Category Archives: Business

Deal with Workplace Bullies

Workplace bullying is a widespread problem. According to a Workplace Bullying Institute study, 65 million workers are affected by workplace bullying. 20% of respondents said they had been bullied, 21% said that witnessed it, and 7% said that they are currently being bullied.

Even worse, 56% of people said that the person bullying them was their boss—making it hard to report the problem.

Bullying isn’t just a traumatic experience for the employee—it spells trouble for your business. There’s plenty of data that show that company culture has a direct effect on productivity. If your culture is one of a hostile work environment, your employees may spend more time worrying about their mental and physical safety than doing their best work. And once culture is broken, it takes a long time to remedy the problem.

There’s also the potential legal liability. If the bullying rises to a serious level, and a company official knew about it and did nothing, that could expose the company to possible litigation.

How to Deal with Workplace Bullies

1. Create an Anti-Bullying Policy

Another Workplace Bullying Institute survey found that 62% of the respondents reported having no such policy at their workplace. Before you can hold somebody accountable, there must be a policy in place since federal and state laws generally don’t mention workplace bullying unless it falls under anti-harassment law. The policy should provide a definition of bullying and address how employees should and shouldn’t act. In addition, it should layout reporting procedures and company actions. Click here to read an example policy.

2. Provide Anti-Bullying Training

Nobody wants to sit through training like this but by addressing the subject, you’re not only putting people on notice, you’re also helping to protect yourself from possible litigation. And some older employees, used to how things used to be, may need some education on the modern office environment. The Workplace Bullying Institute has resources available to help with training.

3. Encourage Reporting of Workplace Bullies

Tell all your employees that you want to know if they are a victim of or witness bullying. No report is too small and if found to be true, swift action will be taken. Also let them know that all reports will remain anonymous and investigated fully.

4. Provide No-Nonsense Enforcement of Policies

All the policies, training, and warnings mean nothing if there’s no concrete action taken when bullying exists. Regardless of how well-liked, high performing, or important the person is, action must be taken, even if that means the person is let go. Company culture and employee safety is always more important than an individual. If people report bullying and notice no action being taken, they won’t bother taking the chance again.

5. Don’t Call Anyone a Victim

Although the word might be accurate, using the term may cause other employees to look at the person unfavorably. Did they bring it on themselves? “If they were better at their job maybe they wouldn’t be treated that way,” and other comments might be said if the person is cast as a victim.

In general, you shouldn’t address incidents publically. Handle them with the parties involved. You will set the best example by being responsive rather than having an employee meeting about it.

6. Put a Stop to Rumors

Every company and organization has talkers and gossipers but doing your best to encourage employees to talk to management instead of complain to each other will help to reinforce positive company culture and make bullies feel like outcasts. The better your culture, the less audience a bully has and the more likely people are to report the person.

7. Make Sure the Bully Isn’t You

If we’re not honest, we can’t fix the problem. Maybe the bully is you. Maybe what you think is funny is actually hurting somebody else. Or maybe the stress of being a business owner sometimes comes out as anger toward employees.

First, remember that, whether you agree or not, we live in a culture that no longer tolerates the old school yelling, crude jokes, hazing, or demeaning of “the new guy.” You can’t selectively apply rules to certain employees, and you can’t publically reprimand people who make mistakes. Any of these could be bullying and even if you’re found innocent, settling a legal matter such as this could be costly.

If you’re a new business owner and just now starting to hire employees, make sure you know what you can and can’t do as a boss

Tips to Beat Jet Lag

There’s nothing worse than traveling only to find yourself too tired and groggy to enjoy the destination once you arrive. Jet lag isn’t something that lasts for an hour or two—sometimes it lasts for days—but there are jet lag remedies to combat the travel fog.

What Is Jet Lag?

To beat it, we must understand it, so what exactly causes jet lag? For a long time jet lag was written off as a product of the mind but scientists now know that the body runs on a 24 hour clock that varies all kinds of chemicals in the body. These changes are called circadian rhythms and when they get disrupted, we feel the effects of jet lag. You’ll feel sleepy, irritable, brain fog, hunger at strange times, and even gastrointestinal upset.

Don’t Fall for Schemes

Now that we know what it is, how do we combat it? There are more herbal treatments, diets, and old wive’s tales on the Internet than there are time zones. Most won’t offer any help. Don’t waste your money. Instead try some of these ideas.

Jet Lag Remedies That Work

Before you leave, follow what doctors probably tell you at every visit—get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and exercise. The better your health, the lighter the effects of jet lag, according to professionals.

Leading up to the trip, start adjusting your bed time. If you’re heading east, go to bed one hour earlier each night for a few nights. If you’re heading west, go to bed one hour later. By the time you take the trip you will have already adjusted at least partially to the time zone changes.

And the night before you leave, resist the urge to have a wild sendoff complete with alcoholic beverages. Alcohol will dehydrate you and make the effects of jet lag worse. It also acts as a stimulant and might keep you from sleeping.

Especially if you’re traveling west to east, try to sleep on the plane. You may not realize it but traveling is extremely stressful on the body and you’ll need energy when you arrive to start counteracting jet lag.

