Resolve to Master the Art of Collaboration

Everyone should watch the TED Talk by David Grady, “How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings.” You’ll laugh because it is so humorous, but it also makes you realize how much time is actually wasted in meetings which are either perfunctory in nature or just poorly run. We have all been there. In watching this TED Talk, it occurred to me that in addition to the fact that meetings “steal” time from someone’s otherwise productive day, there is also another cost. Everyone present at the meeting gets to tick the mental box that they were there, and in so doing, the opportunity to encourage real change in the organization is lost. Why? Because true collaboration and ideation take both time and engaged participants

As each year closes, there is no better time than the new year to breathe renewed energy into a business. Harness the brainpower of your employees and co-workers and resolve to master the art of collaboration.

Discuss Matters of Consequence

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, collaboration means “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.” It sounds so simple. But, what struck me after listening to David Grady’s TED Talk, is that to work with someone, you must be willing and truly want to listen to what (s)he has to say, and what is being said must be a matter of some consequence. People think of meetings as ideal forums for brainstorming and dialogue. However, so often a meeting boils down to a presentation of a project already in progress, status updates by participants on actions that have already been taken or approvals or wordsmithing of documents. Here is an example of what I mean:

You are asked to attend a budget meeting to review, discuss and approve the proposed budget for the next calendar year. As the meeting kicks off, you are handed a weighty package with the current budget proposal versus previous year(s) actuals and some supporting details. You listen to a presentation of the changes relative to the previous year’s budget proposal, are informed of some revised expectations, and apprised of scenarios that may take the budget off track. In due course, you are reminded of the tight timeframe and lengthy agenda for the meeting, and oh yes, comments anyone?

In fact, we attend meetings hoping to participate in an exchange of ideas, but the reality is that often one group presents to another, and the matters under discussion are scrubbed and edited so as to be of little consequence. People hear the presentation, but don’t really listen to it because they know that neither genuine change nor collaborative dialogue will ensue. The reality is that colleagues will not collaborate with their peers unless discussions are on matters of consequence, meaningful change is still possible and people in the meeting actually want input from others in attendance.

value the input of your peers in small business

Value the Input of your Peers

Every organization has a hierarchy. It certainly is important when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the business. There are chiefs and there are Indians. But, the irony is that often the Indians have some of the best ideas, and moreover while some could be chiefs, they choose not to be. These non-managerial employees are pivotal to the daily running of the company and often the face of the business to your customers. Sometimes their jobs have components that are repetitious, so there is no one better to suggest how to streamline those jobs. They interact with customers and know what works and what will sell. But often, these valuable members of the team are also acutely aware that they are not managers.

If you are seeking to draw out the ideas of your peers and collaborate with them, they will want to know their input is truly valued by both the management and other co-workers. The art of collaborating encompasses the ability to sometimes treat others as your peers even when they are not, take the time to talk and listen to them and value their input. The end result is genuine buy-in.

Follow-up on Great Ideas

With some great ideas and an action plan in place, follow-up is critical to the art of collaboration. Organizational change comes in steps, and each part of the process should have actionable items for people to do. There is nothing more demoralizing than attending a meeting where someone floats a great idea, there is much fanfare, and then it is never pursued. If your organization has a management team that never produces actionable plans based on great ideas, than the value of the collaborative process is lost.

If there are unanswered questions when an idea is presented, the appropriate person should report back on the issue to his or her colleagues. In fact, taking a suggestion and following it through speaks to valuing the input of your peers, and as employees start to see the results of their collaborative efforts, they will become even more energized, motivated and engaged.

Stale organizations focus on process. Growing ones encourage collaboration and evolve.

Collaboration forces an organization to mature and grow, although perhaps not in the manner originally anticipated. If you are struggling to identify a strategic direction for your organization and could use some assistance, contact us or call (973) 218-6558.

 

Note: This blog has been edited since its first publication in December 2014. 

 

 

 

 

social media content

5 Shortcuts to Finding and Managing Great Social Media Content

For small business owners, there are never enough hours in the day. They juggle business strategy, production schedules, bookkeeping, payroll, marketing, human resources, content management and social media. It is no surprise that with such a long to-do list, social media marketing can fall by the wayside leading to inconsistent content posts and mundane points. But, there is hope for small business owners in pursuit of a social strategy filled with relevant, noteworthy and interesting topics that will engage their clients. Here are 5 shortcuts to finding and managing great social media content.

