Customer service. Customer care. Customer experience. Call it what you will but it's all about treating those with whom you do business well. It's more than the golden rule. It's more than good business. It's effective marketing at its very core.
Think of it this way: Is there any better public relations you can gain than by being known as a company who goes above and beyond to ensure a quality experience for its customers? Your product may be top-notch, your services and expertise second to none - but it's the respect and consideration you show each and every customer that sets you apart from the pack. Providing stellar customer care demonstrates, in no uncertain terms, that sentiment we hear as we deplane: "We know you have a choice in carriers. We here at X Airlines appreciate that you've chosen us for your travel needs." That's it in a nutshell - today's customers are looking for something special and unique about a company - something that makes them proud to do business with you instead of someone else. That something has everything to do with the way they're treated. Giving customers a reason to choose you - isn't that precisely what marketing is supposed to do?
Why is customer support so important to your business?
Customer service can easily be regarded among the most important elements of your business for a couple very basic reasons:
It's cheaper to retain an existing customer than to gain a new one. Marketing to new customers is costly and fraught with opportunities for failure. Existing customers, on the other hand, have already enjoyed the experience of doing business with you. Nurture these relationships by acknowledging them and showing your appreciation and they'll be highly motivated to continue sending business your way. Another expression comes to mind here: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
Satisfied customers are the best advertising. It stands to reason that satisfied customers will recommend you to others. Keep existing customers happy and well fed and they'll be better ambassadors for your brand than any marketing campaign.
What does stellar customer service look like?
Customer service wears many hats these days. It's an entire suite of philosophy, actions and details with the goal of making customers feel important, understood and appreciated. Customer service can manifest as training webinars, company-sponsored Twitter chats, an informative and interactive Facebook presence or loyalty programs over and above the more common practices of answering the phone and responding to customer emails. Keeping this in mind, it's easy to see that customer support falls under more than one department's purview. It's everyone's job, in one capacity or another, to demonstrate customer care and provide them with a positive experience with your brand.
No matter the form of the customer care you're providing - or who's providing it - stellar service includes all these elements:
Knowledgeable - It's not enough that there's someone minding the store when a customer contacts you. The company representative must know his or her stuff, backward and forward. Uncertainty and/or misinformation breeds distrust.
Articulate - Satisfying customer care means being able to communicate about your company's products, services, mission and policies clearly and effectively.
Powerful - Effective customer service agents are authorized to take appropriate actions to completely resolve the customer's issue.
Patient - Those who deal with customers will undoubtedly encounter common issues to which they will need to respond numerous times per day. They will also occasionally need to deal with unhappy or dissatisfied people. Customer service representatives must find a way to continually present information thoroughly and cordially, no matter what the circumstances.
Respectful - Respect is more than just not being rude or discourteous. Respectful customer service reflects an interest in their opinions about your offerings, recognizing their power in the relationship as consumers.
Proactive - Caring for your customers is so much more than simply helping them when they experience a problem or have a question. Develop a culture that anticipates potential issues or gaps in the dissemination of information and addresses them before customers need to ask for help.
Generous - Caring for customers means freely giving of your time, knowledge and maybe some company bling. Identify your brand's best ambassadors and reward them with a T-shirt, coffee mug or keychain. Fans of your brand will appreciate your generosity and will proudly display their loyalty to the world while helping to spread your logo around.
Empowering - Information is power. Empower your customers by providing them with a wealth of information about your offerings and ways to share it. Provide videos, photos, blog posts and other resources that can be shared via social media. Your well-informed, enlightened customers want to talk you up and recommend you to others.
It comes down to this: Treat your customers like the valuable marketing resources they are. The more you invest in their experience as your customers, the more you're taking advantage of one of the most powerful marketing tools at your disposal.
How do you provide a rich and valuable customer experience?
Starting a business from scratch can be an exhilarating - yet terrifying and potentially risky undertaking. A significant number of new businesses go belly-up before they ever get off the ground. One way to minimize the potential for failure is to invest in a franchise.
What exactly is a franchise?
The Small Business Administration defines a franchise, or chain, as business model that involves one business owner licensing trademarks and methods to an independent entrepreneur. There are two primary forms of franchising:
Product/trade name franchising in which the extent of the relationship is such that the franchisor, who owns the right to the name or trademark, sells that right to a franchisee.
Business format franchising in which the franchisor and franchisee have an ongoing relationship, and the franchisor often provides a full range of services, including site selection, training, product supply, marketing plans and even assistance in obtaining financing.
Why would you want to own a franchise?
Franchising affords you the opportunity to be in business for yourself while enabling you to operate under a well-known name and/or taking advantage of the franchisor’s experienced business model. These perks of franchising can help alleviate marketing challenges, because the parent company has already done the work of making the business name recognizable to consumers. They can also help ensure your success by offering tried-and-true business practices and guidance targeted to the exact business you’re running.
Of course, there are significant fees associated with franchising. You are, after all, buying the business plan of a successful business and the rights to use their name. It’s important to thoroughly investigate a franchise opportunity to make certain you’re getting value for your investment.
Choosing an appropriate franchise
Determine the following factors to help decide what type of franchise to explore:
Amount of money - and time - you are able and willing to invest
Your abilities, interests - and weaknesses
Your financial - and lifestyle - goals
Develop a prudent franchise strategy
Fortunately, there are regulations regarding franchising. The SBA reports that by law, franchise sellers must disclose certain information about their business to potential buyers. They, along with the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection, suggest the following best practices and tips for potential franchisees:
Retain a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor to review the disclosure document and proposed contract with you.
Contact other franchisees before deciding to invest. Obtain a Uniform Franchise Offering Circular (UFOC), which contains vital details about the franchise's legal, financial, and personnel history, before you sign a contract.
Listen to sales presentations with a critical ear. Investigate claims about your potential earnings. Broad sales claims about successful areas of business – for example, “Be a part of our $4 billion industry,”– may have no bearing on the likelihood of particular franchise’s actual profits.
Shop around and compare franchise opportunities.
Before entering into any contract as a franchisee, determine whether you would have the right to use the franchise name and trademark, receive training and management assistance from the franchisor, use the franchisor's expertise in marketing, advertising, facility design, layouts, displays and fixtures and do business in an area protected from competing franchisees.
Be aware that the contract between the two parties usually benefits the franchisor far more than the franchisee. The franchisee is generally subject to meeting sales quotas and is required to purchase equipment, supplies and inventory exclusively from the franchisor.
Consult professional financial help. The tax rules surrounding franchises are often complex, and an attorney (preferably a specialist in franchise law) should assist you to evaluate the franchise package and tax considerations. An accountant may be needed to determine the full costs of purchasing and operating the business as well as to assess the potential profit to the franchisee.
Check out the company with your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General’s Office, and the Better Business Bureau, both where the company is located and where you plan to operate.
For a comprehensive list of resources for franchisees, consult the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (http://business.ftc.gov/selected-industries/franchises-and-business-opportunities).
Franchising can be a profitable business model, so long as you investigate the opportunity thoroughly and get the professional counsel you need to make prudent decisions.
Whatever you seek to accomplish, the key to finding and maintaining the drive, momentum and creativity you need is a strong sense of motivation. Your motivation can make or break your productivity. Even when you "want" to take on a project or task, numerous factors must align in order to propel you forward toward completing it.
It's all well and good to have good intentions where motivation is concerned. Without positive and solid actions, however, it's all just that - intentions. Fortunately, there are many actions you can take to help those factors fall into place and enhance your motivation. Here are some concrete steps help enhance your motivation:
Steps Toward Enhancing Motivation
Define/redefine goal - Motivation may wane when you're trying to stick a round peg in a square hole. Go back and assess your ultimate goal to make sure that it's realistic and achievable.
Track that goal - Don't just assume that your goal will be achieved. Break it down into smaller increments so that you can witness your progress easily. It's very motivational to acknowledge and celebrate those benchmarks you achieve along the way!
Schedule yourself - work toward it on a regular and ongoing basis - Instead of saying, "I'm going to walk on the treadmill three days a week," make it a commitment by scheduling it like any other appointment. If it's truly a priority, scheduling tasks associated with a goal will motivate you and remove excuses for neglecting or postponing it.
Take a break - Stand up, stretch, drink some water, take a walk, take a vacation... whatever it takes to clear your mind for a time and refocus. When you return, you'll be more highly motivated and energized.
State your goal publicly - Once others know your goal, it becomes awkward and embarrassing to back out of it. It's like employing self-inflicted motivational "blackmail," and it's highly effective.
