When was the last time you were up at 3am? Big birthday bash? New baby? Box set? There are many life-affirming reasons to have your eyeballs open at silly o’clock. But slaving over your accounts or squinting at your Google Analytics dashboard aren’t among them. There are four classic mistakes that start-ups and small businesses often make. Here’s how you can avoid them:
There’s an unavoidable period where start-up owners have to wear all the hats: sales, marketing, finance, IT, operations. While it is possible to find joy in all these tasks (the thrill of a sell, the hum of a server, the glint of a spreadsheet anyone?) there are some you will always despise. But if you’re not careful you’ll end up doing everything forever. So cherry-pick the bits that give you a buzz and for everything else, use freelancers to get it off your desk and get it done. If you can’t face your accounts, your blog or your SEO, ship them off to someone who can. You get some sleep – or finish that box set.
If you’re trudging through your tax return or fiddling for hours with Photoshop, you’re definitely not making best use of your time and you’re probably not making a great job of it either. Don’t run your business doing lots of stuff averagely; do less stuff, but outstandingly. Build a network of fellow specialists and you’ve created a multi-skilled team without employing a single person. Find freelancers with the right skill set and experience, check out examples of their work and read independent reviews from other business owners. When you hire, set a fixed rate, for an agreed period, with clear deliverables.
Unless you live in a cave, you’ll know the two Truths of Domestic Existence: 1) you will one day, possibly quite soon, have need of a good plumber and 2) there is nothing harder to find than a good plumber. However – and here’s the point – you still wouldn’t hire a permanent one would you? Similarly in your business, you might have a recurring but unpredictable need for say, a proofreader, a salesperson or a website designer. Using online hiring platforms such as Elance or ODesk to hire an expert resource on a project-by-project basis – exactly when you need it – keeps your options open and your cash available. Even if business is flying at the moment, future demand is hard to foresee. Focus on what you need now and stay flexible for as long as you can.
What happens when you go on holiday or get ill? Do all gears grind to a halt? If so, you’re not running a business, you are a business. Diverting streams of repeat activity such as admin support or website maintenance through reliable freelance channels makes your business less vulnerable to disease, pestilence and man-flu. It also gives you a greater sense of progress: in addition to the furrow you’re ploughing, you have another production line. Most importantly however, placing tasks with others automatically promotes you to an executive position. That means you are reviewing, checking, approving and deciding everything, which is a lot less time-consuming and more important for your business than doing absolutely everything.
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When we started out four years ago, leading a team wasn’t a consideration. We were a small family unit and did everything ourselves. We dreamt big but back then we couldn’t have known how things would evolve.
As our company grew, it became apparent that we had to employ staff. This was uncharted territory; now we had to become managers and leaders if we wanted to grow. Our skills had been more than adequate up to this point but we now needed an upgrade. I suspect many small firms find themselves in the same situation, when it’s crucial to embrace the next step – it’s make or break.
If you’re happy to stay small and have no real interest in growing – that’s fine. But if you want to get to the next level you must learn how to delegate and manage people. We decided it would be a good idea to hire a business coach. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know it all and we felt some guidance would surely benefit our business. Here are some points worth considering:
Copyright © 2014 Sam Frith. Sam Frith is the creative director of Ski Boutique, an “international agency offering luxurious and bespoke holidays in Europe’s most breathtaking alpine destinations”.
From the Grumpy Boss to the Barely-There Manager and the “David Brent”, every manager has a different style of management. Officebroker.com looks at ten types of boss. Maybe you’ve worked for one. You may even be one of the following…
They put everything into their job and are constantly willing to “take one for the team”. They have no concept of the word “holiday” and are in work regardless of the weather or ill health. They expect their staff to meet their high standards, so employees can forget about leaving early. Ever.
They are smarmy and often get a little too close for comfort. Establishing friendships with employees can have many benefits, but relationships must always be kept professional.
The type of boss who yearns to be both friend and mentor to employees. They imagine their “people” find them to be “hilarious” and great company, while still looking up to them. In truth, employees find them annoying, frustrating, offensive and a bit of a joke.
Tends to lose focus, with employees having no clear idea of where the business is heading as a result. When the Barely-There boss does show their face they always try to take credit for other people’s hard work and success, before disappearing out of the door for another “meeting” or to “work from home”.
Even when a situation is completely under control, the Stresser is always running around like a headless chicken. They’re first to panic when something goes wrong, and prefer to stress rather than find solutions. All employees agree that the workplace would be a much calmer (and better) place without them.
Never satisfied. They’re constantly leaning over employees’ shoulders commenting on everything they do. Lunch breaks are always too long and nothing is ever right. Grumpy Bosses damage employee mood, goodwill and confidence. And restrict their businesses as a consequence.
