Four Steps to Building Business Relationships

BizRelationships

Building strong relationships is an important part of the success of any business, but when you’re a new business owner – or when you’re not an extrovert – knowing how to get started can be challenging. While relationships are complex and every relationship is unique, here are the four basic steps to creating, fostering and maintaining business relationships.

Meet: Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and isolating, especially when you don’t have a network of professionals to help you along the way. The first step to building business relationships is to find the people you want to build business relationships with and meet them. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, going to networking events, chamber of commerce events and other business gatherings can be a good place to start. If you have your eye on someone particular, try asking a mutual connection (either in person or on a site like LinkedIn) to help you with an introduction.

Partner: Business relationships have to be true partnerships – we’re not talking about mentors here. Once the pleasantries are out of the way, talk about why you want a business relationship with this person and what the benefit to both parties might be. Is this a referral partnership? If so, why should that person trust their business reputation to you? What can you offer in return? Partnerships are two-way streets and you have to be ready to meet in the middle and prove your worth, especially if you’re new to the industry.

Build: This is where the rubber meets the road. Once a relationship has been established – either formally or not – it’s up to you to build that relationship. Send referrals their way. Introduce them to people who might help them grow their business. Do what you can do foster the relationship as much as possible. If you were the one who initiated this relationship, the ball is in your court to build it when you can without being too pushy or forward.

Maintain: Like any relationship, a business relationship takes commitment and energy. You don’t want to spend all that time fostering a relationship with another business leader just to let things wane, but it’s also important to remember that the people you have relationships with are busy too. Find ways to stay connected without taking up too much time – put a note in your calendar reminding you to send that person an email or ask them to meet for coffee.

If you need help finding ways to connect with other business owners or even marketing yourself as a good partner, your local Growth Coach can help: https://www.thegrowthcoach.com/find-a-coach.

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Planning Small Breaks Can Help You Avoid Burnout

SmallBreaksBusiness owner burnout is an epidemic. Our society values entrepreneurs and business leaders who work tirelessly to build success, but working 80 hours a week, never seeing your family and never having a free second without feeling on call is exhausting. There are articles all over the internet – including this blog – about the importance of taking vacations, making sure your staff can run the business without you, etc., but sometimes finding that right time to leave town is tough, especially in the early days of building your business.

That’s why this time we want to talk about something a little more simple – setting aside time for yourself and for your family without spending a week on the beach.

Take out your calendar… Are there days when you can head into the office a little later and spend an extra hour reading on the patio? Could you take a long lunch to get a pedicure? Is there a weekend you could go camping without being on call? Could you take a day off to surprise your kids with a trip to the zoo? Could you and your significant other spend a couple of nights in the city without worrying about the business?

If the answer is yes, then while you have your calendar out, book those appointments with yourself and stick to them. Don’t reschedule if you don’t absolutely have to and don’t feel guilty about taking the time you need to take care of yourself and be with your family. You didn’t launch a business to have a really demanding job – you launched a business to be a business owner.

If the answer is no, then it’s time for a change. We are just asking for you to think about small breaks – not long vacations. And if you can’t even take a small break, then what happens if you win a trip to Jamaica or you have a medical emergency? It’s time to put systems and staff members into place that can help you take a step back so you can work ON the business instead of IN the business. Your local Growth Coach can help: https://www.thegrowthcoach.com/find-a-coach.

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Finding the Right Mentor

MentorSometimes mentorships come naturally and without a lot of forethought – like when a manager takes you under his or her wing and helps you with your personal and professional growth. But sometimes, especially when you’re trying to grow a business or break into something new, you have to work to find, and recruit, the right mentor.

The key to finding a great mentor is research. You need to find someone you’d want to be like in the future or who has successfully walked the career path you have in front of you now. Just like preparing for a job interview by learning about the company, you need to do your homework about the person you want to mentor you before the introduction.

Once you’ve found that person and you’ve done your research, reach out to them! Never assume someone is too busy – even the busiest people will take the time to mentor someone if they see the value and they feel a connection. Start by making an introduction and asking to meet for coffee, but keep the meeting short. Come with questions that you’re not afraid to ask.

After that initial meeting, show your appreciation with a heartfelt thank you note and, if you’re not already connected on LinkedIn, send a connection invite ASAP. Also, if the person you want to mentor you offered any advice or insight based on your questions, follow up soon to let them know you took their advice and how things went. No one wants to feel like their time has been wasted, so this is a good way to show that you value what they bring to the table and that you are worth the energy.

