Category Archives: Business Management and Leadership

Handling Small Business Stress

Handling Small Business Stress

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There are only two ways to make a living in this world – working for someone else or working for yourself.

If you’re an employee, unless something serious goes wrong, you have a reasonable expectation of stability, certainty and knowledge of where your next paycheck is coming from. Depending on your employer, you may have good benefits and potential to advance in your career. The risk-reward ratio of a salaried job is low to medium and suits the majority of people just fine. But, as the saying goes, nobody ever got rich working for a salary.

As a self-employed person or small-business owner, however, you are entirely responsible for your own income – and, if you have employees, for their income, too. There’s always the chance that you will be wildly successful, but that possibility is tempered by the very real risk of failure, sudden changes in the market, and a host of other risks. The risk-reward ratio is high and, for a small percentage of people, worth it.

Accept that you will undergo stress

If you’re considering working for yourself or starting your own company because you’re tired of working long hours, many rounds of golf with clients, or getting up at whatever time of day you feel like it, prepare yourself for failure right now. Because, as any successful small-business owner will tell you, it’s going to take a massive amount of very hard work, long hours, and the ever-present risk of losing it all. It can be a very high-stress venture and knowing how to deal with that risk could make the difference between pushing through the lean times and packing it all in for a nice, stable salary. Your first step is to accept the fact that you are going to experience stress and prepare yourself to deal with it.

Focus on what’s in front of you

It’s always a good idea to have a plan A, B, and C in place to deal with foreseeable contingencies; however, it’s impossible to foresee every scenario, so don’t spend all your time planning for what might go wrong. Have one or maybe two backup plans in place, then focus on what you’re trying to achieve – after all, the cost of reward is risk. Deal with each problem as it arises – don’t spend fruitless time worrying about what may happen. At the same time, don’t put off dealing with an issue for too long; both of these habits will cause you far too much unnecessary stress.

Have a release valve

For some self-employed people it’s a daily walk with the dog, for others it’s a weekly art class. Whatever it is, everyone, no matter how busy, needs time away from work to allow the mind to shut off, focus on other things and remember that there really is more to life than work. Unfortunately, for too many people that ends up being the instant gratification of alcohol or drugs, so take the time to find something worthwhile. Before you even choose the name of your new company, find something that can serve as your release valve and stick with it – you’ll thank yourself later for it!

Business Best Practices

Learning Business Best Practices From The Big Companies

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Best Business Practice – Learning From the Best

Every day, thousands of start-up companies are born. The majority of them will fail, but a few will succeed and it’s all because they followed a few simple strategies that are followed by large, successful corporations.  If you’re thinking of opening your own small business, or already own one, try these tips to help you grow your business in the right direction.

Management

Whether you’re a one-man operation or a small group, effective management is essential for success. For the single-person operation, make sure you manage your time, efforts, resources and relationships with clients well. If you have a few employees, be certain that you are managing them to the best of their ability – ensuring you have people with the right skills for the job, making certain their talents are being used to your best benefit, and keeping an eye on how their time is being used. If you aren’t maximising the time they spend at your offices, you need to reconsider how they work.

Service

No matter how big or small, delivering the best possible customer service is absolutely vital. For a large company, one or two disgruntled customers can be managed, placated, or even written off if there’s no pleasing the customer. For a small business, the loss of one or two repeat customers can be disastrous. Define your customer service strategy, make sure you and your client understand what will be delivered, how it will be delivered, and when it will be delivered – then stick to that!

Finances

Especially if you’re quite busy, it’s easy to let the finances slide. Sure, you may be sending out invoices and getting money in, but is that money being properly managed? Are your bills, taxes and salaries being paid on time and accurately? Is there any way you could be investing some of that money to help it grow? If you have plans to expand and need a business loan from your bank, do you have clear cash-flow projections, income and expenditure analysis? Unless you are a financial whizz-kid and are able to not only do your work, manage your company and keep all the finances perfectly in order, you may need an accountant – even a part-time or freelance one.

Skills transfer

One of the greatest risks with a small company is specialisation. The more niche your product or service, the more difficult it is to find the right people to do the work. And even if you find those people, there’s no guarantee they will be around forever and if they leave, they take not only their skills, but everything they’ve learned with them. This can cause a massive skills shortage for your company. Make sure that all knowledge gained within your company is shared, written down, kept alive, so that it can be passed on and not lost along with a prized employee.

Marketing

Effective marketing is absolutely critical for any small business. If nobody knows you exist, they won’t be able to use you – it’s really that simple. You don’t need to spend millions on that marketing, though. Look at current marketing that works – use social media to its best advantage, be present in your marketplace, keep your brand story alive and active. If you find something that works, use it – just don’t use it to death, and don’t use just that idea.

