Sunday, August 29, 2010

Passion is so important in running your business!

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” ~Joseph Campbell

I feel that passion is so vital both in life and in business. Far too often we see business owners who either lack or have lost their passion. Without passion, you become complacent, and complacency is a death sentence for any business.

It is so easy to get off track. Without passion, work becomes a job rather than an exciting new adventure to tackle each day. When complacency sets in, an entrepreneur loses the desire to make necessary improvements. When a business stops improving and growing, failure is not far behind.

I was working with a very successful entrepreneur who came in to our meeting saying, “I feel so good that everything is going well, and I do not want to change anything with my business.” Upon hearing this statement, I wanted to jump out of my chair and force him to see just how complacent he had become. Though he thought that everything was great, the reality was that his complacency was taking his business the wrong way.

This entrepreneur heeded my warning – “Jerry’s kick in the butt” as he calls it – and turned his business around. It is now growing like weeds. Our talk might have been the catalyst that led to this great change, but it was his acknowledgment that his attitude was holding his company back that made the real difference. Rediscovering his passion made him a new man and reinvigorated his business.

In another case, an entrepreneur’s complacency and lack of passion combined with the current state of the economy put his business in danger of closing its doors. I have talked to this entrepreneur tirelessly over the years, but I have been unable to resurrect his passion. Now, rather than running and managing a business, he just goes to work.

These are both very interesting cases, but the truly intriguing part is how differently the two turned out. In the first case, the entrepreneur listened and acknowledged that his lack of passion was having a negative effect on his business. Though the second entrepreneur also listened, he just had nothing left – no drive to run his business. I finally had to recommend that he sell it. If you have no passion for your business, you either need to figure out how to get it back or get out.

Here are some questions to help you evaluate if your passion is where it should be. First, ask yourself if you could start over, would you still choose the same industry and business. Secondly, do you get up every morning excited about going to work? Finally, are you so excited about your business that you want to tell the world how great it is? If you answered “No” to any of these questions, your passion might be waning.

Colleagues and other entrepreneurs are another great resource. Ask them if they think you are getting complacent. Also, let your workforce be your mirror. They will frequently reflect the passion they see in the owner or manager.

Now go out and make sure that you have the passion necessary to be successful.

You can do this!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Making Customer Service a Priority

“Look through your customer's eyes. Are you the solution provider or part of the problem?” ~Marlene Blaszcyk

One of my favorite topics to speak on and write about is customer service. I am so fond of this subject because I can see the issues from the perspectives of both the business and the customer.

Advertising is set up to bring in new customers. But once advertising has done its job, the focus should shift to keeping those new customers. When it comes to retention, customer service is the key.

Businesses spend large sums of money on bringing new customers in – just look at the size of many marketing departments. Though best practices suggest that 90 percent of sales should be from existing customers, many businesses spend very little on customer service.

Many business owners lose their customer service focus, and this apathy tends to trickle down to the staff. In order to ensure each and every customer feels good about their experience with your company, business owners must make customer service a priority.

Recently, I went to a doctor’s office as a new patient. I had scheduled the appointment for 10:30 a.m., but when the office called the day before to confirm, they had the time down as 12:30 p.m. When I nicely reminded them that the time was 10:30, not 12:30, they replied, “Whoops. Can you change your schedule to come in at 12:30?” When I said that I could not, they said they would work me in at 10:30. This conversation should have been a warning to me of the service I would receive the next day.

As I was getting out of my car at 10:15 to go into the doctor’s office, I immediately noticed that the paint was starting to peel off the building. As I approached the front door, I noticed that it was covered with nicks and cracks and looked like it had been through a war.

As I walked into the waiting room, I felt as though I had traveled back to the 1950s. Everything looked like it had never been updated or repaired.

The offenses continued as I approached the counter to sign in. The person who greeted me was wearing the biggest frown I had ever seen. As if that was not enough, she also threw me a look that said, “What the heck do you want?” Next, when I told her I was a new patient, she practically threw me the clipboard with the paperwork to fill out.

When I returned with the completed paperwork, she was talking with a colleague, and she completely ignored me for three minutes even though she could see I was waiting. Somehow, I managed to remain relatively calm.

