The Business Edge Blog

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!

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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!

August 27, 2012

7 Keys to Success for Business Owners – Part 5 – Organization and Leadership

Organization Plan
How do you let your people help you run and grow your business? Who is responsible for doing what in your business? Does everybody know who does what and would they provide the same response if asked?

In the book by Michael Gerber The E-Myth Revisited there is an assignment to develop an organizational chart that covers every element of your business.  From keeping the light bulbs replaced to paying the light bill, every element of your organization should be covered within a box on the organization chart.  The next step is to fill in the names of the people responsible for each aspect of the business.

If your own name appears on too many of the boxes it’s no wonder you feel overwhelmed or like you can never take a day off.  Are you micromanaging your people, or are there things you still need to delegate?  One of my solopreneur clients has hired two virtual assistants that will be doing work she does not personally need to do.  I’m excited to watch her grow as she focuses on the areas she must personally address to move forward.

Take time to draw your own organizational chart.  Enter the names of the people responsible for the boxes.  Make certain that you are allowing your people to help you grow the business by giving you freedom to work on the things that requires you to personally do.  The time you free up should be focused on working ON your business instead of IN your business.  Now make sure that everyone in the organization knows who to go to for what.  It will save time and help your business run smoothly as you move forward.

Leadership
How do you even know what to focus on to become a better Leader? Nobody really tries to be a poor Leader, do they?

Do you know what your natural leadership style is?  Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of that style?  Do you know the leadership and learning style of your team members?  If your leadership style is misunderstood, it could be that you are leading in a style that is like a foreign language to those you are trying to lead.   Do you know how powerful knowing your style can be in not only getting the most out of yourself, but also your team, your clients, your vendors, your life?  If you have never done an Extended DISC analysis that introduces you to your natural leadership style and how your style works best with other styles, invest the time and money to learn more.  I can help you with the analysis and understanding how to use your natural leadership style to become the best leader for your team.

I can’t remember the last day that went by that I haven’t utilized this information on how I lead to help me understand the world around me. A big part of Leadership is not only knowing what to say, but also how to communicate it to different audiences.

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What does your organizational chart look like?  How well have you delegated by putting other people’s names in the boxes? Does everyone know who is responsible for what in your organization?

Do you know your leadership style?  Do you know the styles of your team members?  Are you speaking the same language?

I look forward to hearing from you.  Please add your comments below.

Until next time – Remember to mind your business!

July 31, 2012

7 Keys to Success for Business Owners – Part 3 – The Profit Plan

The Profit Plan –

How do you know if your business is going to make money this year? How do you make sense of all the numbers? Maybe nobody warned you that this is a big part of running your own business. How do owners “run their business by the numbers?” Doesn’t an owner need to be there to know what’s really going on?

A fellow coach had a client who caught someone stealing food from his restaurant when he was living 1,800 miles away because he runs his business by the numbers. He noticed a dip in his gross profit margin and installed cameras that caught the thief red-handed.

Not sure what a gross profit margin is or how to calculate it? Don’t worry, most other business owners don’t know the answers either. Some clients are near tears as they talk about how dumb they feel about their business numbers and that they “can’t get it.” What a bunch of hooey! Business owners are not stupid. Nobody ever took the time to teach them in a way they could understand and relate to.  For most owners the numbers just create more confusion and stress. It’s like learning a new language and here you are staring at the answers on your financial statements but something gets lost in the translation from your accountant’s lips to your ears.  My clients become comfortable with their numbers as we work together.

Do you know how much money you are going to make in your business this year? Do you know if your business was profitable last year? Do you know how to make a profit on purpose?

Give yourself some breathing room and start planning beyond today, this week, and this month. Let’s start looking out at the next 12 months with confidence that you can reach the goals you have set for your business. This is The Profit Plan.

Are you ready to get started?  Share your comments below on your business numbers.

Until next time – Remember to mind your business!

Holly Hanson
Licensed Professional Business Coach
The Business Edge
The Headlights and Guardrails for Your Business

December 13, 2011

Goal Setting for Success in 2012

Step #1 Defining Success –

One of the key things that I find helps determine success for my clients as they head into the new year is a clear plan.  Don’t get scared off – I am not going to ask you to create a formal business plan – I’ll save that for a later post.

