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.