Has the biggest mouth of all. They probably don’t get the opportunity to voice their opinions outside the workplace, with employees’ eardrums suffering as a result. From moaning about their commute to sharing details of their divorce, they have no boundaries when it comes to telling others what they think.
Their mood determines their management. If they come in with a face like thunder, they’re best avoided – unless you want to have your head bitten off. Can be great when they’re in a happy mood, but can be extremely unpleasant at other times, when employees are forced to walk around on eggshells.
A totalitarian who rules by fear. Terror is their key weapon when seeking to motivate employees, often using the threat of the sack. They shout at their employees for whatever reason and treat no one with respect.
The Nice Boss gives praise where due and is always willing to muck in. They know where to draw the line when using their authority, which they’re not afraid to use when necessary. They don’t mind getting their hands dirty and helping out the team. They’re firm but fair and are respected by their employees as a result.
Copyright © 2014, Officebroker.com
Whether you’re a sole trader or manage many employees, you must ensure that important work gets done to a high standard and on time. So how do you prevent important tasks from being neglected?
Share the load with people who are stronger in areas where you are weaker. The work will get done; you’ll feel less stressed; and your business will benefit.
The tasks to delegate are the ones that are least enjoyable and require less-skill. Why? Because they are: easier to train others to do; cheapest to hire for; and often create the most distractions.
Before you hire, define the role along with responsibilities and desired output. Then match that against a few key considerations:
Introducing a system is critical if you want to ensure tasks don’t fall through the cracks. It will also you help you manage your team.
Create concise but comprehensive documentation and it will feed back into your business by making the training of new hires a breeze, ensuring your business runs without interruption. Remember to keep it concise and simple:
At the London Coaching Group, we have an efficient team that works very closely. And we exchange barely any emails.
What you need:
You then create column headings for:
So how do we use this?
Whenever a task comes to mind, I, as the team leader, add it to the spreadsheet straight away. My team then fills in the fields accordingly. Once a task has a "Date complete" I double-check the task. Once I've double-checked and it's done, I delete it from this list. Only I can delete.
My team and I keep this document open during our working day. It acts as our communal 'to-do' list. Everyone is aware of the status of all other projects, which makes meetings a breeze and ensures nothing falls through the cracks.
By using the tips and tools above you can run your business and your projects smoothly and efficiently. You will be 100% in control of each project, which reduces stress and that feeling of a ‘heavy load’. So you’ll have more time to work on your business and its future.
Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is an award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.
Although they can sound like a waste of time, effective team meetings are essential for all new (and existing) businesses if they are to reach their potential. They can help you leverage the collective intelligence in your business, as well as move the team forward cohesively.
Ideally you should have more team meetings, not fewer. This is because effective meetings lead to:
But what should you avoid if you want to ensure effective team meetings?
There are four important elements that need to be implemented if you want an effective team meeting:
Be really clear. Are you strategising or discussing operations? What do you want to get out of this meeting? Everything stems from the purpose.
As the leader of the meeting, you should make your agenda sharp – and make sure you stick to it.
Keep to the purpose and agenda. Otherwise you could spend half your day in team meetings without actually getting anything productive done.
If you want meetings that will move your business forward, the right people need to be present. This will come naturally if you move through the previous steps. Once you know the purpose and agenda for your meeting, it becomes clear who needs to be there – and who is only going to be wasting time if they attend.
Every meeting is different and will have unique requirements, so you need to be flexible with your structure. However, these elements are common to all effective and productive team meetings.
Above all, before every team meeting, ask yourself one simple question: "What do I want my team members to achieve after this meeting?" You will be amazed at the clarity that answering that one question will bring – and what a difference that will make to the meeting and its effectiveness.
Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is a multi- award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.
In the old days of business, a manager would command and control. He (it was usually a he) didn’t need to worry about building trust. However, today, leaders who want to drive their business forward use more sophisticated and modern methods.
In 1990, Joseph Nye of Harvard developed the concept of ‘Soft Power’. It’s a method of persuasion that involves attracting and co-opting people, instead of coercing, using force or giving money. If you want to become a successful leader, you need to display successful powers of persuasion, and high levels of emotional intelligence. How do you do this? The answer lies in getting your team to trust you.
There is a strong temptation, when you admire others, to imitate aspects of their personality. However well intentioned this is, your team will sense the falseness. Always be genuine. Have faith in your abilities. Without this foundation, anything else you do will be doomed to fail.
Everybody wants bosses to be strong and capable. You need to be able to find solutions when things get really tricky – and your shoulders need to be broad when big problems arise.
Interestingly, though, if you never show your vulnerabilities, you could forever be regarded as unapproachable and it’s difficult to build trust from such a position.
It means occasionally confiding in one or more of your team that you, too, find a particular task stressful or that you have to work hard at something to get it right. This helps people to see you not just as their boss, but also as a fellow human being with whom they can have a genuine working relationship.
