.

Your staff will do more of what you want, if you recognise and reward it in some way. And that doesn't have to mean a financial reward, but simple and sincere appreciation can go a long way.

Of course, people want to feel they are being paid fairly - but very often a common reason that staff leave a business is because they work for a poor manager, and they feel that their contributions are not being appreciated. So, have a look at the following short video clip, and think about whether you provide enough recognition to your people for good work ....

And by the way, if you're after some more leadership tips that can help to create team morale and a good working environment, have a look at Leadership Qualities

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Steve Jobs - Advice for the small business entrepreneur

Steve Jobs became a giant in the world of business, respected for his technical innovation and also his commercial acumen.

In this short video clip he offers some timely advice for the small business entrepreneur - basically saying that that you need to make sure that you are doing what you love, because otherwise you will not be be able to persevere when things get tough

If you're after some other quick tips, you might have a look at Small Business Tips

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Your Attitude : Friend or foe to your small business

Do you focus on what you can control?

There are many things you cannot control that impact upon your small business. These include things such as an uncertain economic climate, the inevitability of BAS, government business policies and interest rates to name just a few. 

However, what you can control is the attitude you adopt in dealing with these things. ....... So how would you describe your attitude?
You can put two different people in the same situation and one will see a threat whilst the other sees an opportunity. 
Your attitude determines how you navigate your way through life's challenges.

Your attitude reflects in everything you do - it is sometimes referred to as the Law of Attraction, which essentially says that the thoughts and expectations you have influences what comes back to you.. By recognising the power of your attitude in shaping the destiny of your small business, you take a big step towards building a more prosperous future.

In deciding to make a friend and ally of your attitude, you are committing to adopting a positive approach  to how you face the challenges, pressures and uncertainties of small business. A positive attitude is not just about being optimistic and having self-belief that you will find a way to deal with any problems - your positive attitude will actually start to have an influence on the environment around you.

A cheerful manner reflects a positive attitude 

A positive outlook will usually shine through with a naturally more cheerful and upbeat manner ..... which in turn will help lift the spirits of other people around you, including your family, staff and customers. 

You can see this type of dynamic happen every day - when you smile at someone, most people can't help but smile back. We all prefer to be around happy people, who seem to be able to find things to laugh about and be grateful for

Yes, each day you will have to put some effort into rejuvenating your positive attitude and keeping it an ally. You will need to consciously banish any negative thinking as soon as it starts to creep in ......, However you will find that with this way of looking at the world, you begin to notice small things that you can better appreciate - things that in the past you more than likely have just taken for granted.

6 tips for cultivating a positive outlook

So what can you can do to cultivate and nurture this positive attitude? A few simple things include...
  1. Get a hobby that you find fun, or maybe spend more time on the one you have - this helps to keep you fresh and interested in life
  2. Think of good times you've had, rather than dwelling on any regrets or disappointments
  3. Get in the habit of complimenting other people as much as you can ..... Even small acts of kindness stimulate positive endorphin's in your body - which help you feel good
  4. Exercise and keep yourself reasonably fit - mind, body and emotions are all inter-connected
  5. Be open to learning and trying new things - regain your child-like curiosity of the world around you.
  6. Remember to take regular short breaks during the day - and ensure you take a holiday every year. Do not allow your business to consume you - there is much more to life than your business. 
You might like to also have a look at Self Motivation Tips, which offers a great list of other ways to stay positive

Have no doubt that investing in a positive optimistic mental outlook and a lighter, cheerful mood will eventually deliver a steady stream of dividends for your small business. 

You will become the type of manager that employees will gladly want to do their best work for. And you will be the type of supplier that customers will  be happy to do repeat business with.

So, are you wearing a smile or a frown - it's your choice, right?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Performance management of staff in your small business

If you manage a small business and have staff working for you, then you've probably already found that motivating and managing some people can be a huge challenge - and often quite frustrating.

Performance management cycle
However some of the problems that we might experience with staff performance are through our own making. As small business managers, we sometimes make too many assumptions that our staff understand our expectations and have the training to do what we want them to do.

