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Make Your Business Strategy a Mile Deep and a Foot Wide

mile deep foot wideYou can’t scroll through your social media news feed without coming across an article, video or photo that has gone viral. And don’t forget about the sponsored posts that force us to consume information all because Facebook says it fits our demographic. This communication overload can lead us to believe that we must utilize every marketing strategy out there in order to grab the attention of potential clients or customers.

This goes against the longstanding wisdom to be “a mile deep a foot wide.” And by that I mean – be selective about where you dedicate your time and money and choose only the strategies that best fit your goals and audience.

Instead, I’ve been seeing a growing trend where business owners spread their time and budget thin by trying to do it all. While an effective communications strategy requires a variety of tactics, it also requires you to be selective with your tactics and then focus your full attention on doing them exceptionally well.

So why should you rethink your complicated and scattered communications, marketing, advertising or business strategy? Here are four key reasons why being a mile deep and a foot wide will better serve your business and your bottom line.

You’ll be able to devote more resources to what makes the greatest impact.

When you try to do it all, you can’t provide each task with the time and attention it needs to produce the best results. So often, I’ve seen business owners throw their hands up as to why – with all that they are doing – nothing seems to be making a difference. Instead of stopping to take a look at the chaos and disorganization of their strategy, they try and do more.  And so the downward spiral continues.

The only solution is to stop, breathe and take a critical look at where you’re devoting your resources. If the depth of your tactics is not yet a mile deep, your breadth should be no more than a foot wide. More simply put, first master the tactics that are producing the greatest results before adding in anything additional. Once you’ve found a good pace and are happy with your ROI, you can slowly explore with more variables.

You’ll be able to more easily identify what’s working.

If you begin your communications efforts with a massive strategy right out of the gate, it’s going to be difficult to identify exactly what tactic is helping you reach your goals. Changing everything at once will only add more confusion as to what’s really working – and what isn’t.

Instead, the “doing less, but doing it well” approach will allow you to more easily identify what each tactic is accomplishing as you slowly add them in one by one. If your web hits skyrocket over one quarter’s time and the only thing you changed was adding in a monthly e-blast, you can likely credit this as the catalyst.

Every strategy does not apply to every business.

When I help businesses to develop a comprehensive communications strategy, I’ve found that this is often misdirected with the desire to do everything they’ve ever seen another business do. I see innovative marketing techniques around me every day, but I know that only a fraction of these would work well for my business. The same is true for any business. Not every strategy is necessary, nor effective, for helping you reach your specific goals.

Business owners take note, you must consider many factors that make your business unique (i.e. industry, size, target customers, location) when selecting the tactics to best serve your business.  While you might be inspired by the multi-million dollar grassroots campaign of a powerhouse brand, this is not likely the most feasible or effective strategy to help you reach your specific audience.

You’ll preserve your sanity.

Finally, your ability to embrace a “mile deep and a foot wide” mindset will remove the stress and frustration caused by wasting your resources on a cluttered and misdirected communications strategy. Don’t you want to do everything to the best of your ability? Trying to do it all won’t allow you to meet this standard. Instead, narrow the breadth of your tactics and focus on their depth. Produce quality and consistent messaging that helps to build a loyal and attentive audience.

Do you practice the “mile deep and a foot wide” philosophy? Why or why not? Share your thoughts!

 
 

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How to Outsource Work Without Losing Control

outsourcingAs a business owner or entrepreneur, your time is limited and there are only so many projects you can take on or directions in which you can be pulled before you feel like your head is going to explode.

Hiring a fulltime employee to help with this workload isn’t always the right answer, either. Sometimes the situation is better suited for a subcontractor who can tackle specific projects or lend the expertise that you’re lacking. Even if you know outsourcing work is the right answer for your business (and your sanity), it can still be a scary experience to relinquish control to an “outsider.”

Here are five key ways to outsource some of your business responsibilities without feeling like you’re losing control over the consistency and quality of the work you’re used to doing first-hand.

1. Be a part of the process

This starts at the very beginning of every project and carries out the whole way through. To maintain some control over the direction of your marketing or communications strategy or your overall brand, you have you be a part of the process. Yes, outsourcing is a wonderful opportunity to shift some of the work off of your plate and delegate it to others, yet you can’t completely disconnect from the project or you will risk becoming disconnected from a very important part of your business.

When working with a subcontractor, clearly define the roles you and everyone involved in the project will play. This will help to establish realistic expectations and clearly communicate with your contractor just how much or how little you plan to be involved. Even if you choose to only play a minor role, find a way to still be a part of the process.

