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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.”
- Danielle Hender, Esq. Shapiro & Hender

Confidence: Aphrodisiac for Business Building?

Confident small business ownersWhile I’ve been focusing on business plans recently, there are often things in the background that will determine how much faith you put into your own planning and any action actually taken. Confidence is one of these things.

Confidence is a remarkable attribute in any part of life. Merriam-Webster online dictionary lists one definition as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of one’s circumstances”. In business, it’s a huge piece of any effective business plan. When we can clearly see our our choices and actions are successful, they build on each other. There is an aphrodisiac effect when we feel confident. People want to be around us. They believe that we can deliver our products or services and they will work. Like that feeling of first being in love, our customers want to tell others how wonderful we are. So what could possibly get in the way?

Emotions have a major influence in how we approach the hard work of our businesses.

My friend, Caroline pointed me to a post recently about emotions. It was an interesting tie in of how our emotions are tied into our emotional intelligence. Our instincts and perceptions certainly work on a nonverbal level that is useful. How many times have  you noticed that when you didn’t listen to your instincts that you ended up in a negative situation? We know stuff that we don’t realize we know.

But confidence can be built or eroded by emotion. Consider this-your skill level doesn’t suddenly evaporate. You still have the same body of knowledge and the same talent to serve your customers well. However, if you’re seeing your revenues decreasing or you just can’t seem to land new customers, your confidence generally drops. On the other hand, the times you’ve landed that fabulous client or solved a difficult problem, it gave you such a boost. There are days when you feel as if you couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag or, conversely, you are beautiful and people love you.

It’s not just our reaction to our performance that can grow or erode our confidence.

Circumstances in our environment can be taxing on our confidence as well. For small business, access to credit or consumer spending or lack thereof can drain one energy and motivation. The Irish Independent reported that the Small Firms Association ((SFA) urged that measures be taken to restore confidence to Irish small and mid-sized companies. Access to adequate networking, advice or governmental policies make up the environment in which we operate our businesses.  They fertilize our thinking and present opportunities for our growth. The way our peers respond to circumstances does in some way affect us. We may choose to get caught up in the zeitgeist or not but it is still in the air.

Sometimes personal issues have an impact on our confidence. It doesn’t take much to notice that we siphon off energy to respond to personal situations. They can be positive or negative events (e.g. weddings, children leaving home, illness or death) but they still evoke an emotional response.

Perhaps wisdom is in our awarenss of how we allow our emotions to grow or erode our confidence.

We’re going to feel our emotions, no matter what. As I often say, it isn’t the emotions that are good or bad. It’s what we do with them. The level of influence you have over a situation can markedly affect how much confidence you feel. And we have choices about how we express ourselves. Our choices encourage that glow and attraction that an aphrodisiac provides.

While it’s tempting on my part to provide suggestions for creating confidence that works like a love charm, it will be much more interesting to hear what the #kaizenblog community has to say. Please join us as we’ll be discussing “Confidence, Emotions and Business Growth” on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on Friday, May 13, 2011 at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT 

How would you describe the levels of confidence in your offline peers?

Could confidence have a fragility to it? Why or why not?

What is the relationship between experience, confidence and emotional intelligence?

What is it about confident people that attracts you?

 

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Living Business Plan: Design It So You Use It!

Designing Your Living Business PlanIt’s been awhile since I’ve written about living business plans. (This post might be a good place to start if you’re not familiar with this type of business plan). While my mantra is “Make your business plan usable for you”, it’s not always clear how to design this plan so to fits you. I remember being interviewed by an interested small business owner who wanted to know if she had to use an outline form. The short answer was, and is, no. So what can you use instead?

There certain parts that are necessary so that this document actually reflects that you are running a business.

No matter how visual, linear or whatever ways you write out your business plan, you still have to include:

1. Executive Summary

2. Services and products offered

3. Marketing strategies

4. Desired client profile

5. Financials

6. Company goals and objectives

This is entirely about how you work.

Keep in mind that this is not the business plan you’re showing to the bank or investors. It exists so you can keep focused as you lead and manage your business. It’s way too easy to get sidetracked by the day to day work, exciting opportunities or negative events. There’s a host of stuff out there that can get you off your game.  Couple this with your thinking and learning styles and it makes sense to write or draw your business plan your way.  And, of course, any goals that you include will include specifics, measurements and deadlines 

So, what are my choices?