The performance management cycle is a nice simple reminder of some of the important stages in staff performance management
  1. Performance planning is about preparing the employee for the work you want them to do. It includes ensuring that right from the very beginning, a new employee has a clear understanding of the scope of their job and that you have clearly explained what is expected of them. It's also about ensuring that any new staff member receives adequate training necessary for using any systems or complying with procedures that are associated with performance of the duties in their job. Many managers unfortunately often neglect to invest enough time in this stage, because they assume that it's all too obvious ..... They forget it's only obvious because of the greater experience and familiarity they have with the various tasks in the workplace.  But performance planning can also refer to the weekly or even daily outcomes that you might set for your staff. Again, it is essential to ensure that any performance or work plan is reasonable (ie. achievable) - and that the employee has been equipped with the training, tools and resources needed to meet the performance expectations.
  2. Performance tracking is about keeping an eye of the progress of the employee - and checking that things are getting done properly. Monitoring and occasionally observing, yet without being intrusive nor seen as too distrusting. With a new employee we will need to be checking on the quality and timeliness of their work more frequently than say an experienced staff member, because we should be able to feel more confident in  our senior employees.
  3. Performance feedback is about providing the employee with recognition for good work and showing them that their efforts are being noticed. Sometimes constructive feedback may need to be provided however, if there are job requirements that are not being quite met. This might be a reminder that they need to take care with a particular procedure, or a reminder about what time they need to be back from lunch, or a reminder to take more care when filling out a form....... Sometimes people make mistakes - hey, we're all human. The important thing is that we help the employee learn from it, so that it's not repeated.
  4. Formal performance review is sitting down with the employee on a quarterly basis, over a coffee, and having a conversation about their performance - what's been going well and whether there may be areas that could be improved. There are many businesses that incorporate some documentation around this, particularly for the more comprehensive annual review. The annual review will assess employee performance on each of their key responsibilities and identify whether these have been performed to a competent or acceptable standard. The annual review can also include a conversation about the employee's longer term career development aspirations. Although a small business may have some limitations upon progression opportunities for their staff, it is never-the-less useful for their manager to be aware of staff ambitions. This is because there can sometimes be opportunity to enrich the employee's current job and possibly provide them with more of the challenge they may be seeking. But in doing so, you need to also ensure that your employees are being fairly rewarded for good work
In a positive sense, an effective performance management process will help to ensure open lines of communication between a manager and their employees - thereby avoiding confusion and preventing misunderstandings about what is expected.

In the worst case scenario, a formal performance management process maintains an audit trail in the event that an employee is performing unsatisfactorily and may need to be dismissed. There will be some written record that a manager has previously raised performance concerns with the employee and made reasonable attempts to secure performance improvement

Keeping good staff

No doubt you want to keep your good staff ..... They show initiative, they're reliable and they're capable. Right? ...... You've come to rely upon them and trust them. So just be careful that you don't take them for granted. Show them that you appreciate their efforts - and make sure that they are being duly rewarded.

Why do staff resign? ...... Surveys show the most common reasons include a poor relationship with their immediate manager, poor working conditions, conflict within the team, lack of job satisfaction with their actual work (no longer challenging) and finding a similar job that requires less travel or offers much higher wages. Although people say their salary is important, in influencing their levels of job satisfaction, many people say they place higher importance upon the quality of their working relationships, the opportunity for learning and growth - and also whether they find their work "meaningful".

Effective performance management will help you to both retain good staff, as well help you to identify staff that simply might not be a good "fit" for your business.

Also have a look at Management Skills Development for further suggestions and ideas on how to manage and motivate the performance of your staff.

About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of a corporate training and leadership development company, Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people achieve their full potential

Customer Service In Your Small Business

If you're in small business, then you know the importance of good customer service as a strategy to compete against larger companies in your sector.

You may not have the same profile as some of the larger companies, you do not have their advertising and promotion budget. You are probably not able to beat them on price - because they have economies of scale and greater volume in their purchasing power.

However, where you can compete with "big business" effectively is in customer service - building a closer relationship and establishing more of a personal relationship with your customers.

Manage customer expectations

One thing I have learned from more than twenty years in small business is the importance of managing customer expectations - and the principle of promise less, deliver more

There are few things that annoy customers more than their supplier not doing what they said they would when they promised. Your customer may well plan their schedule and other commitments around your delivery promise, so you are better off adding some contingency time onto your time estimate.

