The Business Edge Blog

August 1, 2013

Expert Advice on Mastering the Art of Delegation

delegation

There are only 24 hours in a day, yet many small-business owners spend too much precious time doing tasks that could be done by someone else.

Mastering the art of delegation is key to success in any business. But letting go of control isn’t always easy. To help you make the transition, the Intuit Small Business Blog rounded up some expert advice for learning how to delegate.

Overcome Your Fears

“For any business owner, not delegating is like buying a window seat ticket on the Titanic — nice ride, but you are going to sink,” warns John Boggs, president of Fortitude Consulting.

Come to grips with giving up a little bit of control, advises Paul Foster, CEO of the Business Therapist. “It is important to be happy if the delegate does things 80 percent as well as you could. This thinking allows you to accept some minimal level of learning-type failures and hiccups. If you’re a perfectionist, it blocks you from delegating because nobody will do it perfectly the first time. The ‘80 percent’ thinking will free you to give up a minimal amount of control.”

Delegation is an act of trust, because there’s a real chance for failure. According to Michelle Randall, principal at Enriching Leadership International, it’s important to delegate while setting up a series of yellow flags as an early alert system to launch Plan B. “My best clients have learned how to do this successfully and that has allowed them to stop acting as a bottleneck to growth. As a result, their companies have flourished. The business owners who haven’t are languishing.”

Prepare to Pass the Baton

One key to successful delegation is to hire the right people. “If you’ve hired good people, the trust you need [to establish] before you delegate comes faster, and the fear of failure that holds it back diminishes,” says Chris Smith, co-founder of the management consulting firm Arryve. “This means less room to get emotional about it, and it means having others more effectively involved in moving your business forward.”

When trying to decide where to delegate, ask yourself whether the task has to do with process or results, with the tactical or strategic, advises Leslie Ungar, president of Electric Impulse Communications.

Boggs adds: Be clear on what you want done, when you need it done, and why it needs to be done.

Differentiating between tasks that can and should be delegated and tasks that require personal handling is just as important as knowing how to delegate, writes Edward Reilly, president and CEO of the American Management Association, in the book AMA Business Boot Camp. He says assignments that probably can be delegated are tasks which closely relate to the work employees are already doing; tasks with clearly defined procedures and end results; repetitive tasks that fit into the normal work flow; and tasks that enable employees to develop themselves.

What Not to Delegate

This raises the question of what not to delegate? For starters, things of a highly sensitive nature, such as salary reviews and disciplinary actions, Reilly writes.

A lot of client and customer-facing work shouldn’t be let go until your business has matured, Smith says. “Because small-business owners tend to be the face of the business, that’s very important to ensure brand consistency and experience.” Think twice, too, about delegating tasks that involve vision.

Once you do decide to delegate, you need to back off. “If they have to come to you for every decision, why delegate?” asks Boggs. Make sure that employees understand the latitude they have in making decisions.

“Have people give you their best idea [or] solution before you get involved,” suggests John Martinka of Martinka Consulting. “Don’t let them come to you with an issue on which you’ll take time to brainstorm, think about, or create a solution for them.”

If you’re looking for a little structure on delegating, Halley Bock, CEO of Fierce, a leadership development and training firm, recommends the decision tree analogy. Someone can be delegated a responsibility at four different levels of the decision tree (leaf, branch, trunk, or root). Each level has a clear, concise definition of what is expected for that project and sets guidelines on how to interact with the leader.

What’s the trick for letting go emotionally? According to Unger, “The mind-set needs to be that your value is in the what, the vision — and not the how, the tactical. If it’s not vision, you need not be doing it. Emotions change. Let go first and the emotions will follow. If you wait until you feel like letting go, it will never happen. It is behavior first and then attitude, not vice versa.”

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Let me know how your delegation goes –

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February 5, 2013

Every Business – 5 Key Parts

5 parts of a business“A business is a repeatable process that makes money.  Everything else is a hobby.” – Paul Freet

Josh Kaufman in The Personal MBA provides the following definition of a business.  It is a repeatable process that:

1.  Creates and delivers something of value…
2.  That other people want or need…
3.  At a price they’re willing to pay…
4.  In a way that satisfies the customer’s needs and expectations…
5.  So that the business brings in enough profit to make it worthwhile for the owners to continue operation.

At the core, every business is fundamentally a collection of five interdependent processes, each of which flows into the next:

1.  Value creation – discovering what people need or want, then creating it.
2.  Marketing – attracting attention and building demand for what you’ve created.
3.  Sales – turning prospective customers into paying customers.
4.  Value Delivery – giving your customers what you’ve promised and ensuring that they’re satisfied.
5.  Finance – bringing in enough money to keep going and make your effort worthwhile.

