“A goal without a plan is just a dream.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
A new year provides your business with new opportunities to grow, innovate, and thrive.
But what’s more important than the opportune moment is your preparation to seize it. It’s not enough to sit on your surfboard waiting – you have to be ready to paddle hard and catch the wave when it comes!
A recent study on human capital and its effect on financial performance found that, of the strongly performing companies that were surveyed, 44% showed near-total goal alignment on the managerial level. This suggests that simply setting goals, in-and-of itself, can have a huge positive impact on a business’s productivity.
Don’t let the opportunity of developing your business float by. Get ready now by setting goals for your company and mapping out the necessary steps to achieve them.
It’s a simple equation: Happy employees = happy company.
Making sure your employees feel appreciated is just as important as making sure that they actually are appreciated. So, how can you keep smiles on your employees’ faces without breaking the bank?
Tips for boosting and maintaining a high sense of employee morale:
As simple as these tips may seem, you shouldn’t underestimate employee morale and its effect on your business’s productivity.
While improving the top line seems like an obvious way to improve your P&L, major bottom line improvements can be made with a little administrative housekeeping. In this age of cutting-edge technology, there are various ways you can cut down on your business expenses:
If you’re new to social media, the prospect of jumping onto a platform may seem like a daunting task. Fear not! We’ve broken it down to four easy steps. Once you’ve gotten social media mastered, you’ll be saying ‘hashtag cha-ching’!
If your profits are increasing year after year, you can be sure that your business is headed in the right direction. But don’t let your guard down just yet!
Even profitable companies can hit sudden cash flow curbs. For example, if your payables (that is, your debts) are due before your receivables (the money you made from a sale that hasn’t been collected), you’ll soon be all too familiar with cash flow issues.
Keeping your cash flow positive will help you to maintain operations and continue growing your business be it through making new investments, hiring new staff, opening a new location or simply upgrading your equipment.
There are plenty of ways you can improve your cash flow and that first vital step is in closely monitoring it. Only then can you move onto making cash flow projections and establish a safety net to fall back on should you ever need it.
Don’t get bogged down at work – we’re only human, after all. According to a recent study, nearly 30% of workers admitted that they’ve made a serious mistake at work as a result of being fatigued. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution to workplace exhaustion – take a break!
Set aside some time to get away from work so you can avoid burning out. Pressing pause and changing your surroundings can help you feel rejuvenated.
Did you know that time spent away from a project can also help with productivity and inspiration? One study, in particular, showed that simply taking a walk-break boosted creativity in 81% of participants – there’s some food for thought!
The perks of stepping away from your business are sweet, but it’s also necessary to maintain a healthy balance between work and life. Make time for family, friends, and for yourself. Life isn’t all about paying the bills.
Lastly, it’s also good to share responsibility with your employees. Make them feel valued and give them an opportunity to step up to the plate, learn new skills, and prove their worth.
There you have it – five achievable goals to set yourself for this new fiscal year:
Now that you have the tools, it’s time to put them to use. It’s never too early to get yourself prepared for the challenges that lie ahead – seize the day!
Annabelle is a writer with Lending Express, dedicated to simplifying and bringing color to complex concepts in the fintech arena. Lending Express is a technology company committed to creating a better world of funding for SMBs. Using technology, the company optimizes SMBs funding odds and matches them with personalized funding solutions in the simplest way possible.
For many of us, summer means days spent dreaming about laying on the beach, taking a dip in a hotel pool, or road-tripping to a picturesque national park. But once we hit adulthood, summertime really just means getting into the office a little sweatier than the rest of the year. Vacations aren’t guaranteed, and the ones we do get to take are usually shorter than we’d like.
As a business owner, you know how important it is to take a break from time to time—but you also know you need to keep your employees engaged in their work when they’re on the clock. You’ve invested plenty in your business, so don’t forget to invest in your people. Keeping your employees on top of their game is always in your best interest.
Fortunately, there are several simple ways to make sure your employees are fully engaged at work, even when they’d rather be sipping a mojito on the beach.
As an entrepreneur, there’s a strong chance you’ve caught a bit more of the workaholic bug than the average person. You’ve always dreamed of building your own business from the ground up, and never hesitated to put your heart, soul, and many hours of overtime into it.
That’s okay! But not everyone aspires to be an entrepreneur. Understanding where your employees are coming from, including their need to take a break, is key to keeping their spirits high and performance on the up-and-up.
In fact, empathy is one of the most important factors of effective management. Listening to and understanding your employees’ wants and needs makes them feel more important—and more likely to meet you where you need them to be.