At this point you have a decision to make… do you want this person to mentor you? You’ve put in the work, you had a great first meeting and you’ve shown that you are worth the investment, but it’s still OK to walk away with that one coffee meeting under your belt. You’ve made a great connection and that’s worth it.

If you do want to continue the relationship, then it’s time to make the ask! This 2018 article from MarketWatch has some great advice on moving forward: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-rules-how-to-ask-someone-to-be-your-mentor-2018-03-29.

If you’re looking for someone to offer more practical, immediate advice on growing your business, that’s work for a business coach rather than a mentor. Find your local Growth Coach online at https://www.thegrowthcoach.com/find-a-coach.

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Worrying About the Competition Can Help You Make Your Business Better

Competition can be scary. Whether you’re worried about a rival store opening down the street or you’re in an emerging industry watching other start-ups launch with a new twist, it’s hard to make sure you’re in the lead. But while competition might be stressful, it can also help you make your business better.

Even if you don’t have any direct competition today, thinking about what that competition might bring to your market is a great way to stay on top of your game. What are you doing to continuously improve your business? What keeps your customers coming back? What makes you unique? If someone did open a rival shop, what would they offer? Is that something you could offer without sacrificing your current business strengths?

If you own a business and you haven’t had time to ask these big picture questions, chances are good that you are working IN your business instead of ON your business. Let this be your wake-up call! You have to get out of the day-to-day operations of business to be able to think strategically – and that starts with having systems and a team you can trust to run the business and handle operations without involving you in every decision. This is something your local Growth Coach can help you work through.

Once you’re able to step back and see the big picture of your business, start looking for your company’s weaknesses, strengths and opportunities.

Weaknesses: It’s hard to talk about the things that are holding you (or your business) back. From customer service problems to bad online reviews to sub-par products, finding the things that are keeping you from building a loyal customer base or bringing in new customers is the first step in addressing your weaknesses. Start by reading the online reviews of your business, talking to your staff, observing the operations of the business from afar and, if possible, talking to or surveying your customers. Once you identify the issues, build a plan for making improvements and be patient – change takes time.

Strengths: As you focus on improving those weaknesses it’s easy to lose sight of your strengths. Don’t spread yourself or your staff too thin to keep doing whatever it is you do best. If you have the best cold brew in town, don’t sacrifice it to spend time making better lattes. Find ways to do both, even if it’s a gradual change. Or, if you can’t make better lattes, don’t sell them at all. Your current loyal customers likely keep coming back for whatever it is you do best and it’s important to keep them happy.

Opportunities: Predicting the competition can be tough, but as you work toward continuous improvement, it’s important to anticipate the needs of your customers and research what your competition might be looking to offer next. You can’t be the first to do everything, but staying on top of industry trends and making sure you’re pursuing the opportunities that make sense can help you stay relevant. Remember to talk to your staff frequently – they often have their ears closer to the ground that you do!

Helping your business be its best starts with being able to step back and look at your business without getting pulled into the day-to-day operations. If you need help getting there, The Growth Coach can help. Find your local coach online at https://www.thegrowthcoach.com/find-a-coach.

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Five Business Movies to Add to Your Queue

A good movie is a perfect way to unwind after a long week at the office, but aside from being entertaining, some movies are packed with business tips, entrepreneurial motivation and the importance of balance. While there are dozens of blogs out there that highlight the best business movies, we scanned 10 of them to see which movies came up most frequently. Here are five that regularly make the list – and that you might want to add to your queue for the next time you can’t figure out what to watch.

Wall Street (1987)

Greed is a slippery slope and almost no movie showcases the dark path – and severe consequences – of living the “greed is good” lifestyle quite like Wall Street. When you add this movie’s look at investments, the stock market, corporate finance and capital markets, it regularly makes the list.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

The right thing isn’t always the easy thing, which is especially true for George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. When Bailey’s father dies, he gives up his dreams of traveling and moves home to take over the family bank. But when the bank’s savings go missing, Bailey wishes he’d never been born. That’s when Angel Clarence shows him how different the town would be without him – and helps him see the difference he has made. It’s a great reminder that doing the right thing matters.

