This site is dedicated to discussion of ideas and strategies that are part of the process of growing and sustaining a small business

15 Personal Qualities Impact Future Success


personalityAs a consultant and trainer, I see the lack of interpersonal skills – or personal qualities as the number one reason for conflict, and poor leadership in organizations.  The trouble is that most people aren’t aware of the importance of these qualities and fail to recognize their own short comings in these areas.  In a world where everyone is crazy, the sane people start to look abnormal.  With interpersonal skills, it is much the same.  Poor behavior becomes the norm and it has grown in social acceptance.  However, it still leaves dysfunctional tracks in organizations, and families.

A business associate forwarded a link to me on Personal Qualities not measured by tests http://www.docstoc.com/docs/33016765/THE-LIST-Personal-Qualities-NOT-Measured-by-Tests by Gerald W. Bracy.  Mr. Bracy was inspired to create this list from a paragraph written by Robert Glaser of the University of Pittsburgh for the National Academy of Education in 1987, occurring in NAE’s critique of a plan to “restructure the National Assessment of Educational Progress simply stating that the human qualities that we value the most are very difficult to assess”. Mr. Bracy lists 26 personal qualities.

Receiving this information was timely because I also recently attended the Association of Governing Boards conference in San Francisco where several speakers including keynote Robert Reich spoke of the failure of the public school system to educate the whole child and overemphasis on standards and assessments.  Indeed the modern-day de-emphasis on the arts, cultural activities and even sports programs for financially strapped urban school districts has devastating consequences for lifelong success of these students.

I’ve selected 15 personal qualities from the list that everyone, from schools to business organizations, may find desirable.

  1. Creativity
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Resilience
  4. Motivation
  5. Persistence
  6. Curiosity
  7. Humor
  8. Reliability
  9. Enthusiasm
  10. Civic-mindedness
  11. Self-discipline
  12. Empathy
  13. Courage
  14. Resourcefulness
  15. Humility

 

For me, these qualities I have listed strike a personal chord because they were taught to me by my parents when I was a child.  They were reinforced in school by teachers because we were graded on things like “citizenship” and “behavior” which were largely subject to interpretation by the teachers.  I carried these qualities into my higher education and throughout my career.  They have served me well.

photo credit: fisserman via photopin cc

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Small Business Marketing: A Key to Sustainability


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I just finished reading Tom Patty’s new book, Marketing Without Money, a welcome read on my flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia. Tom skillfully weaves his experience as a top marketing expert with ad agencies, his owned “failed” experience as an entrepreneur and his role as SCORE counselor into a comprehensive set of no-cost marketing ideas for small businesses. 

Small businesses have little time and money for marketing.  But without marketing, small businesses cannot survive.  Here’s what I found most worthwhile from this book.  Patty says that in marketing, one way to increase value is the use of positioning.  Listed below are a few things he says that any business can do to improve its “value equation”:

  1. Offer a money-back guarantee
  2. Include shipping at no additional cost
  3. Create a value pack

 

I bent the corner of this page because I believe there is merit in taking a look at how I might make these changes in our business.

Patty speaks of the importance of promotion as another way to increase awareness.  Small businesses often don’t have the resources to pay for expensive television commercials, but in the example given – a business that advertised during the super bowl – it was the idea, not the commercial that created a lasting impression.  Ideas are free.  Small businesses should get publicity that gets others talking about the business. Press releases are boring and are self-promoting.

The ultimate set of ideas I gained from Patty are about marketing leverage.  He offers strategies to grow your business by asking questions like:

  • What is my customer really buying (instead of what am I selling)?
  • How can my business be more attractive to my customers?
  • How can I make my business more convenient?
  • How can increase my value to my customers?

 

Marketing your business can help you attract new customers and grow your revenues. Investing in this book and the ideas it presents may add a boost to your business.  I intend to go back to the many sections of the book I’ve underlined and dog eared and follow through on a few good ideas to help grow my business.

SalFalko via photopin cc

5 Ways to Lose your Followers: Making Bad Leadership Good


Leadership is a dynamic relationship between followers and leaders.  Without followers you cannot lead.  A follower can decide at any time for any number of reasons not to follow the leader.  When that happens the leader’s duty is over.  Whether it’s formal or informal – in a business or social setting, the leader without followers loses status and followers become disinterested.  We are seeing this unfold on the world stage today as business and political leaders fail to lead.  Bad leaders are ineffective because they destroy the bond with their followers.

