communicate

Become A Better Communicator

What is communication? The dictionary definition is usually something like: “The exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior”, but it could also be characterized as “Something most of us could be a lot better at doing”.

Effective communication is essential to business success. Whether it’s writing a letter to introduce yourself to a prospect or briefing your sales team, you need to communicate clearly to get your points across and motivate others.

For most of us there is some room for improvement in our communication skills. Here are some pointers that can help in the different areas we might be called upon to use in business.

Speaking without fear

It’s interesting how most of us dread speaking in front of an audience and yet manage to speak with one or two people very easily. The secret to overcoming this reluctance is to be prepared – work out in advance what you want to say and rehearse it until it sounds natural to you.

Always keep your audience in mind. They not only listen to what you say but how you say it, and your tone of voice and body language can be telling quite a different story to your words. There’s a lot more to oral communication than just words. Practice speaking clearly and let your emotions enter into what you’re saying. Emphasize important points with gestures and vocal inflections. This keeps your speech from becoming a dull monologue in which the highlights are buried.

Think about what you’re going to say before you say it. If you have an important meeting coming up then be sure you’re up to speed on the topic being discussed. This will give you confidence as well as making what you say more interesting.

Avoid jargon and using complicated words or sentence structures to impress others. Just speak naturally and don’t rush what you say. Always maintain eye contact with your audience – regardless of whether it’s one person or an auditorium full of people. You can learn a lot about how you speak by talking to yourself in front of a mirror. It’s the fastest way to find out whether you’re the kind of person you’d like to have a conversation with.

Get it right when writing

Writing is a lot like speaking. The purpose is the same – to communicate a message to other people. Although it’s not done face-to-face many of the same principles apply. You still need to organize your thoughts and put them down in such a way that readers can understand what you’re telling them.

Every piece of written communication deserves the same degree of consideration whether it’s an email, a brief note or a whole volume. Write to your audience in terms they’ll understand, and don’t use terminology that might confuse them.

Everyone seems to be time poor these days so get to the point as quickly as possible. You can outline the points you want to get across at the beginning of the communication, and then follow up with supporting facts and details.
One all too frequent aspect of modern communications is the number of errors in spelling they contain. Since most of what you write is done on a word processor, learn how to use the spell check function and use it on everything you write. But even then, be aware that it won’t pick up everything, so you should still review your text carefully one more time after the spell check.

Just as with your oral presentations, avoid using jargon and complicated words or sentence structures. Write naturally and without pretension. Business communications are especially dependent on clarity of the message rather than the style it is couched in.

Copyright Bullseye Business Solutions. Adapted from an article originally published in Grow Your Business newsletter May issue 2004.

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=4323

mistake

10 Mistakes That Can Cost You Your Business

Even the smartest small business owner can do dumb things now and then. Unfortunately, some mistakes can kill a company.

Just ask Jeff Seifried, small business coordinator for the City of Aurora, Colo., and Peter Tourtellot, chairman of the Turnaround Management Association.

They, along with other experts who prefer to keep their observations anonymous, have seen the best – and worst – of small-business operations.

Here are 10 examples of common, but potentially deadly, errors committed by otherwise brilliant small-business owners. Don’t make the same mistakes.

Underestimating the importance of cash flow management
Two woodworkers had a thriving business building interiors for retail stores. They did beautiful work and their customers were pleased, but it often took them 60 or even 90 days to pay the bill. Until the money rolled in, the partners couldn’t start on the next job because they couldn’t buy materials. They lost jobs because customers were in a hurry. You can be making plenty of money, but if cash isn’t arriving in time to meet payroll and buy inventory when it’s needed, you can be quickly out of business.

Getting sloppy with recordkeeping
The owner of a lawn service was haphazard about recordkeeping. If he had kept better track of lawns mowed, he would have known that his oldest mowers had so many miles on them, they were unlikely to last the season without an overhaul. Instead, it came as a very unpleasant surprise when three of them burned up in one week. Good records are a key decision-making tool. If you’re not keeping good track of your business, you are denying yourself the tools to make good business decisions.