In other words, let's say for example that you run a small printing business. And your customer asks when will the job be ready, and you think to yourself that it should be finished by 2.00 pm . You could actually say 2.00 pm and then maybe later you discover that it takes a little longer than anticipated and isn't actually ready til 2.30 pm - and therefore you'll have a disappointed customer on your hands.

Instead by applying the principle of "promise less, deliver more", when you think to yourself 2.00 pm - you say to them "It' should be finished by 3.00 pm - but if we get it dome earlier, I'll call you" - then when you complete the job at 2.30 pm they'll be happy and you'll be less stressed !!

If you're thinking of some customer service skills training for your staff, you might have a look at Customer Service Training Melbourne

Service recovery

OK, so we've explored the importance of managing customer expectations. But what happens when you do get it wrong? Maybe you've provided them with something different to what they asked for. For example, going back to the printing business - let's say the customer ordered a big supply of printing on yellow paper, but you mistakenly printed on white paper.

Often, it is the complaint from the customer himself that will bring the matter to your attention. This is where it's important that you have trained your staff in how to handle complaints. The customer may well be upset, so it's important that you show some empathy in the situation. Once you recognise that you got it wrong then apologise quickly and explain what you will do to fix the problem.

This is not the time to try to find excuses for the mistake, because all the customer wants is a solution to the problem you've created for them . If it is going to take some time to correct the situation, see if there's anything you can do in the interim to alleviate any difficulties your mistake has made for your customer.

For example, imagine you arrive at your hotel to check in and yet your room is not ready when it should be. The receptionist apologises, says it will just be another twenty minutes - and arranges for a couple of complimentary drinks at the bar whilst you wait. Doesn't this gesture help retain goodwill?

Let's go back to the printing example .... imagine you have rectified the situation and deliver the printing on the correct paper, you should think about what you can do retrieve some goodwill. Maybe you give the customer a significant discount on the order, or you throw in something of a complimentary nature to "ease the discomfort" suffered by your customer. After all, research has shown that it costs a lot more to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.

And the final aspect of service recovery involves you and your team reviewing why the problem happened in the first place, and how you can prevent a recurrence of the problem. Is there a procedure that needs tightening up? Does an employee need a bit more training? Remember, if you've recruited good people, then they would not have intended to make a mistake, so try and see what can be learned from the experience and be careful of simply blaming an employee without having got all the facts.

So in summar, effective service recovery when things go wrong can help to retain customer loyalty that otherwise would have been lost to your small business. We all make mistakes some time - the measure of your resilience is how you recover from them

Motivating your staff

High and consistent levels of customer service will only be delivered by motivated staff. As the owner and manager of your small business you have a vested interest in the success of the business. But how do you create a feeling of "ownership" in your staff? How do you get them feeling some enthusiasm for the business and engage them in what you are trying to achieve?

For some great tips and advice on staff motivation, have a look at How To Motivate Employees

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Richard Branson on Business Failure

Some two out of every three small business "fail to launch" within their first eighteen months. In other posts we have explored some of the reasons for this - but the following video clip offers some reminders about not being scared of failure. Many successful business people have "failed" but learned from the experience and come back stronger and wiser.

In the interview, Richard Branson shares some great tips for people in small business who may be struggling with some challenges

Another great video clip that can inspire you to persevere. The clip lists many successful people who experienced failure in their life, or were labelled by others as failures, and yet had the courage and determination to continue to move forward and achieve their goals

If you are looking for a boost to your motivation, have a look at Self Motivation Tips

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Get online to drive the growth of your small business

Maybe your small business is not yet online, and you're thinking about how a website could be used to generate sales and lift the profile of your business in your market.

Or maybe you've already got a website for your small business, but it's not generating anywhere near the type of traffic and prospects that you had hoped

There is absolutely no question that online marketing is one of the keys to the future growth and even viability of your small business ......and it's not just for the big corporate end of town. But you've got to get educated in how to leverage Internet sales and marketing for your business. And I've come across a great non-commercial resource site that can help you

The Australian Government has  an online resource to help Australian small businesses understand how the Internet can benefit them.  At the Winning Business Online website, there is a training program offered that is funded by the Australian government that helps businesses who are yet to get online, or they may have an existing online presence but are needing to improve  their understanding and skills.  The site offers free and low-cost seminars.

