Monday, July 21, 2014

4 Simple Steps to Organize Your Work Day

Feeling overwhelmed? Got Post-It Notes all over your computer? Missing meetings? Is all the clutter driving you crazy? Ready for a change? Or do you want to keep pulling your hair out? And if your desk is super messy, does it say something about you? 

We hope that in all the craziness of your work day that you can take a few minutes to be able to keep the mountain of information under control. Also know that you will always have something in your in-box. Doesn't matter the season, the month or the day of the week. The trick is to manage it and not let it manage you. So how do you do it? In the end there are many ways to make it all work. You will know by how your shoulders feel at the end of the day - uptight and in your ears or nicely relaxed helping you take that deep, cleansing breath. 
So here are your four simple (and we mean simple) methods for being committed to being more organized in your day, in your thoughts and in your business.  

  1. Keep a calendar -  There are many ways to keep a calendar from a simple paper format (you can even print them from an online source) to the bulky day planners of old to applications on smartphones. Don't get caught up in what could be better or feeling like you are missing out on some great technology. Keep it simple and use something that works for you in your daily activities. Use the calendar to also keep track of what you are doing when. It's kind of like someone on a diet logging everything they eat. You'd probably be surprised to look back at your day and see where you are spending most of your time. 
  2. Keep a to-do list - Most of us have short-term activities and long-term projects. And you can easily get overwhelmed by the big project with all that needs to get done. Break up the big projects into smaller bites, so that at the end of the day you can look back at that to-do list and see what you have accomplished. This sense of achievement will go a long way to keeping you motivated over the long haul.  
  3. Set a time everyday to make phone calls, answer emails and post on social media - It is easy to get caught up in responding to every email, phone call, text or social media post. Triage is the key word here. Not every contact requires an immediate response. It has been said that the mind cannot truly multi-task. Try to schedule time every day to respond to all the calls for your attention - some time in the morning and some in the afternoon and some at the end of the day so that you can get back to those that need attention during that particular day. Keep the list of correspondence close to your to-do list and calendar so that you can include this in reviewing your daily accomplishments. 
  4. Learn to say no - This is probably a big one for most people. As a small business owner, you are hungry for customers and revenue. Remember your business plan? Remember your target markets? Distractions from your plan may result in time spent that may cause you to stray from your goals. What can you learn from saying no? Remember Kris Kringle in the movie "Miracle on 34th Street?". If Macy's didn't carry a toy, he sent them to Gimble's. His focus was on the customer, not the business. And that loyalty that was engendered with the customer was worth more than the immediate sale. Learn from saying no and keep your eye on the brass ring.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Being a Business Mentor - What Does it Mean?

In the world of professional sports, even the greatest athletes have coaches. They need someone to observe their performance as well as the state of the game, competition and rules in order to maximize the athlete's ability to succeed. In the world of big business, you find successful people surrounding themselves with others that know more than they do in a particular area or subject, as well as having a solid board of directors or advisers that have experience or knowledge that are missing in the senior executive. This combination of information flowing from two directions can truly make a business leader more influential, efficient and profitable. That works well for large, public companies, but what about the entrepreneur or small business owner?
First, notice the distinction. An entrepreneur is someone that wants to scale their business. A small business owner may want growth but they may not necessarily be interested in becoming a national or global business. The owner of a small, local, one-location coffee shop may not want to become Starbucks, Peet's Coffee or Dutch Brothers. The overall goal for your business will dictate the type of mentor you need.

Second, mentoring is about personal development. Are you interested in pushing your own personal envelope by learning something new or stepping outside of your comfort zone? As a small business owner do you feel like you've done everything you can to keep your business growing? The goal for most businesses the last five years has been to do your best to hang on. That time is now past. Who do you look to for expertise, knowledge and forward-thinking? When you think about the next 3-5 years, how have you prepared yourself and your business for what is possible? Only you can answer these questions.
So who do you ask to be a mentor? Look for qualities that compliment or supplement your skillset. Look for a good listener, someone with a great desire to help, an understanding of your business as well as someone who will be honest with you because this relationship will be based on trust. A mentor will need to know your strengths as well as your warts.  

And you can have different mentors as your personal and business growth continue. Many folks may only be able to help you at a particular stage of your development. Be willing to assess a mentor's usefulness when you are looking for the next mountain to climb.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Starting the New Year Right - Forecasting Your Revenues

For most being the first day of the first full week back from the holidays, hopefully you have begun the process of making sure that plans for the first quarter are on track so that you don't miss opportunities that may occur during the first three months.  And you should have a clear idea of the direction you hope your organization will be taking for 2014 as a whole.  If you have questions on either account, it's probably time to sit down and come up with some reasonable goals.

One of the hardest things to do in business today is to predict your future revenues. Expenses and capital spending are relatively easy compared with forecasting the funding vehicle of your business.