While on the plane and soon after you arrive, stick with safe foods that won’t irritate your stomach. A big burrito might not be the best idea while your body is fighting to adjust to the new time zone. Although studies show that certain foods don’t help to reduce jet lag, irresponsible eating can certainly make it worse. And sorry to ruin your fun, but save the alcohol for at least day 2. If you’re feeling that jet lag brain fog, alcohol will only make it worse.

When in Rome

Once you get to your destination, don’t let your body tell you what to do. It will want to operate on your home time zone time but your job is to get it acclimated to the new, temporary reality. If you’re tired go for a walk, drink a cup of coffee, get out in the sun and see some sights, or head to a restaurant. Don’t take a nap or head to the hotel room and lie around. If you absolutely must take a nap, try and limit it to 20 to 30 minutes. If the nap is too long, going to bed on the new schedule won’t be happening that night.

You Need Light

Of all the cures out there, light is the single best one. That means that controlling jet lag comes down to controlling light and darkness, according to experts. If you’re traveling east, expose yourself to light earlier. If you’re traveling west, expose yourself to light later. For example, if you board a plane at 6:00pm that will arrive in London at 6:00am local time (which would be 1 am if you were still in NY), you need to advance your internal clock for London time. To do that, you need to avoid light on the flight. One way is to wear sunglasses on the plane. You might even wear them when you get off the plane.

Stretch Your Startup Dollars

Initial startup costs are some of the biggest expenses a new business owner will have to encounter. Before you turn a profit, there are many parts of the business that need to be covered up front, and entrepreneurs don’t always anticipate some of these expenses.

To reduce your startup costs and stretch your dollars a little farther, follow these tips.

A simple way to save money as a new business owner is to set spending and expense limits. However, a surprising number of business owners don’t have a formal budget, said Carissa Reiniger, founder of small business support community Thank You Small Business.

Angie Segal, an ActionCOACH business coach, advised entrepreneurs to factor their own salary into the budget as soon as possible. [See Related Story: 6 Smart Budgeting Tips for Small Business Owners]

“When you don’t pay yourself, you take money out of the business elsewhere to cover your own expenses,” Segal said. “Giving yourself a salary forces you to make everything in your budget work.”

Thatcher Spring, CEO of GearLaunch, said entrepreneurs should always do as much as possible with what they have before they add more fixed costs.

“At my company, we only hire when there is too much for the current staff to reasonably accomplish without additional help,” he said. “I’ve also found that hiring less-experienced, smart, adaptable employees, instead of only those that are senior and highly experienced, can help keep salaries under control.”

When you created your business plan, you might have envisioned all of the latest office equipment, lavish holiday parties and enough staff to take on big projects. However, not all of those business luxuries are guaranteed.

Office Evolution founder and CEO Mark Hemmeter said small business owners can suffer from a lack of flexibility in their grand plans.

“Your ego and vanity can get in the way,” he said. “You want that car or that perfect sign, but it just isn’t a good fit for the core of the business.

Hemmeter recommended looking into short-term solutions, like using shared office spaces and hiring freelance workers, until you can afford to make long-term commitments such as acquiring private office suites and hiring full-time employees.

Spring added that business owners should always plan for every effort to take longer than expected, whether it’s launching a new website, signing up customers, sourcing new products or hiring employees.

“Make sure you always set aggressive goals, but realize that there will be unexpected terrain on the pathway to success,” he said.

Startup costs for a new business add up, but there are tips and tools for finding the best areas to spend the money and those where you can cut back a bit. Spring noted that there are numerous cost-effective, self-service tools available to small business owners who want to save money by taking care of their own branding and website development.

However, it’s wise to be wary of “free” opportunities, warned Raad Mobrem, CEO and co-founder of Lettuce Apps (acquired by Intuit).

“Free tools can be a bad idea — they’re free for a reason,” Mobrem said. “Always pay for the important things, like software. You can ask for discounts with B2B services. People understand that you’re a small business just starting out, and if they offer discounts, you’ll want to work with them in the future.”

That said, spending money on the lowest-priced items can mean getting the lowest quality. As a result, you may have to replace things multiple times, and that can be more expensive than going with a pricier option in the first place.

“It’s a huge mistake to go as cheap as you can,” Hemmeter said. “It doesn’t look very professional.”

One area where you may want to splurge is your company culture, Spring said. You can invest in small items, such as snacks and comfortable work furniture, which don’t necessarily cost a lot but produce meaningful intangible value. “Having a great office environment will improve productivity,” Spring said.

After you follow the initial tips to save money and reduce the startup costs of your new business, it’s just as important to make sure your expenses stay on track as your business grows. Seek financial advice from accountants and fellow small business owners, and then go over your expenses and try to cut back where you can.

“Find an accountant that acts as a business adviser,” Segal suggested. “Look at your profit and loss with him or her every month, and see if anything is creeping up. Be very conscious of your numbers.”

As you adjust your budget each month to save money, you’ll be able to start investing in bigger, better things for your business. Mobrem’s advice is to plan your budget in terms of stages.

“Analyze and think about your long-term goals with your budget,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘If I hit this goal, where should my budget go next?'”

Pick the Perfect Password

Creating a password is easy. Creating one that is strong, is the challenge.

The problem is that password selection involves two conflicting goals.

Goal 1: Pick a password that’s easy to remember.