Office Space (1999)

Everyone has had the inspiration to throw away a stack of memos (or “delete all” on emails) and destroy a printer every now and then, so it’s no surprise Office Space often finds itself on these lists. It’s a satirical picture of office life, but also a great reminder of what it takes to run an effective business and be a great manager. Or a bad one. It might also inspire you to quit that 9-to-5, dead-end job and start that business you’ve been dreaming about.

Jerry Maguire (1996)

This is the classic startup story and the moral is that success often starts with putting your customers’ needs before your own. The story starts when Jerry Maguire, a high-powered sports agent, is fired from his own successful company for fighting for a more personal approach. He breaks out on his own with one employee, one clients and a LOT of grit. Show me the money!

The Social Network (2010)

Say what you want about Facebook, but Mark Zuckerberg created a social network that caught fire and changed the way we see each other and interact with the world. But it didn’t come easy – and he’s still fighting law suits and complaints – but The Social Network profiles the beginnings of Facebook, the challenges Zuckerberg faced and the struggles any business owner can have along the way.

There are dozens (probably hundreds) of great business movies out there – here’s looking at you Citizen Kane, Erin Brockovich, The Godfather, Twelve Angry Men, The Usual Suspects – but these five are a great place to start.

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Celebrate Christmas in July by Thinking about Holiday Marketing

freestocks-org-k-Rp0V0XWWU-unsplashDecember might seem far away, but the stores will be in full holiday mode starting in mid-October (whether you like it or not), and that’s less than 90 days away. Since there’s not much worse than trying to rush a marketing campaign during the busiest shopping season of the year, July is the perfect time to start turning the wheels on how your business is going to make waves this year.

While you have time to get the details together, here are five things you can get started on today:

Talk to Your Team

It’s no secret that some of the best ideas can come from your staff. Your team members interact with your customers, they know your products (and your competitors) and they have their own buying experiences. They can be a treasure trove of ideas. If you don’t have a large or heavily engaged team, consider incentivizing ideas by rewarding those employees who submit the ideas you decide to implement.

Set Timelines and Deadlines

Even if you’re not into promoting the holidays before Halloween, your competitors might be. Consider the best time to roll out your individual holiday promotions and work backwards from that date to make sure you have everything ready to go without rushing. Make sure your team is aware of the timeline and make whatever schedule or project adjustments are needed to meet those deadlines. Also, if you are taking holiday orders or selling items online, be sure to set “to receive your items by Christmas…” timelines for your last-minute shopping customers.

Start Working on Custom Imagery

Great marketing starts with great images, which might mean hiring a graphic designer. Put together a list of all the places the art or image(s) should appear, including print marketing materials, your website, social media posts and cover images, and anywhere else you’d be sharing content around the holidays. Make sure you have catchy, but matching, imagery for every platform. Even if you aren’t ready to pull the trigger on exactly what you want included the art, it helps to find a designer early and give them time to brainstorm. Also, if you have products that are specifically holiday themed (see the next bullet point) be sure to get great images of those items for your promotions.

Plan for Custom Packaging

Getting custom holiday packaging is something you’ll want to think about sooner rather than later, because you’ll need to design and order anything you want available for the holiday shopping season. This can mean something simple like ordering shopping bags that add some holiday flair alongside your logo, but it could also be things like holiday-themed gift certificates or or deliberate holiday packaging, especially for smaller items you’re able to turn over quickly. Bonus points if your designer can help with this too, but don’t wait – you have to order that packaging early to be able to get it into place in time!

Consider Creating Gift Bundles & Offering Extras

People are in a hurry and gifts can be difficult to buy. If you have popular, smaller items that can be bundled into a gift set, or if you are able to offer something in addition to a gift card (like a mug or product samples), it may be the incentive your customers need to buy from you rather than order something somewhere else. By the way, speaking of order, adjust the prices of your products to be able to include free shipping as needed. With retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon offering free shipping, customers no longer see free shipping as an incentive. Since adjusting prices, creating bundles and putting together promotions for those bundles can take time, this is something you’ll want to starting working on early.

If you need help with marketing your business – during the holidays or year-round – contact your local Growth Coach for help: https://thegrowthcoach.com/find-coach/.

