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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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5 Tips For Better Delegation

If you are like most small business owners (or executives), you have a pretty active to-do list and not nearly enough time to do it all. Besides keeping an eye on the overall business, it is likely that you are involved with some of the day-to-day work with customers. For some business owners, they stay in the Pre-Leader stage and try to do everything themselves. And they wonder why they feel overwhelmed and overworked. I don’t think anyone ever founds a business saying, “I want to create something that will make me miserable.”

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How Do You Define “CEO”?

Small Business Owner Becoming CEOIt’s always interesting asking small business owners to imagine themselves with different titles and words. In a recent in-person presentation about the CEO Mindset, I asked what words or phrases mentioned came to mind in reference to “CEO”:

  • Chief executive officer
  • Buck stops here
  • Boss
  • Money
  • Big
  • Big desk
  • Big company
  • Coordinator
  • Most responsible
  • Overseer
  • Headaches
  • Me
  • Mentor
  • Out of touch
  • Working too many hours
  • Them
  • Creative Force
  • Leader

 So, what would Twitter folk say? Granted I was asking my followers so it’s not entirely random. However, you never know who is on and if they see what’s in your stream.

Barney Austen: Leader, Driving Force

Derek Edmond: Leader & vision

Celtic Seas: Most important role in an organization with or without a board

Gnosis Arts: leader, chief stakeholder

What does it mean to act as if you are the CEO of your small business?   With all of the different models of how to be a CEO, it make sense that some small business owners feel ambivalent about embracing or rejecting the title as CEO. If you look at larger corporations, you can see everything from criminal to inspirational. However, leading a small business is much more intimate. It is as likely that you will use your technical expertise while you are monitoring the greater organizational needs in any given day.

How about you? What words do you associate with the title of CEO?

What would happen if you chose to consider yourself as CEO of your small business?




CEO Mindset: Ready For Next Stage Of Your Business?

Business Owner thinking about next levelMaybe you’re a little bored, a little itchy or exasperated with your busines lately. You often hear small business owners talk about going to the next level. What does this mean exactly? And what will happen if you do grow in size, sophistication or both?

If you had a crystal ball, what would your business look like in 1 year?

Part of what makes us ready for the next stage is having a vision. This vision does feed into our business’ basic mission. That doesn’t change. Remember your Hedgehog Concept? As you think about the new kind of customer you want to attract or the new line of services or products you’re designing, daydream what you would be doing differently.

As you fill in the details of your daydream, this becomes the outline of your strategic plan for the coming year. Put it writing. Make it real for yourself. This is where you might notice some internal thoughts, beliefs or feelings growing in intensity.

What could get in the way of going to the next stage of your business? Your assumptions.

It’s that combination of being so excited about doing something you aspire to and feeling nervous about making it actually happen. What are your assumptions? For some people, it is about being expected to be extraordinary, give up more time out of an already demanding schedule or becoming someone you are not. For others, they assume everything will be okay and the changes will be minimal. It’s more likely somewhere in the middle.

Challenge your assumptions

  • What do you really want?
  • Which skills do you need to augment?
  • What is so important about taking your business to its next stage?
  • What would happen if your business stayed the same as it is now?

And an equally important question…

In a recent interview on, Scott Eblin asked a crucial question for this process, “What is it that only I can do?” This question is essential for small business owners as they are often an integral part of the work of the business. When you increase the size, change business structure or work with a more preferred client, this makes different demands on the business owner. You can’t be as casual as in the startup days. More administrative tasks will take up your attention and time. You may find you need to conract certain jobs that you used to do or even hire people to do those jobs. Typically systems need to be formalized across the organization. For example, just this week I was talking with a client about his options for managing business development projects. Right now they are in his head but he’s finding that he needs to delegate some of the project management tasks to others in his organization.

What do you need to do to be ready for the next stage of your business?

*For more information like this live, check out my complementary teleclass, “How To Use the CEO Mindset For Small Business Success” Tuesday February 22, 7 pm ET


The Things You Wish You Knew When You Started

Thing You Wished You Knew When You Started BusinessWhen you’ve been in business for a while, you look back at the early days and remember what you did. Have you ever wondered what you were thinking? Maybe even had a rueful chuckle at your own expense about what you didn’t know? I think a lot of us have done that.

