Friday, December 27, 2013

A small business advisor shares his story - with tips on starting & running your own business

small business profitI had the pleasure recently of chatting with Adam Gordon - who is a highly experienced business advisor that runs a business called the Profits Leak Detective, based in northern NSW.

He has been helping small business owners for more than 25 years.  His clients are typically people who started their business based upon possessing good technical skills, quite often having worked for someone else while they built on their technical training.  Their experience however, rarely extended into learning about marketing, financial management or business management.
Very often, these entrepreneurial spirits would find that running their own business had turned into “hard grinding work”, seven days a week – with far smaller returns than what they had envisaged.  Adam explains that he “…. helps them find and plug the leakage from their profits” so they need only work four and a half days a week, instead of seven.
I asked Adam to share some of his own story in starting a new business - and also for some words of advice for new business owners. His experience of surviving the trials and challenges of the start-up stage may perhaps offer some hope and inspiration to those of you who may be currently struggling with establishing your own business.

1.     Adam, why did you initially decide to start your own business?
I’d long wanted to run my own business, to have the so-called independence of owning one’s own business and being my own boss.  The problem was being trapped in the security of a comfortable income and, while the hours at times could be a bit daunting, they weren’t always like that.  It was quite ccomfortable work - but not ultimately fulfilling.  

For me, the change was an unsettling experience because of the risk in removing the security blanket. However, the desire to work for myself became an increasingly dominant desire.  The moment of discomfort did come – somewhat unexpectedly.  The security blanket was removed from me through an organisational restructure and my job was made redundant.  I took a deep breath, ignored the siren calls and lure of another security blanket that was offered, and instead followed my heart and started-up my business.

2.     What were the biggest “start-up” challenges and difficulties you had to overcome in your first 1 - 2 years?
The first was that terrible “Catch 22” – being able to demonstrate to potential clients that I could do their job and meet their requirements - before I had clients or any “track record” that would reassure them and give me credibility.

Luckily I had a redundancy payout from the bureaucracy for whom I had worked, which helped fund me while I gradually built up a client base and eventually some steady cash flow.
The second challenge was “selling myself” as a business advisor.  This was ironic, because I had never experienced any difficulty in marketing the products and services of my previous employers ...... But when it came to marketing “me”, well that was something different! ... It was necessary to overcome some early conditioning, having been raised in an era where we were taught to avoid being "boastful" and to downplay one's achievements.

3.     What do you find most satisfying now in running your own small business?
Making a difference - seeing small business owners grow in their business so that they become managers and entrepreneurs, and not just technicians.  I don’t mean that necessarily in the E Myth sense.  I want to see them take control of their business, so that they control their business rather than it controlling them. I want to see them succeed, to be highly profitable, to not have to continually worry about money, to have the lifestyle they desire, to not feel they have to spend every waking hour in their business. I can’t really describe the feeling of satisfaction that I get when that happens.

4.     Adam, you’ve worked with hundreds of business owners over the years - what do you think are the key personal qualities that a person must possess if they are to succeed in their own business?
Three necessary qualities that come immediately to mind would be :
i)             determination and persistence, to get through the times of disappointment and frustration
ii)           a diligent attention to detail, with a consistent focus upon a quality service or product
iii)           equally, the ability to step back and periodically take a strategic look at the bigger picture – including the market place and where they want to position themselves within it

However above all, I think the most critical quality is the ability to recognise that they are not “operating” a small business i.e. doing whatever their particular skill is - but instead, they are “running” a small business.  There is a big difference.  They need to make the transition from thinking “I’m a stainless steel fabricator” or “I’m a plumber”  .... to  “I run a stainless steel fabrication business” or “I run a plumbing business”
Without making that fundamental change to their thinking, they will never grow nor become more profitable - they will remain forever a technician doing a technicians job. And the business will always remain dependent upon them and their skills and their availability.

5.     What have been some of the marketing strategies that you’ve found most effective in growing and developing your own business?
There have been two strands to my marketing.  Firstly it has been all about building relationships with both organisations and people.  Both require networking, being involved with both community and business organisations.  And ‘involved’ requires contributing, not just turning up to functions.

