Janna's Blog Article

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Tradition entwines the history, heritage, and reputation for any business, and especially family business. It creates a familiar foundation for generations to establish themselves as economies, markets, and business environments. Tradition sets expectations and creates standards for customers and business owners alike. It also has the potential to differentiate your brand from the competition. When the community recognizes the way you do business as a family tradition, they have an idea of the level of service they can expect from you.

With that said, sometimes tradition can be interpreted as restrictive and a hindrance. This is especially true if you or members of your family business are adverse to change. Tradition is not to be used as a reason or excuse to shun from incorporating innovations and new practices into your business. After all, these changes, difficult as they may seem, are what can give your company the cutting edge. 

There is no established timeframe in making a tradition.

  • If you are at the early stages or starting up your family business, then you don’t have preceding generations to carry on.
  • If your business is 10 years old, then look back on the decade and identify what behaviors and standards have become part of your everyday ritual. Determine which of these actions build your business and uphold your shared family values and choose to elevate and protect them as tradition.
  • Also look at what traditions are holding back or even hurting your business. If a tradition is not in your family’s best interests or if it no longer applies to today’s business world, then consider ways that you can eliminate them.

 Tradition has a positive impact on family business and is essential for success for today and for the future. 

The most significant challenges with running a family business arise due to the relationships within families. With a regular job, you can leave work at the office with no worries about bringing the job home.  However, when your co-workers live under the same roof, or are related to you, work and family issues can become intertwined.  Your childhood relationships with siblings, parental interactions, self-image, generational thought processes all affect relationships in a family business.

 

Some of these challenges include:

  • Boundaries:  At some point in a person’s career, we almost always bring some level of work home with us.  However, in the family business, work and home become blended.  Work is done at home and personal issues are often addressed at work.  The challenge family businesses sometimes find themselves in is a potential total absence of boundaries.  The blur becomes contentious, depriving family members of a place of solitude and escape.  In the end, the family always suffers.
  • Illness/Contingency Plans:  In the journey of life, situations occur that impact our ability to focus on life, let alone business. Emily, her parents, three brothers, three cousins and two uncles and aunts all worked in a manufacturing business. They had about 10 additional non-family employees as well, however the greatest responsibility for running the business fell on the shoulders of the family. Then disaster struck: Mom was diagnosed with cancer. She was the lifeblood and bond for the whole family for all these years. The cancer took its toll on Mom and everyone else in the family. They no longer cared about delivering orders, servicing customers, selling product or growing the business. They wanted to be at her side during the last weeks and months prior to her death. That is exactly where they needed to be, but the business could not run without the family. No plan had been put in place to allow for the entire family to essentially be unavailable for weeks at a time. Orders weren’t being filled, deposits weren’t being made, and materials weren’t being ordered.
  • Marrying into the business:  Your spouse’s family business has been around for years and your skill set matches specific needs within the family business.  Now for the challenge.   You are part of the family, yet you are still the in-law.  Should disputes arise (ok, when they do), too often you are left standing on the wrong side of the family tree.  No matter how much your spouse understands your opinion, there is always the question of support.
This uniqueness also creates advantages and opportunities.  Family name/reputation can carry a great deal of clout in the community – especially if the business has been around for a long time.  The lasting legacy that it creates, presents opportunities for even those not in the daily operation of the family business.  Truth be told, it is hard to be fired from the family business, so general job security is much stronger.  The sense of belonging and strength of relationships can create a vitality that carries through many an economic, personal or business storm.

 

There are lots of challenging issues when working in the family business such as divorce, health challenges, financial stability just to name a few.  Rather than ignore the possibilities of such things happening, it’s best to create a scenario and then a contingency plan should something arise.  Protect your business, but don’t forget to protect the family as well. 

Transition timing can be very stressful. How long will it take to tran­sition parents out of the business? It seldom happens overnight (unless by death or divorce). Yet the multi-year transition can be enough to kill the business, the relationships or both.

The challenges include:

Customers. Do customers always want to work with Dad, since he gives them a long-term customer discount that Junior won’t? Do they like the way Mom runs the business and always ask for her, making it hard to establish a level of leadership?

Boundaries. So who really is in charge? Daughter? Mom? Dad? All of the above? Who makes the decisions during the transition time? Create a plan that lays out the transition. Is this a six-month, 12-month or two-year plan? You may have to revise the plan at some point. Do not just go with the flow. It might work out, but there is a great chance that it might not. Hoping things will go well doesn’t work. Hoping no one will get their feelings hurt doesn’t happen. Not making a plan puts you on a path to having issues.                      

“But we have always done it this way.” That statement has been heard around the world in businesses of all sizes. Family business owners do not have the corner on this market. It does take on a new twist when changes need to take place to keep up with the times, the skills of the next generation or just market changes. One of my favorite books is If It Ain’t Broke, Break It by Robert Kriegel and Louis Patler. Their concept is to examine conventional business wisdom and to break those rules in order to gain a competitive advantage. This book was written in the ’90s but much of it still applies today. When something is working, you need to analyze why it is working and what can be done to improve how it is working. In other words, what can be done to make things work better? Football for many years was solely a running game. Even after the forward pass was legalized, it remained a running game until a coach decided to have his team try throwing the ball. Everyone was shocked and critical. Yet, today football is very much a throwing game; just look at what quarterbacks get paid for their throwing ability! 