All kinds of people start businesses. Some are excited about their idea and figure they’ll learn as they go. Others do a lot of research before they even start. While these are extremes on both ends, where did you fall? I can’t tell you how many people have told me about wanting to have their fantasy lives made real. This is not to say that this can’t happen. Frankly, it’s embedded in my work with small business owners that everyone finds a way to have their dreams and aspirations become everyday reality.

But sometimes getting there has a few potholes:

  • You need money to start a business. The amount needed can depend on what industry you’re in. Some businesses are virtual so you might need enough to pay for the initial founding costs and emergency funds. Franchises, affiliates and even stand-alone businesses have startup costs that can be overlooked when it seems like your chosen business is your golden ticket.
  • It is hard work to build up your first client base. One of my early clients experienced this one. She wanted to be a personal chef but discovered that she would have to do a lot of networking to get her name out there. This became disheartening for her and closed down her business even before she really did anything.
  • To get VC funding, you have to bootstrap, bring your idea to market and put in a great deal of work before they invest. It can be a long slog for some. The magic idea that you just have to pitch and people throw money at you is just that, magic. I know this one entrepreneur in bio-energy started off with one idea and discovered he had to revamp his technology to make it easier to sell and prove that it is viable. The great part of this story is that he won a business plan contest and A round funding. When we last spoke, he was just about to receive his next round of funding.
  • You’re going to work more hours than you expected. It’s not that you won’t have flexible hours. It’s just that the hours may amount to more than you imagined.
  • There are behaviors and expectations that you’re supposed to know already. Little things like how to arrange a mutually satisfying alliance with someone, how to combine business and a recreational activity (golf, tennis, boating, etc.) or asking someone to hire you.

There are definitely more potholes that we encounter as we work for ourselves. If you haven’t experienced some of the potholes I mentioned above, think of what tripped you up along the way.

If we knew then what we know now, what would we do differently?

Are there any “dirty little secrets” that you wish you knew from the beginning about owning your own business?

*Join us for the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on this Friday at 12pm ET/5pm GMT/9am PT for our topic.”The Dirty Little Biz Secrets You Wish You Knew From the Start”. We’d love to hear what you’ve observed, experienced and learned since you started in business.


Small Business and A Cheerful, Prosperous Ireland?

Small business and Irish economyPerhaps in Ireland doom and gloom is just too easy. Sure the Celtic Tiger is long gone, the government is a mess and the banks, well, I suppose the least said the better. However,  I keep coming back to the same thought…what is really going on with small business?

So does Ronan Lyons have it right? He lists “Eleven Reasons To be Cheerful” about the Irish economy. That’s all well and good but what how can you tell on the ground? Where do the small businesses fit in and what are their expectations? If you can believe the Business + Leadership article, less companies are going bust but then in Business World, there is an article about a business survey identifying that Irish business owners have a variety of attitudes that trend to pessimistic.

Where does entrepreneurship fit into this? Lyons didn’t list this in his eleven reasons to be cheerful. It makes one wonder if Irish entrepreneurship is completely separated from small business. It is part and parcel of being entrepreneurial to be optimistic and work towards a better future. Sometimes small business owners get caught up in the day to day, particularly if it involves survival. When you get caught up in the minutiae, it can undermine your attitude, your motivation and your ideals.

Most business owners are working for something beyond the money. Some are working to make sure that they and their families have financial security. Others are seeking to make sure others have a need met. There are other business owners who are motivated to provide something luxurious or pleasuable. This is where it is more than just about the money. These are the ideals that can be hard to keep in mind when the future is looking bleak.

So could 2011 be the year that Ireland can become prosperous and cheerful? It depends on where you are in the economy. Sure various industries recover at different speeds but does size matter? It can since larger organizations can have resources to ride out problems. When a small business has to let go of employees, it is usually someone the business owner knows. Asking employees to take on more work but with no pay rises can be taxing.

So do Irish small business owners have reasons to be cheerful?

Could there be a mindset shift happening and small business is missing out?




Creativity, Imagination and Your Business

When we talk about business skills, how many times have you heard creativity or imagination mentioned? Oh sure, we talk about how someone is skilled with managing their finances, he/she is adept at networking or with having an instinct for timing a market.