Secondly I have endeavoured to become known as a “go to” person in my field.  And that has meant developing skills in terms of techniques and the ability to deliver to clients.  In turn that leads to ‘word of mouth’ promotion and referrals, always the most effective promotional tool.  I’ve also used articles in local newspapers and Chamber of Commerce publications as a tool to demonstrate expertise.
In more recent times I’ve used my newsletter, blog and LinkedIn to do the same thing.

6. Any final words of advice you would offer to small business owners?
Don’t be the same as the others; dare to be different.  So many small businesses don’t want to be seen as different from other players in their industry.  But how do you stand out from the crowd unless you are different in some way? Your product may essentially be the same - so how you package it or promote it or price it will need to be different.

Also, keep trying new things, whether it be products or services, or ways of delivering your products or services. Times change, the market changes – and you must change with it!  But to do this effectively – you must keep on learning; constantly updating your knowledge and acquiring new skills.

Thanks to Adam, for sharing with us some of his 25 years experience in small business consulting. Let me add that when you're running and trying to grow a business, you'll make some mistakes - but don't beat yourself up. After all, if you're not making a few mistakes along the way, then you're probably not trying anything new!

Hey by the way - if you liked this post, then let Google know by clicking the Google+ button on the right hand side, under our logo and Facebook icon

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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Starting-Up A Small Business: essential quick, short reads

So, perhaps you're thinking of starting a small business - or maybe you've just launched one.

And you're after some tips to help you get it right, because you're acutely aware that some half of new small business owners walk away from it all within the first 2 years.  Most of these budding  entrepreneurs typically commenced their business journey full of enthusiasm and excitement, believing they had the formula to succeed.

Too many of them end up walking away feeling thoroughly disheartened and disillusioned from the whole experience, realising they had been overly-romantic in their early views of life as a small business owner.

The reality of starting and running your own business is that there is much that must be learned. As with anything, good quality planning and preparation is essential - and of course there comes the time to recognise when bold action is required.

So what does it take to succeed as an entrepreneur and build a strong foundation for your business. Here's some short articles that offer plenty of tips and sound advice on how to effectively build a small business from the ground up .....
  1. Starting your own business - here's some things you should think through carefully before taking the plunge into small business
  2. Selecting the right business name - a good business name can help you win customers and project what you stand for. It should be short, punchy and memorable - but you may need to consider trademark issues
  3. Manage your cash flow - a healthy cash flow is the lifeblood for your business. You may need to squirrel away some of it for a rainy day
  4. Marketing your small business - marketing is about listening to your customers and identifying opportunity gaps in the market that can be exploited. Here's a simple explanation of marketing and some great ideas to help you grow your business
  5. Getting your website found by Google - if some of your business is generated through your website, then you will know the importance of appearing high on the first page of search engines, so that potential new customers can find you. One option is to pay for the privilege of a high ranking through the use of paid advertisements with Google AdWords. But the other option is to learn about search engine optimisation - and this offers a nice simple explanation
  6. Change & small business - adapt, innovate or perish - here's an important reminder about the importance of remaining flexible, and some great ideas on how you can encourage innovation in your business
  7. Time management routines for the small business owner - your personal productivity is dependent upon developing good healthy routines for planning and managing your use of time on a daily and weekly basis
  8. Self-motivation tips - there can be times in business when you hit an inner wall, and you get stuck with procrastination and inertia. Here's ten ideas for giving yourself an energy boost to get moving again
  9. Mental toughness - of course there will be many frustrations and disappointments along the path of starting-up and running your small business. Mental toughness will be one of the keys to your ability to remain resilient and persistent.
  10. How to conduct a job interview - once the business starts to expand, you will be needing to recruit staff. But if you get this wrong, it can cost you big time - so here's some tips to help you select the best people
  11. Getting the people management stuff right - when you have employees working for you, then your ability to manage and motivate others will become at least as important as any of the technical skills you might have
  12. Small business is all about relationships - a great reminder that a sustainable business depends upon building healthy relationships with your customers, your staff, your suppliers - and don't forget your family
These articles offer different types of ideas that can help you in both managing yourself and your business. Small business can be a tough gig - but when it all comes together it can be incredibly satisfying and rewarding at many different levels. But it requires hard work - no question about that.

