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Cyber Crime.pngMany small business owners are already well versed in writing and managing a blog. Others are just getting started. No matter your level of experience, it’s important to remember blogs can be more informal than traditional business correspondence.  Here are some key guidelines to writing a blog post:


 

Be concise. Once you’ve written your first draft, start cutting words.  After you’re done, continue to edit your post.  Eliminate extra adjectives or explanatory clauses.  Blogs are often as short as 250 words, and they should rarely be more than 700 words. Most readers will skip an article that long.


 

Use keywords in your post. One of the most important aspects of your blog post is the headline –it should contain some key search terms that your customers may enter into a web browser. And, without a doubt, it should have something to do with the content that follows. You should also include key search terms throughout the post. Questions, or intriguing statements, can also be very effective in attracting readers.


 

Subsequent paragraphs should only be three or four sentences. Use subheads and photographs to break up the text.


 

Write like you speak. The voice you use within your blog should be similar to the way you speak.  You’re trying to engage your audience, so there’s no reason you can’t be lighthearted and creative in your topic, just as you would be in person or on the phone. Avoid copying another well-known blogger.


Pull Quote.pngBe courageous in the opinions you state. Don’t use “I think” or “it might be true” or “one could argue.” Such phrases are not powerful and lack authority. Take a stand and support your argument. Don’t be afraid to shake things up a little.


 

Stay engaged with your readers. Finally, your writing responsibilities do not end once you post your blog, pay careful attention to the “comments" section.  Communicate openly with your readers, to encourage dialogue.  Bee receptive to any feedback they may provide.

 

 

At the end of the day, a well-written, engaging blog will keep your readers coming back.  And readers can easily turn into customers. Share your thoughts and best practices on blogging with the SBOC community below.


White-in article interns image.pngAccording to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), nearly 50% of employers would like to see an internship on a student’s resume. Following up on a previous article about identifying an intern for your small business, here are some guidelines on how to manage interns once you’ve brought them on board.

 

 

If you’ve found an intern who has some background in your industry, there’s no reason to pigeonhole them into the most obvious position based on their work or college experience. For example, if the intern is a marketing major, you might want to give them some exposure to operations. Or, if the intern is a writer who works best independently, it could be educational to have them participate in meetings and brainstorming sessions. Either way, try to give your interns a variety of experiences.


 

Whether the intern is working in or out of his or her comfort zone, it’s important to allot enough time to train and advise them. In fact, assigning a point person or a mentor can strengthen your intern’s first professional experience. To further enrich the internship, spend some time planning projects for the interns before they come on board, rather than throwing ad hoc assignments at them.


 

When it comes to aspects of your business related to social media, you may find that your interns bring fresh insights that you may not have considered.  Many young people are well versed in the subtleties of social networks ranging from mainstream outlets like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to lesser-known ones such as Pinterest and Tumblr. Some Internet-savvy interns may even be able to take it a step farther and handle tasks such as writing for your company blog or e-newsletter.


 

You might also want to consider creating a special project for the intern, such as a marketing campaign for a new service or a rollout plan for a new product. If you have any pro bono clients, assigning interns to spearhead the project can give them valuable leadership skills and more “real world” experience.


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Finally, don’t feel like you have to reinvent your internship program year after year. You can have current interns play a role in training new ones, either by writing up guidelines, videotaping a procedure or contributing to an intern manual. Also, ask for feedback on the intern program during and at the conclusion of their time with your company.


 

Fortunately, as a small business owner, you may be better equipped to manage interns than a large company would be. Your agility can allow you to offer your interns a wide variety of experiences while also providing more guidance and structure in comparison in a larger company. What types of programs/work do you typically assign interns? Share your recommendations with the SBOC community below.


Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngSmall business and sales go hand in hand. Indeed, it is impossible to be a small business owner without learning a thing or two about sales in the process. But that said, it doesn’t always follow that making sales comes easy, because for some people it most certainly does not.