Creativity, Imagination and BusinessIt seems obvious that creativity and imagination have a place in our businesses. I wrote a post recently about 11 Ways to Fuel Imagination and we talked about The Necessity of Creativity in 21st Century Business Thinking on #kaizenblog back in June. I guess you could say that I’ve been thinking about both for some time.

But in everyday business conversations, why don’t we talk about it more? Perhaps it seems somehow fluffy or unprofessional to consider oneself as creative or imaginative. Yet, every successful small business owner uses these two traits often.

How did you come up with your business vision? You used your imagination to describe the way you’ll change the world.

How did you come up with the products or services your business offers? Creativity and imagination.

How do you fit your vision, your offerings and your goals into your business plan? You use imagination to forecast how your business will perform.

So why don’t we talk about them more?

*If you’d like to explore the role of creativity and imagination in business, the myths or misconceptions of these traits and what business really thinks of creativity and imagination, join in the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on Friday, January 7th at 12pm ET/5pm GMT/9am PT.




What’s Happening When You’re Tapped Out

Business owner being pulled apartIt’s not always bad. There are awesome days when you and your team can do no wrong. And there are days when you are busy with the mundane. And then there are days when leading a small business is distressing. In fact, the origin of the word, distress, means to pull apart. And pulled apart is not so  far off the mark. When people feel this high level of stress, it can be tempting to just do anything that remotely feels like work. Just to feel a sense of control over something. The catch is that if you aren’t leading the way to stablizing the organization, then it becomes a negative loop of flailing and failing.

So let’s start with just you first…

Your body-There has been a tremendous amount of research done on cardiovascular health as well as the immune system. It’s no secret that high levels of anger and anxiety simply wear down our internal organs. For the last 20 years, research is finding a strong relationship between suppressed immune systems and high stress levels. In fact, high levels of anger and other intensely upsetting emotions (i.e. high anxiety, depression) double the chances of  coronary artery disease and cancer.

Your brain-You’ve got this fascinating part of your brain just behind your eyes and forehead-the frontal cortex. This part of your brain does a number of thing like weighing options, making decisions, organizing and avoiding saying really stupid things that you can’t take back. Fatigue, inconsistent eating habits, little to no physical activity (not just exercise) and negative thinking patterns will impair how your brain functions. In turn, this intensifies anything that is already challenging.

If you’re handicapped physically and mentally, what’s likely to happen to your business?

It’s not pretty and muscling through is likely to leave you feeling even more resentful, angry and beholden to your expectations. Consider this-a small business is an intimate setting. Even in small businesses that are larger, people generally recognize others’ faces or simply know one another. If the owner is harried or cranky, there isn’t much of a buffer like in mid-sized to large corporations. This can create an environment that favors cliques, scapegoating, shirking work and many other dysfunctional behaviors. In a nutshell, the employees are watching the owner for clues about job security and acceptable behaviors.

The four Deadly Interruptors are in play.

  • Fatigue-This impairs your memory, your ability to learn, your problem-solving skills and makes everything so hard to complete. Ever found yourself reading the same sentence over and over and you can’t seem to understand the point?
  • Silo Thinking-Even in small businesses, it is easy to get stuck in your own backyard. When business owners are under pressure, it is tempting to isolate oneself. Thoughts like “If I just work more”, “I’m surrounded by idiots” or “I can’t let anyone know that we’re in trouble” are a couple of the most common thoughts. It is easy to become paranoid about what your team is doing or not doing. When you lose perspective, you lose the  capacity to see the whole picture.
  • Resentment- I wish I could remember exactly where I learned the phrase “kick the kitty”. When the boss kicks the kitty, it is simply that he/she is lashing out at someone or something that can’t or won’t fight back. Feeling fearful, obligated and guilty that the adversity is harming the company can lead to resentment. This energy has to go somewhere so we kick the kitty. Getting angry with someone else when you are really angry about something separate may provide temporary relief. However, it is really misdirecting the anger and resentment.
  • Grief/Feelings of Loss-A good friend of mine reminded me of  how often expectations lead to disappointment. When you’ve been running your small business for a while, it becomes part of your identity. You are Joe/Jane X of ABC Company. You’ve got business cards, brochures, websites and so many conversations where you introduced yourself this way. When your market changes, your customer base has a major shift or outside forces hit your company like a meteor, it can feel like a death of sorts. Well, it is…the death of your expectations. This can feel like melancholy or even depression. If left unresolved, it will permeate how you manage your small business.

