Virtual collaboration? As in…collaborating as a team when no one is even in the same room? Yes, that is exactly what we are talking about here.

It may seem like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but the fact is, the future is now. People are utilizing the internet more than ever, which means if you aren’t involved in the virtual world, you need to be…fast. Otherwise, your company just might be heading down the road to extinction.

However, I do understand the fear involved. The virtual world can be a scary place, and one that is requires different skills. So here are a few tips to ensure your group collaboration will be as successful online as it is in person: 

1.) Make sure everyone understands what is going on before the meeting begins. This means if someone doesn’t know how to even turn their computer on, you need to be on the phone with them explaining it or have someone else in their area walk them through what to do. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to just type in a web address and follow instructions. For many people out there, they don’t even know what the term “web address” means, so they certainly aren’t going to understand any of your basic instructions for installing a web cam or unzipping a downloaded file.

2.) Have rules established to make sure everyone gets to speak. Sometimes, when you are dealing in a virtual setting, there can be a bit of a delay. Meaning one person may start answering before another has even heard the entire question. In a situation like this, having the person with the most delay being the first to answer will ensure everyone has heard the question, and everyone will have a chance to speak.

3.) Rotate meeting times. Chances are, you are all in different time zones, so you’re 7:00 a.m. meeting time might be convenient for you, but not so much for the guy getting up to meet at 4:00 in the morning. If you can find a time that works best for everyone, great, but if not, you need to make sure one person isn’t consistently stuck with the crappy time to meet.

4.) Bring them to you. One way to do this is to begin each meeting asking the remote attendees what is going on in there neck of the woods. It may be sunny and gorgeous where you are, but it might be blizzarding where they are. Giving them a chance to explain what is going on there will help them feel more connected to everyone else in the meeting.

5.) Provide several different forms of communication. The meeting shouldn’t be the only way information is getting passed around. Someone should be in charge of sending all the bullet points of the meeting to each member through an email, for example. Having a variety of forms of communication will keep specific members from feeling left out if they aren’t yet comfortable with the virtual setup. 

 
 
No one wants to end up in court on account of something someone overlooked, especially when that something could turn out to be illegal. No one is perfect though, and even the most innocent of owners will make a mistake now and then, so here are some guidelines to make sure whatever mistakes are made, none of them will land you in hot water with the judge.

1.) Have a No-Tolerance policy for illegal behavior. That means performing random drug tests and following all rules and regulations. Are you handling food? Get licensed. Are your workers working more than 40 hours a week? Pay them overtime. The law is the law for a reason, and you need to follow it. 

2.) Have an employee handbook. However, certain rules can be a bit gray, so before you go off expecting your staff to be mind-readers, make sure they all have a copy of all the companies policies; what is or isn’t a violation, what happens should a violation take place, etc. It’s also important to have each employee sign a form acknowledging they’ve read and understood the handbook, ensuring everyone is on the same page

3.) Pay your taxes and cooperate with government officials. If someone from the IRS stops by your place of business, don’t immediately become defensive. After all, they could just be here to clear up a few things, meaning you haven’t done anything wrong and you won’t be getting in trouble for anything. Just in case though…

4.) Keep records. Tax returns, receipts, signed forms and other paperwork is given to you for a reason; as a written record of your transactions and policies. If you need to prove your innocence, the easiest way to do that is having the paperwork backing it up.

5.) Do background checks. You need to know who you’re hiring, plain and simple. If you run a daycare, you need to be able to promise parents that their children won’t be coming into contact with any registered sexual offenders. If you run a delivery company, you’ll need to make sure your drivers have a clean driving record, which means 16 DUI’s is definitely going to be a deal-breaker. In order to trust your staff implicitly, you need to know who they are.

6.) Investigate complaints. There is no quicker way to find yourself in hot water than to have a list of complaints that you do nothing about. If you receive a complaint, whether it’s from an employee or a customer, it is absolutely essential that you look into the issue. And if it is a serious issue, like allegations of sexual harassment, you need to inform the correct authorities.

 
 
Are you in love with your business partner?  Not just for their love of numbers, the company you have created together, or their customer service skills, but their cute little nose, their manly smell or the way they make your knees go weak with a passionate kiss?

Whoa, back up.  Passionate kiss?  Can entrepreneurs do that sort of thing?  

They can and they do!  Even though the U.S. Census Bureau does not provide exact data on the number of businesses own by couples, they do show that approximately 3 million businesses are owned equally by men and women, estimating that the vast majority of these are businesses owned by an “entrepreneurial couple”. It would wrong of us to assume that none of these couples are romantically involved. Out of 3 million…that sure is a lot of lovin’ in the office. 

