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5 Tips for Running a Productive Business Meeting

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


5 Tips for Running a Productive Business MeetingThe dreaded business meeting. So often it starts with chitchat about the weather and then spins off into random discussions where no resolutions or courses of action are identified. Inevitably the meeting runs over its allotted time and all attendees leave wondering what was accomplished. There’s no follow-up and trying to find a date for the next meeting that suits everyone’s schedule is an impossible feat – if you want it to happen this year.

Does this sound familiar? It’s a scenario that is all too common – and completely avoidable if only the right organizational methods were applied. The changes we need to make to revamp an unproductive business meeting are quite simple, too. Having led countless business meetings on behalf of clients, I have identified five very simple, yet very effective tools for running a productive meeting.

If you’re ready to stop wasting hours of your life that result in nothing more than the need for another meeting, I urge you to implement the following suggestions today!

  1. Come with an agenda

Set yourself up for success by developing an agenda in advance of your meeting and having enough copies for all attendees. This will help guide everyone through the meeting’s core discussion points and quite literally, keep everyone on the same page.

As you develop your agenda, you’ll also be able to capture all of your thoughts so that you’re not struggling to remember them during the meeting. You can help move things along quickly by researching statistics, options or prices that may come up as a point of discussion. Anticipate what some attendees might ask and have the answer already provided.

  1. Bring your laptop or tablet

Be sure to bring your laptop or tablet with you! For the longest time, I wanted to travel light so I would carry only paper and a pen into a meeting. This changed when I realized how much more efficient I could be (whether leading the meeting or simply attending) when I had full access to documents, emails, etc.

If people need to see a document or reference an email, everything is right at your fingertips. I also take notes directly on the agenda on my laptop and am ready to send out the summary as soon as the meeting wraps up. This saves me the time of coming back to my office and having to transcribe and organize my notes.

Additionally, encourage other attendees to also bring their devices. Select a meeting space that at least has WiFi – even better would be a meeting space with a TV or projector that allows attendees to share their screen for everyone to see, as needed.

  1. Have a point person in charge

We have all likely attended a meeting where there appears to be no single person leading the discussion. Or, there is the meeting where everyone appears to be the leader and even more confusion ensues. The person who leads the meeting doesn’t have to be (and likely shouldn’t be) the highest position within the organization. Foremost, you want someone who is reliable and who has good organizational skills.

I have led many business meetings and it really requires only a small amount of time before and after the meeting to take on this responsibility. My favorite part is that I often get to delegate tasks to other attendees as we move through the agenda. It’s amazing how people will begin to chip in more when they know someone else has already taken the lead of organizing the meetings.

  1. Set the next meeting(s) during this meeting

When you are trying to get any more than 2 people together to meet, you need to schedule all future meetings out well in advance. Accommodating 3+ schedules can seem harder than rocket science (and maybe it is). You can avoid the slew of “Reply All” emails by scheduling the next meeting before you adjourn.

People can immediately pull out their calendars and in real-time tell you what will work and what won’t. If you know you’ll need many more meetings in the future, go ahead and schedule them all! The best method is to set a recurring day and time (i.e. the first Monday of the month at Noon). And if you’re still struggling to coordinate schedules, check out www.doodle.com – it’s a free tool and a lifesaver for scheduling meetings, especially with other busy people.

  1. Send out a summary of notes, highlighting action items

Finally, even the most organized business meeting can still fail to be productive if there is not some sort of follow-up with the attendees to remind them who is responsible for what. The person leading the meeting (or another designated note taker) should summarize the notes and send them out to all attendees within 1-2 days of the meeting.

These notes should outline important discussion points, decisions that were made and outstanding action items that need resolved before the next meeting. I like to develop a system that makes this visually easy to digest. For example, I color code people’s names and highlight that task in the appropriate color to show who is responsible. I also bold and underline any questions that need input from the group so they are easy to pick out. The more organized you are, the more responsive people will be. Most importantly, remind people of the next meeting!