Hey, if you're just starting out, here's a short video clip that offers some good quick tips -

Michael Gerber, of E-Myth acclaim, has studied the reasons why many small businesses fail. He explains that very often the entrepreneur is someone who possesses specialist technical skills (eg. as a plumber, hairdresser, architect or chef) combined with initiative and a strong drive for independence - which  are indeed important qualities. But to succeed in running a business, you also need to acquire additional capabilities in sales and marketing, financial management, people management and organisational skills. 

Although you don't need to become an expert in these areas, because to some extent you can outsource or hire contract specialist expertise; never-the-less you still need a solid understanding of these additional business capabilities so that you don't get "ripped-off" or mislead by "experts".

In other words, launching and growing a sustainable business requires you to become a student again. Commit yourself to continuous learning and gaining the range of business tools and knowledge you need to succeed.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

HR Tips for Small Business - Recruiting and retaining good staff

HR tips for small businessIn large organisations, there is quite often a Human Resources department that exists to oversee staffing related matters - including the recruitment, training and development of employees. The people working in these departments are typically HR “specialists”.

In small business however, the HR function is just one of the hats that the owner will be required to wear. As soon as you start to grow your small business and employ staff on either a contract, part time or full time basis, then there is a range of “HR stuff” which a business owner must research and carefully consider.
The question of wages and other HR issues

For example, one of the very first questions you must ponder is what will you pay your staff? Are there relevant awards for the particular job you have available? Certainly for many service and hospitality related jobs, such as chef or waitress or store assistant or hairdresser, there are defined award rates.

But not every job is covered by an award in Australia – and there will be occasions when in order to get the best people you need to meet the wages that are offered in the wider market.  So, you must consider whether you will simply pay them the award rate, which defines the legal minimum hourly rate and other employee entitlements, such as annual leave for example? …. Or, do you need to offer higher-than-award wage rates in order to attract quality people? ….. Will you offer a bonus if the employee performs extraordinarily well and contributes to further growth in the business? …… What specific duties should be included in the job description of the employee? …… What performance standards will you expect and how will you measure the performance of your staff to ensure that they are adding sufficient value to your business?
If you run a small business and are either thinking about employing staff or perhaps you already have staff working for you, but you’re not too sure about some of this HR stuff, then read on ………. I had an interesting chat with Tracy Busse, who runs Waveform Consulting based in Melbourne. Here’s what she had to say about HR as it applies to small business, and some great tips she offered for recruiting and retaining good quality staff…..

Tracy, what experience do you have with HR?
I have many years of operational experience in hospitality and 20+ years’ experience in Human Resources in South Africa, Australia and the UK. My experience across most HR functions includes the hotel industry, not for profit/community development and water/government business enterprise. I have also run two small businesses, a restaurant and currently a HR and transitions coaching consultancy. I have studied HR/organisational psychology in both South Africa and Australia up to Masters Level.

What is your key HR message for small business owners?
Having experienced most HR functions and a range of HR initiatives in my working life, it is easy for a small business owner to get confused by the seemingly complex array of HR regulations, systems and programs. However I think it can be simplified into one key message - to value the people who are working for you and to treat them as whole people not “just a staff member”.

I recently had a conversation with a business coach. His future vision is to create workplaces where his children will be well treated and flourish as human beings. A key message here is to treat people as you would wish you children to be treated in their workplace one day. Values such as respect, fairness and dignity come to mind. And of course this also includes making hard decisions and managing performance. It doesn’t mean a happy family at the expense of the business.
HR is often viewed as the “soft” side of the business, compared to the “hard” side of the business being focused on the numbers and the Profit/Loss figures on the ledger sheet. And yet I think that a healthy business needs a balance between these hard and soft elements, if it is going to be sustainable over the long term.

I believe that this “human care factor” should apply to direct staff members as well as any contractors or consultants that might be engaged by your small business. Whether your employees feel that you are treating them with care and respect will ultimately influence the quality of service they in turn deliver to your customers.
You won’t win loyalty, pride and dedication from your employees unless they feel that you are looking after them.

What can small business do to attract and recruit great staff?
I suggest you cast your net wide when a staff vacancy arises in your small business.

·        Use social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter, Google+ are all great, cost effective options)

·        Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth – ask all friends and family

·        Use your business networks

·        Be prepared to invest your time in finding the right person. Remember it is much more costly to end up with someone who is a poor fit.

·        if you opt to use an employment agency, then invest the time in ensuring that they are high quality and that they understand your business and culture
Additionally, I have found there are many untapped talent pools out there that a small business owner can leverage.