Set up News Feeds for Aggregation

Every industry has websites and electronic newsletters covering topics that are worth following. Feedly.com is one service that helps aggregate news feeds of interest, and you can create custom lists to follow. Our company, for example, manages content for multiple clients and we set up a custom list for each client, which collects stories from relevant news feeds in their industry. Another aggregation tool I really like is GetPocket.com. By installing the Chrome extension for Pocket or Feedly on your browser, you can upload any articles you want to read with a mouse click and even tag the articles. If you would like news to come directly to your Inbox, another option is to set up a Google Alert, www.google.com/alerts, a notification system based on keywords. Google Alerts will send you a list of relevant articles based off of your keywords and found in search as they happen, daily or weekly.

Follow Blogs by Industry Thought Leaders

follow blogs by other thought leadersEvery field has thought leaders or individuals who are blogging and of interest to you. It is fun and educational to follow and engage with them. Their blogs also provide relevant social content that you can share. Feedly.com allows you to follow blogs, so it is a great option for both news feeds and blogs. Often bloggers post their blogs on Facebook pages as opposed to WordPress or other blogging platforms. In that case, Liking the Page will do the trick and you can receive notifications of new blog posts. Another easy way to follow a blog is to click the RSS feed button if the blog has one. Typically, you will get an option to choose a Feed Reader service which will show all of the new blogs posted from the website and sometimes an option to receive an email alert. RSS feeds are often a point of real confusion amongst our clients, so here is a brief tutorial should you choose to try the RSS feed route, What is RSS.

Search for Content by Hashtag

hashtagsIn the context of social media, the pound sign is called a hashtag. A tool first used on Twitter, hashtags group topics and allow the reader to search and follow those topics through a clickable link. You can look for what is Trending on Twitter, and then even build some of your own social content around trending topics with high user engagement. You can also identify hashtags and related hashtags on relevant subjects with tools like Hashtagify.me. Once you have identified the hashtags you want to follow, set up a free Tagboard using the hashtag and you will get a fabulous visual of all of the trending content linked to that hashtag. Since all of the major social media platforms are using hashtags, creating great content means learning both how to deploy hashtags in your posts as well as how to use them to search for content.

Manage your Content with a Social Media Management Tool

After finding or creating your social media content, there are a number of tools you can use to schedule and manage it. Two of the most popular social media management tools are Buffer and Hootsuite. These platforms permit a user to post content to several social media accounts simultaneously, see user engagement and respond. User-friendly dashboards display character counts and image previews. Posts can be scheduled by day and time, so content postings can be input in advance. Many of the social media management tools offer news feed links right in the dashboard, so users can follow relevant content and then post it right from the news feed.

Nothing equates in value to original, creative content written by you.

Create Original Content

Most importantly, take the time to write your own content. Nothing equates in value to original, creative content written by you. If you like sharing interesting articles, write headlines yourself and post them on social media. If you blog, write about interesting trends in your industry. Answer common questions in your field of expertise. Summarize an interesting conference that you attended or offer a unique point of view on a controversial subject. Can’t think of a topic? Try the really fun, Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator. You simply enter three keywords and then the algorithm will give you a week’s worth of blog topics. In short, although thoughtful social media content takes time to write and develop, it is well worth it because you will slowly establish a following on social media and build a respected online voice.

Hopefully, these shortcuts will save you time and help you find and manage great social media content. If you think there still aren’t enough hours in the day to do your social media marketing, contact us. We can customize and implement a content management strategy for your business that is timely, consistent and engaging!

Lessons for the Small Business

Mexican Train Dominoes Offer Lessons for Small Business

On a recent vacation, my family taught me how to play Mexican Train Dominoes. The game is a variation of dominoes which allows players to add to their own line of dominoes, their private train, or alternatively, add to a line of dominoes open to all, the public train. Players try to get rid of all of their dominoes before their opponents and keep remaining dominoes to low numbers. After several rounds, the winner has the lowest number of points based on the totals of any remaining dominoes from each hand.

As I was new to the game, it took me several rounds to develop my own strategy. After settling on one that seemed to work, it occurred to me that my strategy had similarities to some of the key decision-making inherent in a small business. In addition to being a fun family game, Mexican Train Dominoes offer lessons for the small business.

Lesson One: Focus On What You Control

As I mentioned, in Mexican Train Dominoes, each player has a private train, which consists of a line of dominoes open only to that particular player. None of the other players can put down dominoes on someone’s private train. There is also a public train where all the players can put down a matching domino if they have one. As I organized whatever dominoes I had been dealt, I found myself segregating out the dominoes in my hand which worked on my private train from ones which worked on the public train. I could control the orderly play of my private train dominoes, but I had no control of what the public train opportunities were as the dominoes would change as players put down various combinations.