If you take away any one of these five parts, it’s not a valid business any longer.

When planning a new business or analyzing an existing venture, always begin with a review of the five parts – they will help you discover any major issues or gaps quickly.

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If you can master the concept of these processes, you’ll be well on your way to being ready to present your business to potential investors, bankers, mentors or your board of directors.

Questions for Consideration:

Think about the business you’re in:

  • What are the five core processes?
  • Can you describe or diagram them in detail?
  • How do they fit together?
  • Where do you need help?

Please share the five core processes in your business using the Comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time – Remember to mind your business!

January 22, 2013

How to Engage in Conversation with Your Customers

love customers

How to Engage in Conversation with Your Customers

We know that it is important to build a relationship with our clients and customers.  People do business with people they Know, Like and Trust – the KLT factor.  People also feel better doing business with people that care about them.

Clients have asked me to help their new employees, sales people and service people learn a few new tips to break the ice and engage customers in conversation.  After our workshops I follow up and ask what new approaches worked well for them.  A few that work well for many types of businesses include:

1.  Ask a Different Question – (other than “May I help you”)

“How are you today?”, ” What brings you here today?”,  “What is on your schedule today besides this?”

Cautions:   Be prepared to participate in the conversation, not just fire question after question.  Don’t press for more if their responses are short.  You still get points for trying.

2.  Extend a Compliment –

If appropriate, comment on how cute a child looks or how well behaved they are.  Extend a compliment on something that looks attractive – purse/briefcase, phone cover, glasses, shoes.  If you are in their home, find something to compliment them on.

Caution:  Avoid coming across as someone in dating mode.  Stay professional.

3.  Use a surrounding object as an anchor –

If you notice the car they drive, ask how they enjoy owning that model of car.  If they are carrying a shopping bag from a store, ask if they enjoyed shopping there.

4.  Ask for their help or advice –

Ask if they have tried a restaurant you’re curious about.  Ask for their input on something you’re working on like determining a great spot for a vacation.

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Please share what works well in your business. I look forward to hearing from you.  You can email me at coach@thebizedge.biz or join the discussion below.

Until next time – Remember to mind your business!

December 20, 2012

The 4 Presents I Would Put Under Your Tree This Christmas

Christmas Presents

If you own or manage a business there are 4 presents that I would put under your Christmas tree this year. Successful business owners would agree that if I could box these up and put them under your tree you would be well on your way to growth and prosperity.

Present  #1: Clarity

Clarity of your Vision, Mission and Values.  A clear vision of who you are, what you are and what you stand for is at the core of every successful business.    Of the four packages under your tree, this present would be the largest one.   It is the foundation upon which everything else in your business is built.   Before you open any other gifts, open this one.   Until you establish clarity for your business it is hard to move forward with a purpose.

Present  #2: Focus

Focus on what matters most. As a business owner you probably feel like you are being pulled in 10 different directions at times.  Once you have clarity you can begin to focus on what is really important and what path you need to be on to reach your goals.  Stopping to analyze if what you are doing is the most important thing for you to be doing at that moment will help you to prioritize and decide which of those directions you are being pulled is the right one to focus on.  Decide what your goals are, then write down the action steps you need to take to get there.  Set achievable goals in terms that you can measure progress along the way.  Define dates for reaching the goal and identify who will be responsible for monitoring progress in a fun way.  Think of the charity’s Christmas stocking thermometer billboard with a clearly defined goal and updating along the way to clearly show what has been achieved and how much more work needs to be done.  Find something that works for your goals.

Present  #3: Momentum

Momentum to achieve your goals. Avalanches start from one small section of snow breaking away from a slope.   Something causes the first section of snow to break away. Focus can be the start of the tremendous growing force in your business.  The focused momentum that you start ignites excitement in your employees and customers and is contagious.

Present  #4: Accountability

Accountability for success. Your fourth present is the one that can sit in the back of the pile and get overlooked.  If you don’t open it and implement it with the other 3 presents, all the presents may as well be packed up with the Christmas ornaments and not be looked at again until next year.  Without accountability, all the gifts and all your work can lose their luster and end up collecting dust on a shelf somewhere as a partially implemented project.  You have great intentions for the year, but without accountability the year flies by and before you know it the Christmas tree is up again and the year is almost over.  This may be where you are right now as 2012 is ending.  Don’t let it happen again in 2013.

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As you open the gifts under your tree this year, remember that you can give the biggest gift of all to those that are most important to you – a thriving growing business that fulfills your dreams and theirs and makes a positive impact on the world.

