This month I’ve had the privilege of being “author in residence” at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco. The center is a non-profit organization created to connect, inspire, and educate aspiring and current entrepreneurs.
Last week I launched my new book The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, with an on stage interview at the center. Among other points we discussed:
- Why everyone needs a personal brand
- The importance of CEO branding
- The challenge of branding in an online world
- Key brand positioning strategy actions
The entire event was live streamed on Facebook.
Check out the full 45 minute interview on Facebook Live
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
True confessions. A few days a week, I go to work in my pajamas. Being a member of the estimated 30 million U.S. workers who ply their trade from home at least once a week, I’m just not required to don my business casual clothing on a daily basis.
However, lately I’ve begun to consider that, despite the obvious comfort and convenience of flannel, my robe as business-wear might not be the best for my productivity.
Pondering my pj situation got me wondering about what other non-productive work-from-home habits other small business owners might be struggling with.
To find out, I queried and got responses from over 150 small business proprietors, including CPAs, consultants, Web workers, marketing experts, writers, artists and others. While there were dozens of issues brought up, there were a few that stood out. Here are the two most common work-from-home danger zones and some best practices for beating them back.
#1 Danger Zone: Getting distracted by personal items during work time.
Stopping cold in the middle of writing a critical client proposal to meet with the plumber; cleaning out the kitchen cabinets instead of making marketing calls; surfing the net for the newest smartphone apps rather than following up with potential clients. The natural distractions of personal items are all around us when we work at home. While it may not be possible to ignore every home issue that arises, setting clear boundaries around work time is essential to being productive.
Best Practice: Time blocking. The night before, or first thing in the morning, sit down and do an estimated time plan for the day. The time plan should include times to work on key projects and deliverables as well as client work, marketing and social media. If there are personal errands or tasks that need to be done that day, don’t do them spontaneously. Instead, set aside a defined time window during the day to get them done. By creating a time plan, you’re more likely to follow it and avoid getting taken off course by an unexpected interruption.
“I set some major time goals for how I want to divide up my workday,” says Shel Horowitz, author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green. Horowitz says he tries to spend set amounts of time each day on billable client hours, writing, email, social media, exercise and office and personal tasks. “Tracking my time has forced me to be much more conscious of what I do all day. I’ve had to look at the reality that email was swallowing three to four hours a day. Since, I’ve unsubscribed from about 60 newsletters.”
#2 Danger Zone: Rolling out of bed and going straight into the office. I realized that I, like many of my self-employed brethren, had slipped into the bad habit of waking up and going straight onto email, then stopping at some point and eating breakfast, then maybe exercising — maybe not. Almost all the respondents pointed out that having an inconsistent morning routine and, yes, going to work in pj’s, was ultimately bad for their small business.
Best Practice: Institute a morning routine that includes putting on pants or any piece of clothing you haven’t slept in. More than 90 percent of the small business owners I surveyed for this post mentioned that putting on real clothes was important to feeling their most productive when working from home.
“The biggest problem with wearing pajamas while working from home is a psychological one,” says Andrew Schrage, editor at Money Crashers. “Most people associate pajamas with relaxing, watching TV, and sleep. Thus, pajamas can act as a never-ending temptation to stop working and just relax, which is one of the biggest challenges of working from home.”
Schrage says that on the flip side, wearing real clothes puts you in more of an active, working mindset for getting things done.
The other factor mentioned by almost every small business owner who responded was the importance of establishing a consistent morning routine.
“The flexibility of working from home can sometimes alter your sense of urgency to get up and going by 9 a.m.,” says Jaclyn Mullen. “But the more organized and structured you start off, the more likely you are to complete your projects on time and without errors.”
Try creating a regular routine that includes the time you will get up, the time you will be at your desk and what you plan to do in between (eat breakfast, exercise, shower) and follow it for a week. Make adjustments as needed, but commit yourself to a path of morning rituals that will set you up for the most productive day possible.
What are your work-from-home danger zones? We would love to hear your comments.
In today’s crowded media landscape, businesses are continually on the lookout for ways to stand apart from their competitors. Enter surveys, a cost-effective method to promote brand awareness. A survey worthy of media attention is more than just a few questions randomly asked. Instead, it’s a carefully crafted instrument that, when done right, can make the media sit up and take notice. Here are a few suggestions for making your survey something a busy editor will want to pick up publish.
Use a combination of questions: “A common belief among people who use PR for coverage is that they have to ask quirky and zany questions,” says Nathan Richter, a senior PR pollster at Wakefield. While a few creative questions that grab an editor’s initial attention are fine, they need to be balanced with credible ones, which compel an editor to cover a story. For example: when online discount travel service Travelzoo.com sponsored a survey, they asked people more creative questions, such as, “Would you be willing to stand on a cross-country flight in order to save 50% off the cost of the airline ticket?” But they also asked more traditional market research questions, such as, “Do you expect to be traveling more or less than last year for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday?”
