The Right Players For your Team

baseball-teamA business is a team effort. You have to have the right people, in the right jobs, for things to run well. Like a baseball team made up of only pitchers and hitters, it doesn’t matter how great of pitchers and hitters you have, who is catching, playing the bases and the outfield?  Do you have the right people working on your business? Really, think about it.

Many small businesses start with one person, or a small group of people, taking on whatever needs to be done. This can work, as long as you are aware of wheat your limitations are. If you have 5 people that all have the same strengths and weaknesses, who is going to fill in the gaps? If you are growth minded, or looking at longevity of your business, you need to either make a strong effort to learn the skills to fill in the gaps, or hire someone specifically to take on those roles.

When hiring a new person, or contracting with someone to outsource (accountant, lawyer, payroll, etc), the most important part is trust. You are putting a piece of your existence in their hands. Make sure that you trust who you are working with.  Make sure that they have the skills that you need. Take the time to get to know a new hire, to be sure that they will fit in well with the team that you have. Not everyone will fit into the unique puzzle that is your company. Be open-minded, too. Just because you don’t know how to do something, or find it difficult to learn, does not mean that another person finds it as difficult.  That’s why you are hiring, right? Because you can’t do everything.

Don’t be afraid to delegate. Yes, you can try to do everything, but that only will take you so far. Multi-tasking is good, but not at the expense of burning your energy so fast that you can’t keep up.

When hiring, don’t just slap up an ad on a free site, and hope for the best. Make a plan. What are you looking for them to do? Make a list of who is currently doing what, including yourself, and see what is falling through the cracks. What is really too much for your current team? Is having your payroll and money person also handling the calls, orders and sales too much? If you are out with customers all day, who is answering the calls, emails and doing the scheduling? Who is finding new business?

After you know what you are looking for, think about the type of person you want to hire. Are they the type of person that will be looking at free sites to find a job? What kind of things do you require? Certifications? Training? A degree? Places that do those types of training often have a job placement office, where they can help match qualified candidates with businesses.

Lastly, be thorough. If you hire the first person that walks through the door, what if the perfect person came through second, but you didn’t talk to them? Take the time to schedule several interviews. If you still think the first person was the best candidate, then by all means, call them right away. But don’t make a gut decision without weighing all of your options.

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Summertime, and business is …?

Dali-Persistence-of-TimeEvery business, every industry has high and low periods; times when you can hardly keep up, and times when you can hardly find something to do. Which are you in right now?

When business is booming, sometimes you can easily get overwhelmed. There are too many customers needing something from you, and not enough hours in the day to get it all done. Do you hire extra help, taking precious time away from serving your customers to train them? What will you do with the new staff once things slow down again?

When business is slow, you start looking at ways to cut expenses. Reduce staff, reduce hours, put off maintenance. Seems like it makes sense, right? After all, there is less money coming in, right?

What if I told you that you had it backwards?

When times are slow, that is the time you should be making plans for the busy season. You have time to breathe, think, look ahead. If you are only reactionary to your current demands, you’ll never be ahead of the game.

Training new staff takes time. When your slow, you have time to train them, and time for them to learn. Learning takes time, too.

Maintenance gets in the way of your productivity. The alternative is when something breaks, everything is forced to stop.  Upgrade your systems when you are using them the least, weather that be computers, machinery, HVAC systems, vehicles.  If you are not using everything, all of the time, it’s easier to plan when something will be out of use for a while.

Do you have dreams of growing your business? When things are slow, you have time to really look ahead, investigate your options and put plans into action. Plan for what your staff will be doing, what their roles will be, and if you need to hire new staff. Look at last year’s numbers, month by month. When were you busiest?

Advertising campaigns? Product promotions? Incentives? All of these need lead time to get the pieces in place. The best campaign is the coordinated one. A campaign that is hastily thrown together has less of an impact on it’s audience than one that is targeted and planned.

