Thursday, December 27, 2012

Small Business - It's all about building relationships

Relationships with your customers  
Small business building relationships
If you run a small business, then you're well aware that one of the major advantages you have over your bigger competitors is the quality of the relationship that you can build with your customers.

If it is a business-to-business relationship, then investing some time in learning about the business of your customer and gaining an understanding of their business cycles can of course help you with your forward planning.

Listening and questioning - before you sell
Building a relationship starts by taking an interest in how your customer is wanting to use your product or service ..... So listening and asking questions is essential. Clarifying what they are ultimately wanting to accomplish with your product or service will help you to provide them with the best solution for their needs.

For example, Alan owns a small shoe store in my local area. When I went in a few weeks ago and asked him to show me a pair of size 10 running shoes, instead of just bringing out a few different shoes for me to try on, he first asked me some questions ....... Would I mostly be running on soft or firm ground?..... On even or uneven surfaces? ...... How often did I run? ....... These types of questions to better understand my needs meant that I ended up with the best solution for my needs. Plus, he threw in a free pair of  sports socks after the sale was made (OK, it's only $2 against a $100 pair of running shoes, but I liked the gesture)

And then to top it all off, when we bumped into each other at a local school fete a few days ago, he asked me how the running was going and whether the shoes were working out........ Is it any wonder that when I'm after shoes, I will head to Alan's store.

Customers are all different

Of course, not all of your customers will necessarily want to develop a personal relationship with you. But some will ....... They are glad to have a chat with you on a Friday for example, about what they have planned for the weekend. They are happy to discuss the progress their kids are making at school .... However there are some customers that just want to get in and out as quickly as possible, with no small talk ........ So you've got to be able to read them and adapt, if the relationship is going to work.

Doing what you promise

Another foundation for any enduring relationship is trust.

And for trust to exist, you must be seen as reliable, which means keeping your promises. If you run a small printing business and you promise your customer that their job will be ready by 2.00 pm, then whether or not you deliver on time becomes a measure of trust. Yes, stuff can happen that is unexpected and can get in the way of being able to meet the deadline ....... the printer runs out of ink, or paper gets jammed in the printer creating delays. But that is why you should remember the old saying "Promise less and deliver more"

You would have been better off over-estimating how long the job would take, and allowing some contingency time for the unexpected to possibly happen. Delivering earlier than promised will not lose you trust - and yet delivering later than you promised will seriously damage it.

Relationships with your staff

The quality of the people you employ in your business will be directly proportionate to your subsequent ability to grow and develop your business. And I'm not just talking about the quality of their skills - but also their character.

Good staff are worth paying extra

If there's one thing I've learned after more than 20 years in business - it's this........ It's worth paying more to employ good people. You'll end up getting it back and more - through repeat business from customers impressed with your service.

But an additional benefit is that you are free of the stress and hassle of having to correct poor work and you don't have to solve as many problems. When you have good people working for you, they are happy to use their own initiative. And because you feel you have staff you can trust, you're much more willing to delegate rather than feel like you have to do all of the important jobs yourself

But recruiting good staff is not the end of the story - it's the beginning ...... You have to be able to keep them!

Retaining good staff

And that means showing them that you value their contributions. Everyone likes to feel appreciated - particularly when they have done good work, or done something over and above their normal duties. Often a thank you is enough - but sometimes some extra recognition is warranted ........ Maybe a double movie pass, or a dinner for two for your staff member and their partner at a local restaurant. Or a small bonus on top of their pay at the end of the week.

Building good collaborative working relationships with your employees takes effort.

Are you the sort of manager that you would be happy to work for? Do you usually display a positive and cheerful manner with your staff in the workplace - or is this just something you switch on when you're with customers? ........ Do you know what your staff get up to outside of work? Do you know what parts of their job they most enjoy - and the parts they find to be a chore? Do you know if they have some ideas on how things could be run better?

More than the money

There are surveys that show more employees resign from their jobs because of a poor relationship with their immediate manager, than those that leave because of dissatisfaction with their salary. That's not to say that salary isn't important to people - it certainly is.

But there are other things that can be just as important in motivating your employees - and you have to discover what they are. For some of your employees, it may be about recognition, for others it may be about the opportunity to learn new things. And for others it's about feeling they're helping and making a difference.

The more you uncover and can understand about the underlying interests and motivations of your staff, the more likely you will be able to build a positive and productive working relationship with them.

Relationships with your family

What's this got to do with the growth of your business, you might well ask?

When you're running a small business, it's all too easy to become consumed with the business. Long hours ..... and working on the weekends is not uncommon in the first few years of a start-up. If you're going to be running your own business for the long term, then it's important that you develop a sense of balance in your life.

Being able to spend quality time with family and friends. Having a space where you can unwind and be refreshed by enjoying things that are totally separate from your business is crucial for your well-being. And that also means not thinking about your business when you're at home.

Learn to switch off

If you're not able to switch off from your business, then the relationships you have with family and friends will suffer. You run the risk of becoming isolated over time, and disconnected from the people who care about you the most.

At the end of it all, in the sunset days of your life ....... do you think you will likely be reflecting upon ways you could have expanded your business further - or will you be thinking more about your loved ones and those special times that you shared together?