 

The good news is that sales is one of those things that, even if it doesn’t come naturally, can be learned with a bit of effort. This is especially true for those all-important presentations. Small business folks make sales presentations all of the time, whether it is a pitch to a prospective client, a sales call, a speech, or a PowerPoint and/or Prezi presentation with all the bells and whistles, all of which begs the question:


 

Are there secrets to giving a great sales presentation?


 

You bet. This is something I study a lot – not only is giving speeches one of my own profit centers but in my line of work I am fortunate enough to get to meet and interview some of the top speakers and presenters out there.


 

Here are some top tips from the pros:


 

Peter Handal is the president, CEO and chairman of Dale Carnegie Training. You probably have heard the name Dale Carnegie from the bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People (over five million copies sold!). Carnegie was one of the best public speakers ever and today the company that carries his name trains millions of people across the globe.  According to Handal, there are several things that go into making a great presentation:


 

  • Get to the Point: “Right from the start, state your main points in a direct way in order to best express your message.”
  • Be Confident: “Whether presenting a proposal or speech, by simply being confident in your convictions you can ensure to make a positive impact on your audience,” he told me. (And I will add, if you lack confidence, fake it till you make it).
  • Listen: “In order to become a great public speaker, one half of the battle is talking while the other half is being a good listener.”
  • Know Your Audience: “When giving a speech, I always wander around the audience before a talk, or do research on them before I present, so that I know who they are and what they’re interested in.”
  • Be Overly Prepared: “By doing your research and knowing the audience’s expectations, you will always be prepared to answer any questions they may have.”

 

 

And finally, here is a Carnegie tip that is worth its weight in gold: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

 

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.

 

 

One of the best presenters I have ever met is super nice guy Tony Little. If you have ever been surfing TV at night and come across a pony-tailed, highly-enthusiastic man selling exercise equipment, that is Tony Little. How good is he? Little’s infomercials and stints on HSN have generated over $3 billion in sales (yes, that’s with a B.) So when he speaks about how to make a good presentation, we should listen.

 

 

Here is what he says:  “Enthusiasm sells!” By watching Little on TV, you know he lives by this advice. He’s highly enthusiastic, and while that is of course a big part of his personality, Little says it is also a big part of his success. He suggests that being highly enthusiastic is infectious and that it infuses people with the confidence to buy from you.

 

 

Another one of the top presenters of our time was the late, great Steve Jobs. Jobs did all sorts of things well, and one of those was making presentations. In fact, one of the best books you can pick up on this subject is The

 

Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. It is chock-full of all sorts of good ideas, but two in particular warrant your attention right now:

 

  • Don’t stuff your deck with words: A Jobs keynote was conspicuous by the lack of words and bullet points in his PowerPoint presentations. What you saw instead where pictures, and even then, just a few. This forced people to pay attention to what he said and not be reading the slide.
  • Keep them in suspense: Jobs would always tease the audience and then say, “just one more thing” and then make the big pitch. Remember, a great presentation, like a great story, has a beginning, middle and end.

 

 

Which brings me to,

 

 

Tony Robbins. Somehow, some way, I ended up at a Tony Robbins event in the mid-80’s. At that event, he made me believe that I could walk on hot coals. And I did. To this day, I still don’t know how that happened.

But what I do know is that Robbins is a gifted presenter and salesman. Robbins says that a key ingredient to any great sales pitch is the story. “People love to hear stories,” he says, and if the story has a point relevant to the point you are trying to make, they will hang on your every word to hear the outcome.

 

 

And after that, they will end up buying from you (or maybe walking on 20 feet of burning embers) but either way, you will have made a great impression.

 

 

What your secrets to a successful presentation? Share them with the SBOC community below.

 


 

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

 

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

 


Small Business Owner.pngCompare these two definitions of “brainstorming”:

 

Merriam Webster defines brainstorming as a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group.

 

By contrast, the Oxford Dictionary defines brainstorming as a moment in which one is suddenly unable to think clearly or act sensibly.

 

Note the difference. While brainstorming can spark innovative business ideas or solutions – that does not always happen. In some cases, a group setting can make employees feel intimated or hesitant to share their thoughts with their colleagues. In other cases, employees may view these group think tanks as boring and a waste of time.