Brainstorm - Invite fresh, new, out-of-the-box ideas into your mind. Brainstorming opens the floodgates, washing away what's stale and flowing in a fresh perspective.
Read/learn - Perhaps your motivation is waning because your mind isn't adequately challenged. Make the effort to read up on a subject or take a class to enhance your knowledge and jumpstart your intellect.
Talk to someone with a fresh perspective - One sure way to get out of your own head is to engage with someone else's. Pick someone's brain about your goals, project or something totally unrelated. The change will do your motivation good.
Find support - There is strength in numbers. Whether you take on a partner, contribute to a forum or join a club, don't go it alone. These exterior sources can be encouraging motivators, whether things are smooth sailing or choppy seas.
Prioritize - Circumstances and people change and you must be willing and able to perceive what's most important at any given time. Stubborn adherence to irrelevant goals isn't productive and will ultimately bring your motivation to a screeching halt.
Give yourself permission to move at your own pace and accept the ebb and flow of your motivation - No matter how much of a dynamo you are, no one can give it all 24/7 and expect to be able to keep up an energized, creative and productive pace. Learn to recognize the times when you've "got it" and give it your all. Also, learn to recognize and accept when your energy and focus are lagging. Motivation is cyclic - it will come around if you give it the occasional break it needs. To force yourself to "be motivated" when you're distracted and/or not legitimately feeling it will prove disheartening.
Keep on keepin' on - Don't abandon all hope! If one project lacks promise or results at the present time, keep forging ahead with something else to keep your mind and body occupied. Remember, there's value in the journey - not just in the destination. There's nothing motivational about a state of stagnation.
Visualize your success - It may begin as nothing more than a glimmer of light at the end of a long dark tunnel but try to "see" the results you want. Every step closer will create a clearer vision of your success and there's little as motivational as seeing a dream through to fulfillment.
Motivation is a complicated issue with many contributing factors. While there will always be roadblocks and setbacks to achieving our goals, motivation is a key driving force behind our success and we have the power to enhance it. Rather than merely "wanting" motivation, taking actions such as these will help you to actually "be" more motivated.
What steps do you take to enhance your motivation?
Motivation is a word that is often lightly bandied about, being attributed for success and accomplishment. Those who are motivated, "do" and those who are not motivated, "don't." There's a lot to motivation beyond mere doing or not, however; a deeper meaning that has to do with our personality and our outlook. According to the World English Dictionary, the word, "motivation" is defined as, "desire to do; interest or drive; incentive or inducement; psychol - the process that arouses, sustains and regulates human and animal behavior."
In short, motivation is what gets us out of bed in the morning. While the drive to do certain things is innate, the drive to take on those particular things that help define ourselves and our lives is highly individualized. What compels us to dream of, undertake, follow through and complete those tasks? It's all in our motivation.
Motivation is important whether you're a business owner, professional, employee, parent, athlete, or simply strive to be a successful and driven person in your personal life. In each role you take on, it's your motivation that determines how you perform.
When your motivation meter is high, it's obvious that you'll accomplish more than when you're running on empty. When you're motivated, you feel like doing things, you're clearly focused and ambitious. Productivity is high and you feel accomplished.
A myriad of things can motivate an individual. To understand your motivations is to understand what it is that "makes you tick." Getting to know what motivates you can help you to increase your productivity, sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction. What factors motivate a person?
Ambition - "I must succeed at..." Passion - "I love..." Challenge - "I must conquer..." Money - "I must earn..." Power - "I must control..." Status - "I must attain..." Achievement - "I must reach..." Comfort - "I must feel..." Thrill - "I must experience..." Pride - "I can't respect myself unless I..." Security - "I must be safe from..." Emotion - (rage, anger, fear, vengeance, jealousy, sadness...) - "I must act in response to feelings of..." Time - "I must complete this by..." Creating or retaining self-image - "When I look in the mirror - or contemplate my existence, I must see..."
When motivation wanes, it becomes easier to let responsibilities - or even passions - slide.
It's all too easy to chalk it up to "laziness" but that word connotes a general feeling that undoubtedly has underlying causes. These causes can sap our motivation, leaving us wondering what has become of our, "get up and go." What factors can undermine motivation?
Enemies to motivation
Uncertainty - "I don't know what is expected or how to accomplish it!" Overwhelm - "There's too much to do!" Disappointment - "I thought this was a better, more prestigious, meaningful or lucrative project." Roadblocks - "These factors are hindering my progress!" Setbacks - "I thought I was beyond this point in the project!" Distraction - "Other things are impinging on my concentration!" Self-doubt - "I'm not (intelligent, talented, savvy, creative...) enough to do this!" Illness - "I'm not feeling well, so I lack the ability to do this." Exhaustion - (physical or emotional) - "I just don't have the energy to focus on this project." Depression - "I am preoccupied and distracted by unrelated personal feelings of deep sadness." Self-sabotage - "I harbor doubts as to whether I am worthy of feeling good about this project - and therefore I will create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure." Negativity - "I feel that this project is beneath me; I feel that I am incapable of being successful..." Apathy - "I really don't feel invested in the subject or success of this project."
Knowing what motivates you in the first place will help you understand why and how you do what you do - basically what makes you function from minute to minute; from day to day. When things threaten your motivation, you can begin to feel lazy and unproductive - which can lead to a dangerous cycle of lack of motivation. Threats to motivation can be overcome only when you understand what lies at the core of those motivations. Exploring and understanding our motivations can be the key to remaining motivated, even in the face of those things, which threaten it.
Social media outlets continue to gain popularity and broad adoption. Facebook, for instance, is downright mainstream these days, embraced by individuals and businesses alike. Indeed, social media is one of the proven ways that folks connect and communicate online.
Those connections and communications are precisely the elements that make social media marketing for businesses so effective. Information can be spread quickly, widely and contextually. And now, thanks to Pinterest, that information can be viewed easily in a visual way, in addition to a verbal way. If your business produces a product that must be seen to be appreciated, Pinterest is a powerful way to spread images of your offerings, provide value to your followers and market your brand.
How can Pinterest benefit your business' marketing efforts?
Pinterest can expose your business offerings and brand to many more eyes. In case you're unfamiliar with Pinterest, it's an online social media channel that allows users to share images with others. Users "pin" images to their boards (collections of things that appeal to them) and categorize them as they see fit. Their social network can "follow" them and view what they've pinned, then share it in turn with their own social networks. Pinterest users can either follow all of someone's boards or selected ones.
When used as a marketing tool for business, Pinterest represents a very visual-driven means to entice visitors to your website and stimulate interest in your offerings. When viewers discover an image of your product that appeals to them, they're likely to click on the image to discover more details about it and your other offerings in addition to sharing it on their boards.
Using Pinterest to your best advantage: An action plan
Here's a checklist to help you implement Pinterest to your business' greatest benefit.
Once you set up your Pinterest account:
Add a Pinterest button on your website and other social media platforms - These enable people to easily share your content and let them know that you have a Pinterest account that they can check out.
Determine what to pin - You need to spend a bit of reconnaissance time discovering the types of images those you consider your ideal clients are pinning. Pinning similar content (at least initially) is likely to catch the eyes of an interested audience. Over time, you'll gain an understanding of the types of pins that catch viewers attention so you can pick content that will prove appealing to viewers and represent your business appropriately.
Set up boards and pin to them
Best practices for pinning:
Produce unique, informative, original pinnable content of your own using the appropriate tools for the job, such as Instagram, Pixlr and Pinstamatic.
Share from a variety of sources; consider the lifestyle of your followers and their interests rather than pinning things that are exclusively self-promotional
Post different types of content: Photos, video, images (including self-created infographics) and text.
Pinterest strategy for success
Pin images that are simple and straightforward.
Follow others liberally.
Pin across a wide range of boards so that there's greater likelihood of your pins being found.
Add weblinks to your image descriptions so viewers will be able to find the original source of the content.
Add price banners to your images to inform viewers that the items are for sale and to entice them to buy
Spread out your pins throughout the day.
Provide context to your pins by including a call to action, like, "Buy these cozy kitty slippers for the cat lover in your life!"
Integrate good SEO practices: Track repins from your site, use google stats to see what traffic Pinterest generates and from where. Let that intel inform and guide your future pinning.
Social interaction is key - Interact with your network continually: Comment, pin, repin, thank your pinners and stay engaged to become an authority in your field and to grow your Pinterest community.
Pinterest is a powerful tool for those who want to cultivate a visual element in their social media marketing strategy. Like any social network, the success of your results it depends a lot upon what you put into it. By providing interesting, informative, diverse and compelling images, you'll set the foundation for a strong community. By faithfully interacting with that community, you'll build it, and with it your network of engaged followers.