Goal 2: Pick a password that’s hard to crack.

If all you had to worry about was Goal 1, your name would be your password and life would be simple. At the same time, if you only wanted something difficult to hack, you could easily come up with a long series of random letters, numbers, and characters that would confound even the most hardened hacker.

You would not, of course, be able to remember that password. You would have to write it down somewhere or carry it with you, making breaking into your computer as easy as looking at that Post-it note affixed to your keyboard that says: “My password is: Eg(4$ll)31opx*.”

Basic Rules

Eric Wolfram provides some good basic rules that apply to passwords.

  • Longer is better. Six characters is the minimum. Many sites require 8.
  • Made up or altered words are better than actual words. Avoid calendar dates as part of the numeric portion of password.
  • Personal information that can easily be looked up or verified should be avoided.
  • Don’t use account numbers or other billing information as part of a password.
  • The use of adjacent keys or consecutive numbers are easy for others to notice and should be avoided.
  • Maintain a separate password for each highly sensitive account, such as email, financial institutions, and social media.
  • It’s OK to recycle for sites that don’t store personal info, such as Internet radio stations.
  • Memorize your password. You should never write it down.
  • Mix letters, numbers, and punctuation and, when possible, include both uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Don’t overdo it and make the password so complicated it becomes cumbersome. It should be something you can type fairly quickly.
Password Systems

Using misspelled words or words with a number or punctuation mark at the end can be effective. Examples include “KrazzyDood,” “PensilNek,” “Sawsy2468,” or “ShurThing**!.”

Replacing some letters with punctuation increases security. So does the use of numbers. This simple system turns the word “hello” into “h3llo” and “seagull” into “s33gu!!”

RELATED: Protect Yourself and Your Business From Identity Theft

Another system that is easy to memorize involves creating a sentence – such as “When I was in 3rd grade, my teacher’s name was Mrs. Schmidt.” Then create your password from the first letter of each word: WIwi3gmtnwMS.

Password Reset Questions Tip

To generate better security for password-reset questions, Randy Abrams, Director of Technical Education at WeLiveSecurity has a simple suggestion. He says do not provide correct answers. For example, say your mother’s maiden name is Tarzan. Or, that the name of the first school you attended was LegoPrimary.

When to Change Passwords

Change major passwords at least twice a year. (For example, January & July.) Changing too frequently becomes cumbersome and waiting too long increases risk. Whatever your time frame, stick to it. Maybe you change your passwords when you change your clocks. (You know, “Spring forward, Fall back?)

Passphrase

An alternative to the password system is the passphrase system as long as your software or operating system allows it. A passphrase is a series of words, instead of a series of letters, punctuation, etc.

Instead of a 6 or 8-character password, security would depend on four or five 2 to 6 letter words. The words do not need to make up a sentence. They could be a list of words, for example: rat onion climb frog batman.

Of course, the words could be more random, even nonsense, and could include punctuation, numbers, or almost any combination.

One of the best passphrase generation systems is Diceware. Click on the link for a full explanation and all the information you need to generate a passphrase using this unique system.

RELATED: Protect Your Business from a Data Security Breach

Password Management Software

Despite your best intentions, memorizing every password you’re asked to create is close to impossible. Fortunately, password management software exists to securely store your passwords and apply them, as needed when you log on to various sites.

Top 10 Reviews provides reviews of the best password management systems, most of which will not only store your passwords, but will also help you create them. This year’s top-rated program is RoboForm Everywhere, which sells for less than $10.

According to Top 10 Review, RoboForm Everywhere can be used to manage passwords on a number of different devices, although the device versions, according to Top 10 Review are read-only.

Although new information has to be added using the desktop version, Top 10 considers this a minor irritant and still gives the software a perfect score of 10

Know More About Unicorn Customer

A store is a place you go to buy stuff, usually out of convenience or habit. In contrast, brands inspire irrational loyalty and yes, even love. How does a company build itself into a brand that people can fall deeply, madly in love with? The old model says segmentation is the key to business success. This involves strategically dividing your potential customers into groups based on who they are and why/how they’re buying. Segmentation is a fine marketing tactic, but it won’t help build a brand people can wholeheartedly rally behind. In fact, segmentation can even work against a brand by diluting the brand identity. In order to build the type of brand that customers can fall in love with, you must first create a detailed picture of your ideal “unicorn” customer.

Let me start with a real-world example of one brand that I personally worked with. This company is a parent-focused digital media company with the mission to make every parent feel like a rock-star by inspiring them to do fun things with their kids. When I asked them who they thought their ideal customer was, they initially described a harried, anxious, busy mom struggling to find activities for their kids that didn’t involve plugging them into a TV or an iPad to watch movies while they went about completing other household tasks. In fact, their ideal customer – the person likely to bring in the most revenue for this company over time – was an “everyday” parent who values spending quality time with the people who matter most. She’s primarily a mom who wants to get out and do something FUN TOGETHER. Unlike their initial ideal customer impression, this parent is practical, always prepared, and highly engaged. She’s not perfect, but she’s resourceful and into finding great ideas for connecting with her kids with a single click. She’s always out and about – but more importantly, engaged – with her family, going to festivals, exhibits, performances, and games. She spends a lot of money on engaging activities with the whole family. So, for a digital media company that makes money from parents researching and paying for family experiences online, you can see why she’s the ideal customer.

