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. 

 
 
How many times during the day do you think something to yourself? Probably more than you think. The truth is, you (yes, that person in the mirror) are the biggest influence on how your life turns out. And if we can’t change our thoughts, we very well can’t change our actions, now can we? So let’s make sure the following thoughts get shut down before they even start.

1.) I can’t/it’s too late/I’m not good enough/it doesn’t matter anyway/what’s the point. Yes, all of these excuses fall under the same category and all of them are collectively number one on this list for a reason. Don’t sell yourself short because your mental guestimate of your abilities is inaccurate. You are just as capable and deserving as anyone else, and it does matter or you wouldn’t be having this conversation with yourself right now. Your body is an amazing thing; if you want it to stand up, walk across the street and talk to the cute guy in the coffee shop it will do it. The only thing stopping you is your mind. 

2.) I don’t have time. Everyone thinks they don’t have time, but then something comes up and they end up making time. So make time now! Research has shown that the average person can find an extra six hours (six hours!!) in their day if they were to prioritize their tasks and work more efficiently.

3.) I’ll do it someday. Why someday? Putting it off until “someday” conveys the idea that you aren’t able to do it now, and why? Is there really something standing in your way? Right now, at this very moment, you are the oldest and wisest you have ever been, while at the same time being as young and able as you have ever been. Don’t waste time dedicating part of your life to “someday.” Do what makes you happy now.

4.) I could make a fool of myself. Yes, you could. You could also trip and fall walking through the grocery store, so do you stop going to the store? No! And the reason: because you’ve been to the store and not tripped and fell enough times that your mind doesn’t recognize it as a realistic threat. There are many opportunities to make a fool of yourself (many of them you are enormously overthinking), but if you avoided all of them you would be a hermit. Live a little bit and let yourself make mistakes. The fear of being a fool is not keeping you from being one; it’s keeping you from living, period.

5.) It didn’t work out the last time. Circumstances change and people learn, including you. If you let your past determine your future, your future is going to be an exact replica of your past.

6.) Well if so-and-so thinks it’s a good idea… Honestly, it doesn’t matter what so-and-so thinks! It matters what you think! Granted, everyone needs a little advice from someone else once in a while, but constantly needing someone else’s opinion causes you to forget to have one of your own. After all, if so-and-so has a different opinion than you, and you always go with their opinion, what’s the point in even having your own? Do what you want to do, regardless of what others may think. 

 
 
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a bad relationship, a new venture or just a lifestyle, there are some things in life that just aren’t working anymore. Now it can be difficult to know when the time is right to walk away and try something new, so we’ve made it a bit easier on you. Here are five signs that it’s time to stop what you’re doing and move on.

1.) You’re going in circles. Have you ever heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Well here it is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you’ve already tried everything you can think of to make it work and are now trying things you’ve already tried, you need to stop. You’re going in circles and it’s time to move on. 

2.) You’ve already learned the lesson. Let’s say you’ve been in a horrible relationship for 2 years. Now let’s say you break up and move on to date an amazing person and you’re happy. You’ve learned your lesson about the bad relationship, right? Now if you had been in that bad relationship for four years instead of two would you have gained anymore wisdom? Probably not. Once you’ve learned the lesson there’s no point in hanging on. Now you’re just wasting time.

3.) You’re crossing lines you originally set for yourself. Whenever you start a new endeavor, there are always lines that are set. Maybe you don’t necessarily write them down, but they’re definitely there. Something like, “Well as long as he doesn’t cheat on me we can still work on things,” or “I’m going to run this business for six years, and if it isn’t gaining a profit by then I’ll be done.” These are good boundaries to have, but as soon as they are crossed, you’re just kidding yourself. If he cheats on you or it’s been seven years and the business still isn’t turning a profit, it’s time to cut your losses.

4.) You’re missing out on other opportunities. Here’s an easy way to look at it. If a chance for something comes along and you consider it a missed opportunity, than it probably is! Let’s say you’re a chef running your own restaurant. It’s not exactly pulling in a huge profit, but you’ve only been in business for a year. A café down the street offers you a great job and you turn it down. You’re happy with your decision. Now let’s say you’ve been a chef for five years at a failing restaurant and you’re offered the same café job. You turn it down again, but this time you wonder if you made the right decision.

In the first scenario, taking the job at the café would have meant you missed out on the opportunity to own your own restaurant. So you turned it down and continued on your path. But in the second scenario, you see turning down the job at the café was a missed opportunity to have a decent income, and you missed it. If you think you’re missing opportunities, it probably means you know longer see what you’re doing as the right choice.

5.) You’re unhappy. It’s as simple as that. If you’re unhappy in your situation (with your current job or a relationship) and you’ve tried everything to improve it (talked to your boss, been to relationship counseling) but nothing has worked and you’re still unhappy, you need to get out of that situation. 

 
 
Slumps…we all have them. They’re those little sections of life when things just don’t seem to be going right. Maybe you haven’t been to the gym in a month and no matter what you do just don’t feel like going. Maybe you’ve been behind at work lately and you just can’t seem to catch up. Or maybe it’s your mood; maybe no matter what is going on in your life right now you just feel kind of…blah. These are slumps, people, and once you’re in one it can be hard to snap out of it, but it’s definitely not impossible. Here are some of the best ways to get yourself back on track.

1.) Stop. More specifically, stop thinking. Stop thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, what you forgot to do today, how your mother-in-law is driving you crazy, how you’ve gained 6 pounds since June when you promised yourself you’d lose 10: just stop. Whatever you’ve been doing lately hasn’t been working (you are in fact, in a slump), right? Right, so stop and take a deep breath; you are about to change gears.