Leadership is ability of one individual to exercise influence over a group of people.  The ability to influence can be related to power and authority.  Power relationships are formed formally and informally through relationships and they are inextricably tied together.  As a follower your degree of choice can cause tight or lose bonds with your leader.  Choosing to follow someone willingly because you like them, like a mentor is the strongest form of leadership. When you are required to follow someone because they have direct authority over you or because they have greater power than you, and it is coercive or abusive – that is the weakest form of leadership/followership. 

Here are five ways to lose your followership and your ability to lead:

  1. Inability to share the credit for work that is done by others.  Have you ever worked on a team where the leader presented the final product and took all the credit? Can you think of examples of when this happens how it makes team members feel?  Can you think of a business or political leader who has done this well?
  2. Need to control and failure to delegate. Hiring an expert, then failing to let them do their job is a great example of this.  Micromanaging people that you’ve retained to do a job can lead to mistrust.  Once you lose trust, you may lose your followers.
  3. Lack of respect/civility, talking over people, not following agreed upon process, name calling. This is flat out bad behavior that will run people away from you, not to you. This makes people feel bad and they will leave your influence as soon as they are able.
  4. Failure to compromise.  Sticking to a rigid philosophy or manner of doing things even when others around you urge you to change will cause a leadership crisis and a fleeing of followers.
  5. Punishing all employees because the organization is not managing well.  One size does not fit all.  Leaders have to take the time to discover why things go wrong and avoid punishments.  Find the perpetrator and take appropriate actions.  Punishment is a form of coercive leadership.
  6. Unethical and immoral behavior.  Out of control behavior in one’s personal life will drive people away who have moral standards of conduct.  Although the barometer of what constitutes moral and acceptable behavior has evolved somewhat, most people agree that cheating, lying, and stealing are immoral acts.  Followers won’t want the association or the attention with this kind of leader.
  7. Failure to admit mistakes; blames others; lack of accountability. Leaders who practice “the buck stops here” philosophy will always attract followers and admirers.  Failing to admit mistakes makes leaders look small and insincere and become an instant way to lose credibility.

 

Leaders attract and retain followers when they articulate a clear vision, are positive role models.  Effective leaders listen, care for and engage their followers. They share power and decision making and delegate responsibility with authority.  The hold themselves accountable for the actions of their followers and operate with the highest degree of integrity.

Business Strategy: Are You Flying Like an Eagle in Your Business?


 

When is the last time you saw a bald eagle fly? Recently I saw a bald eagle fly overhead while I was driving.  In that brief period I made some keen observations about this magnificent creature. 

  • The eagle doesn’t just fly, it soars.
  • The eagle soars with a purpose for a target that it is seeking.
  • The bald eagle’s head is pointed forward and it scans the environment in search of its target.

Are you like a bald eagle when it comes to your business?

What is it that makes your soar?  How do you find the time or the mindset to pull yourself away from your business operations or day to day grind to soar above the fray so you can have an eagle eye’s view?

Do you know your purpose or mission or why your business exists?  What need or needs do you fulfill?  How do you articulate this? Can you state your mission succinctly?  Is it written down?  If so, when is the last time that you looked at it?

Scanning the environment is necessary to be able to understand your competition, respond to trends and deal with obstacles that may get in the way of you reaching your target.

Are your targets clearly defined?  In your business this can mean your niche or focus, your targeted customers or clients.  Are you are the right path to clarifying your niche and finding your targets?

If you can take time to “fly like a bald eagle in your business” you will:

  • Stay strategic
  • Operate with a purpose
  • Scan your environment
  • Find your niche and your targets

 

Business Strategy: 18 Great Ways to Freshen Your Business


The ground hog has seen his shadow and although it might not seem like it now, spring is just around the corner.  Take advantage of your indoor time to improve your business strategy and freshen up your business.  Here are 18 ways:

  1. Clean off your desk.  When in doubt, throw it out! Follow paper management rules to organize: toss, file or act.
  2. Write down the names of 10 customers you would like to reach. Make it a commitment to call 2 customers each day for the next 5 days.
  3. Write a personal thank you note to an employee, customer or supplier.
  4. Browse through an online catalog and purchase something new to brighter your office.
  5. Back up your computer files on a external hard drive, memory stick or virtual site.
  6.  Change your banner on you company Face Book or LinkedIn business page.
  7. Call 5 customers and ask them to share one new service or product they would like to see you offer in your business.
  8. Offer to mentor a young person or have someone “job shadow” you. Use your family, friends or employees to identify somehow who could benefit.
  9. Draw a picture that best describes what you think of your business today. Draw another picture of what you’d like it to look like one year from now.  Now compare them.
  10. Organize your business cards.
  11. Look at the business books that are on your shelf or your Kindle. Take one that you would like to read and read the first chapter.
  12. Buy a new plant or fresh flowers for your office.  Give a flower to everyone who works for you.
  13. Make a list of hopes and dreams for your business.  Share it with your employees and discuss their ideas. Post the result.
  14. See if you can write down your business philosophy in six words.
  15. Share some news – write a press release and send it to your local media.
  16. Don’t have any news? Make some. Identify 3 upcoming newsworthy events about your business.
  17. Give yourself a pat on the back for all you do.
  18. Change your voicemail message for your phones.

