Will the Real Leader please stand up?

real leader 4I was recently teaching a class on Leadership to an audience of mostly young adults (18ish-25ish) who were very young and inexperienced on their leadership journey. I knew going into it that I would need some interactive exercises to keep it exciting and help drive home some key points. I dreamed up an icebreaker that, in my mind, might end up to be a bit awkward – but I decided to give it a try anyway.

For the class, the students were to have completed a workbook and read some pages in THE SECRET by Ken Blanchard. I opened the class with a warm welcome, and then informed the students that, since everyone had a book and workbook, I was going to have a seat and let them teach each other. I then promptly took my seat with a huge grin of anticipation, and surveyed the appalled looks. One student even commented, “That’s it?”

What was supposed to happen was an awkward silence. I anticipated them all sitting there, maybe mumbling and grumbling or even complaining – at which point I was going to step in and take over again. My point was that we need a leader to facilitate – someone who knows what they are doing and knows how to guide the others. I was then going to translate this to their role in daily operations of the business – that we need a leader to guide the group.

Instead what happened was even more beautiful than I could have ever imagined: one student piped up almost immediately and began leading a discussion on why we are all here to serve! She was calling folks out by name to get everyone engaged and interacting, and then another girl piped in and helped guide it along to ensure that everyone responded with an answer. I sat amazed and let this beautiful discussion take place, until everyone had answered and I could feel things coming to a bit of a screeching halt.

My original point was still made clear: someone needs to step up to make things happen for a group. At the same time, an additional point was also made abundantly clear: you don’t have to have a title to lead. You see, the girl who originally spoke up is still in leadership training and has not yet received her title. All but one other person in the room already had a leadership title for this particular team – and yet, the one without a title was the one who took initiative to lead the group!   real leaders 2

One of my biggest pet peeves is when folks have to announce that they are in charge: “you will respect me because I am your manager” or “I’m in charge here, so I call the shots”. Newsflash: if you truly possessed the skills of a leader, you wouldn’t need to announce it; people would naturally respect you as a leader and would willingly follow you. True leaders are leading everyday, regardless of title (or lack thereof). “It” flows through them as naturally as breathing; they have no choice, they just have to lead. People naturally gravitate towards these people, seeking solutions and asking them for advice.

So next time you have your team together for a meeting or workshop, try the exercise I mentioned at the beginning of this post. See who your real leaders are. Who will stand up in your group?



real leaders


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

5 Tips for Maintaining a Work-Life Balance When Working from Home

Working from home can be such a rewarding experience, but it can also be the biggest nightmare if you don’t establish boundaries and a plan.  Keeping a work-life balance can actually be an even tougher battle when you are working in the home, as the lines between business and home life are blurred.  Here are 5 tips to keep you on task so that your clients remain satisfied with the products/services you are providing while keeping your family happy with time dedicated to them:

1.  Establish a regular schedule of “working” hours.
Sure, you are your own boss now, which means being able to set your own hours.  However, as most of us are procrastinators, if you leave tasks open to “as I have time for them”, you will never have time for them.  Even though you are working from home, continue to establish set hours on which you will focus on your work and your clients.  The beauty of being your own boss, however, is that it doesn’t have to be traditional “8-5” hours.  A work-from-home mom, for example, can choose to work while the kids are at school – but maybe only Monday through Thursday, so that Fridays can be dedicated to shopping and errands.  A business consultant may wish to work 9am-noon and 4pm-7pm in order to accommodate clients in different time zones.  Maybe you are a writer who is a night owl, so you focus on writing after everyone goes to bed, something like 11pm-3am.  If you are servicing clients, you will want to keep in mind that you need to include some regular hours that fall within your clients’ regular business hours so that they can reach you.  But otherwise, the possibilities are endless and completely up to you.

2.  Assign tasks/clients to specific days
If you just have one, long to-do list, you will become overwhelmed and may never complete half of it.  Instead of staring at the impossible, neverending to-do list and wasting time contemplating how in the world to get it all done, schedule the tasks on specific days.  By scheduling tasks on specific days, you can better map out the time required to complete each task to ensure that you are setting yourself up for success, not failure.  I have created a weekly map that I use, which you can download here.  Don’t forget to be mindful of deadlines and tend to those items first, filling in the gaps with other items that are not as timely.