As we become a highly digital society, more and more companies are offering flexible work arrangements as a perk for their employees. In fact, nearly 80% of American companies now offer flex schedules and work-from-home arrangements.
If your industry makes it easy for you to offer flexible hours or remote work to your employees, it can be a great way to improve their work-life balance and keep them motivated day-to-day. Plus, remote work can allow your employees to take advantage of summer vacation spots without neglecting their inbox.
It’s important to show your employees that they’re valued all year long. When it’s warm outside, there are countless ways to give your employees a short break from their day-to-day in the name of team bonding.
Work retreats can be a great way to encourage camaraderie among coworkers, work on your business management skills or simply de-stress away from the office. And they don’t have to be long or expensive—if you want to save on costs, a one-day retreat from the office (think: picnic by the lake or team BBQ) is all you and your team need to refresh.
Summer isn’t just a time to take time off and relax—it’s also a great opportunity to get a little healthier.
As an employer, your employees’ health should be of the utmost importance. You want them feeling well so they can perform to their full potential. A wellness challenge is an excellent chance to engage your employees in a little friendly competition, while also encouraging them to be healthier all around and build a company wellness culture.
If you’re looking for some team wellness challenge ideas, consider firing up those FitBits and seeing who can accrue the highest number of steps over a month or two, or maybe even partaking in a team weight loss competition. You can provide incentives for the winners, but the fun of participating is usually enough to keep your employees active and engaged.
Finally, the best way to keep employees engaged when they’re not on vacation is to stress the importance of actually taking a vacation. It’s a lot easier to enjoy being at work after a week-long lake getaway or when you have a hiking trip to look forward to next month.
Often, the best part of taking a vacation isn’t even the vacation itself—it’s in the anticipation and planning. With something to look forward to, your employees will be happier overall, and thus less likely to feel checked out during the workday.
Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.
Running a business takes a lot out of a person. Financial, mental, emotional, and physical stresses can drain you really quickly if you aren’t careful.
One issue many small business owners run into is that they spend so much time taking care of their business, they forget to take care of their own mental health. If you just need some help getting back on track, you should know that there are many mental health tips to help small business owners just like you.
One of the most important mental health tips for small business owners is to set your hours and stick to them. This seems to be one of the toughest things for many who own a business. It’s not uncommon to end up working 60+ hour weeks and not have enough time for self-care. If this sounds like you, keep in mind, the longer your mental health suffers, the quicker your business may go under as well.
Think about all the things you have going on in your life—your children, your household, your business, your social life, and yes, personal time as well. After you consider everything you have going on, decide how many hours you should reasonably be working each week and then make a plan to only work those hours. Don’t overdo it—there will always be next week.
Another excellent tip for small business owners is to create a flexible working environment. Think about the tasks you need to do for your business. Do all of them necessarily have to be done in the office or at your company’s location? Are there things you can do at home or in a coffee shop? The more time you can spend out of the office, even if this includes working at home a bit, the better your mental health could be.
You may even want to consider setting up a schedule. For example, on Mondays and Fridays you are in your office or at the business location working. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you are working out of a coffee shop. On Wednesdays, you are working from home. While this is just an example it’s important to create a flexible working arrangement that fits your lifestyle and provides emotional balance.
Being a small business owner can be extremely tough. If you are having trouble keeping your mental health stable, you should reach out for help. When you outsource tasks, you have additional time for more pressing business matters. Additionally, outsourcing tasks allows you to have breaks or extra time to relax a bit as well.
If you haven’t asked for additional help yet, try delegating even a couple of your tasks each week. See how much better than makes you feel. Even freeing up a couple of hours of time can help you feel a great deal better emotionally, mentally and physically.
Anyone who is stressed or overwhelmed, especially small business owners, should practice relaxation techniques. Research and studies have shown the amazing benefits of relaxation techniques on physical, mental, and emotional health. Small business owners often experience tremendous amounts of stress on a day-to-day basis. If you are looking to improve your mental health state, there are few relaxation techniques you can begin practicing today.
You can start with the 3-7-5 breathing technique. For this relaxation technique, you will breathe out for three seconds, then breathe in for seven seconds and finally breathe out for five seconds. You can do this for any length of time but it is recommended you do this for three-minute sessions if possible.
Another relaxation technique to practice is progressive muscle relaxation. In this technique, you will start by sitting or lying in a comfortable position. You will then tense your muscles or certain muscles such as in your hands and arms. The tension should be held for about 15 seconds. You will then release the tension for about 15 seconds. Try to do this in three-minute sessions.
These are just a couple of the relaxation techniques you can practice any time you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. If you practice them regularly, they can help to reduce stress and improve your productivity as well.
