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Posts Tagged ‘Excellence with Ease’

What Are Your Unique Natural Gifts? Here’s Why it Matters.

Vision of Your OwnAs I sat on the short wall outside of the post office, I noticed the stone; this was no New Hampshire granite or concrete blocks. The wall was made of sea shells, coral, perhaps even some driftwood mixed with concrete (yes, I was someplace warm). I wondered, “did they use this because it’s beautiful or because it’s the most abundant and, therefore, the cheapest?” My answer, of course, was all of the above and the similarity to our own personal resources was striking. Let me explain.

Our natural abilities, those attributes we were born with and that come most naturally, are also those abilities that are the easiest for us. For example, the ability to “see” in three-dimension comes easily to graphic artists, surgeons, carpenters, and massage therapists, if they’ve chosen a career in line with their natural abilities. Veterinarians have the natural ability to connect the dots when all the dots aren’t even there (creatures covered in fur who can’t talk, anyone?). Think of those things you can do without thinking about, that others remark on, making those things, well – remarkable. People wonder how you speak easily in front of a crowd, how you create what you create, how you remember so many details, how you assemble a puzzle when there are so many pieces still missing. These are your natural abilities; you can’t help but do them, you didn’t learn them, you’ve just always been able to do them and they come easily. In resource terms, the abilities are “cheap” – they require little energy on your part and they are abundant. Just like the coral and sea shells in the stone wall, your natural abilities are readily available and always accessible.

At first glance, you might not have called the sea shells and coral wall “beautiful” – at least not in a conventional way. What made the wall beautiful was its uniqueness, the combination of materials to make something new and never seen before (at least by me). The similarity to our natural abilities once again struck me; many of us would not consider our unique and natural abilities as beautiful, and they may actually annoy us at times. I used to wish that I could turn off my ideas sometimes, that I didn’t always see problems or how something would fail, until I learned what amazing abilities they are and how to use them. Recognizing the “beauty” in our natural abilities allows us to celebrate and leverage them and when we use them in our life’s work to help others, well – that is a beautiful thing.

What are your personal sea shells and coral? Look within and find those natural abilities that are abundant and beautiful, a never-ending resource to share in your work.

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!

Make Your Clients’ Dream Come True with a Wish List!

A "wish list" will help you know today what's most important to your client.

A “wish list” will help you know today what’s most important to your client.

Gathering client or customer information is standard procedure in many industries: chiropractors, veterinarians, interior design, heck – even business coaches! Contact information is tedious to write and collect and, for me, a bit annoying in this age of technology. I’ve found a way for many of my clients to turn it from a chore to an incredibly valuable tool for the business owner and the customer or client:

Ditch your “Client Information Sheet”

And instead, ask for a “Wishlist”.

Beyond the basics, ask customers or clients for a wish list of items and to rank them in order from #1, their Biggest Wish, sequentially to #2, #3, and so on. For example, an eye doctor’s patients might wish for using only one pair of glasses, rather than switching back and forth to reading glasses. The wish of an interior designer’s client might be to create a gathering spot for her family to play games. Understanding a customer or client’s wishes allows you to:

1.) use their language when communicating with them, and

2.) get to the heart of how you can best help them immediately, which in turn often results in sales and a more satisfied customer.

When you speak in their terms, your customer feels understood and their concerns and ideas valued. Further, having a customer wish list gives you insight into your market’s future, it gives you marketing language and tactics, it gives you a sales’ forecast, and, if used properly, an ongoing revenue stream.

Beyond products and specific services, a wish list can tell you what your customer’s current frustrations are with product/service delivery. A financial service industry client of mine learned that face-to-face account reviews was a frustration for some, from clients who wished for “Account reviews via phone or Skype”. Another client, a high-end custom product provider, learned that the wait between their custom order and delivery was frustration. This set the company to shaving unnecessary time out of the process and to providing customers with product completion updates. Customers received photos of their products in production, which kept them excited and the provider in their mind. Customers tend to show those pictures to friends who then investigate the company. Happy, regularly informed customers became referral engines for the custom product provider.

Turning your Client Information Sheet into a Wish List is fairly simple to do (30 minutes or less!) and provides you market research, sales forecast data, and incredibly satisfied customers. That’s a wish I’d like granted to every business owner out there!