Style 1:  Outline form- This is probably the most traditional.  With an outline format, list each category and use bullet points to specify the details. 

Style 2:  Fish Diagram-This style reads left to right with each category branching out into the specific components.   The Executive Summary is the “head” of the fish and the other parts of your business plan make up the body of the fish.  This diagram creates a visual image of what you desire for your small business.  The lines coming off the “body” of the fish are the details that you want to remember and/or implement as actions steps.

 Style 3:  Bubble Chart- This method is well suited for people who like to take a creative and/or visual approach to goal setting.  Write your executive summary in the center bubble and in the radiating bubbles, write the other sections of your business plan.  Each radiating bubble contains important details or the goals you wish to execute. The bubble chart allows you to keep track of  each section while having fun with your strategic and operational planning. 

Try out the different styles suggested here to see what works best for you. 

Your business plan is supposed to be a guide and a reference. It’s a live document that you can review, writing comments in the margins, scratch out what you don’t want, add on new ideas and use continuously. Consider how you learn.  Do outlines make things sensible to you or do you prefer pictures?  Do you tend to think in a step-wise way or in “stream of consciousness”?  These important details will aid you in designing how you think about and plan the actions in your business plan.  The cliché, “Keep it simple” also applies here because simplicity will prevent or manage feelings of overwhelm or distractibility.  It makes no sense for your business plan to become forgotten in a desk drawer or a computer file that it never opened. It’s a tool to keep you focused and motivated as you lead and manage your small business to successful outcomes. Make your business plan a living business plan!

What style makes sense to you?

What suggestions do you have that would help other small business owners create a written business plan?

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It Always Starts With Vision

Business visionWhy did you start your small business? I love asking this question and then hearing the stories. Business owners faces light up or take on this earnestness that displays their passion and expertise. Even when I have an incomplete understanding of what their business really does, I find I get carried away and want to learn more!

All of our businesses started with some story about living your dreams-you wanted to share a cool technology, a different way of doing things, a successful career, loving relationships, or even financial freedom. Then comes the moment when you think, “Gee, maybe I should write a business plan.” Now, assuming you haven’t become overwhelmed with boatloads of advice of how to write a good business plan, you realize that you need to set goals.

Well-targeted goal setting starts with an idea, a vision and a focused vision enables you to design a clear and measurable action plan to achieve your goal.  It also reminds you of what you value most. 

There’s not one way to write a “good” business plan. I often recommend to small business owners that they use a living business plan. This document could be the best business tool you ever use! (Seriously!   But that’s another post for another day). It is an informal document that outlines the Why, the What, and the How of your business. The purpose of your business matters deeply. Think about a job you had where you had the message you were expendable or simply didn’t matter. I’d bet that you’d didn’t go to work singing, “Heigh ho, heigh ho, off to work I go” with great zeal. Now you get to set the tone and work style of your small business. So why did you start your business?

Getting to The Why

It’s worth your time clarifying the Why. I’ve  had clients discover what scares them most and what their business really means to them. One client told me that money wasn’t his motivator and he undercharged for his services. Sometimes he even gave his expertise away for free. When he was asked what he really desired most, he explained he just wanted to help nonprofits fulfill their missions with more effective and fun fundraising. He also described how he wanted to become a philanthropist. Charging little to no fee wouldn’t meet those goals.

What’s in your heart and soul and how is your business going to fulfill this?

Brainstorm the details of your vision without editing or choosing what is most realistic.  Imagining your ideal business  requires dreaming big with no limits.  Use your creativity.  Actually, think of the craziest, most ridiculous ideas (the rest will follow, really).  Choosing the best action steps will come later.  Take a piece of paper and pen/pencil, draw, scribble, or list your ideas.  To aid your brainstorming, answer these questions:

  • What do I really want most for my small business?
  • What are my top 3 values?
  • What am I tolerating?
  • What does success mean to me? 
  • What fears am I noticing as I add details to my vision?  