 A Mom and Dad are now in their 70s. They are still active in the busi­ness, yet the reality is they need to be stepping back and delegating more control and decisions to the three children in the business. The three kids have been a part of the business for multiple years so they know how it works and how to provide the service and deliver the prod­uct. Sounds like a great scenario, right? Well, that depends.

 So often the product and service areas are running smoothly, yet the next generation doesn’t have a great grasp of the business portion.

 Financials: How do you read those financials? Why is the overhead rate so important and how does that relate to cost of goods sold and profitability? Who is our banker and why is that relationship so import­ant? How does the profitability trend? If seasonal, what is it per season? Business is math, marketing is math, team is math, sales is math, so why wouldn’t financials be math? If you don’t like math, then find someone who does and can translate it to what you can understand. As the tran­sition begins, understanding the numbers becomes more critical than anything else. High profitability can cover up many sins, but good math can weed them out and increase profitability even more.

 Management of the team: How does Mom stimulate, encourage and manage the team? Will the team be ready, willing and able to work for the next generation? Does the next generation have the leadership skills in place to be wise beyond their years? It takes five components to ensure you have the team you want:

  • Leadership strength
  • SMART goals for the entire team (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results driven and Time based)
  • Consistent rules that everyone lives by and can grow by
  • Right attitude
  • Support for risk taking

 Vision: Who will now carry the vision for the business? Who will take the trends affecting the business and start to make plans now to make the necessary course adjustments? Who balances the visionary to keep a level of reality in place? One business I worked with had an environment where the husband was the visionary. He always had new ideas, new thoughts, new opportunities that he wanted to follow. The wife was more of the money manager and brought a dose of reality to the business. She is the one who asked the hard questions regarding return on investment, the downside to an idea, etc. That is a valuable role to have in any company. However, that must be moderated with the vision that sometimes can’t be seen by anyone else. Too much caution allows opportunities to pass and therefore be missed.

My parents had one such opportunity. Dad was offered the oppor­tunity to get in on the ground floor of a development that was taking place in the area where they lived. At the time, the area was essentially in the middle of nowhere. Actually it was in between somewhere big and somewhere else that was growing. The place in between was a risk. The cows that lived in that field were pretty content. Now today that area is a bustling, vibrant area. Dad always said that was the one that got away. This isn’t to blame Mom; she always provided that caution, yet usually went with the visionary.

The next generation needs to have the visionary and the realist. There must be compromise between the two. One without the other can run the business into the ground. The visionary without the realist who asks the hard questions creates a business that follows every new trend. Not all trends are good. The realist is usu­ally so cautious that they never get on the upswing of the bell curve. They are the late adopters and implement something after it is mainstream, passing up the opportu­nity to gain a competitive edge. It is sort of like installing a fax machine in 1995 when email was becoming the predominant tool. The fax machine was leading-edge back in the 1970s and was going out of style by the time the 90s rolled around.

 

George loved his business. He had attended school for many years to become a good doctor, was good at medicine and followed in his family footsteps. After a number of years of hiring out the admin­istration part of his practice, he and his wife, Katie, decided to have her become involved in the operation. She was good at working with patients, completing the administrative tasks and helping in all the ways possible. Both George and Katie were busy all day long and didn’t take time during the day to discuss business matters.

As all business owners know, it is the little things that can be the dif­ference between peace and frustration in the daily life of business. Yet it is the little things that often don’t get addressed until they are no longer little things.

Katie wanted to start regular weekly meetings with George to dis­cuss the business and often tried to have these discussions once they both arrived at home. George, however, did a great job (better than most) of leaving business at the office once he walked out the door. Katie figured, what better time than during the evening after dinner when the kids were doing their homework or engaging in other activi­ties to have the office discussions. The result was friction as they both dug in their heels.

Fortunately for them, after a few months of back-and-forth discus­sion, they came to an agreement to go out to lunch every other week, just the two of them, to discuss business. This allowed George and Katie to address business issues during the day and enabled them to grow their business.

Boundaries are probably the most important aspect of running a successful family business without destroying relationships. It doesn’t ensure one or both parties won’t overstep the boundaries, but at least they are drawn. Boundaries are required in many areas, including between home and work, among roles within the business and between family members and employees. 

She is very controlling.  He is always talking.  She is slow to take action.  He is quite a perfectionist.  Are those words descriptors of you, your family members or your spouse?  I know I recognize myself in at least two of those phrases.  The challenge is not only our behavior, but the behavior of others.  We need to understand the value of each other’s strengths and capitalize on them, not focus on the negative.  Let’s look at different types of “behavior”.

She is so controlling – yet the value she brings is the ability to makes decisions quickly, achieves goals, continue to be highly productive, a great leader, risk taker, and is usually efficient and structured.  Now that doesn’t sound so bad and could be these are tendencies that are needed in this business.

He is always talking to people which impacts productivity.  However he is also spontaneous and loves a crowd around him, seeks out participation from others, is great at motivating the team, keeps everyone laughing, is easy to get to know and will try anything.  Who wouldn’t want to be around him?

She is slow to take action and hard to adapt to new environments.  However, she is also relaxed, accepting, a great listener, a fantastic team member, is great at follow up, friendly, compatible and sees the details that others don’t see which keeps us out of trouble.

