How to Deal with Negative Online Reviews

    How to Deal with Negative Online Reviews

    True confessions: When I first started blogging about a decade ago, I wrote a post for a top 10 website where I made what I thought was an innocent off-the-wall comment, meant to be (at least in my mind) somewhat humorous. Let me tell you, the barrage of hate email I got scared me to death and almost had me quit my keyboard clacking for good!

    This is a short excerpt from a blog post I did for Entrepreneur.com.  Read the rest of the post.

    What I Learned From A Yam

    What I Learned From A Yam

    There are certain holiday foods that grab a hold of us (traditionally speaking) and won’t let go. They form a habit out of our favorite recipes and if they’re missing from the feast, well something just doesn’t feel right. It might be a particular cranberry sauce that graces your Christmas table or potato latkes for Chanukah, cooked just the way your grandmother used to make them.

    I’m like this about two foods at the Winter holidays — cranberry sauce and yams. I have made my yams the same way for 25 years. It’s an uneventful but satisfying concoction involving butter, brown sugar, bourbon and cream. It’s not that I don’t enjoy other cooks’ yam creations when I’m a guest in their homes for the holidays, but my yams — in my humble opinion — are still the best.

    And let’s face it, how much can you really do with a yam? Variations on a standard theme almost always turn out to be related. So at last weeks Christmas dinner, where I dined in someone else’s house, I took my customary scoop of the yam dish from the buffet table. I was pleased that they were part of the meal, but had no great expectations. After all these were not “my yams.”

    But at first bite — brown sugar smacking my lips, oranges doing a jig on my tongue and butter basting the back of my pallet — I was scandalized by the starchy tubular vegetable I had just eaten. These were in fact the best yams I’d ever tasted — damn it. That one instant had made mince-meat of my decades long yam dish history and a new tradition was born.

    I was liberal in my compliments on the cooking and the hostess — my stepmother Anne’s cousin Crissa, was generous with her recipe. I’m already planning on doing a test run of my new favorite yam dish for New Years dinner.

    Traditions, like everything else, can adapt and evolve with time, a good thing to remember as we head into a new year. Even the most ordinary of things can surprise us, delight us, and put us on a new path of discovery (culinary and otherwise). We only have to say “Please pass the yams.”

    Reporter Services Can Be Key To Media Coverage

    Reporter Services Can Be Key To Media Coverage

    In a survey, the Society of New Communications Research, explored how media and journalism are evolving. In the study, journalists reported using more social media in their reporting including:

    • 78% of the journalists surveyed said they use company websites in their reporting
    • 75% use Facebook
    • 69% use Twitter
    • 54% use online video
    • 31% use LinkedIn

    In addition, 68% of journalists said that their reliance on social media has increased significantly, and 58% sometimes quote bloggers in stories.

    So what does all this mean to the small business owner? It means that effective use of social media is key and critical to being found and written about by the press. But to score these PR points and get reporters to respond to you in the first place, it pays to be proactive by signing up for reporter services such as HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and ProfNet.

    At least three times a day, I diligently check my email for queries from these sites showcasing serious reporters looking for qualified sources. I comb through the postings journalists have placed and respond with my best pitch — promoting myself, or one of my clients, as the perfect person to fit the bill.

    While services such as ProfNet and HARO can provide you with the opportunity to connect with reporters from top-tier media outlets, the chances of a writer using you as a source increase when you respond in the right ways, including:

    Go straight to the point and give the reporter what they ask for up front. If they request your two best tips, send them. Don’t tell the reporter to call you or email you for them.

    Make your bio short and specific. Avoid submitting endless paragraphs on all your fabulous achievements since grade school — reporters don’t have the time to sort through it all. To get their attention, write a few short sentences that show the journalist exactly why you would be a good source for their story and what, specifically, makes you an authority on the topic.

    Respond right away. Whenever possible, respond to a posted inquiry within two hours. Yes, I know you’re busy, and you have a life, but most reporters get hundreds of responses to a single request and are usually on a tight deadline. After a certain point, they stop looking. So if you want to be seen, be among the first to respond.

    While a well-written response to a reporter’s query can’t guarantee you a call back every time, just keeping these few small things in mind when you do reply can help you score big more often.

    Have you used reporter services? What results have you had? What has worked best? We would love to hear your comments.

    Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

    Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

    Drawing on interviews with more than 150 executives and on her own experience as the former vice president of Oracle University, Liz Wiseman, author of the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, argues that leaders are either Multipliers or Diminishers:

    We’ve all had experience with two dramatically different types of leaders. The first type drains intelligence, energy and capability from the people around them and always needs to be the smartest person in the room. These are the idea killers, the energy sappers, the diminishers of talent and commitment.

