Tuesday, September 27, 2016

4 Stubborn Business Myths

Entrepreneurs know that owning a small business takes dedication, passion, and hours of concentrated work. You may run into obstacles that test your business and your perseverance, obstacles that are norms in the world of business which each entrepreneur must learn to navigate. However, there are some obstacles that you may be facing without realizing it. Those barriers are stubborn business myths that just won't go away because people believe them, even though they aren't true.

1. It's not what you know but who you know.

In the course of doing business, business owners or potential business owners come up against this belief time and time again. However, while it is true that knowing the right people may help you get started or get access to some deals, in most businesses it is expertise, experience, and skill that propel you forward in business. If you can provide the solutions customers want, they will refer you to their friends and family.

2. Nice guys finish last.

This myth is a holdover from the era of Western movies and superhero comics. Nice guys (always portrayed as pushovers or wallflowers) finish last because the villains and heroes walk all over them. In film, this may be true. After all, Tony Stark isn't a nice guy. He is an arrogant, self-centered genius. However, The Avengers aside, in real life, nice guys finish first quite often. While a person with low self-esteem who doesn't speak up will not be successful without change, a courteous business owner is appreciated immensely by customers and vendors.

In today's modern world, people are used to dealing with machines, poorly-paid clerks, and online shopping. Finding a business person who is willing to offer them genuine customer service, build a relationship and spend time getting to know them to better serve them is rare. Many people are happy to pay more for real customer service. Therefore, being a "nice guy" is valuable to your contacts. They will remember your excellent service and come back for more.

3. Don't work hard. Work smart.

This myth is one of the worst business myths out there. There is no way you can run a business without working hard. Hard work is what separates the "men from the boys" as entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs put in hours of labor to get their businesses off the ground. Working smart is just another way to say that there is a workaround or that you can find a way to skip the hard work. It just isn't possible in reality. If you aren't willing to work hard, you won't make it in business.

4. It's called work for a reason. It's not supposed to be fun.

All work has elements that workers do not like to perform. It might be the paperwork that you need to fill out for each customer or the data entry on your last case. However, why can't work be fun?

People who find work that satisfies them are much happier in life. That happiness translates to their work and their interactions with co-workers, customers, and vendors. If you love to sell, create graphic designs, or help customers find what they are looking for, then you ARE having fun at work. In fact, many companies are now providing their employees with ways to have fun at work to help reduce stress and fatigue.

So go ahead and have fun while working! It can only improve your outlook and production. Work can be fun.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Once Upon a Time

Storytelling is a time-honored tradition which began before humanity had the ability to create long-lasting printed documents. The first stories were a way of passing on an oral tradition and history of various cultures around the world. There is still a storytelling tradition in many cultures, although as communities spread out, storytelling has moved to written, printed, and now digital methods of recording the tales. Oral traditions created a rich history for ancient cultures that gave rise to much of what we call myths and legends today, a blend of history and religion which gave purpose to people who lived short and often harsh lives.

Role of Printing in Storytelling

The development of the printing press gave stories new life because they could be disseminated on a broader scale and replicated easily. No longer were scribes necessary for copying expensive books and papers. Not only was the rich, cultural history and religious beliefs of various people shared among a wider community, but pure fiction was written for the purpose of entertainment and enjoyment for the masses. For those who were not taught to read, stories were read and passed around by those who could.

Storytelling in the Digital Age

While it has become easier to distribute stories in the digital age, and more of the world's population is educated enough to read, storytelling continues to be a powerful way to distribute a message to people. Computers and the internet make spreading the word faster, but the concept of an oral tradition is easily seen in the many repetitions of news stories online from different slants or points of view. The question lies in how an entity or brand can create a unified story to present to an audience or market. With the unique ability to duplicate digital image and print and distribute them through many channels, storytelling can be a powerful tool for marketing a company or organization.

