Starting a business is tough, and keeping a business going can be tougher still. Not only are you in charge of everything, but you are also responsible for everything, which can feel like quite a burden. Don’t worry though; it’s all going to be all right. All you have to do is make yourself into the best businessperson you can, preparing yourself for dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with being your own boss. Here are three Essentials:

1.) Have a clear set of goals and values. Knowing what you want is essential of any business plan, but understand what you are willing to do to get there is an entirely different story. The area of business ethics seems to be quite an unspoken “guideline” to many companies, but the truth is it’s a component of doing business that’s extremely paramount.

Take my friend, for example, who runs an ice cream truck. All of her ice cream product comes from Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream, a locally owned and managed business. If she were to buy her product from Costco or Walmart, she could absolutely get it for a lower price (thereby increasing her profit ratio), but the quality just wouldn’t be the same. It’s worth it to her to serve only the best ice cream available, which has kept her customers coming back year after year.

Before you go into business, make sure you know where your values lie. That way, when a decision comes up that needs an immediate answer; you won’t have to waste valuable time deciding between the right option and the option that doesn’t mold with your business values.

2.) Communicate often and clearly. Any group of people, whether it’s a business, a family or just a close-knit group of friends cannot function properly without effective communication. That means make sure your clients and employees have a clear understanding of everything that is going on and everything that is required of them. Give customers frequent updates (when their product is set to arrive, how that architectural drawing they hired you to do is coming along), and give employees clear-cut instructions.

And don’t forget the most important part of effective communication: listening. It’s vital that you are listening to your customer’s wants and needs and your employee’s concerns and ideas. A successful business is an evolving business, and the best way to make sure you’re an evolving business is to have an open line of communication.

3.) Nip problems in the bud. It’s incredibly important to catch problems as they arise. Have there been some issues with your product arriving on time? Sit down and figure out if a different shipping schedule needs to be put into place. Is there an employee with a bad attitude? Bring them into your office and take care of it. Maybe they are going through a difficult time at home, or maybe there has just been a misunderstanding that needs to be straightened out. Either way, it’s important to make sure small problems don’t turn into larger, more significant (and more damaging) problems. 

What tips do you have for running a successful business
 
 
In today’s fast-paced business world, effective communication is everything. Without it, things can fall apart in a heartbeat. Combine that with the stress of today’s economy, where many employees are terrified of losing their jobs, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. So here are a few ways to ensure effective communication is taking place in your place of business.

1.) Listen. Yes, this means you are going to have to stop interrupting. By far the most important part of effective communication is listening to the other person. So many people are already forming ideas in their heads of what they want to say in return before the first person is done talking that they are missing out on important information. Give the speaker your undivided attention; it will be easier to make an informed decision when you have all the information anyway. 

2.) Have some perspective. This tip could also be called, “Know your audience.” Understand that it can be particularly difficult for an employee to communicate with their boss. Regardless of how warm or welcoming you attempt to be, you are still going to be at least slightly intimidating to your subordinates. Understanding where they are coming from will help you understand what they are trying to say, even if they are having a hard time getting it out.

3.) Be clear. One of the most important parts of effective communication is the communication part. Nothing is going to be resolved if you can’t actually articulate the information. Rambling for 20 minutes is only going to waste everyone’s time, so before you get started it might help to write down some bullet points, the main concept and a couple examples to help you illustrate your point (keep in mind you don’t need to use every example). Keep the information as short and simple as possible.

4.) Be open to ideas. Communication is a two-way street. If you ask for feedback and then become defensive with each critique, no one is going to want to voice their opinion. Likewise, if you need ideas for a project but laugh at the first idea to come your way, you’re going end up with very few ideas to look over. More so, understand that you don’t know everything. There are going to be ideas and concepts that you aren’t going to come up with. Someone else is going to have a brilliant idea once in a while, and don’t you want that person to be able to come to you when the genius strikes?

5.) Be genuine. No one wants to talk to a robot. Showing that you have a sense of humor and a warm heart will go a long way in making others feel comfortable around you. I’m not advocating an inappropriate amount of self-disclosure here, I’m just saying that it’s important for others to understand that yes, in fact, you are a fellow human being.

