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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 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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Top 10 Blog Posts on Life and Entrepreneurship in 2016

Best of... onlineHappy New Year! Hopefully you have recovered from your holiday celebrations and have started to think about how you plan to make 2017 your best year yet.

Before we completely move on from 2016, I wanted to take one final look back at some of the insight and inspiration we’ve shared on the Bennis Inc blog, specifically on topics related to life and entrepreneurship. As I read through the year’s worth of writing, I found myself particularly drawn to these 10 articles. I hope that they give you a renewed passion for pursuing your dreams in 2017!

Life Lesson: Are You Satisfied or Merely Distracted?

It’s easy to find things to distract us, but it’s not quite as easy to find true satisfaction in life. So often these two feelings are confused which causes us to life a “busy” life, but not a fulfilled life. This blog helps you to identify the difference and make changes in your life to achieve satisfaction.

Read the original blog here.

Best Practices for Internal Communication During a Crisis

We never want to imagine something bad happening to our business or personal reputation, which is why so often we don’t have a plan to deal with a crisis. This blog offers best practices for internal communication – that means your staff, family, etc – when life throws you a curve ball.

Read the original blog here.

Thanking Up: Sharing gratitude with your superiors

When you want to show your boss appreciation, it can be an awkward situation. How do you properly thank a superior without it appearing condescending? This blog offers tips for how to “thank up” and show gratitude for people above you in rank.

Read the original blog here.

Parenthood: Adjusting to the Ever-Changing “New Normal”

This is a personal post that focuses on the journey of parenthood combined with entrepreneurship. Spoiler alert…it most certainly has its challenges! How have I adjusted to the “new normal” of running a business while raising a growing family? Take a look!

Read the original blog here.

What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Motivating People to Say Yes

Just about every parent can agree that a toddler’s favorite word is “No.” Each day is a new challenge to motivate my children to comply with my requests. Here’s what the experience has also taught me about motivating clients to say “Yes.”

Read the original blog here.

Declutter Your Life by Asking These 5 Questions

Whether you’re a neat freak or someone who wishes they could keep their life a bit more organized, this blog post can help you declutter by asking yourself five simple questions.

Read the original blog here.

The Power of Picking Your Focus

Some of the most successful people are those who can intensely focus on one goal and see it through completion. With the start of the New Year, this is a great article to re-read to help you prioritize your resolutions.

Read the original blog here.

How Some of the Worst Jobs Have Made My Career Better

We’re all had less than favorable career experiences, but rather than chalking it up as a failure, we can choose to learn something valuable. In this blog I recap some of my worst job experiences but how they ultimately led me to a fulfilling career.

Read the original blog here.

Can an Introvert Thrive in a Career in Public Relations?

Knowing now how much of an introvert that I am, I may have never chosen to pursue a career in PR. But that would have been a mistake! Introverts can most certainly thrive in a career in Public Relations and this blog explains how.

Read the original blog here.

5 Ways You Are Spreading Negativity Without Knowing It

No one enjoys being around a negative person. However, sometimes we spread negativity without realizing we’re doing so. Start the New Year off on a positive note by reading about the five ways we spread negatively unintentionally.

Read the original blog here.

Want to explore most blog posts from Stephanie Shirley and Bennis Inc? Be our guest! Click here to browse business and success, here to browse life and here to explore all the rest.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2017 in Business & Success, Life, Wisdom

 

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How to Professionally Fire a Client

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!


How to Professionally Fire a ClientIn an ideal world, we would all become best friends with our clients and enjoy the work we do for them so much that we would wonder why we’re actually being paid. But in reality, some clients push us to the point of resolving that no amount of cash is enough to offset the stress and anxiety they add to our lives.

If you’re forced to make the tough decision of whether or not to cut ties with a client, it’s important to do so with professionalism and class. Even a strained client relationship has the potential to yield future leads and recommendations if you make the effort to leave with a mutual understanding.

Take a look at this list of common “problem clients” and how you can professionally approach each with a breakup line better than “Let’s see other people.”


The offense: Late (or nonexistent) payments

Everyone has a rare moment or two when a payment gets lost in the shuffle or maybe a particularly hectic month that causes you to make a late payment. But for this type of client, it happens all the time! It’s like they pay no attention nor do they care about your payment policy (i.e. net 30 days), yet they still want all their services delivered on time.