I run outplacement programs and often spend time with quite skilled people who have been retrenched from large organisations that have “down-sized”. Others are disillusioned with corporate life or want more work/life balance and some keep getting turned down because they have too much or too little experience.
The members of these talent pools are quite often looking for career changes, new opportunities and workplaces that fit with their values. I see small business as a very viable opportunity for this talent pool – either as entrepreneurs, staff members or contractors.
(for interviewing tips, have a look at How To Conduct the Job Interview - Brian)

What can a small business owner do to retain quality staff?
This is a good question. If small business owners are going to invest their time in finding really great people, then they have to be prepared to do what it takes to keep them and be great at it. I have many ideas about how to do this - some include ….

·        Value people – an imperative and the message must be consistently conveyed in everything you think, do and say. You can rant and rave in the heat of the moment at a computer or machine that may have let you down – but an employee will never forgive you if were to treat them in such a way

·        Induct and train people properly when they start in your business…..  Ensure that you provide new staff with a full understanding of your mission, vision, values, culture, what you expect of them etc. – Explain this bigger picture and then the rest will fall into place more easily e.g. systems, procedures, information etc.

·        Develop people – how will you grow and develop your new staff member? Consider both job capabilities, future capabilities and personal development

·        Have regular communication and keep your staff informed about what’s going on in the business – particularly during times of change

·        Offer a range of employee benefits beyond just the traditional e.g. health and well-being initiatives, work/life balance, a range of flexible working options e.g. part-time, contract work, telecommuting, virtual assistance etc.
There are essentially four questions that people want answered when they are working for you:

i)            Where are we going as a business or team?

ii)           What is my role and what do you expect of me?

iii)          How am I going – are you satisfied with my work?

iv)         Where will I be in the business / team as we move forward in the future?
Provided that you answer these basic concerns of your staff, then you will be well on track towards retaining them.  Of course, whether the work itself matches their skills and interests will also influence their motivation – as well as the quality of the relationship that you build with them. Studies have shown that one of the most common reasons an employee leaves a job is because of a poor working relationship with their immediate manager.

Are there any risks associated with attraction and retention in the small business?
I’ve come across many small business owners who experience a fear of “being taken advantage of”. And yet I have found that when you give trust, more often than not you will usually receive it in return. The same principle applies to your relationship with your customers …… As I said earlier, the relationship you have with your staff will often determine the relationship you have with your customers.

The other common fear is the risk of losing good staff, particularly after having invested time in their training.
But small business owners needs to consider the advantages they can offer to an employee – a far broader range of experience across many functions, more flexibility, staff often get more opportunities and they can develop their own systems and procedures rather than be subject to the constraints of corporate life. Consider your competitive advantage and market it!

So in conclusion Tracy says "Your business is only as good as the people within it and happy staff will equal happy customers!"

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Employee health & well-being in small business

In Australia a small business is defined, at least under the government’s Fair Work Act, as an enterprise that employs up to 15 staff. However, the majority of small businesses seem to employ between one to four staff (sometimes referred to as a micro-business).

If you run a business with a small team, then you know that having just one employee absent for a single day will create some disruption to your operation. Particularly when you receive late notice, such as a phone call just before their shift commences

Staff absence is quite often of course the result of genuine illness, although sometimes it can reflect a morale problem – and other times it can be because of family or other circumstances (such as a sick child that needs to be minded).
When you run a small business, the health and well-being of your staff is not something that you can afford to ignore – and therefore any ideas that can help to reduce or prevent absenteeism are worth considering.

I recently met with Tracy Busse, who runs a small HR consulting business in Melbourne called Waveform Consulting, that offer services in this area of staff health and well-being. Here’s what she had to say in response to some basic questions……
Tracy, what is your experience with employee Health and Well-being?

I have administered OH&S and my passion was managing a preventative health and well-being program over many years delivering benefits to 600 staff. I combine this passion with my organisational psychology/coaching background and life experiences to offer coaching, seminars, webinars and workshops in the health and well-being arena. My particular area of interest is building emotional resilience, healthy thinking and confidence: a mindset for success before, during and after life and career transitions:

Do you think small business can provide a healthy environment for staff?
Most definitely! I am sure that many already do and there is so much more that can be done at the workplace. It makes business sense because happy, healthy staff are productive and effective. As a small business owner you want everyone to be at their best.