What are your tips for effective communication?

 
 
Ah, the age old battle between productivity and procrastination. I have to admit, I’m quite skilled in creating a clever way to avoid boring tasks that need to be done, but at some point even I have to just bear down and do it. There are a few things that tend to help though, so here are my top 10. 

1.) Be healthy. This means you need to eat well, get enough sleep and make sure to make time to exercise regularly. Feeling unproductive can be a vicious cycle; you feel exhausted so you don’t exercise, so you feel even more exhausted. Go for a run in the morning or a swim after work, eat an apple with peanut butter for your midmorning snack and get to bed at a reasonable time. All of this pays off dividends in the end.
2.) Make a list, prioritize it and stick to it! Making a list of everything you need to get done is a great way to jumpstart your productivity. Often, just seeing everything written down and organized (instead of jumbled up in your head) will help you calm down. Put your most urgent and important tasks at the top, and get started. And feel free to use a little secret of mine; write down a few things that you have already done and cross them off. Look; you’ve already made some progress!

3.) Make a schedule. That means setting 2 or 3 constant times to check your email. Checking it constantly throughout the day is a huge productivity killer. 

4.) Time each task. Setting a goal for how long you’ll work often makes a task less overwhelming. Think about it; instead of telling yourself, “Okay, I’m going to work for 10 hours today,” say, “I’m going to spend the next 30 minutes working on this spreadsheet.” At the end of the 30 minutes, re-evaluate, and set another timed goal.

5.) Remove distractions. While you may think you work better with the television on, basic psychological principles beg to differ. Your brain has to use energy to focus on each individual thing going on around it, so that background noise is actually taking up valuable energy. It’s the same reason it’s recommended to focus on one specific job rather than multi-tasking.

6.) Think, “Would I miss this?” This is a simple trick to be able to tell if you’re procrastinating or not. If you think about everything you’re trying to do in a day, would you miss the current task you’re working on? If you didn’t get a chance to play that game of solitaire, would your day really suffer for it? Probably not. 

7.) Stay positive. As stressful as you may be, remember, you’re making progress. You have more done now than you did this morning, and you’ll have more done in a few hours than you do right now. 

8.) Do what you love. You really should love what you’re doing, even if it’s not particularly enjoyable at the moment. Make sure you’re thinking big picture; writing that report may be daunting, but it’s going to be putting you one step closer to your dream job, right? And spending hours analyzing statistics may sound dreadful, but if the results could help make a positive difference, isn’t it all worth it? And if you can’t find any enjoyment out of what you are doing, it might be time for a different list of priorities.

9.) Reward Yourself. If you’ve been good at sticking to your to-do list, make sure you reward yourself at the end of the day. Personally, I might choose to watch one of my favorite television programs with a glass of wine, completely undisturbed, meaning no email

10.) Just DO it already. Yes, you have to take the first step! Turn off the television, put your cell phone to the side, get a glass of water, make a list and get going!

What are some tips you have for being productive?
 
 
The Art of Collaboration

“I loved making a decision by myself!” is the first thing I heard when Susan stepped away from the completed canvas.   The second thing I heard was from Todd; a loud, unmistakable, “ugh.”  Todd rolled his eyes and then smiled because it was just ‘so Susan.’  Apparently, she had to ask everyone’s opinion before she could settle down and get some work done, get dressed for a party, or decide what to order for supplies.  Todd, on the other hand, didn’t need opinions; he just wanted to get some work done and often went his own way and avoided Susan with her endless neediness. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?   There is an art to collaboration and few people are artists, which is why Canvas Creek Team Building actually uses art for their premier event.  When people step to the canvas, 95% of them have no interest in painting, no idea what they are going to do, and no reason to become engaged in the process other than the directive “you will be there at 9am” from their boss.  They come with reluctance, much like Todd when entering a conversation with Susan. 