In fact when running a small business, one of the most important components of any strategy is focusing on what you control. For example, you can’t control whether a competitor opens up a shop next door. However, you can control the decision to expand your own product line once the competitor opens up. You can’t control the consumer trend towards iPads and mobile devices. You can ensure that your website is responsive and mobile-friendly.

Lesson Two: Identify and Minimize the Risks You Can’t Control

Identify and minimize risksAfter I was dealt my starting dominoes at the beginning of the game, I would find myself separating out the dominoes that I could match up and use in my private train into one pile. I would organize them into a line so as to match as many as possible, and I would move them around until I had one orderly line which I could use for my private train.

My second pile would have the dominoes that I could not use in my private train, but rather would have to dispose of in the public train. Since I had no control over the public train, I would always strive to play any dominoes in my public train pile first. In effect, I was minimizing the risk I could not control, the playability of the public train.

Similarly, for a small business owner, it is important to identify and minimize risks to the business that are outside of his or her control. One example might be a business that is a strictly brick and mortar storefront. A particularly precarious winter or nearby road construction can make access to the store difficult and imperil sales. However, in understanding the risk of being a brick and mortar business, the owner could develop an online e-commerce website for popular products or offer deliveries within a certain radius.

Lesson Three: Leverage Your Assets

leverage your assetsOne of the rules in Mexican Train dominoes relates to the double domino, a domino which has the same number on each side of the line. If a player has a double domino, (s)he plays it perpendicular to the line of dominoes, and it must be followed by a regular domino with the matching number on one side.
Double dominoes can be critical to a winning strategy. First, they allow a player to put down two dominoes. In playing a double domino, a player can quickly decrease the point value of the dominoes left in his or her hand. Strategically, the opportunity to play a double domino should not be missed, and if possible, it should be played early.

Similar to playing a double domino, a savvy business owner will leverage the assets of the company to gain a competitive edge. The assets might be personal contacts or an alumni network. Social media is an excellent way to leverage and broaden the audience for marketing campaigns or promotional offers. A small business can also leverage a customer relationship in one business line into another area and grow the overall business with the client.

Clearly, Mexican Train dominoes is not just amusing child’s play. There is some luck of course, but also plenty of strategy. The next time you have an opportunity to enjoy dominoes, remember the small business lessons implicit in the tactical side of this clever game. And if you could use some assistance identifying and focusing on strategic areas for your business, minimizing risks outside your control or just leveraging what you have, contact us. We will help you develop a winning strategy!

personal brand

Why a Personal Brand has Become a Marketing Must

Small businesses come in all shapes and sizes. Your company might even be just one person – you! Although you may have never really thought about it, you do have a personal brand which can be one of your most important marketing tools. A personal brand is your reputation, your experience, your approach to business and how you conduct yourself when working with clients or colleagues. It determines how you are perceived by others and whether people trust you.

Answering e-mails in a timely fashion, returning phone calls promptly, showing up to meetings on time and even how you dress are all components of a personal brand. It is imperative to convey it thoughtfully and consistently across websites, social media, blogs and personal interactions. Most importantly, your personal brand must reflect who you really are, not what you believe the market demands.

In today’s fast-paced digital world, a personal brand has become a marketing must. If you don’t have one, here are some steps to help you get started.

Compile your past experience and see what strikes you about it

When building your personal brand, start by making a list and make sure to include all of your volunteer work, board positions, outside coursework or hobbies and anything that defines you as an interesting person. Look for patterns in your work, education and activities. If you are always volunteering for a certain charity or work in a particular field, these interests are the start of your personal brand. Pull out two or three and feature them in your marketing strategy. Build a LinkedIn profile while doing it!

Consider how you would like to be perceived by your clients

If you want to be viewed as a thought leader in your field, you should have a professionally branded blog page which frames the key aspects of your experience. Blog and create original, timely content at least once a month. If it is important for you to be looked at as tech savvy, then develop a social media strategy and presence with branded backgrounds, banners and professionally photographed profile pictures to convey your abilities and understanding in this area. Link your social media account to your blog page with stylish icons that further reflect your personal brand.

Develop consistency in your branding

If you are a solopreneur, then don’t be afraid to blog as “I” or present yourself as an individual when building your personal brand. If you are part of a team, then make sure to differentiate your personal brand from that of the team and define areas that highlight your skills as opposed to those of the team. Whether it be in your website copy, social media or blog, stay consistent and remain “I” or “we,” otherwise clients will become confused.