The days of the "traditional" office are long gone. Through the years, it's been discovered that the one-size-fits-all office...doesn't. So much time is spent in and so much is expected out of an office that it's a good idea to give the four walls within which your employees work a good deal of consideration. Employees need - and deserve - to work within an environment that is conducive to not only their productivity but to their comfort, attitude and creativity.
Several factors contribute heavily to the overall atmosphere of a workspace - and its effect on employees:
Walls - Walls dictate the amount of separation employees feel from one another. If privacy, quiet and concentration are a priority, walls or high-sided cubicles are an appropriate solution. If separation of employees' workspace is primarily for organizational reasons, lower cubicle walls may well suffice. An open space might be most effective for encouraging a more collaborative atmosphere. Bear in mind that unnecessary barriers between employees can contribute to feelings of isolation and lack of a sense of teamwork.
Windows/natural lighting/a room with a view - An office without windows can in some cases minimize employee distraction. It can also, however, create a sense of isolation from the outside world. Watching passersby, seeing the weather or viewing attractive landscaping can provide a grounding experience for employees that may help them enjoy the experience of being at work to a greater degree.
Decor - Business-like, impersonal decor can help employees stay focused on the important work they're doing. It can also make an impactful and professional impression on the public. On the other hand, when employees can individualize their workspace to reflect their taste and personal preferences, they are more likely to feel connected to the space and to the work they do there. Of course, while allowing employees to individualize their personal work area, that personalization cannot be allowed to be distracting to other employees. The practice may also necessitate that certain joint-use areas of the office, particularly conference and meeting rooms, remain decorated in a more "company-neutral" manner so as to remain professionally appealing to customers, colleagues and other visitors.
Color - The psychology of color and its effect on the human brain is important to take into consideration. Blue inspires productivity. Green is reminiscent of both nature and money. Red denotes passion. Orange excites and inspires. Yellow expresses happiness. Black is somber. Gray sets a serious tone. White emits a fresh and clean - yet cold - vibe. Choose the colors of your office to match the mood you want to sustain within those four walls.
Sound - While some offices pipe in pleasant tunes to create a certain mood, others prefer to keep it quiet. Some employees may have an aversion to the particular choice in ambient music, prefer to work in silence or would rather choose their own auditory experience via earphones. Strive to make the total office environment workable for all employees.
Amenities - Office amenities can range from a lunchroom with a refrigerator and microwave to a full cafeteria; from a workout room to on-site child care. Such amenities demonstrate a willingness to make the workplace an extension of the employees' lives rather than something completely separate. Offering such "perks" provides significant value to employees and fosters an environment that is supportive to job satisfaction and productivity.
The office of today respects both the needs of the company itself and its individual employees. When employees feel that their needs are being considered and their efforts supported, the "right" office space creates the environment for their optimum satisfaction and productivity. It's important to figure office space and its overall setup into your efforts to create a team of dedicated workers to support the growth of your business.
What measures do you take to create the optimal working environment for your employees?
You’ve got a new position taking over for a previous employee - congratulations! Of course, you want to do a great job for the sake of your company and yourself. The important thing to realize in this situation is that you’re taking on more than a job. You’re taking on all the history - good and bad - of your predecessor.
Whether you have the power and inclination to start fresh or your goal is to maintain the status quo, you have the “Ghost of Your Predecessor” to deal with. Were they good at their job? A top producer? A favorite among the employees? Prone to sloppy performance? Difficult to work with? Not a team player? The factor that makes the biggest difference is the circumstances under which the employee left the position. Let’s look at two scenarios and your possible course of action:
Scenario 1 - Everyone Loved Jessica!
What a shame she moved to Seattle... Jessica was a peach! Friendly, helpful, considerate, hard-working and smart! She was apparently a joy to work with and the company has no expectation that changes need to be made.
What you may discover: It’s nice to move into a position where co-workers are predisposed to like you. While it’s true, you’re no Jessica, folks will usually give you the benefit of the doubt, based upon their satisfaction with the performance of the position.
How to make your mark: To reiterate, you’re not Jessica. Although things went well while she was at the helm, it’s only right that you put your stamp on the position once its yours. Chances are, you work, communicate and produce differently than Jessica. It’s perfectly all right to interject your vision and work style into the position - just do it gradually.
Making too many changes too soon may prove off-putting to your co-workers and lead to a lack of their support. The best course of action to take when replacing a beloved co-worker is to ease into any changes you’d like to make. Take the time to discover the most critical areas where your changes can make the biggest impact. When they see that things are continuing to flourish, you co-workers will realize that although you work differently than Jessica, you are equally capable and they will come to respect you for the attributes you bring to the position.
Scenario 2 - Jessica wasn’t working out...
Unfortunately, it looks like Jessica wasn’t the right person for the position and was let go. Perhaps there were personality clashes or lapses in communication. Whatever the reason, you’re stepping into a position that’s a potential hornet’s nest.
What you may discover: Your co-workers may lack faith in the person in your position, and possibly, therefore, in you personally. They may be predisposed to thinking that, because Jessica couldn’t succeed, that you won’t either. It’s important to wipe the slate clean as you step into her position or you’ll be wrestling with preconceived notions that may have nothing to do with you or your performance at all.
How to make your mark: Your first step should be to try to discover specifically what was amiss under Jessica’s tenure. Talk candidly with everyone with whom Jessica interacted to learn what challenges she faced. Use that information to inform your first changes. Work quickly to make those first important - and hopefully impactful - changes so that your co-workers will see that there’s “a new sheriff in town” and that things are going to turn around. Once co-workers see that your changes are effectual, it will be easier to gain their support moving forward.
When things are on a more even keel, begin to craft your own vision for the position and implement changes more gradually. Include such things as your work, leadership and communication style into that vision. Communication of that vision to the rest of the company is critical. Spell out not only what you want to do but what you expect from your co-workers.
Regardless of the reason, it’s challenging to step into the shoes of your predecessor. Whether she was beloved, despised or simply ineffectual, you represent a change for everyone. Move slowly and show that you are willing to make changes for the good of the company, the position and yourself. You’ll gain the support or your co-workers so you can move forward as a successful, unified team.
How have you dealt with the Ghost of Your Predecessor?
It’s that time of year - the holidays are upon us. It’s a wonderful season when our minds follow our hearts and priorities shift from professional to personal; from the office to home. That longing to experience all that the holidays represent, however, doesn’t mean that their arrival doesn’t present challenges to both our personal and professional lives.
Although we look forward to the holidays all year long, they never fail to bring along with them some unique stressors. Those holiday stressors come in various forms, all which take their toll on us, mentally and physically. Emotions run high during the holidays, so interpersonal interactions may be challenging. It’s difficult to carve out time for the social functions and parties, extra shopping, family activities and travel which are part and parcel of the holiday season - especially when they are added to our normal busy schedules. Yes, there are expectations and deadlines to meet associated with the holidays that go well beyond the norm.
Then there is the impact of the holidays on each specific business. Some businesses are slow over the holidays, adding financial strain to the normal holiday stress. Others are busier than usual, restricting the time those folks have to celebrate.
Whether it affects our personal or professional lives, there doesn’t seem to be any escaping at least some holiday anxiety. How can you enjoy the holidays and keep your business rolling along smoothly? It is possible to minimize holiday stress while maximizing enjoyment - with some forethought and planning, that is. Here are some tips for smoothly blending your business obligations and holiday celebrations:
Take a deep breath - The first thing to do is evaluate the effect the holidays will have upon your business and the effect your business will have upon your holiday celebrations. Will you be more or less busy than normal? There’s no preferred answer - it’s just a fact you have to take into account as you plan.
Keep it in perspective - Much of the stress you perceive around the holidays stems from the way you think about the situation. Plan to make the best of things, no matter what the circumstances and you’ll set yourself up for a calmer holiday.
If your business is slow over the holidays, there’s no reason to think it won’t rebound once things get “back to normal” in January. Plan to take advantage of your freer schedule to engage in “non-work” activities, spend time with friends or family or simply relax. Use the holidays as an opportunity to recharge your batteries.
On the other hand, if business is bustling during the holidays, focus on the opportunity to generate greater cash flow and not on celebrations you may be missing out on. While it may put a crimp on the festivities, make plans to allocate some of your holiday earnings to treat yourself to a “post holiday” holiday.
Plan ahead on every front - Attack holiday stress by preparing for the inevitable.
Keep an eye on the calendar - Pay extra attention to your calendar and that of your significant others. Plans often change or are rearranged in both business and personal arenas to accommodate holiday activities at this time of year. Make sure all calendars are in sync to avoid confusion and conflicts.
