Monday, December 3, 2012

You need more than Passion!!

It is with our passions as it is with fire and water, they are good servants, but bad masters.


Too often I think we do people a tremendous disservice when we say that anyone can be an entrepreneur, especially if they have passion. In my opinion, passion without knowledge can lead to failure so quickly.

When people come to me with questions about starting a business, the vast majority are looking to open a restaurant. Normally, these people are very good cooks who have worked in a few restaurants and they really believe they have the requisite skills to be successful.

Without question, these people have passion and desire – and even some experience – but I do everything I can to talk them out of starting a restaurant. I just know the failure rate in this industry is so high. Not only is a difficult business, but so many people lack the business background they need to be successful.

Now that I have said this, I know I am going to get a ton of notes from people saying I have completely lost my mind – which could be true – but I stand by this advice. Many of these folks believed it when their parents told them they could accomplish anything they put their mind to. I know I probably told my kids the same thing to give them confidence to take some risks.  However, in real life, this untempered optimism is just plain untrue and so dangerous as it encourages people to take too much risk without the knowledge to go along with it.

I recently met a very neat man who has an incredible passion for dogs. Ever since graduating from college, his dream was to open a canine massage business.

He has a business degree, so he understands that part. It is also clear that he has the passion and the knowledge, as he has had extensive training in canine massage. I would even say there is a niche for this type of business as massage therapy is already accepted for horses and is getting some attention for dogs too. However, what he and so many early-phase entrepreneurs forget is that there has to be a strong demand for your product.

He is having significant financial struggles. He has not taken a cent out for a salary and has put increasing amounts of money into the business over the two years it has been in operation. When I asked him if he had measured or attempted to quantify his sales, he said no. He had just gone for it with a very strong desire to make his concept work.

He had really believed the classic line from the movie Field of Dreams and was convinced that if he built it, they would come. But as I am always telling these folks, building it and having passion just is not enough to be successful. There is so much more to it. I try never to tell them not to follow their dreams, rather that they should only make a go of it after they have acquired the knowledge and experience they need to give them the best chances of success.

Now go out and make sure that with any new venture, you have all the skills and knowledge you need to be successful. You cannot just rely on passion and enthusiasm.

You can do this!

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Really Motivates Staff!

 “There are two levers for moving men -- interest and fear.”
~Napoleon Bonaparte

Finding out what motivates staff is more of an art than a science. So many people believe that money is the proper incentive for all workers, but that just is not always the case.

I have seen so many employees who are simply not motivated by money. They just do not value it enough to alter their behavior. Time off, on the other hand, may hold greater value for some – especially Gen Y staff. Bottom line is incentives have to be structured so they relate to the things your staff values.

One manager had been looking for an incentive to motivate one of his employees. He had tried everything to no avail and had become very frustrated. Finally out of desperation, he got her a $500 gift certificate to an upscale women’s apparel shop. This worked and actually ended up being a whole lot less expensive than the other incentives he had tried, but it was successful because he was able to customize the incentive to this staff member’s wants.

On the other end of the spectrum from incentives and rewards is loss aversion. The theory here is that the hurt associated with a loss is much more motivating than the satisfaction of a gain. To use myself as an example, I have been to Las Vegas many times, but I never gamble because the idea of losing money is so much more repugnant to me than a financial windfall is appealing.

Using teachers in Chicago, three researchers did a neat experiment to test this theory and how it might relate to performance. Participants were randomly selected and divided into two groups. Both groups were given a set of performance goals for the year, and their success would be measured at the end of the year.

The first group was immediately given a $4,000 incentive and told that they would have to pay back a portion for every goal that was unmet at the end of the year. For the second group, they set up a bonus system that would pay each teacher up to $8,000 for meeting their goals. In the first case, the reward was given up front, but with the second group, the incentive – though not paid until the end of the year – could potentially be double that of the first group.

Results showed that grades were as much as 10 percent higher among students whose teachers were members of the first group – the loss group – than they were for students whose teachers were in the second group. In this example, applying the loss aversion theory really seemed to work.

So if loss aversion is so successful, why is it not used more in business? I think this is due to a couple of reasons. First, many managers and owners are just not familiar with this behavioral theory, and second, many employers feel uncomfortable about taking money away from their employees. A more palatable alternative might be to take the money back from future incentives.

While many employees relate to a monetary incentive, many just do not. To be successful, an incentive program needs to be tailored to the individual employee, and there are many potential ways to motivate – including loss aversion. You just have to find what works for your staff.

Now go out and make sure that you have the right incentives in place to excite and motivate your staff.

You can do this!

Friday, November 16, 2012

How to Achieve Great Customer Service

Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.
-Macy's Motto

I am often asked how you achieve great customer service in a business. This is a fair question, because though customer satisfaction surveys and mystery shoppers provide very effective ways of measuring the success of the existing customer experience, they do not tell us how to create great customer service in the first place.

