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Assessing Performance of Your Small Business | CEO Mindset Leadership Development Program- March 18, 2014

Take a more in-depth look at how a PESTEL analysis, SWOT analysis and your financials can be a treasure trove and not a burden when you want to know how well your business is growing. Click here to register or for more informationRegister today

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“As a small business, bringing values, your values, into your professional life is automatic, after all, wasn't that why you took the plunge? But, how often does that work get in the way? Ellen helps you find the place back to balance: your work and your values can peacefully co-exist, even better, your values can help you focus your business. Focus on your abilities so that you can grow and succeed.”
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What Stories Do You Tell Yourself While Growing Your Business?

Two recent conversations with clients illuminated how incredibly powerful belief can be. Business owners and executives  with growing companies are faced with a myriad of details to review, problems to manage and decisions to make. And while it is easier to anticipate how much capital you might need or staffing changes, it often comes a surprise when uncomfortable emotions are triggered during the process.

fear, belief, CEO MindsetGrowth is change and change triggers emotional responses in all of us

It isn’t the passion or eagerness for the new direction that are at issue. It isn’t even that you are doing something wrong. It is the uncharted waters of growing your business that triggers the emotional response. Yes, other companies have grown successfully and you are putting the right pieces in order. The uncomfortable emotions may be

  • Doubt -Is this the best way to grow? Am I the right one to lead?
  • Confusion – Why are my partners expressing negativity? Why is my staff reluctant to adopt our new policies?
  • Apprehension – What’s going to happen next? Will we find the right customers?

This is not some sort of emotional collapse and you are a basket case. It is simply the process of adapting to a new way of doing business.

But let’s focus on you, the leader

Doubt and fear aren’t bad things or even to be avoided. They are simply emotional responses to the ambiguity present in the growth plan your business is following. You don’t know what the outcome will be. The deciding factor is what beliefs emerge with the emotions. For insecure leaders, it is common to start questioning your abilities (do I have what it takes? Can I inspire and lead my team?) or have old stories come up about how you are lacking in some way. Secure leaders (those who use the CEO Mindset) have learned their stories and exhibit more self-trust, tolerance of ambiguity and adept access to their emotional intelligence.

Key thing to remember

Doubt and fear are simply emotions and not reality. Take a moment to consider what you fear? Then ask yourself, “

  1. Why do I fear this?
  2. What am I expecting?
  3. Why am I expecting that outcome?

And keep asking yourself these three questions until you have the story clear in your head.

The story of fear and belief

It is not a question of fearlessness. (That might be a story you need to throw out because it creates an impossibility for many of us.) We cope with our experiences from childhood through adulthood by telling ourselves stories about who we are, how we ought to act and who we could be. In the intersection of fear and belief is the choice to tell the same story or change it in some way. I have had more than one client get an “a-ha” moment when they realized that their alcoholic parent or playground bully doesn’t get the last word on their ability to grow their business. Another client found he couldn’t create the culture he imagined when his company experienced a major financial crisis. Still another client had to leave a toxic business partnership to realize her potential. These moments were all based on old stories that had to be retold for my clients to embrace the CEO Mindset.

Go ahead

Feel the fear and the doubt. Ask yourself what is fueling these emotions. Then determine the truth or reality of your concerns. Are you fearing financial ruin? Well, if there isn’t enough capital, then that is real. If you fear that you are not up to leading your company as it grows, check to see if there is a skills gap or a confidence gap. Learn what you need to know and then practice. As someone once told  me, “With practice comes mastery…With mastery, comes the ability to do more.”

Fear can lead you to believe a lot of things. Clarify your stories and let go of what isn’t serving you well while you grow your business.

 *iStockphoto by Anson Lu

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7 Reasons Why Upgrading Your Business Networking Events Matters

Business networking, business owners and executivesI recently attended the Boston Irish Business Awards Breakfast hosted by the Boston Irish Business Association and the Boston Business Journal last week. As I listened to the inspiring stories, quite a few of the honorees mentioned people they had met who were helpful to them as they developed their careers and businesses. They described how they met these people through common organizations or through other introductions. It was clear that networking had made a difference!