Watch out for people promoting expensive Internet marketing and SEO services - there is much you can learn and do yourself.

For more than the past five years, online marketing has definitely been driving the growth and success of my management training business - I was self-taught and I'm certainly not a tech. You can learn to master this. For some more tips on website and online marketing, see SEO for Small Business

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Video marketing for small business

A great opportunity to get yourself onto the first page of Google is through the use of video marketing.

You may well find that by preparing a short video clip to promote your product or service and then getting it posted online with YouTube, could mean that your video snippet appears in search results ahead of your actual business website.

However, in preparing and uploading your video, be careful to select the right keywords that you want to tag your video clip with.

Have a look at these short clips, which explains  some of the potential benefits that video marketing can offer your business

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Choose your attitude

This short video clip offers a great reminder of the importance of the leader's attitude in setting the mood in the workplace.

Yes, you will have days when running your small business will seem to have just one frustration after another! But when you have staff who work for you, then you need the resilience to remain positive, because how you deal with those frustrations and demands wll so often be setting an example that your staff will follow.

So if you are in a leadership role, the video is an important reminder to us that we can choose the attitude we adopt when responding to the pressures and frustrations of a small business .....

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Small Business Marketing - ignore social media at your peril

Like it or not, social media is now an essential part of the small business marketing landscape.

Statistics and surveys reveal that more than 85% of people under the age of 35 are using Facebook and / or Twitter. If  the users of Facebook were a country, it would represent the third largest population in the world.

If your small business does not have a strong online presence, then it is likely that your competition will be found ahead of you when your prospective customers are conducting an online search for your services or product.

In previous posts, we've explored the importance of ensuring the website of your business is search engine optimised (SEO) - however just as important is that your small business has an active presence in social media.

It's easy for your business to set up a Facebook page, but just make sure it has some educational or informative content regularly uploaded so that people want to bookmark your site and return to it. The potential for interaction with your business through social media is a way that you can start to build a relationship with prospective customers ..... and people prefer to do business with those they know and trust

Have a look at this video, that offers a compelling case to ensure your small business incorporates the use of social media in your internet marketing plans

Friday, September 23, 2011

Morale and Staff Motivation - is it OK to have fun in your small business?

Some of you may have heard about the FISH philosophy of running a customer-focused small business.

For those of you not familiar with the story, it is based upon a real fish market located in Seattle, USA where the workgroup of a small business became quite famous for the motivation, passion and excitement they created in performing their work. This small group of workers, lead by a humble small business owner, brought so much energy and spirit to their work that they attracted more and more customers to their business.

The reputation of the group grew to such a point where a book was written about them, and a film has been made attempting to capture the positive attitude that these guys bring to their workplace, that has helped make this small business such a thriving success.

See what you think - and whether there may be ideas on staff motivation that you can use and ways of creating team spirit in the workplace of your small business here in Australia.

If you're based in Melbourne, and thinking about doing some customer service skills training with your staff, then have a look at Customer Service Course Melbourne

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Small Business Entrepreneur

Michael Gerber is the author of the best selling classic book for small business owners, "The E Myth"

He made famous the saying "Work on your business and not in your business".  He speaks in this short video clip about the mindset of the entrepeneur.

The following video clip presents a great summary of the E-Myth book and the major ideas around building a small business that will have sustainable success. One of the ideas for business development, for example, refers to the importance of designing systems in the business that enable other people to do what you do

Friday, September 9, 2011

Give Customers Their Pickles - a philosophy of customer service

Bob Farrell opened up an ice cream parlour store  in America about twenty or so years ago, and eventually developed it into a small business model that became a successful chain of restaurants across the country. He became known for giving  away free pickles to customers, in order to "delight" them (in the U.S, as opposed to here in Aussie-land, the Yanks like their pickles)