2. Know what’s most important to you

It’s okay to have a few key things that are “non-negotiable.” This won’t necessarily make you a micromanager or stifle the creativity of your subcontractor, if done selectively. On any given project, you should have clearly defined goals for the work and standards to which it must adhere. When outsourcing your work, it’s the subcontractor’s job to satisfy these goals and standards, but it’s first your job to identify what’s most important to you.

For example, if you feel that the fact your business is 3rd generation family-owned is one of its most distinguishing factors, you may require your contracted copywriter to focus the web site’s content on this aspect. Select no more than 3 important factors (ideally one or two) and express these clearly from the beginning. Trust me; this will save both you and your subcontractor a lot of time and revisions in the long run and help them to share in your vision from the start.

3. Be accessible

When you can’t be reached, decisions will have to be without you and they may not be what you would have preferred. The lesson here is to be accessible to your subcontractors throughout the project. This will keep you involved in the process (as I stressed in my first point) and in control of final decisions.

So what are reasonable expectations for being “accessible?” Respond to emails or phone calls within one business day – or at least acknowledge that you’re working on an answer if one can’t be made in that time frame. As a business owner, it’s often the deadlines that you’ve set that the subcontractor is working to meet. If you become a plug in the process, you’ll either get cut out or have projects that stretch far past their due date. Both consequences can be avoided simply by being accessible when needed.

4. Select your contractors carefully

When looking to outsource work, one of the first areas you have complete control over is who you hire. Simply put, choose carefully.

You should take as much care in hiring a contract worker as you would hiring a fulltime employee. Even though they won’t be working in your office, they still need to mesh with the company’s culture and share in your vision. Overlooking this important decision will most certainly result in a disconnect between your existing messaging and branding and the work done by a subcontractor.

5. Check-in on a regular basis

This doesn’t mean micromanaging every task, but it does mean staying apprised of the work your contractor is doing for you and checking in with them on a regular basis. This will effectively address (and stop) any straying from your company’s brand and help to create cohesive and consistent messaging.

To establish an appropriate time frame for your regular check-ins, first think about the scope and length of the project. If it’s detail intensive or urgent, you should plan to check-in with your contractor at a set time on a weekly basis. If the project is ongoing, straightforward and consistent, you can scale back to checking in with your contractor monthly or quarterly. Remember to always be accessible in between these regular meetings as well!

Do you use contractors for any of your business’s responsibilities? How do you maintain control when outsourcing this work?

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2014 in Business & Success, Entrepreneurship

 

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4 Reasons Why You Don’t Know What Your Business Needs

confusedOne of the biggest challenges of any business owner is the ability to identify what your business needs. You often find yourself in the trenches and bogged down with the day to day tasks that require almost all of your time. How can you also find the time – and unbiased perspective – to address the needs of your business before they begin to hurt your bottom line? This is a great question and one I wish more business owners would stop and ask themselves.

The first step to meeting the needs of your business is to acknowledge that you might not be the most qualified person to identify them. Here are four reasons why you might be missing what your business needs and how an outside perspective can help bridge this gap.

1. You’re too emotionally involved

As a business owner, it’s common to hold your livelihood as near and dear as your own child. But this strong emotional connection can hurt your ability to make the hard decisions that might be best for your business.  You want to nurture its growth and tend to handle it with kid gloves, when a swift and strong shakeup may be what’s really in order.

An outside perspective can help to eliminate the emotional bias that often exists for the entrepreneur or business owner. This is the most accurate way to prescribe the medicine to fix the problems, even if it doesn’t taste so good. It’s okay to be emotionally connected to your business, just be sure to call upon the advice of some outside eyes to give you a more accurate assessment.

2. It’s not your area of expertise

Being a business owner doesn’t automatically make you a jack of all trades – nor should you strive to become one. There’s a steep learning curve for even some of the most basic responsibilities like taxes, payroll and healthcare. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect youself to also be a public relations/marketing expert among other things.

To put together an effective and strategic communications strategy, it’s perfectly alright to call upon outside help. Leave the experts to do what they’re most qualified to do – and this includes you! Focus on the aspects of running your business at which you excel and outsource the critical tasks that aren’t the best use of your time.