Are you on the Train or Stuck on the Platform? How to Transition your Business from Traditional to Social Media


If you hung out “your shingle” for your business just 10 years ago, you might fall into the category of what I call a traditional business.  Whether you are a service or product based business, a business to business concern or one that markets directly to the consumer the marketplace has changed drastically especially in the last three during the great recession.

The reasons for the change are fairly obvious.  How often do you use the phone as the principle way of contacting your customers? How often do you count on the mail for receiving checks or payments from customers? How do you process credit card receipts? Your taxes?  How many tasks are you performing today in your business that you used to do that required another employee, or part of one? Are you using an IPad or a smart phone as a regular part of your business communications?

The recession has done a couple of things:

  • It has accelerated the use of technology to reduce the cost of doing business
  • It has changed the way customers interact with businesses and their expectations with regard to promptness, experience, engagement and ease of interaction

 

I will be the first one to admit that I was resistant to the social media although I wasn’t resistant to technology.  Our company had its first website in 1995 when few companies of its size had a web presence; in those days the web site was static and functioned like an online business brochure.  We opened our first online store shortly thereafter.  Our uniqueness in the marketplace quickly disappeared.

But I found myself resistant to social media as a core business development strategy until relatively recently.  Why? Because I knew deep in my gut that this change would require major restructuring and it seemed like a monumental effort.  The fact of the matter is that the migration to social media is a sea change.  Traditional businesses, like mine, that were founded with face-to-face interaction are most challenged.

Making a commitment to transition your business from traditional to social media might require hiring someone new with expertise in an area that seemed really foreign at first. Small “Mom and Pop” shops and businesses have the greatest challenge particularly if they’ve been around for a while.  Many have already downsized during the recession and have limited capacity to take on new ways of doing business.

Here’s the deal – when it comes to major societal transformations, and I believe social media is one, you can either get on the train or stand on the platform and watch the train pass you by.  It might be a train that you won’t be able to catch again or for a very long time.  In the meantime all of your competitors got on the train and those who are relatively new in business caught the early train.  Missing the train can put you out of business. 

So I diagnosed my resistance (which is not my typical nature) and determined that the primary reasons I was so resistant to making needed changes to social media management were: 1) I lacked the knowledge and the skill and did not have it in my company 2) I felt that I would be abandoning my company values in some way and 3) I did not know where to begin.

I am a planner by nature so knowing the obstacles helped me to develop a plan.  So I set about identifying a few webinars and seminars I could take on social media.  In a year’s time I have attended about 12 – which has enhanced my person knowledge and skill and also given me enough background and understanding to be able to hire help in this area.  Secondly, I developed a comprehensive social media plan.  It is now a core element of our business planning and marketing at all levels.

Here are 3 steps I recommend to transition your business from traditional to social media:

  1. Identify your barriers to moving forward.  Why are your resistant?  What are your fears?
  2. Take a few webinars or seminars to break the ice and familiarize yourself with key concepts, terminology, different venues
  3. Get started!  Start small so that you don’t overwhelm yourself.  Begin by managing one account and get accustomed to it.

 

We still have a ways to go but now I know where I’m heading.  I’m on the train not on the platform. So where are you? If you are reading this blog, you may already be on the train – maybe forward this on to someone who could use this advice.

 

What business planning have you done lately?


Thank Goodness it’s Friday!  Beginning with this post I will offer a TGIF business tip blog every Friday to help you grow and sustain your business.

Every business needs a firm foundation, so let’s get planning in 2013.  You’d be surprised at how many small businesses say they are in business but don’t have a business plan.  Many small businesses don’t have a strategic plan.  Still others are lacking a marketing plan.  Some businesses that have marketing plans have not looked at them recently.

What kind of business planning have you done lately? If you’re serious about growing your business it is time to ensure that you have a sound business plan. If you don’t have one, take the time to develop one.  If you have one in place, dust it off and update it.