Copyright 2012. Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a corporate training company based in Melbourne that delivers management courses, leadership training and interview coaching

Thursday, December 20, 2012

PR Tips for Small Business

Whether you are a service-based small business, one that supplies a product or even delivers both, why not plan to kick-start 2013 with some publicity and promotion on your offering? 

PR for small businessI recently met with Wendy McWilliams, who has worked in the field of public relations for more than twenty years. Her company, WMC Public Relations, has won major PR contracts with various local government councils, and also advises a large portfolio of SME's on how they can gain promotional traction for their business in their local press and media. I asked her for some PR tips and advice that would be suitable for small business and this is what she suggested ........

The first thing to note is that if you want other people to talk about you, your company and your products then what you give them has to be newsworthy. Your own social media sites are where you can plug your produc -  but newspapers, magazines/trade journals, blogs, television, radio and online publications/websites want something that will interest their audiences.
Newsworthy Announcements

So what can you talk about? Here are twelve simple ideas that Wendy suggested as potentially suitable for small business ....:

  • Milestones: First or 50th anniversary, 1000th customer, 1 millionth widget, 20th franchise sold, etc.
  • Moved to new premises, opened branch offices, 6-star green rating, etc.
  • Awards won
  • Senior appointments
  • New equipment and new technology
  • Export achievements
  • New products
  • White papers & technical how-to sheets
  • Market analysis that may be controversial or alternative to general consensus.
  • Holding a special event
  • Case studies where one of your customers has achieved significant results
  • A major sponsorship - for example of your local football or cricket club
Which publicity medium should you select?

Once you have worked out what news you want to disseminate, you then need to decide who you will give it to. Is it of major national significance? If not, it may be suitable for an industry magazine or the local newspaper? Check to see what issues the media outlet is covering before you contact them so that you are familiar with their writing style and topics covered.

Now you are ready to write a media release and/or letter to the editor. Make sure you cover the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Keep it punchy and if you want to provide more detailed background information, provide a hyperlink to a website where the material is easily viewed.
Before you send it off, make sure you have (or can provide quickly) a good quality photograph to accompany your story - as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words
Is PR for you?

So, if you're a small business owner who thinks that PR is just for the big corporate business, then think again ...... As Wendy McWilliams says, increasingly short-staffed media want news and human interest stories; and if you can tell a story that has both of these ingredients then why wouldn't they consider yours ......... And if you're still unsure about whether PR is for you, ask yourself what have you got to lose versus what do you stand to gain by giving it a go?

You might also be interested in having a look at Marketing Fundamentals for Small Business

Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a corporate training company based in Melbourne that specialises in management skills training, leadership development and executive coaching.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mental toughness and success in small business

Mental toughness in small businessMental toughness - what is it and how is it relevant to starting and running a successful small business?

Well one thing's for sure ..... If you've been running a small business for the past few years and you've been able to survive the GFC and continued uncertainty in the wider economic environment - then you've probably got what it takes mentally.

If you're  thinking of going into small business, mental toughness is a business capability that will be just as important in your commercial success as any other business skill such as planning, basic accounting or sales and marketing.

  • Elite athletes have it

It's generally accepted that for any athlete to reach the elite level, they must possess mental toughness.

Over the years perhaps you may have seen as a spectator, certain "gifted" players competing in their selected sport - whether it was football, tennis, cricket, baseball, soccer or basketball for example, who seem to have been blessed with enormous natural talent. And yet some of these gifted sportsmen and women have failed to achieve the heights that their inherent potential had promised.

And you've seen other players with less natural talent go on to achieve victory and win respect for their sporting accomplishments. Why, many of us have asked at some point, did that person with all that natural talent, not win the race or win the tournament?

If we look at tennis by way of example, in 2001 Lleyton Hewitt won the US Open and in 2002 he won Wimbledon. At 20 years old he became one of the youngest players in the history of the sport to become the number one ranked men's tennis player in the world.

And yet as a player, his peers did not perceive him as having any particularly formidable tennis weaponry .... except for his tenacity. He possessed no killer serve, no knock-out forehand and wasn't very strong with his volleys at the net. But his opponents always knew that he would never give up!

Over the past ten years, Australians have admired him as a Davis Cup tennis player who many times has fought back from two sets to love down, to eventually win his matches in five sets. Hewitt was and is a spirited fighter - someone who you could trust would leave nothing on the court.

In many different sports, in contrast to Hewitt, we've seen other players at times that we've suspected of "tanking" ....... Maybe because it was stinking hot playing conditions, or perhaps the game seemed hopeless to them once they had fallen too far behind ...Whatever the reason, it seemed they had lost heart and no longer gave it their all, they would simply go through the motions of appearing to compete ..... But they just wanted to get back to the locker room, have a shower and wait for an easier game. It was not that they were lacking in physical fitness either - it was more they were lacking the mental stamina and the positive attitude necessary to endure the adverse conditions..

  • Bad stuff sometimes happens in business

So what about mental toughness in business? ........  As you know, things do not always go as planned in business. Although good forward thinking should help to prevent many difficulties, never-the-less there will be some bad stuff that inevitably will happen. Events beyond your control will seem to come crashing down upon you and bring with them feelings of frustration, disappointment and maybe anxiety about the future.

For example, occasions when you might unexpectedly lose one of your biggest customers, or a new aggressive competitor enters your marketplace, or your computer system crashes and you lose important data, or sales plummet because of a loss of consumer confidence in the economy, or you discover that your business partner has been ripping you off .......