First I’ll ask you to fast forward in your mind to December 31st 2012.  If we were sitting together on that day, what would you say that would convince me that 2012 was a success for your business?  Is it the number of new clients?  Is it the end of year income statement?  Is it being able to take time off while the business keeps running?

Step #2 Focus on Success –

Once there is a definition of what “success” for 2012 will look like, we have a place to focus throughout 2012.  How can the goal be broken down into milestones throughout the year?  Let’s say the goal is to gain 52 new clients.  Using simple math, that would mean adding 13 new clients a quarter.  Now we have a yardstick to know if we’re on target or not.  Every quarter, take a count.  Is what we’re doing working, or do we need to try new tactics to reach the 52 mark by December 31st 2012?

If we need 13 new clients every quarter to get to 52, and there are 52 weeks in a year, we can work on gaining 1 new client a week.  How many people do we have to reach to create 1 new client?  If the closure rate is 1:1 or 100%, then we only need to talk to 1 new person a week.  If the closure rate is 25%, then we need to make sure systems are in place to connect with 4 people a week to lead to signing on 1 as a new client.  What strategies are in place to get you in front of those 4 new people every week?  Are you doing public speaking, presenting educational nuggets in person?  Are you blogging?  Are you faithfully networking in places where your ideal clients will be found so that you can increase the closure rate?  On December 31st 2012 it will be the things you put in place now and throughout the year that will make the success measureable with those 52 new clients!

Or….if your goal is to be able to step away from the business every once in a while without affecting the success, try it in small bites.  If you’re gone for an afternoon what comes up?  Can you develop systems to address that issue and issues like it so that they don’t require your personal involvement?  Get the systems in place and try being gone again.  Keep increasing the time away and quickly create systems to deal with the issues that come up.  By December 31st you may be on a beach with your business successfully running back home!

Share with us your vision of success on December 31st, 2012.  I look forward to seeing your business grow!

November 22, 2011

Black Friday and Your Business

 Is Your Business Ready for a Black Friday?

Many of my clients hope to grow their businesses.  I love to be able to help them do so.  My concern is always their readiness for the growth they desire.  We work hard to develop and implement the systems to allow them to actually handle the growth.

There are numerous stories of companies featured on a show like Oprah (or a newspaper review) that fail shortly thereafter.  What happened?  Let’s imagine a small boutique hand-made chocolate business in a small town.  Everyone loves the chocolates and the shop and it’s a special treat to receive a small box of just 4 of the chocolates.  The unique blend of flavors and the background of the owner makes them Oprah worthy.

Beginning the next day there is a line at the door.  The inventory is sold out within a few minutes of opening.  The rest of the people in line can’t be served.  The owner who personally hand makes each piece of chocolate is as busy as he can possibly be trying to keep up.  He calls in all the troops to help in the candy kitchen.  With extra hands and extra bodies the kitchen seems to shrink in size and the chocolates turn out slightly differently than they do when the owner alone makes them.  Everyone works hard and creates enough chocolate for Post Show Day 2.

The internet orders pour in as well as the customers through the front door.  Internet orders are delayed to serve those actually in the store.  Extra packing and shipping materials need to be bought before all the internet orders can be fulfilled, not to mention actually making the chocolates to ship!  The normal order/fulfillment system can’t handle the flood of orders and some get lost.  Online customers aren’t happy with the time it takes to ship those that eventually get filled and shipped.  The owner used to hand pack orders and now others are doing it who have never done it before.  You can imagine that things have changed.

It’s like a Black Friday for the business, but lasts longer.  It takes a while to recover.  The loyal local customers can’t wait for the buzz to subside so the shop can get back to normal and the chocolates get back in stock and hand-made by the owner.

So, the growth that you’re looking for……are you actually ready for it?  Are your systems expandable?  Do you know the rate of growth that you can sustain?  If the rate of growth comes faster than what you can handle, what is your plan?

It’s nearly Black Friday.  It’s nearly 2012.  What growth are you looking for, and how will you handle it?

Share the growth you are looking for in 2012 and how you have prepared your business to handle it.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Sharing Discoveries

Discoveries From Other Business Owners

I belong to an Alliance of Professional Business Coaches.  One of my fellow coaches asked his Peer Group Advisory Board members:  “What’s the best advice you would give someone who’s planning to start a business now?”  There is great wisdom in their responses.  In no particular order here are their top 25.

