Idea Storage: Productivity Tip for Your Business

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Entrepreneurs are sometimes short on cash or organization, revenue or even staff. But one thing entrepreneurs are never short on is ideas. We think of ways to create more revenue, avenues to reach more customers, and we especially love ideas of what to do “someday, when things calm down.” Ideas come to us in the middle of the night, while we’re driving, and when we’re supposed to be paying attention to our child’s piano recital. We worry that we’ll lose some of these ideas, so we keep them in our head – jamming up valuable hard drive space.business ideas
A simple technique to capture all of these ideas is to create “bins” for each category, freeing up mental capacity and creativity. Create bins in Microsoft Word, as an Outlook note, or in a beautiful journal (see one of my favorite sources at Organize.com). If you want access wherever you are, consider Evernote or Google docs. Steer away from sticky notes, as the visual clutter they create causes us to quickly feel overwhelmed. If you must use sticky notes, consider Notezilla.
This is such a simple technique, but one my clients tell me they love over and over. Here are some “bins”clients have created:
  • Potential joint venture ideas
  • Ways to recharge my batteries
  • Marketing ideas
  • What to do when I’m overwhelmed
  • Event ideas
  • Blog or other writing ideas
  • Networking lunch guest ideas
Get those ideas out of your head and into a safe “bin”. Your head will feel clearer, your desk will get more organized, and productivity will increase. Not bad for such a simple idea.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Facebook’s Acquisition of Instagram and Small Businesses Value

Facebook announced earlier this week that it is buying the photo-sharing application Instagram for $1 billion. My mind went straight to calculating the value per employee; too many zeroes to do in my head. Turns out to be around $83 million dollars of value per employee. Intrigued to say the least, I started digging to see what made Instagram so special and how small business owners could apply the same principles to build value.fbinstagram

The first thing I learned is that Instagram customers are incredibly loyal, almost cult-like.  The application is easy to use, works very well and adds functionality that didn’t otherwise exist (cool filters).

Lesson: Give your customers ease – whether in using your service or in product functionality; excellence; and provide unique products or services, not the same old thing they can find around the corner (today, around the corner means anywhere around the globe).

The photo sharing app fills a void – the mobile market. Facebook is often criticized for its mobile interface; Instagram recognized that hole and filled it.

Lesson: Look for voids in your marketplace; walk through your industry’s typical customer experience from the customer’s viewpoint; what elements are missing? Where does the customer need to make a leap, or do some extra work? Fill the void and make your customers’ lives easier. You’ll increase loyalty and become that “why didn’t someone think of this sooner?” company, which increases company value.

Instagram founders decided early on (a whopping two years ago!) to be really good at one thing: mobile photo sharing. They stripped productivity out of a previous application to focus solely on a cool app allowing mobile users to share and edit photos.

Lesson: Make a conscious decision about what your company is all about and do it with excellence. Instagram is a one-product company but you can have many products or services focused on an experience; Wal-Mart has millions of products but the focus is the same for all:  low prices, wide selection. Decide and act in line with that decision.

30 million users have chosen Instagram and now Facebook has chosen them, as well. They must be doing something right; select at least one lesson to apply to your business. Let me know how it grows.



 – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

SMART Business Goals

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I love shoveling snow. Honest.

Although the snow is still coming down like crazy, I’ve already been out once to shovel the front walk with two of my office colleagues (yes, my lab really does have a sweater on – she’s a bit of a cold weather wimp). If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to take a couple more breaks during the day to shovel some more. Like I said, I LOVE shoveling snow- it’s so rewarding to me; I know exactly what I need to do; I easily see my progress; and it’s something I can do in a relatively short time.

I realized that the reasons I love shoveling are the same reasons why setting SMART business goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) makes so much sense. Honestly, I’m not one for cute acronyms and have never posted them in my office as reminders. But I have to admit, that SMART business goals line up well with shoveling as well as moving my business forward.

  • Specific – My shoveling needs are easy to define: I need to shovel the walkway from my front steps to my driveway.
  • Measurable – The front walk has a beginning and end.
  • Attainable – The front walk takes me about 15 minutes. Easy.
  • Realistic – I’ve shoveled this walk over 100 times. I know I can do it again. It’s only when it gets to be over a foot at a time that it gets challenging; on those days, I am sure to break it into smaller components.
  • Timely – If I want the UPS man to make it to my front door, I need to get this done. The precipitation today may turn to a messy mix; the sooner I get the snow off the walkway the easier it will be to clear it later if it turns to heavy, wet snow or worse. Besides, I don’t want my Labrador to get cold feet, do I?

The SMART business goals acronym is widely known and easy to remember. For me, though, I just look at my projects like my front walkway.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Being Ready for Business Coaching

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When business owners talk about the possibility business coaching, I often hear “As soon as I get organized…” or, “As soon as I know what my goals are….” That always strikes me as someone saying “As soon as I’m ready, I’ll have a baby.” Is anyone ever really ready?

Both situations are about significant change. Although we may think we know what those changes are and how they will affect us, we never really know until we’re in the thick of it. Additionally, there is an infinite list of possible steps you could take to “get ready”; in business, you could decide as soon as your desk is organized, your office is settled, or you know what your five-year goal is, then you will begin coaching or a mentoring program.

On the personal side of things, as soon as the room is painted, your older child is sleeping through the night, or you have a new job, then you’ll be ready. These are all fictitious lines in the sand drawn by you. What you most likely mean is “I want to be in control and taking a step towards unknown change scares me and makes me recognize that I will not be (and never will be) in control.”

Phew. Unknown change. What do you really need to take a step towards unfamiliar territory? It’s not a business plan or a vision statement. It’s an open mind; curiosity. A willingness to look at the possibilities. Entering a coaching relationship is not about knowing the answers ahead of time. It’s about choosing to take a first step, even when you don’t know what the second step will be or where you’ll end up. If you have children, chances are that feels familiar.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Human Capital Investments

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For most small businesses, the majority of value is generated by themselves or a small number of key employees. Business owners intelligently recognize their staff as their most valuable asset. Yet when asked about forecasted investments, they talk about new technology, new equipment or upgraded premises.

Can equipment generate more customers by itself? Does a new premise expand your thinking? Is your computer or other equipment interested in your success? Only humans can do those things, yet we are slow to invest in that most significant asset.

Consider these two comparable investments: a $2,500 laptop and docking station and $2,500 for training or coaching. My laptop and dock allow me to travel easily and work anywhere – pretty awesome as I currently sit at my son’s lacrosse practice. But, $2,500 spent on training or coaching could greatly enhance my presentation skills or expand my knowledge of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) techniques.

Now let’s play this comparison out: where am I with each investment after two years? My laptop is slow and ready to be replaced. With new skills, I am able to better serve my clients and expand my market. That next investment could result in another laptop (which will require replacement again) or another layer of knowledge. A capital equipment depreciates, an investment in people appreciates. Visually, it’s as if the equipment shrinks daily while an investment in training or coaching increases daily. Which do you want for your business?

When you grow, your business grows. Capital investments have their place but if you really want the best bang for your investment, invest in the smartest capital there is – human capital.

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.