In addition, the phenomenon occurs even more regularly when applied to small businesses with less than 10 employees.  Apparently when people live together, laugh together and decide to build a life together, the imagined life of working side by side through the long hours required of business ownership is a logical next step.  And it is.  They trust each other, they enjoy being together and they are often passionate about the same things.  These couples jump into the business with all of the passion that got them into bed the first time and it is a beautiful, passionate journey; most of the time.

To ensure it is a passionate and wonderful journey all of the time, here are 5 things to consider:

1.  Take a break.  Not from the business, but from each other.  Go for a walk, go on vacation and go out with friends…alone.  You simply have to have moments apart so you have something to talk about when you come back together.  No one wants to be the boring folks ignoring each other over dinner and no one wants to be the bickering couple either.  Spending time in separate locations keeps you both interesting and able to be just a little bit nicer when you are together.

2.  Take care of the couple first.  Someday the kids will be gone, the business will be gone and you will be left staring at the person you decided to build a life with.  Don’t wake up and wonder how you ended up in bed with a stranger.  Be romantic.  Be spontaneous.  Be a flirt.  Step away from everything but each other once in a while.  You deserve it.

3. Set clear goals.  There is nothing worse than working side by side hour after hour only to realize you were both going in different directions.  Knowing where you are going, when you want to get there and who is doing which tasks is essential.  Deciding your direction now, when everyone is calm, is a better plan than waiting till you hit a fork in the road; because that fork could very well be used to stab someone in the leg.

4.  Hire help.  Someone out there likes to clean toilets and I bet it is neither of you.  Someone also knows how to fix a computer, balance the books, and run social media.  Let them.  Make a list of everything that needs to be done- and what has to be done by you - then farm out the rest.  The trick is to use the time you are not doing menial tasks to earn money to pay for the people doing those tasks or to take care of the couple as talked about in point two.

5.  Don’t be the boss.  You can kiss your entrepreneurial partner, but you probably don’t want to kiss the boss.  The boss is a Big Ol’ Stinking Slob.  They think they are always right, use volume and intimidation instead of effective communication and would rather watch others work than participate in work.  If you are acting like the boss and your partner doesn’t like it you can be fired.  That firing usually means the kids and the house are divided and happily ever after is not going to be the end of your story.  Be kind.  Be helpful.  Be a partner.  Don’t be a stinker: don’t be a boss.

Bonus Point: You need other people.  And you have to let them into this crazy project you are doing together.  Enlist the help of a coach, an accountant, a lawyer and probably a therapist (better early on than when it is too late!).  Well-meaning friends and family do not know what you are going through, and truth be told, you probably don’t either.  There are people out there who do, and people who can help you lay out a game plan that will keep you sane, prosperous and most importantly, together.  Let them. 

Now go kiss your big ol bundle of entrepreneurial passion- and don’t stop till their knees go weak.  But, do it fast, you have work to do.
 
 
Let’s face it; everyone has a few personality traits that can be a bit of a…pain in the neck. But for the most part, they’re harmful. So you don’t like it when your green beans touch your pork-chop, or you tend to talk a little too long when you’re on the phone, it’s probably not going to be the downfall of your business or the unraveling of your family. The following personality traits, however, are going to cause some serious difficulties in your life, and it’s recommended that you do something to make some changes, stat.

1.) You focus on the negative. No one wants to be around a Debbie Downer, but have you ever tried working for one? Don’t defend yourself by saying, “Well there’s always room for improvement.” Sometimes a job well done is just a job well done, and it needs to be left at that. Could your employee have turned in that report a day sooner? Would you have done anything with it if it had been turned in a day sooner? No? Then let it go. No one will want to work for you if nothing they do is ever good enough. 

2.) You misplace your frustrations. Everyone has a bad day once in a while, but that doesn’t mean you are allowed to scream at your employees when you are really still upset about your alarm not going off this morning. Or maybe you yell at your husband during your late night phone call when in reality you just haven’t seen him in a month and you miss him. If you’re upset about something, address it. Don’t let your receptionist or your spouse take the brunt of your bad mood.

3.) You’re apathetic. An individual who is apathetic appears to not care. You may care a great deal about the goings on in your daily life, but you have to act like it for others to get it. An example would be if a costly mistake occurs and you say, “Oh well, let’s not do it again.” A caring person would want to determine why the mistake was made and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Remember, if you don’t care about the work being done, why would anyone else?

