Organizational Alignment

organizational-alignment

 

“Think of alignment as a playbook for the entire company, just like in sports. For a coach to make sure every player is on the same page and goals are made, that playbook needs to be shared and discussed in real time.”

–Andre Lavoie, CEO of Clear Company

This is one of the most clear-cut descriptions of what we mean by organizational alignment- as a playbook for your small business.

So, as the ‘coach’ build this playbook and then actively hold the players accountable and aligned?

According to Lavoie, there are four levels of organization alignment:

  1. Employee-role alignment. This step ensures each employee is well aligned with their own role, how it relates to and affects the overall goals of the business and what is expected of them. The best place to focus on here is in HR- make sure job descriptions are accurate and that new hires of the best fit for the job by engaging in skills testing, not simply the typical interview Q&A.
  2. Employee-goal alignment. As manager/owner/CEO it is your responsibility to establish goals for each and every employee. You after all, crafted the original mission statement and goals for the business, so you would best know how to align individual goals with that of the overall company. Discuss the goals, create timelines and hold employees accountable with performance checks.
  3. Employee-team alignment. Simply put, the next step is taking everyone and their individual goals, and making sure they understand how they all relate to each other, and the company as a whole. Schedule frequent staff meetings and consider incorporating team goals on top of individual ones.
  4. Employee-organization alignment. Once again, this is the sole responsibility of owners and managers. Make sure that employees see how their goals and intentions directly affect (and align with) those of the company’s mission statement. Think big picture, company-wide goals here.

While this is just one example of how alignment can be attributed, the general idea remains the same. Much like a sports team, there are different relationships and goals that can be achieved, while the overall mission of the organization can still be maintained. Most steps of organization alignment can be accomplished through regular meetings and discussions and the clear directive of goals on the individual, team and company-wide level.

Tips to Being A Better Business Writer

business-writer

 

Writing is writing, no matter the scope. It is of vital importance that your written word (any and all of it) be carefully crafted, professionally presented and grammatically correct.

Let’s start small, yet ubiquitous- the email. Emails go out to clients, employees, investors, vendors, and potentials in all of these categories. For many of these situations, your email may be the initial point of contact, therefore playing the role of first impression.

We don’t need to reiterate the importance of a good first impression, so it makes sense that your emails should ALWAYS be spell-checked, grammatically reviewed and at their core, portray your business’s values, style and look.

Consider having a second pair of eyes on an email of great significance, it can’t hurt to be edited by a peer.

Emails should remain short and to the point- if further discussion is warranted, a phone call or in-person meeting may be necessary. Remember while writing that yours is potentially one of thousands ending up in an inbox. Craft your subject line with care.

With any and all forms of business writing, you could consider working up a brief outline before writing. Get the general ideas on paper, highlight their importance, structure them in an order that makes for fluid reading and then tackle the actual writing.

Cut, then cut down again. Often your first version will be juiced up with extra (likely unnecessary) words. Edit and then edit again, take a break between reads to return with a fresh outlook. Once again, turn to peers if possible.

Often business owners utilize buzzy words, industry jargon or farcified language to attempt to sound more knowledge. Just as often, these attempts do the opposite and highlight your lack of writing skills.

Sticks to what you know- keep in mind that you may eventually meet with the reader of your written works and would rather appear impressive, rather than a

disappointment.

Practice makes perfect, drafts are vital and reading your work out loud are always pretty commonly used tactics for writing improvement.

Another common mistake is the misuse of fact vs. opinion. Consider your audience and cater your message directly, concisely and with careful consideration of the difference between fact and opinion. This is most important when curating newsletter content, blogs and anything that will reach a wider and more diverse audience.

BLURB:

Crisis Management in three simple tips.

It’s inevitable- there will come a day where a small (or big!) crisis affects your business. Whether it be internal or external there are three things as the leader that you should remember: maintain a level head, draw up a step-by-step plan of action, and consider asking for help whenever possible- this is one of those times that delegation is vital.

You Can’t Please Everyone – How and When to Say NO

no-thanks

 

As much as it may go against the very nature of a strong entrepreneurial leader, saying no is as empowering as your first day of business, your first big sale or your biggest success to date.