It’s likely you have work on your mind all day and sometimes nights as well. If you want to develop a better mental health state, you need to take your mind off work at times. One of the best ways to do that is by actively taking part in an exercise program. This could be in a gym, fitness classes, or doing your own exercise regimen at home.
Exercising regularly can help to reduce stress, improve productivity, increase focus, improve physical fitness, and help you to feel better about yourself, as well. Even if you can’t seem to find enough motivation to go run a 5k, you should try to schedule at least five 30-minute walks each week. It’s amazing what just a half hour a day most days can do for your overall sense of well-being and mental health.
As a small business owner, you have a lot on your mind. However, you still need to remember to take care of yourself—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Use these five tips to reduce stress, get more done on the job, relax and most importantly, have a better state of mind at work and in your personal life as well.
What is your favorite employee engagement method? Does it involve giving them a special paycheck for their performance? If it does, you may want to reconsider your methods.
While this may sound surprising, financial rewards are not as high on the list of effective employee engagement tools. Being happy with a job now depends on a wide range of factors, including feeling valued and appreciated and taking part in decision-making.
Meeting these needs presents a huge challenge for managers because many employees in the modern job market feel uninspired by their work and get bored within a year. This trend is supported by the findings of a Gallup study that found that only 25 percent of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs.
So how do the managers of these 25 percent of employees drive engagement?
Work-life balance means different things for each employee, but one thing is for sure: it’s an impossible struggle for many. Great managers understand that an outcome of the work-life balance defines overall job satisfaction in a great way, so they try a personalized approach to each employee. This approach helps to define what’s important for them in terms of work-life balance.
Here are the ways that employers use to encourage a healthy work-life balance:
There are so many perks that managers can offer to their employees to make them happier, therefore more engaged at work, including:
These things may seem insignificant, but they greatly enhance job satisfaction by:
Recognition and reward are basic tools for reminding employees that they are valued and appreciated. If an employee achieves something they should be praised for, then you should definitely do it.
For example, you can reward your employees by making them employees of the month, giving them more responsibilities that’ll enhance their expertise (we’ll talk about it a bit later), allow to work from home, giving them a better parking spot, and so on. As for simple things like “thank you,” then leaders should use them to praise and encourage best efforts on a daily basis.
Great leaders show their appreciation of employees by allowing them to have unlimited annual leave days. For example, Sir Richard Branson does the same. In his book The Virgin Way, he wrote that leaders should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours they worked in the office.
According to Branson’s approach, a company doesn’t need a typical nine-to-five policy as well as a vacation policy. Naturally, a leader doesn’t expect supervisors and managers to track hours or even days away from the office. As Branson writes:
“It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off… the assumption being that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers.”
When Virgin introduced this policy, the staff was more than satisfied, and their motivation, creativity, and performance increased.
We’ve mentioned this one before, but it certainly deserves more attention to make sure that you understand the difference between giving more responsibility and more tasks. Giving responsibility involves assigning important projects and allowing to take ownership of them. On the other hand, giving tasks means assigning a bunch of random routine tasks that don’t do much to improve the company.
This strategy takes advantage of the fact that humans are inherently goal-oriented, so if they realize that achieving a certain goal will help them to enhance their skills and help the company, they’ll be glad to take on the challenge. So, try assigning your employees projects that are important for your company, and help them grow.
As you can see, money isn’t the only thing that improves engagement in the workplace. In fact, there are lots of things that you can try. So, it’s now your turn to take these simple ideas and put them into practice.
Lucy Benton is a marketing specialist and business consultant that helps people turn their dreams into the profitable business. Lucy has her own blog Prowritingpartner.com where you can check her last publications. If you’re interested in working with Lucy, you can find her on Twitter.
Conflict is inevitable in the workplace. According to one study, U.S. employees spend 2.1 hours per week involved in workplace disagreements that disrupt the flow of work, stifle creativity, and prevent collaboration.
No matter what causes these conflicts — from differences in opinion and ideals to perceived feelings of disrespect — you can handle them in a way that prompts quick resolution when you follow these 12 expert tips.
“There is nothing worse than festering animosity, especially in a work setting,” says Bill Fish, Co-Founder of Tuck.com. “Delayed action allows emotions to multiply on top of each other, and the issue can spiral out of control.”
Fish suggests addressing conflicts right away to prevent ongoing damage to morale, productivity and the company. “If I get wind of any sort of an issue, I take it upon myself to bring all parties involved into an office right away to discuss it thoroughly,” Fish told InCredibly. “Many times, some simple transparent discussion can lead to a resolution.”