3.  Be specific when assigning tasks/clients
When mapping out your week, be as specific as possible in assigning how you will use your time.  For example, if you are a consultant with, say, 5 regular clients that you help weekly, don’t just assign an hour here or there to such-and-such client.  Instead, assign what tasks you will specifically work on for that client on that day.  If you are someone who provides a service such as home repairs or plumbing, list what tasks that client needs you to accomplish, and schedule your time accordingly.  You may find that you can knock out two or three clients in one day, or you may realize that you actually need two days to complete everything that one client has requested.  If you are a writer, schedule what you hope to accomplish on each day; maybe today you  strive to complete an outline of your blog article ideas for the next two weeks or month and write 1 article, but tomorrow you plan to complete 2 or 3 articles.

4.  Remain flexible enough to accommodate the unexpected.
Things happen.  You will inevitably run into issues with a project, take longer with something than planned, or have emergency situations pop up.  As crazy as it sounds, you will actually be more prepared for those types of things if you stick to you plan than if you are “winging it”.  Didn’t get to all that you had planned for today?  That’s ok – just move what you didn’t get to complete or touch upon to a different day.  But don’t just leave it hanging out there to get to “as you can work it in” – because you will never work it in.  We are, by nature, procrastinators.  So don’t freak out if you didn’t get to everything today – just reassign things that were missed.  It may mean that something gets bumped to next week, and that’s ok too (provided it’s not a time-sensitive issue) – just go ahead and start mapping out the next week.  Maybe you have so many things going on that you need to always have 4 weeks “on the board” so-to-speak, so you can see where/how to schedule in tasks and clients.  While it sounds like more work, you will thank me later, as it will prevent you from overscheduling later down the road, or let you know if you even have room to accept new clients (a good problem to have).

5.  Stick to your guns.
Once you have a regular schedule established for when you will focus on work, be careful not too stray too often from that schedule.  Sure, things will come up from time to time that will cause you to work on a day off, or work longer one day than planned, but if things are “popping up” on a regular basis that are forcing you to deviate from the plan, then you need to re-evaluate the plan.  Are you trying to squeeze too much into each day?  Are you being effective and efficient with your work time, truly concentrating ONLY on work tasks during those work time?  Have you taken on too many clients/tasks?  Remember that, in most cases, the reason you wanted to be your own boss was to have freedom and flexibility to spend more time with your family – so why are you working 24/7?  In order to enjoy freedom and flexibility, you need to have an underlying plan, and you need to stick to that plan.  If you deviate from the plan, chaos ensues.  It sounds contradictory, I know, but it is so true.

So many folks these days are running businesses from home.  While it seems like a win-win of being able to set your own hours and be your own boss while being able to spend more time at home, most people are not organized enough to set boundaries and manage time effectively, resulting in very blurred lines between home life and business life.  Take the time to plan your time effectively so that you – and your family – can enjoy the rewards of being your own boss.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Marketing: A 1-2-3 Approach to Your Year-at-a-Glance

Marketing: A 1-2-3 Approach to Your Year-at-a-Glance

These days, it seems like everyone is starting their own business.  People are getting fed up with employers treating them like crap, or they think they can do it better, and so they venture out and try it on their own.  Ironically, these people, in turn, begin to treat their employees as they were once treated, which only feeds into the cycle of folks branching out on their own.  While many folks are good at the one thing they did well at the other job – maybe sales, maybe product or industry knowledge – they lack the experience in the other pieces of the business puzzle that lead to an overall successful business (marketing, recruiting and hiring, coaching and training, etc).