Mental toughness is having the stamina to persevere and the faith in your ability to bounce back. It's about putting your focus on finding a solution, rather than just complaining about the problem. And as Henry Ford said, "Think you can or think you can't - you're usually right"

  • What characterises people with mental toughness?

Like Hewitt on the tennis court, people in small business with mental toughness don't give up, in spite of adverse conditions. They are persistent and determined. Like Sylvester Stallone who was knocked back by more than fifty film producers until he found one who was willing to take a risk in making "Rocky"  ....... And like J.K Rowling, the English author who was knocked back by more than one hundred publishers, until she found the one who was willing to take a risk on her book, "Harry Potter"

Mentally tough people are resilient. They bounce back from disappointments and look to the future with a positive mindset. They have a deep belief in the value of what they are doing and keep their eyes on their goal.

They have a strong work ethic and invest the time in relentlessly seeking to improve what they are doing. .

When things go wrong, they focus on what they can control - and quickly adapt to the things they recognise are beyond their control. They avoid distractions and also avoid making excuses - taking responsibility for any mistakes they make.

However they recognise that nothing great will ever be accomplished without periods of so-called "failure" ..... But they are not daunted by temporary set-backs. They look for the learning to be gained from their experience, and then focus on doing things better next time. This type of thinking means they are not constrained by a fear of making a "mistake"

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, you might gain some inspiration from remembering that Walt Disney was millions of dollars in debt before his company became a giant. He said "Although you may not realise it at the time, sometimes a kick in the head can later prove to be the best thing in the world for you"

And let's not forget that Steve Jobs in 1985 was forced to resign from Apple - and yet came back to lead the growth of the company to become one of the most successful organisations of the past decade.
  • The long game for success

For most of us in small business, if success is to be achieved it will be accomplished over time and be measured in years rather than months (Although this is not true of all who have succeeded - there are examples of those who have quickly seized an opportunity in the marketplace and through their boldness have made a windfall profit).

However for most of us, the best advice is to recognise that small business success will be the product of a good idea, combined with careful planning, thoughtful execution and regular diligent appraisal of our progress. It is likely to be a success that is borne from taking a long term view of our business, and having the ability to rise above short term set-backs and persevere towards our goals.

In closing, let me share with you some words from the Scottish poet Robert Burns that come to mind when reflecting on the nature  of mental toughness and the challenges of running a successful small business
"Courage does not always roar like a mighty lion ....... Sometimes, it is but a small voice within, and it whispers to you quietly to get up and try again tomorrow"

By the way, if you're interested in reading more on how to cultivate the right attitude for small business success - then have a look at Developing Positive Thinking and some more great advice can be found in Self Motivation Tips

Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a corporate training company based in Melbourne that specialises in management skills training, leadership development and executive coaching.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Small Business Tips - How to be found by Google

Small business tipsIf you run a small business and you have a website, your goal no doubt is to be found on the first page of the Google organic (unpaid or narual) search results. If you’ve achieved a first page ranking for your website and your targeted keyword, then congratulations ! …. And there is probably no point in you reading any further, because chances are that you will know all this stuff.    

But for those small business owners out there who feel frustrated that their website seems to be hopelessly lost in the search engine wilderness and failing to gain any traction in search engine results, here are some basic tips that could help improve your website Google ranking. However it should be noted that Google are quite regularly updating the criteria they use to evaluate websites - and in particular have been changing the weighting they attribute to various factors in the evaluation formula they apply.

We will focus upon Google here, because they retain the lions share of search engine enquiries - however the ideas still largely apply to being found by Bing and Yahoo

·       Search engine optimisation, to help your website be found
Some small business owners engage  “SEO” experts for their Search Engine Optimisation services. SEO involves both "on-site" optimisation and "off-site" strategy.

On-site optimisation is about ensuring your website design and construction is done in a way that will have optimum appeal to search engines  The off-site strategy is about generating links from other respected sites to your site. If this seems a little cryptic, don't worry - we'll explore this further as you read on.

There are certainly many of these SEO firms around …. Just enter SEO, or Internet marketing, or digital marketing into Google as a search term and you will find quite a large list of potential suppliers providing SEO services. You may even receive spam email from SEO companies based in India, with grandiose promises that they can achieve a number one Google ranking for your website ! (I automatically delete them into junk mail)
For me as a small business owner, there is no question about whether there is merit in SEO. Having been in small business for more than 20 years, and having experimented with many approaches to marketing and advertising, I am convinced that SEO and Internet marketing have been powerful drivers to the growth of my business.  So the more pointed question for me in the past was whether to invest the time in attempting to learn and master some of the science of SEO myself, or whether I should outsource this responsibility to specialists.

·       Teach yourself – or outsource to experts?
I am not averse to outsourcing to specialists, for example we have an accountant do both our business and personal tax returns …… However SEO was something that had some inherent interest for me, so I decided to learn as much as I could. I am pleased to say that I have constructed several websites and blogs promoting different parts of my business that have achieved top three search engine ranking for reasonably popular search terms.
By no means am I suggesting that I am an expert in this field - far from it. The more I learn, the more I realise there remains still much to learn. However in the same way that although I'm not a mechanic, there are still some basic things I can do to service my car and keep it running efficiently. And having some working knowledge of key SEO principles means you're less likely to get ripped-off if you decide to contract-out your SEO. 