If two of your employees are struggling to collaborate and it’s starting to affect their work, it’s important to hear them out and give them some time to vent. However, don’t let them simply complain about the other person.
“Ensure that your conversation is constructive by asking them to come prepared with proposed solutions,” advises Jacob Dayan, Esq., CEO and Co-founder of Community Tax. “This is not a guarantee that their proposed changes will take effect, but it does encourage them to not focus solely on what’s wrong and instead try to resolve the issue. Venting can be a healthy part of the process, but only if it is followed up by working to find a solution.”
In many office environments, managers form friendships with their employees. This can get tricky when you have to resolve a conflict between one of your friends and another employee. The other employee can become very sensitive to whether or not you’re treating them the same as you treat your friends.
“It’s important to make it very clear that you are treating all employees fairly and not taking sides,” Dayan adds. “When you’re outside the office, be sure to keep all communication with your friend focused on non-work-related subjects, or at least refrain from discussing the conflict only with your friend and not the other person involved in the dispute.”
Few workplace conflicts can be completely resolved from the top-down, and mediation often fails when it’s micro-managed. That’s why you should encourage feuding co-workers to talk through their issues.
“One option that has worked for me is to meet with the individuals involved separately and then together, and then to leave them alone to talk to each other,” says Jennifer Crittenden, author of The Discreet Guide for Executive Women. “I find that once they are no longer performing in front of an audience where they have to be ‘right,’ they sometimes find a way to bridge the gap and leave with a better understanding of each other.
“Eventually the two individuals do have to work with each other without supervision, so it’s worth getting them on that path sooner rather than later,” Crittenden explains.
Managers and business owners can get blindsided by workplace conflicts when they aren’t hearing from individual team members on a regular basis. The solution is to make sure you give all your employees enough face-time to understand their needs.
“After trying several strategies over the last few years, the thing that has produced the best results for me is having a one-on-one meeting with each of my direct employees once a month for 30 minutes,” says Cristian Rennella, CTO & CoFounder of oMelhorTrato.com. “These are private meetings where employees share their personal or team issues, and I share my experience, my opinion, and also how the company can help them.
“In this way, both they and I can share our problems and concerns without letting the rest of the team suffer. What is spoken in these meetings, from the good to the bad, always stays in the room and is not shared with anyone else.”
While it’s often necessary for a manager to help mediate conflicts between co-workers, knocking on your door shouldn’t be your employees’ first option when problems arise.
Triangulation happens when someone has an issue with one person but goes to someone else to resolve it for them, such as a manager. This needlessly involves people who don’t need to be involved and can easily waste managers’ time.
“If someone has an issue, they should go directly to the person they have an issue with and resolve it,” says Thomas R. Harris, Co-owner of The Exceptional Skills. “If they can’t resolve it, they can either choose a third party they both agree with to mediate, or there could be an established team leader or mentor who has that responsibility. Either way, have it set as company policy what direction to take.”
Aside from being a time-waster, triangulation leads to workers building allies for their disagreements with their co-workers. “That will destroy unity and hurt the company dearly,” Harris warns. “Instead, go directly to the person and follow protocol.”
Having a formalized framework for conflict resolution can be a lot more effective than simply bringing the aggrieved parties in the same room together and having them talk without any guidelines.
“At my company, we built conflict resolution into our working agreement,” says Kathy Green, Office Manager at TheraSpecs. “We discuss it openly and we deliberately review our attempts to live by our principles. The method we have agreed upon is shortened to OIIR, and printed on posters visible in every room:
“We like to allow the person offering an OIIR message to complete the whole four-part speech without interruption,” Green explains. “At that point, we make space for the other person to ask clarifying questions or offer a new perspective without refuting the first person’s point of view. Our method includes agreeing on the next step — and that could be a direct resolution or simply an agreement to seek additional input.”
“Conflicts aggravate when the parties get an impression that the ‘loser’ of the dispute is going to get a beating,” says Ketan Kapoor, CEO and Co-Founder of Mettl. “If you convince them that the resolution will only be a stepping stone to avoid failures and glitches in the future, then expect quick resolutions. The concerned parties will only focus on identifying the gaps rather than pointing fingers on each other or going on the defensive.”
Active listening is a communication technique which requires the listener to provide feedback to the speaker and restate what they heard in their own words, which helps build empathy and reduce misunderstandings. This technique can be used by two colleagues engaged in conflict or by a supervisor trying to mediate the conflict for the employees.