What can small business do on a shoestring budget?
I have operated in workplace environments with a substantial budget but also where there is no budget for health and well-being. As a small business owner you can deliver benefits without cost or with minimal cost or you can also pass on cost or partial to employees (user pays basis).

I have so many ideas around this…….where to start? If you did nothing other than to make health and well-being a regular feature at team meetings or informal chats then that is a great start.
A successful approach that I have seen is to start with your team and ask them what are the key risks in their workplace – brainstorm and list them all, consider physical safety risks as well as risk to their health and well-being e.g. trips and falls, security for shift/late night workers, difficult / aggressive customers, sun exposure for outdoor staff, sitting/standing for long periods, manual handling, mental health issues such as depression.

Then when you have all the risks identified and understood, you need to prioritise. Come up with, say the 5 top risks in your workplace/s and develop a program around those needs. For example, if staff feel vulnerable when walking to their car after a late night roster, you might consider getting someone in to run a 1 to 2 hour self-defence course for interested staff. Your solutions could involve making preventive information readily available in the workplace - such as posters, or highlighting relevant websites.
You can either run the program yourself or with a larger team in your business, you might ask staff to work in pairs to run various elements, which can also have team building benefits too. Try to be as creative as possible and use themes to introduce humour, keep the programme light, fun and enjoyable.

What are some ways that health and well-being can be fostered within a small business workplace?
Over the years, I’ve seen small business owners do a lot of different things, including for example ….

-      yoga or exercise classes
-      having a weekly fruit bowl
-      organising a lunchtime walking group
-      running a quit smoking program, weight loss program,
-      getting some specialist ergonomic advice to help with better workplace design (this could be as simple as improved lighting, or seating that offers staff better back support, or computer screen covers that reduce eye strain)
-      promoting regular health and medical checks (for example for high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.), including offering flu injections leading up to winter
Many larger organisations offer an employee assistance program which usually provides free access to psychologists. Did you know that your local GP can provide a mental health treatment plan which gives access to up to 10 sessions per year with a clinical psychologist and a range of health professionals?  So people suffering for example from depression or extreme relationship stresses can benefit from expert assistance.
Many charities and not for profits supply posters and online resources  e.g. Beyond Blue, Heart Foundation, Cancer Council. In many cases they will send someone to talk on a particular topic – if you are too small to offer this, then why not ask other businesses to join in or run it through a local business network.

Another option is to speak to your work cover insurer, private medical insurer or super fund as they sometimes offer on-line resources on workplace health.
Are there risks associated with placing a focus on workplace health?

The risk of doing nothing about staff health is that your business could subsequently suffer through unplanned staff absenteeism, as well as the possibility of higher insurance costs in the future.
However, there can also be risks associated with doing something. The common fear is that you will open up a can of worms  However, if there are staff well-being issues in your workplace then you would have to deal with them at some point anyway - so you may as well face up to them earlier instead of later.

There is also a fear around confidentiality of information and liability. You don’t need to see or keep any medical records - that is the role of a health practitioner. If you do have knowledge of a condition or health situation you are liable to take reasonable precautions/preventative actions to avoid further risk or aggravation to the injury.
If you are promoting resources such as those from Beyond Blue – you can have a disclaimer stating that it is purely for information purposes, you are not recommending or accepting liability for the service. You are liable for staff if they are participating in a work related event, even if it is outside work hours, so if you use an outside provider make sure that they have insurance.

Another concern you might have is that you won’t have sufficient time to do this and it will detract from running your business. But you don’t have to do it all – get other people involved. You might just be giving someone else the opportunity they need. You also don’t need to do lots of big things, sometimes just a small effort on a regular basis might be enough – and it shows your staff that you care about them
In closing, Tracy says "If your business relies on healthy happy staff - then their health and well-being is integral to your business, so view this as an investment rather than a cost"

Related article "How to motivate staff"

About the author

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Small Business - If you're needing a dose of inspiration

Starting up a small business can be a rocky road 
small business inspiration
Hey, when you're running s small business you can have some bad days, right? ....... And there can be times when you just feel like throwing it all in.......... You think to yourself, who needs all  this crap!