Here are seven basic guidelines I have learned and would like to share with you, that small business owners often seem unaware of .......
1.     Identify the keywords that your potential customers are likely to enter as search terms into Google to locate your type of business or service. If your business targets a purely local market, then you might also include the names of the suburbs or city that you service as actual keywords

2.     Ensure that the key words you have selected are naturally woven into the text of your website landing page, particularly appearing in the top part of the page, and also in your heading and sub-headings on the page ..... If your page has around 500 - 600 words, then you want your keyword phrase to be repeated a few times. This idea of how often you repeat your keyword phrase on your page is referred to as "keyword density". Many experts suggest that around 2 - 3% is the optimum rate of repetition. If you repeat your keywords too frequently, then Google may see this as "keyword stuffing" and penalise the page as spam. Using some synonyms of your keyword phrase is more acceptable.

3.     Place these keywords into the website title metatag and also the website description metatag. If you’re not sure what metatags are, that’s OK. Just instruct your webmaster or web designer to include these. But the meta-title tag is viewed as one of the most important "on-page" SEO elements - so ensure this is done properly. Also ensure that there is no duplication of these metatags on different pages of your website - each page should have their own unique title and descriptions tags.

4.     Consider also developing a blog that links back to your website ... Google definitely like blogs, because they tend to involve regularly fresh and updated content.

5.     Try to make the content of your website / blog interesting and genuinely appealing to your target group. Then it becomes more likely your readers will either link back to you from their blog, or mention you with a link in their social media conversations (eg Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). By regularly producing quality content over time, you and your website or blog will become recognised as an "authority" figure on your topic. You also might want to ensure that you receive credit for writing your content - particularly if some other party copies and duplicates your content. Here is a link that explains how to claim authorship of your content by registering with Google+ 

6.     If you are currently in the process of building your website or blog, then try to select a domain name that incorporates some of the keywords that you are targeting

7.     Absolutely avoid the temptation of being a party to buying back-links - never pay for backlinks . ...... But let's first take a moment and consider why backlinks are important. It is known that Google regards having other sites linking back to your business website as a vote of confidence in you – and this in turn makes your site seem more credible in their eyes – and therefore worthy of a higher ranking in their search engine results. But in the past, there were SEO firms that artificially contrived to generate backlinks for their clients and attempted to manipulate the evaluation process that Google applied  …… Google woke up to this and now explicitly warn against buying links and threaten that the ranking of your site will be penalised if it is discovered that links have been purchased from “link farms”. They also emphasise that it is the quality of the sites that link to you, rather than the quantity or volume of backlinks, that they weight more highly in the way they evaluate your site.
Also, ensure that you have listed your website in as many local directories as you can - for example in Australia, there are directories such as Gumtree, TrueLocal,  Hotfrog , AussiePages ..... And also make sure you get listed in Google's own Local Places directory and have your business website registered. Then you'll be able to appear as a local result for search enquiries - and what's more, you won't have to pay for this prominent search position.

These seven tips certainly do not constitute all there is to know about SEO, but they do offer you some of the most essential ideas for gaining organic (natural) search engine ranking for your small business website.
  • Paid advertising
Another option for you to consider is paid advertising through Google Adwords  It is a quicker way of getting your website of he first page of Google. Your ad with your website URL link will appear on the right hand side of the search results page - or at the very top of the search results page if you are prepared to pay premium price for the more prominent position. The popularity of the keywords that you associate with your advertisement will determine how much  the advertising will potentially cost - however you only pay if your ad is clicked.

Again, pay-per-click advertising is something that you can either manage yourself, or hire an agency to work on your behalf. Search engine marketing agencies tend to use a combination of both SEO and paid advertising to achieve visibility for your website. My suggestion if you decide to venture down this path is to initially place a strict limit on your advertising budget (it can be as little as $10 / day if you manage it yourself) - and regularly review whether you are gaining a sufficient return on investment to justify continuing with a paid advertising campaign. If possible, speak to other small business owners in your network who may have some experience with online advertising and can offer you useful tips on getting best value for your online advertising dollar.
  • If you decide to outsource your SEO
But let's return to the topic of achieving organic (unpaid) first page search results. If you ultimately decide to outsource your SEO to an expert, at least the above tips offer you some insight into the language to use when speaking with them about their proposed strategy. And remember, just because they claim to be an expert, doesn't mean they are

Have a careful look at their track record, speak to some of their clients - and see if they are willing to be engaged on the basis of a success fee (ie. a payment formula based on results and improved search engine ranking performance for your keywords).

And by the way, if one of these experts says they can get you a number one Google ranking, check what keywords this result would be achieved for. There's not much point being ranked  number one for a search term that is so obscure that no-one will ever actually enter it.
You will find some other useful marketing ideas at Marketing for Small Business.
  • An insider reveals what Google is looking for in your website 
Here is a short video clip that features Matt Cutts, who is head of the Anti-Spam team within Google itself, who shares  advice along the lines of what was listed above. So when it's straight from the horses mouth, you can believe it. Although it must be recognised that over time Google makes regular changes to the way in which it evaluates websites - there are generally certain principles and criteria that remain constant
Here's another video clip with Matt Cutts speaking about some of the common mistakes that Webmasters make with their websites. So this can offer some useful tips for small business owners who might be developing their own websites rather than contracting this out.