If you don’t have a strategic plan, put one in place to help anticipate how business trends and environmental changes can impact your business.

Your marketing plan is an essential part of your business plan.  If you have one, take a look at it and update it, too.

Other sub-plans that you may  want to develop for your business are:

  1. Customer plan
  2. Staffing plan
  3. Facilities plan
  4. Social media plan
  5. Product development plan

 

You’ll only want to develop plans that stem from your business or strategic plan.  What is most critical is to be able to ensure that you can determine key objectives and activities that should be implemented to achieve the results you want.  Those results are your outcome measures.

Why do most people avoid business planning?  Because it takes time.  Very small businesses don’t have the time or expertise to devote to planning.  But one thing is certain; focused planning leads to focused results.

 

Are you stuck? 3 strategies to generate critical thinking and get unstuck


Sometimes we get stuck in one place because we are not able to see things from a different perspective or we have trouble deciding an appropriate course of action.  Using critical thinking for our businesses can be a way to “get unstuck”.

Here’s a practical example.  Recently I was instructed to drive my car up a narrow ramp on a steep incline in a small garage and park it behind another car.  I was there to perform in the studio located in this facility.  I got stuck on the ramp at the very top just before it leveled out; I was unable to get my car to stay in gear. There was no way forward. There was no way back. The owner of the facility and my client observed my difficulty and both began giving me directions. One man positioned himself in front of my car and the other behind my car and they both began giving me directions which were contradictory and confusing.

Have you ever tried to understand two sets of directions at the same time while looking through a front car window and a rear view mirror? It doesn’t work very well. The combination of directions, frustration and worry about being late for my engagement caused me to become anxious and agitated.  I put the car in neutral and rolled back on a slight angle and got stuck on the curb. Now I was really stuck!

My two instructors became impatient and both insisted on getting into my car driving it to get it unstuck.  I had just met these two men and did not trust either one of them to operate my car.  I figured if anyone was going to damage my car, it would be me.  I asked them to leave so I could calm down and use critical thinking to resolve this problem. Here are the questions I asked myself:

  • Why am I in this situation?
  • What am I trying to accomplish with my car?
  • How do I need to move my car to get “unstuck”?
  • What can I do differently to be successful?

 

I determined that I should not have pulled my car up the narrow ramp in the first place and should have left the vehicle parked on the street.  There was not enough of a level surface for me to park in the area which the two gentlemen had designated for me.  I compounded this problem by taking directions from them at the same time trying to back down the ramp. The two men offered different approaches which ultimately led to me backing my car down the ramp and ending up stuck on an angle. Because I could not leave my car in that position, I concluded that it would make more sense for me to resolve the issue before I performed the job that I was asked to do there. I was determined that critical thinking would be my way out of this dilemma.

Realizing that it was necessary to assess how the car was positioned in order to determine my next steps, I put the emergency brake on, got out of the car and surveyed my situation. I was able to see how to straighten my tires and how much actual room was available to back up the vehicle.  I got back into the car changed the direction of my tires and decided to acerbate forward quickly and then straighten out the tires and do this in a back and forth motion, a little distance each time. It worked!

Next, I slowly backed the car down the ramp which took 10 minutes. Twice I had to pull forward, and straighten out my tires and back up again.  I parked on a level surface at the entrance to the ramp. It was done!!

I calmly entered the building and was able to perform unimpeded without worries of my car rolling down the ramp or a ruined transmission.

Here are three critical thinking steps that you can apply to your business:

  1. Determine what you are trying to accomplish.  Ask as series of questions to gauge your thinking.
  2. Assess your situation.  Critically examine where you are.  What is the true nature of the problem you are trying to solve?
  3. Clearly define your goal. What are you trying to accomplish? Brainstorm alternative approaches to solving your problem or achieving your goal.  What should you try that you have not considered? How can you achieve a successful outcome?

 

Critical thinking is a skill worth developing.  It can shed new light on an ineffective strategy and lead you to better decision making,

Lessons from Hurricane Sandy: It’s time for an emergency preparedness plan for your life and business


Hurricane Irene was a year ago almost to the day before Hurricane Sandy which assaulted the northeast corridor of the US the end of October of this year.

After going through Hurricane Irene, many people, including me thought that it was a hundred year event.  After all, the northeast had gone through a series of unusual climate events in less than a year.  Even my little grandson remarked, “I’m only 8 and I’ve already seen an earthquake, a tornado and a hurricane.  What’s next”?