Create an online presence and reference your brand in the domain name

One of the critical components of creating a personal brand is deciding how people will search for you online. If you have developed a business that centers around your expertise in an area and plan to blog, for example, your domain name might be your name, www.yourname.com. Also, if your network of contacts is from business school or college, classmates may search for you by name; or if your business is a consultancy, a blog that uses a domain with your name may be an excellent choice. However, if you plan to operate under a business name, your domain should reflect the business name and then define your personal brand under an About page on the website instead.

blogging builds your personal brand

Create valuable, original content by writing a blog

Whatever your field of interest, take the time to build your personal brand by writing original content and posting it in a blog. Brand the blog and choose a platform like WordPress which can be optimized for search and tailored to reflect your personal style and image. Make sure your blog has a headshot on the page or you have uploaded an avatar (the small profile picture associated with your blogs or comments), so people can associate your face with your name. If possible, tie in the domain name to boost your personal brand.

Market your personal brand on social media

Social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have a wealth of choices to market your personal brand like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram. On the other hand, people often start social media accounts and then neglect them, so social media can become a negative aspect of your personal brand. Creating a social media presence that reflects your personal brand takes time and effort, so allocate the time to build it and engage with it or have a content marketing firm do it for you. See my recent blog, Stop Ruining Your Business with Social Media.

Do you need help creating a personal brand?

At Resourceful Business, we can assist you in developing and defining your personal brand, help convey it effectively on your website and social media or even help with blog writing so your personal brand comes through with consistency. Contact us to learn more.

tools to measure whether social media is working

5 Tools That Will Tell You If Your Social Media Strategy is Working

A great social media campaign takes patience, thought and energy. The Return on Investment (ROI) is not always immediate, and many small businesses start using social media only to abandon it months later. The key to a successful social media strategy is customer “engagement,” which is defined as interactions in the form of likes, tweets, favorites, click-throughs, page views or even comments on a blog. If you have the type of business that does not get many Facebook comments or likes, for example, it does not mean your social media campaign isn’t working, but rather that you may need to dig a little deeper to analyze your customer engagement.

Understanding engagement is essential to figuring out the types of social media that will help grow your business. Here are five tools that will tell you whether your social media strategy is working.

Level of Engagement

One of the easiest ways to analyze social media success is to consider the campaign engagement relative to the average. The average engagement is lower than you might think, and I like to look at www.socialbakers.com for updated statistics. Socialbakers compile their data based upon monitored social media pages. As a rule of thumb, engagement of 1% or higher is considered good, but as the number of followers you have increases, the engagement level declines markedly so adjust your expectations accordingly. However, 1% engagement is a reasonable benchmark for a successful social media campaign.

Geographic Reach

If you use Twitter, tools like SocialBro can give you demographic information about your followers, including their geographic location and language.This tool will allow you to group your followers into lists and monitor what topics engage them, what times your tweets attract the most engagement and who the top influencers are in your area of interest. You can change the demographics and look at similar information in a competitor’s area or even a region where you may be considering expansion. For multinational businesses, SocialBro can help you see countries where you have pockets of followers, and you can tailor your content accordingly.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

The ultimate goal of a social media campaign is not just engagement, but visibility for your business and website. Google Analytics, a powerful and versatile tool available from Google, utilizes the information it collects on customer searches to track how they are getting to your website. If your customers are finding your website with click-throughs from your social media, you can see it in your Google Analytics reports. The platform will also tell you whether the visitors to your site are new or returning, what pages they are viewing, demographic information about them, and how long they stay on your site.

Newsletter Subscriber Base

If you send out newsletter e-blasts, chances are you have sign-up widgets on your social media platforms. If followers find your social content engaging, they will seek to build a more substantial relationship with your company by signing up for your newsletter. Social media engagement serves as the introduction to what your company has to offer. The newsletter will allow you to have a more meaningful dialogue with your customers, so monitor whether your subscriber base is increasing alongside your social media campaigns. If you have a download or PDF you can give away to incentivize people to join your mailing list, even better.

Click-through Rates

Regardless of the social media platform that  you choose, you will be able to monitor the click-through rate for your posts, tweets, e-blasts or photos. The click-through rate will tell you how many followers actually clicked on your content, photo or link back to your website. It suggests that a follower is interested enough in your content to actually do something about it, so it is a key metric and will help you refine your social media strategy in ways that can better engage your customers.

Are you unsure how to tell whether your social media strategy is working, or is your company just struggling to engage with customers on social media? Resourceful Business can help you assess, realign and energize your social media strategy so you can engage customers and grow your business. Contact us for a conversation about your company’s social media strategy.

