With the ever expanding world of the internet, it can be quite easy to see how business relationships may fall to the wayside. After all, instead of calling customer care, people are directed to an online question and answer forum. Instead of turning in job applications directly to human resources, people are asked to submit theirs online. Even ordering business supplies over the phone is a thing of the past; sure, you can probably do it, but not without hearing about how convenient their new online ordering system is from the person on the other end of the line. Do they know a website has the potential to put them out of a job?

Nonetheless, with so many essential business moves being made over the internet, one might think we were living in a world where human to human interaction was not the preferable option. However, relationships in business are more important than ever. And no matter how much work is done online, there are a few things you need to know:

1.) Nothing can replace excellent customer service. Ever get to a website and find that you can’t find a phone number? Anywhere? It’s frustrating to have to sit at a computer and try to decipher what someone else has already deemed the appropriate response to your problem. Maybe that solution isn’t working, maybe that’s not your problem, and maybe you just have no idea what the words in front of you mean.

Having a relationship with your clients means being there for them in a time of need, and refusing to have a help number on your website is not being there (neither is requiring them to go through 46 steps to reach a human being on the other end, contrary to the opinion of Verizon, but who’s counting).

2.) Do what you say you are going to do. When a customer has contacted you with an issue, it is up to you to resolve it. Relying on them to remind you of the problem or giving them a list of things they should try and then call you back is lazy. Sure you can teach a man to fish, but in the business world it’s appreciated if you give that same man a fish or two while he is still learning. Don’t leave your customers out on a limb; once they’ve contacted you take the problem off their hands.

Oh yeah, and fix it.

3.) Facilitate connections. I work with a local photographer here in town, and one day I asked her how much money she spends on advertising for her business. Her answer: $0.00. All of her clients are from colleague recommendations, word of mouth, and social media. Folks all these client sources are facilitated through favorable relationships. If no other photographers in town respect her, if her clients aren’t happy with her work or she ignores the growing trend of social media, her business dies. It’s as simple as that. 

 
 
Morale tends to be one of those tricky words thrown around meetings. Every company wants good morale around the office but very few companies actually go through the trouble of determining how to achieve it.

But really quick, before we get into how to destroy morale (and why this would be a horrible thing to happen), what exactly is morale?

Morale can be loosely defined as the level of confidence or optimism felt by an individual or a group. It’s the feeling a person gets that they can make a difference in their environment; that they matter, and that they are valued. A high morale gives you employees that are committed and motivated to their task. Low morale gives you apathetic, uncaring employees that are probably searching for other jobs during their breaks. Which would you rather have? Exactly.

So if you’re looking to have the most productive environment possible, here are the top five things you should avoid:

1.) Embracing ignorance. The old phrase, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them” has no place in a workplace environment. Essentially, it means you’re rewarding poor communication and giving them an excuse for a low level of motivation. Don’t just explain the project to your employees, explain the reason for the project, allowing them to become invested in it as well.

2.) Assuming. How’s it go? Oh that’s right; assuming just makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. It all comes back to communication. How many movies have there been made based on a simple plot of miscommunication and assumption? Too many to count. Don’t let your workplace turn into a shenanigan-stuffed Hollywood comedy. 

3.) Fault-finding. There’s a difference between giving out constructive criticism and finding faults in every little thing. Believe it or not, sometimes someone just does a good job and they should be recognized and awarded appropriately. Everything does not need to be a learning experience.

4.) One-Upping. Everyone has been guilty of this at one point or another, and most of the time we probably don’t even realize we’re doing it. But when an employee comes to you describing a certain success they’ve had (maybe they finished that 12 page report in only three days), explaining how you once finished a 50 page report in only four days isn’t going to be an amusing story, it’s going to downplay their success.

5.) Not caring. As much as people want to keep work and personal life separate, the fact is the two tend to mix at least a little bit. Things are going to happen at home that affect a person’s performance at work (perhaps a loved one has just passed away) and things are going to happen at work that certainly affect a person’s home life. Plus, most people spend even more time at work than they do with their own families. Remembering little things, like birthdays, or asking how someone is doing after they have suffered a loss or tragedy can give a much needed boost to a low morale environment.
 