3. You don’t see the need for change

You might have a strong opinion about the communications strategy that is best for your business, but don’t let this be a reason to hide your head in the sand to other opportunities that might be more effective. I’ve personally seen many business owners who are in denial about their ineffective and outdated public relations strategy. They don’t see a problem and therefore don’t see the need for a new solution.

This is where an outside perspective can really be a valuable asset. It provides a fresh set of eyes and a higher level of expertise to identify what you’re business is missing. If you think your communications strategy is working perfectly fine, but your profits are waning month after month, this is a good indication that something needs to change, whether you see it or not.

4. You can’t take a step back to see the full picture

As a business owner, you’re often in the weeds of the day to day activities of your business. You may not have the chance to ever bring your head up to really see what’s going on from an outside perspective. This makes it very hard for you to see the full picture of how your business is functioning as a whole and where certain components may be missing.

Again, the key to seeing this bigger picture is to call upon an outside expert that can separate any bias or emotion to the business. Instead of focusing on all the little components that go into the day to day operations, an outsider will see your business as your target audience sees your business – which is one of the most valuable snapshots for really accessing the health of your business.

How well do you think you know what your business needs? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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7 Tips for Gaining Media Recognition for Your Business (Guest Blog by Queen Chioma Nworgu)

The following guest post comes to us all the way from the UK! Queen Chioma Nworgu is an international motivational speaker, success coach and a TV Presenter that resides in London. Enjoy her following insights and be sure to visit her bio below to connect with her on social media!

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Interview time7 Tips for Gaining Media Recognition for Your Business

To be fully recognized and honored in the media for what you do in your business is nearly every entrepreneurs dream. Foremost, this will help attract new clients – but we can’t overlook the added bonus of impressing your friends and family at the same time!

Some businesses and entrepreneurs make gaining media exposure look easy, but really it’s quite strategic and takes time. If you’re seeking the limelight and are ready to start featuring your business or personal accomplishments in magazines, newspapers and on TV, here are seven key tips that will help you get started!

1. Make appearances at exclusive events

One of the best ways to break into the media world and gain media recognition for your business is to attend exclusive events. The types of events that you should attend to gain publicity are seminars, exhibitions, meetings, conferences, award shows and networking events.

This is where you will often find the media. Journalists, reporters, videographers and photographers are always attending exclusive events and looking for amazing CEO’s, entrepreneurs and successful people to interview and feature in their publications, blogs or TV shows. They are hunting for the next big story.  It is your job to introduce yourself to them and intrigue them your entrepreneurial journey. Ask them if they would be interested in interviewing you. It seems common sense, but so many people fail to take advantage of this opportunity!

2. Dress to Impress

Make sure the image you’re portraying reflects someone that the media would want to talk to. This means dressing like a professional whether you’re at an event or working from home. If you look like an executive who’s in charge, your actions will reflect this.

Dressing for success will dramatically increase your confidence and charisma. You will speak with more authority when you make those media calls or introduce yourself. You will also stand out at events and leave a lasting, positive impression.

The media is attracted to people with high levels of charisma. They are always looking for people that will enhance their publications. Bright colors and glamorous outfits demand attention. By no means do you have to be the most attractive person in the room; your professional attire will be what helps to give you an edge.

3. Send Press Releases

Create a quality press release and send it out to key contacts within the media who would be interested in covering your specific topic. Do your research to develop a targeted media list and foster meaningful relationships with these contacts. Reach out to local newspapers, blogs, websites and shows that you would like to be featured on. In your press release, be sure to include articles, tear sheets and publications/shows that have featured you previously. You should also provide the media with a succinct list highlighting your professional achievements.

4. Win a Business Award

The media is always looking for award winners to be featured in their publications. If you have not yet won an award, why not make this your new ambition? It’s a great boost for your business and your personal brand as well.

I encourage you to apply for several business awards in 2014. Be sure to highlight the most important qualities that will increase your chances of winning which include professionalism, excellent customer service, hard work and dedication. Every award is different, so be sure to tailor your submissions appropriately!

5. Start your own web TV show

One of the best ways to attract media publicity to your business is to host your own Internet TV show. There are many simply ways to do this, so don’t be intimidated! You can create daily v-logs, a weekly show or upload videos once a week or twice a month – whatever suits you! This is a great way to build an organic audience and create a buzz about your business that will gain media attention. Once you get going, it won’t be long before you receive requests from the media asking you to be a part of their show, magazine, blog or website.

6. Be inspired

Another strategic way to break into the media is to study entrepreneurs and celebrities that receive a lot of coverage. Read their biographies and success stories. Learn from what they’ve done and write out key points on what these people did throughout their journey toward success.

