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Lessons from the Patriots’ 2017 Super Bowl Win

Although I am not a devout NFL fan, I admire my home team, the New England Patriots, deeply. The game they played this past Sunday at the Super Bowl only reinforced my admiration. Here are 5 key lessons the Patriots’ Super Bowl win taught me that can be applied to small business:

  1. Develop Mental Resilience. How many of us would have the mental fortitude to keep pushing hard when we are down 28-3? Resilience can be learned and data says that it’s our resilience more than our intelligence that determines our success. Owning a business is often hard; dig deep.
  2. Focus on One Play at a Time. As Lady Gaga was entertaining us, some Patriots’ fans had fast-forwarded to the end of the game and saw the Patriots losing. While keeping the end in mind is certainly important, it’s equally important to focus on one move at a time – that’s the only one that counts at any moment. In the last quarter of the Super Bowl, the Patriots diligently moved the ball – one play at a time. The same is true for your business; dedicate your energy and attention on one thing at a time.
  3. Have Faith in Yourself and Your Team. The respect and admiration the Patriots’ players seem to have for each other and with Bill Belichick is evident every game and in every interview. Brady relied on his team mates and his coach, the coach trusted his team to accomplish the job, and team members looked to Brady for leadership throughout the game. Hire the best team you can for your business, train them well, and trust in each other.
  4. Know Your Plan (and Have a Plan!). When Brady calls a play, his teammates had better know the details and what is expected from them. It’s not enough to say “we want to win” or “we want to be the best”. The Patriots have individual performance goals as well as team-based specific outcome goals. The same is true with every team member of your business; be sure that they understand the “game” that you are playing, what their role is and what is expected of them.
  5. Continue to Learn, Continue to Train. Three days before what became a record-breaker for Brady and Belichick, the coach had Brady and the team running hills and doing the heaviest squats ever. After the game, I heard Belichick say that the team needed to get going because other teams had a 5-week lead on training for 2017-2018. No matter where you and your company stand, there is always some area you can be better in. Celebrate your wins, and then get back to training.

No matter your team loyalty, take a play from the Patriots’ playbook. Your fan base will thank you and grow.

A Refresher on Workplace Safety

safetyaroundtheclockRecent events have focused the business community on safety in the workplace like never before. While it’s nice to think that “it will never happen to us”, you and everyone involved will feel more at ease with a plan. I’ve admittedly had situations where I thought, “I did NOT go to school for this!” A confrontation with a former employee left me feeling cornered and attacked, and I was not prepared. Whether you’re a non-profit or small business, outline and practice the procedures prior to an incident so that you and your staff know what to do in the event that they occur. It’s always better to be proactive rather than reactive.

1. Be prepared to end a working relationship with a client if you or a staff member feels uncomfortable or threatened. Let tempers calm down and, later, contact the client and let them know that you are sending them their records or files so that they can find another service provider that better suits their needs. Keep the conversation and correspondence on what is best for them. Tip: Make sure that these procedures are outlined in a “client manual” so that you, your staff and the client have these procedures, even before an event occurs. This can protect you legally.

2. Neither you nor your staff should ever be alone with a new client. If you are a freelancer, meet your client at a public location, like a coffee shop. If you operate a physical location, make sure that someone else is there with you. Tip: use “stranger danger” procedures in your business. The safety of your staff, as well as your own safety, should always be paramount.

3. Listen to your staff. Your staff meets with the general public for many hours a day and has learned a thing or two about human behavior. Listen to your staff when they say “something isn’t quite right” about a client interaction. Tip: keep notes. Make a habit of documenting the temperament of your clients, current concerns, and behaviors. Do not record financial information, as this can be a liability of another sort. This is an invaluable tool for other staff members.

4. Your staff needs to know that they come first before revenue from a hot-tempered client. Support your team without referencing lost income. Remember that your business is worth more than ONE client, as is your staff.

5. Staff training and role-playing through difficult situations will make staff more comfortable and more able to de-escalate a tense situation. Take the fear out of the unknown and show your staff what is expected, even in a dangerous situation. Tip: have law enforcement come in to do a brief workplace safety workshop. They’ll be able to give you and your staff a few tips on behaviors and body language to look for, and how to stay safe.

