The idea of business systems often connotes large corporations, complicated flowcharts, and lots of money spent. For small business owners, though, simple systems can mean the difference between paperwork in the office or reading a book on the porch before dinner. Personally, I prefer time on the porch.
The other day I was chatting with a business owner about how her customers pay her, and I asked her why she had chosen to not accept credit cards. Her response was that her husband was encouraging her to grow the business bigger, but she was happy with it as it is. Funny – I hadn’t said a thing about growing the business, only about making her payment process easier. When I said, “Systems don’t necessarily mean bigger, they can just mean easier” it was like the proverbial light bulb went off for her. We chatted about implementing credit card processing to her business, and what it could change for her – namely, no more customer payment reminders (never fun) and more timely and reliable payments.
In the spirit of finding more time – whether it’s for summer fun, relaxing, or time spent on business tasks to grow your business – here are the top simple systems you can implement to add minutes, or even hours, to your day:
- Online or outsourced payroll processing;
- Credit card processing or Point of Sale (POS) applications;
- As an aside: If your employees rely on tips as part of their compensation, adding Square (www.Squareup.com) as a payment option will also boost their tips.
- Social media scheduling apps, such as Hootsuite (www.hootsuite.com);
- Scheduling applications for everything from home repair to landscapers and dog walkers;
- Financial dashboard data collection, most likely in your industry specific software.
There are millions of apps out there, and chances are if you have a task that consumes more time and frustration than you want, someone else has experienced the same and has built an app for it. Adding an app or a business process does not necessarily mean that you have to grow your business; it can just mean that you will have time better spent on a more meaningful task or some extra personal time. And, it does not necessarily have to be tech related – it could be a better system for opening mail, sending out correspondence, or contacting your clients. Before that can happen, your first step is to stop and recognize your business process pain points and then to define the priority (because you will have several points you want cleaned up!).
Yep, there’s a system for that.
Small business owners can have a bit of a one-track mind: gotta grow, gotta grow, gotta grow. I was meeting with a client the other day, tweaking her sales formula and updating her scheduling process. She has been on a rampage growing her business and told me about all the work she had scheduled for the summer. There was something in her voice…she sounded a bit wistful. So when she asked me, “What’s next? What do I do next?” I said, “Maybe rest.” Her reaction astounded me.
The relief was apparent on her face, and she said, “You mean I can take a break? I don’t have to always be growing and expanding?” She, like so many small, growing businesses run by energetic owners, thought that business growth needed to be at a constant incline – up, up, up. I drew an incline with a short plateau, and then an incline again. I explained that growing a business is much like physical training; intervals of hard training interspersed with short rest periods, allowing the body and mind to rejuvenate and to be restored. Growing a business takes energy – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – and your energy stores need to be filled.
Scheduling a slow-down doesn’t necessarily mean coming to a complete stop. Here are some examples of how clients have used intentional slow-down periods:
- Update a customer service delivery system
- Step up the service to existing clients
- Creating a new service offering
- Fun, even playful, networking events
Is it time for you to plan a slow-down? If you’re tired or envy those who tell you about their summer plans, consider how you could benefit from slowing down a bit. Understand the potential consequences of not slowing down, and build a safety net if necessary. Define an end-point so that your business slow-down doesn’t become a business melt-down. Then, go float in a river, hike a mountain, or just read a beach book.
We all know that personal referrals are one of the best ways to grow our small business; new customers that come by the way of a referral become customers more quickly and stay with us longer than others. Satisfied customers appreciate our company values, we’ve reached them on a level deeper than a product at a price. When those same satisfied customers refer their friends and colleagues to us, chances are that those friends and colleagues also appreciate those values. They become happy, ideal customers and the referral cycle continues. So why aren’t you asking for referrals? Here are the top three reasons small business owners don’t ask for referrals and what you can do to start asking today.
- Fear of rejection. I get it, it’s scary to ask someone to recommend you. We fear that our customer will say no, but think about it; if they don’t want to refer you, they just won’t do it – they won’t actually say no to you! If you sense some hesitation on their part, that’s a great opportunity to correct a misunderstanding or dissatisfaction they may have had with you in the past. Your effort to resolve some old issue for them, or just to listen about it, will win them over and they just may become raving fans.
- You don’t know how to ask. Take 30 minutes to create several scripts you and your staff can loosely follow, and that you are comfortable with. When you’re comfortable asking, you will come across more confident and natural, and the request more likely to be received well. Worry less about what the “experts” say about how to do it, and ask in a manner that works for you.