RELATED: Branding Strategies for Your New Business

This example clearly demonstrates how to define this ideal customer. First, start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Who is the customer who will be worth the most over the long haul?
  2. Who will be the customer who is the most profitable and delightful to serve?
  3. Who will not only keep buying from you again and again but will recommend you to others?

Then, create an in-depth profile of this customer – the person who is most highly predictive of your brand’s success. Imagine the ideal customer in excruciating detail: What kind of car do they drive? What clothing do they wear? What’s their perfume? Every minute detail must be worked out in your mind so this person becomes as real as possible. To help you fill in the details, consider doing the opposite of segmentation. Think about what unites your customers, and create a singular brand that is for a singular customer archetype.

What are the benefits of identifying the ideal “unicorn” customer?
  • Build a stronger brand identity. If a brand can clearly define who its biggest brand champion is, then more doors will open than previously imaginable. The creative process will become easier, and everything the brand does will be more thoroughly informed by this one anchoring concept. The brand purpose becomes unified and less fragmented, making it stronger and more appealing to customers.
  • Create a brand that your team can rally behind and be truly passionate about. When you build a brand with a strong identity and purpose, you can then recruit people to be part of the team who also feel strongly about the brand purpose. It’s much easier to inspire the team to put in extra work when they feel like the brand is something worth working for. In fact, it starts to feel less like work and more like plain old fun.
  • Make the brand more human. Thinking about the ideal customer as an actual person will help you think about the brand in more emotional terms. The result is a brand that people can relate to on an emotional level.
  • Inspire irrational customer loyalty. A strong brand identity makes for a strong company that instills customers with confidence. This means that people come back even if they’re dissatisfied simply because they love the brand and they know the brand will redeem itself.
  • Help to better inform segmentation. Without a clear brand identity, segment marketing is like driving around without a clear destination in mind. You might find some interesting things along the way, but you’ll waste time and gas, and you will probably find yourself getting a bit lost. Build a brand first, and then use segmentation to help spread your awesome brand identity far and wide.

Is Segmentation Dead?

Segment marketing has its place, and identifying the ideal customer archetype shouldn’t replace segmentation practices. But if your boss has asked you to go out and segment the market, you are probably putting the cart before the horse. First you have to identify the ideal customer, and then you can think about segmentation. Remember, you’re building a brand for ONE and segmenting the market to get your actual product or service in front of many.

If you want to make yourself more attractive to the man or woman of your dreams, you don’t start off by researching all the people in the world who might find you attractive. You focus in on that one person – your ideal mate – and learn everything you can about them – their favorite flowers, what TV shows they like, what they do on Friday nights. In order to build a brand, you have to approach your customers in a similar way. Learn more about the ideal customer and let those insights inform the brand identity. Segmentation can help in marketing, but it’s not going to help build a brand that customers can fall in love with. Finding your “unicorn” customer will

Some Small Business Survival Strategies

Has your business fallen on hard times? Running a business is never a sure bet, but sometimes it can feel like you’re caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. Thanks to the Internet, you can reach customers outside of your local area. But at the same time, your customers find it easy to go online and compare prices, find product information and make purchases from companies across the country, or across the world. As a result, you may have customers calling to cancel orders or asking you to cut prices. And big companies who bought services from you in the past may be outsourcing them overseas.

Whether you target businesses or consumers, there’s a good chance your customers have less time, and less patience for sales pitches than they did in the past, too. They may find that researching and shopping online is preferable to talking with a salesperson or traveling to your retail location.

And then there are other problems. Even if you can compete on price, your company may not be found online. Labor costs and other expenses may be rising, and changing customer needs and preferences may be putting a big crimp in your sales and profits. How many bookshelves can you sell to people who read books on their e-readers or tablets?

How to Recover from a Business Downturn

What can you do when your small business falls on hard times? How can boost sales and profits? The answer is to be proactive. Here are 21 strategies to consider:

1. Reinvent Your Business

You don’t have to be a big, high-tech company to reinvent your business. In fact, the smaller and leaner your business already is, the faster you can shift gears and zoom back into action.

Sit back and take a cold, hard look at your strengths and weaknesses and possible markets. Ask yourself the hard questions first: Do customers still want and buy the same type of products or services you sell? Have industries and styles changed since you started business? Have you kept up with the changes? If not, what changes should you implement now to make your business competitive again?

Do you need to develop new products or services? Don’t guess at what customers want and will pay for. Analyze your existing sales and talk to actual customers and prospects. What do they need? What can you provide? What’s the best way to deliver solutions to them? What’s going to bring in the most profit?

Is there any particular niche that buys regularly from you now? If so, consider how you can bring in more of the same types of customers, and what other merchandise they’d be likely to buy.

2. Sell on the Internet

Are you selling your products and services online? If not, why not? If your sales are declining and you aren’t selling online or capturing leads online, it’s time to get your head out of the sand. Even when people buy in-person or on the basis of personal relationships, they are likely to research the products, company or consultant online before making a decision on what to buy and from whom to buy it. If you have a business, you need a website. The type of website, and what should be on it depends on what you sell.