How many times have you given feedback to people who have been genuinely shocked? It’s often difficult to see oneself as others do. However, the more you can see yourself objectively, the better placed you are to work on areas that might be blocking your ability to build trust.
The useful personal development technique – 360-degree feedback – is an ideal tool for this. You and your team evaluate your behaviour. You then receive a report showing the difference between how you perceive yourself and how others do. It’s a remarkably easy and powerful way of identifying where to start on self-development, to make yourself more easily trusted.
The problem with giving feedback is that it’s often negative, dealing with areas for improvement. As a result, managers either don’t give feedback or (trying to be kind) give it in such a saccharine way that it’s useless. This inevitably causes mistrust, because your team members want to improve. They know they’re not perfect and they want to improve so they can enjoy promotions and increased pay.
Happily, there’s a straightforward solution. Firstly, you need to realise that the kind thing to do is to give the feedback, not hold on to it. Secondly, give feedback in a way that is received well. There are numerous techniques you could adopt, but the role of ‘framing’ is essential. By using framing, you can make it very clear that your intention is to help your employee. You ask their permission to do so. With this established, you can go on to give candid feedback. Your team members will know that you can be trusted to tell it as it is.
Finally, always tell the truth. This doesn’t mean disclosing confidential information, nor does it mean volunteering information that could damage morale. It does mean, though, that you need the courage to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that’ or ‘this is how it is, and this is how I’m going to help you’. The moment your team suspect you are being dishonest, you’ve lost them forever. If you tell them the truth at the right time, in the right way, you will earn their trust and their respect.
Trust takes a long time to build, but a very short time to lose. Despite the considerable investment needed to earn trust, it’s worth the effort!
Copyright © 2014 Heather Foley, consultant at HR technology and software provider etsplc.com
Happy employees are usually productive employees. If they believe they’re valued and an integral part of your business, employees will be more inclined to work harder because they will feel they have a personal investment in their role. Inspired by The Happiness Project by author Gretchen Rubin, here are five ways to try to ensure your people remain happy and well motivated…
Rubin says happiness is affected by a sense of control, so where practical try to give your employees a choice over what they do and when. Some businesses have flexible project management roles that are adopted by different employees or teams on a project-by-project basis. On a simpler level, giving your employees control over what they wear and how they decorate their workspace can also inspire happiness. Employees who feel their individuality is crushed by their job may soon leave.
Tight deadlines cause stress, yet they’re necessary for successful businesses. What is unnecessary, however, are long meetings where nothing gets decided. Cut meeting times in half by having specific topics decided beforehand, a time limit that is rigidly stuck to, and clear and concise actions so that everyone leaves knowing exactly what they have to do and for when. Keep all employees in the loop about important matters so that every team member knows exactly what stage of the project they are on. Set realistic targets and stick to them.
Take some chocolates into an arduous meeting; remember employee’s birthdays; organise office trips or team building activities. Even little rewards can achieve big results. Such small gestures contribute to an overall sense of value. Hosting a surprise office party in the middle of the day can be a great way to break up the working routine and re-energise your employees. Don’t see such activities as a waste of time, they’re important for employee happiness and productivity.
Make your business more than just a place to work. By inspiring a feeling of community, your employees are more likely to work together, help each other and look forward to coming to work. This can also spread to your local community – get involved in charity fundraisers, sponsor events and take part in team races and other activities. This will not only get you noticed, but also make your employees feel proud of where they work.
Invest in decent chairs and educate your employees about exercises and stretches to relieve tension and retain energy. Make use of the other businesses nearby; perhaps speak to a local gym or exercise class to get discounted deals for your employees. Educate them on the importance of healthy living (but practise what you preach).
If your employees are miserable, they’re likely to convey this to others and it will also be reflected in their attitude, which will affect their performance. If you employ people, place their satisfaction at the top of your priorities. Make them feel valued and that they have a stake in the future of your business. Then you can work together to make your business a success.
Blog supplied by Sophie Turton of Crunch Accounting.
It is often said that employees are the lifeblood of a business and it is certainly true that they are an important factor in its success. For this reason ensuring employees feel valued is vital in order that they remain motivated, loyal and productive.
Research conducted by Modern Survey suggests that 85% of employees who feel meaningfully recognised will go above their formal responsibilities to get a job done. However, as economic conditions continue to be tough, allocating a significant budget to an all-singing, all-dancing staff reward and recognition scheme is often simply not an option. Business owners and managers should therefore be looking at low-cost, high-impact alternatives.
Praise and recognition are essential and everyone likes a ‘pat on the back’ to make them feel good. Often the only reward for hard work is the satisfaction of the individual responsible in seeing a job well done, but it is important that time is taken to shine a spotlight on them.