By the way, if you check out Google Webmaster Tools then you will find a treasure chest of tips and advice from Google that will help you gett your small business website found by search engines
Copyright 2013 by Brian Carroll.  He is the founder of Performance Development - a corporate training business based in Melbourne, Australia that delivers management training, coaching and leadership development services/ You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to manage under-performing staff

managing under-performing staffIf you run a small business, or you are in any type of management role, then it is likely at some point you will be faced with the challenge of dealing with an employee who is not meeting performance expectations.

This is not an easy situation for many people to handle, particularly when they are new to staff management. With more experience will come more confidence - but until then, the question remains how to handle the situation.
  • Do nothing?
For some managers, their inclination is to do nothing and hope the problem corrects itself. However, the risk with this approach is that the poor performance may then permeate through the rest of the team.

For example, if an employee has been arriving late for work and you don't do anything about it, then it won't be long before others in the team might start thinking to themselves "Well, if she can get away with it, why should I bother hurrying to get in on time?". The lower standard can permeate through the entire team

So doing nothing and simply hoping the employee will self-correct is not a wise course of action

  • Rebuke them?

Some mangers will simply deliver a sharp reminder to the employee about what is expected. And sometimes a reprimand may be necessary - but not until you've done this ......

  • Discuss the matter

We all make mistakes now and then - even the best of us can fumble or drop the football, so to speak. Sometimes maybe because we were rushed, or maybe because we were distracted. A good employee will quickly admit to their mistake and lookfor ways of fixing things up

But under-performance is something a bit different. It's more than just an isoalted mistake and instead something that you've observed has become too common and almost the norm for the employee.

You need to sit down, with some privacy and discuss the matter with the employee in  a composed manner. Describe the concern that you have, give some examples of what you've observed and explain in what way the issue is hurting the business, your customers or the rest of the team. Then give the employee a chance to explain and listen to what they have to say - with an open mind

Identify the cause of the under-performance

Under-performance can be caused by any number of factors. For example, it could be ......
  1. The employee wasn't clear about the expectation in the first place
  2. They haven't been properly trained
  3. Something is getting in the way .... whether it's a personal issue, a system problem, or conflict with another member of the team
  4. They aren't suited to the job
Once you flush out the underlying reason for the under-performance, then you can discuss how to improve the situation moving forward. The solution could be for example, clearer job definitions, more training or developing an agreed procedures manual as reference. Or maybe it turned out to be a bit of a motivation issue and they would benefit from having a bit more challenge added to their role.

But what if it's not going to work out"

Sometimes you may find that an employee is simply not suited to the role and they are lacking any enthusiasm for the work. Maybe this is because they thought the job was going to be something different and it doesn't match their interests. There will be times when a parting of the ways will need to be discussed.

And in this situation, it's usually better to make the break quick and clean, rather than have it fester. You might even decide to offer the employee an extra 2 weeks salary as an inducement to leave immediately.

If the performance issue is a serious one in which you are contemplating discipline or employee dismissal, then consult with an expert who can properly guide you through your legal obligations under Fair Work Australia. (depending upon the size of your business). Even the employee with a poor work ethic must still be treated with "due process" - so ensure you follow the proper steps.

By the way, if you're after more great people management tips, have a look at Management Skills Development

  • In Conclusion

In conclusion, do not ignore an employee's under-performance. Be willing to discuss the matter in a level way with the staff member, and you may discover that the cause of the issue is something that can be fairly easily resolved.

As the manager, these are the issues that you are now responsible to identify and action - just make sure you first give it some thought and prepare yourself. And remember, when you have the discussion, try to do at least as much listening as you do talking!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Success in Small Business - What does it mean?

Success in small business No doubt, you went into small business with the intent of being successful. But what does success really mean to you ..... how do you personally define it?

  • Success in the start-up stage

At different stages of your business cycle chances are that your definition of success will change.

For many of us, the early days of starting our small business is simply about survival. Success is very simply defined as making more money than what we are spending. At the end of the week after all of the numbers are added up, as long as we are seeing black ink and not red ink in that final nett figure, then there is a sense of hopefulness about the viability of our business..

There are plenty of 12 hour days often supplemented with working on the weekends - but all of the hard work seems worthwhile, and our enthusiasm carries us through.

As we steer our business through the challenges and frustrations of the"start-up" stage, we see signs of success in the long term relationships we are beginning to establish with our customers. We are building trust and developing a local profile, slowly establishing a wider base of regular customers. Our anxiety starts to ease and our confidence in our business model begins to grow.

We are seeing that our business is generating a consistent profit and we now set our sights higher. Success is no longer being satisfied with survival, it becomes associated with business growth.

  • Success in growing the business

We may start to employ more staff. We set about trying to systemise the business so that it is not so dependent upon us.

We set ourselves higher goals around improving our market share ..... We start taking a longer term view and think about social media strategy and more carefully positioning the business. Success is no longer being measured solely in revenue and bottom line, it is now about increased market awareness of our brand and how we are perceived.

We are prepared to take some risks and invest in exploring new opportunities, perhaps expanding into new markets. There is a greater readiness to take a short term loss in the pursuit of longer term gains.

For many people at this stage in their business cycle, success is also now about being recognised and respected as a leader within their wider industry.