4.) You nag. A nagging personality is one of the most draining personalities to be around, and why? Because you are never fully alone when you are with a nagger. Everything you do is under constant scrutiny. Are you going to turn that in on time? Are you doing that right? Will they like it? Are you following all the directions? Exhausting, isn’t it? So stop. When you ask someone to do something, let them do it. Their process for completing a task is fully their own; you don’t have a say. Assign a task and then wait until either the task is complete or the deadline arrives before you make your critiques.

5.) You don’t listen. Knowing how to really listen (and I mean really listen, not just sit there quietly waiting for the other person to finish so you can say whatever it is you want to say), is one of the most invaluable traits there is. The fact is, you are not always right and you do not know everything. If you need to make a conscious effort to stop talking, then do it.

The problem with most of these personality traits is that the people that have them don’t realize they have them. Take a second to really examine yourself, every day, to make sure you’re not falling into one of these traps. The most successful teams are happy teams, and you want a happy, successful team!

 
 
It seems like a cheesy topic, I know, but the fact is many people today still struggle with feeling confident with their actions. Your personal opinion of yourself holds an incredible amount of weight. After all, if perception is reality, low self-confidence is equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot. 

So instead of continuously rooting against yourself, apply a few of these tips and see what it would be like to feel unstoppable

1.) Dress the part. Of course no one should judge a book by its cover, and clothes certainly do not make the man, but there is a definite shift that happens when you see yourself for the first time in a striking suit or gorgeous dress. The feeling of “Wow, I look really good” creates a sense of surprise in the mind, allowing room to think to yourself, “I wonder what else I’ve been holding back.” 

Plus, your reactions to how people treat you are a huge part of your identity. Changing your clothes changes these reactions. If you want to command respect, you first have to dress like you deserve it. 

2.) Work out. Contrary to your probable initial snap judgement, this has nothing to do with looks (although it certainly doesn’t hurt). Pushing yourself physically is the easiest way to retrain your brain to combat negative self-talk. You’ve run 3 miles and think you can’t take another step? Take another step. There, you’ve already proven that you can do more than you think

Furthermore, naturally puts you in a better mood. Did you know the feeling of finishing a difficult workout is often listed as better than the feeling provided by anti-depressants? It’s true. So get off the couch and go for a walk, that little boost in your mood will do wonders for your self-confidence.

3.) Do something for youSince we just discussed a few benefits of exercise, I’ll list one more; it’s good for you. Doing things for you, like engaging in regular exercise, eating healthy or taking a bubble bath once in a while show that you value yourself enough to take care of yourself. 

4.) Take risks. One definition of low self-confidence is always believing you’ll fail at everything you attempt, which can obviously make it pretty difficult to step out on a limb once in a while. However, this is exactly why it is critical to take risks; because you aren’t going to fail every time. Is there a position at your company you’ve been eyeing but are afraid you’d never get? Apply anyway! Who knows, you might just get the job, and it’s little moments like this that prove that no, in fact, you won’t always fail. 

5.) Understand reality. Low self-confidence has a way of warping reality. If you aren’t getting along with one person, you may exaggerate it to feel that no one likes you. In addition, the idea that people are laughing at you or that someone else is able to do the job better than you are both examples of a warped reality.  

Instead of letting yourself get carried away, stop, breathe and think. Are people really laughing at you? No! The reality is that they've got their own problems to deal with. There is no point in terrifying yourself over something that, realistically, won’t even happen! 
 
 
Fact: you need teamwork. In order for any organization (a place of business, your family, a charity, etc.) to run successfully, its members need to understand the concept of effective teamwork.

And therein appears the essential word: effective. It’s one thing to say you are running a team, but it’s quite another to run that team effectively. Here are a few ways to make sure your team is truly living up to its potential.

1.) Have clearly defined goals. In order to get the most out of your team, you need to have a clearly defined goal that you are working toward as a group. In addition, it’s important to be specific. “Increase efficiency” sounds good, but it’s a horrible goal because it could mean anything. “Increase the amount work orders processed between 3:00 and 5:00 pm” on the other hand, lets everyone know exactly what they are working toward and what will be considered a success. If they found a way to increase the amount of work orders processed between 10:00 and 11:00 in the morning, for example, it would be increasing efficiency, but not in the specific way you might want it to be increased. 

2.) Break up the work. Delegating one specific task to one person and another specific task to another person lessons the burden of the problem. It takes a huge, intimidating obstacle and turns it into many small, manageable obstacles. Plus, it gives each person a part of the solution that they can be accountable for.