Keeping a small business running takes plenty of effort, but it can be done. Use these techniques to help make sure your business works, and you could see your company grow beyond your dreams.

Project Management

How to avoid going over budget on a project

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Build a flex fund or contingency into the budget

A great budget that can last throughout the entire project and protect a company’s balance sheet is more than just estimating how much everything will cost.  No, it involves understanding the risk and realities of the project you are undertaking.  Be sure to have a portion of your budget allocated for contingencies or emergencies with undertaking the project.  This helps you stay on budget rather than having no backup plan and when unexpected expenses crop up, having to scramble to find the resources or shut the project down which wastes valuable time and money.

Ensure you have an amazing project manager/leader

The key to an efficient and smooth project is largely due to the manager or leader of the project.  This person’s job is to allocate the resources budgeted to the project properly, as well as motivates and organizes the staff to complete the project on schedule.  It is critical to ensure the project manager fully understands the scope of the project and ideally, has worked on or led a similar one before.  It is very difficult to complete a project or estimate its costs if you have never undertaken something similar. That unknown means a greater risk, which means the project is more likely to go over budget.

Organization and communication are key

Spending the first few days or weeks of a project, establishing a routine and system for organization and communication can seem like a waste of time on the surface. However, the more complicated the project, the more likely issues in these areas will arise.  Information and instructions passed along the chain can be misconstrued by different mid-level managers causing confusion in their subordinates.  Work completed which is not tracked and organized could be repeated unnecessarily–wasting time and money in the process.

A system, whether digitized or based on company hierarchy, can help keep your project on budget by increasing efficiency in all areas of the project.  Assumptions are a project’s worst enemy and can cause aspects of the project to have to be redone or changed after completion, which can ruin timelines and budgets in the process.

Establish a relationship with freelancers, outsourced help, and suppliers beforehand

Nothing can derail a project more than a key supplier not fulfilling an order or delivery as they previously expected. Even if they have a legitimate reason such as port delays or equipment repairs, projects often have a linear component that means they cannot move forward without certain aspects complete or in place.  If at all possible, you should work with suppliers, freelancers, and other outside the company, on small projects or one-off assignments before relying on them for a key component of a major project. This precaution will ensure that the vendor is reliable, indicating that you are a serious company and should be respected.  Mutual respect ensures the supplier follows through on their promise, on time, and assures the supplier they will be compensated for their efforts as you already have established your working relationship on previous projects.

Business Plan

Resources to help your write a business plan

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Understand your industry

If you plan to open an ecommerce store or a monthly wine service it can help your business and planning in many ways to start researching and studying the competition.  While you may not find a verbatim business plan that they made, either because they got lucky and didn’t make one or didn’t publish it to the public, your studying will help you capture all aspects of your industry without leaving a stone unturned.  The challenges, supplier issues, definition of target customer, headwinds, tailwinds–all these things become more apparent, clear, and will make writing your business plan much easier.

Once you know the challenges you are likely to face, your business plan can establish how you plan to tackle those and what resources you need to allocate to that task.  Of course, there will be a myriad of unexpected challenges along the way that you did not plan for, but your business plan could even address how you will respond to those in a general way.

Maybe your plan states you will use a line of credit or debt to handle situations like that or there is a lever on capital expenditures you can pull to reduce cash burn and shore up the balance sheet if an unforeseen event happens.

Look at templates or sample business plans

While every business plan will be different, utilizing a template or an existing plan as a reference can help you focus your plan to what really matters.  Often small business owners or budding entrepreneurs can romanticize or neglect certain areas of the business, such as less glamorous things like taxes or legal fees, to the detriment of their business.  While a business plan is a high-level view of your business as well as how it will operate, it is not uncommon for these plans to be tens of pages, often close to a hundred for very complex enterprises.

Don’t neglect the mission statement

Many businesses neglect their mission statement or hire it out to a freelance writer to produce in fancy, lofty language.  A mission statement is not an archaic concept that no longer applies to fast moving, bootstrapped technology startups, but is the foundation of your business identity and culture.

If you want to start a business in a saturated industry but plan to stand out because of x, then your mission statement should be focused around x.  There is a reason you think this venture is a good idea, and that is what the mission statement reflects.

That way, when looking back on your enterprise in the future or faced with a tough decision about the direction you should take; referring back to your mission statement can remind you of your original goals, intents, and help to refocus the company.

That is not to say a mission statement can’t be revised–it can and should, but a powerful, well thought out statement can do wonders for a company.  Johnson and Johnson has one of the best etched in stone at their headquarters, and as a result have become one of the most successful companies in the world.