The benchmarks for measuring business success have well and truly lifted. We are no longer satisfied with equalling last year's financial targets - they must be surpassed. It seems our mantra as we look to the future becomes all too readily ...... Growth, Growth, Growth

  • Success, but at what price?

Regardless of whether you are in the start-up or growth stages of your business, it is important to reflect upon how you are defining success.

If it is just about money, could you run the risk of paying too high a price for becoming wealthy?  It's all well and good to find yourself now being able to buy a bigger house by the beach or drive a new car that makes a statement - but will you have someone to share it with?

Will financial success compensate if you have sacrificed relationships along the way with your family and friends. Will you be able to enjoy the fruits of your financial success, if you do not have good physical and mental health to accompany it?

At the end of your time here on this planet, do you think you will be reflecting upon your bank balance, or about the difference you've made to the lives of the people around you?

Yes, business success can be about achieving financial freedom. But it can also be measured in the level of job satisfaction that you experience and your overall sense of happiness, purpose, balance and well-being in your life. As corny as it sounds, we need to remind ourselves that success is as much about the journey as it is the destination.

And by the way, if your energy needs a bit of a boost, have a look at Self-Motivation ..... and if your spirit needs a bit of uplifting, you could visit Inspiration

  • So, what is success for you now?

After many years, I've finally come to understand that success means different things to different people. There have been too many times when I have been guilty of trying to impose my values and definition of success upon others ....... However, I would conclude by encouraging you to simply pause and reflect upon this.

You may be be judging your business success by the fact that you have been achieving your goals. Just make sure that you do not sacrifice what really matters along the way. Don't limit any audit of your success to just your bank balance.

But whatever your definition of success, I hope that you enjoy it.
You can find many more tips and resources at Small Business Management

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Time management routines for the small business owner

Time management in small businessThe amount of time we have each day is allocated to us all with absolute equality.

In other words, you have as much time each day as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, President Obama or J.K Rowling.

The question to ponder is how satisfied you are with what you accomplish with your time each day

No doubt, in running a small business you feel the need to ensure you are achieving as much as you can in every part of your working day...... However, this requires sound planning and considerable self-discipline. 

Time-management experts have reminded us for years that we can never really "save" time. The critical issue is how we spend it. How effectively do you use your time? Do you plan your time carefully – achieving the things that are most important to you and your business?  

We will look at some simple ideas that may help to improve your productivity on a daily and weekly basis. But let me emphasise that what must come first is having a sense of longer term purpose that guides your shorter term planning. When you're clear about where you want to be in 3 to 5 years - then you think about where you need to be by the end of the year..... And then you work backwards in determining what goals to set for yourself this coming year.

1.    Set priorities & plan your day ...
Begin by deciding what tasks must be done today, in order to achieve what must be done by the end of the week and the end of the month. If a project seems overwhelming or complex, break it down into smaller steps that can be handled one at a time.

Write up a 'Things To Do" list - don't just carry it all around in your head. Include all of the things which you would like to accomplish, and then go through the list and number the items in a sequence that reflects their level of relative priority.
Then, beginning with the highest priority item, write next to it the estimated amount of time likely needed in order to complete the item (building a bit of fat into the estimate to allow for likely interruptions) - this should then enable you to subsequently schedule your day around these estimated times, on the basis of doing “first things first” – you can ensure you do the things that really matter.

Be willing to re-assess your to do list and priorities during the day in the light of changing circumstances, sometimes this may have a shifting effect on the level of importance of particular tasks.  A key question to ask yourself is “What will happen if I don’t do this?”

Have realistic expectations of yourself when you are planning your day. There comes a time when you will have to set some limits on what others may be wanting from you - some customers can be quite demanding. It is better to be assertive early and respectfully let people know when they are wanting something that you can't reasonably deliver that day. Otherwise you can over-commit yourself and run the risk of eventually burning yourself out by working longer and longer hours to try and get everything done.

2.    Delegate

If you happen to manage staff, then you need to ask yourself whether you are spending time on tasks that could be better handled by one of your employees? Gain precious hours by seeing if there are some tasks that a member of your team might be capable of taking on, perhaps because they either have more skill or interest in it than you. Remember, they do not have to perform the task as well as you can – they just need to complete it to a satisfactory standard.

If delegation and especially people management are skills that you want to improve, then you'll find some great tips at How to Manage Staff

3.    Avoid procrastination

Many of us can have a tendency to put off unpleasant tasks. But in your business, you will require the self-discipline to tackle the important things, whether you like them or not. Mind you, if there are too many of these important tasks in the one category that you are finding unpleasant (eg. book-keeping) then maybe you should consider contracting the function out. The following three ideas may help you to deal with procrastination:

*       If the project is complex or overwhelming, break it down into a series of steps to be entered on your  "Things To Do"  list. Then set up a specific time and date to begin working on the first step, and follow through as if it were an appointment. Promise to spend just 15 minutes a day on the task until it's done, and schedule these daily segments at the same time--preferably for a quiet period when there will be no interruptions.

*       Create an incentive by promising yourself a special reward for getting the job done. Have a look at some Self Motivation Tips

*       Realise that not every task has to be done perfectly. There are times when something can be better than nothing (well, except when you're getting the brakes on your car fixed). But maybe you can get away with doing only part of the job and then passing it along to someone else for completion.
  1. Adjust your schedule to your energy cycles
Most of us have certain times during the day when we're more alert, more creative and perform better. Try to identify the daily patterns and rhythm of your physical and mental energy levels - then adjust the way you schedule your time during the day to capitalise on your peak periods. In other words, plan to handle the more mentally demanding and critical tasks during your peak energy periods - that way you will potentially be able to get more done in less time.  

