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Cyber Free Monday


It’s Cyber Monday…and my internet is down.  I was in a bit of a panic this morning sorting out how I would get any work done today. I asked my husband if I could come to his office to use his internet but it can get pretty noisy with dogs barking and besides, there’s a litter of kittens to play with. I considered Starbucks (too tempting), Panera (too noisy), and Borders (too many books to distract me). I felt my shoulders rise as I worried about how and where I would work and then it dawned on me – I would work in my office and get a LOT done. Without e-mail, Cyber Monday deals just too good to pass up, or the infamous “internet research”, I could focus on meaningful work, projects that aren’t necessarily urgent but that are important.

Years ago when I was in the high-tech corporate world, I created an inter-disciplinary cross-company group who met quarterly to focus on forward-thinking projects designed to pull us forward. We brainstormed potential product avenues, considered systems to improve efficiencies, and asked “What if?” We worked on projects that we just never otherwise had time to get to because of the day-to-day demands. The results allowed us to more easily step into that next level as the systems were already in place.

My cyber-free Monday has resulted in a clear (okay, clearer) desk, my blog post written before noon, and significant progress on designing my coaching group (stay tuned – it’s coming soon!). Although I know I may be deluged with on-line activities later, I feel relaxed because I know my day is being spent on work that will move me, and my clients, forward more quickly. It’s a wonderful feeling, and I encourage you to try it. Join me, even if it’s just for a few hours, in a cyber-free Monday.


– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Black Friday

Black Friday deals and promotions are more aggressive than ever this year with national chain stores opening on Thanksgiving. I’ve heard small business owners worry “how will I compete?” but chances are, that’s not something they need to worry about.

Think about the retailers making the promotions and the products they offer: name brands like Old Navy and commodity products such as Lego’s and Reebok. Because the products they sell can be purchased anywhere or can be easily duplicated by another product, the retailers are left with attracting customers with pricing and availability – either in hours available or quantity available. Wal-Mart’s strength is their buying power, so they can use aggressive pricing and volume of available products to lure customers.  Whether you are a retailer, wholesaler, or service provider, knowing and developing your strength(s) is key to your pricing strategy, branding and marketing – and ultimately, your long term success. For example, if you are a:

1.Small retailer with national “boutique” brands – customers have choices between you, national brands as well as other small retailers. Even if you are the only local retailer of a particular national brand, don’t be lulled into thinking you have the local market to yourself. Develop a reason for your target market to come back besides your exclusivity on a brand or two.

2.Service provider of a commodity service – you MUST develop a compelling reason for customers to return. For example, my husband’s animal hospital knows they are not the cheapest place on the block and do not target clients who are looking for that level of service. Instead, their staff is known for carrying animals recovering from surgery or injury in a pouch worn close to the body, exemplifying personal care and attention to animals’ well-being.

3.Wholesalers carrying commodity products – Decide what you will best known for and excel at it: technical expertise? Availability? To make it easy, consider what comes most easily to you.

Black Friday works for Wal-Mart because it capitalizes on their core strength. Dig down to really understand what your strength is, capitalize on it, and you will excel.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Asking for Help

After a long fight, Ireland cried “Uncle” this past Sunday and agreed to request financial assistance from the European Union. The country has been struggling since 2006 but has pushed aside those who suggested they needed help. I can’t help but wonder “Why?”

Asking for help can be hard for many of us for a variety of reasons. We worry that people won’t think we’re smart enough, or that we don’t have enough money. As business owners we worry that customers, clients, vendors or colleagues will think we’re failing, that we don’t have the right connections, or that we’re just plain not good enough. We think it’s better to struggle and do it on our own than to ask for help. Says who? Who are these infamous “people” who think these things about us? I asked a client recently this question and actually had him make a list of “these people”. Come to find out, he didn’t give two hoots about their opinions once he got clear about who they were.