Networking is key part of building your small to mid-sized business

There is a reason why we go to events and spend hours standing, talking and listening to people we don’t know. But have you thought about why you choose one event over another? Here are seven reasons that occurred to me as I was listening and meeting the people sitting with me at the awards breakfast… Click here to read more »

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Living Business Plan: Letting Go, Quitting and 2012

*Join us for this topic on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog. We’ll start the discussion on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT or add your comment below.

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting a business planning workshop to small business owners. While talking about  living business plans , I urged the participants to identify what needs to be eliminated. We don’t talk enough about how to let go of the parts of our businesses that are half-alive. And quitting? Forget about it!

For the sake of this conversation, I’m going to use the word, quitting. It’s a word with so many negative nuances. WLet Go, Quit and Decision Pointithout critical thinking, we accept these nuances without knowing if they are true to our experience.

What’s not working as well as you would like?

When you set your business goals for 2011, you had certain things you wanted to achieve by December 31, 2011. There were positive results to celebrate. But what produces lackluster results?

  • Holding onto a product or a service that very few purchase
  • The marketing plan didn’t produce the expected results
  • People just didn’t want what we offered
  • You fell in love with your product or service and didn’t allow for adaptation or iterations of your product or service

Could you let go of something you loved developing?

Some of what we offer to our customers means more to us than simply a revenue source. Maybe all is good for awhile and then you’re doing your quarterly review. You notice  it’s not moving the way you expected. After a couple more quarterly reviews, you’re seeing a downward trend.

By letting go, it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go.

But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning. -Lao Tzu

When letting go becomes quitting…

There’s an interesting behavior among entrepreneurial business owners. When someone decides to close their business and return to working for someone else, entrepreneurial colleagues often respond with suggestions to keep the business on the side or urge him/her simply to not quit. Failure still seems to be taboo, for all those who claim that this gives you some kind of street cred.

Imagine quitting isn’t failure.

Of science and the human heart

There is no limit.

There is no failure here, sweetheart

Just when you quit

-“Miracle Drug”, U2

That’s the premise of the Freakonomics podcast, “The Upside of Quitting”. They state that there is a fallacy of weighing sunk costs. This concept is that we’ve sunk too much of our time, money, and/or energy and we can’t leave without getting something back for our efforts. One of the people interviewed for this podcast is Justin Humphries, a former baseball player, who now assists baseball players outside of Major League Baseball decide when it’s time to quit playing. Many baseball players who are at the end of their career struggle with accepting that they aren’t good enough or too old. Part of this seems to stem from lacking a broader sense of identity. Instead of seeing how they might transfer their skills to another part of baseball or find another career entirely, many players keep playing baseball.

Knowing when to ” shut it down”.

Stephen Dubner captured underlying belief for these baseball players, “Wow, that’s particularly poignant in my view… because baseball’s one of those rare sports that because it doesn’t have a clock, no game is ever out of reach…You could be behind a thousand runs in the bottom of the ninth and theoretically you can still come back and win. So that’s part of the ethic of baseball is never, never, never, never quit. Quitting is  not an option.”

The dissonance between “science and the human heart”

Entrepreneurs and business owners are often like these baseball players. With the recent severe recession and snail-like recovery, many startups and businesses are at a decision point. There are glimmers that things are just beginning to ease up and it’s exhausting trying to keep things afloat. And yet, quitting may not be seen as one choice.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, we derive much of our identity and a sense of competency from our business. We see the financial reports spelling out the science of our business. But, in our hearts, the challenges evoke emotions of grief, helplessness and powerlessness. We’ve put too much in to close the doors. We’re given so many messages that shames us out of quitting. And yet, quitting may turn out to be the best decision we could ever make for ourselves and our businesses. As it is urged by the “The Upside of Quitting”, imagine “there is no failure here.”

