Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Small business lesson from a water taxi driver; Passion for Customer Service

Puerto_RicoI just returned from a fabulous vacation to Culebra, a small island off of Puerto Rico. Like many small Caribbean islands, it relies on tourism and fishing to sustain itself, and in general, is fairly poor. But Culebra stood out to me, although I couldn’t quite figure it out at first. In my usual style, I was determined to figure it out. Our water taxi driver, Guillian, gave me the key.

Guillian took us to Culebrita, an island fully protected as a National Wildlife Preserve to snorkeling, walk to an old lighthouse, and visit the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. Guillian told us he used to be a police officer and worked for US Fish and Game. When I asked him what he did for Fish and Game, he told me that when the US Navy used the island, “they did not care about it.” As a Fish and Game officer, he helped write regulations to protect the island and its resources, “because we care about it. It is important to us.” As Guillian talked about his island, he almost had tears in his eyes; his love of the island was right there and that’s when it hit me: what makes Culebra special is it’s peoples’ love for the island. The population is poor and for many, living standards are low – no windows, barely a roof over their heads. Yet evidence of their care for wildlife and nature was everywhere. They understand what their most valuable asset is and they protect and care for it.

Guillian got me to thinking: what resources does my business have that I am willing to protect, that I must protect, to insure it’s well-being and long life? If you are a solo-preneur service business like me, your most valuable asset is you – your well-being, your knowledge, your passion. Once a business adds staff, it needs to protect its customer service delivery to insure it is consistent and top-notch every time, regardless of who provides the service. To protect your most valuable assets, think like Guillian: what is so important to your business’s health that you would build a fortress around it, write regulations, and designate them as a preserve? Protect it like your livelihood depends on it.

Tips for Throwing a Great Holiday Office Party

My clients have built some amazing businesses yet tell me that they are stymied about putting on a successful company party. It feels like there are so many details and that it’s tough to do it right.

It might feel easier to order pizza and leave it in the kitchen, but with just a little bit of effort you can create an event your staff will thank you for on Monday and remember for months. Here are my top eight tips for a simple and enjoyable office party:

   1.  Define your objective. Yes, even parties have an objective in my book! Decide if your goal is to build camaraderie, show your appreciation to your staff, or to let the staff burn off some stress together. Being clear about your desired outcome will make your celebration choice easier and a successful event more likely to occur. For example, if you’re looking to create more synergy amongst the staff, a night of games (laser tag, anyone?) is a great idea. If your staff has been under the gun and has produced beyond your expectations, a relaxing and perhaps luxurious night might be the ticket.

   2.  Enlist your staff to create the event. Give them a budget up front, tell them your goals, and let them know how the final decision will be made. If possible, let the staff make the decision as long as it meets your parameters. It gives your staff a shot of fun in their day and reminds them that you trust them.

   3.  Before the event, make a point of remembering your teams’ family member names and important events in their lives. If that’s not your strong suit, enlist the help of a trusted employee.

   4.  Mingle with your staff and their guests. Just like in high school, we can all get stuck in a rut with who we chat with, those with whom we have common interests. Every single one of your employees, though, wants a personal connection with you, a chance to tell you their thoughts, what’s going on in their lives. Small talk may not be something you love but honestly, this is one of those times you just need to suck it up and do it.

   5.  If your company is out in public together, it’s a public event. Sure, the event may be a chance for the team to let their hair down but like it or not, it’s also a window into your company culture to potential customers and clients. As the business leader, set the stage and show guests how you expect them to behave.

   6.  Let the financial piece of the event be transparent to your staff. Let the facility know ahead of time that you are financially responsible for the event and ask them to be discreet when it’s time to settle the bill. Go back to your objective; hopefully, reminding staff of how much you do for them (hear the violin?) is not on your list. Every moment of the event makes an impression on your staff; make sure it has the impact you want.

   7.  Communicate with the facility staff if any guests have issues; besides insuring that your guests enjoy themselves, this also reminds staff how you want your own customer concerns handled. Thank the facility staff personally at the conclusion of the event.

   8.  Thank the staff who put the event together. Point out one or two aspects you especially appreciated about how it all came together.

The most important element of a successful business party is to enjoy the time outside of the work day with your staff. These are the people who are creating and building your livelihood, the people who help your business vision come true. Thank them and enjoy the time with them.