He is such a perfectionist – it has to be exactly right.  Yet, if I want something done right, he is the one to complete the task.  He is accurate, systematized, structured, a good planner, and focuses on quality more than anyone on the team.

What one considers a benefit, another considers irritating.  Think through the personalities on your team and refocus on looking at their irritating habits as strengths to appreciate!

The psychology of denial is interesting.  Webster’s defines it as:  a condition, in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real.

Yet, that is a state that many live in daily.  They essentially lie to themselves on a regular basis and that lie becomes the truth.  Where are you lying to yourself in your business?

  • Business is down due to the economy – Really?  Then why are your competitors doing so well?
  • There aren’t any good employees – So why are there places like the Broadmoor Resort, which is a 5 star resort that seem to have quality employees (even teenagers – wow)?
  • Customers only care about price – Do you buy only on price?  Or will you purchase something more expensive if you see a greater value at the higher price?

Each of the above items and your Excuses (which are dressed up reasons) are part of your own denial.  You don’t want anyone else to notice that you are lying – and lying to others – but mostly to yourself.

Truth is: 

  • Business is down, and it caught you by surprise; or you didn’t understand your financials, or  have Key Performance Indicators in place that would have given you a heads up allowing you to adjust your business.
  • There are good employees – yet your interviewing techniques, hiring & training methods are not as effective as they need to be.  It may be time to look at how you invest and motive your employees too.
  • Customers care about value – what kind of value are you offering your customers and what are you actually providing?

As the end of the first quarter of this year approaches, it might be a good time to ask yourself these questions and contemplate on where you are suffering from Denial and what do you need to change personally and in your business today!

Attitude is all about how you look at things.  I recently took a trip to New Orleans flying through Houston.  The Polar Vortex that has been hitting the US made for cancelled flights and a one day delay in actually making the trip.  Then upon my arrival in Houston my connecting flight was cancelled.  Rather than waiting around hoping to make it on another flight (the standby list was over 200), I chose to drive.  The situations on that drive will generate some good stories during my speaking event! 

That drive and the resulting situations (i.e., getting pulled over, having the road closed for 125 miles and getting detoured twice etc.) could have made for a very unhappy person who was grouchy, blaming the airlines, mad at the world and generally miserable.  What I chose was the pure joy of having 6 hours to myself in a part of the country I haven’t driven before and the peacefulness of my thoughts (when I wasn’t singing at the top of my lungs to a favorite song).

The event that happened was the cancelled flight, my response was – ok now what happens.  My actions created the outcome; “this is a journey and who knows where it will take me”.  My response could have been much different and the outcome could have ruined the whole conference for me.

My questions to you: 

  • How do you respond during challenges?
  • What are your first thoughts and resulting actions?
  • Do you take it out on others – therefore creating a bad awful day for them?

I have learned that one great joy is to take a bad situation and NOT take it out on others.  I love watching them respond when they expect you to yell and get mad.  I love putting joy into their day of not having an irate customer in front of them. Now this doesn’t mean I allow them to walk on me, or am a push over (those who know me probably haven’t even dreamed of that situation.)  You would be amazed at how often I then get told:  Thank you for being so understanding.  Thank you for your attitude.

How do YOU respond?  Do YOU need to change your response to life, business, and personal situations which not only change your world – but those around you?

The critical impact of attitude is seen every day in the business world.  What one business owner sees as a disaster, another sees as opportunity and capitalizes on that opportunity.  Those who have spent their lives in below the line thinking don’t even realize the impact it has not only on them personally, but their families, businesses, customers and potential.  If their team is below the line, where did they learn it from?  Most likely they learned it from the business owner.  An owner who is below the line will hire staff who also first turn to blame, excuses and denial. It is someone else’s fault that the project is delivered late, someone else’s fault that the customer is upset.  To change they will need someone to hold them accountable to point out where they are below the line. 

As I work with clients on this concept, the tendency is to swing to a point where issues in the business are not discussed with the excuse (notice the tendency again) that the issue is below the line.  This doesn’t give permission for a business to white wash issues in the business.  What is does change is the ownership and responsibility for changing the issue at hand.  If projects are late, that is a fact.  The question is what must change in the business to ensure projects are not delivered late, that your customers have the experience stated in all the promotional material.

Businesses have lived for years in below the line thinking and attitude.   They stay in business, they grow, and they pay the bills and serve customers.    What impact would the business make with an above the line attitude?  Profits would increase.  Less time would be spent on blame and poor productivity.  Productivity would increase with energy due to the positive atmosphere in the business. The examples abound.

Yet, you must be ready to make the change.  Your dissatisfaction with the results, profitability, long work hours, people avoiding you since they dislike being around negative, blaming people, etc., must be at a point where it is higher than your resistance to making the change.  It is easy to live below the line. It may not be fun, but it is easy and there is a great deal of company.  When I ask my clients do they want to be average, the resounding answer is NO.  They want to be above average.  To make that happen, your mindset must change to one of excellence—above the line thinking— and you will be amazed at the results.

Let’s start with a story.

Two business owners are in the same market, offer essentially the same products, target mutual markets, and yet at year end, produce very different results. One business is doing well, another is doing poorly.  One business owner seems on top of their game, another isn’t succeeding.  One business is growing, the other business is barely scraping by and the owner is beginning to wonder whether it is either time to sell, or maybe, just shut the doors.