According to Robin Schwartz, PHR at MFG Jobs, active listening “allows for open dialogue between the two parties in conflict and often results the parties ‘feeling heard’ as their issues and concerns are paraphrased back to them. It encourages employees to communicate issues, thoughts, concerns and feelings, which is an essential step in reducing workplace conflict.”
The key is for each person involved in the conflict to listen to the other party without interrupting to defend themselves. By actively focusing on the other person’s perspective, employees see each other as partners in resolving the dispute, not opponents.
Personal attacks make both sides of a workplace conflict dig in deeper instead of moving them towards a solution. That’s why it’s so important for everyone involved in a dispute to focus on the specific issue at hand and avoid harmful personal statements as much as possible.
“The best way to facilitate conversation and conflict resolution in the workplace is to focus on points of agreement and disagreement, rather than painting a person with a whole issue,” says Harrison Doan, Director of Analytics at Loom & Leaf. “We all have disagreements, but the important thing is to ensure it doesn’t escalate past the point of contention.”
When an organization experiences a setback, it’s rarely the result of a single employee’s bad decisions. More often, it’s a failure of process—but it can be easy for your workers to start playing the blame game.
“Our real estate team operates on sale commissions, and we’ve seen conflict between members when one member falls short and loses a commission for the team,” says Jeff Miller, a real estate agent with AE Home Group. “Other members feel slighted and the financial loss can make tensions high. To prevent this conflict we came up with the idea of implementing team process documents for every task we conduct.
“All team members are given the opportunity and responsibility of contributing to this living document. If a team member fails, it isn’t because it’s the team member’s fault, but because the procedural documents owned by the entire team has fallen short. This allows everyone to take equal responsibility for the loss, which leads to positive changes to our procedural documents instead of conflict between team members,” Miller says.
A well-timed, sincere apology can be the most powerful tool in resolving a workplace conflict. Sometimes, it’s the only thing an aggrieved employee needs to hear to let go of the dispute and re-focus on what’s important.
“Most people don’t apologize during workplace conflicts. That hurts the relationship and things never get resolved,” says Jason Treu, author of Social Wealth and host of the Executive Breakthroughs Podcast. Treu recommends the following:
“This will show them you care, are accountable, and want to fix the situation,” says Treu. “It restores trust, and you’ll both be able to move past whatever happened.”
In the corporate world, employee handbooks are pretty ubiquitous. Nearly everyone who starts a position at a large company is given a booklet, packet, or online manual to peruse on their first day at the office.
However, when it comes to small businesses, employee handbooks may be completely absent — job parameters and company policies are simply conveyed through word-of-mouth. And that can lead to problems for both employees and employers down the road.
If your business is currently lacking a handbook, here are five reasons why you should seriously consider putting one together.
An employee handbook is NOT a viable substitute for a thorough, engaging orientation program. You shouldn’t just hand new hires an employee handbook, tell them to read it, and then hope that they commit the whole thing to memory.
That said, the handbook can catch details that may fall through the cracks, and compensate for different trainers inadvertently emphasizing one area or another. The handbook can also cover topics in far more detail than a training program might have time for, as well as empower new hires to seek out answers themselves instead of asking co-workers or supervisors every time they have a question.
If you’ve ever had to reprimand an employee for not fulfilling one of his or her duties and received a reply of, “I didn’t know I was responsible for that, nobody told me that ____ was my job, too,” then you’ll relate to this entry.
While you should always outline specific job expectations during a prospective hire’s interview(s) to prevent them from being caught off-guard during their first few months of work, the handbook can reinforce your company’s rules and expectations for all new (and existing) employees.
If an employee claims that something is not “part of their job description,” you’ll be able to clarify and point to something in writing. It may also give your employees a way to stand up for themselves against overbearing supervisors or coworkers who would take advantage of their generosity…or naiveté.
Say that your company’s handbook clearly states that employees are not allowed to do certain things: access social media websites on work computers, take/make personal calls while they’re on the clock, dress in an overly casual manner, mosey into work 30 minutes late, etc.
The handbook should also clearly state what the penalty is for breaking these rules, whether it be as minor as a verbal or written warning, or as severe as termination of employment. This helps ensure that all employees are held to the same standards of behavior and that company policies are applied evenly across the board. It can also help defend higher-ups against claims of favoritism or discrimination.
One of the keys to fostering a great work environment is to keep an ear open for employee comments or suggestions. If your employees know that their feedback is taken seriously, they’re far more likely to feel like valued members of the business.
The handbook can be a great jumping-off point for valuable conversations; don’t be afraid to ask an employee, “What do you think about the handbook? Are there any revisions to the text or formatting that you’d suggest?”