As far as possible, fit your schedule to your moods and energy levels, and you'll find that you save time and become so much more productive

In summary ….

Developing good time management as a business owner is all about cultivating efficient routines, and ensuring that you allocate time to forward thinking and planning. By taking time to plan and think ahead, you will prevent problems and crises from happening and you can start to become far more proactive in shaping the future of your business.

Develop healthy routines that include regularly keeping a list of your daily tasks, addressing high priority tasks first, scheduling to take advantage of your peak energy times, avoiding procrastination and delegating where possible. Every so often, step back from the day-to-day grind and ensure that you are working on the things that really matter and are adding the greatest value to your business. The benefits from improved time management will include a greater sense of control and less stress in your life. And then you can focus on the things that really matter.

One final comment - making good decisions will help you to prevent time wastage. So always allocate adequate time for thinking through the big issues, and avoid making snap decisions about them under pressure. More often than not, these will be decisions that end up costing you time because you have to repair the damage caused by impulsive action or poor judgement.

"Seize this day, for you will never
have another one like it"

Copyright. Brian Carroll, Director of Performance Development - a leadership training and management coaching business based in Australia

Monday, August 6, 2012

To grow your business, you've got to get the people management stuff right

people management skillsIf your goal is to grow and expand your business, then one of the skills you may need to further dvelop is learning how to manage and motivate the staff who work with you.

  • It all starts with finding the right people

As your business grows, you find that continued success is less about you and more about the quality of the team that you have surrounded yourself with.

Hopefully, you have taken time and care in recruiting the right people. There can often be a temptation during times of business growth to rush and just get the job filled with anyone

But it's not just about the skills and experience a person might bring to your business, it's also about their personal qualities. Very likely, you  look for people who seem to possess a good work ethic, appear capable of showing some initiative and have a friendly disposition, so they will get along both with your customers and their co-workers.

  • Make sure new staff are properly trained

Frequently over the years, I have seen too many business owners and managers neglect the importance of ensuring that adequate time is allocated to properly training their new staff. They seem to forget that what is easy for them is completely foreign to their new employee.

The first 3 to 4 weeks for a new employee is a critical time in determining whether they form good working habits and develop a sound grasp of your procedures and any computer systems. It is a period where they can become overwhelmed if too much is expected of them too quickly. So plan to gradually introduce them to the various parts of their role so they can digest what they need to learn. Explain where things fit into the bigger picture of the business - and try to be patient when answering their questions.

You will be better served by investing adequate time in getting their initial training right in this first month. Otherwise you run the risk of more time being taken up later in having to correct mistakes and explain things again. Even after the first month of training has been completed, make sure you keep an eye on how they are travelling, and continue to offer feedback and any suggestions to support them

By the third month with your business, you will usually know if things are going to work out with the new employee and whether your selection decision was a good one or not . And if things aren;t working out, then make a clean break. Don't prolong the misery - just make sure that you exit the person graciously.

Quite often the person will realise themselves that the "fit" isn't right. That their skills and interests don't match the requirements of the job. In no way is it about them as a peson. A frank conversation will sometimes surface that they aren't happy in the job, it wasn't what they expected and maybe you can point them towards something that could be better suited to them.

  • Getting the best out of your staff

Assuming then that you have built a solid foundation for the growth of your business by recruiting the right people, and having trained them properly - then how do you now get the best out of them?

For one thing, make sure you are paying them adequately. Keep track of the wages your competition might be paying, if you want to stand any chance of retaining good people. Also, think about other ways of rewarding good work from employees ..... whether it is movie tickets or a complimentary dinner for them and their partner at a local restaurant, or team drinks at the end of the week. When people have performed well, show them you've noticed.

When an employee goes over-and-above their usual duties to satisfy a customer - make sure it's recognised. Feeling un-appreciated is a common reason for employees to look for another job.

But money isn't everything - although it's still important to people.

Just as important as salary to many people is the quality of working relationships they have with their boss and their co-workers. Does your workplace seem to generally be a happy place to be? Do you encourage some camaraderie in the team - a bit of a laugh now and then?

Surveys of what motivates people at work have shown that people want to feel that their boss listens to them and respects their ideas and concerns. When was the last time you asked your staff whether they had any thoughts on how service could be improved to customers? Or asked them if there was anything that could help them perform their jobs more efficiently?

  • Improving your management skills

So, how do you get better at the people management stuff?

Well, for one thing you might consider attending a short management course to refresh some of your core skills in leadership, delegation, coaching, time management and communication. If this appeals to you, have a look at Management Course Melbourne or Management Course Sydney

Another strategy is to network with other small business owners in your local community and exchange ideas and experiences around people management. For example, you might discover they've tried some type of staff incentive program to reward high performance.

But above all, if you want to continue to improve your ability to manage people, then you need to take some time to reflect. By itself, experience is not necessarily a teacher ...... Instead, it is reflecting upon and reviewing your experiences that will determine whether you learn from them.

When all is said and done, becoming a better manager is about growing as a person.  Developing your self-awareness is essential if you are going to be able to get the best out of yourself and the people around you. Don't know about you, but for me - it remains very much a work-in-progress. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The weak link in your small business.... is it you?

small business weakest link
We all know that under pressure, a chain will break at it's weakest point. In your small business, could that weak link be you?