 Clarifying your values or what is important to you allows you to build a solid foundation under your vision.  Having this clarity makes success easier by providing a deeper meaning to your choices.  Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House, and Phil Sandahl write that “when we are not living out our values, there is dissonance.  The discord can get so out of tune, that it can literally become unhealthy.”  These values are personal and choosing to pay attention to them may reduce some of the dissatisfaction in your life. Pay attention to your values and not what someone else believes you ought to be, not what you wish you were like or ignore a value such as recognition or financial success if it is actually something you consider important. Keep in mind that this is going to become part of your organizational culture as your small business grows and matures.

Daring to dream big nurtures creativity and motivation.  It also requires that you identify what feels scary or impossible. Developing a vision in accordance to your value system supports your desire to follow through and invest the necessary time, energy, and money.  As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, Life is about creating yourself.”  My client discovered a way to stay aligned with what’s most important to him and develop a business he’s proud of.

What small business are you creating?

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Why Use a Living Business Plan?

Is your business plan digestible and practical?

With the end of the year in sight, many of us are thinking about 2010 and what we want for and from our businesses. As entrepreneurial small business owners, we are not content to hunker down and hope for the best. If you follow tweets on Twitter or talk to people at networking events, you hear enthusiasm, reluctance, and musings about what is in store with the economy still looking grim.

So, what keeps us from using our business plan regularly? I’ve noticed in coaching entrepreneurs and small business owners that writing and reviewing their business plan takes time they would rather be using to meet with prospects, strategic alliance partners, or do product/service development. Yes, it takes time to find out what your market needs the most right now. And for some of us, analyzing our financials is about as much fun as having a root canal. And…there are some who just come undone while writing out their goals.

May I suggest a different point of view? Converting your current business plan into a living business plan makes it more palatable. Even easier to use! This is the in-house, dog-eared, marked up, easy-to-pull-up file (on paper or on your computer) that you look at on a quarterly basis. Imagine you have such a pulse on your business that you can respond to your market, your industry, even your life on a moment’s notice!

Where do I begin? Start with the basic outline and include:

  • Executive Summary-Provides the direction and purpose of your business 
  • Goals and Objectives-List your 3 month action plan of succinct, realistic, measurable goals and how you plan on achieving them
  • Services and/or Products Offered-List what you are really offering and which of these are your real money-makers
  • Target market-Describe your ideal client. Has this person changed since you founded your business?
  • Marketing Strategies-There are so many possiblities and this is where you identify which of the strategies you are using. You may need to give yourself more than two quarters to see how effective they are.
  • Financials-Using a profit and loss report and a balance summary, analyze how your cash flow is increasing, decreasing, or staying flat. It can be a great way to see hard evidence about how your business is performing.

Notice what is working and what is not working. Asking questions about what are your real moneymakers, cutting costs, or making changes becomes clearer. By reviewing each quarter, you get the opportunity to intervene when something is not working or to give yourself a pat on the back.

How do you experience writing your business plan?
 
What is the purpose of your business plan?
 
How can I help you?
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Your Business Plan is Alive!

Your business plan is one of the most important tools you can use to develop your small business. It provides the spark, the power, the very fusion of your ideas, your actions, and your values that are embedded in your business. Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited, talks about the transition from technician to business owner. A living business plan is part of how you work on your business.  

Sometimes writing a business plan is an ordeal. Looking for funding requires a specialized type of business plan writing which involves a lot of detail. However, the living business plan does not have to be as formal. It can contain mission and vision statements, goals, services and products, target market, marketing strategies, and your financial information. So how many entrepreneurs actually review their business plans on a regular basis? Not so many, according to experts like Debra Streeter of www.allbusiness.com. It gives you a chance to think strategically about your business. Where are you going? What makes that direction more important than any other? What steps do you need to get there?

What was the real benefit of evaluating and possibly re-writing your business plan? It gives you a chance to examine if your vision is still the same for your business. Our businesses constantly evolve as we grow and learn more about ourselves and our area of expertise. Sometimes the vision changes too. Another area that changes is our goals. We can discover new trends, feedback from our clients/customers, economic conditions, new tools, and personal interests. Focusing on where you are right now supports where you will be in three to five years while knowing exactly how your business is performing on a quarterly basis.

Consider these questions as you review your business plan:

  • Who is your ideal client or customer?
  • What products or services are producing the most activity? The most revenue?
  • How are your financials trending?
  • What is supporting your growth?
  • How do you get in your own way?
  • What needs to be eliminated?
  • What is beneficial about your current business model?
  • What is your next step?