Make it clear that, while you’re not looking for comments on company policies at this moment, you want their opinion on how the handbook could better convey information (“Let’s put a map of the building in the disaster preparedness section so that evacuation routes are easier to visualize!”) or offer more detailed explanations (“Could the section on dress code actually define what we consider ‘business casual?’”). You may be surprised by the answers you receive.
In case the previous section didn’t make this obvious: Employee handbooks should not be considered sacred, irrefutable documents that must remain constant and unchanging for as long as the company exists.
In fact, you should closely review (and, if necessary, revise) the handbook at least once a year in order to keep up with current labor and tax laws, your company’s ideals and values, and any unforeseen issues that will inevitably crop up as you expand. The handbook and its previous editions can essentially serve as a reminder of what kind of business your company was when it started out and how it has evolved since then. It may even encourage you to “stick to your guns” in a fast-paced — often cutthroat — world.
Lastly, some employees may take pride—or at least see the humor—in pointing to a line of the handbook and saying to a new team member, “Yeah, I’m the reason we’re not allowed to bring in extra appliances to use in the kitchen. Remind me to tell you about the electric pancake griddle that set off our entire floor’s sprinkler system sometime.” That’s a unique way to facilitate camaraderie and a sense of togetherness for employees!
Company handbooks are great tools for bridging the gap between employees and employers, and they’re a way to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to policies and expectations. They’re also a living record of your company and how it has changed since its inception. Writing an employee manual can be a bit tricky if you’re starting from scratch, but hiring a certified PEO can help immensely in this regard.
The bottom line: An employee handbook is a bit like a compass. You and your employees probably won’t need one on a daily basis, but they can provide much-needed guidance in certain situations—and possibly save your bacon when you’re in a really tough spot!
Mark Sinatra is CEO of Staff One HR. Before joining Staff One HR, Mark co-founded Gordian Capital, a private investment company that focuses on making long-term investments in lower middle market companies. He has worked in the private equity, investment banking, consulting, and business process outsourcing industries for the following companies: Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, Andersen, RR Donnelley and The Parthenon Group.
Mark is actively involved in the PEO industry as a Board Director of NAPEO. Mark is also Chairperson of First3 Years and a Board Director with Social Venture Partners – Dallas. He is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) – Lone Star Chapter.
He is an MBA graduate of the Wharton School of Business, and holds a BA in Economics from Fordham University. Mark holds the SHRM-CP Certification, is a Certified Predictive Index analyst, and is a graduate of the Stagen Integral Leadership Academy.
When it comes to public speaking, your small business might seem like a safe zone. You feel very comfortable in the presence of your team, and whenever you have important news to share with your customers, you do it through email newsletters and other content marketing efforts. There’s no need to stand up in front of total strangers and endure those butterflies in the stomach and sweaty palms that affect so many of us, right?
In fact, there are many reasons to get out of your comfort zone and develop your skills as a public speaker—and that’s especially true for business owners. Here’s why public speaking can help you achieve your goals as a business owner, and how to start building confidence in your own speaking ability.
Let’s look at a TED talk as an example: “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work” is one of the most popular talks among business owners. The speaker, Jason Fried, is a business owner himself. When you listen to him speaking, you get the impression that he is intelligent, charismatic, and most importantly, knowledgeable about his business speciality—workplace collaboration and productivity. This talk contributes towards Jason’s personal brand as a thought-leader on the nature of work, and as a result, it generates interest in his project management software company.
A good speech establishes you as a subject matter expert and raises your profile in your industry. It doesn’t need to be a widely-shared TED talk, but if people hear you speak at a local business conference and come away with a good impression, they’ll be more likely to seek out and trust your insights in the future.
Public speaking appearances open up a world of networking opportunities. Potential business partners will approach you after your speech to make connections, or suggest ways that your businesses can join forces. In short, public speaking helps you meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have, and gives you the confidence to make the most of those interactions.
Public speaking is not the most comfortable thing in the world. For most people, it’s a scary situation. For some, the mere thought of public speaking causes intense anxiety. There’s even a term for that state —glossophobia.
If you do work towards becoming a great speaker, however, you’ll notice a huge improvement in your self-confidence. That’s a transferable skill, which will help you become a better business negotiator, too.
When practicing for a speaking appearance, try recording a video of yourself delivering your speech or doing it in a mirror. You might pick up on distracting quirks and tendencies by watching yourself that you would never have seen otherwise.
The benefits of developing public speaking skills are evident. Every single small business owner has something to gain by becoming a confident, compelling speaker. The question is: How do you do it?
Here are a few simple tips that will help you become a great speaker.