Workplace Etiquette Everyone Should Know

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Workplace etiquette is the foundation of a comfortable and efficient workplace but is rarely ever spelled out other than in boring and dull employee handbooks.  Much of the true etiquette and office expectations can only be learned on the job–by observing, interacting, and adapting to the company’s culture and your fellow employees’ temperaments.

Keep Shared Spaces Clean

Break and lunch rooms are often the most commonly used space between all employees, and are used as a place to relax and eat as well as socialize in a company approved way.  It is essential to a good atmosphere that these spaces are clean and organized.

Nothing can upset a fellow employee more than getting their food stolen from the common fridge, a dirty microwave with splashed food all over, or stinky leftovers.  Treat the common areas as you would your own home and you should have no trouble.

Company phones are NOT for personal calls

Personal calls or communication should be conducted on a personal cell phone or other device, preferably in the hallway or outside of the workspace.  This simple gesture maintains clear boundaries between work and play and can benefit both employee and employer.

This separation shows the employer that you respect their time and equipment and they can return the favor by allowing the employee to disconnect from work when they clock out and avoid the constant checking of email and other distractions.

Don’t push the dress code limits

Dress codes aren’t meant to suppress your individuality or creativity, rather, they are essential to maintaining a culture and atmosphere that is professional.  A professional workplace is one where the focus is on business and the respective job components of that business rather than gossip, self-image, confidence, or other emotions that are not conducive to smooth business operations.

Never be late

It goes without saying that you should never be late to work, meetings, events, or anything else work related.  What is harder to see, however, is the effect your late arrival can have on others.  It can delay the current meeting, which affects future meetings and schedules, and can reflect poorly on your direct manager as if his employees are not in line, and encourage other employees to neglect their duties and professionalism, which can hurt the business.

Your job is likely important to you for more than just money.  A job is also a source of social engagement, purpose, friendship, and other non-monetary advantages.  Treat it well, even if it is not your desired job or the last one you will ever have; the connections and respect you gain can help you throughout the rest of your career.

Use speakerphone judiciously

Nothing can annoy fellow co-workers more than putting a client, vendor, or other customer on speakerphone when they are working near you.  This distraction can prevent them from hearing their call and hurt their overall productivity.

You may think it is fine because everyone is wearing headphones and listening to music like you do, but remember the workplace contains a broad cross section of different people and not everyone is the same as you.

How anyone can generate PR

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Generating PR as a small business or new entrepreneur can be tough.  Your budget is tight and nobody has heard of you yet, so here are some ways to get the buzz going without bankrupting your business.

Leverage Your Website

For the small business or entrepreneur starting out without a lot of capital, generating positive PR can be a challenge.  One of the easiest ways to get PR is to leverage an asset that you no doubt have, or should have, your website.  Depending on your product or business, your website might be a few pages or hundreds of pages with forums and content of all types.

Simply getting more traffic to your website can generate a ton of PR.  If an influential person sees your site, or someone who loves what you doing tells a media organization, the PR train can leave the station before you know it.  Make sure your content or blog is updated regularly, optimized for SEO so that it can be found via search, and well designed.

A simple website update or redesign, even if it is not much different can also be an event worth celebrating or boasting about to your network and social contacts to try to generate PR.

Go Directly to the Public

Instead of sitting back passively and running a targeted ad campaign or sending blocks of emails to random people, leverage the customers you have to generate your PR.

There are varieties of ways you can do this. You can have your customers be involved in a new contest or venture you are running, simply asking your existing customer base to tell a friend, organizing a referral program or coupon that can save them money if they bring in new customers, or donating to a local charity or event in your community.

This low level, grass roots type of marketing can generate positive, local, targeted PR for your business that will drive new customers and build trust for your brand.

Do Something That No One Else Is

Generating PR on a budget in a large industry can be tough.  Instead of spending a large chunk of your precious capital to hire a firm, think outside the box and utilize your sweat equity and creativity to do something that nobody else is.

Whether it’s putting a video on YouTube, running a crazy contest, giving every other sale to a charity, or something else equally outrageous, uniqueness can sell and get your product or business noticed in the crowded marketplace.  Good PR can’t occur unless the public knows you exist and knows what your brand is, so do anything you can to get it out there and get your brand name on the public’s lips.

Top Marketing Automation Software

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MailChimp

MailChimp is the leading email marketing and auto responding service.  The service is free for all to use when your list is relatively small, and once it grows there are a variety of affordable monthly payment options.  MailChimp allows you to use A/B testing to split your list, email new subscribers a set series of emails automatically and interfaces with a host of different plugins, systems, and content managements systems such as WordPress.  One of the cheapest, easiest to use, and most popular email services, MailChimp is a strong choice to take your email marketing to the next level.

