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3 Success Principles that Lead to Business Excellence

Business ownership, ideally, is engaging, fun, profitable, and rewarding. All too often, it’s stressful and we end up wondering where the flexibility and freedom are that led us to business ownership in the first place. These three guiding principles, applied consistently to your business operations, will ease operations and have you reaching your goals consistently.

1.  Work with the best. Again, your business is your livelihood; why settle when you don’t have to? This applies to team members, distributors, your environment, equipment and business partners. All too often, I hear of business owners who keep poor-performing employees because they feel bad for the person. Guess what?! This is your livelihood, how you support yourself and your family. If you are in the position to consider their salary a donation, go for it. Otherwise, let them go kindly and find someone who is the absolute best, who will help bring your business to the next level.

 The “best” does not imply the biggest or most well-known; take the time to determine what best meets your particular needs and work with them. For example, Bankers Healthcare Group works exclusively with healthcare professionals; think they can share valuable data to help your healthcare business be more profitable, more efficient? You bet. Choose business partners with depth in the expertise you are seeking. Partnering with knowledgeable business partners who are the best in their industry means you can focus on being the best in your field.

 2. Go to the source. When you need information, go to the original source to insure that you get reliable, accurate data.  A medical practice client was looking to add a location to his practice. When a commercial building in an ideal location came up for sale, I encouraged him to call the town office to get zoning and permit requirements. He chose to call the realtor, instead; based on the information, he passed on making an offer. Once it was too late, we learned that the realtor gave him erroneous information. I’ve also heard business owners make assumptions about what their lender will and will not do. Why assume? A simple phone call or email will give you an answer from the source, which can then guide your decision making. Your business is your livelihood; don’t shortchange yourself – go to the source for reliable data that you can bank on.

 3. Get data. Have you heard yourself say “I’d guess…” or “I assume…” in the past couple of weeks? All too often, I’ll ask a business owner for data and I get an answer based on Google or what the “experts” say.  Estimates about their own business are often based on how it feels; it feels like they are busier than they were a year ago, it feels like they’re short-staffed. If operations are not running optimally, your practice could feel out of control, leading you to make assumptions about what your business needs. Conversely, unreliable data can lead you to believe your revenue is much smaller than it actually is, and you repeatedly ask yourself, “What am I doing wrong?” A business owner once hired me because he wanted to grow to $600,000; when I asked him what his current revenue was he guessed it was around $250K. I asked him to double check that with real data and the answer was almost double, at $450K! No wonder his operations were stretched!

Determine what four to six pieces of data will most tell you how your business is performing; average invoice, total number of invoices, and percentage booked are a great start for a medical practice.  Track those numbers on at least a monthly basis, preferably weekly. Know those numbers like the back of your hand.

Running a thriving, successful business requires you to focus on what you do best; be sure that you have the tools and resources – from reliable data to business partners – to make it as easy as possible.

Starting Strong, Part II: How to Successfully On-board Your New Team Member

Successfully Onboarding New Team Member Part IIIn Part I, I talked about how to best on-board your new team member and get them up to speed. The work doesn’t stop there, though. Make sure that you’re holding yourself accountable, and let your team (new members and established ones) know what they can expect from you. 

  1. Reviews. Employees wonder when they will have a performance review and what will happen at a review. Let your team know how often and at what points they will have a review, what the review process is, and what they are expected to bring to the table.
  2. Define for employees your management style. Are you all business? Tend to blur the lines between owner and friend? Clarity will not only help your staff be comfortable but also help you be comfortable with your own style.
  3. Decision making. Let new employees know what your decision making style generally is. For example, if you tend to ask employees for input just to hear another person’s perspective, your team needs to know that their input is not a vote, but only an opinion.

The initial days/weeks of a new employee’s work with you are very important. Here’s a quick guide on what to do and when:

  1. After job acceptance/prior to first day. At a minimum, send an email letting them know that you’re looking forward to them joining your team. Better yet, send them a handwritten note to their home.
  2. Day 1. Let them know what their first day will look like specifically (i.e., 9-11 AM – shadow Lizzie; 11-12 noon – meet with business owner; lunchtime – team lunch); any documents you need them to bring; how you expect them to dress.
  3. Let clients and customers know that there is a new team member and when they would interact with that new person, if it’s not obvious. Sharing your enthusiasm for the new hire will encourage everyone to be excited to have them on board! Post an announcement where everyone, including your new team member, will see it.
  4. Beyond the first day, define in general what their first week or so will look like and how quickly you expect them to be working on their own.