Many small business incubators and small business assistance programs focus on “business plans” and the legal pieces – which are important – but no one really hits on a fundamental marketing plan that takes into account the consumer cycle for their particular industry.  Too many businesses are flying by the seat of their pants, celebrating high traffic times and somehow thinking it is because they are doing such an awesome job, but then scrambling to advertise when that traffic dies down.  When you make advertising and marketing decisions on a whim, they are based on feelings and not facts, and often by the time you decide to take action during a low traffic time, your window of opportunity has passed – customers are already gone.  To truly be successful, you must be PROactive instead of REactive.

You don’t need an MBA or other fancy degree to create a smart and successful marketing plan.  You just need some basic pieces of information gathered together into one place to have at a glance:

1.  Define the natural consumer cycles for your industry
In retail, it is a given that consumers will flock to stores between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as some other key holidays.  For accountants, tax season is a high traffic time.  Landscapers and home improvement folks will notice a surge in springtime.  What are your natural high traffic times when you are practically guaranteed customers?
2.  Define the off-peak times, which are areas of marketing opportunity
Once you define your peak traffic times, you can see holes where you may need to push advertising and marketing a little harder to maintain a steady traffic flow, versus letting your traffic fall off into the abyss and simply chalking it up as a “slow time”.  Don’t be victim to the slow times – you don’t have to just lay there and take it!  Be proactive to drive better traffic during your off-season times so that you don’t take such a hit.  In order to be proactive, you must identify those off-peak times in advance.
3.  List any other annual or seasonal events that play into your sales equation
Do you hold a semi-annual or annual clearance sale?  Is there a time of year that new products typically launch in your industry?  Do you have product that does “out of season”?  Do you hold any fundraisers, whether for yourself (if a non-profit) or to help a non-profit in your community?  Once again, by defining these events ahead of time, you can advertise to maximize your traffic and sales during these times.  If helping a non-profit in your community, use the event to catapult your name into the community and solidify your brand (coupons are a GREAT way to measure return on your efforts, if the organization hosting the fundraiser will allow it).

Here is a Blank Sample Marketing Calendar At-a-Glance

Once you have your basic events sprinkled into an outline, you can begin to layer in other important dates, such as management meetings, planning meetings, inventories, etc.  Here is a good example of a company just beginning to use such a plan (a restaurant group):

Sample Marketing Calendar At-a-Glance (Restaurant)

Once you really get comfortable with using a calendar as your “Bible” for planning not only your marketing, but also your business in general, you can really add just about anything that will help you stay on track and meet deadlines.  Here is an example of a dance company who has the first six months of their season thoroughly mapped out, with just a rough sketch for the last six months of the season:

Sample Marketing Calendar At-a-Glance (Dance Company)


Want to know how to maximize your customer service experience to retain loyal customers who refer more clients?  Read one of my previous articles that emphasizes exceptional customer service as a form of marketing:

It’s All About the “Experience”
It’s All About Getting to Know Your Customers
It’s All About Events 


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hiring Managers: How to Get the Most out of Interviews

Time and time again, one of the biggest mistakes I see from Hiring Managers during interviews is that the manager does all of the talking.  If you are doing all of the talking, how are you supposed to learn about the prospective employee in front of you?  To be the most effective interviewer, you have to change up your style of interviewing – you have to do more asking than telling.  You just have to.