Asking for help takes guts; you have to be strong enough, confident enough, to ask. And there’s the rub: asking for help comes from your strength as well as creates more of it. Think of someone you know who, in a healthy way, easily asks for help. Do you see them as confident? Successful business owners know that they can’t possibly create the best, and only, solution to a problem. If you have staff, asking your team for help empowers them and makes your business stronger. Thinking about Ireland’s challenges, imagine what might have happened if they asked for help sooner? The same can be said for business challenges and the consequences of asking, or not asking, for help.

Asking for help takes practice and it can be an acquired taste. In my own personal and business experience, though, it’s a taste worth acquiring.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Setting The Stage

It’s the weekend before a very short work week; it makes small business owners quiver in fear. We worry about getting everything done, self-imposed deadlines, and just try to cram as much into our days as we can. The thought of re-entering our office after the holidays is as scary as the thought of all that missed time.

Funny thing is, it’s not the work itself that creates the problem. It’s our mindset and all that “cramming”. Here are a few tips to make a short work week run smoothly:

1. Set the stage. Decide a few days in advance how you want your work week, and time off, to look and feel. While not cast in stone, deciding your work hours ahead of time gives you the parameters of the week. While I’m generally not a big fan of making things fit into boxes, this is time when it makes sense. Draw the lines around your work week; if it’s called work, it needs to fit inside that box.

2. Once you’ve defined the week, set realistic expectations of what you want to accomplish. There is always something more that a business owner wants to achieve, something else they can do (trust me! I’m an expert at wanting to accomplish more!). I’ve decided that I will have a thought provoking strategy call on Monday with my assistant, start sketching out a program, attend one networking event, and complete some writing. That’s it.

3. Extra time off is a great opportunity to let big ideas percolate. I can’t wait for my strategy meeting on Monday; we’ll define action around some open items and we’ll generate great new ideas. The extra time off will clear my mind, allowing those ideas to develop, grow, and begin to take shape. All while I’m spending time with family and eating lots of turkey! Incorporate big picture thinking before extra time off and the picture will gain clarity by the time you return to work.

4. Clear your desk before you leave (try this every day!). Worry less about your work being perfectly organized and more about creating open space. Think of it as “white space” for the brain.

Focus on work when you’re at work; on family and friends when you’re not at work. Setting the stage makes that a whole lot easier.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Coping With Turbulent Times

Listening to the new about Ireland’s economy this week, it’s not surprising that anxiety over the global economy has jumped in the business world. Just as Greece is getting out from under a cloud of financial uncertainty, another European Union country is becoming overcast.

Here are some simple tips for managing your personal stress over economic news.

1. Ask yourself “What specifically has changed about MY financial situation in the past 12 months?” When I ask that question lately, the answer eventually is, “Hmmm…not as much as I thought.” Many people are making at least the same money that they were a year ago, and while groceries certainly cost more, other expenses have not changed dramatically. The general economy will rise and fall; when there is a general financial storm, ride it out rather than jumping ship.

2. Turn the news off. While it is important to stay current, it is not helpful to dwell on it, especially if there is little that you can do about it. I could listen and track the economy daily, or I could check in once a week or two and get a general picture. Guess which one feels better?

3. Know where you are financially right now. Assumptions are dangerous in just about any situation (think relationships!) and money is certainly included. If this brings up fear, explore it – stay with the fear and poke some holes in it. Are your fears founded in fact or beliefs?

4. Once you have data about your current situation, review and see what you can change. If your first reaction is, “Nothing!” then here are three alternative ways to ask the question:

  • Get a fresh perspective. Ask a trusted business partner to review your data and make suggestions as to what changes you can make.
  • When asked to save 5% or 10%, we are already thinking small and often can’t think of any changes. Instead, imagine that you need to cut 50% of your spending; what would you change? Chances are, you will have many more ideas! Make one of these changes.
  • If you are still struggling to find changes you are willing to make, ask yourself, “What changes will I try for 6 months?” A short test in spending behaviors may not be as painful as you think.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.