Clothespins in a Jar

Clothespins in a Jar: A Childhood Game That Will Improve Your Small Business

Summer is a wonderful time to retool a small company. The dynamics of the business often change, and the less hectic pace can provide the perfect backdrop to contemplate the to-do list. It reminds me of a childhood game, clothespins in a jar. When summer comes around, mothers sometimes ask their children what they want to do in the summer. The child will name a few things like trying the new neighborhood playground or learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels. The idea is written on a clothespin and put in a jar. The jar sits on the kitchen counter and the clothespin is removed from the jar once the activity is done. The goal is to have the jar completely empty before the fall when school begins and busy schedules resume. It is a fun game and a fabulous visual reminder all in one!

This summer, why not put a few clothespins in a jar for your small business. Select projects that you have not had time to focus on and either do them, or contract them out. Here are ten ideas to get you started and improve your small business:

Content Management

  • Produce a quarterly eBlast or newsletter and send it to your clients. The Return on Investment (ROI) is high when you find ways to keep in touch with your current and past customers. They will remember your company when you keep your brand in front of them in creative ways. Don’t succumb to the temptation to do a purely promotional newsletter, but rather develop original content so your clients will enjoy reading the eBlast.

  • Learn your website content management system (CMS). If your website is built on a platform like WordPress, learn how to upload your own pictures and edit the content instead of paying someone else to do it for you. According to WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg, almost 19% of the web now runs on WordPress, so understanding WordPress CMS is well worth the time and effort.

Social Media Strategy

  • Rebrand your social media. Have the banners, profile pictures and backgrounds customized to show your products, services and logo in an eye-catching way. Social media helps you engage with customers, show your brand and market your business too.

  • Integrate social media on your website. If you don’t have clickable, visible links to all of your social media platforms on your website pages, get a developer to add them for you. Once you integrate your social media, make sure to manage it.  See my previous blog: Stop Ruining Your Business with Social Media.

  • Come up with a promotion for your business and post it on social media.  One of my favorite Facebook promotion ideas is to have your customers post a picture of your product and how they are using it. Have them post the picture on your social media company page with a comment about their photo.  Offer a prize for the most creative picture, then ask if you can use it in your marketing!

    hire a quickbooks ProAdvisor

Finances

  • Get your business finances in order. Hire a QuickBooks Proadvisor or bookkeeper to set up a proper chart of accounts for your company and get all your revenue and expenses entered. Create a quarterly management report on QuickBooks and start to look at year-on-year comparisons of your business performance.

  • Keep track of your expense receipts in an organized way so you and your bookkeeper are not scrambling at tax time. Figure out a system to get company receipts to the bookkeeper in a timely fashion throughout the year. In addition to having documents at your fingertips in April, you will run your business more strategically by being on top of expenses.

Blogging

  • Start a blog, and then learn how to properly post it so it is optimized for search. By creating original content and developing a blog, your website traffic will improve. The market will also start to look to you as an expert in your field. Be patient, as sometimes it takes time for original content to produce results.

Website

  • Have your website redesigned so that the pages are fluid-width, responsive and they properly adjust to any screen size or mobile device. Website elements should adjust to accommodate desktop computers, iPads and mobile phones. If you have an e-commerce platform embedded in your website, it should be responsive and work on all devices as well.

Small Business Strategy

  • Allocate time each day to read. It is amazing how much knowledge you will gain by just reading 30 minutes per day in your field of expertise. Order subscriptions, find newspapers or electronic newsletters that have great articles and information in your company’s area of expertise. Set time aside to read them each day and stay informed in your field.

These ideas are just off the top of my head, and there are many more that will be specific to your company. So, this summer, if the pace of your business is a little less frenetic, create your own to-do list. Construct a visual reminder, your very own clothespins in a jar, and get motivated to dust off projects that you have been meaning to do. Need some assistance? At Resourceful Business, we can help with website design and redesign, QuickBooks, content management, blogging, SEO and small business strategy. Contact us.

social media for business

Stop Ruining your Business with Social Media

For many business owners, social media has become part of their marketing strategy. Whether it be Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn or Google+, small businesses will choose a preferred platform or two, do promotions and advertisements or engage with customers. The ability to upload pictures makes tinkering with social media fun too.

All too often, however, a busy owner sets up a social media account and then uses it haphazardly with limited results. To really see customer engagement, the effort must be consistent and thoughtful, and of course, all of that takes time. So, here are a few telltale signs that you should stop doing social media for your business and utilize a content management firm instead.

You don’t know what a pixel actually is

Social media platforms permit the administrator, often the account owner, to upload graphic images and customize or brand the site to help visually identify the business. There are banners, profile pictures, logos in differing sizes and backgrounds. When you go to upload an image, usually the social media template will tell you the optimal size. When working with a LinkedIn banner, for example, a message displays,

“ PNG, JPEG, or GIF; max size 2 MB. Image must be 646 x 220 pixels or larger.”