The best part? While many of the milestones happen only once, the bold decision to say “NO” can happen (and should happen!) many times on your business journey.

But beware the enticing high of saying no- it’s not always the best way forward, as being a successful business owner is also very much centered around taking risks and being bold.

So how do you know when to say no?

The basic question itself is part of the described risk- you may get it wrong. There are, however, several specific situations in which you may want to rethink the ‘yes-man/woman’ attitude your fearless spirit has embraced.

One of the clearest areas to steer yourself away from while growing a business is special treatment. Whether in retail, customer service, or production there will always be a customer who asks for something additional, or outside of the realm of your usual service/product.

This is a slippery slope. At a time in which you have ample resources, an overflow of cash in hand and time that is simply not being utilized, sure! Go ahead and accommodate that request. Likelihood of that ever being the case? Slim to none.

While taking customer requests and building them into your future models, you may eventually benefit from these asks, but while building a small business, learn when to say no to a special request.

The next awkward but necessary time you may need to say no is when deciding not to take on a potential client or customer.

As a small business owner, you will come across these situations in likely three ways:

  1. Saying no to someone you know and like (think family or friend or colleague)
  2. Saying no to someone you know and don’t like
  3. Saying no to a referral

While handled delicately and probably differently, one business columnist suggests to always employ the “Thanks, but no thanks” strategy.

Always start with the positives, be clear about your reasons why not and be as honest as possible without crossing over to cruel or insensitive.

A good model for inspection when deciding if it’s a no-go is:

  1. Are you already at capacity?
  2. Does this match your mission statement/values/goals?
  3. Is it profitable? Is it marketable? Is it in your niche?

After you come to your decision, remember that a no should be bolstered by “I can’t” and should as often as possible be delivered in the form of “I don’t”.

The Top Business Trends in 2017 that Spells Success

2017-trends

 

Whether or not the end of the calendar year reflects the close of your fiscal year, December is still a great time to take a look at the past year, and prepare yourself for the year to come.

Looking into the future trends to give you a leg up moving into January. Be prepared to discuss the trends, how they may affect your business, and be open to discussion with your team members on the best path to moving forward in the upcoming year.
Here are a few hints towards what is to come in 2017!

  1. Mobile marketing to become central, no longer a suggested method. Remember that time we delicately pushed you into the world of web-centric marketing methods? Well mobile is having its year in 2017. Buy buttons, mobile apps and mobile-only social media sites will take the forefront next year, so start preparing for the shift or risk falling behind and losing customers.
  2. “Permission Marketing” will take the place of banner ads, pop-ups and the need to barrage your customers with uninvited digital marketing ploys. The phrase was coined by Seth Godin, author, entrepreneur and marketing guru, often found speaking at TED talks around the world. It’s just what it sounds like- marketing developed around the idea of a user designating permission. It’s targeted, its niche and its perfect for small business use.
  3. Not just the embracing of, but the incorporation and celebration of the millennial in the work place. As baby boomers begin the process of retirement, our work forces will be saturated by the younger crowd, and their ideas and instincts are key to the fluid transition between ‘old’ and ‘new’. Take a crash course in diverse work place considerations and be prepared for the uptick of the tech-savvy generation.
  4. Due to the above-mentioned surge of retirees that will highlight 2017, we can expect to see many businesses up for sale. As a small business owner, you may wonder how this will directly affect you. If you do your research you may be able to swoop up some competitors ready to leave their legacy in the hands of someone capable, buy into pieces of companies sectioning off for quick sale, or at least be in the know on the changes in your own industry.
  5. Holistic approaches to business management. These methods have been on the steady rise, but they are poised for a quiet transition to power in 2017. As your workplace dynamics change, you will need to be equipped for the utilization of many of these holistic, work-life-balance suggestions to keep your team happy. Get trained in management of remote workers, consult with a health and wellness advisor to ensure your work place is encouraging healthy habits, and be the center of the “love where you work” movement at your business. Competition will begin to ramp up as employers compete for employees by engaging these holistic methods.

