Archive for

No-Guilt Work Balance; Have Fun and Accomplish More

Guilt came up a lot last week with clients.  How does a small business owner obtain work balance without suffering from guilt?  How do you enjoy the summer without business beckoning at every step? There is always something to be done when you own a small business and taking time off seems like a luxury you just can’t afford. When you do duck out of work early, guilt settles in and makes you feel miserable. Feels like you just can’t win.

Guilt is a useless emotion. It consumes our energy yet produces little benefit to us. Some believe that guilt provides motivation, but I disagree: guilt may spur us to do something, but not for the right reason or to do it well. If we do something out of guilt, it is about eliminating that feeling – not about providing top-notch service or completing a task well.

When guilt is seated heavily on our shoulders, it fools us into believing that we are doing something about the situation. We think, “Well, at least I feel guilty about it” as we skip out on an obligation and postpone a task. Let me suggest a healthier and more productive solution:

  1. Decide consciously. Dodging a responsibility or task is often done on the sly; wework balance don’t really admit to ourselves what we are doing in an attempt to avoid thinking of the consequences. Yet spending a few minutes working through the consequences is exactly what allows you to circumvent guilt! Let’s say you want to take your kids to the beach tomorrow; write down what you will miss by not being at work. Create a plan to complete those items. Can you live with those consequences? Decide consciously.
  2. 2.       Increase your efficiency. Want to spend less time in the office without feeling guilty this summer? Ask yourself “what one (or 2-3, but no more than three) task will most move me forward?” and get that done (my clients LOVE this question and many have it posted near their desk). If you’ve only got a few hours in the office, don’t spend it on email; make customer or client appointments, have a conversation with an employee who needs some mentoring, finalize an event, decide on whatever you’ve been hemming and hawing about. In short, move forward decisively.

If summertime fun is on your list, go for it – without guilt. Just make a conscious decision about what you will and won’t get done (decide when you will get those things done!) and complete those tasks that will most move you forward. Business accomplishment and summer fun – the best of both worlds.

Front-Line Failures; Improving Customer Service

Rushed service; errors; and long sighs. Could this be your customers’ experience with your business?

Over the weekend I visited my hair salon, and this is the customer service I experienced. My 20-minute appointment started 20 minutes late. The esthetician was obviously rushed and forgot a couple of things until I reminded her, which led her to sigh. I was irritated and frustrated. I took a deep breath, relaxed, and said “you seem stressed” and waited to see how she responded.

She told me how her employer wasn’t giving her enough time with each client to give the level of service she wanted to provide. She felt like she was short-changing customers, and she was frustrated because her work was not meeting her standards, and a level of service she thought she was hired to provide. She felt pretty confident that the salon would not earn the business of two bridal party consultations because the salon’s service, touted as high end and “something different”, was in fact no different than any other salon yet at a steeper price. I no longer felt irritated with my service, and encouraged her to ask for a meeting with the salon owner to sort it out.

On-going, two-way conversations with employees can prevent lost customers, improve customer service and further business growth. Not sure how to go about it? Here are some questions to get started:

  • Do you have what you need (time, resources, tools, education) to do your job as well as you would like? What further tools would help?
  • Have you noticed other services or products that our customers are asking for or would like?
  • How can I help you do your job better?
  • What can we do as an organization to make our customers’ lives better?

Your employees are likely at the front line with your customers.  Once your staff understands that you want to hear from them, your employees will pay more attention to the customers’ experience and get better at listening to customers. Ask your employees regularly for their input; it shows you have faith in your employees and makes conversations easier. Set the stage early with every new employee; ask for their input after the first week while they still have a fresh perspective. Let them know that you will regularly be asking for their input and want to hear from them.

I’m interested to visit the salon again and to see if anything has changed; I hope that service will be better. If not, this customer-focused employee will most likely have left out of frustration and that amounts to wasted time and energy on the business owner’s part. Open conversations with each of your employees on a regular basis will prevent you from losing customers and from losing talented staff.

Lessons Learned in Building a Website

I recently re-built my website and, as I do with most big projects, I created a “Lessons Learned” when the site was done. Here are my top lessons learned in building a website:

  1. Building a Website

    Building a Website

    SEO (search engine optimization) is important, but #1 should always be reader value and ease ofaccessibility. If you break this down, there are actually two lessons in here:
    1. SEO is important. A website has two audiences – human readers and search engines. To be the most effective you need to write to both audiences because the audiences depend on each other. Without effective SEO, human readers won’t find you. Without human readers asking to find your site, the search engines won’t care.
    2. Once your human audience finds you, it’s your content that will keep them there (or not) and have them coming back and eventually, becoming a customer. Make sure that your content is well organized, timely, and meaningful to your audience.
  2. Be deeply involved. Your company’s website is a representation of YOU. Your vision, your values, your message must shine through. If your site is created mostly by a consultant with minimal input from you it will look like, well, a consultant’s site. For small businesses to succeed on line, your passion, your business values, your core strengths need to be obvious. Can site readers answer “what makes this business different from its competition?”? If not, dig a little deeper.
  3. Build a baseline level of knowledge about SEO, search engines, and site construction. You need to be able to converse about the site during construction and understand how the construction decisions will impact the end result. Before I took a week-long SEO and website class, I was a bit clueless, honestly. As a result, I relied too heavily on others making site and SEO decisions for me. While I certainly can’t build a site myself (nor do I want to!), I know what questions to ask and when to ask questions.
  4. Learn first, then construct. I made a mistake in not fully understanding WordPress categories and tags and caused myself many extra hours in re-tagging. Ouch.
  5. Find “The Best” for learning and resources. In trying to correct my tags and categories mistakes, I searched and searched for information. If I had followed the advice of one social media “expert”, I would have incorrectly categorized all 198 blog posts of mine a second time. Luckily, I kept digging to find the top two authorities and learned the correct answer.
  6. Work with a site developer that you trust and enjoy. I drove my developer batty every time I said, “no, that’s not quite the right color” and “Can you explain Permalinks again, please?”. She answered my questions and worked with me until I was 100% satisfied. Be clear about your experience and expectations up front and decide what you can live with and without. Ask for references and speak to them.

I’m pretty darn happy with the new site, but what really matters is what you think! Send me an email and tell me what you like and don’t like about the re-design.

If you are building a website or struggling with your company’s branding, let me know. Perhaps a 30-minute free consult is all you need to move forward.

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.