What is the difference between the two businesses?  There can be any number of factors to consider.  Perhaps the owners differ in the amount of knowledge and skills they have for running a business; there may be a difference in the systems which have been put into place, or maybe they are missing all together.  Consider the team that drives the business forward, how pricing is determined, marketing is presented, and how sales are made.  Many factors play into the success and growth of a business.  Yet, there is one characteristic that creates the largest differentiator between the two business environments.  That is the mindset of the owner and/or leadership.  How do they view, what is their perspective on every situation, every economic obstacle, every customer, and perhaps on life in general? The attitude of leadership sets the tone for the environment of the business.

Is there a pervasive attitude similar to Eeyore’s, Winnie-the-Pooh’s donkey friend?  In this type of environment the we get below the line thinking which produces a string of blame, excuses, and denial manifested in the “woe is me” life is hard, this is what happened, I don’t get the same opportunities as others, the economy is really hurting, etc.  In below the line thinking we often hear people blaming someone else, producing excuses for why things didn’t get accomplished, and denial that their attitude is a main source of the issues at hand.  Below the line thinking creates a reason for everything and generates a need to be explained. 

On the other hand, the attitude that propels above the line thinking is more like Pooh’s friends Kanga or Owl.  Above the line thinking accepts ownership, accountability and responsibility for everything they do.  They understand what they cannot control (economy, taxes, etc.) is only 10% of life; but what they have great control over is 90% of their life.  This is what the author Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, calls the 90/10 rule.   How your day goes is totally up to you, as is how you react to situations and what opportunities you achieved even through disastrous times.  Steve Jobs got fired from Apple which most likely was not what he called the best day of his life, yet without being fired from Apple he would not have created Pixar and NeXT which are part of the foundation of the Apple products we love today. Above the line thinking creates results.  Results don’t require explanations, they speak for themselves.

The concept of goal setting seems to have at least 2 camps; one that perceives value, the other that questions the value.  I was meeting with a friend recently and asked them about their own goal setting perspectives.  He indicated he had never set goals and had been successful, so he didn’t see the value.  However, he did make plans and followed through regularly on his plans.  In reality it boiled down to semantics; his plans were nothing different than goals.  The word was different, the end result the same.

Both provided a roadmap that needed to be executed.  Both required the individual to sit down and evaluate what had been accomplished and what was needed to move forward.     

Another word that seems to stimulate some and repel others is resolution.  What do you think about the typical New Year’s Resolution – does it work or is it a feeble attempt to make yourself feel good – for about 10 days before your “resolve” deteriorates.

Most goals, plans and resolutions fail because of the lack of commitment, determination and accountability.  They also fail in the true emotion of WHY you are doing them.  If there isn’t a compelling reason, purpose, why – or whatever word you want to use – it won’t happen.  The Why is actually more important than the actual goal or plan.  The Why is what motivates you to make it happen no matter what.  The Why is at the heart of the difference between success and failure.  What is your WHY?  If you don’t have a clearly defined Why – I suspect you will have a very hard time achieving what you set out to accomplish.

Now, I will also challenge those who don’t attempt to set goals, yet perceive that they have done fine without them.  Here is the challenge:  “How much better could you have done by setting goals, creating a plan, or making that resolution?”  Sure you have done well, achieved much, are financially secure.  Awesome, congratulations – great job!  Yet, what would 5% or 10% more mean to you, your employees, your family, the charities you support?  Is “doing fine” a form of settling, not being willing to get out of your comfort zone, fear of true success?  Only you can answer that question. 

No matter what you call it:  Goal, plan, resolution or something else.  You need a guiding light to illuminate the path you plan to follow and allow you to find places to rest along the path throughout your journey.  That rest can be the difference between success and success beyond your wildest imagination.  The next step is yours.

 Why do we, as a society, have such a hard time dreaming?  As children, we dream on a regular basis.  We fly, conquer the world, create imaginary friends, and plan to accomplish things never considered by anyone 20 years of age or older. 

 Then the aging process starts and conformity begins.  We conform not only in our behavior (which is mostly good), but in our ability to dream.  One by one, we are told (and often not outright), that our dreams are impossible. Our dreams are unreasonable, unreachable, or even unthinkable. You might have even heard, “Why would you ever try that - you might FAIL!”

 What this creates is a society of control freaks.  Some control freaks become business owners and owners who want it done their way, believing their way is the only right way.  What they end up losing is the ability to leverage the world to get things done for them.  They don’t hire for new ideas, they hire for fitting into the box the business owner created.  The problem: business owner wealth creation is often best accomplished by people with the desire to dream in a world without boxes.

 Make 2014 a year of Dreaming without Boxes!  What does that mean?  It means stepping out and doing things differently.  A perfect example is Steve Jobs who created something that was new and different that we didn’t know we needed!  Yet how many of us want to revert back to what life was like prior to first Apple computer?   As a business owner, you need to get away from the day to day operations at times and give yourself time to dream, to challenge the status quo, your current thinking process, and to be open to new ideas. 

 You also must be willing to let others challenge your thinking – they also have dreams that might allow you to fly, conquer the world, and accomplish things you were told were impossible.

Dream big dreams for yourself, your family, and your business in 2014.  Dreams do come true, but only if there was a dream in the first place!

 

An old adage goes, “Rules are meant to be broken.” In many ways, this is absolutely correct. Simply following the rules, doing the same thing over and over, won’t get you anywhere. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” Every truly great, major innovation in history has come about as a result of new thinking.