Setting goals for 2012

No one would ever say that letting go or quitting are easy or even pleasant experiences. Nonetheless, it is essential to identify any deadweight or mediocre performers. These could be things (or, ouch, people) you are fond of or just have out of habit and these are compromising your business vision. There is an intersection between deciding to let go or quit and your business goals. Aligning your metrics and your heart is an essential task when setting business goals.

What messages do we hear when we’re at the decision point to let go/quit/continue?

How are these messages helpful or  harmful?

How do you let go of a product/service in your business that’s not performing well?

How can “science and the human heart” become resonant with choice to quit?

As you plan your business goals for 2012, how could letting go or quitting assist planning?

 

*Join us for this topic on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog. We’ll start the discussion on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT or add your comment below.





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Outsourcing and the Lean and Nimble Small Business-#kaizenblog recap

People talk about lean and nimble as if it’s the surefire way to business success. And certainly some of it is commonsensical. But what does it look like? What would help my business or your business be lean and nimble?

Richard Winter Comprehensive Consulting Services

Richard Winter, founder of Comprehensive Consulting Services

I invited Richard Winter of Comprehensive Consulting Services to talk about outsourcing in general and specifically those that focus on back office operations. Here is his framing post that started the conversation. Would it make more sense for your small business to have a professional or even an agency provide you with legal, IT, human resources, or financial services? What kind of savings would this create for your business if you didn’t hire a full-time employee? What growth could your business create if you wanted these types of people but couldn’t afford to hire them?

These were the questions we explored in the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog with Richard Winter as our guest host. To read the conversation in its entirety, here is the transcript. Transcript for #kaizenblog -OutsourcingandLeanNimbleSmBiz

To make sure that we were all working with the same definition of “lean and nimble”, we started with a basic first question. What does it mean for an organization to be lean and nimble?

  • Stephen Denny ”Q1 Lean + nimble suggests spending more time focused on customers/competitors than on internal processes/admin.”
  • Joe Sanchez “A Responsive to customer needs & market changes”
  • Amber Cleveland ”A1 – To be operating at maximum effeciency w/ ability to change gears quickly”
  • Caroline Di Diego “A1: Staying small & efficient, / getting best value 4 all services / no superfluous organization/mgmt”
  • Patrick Prothe ”Lean/nimble means having sound strategy 4 long term, agile enough to react to mkt. changes. But not reactive like hamster wheel”

As Richard pointed out, there are times when you want to change or grow your business without hiring someone for every stage, for maintaining market competitiveness, and “its about focus too. If you are waiting weeks to close books by the time you analyze you are mired in past.”

So any business can be lean and nimble but what about small business and outsourcing? With a lot of small businesses working with various types of virtual assistants, book keepers, accountants and other types of professionals to keep costs manageable, it seems that outsourcing could be part of this. How does small business use outsourcing in general? This brought up differing points of view based on experrience.Jo

  • Stephen Denny “A2 Small biz uses outsourcing for admin, creative, non-”sales/acct mgmt” side of things”
  • Heidi Cool “Small biz can outsource things that are outside their own skillset for things that don’t require an FTE”
  • Ken Rosen “A2 For us: finance, creative, bandwith. Experiments outsourcing with those we don’t know largely unsuccessful.”
  • Joe Sanchez “General rule of thumb: Don’t outsource core competencies. This means knowing what those core competencies are.”

Richard echoed Joe’s comment about knowing one’s core competencies. When outsourcing, make sure you are doing what you are expert in and let the other professionals you’ve hired to do the things you don’t have time for or don’t have the necessary skills. Ken Rosen added a final question that seemed to sum up this concept, “impt soul searching question: when is it about saving money & when about raising svc quality?”

Richard coined an acronym to differentiate between outsourcing in general and his concept of how certain types of outsourcing agencies or firms are more beneficial to the company’s overall growth. This is how he described it in his framing post:

Established Service Center Alliances or ESA’s go beyond transaction processing and administration. They add executive leadership as well as vision and partnerships between businesses that produce a better result at a more economical price than internal hires who offer no leverage.