Schedule time for important holiday activities - Fit those activities that you deem most important into your schedule early before other commitments steal your time.
Budget - If you know that money is an issue over the holidays because business is slow, make yourself a budget and stick carefully to it. Rather than quashing your celebrations, it will provide peace-of-mind that you’re not overspending. Perhaps you could save up a holiday fund throughout the year so you won’t feel the need to scrimp on celebrating the holidays. Realistic expectations - The fact is, things are different around the holidays; it’s not business as usual - or family as usual. Adopt a relaxed attitude. Make enjoyment your goal rather than some unattainable, perfectionistic ideal.
Allow the change of focus and pace to inform you - Rather than becoming stressed by the collision of life and business, use the break from “same old same old” as an opportunity to evaluate how you balance life and business the other eleven months of the year. Perhaps the concentrated chaos of the holiday hubbub will alert you to areas where you could improve how you live out your personal and professional life.
Holiday stress is nothing surprising and certainly nothing new. It’s to be expected when we try to fit higher expectations and more activity into our already busy lives. Your business and your life can indeed celebrate the holidays in harmony. It simply takes some careful consideration and planning to align your priorities, expectations and actions.
How do you run your business while celebrating the holidays?
It’s no secret that life is complicated. At any given point, you’re undoubtedly juggling your personal life, your family and your professional life. Let’s face it, there’s never going to be enough hours in the day to do all you need to do and remember all you need to remember. It's easy to suffer from information overload.
The only solution to getting it all done and keeping it all straight is through organization. Not just a to-do list scribbled on the back of an envelope and a last-minute trip to the mall to find that video game you ‘hope’ you’ll remember for your nephew’s birthday, though. Real organization that, like Mom always said, has a “place for everything.” Organization that you customize, can access and update from anywhere and which connects you instantly to all the information you need to run all the aspects of your life. That type of organization would really help, wouldn’t it?
One solution to the challenges of organization is a free online service called, Springpad. Springpad lets you make virtual ‘notebooks’ for each aspect of your life, then collect information about each in those notebooks, keeping everything in one centralized program. Access Springpad from your computer or mobile device to have your information at the tip of your fingers wherever you are.
You customize Springpad by creating a notebook for particular topics which you populate with whatever information you choose to save on them. That information is stored in that notebook along with the related information you add. This reduces the time you would normally spend searching - or searching again - for information because everything pertaining to a particular topic is stored in a central location. Add text, links, videos, photos or files to any note within a notebook. There are templates available for saving common information types, such as checklists, recipes, businesses, contacts, packing lists and tasks.
Organizing for Business
Springpad helps you get and stay organized by making it extremely easy to save and retrieve information. Once you start a notebook for, say, your business trip to Tacoma, you can add your flight, hotel and rental car confirmations right to the notebook so you’ll have them all in one centralized place without searching through your inbox. Including the link to your hotel will make it easy to determine if they have a gym, restaurant or conference facility you may need. When your notebook content includes address information, Springpad automatically makes a Google Map available of the location(s) within that notebook. If you’re a frequent traveler (or just worry you’ll forget something) create a list of things to remember to pack and add it to this - and any other trip’s - notebook. You can do some research before your trip and add links to restaurants and local attractions to enjoy when you’re there. If a friend has great Tacoma guidebook you’d like to pick up, save a link to it in your notebook so you can buy it online or at your favorite bookstore. As your itinerary fills out, you can add dates and times of meetings and other commitments, with alarm reminders to help make sure you’re on time. Emails, reports and files necessary for your business trip can be stored in your notebook too. As you can see, your notebook becomes your one-stop Tacoma Central.
Organizing for Life
What about that family reunion that - somehow - you have the pleasure of arranging for next Summer? Springpad can help you organize that event as well. From nearby hotels, restaurants, and parks to rental car places and local shopping malls, you can have convenient access to information about the places that may be important to the reunion attendees. Save the files containing the invitation, caterer’s proposal and facility confirmation for your records. Create a checklist of the things you need to do before the reunion or a shopping list of the favors, decorations and supplies you want to purchase. Save the photos you’ve collected from family members, genealogical information, favorite family recipes, home videos and the oral histories you’ve collected for the big event. Search for links to music and movies to set the mood for a nostalgic "remember when” segment. Your family reunion notebook will hold every detail, allowing you to find what you need when you need it to simplify the entire process. The sky’s the limit as to what you can capture - and then easily retrieve - on any topic.
Of course, life isn’t all trips and special events. It’s meetings and soccer games; presentations and doctor’s appointments. It’s remembering the name of that band you heard on the radio so you can buy the CD. It’s remembering what kind of ink your printer takes. Big or small, whatever the topic, Springpad gives you a place to put what you know, what you need - and need to remember - and keeps it for future reference and retrieval. Give your busy mind a break by letting technology hold all that information! That should make organizing your work and the rest of your life easier.
How do you organize all the information in your work and life?
We all know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Poor Jack is dull intellectually, creatively and emotionally because he’s singularly focused on only Jack the “worker.” When we’re constantly in work mode, our noses to the grindstone, we may forget that there are other aspects to our personalities and other mental and emotional muscles to exercise. It helps no one to be so focused in one direction that we lose sight of the forest of possibilities amidst the trees of a relentless pace.
Consider the word, “recreation.” It’s made up of “re” and “create” - meaning create again. As owners of minds that are intellectual, creative and emotional, that’s precisely what we need to do on a regular basis - re-create ourselves. It’s not only enjoyable to allow our minds to wander to places other than the work-related tasks at hand - it’s imperative that we do so to keep ourselves fresh and energized. Indulging in creative pursuits is a sure way to keep our batteries charged and our skills honed.
What is creativity? The answer is as unique as each individual. Creativity is whatever inspires you to learn and stretch and grow. Creativity makes you feel more connected to yourself and your life. Creativity enhances your experiences by allowing you to see them through different eyes.
One thing for sure is that creativity is a key that unlocks the mind’s full capacity. Because creative pursuits put our busy minds ‘at ease,’ they can help us learn and focus better as well as cope with stress more effectively. Creative endeavors relax and rejuvenate us so that everything we do comes easier.
Let’s explore two scenarios in which creativity provides the necessary element to help the human mind perform at its best:
1. A Teacher’s Creativity Inspires a Reluctant Student
Vicki Nieto is a 3rd grade teacher who recognizes the inspirational power of creative pursuits. Vicki herself finds personal inspiration in music. “I love music. I clean to music. I relax to music,” she declares - and she passes that personal knowledge along to her students. When she encountered a particularly reluctant math student last year, Vicki called upon her own knowledge of the inspirational effects of music to encourage this student.
Vicki explains, “I mean, she HATED math!“ I would play the song, Celebration, while transitioning into math. Students would pass out materials and get items ready; some would sing, some would even dance if ready early. My reluctant mathie loved music, and she would begin instruction with a smile and a positive attitude and it made our time together much less stressful!”
The creativity which was released by the music helped the reluctant student to refocus. Once she was in this more receptive state of mind, she could more easily concentrate on the math lesson. By switching the student’s focus from stressful work to enjoyable music, Vicki was able to help the student open her mind to learning.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, two friends from New Orleans, Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney, established a creativity-boosting business called, Painting with a Twist, with the intention to both reinvent their own lives and fill what they saw as, “a void for lighthearted entertainment where people could go to forget about life’s troubles and just have fun.”
The concept behind Painting with a Twist is to provide a place for folks to express their creativity through painting. Local art instructors and supplies are available to nurture participants’ creativity. They’re encouraged to bring snacks and a bottle of wine to make the experience a well-deserved respite from their everyday stresses - whatever they may be. “We’re in the business of providing people with an environment where they are guaranteed to crack a smile,” said Cathy Deano, co-founder of Painting with a Twist. “Especially after Katrina hit, we knew we had to do something to lift people’s spirits. It turns out that our concept provided an ideal solution.”
Cathy and Renee’s first location opened its doors in November, 2007 and in less than two years, they were up to four. In 2009 they franchised the concept and since then have grown to over 50 locations. Obviously, this business does fill a need for stress-reduction through creative expression.
When we focus too much attention on particular tasks or thoughts in the same old ways, our minds will not be open to the myriad of ways we can solve a problem, approach a situation or consider a question. Creativity, whether expressed as a hobby, interest or passion, frees our minds and expands its ability to function at its best.
There’s no need to be dull, reluctant or stressed because creativity is the cure - if only we take the opportunity to utilize it. Recreate yourself on a regular basis to energize your efforts in everything you do.