At first glance, that may seem a rather ridiculous question. After all, you were the entrepreneur who had the courage and the vision to get out there and seize an opportunity. You've possessed the resilience and stamina to navigate the business through some difficult times ...... and you've shown the resourcefulness to run and even grow the business into a reasonably profitable enterprise.

So having displayed all of these admirable qualities, in what way could you possibly be the weak link?

Well for one thing, does the business still depend upon you? For your small business to keep on running, do you need to be present?

It may well be that you have staff working for you, but are these people trained to be able to run the operations without you? Have you effectively passed on some of your knowledge and experience to them? Are there adequate systems and procedures in place so that your staff know what to do without the need to be questioning you and relying upon you for direction?

Have you groomed someone who could provide leadership and supervision to the rest of the team in your absence?

If your small business is still dependent upon you and your presence, then you may well be the potential weak link........ And if so, what do you intend to do about it - and when?

If you would like some great tips to help develop your ability to get the best out of yourself and your staff, in terms of how to coach and develop them further, have a look  at Management Skills Development

"One of the biggest threats to your business is not what you don't know, it's when you don't know that you don't know" (Brian Carroll)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Are you wondering if small business is for you?

Perhaps you're working for someone else and you've been feeling that your contributions are worth more than what you're being paid. Or you've been thinking you could do a better job than what your boss does. Or maybe you're working in the corporate world and not gaining the job satisfaction that you so fervently crave.

Or perhaps you're working in an organisation that is about to down-size and you're facing the uncertainty of possible retrenchment.

And you find yourself wondering whether small business might be right for you. Maybe even day-dreaming about the rewards and freedom that you would enjoy in running your own small business?....... Well if this is sounding a bit like you, then here's some things you might want to consider.

  • Be realistic when estimating start-up costs
Within two years of starting up, more than half of new small businesses fail. There are various reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is that the budding entrepreneur often under-estimates the cost of entry into the market and the amount of capital that is required. So make sure you do your sums and if in doubt with the figures, then be conservative. The operational costs of leasing, equipment, running expenses, and any labour and advertising costs for example. Estimate how long it will realistically be before you establish your customer base and therefore the period of time in which you may have to wait before you can expect to have a reasonably steady stream of cash flow

  • Three skill-sets that you require
Do you have the right skill-set, or can you acquire them? Michael Gerber in his book "The E-Myth Revisited" explains that the small business owner requires the ability to perform three types of roles - the Technician, the Manager and the Entrepreneur. As a technician, you might be a plumber, a builder, an accountant or some type of consultant - and you may have great technical skills. But if you can't plan and organise effectively - or if you can't sell and market effectively, then you probably won't succeed in small business. A great summary of his book can be found at E-Myth

  • Being your own boss
Having run my own corporate training business for more than twenty years now, let me say that there is great satisfaction in being your own boss. Yes, small business offers you the opportunity to be more independent and to be able to make the decisions you think are necessary to move the business forward. You have the chance to express your own creativity and to be as bold or as cautious as you want. But at the end of the day - you are accountable for all of the decisions you make and the measures of your success will be readily apparent to you.

Is your revenue increasing? Is your customer base expanding? Are you generating a level of profit that is needed to support your lifestyle and provide you with a fair return for the risks you are taking? Running your own business means no escaping from any bad decisions that you make ..... And you simply have to learn from the mistakes you will likely make - because you won't be able to afford to make the same mistake twice

Being self-employed requires that you be a self-starter. You need to possess both drive and a fair amount of inner resourcefulness to make things happen in your business. You might well be an expert in the products or services that you sell - but there will almost certainly be many other things about running and growing your business that will have to be learned. Are you committed to on-going self-improvement?

  • Risk versus reward
Yes, running a small business is attractive to many people - the allure of being in control of your destiny and the captain of your own ship. Personally, having in the past worked within the corporate arena, I could never return full time to working as an employee in that world. For me, there has been a deep satisfaction in growing and managing my own consulting business.

However, it is not for everyone. And nor is it without stress and considerable anxiety. Your fate can be somewhat tied to the health of the wider economy - just ask those who are struggling in the retail sector. And yet despite a tough economic environment, there are still people who find a way to navigate their small business through stormy weather and ultimately prosper.

If you are contemplating going into small business, then I would encourage you to do your homework and ensure that you carefully weigh up the potential risks versus rewards. If you are looking for a template to help you formulate a business plan, and perhaps help you consider what extra training you should undertake to prepare you for the world of small business - then have a look at Small Business Management
  • What time is it for you?

"There is the time for careful thought and contemplation, when options are considered, goals are formulated and plans are carefully developed. It is the time for thorough research and precise assessment of risk - when haste can be your enemy and recklessness your undoing.

And then there is a time for bold action - when courage and conviction are the qualities that must be called forth from deep within. When self-doubt cannot be allowed to undermine your commitment nor cause you to waver from your chosen direction.

And finally, there is the time for reflection - a time to enjoy the fruits of your labour and learn the lessons of your experience. It can be a time for sharing what you have gained and rejuvenating your spirit, so that you can again when ready, move forward with vision and purpose.

So what time is it, for you? "   (Brian Carroll, 2012)