Hootsuite

Social media marketing can be tricky because of the fast-paced nature and changing preferences of users.  A year of building your presence on one website can go to waste when a cool new site comes out of nowhere capturing more of your target demographic.  Automation in the social media space is important so that individuals and companies can manage their social media presence across a host of different sites with different posting requirements and audiences.  Hootsuite is one of many tools that allow just that type of management all from a central hub.

With Hootsuite you can schedule future social media posts, respond quickly to comments from many networks, and get an overall sense of how your brand is doing and what people are saying about it.  Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox are also available. These extensions allow you to post to your sites without even opening the Hootsuite program.

Infusionsoft

Infusionsoft is one of many all in one automated marketing tools.  The power and range of options of the tool is amazing.  From lead management, to helping close sales, to auto responding in multiple ways for individuals, to organizing all your content and social media in one central place.  This program also helps with the actual processing of the sale.  A fully functional e-commerce storefront and payment-processing network is part of the package.  This payment system can link with popular players like Paypal and Amazon payments.  While on the higher end of the price spectrum, Infusionsoft is recommend by thousands of users and could be the right fit for your business.

Pardot

Busy marketers that have multiple campaigns across a suite of website also desire a place where they can see how they all these are doing in one central place.  Pardot is a software tool that gives you exactly that.  Pardot allows the user to track their conversions, spending, lead generation, and engagement across all their marketing campaigns whether they are advertising, email, social, or otherwise.  This software is specifically for business-to-business relationship management, however, rather than business to customer.  If you have a large, complicated marketing plan or multiple sites that you manage, consider Pardot to organize your marketing life all in one place.

How to Set Goals for Email Marketing Campaigns

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Goals are important for email marketing campaigns because without them it is hard to know what worked, whether it was worth it, and what to change to improve conversions and optimize in the future.  Here are a few great ways to set realistic and effective goals for your email marketing campaigns.

Be realistic relative to the size of your list

If you have a 100 or 200-person list, do not set a goal for a million dollars in sales.  Unless you are selling something that costs thousands of dollars, it is unlikely for you to meet such a lofty goal.  Remember that your conversion rate from this list might be a low as 2% to 5% of the total, so make your goals achievable to avoid discouraging yourself.  Also, realize that the bigger the list, the lower your conversion rate is likely to be.  A larger list means that some of the customers are likely not your ideal, target customer and might never open or be interested in what you are marketing.

Avoid nebulous goals that are hard to measure

If your goal for your email marketing campaign is to increase the presence or market share of your business, that is great.  But how do you measure that?  Is it the number of sales?  The amount of social media engagement?  Likely your real goal is to increase a bit of everything: sales, traffic, social media likes, word of mouth.  A goal this big and difficult to measure can be a bad thing.

If you make more sales, you will assume it is because of campaign but it will be difficult to see a direct relationship since that is not what you are focused on quantifying.  A better approach is to identify what would benefit your business the most and then custom tailor your campaign towards that goal and that goal only.

If you are focusing on social media and not sales, then don’t send them to your sales funnel in the email.  Establish a base line of where you are before the campaign, research what you think you might achieve, and then follow that progress throughout and at the end.  This clarity and precision of data will help you with future campaigns and strategies rather than just giving a slight business bump that could be from anywhere.

Consider A/B testing

A/B testing is a common technique for marketers.  Mostly used in advertising or lead pages, the idea is that two different pages are shown to customers, randomly, to determine which one converts the best.    You can harness this technique for your email campaign as well.

Instead of sending the same email to everyone on your list, you could have one for customers less than a year old and a different one for everyone else.  It is likely that customers that have been on your list for a while have already seen or purchased your previous product, so their email could focus only on your new stuff.

The email to newer customers could have the new product but also allude to the other great offerings you have which can increase engagement and open rates of your emails.  The more information you (hopefully) collected on your customers about their preferences and what they bought will allow you to do all sorts of other A/B testing based on your brand.

Important Digital Marketing Statistics to Know

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Digital marketing is fast paced but rewarding at the same time.  In the matter of a few weeks, a social media site or popular forum can fall out of favor and your customers are now halfway across the internet.  Here are a few surprising statistics about why you should put the effort in to keep up in this digital track meet.

Posts over 1500 words get 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes than shorter posts (source).

