Tuesday, December 22, 2009

7 New Year's Resolutions for Business Owners

If “The Most Wonderful Time of Year” is behind us, what does January bring? For some, there are those nasty post-holiday blues. But for many, we design our New Year’s Resolution chart to plaster around the house.
For small business, you can do the same thing, too. Let’s take 7 of the most common resolutions and apply them to your business. Even as we face a long road ahead, we find renewed vision to start off right!

1. EXERCISE

The most successful weight-loss strategies typically involve muscle building. Businesses engage in strength training by first assessing their talent base. Look for ways to rotate some employees to various positions in your company. Give them exposure to new areas of responsibility. It’s easier to let everyone stick to what they do best, but by strengthening across the board, you eliminate the vacuum that remains if one employee leaves her post or if one guy just happens to be sick for a week. Learning other jobs also broadens the employee’s perspective and usually improves morale as employees learn to walk in one another’s shoes. A team with greater diversity of understanding and experience makes for a strong force when times are lean.

2. EAT BETTER

Small business must consume healthier options. The most demoralizing product your employees consume is the feast of silence from the top. Our human nature gravitates to boss-bashing, quarreling with other co-workers, and griping about wages. This is a buffet of disaster and makes businesses sluggish. Feed your employees praise and positive reinforcement. Acknowledge the good efforts and don’t just criticize the mistakes. Provide opportunities to learn new skills. There are many low-cost webinars that can empower and encourage. Don’t forget the power of surprise rewards, the unexpected financial recognition that every employee loves. Even year-end bonuses over time become expected and lose their intended purpose (just ask Clark Griswold of “Christmas Vacation”).

3. STOP HARMFUL HABITS

Many commit personally to quit smoking or stop excessive drinking. But what about those harmful habits destructive to our business? One of the grossest areas of abuse is in the area of self-promotion. Yes, that’s right, quit promoting your services and products! The most common marketing error is saying, “if they only knew more about X, they’d buy it!” People don’t care about your products, but they do care about how those products will benefit them. Consumers are self-focused - that’s why they dispense their hard-earned dollar to whichever company offers the better price. Spend your marketing words on talking about the consumer - speak in their language and in ways that benefit them. Harley-Davidson has long been recognized for not selling motorcycles, but for the way it makes their loyal customers feel.

4. SMARTER FINANCIAL DECISIONS

Small business must make better financial choices. In your marketing, look for ways to stop putting down alot of money for little ROI. Make sure you have strong measurables for that ad you’ve kept placing in your local yellow directory. Reduce your advertising space in the local paper and direct them to your website where you have unlimited space to tell about all the benefits. Quit sending out those same direct mail pieces if you can’t account for its success (TIP: set up unique phone numbers and web landing pages for each venue in which you advertise - this helps quantify the leads).

5. ORGANIZATION

I started my year already by cleaning the garage, our bedroom closet and my office (well, it’s a work-in-progress!) But we also decided as a family to make some family goals, plans and intentional efforts toward what results we really didn’t see last year. Don’t even begin to think of squeaking quietly through 1Q09 without a comprehensive yet simple marketing plan.

6. CONNECTING

Plenty of people start the new year committing to joining a networking group, signing up for their local Lion’s or Rotary Club, or even attending and volunteering more in your local church. We satisfy our desire to connect with those whom we can help and from whom we receive benefit as well. Your business has got to break down the impersonal barrier and connect with your customers and prospects. The web is ridding the world of formalities, walls, and sales pitches. People need to know your values, the things that are important to you. They must hear your story, your journey of challenge and reward. Again, social media tools like Facebook and Twitter may be a way to allow your target market to become aware of you, have more likeability toward your business, and ultimately trust you enough to become your advocates and champions in the community.

7. GIVING MORE

I believe that most of you in small business are not in it just for the money. If so, in a recession, you’d walk out in a heartbeat. No, most of us went down the entrepreneurial path because we wanted a better quality of life: more time with the family, control over vacation schedules, ability to influence the community and world through charitable giving, and putting us in the driver’s seat of our own destiny. I call them “greater things” - the often intangible, but clearly identifiable when you ask a small business owner why they continue to endure daily challenges and hardships. Charitable giving needs to be an essential element of how you present yourself to the community. This passion for influence and involvement is something often robbed of people sitting in a corporate cubicle. Rediscover your passion and recommit to making 2010 all about the greater things!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Listening Part 2

I told you things to consider about good listening in "Listening Part 1" so here are four more items to consider about being a good listener and how it can play into providing better service for your client/customer.

Illustration: Did you ever have an experience where someone was trying to persuade you rather than just listen to you? What did that do for you?
Persuading comes from a place of judgment, and individuals need to train and shift themselves from persuading to learning. The listener has to shift to a learning stance. Or better yet a stance of curiosity.

How curious are you about your client? What do you think of when you hear the word curious? Curious meaning: You are partnering in that quest of understanding and learning with and about your client/customer.

Now, the most obvious benefit of listening is learning about the other person.
And listening involves asking questions and acknowledgement of the other.
In communications training, you will hear about active listening and you will learn about what you should do to be a good listener. And what you hear is relatively quite common and similar – ask questions, paraphrase back, acknowledge, be present, be attentive, if you re face to face you look at them eye to eye – all good advice.

You emerge from these training sessions, eager to try out your skills, only to become discouraged or confused when someone says you sound phony or mechanical.
“Don’t use that active listening on me” they might say…often hear this after couples go to couples seminar – and they teach on active listening.