Ignoring inventory
The owner of a business-supply store bought a flat of construction paper just before school started. Three years later, employees were still stepping around the boxes to get into the storage room. If you end up with stale inventory, discount it and get it out of there. Otherwise, you’re just tying up money and taking up storage space.

Neglecting collections
A dentist had dozens of outstanding bills for routine and special dental work approaching 180 days old because his assistant hated to make collection calls. Nobody likes to dun people, but unless you have a systematic collection plan and make sure it’s carried out, some people just won’t pay.

Disregarding employee concerns
The owner of a small jewelry manufacturing operation refused to pay overtime. He thought workers should be able to get the job done in the time allotted. Employees came and often left unhappy over what they saw as unfair treatment. Finally, one of them complained to the state division of wage and hour, which launched an ugly and (for the jeweler) expensive investigation. If you have a hard time hiring and retaining good employees, your business is doomed. And if you find yourself the target of an employment-related lawsuit, your expenses can be astronomical. Get expert advice on human-resource issues. While it may look expensive, it can save you a bundle in the end.

Failing to delegate
A baker thought she was the only one who could make the perfect cookie. Back trouble that put her in bed two weeks before Christmas nearly shut down the business. Recognize that you can’t do everything. Turn some of the job over to the best assistant you can hire and trust him to do the job, even if he makes a mistake now and then. If you insist on doing it all yourself, you can’t grow.

Offering something the customer doesn’t want
A water ice vendor spent all his time and money developing 100 delicious flavors. The trouble was nobody bought anything but cherry, lemon and vanilla. Ultimately, his inventory melted away and so did his profits. Market research is vital. Talk to potential customers, talk to current customers and respond to what they tell you.

Letting costs get out of control
The owner of an auto body shop was having such a great year, that he bought a lift that wasn’t in his budget. He also hired the son of a an employee who needed a job, even though there wasn’t quite enough work to keep another person busy. In the final analysis, revenue went up significantly, but costs skyrocketed. If you’re not careful, you’ll spend up all the profits.

Spreading marketing dollars too thin
The owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant in a part of the country that’s not exactly a hotbed of enthusiasm for Southwestern cuisine had an obvious need to advertise. And she did. She bought one cable TV ad, one radio spot and a small coupon in the local weekly. Although she spent plenty – several thousand dollars altogether – her efforts didn’t add up to a marketing campaign. Failure to spend wisely on an integrated and continuing marketing plan is an expensive mistake. In this case, her location is now a pizza parlor.

Underfunding an emergency account
When unannounced road resurfacing closed a popular dress shop’s doors for a month, it put the owner out of business because she had no emergency money and she couldn’t go a whole month with virtually no sales. As every gambler knows, no matter how good a player you are, you’re occasionally going to be dealt a bad hand.

Likewise, every business needs a financial resource to turn to when disaster strikes. Bad things do happen frequently to good people and their businesses, so, like a good Boy Scout, you have to be prepared.

© Copyright 2002 Bankrate, Inc. All rights reserved

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/press_room/news.asp?ID=2763

growing

Growing Pains

Success, they say, is its own reward.

In the competitive world of small business, this must be doubly true – financial benefits aside, ‘making it’ is even more satisfying if you have established and grown you business from the outset.

But with success comes growth which, if not managed properly, has a tendency to quickly put a stop to a small business’ gains.

It is natural to want to increase the size of your business once you achieve some degree of success. However, you should expect certain difficulties along the way.

A key challenge arises when a small business grows to the point where one person is no longer able to manage the company alone, according to Alistair Gordon, a partner in consulting business MentorVest Partners and former Managing Director of Strategic Publishing Group.

“The first difficulty is there appears to be a size at which a company is relatively easy to run … where one person is making most of the decisions, and that size is probably ten, 11, 12 or 13 people,” says Gordon.

“If you add a couple of people up to about 16 people, suddenly it’s not possible for one person to make all the decisions any more, and all the management systems that previously ran the company no longer work.”

The fact that many small business owners leave the implementation of a growth strategy to a late stage can compound this difficulty.

“Most entrepreneurs take too long to start training their employees to take over responsibilities,” says Gordon, who started at Strategic Publishing Group in 1992 with four team members, ending up eight years later with 150 colleagues in nine locations around the world.