For a long time the old adage “content is king” was enough.  But in today’s hyper competitive digital marketing environment, the right type, format, and length of content is more important than ever. While a few sentences about your day at the beach or a picture of your new puppy are entertaining, that won’t hold your audience’s attention for more than a few seconds.  Long, detailed, thoroughly researched content is critical to engaging the reader at a deeper level and getting them to share with their friends. If you spend more time writing better and longer content and less on marketing, it could very well happen that your readers take up the marketing task for you.

60% of millennials rely on social media for their news. (source)

The millennial segment of the population is an ever growing and ever changing beast.  With many companies competing for this segment due to their age, growing incomes, and changing tastes, understanding how and where to market to this group is of the utmost importance for digital marketers. If you have a new product, news about your company, or run a company that is related to news in some way, consider bulking up and analyzing your social media usage to find spots to improve. Most millennials are not watching CNN or reading newspapers, but rather want their news in a short viral format in the palm of their hand.  Find a way into those palms, and the rewards could be substantial.

83% believe that companies should support nonprofit and charity organizations (source)

Beyond being a good corporate citizen or doing what’s right, using the results of philanthropic efforts in marketing can help establish credibility and trust among consumers.  Consumers are getting smarter and more savvy by the day so the chances of them shrugging off advertising or reacting negatively to marketing is higher than ever.

Rather than trying to highlight the benefits or advantages of your product or service, marketing the good you are doing in the community can help generate more followers and likes.  This can snowball because your future traditional marketing efforts and posts will have a further reach and be well received due to the trust you established.

Inbound marketing delivers 54% more leads then traditional outbound marketing (source)

Outbound marketing is slowly going the way of the dinosaur as customers get savvier at hiding from or dodging traditional marketing attempts.  The challenge for the digital marketer now is to go where their customers hang out and spend their time, and establish a presence there.

These efforts might not seem like they directly translate into sales like traditional ads or marketing would, but the effect will be seen slowly over time as your inbound leads pick up.  Having your content in the right places and the right time without shoving it down your customers throat is the way to go in 2015 and beyond.

The best part?  Inbound marketing is usually dramatically more affordable than traditional marketing or sales teams.  This is due to harnessing the sharing and “viral” power of the great content you produce and having your customers tackle some of the marketing effort for free.

How to write a great interoffice email

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Interoffice email is a great communication tool that virtually every modern business relies on to function.  Here are some things to consider making sure your emails are professional and make the most of the unique features of this medium.

Understand the limitations of email

Email is a great medium for communication but it is by no means perfect.  Before sending your email, consider the limits of email and how misunderstandings can happen easily.  Sarcasm, exaggeration, and other advanced language devices do not translate through email as they would during face to face or phone conversation.  It is for this reason it is best to stick to short, simple instructions or questions rather then using complicated language that cloaks your true meaning.  Effective communication is about being clear and straightforward.

Air on the side of formality

While you may be friends or close with a good number of your coworkers, at the end of the day they are just that, co-workers.  They are not your friends, family, or social media followers.  When unsure of what the tone of your email should be, air on the side of formality and professionalism.  Without the assistance of facial queues and body language, an email’s meaning is more about the actual words on the screen then other forms of communication.

Understand company hierarchy

An email to your direct report employees should read much differently than an email to the CEO.  Take the time to tailor your email to your intended recipient to ensure your email gets full consideration and isn’t deleted due to unprofessionalism.  Keep in the mind the higher up an individual is in the organization, the more emails they are likely to receive per day.  Consider short and to the point emails for executives, and if they like your idea or value your input, more emails or a meeting can be arranged.

Wait to write the email if you are emotional

Stressed about a deadline or project?  Just got out of a meeting where you vehemently disagreed with everything that was decided?  Before you jump to your email to rant about your boss to your co-workers or tell someone about how much you hate the new marketing plan, take a deep breath and step back from your computer.  Emailing while in an emotional state of mind often has disastrous results.  A simple 5 or 10-minute delay can help you write a more leveled headed and professional email that will likely be more persuasive in the end.

Email is NOT social media

One word responses, links to viral videos, and other content that is typical of social media is not acceptable for an interoffice email.  Email should be used to communicate work and project instructions or questions, transfer documents such as spreadsheets, or other essential business functions.  Do not slouch on using proper sentences and greetings when writing emails and your co-workers are likely to take what you have to say much more seriously.

Proofread, then proofread again

With the amount of email we send out and consume every day, it can be tempting to avoid proofreading as closely as you should in the interest of speed and efficiency.  This can be a grave mistake, however, as you never know who or where your email will be forwarded to.  If a higher up in the organization is forwarded your mistake-filled email about an important topic, that can reflect poorly or your attention to detail and leadership abilities.