- You may have tried to ask following a well-intentioned marketing seminar, but lacked the follow-through. What you need is a system, an easily repeated step-by-step system. The best systems are well-defined and automatic. Consider these:
- Have your Google+ review link printed on your invoice. This is fairly passive, but may be a “safe” first step for you.
- Follow-up transactions or at regular intervals with an automated email satisfaction and review request (there are some slick systems out there that point happy customers to your review page, while less than happy customers generate an email to you. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more and I can point you to some business partners who can create this for you).
- If you’re interested in a more low-tech option, define who will ask for referrals and at exactly what point in the customer interaction. Once you’ve defined the “right” words (see #2), you and your staff all need to know where responsibility lays for asking. Walk through this process in a staff meeting, as a multi-step process may be best.
- Best bet: do all three!
- You haven’t figured out what the referral reward ought to be. Don’t let this hold you up! Think about the last referral you gave and why you gave it. I doubt it was for the Starbucks coupon; it was more likely because somebody asked or reminded you, or because you wanted to help a friend. Humans give referrals because we like to help.
This is an EXCELLENT example of a referral program – it’s easy for your customer, and offers them a tangible, useful reward.
A well-defined referral system drastically increases the number of referrals, as long as you are (reasonably) comfortable with the actual request. Invest 30 minutes to define your system, and be on the lookout for new ideal customers coming through your door!
Even when we feel we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, we still have to move forward!
All too often, we set goals at the beginning of a new year and then about mid-March, we realize that we are nowhere close to reaching those goals. We’ve thought a lot about those goals, debated them, thought about what the next step should be, and wondered if we really have what it takes to succeed. I’ve been thinking a lot about simply moving forward (see last week’s post). I’m here to tell you that yes, you do have what it takes, and it’s simpler than you think: all you have to do is take the next logical step.
I’ve been meeting with some prospective clients recently who were so excited about their new 2014 goals and the plans to reach them; I could hear the possibility in their voices. When I ask them about the progress they’ve made, I’ve seen surprise as two things happen:
- It sinks in that they haven’t been keeping track of their progress, and;
- They realize that they have made very little, if any, progress and it’s almost 25% through the year.
Before I give you my tried and true strategy of getting out of this position, let me just state some assumptions:
- The goal is their own goal, not their spouse’s, a parent, or a goal declared by an “expert”;
- The goal is big enough. We hear about “big bodacious” goals; that’s a nice catchy phrase, but if it’s so big that it paralyzes you, it’s not much of a goal;
- The goal is small enough. I love big goals, but if we can’t see any path from where we are to our stated goal, it might need to be downsized. As Goldilocks famously said, “This one is just right.” Personally, goals ought to teeter right on the line of scary and exciting. Reaching those goals is a rush for motivated small business owners.
If those assumptions are true, the strategy is simple:
Just take the next logical step.
When I’m feeling stuck, or just not sure what to do with the next hour, I ask myself that simple question, “What’s the next logical step?” It’s usually asking a question, sending an inquiry, writing a first draft of something – all simple, doable actions. If the next logical step requires some research, give yourself a time limit or it’s easy to get lost in the infamous “Internet research”. 20 minutes is plenty. If you find yourself fast-forwarding to possible outcomes of that one single action, bring yourself back to present and remind yourself that you are only focused on that one action.
Find a goal that’s right and true for you and focus on just that one next logical step. We’ve heard the message many times, but it’s true: every journey does begin with a step. All you have to do is keep going.
For some reason, I was having a hard time truly accomplishing anything of substance this morning. I hear this from my clients often, and it can sometimes last for days and weeks. Here is a quick list you can go through to move from being “stuck” to being in overdrive.
- Recognize your “stuck-ness”. Try to figure out what is blocking you from moving forward. Common blocks are boredom, the need for a decision (you may not have enough information), or being overwhelmed with chaos.
- Take 30 minutes to resolve your block – set a timer if necessary. Clean up the clutter, get the missing information, or take a walk around the block.
- Decide what one action will most move you forward. Figure out the one next action and do that one thing. Tout à fait fini (over and done).
- Create a ritual that defines your overdrive mode. Could be a special chair, location, or a cup of joe, whatever will tell you when THIS happens, I move forward and get stuff done.
- Just start whatever you feel stuck around. Don’t worry about completing it (yet). Get started – you never know where you might end up.
I’m sitting in my special writing chair, got an iced tea by my side, and I started an article by just writing the pieces that I felt confident about. You’ll never guess what happened: I finished the article and then decided to help someone else who might be having a stuck moment, too, by giving you this step-by-step guide to moving from stuck-ness to overdrive.