“[Small business owners] leave it too late, and then they give people responsibilities without training them properly, and without being there to hold their hand when things go wrong the first few times,” he adds.

“You quite often find that entrepreneurs snatch back the responsibility because the [other team members] haven’t handled it properly.”

After two or three false starts on account of an unprepared team, Gordon says that he now makes sure he implements training as early as possible.

Added to the importance of full preparation is the need to properly forecast your small business’ cash flow.

Gordon says that unrealistic revenue expectations can be fatal to a small business, “even if it is doing well.”

“The costs almost always exceed what the expectations of cost are, and the revenue takes twice as long to arrive as everybody anticipated, which normally creates a cash flow problem.”

Here, Gordon’s advice is to make sure you shore up your current business base before trying to expand.

“Prior to growth, it is really about battening down the hatches and making sure that your [revenue] is solid, and that it’s going to be there after you’ve gone off and spent a year growing the business.”

Pessimism, at least in controlled doses, can also be helpful to keep small business growth in check.

“Be really pessimistic about revenue, not necessarily how much revenue will come in, but when it will come in,” Gordon advises.

“Probably take the costs that you’ve done and add 30 percent to them, and ask yourself, ‘If the costs are way over and if the revenue takes twice as long to come in, will my business survive?’”

A comprehensive business plan which takes account of market demand is also important to properly balance growth, says David Meier, founder of small business website entrepreneurrising.com.

“Remember that the process of business growth is ongoing. For this reason, you are encouraged to include both long-term and short-term growth strategies in your plans,” Meier says.

“By continuously being attentive to growth opportunities, you can avoid the dual risks of experiencing a reduction in your business’ sales volume and a corresponding loss of profitability.”

Finally, don’t try growth on your own. Making the most of your fellow team members is a sure way of managing your business’ expansion – and most important of all is your accountant, says Gordon.

He says a good accountant will keep in check the temptation to push for growth when to do is perhaps premature.

“In a growth business, the accountant is probably the most vital person, because the manager 9 times out of 10 wants to grow and will not be stopped from growing.”

A good manager-accountant relationship is one based on cooperation and an equal power balance, Gordon says.

“Absolutely the key success factor in my business was that when the accountant said, ‘We don’t have the money for this’, the management had agreed to listen and take appropriate action.

“If we hadn’t done that we would have gone out of business.”

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/press_room/news.asp?ID=3814

stairs-restaurant-people-women

Attention Shoppers

Successful retailing during a downturn means taking stock of your store’s appeal to the senses, providing smarter service and never, ever letting your promotional wheels grind to a halt.

Shoppers decide in just a few seconds whether or not to enter your store. In an instant, they put your shop front, displays and signage through personal filters before deciding whether to move inside or move on. When sales are low, retailers should make their own quick evaluations to help convert browsing to buying.

Sensory perception
Personal shopping is a sensory experience that the online alternative can never match, so make the most of the chance to captivate shoppers with sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures. When you engage the senses, you entice longer visits that increase the likelihood of sales.
The basic visual appeals are attractiveness, neatness, cleanliness and maintenance. Then strive to reflect the mood and store identity you want to convey, using color, lighting, furnishings and creative displays.

Bakeries best demonstrate the effectiveness of the sense of smell on sales. But many other products can take advantage of scent too. Alternatively, where a product’s smell needs masking, consider ways to do so to encourage longer stays in your shop.

Free tastings will help win customers over, but it doesn’t mean you need to constantly give away stock. Just by offering regular samples of new food products or giving them out near mealtimes, you’ll create a memorable shopping experience and encourage repeat customers.

Consider the appeal of sound as an attraction or addition to your store’s ambience. Loud, booming music might attract young fashion buyers, but ambient sound for other stores should reflect your product range (e.g. classical for high quality merchandise) or the time of day, whether hustling and busy or reflective. Use music to cover the background noise of transactions, shop assistants’ conversations, traffic or other distractions.

Personal shoppers are always more likely to buy if they can touch the merchandise. Readily available samples prevent the need to call on assistance, so make sure all possible items are available to hold and inspect. Many products, such as silks, sell themselves on how they feel.

