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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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!