When you go through this process every quarter (or at least two times a year), you know exactly what is working well for your small business. Startups benefit because the process shows how your idea is working in real life. You catch problems before they overwhelm you.

So, create a living business plan. You will thank yourself!

*Want to participate in a live conversation about living business plans? You have two options:

1. Power Up Your Business Plan: Using Action, Goals, and Measuring To Your Advantage! When: Thursday, June 11, 2009 Time:  6:00pm-8:00pm Where:  NAWBO Boston, 201 Jones Road, Waltham, MA Cost:  Free for members, $25 for non-members

2. Featured Business Guide on Twitter #smallbizchat #smallbizchat is a conversation on Twitter led by Melinda Emerson (www.melindaemerson.com) , AKA @smallbizlady. During #smallbizchat, we will be talking about how to develop and implement a living business plan. We will cover tips and strategies to keep your business plan from being a dust collector on your shelf and making it a tool for goal setting, taking action, and measuring your progress throughout the year. When:  Wednesday, June 17, 2009 Time:  8:00pm-9:00pm Where:  On Twitter (If you don’t have an account but want to check this out, create an account on www.twitter.com This is an easy process and free to join. Then go to Search (in sidebar) and type in #smallbizchat You will join the conversation in real-time.) Cost:  There is no cost for this event.

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Be Childlike to Run Your Business

 “It is the childlike mind that finds the kingdom.” -Charles Fillmore Girl Looking Up the RoadIn recent conversations about the economy with other businesspeople, there is a theme of overwhelm and fear. Understandable as we witness huge companies threaten bankruptcy, large numbers of layoffs, and credit is hard to obtain even with a good history. It is not clear how some of us are going to find funding and/or clients to keep our own business open. For some people, this triggers feelings of helplessness, confusion, and indecision. For entrepreneurs, these are destructive emotions. There is enough anxiety and excitement in starting or building up a venture. As we enter 2009, there is little to guide us into a stronger financial position. It is not reassuring to hear Alan Greenspan say he made a mistake. This economic mess is not simply a mistake by Mr. Greenspan or others. It is huge and affecting all sectors of the U.S. economy as well as having an impact globally. It may seem like you have to come up with a complicated business plan to handle the current challenges. And yet, a childlike approach may be the answer. My five year old is fascinating to watch as she navigates the family rules. Like most kids, she accepts that there are rules and parameters in a given situation. Somehow this does not limit her. Some of you who are parents may be familiar with the impressive debating powers children possess as they search for a solution to vexing problems such as how to have ice cream for breakfast or cleaning up the toys without touching them. Just because the circumstances have limitations does not seem to mean that there are no other choices. In a previous post, Hunker Down and Then What? , I wrote about how it seemed too easy to just stay in one spot and try to avoid doing any major damage to your business. However, the world can just pass you by if you reduce your marketing efforts, avoid enhancing your skills, or spending your networking time with the doom and gloom crowd. No one has a business plan for obsolescence. What does your kingdom look like?  Children often change storylines when it looks like the “bad guys” or the “monsters” are going to win. While we cannot change the bad economy by just wishing it so, we can change how we tell the story of “Our Business and the Economic Troll.”
  • Check your language. By using active, positive language, you are setting yourself up to stay open to opportunity. As an example, one of my clients is saying to himself, “I am scheduling 2-3 appointments with possible prospects to introduce myself.” By using an invitational approach, he believes there will be more conversations in the future.
  • Use your downtime wisely. If you are experiencing a slowdown in your particular business, read that professional book you have been saving or attend a training or teleseminar. There are a lot of free options online and in your community (check out the library, SCORE, SBA, and some networking groups offer free trainings.)
  • Review your business plan. This is a wonderful opportunity to make sure you are following your vision. Keep anything that supports the growth of your business and weed out anything that does not fit.  (If it almost fits, weed it out anyway.) Focus on what you and your business do well.
  • Take care of yourself. Your mind and body need sustenance. Include healthy, tasty foods in your diet. Children spend time coloring, playing with blocks and Legos, and napping as well as running and climbing. Take time to play.
The childlike approach has nothing to do with immaturity or waiting for Mommy or Daddy to fix things. It is about how you tell your story, how you re-think solutions, and allowing your creativity to keep your business viable. How do you find your kingdom?
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