Service tricks
The secret to excellent service is to establish a shopper’s position in the buying cycle and lead them to the next step – preferably to a sale in your store.

Remember, not all visitors are ready to buy, but may simply be researching. If so, their decision to return is hugely dependent on the in-store service experience, which largely depends on information collected. Being seen as a good source of product information and ideas is an incentive to visit again. Simple signage in-store can back up staff’s helpfulness by encouraging curiosity, featuring new products or providing interesting details or return policies.

Stay in touch
An economic downturn is no time to reduce marketing and promotions. Shoppers hear about the financial crisis too, so if you stop communicating, you could be mistaken for an economic casualty.

If you must cut back general marketing efforts, sharpen targeted offers to those with the best chance of sales conversions. They don’t need to be discounts. Create loyalty programs like point systems or rewards to transform one-off buyers into repeat business or better still, to turn them into advocates. Keeping existing customers is a lot easier and cheaper than attracting new ones. This tactic will keep you focused on promotions with the best chance of working when you need them most.

Email contact (with permission of course) is the simplest and cheapest way to maintain regular customer relations with announcements, offers and news and to generate website traffic.

So if your sales have dipped, don’t despair. Use the extra time you may have as a result of quieter trading to sharpen your focus. Test your store for sensory attractions; boost your sales assistants’ confidence with extra customer service training and plan clever offers to set your store apart from the competition.

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=4374

pexels-photo-42070

Analyze The Competition And Get Ahead

Author and futurist Charles M. Perrottet identified two types of businesses – eagles and ostriches. The eagles analyze their competitors and assume their competitors do the same to them. The ostriches don’t look around them and remain focused on their own activities without regard for anyone else.

Most businesses don’t know enough about their rivals to anticipate the moves their competitors are going to make. In short, most of them are ostriches. Very few businesses will optimize their profitability without a basic awareness of their competitors’ activities and operations but far too many try.

Competitor Analysis (or ‘CA’) is an in-depth analysis of one or more rivals. This involves gathering information on how they’re structured, how they operate, who their people are, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they’re likely to do in the future.

It’s this kind of information that can be used to make decisions about your own business – emulate the best aspects, avoid duplicating the mistakes of others, and plan your own future so that you’ll come out on top.

To be really good at CA means that you’ll know almost as much about your competitors as you do about your own business. This is expensive and time-consuming as you’d expect so most businesses compromise and do a job that’s less than perfect but hopefully is still adequate.

How far you go towards full CA will be determined by many factors. You might do just the minimum and collect your rivals’ literature, visit their websites, sample their products, monitor news articles about them, and possibly talk with some of their customers and staff. This will at least give you an idea of what they’re up to.

The four basic steps of CA essentially involve identifying rivals, performing a SWOT analysis on them, then feeding this knowledge back into your own business:

1. Identify and learn about your competitors
2. Analyze their strengths and weaknesses
3. Identify their opportunities and threats
4. Relate this knowledge to your business

Identify and learn about your competitors

If you think you don’t have any competitors you have good reason to worry. If nobody else thinks your line of business is a good idea you might not be in it for long. Chances are that you do have competitors and you need to know what they’re doing.

Think outside the square. For example, a professional services firm offering immigration advice has lots of direct rivals. Some are up the street, some are on the internet, some work for government bodies (your competitors don’t always charge for their services), and some are in other countries.

Look first at those who dominate your market – the big brands, the big names. Then go down the chain to the others supplying your market. Always ask: “Who else can give my customers what I sell to them?” and then you’ll start identifying all your competitors.

Be aware too of those who are potential competitors. Growing market segments are an invitation for established firms to expand into them and it’s unwise to assume you’ll have anything to yourself for long. Who has the ability to become a competitor? Add them to your list of rivals.

Analyze their strengths and weaknesses

Here’s where it starts getting hard. Each of those rivals or potential rivals has strengths you need to analyze to see if they can be developed in your business. Why do their customers buy from them? What makes them successful? It could be their products or it could be their marketing. What is it?