3. Get Involved in Social Media

Do you have a social media presence? Social media may not be your cup of tea, but the Pew Internet Social Media Update 2016 found that 68% of all U.S. adults (i.e., Internet users and non-Internet users) are Facebook users, while 28% use Instagram, 26% use Pinterest, 25% use LinkedIn and 21% use Twitter.

Find out which of the social media sites attracts the types of customers you want to reach and then get active in those channels. Post comments, answer questions, start discussions related to your products and industry. If you don’t have time, consider having a trusted staff member handle social media tasks. Consider advertising on social media sites, too.

4. Be Mobile Friendly

An ever-growing percentage of business people and consumers are reachable electronically via computer, smart phone or tablet for a majority of the day. These people include everyone from teenagers to retirees. The Internet – thus their ability to search for vendors, products and prices and be notified of deals (as well find the nearest restaurant or gas station) – is no longer limited to their desktop computer. It’s on their tablets and smartphones. You need to be accessible by the devices and methods the customers you want to reach prefer.

5. Contact Former Customers

Don’t assume that a former customer who stopped buying from you in the past will never buy from you again. Customers’ needs and circumstances change, just as yours do. The megacorporation that didn’t renew your contract a couple of years ago because of changing business priorities may have changed their direction once again and be a good prospect now. The customer who went with a lower-priced competitor may be dissatisfied with the quality or service and be receptive to a call from you today. Or, the manager who had given the work to his best friend may no longer be with the company.

6. Contact Competitors of Present or Former Customers

If a company needs what you sell, there’s a good chance their competitors do too. Industry groups you belong to, trade shows, seminars, and friends in the industry can all help you identify likely prospects. If the people you meet don’t need your services, ask if they can put you in touch with someone at their company who could.

7. Call Former Prospects

The bigger a business, the slower they are to move. The project that was put on indefinite hold last summer may become urgent this spring. Or, some other project the company is working on may be right up your alley. So touch base periodically. The more recently you’ve contacted a prospect, the more likely they’ll be to remember your name – and your phone number – when they are ready to buy.

8. Sell Additional Products and Services to Existing Customers

Often the easiest way to bring in new business is to sell more to your existing customers. You may be able to sell more of the same product to the same contact, or sell the same product to a different division of the company. Or, you may be able to sell related products and services to the customer. Keep your eyes and ears open for new opportunities and be sure your customers are aware of all of your capabilities.

9. Work the Neighborhood

If you provide services to homeowners, market to homeowners near your customers. When a homeowner needs to hire a contractor, they often ask neighbors who they use to do similar jobs. Keep your name in their minds with mailings and local online advertising. Leave extra business cards with your existing customers (so they can give them out if anyone asks for your number).

10. Work Your Contact List

Labor statistics show people entering the workforce today are likely to change jobs seven to 10 times in their careers. You can position yourself for new sales just by keeping in touch with people as they change jobs. The human resources manager who hired you to do a harassment awareness training program for Company A, may need to find someone to put on the same kind of seminar at Company B. Thus, if a contact at a client company tells you they are leaving the company, ask them for new contact information.

11. Team Up with Other Vendors for Joint Sales

Recommendations and referrals are among the leading sources of new business for small businesses. An easy way to get more referrals is to team up with other businesses who sell to the same market but don’t directly compete with you. Agree to refer business to one another and link to each other’s web sites. Look at possibilities for joint sales, as well. Doing so may allow you to bid on and win bigger projects than either of you could on your own.

12. Develop Multiple Revenue Streams

That’s corporate speak for a concept that’s as old as the hills: find more ways to make money. For instance, could you add landscaping services to your lawn care business, or add coffee rolls and muffins as choices at your bagel shop? What about adding a delivery service or catering to your restaurant business? If you are a writer whose market is drying up, hone your skills to write how-to articles, blog posts and social media content for businesses. Or, learn to do social media marketing for businesses, and add that service to the writing services you offer.

Cost-Cutting Strategies

13. Ask Existing Vendors for Discounts

If you buy a substantial amount of goods or services from any company, ask them to give you a discount. Remind them of your long-standing account and frequent purchases. If their competitors charge less, ask them if they can match the competitor’s pricing.

14. Switch Vendors

If your current vendor won’t lower their price, or won’t lower it enough, consider switching vendors. Give the new vendor smaller orders at first, and then increase them in size if their quality, on-time delivery and service satisfies your needs.

15. Seek Lower Credit Card Transaction Rates

The fees charge to process credit card transactions can be significant. If your sales are higher now than when you first got your merchant account you may be able to get your existing merchant account provider to lower your fees. If they won’t, contact their competitors and ask for their best rates based on your sales volume, type of business and years in business.

16. Ask Your Landlord To Lower the Rent

If you are a good tenant and your business is located in an area where there’s a lot of commercial retail space for rent, your landlord may be willing to lower your rent a bit to keep you from leaving or defaulting on your lease. Even if they won’t lower the rate permanently, they may be willing to reduce it for a few months to help you get through the tough times. The only way to know: Ask. All they can do is say no, and they might say yes.

17. Be Alert for Employee Theft

No business owner wants to think their employees would steal from them, but employee theft and fraud is a very real problem for small businesses. Losses from internal theft can be enough to cause a company to fail. Often the perpetrator is a trusted employee, or sometimes a partner.