Ask yourself, how can I improve my services, products and character to start gaining this same media recognition? What are they doing to get publicity? Who do I know that can connect me to interviews or features in the media? Be prepared to do what successful people do (while maintaining integrity of course) even if this means long hours and hard work. Success takes effort!

7. Become an expert in your field

Finally, one of the best ways to gain media exposure is to become an expert in your field. The media is always looking for experts to come on to their shows or to discuss important issues on the news, in blogs, newspapers and at events. Learn all you can about your industry, read books, keep tabs on the daily news and join educational or networking groups that discuss related topics. Once you position yourself as an expert, reach out to the media and offer your insight and expert advice on topics they’re currently covering.

Gaining media exposure for your business is no easy task. If it was, we’d all have the press coverage we want for our accomplishments! Rather, it takes time, talent, strategy and above all else – patience to really build meaningful relationships with the media. Take the advice listed in these seven tips and you will be well on your way to increasing your media exposure.

Snipper Photography (C) 2013

Snipper Photography (C) 2013

About the Author: Queen Chioma Nworgu MA, BA (hons) is a TV appearing international motivational speaker, success coach and a TV Presenter that resides in London, UK. She speaks regularly at conferences, seminars, schools, colleges and universities giving strategies for success and motivation. She has had over 150 TV appearances on TV channels which include ITV, MTV, BBC 1 and Nollywood TV. She believes that you can achieve all of your dreams if you manage your time effectively and never give up.  Connect with Queen Chioma Nworgu by visiting her website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

 
 

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What is Public Relations?

PRThis is a question I’m asked quite often. Whether it’s directly or indirectly, in most initial conversations I find myself explaining – or defending – what it is I do. The challenge is that Public Relations doesn’t fit in a neat little box like when someone says “I’m a dentist” or “I’m a teacher.” Sure there are variances within those fields, but for the most part you can state that as your job title and people get the picture. With Public Relations, not so much. It’s ambiguous, abstract and ever-changing. Most challenging is that even the professionals in the field can’t agree upon a single definition for our work. As a result, I’ve created my own definition that has changed over the years along with type of services I offer my clients. In a recent conversation I was told that I have a very broad definition of PR to which my response was, “Of course, PR can be found everywhere!” And I firmly believe that. This is my personal explanation of Public Relations. While it may be broad and it may not be what you’ll find in any book, it’s coming from years of first-hand experience in the field. I’d say that makes it just as legitimate as any other definition out there!

It’s relationship management.

Foremost public relations is building and maintaining positive relationships with your audience. Technology provides us with the power to directly engage our customers unlike ever before. It’s important that businesses embrace this opportunity and carefully consider the image they’re promoting through these interactions. Some of the services I provide such as blog writing, social media management and web site content creation can be the first interaction people have with you. It’s important that your brand is intentional and polished. While many businesses successful manage their own relationships, it’s often with a good PR consultant at their side.

It’s about telling your story.

I’ve worked with quite a variety of clients and for each one I’ve been able to identify the underlying story that makes them stand out. This story is often hidden, underutilized or misrepresented – all affecting the impact it has on the target audience. You can promote your “value, service and integrity” and sound like every other business out there or you can use some Public Relations to help you craft a unique and memorable story that demonstrates these same qualities. I help tell this story and carry it across every communication channel, from web site content to marketing materials to company culture. Storytelling has become one of my specialties. I love the challenge of extracting a story upon being introduced to a new business and I love how drastic the results can be when a business proudly showcases their story to the world.

It’s common sense.

When I really want to state what I do in as few words as possible, I say Public Relations is common sense. OK, common sense to me at least. Really though I would say most people know that the basis of Public Relations – building relationships, telling your story, providing exceptional customer service – should be a core part of their business. Yet so many forget to implement it. I help clients regain this common sense by keeping them organized, staying on top of projects and deadlines so they don’t have to and overseeing the interactions between the business and its customers. Saying that Public Relations is “common sense” makes it sound easy, but it still takes someone with a specialty for PR to develop an effective strategy.

So yes, my understanding of Public Relations is basic and broad. It’s not overly technical and puffed up with jargon. Instead it’s relatable to every business. I see Public Relations opportunities everywhere and this inspires me to continue to grow my passion. What is your personal understanding of Public Relations? How has it been explained to you by others? Share your definitions so we can compare and discuss!