Incorporating Storytelling in Marketing and Branding

A recent article in Search Engine Journal(https://www.searchenginejournal.com/5-benefits-using-storytelling-marketing/164213/) discusses the benefits of storytelling as a method for branding. The author, Katy Katz, talks about how storytelling creates connections and potential bonds between a brand and a market. When thinking about storytelling for a brand, call to mind some of the brands that you grew up with that have become common words in the American culture such as Kleenex, Coke or Pampers, often used to replace the actual word for the item being talked about. While creating a storytelling campaign for your own brand may not turn it into a common household word, you will still be able to cement the story with the brand name to create lasting memories in the minds of your audience.

Benefits of Brand Storytelling

Katz mentions 5 benefits to brand storytelling in her article.

1. Storytelling builds memories.
2. Storytelling is a natural motivator.
3. Storytelling builds relationships.
4. Storytelling makes content exciting.
5. Storytelling can make something old, new again.

How Can You Use these Benefits to Your Advantage in Marketing?

Since most businesses have competitors that offer products or services that are similar to theirs, branding offers a way to show your differences. Creating a brand story or even just telling your brand's story in a cohesive manner can give your audience reasons to bond with you beyond pricing or product quality. An excellent example of brand storytelling is the way Tom's Shoes has incorporated their brand name with their history of giving. (http://www.toms.com/stories/giving/10-years-of-giving-together) They have created not only an excellent product, but a compelling reason to buy from them.

You can do the same.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Create An Environment That High-Value Employees Want To Work In

If you tasked most business leaders with sitting down and making a list of their struggles, attracting high-value employees would more than likely fall close to the top. Finding those versatile, well-rounded, and driven candidates is one thing - getting them to come aboard is something else entirely. Making sure you're not just a "stepping stone" in someone's successful career is also a lot easier said than done. If you want to attract the type of high-value employees that will carry your organization forward, you have to start from within and create the kind of organization they want to work for in the first place.

Would You Want to Work for Your Business?

If you want to attract high-value employees in a marketplace that is growing increasingly competitive with each passing day, you need to start by putting yourself in their shoes. What are some things that 21st-century talent may be looking for that you aren't currently offering?

Thanks to things like SaaS (software-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service), the ability for businesses to allow employees to work remotely has become a significant priority for quality applicants. Even if you don't feel comfortable bringing someone on and allowing them to work from the home full-time, see if having them work remotely two out of the five business days is something you can manage.

Likewise, BYOD (bring your own device) has become a significant priority for younger employees. It lets them bring their own smartphones, tablets and other devices to work that they already feel comfortable using, thus increasing the overall quality of the work they're able to generate. It also helps save money for businesses, as you no longer have to pay to purchase and maintain a computer for an employee if they're already bringing one from home. These small changes to your existing policies can go a long way towards creating the type of environment and culture that attracts the talent you're after.

Get Competitive

Another one of the core ways to attract valuable employees these days involves being as competitive as possible when it comes to job perks. Apple, for example, has a now-legendary attraction strategy that includes not only traditional perks like healthcare, but also things like educational reimbursement as well. Not every company has the type of bankroll that Apple does, but it's always important to remember that making an investment in your employees through competitive perks is ultimately an investment in the future of your company.

These are just a few of the many ways that you can create the type of environment that makes it easy to attract high-value employees and even easier to retain them for the long haul. Remember: quality employees don't grow on trees, and the difference between someone who is "just punching a clock" versus someone who is putting their blood, sweat, and tears into the task at hand is an immense difference, indeed. By putting yourself in their shoes and creating the type of company they can't help but want to work for, you, in turn, create the kind of company clients can't wait to do business with.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Triumph Over Adversity

Many of the most successful leaders in the world have been people who have triumphed over adversity. This list of individuals includes celebrities, world leaders, and business people. Notable figures include Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison before finally becoming President in South Africa and Steve Jobs who was fired from his own company. Many people fail in their lifetimes, and then go on to become successful. Failure in itself is not the end. Instead, it is a lesson that can be applied to future endeavors.

What Can Failure Teach Us?

Without learning how to fail and pick yourself up again, most people would never learn anything new or complete any task. It is an accomplishment to fail, and then go on to make something of yourself by admitting that you have failed and refusing to be deterred from your final goal. While this concept can apply to any endeavor in life, it is certainly a concept that can be easily applied to business.