Avoid obvious commercial messaging: Many PR executives and business owners assume that it’s OK to make their pitch a commercial message, so long as they put survey data behind it. “Not so,” says Richter. “If company X wants to be branded as the ‘hip’ company, they don’t write a press release with a headline that reads, ‘Survey shows company X is the hippest.’”
Instead, make your release about the bigger picture of the survey and the story behind it. The idea is that by being the sponsor of a great story — not the star — you will achieve media coverage and visibility with your target market.
Emphasize the scientific: As more businesspeople include surveys as part of their PR strategy, they are turning to do-it-yourself tools to accommodate their needs. But whether you conduct the survey yourself or hire a professional firm to conduct it on your behalf, to be credible, it needs to be conducted in a scientific manner. To emphasize to the media that the survey your company conducted is based in proper research protocols, Richter suggests it include:
- Name of the research vendor
- Margin of error
- Dates the study was conducted
- Sample size used
- Methods used in conducting the survey
Remember, the press and media are constantly on the lookout for relevant and timely surveys that they can “hook” a story around. Provide them with a well crafted, properly researched and interestingly reported study or survey and your company could find itself swimming in ink.
Virtual Assistant. The mere utterance of these words can make a small business owner ecstatic or apoplectic — all depending on their experience with this increasingly popular administrative help.
I won’t bore you with the details, but my first foray into the world of VAs was fraught with every mistake you can make and left me gun-shy about reaching out for such help ever again. Luckily, I was gently coaxed by some fellow entrepreneurs to try again.
This time, I did my homework, stood my ground and made smarter choices, and I’ve happily been using VAs ever since. In fact, I’ve had such good results that I’m of the mindset that almost every small business could benefit from hiring one. Here are just a few signs that a VA might be a productivity enhancer for your small business.
You’ve blown a business opportunity because you missed a deadline to follow up.
You’re not on top of business development because you have no up-to-date client and prospect database.
You have exciting work projects you would like to take on but always seem to be too tied up with the day-to-day running of your business to get to them.
You work nights and weekends to keep up with routine administrative tasks.
You have routine work items that you don’t like doing which take time away from other more creative and important tasks.
If you’re shaking your head at this point and saying, “Huh, what is she talking about,” stop reading. If you’re nodding your head, read on to learn the best practices for bringing a VA on board to your small business.
Kathy Goughenour a virtual assistant trainer, recommends these five steps to successfully outsourcing work to VAs.
1. Discover the routine tasks you dislike doing. During the next week, keep a log of all your activities. At the end of the week, sit down and review the list and determine which activities you need to do yourself, and which you could delegate to a VA. For example: uploading a week’s worth of pre-written tweets, physically posting your weekly blog, following up on invoices, etc. Those are perfect projects to give to a VA.
2. Find a list of potential VAs. As with all good resources, the best place to start is within your own network. Send out an email to a list of business associates, telling them a bit about what you want help with and asking if they have a VA they would recommend.
Goughenour also suggests searching Google by entering “find a virtual assistant.” “There are many sites that specialize in training and/or placing Virtual Assistants,” says Goughenour. “They are like the VA version of a temp agency. You can also check VA associations, such as VAnetworking.com and ivaa.org.”
3. Screen the candidates for compatibility and professionalism. Now that you have come up with some candidates the next step is to do some research, first by reviewing their websites and secondly by conducting a phone interview. Goughenour suggests covering the following questions in the interview.
• Do you have experience in handling (insert task you want done)?
• What are your hours (times, days) of operation?
• What are your fees? Do you bill hourly, by project or on retainer?
• Do you have the time availability in your schedule to take on my project?
• How quickly will you get back to me when I email or call you?
• Do you have a team to support you? If yes, will I be working directly with you, or will I occasionally work with other members of your team?
• What services do you provide (and what services don’t you provide)?
• Can you give me an overview of how you work with clients?
• How long have you been in business?
• Are you in full-time or part-time practice?
If they pass muster on the interview, ask for and contact at least two references.
4. Start small. Once you have done your due diligence and found the VA you think might be the delegation partner of your dreams, start with a small project as a way to test your theory. Let the VA know up front that you’re beginning with a trial project to see how things go.
5. Hire slowly, fire quickly. Doing your research up front helps minimize problems down the line. However, on occasion, once you begin working with a VA, you may find that despite a brilliant start, things turn sour. If your VA misses several deadlines, makes the same type of mistake again and again, or is difficult to deal with, you may decide to call it quits. “It’s best to put the request to terminate the services in writing,” says Goughenour. “Be sure to include the date on which the services will cease and any work already paid for that you expect the VA to complete prior to that date.”
Do you have any tips about how to hire or work with a VA? We would love to hear your comments.