What you wish you could say: “I’m wasting way too much time pleading for your payments and acting like I actually believe your endless excuses.”

What you should say: “I enjoy working with you, but you are consistently late with making payments while I continue to meet your project deadlines. Out of respect for my time and for my other clients, I can no longer accommodate this relationship.”

Words of wisdom: After poking and prodding this type of client with reminders about making their payment, you might finally receive a check (sometimes with a nice “forgive me” note) and be tempted to continue the cycle with just “one more chance.” Just keep in mind that this relationship will continue to add stress to your day and steal time from your other clients. If you do feel compelled to stick with them, suggest that they move to quarterly payments (so that you’re only hunting down checks every 3 months) or invest in a system where you can automatically charge their account – businesses do it all the time!


The offense: Wants the moon and the stars on a shoestring budget

In my personal experience, these clients have been among my smallest accounts, yet ate up more of my time than clients paying 10x as much! They are great at micromanaging and wearing you down with negotiations on your pricing and requests for “just one more thing.” While you always want to under-promise and over-deliver for your clients, this business model is simply not sustainable.

What you wish you could say: “You are impossible to please and we’re losing money on you.”

What you should say: “I’ve carefully considered my workload and unfortunately I can no longer accommodate your needs at this time.”

Words of wisdom: The first red flag that you’re dealing with this type of client often occurs as early as contract negotiation. They may try to talk you down on price while refusing to take out any of the services you propose. Use your gut to decide whether to proceed with working with them, but keep in mind that the relationship cannot go on if you are constantly taking a loss each month on their billable hours versus the amount they are actually paying you. It’s not fair to you or to your other clients.


The offense: Verbally abusive

In personal relationships, we are far less likely to accept verbal abuse; yet so often we allow this to go on for far too long in business relationships. This type of client is one that is directly or indirectly demeaning and negative towards you or your staff. They may yell and swear at you, threaten you, or ever so subtly and indirectly put down your work. Whether the verbal abuse is obvious or subliminal, you cannot stay in this relationship.

What you wish you could say: “I dread interacting with you and no amount of money could offset the emotional damage you have caused.”

What you should say: “I strive to provide my clients with the best service possible and unfortunately I am no longer able to do that for you because of the difference in our work cultures and communication styles.”

Words of wisdom: The bottom line is no one ever deserves to be verbally abused and you must end a client relationship immediately if this occurs. I promise you, it never gets better. No amount of money is worth this stress.


The offense: Doesn’t respect time or boundaries

This type of client is toxic because they can really disrupt your work-life balance. They don’t respect your time by expecting you to meet tight deadlines, canceling meetings at the last minute, asking you to start a project and then changing directions or failing to get you the information you need to do your job. They also encroach on boundaries by expecting you to be available in the evenings and on the weekends and to be doing work for them during this time.

What you wish you could say: “You may pay me for my time, but you don’t control all of it. I need time to do other things that simply don’t involve you.”

What you should say: “It’s one of my top priorities to provide adequate time and attention to all of my clients. Due to my current workload, I am unable to commit to the hours you need from me and I cannot continue our partnership.”

Words of wisdom: There will come a time when important projects require you to work late into the evenings or on the weekends. However, this should not be the case for most of this client’s projects. If they insist that all of their work is propriety, where does that leave your other clients on your list? While you may be doing work for your clients, you are still your own boss and must maintain a sense of control over your time by letting go of clients who don’t respect these necessary boundaries.


The offense: Bigger problems are brewing within the business

This client wants you to have the magic solution to fix all of the problems within their business even when this task goes far beyond your area of expertise. For example, the client is asking for a new website, but really this is merely a bandage on a gaping wound of mismanagement, a weak business model and an unhealthy company culture.

What you wish you could say: “You are a mix bag of problems and bad decisions. It would take an entire overhaul of your business to prevent you from inevitable bankruptcy.”

What you should say: “While I would be happy to provide you with services that fall within my area of expertise, it’s come to my attention that you need help in additional areas that would impact the success of my work. At this time, I cannot take on your project until you have first resolved these other important matters.”

Words of wisdom: No one has all the answers – or expects anyone else to. If your client looks to you to be their marketing director as well as their business partner, investor, therapist and cheerleader…don’t walk away, run! Unless they acknowledge a good understanding of these other problems and demonstrate their determination to fix them, this is a toxic relationship that will only bring you both down.