 

Regardless of how you view brainstorms, here are some common reasons they fail

 

  • The facilitator leading the session is unable to foster a positive, energetic atmosphere.
  • Participants spend more time trying to one-up each other than building on each other’s ideas.
  • The meeting organizer has not laid the (important) ground rule that criticism and negative commentary on others’ ideas should be banned.
  • Employees feel compelled to talk even when they do not have any contributions to make.
  • The person leading the meeting is intent with participants agreeing with his or her ideas rather than coming up with their own.

 

So how do you get a brainstorm to work? Here are some simple steps:

 

  • Prior to the session, send out an invitation stating the focus of the brainstorm, usually including more information is better so that participants can prepare in advance.
  • Invite a diverse group, such as a mix of junior and senior staff; people from multiple disciplines with a common concern; and, perhaps, a “wild card” – someone who can add a fresh, unbiased perspective, preferably somebody who is a lower-level employee or even an intern.
  • Remember that the main goal of a brainstorming session is to generate as many ideas as possible. Better yet, have the brainstorm facilitator keep the momentum going by pushing for more ideas, similar to the way an auctioneer would push for a higher bid.
  • Getting a large number of ideas requires that the leader keep up the pace and actively push people to share their ideas without self- or group-imposed censorship.
  • Don’t be afraid of occasional silence – especially when brainstorming with a smaller group. If people spend part of the meeting gathering their ideas and providing thoughtful suggestions, you may end up with more sophisticated ideas.
  • If you are able to choose an idea to pursue by the end of the meeting, assign someone to spearhead the effort and schedule a follow-up meeting.

 

In addition to what’s listed above, there are also more sophisticated approaches to brainstorming that might be useful for your small business. These include:

 

  • Brainwriting” involves employees building on each other’s ideas. One way to implement it is to have group members write their ideas on paper and then exchange their lists with others on the team for idea expansion. Another possibility is to create a bulletin board – on a wall or online – where a basic topic is posted and participants can add suggestions and comment on each other’s posts.
  • Add a “what if” scenario to your problem-solving session, for example, what if a new competitor entered our market; what if we lost a key member of our leadership team; what if we no longer had our main revenue driver, etc.?  Thinking this way may allow you to look at your company in a new light.
  • Solo brainstorming is often used in companies with a culture that encourages brainstorming on a daily basis.  A person can write one idea each day on an index card and, at the end of the month, shuffle them around and combine ideas.

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When done right, brainstorming can be applied to any number of issues a company encounters, including – saving money, increasing profits, inventing innovative new products and services, creating marketing campaigns, retaining staff and more. However, if you want employees to continue to be enthusiastic about participating in this process, be sure that you are committed to putting some of the ideas into action. This way, they know they are making meaningful contributions to your company.

Women Business Owners.pngBroadly speaking, business coaches provide expert guidance and advice to help businesses and employees achieve their goals, but there are many types of coaches who have specific areas of expertise, ranging from small business coaches to executive coaches to career coaches to work-life balance coaches. For business-specific coaches, there is an exclusive 1,000 member Worldwide Association of Business Coaches that has set certification standards and exists solely for business-related coaching. If you’re considering hiring a coach for your small business, the first thing you need to ask yourself is who within your organization should be coached? Is it your sales team, a high-impact senior executive, or even yourself? To help determine this, check out the three different types of executive coaching options below:

 

Sales Team

Sales coaching typically focuses on communication style and goal setting for people in sales roles. This type of coaching can also focus on maximizing contact management tools, creating attention getting sales presentations, evaluating potential markets and understanding team dynamics. Further, companies that provide coaching to less experienced salespeople can expect to see an average of a 17 percent increase in sales revenue and productivity, according to a study from the Sales Executive Council (SEC).

 

Senior Managers

Senior managers may need a boost in areas such as leadership skills, strategic planning, marketing and career pathing. When determining which senior managers need to be coached, small business owners may first want to assess which key employees are most receptive to the idea. In fact, an AON consulting survey showed that 58 percent of all organizations feel they are faced with leadership shortages.