Use your down time to your advantage. Slow periods are not something to be endured.Consider it an opportunity to invest in your business

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Crisis of Confidence

project-confidenceTaking another direction in this article, I’m referencing a bit of history. On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave a speech. Looking at the things that were happening in society, the economy, and people’s outlooks at the time, it was not that different than it is now. There were financial hardships, there were people struggling to stay afloat, businesses wondering if they could remain open.  Apathy was the enemy.

From the speech:

“The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next 5 years will be worse than the past 5 years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.”

That excerpt , and really most of the speech, could just as easily be from current day. It applies to all of us.  How would you respond? Would you allow the anxiety of uncertainty influence your business decisions, or forge ahead, throwing caution to the wind? Business-wise, the best approach is really a middle of the road, calculated but focused strategy. President Carter’s response was to listen to the people, find out what they were thinking, and then respond positively to encourage people to move forward. That was a sound move for the time, but it is also a timeless move.

You can use the same approach, by talking to your customers. Ask them to be open, honest and frank about what they like, don’t like, what they think you can do better, and what changes they would like to see. Just from listening to your customers, you can gain a lot of insight. That insight is worth more than just the time involved in having a face to face conversation, or reading a written response. If can be your map for future success.

President Carter  then laid out a plan for moving forward. Using a multi-point approach, he distilled all of the thoughts and suggestions he collected from listening to people, to goals for moving in the right direction. He was focused on the energy crisis. You should focus on whatever you see as your most pressing threat to continuing or growing your business.  Start with these 3 points, then expand.

Point 1: I am setting a clear goal for …

Point 2: To ensure that we meet these targets, I will …

Point 3:  To assure that goal’s success for the future, I am …

Start your own plan, using these starting points. Plans can always be changed as the needs change, but if you don’t have a plan, getting moving in the right direction is much harder.

For a transcript of President Carter’s full speech, “Crisis of Confidence”, from July 15, 1979, go to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

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Are You Being Vague

magnifying-glassAre you too general in your business? Do you do some undescribed “work”? Does your store sell non descriptive “stuff”? Does your restaurant sell “food”? Do you provide some kind of general “service”? Probably not. You probably do very specific things, sell very specific products, prepare very specific food, and provide very detailed service, right? Do you tell your customers that? Do you project an image, with a level of specificity, that they can have confidence in?

You may have heard a philosophy that you shouldn’t be too specific about what you do, because it might intimidate the customer, or they might not understand what that means. Perhaps being specific might exclude some customers, because they don’t know the difference?  That translates a lot to how you view your customer, and it’s not good.

The business of being in business is vast. There are many angles, theories, motives and goals, but all businesses need one thing: Customers. Customers won’t go to a place that they think either doesn’t know what they are doing, or thinks that the customer doesn’t know what they are doing.

Have I lost you yet? Let’s try a different angle. Think about your industry. Ok. What sector of that industry do you fit in? Do you fit in multiple sectors? Are you large or small? Do you have special training or certifications? Are you a specialist at anything?

For example, if you are a mechanic, what kinds of machines do you work on? Heavy equipment, commercial vehicles, passenger vehicles, motorcycles, lawn mowers? All these categories fall under mechanics. Do you have a fast turn-around environment, or are you more of a fine toothed comb when working? Do you have service at your customer’s location, or do they come to you? Can you service fleets, or only individuals? Do you service alternative fuel or hybrid engines?  Do you provide bumper to bumper repairs, bodywork, glass, wheels, or do you only focus on the engine? Do you work on modern vehicles, antiques, domestic or import? Do you have special training on certain systems? Where is your focus?

If you can put on paper (really, your website, signs, advertisement, business cards, promotional items, and anything else that can project your image), exactly what you do (and don’t do), then the right customers will come back to you. Ok, so if you are that mechanic, the construction fleet won’t ask you to fix their bobcat. But, that’s ok, because you work on motorcycles, and the local sherrif’s office might give you some emergency business, on a weekend when their ship is closed, or when Rolling Thunder is passing through the area. If you’re good, and you treat them well, the word will get around that you know your stuff, are reliable, and can be trusted.