    Remember that a time of transition is both exciting and scary. Be prepared and educated and these on-the-rise trends of 2017 will feel natural, well supported and seamless!

Secrets to Good Copywriting

Secrets to Good Copywriting

 

As small business owners, you utilize copy in many different ways. Whether in advertising or marketing, on websites or blogs, in emails, newsletters or brochures, your copy is a direct reflection of you as a business.

Good copy does three things:

  1.    Engages the reader,
  2. Speaks your message in an

intended voice and,

  1. Provokes a call to action.

Creating provocative messages in everything you scribe may seem intimidating, but there are a few tricks of the trade that you could utilize if having a full time copywriter on staff is not an option.

First and foremost, define your audience. Without a specific market in mind, you will not be able to cater your language to said audience, and you will be missing out on a marketable opportunity to “speak to their needs”.

Get inside their head, speak to what their needs are and use “you” whenever possible, avoiding “we”.

There are also two common acronyms employed by copywriters when developing content:

  1. AIDA- Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.
  1.      KISS- Keep it simple, stupid!

Professional copywriters spend a majority of their time crafting headlines. It is a common thought that a headlines has 3 seconds to engage the reader, and trying to pack a punch into what can effectively be read in 3 seconds is harder than it sounds.

Put careful thought into your headlines, once you have them on the hook, you have made the rest of your job easier.

Another strategy is to act as a reassuring voice- make promises and back them up. Without a solid feeling of trust, a consumer is likely to look elsewhere. Your voice should be one of reliability and comfort to the potential customer.

In terms of marketing copy, it is advisable to speak in the present tense, avoiding the passive voice, to best engage the reader. Need a brush up on simple grammar? Spend a few minutes researching online- there a many resources out there to assist.

Finally, be sure that you are defining and selling a unique proposition. Do your research on your competitors, avoid creating content that sounds stiff and worse, mimicked. The more original your voice and proposition, the more likely it is to catch a customer’s attention.

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Employee Feedback

Getting the Most Out of Employee Feedback

 

It is not complicated- successful small businesses breed a culture in which employees feel valued and comfortable speaking up. If they feel valued and comfortable voicing opinions, they are more likely to offer honest, useful and intelligent feedback.

That being said, all feedback will not necessarily be positive feedback, though as with any customer complaint, all feedback can be useful whether it be positive or negative.

So how can you get the most out of your employee feedback?

  1. Ditch the stereotypes. Suggestion boxes, surveys and comment cards may provide a level of comfortable anonymity though they work counterproductively when it comes to providing an open and honest environment. Your company culture should encourage employees to speak openly, without fear of resentment, or worse, punishment. If they cannot say it out loud, they do not feel comfortable, and this in itself is a problem.
  2. Identify coaches or representatives to be open to commentary. Select a respected and likeable employee to be open to feedback at all times, like a counselor or coach might be. As the boss, you may be intimidating to employees, they may feel more comfortable talking to a peer. You may collect more honest and useful feedback this way.
  3. Set the standard for valuable input, as opposed to input. Of course, being objective and fair means hearing out each and every opinion, but consequently some will be more weighted in importance then others. Establish boundaries by creating a specific scope to focus on certain areas. All feedback welcome, though all feedback may not be pertinent to your specific focus at that time. For example, feedback on the vending machine prices would not be suited to a conversation regarding teamwork and group project assessments.
  4. Ask the right questions. Much like above, the more specific you can be, the better. If you want the information to be useful you must have an idea of what it is you are looking for. Make your question goal-driven and actionable, this way you produce feedback that is also goal-driven and actionable.
  5. Don’t forget the follow up. Some call it “closing the loop”, no matter what it is called, it is an important step when it comes to effective feedback. Once you have gathered the information, made it applicable, made adaptations, changes or amended procedures based on said feedback, be sure to share the information with your employees, and thank them for their time and energy in providing you with effective feedback.

BLURB: Price is not the only way to compete!