Let me know how I can best help you achieve your dreams for your business in the comments below.

December 18, 2012

Cash Flow Essentials for 2013

Wad of cash

I’ve talked about it before, but I think it’s worth talking about again as we head into a new year…….Cash is the lifeblood of every business.  Cash Flow is the movement of money into and out of your business.  It’s the cycle of revenue and expenses that make your business a “going concern” or not.

Cash Flow Management is the process of monitoring, analyzing and adjusting your income and expenses to maintain solvency.  I have seen highly profitable businesses go bankrupt because of poor cash flow management.

In good times and in bad there are two strategies of Cash Flow Management that small businesses need to implement to head off cash flow problems:

1)      Project cash flow for the coming months.  If you haven’t invested in an accounting package yet, do so now so that you use it throughout 2013.  The most common programs have built-in reporting features that make projections easy.

2)      Develop and implement strategies to maintain an adequate cash flow.  Push to collect accounts receivables faster – consider Due on Receipt terms – or invoice more frequently if you only invoice monthly now.  Pay your accounts payable on their due date, not before and not after – both cost you more money.

Before working with me, some of my business coaching clients have made the following mistakes that I want to be sure you avoid:

  • Not creating projections at all.  They try to manage cash flow by their bank balance.  I have seen business owners go without paying themselves because cash was short and they had to make payroll for everyone else.
  • Not sending invoices promptly.  People are much quicker to respond to invoices when they have just received the benefit of your services.  This is an easy task to outsource to a Virtual Assistant if this type of paperwork bogs you down.
  • Finding ways to shorten the cash flow cycle.  This includes keeping a sharp eye on inventory levels and not overbuying because it looks like you can save a few cents by buying a larger quantity – tying up more cash for a longer period of time.
  • Leaving the planning to the accountants.  Particularly in times of tight credit, lenders will be more willing to work with small business owners who are savvy when it comes to their business finances.  Lenders know that business owners who have implemented good cash flow management, more than any security interest or other protective measure, have the best ingredient for a successful lending relationship that minimizes their risk.

I wish you all the very best in 2013!  Let me know how I can help you make this year your very best year yet in the comment section below.

Until next time, remember – Mind Your Business!

December 6, 2012

#1 Critical Ingredient for Sustainable Growth

growing plantSustainable Growth

There is an almost magical component to sustainable business growth, but it’s not obvious, and most business owners are not spending the time on it to reap the greatest rewards.  The key word is “sustainable” – you can have growth without this component, but it won’t be easy.

When you think of business growth…what comes to mind?

Great marketing?   Really effective sales?  New products?  Super flashy advertising?  Signing a huge new client?

All of these contribute to business growth, but there’s a more fundamental attribute found in sustainable, successful businesses. It can make the difference when it comes to taking your business beyond the brute force stage (where you’re putting in a lot more than you’re getting out).

That secret ingredient is Systems!

What are Systems? Simply put, effective Systems are a combination of written processes, tools, automation and applications that allow you, the business owner, to get things done the right way without actually doing it yourself.  A successful business is made up of a whole series of systems that work together in a seamless way, generally without any direct input or oversight from the owner.

Want to get a quick read on how well you’re doing when it comes to Systems in your business?  Here’s a short quiz you can use to judge your progress in Systems.  Score yourself from 1 to 10 on each statement…10 if you are in alignment with the statement, 1 if you aren’t even close.

#1 – As the owner of the business, I fully understand that my primary role is to ensure that the business is run by systems (step-by-step processes and procedures).  Score _____ 1 to 10.

#2 – All of the functions necessary to successfully run my company have been clearly identified and documented in a company operations manual.  Score _____ 1 to 10.

#3 – We regularly consider outsourcing options to reduce expenses and increase efficiencies.  Score _____ 1 to 10.

#4 – We regularly review our systems to ensure they are as efficient and effective as practical in delivering the desired outcome.  Score _____ 1 to 10.

#5 – I’m confident that my employees would know what to do if the leadership team or I were not present for an extended period of time.  Score _____ 1 to 10.

What’s your score?

How did you do?  This quick quiz certainly isn’t comprehensive, but it will give you a pretty good idea of where you and your business stand from a Systems perspective.  There are several key ideas represented here:

  • Do you view your primary role – where you spend the most time (as the business owner) as purposely building your business…and the systems that run your business?
  • Are you documenting everything down to a level that a new employee could jump right in?
  • Are you and your team consistently looking for ways to improve?

So how did you score?  If you scored above 40…then you’re in pretty good shape…keep up the good work!

If you scored between 30 and 40, then there are some things to work on, but at least you’re headed in the right direction.