With this idea in mind, we discussed the next question. What are ESA’s must-haves for the small business owner? There was some discussion about how and when to outsource HR. Richard shared a story about this “HR point on wanting to spend then owner finds out lawsuit won costs $250k” Going back to Ken’s question about thinking long and hard about saving money or serving your customers better was the underpinning during this part of the conversation. Richard also described, “ESA’s are an arrangement that not only delivers the administrative work but also provides analysis and suggetive insights.” Debra Ellis tweeted, “The key to successful outsourcing is in-house management. Have liasion person responsible for communicators/monitoring”.

What are the pitfalls to outsourced back office operations? It seems that having someone else know the legal and administrative aspects of your business could be a boon, particularly if they are advising how your business could be better. On the other hand, what could go wrong? Since costs could really get out of hand, Richard recommended that “ESA’s have a flat rate agreement! A defined interal person to manage the relationship between business and ESA and best to use a clearly defined service level agreement with a fixed cost to govern the arrangement.” This seemed to answer Ken’s question, “As relationship gets more consultative, harder to scope/price? In sr retainers, makes sense. But support?”

Other concerns that werer voiced were:

  • Amber Cleveland “Lack of communication and understanding of internal happenings.”
  • Caroline Di Diego “~losing control, not know what is going on, getting inferior work, costing 2 much”
  • Stephen Denny “Pitfall to outsourcing sales (indie reps) is that yr brand becomes attached to their style/personality (lack of urgency?)”
  • Debra Ellis “Loss of control and insight. Hands-on can make big difference”
  • Joe Sanchez “Risks 2 outsourcing back office operations can b mitigated via strong service level agreements (SLAs) w/ the provider”

These are genuine concerns. You hear of tension between the creative and innovative professionals and the back office professionals who already work for the same company. It would be interesting to see how an ESA engages in this tension and how it is managed. Would it be more objective since it’s not the ESA’s business or would it be just as subjective? How would the relationship with the ESA be affected if a business owner and his/her team decided to go a different route than what the ESA recommended?

For the last question, we decided to see what kinds of potential these ESA’s might have. How will the trend of outsourcing /contrating/ESA’s go once economy turns for the better? Richard stated, “Fiercely competitive small businesses will drive the back office expense down lower so more can be poured into marketing & sales.”

  • Ken Rosen “On practical basis, when fewer quality ppl looking 4 work, quality outsourcers win”
  • Debra Ellis “Outsourcing is a good way to leverage resources if managed well. It works in any economy”

It seems that careful thought and discussion must occur if you decide to outsource. For back office operations, you want to believe in and trust the ESA you are working with. With more small businesses working virtually, expanding globally or simply not wanting to get caught by the next economic downturn, outsourcing (especially to ESA’s) could become the norm. It would allow the business owner to spend more time doing what he/she does best and developing the business to a more sophisticated level.

What’s your take on ESA’s?

 

 

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Sexy/Boring and Building Your Business

Do you want to be a rockstar or steady as she goes?It’s not often that I rant about something on this blog but I have to get this off my chest-I hate the term “rockstar” to describe someone who is not a musician! It’s ridiculous and robs the person of dignity and opportunity. Let’s face it-someone who has worked hard to develop, marketed their product or service and caught the imagination and desire of a lot of people deserves more than to be the flavor of the moment. There is a herd mentality that you have to score big and parade around like you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Puh-leeze!

Okay, my rant is over.

Do you have to have to be the flavor of the moment to build a thriving business?

Social media can make any one of us a rockstar. Take a moment and think about when you founded your business. Maybe you have been developing, tweaking, and testing your product or service for a number of years. You’ve studied marketing strategies and current trends in your target market. You’ve put in the sweat equity and money to make your idea soar and now it is time to tell your story.

Marketing plans are necessary to keep focused on how to get the word out but there may be a missing ingredient to the whole of your business plan. Do you want your target market to discover you or your business? In social media, the trend is that a person gets noticed with their big idea (book, blog, product, service, etc.) and they are invited to speak at conferences, media interviews, and revenues increase. However, after a period of time, the novelty wears off. People want to be around you but they wonder if you got any other tricks up your sleeve or that you are really a one hit wonder. So many businesses bank on the idea that took off like wild fire that they neglect to build beyond that. Social media is a marvelous tool but it has a short attention span. There is always someone who is emerging with the next big thing. Outside of the online world, there are still traditional marketing channels to let your target market know about you and your business.