But what are the best questions to ask?  Some questions will inevitably vary from industry to industry, as some questions will be (and should be) industry-specific, so that you can truly learn about a person’s applicable experience.  However, here are a few questions that are great discussion questions, regardless of the industry or job for which you are interviewing:
  1. What are your strengths?  What are you really great at?
  2. What areas you would like to improve upon?
  3. What do you find most challenging about a position like this?  This industry?
  4. Tell me about the supervisor/mentor/teacher/coach from whom you learned/grew the most.  Not necessarily your favorite, but the person that challenged you most and taught you the most.
  5. Tell me about the supervisor/mentor/teacher/coach from whom you learned/grew the least.  Why?  How did that person fail in challenging you?
  6. Tell me about your most recent coaching moment, where a supervisor had to coach you on job-related performance.  How did he/she approach you?  How did he/she make you feel?  How did you respond?
  7. Why did you apply for this position?
  8. What do you feel you can bring to this team?  What sets you apart from other applicants?
  9. If money were not a factor, what is your dream job?
  10. What are you passionate about?  What do you really love doing?
Notice that NONE of the above questions warrant a simple “yes” or “no” answer.  In order to really get to know an applicant, you should be asking open-ended questions that require at least a sentence to answer.  If your applicant fails to give descriptive answers, or has too many pauses followed by “Gosh, that’s really hard” or “I really don’t know” – you should be alarmed.  Regardless of your industry, an applicant who is passionate about this particular position should be able to answer these questions, and a prime candidate should “wow” you with unexpected answers.  I especially favor applicants who can name their areas of development as well as their strengths.  Everyone has room for growth, and your best applicants will be in touch with exactly where they need to grow and develop their skill sets.
Additionally, here are some other rules of thumb for separating the best potential candidates from the “warm bodies” that will end up costing you money in the long run:
  • Good applicants will be dressed for success.  Jeans, flip-flops, holes in clothing, and bra straps showing are unacceptable – regardless of the industry.  If the applicant didn’t take time to try to impress you at first glance, they certainly won’t improve from there.
  • Promising prospectives will be enthusiastic, with smiles and energy.  Be wary of applicants who are too shy, have less than impressive answers for your questions, or who act like this interview is a waste of their time.
  • Regardless of industry, the best candidates will be able to complete an application in its entirety, with legible handwriting, and can provide references who are not friends or relatives.  It sounds like common sense, but you’d be amazed how many people turn in half-completed applications, toting babies and family with them as they turn it in, and have listed Grandma, Cousin, and Best Friend as their references.  These people will not be your best quality applicants-turned-employees.

In short: did this applicant appear put-together, professional, and courteous?  Given that this interview is typically your first impression of an applicant, the applicant should be bending over backward to impress you, including arriving on time, dressing professionally, smiling and demonstrating enthusiasm, and conducting himself/herself with confidence.

A typical interview should roughly follow this format:

A good interview – for me – can last 30-45 minutes – because it means true discussion has taken place.  If I am less than impressed with the applicant, or if the applicant is less than responsive during my questions, a “bad” interview can be over in as few as 15 minutes.

Bottom line: stop using the interview to sell the applicant!  The applicant should be trying to sell YOU.  Give him/her the opportunity to do so by asking open-ended questions that should lead to good discussion and give you insight to his/her character, previous performance on the job, and overall passion to succeed.  Also, stop hiring warm bodies to fill positions, and start hiring talent that may actually help grow your company.
As a Hiring Manager, you owe it to yourself to better screen your applicants.  If you don’t, the less-than-impressive applicants will end up costing you money by wasted time on training, and that person will likely bail as soon as he/she loses interest in the job (or, my personal favorite, he/she has personal issues that creep into the workplace or cause him/her to miss work altogether).  But if you screen properly, you will more likely end up with employees that care about your company as much as you do, and will actually  help the company grow, bringing IN dollars instead of costing you.
UPDATE 3/23/12 – I found this great article that poses 5 other great questions.  
Check it out!
“5 Interview Questions to Help You Hire a Great Team”

Tags: , , , , , ,

Are you a Manager or a Coach?

You may be thinking, “What’s the difference?”  Allow me to list defining characteristics:

  • supervises employees
  • does more watching and telling as a management style
  • thinks respect has been earned simply by taking on a title
  • demands compliance
  • thinks external motivators (e.g. bonuses, promise of raises or promotions, or threats of demotions) will be enough to get employees moving on the right track
  • points out mistakes and failures, and demands that you correct them, “or else”
  • pushes the strong performers to the forefront, almost forgetting that the other employees even exist
  • coaches a team
  • does more asking and uncovering problems to find solutions as a management style
  • knows respect is only earned through leading by example, including demonstrating consistency, and practicing what they preach
  • receives compliance because respect and healthy fear exist on the team
  • knows that motivation is internal, and that inspiration for motivation will vary from team member to team member
  • recognizes successes as well as shortcomings, and provides a plan of how to improve the latter
  • recognizes the talents of each and every person on the team, and how each person can contribute to the overall success of the team (including working with the under-performers to improve their skill level, and keeping them “warm” and ready to go into the “game” at any time)
The most successful leaders inherently understand that coaching is key to a team’s success.  Think of someone in your life that you would deem to be a successful leader – whether a supervisor at work, the leader of a community group, or an actual athletic coach.  Now think about why you think they are such a successful leader, and then re-read the above-mentioned traits.  I can guarantee that you will find they fall into more of the “coach” category.

