4 Stubborn Business Myths

myth

Entrepreneurs know that owning a small business takes dedication, passion, and hours of concentrated work. You may run into obstacles that test your business and your perseverance, obstacles that are norms in the world of business which each entrepreneur must learn to navigate. However, there are some obstacles that you may be facing without realizing it. Those barriers are stubborn business myths that just won’t go away because people believe them, even though they aren’t true.

1. It’s not what you know but who you know.

In the course of doing business, business owners or potential business owners come up against this belief time and time again. However, while it is true that knowing the right people may help you get started or get access to some deals, in most businesses it is expertise, experience, and skill that propel you forward in business. If you can provide the solutions customers want, they will refer you to their friends and family.

2. Nice guys finish last.

This myth is a holdover from the era of Western movies and superhero comics. Nice guys (always portrayed as pushovers or wallflowers) finish last because the villains and heroes walk all over them. In film, this may be true. After all, Tony Stark isn’t a nice guy. He is an arrogant, self-centered genius. However, The Avengers aside, in real life, nice guys finish first quite often. While a person with low self-esteem who doesn’t speak up will not be successful without change, a courteous business owner is appreciated immensely by customers and vendors.

In today’s modern world, people are used to dealing with machines, poorly-paid clerks, and online shopping. Finding a business person who is willing to offer them genuine customer service, build a relationship and spend time getting to know them to better serve them is rare. Many people are happy to pay more for real customer service. Therefore, being a “nice guy” is valuable to your contacts. They will remember your excellent service and come back for more.

3. Don’t work hard. Work smart.

This myth is one of the worst business myths out there. There is no way you can run a business without working hard. Hard work is what separates the “men from the boys” as entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs put in hours of labor to get their businesses off the ground. Working smart is just another way to say that there is a workaround or that you can find a way to skip the hard work. It just isn’t possible in reality. If you aren’t willing to work hard, you won’t make it in business.

4. It’s called work for a reason. It’s not supposed to be fun.

All work has elements that workers do not like to perform. It might be the paperwork that you need to fill out for each customer or the data entry on your last case. However, why can’t work be fun?

People who find work that satisfies them are much happier in life. That happiness translates to their work and their interactions with co-workers, customers, and vendors. If you love to sell, create graphic designs, or help customers find what they are looking for, then you ARE having fun at work. In fact, many companies are now providing their employees with ways to have fun at work to help reduce stress and fatigue.

So go ahead and have fun while working! It can only improve your outlook and production. Work can be fun.


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Spring Cleaning Tips For The Office

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When you think about it, you spend more time at your office than in your own home, not counting sleeping hours of course. Consequently, the atmosphere of your office, whether it be neat or disorganized, will greatly affect you and your employees in a myriad of ways. Therefore, learning how to keep your office clean is important. Before getting to the cleaning tips, though, let’s look at why a clean office is imperative.

A Disorganized/Dirty Office Is:

  • Unprofessional: If your office is cluttered, dusty, or generally disorganized, you will instantly appear less professional to clients/customers. You might say, “I’m too busy working to clean up after myself.” Well, consider the appearance of your office as you would your own. Would you come to work in your bathrobe simply because it took more time to get dressed?
  • Less Productive: Running a successful business is all about productivity. Getting things accomplished is the end goal. If you spend an hour looking for a particular folder under piles of other files and perhaps old take-out cups, is that a productive way to do business? Of course, it isn’t. By not having a place for everything and keeping everything in its place you are actually wasting billable hours.
  • Can Make You Sick: A dusty, dirty office can also cause sickness in a person who has a sensitivity to dust or allergens. Therefore, as a business owner, you might lose a part of your team to sickness simply because your work environment isn’t healthy. This reduces productivity simply by cutting down manpower.

Spring Cleaning Tips

Benjamin Disraeli, an author who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1800s, said the following about the importance of and commitment to cleanliness in all aspects of life:

“Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them.”

This quote exemplifies the importance of cleanliness perfectly. It also reminds us that cleaning isn’t always instinctual. That’s why a checklist of sorts is as worthwhile as a guide on whipping your office into shape this spring.

Primary Focus Areas

There are three basic areas you should focus on when cleaning your office. These include your workspace, your paperwork, and your technology. There are, of course, more areas to think about, such as the floors, bathrooms, and such, but just getting these three basic areas organized will go a long way towards creating a more productive working environment.