 So let’s say you’ve set up your business, and are doing fairly well. You have a steady stream of revenue, a good customer base, efficient systems in place, and everything is going great. What do you do next? Often, businesses will plateau. They will improve up to a certain point, but things won’t get better from there. Once a plateau is reached, new thinking is required if you want your business to grow-which you should. Now, you should not throw your old playbook out the window, however, change is needed, and in many cases this change is rather unconventional. You need something that sets you apart.

  • What could you be doing that none of your competitors are?
  • What markets are you not tapping into?

Find that niche, and utilize it. Do something new, something different, and blow everyone away with your creativity and innovation. 
(Picture credit:Freeditigalphoto.com)

In any business, just providing good customer service is not enough. In order to rise above your competition, you must take your customer service from average to spectacular. Customers have higher expectations and look for something that makes your company stand out.

Create a positive customer experience. Were their phone calls answered courteously and in a timely manner? Were their encounters with you and/or your staff friendly, energetic, and memorable? Did you do everything possible to find answers to their questions, solve their problems, and meet their specific needs?

Share your enthusiasm. This key ingredient to success is crucial for gaining and retaining customers. If you are not enthused about your business, how can you expect the customer to be enthused about your products or services? Deliver your customer service with excitement! Your enthusiasm is apparent whether you are chatting on the phone, face-to-face, or emailing with your client. Make sure that your staff and team members provide customer service with the same levels of enthusiasm and excitement.

 Engage your customers. Assess all aspects of your business and determine how your clients felt about their experience. It is important to view your customer service from their side and then focus on any areas that may need improvement. Offer your clients the opportunity to share their feedback through comment cards, surveys, and testimonials. Be prepared and open to suggestions and/or complaints and criticism as you do this.

 Make it your goal to provide stellar customer service from start to finish. Let your enthusiasm impress and inspire your clients to come back again and again. When you share your products and services in a genuine, positive, and exciting manner you are building a connection and customer experience that helps you rise above the rest of the competition!

Keep the Happy in Your Holidays

[Recently, I discussed taking time out for yourself to relax and take a break (Read: “Seeing the Forest Through the Trees!”). This week, I’d like to elaborate on this topic and incorporate it into the holiday season.]

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And also the most hustling, bustling, hectic, lose-your-mind-because-you’re-so-crazy-busy time of year. Running a business and making time for festivities and celebrations can be a challenge. In between the potlucks, get-togethers, cookie exchanges, and ugly sweater parties are invoices, year-end financial statements, payroll, budget forecasting, planning and hundreds of other tasks to complete before the new year.

Here are some helpful hints to get you through the season with your sanity intact:

  • Maximize Your Time: Each of us has our own rhythm of peaks and lulls throughout the day. Find what times of day work best for you and schedule around them for peak performance. Focus on your most important or most time-consuming tasks during the parts of day when you are most clear thinking, energetic, and decisive. If you work best in the mornings, then maximize that time by waking up earlier. If you work best in the afternoons, then schedule your most important appointments during the lunch hour. If you work best in the evenings, then maximize that time by staying up later.
  • When you are setting deadlines for yourself or your clients, build extra time in your schedule to serve as a buffer for unexpected circumstances or tasks taking longer than expected. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver.
  • If you feel that you are already maximizing your time, but still can’t fit in every task, then consider investing some money to hire additional help, for instance a virtual assistant or courier service.
  • Schedule in Downtime: Designate specific days and dedicate them for date nights, family time, and days for yourself. Block off these special days in your calendar to visually highlight and distinguish them as scheduled days off.
  • Set up an automatic reply on your voicemail and email to inform your clients that you are occupied. For example, “Thank you for contacting me. I am currently out of the office and will return on [day]. I will get back to on [tomorrow, next week, etc.].” And there is nothing wrong with posting a good old-fashioned Do Not Disturb sign on your door!
  • Eliminate distractions: Sometimes a small distraction can serve as a mental break, but not if it becomes all consuming—then it’s nothing but a time-waster. Turn off your notifications for email, Internet feeds, and social media updates if you find yourself unable to stay focused on the task at hand. It may even help to completely unplug and keep your computer turned off.

The holidays are meant to be a break from the everyday routine. These are the days when you can focus on spending quality time with the people in your life who matter most. Your time is valuable, and unlike money, you can’t obtain more of it—what you get is what you get! With some proactive planning and time-management, you can enjoy the challenges and rewards of working for yourself AND enjoy the holidays too! And from me it is Merry Christmas to you.

 

Have you ever found yourself drifting off in your thoughts during a conversation? To observers, it appears you’re engrossed in discussion, but mentally you’re compiling your grocery list, preparing for your next appointment, or thinking of what you’ll say when it’s your turn to talk. When we are not fully listening, we are short-changing our speaker and ourselves. By receiving some parts of information and only pieces of conversations, we risk misunderstandings and miscommunications later down the road.

Active listening is making a conscious effort to concentrate on what another person is saying as well as understand the complete message they are sending. Through active listening, you are able to better communicate, relate, and respond to your clients, which mean you can better meet their needs and build a stronger relationship.