 

The Boss

As a business owner, you may consider yourself the unofficial coach of the office. While this may be true, it doesn’t mean you can necessarily be objective about yourself. An executive coach can be a refreshing alternative to employees providing reviews on their boss, especially if they feel they need to soft-pedal constructive feedback. By contrast, a coach knows he or she has been hired to tell you the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

For example, you may be a micromanager who gets so caught up in the smallest daily details that you’ve lost sight of the big picture. A coach can help by providing advanced time management skills and analyzing your delegation alternatives. Or, perhaps your goals are grandiose, like spinning off your expertise into a book or a television show. A coach can help you create a step-by-step strategic plan to achieve these goals.

 

As the owner of your small business, you may be very aware of your strengths but not your weaknesses. Working with a coach may help you maximize your strengths and get some balance into your life so that you’re always able to maximize your time and energy spent on running your small business.

 

Pull Quote.pngFinding a coach

If you decide to look into using into a business coach, bear in mind that a coach’s knowledge of organizational behavior and management may be more important than specialized expertise in your industry. In fact, coaching experience in a diverse variety of industries, company sizes and markets may be ideal. He or she will be able to share best practices that are applicable to your company and industry. You should look for a coach with certification in specific assessment tools and knowledge of executive job functions.

 

Coaches’ billing rates may vary, according to a Harvard Business Review report, executives coaches charge $200 to $3,500 per hour for their services. You should expect a typical engagement to last six months to several years and have weekly or biweekly meetings.

 

Whether you’re seeking to increase sales, groom managers for company leadership or refine your own vision for the company, coaches can do more than give you a few pointers. They can help you devise and execute a winning strategy for your company’s future. Have you ever used an executive coach? How was your experience? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.

sectors of success.pngWhether it is having your Starbucks Frappuccino redone because your order was wrong the first time or the convenience of free shipping and returns at Zappos.com, good customer service is the lifeblood of any business and something consumers never forget. Unfortunately, the same is also true for bad service. In fact, it takes 12 positive service experiences to make up for one negative experience. Moreover, research has shown that a dissatisfied consumer will tell between nine and 15 people about their experience. Thanks to technology and an increase in social media use, consumers are able to voice their opinions faster and easier than ever. By using sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp, consumers can reach thousands of people in nanoseconds.

 

Ironically, while companies often invest heavily in attracting new customers, they usually don’t do nearly as much to keep them. According to a Customer Experience Impact Report from Harris Interactive, 82 % of consumers quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience

 

On the other hand, companies that get customer service right are rewarded with bottom-line building loyalty, positive word-of-mouth (likely the most powerful form of advertising in today’s age of social influence) and even the opportunity to charge a premium. The Harris Customer Experience report also that found that 85% of customers would be willing to pay more over the standard price in order to ensure a superior customer experience.

 

For small businesses, delivering great service poses a unique challenge. Consumers may expect a more personal approach. However, while the flexibility to treat customers as individuals, make concessions and resolve issues quickly can be a valuable differentiator, small businesses could be disadvantaged by limited resources for customer relationship management, such as CRM technologies and perks, like free shipping, used by bigger organizations to enhance service delivery.

 

Five Cardinal Sins of Customer Service

 

While there are many nuances to great service and every industry has different expectations, it is a sure bet that any of the transgressions below, especially if repeated, can sabotage your effort to make and market great products.

 