6. If you have more than one location, alert other locations of threatening behaviors. Make sure that safety procedures and protocol are the same across all locations. Larger business should have a trained staff member that is responsible for all safety trainings, procedures, and documents.

7. Contact the police. Too many people think “it’s not that bad” or “we don’t need to get them involved.” The risk is too high; always let the police know and they can decide what to do with the information. (See #5)

8. Make sure that you have similar procedures for workplace conduct. Employees should know that they will not be threatened or endangered by a fellow employee. As unpleasant as it may be, disagreements do happen, and they should be handled in a way that respects the dignity and safety of all persons involved. These procedures also need to be known and understood by all staff members. Be willing to resolve conflicts, but also recognize the signs that a work relationship has to end.

Remember, as a business owner you are liable for the well-being and safety of not just your clients, but also your staff. The safety of the people that visit, work, and serve your business is always your concern. Set the expectations and best practices before an incident occurs so that your staff can safely do their jobs and look after the best interest of your clients.

Business Consultant or Business Coach: Which Should You Choose for Your Business?

Telling the difference between a consultant and business coach is confusing!

Telling the difference between a consultant and business coach is confusing!

Over the course of my corporate business years I used the services of business consultants many times. My clients and I have discussed the work of their consultants, from direct mail consultants to product packaging consultants. Professionals that are experts in their fields can be just what the doctor ordered when you have a particular, focused question.

In the best scenarios, the business receives an expert answer to a specific issue or question that was holding the company back. However, in the worst case scenarios, the business simply receives a ream of notes that collect dust and a large invoice.

In those latter situations, it’s often the case that what the business truly needed was a small business coach, instead of a consultant. Let me explain the differences between small business consulting and small business coaching and when to use either:

Small Business Consultants

Chances are, your business already has a roster of Business Consultants – CPAs, attorneys, and insurance representatives are good examples.

A Consultant brings expert answers to specific questions or challenges. Common questions that Consultants might handle are “How do I increase business profitability?” or “Is my corporate structure appropriate for my business?”

The job of a consultant is to bring solutions to small businesses. The communication is primarily one-way, with the consultant delivering a prescribed solution for the small business owner to implement, although the consultant may sometimes complete some or all of the work.  An example of this is the social media consultant who recommends a marketing strategy and then creates a Facebook and Twitter presence for the business.

Consultants often teach skills, allowing the business staff to implement recommendations made by the consultant. Consultants focus on improving business weaknesses over developing business strengths.

A consultant is best used when you have a specific question or challenge to which you want a directive answer. You are willing to either pay to have the solution implemented or have the time and energy to implement it yourself without varying greatly from the prescription.

Small Business Coaches

A Small Business Coach may be an expert in a field, but that expertise is used as a backdrop to how a Coach works with a small business owner. A Business Coach looks at the whole business and the owner’s goals with respect to the business, and integrates the owner’s personal goals.

Communication between a Business Coach and a small business owner is generally two-way, with the business owner doing more of the talking than the Coach. The most skilled Small Business Coaches are masters at asking questions, in drawing out the best solutions for a particular business owner. Once solutions are created, a Coach provides accountability to agreed-upon actions and changes to achieve the results they want.

Coaches generally focus more on business strengths than weaknesses, although it is every Coach’s mission to develop you, the business owner, to be the best you can be.

A Small Business Coach is best used when your questions are “big picture” in nature OR when you aren’t certain you’re focusing on the right questions to grow your business. Many clients hire a Coach because they want to follow their own path or they have a general feel that “something isn’t quite right in the business”.

There is a place for both Business Coaches and Business Consultants in your small business. To choose the right one and get the most value from your investment, start by knowing what questions you’re trying to answer.

Employee Benefits that your Team Really Wants

Understanding what employees want in benefits can seem like shooting at a moving target; there are more studies and surveys than there are potential employee benefits. These studies have a lot of great information in them but there’s a catch: they didn’t ask your employees. The only way to find out what is most important to your employees is to ask.