At 11:30, they called me back to see the doctor, and at noon, the doctor finally came in. He never acknowledged that he was late or that I might have been inconvenienced by his tardiness.

While the doctor was very good at treating my medical issue, the bad taste left by the extremely poor customer service trumped that fact altogether. I will not be returning to this doctor’s office.

Every business can expect to have some sort of customer service issue, but in this case, the problems were systemic.

So why was the customer service in this office so badly managed? I believe the answer lies with the doctors who own the practice. They only see their job as providing medical treatment to their patients. Everything else is unimportant.

Whether dealing with medical practices or businesses, our focus must be constantly tuned in to customer service. To ensure that every customer has the best possible experience with your business, providing great service has to become a ritual or a habit.

Now go out and make sure that you make customer service a high priority for your business.

You can do this!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Getting the most from your business signage

"The right name is an advertisement in itself." ~ Claude Hopkins

Over the years, we have helped so many companies that just do not realize the importance of signage. One such business – a dance studio – just did not see any real value to having a sign. However, once we explained the importance of signage and she decided to put one out, the owner had people coming up to her all the time saying, “I had no idea that there was a dance studio here!” As a result of this small and inexpensive sign, this business owner’s revenue increased dramatically.

In another example, a semi-pro football team was having trouble attracting the attendance they needed. Because they played at a high school field, they could not put up a physical sign. As an alternative, a couple of days before each game, they had someone stand in front of the high school and wave a sign at the cars that passed by. Just this small change made a major difference in the attendance for each home game.

Simply having a sign is important, but what the sign says and how it says it is equally critical. In the case of one art studio that we were assisting, the sign focused on the owner’s name and not on the business’ purpose. We suggested that the sign emphasize the fact that it is an art studio instead of spotlighting the name of the owner. This simple change is expected to make a significant difference in their sales.

A sign’s purpose should be twofold. First, in order to attract customers, a sign should include the name of the business as well as what it does. A sign that simply says, “Joe’s,” does not tell potential customers anything about what you really do.

Secondly, a sign raises awareness about your business. It is a constant reminder to anyone who passes the location that it is there. For this reason, your sign should be located where it is visible to the greatest number of customers. If your sign is not visible from many directions, it will not do your business very much good. For example, a bookstore was struggling with sales since they were never able to place their signs where a sufficient number of potential customers could see what they offered.

I think the biggest mistake business owners make is trying to include too much narrative on a sign. A sign must be simple, communicating the name and purpose of the business. If, however, there is something unique about the business, it is vital that this information be included on the sign. For example, if a store is open 24 hours a day, this should appear on the sign since it is an important detail about the business.

Signage, however, is not as critical if you are a destination location, meaning that people find you in order to be your customer. If you manufacture a tool that you sell nationally, for example, signage can be minimal, particularly if you are not located on a highly traveled road.

Now go out and evaluate your current signage. Does it include both the name of your company, as well as what your business does in an attractive, motivating way? Both elements are essential if you truly want to make the most of your signage.

You can do this!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Business Presentations are so Important

‘It is not so much the content of what one says as the way in which one says it. However important the thing you say, what's the good of it if not heard or, being heard, not felt.’ ~Sylvia Ashton-Warner

One of the most important elements in an entrepreneur’s arsenal is the business presentation. Used to either inform staff of changes or sell a product or service to a potential client, these presentations are critical, and without exception, business presentations must effectively communicate information in a meaningful and understandable way.

I have seen so many business presentations fall flat for a myriad of reasons. When it comes to making a business presentation, adequate is not acceptable. They must be the best you can make them, and in order to be effective, several key elements must be present.

First impressions are crucial. People make judgments about others within five seconds of meeting. Therefore dress, posture and handshake are just as important to delivering a successful business presentation as the information you communicate.

I was at a presentation, recently, which was very good but the presenter looked like he had slept in his suit. He was not considered at all for the work because his first impression was so bad.

Determining the purpose of the presentation is essential because the purpose affects the presentation delivery. For example, if the purpose of your presentation is to inform staff about an upcoming change, it will be very different from a sales presentation.