 
As much as we would all like it to, the concept of teamwork does not simply “happen.” Instead, it takes a great deal of time working through details to make sure a team works together effectively. But some businesses and families are one step ahead of the game; by creating a culture that facilitates teamwork, constantly, a groups’ members are already comfortable with the idea of working together. So how can you achieve this in your home or place of business? Read on!

1.) Reward and value efforts of teamwork. The lone employee has their place, but placing a large amount of reward on something an individual employee does on their own can often give the impression that an individual can be valued more than the group. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of personal recognition, of course, but try to keep larger rewards (bonuses, compensation, etc.) distributed to groups of people as a display of a team working together successfully.

2.) Build teams to solve issues. If you are constantly forming teams to resolve issues that arise, people are going to start doing it on their own. If you typically ask for a group of volunteers to solve a problem, the first time a problem comes up while you are out of town group members will follow the protocol; which is to form a team and work through the issue together.

3.) List a teamwork culture as an identifiable value. The concept of teamwork shouldn’t be inferred, it should be openly accepted. Make sure the idea of teamwork is added to employee handbooks or written agreements so group members understand that it is a priority.

4.) Bring up topics that were solved by teamwork. I used to work at Billings Clinic, and I remember when they were given a Magnet rating (the top rating for nursing in the country; very few hospitals have achieved this), credit was given to the committee that worked tirelessly to make sure the hospital met specific qualifications. No single individual was acknowledged; it was considered a group effort.

5.) Exemplify teamwork at the executive level as well. As parents, it’s tough to expect your family to run as a team if you and your spouse do not act as a team as well. The same goes with a business. If Mom is asked a question, saying “I’ll run that by your father” shows that teamwork happens at even the highest level. Make this a practice in your business as well. 

 
 
In a perfect world, all teams would work perfectly together; meetings would run smoothly, problems would be easily ironed out and everyone would be happy. However, as we all probably already know, we don’t live in a perfect world. And while one person may believe a team is functioning as well as it could be, another member may have a different opinion. The fact is, just as every other aspect of a business needs to be evaluated, and so does the collaboration process of the actual team.

So gather your team members together, provide a few snacks (a few cookies work wonders for cutting tension) and explain that a simple evaluation needs to be done. Make sure all evaluations are anonymous, and have each member rate the team against the following criteria:

1.) Clarity of team goals. Is it clear what the team is actually trying to accomplish? Is it clear who exactly is benefitting the most from the accomplishment of the team’s goals? If a member from one department feels accomplishing the stated goals only benefits members from another department, it could mean that some of the team’s goals are too narrow or that they aren’t being explained properly.

2.) Clarity of individual roles and responsibilities. A friend of mine works as a coach for a university softball team. When the university was hiring new athletic trainers, they informed her she had been nominated as the chair of the committee. However, no one explained her responsibilities. People would just call her office asking if she turned in “that review” or had completed her “recommendation rundown” and she had no idea what they were talking about. Encourage your team members to describe times they have felt like this.

3.) Efficiency of time and resources. Ever been to a meeting that was a complete waste of time? One that was simply a gathering of people so your supervisor could hear herself talk? Hopefully your team meetings aren’t like this, but if they are it’s an incredible waste of resources. Have team members list ideas to make meetings more efficient. Maybe a memo could be sent out before hand with a list of required paperwork or the itinerary could be emailed out letting people know exactly what part of the meeting will be relevant to them.

4.) Facilitation of ideas. Do your team members have a voice? If they suggest something, do you get defensive or hear their ideas? Are they constantly interrupted by other teammates? Is the environment conducive to a productive meeting or is it absolutely freezing and they can’t wait to get out of there (don’t scoff; a comfortable room temperature is actually very relevant to productivity)?

5.) Rewards and general concerns. While accomplishing a specific goal sounds like it should be enough, more often than not, it isn’t. Encourage team members to list possible incentives or ways productivity could be increased. In addition, have them list any general concerns they may have about how the meetings are run. This could be scheduling or even fairness. I worked nightshifts at a previous job, and until someone mentioned it all meetings were held at 3:00 in the afternoon. That’s great if you work day shift, but it’s an awful time for nightshift. Everyone was much happier when meetings were changed to 8:00 in the morning, right between shift changes. 