To get the right customers, be specific about your business.

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Let the experts do their jobs.

building_contractors_arguing-TEXTEveryone is an expert in something, but some people think they are experts in everything. Even to the point of telling other people, specialists in their field, how to do their job. Have you been on the receiving end or giving end of an exchange like this?

I know people that are constantly frustrated by their customers, because the customers won’t let them do their jobs. Why? Because the customer tells them that they are wrong, doing it wrong, or get in the way and tell them to do it their way, instead. Think about it. The customer is paying good money, to stop the work they want done. Of course, the customer doesn’t see it that way. They see it as being helpful, and protecting their item from being damaged or broken. They don’t even realize that they are doing more harm than good, by interfering. They don’t even know that they are interfering.

You know how annoying that can be, right? Say you are a plumber, and a customer calls you to fix a leaky faucet. You quickly diagnose that it’s a valve problem and the faucet needs to be replaced. In the process, you also find out that the shut-off valve is broken, so you can’t turn off the water to the sink, to replace the faucet. You go to the main shut off for the house, so you don’t flood them out. The customer is arguing that the problem isn’t in the main valve of the house, it’s the sink. You try to explain that the sink shut off is broken, and they argue that the problem isn’t any shut-off, it’s the faucet. Every step of the way, they are telling you how to do your job, or arguing with you about it.

Would you tell your surgeon how to remove your appendix, or demand to assist in the operating room when your spouse has surgery? Of course not! You don’t have that kind of knowledge and training. You know that you’d be in the way, and you wouldn’t want to risk causing the surgeon to lose concentration during surgery. You know that is when mistakes can happen, and you wouldn’t want to be the cause of that.

Do you do that to your vendors?

If you hire a graphics person to re-design your logo and print image, everything from signage to letterhead and invoices, do you give them your ideas and let them design some options, or do you call them with 10 changes before they give you the first set of proofs to review?

If you have a tech support person come fix your computer, because it won’t work on your necessary files, or connect with your printer, do you get in the way? Do you tell the tech person that he’s fixing it wrong and argue with them that you know what needs to be done, it just won’t do it? Think about it… If you really knew how to fix it, would you have called them? If what you did didn’t work, was that really what needed to be done? What you are doing is stopping the real work from being done to get your business up and running.

If you have company vehicles that need maintenance, do you tell the mechanic that the grinding noise can’t possibly be from the wheels, because you feel it in the steering? That the part can’t be broken, because you happen to know someone who told you differently a while back?

Many businesses have no entry policies in work areas for this and other safety reasons. If the customer gets in the way, not only does it take longer, cause more frustration, and possibly keeps the right thing from being done at all, it’s a safety hazard around equipment in some instances.

I know of a handyman that charges extra for involving the customer in the project. He is patient, explains everything, lets the customer help, and teaches them the knowledge so that they understand the process. This takes considerably more time than just doing the job, but his customers love him. He teaches them. He charges for teaching them about his trade. He will also do any job at a regular rate, but he is very clear about boundaries to get the job done, and warns them when they are getting in the way, by offering to change the rate so that they can be involved in the work.

Sometimes, you have to have firm boundaries and policies in place, to get the work done. That goes both ways. When you are the customer, respect the other business and let them do their job. Know your limits, and respect the service of others. Who knows, If you are a good customer, they might even refer business to you, just because you were good to work with. Attitude may not be everything, but it can certainly make a difference!

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Are You Giving Away Business to Your Competition?

bnr-find-your-local-distributorIf your customer had a question, or wanted more information about a product or service that you sell, how do you get that information to them? Do you send them to your competitor across the street, because they have a manual on file for your customer to look at? Do you tell them to call another business to find the information? That is exactly what you are doing if you link to a distributors site, or a competitors site, for basic information. Where is it on your website?