Business meetings are a necessary evil. For as many times as we have all sat through a boring or unproductive meeting, there are just as many opportunities to take the lead and make your time together worth so much more. Try practicing these five tips at your next meeting – I am confident they will make a big difference!

What other tips have helped you run a productive business meeting? Share your expertise by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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The Power of Collecting Client Testimonials

the-power-of-collecting-client-testimonialsMost recently, I’ve been working with a client to interview their customers and collect information to create testimonial articles. Given my love for communications, I was intrigued by the project, but I had no idea just how much it would teach me about client relations.

In the process of collecting 30 testimonials from clients who have invested, on average, $50,000 with this business, I was inspired by each and every story of how this product was drastically changing the way they do business. Depending upon their business model and the region they served, each story was different. Each client saw the value of the product differently and each had a unique angle that has now given my client a pretty cool archive of stories they can share with prospective clients who can relate to any one of these businesses.

What I want to share with you now is four key benefits of collecting testimonials from your clients on a regular basis. A quote is good, but if you can dedicate little more time to dig deeper and develop a full article (or hire a communications professional to do this for you), you’ll reap far more benefits from these testimonials. Here’s why:

Create a valuable database of promotional content

By creating short articles from your testimonials, you not only paint a brighter picture of the full benefits you have provided clients, you also give yourself a far more useable database of promotional content. These articles can be used as blog posts on your website and shared on social media. They can be shared with prospective clients as a “case study” and can be used in e-newsletters that then drive content back to your website. As your business progressed and list of clients grow, you’ll be grateful to have this archive that captures the satisfaction of your clients over time.

Discover unique ways your product/service has benefitted clients

In the process of collecting testimonials from your clients, you will get to ask critical questions that will help you really understand how they are using your product or service. And you will be surprised how drastically this can change from business to business! When you discover a new or innovative way your product/service is being used, you can use this to market your business in a whole new way and potentially reach an untapped market.

Help clients see the full value of your service/product

The last time you likely spoke with your client was when they were just beginning to use your product/service. It’s so important to follow-up to be sure they are staying committed to getting the full value out of what you sold them. Asking for a testimonial is a great reason to check in with them to see how they are doing. Do they have questions or concerns? Are they unsure how to implement a certain feature? Are they struggling to train their employees? This gives you the opportunity to talk through any issues and right the course before they are left feeling like they made a poor investment.

Touch base and strengthen your relationship with clients

Finally and most importantly, collecting client testimonial’s gives you yet one more valuable touch point to strengthen client relationships. You will keep your business top of mind and possibly even sell additional products or services to them in the near future. By doing the leg work to interview clients and create a client testimonial article on their behalf, you are essentially highlighting their success and building good will that gives you a foot in the door for future sales.

Do you have any ideas related to the topic of collecting client testimonials? Join the conversation by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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5 Things You Can Immediately Do To Gain More Business

5-things-you-can-immediately-do-to-gain-more-businessI recently wrote about the benefits of business turnover in the New Year. True to annual trends, I also experienced some turnover in my client list. Despite my best efforts to “practice what I preach” and look at this as a positive, I felt unsettled, and frankly exposed, by the fact that a few (really great) clients had chosen to part ways.

My business had made significant growth in 2016, almost so much so that it wasn’t sustainable to think I would continue to grow at such a rapid rate. After all, as a consultant I essentially sell my time and even I only have so much time in a day. So there I was, a shrunken client list and an increased bandwidth to take on more work.

What did I do? I invested some of this newfound time into beating the bushes and testing the waters for new business opportunities, but I was strategic with how I did it. Cold-calling is not effective for my business, nor does it result in quality clients (at least in my experience). I wanted to build my book of business with client work I enjoyed and could complete efficiently. Here are the five strategies with which I began.