Along similar lines, you must also determine what you want to accomplish as a result of your presentation. Making a presentation without having clearly defined the results you want to achieve is like driving on a road without a destination.

To illustrate, imagine you are giving a sales presentation. Your purpose is to provide a client an overview of your services. Your desired outcome might be that the client recognizes a product or service that could be beneficial to their operation. In another example, if you are making a presentation to your staff to introduce a new organization chart, your desired outcome would be that the staff accepts and welcomes the new structure.

Understanding your audience is another critical element of the business presentation. When I am teaching classes to my college students, I have to spend a fair amount of time going over the basics as they all come from different backgrounds. However, when I do presentations to business audiences, I get right down to the point I am trying to make and then show how that point stands to benefit them.

While PowerPoint is a great tool for making business presentations, beware of the pitfalls. Avoid too many slides. I can not count the times I have wanted to go to sleep during a presentation that had too many slides. If you put me in a room, dim the lights and lose my attention, you have completely defeated the point of making the presentation because I am obviously not going to comprehend or remember the material. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to cover one slide every three minutes. It is so much better to cover less and allow participants the opportunity to ask questions that will delve deeper into the subject matter.

When using PowerPoint, you should also pay special attention to the appearance of the slides. They should look professional and not like they were prepared the night before. With any business presentation, every step must be meticulously planned out and well executed.

The final essential element of a business presentation is the call to action. If you do not ask your audience to take some sort of action, the presentation really does not have much value. For example, in a sales presentation, you might want to be asked to come back to make a more in depth presentation to the top brass. In a staff presentation, the desired action might be improved coordination among departments.

Some of the best business presentations that I have ever seen are those that Steve Jobs gives to introduce a new product. They are impeccably orchestrated, and the blend between the speaker and the slides is seamless. You can view the recent iPhone 4 introduction on Apple’s website,

Every entrepreneur, manager and salesperson must make business presentations. They are the vehicles by which you communicate information, and they need to be great.

Now go out and make sure that your business presentations are structured properly and are getting you the maximum results possible.

You can do this!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

You need profit centers for your business.

“Profits are like breathing. You have to have them. But who would stay alive just to breathe?” ~Maurice Mascaranhas

One of the most basic tools available to entrepreneurs is a profit center. A concept originated in the 1940s by the great management guru, Peter Druker, profit centers divide a company into smaller entities allowing entrepreneurs to measure results more easily. These results can be used to hold each unit accountable for desired profit levels or simply to ensure that they are generating sufficient profits.

Though not prudent for organizations with sales of less than 10 percent, businesses that sell more than one product should use the profit center model. Without profit centers, managers have a very difficult time figuring out their goals and objectives.

Profit centers are simple to set up. Accounting software such as QuickBooks allows entrepreneurs to easily evaluate unique profit centers by assigning different categories of accounts for both revenues and expenses.

When using profit centers, costs and revenues should be allocated to each center. While revenues are easy to allocate, costs are a tad bit harder. It is important to realize that the bottom line profit for the center may not be 100 percent accurate due to the process of allocating fixed costs. However, as long as the reporting process is identical each month, the measurement will be valid.

Most businesses have no problem allocating variable costs to a profit center. For example, we were working with a lawyer whose practice covered many areas, but he was unsure of where to spend his time. Profit centers allowed this lawyer to clearly measure and manage how much time he and his staff spent with each client every month. For a retail operation, the direct costs would be the cost of products sold, which again, is easily measured.

The process gets more difficult when it comes to allocating fixed costs. Each center must cover its fair share of the company’s overhead. For example, each profit center should be charged a pro rata share of the CEO’s salary.

The allocation of fixed costs can be handled a number of ways. One option is to apply the overhead as a function of sales for each profit center. A second alternative is to allocate the costs as a function of how much floor space they utilize. And the list goes on. Whatever the chosen allocation method, as long as it is consistently applied, the measurement will be fine.

Now go out and make sure you have a profit center set up for each element of your business. If you are having difficulty setting up profit centers, your accountant can provide assistance.

You can do this!