If scored between 20 and 30, you at least understand it’s important, but you have some work to do.

If you scored less than 20, then it’s a good bet that you feel that you don’t have time to read this post and you are working really, really hard all the time…and your business is at risk!

When you’re ready to unleash some magic and start building systems into your business, the best bet is to carve out some time – schedule it – and identify the big components of your business (where your business comes from, how you close business, how you fulfill your sales, and how you collect business income from sales).  Once you’ve got this defined, in writing, then you can start digging into the details of each over time.

Make sure you get your employees involved…they probably know the details in a lot of areas better than you do and they’re going to have to live with whatever system or process is developed – so include them in the solution.

Get an outside perspective – consider hiring a business coach or joining some kind of advisory board like The Boardroom to help you focus and get some insight that might be hard to come by on your own.

What is your experience with developing business Systems?  I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment section below.

November 13, 2012

Five Things to Consider When Hiring a Virtual Assistant

What is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?  Possibly the answer to the problem of not being able to get everything done you need to get done.  If you hire the right VA they can become a true business partner and help you grow your business. They are service providers – not employees.  You describe what your goal is and what you need to have done and by when, and if it is within their area of expertise, they go to work on it!  Some VAs work on an hourly basis, some on a project basis.  Some offer prepaid hour packages that provide you with a discount for a block of hours you use as you need them.

How do you get started finding a VA? A simple Google search is not enough to find the perfect fit. There are many things to consider, some particular to your industry.  Contact me if you need help developing the profile of your ideal VA, but here are five general items to consider before hiring a VA:

1.) What do you need done? Do you need someone to help you with your website, social media, blogging?  Do you need an expert with shopping cart knowledge and strong writing skills? Or are you are looking for a bookkeeper?  Be clear about what you need done and how you want the finished work to look. VAs have a difficult time meeting your expectations if you are unable to communicate what they are.

2.) Know the skills your VA will need to have to provide what you need.  What type of experience and training does your VA have? How long have they been working in the VA environment? What software programs do they need to know? Make sure to qualify your VA candidates and have a conversation about your business philosophy so that you are both on the same page.  If you qualify your VA well you’ll have a much higher chance of success than if you just hire ‘someone you know’.

3.) Ask for references of satisfied customers who the VA has done similar work for.  Check on the references.  Don’t limit yourself to people in your own area of the globe.  Great VAs are available around the globe and with technology the distance may not be a factor.  Language or understanding of US business issues may be, so ask to see a sample of their work.  Time zone differences can work in your favor if your assistant works while you sleep at night!

4.) Availability and response time.  Ask what hours your VA will be available.  Do they have a back-up in place in case they become ill?  Find out if there is someone you can speak with if you are not satisfied with the work your VA provides, or if the resolution is strictly between the two of you. Depending on your requirements, you may have better success using a VA sourcing group that has back-up plans in place if a particular VA becomes unavailable to meet a critical deadline.

5.) Know what the work the VA will be doing for you is worth. You do need to have a budget to hire a VA, BUT…if you hire someone matching your needs in the four areas listed above, budget should be a consideration, not the only one. The goal of hiring a VA is to take items off your plate so your focus can be on revenue generation. As you develop your budget keep in mind the savings you could realize compared to hiring a direct employee (vacation time, benefits, taxes).  There is a time for hiring an employee but until that time a VA can be very valuable.

Do you have questions about finding a VA, or additional tips you used for finding a great VA? Ask your questions or share the steps you took to ensure your VA was the right one for you in the comments section below.

P.S.  I found a video that provides a good overview of what one VA firm provides their clients.  I have not used this company, but I like the information they shared.  Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U0ljUTTjNY

Until next time – Remember to mind your business!

October 19, 2012

For Sale: Your Business – but for how much? Part 1

In the beginning it was just you – and maybe a partner or two.  The business ran on blood, sweat and tears, with some heart and soul thrown in – and a chunk of your personal financial resources as well.

It’s no surprise that when the time comes to sell the business and retire, some owners just aren’t prepared.

The emotional investment is why it’s so difficult for most people to sell their business.  Sometimes a valuation produces a figure that is only a percentage of what the owner is expecting and needs for retirement.

How can you increase profitability and make it more desirable for a buyer, make it more transferable, and help convince the buyer that the business will remain intact post-transfer?  Front Range Business Inc, a Boulder-based brokerage firm that facilitates selling owner-operated businesses suggests engaging a business coach.