Olympic Coaches Develop Powerful Results; Inspiration

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Over the 12 years of my coaching career, this article has never been far from my thoughts; it inspires me to be the best coach possible for my clients, a coach that would carry my clients piggyback down a mountain. It was originally published in the Chicago Tribune, during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.olympics 2012

I’m excited as the 2012 Summer Olympics are about to begin – thinking of the hours of training it took for the athletes to get there, the careful attention to detail by athletes and coaches, the sacrifices made. I’m hoping to see coaches that inspire their athletes to be their best, that hug them good or bad, that remember to give them a last minute wink, not just another tip. I am always striving to give the same to my clients.

I hope you enjoy this article as much as I do.

View the original article here, I hope you’ll print it out and save it as inspiration.


– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

The Commencement of Your Small Business Success

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Graduation ceremonies mark the day that a high school student starts a great new adventure in their lives. They’re “commencing” adulthood, with all that’s exciting and challenging, with all their dreams, hopes and wishes before them. As business owners, we experience the same excitement every day that we step into our offices, so it’s appropriate to reflect on one of the best commencement speeches I’ve heard recently – whether it’s something you read to gear yourself up for work this morning, or you’re looking for inspired words of wisdom for that high school senior in your life.graduation

My weekends are filled with graduations and senior events, and I see words of wisdom quoted on Facebook and heard on the radio. If we’re honest, the commencement speeches are often boring and rarely offer anything insightful for the graduates. But Conan O’Brian’s Dartmouth speech from 2011 felt different to me; it caused me to laugh several times, he was open about his personal path, and frankly told the seniors that they will fail at some point in their careers. Let me share several phrases that apply equally to business ownership and business success:

Fogbound, with no compass, and adrift, I started trying things…. To this day I still don’t understand exactly what happened, but I have never had more fun, been more challenged, and this is important —- had more conviction about what I was doing.

It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.  It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a catalyst for profound re-invention.

But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come.  The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.

And there is no greater cliché in a commencement address than “follow your dream.”  Well I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change.  And that’s okay.

For business owners, that boils down to:

  1. Try new things.
  2. Be wiling to change your course. 
  3. Learn from your mistakes. 
  4. Follow your dream, as long as it is not cast in stone. 

O’Brian’s final words sounded a bit more like a traditional commencement address, and yet I still find them meaningful and germane to business. He wrapped up the Dartmouth speech in the same way that he concluded his NBC career by saying, “Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.”

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Small Business Communication Strategy

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Small business communication challenges can pop up the drop of a hat; just when everything seems to be going smoothly, a challenge with an employee, a partner, or even a customer or client can zap your energy. For many, the inclination is to wait it out, hoping the issue will go away on its own. More likely, the issue will grow until it feels like it has consumed your business. Follow these four simple steps to quickly resolve any small business communication challenge:

  • Address the issue when it comes up. No one enjoys one on one confrontation so it often gets postponed. It feels easier at the time, but the consequences are significant:
    • You set a small business communication standard in your company. By not addressing what needs to be addressed, you tell employees this is how “the company” conducts itself. Letting an issue slide or not addressing it directly tells others it’s okay to sweep issues under the rug.
    • Your leadership is questioned, and rightly so. You may try to fool yourself into thinking that no one knows about the issue, but that’s just a game you play with yourself.
    • The issue grows. If an employee disregards an office protocol and you don’t address it, they will most likely continue the practice and others will join him. What started as one employee taking one single sick day for a vacation day becomes several employees taking extra vacation days.
    • Your personal energy is consumed. When we postpone an issue, part of us is connected to that issue until it is eventually resolved. If it’s an employee issue, a little of our mental and emotional energy gets zapped whenever we see that employee. The longer we postpone the “conflict”, the more energy we lose. As a business owner, we can all use as much energy as possible, so don’t waste it and just communicate.
  • Know what needs to be said… then say it. Before any important communication, make sure that you are clear about the message you want conveyed. Don’t get mixed up with the symptoms; convey the core beneath. Write down one to three points and have them in front of you during the discussion.
  • Be clear. Prepare your notes in clear, concise language; refer to your notes during the conversation and make sure you are on track to be as clear orally as you were on paper. You might be tempted to say “Perhaps you could try to be here a little earlier;” looking at your notes you would probably read something more like “I need and rely on you to be here ready to go on time, at 8:30….” “A little earlier” leaves much to interpretation; “at 8:30” is crystal clear. The employees and colleagues you want to work with appreciate the clarity.
  • Be charge neutral, meaning without emotion in your voice. It’s the difference between “Would you please pick up your laundry?” and “For the tenth time, would you PLEASE pick up your laundry?” (this works equally well at home!). If you need to calm down first, do so, but don’t let it wait for more than 24 hours.

Small business communication issues are hard to deal with but here’s one guarantee: once you address the issue, you will feel better on the other side. And that makes business easier.

 – 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.