So how do you begin to estimate your revenue?  Great question. The key is to understand your business. This is not a task that you delegate to a lower level employee. Only you as the business owner have a big picture look on your business, your industry and the economy as a whole. Internal and external factors must be taken into account. Internal strengths and weaknesses will be key in identifying revenue growth opportunities. Many businesses use gross sales as their measure. Some look at this daily. Others look at it weekly or even monthly.  I would submit that you need to look at what is driving your revenues - the key levers in your business.
So what are they? Let's use a different equation. How about Traffic * Conversion Rate * Average Sale = Revenue? Let's break each on of these down.

Traffic is driven from your marketing activities, primarily your promotional budget. The more your brand is in places where potential, qualified customers are looking for your products or services, the better chance you have to get their attention. In today's world, prospective customers are using a variety of platforms to find our product or service information. You need to be judicious about what platform will give you the biggest bang for the buck.

Conversion Rate is all about how successful your sale effort is. The percentage of traffic converted to sales will depend some on your industry, but will depend mostly on your efforts to sell. How well trained are your staff? Are you the chief cook/bottle washer/salesperson? If so, how are you at taking inquiries (either online or in person) and creating paying customers? What if you were to convert another 1% or 5% or 10% of your Traffic? Big impact most likely on your revenue and your bottom line.

Average Sale is the weighted average sales to each customer. As you can imagine, if you are selling bubble gum your average sale is less than if you are selling diamond earrings. This is about the product/service choices you make in your business - what do you have to sell.

This may not fit exactly into your business model, but it should work for most with a little tinkering. It all goes back to your marketing plan and what drives revenue in your business. If you want to talk more about this or other strategic decisions in your business, send us an email to set up an appointment. If you are looking to do a little research, there are a number of YouTube videos on forecasting (hint: we're not guaranteeing that you will be able to stay awake!) and of course, has an online video tutorial called "Calculating a Seasonal Forecast". Call 775-283-7123 to set up an appointment to watch this one!

Monday, December 2, 2013

New words and how you can change the world

The Oxford English Dictionary recently named "selfie" as the word of the year. No matter your take on whether or not this is a real word or whether or not it describes something other than a desperate attempt at getting attention, this word has become part of the lexicon of young people and those in the world of social media. That is why some are revolting by promoting the use of the hashtag, #unselfie.

If you are wondering what #unselfie is, just do a search on any of the social media platforms, especially Twitter. If you are searching on Facebook, there is a page dedicated to Unselfie.  There is also at least one post on LinkedIn extolling the virtues of the unselfie.

Been wondering how to use Twitter? Try this one on for size. As part of #givingtuesday tomorrow (yes we are using hashtags like crazy this week), over 8,000 organizations in all 50 US states have signed up as partners, from charities to businesses to small towns to cities. A group of charities in Baltimore have come together to pledge jointly to raise $5,000,000 tomorrow. New partnerships are emerging between the super rich and the rest of us as billionaires such as Steve and Jean Case (founder of AOL) and others offer to match #givingtuesday gifts with similar amounts of their own cash. And it is going global: significant #givingtuesday campaigns are under way in countries such as Australia, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Argentina and Singapore. Look for the #unselfie posts as part of the larger #givingtuesday campaigns.

Watch #givingtuesday on Twitter tomorrow and get motivated by other people's unselfies and by googling #givingtuesday and #unselfie. Our advice is to watch, learn and be part of the solution. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What is Leadership? Really.

Amongst all the seminars, conferences, websites, books and the examples of leadership that we see daily, have you ever asked yourself what does it mean to be a leader and if you have kids, how do you encourage them to be leaders when offered the chance?

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines leadership as "the action of leading a group of people, organization, etc." or "the power or ability to lead other people". If you break it down to the verb, another applicable definition of lead is "to direct on a course or in a direction."

By definition, true leadership requires followers. So how do you get others to follow you? There are plenty of examples, both good and bad, throughout history, sports, politics, business and communities. Some that come to mind are Gandhi, Hitler, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Mother Teresa and Vince Lombardi. One thing that is common among leaders is a passion for their vision. How they demonstrate their passion will vary along a spectrum, yet people will connect with that vision and the charisma of the leader. For followers, they search for resonance with those visions, looking for direction and answers to what will help them in living a life well lived.

Leadership is also something that is in the eye of the beholder. While many can condemn the actions of certain leaders, one cannot deny the ability of a Hitler to amass millions of followers even to this day. Even at the local level, we can see who has influence, who can motivate and who drives an idea to fruition. And who is a flash in the pan, someone with perceived leadership qualities but cannot resonate with their prospective followers.

Passion for their vision requires having a vision and communicating this vision is the challenge of a leader. You may jump up and down, shout down your opposition but if you do not have a clear, defined, popular vision, you will get nowhere. You may be good at one-on-one leadership or you may be the great orator that all Toastmasters aspire to be. Getting your message across is vital to being a leader.