3.) Hold frequent meetings to review progress. If a specific person is unaware of the progress being made by other members of the group, they can start to feel like they are doing all the work, even though they are still in charge of a single component. Having meetings to discuss progress gives team members a chance to see the progress of the issue as a whole. 

Furthermore, frequent meetings allows the team to see what is working and what is not, and provides a chance for people to offer valuable input. 

4.) Do the little things. Like any job, working on one thing for a long period of time can be grueling, so try to lighten the mood occasionally. Think you aren’t there to bring your employees donuts and juice when they should be happy they simply have a job? Fair enough, but this isn’t an article about how to spoil your employees, it’s an article about how to get the most out of your team. Little things go a long way, so suck it up and bring in some muffins once in a while. 

5.) Celebrate successes publicly. Did your team accomplish the goal? Let everyone know! Announce it in the company newsletter and list the team members that made it possible. Have a company celebratory pot luck and let participating team members wear matching T-shirts to stand out. When the team gets to take credit for the solution, it makes them more eager to solve other problems, and when team members are publicly praised for their work, it makes other members of the company eager to participate in solving the next company issue. 

 
 
Burnout can be difficult to spot if you’re already in it. After all, if you’re anything like me, running yourself into the ground because such a natural habit that you don’t even notice how long it’s been since you’ve last had a break. Go ahead and think about it for a second…when is the last time you’ve really taken some time for yourself?

If the answer is “I can’t remember” or “This morning as I was folding my kids’ laundry and talking my sister through her difficult divorce…” this article is for you.

So what exactly are a few symptoms of burnout? A constant feeling of exhaustion, a general feeling of just not caring anymore, a feeling of not being appreciated or the idea that every, single day is a bad day. Well here are a few traps that lead to burnout and how you can be ready to dig yourself out should you fall into one of them. 

1.) Constantly comparing yourself to others. Let’s get this one out of the way right away. You have certain strengths and you have certain weaknesses. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed and frazzled with the stresses of being a new mother, don’t compare yourself to the mother with 6 kids. She probably seems a little more put together because she’s figured out how to do this. She’s been doing it for 10 years while you’ve been doing it for 10 days. You can learn from her, but don’t compare yourself to her.

The same example can be used in the workplace. Your office buddy closed three sales this week and you haven’t made one all month? Calm down, and take a look at the situation. Your office buddy has been doing this for years and you just started last month. You will get there.  

2.) Poor planning or time management. I have a friend who always complained that she had no time. She would start running errands at the beginning of the day, and would never be done by the end of the day. One day, before she started her errands, another friend of mine suggested she do them in a different order. Saved her 3 hours.

Now I’m sure this seems like a simple case of common sense, but the truth is many of us are going about our daily activities with this same sense of mindlessness. Prioritizing your day’s activities can go a long way towards being able to actually relax in the evening. 

3.) Saying “Yes” to everything. It can be tough to say “no”, especially when the word is associated with someone who isn’t working hard. It’s generally thought that if your boss asks you to take on another assignment, you say “yes” no matter what. But if taking on a new assignment means your current projects are going to suffer, is the trade-off worth it?

In addition, saying “yes” to everyone, all the time, dramatically increases the chance that you’ll be taken advantage of. Eventually, people will just start assuming you’ll say “yes” before you’ve even answered them. Saying “no” once in a while reminds them that you do, in fact, have a choice in the matter. And yes, as much as you may sometimes think you don’t, you do always have a choice. 

 
 
I’m sure we’ve all heard plenty of inspirational quotes, and we’ve probably got a short list of a few that we consider seriously significant. But every once in a while (read: now, while you’re reading this article for the first time), a collection of quotes comes along that is more than just quirky banter. These quotes are keepers; meaning they are actually much more useful when applied to your daily lives than when applied to paper.

1.) "It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." - Charles Darwin

As important as this quote is, its principal may be one of the most overlooked. Working together is essential for progress. Businesses aren’t run by a single individual; they’re run as a team, and the most successful businesses are due to successful collaboration within that team. The more ideas you have floating around, the more options you have to choose from.

2.) "Politeness is the poison of collaboration." - Edwin Land

Collaboration require honesty, and politeness is often a nice way of being dishonest. If you don’t like an idea, speak up, and explain your reasoning. The more you hold things in, the more you are robbing the group of useful feedback.