They cite many examples where a business coach has helped to double the value of a business over a twelve month period.  The work I do with my clients – either for their own growth or in preparation for sale – includes the same work Front Range Business Inc recommends; formalizing and documenting processes; creating employee, service and other procedure manuals; staff training; and most important of all, working ON the business, not FOR (or IN) the business.  Owners typically are so caught up in the day-to-day operations that they overlook the big picture.  Owners need to focus on marketing, training and where they want to take their business, then plan the route that will get their business to the final destination: a successful and profitable sale.  I suggest that my clients keep their exit plan in mind as they make decisions years prior to their planned retirement date.

When owners start thinking about an exit there are a number of big questions to consider.

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Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll cover these questions and other considerations!

Feel free to comment on your thoughts about preparing your business for sale by posting your thoughts below.

Until next time – Remember to mind your business!

October 16, 2012

7 Keys to Success for Business Owners – Part 7 – Presenting

How do you know what to focus on day-to-day?   Presenting may help.

Sometimes business owners come to me when things aren’t clear to them about what they should be doing next.  I ask them to present their company by answering questions about each of the six points already covered in this series.

Often the light bulb quickly goes on when they realize which of the areas they are not doing much or anything at all in.  “Maybe that’s the answer,” some have blurted out.  I may have known it was the answer, but it’s always best to have someone discover it themselves. Presenting brings it all together because you have to truly understand something to present it.

What do you think? How do you present your organization to your employees, the bank, vendors, investors, or the general public? You’re probably better than you think, because if you weren’t doing some version of these 7 Keys to Success well, you would have been out of business a long time ago.  Perhaps you could use some fine tuning in a few areas or maybe a complete makeover.  I’ve been through just about any scenario you could imagine with my clients.

Your homework assignment is to revisit your Vision, Profit Plan, Marketing Plan, Organizational Plan, Leadership and Cash Flow Forecast.  If you have someone to present these to, do so.  Give them permission to ask you questions about what is not clear.  In the presenting it may become very clear what you should be doing next.

If you’d like to present your business to me, email me to schedule a conversation at coach@thebizedge.biz.

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I look forward to hearing from you.  You can join in the discussion and post your thoughts below.

Until next time – Remember to mind your business!

September 11, 2012

7 Keys to Success for Business Owners – Part 6 – Cash Flow Forecast

How come my CPA tells me I’m profitable, but there’s no money in the bank? How do I know if we can dig our way out of this hole? How can I handle all this credit card debt? There’s those darn numbers again! I thought we covered this already 🙂

Some clients that meet with me think they are about to call it quits because there is not enough money in their business.  The key is to help clients understand where the money goes, analyze Return on Investment for their dollars, find ways to reduce expenses, and hold their hand every step of the way.  The first step to get out of a hole is to stop digging.  It’s simple – not but easy!

I also have clients that want to grow!  What they are looking for is the money to expand.  It can be expensive to borrow the money.  What if they can find the money they need in their own business?

The focus is to develop a short-term cash forecast for the next 90 days.  Don’t think this is only for businesses that are in pain.  Developing a Cash Flow Forecast is good for all businesses.  It will sound a lot like developing a household budget so it will not feel like a foreign language to you.

Start with what you know.  What are the expenses you know will come due during the next 90 days?  Rent?  Utilities?  Payroll?  An annual insurance renewal?  If you don’t know the exact amounts, look at your historical expenses and make an educated guess.  You don’ t need an elaborate software package, a spreadsheet will do to develop the list of items and your estimates and the actuals as the bills come in.

Be diligent.  Enter all your expenses, yes, all of them.  Find out where all the money goes.  Typically there are expenses that have been added over time that may no longer be providing a Return On Investment that they originally did.

Once you’re tracking the expenses, get critical.  Look at everything.

Look at your utilities.  The bigger the bill, the greater the potential reward for making small changes in your usage.  Do you have the option of working with a reseller for your electric or gas?  Check into programs that are offered in your area.  Does your utility offer free energy audits?  Have you had one?

Take a critical look at the expenses for maintenance of your equipment.  Can new equipment end up being less expensive and more productive?  Look at anything you lease and recognize when the lease is up.  If there are more productive options available for less, it may be worth paying a small exit fee to upgrade early. There may be other expenses that you have not had re-quoted for quite some time where you can find cost savings.

It does take some time.  I promise the updated knowledge about your current expenses and the review of expenses that you have taken for granted is well worth the time you spend.  Some of my clients have found more than enough money to pay off their debts over time, or ways to update their equipment and get more productive, and some found the money they needed for growth without increasing their debt load.

What did you find?  Share your findings with the rest of us!  Questions?  Ask away….

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I look forward to hearing from you.  Join the discussion and post your thoughts below.

Until next time – Remember to mind your business!

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