Many entrepreneurs talk about their vision. Great leaders have a vision for the future of their countries, communities, businesses, teams or humanity. And faith in that vision must remain unshakeable. A prominent Star Wars character once said, "I find your lack of faith disturbing." And yes, you may be able to use "the force" to "motivate", but it may not be the best tool in your toolbox. 
Star Wars Episode IV:
Star Wars Episode IV: "I find your lack of faith disturbing"
In the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" (timely with the holidays upon us), George Bailey is given the opportunity to see what Bedford Falls would look like if he had never been born. He sees what can happen to a community where his leadership is missing, compassion for the common man is devoid and where greed and personal gain have consumed a community.
It's A Wonderful Life (1946) - James Stewart - George Bailey's Speech to Potter & the Loan Board
It's A Wonderful Life (1946) - James Stewart - George Bailey's Speech to Potter & the Loan Board
So where does this all lead us? When you have the opportunity to be a leader, ask yourself which path you want to take. When you are teaching young people how to lead, ask them what kind of person they wish to become. When you are in a leadership position, ask yourself which path will the community take based on your leadership. See a future that is better than the one that currently exists. Isn't that what previous generations have taught us or have we forgotten all that they sacrificed to give us a better opportunity in life?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Is it hazing or an initiation rite?

With all the news focus on the Miami Dolphins and whether or not someone who is the size of a barn can get bullied, it seems that there is a much bigger picture issue than what the 24-hour news cycle is willing to consider.  What is hazing?  What does it mean to become an adult in today's society?  What does it mean to be able to stand up for yourself?  At what point did traditional initiation rites transform into a method of exerting perceived power over someone else?

When you hear the term hazing, most times you think of college fraternities and sororities entrance requirements - eating strange things, sleep deprivation, alcohol binging, kidnapping in the middle of the night and dropping them somewhere without access to money, phones, etc.  Or maybe you have a memory of the movie "Animal House" with pledges in their civies saying, "Thank you sir, may I have another?". 

While these rituals of membership seem bizarre and ridiculous to outsiders, the goal is to put value on being part of the club. "Membership has its privileges" is a term we have come to accept.  And in order to be privileged, you have to pass some sort of test to see if you are worthy of membership. When did "membership" or transition to adulthood become a rite of abuse and torture, demeaning someone's sense of place in the community and their sense of self-worth?  Who gets to be judge, jury and executioner?

In the past, and I mean way in the past, initiation rites were all about survival tests.  In order to be an adult, you needed to take a stand, perform a test or partake in a ritual that was what the community defined as necessary to transition from adolescence to adulthood.  In the absence of withstanding physical and physcological tests and the abdication of adults taking responsibility to properly prepare their children for adulthood, the void is filled by groups or individuals no better than street gangs at every strata in our society.  When the self-appointed ones in charge get afraid that they could lose their status and power, the bar gets raised.  How many times are the tasks required for membership beyond what the current members had to endure?  Where is true mentorship among peers?

Are we so powerless that we have to resort to putting someone else down versus raising them up so that they too can be successful? Have we become so much of a 'me' society that we will step on whoever is in our way just to feel better about ourselves?

So here is the challenge. It's pretty simple. Be the adult. Be selfless. Think community first. Be curious. Be a mentor in your daily life. Be a leader. Can it be hard? Hell yes. Since when are we supposed to be afraid of hard work.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Operation Boots to Business and our Veterans

When I was at the Association of Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC) annual conference last month, I attended a session about Operation Boots to Business in order to learn more about existing programs that help veterans open their own businesses. It is our desire at the Business Resource Innovation Center (BRIC) to provide any assistance possible to help veterans be successful with their goals of business ownership and moving on to the next chapter in their lives.

When our servicemen and women are getting ready to be discharged from the military, they are given information on the options for their transition to civilian life. This program's choices are college, job search and entrepreneurship. If they are interested in starting their own business, there are selected military bases that are offering the Operation Boots to Business program.     

This program builds on the SBA's role as a national leader in entrepreneurship training. Leveraging the ongoing collaboration with Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), the SBA delivers Boots to Business with the support of its field offices and Resource Partners, such as the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women's Business Centers (WBCs), SCORE, and Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs). SBA's expert Resource Partner network already provides entrepreneurship training to more than 100,000 veterans every year, many of whom are service members transitioning out of the military.

If you want more information about this program, we suggest checking the Boots to Business website and the SBA website. While this program is not formally offered by the BRIC, we will do everything we can to support veterans in their transition to prospective business ownership. As a resource partner with through our relationship with the NevadaSBDC, the BRIC has access to a variety of resources including all the organizations listed above. 

If you have any questions about business assistance for veterans, please do not hesitate to send me an email