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.