Then it comes down to finding out what their weaknesses are. Are their prices too high? Are their locations poor? Perhaps their products are inferior to others in your market. If you know their weaknesses the chances are they do too, which can be a guide to their future actions.

Identify their opportunities and threats

These are outside factors and will mostly be your own opportunities and threats as well. An example is the advent of the internet on traditional retailers. For some it was a threat but for most it became an opportunity.

For a while the hype screamed that ‘bricks and mortar’ stores were going to be superseded by a new breed of web-based retailers but as we now know it didn’t turn out that way. Using CA the traditional retailers quickly expanded into having their own websites and online catalogues, effectively shutting out most of the newcomers and riding out the storm until it blew over.

Look for any outside factors that could affect your business. These factors could be driven by technology, the result of new legislation or even the development of a new product.

Some will be opportunities for you to grow your business and others will be threats that could mean you have to adapt or lose some of your market. As long as you’ve identified them you possess the knowledge you need to make decisions about your future.

Relate this knowledge to your business

You’ve identified your competitors and know their strengths and weaknesses. You’ve also determined the opportunities and threats out there in the marketplace. Now it’s time to work out what you need to do to drive your business where you want it to go.

Start by doing a SWOT analysis on your own business. Look at such elements as your pricing, your operating costs, your marketing and your ability to change to meet the competition. How do you stack up?

What your competitors are doing right you can do as well. If you’re also doing what they’re doing that’s wrong, stop doing it. Fine-tune your business so that you can take advantage of the opportunities out there and not be injured by outside factors that threaten your success.

Be an eagle and you’ll never have to worry about the ostriches!

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=3930

marketing

Making A Marketing Plan

A marketing plan clarifies the key marketing elements of a business and maps out directions, objectives and activities for the business and its employees.

The marketing plan draws on the broader perspectives outlined in a firm’s business plan. The business plan states how a company will take a product idea and transform that into a commercially viable proposition.

The marketing plan focuses on issues related to the four Ps: product, price, promotion and place.

Addressing these issues and putting them into written form can be useful for a business owner, in that it forces them to analyze their business. It can be good for employees, as the marketing plan can provide them with essential orientation and be a source of motivation.

Product

The marketing plan identifies the ‘hook’ for a product or service. Who will buy it and why? How is it better than its competitors?

Price

What pricing strategy will the company follow for this product? Is the plan to sell large volumes so that economies of scale can keep the price low? Or will it be marketed to a niche at a high price?

Promotion

What is the advertising strategy? How will the product be packaged? What will its marketplace positioning be?

Place

How will the product be distributed? Will it be sold by retail stores or by direct marketing?

The business should also be assessed with SWOT analysis – in terms of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

SWOT analysis evaluates a company’s competitors and identifies areas of opportunity that can be exploited and possible commercial threats. It analyzes a business and how it will fit into the marketplace.

Part of the analysis will focus on internal issues. For example, is a company hampered by a lack of worker training?

Other analysis will be external. For example, will a company’s location give it any distribution advantages?

The analysis should assess the cost and effectiveness of using a variety of distribution channels.

It should evaluate geographical issues. Would a product be best marketed locally or could it be a competitive export? How big a share of the market does the product need to win? At what point will projected sales volumes cover production costs?

How will competitors react to the product? Will they try to undercut its price? What kind of advertising would effectively distinguish a product against its competitors?

A marketing strategy forms part of a marketing plan. It explains how a product will be distinguished from its competitors. A sales plan should then give details of promotional events and campaigns that will deliver the strategy.

This kind of analysis can’t be done on the back of an envelope. Small business owners could usefully seek advice on all these issues, although they need to make final decisions, as they have the best understanding of their product and business.

Useful websites include:

www.sba.gov

www.bplans.com

marketing.about.com

www.pacificaccess.com.au

www.bizinfo.co.nz

www.canadaone.com

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/press_room/news.asp?ID=927

 

pace

Pace Has Its Place

How do you feel on Friday afternoon – worn out, tired, flat? Do your body and your mind agree that you’ve made it to the finish line, and you feel finished? Maybe it’s time to set a different pace for your workdays.