1) Organize Your Workspace

This is relatively easy; it just takes time. Simply go through your desk and throw away the trash. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many people don’t do this basic step. Get rid of/recycle old water bottles, carry-out cartons, and drinks. Also, donate or throw away anything you don’t use or that doesn’t work. Why keep a calculator that doesn’t function properly or hang on to a pencil that’s too small to write with? Simply getting rid of all the stuff you don’t need or use on and around your desk will help immensely.

2) Reduce Paper Work

As you know, paperwork is never ending, and if you don’t have a great file/shred system in place, it can really get out of hand. Part of cleaning off your workspace should include going through and shredding documents you no longer need. If you do need to keep something, create an easy-to-follow filing system to get these files off your desk.

3) Clean Your Technology

This tip should be taken literally, as in taking your computer apart and dusting it with the proper tools, as well as metaphorically. Clean the inside of your computer by deleting old emails and archiving those you need to keep.It’s also a great time to back up your server if you have one or update old software.

If you commit to putting things away at the end of every day, your office will never get as unorganized as it was. You might have to allow a few days for cleaning, but the increased production, as well as the creation of a more professional workspace, is well worth the time investment.


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Qualities That Brands With Longevity Share

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In the world of business, there is perhaps no commodity more precious than longevity. Getting a brand up and off the ground is one thing – keeping it around for the long-term is something else entirely. Creating longevity will rely in large part on your marketing, although this is only one small part of a much greater whole. The best marketing campaign in the world can’t create a long-standing, successful brand if a few qualities aren’t underneath it all just waiting to be communicated to the widest possible audience.

They Trigger an Emotional Response

One of the biggest traits that all brands with serious longevity share is the fact that they’re able to trigger an emotional response with their target audience, creating a loyal army of followers. This is true both with the way they market AND the way that response integrates into the service they provide.

Apple is a great example of this based on their image as the “hip, trendy” electronics company. People see a sleek, sophisticated Apple product in an equally compelling ad and they can’t help but think, “That looks really cool; I want that.” The same goes for a company like Amazon.com, albeit from a different angle. The way that Amazon has embraced personal marketing, both regarding the advertising it creates and with regards to the personalized recommendations that each user enjoys, makes them think, “I like Amazon; they get me.” That type of emotional connection is something you just can’t put a price on.

They Live Up to What They Promise

All of the best brands with serious longevity share the fact that they live up to the promises they make in their marketing materials. This comes from a deeper understanding of not just the people they’re trying to attract, but who those people are and what they want. These brands know how to communicate with their target audience and, as a result, don’t just live up to their promises, but they know how NOT to make a promise they can’t keep.

Take FedEx, for example. Entrepreneur.com recently cited FedEx as a brand with an incredibly strong corporate identity, owed largely to the fact that it’s operations are so incredibly efficient. FedEx is a brand built on trust, and the road to trust is paved with promises that have been kept in the past. FedEx is seen as an incredibly reliable service, and people in need of shipping rank FedEx favorably in that regard. This creates something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – a symbiotic relationship that only strengthens over time specifically because FedEx knows what its audience wants and it knows how precisely to give it to them every time.

Once again, Apple is another example of this idea in motion. They promise products that “just work” and have historically delivered on that promise time and again. This has made them not only one of the most successful brands in the world, but also one with serious longevity in an industry where companies come and go like the weather.

These are just a few of the core qualities that all brands with longevity share. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, brands come and go all the time. Creating a brand is easy, but if you want to make sure that your brand stands the test of time, you need to focus on offering something truly unique on an ongoing basis.


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What’s in a Leaf?

leaf

If you enjoy watching the leaves float down during the fall season, you probably already know that just like snowflakes, each tree’s leaves are individual and unique. Unlike snowflakes, though, leaves can tell you from which tree they came, and fortunately, there are many resources available to you for identifying trees by their leaves.

Knowing more about your surroundings is important, and it can apply well in a work situation.

Discovery

An excellent resource for identifying trees will take you on a journey of discovery: from the color and shape of the leaf to how many points it has, all to learn more about the tree it came from. It might go on to identify the type of bark, the size of the tree, and more to help you determine which tree you are looking at.

There are many ways you can apply this strategy of discovery with your customers, especially if they are repeat customers. If you think about each customer as if they were an onion with many layers to uncover, you can view each contact with them as an opportunity to peel away one more layer.