When assessing competition, small business often gets dwarfed by the capabilities of the “big guys”. It is not always possible to offer competitive or matched prices, but that is not the only way to attract a customer. Be creative and come up with offers and packages that are equally attractive, regardless of price matching. Keep your customer satisfied- price won’t be the only factor!

Conquering Fear of Failure

Conquering Fear of Failure

 

Truth be told- fear can be immobilizing, crushing and can impact our decision-making at every level. Remember though, fear can also be highly motivating, inspirational and completely exhilarating when overcome.

Starting a small business carries fear at every step of the way- just getting the thing from conceptual to actualization can be mortifying. Fears are simple obstacles yet to be overcome, especially in business management.

There are many tools and tips and tricks of the trade that can minimize debilitating fears and help you to leap over the obstacles, footloose and fear-free!

Start with a strong foundation based on eloquent and in-depth research. Similar to the drilling down of a business plan, the more knowledge you can build up, the more prepared you will feel. Preparation and readiness limit fearfulness.

Never proceed without a back up plan. Yes, this may sound counterintuitive- aren’t you supposed to believe in yourself and your idea whole-heartedly and without doubt? Sure. But with a contingency plan.

Think of it as a safety net under a tight rope- you may not need it, but you will be damn happy in the event that you do fall!

As an entrepreneur, you should be ready to fail early and often. Its part of the job description- remind yourself of the ramifications of inaction whenever you feel fear or doubt weave their way in and concentrate on the limitations you would suffer if you didn’t push through. Use this as motivation to overcome the fear.

Going outside of your comfort zone is also a common arena for fear to breed. Overcome this by revamping goals so they feel more ‘in the zone’. Don’t drop them entirely, just modify them.

Many experts say that asking yourself these three questions in the face of perceived failure can help:

  1. What lessons did I learn from this?
  2. How can I grow from this situation?
  3. What are some positive things that came out of the situation?

Failure often feels incredibly personal- as if it was a reflection of who we are and whether we are “good enough”. Asking these questions can help to redirect the fear of failure in future, as you will learn to recognize these obstacles as learning and growth opportunities, rather than personal disappointments.

Is Thank you, Thanks Enough – Customer Rewards

Customer Rewards

 

In many ways, yes, a simple and genuine thank you can do the trick. But in what is being referred to as “The Thank You Economy”, experts are claiming that the power of a significant (and consistent) thank you can make or break a business.

In this case, it is authenticity that really makes the difference. It is easy to say it, but how do you show you mean it?

Creativity is your friend here- never skip the verbal thank you, but always try to implement a unique way of showing appreciation. This helps you stand out among competitors and allows you build upon customer loyalty.

Shy away from financial loyalty rewards whenever you can. They may seem like a great idea at inception, but the crux here is the possible perception that the monetary value doesn’t match the efforts made to remain a loyal customer. Too much personal speculation- steer clear.

Instead, try a small-personalized gift, reminding the customer that you are invested in them as a valued customer and a person with interests and hobbies. Capitalize on the sales small talk to gather information and remember to keep the gift light hearted and simple.

With so many social media outlets these days, endorsements, ‘likes’, ‘follows’, etc. are also a valuable form of thank you. If your customer runs a business consider how you could endorse them via their social media sites in return for their contributions to your own success.

While it could be a lot of time-consuming work there is always something to be said about the old-fashioned hand-written thank you note. Most people pass on this option because of the time commitment, but because of this, you could reap the benefits of being the only one doing so.

Other popular options include customer appreciation day, offering deep discounts for loyal customers or rewards club memberships, only offered to those who purchase over a certain dollar amount, or sign contracts for specific amounts of time.

Free shipping, online giveaways, raffles and ‘bonus dollars’ are also great methods of employing the ‘actions speak louder than words’ method.

Referrals are also another traditional (yet effective) strategy for saying thank you through action. Much like online endorsements, personal referrals and positive feedback can go a long way.

Remember to always strenuously thank your most difficult customers or those who have complaints. Going out of their way to express ways in which you could improve their experience is invaluable- make sure they know you think so!

Tips to Become a Better Negotiator

Negotiator

Negotiation means getting the best of your opponent.” –Marvin Gaye

We do it all day, every day at home, at work, in our heads – negotiating is an inherent part of our lives. So who wouldn’t want to become better at such an integral skill?