The problem is this: you are taught what to say, how to sit, posture, what to do – but the heart of good listening is authenticity. People are “reading” not only your words and posture etc… But they are asking themselves what is going on inside of you. If your “stance” is not genuine, the words will not matter. What will be communicated is whether you are genuinely curious, whether you genuinely care about the other person.

If your intentions are false, no amount of careful wording or good posture will help.
If your intentions are good, even clumsy language will not hinder the communications process.

Listening is only powerful and effective when it is authentic. Authenticity means that you are listening because you are curious and because you care, not just because you are supposed to. The issue then is this: are you curious?
There is only one sure fire way to understand your client/customer and that is by being curious.

Being curious begins with “I wonder…” Instead of asking yourself… “How can they think that”? ask yourself “I wonder what information they have that I don’t”?
It might be asking “I wonder how might I see the world as such that their view makes sense”? Certainty locks us out of understanding, curiosity lets us in.


5. LISTENING AND QUESTIONING TECHNIQUES

Difference between Conventional questioning and Curious questioning.

• Conventional Questioning – provides a source for information
How much exercise do you need each week?
What is an advanced coach

• Curious Questioning – provides a source of self exploration.
What would “being fit” mean to you? What you need to be able to call yourself an effective listener?

6. LISTENING AND SAFTEY

Quote - “Truth comes as safe as the environment is to accept it” agree/disagree?

What can we do to create an environment that is safe enough for others to be truthful? Make it safe not to answer.

Sometimes even the mist skillful question can provoke defensiveness.

You can ask a question out of genuine caring toward the other person and a genuine desire to learn, and they may react by shutting down.

You can respond by saying, you are there to help and continue to press for an answer, but that may lead them to feel you are trying to control them – and you will get further resistance.
It is best to make your curious questioning an invitation rather than a demand.

The difference is that an invitation can be declined without penalty.

This offers a greater sense of safety and, especially if the client declines to respond….and your reaction makes that okay, it build trust between you.

Giving the client a choice to respond increases the chances that he or she will respond honestly.

Even if they do not know they answer now, they may later, after they think about it.

Knowing it is their choice underscores your caring intent and frees them to think about the question.

7. LISTENING AND EMPATHY

The deepest form of understanding and learning about your client is empathy.

Empathy involves a shift from my observing how a client seems on the outside, to imagining what it feels like for them on the inside.

As an empathetic listener, you are on a journey with a direction without necessarily a destination.

You will not “arrive”. You may not be able to fully say “I truly understand you”.

We are all to complex for that.

What psychologist have taught us is clients are more interested in just the act of knowing someone is seeking to empathize with them – that we as a coach are willing to struggle to understand how they feel and see how they see…means more than actually accomplishing it itself.

My challenge is to encourage you to enter into that fascinating struggle and complexity and/of communication of learning with your client.





8. LISTENING AUTHENTICALLY

There are specific strategies that are regularly employed in authentic listening. Do not underestimate the simplicity, the significance and the excellence of these techniques.

1. Close your mouth. Authentic listening and talking are mutually exclusive.

2. Don't predict or judge the outcome, or argue with the speaker mentally. Get out of your head and get into his or hers.

3. Watch your body language: does your posture indicate you're interested? Are you maintaining eye contact? Are you nodding when appropriate, smiling or otherwise physically communicating your attention to what he or she is saying?

4. Ask questions when you do not understand something or need clarification.

5. Put on his or her shoes. Put yourself in the other person's place mentally so that you can better relate to their point(s) of view.

6. Control your emotions. Better yet, leave them behind. Your worries, fears, problems and emotions prevent you from listening authentically.

7. Listen to what is not being said.

8. Listen to how something is said. Inflection, intonation and tone of the voice may tell you more about the person’s personality and values than mere words.

9. React to the ideas, not to him or her, specifically. Remember, you don't have to like someone to learn from them. But you cannot learn from them without listening to them authentically.

10. Be consistent. Practice these techniques in every communication. Ask the client if he or she felt that you "heard" what he or she was trying to communicate.

So Where’s the Competition Right Now?

So Where’s the Competition Right Now? There is much said these days about paying very close attention to your competition and about not paying such close attention. It seems like every other day some marketing guru gets up and makes some bold proclamation either way and the average business person who just wants to stay competitive in the first place is left in a quandary as to “what to do.” I myself ascribe to the common sense theory.

Here’s the first point of view:

The more time you spend on your competition, the less time you are spending on your company. While it is important to know who your competitors are and what they are doing, it is more important for you to constantly improve on what your customers want and need and that data can be gathered only from your customers, not from your competition. The idea is simple:

1) Create/Define the Market 2) Be First
3) Be the Best 4) Never Look Back

The second point of view is you have to evaluate your competitors for several important reasons. I genuinely take issue with those who say you don't; anymore than you can drive by ignoring other drivers. You reach your destination with your own route and your own map. But you're aware or hopefully you should be aware of ways in which your competitors' plans can interfere with your...that is to say, get in your way...and cut you off. You don't win races by being the fastest car or fastest runner. You drive a smart race. You take advantage of your tactical opportunities. You win baseball games not by being the best hitter or the fastest pitcher, but by finding ways to neutralize your opponent's advantages, and get the most from your own skills and opportunities. You ask yourself DEEPER competitive questions.

- How can my competitor change the game on me?
- How can I change the game on them?
- How can I have better market insight than my competitor?
- What does he see that I'm missing? What is he missing that I can use?
- What difference will it make if he does THIS?
- Are there market developments I need to be prepared for?

It's exactly like defensive driving. You make sure THEIR actions don't cause YOU to miss your exit or have an accident. The best way to describe it is to say its like driving with your eyes wide open and your mind fully active. So let’s be careful out there and have a safe drive, to a successful business.