18. Layoff Unproductive Workers

If you are like most business owners, you dislike firing employees, and may put off doing so far longer than you should. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable confronting employees who aren’t living up to expectations, or you may worry about how being fired will affect their family or self-esteem. If your business is starting to falter, however, you need to weed out the employees don’t measure up.

19. Reduce Employee Hours

If business is slowing down, you may not need your employees to work as many hours every week. If possible, try cutting the hours for some or all of your staff a little each week. Your employees won’t be happy with the reduced hours (and income), and some may leave, but if you can reduce your payroll costs, it could save your business.

20. Eliminate Advertising That Isn’t Working

Take a careful look at your advertising and marketing expenses. Are you tracking results? Do you know what campaigns bring you business, and which don’t? What advertising and marketing strategies produce customers with the highest lifetime value? Focus on the strategies that bring in the most business, and consider eliminating, or at least temporarily suspending the rest.

21. Look For Low Cost Marketing Techniques

There are dozens of ways you can promote your business and reach a very targeted audience without spending a fortune. Review strategies that work for other businesses, and put them to work for your company. Pay particular attention to email marketing. It is one of the most cost-effective strategies for getting prospect and customers to remember and buy from you

Know Some Work Email Mistakes to Avoid

Do you have trouble getting answers to email you send at work? Are there some people with whom you need to communicate on a regular basis who don’t answer your email and seem to be avoiding your phone calls?

Before you chalk up the lack of communication to other people’s bad work habits or rudeness, take a close look at your own communication style. It’s possible that those who don’t answer your emails or take your phone calls aren’t careless, forgetful, or rude. They just may be trying to avoid you.

Why?

If you don’t have an ongoing personal disagreement with someone and they don’t owe you work or money, the problem could be the way you communicate in email. You see, what you say in email often “sounds” different to the recipient than it would if you were talking to them in person. If the email messages you send seem condescending, petty, picky, or needlessly complicated, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to get responses in a timely fashion.

Here are some of the most aggravating email mistakes to avoid.

  1. Marking emails you send out with an exclamation point to indicate high importance for routine matters. Yes, you want people to read email you send, and yes you think the matter is important. But marking everything as high importance is going to have the opposite effect. Those who frequently receive email from you marked with an exclamation point will start ignoring it – and be mad at you for sending so many emails marked high importance.
  2. Demanding an immediate response when it’s not warranted. Just because something is important to you doesn’t mean that others should drop what they’re doing to answer your question or do what you want done. They have their priorities, too. Not only will they get mad at you, but if requests aren’t truly urgent, they’ll soon be ignored – just like the fabled boy who cried “Wolf!” too often. So, if the matter you’re discussing in email isn’t truly urgent (i.e., no one is going to suffer any harm or damage if whatever you want done isn’t handled the same day), then don’t ask for immediate action. And, if something really does need to be handled right away, explain why. (And remember to say “Please” and “Thank You”.)
  1. Responding to someone else with a one-liner without including important details. “Call me,” or “We need to change the date” may work when you’re talking live with someone about a project. But if that’s all you put in an email, the recipient may need to dig through a stack of other email to find out why you wanted them to call you or what project or event needed a date change.
  2. Including too much detail. Need a manufacturer to do a better job of packaging the inventory products they ship you? Unless you’re a Big Box Store, don’t send the manufacturer a long note telling them what kind of packaging tape to use, how many times to reinforce it, and what grade shipping cartons to use. Instead, politely remind them to package the products securely so they don’t get damaged in shipment. If you’ve had a telephone conversation to discuss the problem, mention it briefly (if this is the first shipment since the call), but don’t rehash the entire phone call. And don’t forget to say “Please” and “Thank You.”
  3. Similarly, if you send a team member an email request to pull together a report on the team progress or do some other task, tell them what you want done and when you need it by. Don’t include a lot of detail about why it’s important to do the task or how you expect them to pay attention to all the details and format the report the way they were taught. If it’s a task they know how to do, state the task and the deadline in a sentence or two.
  4. Copying the boss — especially when the issue is minor. If you and a team member or anyone else you have to interact with at work have a minor difference of opinion, work it out between the two of you without copying the boss on your emails. If you see someone has made an insignificant mistake and want it corrected, contact the person privately with a friendly note. (For instance, “Hi Joe, I just saw a typo on the website. Thought you’d want to know about it so you can fix it.”) Don’t copy the boss. The boss doesn’t need to know that Joe Smith made a typo on the company website and you found it. The boss also doesn’t need to know that you asked Barbara to do three things yesterday, but she couldn’t get to them all, and still has one thing left to do. Remember, copying the boss makes you look like a tattletale. And no one loves a tattletale — or wants to return a tattletale’s email messages.
  5. Changing the subject line when replying to an email. A lot of people use the subject line of emails to determine if and when to open and read the mail. If you and one or more other people are having an ongoing conversation about a project, and the subject doesn’t change, don’t change the subject line in the email. The people you want to read your response, may miss it, or may not be able to find it in the future to refer to it if you change the subject line.
  6. Not changing the subject line for new topics of discussion. You and Dale have been discussing the best way to set up your podcast. All the messages have the same subject line. But while you’re reading Dale’s last response, you remember that you wanted to ask him to find a commercial artist who can design a flier for your next seminar. Don’t hit reply (to the podcast emails) to tell Dale to find the artist. Start a new email with a new subject line and send that to Dale so he can keep the issues separate in his email.