Here are 5 tips to help you become a better active listener:

  1. Eliminate Distractions: Set down the smartphone, clear your mind, and give the speaker your undivided attention. Reduce background activity and noise so you can focus and concentrate on listening. If you have to, take the conversation somewhere quiet and private.
  2. Take Interest: Be present in the moment and carefully listen to what the speaker has to say. You can pick up on the emotional undertones and non-verbal cues. For example, wringing hands or flailing arms may be a sign of high emotion or stress.
  3. Maintain Eye Contact: Face your speaker and sit or stand in a position so your eyes are near the same level. Avoid looking around the room or checking your electronic devices. Concentrate on what the speaker is saying and maintain eye contact. Keep in mind that eye contact can be intimidating for certain cultures and personalities, especially for more shy speakers. Use your active listening skills to gauge how much eye contact is appropriate for the situation and audience.
  4. Be Aware of Body Language: In addition to making eye contact, observe the speaker’s non-verbal communication. You can also use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention by nodding occasionally, smiling, and mirroring the speaker’s gestures.
  5. Avoid Interrupting: When your speaker finishes or pauses, ask questions or make comments, if appropriate. You may also want to repeat or paraphrase what you think you heard to verify that you fully understand what his or her message.

As you interact with your clients, peers, and employees, try to practice your active listening skills. Do your best to be patient with yourself while you’re honing these new skills. Though these steps may seem simple, active listening takes practice!

Every day, everywhere around us, there is an abundance of fear. No matter who you are, your age, or your profession, you are afraid of something (and probably more than just one thing). These fears can be anything from creepy crawlies, heights, public speaking, and natural disasters. These fears aren’t completely unwarranted. Fear is a basic instinct; a means of survival ingrained in our fight-or-flight response. But just because fear is a natural reaction, doesn’t mean that fear has a place in your business, especially if your fears are holding you and your business back from being a success.

The world of self-employment is ripe with opportunities for fear to creep up and rear its ugly head. Making follow-up phone calls, resolving customer issues, or presenting to potential clients can all feed into many kinds of fears. The difference is if you choose to take the opportunities to face your fear and push your business to the next level.

One of the first steps toward overcoming your fear is to identify the fear itself. You can do this by taking a mental inventory of your fear and jotting them down. If you find you’re having a difficult time compiling your fear, consult a colleague, peer, or business coach to help you brainstorm the fears that are possibly holding you back in your business. Once you’ve written down these fears, review each and assess if these fears are based on real-life experiences or if they are based on your own assumptions.

Of the fears that are based on real-life experiences, recall what about the experience led you to your fear. Take time to really analyze and reflect on the overall situations and circumstances. Was this a one-time experience or is this reoccurring? How did you handle this experience? Was everyone involved satisfied with how you handled this experience? Did you garner any lessons learned from this experience?

Of the fears that are not based on real-life experiences, try to identify a common thread or theme between them. Do they tie into fears of rejection, confrontation, public speaking, failure, or something else?

 After you have identified and assessed your fears, then talk them out. Confide in your network, discuss them with other trusted business owners, and get other perspectives. You don’t have to face your fears alone! Work with an experienced Business Coach to create a specific action plan to help you overcome your fears, gain closure, and move forward.

Working for yourself is scary enough! The last person you need getting in your way is YOU! Choosing to work hard and face your fears isn’t easy, but it sure is worth it!

An old adage encourages us to “stop and smell the roses.” However, in our fast-paced world, it seems as if many of us heed this advice. We rush through life, constantly dashing from one appointment to the next without ever stopping to breathe. We like everything fast: fast food, fast internet, fast cars, etc. Although there is a time and place for busyness, it is crucial for everyone, be they management or staff, to relax. Everyone needs a break.

 My son has a teacher who shared feeling consistently overworked. Everyone seems to want his attention and demand a great deal of his time.  It became extraordinarily difficult for him to keep up. Even his weekends became filled with school activities. As a result he instituted a new policy for his life, once a month he would be taking a day off.  This helped tremendously with relieving stress and reevaluating what was important, and made him a more effective teacher and leader.

 All too often, I see people who are burnt out. Business owners who are worked constantly and eventually become tire of everything. They quit; sell the business, and either retire or go back to their old job, in many cases abandoning a lifelong dream. Pro athletes do this all the time.

Their lives become so consumed with the sport that they no longer enjoy it. It becomes a chore rather than what they love. However, if you asked someone who burned out 5-10 years ago if they regret it, he or she would respond “absolutely.” Don’t be afraid to take personal days, at least once a quarter. Don’t get so caught up in your work that you begin to hate it, and don’t forget to see the forest through the trees.

All too often, I hear excuses for why something did not happen the way it should have. People always search for ways to absolve their guilt by blaming their issues on something else. I have found throughout my career that there are three major categories of excuses:

The “It’s good enough” excuse

This is one of the most common excuses. Someone will do a passable job, scraping by, but quit as soon as possible with the excuse that what they accomplished is good enough. They are not striving for an “A” or for real quality work.  Merely scraping by with a “C” or adequate work is good enough.   However, if you want to make your business truly exceptional, meaningful, a true world-changer, this is not acceptable. You will never get ahead with “good enough”.  Would you yourself do business with just “good enough”?

The “I’m new at this” excuse

Along this same line, people who are new at something feel that they have a right to give themselves a bit of slack. Although there is something to be said for the learning curve, all too often it becomes an excuse to slack off your first few months.  However, the opposite is true; you need to be ready from day one. Otherwise, you get trapped in a cycle where the “I’m new at this” excuse becomes a “good enough” habit.