It was hard to predict then that in 12 months we would see another hurricane in our area but much worse.  Hurricane Irene and a series of summer storms helped to mitigate the damage we could have experienced to our home from Hurricane Sandy.  Many unstable trees and large branches located behind our home had already fallen.  We were fortunate to have only experienced minor roof damage.

Have you done any emergency preparedness planning?

Earlier in the year my husband and I were motivated to take disaster training because of the major climatic events to give us personal knowledge and control. We took part in the CERT (Citizen’s Emergency Response Team) training course this summer to become a part of the citizen’s emergency responder team and learn how to behave in emergency situations.  We had taken the one day training seriously and distributed booklets to our friends and family.  Follow up actions which we took seriously required completing a Emergency Preparedness Plan which we I did.  Some of our family and friends laughed when we told them of the training and gave them the information.  Guess who looked at the booklets recently? My husband and I had no idea that the kits we received from our CERT training would be needed so soon.  It was comforting knowing that we were prepared.

It’s time for an emergency preparedness plan for your life and business. Sometimes disaster can strike and it is no fault of your own.  Like Job experienced in the Bible – you may just have to endure.  Do your best to be prepared.  It helps to increase your own knowledge about particular issues when you notice that there is a pattern of events or issues that may impact you directly.  Knowledge and a plan of action are empowering and can become an aid in the event that the unthinkable happens.

In our businesses we all have potential areas of disaster.  There is no way to plan for all of them but there is a way to prepare for them.  What areas is your business most vulnerable? Do you have a crisis management plan? Now is the time to evaluate where you are with your business.

Your emergency plan for your business would include what you do personally but include backup and plans to address your business properties.  In addition your plan should include business continuity if you loss access to your office.  Do you have computer back up?  Customer lists?

A good guide for small business emergency planning is, A Blueprint for Emergency Preparedness, by the Small Business Continuity Task Force of New Jersey’s Department of Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission.  This brochure provides many tips and resources for small businesses to be prepared for disasters and minimize disruption.  I have saved this brochure electronically for easy reference.

There are some disasters like Hurricane Sandy that can obliterate the best plans.  Advance emergency planning for business and in life helps minimize damages and downtime when there is destruction.

Now’s the time for emergency preparedness planning for your life and business. If you don’t have emergency plans for your family, now is the time.  If you don’t have an emergency plan for your business, do it now.

 

3 Principles for Managing Diversity in Today’s Diverse Workforce


What is the face of diversity today and why is it still an important issue?

Our world is more diverse than ever and we all need to be able to accept differences to minimize conflicts and misunderstandings that get in the way of communication. In the work place the failure to recognize and appreciate the diversity of employees in all aspects (race, gender, ethnicity, age, identity, style, and ability) is a productivity problem that can also lead to conflicts or work avoidance strategies.  Differences are just different. When we judge differences we measure them against our own value system which is biased to our own perspective.

Almost a generation ago I experienced overt racial and gender bias while working as an executive in corporate America.  Many of the behaviors and actions associated with the treatment I experienced from co-workers, bosses and even subordinates are illegal today.  The issues of difference are much more varied in contemporary society.  Easily identifiable racial and ethnic categories are blurred. Families come in all shapes and sizes.  Employees of all ages are active in the workplace.

Experiences of exclusion were quite painful for me and many people who have experienced discrimination based on the more obvious physical differences still have scars.  But my scars have faded into distant memory. In one case I was so wrongly treated that my white, male co-workers had the courage to report it. Exclusion does not feel good.  It is a form of bullying, control and coercive power. Sometimes exclusion comes in a passive/aggressive form such as ignoring someone or failing to offer feedback (positive or negative) on work performance.

The ability to manage diversity is a core competency for managers and leaders for every kind of organization.  Managing diversity is a bottom line issue not just for work productivity but also an essential element of stakeholder management. The failure to embrace and understand the different perspectives provided by different kinds of people is an opportunity lost.  Organizations which are one-dimensional are vulnerable to group-think.   Senior managers who fail to embrace diversity in the workplace run the risk of appearing like dinosaurs.  Accepting diversity for younger employees is easier because many have grown up in more diverse home and school environments.

I’d like to offer 3 principles for managing diversity in the work place:

  1. Understanding differences means taking the time to learn about different ideas, perspectives and values.
  2. Treating people fairly may sometimes mean treating people differently.
  3. Practice inclusion, not exclusion – in all forms of communication.

 

These 3 principles taken seriously can become a part of a leader’s tool kit for managing diversity and reaping the benefits of communicating effectively and practicing inclusion.

 

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