The real question-Do you have to be sexy or boring to build a successful business?

Maybe I’m being a curmudgeon about this. After all, it feels good to be sought after, quoted, and made much of. We desire to be successful with our businesses. After surviving the recent economic meltdown, many businesses of all sizes are evaluating their offerings and how to market them to the right people. So with things in so much flux, it becomes a question of focus and intention. It seems like a bad idea to avoid giving these questions some thought. Maybe they are not included explicitly in your strategic plan but taking stock of your personality style and your business fantasies seems a good way to know if you are going to develop a cult of personality or not.

Should the focus be on the founder or the business? Certainly it is sexy to be articulate and personable and this feeds the “know, like, and trust” factor which is drilled into us in marketing 101 advice. Obviously the more attention and visibility you have, the more people will want to buy your products/services. Does being sexy get you the right customers?

The boring way to build your business is to deflect the attention off of you and onto your organization and pursue more organic growth. Even if it is an organization of one, the ideas are paramount. The way your product or service will change the world is paramount. Keeping the focus on the idea may mean speaking at specific conferences or interviewing targeted media outlets. It may include smaller meetings with influencers or evangelists who will offer word-of-mouth recommendations.  Does being boring get you the right customers?

What does sexy/boring mean to you as you grow your business?

Which is more important to creating a successful business-the person or the idea?

What would happen if you combined sexy and boring and avoided the flameout of rockstardom?

*Would you like to know what other people have to say about this in a live conversation? Join #kaizenblog on Twitter this Friday, May 21st at 12pm ET/4pm GMT for the live chat and discuss “Do You Need To Be Sexy Or Boring To Build a Successful Business?”

 

 My blog has been entered in the Best Coaching Blogs 2010 contest. All votes and comments are deeply appreciated! Thank you so much!

 

 

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So In Love (With Your Business)

So in love with your businessMichael Gerber’s work resonates with me very deeply. Maybe you’ve noticed how deeply embedded the idea of letting your business be an separate entity is in my coaching and my writing. Perhaps you’ve even noticed my emphasis in paying attention to your vision, your real reason for your business, and how you want to enhance your self-knowledge and your management of your thoughts and feelings. The problem with Michael Gerber’s writing is it resonates so much I don’t dare read his latest books lest I be accused of plagiarism.

Which is why I shouldn’t have opened my email from Amazon. There it was, Gerber’s latest book, The Most Successful Small Business in the World, and I took a peek. Sigh…

His opening premise is about love. Yep, love. I didn’t dare read any more. It made perfect sense!

Do you love your small business? This organization that you spend so much money and time on. You lose sleep trying to determine how to nourish and develop it. You think about it all of the time. So many small business leaders have told me how they forget to eat because they got busy. Hmm…sounds like true love!

And it can break your heart. But, back to love…

New love-Some entrepreneurs love the “new love” stage. This is the startup and there are highs and lows as the idea becomes reality. A bit like those first wonderful, delirious days when you have met someone and they seem just perfect. The initial offering, your product or service, is the Answer to everything. There is a thrill to everything. At networking events, you can see the sun-shiny faces of the entrepreneurs in this stage. They smile and tell their story to everyone who will listen. This new relationship gets reinforced by the first customers, the investors who share your desire, and seeing the admiration in others’ eyes when you say, “I work for myself.”

Then comes marriage.  This stage is full of adjustments but they are spread out over time. There is still growth, possibilities and a sense of wonder. The business is beautiful and occasionally your breath gets caught in your throat. The biggest shift for the entrepreneur is one of identity. No longer a startup founder but business owner with a stable company. Maybe it’s because there are new hires or a virtual assistant has been added. The business owner may be tapped as an expert and speak to organizations or at conferences. New products or services are being launched in addition to the initial line. There may not be as many “curl your toes” moments in this stage but seeing the revenues grow, profit margins increasing, and hearing how your customers value what you offer keeps the mundane from making your brain go to sleep.