What creative endeavors keep you fresh and focused?
In the decades since women have taken powerful roles in business, we've discovered that while we are every bit as intelligent and capable as men, we are not - and should not aspire to be - the same as them. In business as in life, we have natural tendencies that distinguish us from our male counterparts. Let’s consider how those tendencies impact our leadership styles. While we may lead differently, the fact remains that strong leader is a strong leader, regardless of gender.
Kathy Caprino, M.A., Founder and President of Ellia Communications, a career coaching and marketing consulting firm for professional women and author of, Breakdown Breakthrough, shares her extensive knowledge and wisdom on the topic of women and leadership.
What makes a strong, effective leader?
On her website, Kathy describes The Seven Key Traits of a Great Leader as:
Embodies the way – She thinks, acts and behaves in ways that are congruent to what she holds to be true and valuable, in her company and in her world. She is a role model in every way for what she stands for and what she espouses.
Inspires a shared vision – She envisions what is possible for the future, and infuses tremendous positive spirit and energy into that vision, allowing everyone who interacts with her a window into what is possible through collaboration, cooperation and contribution.
Challenges content and process – She understands that adhering to the status quo and accepting things as they are is not the pathway to change and growth. She uncovers new (yet unthreatening) ways of thinking, being, and doing – and encourages others to do the same — in both “content” and “process.” These new ways allow for greater expansion and success.
Empowers others – She invests time, energy and commitment in empowering and engaging others, building their self-reliance, independence and growth as individuals and as collaborators.
Integrates the whole – She understands that when people bring their whole selves to a task, and when unity can be achieved rather than compartmentalization, the outcome is much greater than the sum of the parts. She is an integrated individual herself, and fosters integration and wholeness in others and throughout the organization.
Supports inclusion over hierarchy – She operates under the belief that inclusion is preferred over exclusion, and centrality is preferred over hierarchy. She doesn’t long to sit alone at the top. Instead, she wants to be in the center (in other words, at the heart) of a large and effective web of inclusion that does what it sets out to do, with ease, clarity, grace, and focus.
Fosters the heart and spirit – Finally, she creates a supportive, healthy environment that allows all those involved to behave, think, and perform from a heart-based place, where they can feel and experience themselves as personally and professionally aligned. She shapes an organization in which there is a solid common ground between what the individual wants and what the company wants from the individual. Employees are able to engage their hearts and spirits in their work, rather than being diminished, penalized or alienated for being true to who they really are.
Are there intrinsic differences between male and female leadership styles?
Kathy responds by saying, “These are generalizations, of course, but meaningful and research-supported ones. Strong women leaders tend to possess and demonstrate certain feminine leadership traits that are different from traditional male leadership styles.” They include:
Strong interpersonal and empathic relating skills
Resilience in applying lessons and learning from adversity
Honoring inclusion over hierarchy
Risk awareness, appropriate risk-taking and resisting following the “rules”
Straight talking and integrity-filled transparency
Investing in emotional capital
Focus on meaning, contribution and profit with principles
Kathy goes on to say that while these are strengths that certainly can be developed in men and, of course, there are great male leaders who display these traits, they are more intrinsic and natural due to women's cultural training and evolutionary tendencies.
If male and female leaders have different strengths, who is the best leader for a given situation or group?
Kathy explains that it is a combination of skills and strengths that make for the most effective leadership. “I believe that it's DIVERSITY of leadership style that's essential to success - a mix and balanced blend of masculine and feminine and other characteristics and traits of leadership is essential to strong leadership, and to the growth, success, strength and flexibility of an organization.”
In fact, blending of skills and strengths appears to be the key to highly effective leadership. “Over-reliance of one gender or one dominant leadership style," Kathy explains, “will produce only one type of result and attract skewed outcomes. Thankfully, now we have irrefutable research that the more open, inclusive and diverse a leadership team is, the more success and return on investment will be generated.”
Great leaders are great leaders - whether male or female. It takes a combination of traits to concoct the ‘secret recipe' of effective leadership. Women have a lot to offer to leadership roles, so step up and lead, Ladies! What you don’t already possess, you can learn - and contribute a great deal of insight and experience to leadership in the workplace.
What strengths do you posess that will make you a great leader?
There are countless details to consider when you’re expecting a baby. Appropriately, most of them have to do with your personal life and health. You make plans for every contingency and arrange who will do what when you can’t or don’t want to. You prepare for events in your life to play out a bit differently once the little one arrives but you know that things that need to be done will, in fact, get done because of that planning.
Those same factors come into play when thinking about how being a parent will affect your professional life. You’ll need to take into consideration such questions as, How will your work continue to get done when you need to be focused on your family? Will someone need to take over your duties for you? Will you take family leave or make alternate arrangements to perform your duties?
The most important thing when planning for parenthood as an employee is to make certain that whatever you do, you maintain “business as usual” as much as possible. Here’s some advice for making a smooth transition into parenthood while making it easy for yourself, your coworkers and your employer.
Kerry Rego, Owner and Efficiency Specialist at Kerry Rego Consulting says, “As a part of my practice, I work with organizations to set up what I call "legacy management.” When an employee knows that they are leaving work for a determined amount of time, such as for family leave, I recommend:
Do a step by step record of your day and/or job process. Tracking what you do in the day to spot any possible places where the information needed to do the job isn't immediately available. If you are the only one who knows where things are or how to do them, leave an instruction manual on how to perform your duties. This can include a manual, month-end closing instructions, equipment quirks, and directory paths in the footers of documents for retrieval.
Meet and/or train the individual(s) who will be covering your position. Go over the items that aren’t understood. Provide information on how to contact you or some other support staff and resources for information as necessary.
For transitioning back into the workplace, a meeting for information transfer and check-in are highly important to pass the baton back. Also, setting up one more check in via phone or email between interim and permanent employee in case something else comes up after the transfer back has taken place so that the line of communication isn't severed. This makes transitions go smoothly.
An alternative to family leave is a flex-time or telecommuting arrangement. A work arrangement like this can help insure that you can personally continue performing your duties, only during non-traditional times of the day or from a remote location, like home.
These non-traditional work arrangements are thankfully becoming mainstream, enabling new parents to better balance their personal and professional lives in the first few weeks after the baby is born.
Brie Weiler Reynolds, Staff Writer for FlexJobs.com offers these suggestions for seamless adoption of these work strategies:
Ask for a trial run for a few days. Showing how well the flexible or telecommuting arrangement will benefit your employer is the most compelling argument you can make. During the trial run, show that you will work diligently from home and can stay in touch with colleagues in the office.
Take baby steps (no pun intended. Ask to telecommute part-time (e.g., one day a week) to start out with, even if you would eventually like to work virtually full-time.
Before you even start to telecommute, suggest web-based tools and resources that your team can use to communicate, manage files, and share schedule information. Test them out even if you are all working in the office together. Get used to communicating in ways other than face to face conversations (make note of how much time you save!).?
Whether you take family leave or utilize the option of working virtually or telecommuting, there will be a bit of an adjustment for both you and your employer. That adjustment can be minimized by diligent planning with your employer and coworkers.
Successfully managing your life and career, especially while welcoming a new family member, is a matter of solid preparation. Just as the planning you do for your little bundle of joy makes it easier to perform the duties of a new parent, the planning you do for getting your work done makes it easier to fulfill your duties as an employee.
What preparations have you made to maintain “business as usual” when you became a parent?
To the age-old question as to how to combine the role of mother and businesswoman, Rachael Smith, inventor and owner of Mrs Smith's Bags provides her own unique answer. Rachael's product is the new face of diaper bags - fashionable, practical and intelligently designed. After all, moms and dads are people too. As long as they have to lug around bottles and diapers, why not be able to carry a cell phone and an umbrella in the bag as well - and look stylish doing it? It seems that the underlying philosophy behind Rachael's products is to integrate life and parenthood.
Is Rachael able to do that in her own life? How does she integrate her business life into her personal life? She explains, "My office is in the kids’ playroom. They come home from pre-school and kindergarten and play in the room while I work. In the afternoon I take a break and we go to the park and walk the dog. Then they have rest time which allows me to get more work done. When my husband comes home I make dinner and then put the kids to bed. I then work for the rest of the evening, often going to our warehouse to ship bags. Thank goodness for my Bluetooth. I have held many a meeting while serving my children chicken nuggets, carrot sticks and apple slices. All accompanied by ketchup, of course."