Maybe the economy has slowed down and your sales have taken a big hit. Or your margins are getting tighter because the competition is getting tougher. Or someone you trusted let you down

Or it seems like all that you've been investing in sales and marketing recently just isn't giving you anywhere near a reasonable return. Or maybe all the long hours you've been working are starting to take a physical and mental toll on you ..... And what can make it even worse is when you also feel like your family or the people around you don't seem to understand or appreciate the sacrifices you've been making to try and make the business successful.

Yeah, running a small business can be tough, it can be lonely and there can be uncertainty at times. And at some point, many small business owners become discouraged and feel like they're hitting a wall ..... It can be so, so tempting to give up on the dream and give in to the feelings of despair and frustration.

To simply walk away and go back to working for somebody else .... Hey, let someone else take the risks. Let someone else put their house on the line if they fail. Let someone else worry about making wrong decisions. Let someone else worry about leases and taxes and paperwork and changes to regulations.

Turning things around

Well, when you're finding yourself in one of those dark places, it can be amazing what a small dose of inspiration. can do to turn things around. And most amazing of all is that often you find that when you are able to change your thinking and change your outlook - then the problems you've been facing don't seem quite so overwhelming!

Finding the inspiration to persevere

Here's some short video clips that I hope might serve to help refresh and rejuvenate the flame within ..... To help you re-connect with the energy, drive and determination that first lead you to start your small business.

When you re-discover the faith and belief in your own abilities to persevere and achieve what you set out to do - then you will also inspire the people around you.  Imagine one day in the future, if someone were to come up to you and say "You inspired me to follow my dreams and not give up"........ The fulfilment that will come from knowing you made a positive difference by the example that you set - whether to your customers, to your staff or to your family.

When you re-discover the reason why you are doing what you are doing - and feel again connected to your sense of purpose behind your sacrifice, then it might just become satisfying again. It doesn't feel so much like hard work when you are passionate about what you're doing.

The creative and motivational juices will surely start flowing again when you lift your head up towards the heavens, take a deep breath, feel the sunshine on your face and the wind in your hair, and affirm to yourself that you will seize this very day ...

If you would like some more inspiring and uplifting thoughts, then take a look at Inspire Yourself ..... I hope you've found something that has helped you in some small way.

About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of a corporate training business, Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist and experienced business coach with a passion for helping people achieve their goals in life. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Small Business Tips - Dealing with stress

Stress in small business
When you're running a small business, there will very likely be times when you experience stress...... times when you're feeling overwhelmed and feeling as though you're "just barely hanging on by your fingertips"

How well you deal with these stressful periods will become one predictor of your future success and just as importantly, your ability to enjoy it.

So let's have a brief look at some of the dynamics of stress  and what you can do to manage your stress levels and stay healthy, resilient and positive .....

  • What can be the effects of stress?
This may surprise you, but not all stress is bad. Some level of stress can actually energise us and contribute to enhanced performance. If you've ever played competitive sport, you will probably have experienced the effects of a bit of healthy pressure ...... An important game that you want to win - you feel excited and you're looking forward to the challenge.. You feel alert and keen. You encourage your team-mates and feel confident in your ability to bring your "A" game to the table.

But equally, you may have experienced the effects of excessive pressure when you played. You've felt tense and nervous ..... you find yourself worrying about making mistakes and losing the game. Your anxiety interferes with any enjoyment of the game - what's more, your decision making and reflexes seem to have slowed down. You get tired more easily and lose sight of the bigger picture. Nothing seems to be going right - you just want the game to be over.

Well, the effects of stress upon you in your business aren't all that different. If you can manage the level of stress and keep it within a healthy range, then that moderate level of pressure can bring out the best in you. But too much stress for too long a period - and you can damage your health, as well as the fabric of your business. It can contribute to tension headaches, indigestion, sleeplessness, moodiness, irritability and lethargy. Sustained high stress levels can lead to burnout and even depression.

  • What can cause stress in business?
Different people can become stressed by different things - you can put two different people in the same situation and they don't necessarily both become stressed. One might feel comfortable and another might feel anxious and threatened ....... It all depends upon how people perceive their ability to handle a situation. When you have confidence in your ability to meet the demands that you are encountering, then you won't become so easily stressed - until you over-extend yourself, that is.