SurveyMonkey.com is simple and anonymous for employees to use. The free version allows you to ask up to ten questions with a variety of question formats. If you have few employees, try having an open dialog with employees to prompt in-depth answers; consider asking employees to give you their thoughts in a more free-flowing format. This style is best for discovering benefits that don’t come off the shelf.emlployee benefits

Stop and think about what employees really want, with or without a survey; it comes down to the basic wants that all humans desire – control, to make an impact, and appreciation.

  • Control. Employees want to be in control of their schedule, when they work, where they work, and how and when they can take time off. Open communication allows you to both achieve what you want.

Employees also want to be in control of their approach. This can be a tough one for entrepreneurs to swallow since there is a control-freak lurking somewhere in us. If you hire up (Read more about hiring up: http://avisionofyourown.com/tag/managing-employees-small-business/page/3/), you have hired an expert, someone more skilled at their job than you could be. Why would you try to control how this hired expert completes their tasks? If you’re still skeptical, create a safety net by asking for drafts, agreeing on a timeline, or having the employee explain their approach first. Do this a couple of times, then let them do the job you hired them for.

  • To make an impact. Humans like to contribute, to give, to know that they make a difference. While we generally think of this in philanthropic terms, it’s true in all aspects of our lives including our working lives. Allow your employees to contribute, to use their talents, to feel valuable.
  • Appreciation. Let your team know that you appreciate them; be specific, timely, and usually, do it in public. It can be as simple as a heartfelt thank-you or a handwritten note with tickets to a show or dinner. If you ever received a handwritten note from a boss, I bet you saved it for a long time and may even still have it. Give that same gift to a well-deserving staff member.

Talk to your employees about what is most important to them through a survey, an impromptu conversation, or a scheduled quarterly/semi-annual review. Incorporate these basic human wants – (control, to make an impact, and appreciation) into your organization – and not only will your employees notice, but they will appreciate you more and be motivated to work harder. Happy employees means happy customers, an attractive bottom line, and a less stressful personal life.

Are You Guilty of Astroturfing? Boost Your Business With Customer Reviews

Amazon received some bad press recently when an online editor suggested that a book about the telecom industry was the victim of “astroturfing”, receiving fictitious bad reviews on Amazon (See it here). Large sites that depend on customer reviews, such as TripAdvisor,  employ systems to crack down on these overly glowing reviews from seemingly “real” customers. Algorithms flag suspicious reviews which are customer reviewsthen reviewed by real live human beings.

Small business owners understand the importance of positive on-line customer reviews but it can be pretty scary to ask for them. Over and over I’ve heard owners say “I’m going to have my sister/neighbor/best friend write a review for me!” They are so excited about this brilliant idea, their run-around of the task; I just hope that they don’t hear me groan.

I get that it’s scary to ask clients and customers to write a review about your business: what if they say no? What if they write something bad? But what if they say something wonderful? It’s like that saying “you’ll fail 100% of the time that you don’t try (ask)”.  To make it easier, try these techniques:

  • Ask for reviews on your invoices or customer receipts; many national stores do this now – often coupled with an incentive, which you should NOT do.
  • Ask “Were you happy with your service today?” that reminds them that they were happy with you.
  • Ask every customer to write a review. Asking needs to become a habit for you and your staff. Put yourself in the position of wondering “was this customer happy enough that I should ask them for a review?” and you’ll find yourself distracted from attending to the customer in front of you. If every Target check-out clerk can ask on behalf of their behemoth employer, don’t you think you can ask for your own business?
  • Yes, you will get some poor reviews and some “eh” reviews. When I see a poor or mid-level review mixed with glowing reviews, I tend to think that reviewer is probably never happy and it makes the reviews in general more believable.
  • Respond to reviews. Thank customers, say something about their visit, or let customers know that you’ve mended your ways, if necessary. Be authentic in your responses and true to your brand.
  • Google+Local is the review site of choice, but don’t discourage customers from writing a review on other sites such as Yahoo, Yelp!, or Facebook. Whatever site is easiest for them to use is the site for them to write their review.
  • Automate the process by sending every customer a follow-up email with step-by-step instructions on creating a review.  www.DemandForce.com is a great tool for this and gives you the opportunity for another customer touch.

It may seem easier to ask your best friend for an online review but in the long run, your business will be stronger by asking everyone for a review. Simplify the process and you will grow, in every sense of the word. No astroturfing necessary.

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.