"When it comes to balancing my family with my business," Rachael continues, "I want to make sure that everything I do is tip top but if I have to choose between volunteering at one of my kid’s schools or working on my Facebook page, I will choose my children. My kids come first. It’s great for the kids, but doesn’t always close a sale. My customers can relate to my situation and understand why it’s important to "make the day about the day" and not about the details.”
Rachael sums up her work/life balance strategy like this, "When you hear about my typical day, you can see why my company’s slogan is “Keep it all together” because sometimes it’s a struggle!"
Although balancing life and career may sometimes be a struggle, there are unique lessons to be learned by the children of an entrepreneur. Rachael says, "By necessity, they learn to be flexible. When I need to take a call they have learned to be quiet and entertain themselves. If I have bags that need to be shipped immediately they are happy to ride in the minivan and watch a movie as we drive to FedEx Kinkos, and when we get there they are excellent door holders."
Rachael proudly recounts, "Yesterday it was career day at my son’s school and I spoke about Mrs Smith’s Bags. My son was so proud and kept chiming in with “and we sell this type of bag too.” It is a great thing to be able to work from your kids’ playroom as you get to be a part of their adventure while you have one of your own."
It's not only her children who have learned valuable lessons since Rachael has become an entrepreneur. She recounts, "I learned that I am tougher than I thought I was. Business can sometimes be unpredictable and rough, yet I have found the courage and strength to keep moving forward."
Entrepreneurs are a brave and hardy lot. We can learn much from their challenges and successes. The significant challenge - and its solution is exactly what Rachael says, "Keeping it all together."
How do you "keep it all together" when the demands of work and life challenge you?
Sometimes the urge to strike out into an entrepreneurial venture is undeniable - a person feels born to it. Other times the entrepreneurial bug bites when we least expect. Such was the case for Rachael Smith.
Rachael was a first grade teacher when an "accessory malfunction" inspired her to consider a new career path. She explains, "It all started with a dripping wet diaper bag at Tucson International Airport. My son was crying and I was trying to find his favorite toy in my generic diaper bag. It was so unorganized that all I succeed in doing was spilling milk on everything in the bag." That incident provided the spark that set Rachael on her way to starting her own business.
"I searched the marketplace for a bag that would help me stay organized to better care for the needs of my children, but was unsuccessful. So I designed and manufactured my own." That's how Rachael's business, Mrs Smith's Bags, was born. Mrs Smith's makes diaper bags that are fashionable as well as practical and intelligently designed, taking into consideration the needs of the parent as well as the child.
"The idea first came to me in December of 2005. In the summer of 2006, I designed my first diaper bag using a cardboard box and tape, and with kids in tow visited a local manufacturer who made my first prototype."
A fantastic idea is one thing, but how was Rachael emotionally able to make the leap from the steady paycheck of a teaching job to the dicey proposition of manufacturing her own products? "My family was very supportive," Rachael declaares. "My grandmother told me constantly that I could do anything I put my mind to. After hearing of my plans she wrote me a card that says “Go Get’em Tiger” on the outside. On the inside she wrote, “There is not one doubt in my mind that you will succeed in anything you set out to do! You need to pursue this with great passion!” I keep the card in my desk drawer."
It wasn't unanimous support for her new venture from the outset, however. "On the other hand," Rachael says, "My husband was fairly unsupportive. He is not a risk taker and worries about money a lot. I remember one cold evening I went down to his office and sat there crying. I said, “I want to quit, this is too hard,” and all he said was, “Ok.” That just made me angry, so I pressed forward even harder. So in a strange way I have to thank him for getting me to keep moving forward."
My friends were intrigued, to say the least. It was a foreign concept to them. We were all mothers who would attend playgroups with our children where we would talk about which kids were walking, not about what product we were inventing. Now that my diaper bags are on the market, however, they are quite thankful as they all use Mrs. Smith’s Bags now.
The most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur mom for Rachael is that she now has the opprtunity to serve as an inspriation to other women who may also be "unintentional entrepreneurs." She offers them following advice based upon her own experiences:
Talk about yourself
Ask lots of questions
Stay the course
Most importantly, take one day at a time
Rachael may not have had a lifelong ambition to be an entrepreneur but when she identified a need and a solution, she seized the opportunity, despite the well-meaning concerns of her husband. Rachael defied the odds and made a success because of her determination to make a product that solved a problem and filled a need in the marketplace. Her success is now, "In the bag."
Would you have the wherewithal to strike out as an "unintentional entrepreneur" like Rachael?
At the end of a long day at work, many people head home to what they hope is a happy relationship. Our marriages are the loving, nurturing escapes from the "real world." We want our spouse to be a trusted friend, confidante and advocate. We want to share our life, our hopes and successes with them. But should sharing our life include sharing the details of our work?
According to her 24-year study, The Early Years of Marriage," the longest-running study of married couples ever conducted, Terri Orbuch, PhD, has discovered a positive correlation between happiness at work and a happy marriage. As project director of this research, funded by the National Institute of Health, Dr. Orbuch has studied what makes marriages happy - and what breaks them apart - since 1986. Dr Orbuch says it's advisable for couples to discuss their work (as well as other subjects of interest) in order to achieve a sense of "togetherness." Couples who bond with each other to this degree are simply happier.
Depending upon your personality and work philosophy, though, bringing the job home may not come naturally. What about couples who find it difficult to discuss their work with their spouse? Dr. Orbuch encourages these couples to open those channels of communication, lest their relationships suffer serious consequences. She explains, "My study found that the happiest marriages were ones where partners felt their spouse regularly disclosed information about his or her life, and did not keep secrets—even details from work that might be deemed “boring.” My study also showed that interdependence in a relationship--which includes sharing workplace burdens and concerns--gives spouses more incentive to stay together. Also, self-disclosure from one spouse generally leads to self-disclosure from the other. Psychologists call this the "norm of reciprocity in relationships." Translation: if you don't share your work life, it creates more distance between spouses, less happiness, and more opportunities for secrets to flourish."
Why do couples avoid talking about work? Dr. Orbuch concludes, "People think their work life is boring, too complex to explain, or perhaps even catty, when the topic involves workplace relationships gone sour. Also, there is a common myth out there, that work and family/marriage should stay separate: “What happens at work, should stay at work and not spill over into your marriage/family life.” This myth needs to be dispelled."
"It's so important to let your spouse understand what those 8 hours a day you spend away from him or her are like for you," says Dr. Orbuch. "I know of one couple in which the husband felt his work as the CEO and CFO of an investment management firm would be uninteresting or too technical for his wife. What he learned, however, is that when he shared his daily worries, small triumphs, and even arcane financial analyses with her, he discovered that she was fascinated, really "got" what he did, wanted to find out more, and even had offbeat insights that made him think about his work life in a fresh way. Now they talk work regularly, and she offers him smart perspectives that make him feel as if he's not alone in an ivory tower. Also, because she has background, he doesn't have to give her the whole history behind new developments about employee issues and policies when they arise."
How can you overcome feelings of discomfort if it is not your habit to discuss work issues at home? Dr. Orbuch suggests these strategies:
Get personal. Talk about someone at work, rather than the work itself. If you're having a conflict with a coworker, or perhaps you admire your new boss, make this the topic of conversation with your spouse.
Ask for advice. A good way to talk about work is to ask your spouse to help you with a particular problem you're having--how to tell your boss the project deadline is unreasonable, or how to master a new software program that's causing you grief.
First, ask about his or her work. If you want to talk about your work, ask about your spouse's work first. Ask specific questions that begin with what, how, or why. This way, you get out of the old "How was work today?" trap that invites a one-word answer. After he or she has shared and you've listened, you can share your own workplace story in response.
Thanks to Dr. Orbuch and her years of research, there are practical, tried-and-true methods for bringing up work issues in your marital relationship. It's all about integrating the many aspects of your life into your most significant relationship, helping to create a more seamless balance between work and your life. Doing so will make you happier - and by association, you'll enjoy a happier marriage.
Do you find it difficult to share your work life with your spouse?
You're ready to take the entrepreneurial leap: You have a solid business plan, a laptop and a disdain for business suits. While at first it may sound appealing to work in your pajamas as an entrepreneur or freelancer, the novelty soon wears off. The fact is, it is difficult to become and remain motivated day after day when you work in your home, isolated and without all the amenities of an actual work space.
"What amenities?" you ask. Amenities like a hellish commute, an overbearing employer, gossiping coworkers and a filthy lunchroom?
While there is nothing to miss in that scenario, there are elements to a more traditional workspace that are very conducive to productivity, success and satisfaction. What elements are often missing when you're not working in the traditional business environment?
Workspace You may have a spare room or a corner of your basement. It's true that the space is free of charge but is it free of distractions?