Putting aside individual differences, some of the most common causes of stress for small business owners can be things like ....
  1. Cash flow problems
  2. Economic downturn
  3. Staff absenteeism and under-performance
  4. Demanding customers with unrealistic expectations
  5. New competition
  6. Long working hours
  7. Conflict in the workplace or at home
  8. Change and uncertainty

  • So, what can you do to cope with stress?
Well, the best thing is to prevent your stress levels from escalating and becoming "too much". In other words, monitor yourself and learn to recognise some of the early signs that you're becoming overly-stressed - then do something different. If you're getting too stressed, then you've got to change something - either in the situation or within yourself ..... Sometimes by changing the way you are looking at a situation and the way you're thinking about it can actually change the way you feel about it. A shift in "perspective" can sometimes help us to let go of stressful emotions. Learning to accept what is - rather than dwelling on what we think should be.

As corny as it sounds, the old saying really does apply in business...... "Control what you can and adapt to what you can't control". There's no point thinking or worrying about those things that are beyond your control to influence. So, spend your time and mental energy more wisely on identifying what you can improve.

For example, you can't change the fact that a new competitor has entered your part of the market. So you do your research, You learn as much as you can about their products and services. You identify points of difference that you can exploit and leverage - the same way that you've done in the past, with other competition.

The point here is that you were likely initially feeling threatened by the "unknown" factor - but once you've collected information then you can start making informed decisions about any necessary changes to your marketing strategy moving forward. The anxiety of the unknown is reduced as you start taking action. You can control the way you will respond to this new competitor, but you can't control what they will do.

  • Look after your physical well-being
There is no question that your physical and mental well-being typically go hand-in-hand. So care for your body ...... ensure you get enough sleep, eat nutritious food and get enough regular  exercise to maintain a reasonable degree of physical fitness. These fundamental routines will mean it's more likely you'll have the physical stamina to cope with the stressful and demanding times that arise in your business - and therefore you'll also be more capable of remaining mentally tough

  • Five quick stress management tips
  1. Plan ahead, manage your time and prioritise your tasks. This discipline is one of the best things you can do to prevent harmful stress in the first place
  2. Ask for help and advice when you need it. Avoid thinking that you've got to handle it all by yourself ...... Whether it is talking to your mentor, your spouse or even a member of your staff whom you trust. If you have a problem, try not to bottle it up - you're not the only one who might be able to find a solution
  3. Keep a healthy work-life balance. Avoid falling into the habit of spending excessively long hours on the business - it's meant to be e means to an end, not an end of itself
  4. Ensure you develop hobbies and interests outside of the business that help you to relax, switch-off and have some fun. A healthy sense of humour and a regular laugh is a great defence against mental stress
  5. Keep perspective when things go wrong ...... try to avoid sweating the small stuff. Ask yourself in the bigger scheme of things, how critical is this issue?

In the following short video clip, some of the common symptoms of stress are identified and some sound advice offered on simple ways of controlling negative workplace stress

There are many other ideas that can help you when dealing with stress  But above all, try and remember that a significant degree of stress in business can be self-created when we worry about stuff that may not even happen, or dwell upon things that are beyond our control to influence. As the wise man on the T-shirt proclaims, "Sh..t happens" When we can't change it, we've simply got to find a way to adapt and start moving forward again.

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Difficult Customers : Sometimes, you just can't afford to keep them

dealing with difficult customers
Every small business gets it’s share of difficult customers. They can leave you feeling stressed, confused, tense or frustrated to the point of wanting to pull your hair out.

How well do you and your staff handle them? …….  Are there ever occasions when you might decide it’s just not worth the hassle of working so hard to keep a particularly difficult customer?

Let’s look at some of the difficult types of customers that you might encounter in your small business…..

·       Different types of difficult customers

Which of the following difficult customers have you experienced in your small business …..
1.    The customer who always seems to complain about every little thing and find fault in anything you do for them

2.    The customer who is slow and reluctant in paying their bill

3.    The haggling customer who wants to pay you peanuts, but expects top quality service

4.    The demanding customer who always wants their work completed yesterday

5.    The rude customer – who lacks any form of basic courtesy

6.    The indecisive customer, who either can’t make up their mind or regularly changes their mind during the progress of the order

·        Preventing  difficulties
You will avoid many difficulties in your business with customers by simply ensuring that from the very beginning of the relationship you listen carefully and communicate clearly. This is fundamental to understanding their requirements and then meeting agreed expectations. Customers rightly get annoyed if they feel they're not being listened to or when they experience an unmet expectation or when they've been sold a solution that just doesn't fix their problem.
But some customers have quite unrealistic expectations, so you've got to manage them. 