First off, let’s be clear. Negotiation does not equal confrontation. Many people prefer to avoid difficult or uncomfortable situations. However, negotiating is an art, not a fight tactic – it is nothing to be scared of when you are skillfully prepared!

1. Know What You Want From the Very Beginning

Never enter into a negotiation without knowing the exact outcome you desire. For example, homeowners list their for-sale houses at asking prices deliberately priced higher than they really want. This is a negotiation tactic – setting up the situation so that the buyer and seller must do a dance, with the seller’s odds of actually getting what they want already significantly higher. Then they can

employ various tactics to help ensure that they get it in the end.

2. Be Prepared – Don’t Be Sidetracked By Unpredicted Offers

Appropriately assessing your competition is vital. Much like knowing what you want; do your best to find out what they want in advance, so that you can predict their moves. The best chess players are always three moves ahead of their opponent mentally, predicting the opposition allows for appropriate retaliation. Avoid surprises!

3. Timing Is Everything!

Make the first move – it’s imperative. It gives you some standing ground, sets the stage for the opponent and allows you to guide the course of the negotiation. Set aside more time than you predict necessary, as haste weakens the outcome. Some experts say that the time of day and even day of the week can also affect a negotiation.

4. Active Listening.

When you are only talking, you are most definitely not listening. Active

listening means you are engaging with the speaker, giving them room to speak and following up with questions. It shows you were paying attention, respecting their time and boundaries. Never forget to use silence as a powerful tool as well!

5. Be bold, Be Fearless!

While you may have started the conversation “dropping anchor” and laying down your bottom line, do not be scared to be bold if the opportunity presents. Early assessment of risks and adversities will provide you with the tools necessary to be fearless!

 

Job Descriptions for Time Management

Feeling like there is never enough time in a day? This is common when you wear many hats as a business owner. Try writing out a job description to really nail down how you should be spending your time. What if you were to hire your own replacement, how would you accurately dictate their job responsibilities? Utilize this outside-look-in to reassess how you are scheduling your time and hopefully feel more focused.

Cracking the Code – How SEO Can Boost Your Business

SEO

With the global understanding that web-presence is no longer optional, small businesses everywhere are left to, once again, compete with the big boys and tackle the immense task of boosting search engine rankings.

Despite what feels like monumental efforts, are you still falling short of that number 1 Google ranking? We can help…

As many experts point out, this saturation of the web market, has allowed the big search engines (we will use Google for the purpose of this article) to drop organic results in favor of paying clients (i.e. the big boys!).

Despite paying or not, the factor that most determines Google’s rankings is in fact the “little blue links” found on websites.

Did you know that your votes are counted differently, whether the user is hitting www.yourwebsite.com, yourwebsite.com and https://www.yourwebsite.com? We recommend a redirect code (talk to your IT specialist) to make sure all votes are counted together.

Link backs are one of the most essential SEO tactics. Contact other business owners and offer to trade testimonials, linking back to one another’s pages. Any way that you can cross-reference each other is an additional way to boost your ranks.

When tackling an SEO operation, always know your competition. Find out who IS ranked number 1 (and numbers 2 through 10 while you’re at it!). Know their content like you know your own – they are obviously doing something right.

Want better rankings on Google? Utilize their suite of SEO-boosting tools: Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and Google+.

Considering a bigger investment into the SEO game? Include Pay per Click – it’s costly, but very effective. PPC, as it is known, is when advertisers pay the publisher, or website owner, when a user clicks through.

Think blogs – when you see an ad on a blog, it is likely those businesses are utilizing PPC, paying the blogger when a user clicks through to their own website. See? Effective, immediate, and yes, costly!

Know the basics when you implement an SEO strategy. Research keywords that relate to your industry, service, product, and/or business and remember that this includes phrases, not just words.

Optimize the entire user experience – load times, content relationships, design, keyword use and meta data. Also, optimize your categories – often times, you can apply 2-3 categories to your business; just make sure to choose wisely!