Business equipment You have a laptop, but what about a heavy-duty printer, fax machine, dedicated business phone line?
Meeting space Where can you meet with clients? Is your space professional or cluttered with toys and, well, clutter?
Networking opportunities How much business are you going to do with the postal carrier? That's most likely the only person with whom you'll have contact working from home.
The key to being a successful freelancer or entrepreneur is to have space to conduct your work that is not only affordable but that affords you the amenities you need to be productive. Coworking is a way to have the best of both worlds: freelancer and fully-equipped professional.
Coworking - the Concept
By way of definition, coworking is a concept of bringing solo-workers together so that they can pool resources to enhance their work experience. Coworking can take place anywhere a group can congregate. This is often at a coffee shop or restaurant where workers can gather and either collaborate and network or work alone and simply enjoy the benefits of being in proximity of others.
As to the benefits of coworking, Lorenz Lammens, Marketing Director for Online Design Bureau, suggests that coworking allows workers to, "Get a second brain and think outside of the box." He goes on to say, "Many ideas are born out of conversation. You're stuck, can't quite figure out how to move on, so you take a break and discuss your ideas with others who have different skill sets. The combination of different experiences, approaches and temperament often spur on new ideas that you simply couldn't have come up with on your own."
The point is to fend off isolation. Whether you feel pangs of loneliness or not, it is important to remain in contact with the world outside your four walls. Lorenz makes the point that, "You don't always have to leave your home office to cowork. With modern technology such as Skype, Twitter and Facebook you can still co-work when you are not physically present at your co-working station. When at home, we simply connect with partners who also work from home that day via Skype, and get to experience the feel of a virtual office."
Coworking - a Physical Location
A coworking facility is a shared office environment where freelancers and entrepreneurs can share workspace, equipment and other resources along with the pleasure of each other's company. The amenities provided at a coworking facility can include furnishings, meeting/conference rooms, office equipment, internet access, cleaning service and utilities. The cost is far lower than providing the same in an office for just one individual because expenses are shared. Coworking facilities can be used as frequently - or infrequently - as needed. Often those who use a coworking facility discover networking opportunities within the facility itself, providing the added value of customer acquisition.
According to Jonathan Hilley, co-founder of a workspaces concept called, KUBIK Office, coworking facilities can assist workers in the following ways:
reduced capital in fixed assets, which can then be better used in personnel, research, marketing, or other investments
providing offices, equipment, and support for meetings, classes, and presentations
projecting a professional presence to clients and prospects
enabling workers and teams to meet and function at sites close to home and clients
provides familiar and reliable offices and services while on business travel
Is the concept of coworking for everyone? Most likely. Even those who prefer to work in quiet conditions must, in their own best interest, have some social interaction. Is a coworking facility for every solo entrepreneur or freelancer? It depends.
Take these factors into consideration when deciding if a coworking facility is the right choice for you:
Is the nature of your job portable enough?
Is the facility conveniently located for you and your clients?
Can you abide by the fact that you won't have control of ambient noise, temperature, fellow workers' temperament?
Is the facility populated with professionals with similar working requirements as yourself?
Coworking can be a solution to the isolation of being a solo-worker by giving you the resources, networking opportunities and reason to get dressed in the morning that you may lack by working at home.
Do you cowork? How does coworking help your productivity?
At the outset of a new year, we often feel the desire to reevaluate our progress toward our goals. The first step toward greater accomplishments in business is to identify those goals. Perhaps they are concrete things, like, "Sell a million widgets!" Maybe they are less structured goals, as in, "Increase sales!" In either case, there are measurable steps, or benchmarks, that can and should be tracked along the way so that your progress toward your goal can be assessed.
It's one thing to know whether or not you're making progress toward your goal. It's another to take action when that progress isn't satisfactory. What are the consequences of failing to achieve a desired benchmark? Obviously, it's the "failure itself" - not reaching the goal and the ramifications of that failure upon your business. In a broader sense, each unattained benchmark is an unattained opportunity for greater success. Is there a way to keep your actions on track so that the benchmarks you strive to achieve actually get achieved?
Once you know where you want your business to go and how to quantify your progress toward getting there, an Accountability Coach can help to keep you traveling in the right direction. An Accountability Coach will make sure that you do what is necessary to make your resolution to succeed a reality.
According to Accountability Coach, Anne Bachrach, author of, Excuses Don't Count...Results Rule!, "The Number One reason that stops people from achieving what they really want is simply lack of accountability." On her web site, accountabilitycoach.com, Anne goes on to say, "Left to our own devices most people don't do all the things they know they should to get to where they want to ultimately be. Unfortunately, our good intentions don't always control our actions." She continues, "Sometimes we do take action on our good intentions, but in short a matter of time, many of us find we start to slip and revert back to our old ways. Having someone in your life that helps you follow through with your good intentions by holding you accountable, will in the end, turn those intentions into the results you desire."
So exactly what is an accountability coach? According to Anne, "Your Accountability Coach is a process expert, guiding your journey and coaching you to your destination, with the end results accomplished by you. Bottom line: Your Accountability Coach holds you accountable to follow through with your good intentions."
An Accountability Coach:
Listens to the issues you are experiencing. By utilizing proven tracking systems, they help you set specific goals, develop a plan, and require you to implement your plan.
Provides candid feedback to you.
Helps you identify opportunities.
Provides objectivity by helping you think outside the box – and see what is possible.
If necessary, recommends other specialists that can assist you.
Helps you through the transitional periods as you learn and grow to your next level.
Assists you in balancing your professional life with your personal life.
Encourages and motivates you.
Keeps you focused on your highest payoff activities to achieve your goals.
Helps you look at the big picture for your professional and personal life. It is about creating life balance.
On her blog, Anne explains, "Talking to a coach who will hold you accountable on a consistent basis immediately improves the odds of you achieving your goals. It’s too easy to let the crisis of the day or little distractions and interruptions alter your ideal day... Working with a coach provides the accountability you need to enable you to do what needs to be done; to stop making excuse after excuse and letting your goals and dreams slip away."
How does accountability coaching motivate? The desire to do what it takes to succeed actually comes from within each person, declares Anne. Each person's core values are the emotional magnet that pulls them in the direction of doing the hard work that is necessary for success. Anne believes, "What gets tracked gets measured and so many people just don't track anything. People who work with me get a proven system for goal setting, tracking, and effective time management that helps them stay focused and offers some level of accountability."
The combination of having your goals clearly defined, measured and tracked - along with some help to stay accountable for your actions - can help you turn your good intentions into success.
Could an accountability coach be the "kick in the pants" you need to realize your goals?
The beginning of a new year invariably evokes a sense of renewal; of hopes for a fresh start and a recharged battery. Many people attempt to take advantage of the "clean slate" a new year represents to make resolutions to start or stop behaviors to increase their overall well-being. We all want to resolve to be better and do better in our lives and businesses from one year to the next. Unfortunately most resolutions, while well-intentioned, fall unrealized by the time February rolls around. How can we turn a resolution into a reality?
Some resolutions are easy to identify and act upon, like, "Stop buying widgets!" Others are more challenging to pinpoint and resolve, such as, "We need to speed up our production!" While both resolutions are intended to increase profits, the second will take more than hiding the checkbook to actually happen. Resolving to run our businesses more efficiently and profitably takes some diligent and determined planning and execution.
Sandy Roos, Virtual Assistant and owner of Shadow Executive Services, says that the first step to making improvements in our business is being aware of the components of that change so as to measure our progress toward the goal. Sandy refers to the components as "benchmarks." As defined by dictionary.com, a "benchmark" is "a standard of excellence, achievement, etc., against which similar things must be measured or judged." By breaking down bigger goals into managable benchmarks, Sandy says you can identify improvement and progress along the way.
Sandy explains that benchmarks can be anything an individual or business chooses to track. There may be an industry standard, for example, of the amount of time it "should" take for a certain task to be completed. By measuring the amount of time you or your employees take to complete the task, you can determine that you fall below (slower than) the benchmark or above (faster than) the benchmark. A benchmark is simply a measuring device to quantify your progress toward your ultimate goal.
Measurement of that progress is the first step toward achieving goals, Sandy continues. "You need to know where you are now and where you want to be in the future. Without that forward vision, you'll never see your progress from here to there, which is very inspiring."
Sandy advises the following guidelines for using benchmarks to measure your progress:
Choose individual goals. You may not be able to match or exceed another individual's or company's goals, so use benchmarks to track your own progress. It's not a competition between you and "them." Think of it as achieving your "personal best."