It’s what happens in the next few minutes that is important.  After beginning the task, participants act in a completely singular fashion until they realize, often with baffling surprise that others could help them complete the task.  They wrestle with this idea for a while then they begin to work together, leaning on each other, supporting each other and finally presenting a completed piece of art they are truly proud of. 

This is exactly what is needed in the development of an energy frontier: the act of recognizing others are available with expertise, complimentary abilities and an eye on collaboration.  Collaboration is not the act of indecision or ram rodding an idea, it is the display of ideas, the collective wisdom of those gathered together and the delightful moment when everything comes together for a win that each person has a stake in and can be proud of.  So, how can collaboration be accomplished?

1. Look at the possibilities-what could be accomplished if you had a bigger team, more players or a different skill set.  

2. Know what you do, and what you offer.

3. Listen to what others do, what they offer.

4. Give up ‘ownership’.  When collaborating, it does not matter who came up with the idea or who will get the credit.  You must know that when everyone participating in the process wins, you also win.  There are few things in this world that are so specific that only you can do them.  Embrace that.  Help others and they will help you.

5. Move; get out of the way.  Collaboration moves fast and it gets things done.  Don’t stand in the way with “it’s not how we do things” or “oh gosh, I don’t know.” Jump in and see what can happen and trust the collective knowledge…or don’t play the game. 

6. Appreciate others.  Share applause.  Know that together you are accomplishing what you could not have done alone, whether a multi- billion dollar company or a start -up, say “Thank you for your help,” and mean it.  You are collaborating and it feels good.

If you and the people you are collaborating with would like a dose of creative juices (a jump start to your collective success), try jumping into Canvas Creek.  Like a splash of cold water it will refresh you, energize you and teach you the art of collaboration. 
 
 
While you may think this seems like a topic that is only applicable to small business owners, think again. What about your daughter that’s in Girl Scouts? Or your son that will be selling coupon books around town in for his baseball team? What about that fundraiser at work you’re throwing? No matter what walk of life you’re involved in, knowing how to increase sales when you need to is quite a valuable skill.

1.) Have a goal. Simply saying, “I want to sell as many cupcakes today as I can!” may seem like a good idea, but you’re probably setting yourself up for smaller sales numbers. Instead, create a realistic goal that you would like to achieve, and then break that down into smaller goals. For example, maybe you’d like to sell 100 cupcakes by the end of the bake sale. That means, if you’re going to be there for 4 hours, that you need to sell cupcakes per hour. This smaller goal will let you know if you are on track to make your larger end objective or if you are falling off the pace.

2.) Create an incentive. Sure, just the small fact that you’re bringing in money by selling your product seems like a great incentive, but adding a different dimension, like making it a competition could really up your game. Going back to our bake sale example, maybe you have two tables set up. So create a competition between the two tables. Whichever tables sells fewer cupcakes has to take the other table out for lunch after the sale.

3.) Try to upsell. A classic example of an upsell is “supersizing.” They’ve already bought the product (maybe it’s an electronic device), so an upsell would be asking, “And do you want the two year warranty with that as well?” If you aren’t attempting to upsell, you’re missing out on quite a bit of business.

4.) Be good to your customers. Someone who sells a crappy product will only be in business for so long. The fact is, if customers feel like they’re being duped, they may give you a chance to prove otherwise, but it’s very rare that they would come back after being burned. So make sure to treat them right. Don’t push a product on someone that they clearly don’t need, and don’t push a product on someone that clearly can’t afford it. The end goal isn’t to sell as much as you can in one shot, the end goal is to make sure your business is in good standing with the customer so that they’ll think of you next time they need a similar service or product.

5.) Increase leads. You aren’t going to have much business if you don’t get out there and make a name for yourself! As a writer, it’s pretty unlikely that I am going to find work through people stumbling across a random article of mine. Instead, it’s much more productive to reach out to potential clients, inform them of my services and explain how I can help their business. If you run a carpet cleaning company, for example, don’t just put your number in the phone book, reach out to local property management companies and ask if they will recommend you for services when tenants move out. Every little bit helps.

How do you increase sales in different areas of your life?