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Back to School; Time to Evaluate Financial Statements

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My kids started school today, which is always a mixed emotion day for me: I’m grateful that we all have more structure in our lives again but sorry to see another summer pass with lots of time together and extra time to explore. I’m guessing that my elementary school must have stressed goal setting for our academic years, because the start of school also signifies to me a time to re-evaluate where I am and to establish new goals. Which is exactly what I’m working on for my own business.

Here are some questions that I’m asking myself:

You’ve heard me say it before, but I’ll say it again: start with data. That’s why my first step was to look at my financial statements – year-to-date compared to my budget and to last year. I also evaluate my revenue by product/service offering. It’s important in this step to reserve judgment – we’re only collecting data.

  • Once I have the data I then start to evaluate it; what’s ahead of budget? What offerings are not as successful as I would like? At this step, I am looking backwards. Again, be careful not to judge too critically!
  • My next step is to look forward.
  • If I continue on the current course, what do I expect my year to look like?
  • How does that compare to my original projection?
  • At this step, I move from hard data to softer elements. Everything up to this point is factual; this is critical to remember  as it is so easy to get tied up in the “should ofs” when reviewing our business’s goals. At this point I ask myself, “How is my energy?” I consider how my work is fitting in with my family and my personal life. Based upon these answers, I consider how I want each element to move forward.
  • Finally, I set a course for the remainder of this year and begin the process of mapping out the next calendar year, which I will continue to review.

September is a time for new beginnings, and I’m excited as I know my business GPS system has re-set its course and I’m off and running in the right direction. Now I just hope my kids feel that same excitement.

 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Surviving without Steve Jobs; Succession Plan

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Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced yesterday that he would step down from his position. Jobs’ departure will certainly be felt, but it is has been expected.  In his letter to the board, he further said, “I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

The loss of a senior level executive, especially one as iconic as Jobs, is a tremendous loss to any organization, but there is much to learn from this for the small business owner. Consider these key elements and how you can incorporate them into your own business:

  1. Jobs’ referred to the succession plan in his letter to the board. Walk through your responsibilities and determine who will take each of them on. In a small organization, your responsibilities will most likely be divided between several key employees. Have a conversation with those employees and stress the importance of teamwork to continue the company’s mission.
  2. Tim Cook has been responsible for day-to-day operations of Apple since January and has served as CEO during Jobs’ previous medical leaves. Giving your succession plan a test-run will not only iron out the kinks but will also give your successor(s), employees, and other stakeholders confidence.
  3. Steve Jobs’ most significant impact on Apple has been his influence on the vision, culture of innovation, and strategy. Put systems in place to preserve your vision and culture (for more information on how to achieve this, read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Happiness by Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh).
  4. According to Apple insiders, their product design pipeline is full. As your current chief strategist, you must always be focused on continuous innovation and development. Talk about “what’s next” to key stakeholders; instill a philosophy of innovation into your organization.
  5. I will be interested to see how Apple fills Jobs’ public persona, as his presentations are legendary. You are most likely your company’s public image; share the spotlight with other key employees. While they will certainly present differently than you, you each will have your strengths.

For nostalgias sake, I will probably watch one of Jobs’ memorable presentations in the next day or two and I will most certainly pull out my favorite book about presenting – The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo. While we may not ever have the presence of Steve Jobs, we can all learn much from him.

We will miss you, Mr. Jobs –

 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

The Decision to be Magical; Customer Service

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about companies whose customer service sets them apart, who focus on delivering a “WOW” experience to their customers. I’ve read about their customer service visions, their employee training, the company cultures, and the systems that easily perpetuate extreme service. At the most basic level, though, extreme customer service is a decision to treat people with respect, the way they want to be treated.

We all want to be one of those businesses who have that special spark; we can feel that the energy is different as soon as we step into their space or begin doing business with them. Do we recognize that they have a system to manage inventories or to communicate with key clients monthly? Businesses are not magical because they offer employees a 401(k) plan, not even because they offer free shipping on returns. Businesses are magical because a person decides to deliver stellar service. Businesses delivering terrific customer service make decisions after considering the question, “How will this impact our customers and clients?”  Magical businesses ask “How will this impact our customers, employees, vendors, and shareholders?”

If you have been toying with your customer service approach, begin at the beginning: what level of service do I want to provide? The only wrong answer is the one not in line with you, the business owner, which also needs to be in line with what it is you are trying to build.  For example, a fine craftsman may decide that customers will have to work around his design and build times. Be honest with yourself as to what kind of service you want to provide and if your product or service will support that.

Ask yourself: “If we were in our customers’ shoes, what decision would we want the business to make?” You may decide to take another approach, but the answer to this question should at least inform your decision.  By incorporating this question into your decision making process, your business will be on its way to becoming magical.

 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Customer Prevention Systems

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Ever run into a business that you could swear just doesn’t want business?

I came across one recently that required me to register into their system before I could even have a conversation. Not having the patience for that, I sent an e-mail; the response was “you need to register and request an appointment online.” At that point, we were already having a conversation through e-mail! Wouldn’t you think we could just continue that conversation? No – I had to follow his system, what I call his Customer Prevention System.

Business systems are meant to insure consistency, reinforce the company’s mission or brand positioning, and to streamline operations.  I’m guessing this business owner thought his on-line appointment scheduler was cool or made his business seem more advanced (positioning); or perhaps he had implemented the system to make his life simpler – a goal I totally support. There are ways to simplify your business and satisfy customers all at the same time, though, and this business owner had forgotten that customers are a critical factor when designing systems.

Sound like something that could never happen to your business? Here are some client examples:

  • One client once changed their hours due to staffing issues even though they had already lost market share when business hours did not meet the customer needs.
  • Another client changed their evening shipping schedule to get better rates, even though that meant hundreds of orders were delayed in shipping.

Just think back to the last time you got lost in voicemail land. What percentage of the time do you just give up and hang up? Bet that voicemail system was sold on streamlining operations.

Pretend that you are a potential customer of yours; call your business, walk through that front door, try to make an appointment. Make it your business to delete any Customer Prevention Systems.

 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Confidence, Quality, and Customer Service

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Aveda Delivers Extra Customer TouchesOver my coaching career, I’ve had the privilege to work with two Aveda Concept Salon owners. Aveda is known for their quality hair and skin products and the company’s eco-friendly practices. Both of these owners were a joy to work with – warm, aware individuals as well as leaders of small businesses offering some of the highest quality products and services around.

A key component of Concept Salons are the extra customer touches that are part of the experience; they offer you delicious Aveda tea, an aromatic, sensual scalp massage is part of every hair washing. Before a customer leaves the salon, a stylist will apply just the right shade of lip color or an extra dash of something to ensure the customer feels and looks beautiful. More often than not, a customer will purchase that new lip color so that they continue that feeling on their own.

The employees of the two salons I worked with looked at these extra touches like night and day. At the first, the staff loved giving these extra “gifts”  because they recognized the difference it made to their clients. The women stood a little taller and they left with a smile on their face. They felt beautiful and special; what woman wouldn’t like that?

Employees of the second salon felt these extra touches were pushy; they said they felt like sales people. As I saw it, the clients of this salon missed out – which means the salon’s brand, the owner, and the employees missed out as well.  All too often, though, I hear clients holding back in offering their services or products for fear of appearing pushy.

When you truly believe in the power of your offerings, the fear will disappear. If you see yourself here, list the benefits of each offering, including how you make customers feel. Giving clients confidence (whether in their business or personal life), empowerment, or strength are gifts – don’t hold back.

– 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.