Well, the pickle became a customer service metaphor for Bob Farrell, in terms of encouraging other small business owners to identify how they could increase customer satisfaction and give their customers an experience that would make them want to come back. In this short video clip, he share his inspiring philosophy of customer service as the basis for any successful small business

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Business Management - do you have the right mix of skills?

small business skills
Determination isn't enough

I become a little dismayed when I come across research indicating that one in three new small businesses in Australia fail within their first two years. To me, this suggests that we have potential entrepreneurs who possess the courage, drive and determination to succeed - but they are perhaps neglecting to undertake the essential research and preparation that is necessary to ensure a solid foundation for achieving business viability

In other posts and pages, we've explored some of the early market research that must occur in testing your product or service with your target market. And we've examined the competitor analysis necessary to identify how you will differentiate yourself from your competition.

Many start-up new businesses have  a tendency to initially over-estimate demand for their product or service, and under-estimate their competition. And many fail to anticipate the cash reserves they will require, to survive the start-up phase.

Look within ...

During the preparation stage before launching into a small business for the first time, just as important as a competitor analysis is that you have undertaken a self-assessment of your own business capabilities.

There is a broad mix of skills that you will need to succeed in small business, and if you are able to recognise you are lacking in a core business management capability, then you may well need to invest in some training for yourself.

Small business management skills
Have a look at the page, Business Management Training Courses if you are based in Melbourne, Australia - it lists some of the TAFE and Uni courses that can lead to a business management qualification, as well as some shorter courses that can offer quick down-and-dirty techniques you can immediately start applying

So what are some of the business skills you need  .....
  1. Sales & Marketing skills -:Identifying opportunity gaps in the marketplace. Listening to your customers - designing and improving your product or service to meet their needs. Building relationships; persuasive communication skills. Ability to network and promote what you have to offer
  2. Planning & Organisational skills - Forward planning, goal setting, prioritising, scheduling and time management skills. Designing procedures and systems that enable efficient flow of work through the business
  3. Financial management skills - budgeting, financial projections, cash handling, accurate book-keeping
  4. People Management skills - Recruiting the right people, training, leading and motivating your staff, so you get the best out of them in your business. Learning to delegate effectively - so you share the load and learn to let go of the need to control all the details
A marathon not a sprint

There are many people who quit small business, having become discouraged and disheartened because they didn't achieve the quick success they'd dreamed of. There is no question that one of the personal attributes you will need is mental toughness to provide you with the stamina to get through the periods of frustration and uncertainty when things don't initially go quite as planned. You need to be capable of stepping back when things go wrong, taking a deep breath - and then learning from your mistakes.

But some people can't seem to do this - they keep on doing the same thing - not taking the time to reflect and learn - and then wonder why their business is failing. Unfortunately, there are instances where gaining more experience by itself is simply not a good enough teacher.

There are entrepreneurs who get through the challenges of the "start-up" stage with their small business - and who find their formula for success. They lead rewarding and prosperous lives ...... I have found that these people typically engage in regular reviews of their business, to identify what's working and what can be improved. They also engage in regular self-review of themselves, honestly evaluating their business skills and personal capabilities to see what can be improved.

If you are interested in self-improvement, have a look at Personal Development which offers some great tips and advice on self-motivation, focus and inspiration

For the person entering small business for the first time, plan to gain some small business skills training. Also, try and find yourself  an experienced business mentor. This type of extra preparation can make the difference between your business adventure being a satisfying experience of achievement, versus one of bitter disappointment

business management skills

Monday, September 5, 2011

Managing staff in your small business

If you are somewhat new to having responsibility for managing and overseeing the work of others, it can initially prove quite daunting.

As the business owner, you have a vested interest in the success of the business and keeping your customers happy. And you hope to engender some of that same commitment in your staff.

You may perhaps already have noticed that sme of your employees seem to have good days, and not-so-good days. Your role now as a manager of people is to -
1. Ensure your staff understand what is expected of them
2. Ensure they have received adequate training in your processes and procedures
3. Motivate them, by ensuring you recognise good work. This may be as simple as saying "Well done" when you've seen them display some good customer service. Or it could mean rewarding them with a small bonus or some movie tickets if they volunteered to work back late or work through their lunchtime, in order to complete a task.