Part II: The Solution to the “One More Thing” Time Vampire

Small business owners have a lot to get done; my tasks so far this week have included replacing my office chair, invoicing, initiating a new targeted-market marketing campaign, filling the bird feeders outside my office windows, client meetings, and, well…you get the picture. Some tasks are urgent, others not urgent but important, and some – not urgent and not important. Facebook and filling the bird feeders fall into that last category. Stephen Covey, in his landmark book First Things First, popularized an idea presented by President Eisenhower; we have tasks which are urgent, and rarely important and tasks which are important, but rarely urgent. In small business terms, it looks like this:

  • Urgent and important tasks: Correcting errors, fighting fires, deadline-driven projects, employee crises. In Covey terms, these are Quadrant I tasks. A clear business vision and effective business systems will eliminate time spent on these tasks.
  • Not urgent but important tasks: Ahhh, The Lovely Quadrant II, my favorite place to spend time. Strategic work, tasks in line with a business vision, chosen to move a business forward. I once created a “Q2” group when I was in corporate, an employee group who focused on long-term strategy and systems. These are the tasks that are often postponed because they are not urgent and there is sometimes some fear around accomplishing them.
  • Urgent but not important tasks: These tasks often help someone else, or we have taken them on to be “nice”, or if we’re not clear about our own business vision. Incoming phone calls and emails can be seen as urgent, but very few are important to our business. Other examples might include networking that’s not in line with our business model.
  • Not urgent and not important tasks: Most of our time on social networks falls into this category, fantasy football, Candy Crush,as does filling my bird feeders. If you’re not sure, ask yourself what the consequence would be if you did not spend time on the task.

If you want to know how you’re spending your time, use the template here.

Attack of the Time Vampires, Part III

The “One More Thing” Time Vampire

The "One More Thing" Time VampireI admit it: every time I cross another to-do off my list I get a little thrill. I feel a sense of accomplishment and the more I rack up the better. Part of my brain thinks that I’m saving myself time for later, and “later” is when I’ll get more meaningful work done. But that sense of accomplishment is not always earned.  You see, I’m confusing accomplishing a task with accomplishing meaningful work.  Big difference.

The “One More Thing” Vampire encourages us to squeeze just one more thing in before we start on that project we SHOULD be focused on, before we need to leave for an appointment, and sometimes before taking a break. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something, when often times the task doesn’t move our business forward at all. That’s the question I encourage all of my clients to focus on:

“What will most move my business forward today?”

We’re told to do those tasks that must get done first, but those tasks are often thrust upon us by someone else, created due to an error or someone else’s delay, or have become urgent because we’ve postponed them. If a task is truly urgent, though, we WILL get them done, no matter what. We’ll work late, take work home, we’ll do whatever we have to do to get those urgent tasks done and leave the less urgent tasks, the more meaningful tasks, for “later”.  Focus our best time on meaningful tasks and our business will grow, become easier, more joyful. If I told you that all of that would happen if you just tackled the meaningful work first, why wouldn’t you do it? Why don’t I always do it?

The first reason is because we all love to feel accomplishment, no matter how big or small. Looking at a to-do list with everything crossed off let’s my ego say “Look at me! Aren’t I something!” Meaningful work is often multi-stepped with the result far into the future; we define success as the end result, when success actually comes with every step we take forward. To combat this, define the steps you need to take to meet your longer-term goal, and celebrate every completed step along the way.

The second reason we succumb to the One More Thing Vampire is fear; it’s easier to tackle the easy tasks, the expected results more secure. I’m confident that invoices will be produced when I choose that task to work on. I’m less confident that when I choose to spend time on my plan to secure new clients in a targeted niche that I’ll be successful. And there’s the fear that I’ll spend that time on those tasks and be unsuccessful, and then what? As long as I still have some possible tasks to do that might help me reach my goal, I can keep that dream alive.

The One More Thing Vampire wants us to squeeze one more task in, and it feels good to do them. But there’s a big difference between meaningful work, work that will move your business forward, and work that has to get done, and will get done, but doesn’t really do much for us. One feeds my ego, the other feeds my business.

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.