Writing a public speech is completely different than writing something for print or online publication. A speech is not simply a piece of content that you read in front of an audience. It must trigger interaction between you and the audience. You will ask questions. You’ll tell jokes. You’ll wait for the audience’s response.
The foundation of a great speech is a topic that you’re an expert on and passionate about. What do you find yourself getting excited about when you’re having conversations at work? Your expertise on the subject matter will help you feel more comfortable when you get up in front of an audience, and your passion about the topic will keep listeners engaged during the speech.
The content itself has to be thought-provoking, clear, and attention-grabbing. If you have a great script for your speech, you’ll be more confident to get out there and perform.
Most business owners need help with this part. If you can’t get the script perfect on your own, it’s important to rely on a talented writer from your team. If that’s not an option, you can hire a professional writer or editor to do the heavy lifting.
Memorizing is an instinct for most people when they prepare for a speech. However, it’s not the right thing to do. When you memorize the content, forgetting a single word will throw you out of balance.
Do this instead: Write bullet points that summarize your speech and use them to practice. It’s important not to miss any of those points, but you can allow yourself to improvise along the way. That will add more character to your speech and will make you look and sound natural.
A speech without a great visual presentation may be boring. The audience needs something to grab their attention, and good-looking slides will do that perfectly.
The slides should clearly be related to the points you’re addressing. They should not be too elaborate; there’s no need to write the entire speech on the slides.
By the way, “visual aids” can incorporate so much more than Powerpoint slides. Visual presentation can mean props, gesturing with your hands and body, and moving across the entire stage. If you want to see a masterful example of a speaker using physical movement to create visual excitement, check out this video of Bobby McFerrin explaining the pentatonic scale at the 2009 World Science Festival.
People are afraid of public speaking because they constantly think about the way the audience will perceive them. “What will they think of me? What if I’m silly? What if they don’t like me?” That’s not the right mindset to have.
You should still focus on the audience, but in a different way: “What can I do to make this interesting for them? How can I give more value?” That’s the kind of mindset that makes the experience good for the audience.
You want to connect with the audience during the speech. Make eye contact with specific people and use your body language to emphasize important points. And be aware of your pacing: Novice public speakers almost always speak too quickly, which can convey nervousness and make the speech hard to follow. The trick is to speak slower than you naturally would, and include dramatic pauses to keep the audience on the edge of their seats and give them time to digest important concepts.
Take the communication further by inviting audience members to participate. You may ask a question that requires them to raise a hand if they agree. You may even include a member of the audience in the presentation (as long as they’re comfortable with it).
Are you ready to start presenting yourself in the best light? Working on your public speaking skills takes time and tons of effort, but the results are priceless.
Quality and price aren’t the only things customers consider when they choose who to do business with. They also care about what your business represents.
Your business’s story defines who you are, where your business came from, and why you do what you do. By crafting a winning story and incorporating it into the conversations you’re already having with buyers, you’ll build trust, differentiate yourself in the market, and (most importantly) build the emotional connection that will make customers choose you over similar competitors.
“Logic makes people think; emotion makes them act.” — Zig Ziglar
Let’s explore how honing your storytelling skills can increase customer loyalty and help boost your sales.
Storytelling has a long history of being used in the sales process. It works so well because it humanizes the product or service and appeals to people on an emotional level, giving them something powerful to connect to. When told a compelling, authentic story that resonates, customers are more likely to make a purchase.
While certain people are more gifted at storytelling, you certainly do not need to be an expert storyteller to use it to your advantage. Anyone can hone their communication skills to make their story tailored to their audience.
You may have come up with a mission statement in the process of writing out your business plan. If you haven’t, it isn’t too late to do so. Creating a mission statement can help guide you in every aspect of running your business.
Your mission statement gets to the very heart of why your business exists and focuses on what you hope your business will achieve for your customers, and the impact your business might have on the world. It can give you an even better understanding of why you started your company in the first place.
One of the key elements of your story is your “why.” It’s the purpose of your business — the reason that you started doing what you’re doing, and the reason you continue doing it today.
Nailing down your “why” is incredibly important these days, as consumers have made it clear that they prefer doing business with companies that stand for something. According to the Global Strategy Group and Nielsen:
– 83% of consumers consider brands’ values when considering a purchase,
– 89% are likely to switch to brands they associate with causes,
– and 66% of consumers would pay more for products from more socially responsible companies.
It’s a mistake to assume that you don’t have much of a story to tell, or that no one is really interested in hearing about it. No matter how humble your beginnings or how ordinary your experience may seem, your story does, in fact, have the power to connect you with your customers. You just have to identify what makes you different than everybody else.