Very often, top performers get pushed into a management role because a company gets desperate to fill a management hole, and they simply choose the top performer at that time to then oversee employees.  Unfortunately, that top performer now finds himself/herself out of their element, no longer able to focus on that area in which he/she used to excel.  Instead, this top performer is expected to now lead a team to success – but no one ever bothered to find out if he/she was good at leading a team!  Now the used-to-be top performer is getting burned out because he/she is constantly being reprimanded for performing poorly at a job that he/she probably never really wanted anyway!

We need more leadership training programs for grooming our management pool, because most people do not know how to lead a team straight out the gate.  Some people will never be able to lead a team, but they can sure sell their little tushes off and produce exceptional volume for a company.  Others may have the potential to be a good leader, but have never had a great mentor to fine tune those skills, so they may need a little coaching themselves before they are ready to coach others.

If you are currently a manager, and find yourself consistently frustrated with your work situation (particularly if you feel disrespected by your employees), ask yourself first if you are coaching your team or managing your team.  Then get real with yourself: were you a top performer who was better suited to continue being a top performer, but may not be cut out for leading a team?  There is absolutely nothing wrong with just being a top performer.  Every team needs their “starting lineup” of talent – so go do what you do well!  Wouldn’t you rather excel at something than struggle to get by just because it comes with a fancier title?

If, however, you feel you are meant to be a leader, strive for coaching your team instead of merely managing employees.  Lead by example, and be willing to get down in the trenches to demonstrate that example.  Practice what you preach, because no one is going to respect a person who demands one thing of their team members but demonstrates likewise is his/her own actions.  Most importantly, stop telling your employees what to do and demanding that they respect you just because you are “the boss”.  Respect will come naturally if you are consistent in your actions, communicate your expectations clearly, and hold people accountable to those expectations.

The biggest take-away: treat others how you would want to be treated.  It sounds so simple, but it will never fail you.  You wouldn’t want your supervisor jumping down your throat, nor would you appreciate your supervisor jumping to conclusions and reprimanding before he/she has all the facts.  News flash: neither do your team members!  Ask employees for input, speak to them with genuine care and concern, and help them find solutions to problems.  Be a part of the team versus standing back with your arms folded watching things happen around you.  Lead by example.  Care about your Team.  Be a Coach.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

MARKETING 101, Part 3: It’s All About Events

In Part 1, I talked about creating an experience that will turn your customers from simply satisfied to exceptionally loyal, and in Part 2, I talked about really listening to your customers and getting to know them and even collecting their personal data so you can continue to interact with them.  Now let’s talk about giving them reasons to return.

We all know that retail is seasonal, as are many service industries.  Commercialism forces everyone to buy into holidays and seasons, to the point that Christmas trees are now on shelves in August.  It’s ridiculous, and it has caused us as consumers to almost tune it out, and we have now lost excitement that used to be such a fun high around various holidays.

Well, seasons and holidays aren’t reason enough for that bath product company.  Instead, they create something new at least once a month – if not more frequently.  Whether it’s a new fragrance, a new product that is going to enhance your life in a way you never imagined, or just fun reasons to come get a free gift – they always have something new going on.  In turn, these loyal customers needing that next fix for their bath product addiction come flocking in like crazed maniacs to be the first to get their hands on whatever newness has just been launched.  And remember, these people only know about this event because they have received an email or postcard in the mail – sent to them upon request when they gladly gave their information to the super nice associate the last time they visited – which was probably 2-3 weeks ago.