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Set the Stage (and your Desk) for Success

norbert-levajsics-D97n3LR5uN8-unsplashEveryone’s preferences for a work space are different but, whether you’re in a cube farm or working from a home office, having your desk set up in a way that works for you is an important part of your ability to work effectively and efficiently. While you don’t always have total control of the space where you work, there are a few ways you can turn any desk into a power desk…

Save the Prime Real Estate

Regardless of the shape, size or design of your desk, there are spots that are easier to see and reach than others. Take a few minutes to figure out which items on your desk you use most frequently and which are the most helpful. Even if it doesn’t seem like the best design choice, put those items in your prime real estate. For example, if you frequently use your calendar and your post-it notes, don’t hang your calendar behind you and tuck the sticky notes in a drawer. Just be sure not to make your most accessible spaces overly cluttered – that can be distracting.

Consider What Goes in Secondary Spaces

Now that the best spots on your desk are taken, look at the rest of the things you have on (and in) your desk. Which things can be further back on your desk or tucked into a drawer? Does your file storage need to be out in the open next to you? Or can it be in a drawer where it’s not distracting and cluttering your workspace?

Create Your Own Organizational System

If you are working at an office, you often start with the organizational tools you’re given – drawers, file trays, folders… but everyone’s minds work differently. While these tools might be perfect for you, they also might not be. Being organized is an important part of being a leader, but you’ll need to find a system and tools that work for you and that might take time. Also, if you have an overwhelming week, take 20 minutes at the end of the week to get your files and paperwork organized so you can start the next week fresh. No one wants to come in to a desk that’s covered in last week’s stressors.

Decorate (or Don’t)

Everyone needs a different amount of visual stimulation to be happy and productive – some people want a blank, open space to avoid distractions while others need colorful art and family photos to keep them engaged. Think about what works for you and then do what you can to meet those needs. If you are a blank slate person, that might mean putting as much as you can into drawers and giving yourself lots of clean, open space. If you’re someone who needs more than that, consider what you’re able to do with your space and what makes sense for both your individual desk and your office building. Maybe a bright piece of art and a few family photos would help you feel more at home?

If you have a home office or you’re able to choose the furniture in your work office, it’s also important to consider what kind of furniture you and (and don’t) need. Don’t buy a credenza you’ll feel obligated to clutter up if that wall space would be where you’d want to hang your family photo.

If you could use help getting your business organized, your local Growth Coach can help. Find a coach online at https://thegrowthcoach.com/find-coach/.

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A Good Team vs A Bad Team and Why it Matters

annie-spratt-604131-unsplash.jpgEven the best entrepreneurs can’t (and shouldn’t) run an entire business alone. Even if you have the skills, doing everything yourself leads to burnout, stunts business growth because of capacity and keeps you from having a diverse team that helps you innovate. Having a staff you can depend on is vital, but that’s about more than having people with the right skills… they also have to be able to work together as an effective, productive team.

The problem is that sometimes, if you’re the company president or the founder, you might not have your finger on the pulse of every issue a team is facing, especially when it’s something like a personality difference. So how do you know if your team is working well together or if you need to make a change?

A Good Team

Successful teams can work together on any kind of project that falls into their wheelhouse. They are diverse, they communicate well and they understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Each member of a highly-effective team has to understand what they bring to the table and appreciate the insights and skills of the rest of the team members. Great teams support each other, split work evening and are focused on goals and results. Teams also need a great leader, whether that’s a manager or someone on the team who has been assigned to a leadership role for that specific project. Great teams are also well organized so they can meet deadlines and fulfill goals in a way that works for your company.

A Bad Team

The challenge with knowing that a team isn’t working out is that, sometimes, you don’t realize it until deadlines are being missed, or there are serious complaints among the team members, or particular team members are taking on their own initiatives (and taking the credit) without working with the group. One of the first tell-tale signs of a bad team is typically that everyone (or at least the people who aren’t feeling like part of the team) are pretty unhappy. No one wants to be the odd man out or feel like they aren’t being included in the right way. The bigger implication is that those kinds of issues tend to fester and will eventually start to impact the culture of your business. It can also quickly result in you losing some great people.

Team building takes time and, as a leader, manager or business owner, it’s up to you to build those teams from the top down. You have to pay attention to more than someone’s resume when you’re thinking about adding them to a team. You have set clear priorities and goals for those teams. You have to work with those teams (or their direct managers) frequently to make sure things are running smoothly.