  • Check your mood at the door - No one is immune from stress. However, personal problems and good service do not mix. You and your employees should maintain a polite, friendly, helpful and positive disposition at all times. This means employees (and you) should never complain about their jobs and always remember to say please and thank you – even to difficult customers. Equally important, make sure that you and your staff have intimate knowledge of all your products and services, including options to modify or substitute if the exact item or service the customer is looking for is not available.
  • Silence is not golden - One common complaint about large companies is that they do not respond quickly or at all – to customer emails. You should do your best to set and keep a time goal for responding to customer inquiries, comments, or orders. Keep your inbox open all day and make sure it is synched to your smartphone. Also consider using Twitter and Facebook as alternative means to be accessible, share information and address customer concerns.
  • Don’t sell, solve – Helping a customer meet a specific need rather than just making your own registers ring is the cornerstone of an authentic customer service mindset. For example, if someone comes into your store to buy a birthday gift, ask questions about the recipient and budget that will help you tailor your recommendations, rather than just proposing generic ideas. Shifting the mentality from selling to solving eliminates pressure, makes the customer feel you have a genuine interest in them and translates into a positive, rewarding experience and repeat visits.
  • More jargon than they bargain for – Customers want to build relationships with authentic brands they can trust. Excessive and confusing marketing mumbo jumbo is a turnoff that can work against its intended purpose. Instead seek ways to add value to content on your site, blog, Facebook page – e.g., offer tips on relevant topics, share appropriate articles, etc.
  • Staying wrong and strong To err is human, to recover is good service. Mistakes happen, but what can make or break a business is what happens next. Sticking to your guns and not taking responsibility for an error will just escalate anger and make the situation worse. If your customers see you making an honest effort to rectify the situation rather than being defensive or offering boilerplate apologies, they are less likely to take their business elsewhere.

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How do you offer good customer service? What are some of your best practices and lessons learned? Share your experiences with the SBOC community below.

delegation.pngWorkplace culture can be broadly defined as how employees describe their working environment. While some cultures will be defined naturally based on a small business owner’s leadership style or industry type, a lot of it will also be determined by the employees you hire and the office tone that management sets. How you implement your unique small business culture in day-to-day operations can help to attract and retain talent while ultimately contributing to your business’ success.  Here are some characteristics of seven types of company culture.  

 

  • Appreciative Culture: While employees value bonuses and promotions in recognition of a job well done, there is more to creating a culture of appreciation. Studies have shown that employees prefer an in-person “thank you” or a positive report delivered to senior management. While it may feel awkward at first, research indicates this kind of approach motivates employees to repeat good performance and correct workplace issues when they arise.
  • Customer Service Culture: Companies that embrace a culture dedicated to top-notch customer service recognize that meeting customers’ needs is a responsibility that extends beyond the customer service department. All employees should be aware that they are expected to put the customers first always and that office policies are designed to be customer friendly. Employees should also recognize that senior management is measuring service quality and customer feedback on a regular basis.
  • Family Business Culture: Family businesses are often multi-generational and, therefore, have long-established norms, processes and rituals. On the plus side, they are known for mentoring and cultivating employees’ career growth over the long haul.  On the downside, due to a family-like environment, employers may be more hesitant to let underperforming employees go.  Keeping these types of employees around could have a negative impact on work output and office morale.
  • Innovative Culture: Innovative companies tend to be fast moving and often encourage employees at all levels of the organization to take risks. Such companies seem to be guided by research, such as a Harvard University study, that says there is a direct correlation between an employee’s autonomy and their creative output. Senior managers in this type of culture need to be wary of burnout, making it even more important to communicate regularly with staff.
  • Merging Cultures: When two companies merge, it is crucial to pay attention to combining two distinct cultures. In fact, ignoring the issue can not only have a negative impact on employee morale, but can ultimately undo the partnership.  While in some cases the dominant culture prevails, it is best for merging companies to build a new culture based on shared values, processes and philosophies.
  • Trust-Based Culture: While trust is arguably important in any business setting, there are companies that actively seek to foster this type of environment. These companies are built on solid relationships between and among management and employees, as well as with customers. Additionally, they are committed to an open-door policy and transparency in their transactions and agendas.

 

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While there are many types of company culture, it should feel natural. Determining and creating a unique small business culture will take time and effort, but it could help foster a better work environment and differentiate your company from competitors. What type of culture do you have, or would you like to create? Share your experience with the SBOC community below. 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngA while back I asked folks who read my USA Today column to share their best business tips. I received many good contributions, several of which I want to share with you today. The idea behind this exercise was to hear about the valuable ideas and lessons learned from different small business owners.