Feedback, good and not so good, are critical in the first few weeks of a new employee’s time with you. Leave a note after an especially promising day. Written communication that they are fitting in and fulfilling their responsibilities will make their day. 

Finally, remember that letting your team know what to expect from you raises the bar of professionalism. It is a clear way of telling your team not only what their responsibilities are in your business, but also what you will do to make your team successful. Plus, you can use these expectations as a guide or ruler – it will be easy to see when you’re excelling, and equally easy to tell when you’re not measuring up.

Starting Strong: Successful On-boarding for Your Small Business

Congratulations, you’ve finally done it! You decided that it was time to grow your staff and hire a new team member. You identified what you really needed in your small business, and you posted your job description online. Thanks to your thoroughness and preparation, you received excellent feedback and brought in winners to interview. Interviewing was a breeze because you kept it simple and asked questions that matter to your small business.

 All in all, you are to be commended. You stayed focused, decided who and what you wanted, and now your new team member starts next week.

But wait: this is where the real work begins. Don’t throw your leadership skills under the bus – not after all that great work you just did! Do more than manage your new employee – LEAD them from day one by starting strong. Clarify what you expect from them and that they understand those expectations. Be sure to cover:

1.         Their hours. It sounds simple enough, but a miscommunication about hours becomes kindling for further frustrations. Be clear: does 9 to 5 mean show up at 9 or show up at 8:50 and be ready to go at 9? Let them know what to do if they haven’t finished their tasks at the end of the day; do they stay past their stated hours, ask for guidance, or leave? It comes down to your priorities – completion of tasks, overtime, work-life balance, effective use of time – and they are all part of the simple question about employee hours.

2.         Communication.

  • Amongst staff. If becoming “like family” is part of who you are, let new employees know that. Conversely, if you prefer to keep work and personal separate, letting new employees know that can prevent all kinds of undesirable feelings that go to the root of human needs and personal values. Be fair and let them know where the personal/work boundaries are.
  • With clients and customers. Boundaries between staff and clients should also be clearly defined. If you prefer that patients stay at an arms’ length distance, be clear up front with new  employees. While you won’t prohibit staff from becoming friends with clients or customers outside of the work environment, you can certainly let staff know what your preference is and why.

3.         Presentation. Our employees are not mind readers, so while it seems to you that employees should just “know” what your expectations are about dress and office conduct, prevent any misunderstandings by defining your expectations. Dress, behavior, even eating habits at work – if applicable, should be defined.

4.         Tasks. Clarity, for yourself as well as for your employees, is critical in every aspect, especially in task completion. Consider:

  • What you want employees to do if they don’t complete a task?
  • What you want employees to do if they don’t understand a task or their responsibilities. Basically, when do you want them to ask for help? From whom do they ask for help?

When in doubt, clarify and simplify. Make it so that the only thing your new hire has to do is their job. Remove the guesswork, and watch them wow you!

Hiring Like A Boss: Asking the Right Questions to Find the Best Fit

interview image 1In last week’s post, I talked about how to start your search for a new team member. Remember, your focus is on narrowing down the resumes you’ll receive so that you can interview the candidates that have the skills and personality that will work best with your existing team. Think of it like this: if you were dating these candidates, would you ask them for a second date? At this point you already know (from their resume) where they went to school and whether or not they have any additional certifications.

That being said, you have to be ready to ask the right questions.

  1. Choose a set of standard interview questions based on your “must haves” and ideal qualities. The entire purpose of the first round of questions is to determine if they have your “must have” requirements. Here are some sample questions:
  • Tell me about your current end of day process. (Must Have=organization skills, work processing).
  • We all work better with some people more than others. If I were to speak with the person that least gets along with you at work, what would they say about you? Tell me about a recent interaction between the two of you (Must Have=team player).

Ask every candidate the same questions and record their answers. A table format like the one here will be the easiest. Note their responses, but also watch their body language. Are they open? Are they listening and communicating well?

2.    As you begin each interview, let the candidate know that “this is not your typical interview.” Prepare them for the process: you have a list of standard questions, they will do most of the talking, and you have 30 minutes together. Let them know that you will bring the top two candidates back for a second interview.

3.  Prepare yourself, as well, for a different sort of interview. We worry about job applicants liking us, worry about what they will think about our business and us as a business owner; to compensate, we tell them about our business, how great it is, how our customers love us. This may sound harsh, but this is not the time for that. The first interview is very much like a first date: its sole purpose is to decide if you want a second date/interview. Get comfortable with silence: don’t feel the need to fill it with your voice. The job applicants will also be uncomfortable with the silence; you will learn a lot about them by how they choose to fill the silence.