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Business & Success

 

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How to Develop a Sense of Urgency in Your Life

urgentWe have all felt the stagnant waters of complacency. For some, it’s business-related. We spend years of our life doing a job we don’t love without any opportunity for growth or advancement. For others, complacency is more personal. We have cluttered closets we can’t find the motivation to clean up or we have friends we should see but can’t find the energy to change our routine. Complacency can hide in all corners and creep in so gradually it’s hardly noticed. But this is no excuse to give it a place in our lives for it’s our goals and happiness that ultimately suffer. The only way to rid ourselves of complacency is to rekindle that fire in your belly. A quote by Les Brown says it the best…

You must take action now that will move you towards your goals. Develop a sense of urgency in your life.

I like this quote because it applies to goals both big and small. Yes, you need urgency to compel you to change your career, your living situation or to get out of debt, but don’t forget the everyday things. Urgency can also fuel you to tackle that home renovation project you’ve been putting off or to repair a neglected friendship. So how do we develop this sense of urgency? Here are three starting steps to spark that fire and get you burning again…

Make (and keep) deadlines

Deadlines need not apply only to business-related tasks or school work. You can and should set deadlines for anything you wish to accomplish. For example, you’ve been meaning to organize a yard sale to clear out the clutter, but everything else seems to take priority. Give yourself a deadline for when you’ll sort what you’re going to sell, mark the items with prices and begin advertising the event. Each deadline breaks the task into more manageable parts and provides accountability for when they must be completed to keep the ball rolling. Don’t look at them as “arbitrary” deadlines either. Develop a sense of urgency for completing these tasks and respect the deadline as you would a deadline given to you by your boss.

Develop a “Do it now!” mentality

Some tasks don’t require deadlines—because they can be done right now. If you see something that can be done, do it while you have the time. Don’t put it on a fictitious to-do list you’ll never look at anyways. It’s a mind game, but when you continue to put off a difficult or undesirable task, it only continues to grow bigger and bigger until it seems impossible to complete. Don’t give yourself the time to turn a molehill into a mountain. Develop a sense of urgency and conquer tasks as soon as they come in, whenever possible. The “high” you’ll get from getting things accomplished will energize you to continue knocking more tasks off your list and soon you’re snowballing in the right direction!

Make the repercussions real

The final step for developing a sense of urgency is to accept that there are repercussions for not sticking to your deadlines. It’s easy to fall into the mindset of “Oh, nothing bad will happen if I don’t do it today.” While technically this may be true, nothing good will happen either. You will merely continue to live a life of complacency. And truly this is the ultimate repercussion. You can put off organizing your closet until next month, but that’s one more month you have to live with the clutter and disarray. You can continue to find reasons not to follow your dream career, but you’re sentencing yourself to a life of regret. The repercussions for not taking on tasks with urgency are real and should be treated as such.

So often we wait until we have no choice but to take action. It shouldn’t require a terminal illness, financial ruins or extreme unhappiness to inspire us to make positive changes in our lives. Find your fire and develop a sense of urgency right now. How will you begin?

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Embracing the Non-Monetary Benefits of Entrepreneurship

sunny park chairs

The ability to work from anywhere – and enjoy a beautiful summer day – is a wonderful benefit of entrepreneurship.

I’ve shared my insight before on how fellow entrepreneurs and business owners might choose to price their services. It’s a fine balance between earning what you’re worth and remaining competitive. One of the biggest challenges comes when you’re just starting out. With little to no prior experience and only a small portfolio of work to showcase, new clients often hire you on a hope and a prayer that you’re half as good as what you promise. This situation often requires you to charge far less than market value for your time to even get your foot in the door. Even a seasoned entrepreneur can recall such a time in their career. The glitz and glamour of being a “business owner” can quickly become jaded by the lack of money, time and sleep in return for countless hours of hard work. So how do successful entrepreneurs overcome this starting hurdle? When I was first building Bennis Inc from the ground up, had I measured my success and happiness in income, I may have thrown in the towel before I ever really got going. Instead, I quickly learned that I had to embrace the non-monetary benefits of entrepreneurship until I reached market value. If you’ve also taken the entrepreneurial leap, focusing on these benefits can help you overcome the “I’m WAY underpaid“ blues.