1.  Enjoy the upside of owning your own business – you’re in charge and you get the freedom and control to do what you want to do.  Additionally you have the opportunity to build something that’s all yours.

2.  Building a business is complex and you aren’t going to be an expert in everything – don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.

3.  Find a mentor.  Someone you can bounce ideas off of, who can help you get perspective and hold you accountable.

4.  You’ve got to be flexible…the market will change and your understanding of the market and your business will change as well.  Be prepared to adjust your course.

5.  Do what you can to find multiple revenue streams, more ways to generate money.  If you only have one product or service, it’s likely you’ll get stuck and it’s good to have something to fall back on.

6.  Even though you’re in a hurry to get started, take the time up front to really plan things out.  Your upfront costs and decisions can make or break you.  Take the time to make sure it’s money well spent.

7.  Understand your financials and get accounting and payroll help as soon as you can afford it.

8.  Have patience; things will take longer and cost more than you think.

9.  Make sure you have enough financial runway so you’re not panicked or have to shut down if things take longer than you expect to get off the ground.

10.  Whatever business you’re in, you’re in the business of marketing first – if you can’t position and market your product/service effectively not much else matters.

11.  Make it your focus to add value with every contact you have (clients, networking contacts, pretty much everyone).

12.  Be clear on what you’re getting into when you start a business; long hours, challenges outside of your comfort zone and a lonely path.  It’s a tough challenge (but worth it when you succeed).

13.  Get comfortable with risk and uncertainly.  It will be a while before you can count on a regular paycheck (possibly 12 to 18 months).

14.  Make sure you’ve got family support and they’re excited about what you’re doing.

15.  Build connections (real relationships) – networking and building the right win-win relationships is crucial to long term success.

16.  Give yourself a clear go/no-go date to help you manage the bumps in the road.  If you have a bad month early on, you still have time to recover because you haven’t hit your date yet.

17.  Be clear on why you want to create your business – if you’re not excited about what you’re doing, no one else will be either.

18.  Make sure you create and work off a written business plan (it can be as simple as a couple of pages, but a plan that covers where the money comes from and where it’s going).

19.  Starting something isn’t easy and it isn’t quick – it takes hard work to succeed.

20.  Have faith in yourself, when things get tough you have to push through.

21.  Your business has a gestation period… despite your full commitment, few will take you seriously until you’ve been around at least 9 months, sometimes much longer.

22.  Read the E-Myth and be aware of your mix between Entrepreneur, Manager and Technician (and understand what that means).

23.  Setup an advisory board for your business – people you trust who will tell you hard truths and encourage you.

24.  Figure out if you have the disposition to be an entrepreneur.  Look for clues in your past – if you’ve never taken ownership and pushed to make money independently it will be tough to succeed in your own business.

25.  Passion trumps perfection.  You can’t wait for it to be just right.  You have to get out there and start making things happen.

There is nothing as challenging or as rewarding as creating your own business.  A big part of that challenge is getting your new business off the ground.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  The advice listed above can help you succeed in the critical first year.

What advice resonates with you?  What advice would your share with others?  Let us know in your comments below.

September 6, 2011

The #1 Business Lesson from Not Having A Barbie

Business and Barbie

When I was growing up my Mom decided that she did not want me to have a Barbie.  She felt it set unrealistic expectations of what I would grow up to be and the life I would desire.  She probably was right.

Some business owners (regardless of Barbie ownership) don’t understand that it takes hard work and a good plan to get to the point that there is a red convertible in the drive, closets full of clothes, a house with many rooms, an RV and endless other toys for time off.  Sometimes they get frustrated and quit because they are not reaching the expectations they had for their business success fast enough.

Do you have a business plan?  Seriously – even if you have been in business for a decade or more – do you have a sense of where your business is compared to where you planned it to be at this point in time?  What expectations do you have for the future?  How will you get from where you are to where it is you plan to be?  Some business owners “make it” and it looks easy, like Barbie’s life.  The rest of us need to know where our customers will come from, how to reach them, how to serve them well, and how to set up systems and procedures as we grow so that we are not the limiting factor in the business.

It’s starting to feel like the end of the year with the fall weather.  Reflect on where your business is relative to where you had planned for it to be this year.  If you are not where you hoped to be, there is still time to make a difference.  In planning for next year, set aside time to develop a business plan.  It does not need to be as formal as a banker would like to see, but something that helps outline action steps you need to take and that you can refer to throughout the year and make adjustments as you go along.  Need help?  Let me know.  This is where a Business Coach can help!