Let benchmarks inspire, not discourage you. As long as you are making progress toward your own goals, benchmarks are a beneficial yardstick. Reassess your benchmarks if they prove unattainable. Remember, "Slow and steady wins the race!"
Be accountable for your progress. Once you know where you're headed, you must keep moving in that direction. Whatever it takes (meetings, reports, incentives...), if it's worth measuring, it's worth seeing through.
Benchmarks are a useful tool for taking stock of where you stand today and envisioning where you want to go. It is vital to find an appropriate way to measure your progress toward your greater success. Without a way to measure, there is nothing for which to be held accountable. Without accountability, there is little to no chance you'll stay on track. And we all know what happens when we fall off the resolution track.
What benchmarks do you use to assess your progress toward your business goals?
Entrepreneurs are a proud group, passionate about their business and the work they do to ensure its success. And why shouldn't they be? They have embarked on a brave journey, investing their talent and effort, time and money. They may be so proud of their endeavors, in fact, that it is among their favorite topics of conversation. This may prove exhilarating for the entrepreneur - and downright excruciating for those with whom she has the most contact: her family and friends.
Of course it's only natural to want to share the news of your business with those near and dear to you. In some cases they may be among your first clients - and at the very least they are a valuable source of emotional support and referrals. The information you can relate about your business provides them with the fodder to spread the word about your undertaking. But let's face it - at some point there's got to be another subject to discuss as you pass the candied yams at the Thanksgiving dinner table!
How do you appropriately discuss your work with friends and family without alienating them?
Samir Raiyani, CEO of Dolcera, a patent, technology and market research services company says, "In the early days of our company, our friends had been a huge help in helping us make connections with some of our key Fortune 500 clients. Over time, as we built a sales and marketing engine etc., we did not get the word out to our friends much and became inward-focused. Friends may not become customers, and may not even bring business, but they help create buzz and goodwill all around. So I made a YouTube video and put it on Facebook to tell my friends what I and my company do. I encouraged my coworkers to do the same as well."
Samir offers the following tips for discussing business with friends and family without taking advantage of their patience:
Friends can be a huge source of business and goodwill. Tap them early and regularly, but not often.
Don't abuse your friends' goodwill: After a while, they'll tire of helping you. Once the business is mature, bother your friends sparingly, and only when all other options have been exhausted, or when there is a good fit.
Keep them informed about your business always: If they see an area of overlap or opportunity, they'll come to you as long as they know you can help.
Ben Wallace, of First National Merchant Solutions® concurs but with some cautions: "As a small business owner and a business consultant, I am passionate about what I do because I enjoy it and I want to help others. I think that there is a line between your professional business and friends and family, however I think that there can be a healthy balance."
Ben provides these tips for finding that balance:
Have the right attitude – It is okay to let your friends and family members know what you do for a living in case your services might be helpful to them or those around them. It is okay to provide them the opportunity to seek you out, but leave the final decision up to them without any expectations on your part. It is not okay to be pushy or to expect that because someone is a friend or family member that they are obligated to buy anything from you.
Be honest with them – If your business is something that you can provide a discount for, it is polite to offer them the benefit. However, don’t put yourself in a bad situation or lower the value of your service by giving them a price that hurts you. If they ask for a discount, be up front with them, don’t lie or set the expectation if you can’t follow through.
Be aware of who you are working with – Everyone has some friends that would be okay if you casually mentioned what you do and how your services might be of help and some that might be awkward or might not feel comfortable. You probably know who those people are. Don’t feel like you need to email everyone that exists, it is okay to limit your message to those that you are comfortable selling to.
If you aren’t sure, don’t do it – If you can’t be sure that someone would be okay or comfortable with you putting yourself out there, don’t do it. It is better to preserve the relationship than to get one more sale.
Beverly D. Flaxington, Author of, Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior, assures us, "It is absolutely possible -- and in fact necessary -- to "blur the lines" between a business that you own and your personal life. Some of my biggest corporate clients have come from personal relationships and now that I am marketing a book and coaching, my friends have proven to be a great resource."
Some things to keep in mind, according to Beverly:
Like any "sales pitch," you have to keep the message focused on "what's in it for them?" -- why would someone want to work with you? Why is what you are offering good for the market? You need to have a clear business message and NOT just, "Can you help me out?"
It can often help with friends or family to pose it as, "I'm not asking you directly to be involved, but this is what I am doing (then explain), do you have any ideas for me?" This way it isn't a direct request but the friend gets the idea of what you need.
Keep friends and family on an email list, or update list -- this way they can stay abreast of what you are doing and can pass info along when it is relevant.
Be sure to keep the quid pro quo in front of you -- if you are able to find ways to help your friends and family with what they are doing, they will likely look for ways to reciprocate.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do not depend on friends and family. Market to them, just like everyone else but don't expect a handout or support just because they are a friend. Your friends will more likely help you when they see how successful you are with others!
The good news is that friends and family can be an invaluable resource and sounding board for the entrepreneur - if you don't abuse the privilege that closeness brings.
Do you discuss your business with friends and family?
Today's workplace is changing to accommodate the lives of those working in it. The old paradigm of 9-5, Monday through Friday with a two-week vacation and some sick days (that you'd better really be sick for) has become obsolete as employees demand more flexibility. Technology has made possible an enormous number of ways to create more flexible workplaces which better suit the wants and needs of employees.
Especially high on the list of employee requirements in the new corporate world is the accommodation of family. From parental leave to flex time to job sharing, the options to make this a workable reality are plenty.
It Really Can Work
Meet two partners in the same business who keep their own individual schedules which include time for work and family - and even themselves.
"I'm as likely to be up till 2:00 AM finishing e-mails as I am to take the morning off to attend a special event at my children's school," relates Pamela O'Hara, President of BatchBlue Software and mother of three young children. "My typical work week is 8:30AM - 3:00PM and 8:00PM -11:00PM on weekdays and 8-10 hours on the weekend. But that said, I almost never have a "typical" week. The 3:00-8:00 break in my work day is my family time." As far as fitting in some 'me' time, Pamela says, "I recently joined a gym and am really enjoying squeezing in a few lunch trips and a weekend trip for some "my health" time."
Michelle Riggen-Ransom, Director of Communications for BatchBlue Software says that she works, "9:00AM -3:00PM on weekdays and then 8:00PM - 11:00PM a few nights a week (including some weekend nights), plus I maintain our Twitter account and keeping up on social media activities of our customers/competitors etc. so I'm always checking that. I'm with our kids (aged 6 and 2) two hours every morning, then five hours every night between school and bed, plus all day on the weekends. And my youngest is home with me on Fridays, so I tend to work around her schedule on that day." Michelle adds, "Ideally, I try to build in time to get to the gym or run at least three times a week."
Individual Focus Helps Create Balance
The freedom to work according to your individual schedule makes it easier to find a balance between work and life. When families are treated as part of the whole employee equation rather than a distraction from work, it shows a high degree of respect toward her. "We have periodic outings with families included so that there is a sense of an extended BatchBlue family," says Pamela. A company that can even allow an employee to combine work and family at times is greatly appreciated. Michelle says that while she really tries not to combine work and family, she feels lucky that her company is flexible enough so if it has to happen, it can. "For example," she shares, "yesterday my son's camp plans fell through, so he came and hung out in a spare office while we had our staff meeting and he watched a DVD while we worked. We all know each other's kids and spend time together outside of work, too, so there's that overlap."
How can this type of work environment benefit an employee who may experience a personal or family issue? Pamela replies, "I let the team know what is up. We all respect each other's need to take care of the personal, so as long as the work is getting done there is not an issue of 'time limits'." Michelle adds, "If there is something going on with the family, I can shift my work schedule around as needed. That's something I am very grateful for as I know it's not always true at many companies."
Location, Location, Location
If it isn't necessary for you to physically be at a particular place, a location that suits you creates a more pleasant and productive work environment. "Last December we got our first "official" office," says Pamela. "We still largely operate remotely from all of our preferred work spaces (homes, coffee shops), but now have a space outside of the personal space to meet and work." Michelle benefits from the freedom to work remotely, "I can't work well in my house unless my kids are gone, so if they are around during my work times, I tend to go either into the office or to a cafe. I've been working remotely for over ten years, so where I work isn't a huge deal for me as long as I have my laptop and some relative solitude."
Giving employees the latitude to incorporate their life into their work and their work into their life as needed creates increased engagement to both. When one of these elements conflicts too greatly with the other, both suffer. For these successful businesswomen, the ability to choose when, how and where they work helps them to create an individualized work/life balance.
How can more flexibility in performing their jobs lead your employees to greater overall satisfaction?