This doesn’t mean you’ll get less done, at least not less of anything that really matters. What it does mean is that you’re managing your life more effectively and not letting the demands on your time get out of control. It also means you’ll still have enough energy at the end of the week to enjoy the end of the week and the weekend that follows.

Categorize your to-do list

If you’re like most professionals you maintain a ‘to-do’ list. It could be kept electronically, in a diary, or just notes on a sheet of paper. The first step in setting a new pace for the week involves taking a hard look at your to-do list and rearranging it. Begin by prioritizing everything there into four groups of things to be done. Under the ‘A’ category put everything that’s absolutely essential, critical, and important. Note that this doesn’t mean ‘urgent’. Many things that are considered urgent are really not all that important; they just have short deadlines.

Then do your ‘B’ items – these are still important but they’re not as critical as your ‘A’ list. The ‘C’ items aren’t all that important, nor are they time critical but you do sincerely feel you need to do them.

Finally put everything else into the ‘D’ category. Consider each item there and just what happens if you didn’t do it. Will your career come to an end? Is it going to hurt the business? Chances are that you’ve got things you think you have to do that you can delete and never worry about them again. The same goes for some of your ‘C’ items once you learn how to take things off your to-do list as easily as you put them on it.

Don’t sacrifice yourself for others

There are some people in every organization who can always manage to come up with work for others to do. They have their own versions of ‘good ideas’ but oddly can’t find the time to do them and need your help to get them done. Well, that’s just what you’ve got to stop doing.

Learn to say ‘no’ in the nicest possible way. When you’re asked to do something extra come back with a statement of what you’re already doing and the importance of those activities. Explain that you’d be glad to help but your calendar is full and priorities have to be observed.

What’s really important in your life?

Take a piece of paper and write down what’s really important in your life. Be scrupulously honest with yourself and don’t forget things like the names of your children or where you want to go for your next holiday. Is making money more important than the people in your life? If so, be honest and put it right at the top of the list, but if your priorities are more human than economic its place will be well below the people that matter. Use this list to remind you what you’re here for.

Get organized

Some people seem to thrive on chaos and disorganization. They’re incapable of keeping their desktop free of piles of paper yet somehow they always deliver top-quality work on time. Chances are that their ‘chaos’ isn’t as serious as it seems and they’ve really got systems in place to deal with their responsibilities.

It’s wise to remove the chaos – real or apparent, from your business life and be sure that you’re organized and up-to-date. Finish one thing before starting another and get in the habit of keeping your working area uncluttered.

Revisit the past

Always look backwards before starting something and see what you’ve done before that could be useful. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel every time. Even if you just repeat the layout of a previous presentation or modify the text from a letter you sent last year, use what you’ve already got as much as possible.

Set aside time for yourself

It’s not going to be easy but you can’t spend every working hour doing things without having some time for yourself. Set aside some time to do things like reading industry journals or keeping up with developments in your field. These aren’t ‘to-do’ types of tasks – they’re personal development and part of everyone’s business life.

When you follow these guidelines you’ll find that something amazing happens. Your week will have more time in it and you’ll feel less stressed out. Your body and your mind will have more energy and the week will end before you develop that washed out feeling. It’s not the same as driving yourself ‘til you drop – in fact, it’s a lot better!

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http: http://www.ranone.com/Press_Room/news.asp?ID=4063

beyourself

Networking For Beginners

Every time we attend a business function such as a training course, a trade show or an annual conference we have the opportunity to network. In fact, most of us network frequently, although we may not think of it exactly that way. Networking is the social part of doing business, and it can really help both you and your business if you do it right.

One of the most important things to remember is that networking is social in nature. It’s the difference between a speech and a conversation, or between an advertising poster and a work of art. It’s something shared between two or more people and good manners are important.

These are some of the ‘little rules’ that can make your networking really pay off. This doesn’t always mean a payoff in the financial sense, although that’s likely to happen from successful networking, but also will ensure that you get more enjoyment from the networking events you attend:

1. Don’t make the mistake of being pushy or forcing yourself on others. This is bad networking behavior. Keep it informal and think of it as a way of meeting people and making friends. Networking is still at its core an unstructured person-to-person activity.