To be more specific, here are some common examples of what I mean:

  • If you are in the carpet business, and you carry certain brands, is the information and specifics of what you carry on your site, or do you link to the brand site?
  • If you are in the heating business, and you carry certain high efficiency systems, do you link to the manufacturer site or the Energy Star site?

From the brand or manufacturer website, customers (your potential customers) can select to find a distributor or local seller (that’s not you!).  Just because your potential customer found you first, doesn’t mean that they will return to you for the sale, when the product is available elsewhere. You are literally sending your customers to your competitors.

The information that you have on your website should be comprehensive and answer all of your customers questions. Yes, getting all of the information together takes time. Yes, adding to your site takes time. Yes, responding to customers questions takes time. The alternative is that you will have a lot of free time, because you have no customers.

Take the time to make sure that your content is there, it is accurate, and is accessible. Make sure that the information is organized, proofread and easy to find on your site. Even if the information is there, if customers can’t find it, it might as well be invisible.

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Google’s New Search Carousel

Google PlacesToday, Google rolled out one of its new features to a very small group of desktops. It’s only in testing, and only in the US. This could affect search results and how customers search for and find you.

Here are some reviews by some tech-savvy guys, regarding the difference between the old and new results, layouts, and problems it both solves and creates in the process.

New Layout for Local Searches in Google, by Greg Gifford: http://blog.autorevo.com/2013/06/new-local-search-layout/

Google’s ‘Local Carousel’ Comes to PC with Mixed Results, by Greg Sterling: http://screenwerk.com/2013/06/20/googles-local-carousel-comes-to-pc-with-mixed-results/

As this platform rolls out, and it becomes more widely available, rest assured, we will find the right way to present your listings.

GL-carousel

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Providing the Basics: Why You Need a Signature File

writing-pen-on-paper-crosshatchAre you good at getting your name out there? Do you respond promptly to e-mail and hand your business card out as part of your standard handshake to greet people? What about your contact information or website address? Is it written on every electronic handshake, too?

What is a signature file? A signature file is a few lines of text that is added to the end of every e-mail you send, from a specific email address, automatically. It is set up by the account holder (you), and can contain any information that you want to put there. As a business, you should be using this.

Making sure that your customers have all of your information can alleviate some simple questions that they may call or email you to ask, such as “Where are you located?” or “What is your mailing address?” Questions like “What products do you carry?” can take up a lot of time, and often, a phone call is a short substitute for  good  written information, facts and pictures in front of them.  Your time is valuable, and so is your customer’s.  After they know the basics about your products or services, that is when the phone call would be most productive, when they have follow-up questions. Many customers like to do pre-research before calling you with specifics. Make it easier for them to find out what they are looking for by giving them the resources and information about you.

Setting up a signature file on your email can seem confusing if you have never done it before, but once it’s done, you don’t have to think about it. You should include your name and official title, phone number, company address and website. If you have a slogan, or business philosophy that you want all of your customers to see, put it on there, too, but don’t make it too long. Keep it short and sweet: “We love our customers” or “Quality, done right” are good. Once your e-mail signature file is set up, your business contact information, including your website, will always be at the bottom of your e-mail.

If your website isn’t also listed on your register receipts, it should be. The same goes for business stationary, business cards, and invoices, too. Anything that your customer sees from you should have the same, complete information on it. A standard, unifying look projects more professional image.

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You’re only as Strong as your Broken or Missing links

broken link copyWhen you go to a website, looking for information, you expect to find at least some basics about the business. What they do, their philosophy, their owners or staff, contact information, maybe some pictures, reviews or examples of their work. That’s the basic expectations most people have. As long as the information is readable and accessible, these expectations are easily met. What about when it’s just not there?