Living with Failure in Business

The business world is full of failures. Companies often have products that do not do well in the marketplace among the mix of products that they sell. In fact, most sales teams figure failure into their daily routine since they know that they will have to approach a lot of leads before they can turn some of them into buying customers. Many successful salespeople use rejections to tally how well they are doing. For instance, they may decide to make enough cold calls over the phone each day to tally up to a hundred "no, thank you's." The reason they count those no's is that they realize that if they receive a hundred no's, they will also have enough yes's in that group of phone calls to make the quota of appointments they need to have.

Failure is a Requirement for Success

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." - Robert F. Kennedy

Greatness can only be achieved by someone who understands what it takes to become great. Therefore, failure is a requirement for success because it takes failure to appreciate success. While not every one of us needs to spend 27 years in prison to finally achieve our goals, the truth remains that unless we persevere towards our goals, we will not be able to achieve success in our careers or life.

Dealing with Failure in Business

As a business owner, it is very likely that you will make mistakes, disappoint staff and customers, and lose business from time to time. However, each time failure occurs, it is best to admit the failure, and then examine why it happened. By learning from our mistakes, we become better business owners and better people. Failure helps us relate to others who have experienced hard times and gives us the opportunity to connect with them as customers.

Dealing with Future Adversity

The next time you or one of your employees fails at a task, take the time to use the failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. Maybe the failure of one person can become a lesson for everyone, and it will lead to the next big success for your entire company.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Moving Beyond Just Increasing Productivity

Thanks largely to the fact that there is a lot of work to be done and only so many hours in a day to do it, many business owners tend to think of raising productivity as their primary objective at any given time. Unfortunately, this isn't really the case - it only appears to be on the surface.

Consider the fact that "productivity" as a metric is not something that you can improve indefinitely. You can only find new and innovative ways to raise the amount of work you're able to do so far before you hit a period of diminishing returns. People WILL get overworked, at which point you're farther away from your ultimate goal of "do the best work possible, no exceptions" than you were when you started.

Increasing productivity is a means to an end: it is not the end in and of itself. Instead, there are far more important things for running a successful business that you should be focusing on.

Don't Focus on Outcomes. Focus on Processes

When people place all of their emphasis on increasing productivity, "work harder" tends to become the mantra of the day. However, the old phrase of "work smarter, not harder" still very much applies - or at least it should for the best results.

Focus less on what your employees can do and more on how they're able to do it. Does your management style create unnecessary waste in the daily workflows of your staff? Do what you can to eliminate it wherever possible. Would giving your employees the ability to work remotely make their lives easier, thus increasing the QUALITY of the work they're able to offer? It's something you should consider.

Instead of looking at work as an issue of quantity, look to quality wherever possible. Do whatever it takes to improve HOW your employees are working and rest assured, WHAT they're able to do will improve as a result.

Keep Everyone on the Same Page

As time goes on, one of the biggest challenges that business leaders face tends to be one of communication. Remember that every department or team in your business isn't acting in a vacuum - they're all essentially working together to form the single cohesive whole that is your business in the first place. A vacuum is exactly what is created when you don't take the time to periodically redefine exactly what a person or team's purpose is, what they're doing and (most importantly) why that matters.

Giving people a mission that is unclear or that lacks focus is an excellent way to lower engagement at the same time. Always take the time to make sure that everyone has their "eye on the prize," so to speak, regarding why they should care and what the prize is they should be eyeing.

These are just a few of the factors that are far more important than the blanket concept of "increased productivity" in the world of business. In fact, you'll often find that when you take the time to focus on other areas of your business to help create the well-oiled machine you always wanted to be running, productivity tends to increase on its own as a result. Workflows become easier to sustain, and communication becomes clearer, paving the way for the high volume of quality, timely production you were after in the first place.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Using Science to Make Business Decisions

Many small business owners base decisions on their gut feelings which are comprised of their intuition and experience. However, using gut feelings to make business decisions may not be the best decision-making technique. Many companies are now using analytics and science to make judgment calls. With modern electronics and online tracking, analytics are often available to gather metrics on a myriad of topics. However, you can take business decision-making a step further and design scientific experiments to discover answers to your questions. Here are some suggestions on how you can use the scientific method to learn what decision to make.