A pixel is picture element, or one of the small points on a graphic image. If you upload an image that is too small or of the wrong dimensions, it can be stretched, appear off-center or blurred. Even when the social media templates let you check a box to “resize” the image, the end result is often distorted, cut off or blurry. Logos and images are easily edited with available software and will look crisp and eye-catching when sized correctly. A content management firm can give your social media platform a polished, professional look by creating correctly sized, custom graphics for your social media accounts.

writing a blog

You haven’t written a blog in 3 months

You know that it is helpful to create original content and you started a blog a few months ago. You wrote your first blog and posted it. You keep thinking about the next great topic, but have yet to write your next blog and it’s been three months. You are unfamiliar with terms such as H1 and H2 headings, sometimes written as “Heading 1, Heading 2,” tags, or hashtags which can appear in your website content management system (CMS). So, chances are that even if you are posting your own blogs, you are not taking advantage of the different ways to optimize search for your content.

A content management firm can write your blogs based on topics you provide or ideas they generate themselves. They will agree an editorial calendar with you, so blogs and content are produced consistently You can read drafts, approve them and then the content management company will post the content for you and optimize it for search.

You don’t actually have a social media content strategy

Social media content is sometimes divided into what is referred to as the “Rule of Thirds.” One third of your content can be product and service related, so it can have a promotional element. One third of your content should try to establish a rapport with your target audience. You can write about local events in your community or just your thoughts, and this content may not necessarily be related to your product. One third of your social media content should pull from other sources or articles in your field and try to establish you or your company as an expert in the area of specialization.

Great content also demands a variety of inputs to keep it interesting. There should be slideshares, videos, hyperlinks to interesting articles and lots and lots of pictures. If you don’t have the time or inclination to focus on an individualized content management strategy using a variety of mediums, then it would be better to let a content management firm do it for you. A content management firm can offer your business a monthly plan which may include fresh content, posting of the content, blog writing and monthly metric reports. Simply put, good content demands time, originality and a lot of reading, so know when the time has come to hand the task over.

Do you need a vision for your social media strategy or someone to implement it? Contact Resourceful Business today, and we will help you design and execute an effective, engaging social media strategy. Contact us.

3 sure-fire ways to lose a client

Three Sure-fire Ways to Lose a Client

A few months ago, I heard about a  client that was looking to get his newly redesigned website evaluated by a third party. It had been built by a web design company, and it was ready for launch. However, the client had lost faith in the website company that built it. Before the demo site became live, he wanted another company to take a look at it and give him an evaluation. He also wanted the contract reviewed to see if it had been fulfilled in all of the key areas.

It made me think. How can a business alienate a client to the point where the client no longer trusts the company at all? In interactions with clients, I have seen similar situations on more than one occasion. There are common threads to the grievances, and so I thought I would share my experience. Here are three sure-fire ways a small business owners can imperil a valued client relationship.

Over-promise and under-deliver

As a small business grows, client work can come in fits and starts. The temptation is to take any and all projects that come in just to build the business brand. Without thoughtfully considering which project and how much business to accept, a small company can compromise its own performance standards. Taking on too much work has its risks, and the mistake occurs in the service industry as well as manufacturing.

Consider a service example with some anxious homeowners looking to downsize and sell their home. They are hoping to hear the real estate agent, the small business equivalent in our story, say their house is fabulous and the housing market is strong. They want a high selling price for their home and are thrilled when the agent tells them they can list their home at a high price without a problem. As they would like to move quickly, the homeowners are relieved when the agent encourages them to list the house before the busy season begins. Weeks later when there are few interested buyers and no visitors to the open houses, the homeowners feel misled and disappointed. The agent knew what the homeowners wanted to hear, over-promised and then under-delivered.

Ultimately, the homeowners will tell their friends and family about their disappointing experience. The real estate agent will certainly not gain any new clients based upon the homeowner’s word of mouth. In fact, the agent may lose future clients. The risk is clear. In a recent New York Times article about the potency of unfavorable comments, “Praise is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall,” Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University, confirms, “…almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail.”

Don’t establish concrete deliverables

Every project or commitment made to a client has implicit “deliverables.” A deliverable is a product, service or goal that needs to be finished by an agreed date. A lawyer may owe a draft contract for her client’s review. A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) may owe a management report to the head of the company for an internal review. A website designer may owe a page layout proposal to his client. Each person has a deliverable, and without specific deliverables, a project can drift and the timeline to completion lapse.