Remember too, that your behaviour and attitude affects morale in your workplace. It is important that you set the right example to your staff and that you display the enthusiasm, optimism and positive energy that you expect of them.

Now I know very well that as a small business owner, there are times of uncertainty in the life of a business that can create stress and anxiety for you. However, you need to ensure that you find ways of refreshing and rejuventating your personal motivation, so you can provide your staff with the leadership they need. You might find Self-Motivation Keys offer some useful tips on this theme.

If you're based in Melbourne, and think it would help to attend some leadership training to develop your people management skills, have a look at Management Course Melbourne

And here's a short clip offering some tips on managing and motivating staff

Building relationships with your customers

How to make a follow-up call

This short clip offers some really useful tips on how to make follow up calls so that your small business can build stronger relationships with your customers

Customer service skills

This short clip is an excerpt from a training video on Customer Service Skills that offer  that offers some worthwhile reminders about what customers are looking for in their service experience - maybe show it to some of your staff

How to hire good customer service staff for your small business

If you have staff working for you in your small business, then you will know that the image of your business is in their hands. If they are not seen by your customers as friendly, or reliable or efficient - then your business will suffer.

But you probably already realise that hiring good people is not easy ......sometimes you have good people who just don't perform well in the interview - and not-so-good people who present fantastic at the interview.

Sure, you have a probation period in which to try them out. But a poor recruitment decision can still cost your business, if even for a short period of time you have had someone working forr you who was unsuited to a customer service role.

Here is a great short clip that I believe offers some good advice on how to hire the right customer service person for your small business ...

Desired qualities

So what are the qualities you might want to assess applicant's against, to help determine their suitability for a customer service role? A few characteristics might include ...
1. Initiative and a willingness to go the extra step for customers
2. Good interpersonal skills and a friendly disposition
3. Reliablity and good work ethic
4. Ability to plan and organise their work, completing allocated tasks on time
5. Proven ability to learn computer systems (depending on the complxity of any systems your small business uses)

Interview tips

So, when conducting the interview with applicant's for the job, remember
i) Use the same set of job-related criteria or characteristics to rate each applicant, to ensure you are using a consistent approach (and therefore avoiding grounds for discrimmination)
ii) Prepare a core set of questions you will ask each person, and be willing to probe their responses (ie. don't settle for superficial answers)
iii) You might also include a small role play, to see how they might handle a customer complaint for example
iv) Do proper referee checks - and make sure you understand the relationship the person has with their referees (ie. did the referee supervise the person, did they work with the person, or are they simply a friend)
v) Many small business owners now-days place more emphasis upon whether an applicant has the right attitude - believing that a skills gap can be corrected through training, however attitude is not easily changed

Also, some great advice can be found at How To Conduct the Job Interview

Small Business Marketing

small business marketingYou ignore the need to understand marketing and in particular the role of internet marketing today, at your peril. There are many small businesses who are wasting their advertising dollars because they are not linking their advertising to a sound marketing plan. Further, they are basing their promotions on outdated-concepts of how people make buying decisions.

Internet Marketing

One of the dramatic changes that we have seen over the past ten years is the role of digital marketing as an integral part of any small business marketing strategy. Gaining a strong online profile for your business is crucial now-days, given the fact that most people will search online for providers before buying a new product or service. Additionally they will frequently search online for any relevant social media feedback that might be relevant to their buying decision (eg. checking Trip Advisor for comments before booking accommodation at a hotel)

Internet marketing includes thinking both about search engine optimisation (SEO) to get your website ranking well - and often combining this with an online advertising campaign (pay-per-click)

SEO applies proven methods to helping lift your Google page listing -after all, if you don't appear on the first page of Google then chances are that you won't be found by potential customers. The only people who will find you if you're not on the first page will be those who already know of your website.

Search engine optimisation

There are many providers of SEO services out there - and many of them are making outrageous promises that they will get you on the first page of Google within days or weeks. Be careful of getting seduced by such promises. My experience is that to achieve first page listing on a sustained rather than temporary occurrence, will take months of work.