If you keep the tips above in mind, remember that email recipients aren’t necessarily thinking about the same things you are at the time they get your email, and remember to say “Please” and “Thank You” often, you’ll find more of your email will get prompt replies and more of the things you need done, will get done quickly

Get Paid Sooner

One of the nice things about being a contractor to big business or government agencies is that you can assume that you will get paid and the check won’t bounce as long as you perform the work according to contract specifications.

What you can’t be so sure of is when you’ll get paid. Red tape and minor glitches can cause delays of six months or more between the time an invoice is supposed to get paid and when the check actually arrives.

Although there are some delays you have no control over, others can be prevented. Take these steps to minimize the chance for error so you get paid sooner:

  1. Make sure your bill includes necessary details, such as the purchase order or contract number, the name of the project, your company name, your employer ID (or social security number), your address and telephone number, a detailed list of products of services delivered (and the item numbers if appropriate), and the invoice price. Double check the purchase order to be sure that each item on your invoice matches what was specified.
  2. Get your contact to sign off that you have delivered the work as specified. Include that note with your billing. It’s also a good idea to include a copy of the purchase order with your invoice.
  3. Make any discount for early payment (say a 2 percent discount for payment in 10 days) prominently visible on your invoice. Big businesses may act sooner on such invoices to keep costs down.
  4. Submit the invoice exactly as your contract specifies. If the contract says to submit the bill to account payables, don’t send it to your contact. It might sit for weeks on his desk before he forwards it to the right department.
  5. Be sure your customers have a current W9 for your company. If you’re working with a business for the first time, ask them if their accounting department will need a W9 – or just send it automatically with your first invoice.
  1. Be willing to accept payment using whatever system your client prefers. For big corporations, that may mean you have to sign up on a platform like Paymode-x.
  2. If you are billilng a federal agency for work, be sure you know and exactly follow their instructions for submitting invoices. These instructions can be very specific and detailed (see the EPA’s instructions for submitting invoices, for example.) If you don’t follow the instructions exactly your invoice may be rejected.
  3. Be willing to accept direct ACH payments from larger customers. Yes, you’ll  have to provide the customer with your banking information, but you should be able to set things up with your bank so they can only transfer money in, not out. You could also set up a separate business account just for receiving ACH transfers, and then move the money out as soon as it’s received. That would keep your main operating account unaccessible to companies transferring money to you.
  4. Be willing to accept credit card payments and PayPal payments from your customers. Any processing fee you’ll need to pay may cut into your profits slightly, but chances are you’ll get paid sooner than if your customer has to send a check.  Some customers may not purchase from you at all if you only accept cash and checks

Know Five Questions Every Female Entrepreneur Should Ask

Do you feel stalled in your career? Do you feel underpaid, overworked, and without flexibility and autonomy over your time? If the answers are yes, then it may be time for you to lean out. Adding to that, if you have a personal passion that you want to turn into your own entrepreneurial venture, then for sure it is time for you to “lean out.”

While entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, there are many reasons why it may best thing for you. Some women seek independent work to have more time with family and to achieve a better, more fulfilling work/life balance. A study released by the National Association of Women Business Owners reveals that 65 percent of the women surveyed desire more flexibility and control over their time.

While the biggest reason (for 92 percent) women gave for independent work was that they wanted to do something they were passionate about, it was also followed closely by the ability to be in charge of one’s decisions and the potential for higher earning power.

Women also feel the draw to explore a new professional journey when they cite “office politics” as a catalyst for leaving their corporate jobs to start new businesses. A study from The Guardian Life Index revealed that many women view corporations today as being fundamentally flawed and limiting in their value structures. And with the cost of starting a business at an all-time low, women are saying “no thank you” to spending years climbing and clawing their way up the corporate ladder, dealing with corporate politics, and working long days without feeling the overall fulfillment they crave.

The corporate world does not always fully recognize women’s contributions or does not create a hospitable climate for women to succeed at the highest levels – whether it’s gender discrimination, family-unfriendly policies that punish women who choose to take time off to care for children, or just an overall culture that only rewards those who “lean in.” When faced with this type of a corporate employment environment, being independent and starting your own business, a step towards your “lean out.” becomes an important life goal.

As you consider joining the ranks of the already 10 million female owned businesses in the U.S., there are five key questions you should ask yourself as you decide if it’s your time to “lean out:”
  1. Are you determined?
    Let’s say you have an idea but everyone is telling you it can’t be done. What are you going to do about this situation? This experience might be motivation enough for you to try to one-up the naysayers.
  2. Do you want to leave a legacy?
    You aspire to live a bigger life, to make an impact, to make your presence known. As they say, if you’re not building your own dream, you’re building someone else’s.
  3. Do you want to control your time?
    Maybe you’re most productive from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m., or perhaps you’re a night owl. Maybe you want to be at your daughter’s soccer practice at 3 p.m. or your son’s acting class at 4 p.m.  Instead of being told when to work and when to take breaks or a vacation, you could finally determine your schedule.
  4. Do you mind getting your hands dirty?
    You’ll have to do plenty of grunt work as a new business owner. It’s not always enjoyable, but you find it rewarding to see the fruits of your labor.
  5. Are you a born leader?
    Having a great idea is one thing. Being able to communicate that idea and convince others to jump on board is another. If you have the leadership skills to round up the troops and motivate them, consider starting your own venture.