2. Be memorable. Although the tone is informal it doesn’t mean that you can’t be remembered for what you say and do during networking. This takes preparation and some strategic planning, and if you do it well both you and those you network with will get more from the event. Be a source of knowledge or even just have a couple of short jokes ready to contribute.

3. Be yourself professionally! Anything to do with business is always about image, even in informal surroundings like a networking cocktail party or golfing event. Dress well, look good, and remember that you’re not just there as yourself but you’re also representing your business. The impressions you give others will carry over into their mental picture of your organization.

4. Do some preparation. There’s always a period of introduction in every networking event, so have a brief statement ready for who you are and what you do. If you say “I publish books,” be prepared to answer a question about what kind of books you publish.

5. Remember their names. People’s names are extremely important, especially to their owners. Whenever you’re introduced to someone be sure to get their name right; listen closely and repeat the name so you won’t forget it. Use their name in your conversation and they’ll be more likely to remember your name too.

6. Be a cheerful person whenever you’re networking. Even if you find yourself talking with somebody who’s got a sad story to relate, do everything you can to cheer them up and make their day a bit brighter. People remember others that make them feel good and tend to not bother remembering those who depress them.

7. Be helpful to others. While you’re talking with somebody try to think of a way you can help them. It can be a business-related matter or even just something personal, such as recommending a book to read or movie to see. The more you help others the greater your value in their eyes.

8. Be receptive to others. Networking’s a two-way street and while you’re thinking of ways to help somebody else they might well be thinking of ways to help you. If you’re offered something, perhaps advice or a business contact, be appreciative and thank the other person for their help.

9. Keep track of the contacts you make. This can be done with a business card file or even a notebook you carry with you to networking events. Record names, companies, contact information and details of where you’ve met and what was discussed. Especially note down any commitments you’ve made so you can follow up with them later.

10. Follow-up every contact. This is one of the most important parts of networking and the key to making it successful. After the event be sure to drop the people you’ve met a brief note, sending something if that’s what you’ve promised to do, or suggesting a social meeting in a week or two.

If there is a ‘golden rule’ to successful networking it’s simply to be yourself. The rest of the rules outlined above are really just a few techniques that will be helpful in making the most out of networking opportunities. Follow them and without any extra effort you’ll suddenly find that networking adds a new dimension to the events you attend.

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=4150

numbers-time-watch-white

How Many Hours In Your Day?

A professional services day is theoretically the same as any other – 24 hours long. But when it comes to how many of those hours can be dedicated by managers to earning fees you’d probably be surprised just how small the number actually is.

If the working week were really 40 hours long it might be thought that there were about that many billable hours in each week. But how many hours can actually be charged out?

Most managers overestimate the billable hours in their weeks. They forget or don’t realize how much time is spent sitting in meetings, doing administrative paperwork, attending training courses and industry seminars, and on other things like vacations and other holidays.

This non-billable time adds up. It’s typically about 25% to 30% of the total hours available, and can even get to a point near 50% at which time it’s pretty hard to earn enough to make a contribution to profits.

If you don’t believe it, deduct the following days from one year: 15 days for vacation, 9 days for holidays, 5 days for illness, 12 days for training, 44 days for marketing (one day each week), 104 days for weekends, and 28 days for administrative activities (one hour each day).

In a non-leap year this leaves 148 billable days, or a total of 1184 hours annually for working a typical eight-hour day.

For comparative purposes, business coach and author C. J. Hayden estimates that the national average for consultants is even less – just 22 billable hours per week. This is the reason so many professional services managers usually have to work exceptionally long hours including giving up their weekends.

Team members’ time is similarly affected. If you can charge out between 50% and 80% of their available hours you’re typical of most professional services firms.

Another time-related factor critical to the firm is the average length of engagements. This can have an impact on both your profitability and client relationships.

It might be thought that long engagements are best because they generate the highest fees. Unfortunately this is often not the case. Clients want an engagement to produce results in the fastest possible time and the longer it takes to get results the greater the chance for dissatisfaction, regardless of the cause.

It is sometimes the case that billable hours have to be reduced at the end of a long engagement to avoid overextending the client’s budget or the business relationship.