However, through a paid adwords advertising campaign, you can achieve a first page listing - and it might cost you as little as $50 a week. But these results appear on the right hand column side of Google's paid search results. The organic, or free listing results, appear in the middle column of the page - and these websites have usually fought and earned their right to be on the first page because they are viewed by Google to be relevant, informative, credible and authoritive with regards to the search term that has been entered.

SEO methods can include evaluating the meta-tags of your website to ensure they are correct for your marketing strategy, as well as a strategy to develop backlinks to your website (ie. links from other websites to yours). Be careful of engaging SEO providers who will buy backlinks for your website - if these backlinks are from poor quality sites they can damage your credibility in the eys of Google. One thing I have learned is that Google will place more weight upon a single backlink from a quality, authoritive site than fifty backlinks from poor quality sites that are often simply set up to "farm" links.

Here's a useful link to a local site that offers some basic tips that could help you - Small Business Marketing

Marketing 101 : A marketing plan for your business

For a new business, the following model helps to illustrate some of the basic core elements in developing a marketing plan

For someone who is thinking of starting a new business, the first step  after having the idea is to do some research and attempt to establish the feasibility of the idea. This may involve some informal "market testing" of the idea, seeing what some potential customers of your target market think about the idea.. This early research also requires an assessment of the existing competition for your proposed product or service, and determining id there is in fact an opportunity gap in the marketplace that you could exploit.

You will then need to think through where you will position yourself in the marketplace, in terms of your pricing model - at the higher end and positioning as a niche supplier, or at the lower price point and aim for volume on sales?
Take a look at this video clip which takes a simple look at the nature of marketing .....

Small Business Management Courses

The high rate of failure for small businesses starting up, (ie. approximately two out of every three within the firstt two years) suggests that there are people entering small business who would benefit from first undertaking some training.

If you are located in Melbourne, a great summary of accredited training in business management that can lead to a nationally recognised qualification, is Business Management Courses

However, there are plenty of respected business management courses available throughout Australia, but many small business owners are reluctant to attend lengthy courses. So are there short courses available, that can offer useful business management tools?

Have a look at Business Victoria  which offers workshops for people who are new to small business.

Can anyone suggest other business management courses around Australia, suitable for the small business person?

Small Business Marketing - what is SEO?

What is SEO

This is a great video clip that explains in simple terms what is SEO and some of the main criteria that Google uses in evaluating your website. By better understanding what Google actually look for when assessing websites, you can make adjustments to your own site so as to increase it's appeal.

SEO needs to be a key component of any internet marketing strategy for your small business ..

Another great page for you to have a look at is Increase Website Traffic

Small Business - Standing out from the crowd

Unless you really have found yourself a niche, it can be quite a crowded marketplace when you're in small business, can't it?

So how do you stand out from the crowd and get your business noticed. Particularly if you don't have a big marketing budget.

If you've ever wondered this, then you're not alone. Every small business owner knows that you can't make a sale until people know you're there.

One small business marketing strategy is to get actively involved in your local community and establish yourself as a bit of nn "expert", offering to speak to groups, organizations, and associations.

Give great advice that can help your audience , and only very briefly make reference to your business. If you have an informative and educational message that is delivered effectively, you will create a roomful of advocates who promote your business Public speaking can be great free advertising and a great networking opportunity. So even though you might not be comfortable with it now, with some guidance and experience you can develop your public speaking skills. If you are located in Melbourne, and are seeking some appropriate training, visit Presentation Skills Course Melbourne

Another tip to help you stand out is to explore whether you have a  customer that could also become a supplier..In other words, if you find yourself (or know of someone else) needing a cleaner, a printer, office furniture, painter or tiler - see if you might have a customer who can help. Spend some time building relationships with your customers and find out what they do.. Your customers will love you if you can put business their way ........ the referrals you provide can lead to win-win outcomes.

Another way of standing out in a crowded marketplace is to do what you say you're going to do, and when you say you're going to do it. By ensuring that you and your staff deliver on your promises will be a sure fire way to build customer loyalty.

And the final small business marketing tip is to differentiate yourself from your competition. If your competitors are all promoting on price, then you should aim to promote your business by adding extra value. What can be added to your products or services instead of cutting your price? Maybe you could consider a complimentary gift card, an extra room of cleaning, complimentary cup of coffee, pen, notepad, diary or a car wash.