 The “I didn’t plan for that” excuse

We all have moments that make us go “Oops!” If you have any doubts about that, I have a board game called Leverage to show you. Even though there are some unexpected developments, you cannot simply say “Oh well.” You need a plan B, as well as a Plan C, D, & E. Be prepared for any and all eventualities, because you never know what will happen in the future. An employee may walk out on you, or there may be a sudden shortage of your product. When that happens, what will you do? Seriously think about a variety of scenarios and create plans to put in place before you need them.

Ultimately, complaining about a situation does nothing productive for you or your business. What you need to do is isolate the problem and identify a solution. Don’t waste ages explaining your problems to your friends and colleagues, only to ignore their advice. Instead, get to the root of the problem, follow through with the corrective solution, and move on with your business. The art of self-correction is among one of the most important business lessons you will ever learn.

Whether you’re buying your morning cup of coffee, holding a door open for a passerby, or letting a fellow driver merge in front of you, most likely you hear two magic words: Thank You. You hear it most every day, probably more than once. But how often do you SAY it? Do you feel that you say it enough? And do you make it a point to show it?

Steven Covey, bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, puts it this way: "Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated." [emphasis added]

Chances are your clients have a number of providers, services, companies, and products to choose from, and they have chosen to support you and your establishment. With the holidays just around the corner, this is one of the best seasons to show your gratitude and appreciation for all of the people who make your business possible!

Here are some easy ways to show your appreciation throughout the season (and all year long):

  • Mail your clients a thank you card. In the hustle and bustle of this email age, correspondence can get buried in junk boxes, scanned over and quickly forgotten, or overlooked completely. Sending a good old fashioned card in the mail provides your customers with a token of appreciation they can hold in their hands, feel with their fingers, and display for their friends and family.
  • Pick up the phone and actually tell them how much you appreciate them.  When is the last time you actually spoke to your customers, not about business but about them?  Building a lasting relationship is crucial to keeping quality customers.  To build relationships, you must seek to understand the uniqueness of each business and make time to verbally share how much you appreciate them and why.
  • Give your clients special offers or promotions. This is an especially great way to show appreciation to your patrons who purchase in high volumes or frequency, who often refer you to their network, and who have been loyal customers to you and your business. Speak with a business coach to plan the best way to offer these promotions and also stay within your budget.
  • Give your clients an inexpensive thank you gift. These gifts can be as simple as a coupon or discount on their next transaction. They can also be gift certificates for coffee or yogurt, housecleaning, courier services, etc. Giving gift cards can be a great way to refer your favorite small businesses to your clientele. Again, you may want to speak with a business coach to assess a good budget for you to give gifts without breaking the bank.

If you already incorporate customer appreciation into your business, then pat yourself on the back for a job well done. If you would like to start doing so, work on focusing your attitude on gratitude this holiday season...a little gratitude can go a long way!

The holidays are upon us, and too many times we find ourselves procrastinating during the last fiscal quarter of the business year.  Have you evaluated the success of your annual goals? How much time and research have you put into setting new goals for next year?  What is the state of your office and equipment?  Will you be making any changes? Are there expenses this year that you will not need to add to your budget for next year?  Are there additional major expenses that you will need to be planning for?  What is your marketing plan going to entail for the next twelve months?  These are just a few of the questions that are waiting for you to answer in the upcoming weeks.

What inevitably happens is that we feel like we have a lot of time to complete these final tasks, but in reality we have very little time between October 1 and December 31.  Between holiday closures and holiday parties, the actual work days are significantly reduced.  If you want to have a successful 2014, you have to begin planning for it now!

Here are 5 incredibly important tasks to complete by December 31!

  1. Revisit successes from 2013.  Are there identifiable actions that made the difference in your success this year? Are these actions transferable in other areas of your business?  If so, plot a time frame in your calendar to implement action steps in the first or second quarter of 2013.
  2. Revisit failures from your 2013 experiences.  What are the lessons you learned from your failures?  What are the specific actions that led to the downfall, and can you identify the same type of potential course in other areas of your business? Plan for an intervention to prevent experiencing the same type of failures during the next fiscal year.
  3. Contemplate how the year end of your business will look this time next year.  What will be the major difference between the last quarter of 2013 and 2014?  Have you set the appropriate goals in place to get you there?
  4. Plan for success.  Some of the most successful achievers meet their goals because they write them down, dissect them into their simplest form, and set dates to meet every little baby step along the way.  One of the most valuable tips they share is to read through your goals EVERY DAY.
  5. Get another person’s perspective on your achievements for 2013.  Talk to a business coach, mentor, financial advisor or other business professional.  You may be very excited that you ended the year with a great deal of money or may be concerned because you sold to less people this year than last.  A professional can help ask questions you may have not thought about.  It’s nice to have a bit of money in the bank at the end of the year, however if you have a large amount of credit card debt as well, there may be another perspective on how successful this year really was for you.  You may have had less clients, however if the quantity of purchase from those clients has significantly increased, you have successfully gain the trust that your company can handle large orders and indeed, you had a fantastic year.

Don’t head into the New Year blind.  If you plan your time, thoughts, and actions wisely during the last three months of this year, you will be setting yourself and your business up for an incredible 2014!