Learning

Your customers are individuals with unique personalities, family issues, work challenges, and styles of doing business. You can work on strategies to uncover more information about your customers to help cement a relationship with them. Customers who like you and enjoy your relationship are more willing to continue to do business with you and become loyal repeat customers.

Depth

Depending on how you maintain your customer records, there are different methods of collecting and retaining information about your clients. In an article, “7 Ways to (Really) Know Your Customers,” it offers several suggestions for small businesses to get to know their customers better including gleaning social data from sites such as Facebook.
By getting to know your customers better, you can anticipate when they will be spending, what triggers a purchase, and how you can be proactive in contacting them for their triggers. As you learn more about your customer, you can apply your knowledge to help them better manage their relationship with you, potentially saving them money in the long run. For instance, if they are buying their products when needed, but you see a pattern, you can sell them a larger bulk amount on a periodic basis saving them money and securing the purchase for your account.

Knowledge

Knowing your customers will allow you to separate the A and B level of customers from the one-time business customers. As you develop your relationships with your clients, you can grow your business in depth. Then, using similar methods, seek out new business and begin the process again.


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Don’t Make the Internet Angry: Important Considerations About Using Social Media as a Marketing Platform

social-media

As a sheer marketing platform, social media brings with it a host of advantages that can’t be ignored. According to one recent study, there will be 2.5 billion unique users worldwide on social media networks by as soon as 2018. Right now, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have the potential to effortlessly connect you with approximately 70% of the United States population.
However, social media also presents some challenges, too – particularly if you insist on taking the “tried but true” marketing techniques of yesteryear and trying to cram them into a social media-shaped box. If you want to unlock the real potential that only social media can provide, you’ll need to keep a few key things in mind.

Different Users Are Looking for Different Things

One of the most important things to understand about social media networks is that they aren’t all created equally. Someone who uses Facebook isn’t looking for the same TYPE of message that someone who uses Twitter is. The same goes for LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. While they’re all “social networks” in the strictest sense of the definition, they all have their unique strengths.

Twitter users are looking for shorter, bite-sized bits of information while Facebook users prefer longer, more thoughtful posts. A piece of marketing collateral that you designed for Facebook won’t necessarily play well to Twitter’s audience, and vice versa. You have to understand the channel you’re using, play to its strengths, and adapt across the board. Even if you’re presenting the same message on each network, you have to make sure that the delivery mechanism is optimized for the platform you’re working with at the time.

Think Young

One of the most mission critical things to understand as you move forward with social media is the fact that 90% of young adults today (defined as people between the ages of 18 and 29) are social media users. Not only that, but a third of them say that social media is one of their preferred methods for communicating with businesses in general.

In essence, this means that if you want to create the type of loyal following that will carry your business far NOW, you have to start playing to their habits on social media today. These younger users will continue to age, and if you can hook them young via social media, you’ve likely hooked them forever.

Social Media Demands Honesty

Finally, one of the most important considerations about using social media as a marketing platform has to do with what happens if things go wrong. Because of the intimate, constant connection that social media generates, anything less than honesty is not welcome. If customers have a concern, address it. If a legitimate problem arises, do what you can to make it right. If something bad happens with your company – be it a negative run-in with a customer to a full-fledged PR disaster – don’t just try to sweep it under the rug and pretend like it never happened.

Gabe Newell, a former Microsoft employee and founder of Valve Corporation, said it best when he said “One of the things we learned pretty early on is ‘Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the internet – because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.”

In essence, this means that while social media can bring a lot of positive attributes to your company regarding the sheer marketing power it offers, it is also a slippery slope. If you want to use social media to develop meaningful, lasting relationships with your target audience, you can’t assume this is a given. You have to earn it, and you can never take it for granted.


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Applying Life Lessons to Small Business

life-lessons

Parents to teenagers and young adults know that there are some lessons that only living life can bring us. Life lessons learned through living life are valuable, and they are hard to teach to teenagers because teens think they have the answers to everything. However, experience can offer up gems of information about what is truly important in life and how to enjoy each moment as it comes.

What are some of the lessons that life teaches us?

1. Life isn’t fair, but it is still good.

How many times have you heard your child or teenager say to you, “but that isn’t fair!” The truth is that life isn’t fair. Life happens as it happens, and you need to learn to roll with the ups and downs and continue on your journey. If you can take each moment as it comes, then you can appreciate the good, survive the bad, and continue on your way.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

Many of the big decisions in life can be broken down into small steps that are easy to accomplish. Each time you have a big project or decision in front of you, you can make it easier to understand by chopping it up into small tasks. Then, do each task one at a time until you complete the whole.

3. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

Humor makes life more tolerable both in good and bad times. If you can learn to live life with humor, including your own foibles, you will relax more and stay healthier. Laughter is a stress-reducer and can help keep your craziest days sane.

4. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

Since nothing ever goes exactly as we plan, it is important to prepare for contingencies. If you are ready for the worst, then you will be able to move in various directions when reality hits. You can plan to the Nth degree, but once your event or project is in motion, you cannot stop it. Going with the flow and learning to be flexible will keep you on top of the situation (as much as that is possible).

Applying Life’s Lessons to Business

Running a small business is fraught with surprises, changes, and learning curves. Many of the lessons that apply to life, in general, can be applied to running a business. Small business owners are responsible for everything that occurs in the whole of their business, and it is nearly impossible to predict what each day as a small business owner will bring.

If you can enjoy each part of your business, sharing what you know with your customers and employees, and reaching out to your community to connect with people through your business, you will enjoy life’s journey. Business isn’t always fair, but if you put your heart into it, it will be good. Your customers and employees will see how you run your business, and they will respond. When in doubt, just take the first small step, and you will be able to accomplish whatever goals you set for your business. Don’t take your business so seriously. No one else does. Run your business with a good sense of humor and your customers and staff will join in laughing with you. Overprepare, and then let your business take you where it will. You will discover new dimensions to your niche that you may never have known before and you will have an exciting, fulfilling journey.


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Goals are Not Just for Sports

goals

In school and at work, we are often told to create goals and to strive to reach them. After all, achieving our goals is a measure of success and a method of how to pursue our dreams. Goals are a big part of managing marketing and sales in most companies, and they are the markers of who is producing and who is not. Not everyone has the same training in hitting goals, however, nor do goals create motivation for everyone.

What Can We Learn from Goals in Sports?

The easiest way to demonstrate goal setting is to look at sports. Every sport has a goal to reach to win the game. Goals can be achieved through hitting a ball out of the park, into a net, throwing it into a basket, or even by racing to a finish line. Most of these goals are made from years of preparation, training, and study of the game they represent. No athlete achieves success without that training, no matter how easy the achievement looks to the spectator. Athletes work through injuries, bad days, failures, and practice. Achievements are the culmination of hours and hours of work.

Obstacles

The point of a goal is to help you achieve success even with the stumbling blocks and barriers that stand before you. A goal is a guiding light to keep you on your journey or path. Henry Ford said that “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” The obstacles will always be there to keep you from making the goal. You may not have the experience, the education, or the opportunities that your peers or competitors do, however, you can still achieve your goals if you are willing to keep working towards them.

Applying Goals to Business

Like sports, business goals can be short-term or long-term. For instance, you can have a goal of getting ten items completed by the end of your work day. That is a short-term goal. A long-term goal is establishing 100 new customer accounts by the end of the year. An even longer-term goal is becoming the top business in your category in the city by 2020. The key is establishing goals that are reachable, measurable, and trackable so that you can follow your progress as you work towards the goal.

While wanting to be the best business in the city by 2020 is possible, a more reasonable goal is to triple your income from your business by 2020. With this goal, you can create the steps that will lead to the goal, and measure your progress as you continue your journey. You will know when you hit your goal by the numbers you achieve without any arbitrary or ambiguous measurements.

How to Keep Your Goals in the Forefront of Your Mind

Weekly meetings to keep everyone on your team on track may be boring, but their function is to make sure the team members are still striving towards group goals. You can do the same with your personal business goals. Remind yourself daily what goals you are working towards and what you need to accomplish that day to move in the right direction. Remember that keeping your eyes on the goal will help to remove the obstacles.


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Outsourcing Employee Training – When does it make Sense?

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When you first started your company, you likely had some vision of what the customer experience would look like. Depending on your market, it could have looked something like the highly polished Front Desk staff of New York’s Plaza Hotel, or maybe the sarcastically surly wait staff of San Diego’s Dick’s Last Resort. Whatever the market, you definitely wanted to create a distinctive customer experience.

Fast-forward a few years… You’re standing off to the side of your restaurant/coffee bar/bookstore/clothing boutique and you realize, despite your best efforts at conveying your vision, your staff is just not “getting it.” If that’s the case and you want to distinguish your establishment, it may be time to bring in some training experts.

The big question is this: What makes more sense for your business – doing your training in-house or outsourcing your employee training?