Flexibility

Even when I was just making ends meet, this didn’t impact my ability to enjoy life’s no-cost luxuries. I was (and still am) able to go for a run whenever I feel like it. I can grocery shop at non-peak hours and enjoy a peacefully empty store all to myself. I can take an early weekend (say, starting on Tuesday?) or grab coffee with a friend who’s swinging through town. With my 9-5 job, I felt guilty even scheduling a doctor’s appointment during the day. Now I can get a haircut whenever it’s most convenient—completely guilt free. Of course, this type of free time and flexibility is balanced by sometimes having to work late into the evenings or on the weekends, but at least it’s at my discretion. When I have work to do, I do it and when I don’t, I’m not stuck chained to a desk. As an entrepreneur, soak this up! Your friends may have chosen a more stable, traditional career, but they likely can’t do work from a park on a sunny summer day.

Creative Freedom

You’re a business owner – that means you also own every decision that’s made. This can be a scary reality, but also an incredibly rewarding one. While you might not be raking in the “big bucks” just yet, remember that the ability to make a decision and not have it be second-guessed or turned down is a luxury most people would place a pretty big price tag on.

Building Something All Your Own

This is all you. When you’re building a business you get to take complete ownership over how every piece comes together. Do you want to steer things in a new direction? Sure! Is your goal to someday have 100+ employees? Go for it! Is your goal to work remotely and travel 10 months out of the year? It can be done! The beauty of building your own business is that you have the ability to make it unique and custom fit to your goals. I have yet to see an example of a corporate job that allows for the same.

Leadership

During my time of really embracing the non-monetary benefits of entrepreneurship, I found that this is truly one of life’s ultimate leadership experiences. It requires a great deal of self-confidence, trust in your instincts and quick thinking. I always felt like I had leadership qualities inside of me that would shine through when it was required, but as an entrepreneur, leadership is required every day. Some might say it’s baptism by fire, but I think one of the greatest benefits of entrepreneurship is the “leadership boot camp” it provides. You’re forced to step into this role quickly and without hesitation.

At the end of the day, it’s important that we remind ourselves that we’ve chosen the entrepreneurial path for a reason. Hopefully it wasn’t for the money (because that can take many, many years to get flowing) but rather it was for the flexibility, creative freedom, ability to create something new and unique and life’s ultimate leadership experience that is entrepreneurship. Before long, the money will follow, but if you embrace these non-monetary benefits early, the money will no longer be the ultimate goal.

 

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Revealing Character Through Communication

angry person on phoneDuring the steps along my career path, I’ve encountered some truly great communicators who were friendly, organized and a pleasure to work with. As with any balance to life, I have also encountered a memorable few who were quite the opposite – impatient, rude and condescending. I used to take negative communication very personally, wondering what I could have done to make it a more pleasant experience, but have since reconciled that it had little to do with me. I wasn’t giving the person the answer they wanted (maybe I wasn’t the right contact to address their request or maybe it simply couldn’t be done). And because of this, they felt as though they could treat me with less respect or professionalism than someone who could offer them immediate solutions.

I continue to encounter similar styles of communication from time to time and it really grates on me. I believe that character is best demonstrated by how you treat those who can do nothing for you. Therefore, these incidences are a reflection of a character flaw that many people may be unaware they exhibit. I’m sure I am not exempt from this – a lapse in my communication may have left someone else feeling brushed off or belittled at one point or another. In an effort to put an end to unprofessional communication, I want to examine the following key points to shed light on why this is such a critical problem:

The importance of always being professional

It’s a small world. We all know the meaning of this phrase as we have likely had the experience of running into contacts again and again through similar circles or completely unrelated circumstances. This is a reminder to me every day that my reputation is my most valuable business asset. Whether you live in a big city or a small town, you can’t afford to burn bridges if you want to be successful in your career. Nothing slows down business growth faster. The importance of always being professional when communicating with customers or vendors is realizing that you may very likely have to deal with them again. Don’t ignore this important lesson! Most of the unprofessional communicators I’ve had to deal with have popped up in my life again, needing information or services from me – often with their tail tucked between their legs.

Identifying the subtle negatives

Sometimes the worst communication experiences are hard to identify because they’re subtle, yet leave you with an overall feeling of hurt, frustration or anger. It may be hard to pinpoint the exact reasons the conversation was so unpleasant, but the feeling it leaves you with is real nonetheless. The subtle negatives I’ve most often identified have involved someone exerting their power or position to make me feel dumb or incorrect about an answer I have provided. Another common subtle negative is someone being bossy or aggressive in their tone and in the type of services they demand. In less subtle situations, I’ve had people outright yell at me, hang up the phone or threaten me in various ways (chalk this up to some good old political campaign experience). Most often negative communication can be identified in someone’s tone and word choice. Even if you have something negative you must communicate – and this does happen – there are various ways to still make it a positive communication experience overall. There’s no excuse.