I’m not talking about pages or links that were never created. I’m referring to links that go nowhere. The dreaded “404: File Not Found” or when being sent to another website, the receiving site has no idea what you are looking for. For Facebook, the message is “Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.

Linking to outside sites can be very helpful. Expert articles, reference resources and guides are great tools for your customers. Creating more traffic to your Facebook page can increase your visibility and customer base. The problem comes when, for one reason or another, the link is broken. It’s a dead end. This will frustrate customers, and even make them reconsider using your business.

You have a responsibility to yourself, your business and your customers to make sure that everything on your website is functioning the way you want it to be. If you have a link to your Facebook page, make sure that is where it goes; your Facebook page. If you have links to outside resources, check them every now and then to make sure that the pages and entire websites are still there. Sometimes the page has moved on the same website (redesigns, indexing, updates all can cause this). Sometimes, the website has completely shut down or the business has changed URLs.

Make a date with your website once a month, and mark it on your calendar. Click through every link on your site to make sure that it goes where it is supposed to, that the forms for contacting you are sent to the right place, and there are no error messages that might frustrate customers. If you are too busy, there are websites and software programs that will even do this for you. Either way, make sure that you do it. If you find something wrong, a broken link or missing page, fix it immediately. It’s like any other repair: the longer you let it go, the more damage it can cause.

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Language and Image: The Power of Words

dictionary-communicationDoes it really matter if you misspell a word here and there? What about using a word that sounds the same? It’s an easy mistake to make. Customers will be forgiving, right? Wrong.

Language is a great tool for getting your message across and presenting the professional and respectable image that you want your business to be recognized as. If a customer sees that you can’t be bothered with something as important as good communication in a business transaction or marketing, they might think that you aren’t paying attention to the details elsewhere, too, like when you are working with them. Potential customers will read a poorly worded or misspelled message and immediately look elsewhere. First impressions mean a lot when you are looking for someone to provide a service.

Here are some basic rules for written (and online) communication that every business should follow.

  • Use spellcheck. – If you aren’t confident in your spelling skills, or can’t figure out how to spell something correctly, use a word processing application to write and check your text before entering it into an email or social media space. Also when in doubt, don’t use contractions. “We do not accept checks” is much more clear and direct than “we don’t accept checks“, but either of those are usable, whereas “we do’nt accept checks” is not. If you don’t know where to put that apostrophe, don’t contract the words.
  • Use correct grammar. –  “we was there“, “gonna git’er done right“, “what that matter you?” If you were talking to a business, would you trust that someone who spoke like that actually knew what they were doing? The image you are portraying is that you do not know how to communicate, and do not have the basic education or skills to properly attend to the job or the customer.
  • Don’t talk to your customers like they were your bar buddies. – Business communication is much more formal than spoken communication. You might say “Man, that was killer!” to a familiar friend, but never write it to a customer. “We were all very pleased with that” would be much more appropriate.
  • Don’t use the wrong word. – Just because the word is spelled correctly, doesn’t mean it is the right word. Simple sounding swaps of words can make your wording incomprehensible. “They’re going to their house, over there.” is an example of 3 frequently misused and wrongly substituted words. The same goes for “Our friends are at home“.
  • NEVER use texting shorthand! – “We <3 r custmrs!” will drive away many customers, because they can not take you seriously. Even in social media, use real words, in their entirety. If what you want to say is too long, simplify the message, or use the appropriate platform for a longer message. If you are trying to communicate that you are running late, “I m otw 2 ur hse. sry 4 bn l8.” will make some customers lock their doors and pretend that they are not home, just to avoid having to deal with you.
  • Draft, Edit, proofread, repeat. – If you can’t take the time to use language, hire someone to do it. All great writers, ad agencies and teachers will tell you that the first thing you put on paper is usually never the final form. It’s an idea, a thought. the final masterpiece takes time, thought and consideration. If you rush through, you get results that look haphazard.

Think carefully before you send, post, publish or submit. Your business image depends on it.

 

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