Market Placement and Reach

Your decision on whether to insource or outsource your employee training is typically impacted by how many people you need to have trained. Is it a set number of people at exact intervals? Many businesses can take advantage of on-demand training to reduce costs and ensure your employees are trained quickly and properly by having an external provider handle the training function.

Additionally, if you have trainees located in geographically diverse locations, a vendor can easily take a classroom-learning module and create web-based training. This can be hosted in-house or remotely, depending upon your business needs.

Outsourcing Training May Cost Less

If you have full-time employees that are specifically dedicated to training your staff, it can be a costly endeavor. Many small and mid-sized companies just don’t have the monetary resources to dedicate man-hours to development, design, implementation, and evaluation of training for their employees. There’s also the management and tracking of these functions to think about.

Instead of hiring one or two employees dedicated solely to training, it may make more economic sense to use an outside organization to send your employees to before you let them loose with customers.

Risk Reduction

Training your employees is not just about creating that distinctive customer experience. You also want to ensure that your employees have the proper tools to do the job efficiently and safely. Think of training as a way to safeguard your business and reduce the risk of injury, loss, and (gasp!) lawsuits.

There are a host of web-based training programs out there addressing topics like proper money handling, OSHA safety, and dealing with difficult clients.

Access to Expertise

Training takes a specialized skill set. Vendors that specialize in training have the ability to create customizable training systems at a fraction of the cost of having them built in-house. The individuals that design, develop, and implement training are professionals that know how to transfer knowledge to a wide variety of learners.

The bottom line here is that these outside vendors are in the business of training. In-house training is hard to beat if you have the financial means and the ability to keep a steady stream of projects in the pipeline. However, if this is not the case, it may make sense to look to outside options for excellent employee training. However you choose to train your employees, taking the time to ensure your employees know their jobs well will mean your customers will thank you!


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The Art of the Pivot

art_pivot

No matter what business you’re talking about, most companies usually begin life in the same way: with an idea. You wake up one morning, have an idea for a product or service that you’re sure will be the “next big thing,” and you get to work. You fully commit yourself to building an infrastructure, developing and expanding on your idea, and eventually, you bring your product or service to market.

And then things have a habit of sometimes not going necessarily how you’d planned them.

Maybe people are using your product, but they’re not using it in the exact way that you intended. Certainly not in the way you built your strategy around. Maybe your product or service isn’t popular at all, but the underlying idea is still a solid one. In these situations, you have two options: you can pack up your ball and go home, or you could do what some of the most successful companies in the history of planet Earth have done: you pivot.

The Art of the Pivot in Action

A few years ago, an online role-playing game was founded called “Game Neverending” – you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. The premise was simple – users would travel around a digital map and find other people to buy, sell, and build items with. Included inside the game was a photo-sharing tool, which quickly became one of the most popular parts of the experience. Though the developers loved their idea, users weren’t quite so kind. People were spending less and less time on the “buying, selling, and building items” part and more on the “photo-sharing” part, causing significant problems for the company’s long-term goals.

While you’ve probably never heard of “Game Neverending,” you ARE no doubt aware of a service called Flickr – one of the most popular and widely used photo-sharing tools of the digital age. The developers behind “Game Neverending” realized that they were never going to get people to love their RPG the way they did, so they did what any entrepreneurs would do: they pivoted. They threw out everything except the proven-successful photo-sharing technology and started from scratch. One acquisition by Yahoo! later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Let the Market Be Your Guide

The key takeaway from this is that you need to be willing to listen to the market and allow it to guide you through execution, even if that execution is at odds with your original intent. Remember that the market is telling you “We like this, but it would be better if it had X, Y, and Z features” is different from pivoting. If users enjoyed the RPG experience of “Game Neverending” and the developers just kept adding game-related features, we might not have Flickr today.

Instead, the market communicated loud and clear: “We don’t like this game, but we do enjoy this one thing that the game lets us do.” These are the types of moments you have to be not only willing to listen to, but also to allow them to change your idea of what your product or service could become.

Listening to the market and being willing to pivot, even if that was the furthest thing from your mind at the time, is not a bad thing. Indeed, history has proven that great things have been born out of it time and again. Because if you release a product or service and are unwilling to change based on the ideals of your users, you’ll wind up hemorrhaging users pretty quickly.

And without those users, what are you left with? Little more than a good idea in search of a purpose, which isn’t anything at all.


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