Talk with current clients about expanding your services

For me, this was a natural and obvious first step. I was upfront with my current clients, many of whom have been loyally working with me for several years. I told them I had availability for more work and offered to create a proposal for what additional services I could provide them that would amplify my current efforts. Not one turned down the offer to at least consider my proposal and right off the bat several increased my monthly retainer. I was so pleasantly surprised to learn that many of my clients had wanted to increase my services for a while but were mindful of my workload from other clients. It pays to ask!

Follow-up with leads that have fallen off

Next, I went through my notes of leads and proposals that didn’t result in business. For the most part, I never received a response after several follow-ups and was so busy at the time, I didn’t have to chase after them for work. I opened up the conversation again with a “Happy New Year, I hope you are doing well…” I received some responses within the hour – from contacts who had failed to give me a response over several months! A New Year brings a new business mindset and also gives businesses the opportunity to evaluate where they stand financially. Following-up during this time is an easy way to breathe fresh air back into a proposal and drum up new business.

Go through your stack of business cards

I also sifted through business cards I had collected from meetings and networking events throughout the past year. There were some that I felt could generate leads, so I reached out to these individuals to set up a time to talk over coffee. During this casual discussion, I was able to learn more about their business and also tell them that I am looking to take on new clients. This small investment of time most often resulted in the contact’s enthusiastic offer to keep their eyes and ears open for someone who could benefit from my services. Of course in exchange, I offered to do the same for them.

Touch base with your “power partners”

I have worked to develop several “power partnerships” with businesses who offer my services to their clients. I sent each a note letting them know I am available to take on more work and to “load me up” as they see fit. Much like reaching out to my current client list, I was able to gain some quick projects that they had on their plates, but didn’t want to risk overloading me with. Now that they knew I was open to more work, they were happy to offload.

Reach out to competitors

Finally, and most surprisingly, I reached out to contacts that I knew offered the same services I did. Yes, competitors. This may sound like an odd thing to do, but I have found a lot of value in developing a good working relationship with competing consultants and businesses. Why? Because when you get to know who their ideal client is, you will realize you really aren’t hunting for the same lead. In fact, their wheel house may be completely different than yours. In reaching out to my competitors, I wanted to put out my feelers for any leads they may have recently turned away either because they weren’t a good fit for their business or they were too busy to take on more work. Often, competitors will refer work out to me if they think I would better accommodate the client. Win-win!

When you look to build business, what strategies do you use? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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Would You Ask a Man That Question?

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A real life snapshot from my life as a work-from-home mom

A few weeks ago I was asked a question that I initially didn’t hesitate to answer. It’s actually a question I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, so I felt prepared to defend myself with an explanation. The question was, “How do you plan to balance work with a family?”

It’s not an unreasonable question, right? It was asked in a light-hearted way by a new client who, I truly believe, felt like they were going through any normal paces of qualifying someone to be their new PR consultant. The board voted unanimously in my favor and I ultimately got the job. Sometime later, a female colleague of mine, who was also at that meeting, brought up her frustration that I had to answer such a “ridiculous” question. She picked up on the (not so subtle) sexism of that question that I’ve come to view as normal as a female business owner and working mom. Her point was clear. Would you ask a man that question? No, no you wouldn’t.

Picture a man being asked “How do you plan to balance work with a family?” during a job interview. I envision a bewildered look come across his face as he responds “What do you mean?” He would likely ask for clarification before he felt compelled to offer an explanation…an excuse, really. Meanwhile, I had my “excuse” locked and loaded because it’s one I’ve had to provide time and time again. Sometimes I even voluntarily offer it up as I can see the look of concern come across a client’s face when they learn I have two young children, one of whom stays at home with me 5 out of the 7 days of the week.

“When do you have time to do work?”

That’s another common question. I used to be proud to answer this with a description of my highly disciplined and efficient schedule that is required for raising a family, keeping up with the house and growing a business. But now I see that I was defending myself from society’s disbelief that I can be a mother and a business owner – and do both well.