One aspect of deliverables that is often overlooked is that deliverables go both ways. The lawyer can send the client a contract for review, but the client needs to review it and get back to the attorney in a timely manner. After the CFO provides the head of the company with the management report, the head of the company needs to actually read it and provide relevant feedback. And once the client approves the layout proposal for the website, he needs to write the content to go into the pages so the website can go live. In fact, my company has seen situations where the client does not get to his or her deliverables in a timely manner, and the project shuts down.

The business owner can take the position that it is the client’s fault, but ultimately it is in the small company’s interest to stay on track and remind the client. Otherwise as the project unravels, the customer gets disheartened, the business’ reputation in the market is harmed, and both sides leave the project determined never to work with the other party again.

client emails

Ignore client phone calls or emails

Small business owners have limited dollars and even less free time. Their schedules are hectic as often they juggle multiple roles, particularly in the startup phases of the company. More than once, my company has witnessed clients involved in a project that are no longer being serviced properly in some way. For example, a business owner builds a website with a web design company, but now is in need of some minor upgrades or changes. Because the work is small, it never seems to get done and the client’s calls and emails get ignored. I have personally seen an instance when a client and a company started to disagree on a few matters. Interestingly, in this case the deliverables had fallen by the wayside, and as time progressed, the needs of the client had evolved and were not really covered in the original contract. As the relationship worsened, the company became more and more lax about answering the client’s calls or emails. Eventually, the web design company lost the customer.

Clients are the backbone of any small business. They can grow with your business as their own ventures succeed. They can expand their commitment to a company horizontally or vertically by working across different product areas or expanding within a business line. Satisfied customers give a business referrals which ultimately grow the customer base for the small business even more.

So, don’t fall into the trap of over-promising and then under-deliver. Take the time to plan out and agree on the project timeline and deliverables, and service your clients even when the task at hand is small. Don’t imperil your client relationships; cultivate them and watch your business grow.

If your company is struggling to manage its valuable client base, contact us, and we will help get your project and relationships back on track!

 

small business strategy

Small Business Strategy: The Importance of Stakeholders

Every business, regardless of size, has a management structure. Even sole proprietors subcontract out work and may find themselves managing the subcontractors. Whether a person is an owner, manager or employee, (s)he plays a role in the success or failure of the enterprise. Sometimes, making employees or managers stakeholders in the business can have dramatic effects that benefit the company. Let me give an example to illustrate a key small business strategy and the importance of stakeholders.

Two retail stores operate down the street from each other. Both are small businesses with an owner, manager and several employees. Business is hectic, and the owner of Business A assigns the manager the task of putting out the work schedule each week and allocating hours amongst the part-time staff. Over the course of several weeks, the manager receives complaints from the staff that they are not getting enough hours. So, she tweaks the schedule and adds a few more hours here and there. Some of the shifts now overlap, but everyone seems happier. The owner notices that the payroll seems to have gone up and wonders why.

In contrast, the owner of Business B, down the street, also assigns the manager the task of putting out the weekly work schedule. For the increased responsibility, the owner also gives the manager a small allocation of the net profit each month should the business beat certain net profit targets. As the weeks go by, the staff complain that they are not getting enough hours in their shifts. The manager could allocate everyone a few more hours. However, the manager knows that if she allocates unnecessary hours to keep the employees happy, the net profit target at the end of the month might be jeopardized due to the extra payroll expense. The manager chooses to keep the schedule intact and instead explains to the staff that the business does not require more shifts.

The difference is striking. In Business B, the owner made the manager a “stakeholder” in the business and, in effect, changed her decision-making process.

small business stakeholders

What is a Stakeholder?

A stakeholder is defined as “a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business.” By having a financial interest in the success of an entity, stakeholders will intuitively begin to consider the profitability of decisions, even if subconsciously. It is why profit sharing, end-of-year bonuses and stock awards in lieu of cash are often used in the for-profit environment. On a smaller scale, I have seen small businesses distribute a little bit of each month’s profit to their key managers should the business achieve key targets. The managers embrace the business and work to make it better every single day. They start to think about the business’ reputation and how to get clients to become repeat customers.

When The Resourceful Business is asked to advise clients on their current strategy, one of the first things we evaluate is who in the company has the role of stakeholder. It can drive the day-to-day decisions being made in the business.

How Being a Stakeholder Will Change Behavior

In Business A, the owner would eventually sit down with the manager and explain that the work schedule should not be compromised to benefit the staff. Rather, the manager should create a work schedule to benefit the business, although a strong incentive to do so is not really in place. As the staff complain, the manager could still be motivated to add a few extra hours here or there, perhaps just not as many as before.