Ah, love…here’s the kicker-no matter what stage your small business is in, you have to feel the passion and belief to continue on. This is true for new love and especially for marriages. When it becomes just a job, it’s time to evaluate the business to see if you still love it enough to have a deep relationship. Your passion and belief fuels your love for what you do and what effect your business has on the world.

Are you in love with your business?

How would you describe the stage it is in right now?

What would deepen your relationship with your small business?

 

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Must-Read Book Review-Alpha Dog

Alpha Dogs: How Your Small Business Can Become a Leader of the Pack by Donna Fenn. About a year ago, someone recommended this book to me and I put it on my list. It was sitting there until I recently had the pleasure of meeting Donna Fenn (@donnafenn) on Twitter. Full of curiosity, I got a copy of the book and started reading. Donna Fenn is a contributing editor and twenty year veteran for Inc. magazine. While reading Alpha Dogs, I found it full of interesting ideas and stories. I actually ended up keeping a notebook next to me to write down my own questions and ideas for my business.Books Donna Fenn writes in an engaging style and features eight business owners who take entrepreneurship seriously. Her premise is that “companies make the leap from ordinary to extraordinary when their leaders step back from what they do and focus on how they’re doing it.” She chose business owners who have been in business for at least 10 years, low-tech industries, great places to work, bootstrapped or traditionally financed companies under $100 million in revenue and solid revenue growth. Each chapter highlights how these phenomenal entrepreneurs crafted their success. Each chapter ends with a synopsis of lessons learned and advice. One topic of advice that is found in nearly every chapter is customer service. There is an emphasis on acknowledging problems and responding to complaints with excellent service. Fenn describes it as “Turn terrorists into apostles.” Fenn includes mistakes, bad decisions, and personal situations that the Alpha Dogs experienced to highlight how the business owners learned and grew to lead great organizations. These stories serve to illustrate the process of how the leaders came to identify how they run their organizations. While it is good to hear examples from different industries, the stories focused mainly on retail and manufacturing for examples of Alpha Dogs. There is one example of a service based organization which highlighted how creating a network consortium can be an effective way to transcend the independent practitioner operating in solitude. It would be interesting to see more examples of Alpha Dogs who run service-based organizations. Alpha Dogs is an easy read that serves as a great springboard to develop your business and yourself into leading the pack. The emphasis on common sense combined with a tolerance for experimenting is consistent throughout the book and it really illustrates how a small business owner can become a leader of their own pack.
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Implementation

I keep seeing the IBM ads in which the point is to do something.  Like the characters in the commercials, most of us do not follow through with our ideas and goals.   We spend a lot of time ideating, inspiring, imagining, et cetera.  This is the trap. 

It is so easy to think we are busy doing something when we are doing little more than contemplating our navels.  Business owners spend time on the “right” website, business cards, brochures, attending seminars, and other details of the business.  This is not doing. 

Here is the interesting thing though…Choosing to avoid real action highlights the anxiety and stress of growing a business into a lucrative enterprise.  I was talking with a client today about why she was accepting the indecisiveness of an important resource.  This is somebody who can help her get over a major hurdle that will bring her to the next step in launching her business.  I suggested to her that there is a payoff, a gain from inaction. 

This concept can seem strange at first.  Why would anyone want to annoy themselves by remaining stuck and courting failure?   Some of the reasons that clients have shared with me have been that they felt fearful that they would have additional responsibilities, have to work more hours, make mistakes, or lose out on time with friends and family.  The all-time, best reason I have heard is the fear that one will actually be successful and a major hijacking of one’s personality will occur.   

The bottom line here-fear will prevent you from taking action! How powerful is your fear?  What is triggering this fear?  How important is your business?  What can you implement first?  Answering these questions will make it easier to take the first step.  Get out of the trap and identify what tools and resources will support your implementation.

 ***Check out my website and see the resources that will support your growth  and action at www.abilitysuccessgrowth.com!

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