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!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Creating the Wrong Customer Service Expectations

Creating the wrong expectations with your customers!

Nothing sets a person up more than having something turn out just the way it's supposed to be, like falling into a Swiss snowdrift and seeing a big dog come up with a little cask of brandy round its neck.

~Claud Cockburn

It is so important that you do not create the wrong expectations for your customers. Customers rely on what you tell them, and they hear what you say, not necessarily what you mean, which can sometimes be very different.

So often I hear salespeople tell their customers at parting to let them know if they have any problems with the product. Clearly, their intent is to reassure the customer that they will stand behind them and resolve any issues, but suggesting there is a possibility of problems inadvertently creates the expectation that there will be.

Rather than saying, “If there is a problem, please let us know,” you might say, “I know you are going to enjoy this product.” Notice how the former statement creates doubt, where the second creates the expectation that the customer is going to enjoy the product. Focusing on the positive is so important.

For another example, salespeople often tell their customers that they can expect to receive their product in seven to 10 days. Here, they mean to give the customer hope that they will receive their product sooner, but unfortunately, customers only hear the seven and will frequently get upset when it does not arrive until day nine.

Of course, getting a product or service is a positive thing, but getting it later than expected frustrates the customer. For this reason, it is so important that you always give the customer the outside date so that you meet – maybe even exceed – expectations rather than fail to live up to them.

I am thinking of getting some work done on my house and brought in a designer/builder to develop a project plan and then do the work. He did a reasonable job with the project plan, but when I asked him when he could start, he said he is booked for the next month. If I gave him a 40 percent deposit, however, I would be on the list to have work done sometime after 30 days, as he was booked for the next month. The trouble with that was that I had no idea when I could expect to have the work completed.

It would have been much better for him to say, “I am booked for the next month, but will have your work done no later than two months from today’s date.” This statement lays out an expectation that can easily be attained. It would give the designer/builder plenty of time to get the work done and it would have given me some certainty as to when the job would start.

Now go out and make sure that your staff is always creating expectations that can be met. Just pay attention to what your staff is telling your customers and ensure that the right expectation is being communicated.

You can do this!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No Action is an Action

Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold -- but so does a hard-boiled egg.


So often, business owners and managers have problems that they are not addressing because they are either unable or unwilling to deal with them. Many times these entrepreneurs tell me that they do not have the time to deal with these problems because there are more pressing issues requiring their immediate attention. Other times, they are just unsure how to fix it and it is easier to simply ignore it.

What these entrepreneurs are forgetting, however, is that problems do not remain static when ignored. Rather, they escalate over time, and in the end, that unresolved problem can cost them dearly.

Most often, I see entrepreneurs neglecting issues that involve problem employees. The reason is obvious. Having to discipline an employee – or worst case scenario, let them go – is unpleasant and painful.

To avoid having to dealing with these unpleasant situations, managers frequently pretend not to see the problems. But not only does this affect the morale of the entire office, it also undermines the manager’s authority. The rest of the staff will eventually lose respect for the leader because failing to take action against bad behavior is tantamount to accepting it.

I was working with a restaurant that had been in operation for a reasonable length of time but was still not making adequate profits. The owner was not losing money, but he was barely making enough to keep his head above water.

A rough rule of thumb in the restaurant industry is that food costs should be about 32 percent or less of total revenue. Though the owner had been to enough seminars and schools to know how to manage a restaurant, his food costs were hovering above that mark around 38 percent. When I confronted him about this, he simply said that he did not know how to fix this issue as he felt his prices were already pretty high.

He was acting as though the problem would either go away or resolve itself if he just did nothing about it. Of course, that did not happen, and now his economic wellbeing was being threatened. He also did not realize that by taking no action, he was making a deliberate choice and not just passively delaying the decision.

After talking with him, I came to see that he was just unsure of how to fix the problem and lacked confidence in his instincts. When I began tossing out some suggestions, he shared that many were things he had already thought of. He just needed validation from me that these were the right calls. However, until we talked, he was unwilling to act.

When you are faced with a problem that you do not know how to address, you must first identify the underlying cause. Second, you need to come up with at least three possible solutions. And finally, you must pick the solution you feel is best for your business. Ignoring the problem just allows it to grow.

Now go out and see if you have been delaying decisions on problems you need to be addressing. Just remember to gather all the relevant facts before making any critical decisions.

You can do this!