Getting tapped out leaves you vulnerable for further messy problems.

Excessive politics, hoarding information, increased turnover and analysis paralysis are just a few of the issues a small business owner can face if the deadly interruptors are not managed or eliminated. It’s not just the physical feeling of exhaustion. I’m going to get a little on the woo-hoo side here but the fatigue felt in your heart or even your soul reduces your motivation, morale and leadership skills. Getting tapped out is destructive for you and your business.

When do you notice getting most worn out?

 *This is just one of the topics we’ll be looking at in the complimentary webinar, “Leading Your Teams Beyond Fear and Panic” on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 12pm ET/5pm GMT. You can learn more and register on the Programs page.


11 Ways To Fuel Imagination

Fueling imagination and small businessMy kids love to hear me read books or tell stories to them. I have to admit that I do get into it with all kinds of voices and accents. Usually it doesn’t take much for me to “hear” the voice of a character. However, the other night I got stuck. I couldn’t for the life of me find a good voice for a character in my daughter’s story book. My imagination had failed me!

What does imagination and running a small business have in common? Keeping your small business fresh and growing is a creative process. It takes imagination. As you look at trends and listen to your customers, you get information about what events or opportunities are just over the horizon. Coupling this information with a sense of wonder and experimentation is nothing new to someone with an entrepreneurial mind.

However, occasionally we experience a creative block and can’t think of what to do. It can feel like a big, gaping nothingness. Forcing ideas usually means  you come up with some very awful ideas (if you come up with anything at all). Before you get desperate, stop and make a different choice.

Maybe you’re tired or anxious about what is going on in your small business. Easy enough to do when there are challenges like losing your best customer, difficult economic conditions or boredom.  This can interfere with accessing your creativity. It’s time to fuel your imagination. So here are 11  ways to get that creativity chugging away again:

1. Read a book.

2. See a movie

3. Go outdoors for a walk

4. Exercise

5. Do something silly-make faces, funny sounds or dance like no one is watching

6. Watch a TED video about anything

7. Take a nap

8. Read a post from Lateral Action

9. Talk to someone from another country

10. Draw or sketch out what you would like to be different in your small business

11. Play a musical instrument with or without talent or lesson

The short and sweet of this process is it doesn’t matter what you choose. Break your pattern and you will break up the creative block. Your small business usually works because of your entrepreneurial mind. You are already used to a style of thinking that is searching for “something else.” When you let your mind wander down a different path, it allows you to inhabit a different world for a moment. In this moment, you become an explorer. What can you bring back with you that will get you geared up to rethink your products and services. This is all your imagination needs for fuel!

What are your favorite ways to fuel your imagination?


Just Plain Good Old Goal Writing

Creating strategic and operational planYou can dress it up with terms like “strategic plan” or “operational plan” but at the end of the day, it’s just plain good old goal writing.  Really. I know it seems intimidating at times to put it on paper. If you decide to call it an action plan, that works too. For larger small businesses, there may be all kinds of meetings of teams or pertinent staff members but I’m telling you…when it comes time to figure out how to make the Big Ideas sing, you have to know how to write a goal.

We like predictability in most areas of our lives. According to Lars Andersen, a lack of predictability is a leading cause of stress in the workplace. When you’re the business owner or one of the executive team (no matter what your actual title says), you can create that predictability with clear goals that assign the task to specific people and embed accountability. This makes it clear and (dare I say it?) easy to follow through on what is desired.  You can even reduce the amount of procrastination that can accompany vague goals.

Goal setting has three components:  1) specifics, 2) measurements, and 3) deadlines.  It requires a step-wise way of thinking while you break a task down to its individual steps.  The first component, specifics, tells you what you are going to do.  This is why it is important to state the goal clearly.  You may even discover that you will have sub-goals to your main goal. (This is definitely true when you are setting up your 1 year, 3 year or 5 year plans). The second component, measurements, focuses how you will know you are successful.  Sometimes, measurements can let you know if you need to fine-tune the goal or even change the goal.  The last component, deadlines, gives you the necessary push to follow through with your chosen actions. 