Have you ever had to make the tough decision to fire a client? What was the determining factor and how did you handle it? Share your experiences by commenting below! 

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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How to Work From Home with a Child

Sometimes food is a necessary incentive to keep the kiddos quiet long enough to make a phone call!

Sometimes food is a necessary incentive to keep the kiddos quiet long enough to make a phone call!

Working from home can be hugely beneficial to growing your business, increasing efficiency and saving money. Where things can get tricky is if you’re not the only one at home during the workday. Yes, I’m talking about those pint-sized “coworkers” called children that can’t yet understand the difference between work time and play time.

For some parents, balancing work and childcare from home is the only way they can make it all happen. If you’re among the lucky ones who can enroll your little one in caregiver program at least 2 days a week, even if just for a 3-hour block of time, you can get a ton done in these golden hours! But what about the other days when your child is home with you like snow days, sick days or holidays? These seem to pop up during the most inconvenient times, turning what should be a simple work task or conference call into an extremely stressful balancing act.

The good news is with a little creativity and flexibility throughout your day, you can indeed find balance in this work situation. Here are some tips to make working from home with your child a success!

Create Fun Activity Kits for Your Little One

Even if you only have a few hours’ notice that your little one is going to be at home with you on a workday (i.e. a stomach bug or big snow storm), you only need a little time to put together some activity kits that will keep those tiny fingers busy (and independent of your attention) as you tackle your most important tasks

For example, bust out the play dough and give them an “assignment sheet” of the shapes or objects you want them to try to create. Create a “craft kit” with all the necessary tools and ask them to create something specific, like a birthday card for a relative. Another idea is to assemble a dress up box with fun clothing items and accessories you have lying around the house (bonus points if it’s something they haven’t seen before!). If you have multiple kids at home, create a contest for the best costume that you will judge once you’re off your call or done with your project. Don’t forget about educational DVDs! Sure, some people may try to make you feel guilty for all that “screen time,” but when you’re in a pinch and just need an hour or so of peace and quiet, you do what you have to do!

Block Off Time for Undivided Attention
Have you ever been wrapped up in an assignment, trying to concentrate, but your toddler is literally tugging on you and begging you for some attention? This is when you know it’s time to take a short break from your computer or phone and give some undivided attention to your little one. Take time to get down on their level and play with your toddler for a while. Yes, this is time you aren’t getting work done, but by investing even just 20 minutes or so into making your kid feel noticed and loved, your reward will be a content child that is happy to play independently again until you can return to him or her.

Utilize Family

To say it takes a village to raise a child couldn’t be more accurate! When you have a young family, you quickly realize the importance of trusted family and friends who live close by. If you can foresee a big project coming up at work or an assignment that will need your full attention, don’t be afraid to ask for help with your little one

A family member, neighbor or friend who is willing to take your child on a walk or simply be an extra set of hands for you in the house, if worth their weight in gold! Not only will you feel calm and at ease while getting work done, your child will also enjoy some one-on-one time with a new “friend” who will make them feel like the center of their world. Even if you don’t have family nearby, build a network of friends and fellow moms who are willing to help you out in an emergency situation. You never know until you ask! I have found people are more than happy to help out a busy mom and give her a few well-deserved moments of peace.

Do you ever have to balance work and childcare on the same days? Share your personal thoughts by commenting below!

 

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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More Than Words: How Visual Content Improves Your Blog

How Visual Content Improves Your BlogBlog posts are one of the most popular and powerful ways to engage your audiences through online content. However it’s not enough to set up a blog, sit back and wait for your audience to flock to you. In order to grow a community of loyal readers, your blog needs more than just quality content. It also needs visual elements to grab attention, reinforce your brand and increase SEO.

Now, the Bennis Inc blog has room for improvement in this area as well! As we strive to do a better job of incorporating more visual content into our weekly posts, we thought we’d share with you five reasons why we know this to be so important. Take a look!

 

Visual content…

Grabs attention, especially when shared on social media

If you want to draw more readers to your blog, it’s important to make your posts look good when shared on social media. Without visual content, people will see a blank square and a snippet of content that may not be enough to stop them from scrolling on by. Set yourself up for social sharing success by always including at least one image per blog that clearly represents the theme of your post, so that when people see it as a thumbnail they know right away they want to read more!

