Monday, July 23, 2012

New Social Media Strategies & Tips

I thought it might be helpful to pass along a few informational articles I've found on Social Media.

The author of this article on Pinterest, Ahmad Suhendra says that just like every other form of Social Media, Pinterest is about developing relationships before selling.  Unfortunately I am too busy to use it in any other way than to post items I find on Etsy that I like, or items on Etsy that I am selling.  However, my method does seem to be working on at least a low level of outreach.  Others have been repinning my work, and I always make sure to connect with them when they do.
How to Use Pinterest

Social Media can be overwhelming and seemingly useless.  Keep on track with this helpful article written by Tarun Gehani :
Easy Steps to Social Media Marketing Success

I easily fall into allowing Social Media to become a major time/energy/money suck without a lot of payback.  So last but certainly not least, here is a great guide on how to create a Social Media schedule, and stick to it by John D. Leavy:
How to Develop a Social Media Schedule & Stick to It

These sorts of online resources are infinite. Locate a few articles and blogs to use as your class on how to properly handle Social Media.  Stick with those guides to stay focused.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How Good is Your Team?

As a small business owner we know we can’t go it alone.  There are certain tasks that need to be handled with aplomb, certain skill sets we know we lack but desperately need for success.  For those of us who tend to be Type-A personalities, sharing the responsibility of growing a company-especially if it is our own-can feel risky, if not outright terrifying.  But in order to meet our customers’ demands, expand our availability in products and services, plus find and maintain ways of keeping our brand in the public eye, we can’t do it alone. 

This post started germinating in my mind at the end of last year, when I was teaching a professional workshop for creative entrepreneurs on marketing.  I asked my co-instructor how work was going.  She is a free-lance PR consultant. She told me how her latest project was going horribly awry.  The people she had brought on as teammates to share the load were undependable and erratic.  She felt they weren’t taking the project as seriously as she was, and she was worried their unprofessionalism would damage her reputation, thus harming her career.
Managing a team can often seem like herding cats.  The employee who wowed you with her can-do attitude during the job interview is now M.I.A.  Another team member is dealing with domestic issues while sitting at his desk.  Another’s perpetual “cup half empty” attitude is bringing everyone down.

Some of you might think, “Well, that’s just a few people.  We’ve got others who are doing a great job.” Here’s the problem.  Perhaps you own a company in which the bad seeds can be shuffled into a corner where they have absolutely no negative impact on productivity or customer service, but I seriously doubt it.  The smaller the business, the more there is at stake.  You have a limited budget of time/money/energy and it has to be invested very wisely.  For example, your budget only allows for a small team of workers, so even one can cause serious damage to employee morale, customer service, and company reputation.  I used to teach art classes for children on the weekends, and it always amazed me how it took only one or two misbehaving kids to create a mutiny.  Even the students who were invested in the class, who wanted to learn, got caught up in the wave. 

Which brings us to the “others are doing a great job” group: it isn’t fair for you to expect the good to overcompensate for the bad and the ugly. My father, a Harvard Business graduate and former business professor at Emory University, once said to me, “The worst thing a company can do is not acknowledge their best employees.”   He said this in reference to a reinsurance company I was working for at the time.  I had been initially hired simply to sit at the front desk and answer the phone, but when they realized I had a brain, they started having me do all the word processing, and some of the accounting.  Even though my work load had tripled (their Word Processor-and yes, in the nineties this was a job position-had quit when she had a baby) my pay did not.  It was so low I was teaching art classes on the weekends (see previous paragraph) and selling my art to make ends meet.  I got fed up after two years of going nowhere, and left the company for flight attendant training.  When I gave my notice, the CEO said, “Oh, that’s too bad.  We were just going to promote you.”  Yeah, right.

Your good employees, the ones with a consistent work ethic and strong moral compass who care about your company and its future, will either get burned out or so disgusted with their work environment they’ll go elsewhere.  Setting boundaries and taking action against those causing problems will send a clear and powerful message to everyone: you care about your business. 