Why Use Trial and Error?

Even in our current modern age of computers and mobile technology, too many businesses use trial and error or other decision-making techniques without any evidence of potential results before they get started. Keeping in mind the adage of what happens to people who make assumptions, there are better ways to decide on business matters.

Using the Scientific Method

If you think back to your high school days, you may remember learning about the scientific method. Like many high school students, if you didn't pursue a career in science, it is likely that you have not thought about the scientific method in recent years. However, business is more like science than you might expect. You can prove and disprove many theories with factual evidence before risking time and money on a new project or campaign. Why should you risk your company income and employees' paychecks when you can test theories before you take the plunge? If you could predict behavior, you would be able to achieve much more reliable results.

Let's see how much you remember about the scientific method. The basic method is to create a theory and then set up a scientific experiment to test your theory. You need a test group equally divided into control and experimental subjects.

Setting Up the Experiment

Google is a prime example of a company that tests its theories on a regular basis. They are constantly running tests to see how people react to various changes in their search engine. When they find a particular change that nets the results they want, they then implement the successful change over a larger group of search parameters.

Tests have been run by various companies to answer questions such as these:

Do lobster tanks increase lobster sales at Food Lion supermarkets?

Do eBay users bid higher in auctions when they can pay by credit card?

Do Subway promotions on low-fat sandwiches increase sandwich sales?

Does a Toronto-Dominion branch get significantly more deposits when open 60 hours a week compared with 40? (from https://hbr.org/2009/02/how-to-design-smart-business-experiments)

When Tests Do Not Work

Testing does not work in all situations. You have to have a large enough collection of data to learn anything significant. However, when you do have enough data to create a test, testing will give you measurable and repeatable results. According to the Harvard Business Review,

"Whether in marketing, store or branch location analysis, or website design, the most reliable insights relate to the potential impact and value of tactical changes: a new store format, for example, or marketing promotion or service process."

If you have a situation with specific, measurable results, instead of guessing the outcome and taking the risk, create a test that will give you a valid answer and confidence in your investment.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Assumptions are Bad for Business

Most of us create a framework for our world through assumptions about how the world works. Our assumptions are based on past experiences and what we have been taught. However, in today's mobile-friendly world, assumptions can be dangerous. At the very least, relying on our assumptions can lead to losing business.

"Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in."
- Isaac Asimov

Assumptions are a Poor Way to Doing Business

With the ability to work from practically anywhere due to the internet and Wi-Fi, people from many careers often work from home. Working from home means that they may work in their grungiest clothes or even their pajamas. Depending on how eccentric they are, you may even find people shopping in their pjs.

It is amazing how many assumptions people make based on how other people dress. These assumptions can lead to insulting the wrong customer and losing business that you need.

Working from Home

Working from home is not a new invention. In fact, there are several careers that have traditionally been pursued from home or a studio, namely writing, photography, music, art and invention. It is notable that all of these careers are creative endeavors, often pursued by unusual people. The question is, when a famous writer comes into your shop to have their work printed or the next Picasso comes along to have a print made of their artwork, how do you differentiate them from everyone else wearing raggedy jeans and a t-shirt? You can't.

In fact, if a top executive from a corporation works at home, it is extremely likely that he will work in his most comfortable clothing. Therefore, when he walks into your store, you will see a man in jeans and a t-shirt, someone who looks like they are a college student or an average Joe.

Treating Every Customer like Your Best Customer

This situation is exactly why assumptions are bad for business. With mobile technology, any traveler can be your biggest customer. A paint-covered customer might be a famous artist instead of the house painter next door. And even if they aren't your biggest client, they might refer her to you if they like how you do business.

"Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends." - Walt Disney

Kissmetrics notes in an article about customer service (https://blog.kissmetrics.com/true-love-with-customers/) that the best thing you can do to make your customer fall in love with your business is to genuinely interact with them. In other words, make every customer interaction a relationship-building one. Develop your customer by how you work with them each time they come in. Even if they are just a college student needing their final paper printed, they could be starting a career that will bring you the best customer you have ever had.

Don't make assumptions. They are bad for business.