    On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. These are the leaders who inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. These are the Multipliers. And the world needs more of them, especially now when leaders are expected to do more with less.

    For this week’s blog, I interviewed Wiseman to get her take on how small business owners can multiply or diminish those who work for them.

    Q. What exactly is a multiplier?

    A. A multiplier is someone who uses his or her intelligence to amplify and bring out the smarts and capability of those around them.

    Q. What is a diminisher?

    A. The multiplier’s evil counterpart who always needs to be the smartest guy in the room and shuts everyone else down.

    Q. What other differences did you find between managers who are multipliers and managers who are diminishers?

    A. To begin with, there is a big difference in how each of these types sets direction. Diminishers tend to be know-it-alls in how they set direction. They base strategy on their insight. They only see what they know and then never ask their company to do something other than that. In this way, they limit what’s possible in an organization because their business can only take on something they have an answer to or know how to do.

    Q. What about managers who are multipliers?

    A. In contrast, multipliers play the role of challenger. They ask the big strategic questions and contribute what they know of the markets and trends to frame up the organization’s challenge. They ask questions that make the organization stretch and take on something that seems impossible, but frame it in a way that makes it possible.

    Q. Don’t multipliers add their own knowledge to the mix?

    A. Yes, but they are comfortable asking questions. They have a strategic agenda, but not all the answers. They let the organization figure it out.

    Q. Is the way a business owner makes decisions impacted by which type they are?

    A. Yes. Diminishers are the decision maker. They are quick to determine what should happen and isolate themselves to an inner circle of trusted advisers. Their point of view is that the smart people in the know should make the decisions, and the rest of the company should execute.

    Q. How does this impact the rest of the business?

    A. The problem with this is that the diminisher thinks they are being effective and agile because they are making rapid decisions. But the rest of the company is struggling to understand why these decisions were made, so they are slow to execute. So diminishers make great strategic decisions that don’t get implemented very quickly or effectively.

    Q. How do multipliers approach this?

    A. Multipliers tend to be debate makers. They frame a decision with, “Here are the key questions,” and then assemble brainpower and key players to weigh in on the topic. It may take longer to make the decisions, but because everyone has had their voice heard and has insight into why something is being implemented, the decisions are executed more intelligently and rapidly.

    Q. How big is the difference really in the results diminishers versus multipliers get from their people?

    A. We studied 150 leaders in 35 different countries across four continents and found that diminishers got less than half of people’s intelligence and capability — about 48 percent. Multipliers, on the other hand, got twice as much (1.97 times) greater intelligence and capability out of their people.

    In the end, Wiseman says that staff reported that working for both diminishers and multipliers could be exhausting. But here’s the difference: Those who worked for diminishers said they found it exhausting and frustrating, while those who worked for multipliers found it exhausting yet exhilarating.

    Are you more of a diminisher or a multiplier? In what way? We would love to hear your comments.

    Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

    Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

    Any small businessperson who currently swims in the swirling mass of a high-pressure workplace doesn’t need another study to tell him or her that they have reached their limit. However, just in case your overflowing email inbox and chaotic to-do list weren’t proof enough, according to a national study released earlier this month by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, one in three American employees are chronically overworked.

    “Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multitasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked,” reports Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. “Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked.” Key findings of the study included:

    Fifty-four percent of American employees have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete.

    Twenty-nine percent of employees spend a lot of time doing work that they consider a waste of time. These employees are more likely to be overworked.

    Only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked.

    In addition, as we round the corner into summer, the study also found that 36 percent of employees had not taken and were not planning to take their full vacation days. Ironically, however, of the employees who did take one to three days off, 68 percent returned to work feeling relaxed, and 85 percent who took seven or more days away report that they returned more refreshed.

    As for the source of these warrior work habits, the study highlighted several key factors including:

    Lack of Focus. Fifty-six percent of employees say they often or very often experience having to work on too many tasks at one time and/or experience interruption during the workday, making it difficult to get their work done. Sixty percent of employees who very often have to work on too many tasks at the same time feel highly overworked, compared with only 22 percent who sometimes experience excessive multitasking.

    Job Pressure. Eighty-nine percent of employees agree somewhat or strongly that they never seem to have enough time to get everything done on the job, and those who experience greater pressure feel much more overworked. Fifty-four percent of employees who feel highly pressured on the job are highly overworked versus only 4 percent of those who experience low levels of job pressure and 18 percent who experience mid levels of pressure.

    Low-Value Work. Twenty-nine percent of employees strongly or somewhat agree that they spend a lot of time doing things that are a waste of time. More importantly, 51 percent who feel they have to do a lot of low-value work are highly overworked versus 25 percent who don’t feel this way.