In my professional workshops for creative entrepreneurs I teach that you have to sell your passion. I tell my students time and again that the type of person who invests in small businesses (They buy local as opposed to going to a chain store.  They support artisans, farmers, and craftspeople.  They care about the impact they have on their community, the environment, and society as a whole.)wants an experience not just a product or service.  Problem employees damage that experience.  They taint the impression your business is making in your community.  Whether you like it or not, this is your business, so ultimately everything associated with it, both positive and negative, reflects on you.  By not stepping forward and taking control you are telling your community, your customers, and your team that this company doesn’t matter to you.  With that projected message, you can’t then be surprised when the community seeks its business elsewhere, customers drop off, good employees leave, and your company eventually goes belly up.  And just as you have to sell your passion to your customers, you also have to sell your passion to your team.  When employees are simply working for a paycheck , you have a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

So how do you take the reins?

Treat a job interview like a first date. 
Now, hear me out on this one.  If you own a small business, you automatically have a far more intimate setting than a huge corporation.  You have to get along with your employees, and they have to get along with you and each other.  That doesn’t mean they all have to like one another, but they absolutely must respect each other as coworkers. 

When I look back on the romantic relationships I’ve had, I can honestly say the reason why they ended was apparent even on the first date.  The same is true with jobs.  For most of my career, I’ve worked in small business environments, and that first meeting with the company owner made it very clear what would sooner or later “break us up”. 

Use your intuition during a job interview the same way you would on a first date.  Are there any red flags, any gut reactions?  I don’t care how desperate you are, don’t hire that person. You’ll only regret it in the end.

What if you inherited the “problem children”?
If you are coming in as the new owner of an already established business you need to let the team know, respectfully but firmly, there is a new sheriff in town.  If the prior owner hasn’t divulged where the weakest links are, you’ll find out during that first meeting.  Schedule to meet privately with those individuals (if they didn’t already grab their things and run for the door) to hear their grievances and ask for their suggestions.  With an “I’m here to make things better” attitude you may turn them around.  Give them a deadline (you can share this deadline with them or simply make note of it for yourself) to get their act together.  If it doesn’t happen, let them know you don’t think you’re a good match for their work style, and show them the door.

But I wanna be the good guy!
Guess what?  You don’t get to be the good guy.  You don’t get to have everyone like you.  Why?  Because this is your money/time/energy/reputation/future/etc. we are playing with.  Having everyone think of you as the “coolest, nicest boss ever” is not nearly as critical as fostering a strong, viable business.

On the flip side
I was once hired to assess a holistic healing facility and let the owners know where there was need for improvement.  It was owned by an older couple and while they were largely out of touch with contemporary business practices and policies, they had done something very right.  Their employees were intelligent, invested, hard workers who came to the job with a lot of great experience.  The problem was the owners didn’t recognize it.   

Due to lack of communication and appreciation the employees were becoming unhappier by the day.  I told the owners they had everything in place to update and grow the business in the form of these two young women.  Both had the credentials to make wise decisions and both cared about the future of the company.  For whatever reason, the owners were stuck on the negative, complaining to me about trivial things like the volume one of the employees was using when speaking.  (I never felt she was loud, but they kept telling her there was something wrong with her.)  I suggested a more open route of communication would be helpful, that perhaps a weekly meeting would be in order.  Instead of taking this on, the owners had me come in weekly to meet with the staff.  Regardless, this had a positive effect.  The employees felt heard.  They felt like they were contributing.  Morale was boosted.  Unfortunately their input was ignored by the owners.  They lost the employee they accused of having volume issues.  They then phoned me to say they didn’t need my services anymore.  As soon as they let me go, the other employee quit.  She phoned to say she couldn’t work in an environment with no hope, and when they let me go, all hope was gone.

What is the moral of the story?  Listen, respect, value input.  In other words, engage your team.  Get them invested in your business.  Fire them up with your passion.  Let them know they are a valuable component.  In fact, they are the determining factor in the success of your company. 

You gotta be there
I don’t care how much sustainable day-to-day structure you think you have in place.  You can have the best office manager in the world.  That does not mean you can get away with not being there.  Owning a small business goes hand in hand with understanding that for better or for worse, this is your life.  Your personal obligations will have to take a backburner.  After all you are the one with the most to gain or lose so you are the one with the most clout.  Teetering employees will soon get their act together with your eyes upon them.  You would be surprised how many issues can be resolved just by you being present.

 The right team can help your company organically flow and grow without draining your time/money/energy.   Here are a couple of articles for further reading.