August 9, 2011

Delaying Your Launch for Perfection?

 I met with a business owner the other day who was holding back on really launching her business because she didn’t have everything quite perfect yet.  She didn’t have her elevator speech down pat and was having a hard time describing who her ideal client was and what the benefit of working with her was.

Can you relate?  Do you avoid situations where you may need to talk about your business or new product or service because you don’t feel like your message is perfect yet?  Are you delaying the launch until you reach perfection?

During our discussions she very clearly articulated her response to each of the things that were holding her back, but didn’t even know it.  It came out in conversation.  She stumbled when she was “working” at talking about her business, but in casual conversation she was very clear – she just needed a little help to put the words into the format of an elevator speech and a tagline that she was so worried about.  As she begins to work with more clients she may find that she develops a niche and that her clients provide her with the words that others like them need to hear about what it is she does for them.

Don’t get hung up on the “branding” of your business – just get started!  Brand for Today – not Forever.  Most business owners change their branding after the first 6-12 months, and again after 12-24 months.  It is almost impossible to pick a name, tagline, look and feel that will fit your business forever as your business responds to the market and your clients.

In developing something that may change as your business evolves, just make a decision and launch!  Go out and test your choice.  Talk to potential and current clients.  Talk to people in your networking groups.  See how people respond to what you say, but in particular notice how it feels as you say it.  Does it roll off your tongue, or do you stumble?  Test it, then change it if you need to.  Watch the furrow between the brows.  If you detect a softening, you are speaking to them.  If the furrow gets deeper, you haven’t quite hit the mark yet.  Make some changes and try again at the next networking opportunity.

The key is to get out there and try something!  Rehearsing your messages in your head is never going to give you the feedback that real people will.  Get out there and let your future clients help refine your message.  Don’t wait for perfection – brand for today, not forever.

Want to test your marketing messages?  Share them in the comments below and we will give you feedback!

March 23, 2011

Beware – Cash is King, but not Everything!

  Cash is King, but not Everything!

As small business owners many of my clients measure the health of their business by their bank balance.    If there is money in the bank, life is good.  Your corporate tax returns are filed by now, or you have requested an extension. Personal tax returns are due soon unless you request an extension.  You have looked at more paper than you care to in preparation for your tax returns.  

So, what can you learn from all that paperwork beyond knowing how much you owe or paid  in taxes?  Can you chart your actual expenses to see a cycle of cash flow for your business?  Are there annual expenses that you should be accumulating cash for all year long so they aren’t such a shock when the bill arrives?  Can you plan for expenses and contingencies so that 2011 is a smoother year financially than last year was? 

Before the year gets too far along and you put all those tax preparation papers in deep storage, take a few minutes and create a 2011 outgoing cash flow analysis for expenses – sounds hairy, but don’t let it stress you out – using a simple spreadsheet.  Set up a 13 column format with the first column being a description column.  Label the next 12 columns one per month, January, February, March…you get the picture. 

What expenses did you have each month in 2010 that will occur again in 2011?  Put a description in the first column so you’ll be able to identify what the expense is.  Put your best estimate for the 2011 amounts in the same month(s) column in your spreadsheet.  Rent, Internet and Phone expenses will probably appear in each of the 12 month columns.  Insurance expenses and membership dues may occur in one month’s column, or twice a year.  Repeat for each expense that you can identify from your 2010 paperwork.

When you have everything entered in the 2011 spreadsheet that you can identify, create a total at the bottom of each month column adding up all the expenses for that month.   Next create a total of all the totals for each month, giving you a Grand Total. 

You have just defined as closely as you can your Break Even Point for 2011!  

The number is probably a big one.  What does it mean?  It means that based on the information you entered into the spreadsheet, it will take that Grand Total amount to cover all the expenses you identified for 2011.  You won’t start to build value in your business or make a profit until you bring in at least the amount of these expenses into your business.  The big balance in the check book can be measured against the expenses listed in the upcoming months so that you aren’t tempted to spend it and then be short when the big bills come in.  Keep the bank balance growing until it covers all the expenses you can see ahead of you.

Need help in developing a strategy to increase your business so that there is more left over for you in 2011?  Give me a call.  815-985-3652  We’ll talk.

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