 
 
Are you a procrastinator? Go ahead, you can answer honestly…

That’s what I thought.

The truth is, procrastinating is an extremely common habit. The stress of something easily makes it seem like putting it off until later is a good idea, but we all know how that ends up. So let’s examine a few ways to get rid of that procrastinating bug. Not forever, mind you, we are realists, after all. But these tips should get you going in the right direction when you desperately need to focus.

1.) Really prioritize. Believe it or not, we all have a limited supply of willpower that gradually drains throughout the day. That’s why you see so many more fast food advertisements at the end of the day than the beginning; because that’s when they’ve been found to be the most effective at convincing people to call the number at the bottom of the screen. Focusing on tasks that need to be completed is no different. Therefore, it’s important to start with the toughest stuff first, while your willpower is at its maximum.

Plus, then you get to enjoy the wash of relief you often feel after your most stressful task is completed, making the weight on your shoulders feel just a tad bit lighter.

2.) Get rid of distractions. Distractions are everywhere (as a writer that works from home on a computer hooked up to the internet 24/7, I whole-heartedly understand), but that doesn’t mean you have to give into them. Instead of checking your email every 10 minutes, vow to check it once every 2 hours. Turn your phone on silent, keep the television off and for the love of God stay off the internet.

If you have to be on the internet or your phone has to be on, you can still screen what you’re looking at. Facebook is not essential, it can wait, just like that text from your friend wondering if she should wear the black or the red pumps tonight. Those issues aren’t important right now; you have work to do.

3.) Find what motivates you. It doesn’t have to be much. For example, when I am writing an article and feel myself draining, I’ll suddenly notice that I’m a bit thirsty. Instead of getting up and getting a glass of water, I’ll tell myself I can have one after I write one more paragraph. It’s a tiny thing, but it always works.

4.) Time yourself. Looking at your workload and thinking, “This will take hours!” will not help you reach your goals. Instead, set a timer for only 10 minutes, and vow to work feverishly straight through those 10 minutes. No excuses whatsoever. Anyone can handle 10 minutes of work, and you’ll often be surprised at how much you can get done.

5.) Break apart your work. Tackling one giant task all at once is sure to make anyone shy away, so instead think about what you could realistically do in the next 10, 30, or 60 minutes, then start there. Breaking larger tasks into smaller ones is a clever little way to tricking to the brain into thinking the workload just got a whole lot lighter. 

 
 
When you are running a business, it’s perfectly natural to want to do everything on your own. You’re looking to cut as many costs as possible, so doing your own books, taxes, advertising and anything else seems like a reasonable decision.

Let’s read that again, this time with the correct emphasis.

Doing your own books, taxes, advertising and anything else seems like a reasonable decision. See where I’m going here? The fact is, you can’t do everything yourself, nor should you. Here is a list of people you should consider hiring if you want your business to have the best chance of success.

1.) Professional Accountant. Taxes are nothing to joke about. One slip-up could cost thousands of dollars in fees and wasted time, not to mention legal issues and a damaged company reputation. Get your taxes done right by someone how knows what they’re doing. 

2.) Lawyer. And speaking of legal issues, a decent lawyer is essential. Your company may be held liable for a number of things, and in the unfortunate instance that a problem should arise, every contract or written agreement is going to be gone over with the most intense of scrutiny. It would be wise to do this while drafting up the contracts. You’ll want to make sure any potential issues are discussed long before you find yourself in hot water. And if you do find yourself in hot water, you’re going to want a good business lawyer on your side, especially one that already knows your business inside and out.

3.) Professional Web Designer. If you don’t have a website, you’re already behind, plain and simple. Did you know over 64% of adults under 25 years old don’t even own a phonebook? And why would they, they can find everything they need on the internet! You need a website, but a site that is messy and difficult to navigate won’t do you any good. A professional web designer will give your business the web presence it needs to be successful.

4.) Social Media Expert. The phrase, “adapt or die” hasn’t been around for nothing, and in this day and age social media is an essential part of business. Not only does it provide free marketing to a constantly growing and evolving audience (it costs nothing to have your own Facebook page or Twitter account), but it also gives your customers additional ways of interacting with you. Hiring someone who is proficient in the ways of social media helps give your business the identity and presence you want it to have. 

 
 
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!

 
 
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?