I’m not angry or outraged at these questions. I hold no grudge against the people who asked them. Rather, I’m shocked by my own numbness toward sexist remarks made to women entrepreneurs daily. I’m sad that I allowed myself to feel guilty, even for just one second, for “balancing work and a family.”

It is without question that a woman most often gets the lion’s share of work and responsibility when it comes to raising a family. Rather than questioning her ability to work and parent, congratulate her, offer encouragement and be flexible with your demands.

How refreshing would it be to instead hear “I know you have a young family. It’s wonderful you’re pursuing your passion. We will flexible, as we know family comes first.”

I’m fortunate to work with understanding and encouraging clients who not only know I am a hybrid mom, but see it as a badge of honor. They know when they call me there’s always a chance you’ll hear a babbling baby in the background or that I may need to reschedule a meeting because I’ve got a sick toddler. But as a mother, I also know how to power through a challenge and multi-task like it’s an Olympic sport. If you want something done, give it to a busy person. And if you want something done quickly, correctly and with every distraction going on around her, give it to a mom.

Have you ever been asked a sexist or unfair question? Share how you responded, or wish you had responded by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The 4 Most Powerful Words You Can Ask Someone

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


The 4 Most Powerful Words You Can Ask Someone

Both in life and in business, we experience individual struggles that cause us stress, frustration, anger, embarrassment and overall contribute to one of those “really bad days.” What’s worse is that because these struggles are uniquely our own, we often feel like we are completely alone when it comes to overcoming them.

Feeling the need to internalize our bad days and the challenges they bring only feed the unhealthy cycle in which we forget to reach out to other people who appear to have hit a road bump. This brings me to the grand reveal of the four most powerful words we can ask someone today. And that is….

“How can I help?”

It’s deceptively simple and so obvious that it seems silly. When we see someone struggling or upset, we should ask how we can help. But, do we? I’ll be the first to admit I do not – at least not as often as I should. In 2015 I want that to change. I want to inspire you to also take the lead in transforming us back into a society who takes an interest in the health and well being of the people around us– not just an interest in their latest status update. Here is why this simple question is so powerful.

It forces us to let our guard down.

I know when I’m having a stressful day where I feel like my to-do list is a mile long and getting longer, I am too proud and too overwhelmed to stop and think of how someone else might help to lessen the load. From experience, when someone asks me “How can I help?” it’s such a welcome relief and feels just as good as a comforting hug.

I used to blow off this question because only I could perform many of my work related to-do’s, but I have since learned to think outside the box and find ways (like household chores, running an errand or offering a few hours of childcare) that people can help out regardless of their skill set or expertise.

It gives us a support system.

Asking this question is the most meaningful way in which you can express to someone that you’re there for them. It’s putting your money where your mouth is and actually offering to do something rather than simply saying “I’m here if you need something.”

No, take the initiative to ask someone what it is they need. By asking, not telling, you’re ready to assume the risk that they could need you to do something time consuming or undesirable. But it also makes us feel like we have a partner in all of this mess – and sometimes that is the only thing we really need.

It’s not condescending or judgmental.

The question “How can I help?” is simple, but perfectly phrased. Compare it to “Do you need help?” This variation can come across like a judgment that the person needs help for whatever it is they are going through. Give them the immediate acceptance of acknowledging it’s okay to need help and skip right to offering your hand. Especially if it’s an issue of pride, you won’t help the situation by first making them admit to needing help.

It eliminates our excuse to act like a martyr.

Most importantly, being asked “How can I help?” eliminates the temptation for us to feel sorry for ourselves and muddle in our own misery. Having someone standing in front of us with a hand to lift us up is the best way to make us grab a hold of our boot straps and pull them up high. Sometime we enjoy playing the martyr as a defense mechanism or because we want a reason to complain. This is neither healthy nor going to help us break the “bad day” cycle. Being asked “What can I do to help?” is a powerful way to make us stop feeling all alone and like no one cares – because someone does!

Who is someone you should ask “How can I help?” Reach out to them today and say these 4 simple words. Then share how the answer and the actions that resulted changed both of your lives!