What’s the “special sauce” of your product or service? Is it the quality of the materials you use? The level of in-store service or online customer experience? What do you offer that nobody else does, and why do you offer it? Your competitive advantage is a reflection of your company’s values, and incorporating it into your story can appeal to customers who share those same values.
For any story to be effective it has to be told to the right audience. As a business owner, your audience is your ideal customer. Spend some time figuring out just who that is, in demographic terms.
Not only will this help you spend your marketing dollars more wisely, but it can help you hone your story. You may have to tweak it, depending on the audience. As long as you aren’t making things up or embellishing details, you can always fine-tune it by focusing on the elements that would be the most appealing to your customer.
A compelling story can become a core part of a business’s identity. Once you develop your go-to story, you can use it in different ways. Promote it on your website and share it on social media.
Think about some larger companies that we’re all familiar with, and you can probably recall at least some part of their story that’s been built into their brand identity. You can take different elements of yours and use it strategically in a variety of ways in sales and marketing efforts.
That said, your story should be flexible. This isn’t a script you’ll be reading to customers. It’s a short synopsis of your value as a company. Own the core ideas and make it your own when speaking with each individual customer. It needs to be simple enough for each employee to understand and promote in their own way, but also concrete and thorough enough so that the message is consistent and does not leave out any valuable information.
Before you start integrating your story into your marketing materials and sales interactions, you have to test it to make sure it properly connects with people. Sharing your story with friends and family is a good start, but they can be biased, or they can hold back their criticism so as not to hurt your feelings. Even your own employees might be hesitant to share the full extent of their opinions.
Instead, share your story with strangers at first, or a small, select group of customers. Surveys can be very helpful to collect anonymous reactions, which will give you a clearer idea of which elements are the most interesting to customers. They may linger on a certain aspect of it and ask you more about a certain point. Let that be a guide to how you can improve your story and expand on the parts that are really connecting with your target audience.
Related: How to Use Surveys to Drive Success in Your Small Business
If you’re struggling to come up with an interesting hook for your story, you may be tempted to embellish or exaggerate details. Don’t do it. Even if you’re not trying to intentionally mislead people, adding in details to make yourself sound better is dishonest, and creates the wrong dynamic with your customers.
Authenticity is always more attractive to people. Be true to yourself when crafting your story, don’t be afraid to include the parts that show your vulnerability, and respect your customers by always telling them the truth.
A sharp, well-honed story only includes the most helpful and interesting parts of your business identity. If you’re unfocused when telling your story to potential customers, they’ll be confused about who you are and what you’re offering to them.
Keep in mind what your story is, and what it is not.
Your story is:
Your story is not:
The key to focus when it comes to storytelling is practice. You’ve probably been telling parts of your story to people for a while now without really realizing it. Don’t force it on your customers when you’re speaking face to face, but if it comes up naturally in the course of a sales process, open up. Eventually, telling your story will become second nature, and an intrinsic part of your business interactions.
Yes, your story is about you, but keep in mind that it should also speak to and involve your customers. Don’t forget about including them. There are a few easy ways to do this.
This is where the solution part of your story comes in. Ultimately, every business exists because it aims to provide a better answer to a common problem. You have to weave in how and why you are ideally suited to provide the best solution for the buyer’s needs. Customers are seeking an answer, and your story should include how and why yours is the one that will best meet their needs.
You may have started up your business without having any advanced skills in your industry. You may have had a career in an entirely different field. That’s okay, and it’s nothing to shy away from. You can and should still make it clear to customers that you’re an expert at what you do.
One way that you can do that is by demonstrating your passion for the services you provide. If you’re enthusiastic about it, you’ll show them that you really care about what you do. Experience is important, but it only comes with time. When you’re just starting out, you need to be passionate. There’s likely something in your background that can convince customers you’re well qualified to meet their needs, and hopefully even exceed their expectations.
When your customers can empathize with you, they’ll want to help you and see you succeed. Don’t strip out the elements of your story that will appeal to people on an emotional level. If you struggled at different points, those parts could be worth including. It may be one of the pivotal moments in the creation or continued success of your business. Sharing how you’ve overcome challenges demonstrates your commitment, and it can inspire customers, too.
As with anything, the more that you work on your storytelling skills, the more naturally they’ll come. Over time, your story will become a core element of your business identity, inspiring not only customers but also your employees and future hires. The benefits of being an effective storyteller extend beyond making a sale. It can be an incredible tool for growing your business and building your brand over the years.
Corey Philip is an 8 figure home service industry entrepreneur and founder of HomeProSuccess.com — an online resource focused on the growth and marketing of trades businesses.