3.) "The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other." - Thomas Stallkamp
It can be easy to move focus of a meeting to the individuals instead of a problem itself. It doesn’t matter who says what idea, or who has the biggest problem with a specific policy; if it’s one person’s problem it’s everyone’s problem.

4.) "We could learn a lot from crayons: some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, some are bright, some have weird names, but we have to learn to live in the same box." - Anonymous

You do not always get to choose the people you will be collaborating with, but you still must learn to work together as a team. But don’t look at it in a bad way; for all you know that annoyingly bright crayon that sits in the office across from you could have some fantastic ideas.

5.) "Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean." - Ryunosuke Satoro

Think of this as a pointillism painting with each individual, uniquely different dot representing a part of the picture. The picture itself wouldn’t come together without all the individual dots. The reason there is a picture at all is because of a very specific combination of different point of color.

6.) "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." - Helen Keller

In addition to the previous quote, just think of all the things we can do better together! One person protesting on the street looks like a crazy person, but 50 or 100 or 1000 people protesting the exact same thing in the same place creates a sense of organization and purpose. It’s the reason petitions and boycotts so often see results. Working together gets a message across.

7.) "Few things in life are less efficient than a group of people trying to write a sentence. The advantage of this method is that you end up with something for which you will not be personally blamed." - Scott Adams

People need ownership. They need to be able to tackle something with a sense of responsibility. Delegation is incredibly important when collaborating. Instead of assigning one large task to a group, consider breaking it up into smaller tasks that will be assigned to the individuals in the group.

8.) "Gettin' good players is easy. Gettin' 'em to play together is the hard part." - Casey Stengel

Sometimes a team’s chemistry is more important than the actual skills of the team members. Since this quote is in reference to baseball, I’m going to stay on that topic. The teams that make it to the post-season are not always the teams with the best players, they’re the teams that have figured out how to win with what they got. There is no room for egos in collaboration.

9.) "The purpose of life is to collaborate for a common cause; the problem is nobody seems to know what it is." - Gerhard Gschwandtner

Before the task of collaborating can even begin, it’s important to have a common goal in mind. Without it, everyone is going to be running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off! Identify the task everyone needs to be working towards, delegate, and begin problem solving. 

 
 
We all want to live up to our full potential, but as the saying goes, “The path to success is often under construction.” And it’s true; our path to reach our goals is most definitely going to be strewn with obstacles that we are going to have to overcome. We know this. We’re ready for this. But what happens when the obstacles begin multiplying? And we are the cause of it?

Believe it or not, many of your hindrances may be due to your own behavior or habits. So before we start stressing over how we are going to solve the problems that are already there, let’s take a look at three things that might be creating new ones right under your nose.

1.) You don’t plan. Not everyone is a planner, and often what we do plan tends to be what we enjoy. Personally, I love to cook, so planning meals for the week is a way of relaxing. Planning my workouts for the week, however, is a different story altogether.

The fact is you have to plan. Planning gives you a chance to see what obstacles might come your way, giving you time to think of possible solutions now, while you’re calm and clear-headed. It also gives you the opportunity to break a larger goal into smaller goals, lessening the weight of the overall task at hand. And if you don’t even know where to start, consider Canvas Creek. Strategic planning is one of the things we specialize in!

2.) You don’t make decisions. Making a decision sounds easy enough, but the truth is it can be downright paralyzing. The error many people make is seeing the two options in terms of “right and wrong” or “good and bad”. This creates difficulty because, most likely, there isn’t a bad decision, the two are just different. Instead, think of it as two positives. One option may be better than the other, but they are both possible solutions, and neither one is going to be perfect.

For example, if two roads lead to the same place, and one road has a pothole, does it really matter which road you take? Sure if you take the pothole road you might take a little longer, but is the difference in time really going to matter in the end? Probably not. Make a decision, stick to it and move on.

3.) You don’t delegate. Being able to delegate is essential. You can’t possible do everything (okay maybe you can, but you’re going to run yourself ragged), so you have learn how to lighten the load a little bit.

Take this as an example: one of the best rules in business is to surround yourself with people whose strengths are your weaknesses. Let’s take a look at a baseball coach. Maybe he is extremely skilled at teaching hitting mechanics but has a weak spot when it comes to teaching pitching mechanics; that’s why he would hire a pitching coach. It’s not because he isn’t knowledgeable about pitching, there is just someone else out there that is more knowledgeable, and delegating the pitching workouts to someone else frees up more time for him to work with the hitters. In the end, everyone benefits from having a pitching coach as part of the staff.  

 
 
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?