Once a team is established and you can trust them to operate on their own, you can take a step back, but building, training and support a great team isn’t a one-day project. The Growth Coach’s GC Insights program can help you understand the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of your employees, which can help you get those teams on the right track. Contact your local coach today to learn more: http://thegrowthcoach.com/find-coach/.

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Business Owners: Invest in a Vacation

VacationBlogIn a world where we’re logged in 24/7 and taking time off can be seen as a weakness, burnout is plaguing professionals in every industry, including entrepreneurs and business owners. It’s expected that, for the first few years of your business, you’ll probably be the linchpin for your company – you’re in a growth period, you’re getting systems put into place and you’re building your team. But at some point, you have to be able to step away, even if it’s just for a few days.

You need a vacation. You really need a full week, but we’ll take a few days for this year if your promise to start planning for 2020.

Taking a vacation doesn’t have to mean you’re jet-setting across the country or bumming on a beach – it can even just be a week you dedicate to spending with your family or stay-cationing to do fun things in your own city – but it’s vitally important to your business and your mental health. Taking a vacation is a great way to reacquire the passion for your business. It gives you time to relax and re-energize, which will help you be happier in the long run.

But how do you truly check out when so much of the business leans on you? Hire trustworthy business leaders, train them and trust them. This isn’t something you can do at the drop of a hat, but it’s something you need to invest in and plan for moving forward.

If you have those people in place already and you just can’t seem to find time to get away, as soon as you’re finished reading this blog post, take out your calendar. We think it’s important that you find a full week to black out in the coming months, but even a long weekend can make a difference. Look over the next three months and find at least three consecutive days you could completely take off to help you relax and recharge. Marks the dates out in your calendar.

Once you have the dates set, start focusing on how you can be out those days and prepare your team. If you have strong people and you give them the tools and support they need, it will be just fine. Before you leave, set your out of office and make it clear to your team that you will be turning off your email notifications and that you should only be called in the case of a true and absolute emergency.

This all might seem like a lot of work for a few days of peace, but it’s worth the investment. Work/Life Balance isn’t a buzzword – it’s a business strategy. If you’re struggling with balance or you don’t have the systems or people in place to clock out, even for a few days, it’s time to contact your local Growth Coach: http://thegrowthcoach.com/find-coach/.

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Strengthening Your Business by Thinking about Selling It

Many small business owners start businesses not because they are fabulous business owners or budding entrepreneurs, but because they are passionate technicians. They have a particular skill that they know they can market and sell without working for someone else. But, for many of those business owners, that skill that sets their business apart can also be their Achilles Heel.

It’s easy enough to tell small business owners to build systems, grow their staff, cross-train employees, find and support dependable managers, trust your leadership team, delegate, get out the weeds, focus on strategy… but sometimes those things either feel out of reach, out of budget or even just out of focus when you’re stuck in the day-to-day operations of the business. So what can you do to wrap your head around these challenges (and solutions)? Think about selling your business.

If you decided to sell your business tomorrow – would someone buy it? Do you have the systems, staff and structure in place to hand someone the keys and walk away? Can the business succeed without you or are you not only the business owner, but also the lead technician and Chief Everything Officer? Have you spent time building a loyal customer base and a strong reputation? Have you invested in marketing and growth or are your competitors on your heels?

All in all, would buying your business be a wise business decision or would it be a liability?

As business coaches, this is a conversation we often have with our clients, either in group workshops or individually. Helping them find ways to get out of the day-to-day operations of the company not only gives them the freedom to have a business (rather than a demanding job), but also makes the business more valuable.

So, if your business would be a liability, create an honest list about all the things that you, as a potential buyer of your business, would see as concerns and opportunities. And, once you have that list, start working toward improvements either on your own, with your team, with a mentor or with a business coach.

And, if your answer is that buying your business would be a wise business decision, then you come to another important question… If someone did buy your business, would they pay enough to either sustain you moving forward or give you a strong start for your new business venture? How much is your business worth when you don’t consider your own emotional attachment? You can work through this on your own or with an accountant, but The Growth Coach offers a  Business Valuation program. This program is designed to help you come up with a value and a plan for increasing that value so you can get the biggest return on your investment whenever you do decide to sell your business.

Whether you’re planning to sell the business in five or 25 years – or you’re thinking about passing it down to a family member – thinking through selling your business can help you build a stronger foundation and prepare your company for growth.

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