    Accessibility 24/7. The electronic leash of cell phones, computers, texting and email has blurred the lines between when we work and when we don’t. The study showed that the respondents who were in contact with work once a week or more outside of normal working hours more often reported being highly overworked (44 percent) than those who had little or no such contact (26 percent).

    Wait a minute; wasn’t technology supposed to be the panacea that would automate our most mundane tasks and bring us the leisure time needed to improve the quality of our relationships with friends and family? Apparently not.

    While there are no simple solutions to how a small business owner can keep his or her staff and self on the sane side of productivity, there are some standard practices to consider implementing, including:

    • Offer more flexible work hours so staff can customize their schedules to meet their personal needs to a greater degree.

    • Experiment with telecommuting to allow more work to be conducted from home, lessening travel time.

    • Do a quality workflow audit of your business to determine where wasted efforts and rework exist.

    • Create a no-cell phone/text/email policy in meetings. The meetings will go faster and be more productive.

    • Train all staff in the skills of time literacy, including how to manage interruptions, overcome procrastination and use focused time planning to get maximum work done, in minimal time.

    Oh, and for heaven’s sake, please take a vacation this summer — your small business will thank you.

    What are your biggest overwhelm and overwork challenges? We would love to hear your comments.

    How Vacations Help the Business Brain

    How Vacations Help the Business Brain

    The thought of this impending time off from the daily in and out of work exhilarates me — and worries me.

    On the pro side is the anticipation of rest, renewal and relaxation. Weighing in on the negatives are preparing to go in the first place and a heavier workload when I return.

    “We skip vacations because we worry that the person next to us will get ahead while we’re gone,” says Don Joseph Goewey, author of Mystic Cool: A proven approach to transcend stress, achieve optimal brain function, and maximize your creative intelligence. “Or we’re afraid that the work piling up on our desk will put us so far behind that we’ll never catch up.”

    As it turns out, however, not going on vacation might be bad for our brains.

    Research shows that constantly being under pressure floods our brain with stress hormones, which then erode the higher brain function we need to sustain peak performance,” says Goewey. “The opposite is also true. Activity in the hippocampus and neocortex centers of the brain (the place where everything we think of as intelligence is generated) increases during periods of wakeful rest, such as breaks during the day, time off during the week or a vacation during the year.”

    Goewey says that the reward for the time you invest in a vacation is a brain humming with the creative intelligence, common sense and physical energy that will sustain you at the top of your game.

    David Allen, best-selling author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life, is a strong proponent of the power of taking vacations as well.

    “I think productivity is always enhanced when you have the chance to evaluate your life and work from multiple horizons,” says Allen. “Vacations help you from getting too far down in the weeds and provide an opportunity to refresh and restore.”

    But despite all expert advice and scientific evidence, a recent survey by the American Express OPEN Small Business Vacation Monitor showed that less than half (46 percent) of small business owners plan to take a vacation this summer — down from a high of 67 percent in 2006 — and 37 percent list a busy work schedule as the culprit. And even for those who do plan on diving in and taking a few days off, 68 percent say they will stay connected to work and check in while on vacation.

    So this summer, give your brain a break, go forth and vacate. Build up your brain’s higher function, get a perspective on your life, reinvent your career, play some golf, eat an ice cream cone and hike with the kids. It will be good for your well being and, ultimately, your wallet.

    Be sure to check back next week when I will be doing the second post in this series on taking a vacation with a focus on tips to prepare for, and return from, a vacation with ease.

    Do you plan on taking a vacation any time soon? I’d would love to hear your comments.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

    Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

    A few weeks ago, I was off site at a client’s office facilitating a strategy session. At the start, everyone in the room was constantly checking their cell phones for email messages, texting and attempting to be both in the meeting and working — at the same time.

    When I suggested we would get further in a shorter amount of time by focusing on the agenda in front of us and putting away the electronics for a few hours, I received looks that screamed everything from, “Surely you must be joking,” to, “Heretic!”

    “I need to check my email,” stammered one participant.

    “I’m on deadline for a project,” said another, barely looking up from his keyboard to make the point.

    “But we always answer our phones, even in meetings,” said another.

    I’ll spare you the ugly details, but what ensued was a discussion about how the constant use of technology impacts our focus (hence productivity) and even our sanity.