 

The question friends and family ask me most often is where I get the ideas for my column. They come from many sources – articles and books I have read, business associates, press releases, seminars and, of course, my own experience. Another valuable source of information comes from what my readers share – you are the ones in the trenches. So that was the idea behind this call to action – get people to share some tried-and-true strategies that the rest of us may not know.


 

One of the first tips I received was from Don, a residential architect. He says that every time he goes into an interview with a potential client he does so with the “knowledge that I already have the job and act as if I do. I hold nothing back directly relating to their project.”


 

Don says that when he leaves the interview, because he has shared so much information, “the customer knows me and they have a better understanding of the possible solutions to their project. Interestingly, unlike many professionals who offer a first meeting for free, Don charges for this initial interview – “the potential client benefits from my visit (and I get paid). It's a win-win,” he says.

 

 

The upshot? “With the next visit, I am their architect.” Don claims that it is his attitude that closes the deal.


Having the perspective that your small business services are valuable, that your time is worth money, and acting as if you are already hired is advice that many professionals could follow.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.

 

Another reader (who asked to remain anonymous) wrote me to say that the key to his real estate career was to have the temerity to ask for exactly what he wanted. He started out selling homes, as many real estate agents do. He wanted to sell bigger properties, but did not know how to even get started, let alone how to do it. “Then, at a real estate seminar one day, I met Marty.” Marty was a broker who specialized in commercial real estate.

 

 

The reader approached Marty about working together, and “although it took several months of pestering,” Marty eventually hired him and taught him everything he knew. Today, the reader has a very successful commercial real estate career and still works with Marty. “It never would have happened if I had not asked for what I wanted.”

 

 

A.D. told me that the key to business success is to “under-promise and over-deliver.”

 

 

Here's a good marketing strategy from Kristy, an advertising executive:

 

 

“When I meet with a potential advertiser, I'll often hand them a sheet of paper and ask them to write down everything they believe about their business. Then, I'll hand them a second sheet of paper and ask them to write down what they think their potential clients believe. Now I know our job! Our job is to move the 'beliefs' of the (potential) clients from what they currently believe to what we know to be true.”

 

 

That certainly is a good exercise. Write down what you believe to be true about your business and what you think possible clients may think about your business. The gap between the two is where you may want to focus your marketing efforts.


This brings us to the final tip from David. He says that the best thing he ever did for his business was to risk alienating customers. Instead of “being all things to everyone,” David decided that his business needed a niche, and set about creating one. “Yes, I did lose some potential customers in the process, but more importantly, I created an identifiable business that people remember well, instead of a blah business that a lot of people sort of remember.”

 

 

Good advice if ever I heard it.

 

 

I’d like to hear about your business tips and lessons learned. Please share your thoughts below.

 


 

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

 

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

White-in article.pngThere are numerous perspectives on the different types of “management styles.” To help you identify your type, or learn more about, we’ve outlined eight different styles below.

 

  • Active leadership: Active leaders tend to lead by example and set a high standard for themselves and their employees. They wouldn’t ask an employee to take on a task they’d be unwilling to do themselves. They are highly involved in the day-to-day work and fully aware of what’s taking place in the office.


 

  • Directive leadership: Although less authoritative than autocratic managers, directive leaders do not typically solicit employee input. They often cite a short timeframe, an unpredictable client or an emergency situation as the reason for acting unilaterally. Often this may be true. Other times, they may just have a bit more difficulty letting go of control.

 

 

  • Participatory leadership: Based on a coaching philosophy, this style focuses on empowering employees to seek their own knowledge and make their own decisions when appropriate. It can be very effective in fluid work environments with shifting priorities. A more advanced version of this style is the flat management style, where different managers take the lead on projects, depending on their expertise.

 

  • Servant leadership: Based on a “people-come-first” philosophy, this style has been made famous by writer Robert Greenleaf. The style is based on finding the most talented people to run your organization and then empowering them to do what they do best. The leader sees him or herself as a “servant” to the customer and encourages employees to adopt the same attitude.

 

  • Task-oriented leadership: Leaders who use this style may have once been project managers. They are experts in planning projects, allocating resources, assigning roles, setting benchmarks and keeping to strict deadlines.