The entrepreneurial journey is not an easy one. It requires determination, time, hard work and leadership. But if you said yes to the above questions, it’s your time to “lean out,” and turn your dreams into reality

Simple Ways to End Generational Stereotyping in Your Organization

These days, the Millennial Generation is hyped, perhaps even more than Baby Boomers were hyped in the 1950s and 1960s. As I meet with executives around the globe, there is widespread confusion and misunderstanding about generational differences. This is creating stereotypes that are inappropriate, rarely true, and costing corporations millions of dollars tied to Millennial programs that don’t work, low employee engagement, mediocre performance and higher employee turnover.

Millennials are often defined by the group that is roughly 20-35 years old currently—a 15-year span. What’s amazing is how often organizational leaders that I regularly interview at the Metrus Institute try to label these younger employees as needy, coddled, technology snobs, unprepared for organizational life, independent, or scores of other attributes. And then as we dig deeper, I ask if there are differences between their 20-25 and their 30-35 year old Millennials. “Oh yes” is the typical response. The older Millennials are more ‘settled,’ have clearer goals, understand organizations better, more educated and so forth.

What?! Dial this back for a moment. Of course, they are more mature and understand their goals and organizations better. On Average, they have 10 more years of experience over their younger Millennial cohorts, in a relatively short work history. One of the most interesting differences comes from 30-35 year old Millennials who say they are having a tough time keeping up with technology. Even they are threatened by younger Millennial skills.

And then, the insightful moment of our interviews occurs when I ask, “Think about your 25-30 year olds for a moment. What differences do you see among them?”  I begin to hear about introverts and extroverts, high and low performers, high and low creativity, strong and weak service mindsets, good and poor communicators. You get the point! The stereotyping insanity has led to classifying men and women, racial groups, and now generations inappropriately.

Even among a narrow slice of Millennials, there are HUGE individual differences, which have been confirmed by research data from the Metrus Institute that found within-generation differences larger than across generation differences.[i]  Across generations, Jennifer Deal at Center for Creative Leadership has found similar values across age groups—integrity, family, spirituality, love, meaning—as well as a desire to learn new things, balance work and non-work, and be part of a successful team. But within any generational group, we find lots of differences in personalities, current work and family needs, type of skills sought, work style and life goals.

Simply put, we must look more appreciatively at individual differences. Failing to do so in our research is tied to low engagement and alignment with the organization, a proven formula for lower performance, retention and productivity.[ii]

Here are a few ways to address stereotyping in your organization:

1. Expand Diversity and Inclusion Training.  If you don’t have a program aimed at diversity and inclusion, you are late to the game.  But too many of those programs have focused primarily on race and gender and fail to address generational stereotyping effectively.  But there are other forms of stereotyping—think about working mothers, dual-career couples, part-timers, and many other stereotypes that persist.  The real issues that leaders should be focused on are performance, innovation, service, quality and employee desires.

2. Add Fulfillment Training. Don’t stop at diversity and inclusion, which is great for creating awareness, but often doesn’t move beyond sensitivity.  Help managers and employees develop skills needed to increase fulfillment, which will align and energize people across many different walks of life. In a restaurant chain that we diagnosed a few years ago, we found that great managers were deeply familiar with their people—who had a sick parent, needed a schedule to work around school, or was dealing with work-life balancing issues.  Differences also extended to who was best at interfacing with customers or speed and efficiency.  The great managers are like chefs who combine unique ingredients into a wonderful meal.  Weak managers, on the other hand, tend to rule by one-size-fits-all edicts such as forcing all employees to serve on Friday nights—rather than empowering the team to meet customer needs in creative ways.

3. Create Time to Discuss These Issues. It should not be hard to find examples of likely stereotypes that are not true—a part-timer who is ripping great code, a working mother who is one of the most innovative producers, or a ‘youngster’ who is strategic and savvy.  The reverse is also true—a Baby Boomer who is teaching younger cohorts about technology. Use town halls and other forums to surface the issue. Solutions begin with awareness.

4. Role Play. Bring people to a training event or company party and ask them to role play a member of a different generation or other stereotypical group.  Ask other members to treat them as a member of that group. Ask them to project how they think someone with that ‘label’ would talk and interact. People should quickly see how they are making assumptions that may not be true.

5. Eschew One-Size-Fits-All Programs. It is demeaning to require leaders who already have highly engaged people to attend engagement training because it is de rigueur. This penalizes leaders who should probably be teaching the program in order to reach leaders who really need it—sounds like everyone in class being punished because a few came late! Ask HR and other guardians of people processes to avoid one-size-fits-all programs. Recognize differentiation and manage to it.

You can never go wrong treating people with respect as individuals. It is time to overcome traditional and emerging stereotypes and begin thinking about how your organization can leverage those differences to be more innovative and to begin matching the energy of the individual with the energy of the organization