4.  At the interview conclusion, let applicants know what to expect; you will bring the top two candidates back for a second interview within the next week, and that you will let all candidates know if they are being invited back.

5.  Again, rate each applicant post-interview as a 1, 2, or 3. Invite the #1s for a second interview. Thank the other candidates for their time, but let them know that they are not the right fit for your organization.

6. The second interviews should run fairly similarly to the first; as close in time to each other as possible, in a set schedule, and with a list of standard questions. You are looking for those ideal qualities, the “extras” that each candidate has to set them apart from the other. The second interview is your chance to tell them more about the organization and its future, although they should have already gotten the basics from their research.

Remember the ultimate goal: you need a team member that will be a vital part of your business or organization. With that in mind, this is not a process that is to be rushed or done haphazardly. Take your time. Really focus on what your business needs, and not necessarily on what you think you should have.

5 Things You Must Do First When Hiring

orange-and-black-help-wanted-sign-e1328943663785My clients are hiring, and if your business is growing you are, too. While employment numbers are improving across the country (this is great news for the general economy), it may also mean it’s more difficult for you to hire your next employee. You may be in a better position to hire, with more available workers than ever, but lack the time and patience to actually “hire”. Sometimes business owners postpone the hiring process because “it’s just such a hassle” or “takes too much time”. One client recently received almost 30 resumes in the 24 hours after posting an opening. Not to worry; I have helped many of these clients hire more quickly, easily and successfully with just a few simple tips that I am going to share here. 

  1. Yes, you need a job description (most often asked question!) but I want you to break it down between the following: 

  • Must Haves. These are skills as well as attributes that a successful candidate absolutely must have. Consider these to be your non-negotiables. Remember, skills can be taught; what will make an employee successful or not in your organization are their values, perspective, and attitude. Business owners are often confused about how much experience to require; decide before you hire if you want someone to hit the ground running and prefer not to do a lot of training, or if you are willing to train your future hire. If you love training and grooming staff, less experience is acceptable. Remember that the more specific you are in your description, the more detailed applicants will be. You still may have applicants apply even if they don’t meet the stated experience requirement, but your specificity will help narrow down who meets the qualification and who does not. 
  • Ideal qualities. These are applicant skills, attributes or personal goals that would make you giddy with excitement. Although this is a personal example, it makes the point: I once hired a babysitter who loved to do errands because that was a skill that I knew would help me, even if it’s not part of the typical job description.  
  1. Your job opening posting placement can make or break your success. Think beyond skills: what kind of person are they? Craigslist.com is a different audience than your local coffee shop and LinkedIn. 

  1. Shift the hiring work load to applicants. The prospect of wading through piles of resumes and cover letters is daunting and has stopped many business owners from hiring anyone or hiring well. They just want the process over. Here’s my favorite trick: require applicants to answer 2-4 questions to send along with their resume. Well-worded questions allow you to determine which applicants are willing to put some quality effort into finding a job and which possess your “must haves”. These questions can be used to assess skills that people may leave off of their resume: are they creative, are they flexible, do they have a sense of humor? Do they look at information with a fresh perspective? Rather than plowing through resumes and cover letters only to possibly find which applicants might be a fit, ask them straight out about the attributes you need. Let me give you a couple of examples: 

  • One business needed an employee who worked well independently and who was willing to dig around when they didn’t know the answer. In the ad, we gave applicants a part description and asked them to find 2 suppliers, the part number, and the price of the part. We weren’t looking for perfection, only looking at their research and deductive reasoning skills. 
  • Another business owner for whom customer service is paramount asked applicants to describe the best customer service they had ever experienced. This let the business owner compare what the applicants described as extreme customer care to his own expectations. 
  1. Rate each applicant a 1, 2, or 3.  

  • 1=must speak to/must interview 
  • 2=acceptable if #1s don’t work out. Need more info to decide if they are a 1 or a 3. 
  • 3=not acceptable. Let them know immediately so you’re not tempted to bring them in. 
  1. Invite your #1 candidates for an interview. Schedule them for 30-40 minutes each, back to back. If they want the job, they will find a way to make it work. At this point, we are still making it easy for you and, to some extent, testing applicants. 

Keep in mind that at this point, your goal is to find the people that you want to interview, only. Do NOT try to make a hiring decision simply on someone’s resume: some people look great “on paper”, but may be a poor fit for your business when you meet them in person. Decide early on what you want, and use this method to filter your applicants. Happy Hunting!

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.