Providing great customer service is not as simple as saying “exceed customer expectations.” Rather, it involves a series of interactions from the moment the customer first encounters your business until the time he or she leaves.

Too often businesses define the success of their customer service based on the experience created by only one person in the business, ignoring all other interactions. For instance, medical doctors frequently think they give excellent patient service but completely forget about all the other touch points from the front office staff to the billing department.

For another example, I frequently see businesses provide a great sales experience only to fail on the last impression (e.g. late delivery) and destroy all the good they created in the earlier stages of the interaction. 

I advise each business I work with to define all of their customer touch points from the first point of contact until the service event is complete. These can include a customer’s phone call, the condition of your restrooms, the cleanliness of your windows, the way you welcome a returning customer and the list goes on. Obviously, there can be many of these touch points and they each must be considered carefully.

For example, consider the interaction between a clerk and a customer. Looking at the overall experience is not nearly enough. Rather, you need to break it down and go through each part of the transaction, evaluating how effective it was.  How did the clerk communicate with the customer? How friendly were they? If it was a returning customer, how quickly did the clerk recognize them? Did the clerk have a smile on his or her face? Did they use the customer’s name and make them feel as though they were the most important person?

This list of questions could go on and on and vary based on the position, but the point I am trying to make is that customer service must be thought of as a series of interrelated processes. Great customer service is achieved by ensuring that each of these points is identified and measured for success.

Now go out and make sure that you identify each customer touch point and establish a plan of evaluating the service you provide at every one.

You can do this!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Succession Planning

If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.

~Chinese Proverb

Every business should have succession plans for its key personnel as part of its overall strategic plan. It is critical to identify personnel vulnerabilities and determine how you might overcome them.  It is so easy to ignore these issues, but doing so puts the firm in a very precarious position.

I was helping a firm that had lost a key executive to an unexpected illness. When I was called in, the firm was reeling from the loss of this very well-liked executive. In addition to the staff’s grief, the business was in dire straights as they had been unable to find a replacement. Without someone to take over, the executive’s work fell to his staff who lacked the necessary experience. As a result, the profitability of firm fell dramatically. Had this firm had a succession plan in place, they would have been in a much better position.

Succession planning must address the loss of key staff members both in the event they pass away suddenly or become significantly incapacitated and in the event they simply retire. The difference between these two situations, of course, is how much time you have to find a replacement.

There are two general ways a business can work through the unexpected loss of key personnel. One way would be to ensure that the remaining staff is able to pick up the slack. That way, the business can keep moving forward until a replacement is found either by promotion or a new hire. A second alternative would be to hire someone who can come in and fill the role on a temporary basis. There are many firms out there that specialize in locating temporary CEOs or CFOs.

When planning for the retirement of a key executive, you can take one of two approaches. Firstly, you can groom a successor in advance so they are ready to step in once the executive steps down. This plan should involve providing any requisite training and experience.

If the firm is small, however, providing the necessary training may be cost prohibitive. In the event grooming an internal candidate is not a feasible option, the business can hire a replacement in advance of the retirement, which would allow the successor an opportunity to work alongside the executive, thereby helping ensure a smooth transition. Of course, as with all hiring decisions, a significant amount of time and money should be invested in finding the right person for the key position.

Now go out and make sure you have succession plans in place for your key personnel. It is important to be prepared to take action in the event of loss through retirement or an unanticipated event.

You can do this.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Green office cleaning products make cents.

We begin to see, therefore, the importance of selecting our environment with the greatest of care, because environment is the mental feeding ground out of which the food that goes into our minds is extracted.

~Napoleon Hill

Whether you have a one-person office or a hundred-person office, maintaining a clean work environment is important for so many different reasons – the health of your workforce and orderly presentation are just a couple of these.

Honestly, until about five years ago, I had no idea that cleaning products had any effect on people or the environment. I am not an avid environmentalist, but I do believe that we have a responsibility to leave the world in at least as good a shape as we found it. In addition, I feel that when environmental concerns impact worker productivity, we all need to start paying attention.

According to a report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published in the Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank, productivity may increase as much as 10 percent simply by improving air quality. This is not a small number especially considering we spend 90 percent of our time indoors.

As you can probably imagine, cleaning agents are the number one affecter of our indoor air quality. Normal cleaning products emit gases called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and odors that can cause or worsen breathing problems, skin allergies and other health concerns. The EPA provides vast amounts of information on the potentially harmful effects of various cleaning products on their website at

It used to be that green cleaning products and services were cost prohibitive, but they are much more affordable now. That said, each business should consider how improving the air quality in their office by using green products can impact their productivity.

Finding quality green cleaning products can be a challenge as so many claim to be green. Environmental Working Group produces a Guide to Healthy Cleaning, in which they evaluate all the different products’ claims and score them in terms of how green they really are. There are many other groups out there that do the same type of thing, and we are, undoubtedly, going to see more of them as the importance of air quality in the workplace increases.