Keep your business fresh and exciting by always creating new reasons for your customer to come back and see you.  Maybe it’s a new menu or product, maybe it’s a celebration of “National _______ Day/Month”, or maybe it’s just your own self-created event based around a theme of your own design.  Be careful not to get into a habit of making the reason to visit be a sale or promotion, as this reason only drives your bargain shoppers and doesn’t tap into the emotional connections established with your die-hard loyal followers.  Semi-annual sales or other big sale events held a handful of times per year can be effective, but keep them limited and sparse so that when they do come, they are really an event – not just something you do all the time.

So while re-evaluating your marketing strategies, remember to start first with training your staff on how to provide exceptional customer service.  Then focus your marketing efforts on those loyal customers – finding ways to interact with them regularly through emails, social media, and targeted direct mail pieces.  Finally, center your marketing plan around creating events that will keep those loyal customers visiting regularly, and continue to keep your business fresh and new.  Stop spending so much money on general marketing to the masses and focus on the customers that you already know love you, as they will create that buzz you need to drive in new customers as they recommend your awesome products/services.  Just be the very best you that you can be.

Marketing 101, Part 2: It’s All About Getting to Know Your Customers

In Part 1, I talked about creating an experience for your customers that will bring them back time and time again.  Not only will they return as loyal, regular customers, but they will be so excited about the experience that you are creating, that they will want to bring others with them.  

Take-away point: When looking at how to drive customers into your business, look first to your staff and ensure they have received enough training – and the right kind of training – on how to provide exceptional customer service.  Service industry giants learned this long ago, but it is a point that smaller businesses sometimes forget.  Having worked for some of these industry giants, including that store that sells bath and body products that make your home smell good, I have received some of the best training available out there….and I now pass that knowledge to you.

Alright.  Now you’ve made an fun, inviting experience, and you’ve got customers.  But what do you do with the customers now that you have them?

While creating this memorable experience, the associates at that bath and body place create an effortless rapport with the customer, to the extent that by the end of the experience, the associate can list off the customer’s favorite fragrances, who the customer is shopping for, what the customer does for a living, and how many sinks the customer has in his/her house (because every sink needs a soap)!  At the end of the experience, because they are now BFFs, the associate asks the customer for his/her phone number and email – and the customer is happy to give this information.  Why?  Because by giving that information, the customer can receive coupons in U.S. Postal Mail and emails with promotional info – and those methods are the only ways to receive that info!  How brilliant!  (Once again, this company does not participate in external marketing, such as TV, radio, and newspaper.  Instead, this company only markets to its current database of customers.)

Additionally, by making a purchase today, the customer “earns” a coupon for next time.  The customer is also typically told of the next product or fragrance about to be released – so the customer now has a reason to return again, and in a timely manner.  Finally, while standing at the checkout counter, the customer can see ads about the website and Facebook pages – which are two more ways to get their bath and home fragrance “fix” and to be the first to get the scoop on new products and fragrances.  And who doesn’t want to be the first to know?!

Bottom line: stop worrying so much about the customers you don’t have, and focus on the customers you do have!  Create your own buzz.  Focus on giving your customers that awesome, memorable experience by really getting to know them – what they like, the kind of lifestyles they live, what kind of families they have, and how your product or service really takes care of them.  Instead of guessing what you think people want or need, really listen to the feedback of your everyday customers – and use that feedback, good or bad.  But most importantly, get connected with your customers through email, Facebook, Twitter, your website, direct mail, and whatever new technologies are out there.

Once again, I remind you that implementing new behaviors with your employees (or even reinforcing those behaviors once in place) requires training.  Your employees are often your first customer, and once you take care of them, they will take care of your external customers coming through those doors.

Think about how much you could increase your return of investment on your marketing strategies if you were concentrating that effort into people that you already know use and like your products or services!  Let those customers do the legwork on roping in new customers – and what a testimony if it’s coming from a loyal, satisfied customer!

How will you adjust your marketing strategies today to focus on rewarding your loyal customers?


1 Comment

Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Business, Management, Marketing


Tags: , , , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 376 other followers