Recognising an individual, or a team or department, has a huge knock-on effect throughout a business with word spreading both through the grapevine and via more formal communication channels. This mustn’t just apply to those team members whose contributions are obvious, such as those in sales. Equal pride must be taken in those whose skill and dedication is an integral part of your business success.
Can this be achieved on a budget? Yes, because a crucial element in any employee recognition programme is presentation and, for this reason, the reward itself does not need to be high-value. In most cases, acknowledgement in front of peers is known to mean more to the recipient than the reward itself and so the reward can be relatively low-cost, or in some cases no-cost. Rewards that cost little but have a big impact include an extra day’s holiday, employee of the month parking space or a free car clean during working hours. Thanking employees with an early finish on a Friday afternoon, a late start on a Monday morning or an extended lunch break are also popular as are experience days, giftcards and vouchers.
The key is to dedicate some time to present the reward in public and say a personal thank you, because it enhances the overall sentiment of the gift and makes it even more memorable. Overall, if employers recognise publicly, often, and associate the reward with desired behaviours, better results will be achieved than if the budget was blown on a fancy reward.
Length of service awards are another effective way to recognise employee contribution without incurring significant cost. They may seem like a thing from the past, but switched-on businesses are maximising their effectiveness by rewarding frequently to deliver recognition to the employee that will inspire a fresh burst of productivity and re-engage them in the business.
Today, the gold watch for 25 years of service is no longer relevant and so businesses have significantly shortened the length of time before awards are given with awards after five, 10 and 15 years. In some high employee turnover industries, such as call centres, rewards are given after six months or a year. While the physical award can be low-cost, such as a meal out, it is important to make the process of rewarding a really big deal by ensuring the presentation is attended by peers and by shouting about it via the appropriate communication channels.
Another low-cost step that employers can take to boost employee morale, engagement and loyalty is recognising and celebrating a range of occasions with them, including birthdays, weddings, housewarmings, baby showers, length of service awards, Christmas and special anniversaries. Arranging for a card containing a small gift to be delivered to an employee’s desk, home or email inbox is a personal and special way to recognise employees who creates a feel-good factor in the workplace with minimal financial outlay and effort for the person tasked with organising it.
Businesses that take small steps such as these to recognise and reward employees and make them feel valued will reap the rewards.
Blog supplied by Kuljit Kaur of The Voucher Shop.
For many Start-ups, the website is an early investment, and for many more an early headache. To avoid common mistakes, it can be good to adjust the way you think about your site. Rather than thinking of it as a project or a tool, think of it as your first employee – a valued member of the team to be nurtured and developed.
Key ways in which a website is like an employee:
A website has a permanent, full time, role in your business: It never ceases to amaze me how many small businesses think of a website as a self-contained project – with beginning, a middle and (even more worryingly) an end. You wouldn’t recruit someone into your business and think that, once they’d signed the contract, their job was complete or that they’d stay exactly the same as the day they walked through the door. Neither should you think the same of your website.
A person comes to your company with some skills and knowledge, but over time they will gain more specific knowledge about your company, and become more skilled as they learn on the job or undergo formal training and development. A website is just the same – however well conceived and delivered, it is only when real people start to interact with it that you’ll know what really works, and what doesn’t, on your site. Through reviewing analytics and undertaking user-testing and feedback, you will be able to constantly refine and improve your website’s performance. Which brings me to performance… you’re likely to set of minimum performance standards for your staff, have you done the same for your website? And, do you have the tools to measure against those standards.
And of course, things change. Think also of a scenario in which your employee’s area of the business is subject to some sort of change (legal, environmental, new product, etc.) – they’ll need to adapt and respond. Your website is no different. Just because it was beautiful when you launched it, it may not be in a new context. What’s more, this is technology we’re talking about. The tech big boys work to a circa 6 month product development cycle – the pace of change is fast and furious. If your website is to stay current, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the new trends, like Twitter, Tag Clouds, etc… and whatever is just around the corner.
But, it many ways it is even better than an employee:
Useful people management techniques you can apply to your website:
For many businesses, the website is probably quite an early investment – thinking of it as your first ‘employee’ is a healthy starting point – meaning you’ll feel happier with seeing it as an ongoing task rather than a one-off project. For other businesses, particularly ecommerce businesses, your website is more like a team of employees, rather than just the one – and just like a team of people you’ll need to think about the way that individuals interact, etc.
This is even more critical in a Startup. By the very nature of your business being new, you’ll need to test and learn. And what’s more, money is tight at the beginning of any business – if you simply invest and ignore, you’re wasting precious funds. By going into a relationship with your website, based on the certain knowledge that it is an ongoing task, your initial and ongoing investments are money well spent.
So, if you think your web project has come to an end because you’ve gone live… I advise you to think again. I advise you to think of your website as a valued member of your team and to treat it accordingly.