Emphasizes your main points

Visual content is a powerful opportunity to highlight and emphasize the main points of your blog. Much like how we use subheadings to make content easily digested, images and graphics next to each main point help guide readers through your content. Visual content also makes your main points easy to remember and reference again in the future.

Visual content helps shine a spotlight on the main points you want to reader to takeaway.

Visual content helps shine a spotlight on the main points you want to reader to takeaway.

Reflects the style of your brand

Your blog is a direct reflection of your brand and therefore should use the same quality of images you would feel comfortable publishing on your website or social media. Everything needs to work together to reinforce the same message. Use visual content on your blog to create continuity for visitors who are likely to jump from your blog to your website and vice versa.

Captioning the photo with keywords gives search engines another way to find you

Most people know, but forget to fully utilize the fact that the photos you post on your blog are indexed by search engines. This makes visual content yet one more way you can improve your SEO. Make sure every photo you post is named and captioned with your most relevant keywords. Captions are also important for engaging readers and connecting each image back to your content.

Glowing Illuminated Love light photo lamp

We “love” this photo because we took it ourselves! It’s clean, simple and modern, much like the Bennis Inc brand. Plus, it represents something we get to see in daily life.

Provides an opportunity to insert a personal touch (by using your own photos)

Finally, visual content is a great way to let your personality and brand shine through your words. It’s a smart idea to build up your own stock image gallery of photos that share your story. Then, you will always have these available to use on future blogs. By using your own photos, you don’t have to worry about running into licensing issues, plus you’ll further engage your audience with visuals that are far more unique and captivating than those generic stock images.

How do you incorporate visual elements on your blog or website to attract visitors to your content? Share your ideas by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Delivering Happiness: How to Provide Clients with More Than Just Services

How to Provide Clients with More Than Just Services

Whether you are an entrepreneur growing a small business or a CEO of an established company, you likely understand the importance of “delivering happiness” to your clients. Your clients expect to receive quality service and products from you – that’s standard. But what really makes your business stand out is going one step further to provide them with unexpected, but much appreciated benefits. These benefits are the reason people will come back to you time and time again for more business.

So what can (and should) you do to provide more than just your basic goods and services, but to really deliver happiness? Take a look at these four tips.

Tip #1: Share your advice or expertise at no charge

No one likes to feel like they’re getting “nickel and dimed.” It usually takes one a few minutes of your time to share a little extra advice or expertise with your clients. For example, someone might ask for advice on getting more likes on their Facebook page. Rather than stick them with a costly proposal right off the bat, offer one or two simple tips to establish credibility and build trust. You shouldn’t invest too much time in free advice, but giving just a little at no charge will almost always come back to you ten-fold in future business.

Tip #2: Form a friendship…get to know about them, personally!
Solid connections and meaningful relationships are at the heart of every successful business. Keep this in mind as you cultivate your client relationships into friendships. Really get to know your clients and customers. Remember their birthdays, the names of their children and their hobbies. Not only will this give you something to make small talk over at your next meeting, it will also demonstrate your listening skills and attention to detail. Clients who are friends are more likely to be satisfied with your service and stay loyal to doing business with you in the future.

Tip #3: Resolve any issues promptly and for free (as long as reasonable)

Solving a problem promptly and effectively is a great opportunity for your business to create happy clients. Use the “customer is always right” motto and resolve the issue without sticking your client with a bill for it (so long as it’s a reasonable request). Yes, you may lose a few bucks in billable hours, but you will more than make up for it in future business from a happy and loyal customer. (Note: if this proves to be a reoccurring theme with a client, it may be time to weight the cost-benefits of the relationship altogether).

Tip #4: Follow-up to see how they’re enjoying your product/service

Timely and friendly follow-up is key for delivering happiness to your clients. You don’t want to be intrusive or annoying (like that waiter that pops over 7+ times during a meal asking if everything is okay), but regular “check-ins” can help to nip any issues in the bud before they leave a lasting negative impression. Clients may not be inclined to bring up an issue thinking it’s too small to initiate a conversation about it. But if you present an easy opportunity for them to speak up by being the first to ask, you’d be surprised how some little adjustments early on will keep a client much happier in the long-run!

How do you go above and beyond to provide your clients and customers with more than just goods or services? Share your personal thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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