Archive for

One Last Bite

Subscribe to the RSS Feed for this blog.

My daughter’s best friend Livvy suffers from “one last bite” disease. With the exception of the girls’ late night ice cream raids, Livvy always leaves one last bite on her plate. She doesn’t know why and she’s able to laugh about it. The last time she was over we teased her about it, but then it dawned on me that I seem to suffer from “one last thing” disease.

Once I identified “one last thing” disease it became apparent that it is also fairly common among my clients, namely entrepreneurs and small business owners. The key symptom is a desire to get just one more thing done – whether that’s before an appointment, stopping for lunch, or picking up the kids. It often results in running late, or sliding in “just in time”; it can also result in errors – something my clients and I all abhor. So why do we insist on trying to accomplish one more task?It’s like playing roulette; we spin the wheel hoping we’ll feel accomplishment yet risk running late or completing work that is less than our best. And isn’t our personal best really what excellence is all about? One more “to-do” crossed off does not equate to excellence, it only amounts to a short surge of satisfaction, rapidly outdone by the next wave of urgency created by running short on time. In other words, a shot of adrenalin.

Curing “one last thing” disease requires vigilance and it is eager to recur. Luckily, Livvy’s treatment only requires a bowl of Moose Tracks ice cream.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

An Open Letter to The President

Dear Mr. President:

Your recent State of the Union address referred to “… a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise”. You talked about how a government loan helped a manufacturer“reinvent themselves.” And you told us that businesses need government to “knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.”

Some businesses may need your help, but from where I sit business owners need something else, much of which they are in complete control of. Mr. President, I would like to tell you what I think small businesses need:

1. Clarity of vision. Without understanding where they are and where they want to go, it’s pretty tough for an entrepreneur to end up in a place they want to be.

2. Focus, to be free from distractions. Business owners need the time, energy, and mental clarity to focus on the task at hand – growing a sustainable business in line with their personal values.

3. A supportive team in line with the company’s values and mission. Mr. President, you experience the lack of this regularly as you and other elected officials each struggle to promote your mission.

4. Trusted advisors. You know the saying “two heads are better than one”? A business owner who has someone he trusts and can rely on to focus their attention completely on the challenge at hand has more than anything Washington can give them.

5. An open mind. A business leader must be willing to hear differing opinions, new ideas and to listen to constructive criticism in order to succeed.

The needs of entrepreneurs are not complicated, and I see them working diligently to meet these needs.

Sincerely yours,

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

What a Business Coach Can Do for the Small Business Owner

Subscribe to the RSS Feed for this blog.

I remember the first time I realized that being a small business owner could also be called ALONE. I was working at my desk and got stuck on a strategy. I pushed my chair back and looked around for someone to bounce ideas around with; all I saw were my two dogs. I had me, myself and two canines to figure my challenge out.

If you’re like many small business owners you have little high-level support. That’s where a small business coach comes into the picture; working together, a small business owner and a coach brainstorm, work through and question strategy and implementation plans, and create accountability for action steps. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

1. Brainstorming. I don’t know about you, but my best ideas usually come from my creative time, when I can toss ideas around without worrying about the outcome. Too often we get wedded to one path, often the first one we come across. In a larger organization, a CEO will often have key executives with whom they flush out strategies, resolve issues. Who does a small business owner have? Often, no one (or like me, my dogs). One client used to call me his “Virtual COO” – a strong number two person at a cost affordable to a small business.

2. Working alone, or even with a small staff, it is easy to generate a myopic view. A coach will ask probing questions, look at alternate strategies with you, wonder why you do certain things – often those activities we most take for granted. The value of an outsider looking in at your business is that they hold fewer preconceived notions about accepted ways of doing business.

3. Create accountability. All too often, I hear small business owners say, “I have a to-do list, but I never get to it all. What they probably mean is, “I did the easy tasks; I didn’t do the hard stuff.”  Working with a coach creates accountability; a client typically agrees to take certain actions. If the actions are not completed, a coach will ask what prevented completion and together they will work to resolve those obstacles.

Athletes hire coaches to bring them to their best. Doesn’t your business, and possibly your livelihood, deserve the same? A small business coach may be just the ticket.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach


Subscribe to the RSS Feed for this blog.

The need, and desire, for boundaries seems to be circling me lately. Last week I listened as a mom asked for help in getting her toddler to stay in bed; it seems that the toddler cried for a bottle and the tired parents gave it to her or invited her into their bed. Having lived through similar situations I felt her pain but knew that both the problem and the solution was with the parents, not the toddler.

Not long after, a client brought a customer situation to me; the customer disturbed other customers and despite repeated requests hadn’t changed her behavior. And recently, the COO of a company told me the story of independent sales reps who didn’t want to follow procedure. Until recently, they had gotten away with it. All three of these situations have boundaries as the core issue. First, let me define boundaries. Boundaries are behavior that you hold someone accountable to in your presence; when the boundary is not met, there is a pre-defined consequence.

If you have children, your family has probably experienced the relief when a boundary is set…and upheld. We really are very much like children and want the same thing; to know what the limits are, to know what is acceptable and what is not. Boundaries are not always easy, but they are simple:

  1. Define the boundaries.
  2. Communicate the boundaries.
  3. Uphold the boundaries and follow through with the pre-defined consequence.

In the case of the COO, he explained to his independent sales reps what information he needed and by when; he clearly let them know, in a non-threatening, matter-of-fact way, that if the reporting was not something they could live with, then his company was not the right place for them.

Explain to employees (or customers or children!) that, while you’ve made the request before without any follow through or consequence, the rules have changed. Just like at home, boundaries in business will make life easier.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Expecting the Unexpected

Subscribe to the RSS Feed for this blog.

Steve Jobs announced to his employees earlier this week that he was taking another medical leave. Initial reaction was negative; Apple’s stock fell 7% in overseas trading Monday with a more modest drop today in the US market. This will be the third time that COO Tim Cook has stepped in to run the day to day operations.

While a $65 billion company ought to have the depth within their organization to easily absorb this, a conversation today with a client reminds me that the loss of a key employee, even a temporary loss, can cripple a business. What happened the last time you were out of the office for a few days? Do you avoid vacations because you fear what you’ll come back to? While it may be impractical to have a completely flushed out emergency plan, it is important to think through your core business operations and key business functions.

1.    Understanding your business’s strengths and weaknesses is the best place to start when determining how business operations would continue in an emergency. Ask yourself, if nothing else were to get done, what operation must happen for your revenue stream to continue? That task must be a strength of your organization.

2.    If a key employee needs to take a leave, decide which responsibilities can be put on hold and which must be handed out to others. I am confident that there are some tasks that don’t have to be done as often as you think and some tasks you can do differently and more efficiently! Even if you can’t create an alternative procedure today, identifying which processes would change is a good start.

3.    Build redundancy in key operations. Again, it is most likely impractical to have employees completely cross-trained, but you can ensure that enough knowledge is shared for critical operations to continue.

4.    Most importantly, have this conversation with a key employee, a loved one, or a trusted advisor. Communication is the most critical tool to ensure that business continues without a hitch.

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.