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Mega Millions Jackpot; Small Business Ownership

Americans are lining up to buy tickets for the Mega Millions lottery drawing tonight, estimated at $500 million. As in half a billion dollars. That’s a pretty big return for putting a dollar bill on a counter and asking for a ticket. I think most of us realize that winning is a LONG shot but all too often I hear of business owners looking for a big return without much more effort than buying a lottery ticket. When I look through e-mail campaigns I’ve received just this week, I could have been lured by these lottery-like promises to get rich “easily”:

 I’ve done all the work for you….

 …make fabulous money and be amazingly successful! 

How to Make Your Business – and Yourself – Rich & Famous!!

I wish I could promise all of my clients similar results, but the fact is that your success depends in large part on you and your efforts. Business ownership is rarely easy, but when it’s done “right”, it is full of ease.  Understanding your personal strengths (the ones you were born with and can’t help but BE and DO), defining your ideal customer so that you would recognize them on any street anywhere, and an incessant attention to your customers’ wants and needs takes some effort. With that clarity, though, your business and your success becomes simple, a matter of following the roadmap you’ve created.

If you’re tempted to buy in to one of these quick rich offers, ask yourself these question instead:

  • What business growth opportunities exist for me right now?
  • Can I describe my business’s strengths in 30 words or less?
  • What action can I take this week to step up the attention I give to my customers?

Invest in your business ownership, and your livelihood, by adding clarity and focus. You may not get the same thrill as when you give the clerk a buck in exchange for the dream of $500,000,000, but I can promise a higher likely return. Winning the lottery is fun to think about, but with odds estimated at about one in 176 million according to lottery officials, I need to get back to work.


 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Small Business Communication Strategy

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Small business communication challenges can pop up the drop of a hat; just when everything seems to be going smoothly, a challenge with an employee, a partner, or even a customer or client can zap your energy. For many, the inclination is to wait it out, hoping the issue will go away on its own. More likely, the issue will grow until it feels like it has consumed your business. Follow these four simple steps to quickly resolve any small business communication challenge:

  • Address the issue when it comes up. No one enjoys one on one confrontation so it often gets postponed. It feels easier at the time, but the consequences are significant:
    • You set a small business communication standard in your company. By not addressing what needs to be addressed, you tell employees this is how “the company” conducts itself. Letting an issue slide or not addressing it directly tells others it’s okay to sweep issues under the rug.
    • Your leadership is questioned, and rightly so. You may try to fool yourself into thinking that no one knows about the issue, but that’s just a game you play with yourself.
    • The issue grows. If an employee disregards an office protocol and you don’t address it, they will most likely continue the practice and others will join him. What started as one employee taking one single sick day for a vacation day becomes several employees taking extra vacation days.
    • Your personal energy is consumed. When we postpone an issue, part of us is connected to that issue until it is eventually resolved. If it’s an employee issue, a little of our mental and emotional energy gets zapped whenever we see that employee. The longer we postpone the “conflict”, the more energy we lose. As a business owner, we can all use as much energy as possible, so don’t waste it and just communicate.
  • Know what needs to be said… then say it. Before any important communication, make sure that you are clear about the message you want conveyed. Don’t get mixed up with the symptoms; convey the core beneath. Write down one to three points and have them in front of you during the discussion.
  • Be clear. Prepare your notes in clear, concise language; refer to your notes during the conversation and make sure you are on track to be as clear orally as you were on paper. You might be tempted to say “Perhaps you could try to be here a little earlier;” looking at your notes you would probably read something more like “I need and rely on you to be here ready to go on time, at 8:30….” “A little earlier” leaves much to interpretation; “at 8:30” is crystal clear. The employees and colleagues you want to work with appreciate the clarity.
  • Be charge neutral, meaning without emotion in your voice. It’s the difference between “Would you please pick up your laundry?” and “For the tenth time, would you PLEASE pick up your laundry?” (this works equally well at home!). If you need to calm down first, do so, but don’t let it wait for more than 24 hours.

Small business communication issues are hard to deal with but here’s one guarantee: once you address the issue, you will feel better on the other side. And that makes business easier.

 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Improved Marketing ROI Starts With Your Tribe; Identify your customer


While I was in Mexico recently, we visited the Mayan ruins (get to Chichen Itza if you can) and we learned some of the Mayan history, the culture of the Mayan people, and saw their craft still being practiced. Back at work the following week, a client and I were working on defining their customer base and determine how to improving marketing ROI (return on investment).  Not to minimize the significance of Mayan or other tribes, I was reminded that small businesses share some attributes of tribes; a business is a group of people who share values and beliefs and has a tribal leader, the business owner.

Over the years, I have helped many business owners clearly define their customers, their tribe. The more precise you can be, the easier it is to market to these ideal customers and increase your marketing ROI.  Just yesterday a client said she was able to recognize a “perfect” client in a store by her dressing style; when the woman picked up a magazine, her tribal membership status was confirmed. Continuing the analogy, my client then had the responsibility to care for this tribal member by letting her know where she could find products she would enjoy, my client’s retail store.

Marketing is expensive and often frustrating for small business owners. By more precisely defining your ideal customer, you not only save money but also recognize a higher marketing ROI (return on investment).  Another client identified his tribe as teachers and union members; by focusing his advertising dollars on publications and on sites that those tribes read he spends less than half of his former budget and reaches more of his ideal clients.

If you would like to see a better marketing ROI, think of two or three customers you consider “ideal” and make a list of their attributes, right down to the magazines they most likely read. What do they do in their spare time? How old are they? What kind of home do they live in? Clear customer definition not only saves you money, but makes your tribal leadership a whole lot easier.

 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

How To Be More Effective Tomorrow; Strategy For Balance


Starbucks has a “Happy Spring” gift card available right now, and it made me smile. Those first Spring days make my heart jump a little and I grin from ear to ear. When I was in corporate America, I promised myself that when I owned my own business my strategy would be to declare the first spring day as a company holiday. I’d encourage everyone to take a walk, to look for flowers shooting up, to lift their face to the sun and be thankful.

New Hampshire is enjoying those early spring days yet I’ve spent the last several days inside. Today will be different. Sure, I could spend another day at my desk but to what end? How much better off will my business and I be by what I accomplish inside? What will happen if I take a walk? What will the consequence be if I play hooky and look for early crocuses? I may not cross as much off my to-do list, but my thoughts will be clearer.

Years ago my first coach gave me the assignment of taking a day off with nothing planned for it, no strategy, not even picking up the dry cleaning. Nothing. For the first hour I went a little stir crazy but then I found a new rhythm and my day flowed easily. Back at work the next day, I mapped out a sales and marketing strategy for a product our sales team had been struggling with. One by one, our sales team came and watched as I sketched out the strategy – there was excitement in their voices and a couple of them even went off and started executing. I hadn’t actively spent time thinking about the product or anything to do with work, yet this innovative approach just fell out of me. I got the lesson my coach wanted me to learn: a clear, relaxed mind is more productive than a stressed, over-worked one.

It’s supposed to reach 64 degrees today. If you’re on the East Coast, you are probably experiencing a similar glimpse of spring. Go take a walk. You’ll be amazed at what it can do for your business.



 – 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.