If you decide to hire a professional cleaning firm, you will need to find out exactly what “green” chemicals they claim to use and verify that they are actually using them. As this really is something that affects your bottom line, you will have to monitor things to ensure that the right chemicals are being used.

Now go out and make sure that you are maintaining the best possible work environment for your staff by ensuring the proper green supplies are being used. Not only is this the right thing to do for the health of your employees and our environment, but it will also contribute to the profitability of your company.

You can do this.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Managing a Distant Work Force.

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
~Henry Ford

With the advent of new (and not so new) technologies, our working environments continue to evolve. More and more people are working from their homes or in remote locations. This is especially true in the current real estate market. Many people cannot afford to move to follow an employment opportunity as they are upside-down in their current homes and just cannot sell them without taking a terrible loss.

Having a remote workforce brings a unique set of issues and it requires both a special kind of manager and, of course, a special type of employee.

The number one problem affecting remote workers is isolation from their colleagues. Often, these employees begin to feel separate from the team.  To combat this, the manager needs to promote regular interaction between remote workers and the rest of the team and ensure the lines of communication are always open.
Websites and sharepoints are great ways to encourage the sharing of information between remote and on-site employees.

Additionally, managers of remote workers should check in with them frequently, not via email, but by phone, at the very least. Video chat would be even better. These days, many cell phones are equipped with video conferencing capability, and Skype is another great option. Remote employees also really benefit from having a mentor assigned to them.

Many times, I see companies hire workers for remote positions, have them come in to the office for about a week when they first start and then immediately put them out in the field. This just does not work. A week is not adequate time for the new employee to grasp the organizational culture or establish relationships with their fellow staff members. For this reason, some firms only permit an employee to work remotely if they have been with the business for a year or more. Most, however, require at least two months in the home office before operating remotely.

Another problem managers of remote workers need to be aware of is that these employees often feel that because they are out of sight, they will be forgotten or overlooked for promotions. One good way to address this issue is to require them to work in the office three days a month so people are used to seeing them around and they have better visibility.

Finally, when hiring remote employees, it is critical that you choose a candidate that has the right skills and attributes. To be successful, remote workers must be self-motivated because they will need to perform without much supervision. It is also essential that remote workers have great communications skills.

This kind of work environment is not for everyone. For this reason, many firms will only hire someone for a remote position if they have remote work experience to ensure they can handle the isolation.

Remote workers can be at any level of the organization. In one case, a firm was headquartered in Tallahassee but the CEO lived in California. The firm was willing to hire this CEO because he had such unique skills and they believed he could make it work.

Now go out and make sure you have considered all these issues before you decide that remote workers are right for your business. Candidates will need a special set of skills to be successful, and you will need to be prepared to deal with the unique managerial issues that accompany a remote workforce.

You can do this!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Even if you are small, you need to focus on sales!

There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.
~Francis Bacon

I went to a luncheon event recently and sat next to a delightful man. As you might expect given what I do, I asked how his business was doing. His reply was that it was okay. Not knowing what he meant by “okay,” I asked a few more questions to get a better idea. He revealed that his sales were flat, and I asked why he thought that was. He replied that he did not feel comfortable selling and he was the firm’s one and only employee.

Another solo entrepreneur I knew was complaining about shrinking sales. She said that her sales used to be very good, but now they were falling. When I asked her what she had done when her sales were up, she said she used to network and go see former clients – something that she was no longer doing. Now that sales were dropping precipitously, she had become really concerned.

Being an entrepreneur mandates that you also become a sales person in so many ways. You are always having to sell yourself and your business to a whole range of people, not just customers. You have to get creditors to supply you with goods, to convince a bank to give you a loan and so much more.

In both of these cases, the entrepreneurs knew they needed to do more but had temporarily lost their way. In the first case, the entrepreneur lacked the confidence to go out and sell, and in the second case, the entrepreneur took her eyes off of the ball.

My advice to the first entrepreneur was to join Toastmasters, which teaches effective public speaking. I felt it would increase his confidence about selling.

Sure enough, after six months in Toastmasters, his confidence began to soar as did his sales. He told me that he now felt comfortable asking for the sale when he never did before.

My recommendation to the second entrepreneur was to join Business Networking International (BNI), a super powerful networking organization with a chapter in just about every city and most countries. Membership is really effective and reasonably priced.

After joining BNI, her sales started going through the roof as she now had all the BNI members in her chapter acting as her sales force by recommending her business.

In both of these cases, the entrepreneurs took their focus off their sales. Though they each had their own reasons for doing so, the outcome was the same. Their businesses began to suffer because sales have to be at the forefront of each and every entrepreneur’s daily activities. There is no doubt in my mind that both businesses would have failed had they continued on their former path.

These are two examples involving small entrepreneurs, but the lesson they demonstrate can be applied to any business. If you do not commit energy and effort to your sales, your business will struggle.

Now go out and make sure sales make up a significant part of your daily activities and encourage each of your staff members to do the same.

You can do this!