    Things have gotten so out of hand, in fact, that a June 2011 survey by Qumu conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that the majority of those surveyed (62 percent) believe that during work meetings, their co-workers are sneaking a peek at their mobile devices. The most common ways people believe others are stealing a glance at their handhelds include:
    47% – Hiding their mobile device under the table
    42% – Excusing themselves to go to the restroom
    35% – Hiding their mobile device in their folders/notebooks/papers
    9% – Pretending to tie their shoes
    8% – Creating a distraction

    Interestingly, 37 percent of the respondents didn’t think “sneaking a peek” was necessary — they thought people would just look at their mobile devices in plain view. It’s a slippery slope, and it seems the embarrassment of not paying full attention in a meeting has been trumped by the self-justified importance of being wired in.

    The real problem with all this mobile madness is that it can take a heavy toll on our relationships with others at work and has been proven to dramatically reduce our productivity.

    In one study, the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that when workers are constantly juggling emails, phone calls and text messages, their IQs fall 10 points.

    Another study by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans found that when people switched back and forth between tasks, there was a substantial loss of efficiency and accuracy, in some cases up to as much as 50 percent.

    In my experience, small businesses suffer just as much as major corporations from their constant checking of cell phones in important meetings and even one-on-one conversations.

    And while big businesses have a much larger group of staff to cushion the impact, small businesses are by nature tight on people resources and need to get the most productivity out of those they do have.

    But most of us don’t need a study to tell us what we see in front of our eyes daily –that distraction is bad for business. So if you’re ready to take the leap and let go of your mobile device in meetings, here are some ways you can step away from the cell phone and come face-to-face with your focus.

    • Make it company policy to not use cell phones during business lunches, one-on-one meetings with staff and customers or in-group meetings.

    • Don’t bring your computer into meetings for note taking. Instead, use a recording device or take notes the old fashioned way — on paper with a pen. If you do need to use your computer to take notes, use a software program to lock yourself out of your email for the duration of the meeting.

    • Create a cell phone collection box and gather up all cell phones at the beginning of meetings and give them back at the end.

    If all of this isn’t enough to make you want to throw your cell phone out the window during your next meeting, consider this report just in from TeleNav.
    One third of us would rather give up sex than part — even briefly — with our phones.

    How has the use of cell phones during meetings impacted your productivity? We would love to hear your comments.

    How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

    How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

    I did a post for this column on identifying bad clients and knowing when to fire them. In the emails and comments that followed, many of you mentioned the flip side of the coin — building a business based on ideal clients.

    These are the clients we created our companies to serve. The ones who make it all worthwhile. They are the customers who, when they ring us up or ping us with an email, brighten our day. Interestingly enough, they are often also the best paying, most profitable and least pain in the (fill in the blank) clients we have.

    But how exactly does a small business secure this magical stable of superstar clients? It starts by defining what makes up your unique ideal client profile.

    “The ideal client profile is a clear description of the type of client you would love to have more of. It may be an exact replica of a client you’re working with today. Or it could be a combination of qualities you’ve seen in past and current clients,” says small business coach Maria Marsala.

    I asked a roundup of small business owners, experts and authors to give me their tips, take and wisdom on the ins and outs of small businesses and ideal clients. Here’s what they had to say.

    The concept of an ideal client profile can be revolutionary for small business owners who have assumed that all business is good business. If a business depends on referrals, finding the ideal customer profile will have a long-term impact. These customers spread the word, attracting more customers like them. Taking on customers that don’t fit the profile also generates referrals — but for less-desirable business. Time spent with customers outside the target profile takes business owners further from their goals, making success more elusive.
    –Joellyn Sargent, BrandSprout Marketing.

    Ideal clients must appreciate the value you bring to the table and have realistic expectations. They also need to be willing to do their part in whatever process or journey you go on together. When clients meet these criteria, you can do your best work, instead of spending time bickering or playing games.
    –Patti DeNucci, Author of The Intentional Networker

    The first challenge is to get your ideal clients to step out of the crowd so you can begin that conversation. This becomes easy only after you understand that it’s not about getting someone’s attention, it’s about getting his or her interest. Two things get our interest: When someone talks about a problem we have and don’t want and/or a result we want and don’t have. The best way to get more of your ideal clients to seek you out is to ask and answer these questions.

    • What problems can I solve through my products and services?
    • What changes, or results, can I help create?
    • Who has these problems?
    • Who wants these results?

    When you have these answers clear, they form the foundation for all your marketing.
    –Dov Gordon, The Alchemist Entrepreneur.

    The most important attribute to look for is trust. If a potential client or existing client trusts you completely, then you can be most effective in your role. Trust means fewer questions and disappointments. Clients who will never trust you take too much time challenging every recommendation you make, reducing efficiency and frustrating both parties.
    Dylan Valade, Web Designer.

    Whether you determine your ideal client profile by asking and answering a series of questions or graphing the greatest attributes of your best customers, taking the time to articulate who your A-list clients are is smart small business all around.

    What makes up your ideal client profile? We would love to hear your comments.