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Building a Network: Working from Home Doesn’t Mean Working Alone (Contribution from freelance writer Jenny Holt)

The following post comes to us from Jenny Holt, who left her HR career behind to pursue freelance writing and to spend more time with her young daughters at home. This article is based upon her own entrepreneurial journey and balancing family and work.


Building a Network: Working from Home Doesn’t Mean Working Alone

The flexibility of working from home appeals to many people and is a great way to fit your job around your lifestyle. However, it can be isolating and difficult without a group of colleagues immediately on hand. Luckily, it’s easy to get out there and make connections.

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Shared Office Space

You will be able to find office rental space in almost every city, with options to suit every budget. You get a desk, Wi-Fi, coffee; all the essentials – but most importantly, colleagues right on hand to problem-solve, brainstorm, and connect with. Even if they don’t work in your specific industry, they will have transferable experience and broad networks of their own which you can plug into and take advantage of.

Social Media and Networking

If physically sharing office space isn’t for you, then it’s time to get active on social media. Social media is great for building your brand’s image and engaging with customers, but it is equally useful for making vital connections with peers in your own industry. Social media isn’t just for youngsters, it can be useful for all generations who are setting up in business. Create profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter to find other people in your field, search out possible mentors, and follow businesses and organizations with which you might want to work. Search for groups and forums, but don’t be afraid to also approach people individually. A personal touch can really make the difference!

Conferences and industry events

Keep tabs on what the big events are each year in your industry, and make time to attend them. Research ahead of time what talks, events, or trade stands are offered, and set up some meetings if you can. This will make sure your visit is worthwhile, and that you don’t end up browsing at random with nothing to show for it when you go home. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation and be sure to talk to everyone you can, exchange contact details, and then follow up when you get back home. A little effort goes a long way.

Take every opportunity

It’s important not to limit yourself to your own specific area of business. Other industries will need your skills and expertise, and at some point you’ll find yourself in need of something they can provide, especially with a growing business. For tasks like accountancy and tax returns, it’s easier and more efficient to use specialists rather than struggling yourself. If you have busy periods, you might need to bring in temporary workers to make sure everything is completed on time. Already having a great network means you have every situation covered!

Do you work from home? How do you actively build a network of fellow business owners and vendors? Share your thoughts by commenting below. 

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The Benefit of Business Turnover in the New Year

new startA new year brings so much change and often I forget that this applies to my business as well. The transition from December into January can be tumultuous. This is a time when many of my clients will take a close look at their budgets and consider whether or not they’d like to continue my services. I’m grateful that most often they do, but this is also a time of year when I get an email or phone call letting me know that my working relationship with a client will be coming to an end.

For some, it’s because they hired someone internally or plan to have another company they already work with cover some of my services. For others, it’s a budget issue. The past year didn’t produce like they hoped it would and they have to cut back.

I never like “losing” a client; however, I’ve come to find peace in the natural ebb and flow of business that comes with the start of a new year. Here’s why.

The new year also bring news business

The start of a new year is also a time when businesses start looking for additional help. Maybe it’s part of their New Year resolution or maybe they postponed efforts over the holidays, but either way January has historically brought in most of my new business. In retrospect, it’s actually a really good thing that some clients stepped away because this allows me the bandwidth to engage new business.

These clients are no longer a good fit

When a client chooses to discontinue services, for any reason, it’s because we’re no longer a good fit for one another. A client who doesn’t value my services or who no longer has a budget for my work isn’t someone I want to be working with. No one likes a loss in income, but it’s important to always work with clients who benefit from your hard work and can pay you what you’re worth.

I need help saying no

Most importantly, I’ve realized that a turnover in business with the start of a new year often provides me with the margin I need, but often forget to give myself. I am very capable of overloading my schedule and setting ridiculously high expectations that set me up for failure. Clients who step away force me to embrace some newfound free time (even if only for a short while).

How does your business change with the start of a new year? Share a personal experience by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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