Letting someone know when they’re being unprofessional

This is a difficult subject to breach. No one wants to directly confront someone else about their attitude or negativity because it can be, well…scary. We’re more willing to put up with the unprofessionalism and belittlement than we are willing to tell someone they’re just being rude. The risk is that we end up looking rude in return or that we anger them even more and the communication further declines. If the negative communication is subtle and you’re not sure if they even know they’re coming across this way, it’s important to handle the situation softly, but directly. Let them know that it’s how they’re making you feel rather than accusing them of being outright mean. No one can argue with how you feel and hopefully even if they don’t want to recognize that their actions are causing this, they will at least be professional enough to make an effort to change. On the other extreme, if someone is being unprofessional to the point of yelling or insulting you, then you must also address this directly, but more firmly. Identify specific examples in which their communication is unacceptable (swearing, yelling and hanging up a phone are never acceptable in my mind) and let them know that you will have to cut off further communication if they can’t approach the situation more professionally. Hopefully such instances are rare, but it’s important to know how to speak up to put and end to it.

They key concept worth taking away from all of this is that character is best demonstrated by how you treat those who can do nothing for you. Negativity is never acceptable even if you realize you’re “only” dealing with an office administrator, assistant or intern. Most often, these are the gatekeepers for who you really want to be talking to. As I said before, it’s a small world, so be sure to be kind and professional to everyone you encounter. It truly takes no more (maybe even less) effort than it does to be rude and when the world connects you with them again you’ll be glad you have a friend, not a burnt bridge, to work with.

 

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The Best Business Sense: Go with your gut and defend it!

doubt_diceBeing a business owner certainly has its fair share of ups and downs. I’ve been able to anticipate and prepare for most of these like the instability of income, unpredictable work hours and the emotional investment in the business. What I didn’t necessarily anticipate was the amount of unsolicited advice I would receive. I rationalize that this stems from the fact that I’m finally in a position of control and therefore people want to help me make the best decisions possible. While this sounds like a great thing, it becomes a problem for so many business owners when the swirling confusion of mixed advice makes it hard for us to clearly see the best path for our business – which can only be decided by each of us alone.

With almost two years under my belt of dodging and deciphering other people’s opinions about my business strategy, I’ve developed a short list of what I call “Simple Business Truths.” Maybe this is my own version of unsolicited business advice that I risk imposing on others, or maybe it’s the master list us business owners should keep near and dear to our hearts in moments of confusion. Regardless, I find the following to be harmless and helpful advice because it advocates that you ultimately go with your gut and forget what anyone else says. And if you ask me…that’s the best business advice you can (or maybe don’t) ask for!

Simple Business Truths:

1. So long as you can rationally defend your decisions, stick with your gut.

Since becoming a business owner I feel like I’ve become much more in tune to my intuition and have really started to rely upon it. I can’t say I’ve never second-guessed myself, especially in the beginning; however, I’ve now had enough examples to know that I should always go with my gut. My rule of thumb for gauging my intuition is to make sure I can also rationally defend why I feel the way I do. Ever since I was a child, I never liked hearing “because I said so” as a sole reason for why something had to be a certain way – and I don’t allow myself to use this as my backbone for decision making now. So long as you can rationally defend your reasons, stick with them!

2. People who try and tell you what to do are likely just as confused themselves.

Entrepreneurs tend to gather in chats and discussion groups like it’s an AA meeting. This provides a platform for sharing their “must-do’s” and all-knowing advice with fellow entrepreneurs. Whether they mean well or mean to intimidate, entrepreneurs taking other entrepreneurs’ advice can be toxic. Or as I often describe it – it’s the blind leading the blind. Let’s be honest, none of us can ever say with certainty that we know what we’re doing! It’s the road of the unknown for a reason. I caution fellow entrepreneurs on how much advice they take from others. This is a very individual journey and no two business models are the same. The variances between your business and someone else’s can make sharing advice as risky as sharing prescription meds.