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You may recognize yourself in some of these management styles and may be turned off by others.  You could even aspire to start using a style that’s unfamiliar to you. Or, you may realize you need to play up one or more of the styles to keep your staff happy. No matter what you decide about your own style, you should give it some careful thought, because it is always better to manage with self-awareness than blindly. Which style(s) would you identify yourself as having? What do you think works/does not work? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.


White-in article.pngLeaving workplace conflict unaddressed can have significant costs. For example, in 2008 U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours a week managing conflict, according to CPP Inc, the publishers of the well-known Myers-Briggs Assessment on decision making styles.  In addition, 25 percent of employees said that they missed work due to a work-related conflict, 10 percent said it contributed to project failure, and 33 percent said it led to someone leaving the company, according to the CPP Study.  All of this came at a price tag of $359 billion in work hours.  


 

Some experts believe that conflict isn’t inherently negative, but can be turned into something positive given some proactive steps. Negative tension occurs when the parties at odds with each other don’t communicate and assume that the feelings will eventually go away. In contrast, positive tension is energy that can be put toward creative and innovative business solutions. As a small business owner, you would be wise to embrace positive tension because it creates a work atmosphere where ideas can be debated openly and dynamically.

 

 

The following are some do’s and don’ts for turning conflict into fodder for greater productivity:


 

Do

  • Know the difference between a task-related conflict and an emotional conflict. The first can be turned into a brainstorming session. The second, which often occurs when employees feel undervalued or demeaned, can cause company-wide dysfunction.
  • If necessary, criticize an employee’s behavior, but be careful about using terms that sound like you’re criticizing them as a person.
  • Learn how to listen. An effective technique is to allow a person to explain their thoughts on a matter and then attempt to repeat back to them your understanding of what they said. While this may feel awkward at first, it is a proven method of enhancing communication between individuals.
  • Conclude with a list of concrete actions that employees can take to resolve a specific conflict.

 

 

Don’t

  • Attempt to address a conflict in the heat of the moment. Instead, set time aside when all parties are calm and have had time to process the situation and emotions involved.
  • Neglect to hear both sides of the story. When you bring employees in for separate discussions, consider having them cite one or two positive qualities that they see in the other party.
  • Appear to favor one side over the other, but work toward compromise. If you are dealing with two valued employees, chances are both opinions have some merit.
  • Forget that a conflict-free meeting might not be necessary for a productive meeting. If everyone agrees with each other, you may stifle creative thoughts.

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You may think that, as a small company, you have smaller conflicts. The reality is that the cost of conflict for a small business can be quite high. Leaving conflicts to fester in an intimate work environment can affect an entire company culture. The cost of replacing employees who resign can be much more of a burden. Also, lost productivity can result in significantly lower sales. Dealing with conflict can be uncomfortable. Consider doing it anyway. Your business may depend on it.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngWhile we are all familiar with the making of personal New Year’s resolutions (maybe too familiar!) a recent and emerging trend is to make New Year’s business resolutions. The challenge of course is that, like personal resolutions, we want our business resolutions to stick.


 

So how do we do that? Experts say that people who are able to make and keep resolutions know not to bite off more than they can chew. Here are a few simple, easy-to-implement, small business resolutions that can make a big difference this year. Additionally, you can watch a video here, where I ask several small business owners what their 2012 business resolutions are, and how they hope to achieve these resolutions throughout the year.


 

1. Create a board of advisors: Entrepreneurs generally like to help each other. By creating your own board of advisors you can give the people in your life a way to help you. Your lawyer, business colleagues, or even your friends can all be part of an informal board. Even if it is as simple as hosting a dinner twice a year, you can create an invaluable way to receive important feedback, spark some new ideas and have discussions that could help your small business. For example, I have a friend who hosts a pizza party whenever he has a new idea; he uses the opportunity to share his thoughts and gauge the reaction of his panel.