You've heard the business principle of "Under-promise and over-deliver" - that way it's much less likely that you'll lose their trust. For example, if you’re a printing company and you think their job will take 3 hours to complete, then you might estimate to the customer that their job could take up to 4 hours ..... This way, you prevent a complaint if the job happened to take an extra 30 minutes to complete.
If you’re a hairdresser and you’re running late in your appointments, you give the customer a call as early as possible, with an apology. Yes, they’ll still feel a little annoyed – but they won’t be anywhere near as angry if you hadn’t called. Mind you, even better is that with good time management perhaps you might have been running on time with your appointments in the first place.
Another example of preventing difficulties let’s say with slow payment, is to ensure that customers understand your payment terms before committing to doing business with you. Whether this is clearly conveyed in signage within your store, or spelled out on any purchase order which they sign.

·        Some customers are just plain unreasonable

Early in the “start-up” stage of the business, we have a tendency to be grateful for any type of customer at all, and we will often be quite over-accommodating.
For example, with the demanding customer our eagerness to please means we end up being too willing to work as many hours as necessary to complete the job for the customer – staying back late in the evenings so as to keep them happy. But this can be at the expense of any type of healthy work-life balance. It also tends to create a precedent, in terms of tight timelines that the customer expects you to again meet in future. In a sense, this is simply "feeding the beast".

Another example of this over-accommodation in the start-up stage can be a reluctance to enforce terms of payment. We don’t want to risk any tension in the relationship, quite often feeling that we need them more than they need us. We do anything to avoid upsetting the customer – even though they haven’t met their part of the deal in not paying us on time.

However, once we start to feel more confident that our business has established itself, then we eventually learn to become more assertive in the way we deal with these customers. In no way does this mean that we become less respectful or less courteous. What it does mean is that we speak up more readily to explain our requirements of them, and remind them when necessary about our terms and conditions.

We realise that we have to become much more willing to walk away from continuing to do business with an unreasonable customer who is simply too toxic and takes far too much work to please and appease.
In the following short video clip, the owner of a small website design business shares some useful tips he's learned about the dangers of being "too nice" when dealing with clients that just seem to be wanting more and more beyond what was initially agreed

·        But what about “The customer is always right”
Your mantra when you established your business was probably “The customer is always right” …. And of course, you never want to lose sight of the reality that the profitability and sustainability of your small business depends upon satisfied, if not delighted, customers. And of course, just because a customer is complaining, this doesn’t make them unreasonable. There could well be a very good reason for their complaint – and we may learn something from it, in terms of improving our processes or our staff training!

However, this cannot mean that we must seek to satisfy all customers at any cost. In any relationship, you’ve got to be able to set reasonable boundaries – because if you can’t, chances are at some point you’ll be taken advantage of.  For example, unfortunately there are customers out there who will avoid paying their bill, if you let them.

·        Keeping perspective
Now let’s try to put all of this in some perspective here. The vast majority of your customers are very likely reasonable people. And you’ve tried to develop your processes and procedures so that they as customer-focused as possible. This means 90% of the time, through clear and regular communication between you and your customer, everything works out.  Your customer feels comfortable with the “value exchange” – they perceive that they have received the product or service that they required, at a fair price and in a timely manner.

·        Some difficulties can be resolved
And then there’s another 5% of the time when problems can arise. With these, through careful patient listening and co-operative problem solving with your staff and customer, a solution can be found that works for everyone. You spend some time with your staff, de-briefing later to check whether a recurrence of this type of situation can be prevented in the future.
  • Some customers themselves are the problem
But there can be this other 5% of the time, when you find yourself dealing with unreasonably difficult customers. This is when you need to step back and ask yourself what is that particular customer bringing to the business – either in terms of prestige, referrals or sales volume. And weigh this up carefully against what it is costing you to keep them. Sometimes you will find, having completed the math that it’s just not worth it.

And that’s when it’s time to explain to them with great tact and diplomacy that you’re not going to be able to help them – and instead point them towards one of your competitors.

More tips and small business resources can be found at Small Business Management

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