What all this means is easy to summarize but requires a lot of time (not billable, unfortunately) and some financial investment to implement.

First, billable hours need to be meticulously captured and recorded. There are many software products now available that are specifically developed to do this for professional services firms.

Next, managers need to do all they can to control the amount of time they and their team members spend on administration, training and other internally directed activities. The goal here is to reduce the need for working excessive overtime and on weekends as much as possible.

Work on your marketing so that it achieves the greatest possible ROI. Fine-tune every aspect and watch the time invested as closely as you do the money spent.

Finally, if an engagement is becoming overlong it’s up to you to raise the issue with your client and ensure that there is no perception of ‘dragging your feet’ developing. Keep things moving along and wrap it up as quickly as you can.

Time is always short, but it’s never shorter than when you try to charge for it or have to pay for it.

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=3928

feedback

Even Negative Feedback Can Be Valuable

We often wonder what others really think about something we’ve said or done. The only way to find out is to get feedback from them, and it’s not always going to be positive. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t all valuable. In fact, when someone disagrees with us and tells us why it can be the most valuable feedback we receive.

When someone criticizes us the first thing we usually want to do is to reject the criticism and respond with a justification of whatever it is we’ve said that they’re disagreeing with. This can make for a lively discussion at parties but if both sides just state their piece and don’t really listen to what the other side is saying the value of the feedback will be lost.

There are a couple of very good reasons to listen carefully to feedback, even if it’s critical of your position or saying something you completely oppose. The first reason is that you may learn something you didn’t know before – you might even have got a fact or two wrong.

The second good reason to listen to feedback is that if one person disagrees with you there could easily be others that feel the same way. This gives you a chance to either change your position or get additional information that will support your assertions next time around.

There’s a simple but very effective way to receive feedback, whether positive or negative, and to make sure you obtain the maximum possible value from it.

Listen actively

When someone is giving you feedback you’re probably only half-listening to what they have to say. The other half of your consciousness is formulating responses to what they’re saying, and when this happens you’re missing at least half the value of the feedback you’re getting.

Listening is an art – an active art. You have to work just as hard to listen to someone else as you do to speak to them. Focus on every word and if there’s any doubt about what they’re telling you ask them to clarify what they’ve said. Ask them for examples if it’s helpful to do so. Be sure that you fully understand what they’re saying.

Manage the feedback session

If the other person is angry or hostile do what you can to calm them down first, before probing for their thoughts or feelings. It’s up to you to manage the conversation in such a way that both of you are rational and aiming to discover the truth rather than just repeat what’s already been said.

One way of controlling a negative person who’s also a bit angry is to give them feedback on their position. Even if you just say “Yes, I can understand how you would feel that way” or “I hadn’t thought about that side of it” you’ll be showing respect for their feelings and calming down their hostility.

Another management technique that’s useful in feedback sessions is to repeat every point made by the other person. This helps ensure you fully understand what it is they’re trying to say as well as forcing the discussion into a point-by-point structure instead of just letting it all flow unchecked.

Ask questions to draw them out. One of the best is to ask: “If you were in my position what would you have done?” or something similar to this. It gives them a chance to make a contribution by creating an option to whatever it is that they see as unsatisfactory.

Apologize in the right way

Unless something is raised by the other person that completely changes your mind on the subject chances are you’ll still have some level of disagreement when the feedback session’s over. One good way to end it is with an apology that’s not necessarily an admission that you’ve been wrong.

Some examples of this type of apology are: “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you” and “If only we could have had this conversation before I said that”. It doesn’t mean you’ve accepted that you’re wrong; it does tell the other person that you would prefer not to have upset them with what you said or did.

Be thankful and say it

At the end of the feedback session (or to end the feedback session!) thank the other person for taking the trouble to tell you their feelings. Remember the two reasons for paying close attention to feedback – you might learn something new and you’ll be better prepared for next time.

In the final analysis you may not change anything despite the feedback you’ve received. At least you’ve learned some of the reactions others will have to your position and you’ll be better prepared next time you want to make the same points, and that’s how you can extract the value from negative feedback.

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=4069