2.) Focus. Find a place where you can sit, with pen and paper, undisturbed for a few minutes and think clearly. That means you step away from any electronic distractions (the television, the computer, your cell phone, etc.) and go somewhere comfortable. And don’t let yourself make excuses; the world is not going to explode if dinner is 30 minutes later than it usually is for the love of God.

3.) Write it down. Our minds are constantly running (as you probably already know). Research has shown that when we write down what we are thinking about on paper (how upset we are with a loved one or what we need at the store, for example), our mind can relax a bit knowing it doesn’t need to keep thinking about that information. It’s the same thing that happens when someone gives you their phone number; you repeat it to yourself until you enter it in your phone or write it down. And as soon as you do, you stop thinking about it, right? Problems you are dwelling on work the same way. So take a second and write down what is bothering you.

4.) Refine. After you write down what is bothering you (don’t worry if it’s an insanely long list, chances are you’ve needed to get some things out), take a look at what you’ve written. Did you write “Dan won’t fix those shelves I’ve asked him to fix for 2 weeks” and “Dan didn’t pack the kids’ lunches” and “Dan made work plans on our anniversary night” the problem might not be all of those little things. Instead, the problem might be “Dan and I need to communicate better.”  

5.) Determine a resolution. If the problem is that you and Dan need to communicate better. Write down a time that the two of you need to talk, undisturbed. Not while both of you are running to your cars in the morning, not the second he gets home from work. Pick a time when you can both talk. The same goes for other issues. If the problem is that you’re completely overwhelmed at work, think of a way you can take off some of your workload. Is there a fellow employee that can help you out for a bit (they could be in charge of the phone lines for the day while you work, for example)? Can you speak to your boss about getting caught up on your current assignments before taking on any more projects? If you’ve been feeling unmotivated, think of a way to get motivated. Haven’t gone to the gym in a while? Maybe you need a new pair of running shoes.

6.) Move on. Once you’ve addressed these issues and understand what you need to do, move on. Get up, make the dinner you’ve been postponing for 30 minutes, and stop thinking about it. Enjoy your dinner, watch some television with Dan, and get some sleep. Tomorrow your slump ends

 
 
No matter what group of people you’re working with (your family, your coworkers, your intramural teammates, your church group), an open and effective line of communication is key. But that phrase, “effective communication”, tends to get thrown around a lot doesn’t it. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot to effective communication. There’s listening, using the appropriate tone and hand gestures, and various other things we do while talking. However, in most groups of people there are bound to be one or two shy folks, so how exactly do you get them talking? Well here you go; three ways to get someone engaged in a conversation:

1.) Say statements instead of questions. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Asking someone a question demands a response. And not just any response, but one that is on subject and within a socially acceptable time frame. You’re putting pressure on someone without even knowing it. Statements, on the other hand, demand no response, allowing the other person to answer when and if they feel comfortable or not. A question also provides you the opportunity to judge them depending on their answer, while a statement simply says something about yourself.

For example, say you sit down next to a co-worker during lunch break and they are eating something that looks very spicy. The question, “Wow, what is that? Is it really spicy?” can seem innocent, but it’s more difficult that you might think. The statement, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy!” is much easier to handle. The listener is required to do nothing, you were simply making a statement that their food looks spicy.

2.) Compliment them. Just as the above example indicates, the listener appeared to be “brave” when eating spicy food, not “crazy”. In addition, a compliment can open the door to letting them feel comfortable in their own skin. A simple, “Wow, you have beautiful handwriting!” can give someone that tiny boost of self-confidence they need to open up a bit more.

3.) Say something about yourself. People don’t, in general, willingly open up to strangers. Therefore, if you want someone to open up to you, you’ve got to make yourself seem a little less like a stranger, and a great way to do that is to say a little bit about yourself.

Take the above example in the break room. You can continue the conversation to say something like, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy! I never could eat spicy food, though I do keep trying!” In just one sentence, you have gone from “Stacy, the lady who sits at the west desk,” to “Stacy who wants to like spicy food.” It’s a small change, but a significant one

 
 
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. 

 
 
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. 

 
 
Every new experience comes with a learning curve. The first time you bake an apple pie, you realize you needed a touch more cinnamon and make a mental note for next time. The first time you drive a new car you realize the brakes are a bit more sensitive, and adjust yourself accordingly. Basically, the first time you have ever taken on a new venture you have learned a few things for yourself.

But running your own business is different. It takes an immense amount of time and effort to open your business, and one mistake may cost you everything; your reputation, future clients and even your entire life savings. So to keep you a few steps ahead of the game, here is a list of the three most common regrets for first time business owners.

1.) Being unprepared for growth. Every owner hopes their business will be an immediate success, but very few are prepared for when it happens. Being prepared means you have the proper personnel needed to handle the increase in work (shipping and manufacturing, for example), the skills and equipment to keep everything organized and the ability to have effective communication and collaboration among your employees. Remember, getting new customers isn’t too tricky; keeping them is.

2.) Failing to keep a database from the start. Many people put the record keeping tasks to the back burner when they open a new business. After all, they only have six consistent customers, so why not just worry about the customers you have and deal with more as they come? No problem, right? Not quite. This might have been a fine business strategy when you were 12 and running a lemonade stand, but not anymore. You need to have an organized and up-to-date database from day one, including your list of customers, their contact information and purchase receipts.  

3.) Hiring friends and family. This tends to be one of the most common business mistakes of all time, so we’re going to reiterate its importance: don’t hire someone because you like them, hire someone because they are the best possible person for that job. When you hire someone based on their likeable personality alone, you are setting yourself up for two major issues: the job won’t be done with the quality you’re expecting and bridges could be burned in the process. Nothing ruins a friendship like having to fire your friend, and you don’t want to put yourself (or a loved one) in that situation.  

 
 
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.