 

2. Find a mentor: While, like a board, mentors can also offer valuable feedback, they can do so much more. Mentors make introductions, open doors and teach valuable lessons. If you don’t have a mentor, finding one should not be difficult; it is just a matter of asking. Last week, an associate asked me to mentor him and I was flattered. Whomever you ask will likely feel the same way.


 

3. Get bigger and better clients: With budgets continuing to be tight, consider looking for clients with bigger budgets – such as government contractors or corporate clients. You may think that this wouldn’t work for your business. Consider this: even mini-marts whose customers are almost exclusively individual consumers could try and land some commercial accounts.


 

Why not you too? Target some businesses that need what you sell. Make a presentation and pitch them. Try some more. Think differently. Get out there.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.

 

4. Give yourself a raise: With the economy being what it has been, many small businesses have kept a lid on fees and prices for years. Well, maybe this is the year to raise prices a bit, nothing dramatic, but enough so that you can increase your bottom line.


 

5. Create a referral rewards program: It is simple, yet so effective. Your best business often comes from referrals.  Check out the option of creating a consistent system for staying in touch with current customers, and then rewarding them when they send new business your way.


 

6. Bust a move: Many small businesses have been retrenching, waiting and holding back the past few years. While it might be a smart strategy right now, it is against our nature as entrepreneurs. There just may be pent up demand for something new, different and better this year. Find those new customers and attack new angles.


 

What are your 2012 business resolutions? Share your plans and ideas with the SBOC community below.

 


 

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

 

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.


cloud computing.pngAs a small business owner, it’s possible that Excel is sufficient for your data storage and management needs.  It may be enough to help you track customer contact information, search for data and even manage basic accounting. However, how do you know when it’s time to take a step further and determine whether or not you should invest in a database?

 

 

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

 

 

Will a database save time?

  • Spreadsheets can become unwieldy, costing a small business owner unnecessary time and money to track down a simple fact.  A database and related software programs will allow you to access even the most obscure piece of information with a few clicks of the mouse.
  • More than one department may need to access and update your company’s data on a regular basis.  A database will allow company-wide collaboration in real time with no risk of confusion over disparate document versions.

 

 

Will a database improve my marketing efforts?

  • Many companies store customer information in more than one location, e.g. on an order form and in a spreadsheet.  A database will ensure consistency of marketing data across multiple documents.
  • If you have a web-based business, you may be missing out on the opportunity to capture and use large amounts of customer data.  A database allows you to parse your data to facilitate one-to-one marketing tactics to existing and potential customers.
  • In an age that’s becoming increasingly visual, you may find that your business communications have evolved to require the use of images in addition to text.  A database will allow you to keep track of thousands of images so that you can add a visual element to your marketing both on and offline.

 

 

Is not having a database putting my business at risk?

  • Sensitive information should not be kept on laptops and PCs that can be stolen, hacked or accessed by unauthorized users. If it is designed correctly and incorporates encryption technology a database can keep your data more secure.
  • Once your company has grown to a certain size, you may begin seeing an unacceptable number of errors in your data. For example, inaccurate sales totals, implausible inventory levels, inaccessible email addresses and nonexistent codes.  A database will self-correct by only allowing information to be entered if it’s in the correct format.

 


If you have ultimately decided to invest in a database, what kind is best?

If you’ve answered yes to at least one of the questions above, you may be ready to consider a database.  However, you may still feel overwhelmed by the breadth of choices. 

 

Start by recognizing that database software typically falls into three general categories:

 

  • Desktop systems are the least expensive and simple design that is used to run on a desktop or PCs. These are designed for single users.
  • Web-enabled or “cloud-based” software is inexpensive, flexible and intuitive to use, but does raise some concerns about data security for the most confidential information.
  • Server-based databases store the most data and can be accessed by multiple users. These carry higher costs because they usually require a database administrator, either on staff or on a consulting basis.

 

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Once you’ve chosen a general approach – with or without the help of an IT consultant or computer programmer – there are many more questions you’ll need to ask before you can choose a packaged application or customize one for your immediate and future needs.  In the meantime, if you’ve been able to determine that you’d be better off with a database than without one, you’ve taken the right first step.

 

 

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