“How do I get my staff to finish the loose ends on a job so I don’t have to?”
“How do I get my team to remember all the steps they need to take on a procedure?”
“How do I get my staff to put all the tools and boxes away at the end of a day?”
These are all questions I’ve heard from small business owners over the past few weeks.
The answer is simple:
Stop doing it for them.
I said simple, not easy.
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re a business with protocols and checklists, or at least someone who wants that level of consistent quality in their business. When it doesn’t happen, it’s frustrating and just grates on your nerves. I hear “why don’t they care enough to do the job well?” We sometimes take it personally, or think that our employees don’t care. As with so many things, though, it comes back to us: we pick up the pieces at the end of the day, we tie up the loose ends, so why would our employees think that it’s their responsibility? Yep, you created the practice and you need to dismantle it if you want your staff to work independently without constant reminders and reinforcement.
To change a protocol, wanted or unwanted, you start with communication. If you want your staff to do something differently, don’t assume that they can read your mind (sound familiar?); you need to tell them what needs to change and how it will change. Think of it as if you’re playing a board game and you want to change the rules; you’d have to tell everyone what the new rules are, right? Same is true in the workplace. New rules, new protocols, new responsibilities. Be culpable, recognize to your staff that you let this happen, and that you take responsibility for how things have been done in the past. Finally, remember that habits are tough to change and it may take time. Your staff is not deliberately ignoring your request (if they are, that’s another conversation we need to have!), they have just developed a habit and it may take time to adopt a new habit. Be patient and keep the communication going as your team’s behavior (and your own) slowly changes.
By the way, the solution works for another age-old question, one I heard just this morning: “How do I get my kids to pick up their laundry?” Stop doing it for them. Like I said, simple, but not easy.
There is an awful lot to get done in the early stages of a business: there’s the product or service development, your online presence, customer definition, marketing message, videos, blogs, networking, and the building of your business systems. And, oh yeah, eventually you actually need to sell something. It’s easy to get bogged down and we sometimes forget that what we really need to do is generate revenue. I love clean systems and on-point marketing, but there are times you just need to ask:
What’s my shortest path to revenue?
My clients know that I like to cut to the chase and get right to the core, and this is never more true than when a business needs or wants more revenue. I once chose to work for a company that was close to bankruptcy because I wanted to see if I could help turn it around. They had some pretty cool products in development, and when I asked about how we would cover expenses in the next few months, I heard a lot of “well, if this happens….” Or “when we figure out this issue….” I don’t think I was making friends in those early days, because I would say “that sounds great, but what do we have to sell tomorrow?” “Which customers are most likely to want what we have right now?”
Being short on revenue is one of the most frustrating stages of business ownership and owners often feel powerless: that there’s nothing else they can do. We have to cut to the chase and ask key questions:
- What’s the shortest path to revenue?
- Is there a shortcut to revenue (without shortchanging service or quality) we can take?
- What steps can we bypass to get straight to revenue? Perhaps eventually we will add additional features or build out the missing elements, but when it’s crunch time you need to take the shortest line between where you are and what will produce revenue.
- The objection I usually hear is that it’s not ideal, it’s not what was planned. Taking a shorter path does not tie us to that path for ever, it’s just a path we choose for a period of time.
Keep building new products and services, keep filling your pipeline, but by determining the quickest path to revenue can keep you afloat while your are building your business, making changes, and growing your customer base.
Once you are clear about the value that you bring to your customers and clients (see the post True Value: What Business are You Really In?), or the WHAT, the next step is understanding the HOW, WHEN, and WHO of delivering it.
There are two elements of HOW we deliver our product or service:
- The actual process of a transaction. For example, one client’s customer process includes a written estimate, followed by a customer purchase order, parts’ order placement, parts are received, and finally, the work is scheduled and completed.
- The second HOW element is the way in which we do it. For example, a local car dealership has recently launched their “Negotiation Free” buying process. The dealership has defined how the transaction will happen not only for potential customers but also for employees. This piece of “HOW” determines in large part about HOW the transaction will feel to your customers and clients. Unless you define it for your employees, they will create their own system, and it may not be what you want. Think of a business visit you’ve made where you were treated poorly by an employee with poor customer service skills; I’m confident that is not how the owner would like it done.
The second element of product/service delivery systems is the WHEN. You may be shaking your head and thinking “whenever the customer walks through my door!” Stop and think about it, though, and you will realize that the transaction has several components, and they typically occur in a routine sequence. In the best scenario, you have designed a system so that transaction steps occur at the optimum point of time. Examples of WHEN that should be defined are:
- Response to initial inquiry in service industries;
- Your “Welcome”, offers of help, and general chatter in a consumer retail setting;
- Length of time between a customer proposal and follow-up communication.
Much of the WHEN can be automated through email systems and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Learn the capabilities that exist and use them.
Finally, there is the WHO of delivering your product/service – who does what when? Defining the key roles in this process is critical. This cuts down on confusion, and staff members taking on tasks that they should not: everyone stays in their lane, and tasks are not duplicated. It allows your team to focus on their given workload and become the subject-matter experts in their given area. This is especially key for your sales and customer support staff. A client recently discovered that when his administrative assistant made the proposal follow-up phone call, instead of the business owner, the acceptance rate shot through the roof. His customers most likely feel less “sold to” when his assistant calls to follow-up.
When these three elements – HOW, WHEN and WHO – are clearly defined from your customers’ perspective and are put into a system, customers will be treated consistently well by you and your staff, and in turn, increasing the likelihood that they will return.
Do you know what you are really selling? Here’s a hint: it’s not the widgets on your inventory shelves, it’s not the thing that you do to or for your customers. It’s something more: it’s the change that results in your customers’ lives because of their interaction with you.
We know that our marketing materials need to talk more about benefits than features. But all too often, we define the benefits we provide for use in our marketing materials and then forget about them – we go back to our widgets and “that thing that we do”. What’s the big deal, you might say; if they’re already a customer, isn’t that all that matters?
Consumers (including businesses, if you are a B2B business) have an infinite number of choices to fill their needs. Your customers have a choice to work with you or…with someone else. They make the choice based upon the benefits received. On first pass, customer benefits look something like this:
- Ease of use
Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover more intrinsic benefits like:
- Peace of mind
- Personal Pride
- Family Protection
If you want your customers to recognize the benefits that you bring to them, you need to do more than tell them. The benefits of doing business with you need to be part of every step you take in serving your customers and clients.
- Define the benefits you provide and narrow them down so that you can fit them on a notecard. Post that note card and focus on those 5-7 words every morning for 2-3 minutes. Let those benefits guide your day.
- Talk with staff members about the benefits that you provide to your customers. The benefits need to be in the front of their minds as well as yours.
What it boils down to are the same wants every one of us had in elementary school; we want to feel included, we want to be confident, we want to know that we are doing well. Fill those wants for your customers and clients, and they’ll come back to you over and over.
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.