3. Don’t fall for the next big trend – this too shall pass.

The entrepreneurial journey is already filled with enough hills and valleys; I don’t see the point in adding even more variables by early adopting the latest and most radical business trends before I can observe them in action for a little while. The entrepreneurs who do, often sacrifice the overall strategy and growth plan specific to their business all for the chance to say “I was first.”  If this is what drives your business decisions, you’ll soon enough be able to say you were first to fail or fold as well. The benefits of most trends are fleeting at best. And if they are worth implementing, they’ll stick around long enough for you to do so. Don’t willingly be the guinea pig!

4. Even a friend’s “best advice” could be unintentional sabotage.

Once you’re an entrepreneur, friends and family want to shower you with well wishes and their best business advice. But just like Grandma’s loving attempt at knitting you a Christmas sweater, even the thoughtful ones can be deceptively dangerous. You can always nod and agree, but before you run and implement such advice take a moment to qualify the person and where their expertise lies.

5. Remember – you built the business, you get first and final say!

When I first transitioned into the life of an entrepreneur, it was quite the mental shift. For a long time I still felt like an employee to someone else and would seek out advice from anyone who would provide it. I absorbed it like a sponge! I’ve since learned better and now remind myself that one of the biggest benefits I have as a business owner is first and final say in what decisions are made. Don’t hand this over to anyone else!

If you could add your own 6th “truth” to this list, what would it be? Comment and share some of the best or worst business advice you’ve ever received!

 

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The Necessary Slow Burn of Business Growth

priarie fireConsider this. Each spring it’s common practice to burn the tall grasses of the prairie. The reasons for this man made fire are those to benefit the prairie and it’s natural habitat – to remove old growth, put nutrients back into the soil and promote new growth and abundance. The prairie needs this fire to exist. As reckless and destructive as this once seemed to me as a child, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the prairie’s need for this slow, controlled burn. But now as an adult, reexamining this yearly ritual made me question another aspect of these prairie fires.

Why not just use gasoline, light a quick blaze and take care of the whole field at once? Why does it need to be a slow and smoldering fire – a process that seems to be so needlessly drawn out?

The answer to this question is actually quite strategic and far from needless. The slow, controlled burn of these tall prairie grasses is necessary for achieving all the ecological benefits that it does. Gasoline would absolutely ruin the soil and prevent these tall grasses from ever growing again. And a large wildfire would wreak havoc on other parts of the ecosystem (not to mention holds the potential to easily burn out of control). So why am I choosing to tell you so much about these prairie fires? It’s because I see an important lesson on life and business building within these flames – a lesson that speaks to both patience and strategy.

Letting it burn (slowly)

For anyone who has ever attempted to build a business, the process of growth is unpredictable and unstable at best. We want to believe, that like any model growth chart illustrates, our business will grow with dramatic spikes until we blast off the chart. But this is neither common nor sustainable for 99% of businesses out there. Instead, like a prairie fire, the healthiest and most lasting business growth is a steady smoldering that inches onward day by day. I define this as healthy growth because it’s growth that blazes a new trail while giving us enough time to stay right in tow. We control it; it does not control us. This is also the type of growth that strengthens a business as oppose to a wildfire which could burn it all down. Most importantly and much like the prairie fires, this slow, controlled burn weeds out the old while laying the rich foundation for future growth. It’s a change that moves at the pace of evolution, and it should be our goal to evolve patiently and strategically as such.

Avoiding the temptation to rush

With technology at our fingertips and our society of ever-connectedness, our accessibility to “gasoline” is endless. This causes a great temptation to rush the process of the slow burn just because we have the means to do so. But as ecologists have proven and stressed, this quick and fast method is not always beneficial, and sometimes harmful, depending upon what you’re trying to achieve. For the slow burn of business growth, you’re trying to achieve much more than a burnt and barren field. You want to preserve the ground and burn only what is necessary. Gasoline won’t allow you to do this. We have to avoid the temptation and let things progress on their own. Instead, we often want to ignite the fire with things like an overkill of paid advertising (this is often a waste of precious capital in the beginning) or gimmicky deals (this often pulls in the wrong client base). Such “shoot-from-the-hip” strategies may produce big flames for display, but at some point these flames will cause destruction or someone will get burned. As I’ve mentioned before, such growth is neither sustainable nor beneficial in the long run.

In life or in business, have you ever personally experienced the temptation to rush a critical process? Maybe this is a process of growth, a process of healing or a process of change. While it’s tempting to want to overcome these uncomfortable and even painful moments in life quickly, rushing the process can prevent us from receiving all of the benefits they’re meant to bring. Learn to appreciate the slow fires we have lit and know that they are with the purpose and intent to make us stronger and more abundant.

 

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