In Business B, the owner has incentivized the manager to create an efficient work schedule by making the manager a stakeholder. I outline this contrast as a reminder that it is very important for a small business to constantly evaluate who has the role of stakeholder. It may seem counter-intuitive to widen the base of stakeholders in a small, growing business. However, if a business exceeds expectations at the end of a given month, even a small distribution of profits to key staff members is incredibly motivating. Cost-cutting suggestions will start to trickle in and some fabulous new ideas will too.

A small business can thrive by considering how it designates and incentivizes its stakeholders. Need a strategic perspective on the structure of your business?  Contact us.

 

President's Day Lessons for small business

Presidents’ Day Lessons for the Small Business

Presidents’ Day is around the corner, and it is worthwhile for the small business to stop and think about why we remember two of our great Presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their place in history extends far beyond their historic actions and ideas. Rather, their legacies are also defined by moral character, tenacity and tactical skill. As a small business owner, it occurs to me that each of these traits also define a great business. Here’s why.

Moral Character Grows the Client Base

History remembers Abraham Lincoln as a President that perceived slavery to be a fundamental evil; and therefore, he worked tirelessly to abolish it. His morality and view of slavery became the basis for his actions as President. Similarly, a small business must have a strong moral character in all that it does; because without one, it will never build lasting client relationships. A strong sense of morality will guide the major decisions of the business and underpin client relationships.

In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of my business is interacting with clients. The one-on-one time that I spend with a small business owner establishes a foundation of trust.  Personally, I have found that if I look a client in the eye and give him or her advice, (s)he will usually take it. It is because a business that develops a reputation of integrity combined with a track record of working solely in the interest of the client becomes a very valuable ally.

For example, there are some services that my company helps clients with, and we simply pass through the costs with no markup. Our clients are always pleasantly surprised. But it is not a stretch for us, because our business grows when we represent clients honestly, work solely in their best interest, and build the relationship. Our business is unique in that it offers many different services, and invariably, clients start with us in one product line and then add another. If we can be trusted in one area, then we earn a presumption of trust in another. Perhaps in the case of Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s belief in his moral character earned him the chance to move forward with his difficult domestic agenda.

It is the moral character of the business, in effect, which grows the client base.

lessons for small business

Tenacity, but with Focus

Tenacity is one of my favorite words. It means, “the quality or fact of being very determined.” Particularly when a small business grows quickly, an owner can feel overwhelmed. Leads seem to come in from everywhere, time is sparse, hours are long and simple tasks like paying the bills go out the window. In those times, tenacity is critical, but it must be with focus. Successful small business owners work extremely hard, are determined to pursue their passion which underlies the business and commit the time to doing so. But as the business picks up, time management and the ability to focus on the key goals are critical.

Where should you focus?

  • Cost control and expenses
  • Client relationships and maintaining an on-going dialogue with your customers
  • Follow-up conversations and work on running projects and current initiatives
  • Key strategic objectives that are core to the business

Therefore, continue to pursue important deadlines, client relationships and projects with tenacity, and concentrate on key business objectives if you must do some picking and choosing. If a business is not executing particular aspects very well, it may be prudent to shed them if they are not core to the business. Don’t be afraid to make these types of difficult decisions to retain your focus.

Be Tactical and Smart, or Lose Ground

George Washington is often remembered as the general who crossed the icy, Delaware River on Christmas Eve during the American Revolutionary War. It was a turning point in the morale of the Continental Army and a bold strategic move. He knew that without the element of surprise, his army had no chance against the Hessians.

When I spend time with a new business, I am often caught off guard at how often the team has fallen into a pattern of complacency. The owners have taken a view that it seems to work, or at least it works well enough. Business is humming and no one on the management team has the time to contemplate the next downturn. What revenue streams could be jeopardized?  Should they be bolstering other areas of the business just in case?  On occasion when my company is brought in for strategic planning, I often hear, “Let’s think outside the box.” I always respond, “But, the answer might be in the box.”

Tactical thinking means planning ahead and envisioning scenarios different from the status quo. It means developing initiatives in anticipation of a changing environment often using resources you already have. It does not necessarily mean that the business needs a complete overhaul or change of course.  It does mean that management needs to look at different scenarios and be prepared to act. Let the competition be complacent, like the Hessians, who assumed that the holidays would be a time of rest. Use surprise in your favor and be prepared to move in a different direction even when your competitors do not.

For a great example of the importance of forward, tactical thinking, see the Wall Street Journal article, “Apps are Wrecking Mom-and-Pop Pizza Shops.”

So, this Presidents’ Day, consider whether your business conducts itself with moral character, tenacity and tactical smarts. If you don’t think your company passes the litmus test in any one of these three areas, contact us and we will help realign your strategy.