 

Even the most passionate dedicated entrepreneur will experience occasions when they just don’t like their business.  It may be just a bad day filled with unsatisfied customers, disappointing sales or other unfulfilled expectations.  However, when a variety of mishaps transpire over a consistent period of time, it can really wear on the business owner and rob him/her of the joy of being in business.  When situations arise that diminishes the passion which caused you to enter into the world of business in the first place, try a few of these tips.

  1. Spend some time away from the business.  Take time from the reality of today to remember the dreams of yesterday.  Revisit plans, ideas, writings or other mementos from the beginning of your journey as a business owner.  Remember the milestones you have achieved and recognize how much you and your business have grown since the first day.
  2. Review letters, cards, and other messages of appreciation for your work.  Allow yourself to be reminded of the great number of satisfied customers you have served or have used your products. Visit a mentor or business coach who can walk you through a series of exercises that validate your work.
  3. Take time to focus on where your plans for the business will lead you in three to five years from now.  Visualize your successes. Revisit your goals. Rekindle your passion to accomplish your vision.

We all experience difficult times through the journey of entrepreneurship.  It is the strong, the dedicated, and the committed that focus more on the successful days then the challenging ones.  These entrepreneurs see their vision revitalized and become as passionate as they were on first day they opened the door of their business. 

There is a lot of speculation about the value of college in today’s world. We live in a world today where some of the richest, most successful CEOs are, in fact, college dropouts.  Today’s college graduates face bleak prospects. So is college still worth it? How does the college planning process prepare the workers of tomorrow to be successful? Let’s take a look at questions asked on college essays, particularly the common college entrance application.

When have you experienced failure? How has it affected you?

Many of you, I’m sure, have heard the stories about failure, particularly from Steve Jobs. Failure is a part of everyone’s life, and learning to deal with it at a young age prepares people better for when they have to deal with it in the future.

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or an idea.

This question examines the core of innovation and entrepreneurship. As I discuss in my book, people often start their own business in order to change the “status quo,” in essence, to challenge a belief or an idea. Students who write their essays on this question are setting themselves up for entrepreneurship in the future.

Although every high school senior (including my son) is currently complaining about how difficult writing these essays are, the application process can actually set students up very well for their future, as arduous as it seems.

The ideas set out in application essays are very different from what is actually taught in the classroom, particularly at the undergraduate level. I will discuss this more next week.

A common workplace credo is “Think outside the box.” It is an ideal that is held up as the pinnacle of innovation and a credo of progress. Unfortunately, when this principle is implemented, it is often received with a crescendo of complaints, shock and disapproval. We say that new ideas are good, but if anyone comes up with a new idea, we shrink away. Stop that!

Innovation is always scary. People form habits; they find a specific way of doing things, and never want to change. Companies may run the same way for fifty years, even though the  methodology the business was built upon became inefficient thirty years ago. Unfortunately, some businesses create a culture where those who may have a new idea, become afraid to speak up, and the managers often don’t even realize it. As in the picture above, people cower in their boxes, doing what they are told, and keeping their good ideas to themselves. Some employees are reminded of Dr. Kelso’s suggestion box in Scrubs; his trash can. As a result of this policy, the other doctors hated Kelso and did everything possible to undercut him. While this makes for good television, it makes for really bad business. As a business owner, you cannot afford to be afraid of new ideas, especially when they come from employees or customers. You don’t need to take every suggestion you receive, but make a conscious effort to listen! Create a culture where customer feedback is an integral part of your business planning. Your customers and employees know what they want and have experience working with your product; their input is invaluable to the success of your business.

As children return to school after a busy summer, teachers are busy preparing activities to assess the knowledge they have retained from the previous year.  As a business leader, you must take the time to annually assess your business plan in order to grow your business.  You might look at your business plan as the “answer” to the test of what you have learned about growing a successful business.  The following are three tests that show what you have learned along the way.

Have you met your time line goals during the year and are you on track to finish the year strong.  This shows you have learned valuable lessons in time management and project management including the development of good work flow systems.  If you are behind in achieving your goals, put them through the SMART test.  Are they specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely? If they are and you are having trouble meeting your goals, this may indicate you need a bit of extra support and a business coach may be needed to help you succeed in your attaining your business plan. 

 Is your financial picture is on target or exceeds expectations for the year.  A healthy financial bottom line is a good indicator that your business goals for the year are being met.  However, closer scrutiny of both income and expenses is essential to ensure any financial gains and drains were derived from expected sources.  Any deviation may indicate a need for an adjustment in your business plan.  If you are unsure of where your money came from or went to give me a call and we can lay out a plan for getting your business financials in order.

 Are you ready to provide added value to your product line or services for the upcoming new year.  It is a satisfying feeling to review your business plan and check off the successes and milestones achieved.  A successful business is developed by scaffolding the lessons we’ve learn along the way, the lessons learned are simply a foundation for those yet to come.  You’ve heard the Marshall Goldsmith saying, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

  • Where is your next “there”? 
  • What will you need to learn to propel you to the next level?
  • What lessons will you need to learn to master the next test? 
  • Will you need a business mentor to help you get there? 

Test yourself throughout the year and be ready to evaluate what you have learned and what you need to learn to grow your business and achieve the success you deserve!

(Photo compliments of renjith krishnan/freedigitalphotos.net)

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