See the difference here:

Vaguely worded goal: We will expand our reach to women-owned small businesses.

Do you know what to do here? I don’t and I hear goals like this all of the time. What does it mean to expand? Is it physical as in setting up a satellite office somewhere? Or is it really about marketing? Using social media, traditional media or what? Bad, bad, bad.

Clearly worded goal: We will contact 3 networking groups that focus on women-owned small business to inquire about speaking opportunities by Friday.

It becomes clear that you intend to use speaking as a way to connect with this particular market. This clarity is simple and easy to focus on.

The specific action is to contact the networking groups that focus on women small business owners. The measurement is that we will contact 3 of these groups. The deadline is Friday. Is it easy to imagine someone taking on this goal and completing it by the deadline? And he/she doesn’t complete it, they will be able to tell you what got in the way.

Some people believe you have to write your goals as SMART goals. Other prefer a more free-form style. There isn’t really one way to write the goals as long as you have the basic components.  Excessive words will make it hard to follow through as there will be too much to remember.  Keep your goal simple and succinct.  For measurements, use timers, logs, charts and a calendar.  Make your deadlines clear and realistic. This goes for any small business, no matter the size. Sometimes goals are long-term and will be accomplished over the course of a year or even several years. All of the goals and sub-goals have the same ingredients. Each goal is a note that enables your Big Idea, your vision, to sing.

What goals are you setting that will make your Big Ideas for your small business sing?


When Your Business Goals Fail

In “It Always Starts With Vision“,  we clarified what you intend your business to become.  And that’s all well and good but having goals that leave you spinning your wheels or sending you in different directions will leave your small business in limbo. Goal writing can be harder than it sounds. Without clear specifics, measurements, deadlines or accountability embedded in the written goal,Cars In Fog it’s a bit like driving your car in the fog. The road is there but it’s not clear what’s ahead of you. In fact, without clear and focused goals, you may as well let your business fail.

Badly written goals lead to failure. Failure lies in 2 parts. The first is when the goals are too vague so you can’t execute. A good example is “We’re going to connect with my target market.” You know what you mean, sort of. It probably is some kind of combination where you network or speak to groups. It can also mean someone in your organization is doing something in social media or doing a media interview. All of these are really separate goals. The problem with just saying, “We’re going to connect with my target market” is that there is no clear beginning point. Do you connect in print, online, or in-person? What kind of connection? When? Who cares?

This is a good way to set the stage for procrastination. In organizations, this can look like endless meetings where people come up with reasons why one thing will work better than something else but no one will be responsible for leading the action. In sole proprietorships, it can look like a lot of busy work without any movement towards getting in front of more people who might be interested in your business.

The second part is when the goals having nothing to do with the “why” of your business. You pursue something that is tangential to your business. Maybe you’ve been thinking about adding a service or product to what you already offer your clients and you’ve run across this wonderful opportunity. It’s important to evaluate if the opportunity is completely consistent with the purpose of your business. I made this mistake a few years ago when I decided to offer a program that could have focused on women business owners and how they think about money and success. Sure it had to do with managing beliefs and anxiety about performance (big part of my coaching) but I attracted professional women (not small business owners) and it didn’t focus entirely on building a business (business results are crucial to my coaching process). It was an almost match and I didn’t listen to my gut. My “why” is to use short-term coaching cycles and collaborate with my clients so they feel confident in identifying and developing strategies to be more effective leaders, plan more creatively, innovate, and overcome the fears and obstacles that interfere with building the businesses they truly want. Yeah, the program didn’t work and I had to pay for a license that was a bad investment.

Limbo stinks! No matter the size of your small business, limping along while you are wishing you were doing something more exciting or fulfilling is a waste of time! What would happen if you sat down (or even stood up) for a scheduled length of time and the only agenda item was to write one goal fully out so it is specific, measurable, time-limited and a no-brainer to put into action. Last but never, ever least, who would provide the accountability for you (or whoever is assigned) to see how the goal has been followed through?

How are your business goals failing to produce the results you want?