17 Life Lessons Learned to Do Better in Life and in Business

 

When anyone becomes a parent, they instantly want the best for their child and hope that they can achieve more in life than they ever did… I’ll be sharing something a little personal. Since before my son was born, I began somewhat of a journal to keep a chronology of his life events… Something to share with him when he gets older to reflect upon his life experiences, but through my eyes. Honestly, it’s extremely gratifying how he has progressed so much over the past few years and that we have a way of capturing those life moments.  Recently, I wrote a passage of life and professional lessons learned over my years. My hope is simple: one day he will read them, and hopefully they will help propel him in his personal life and professional career. As I reviewed these lessons that have taken me a lifetime to learn, I thought others might benefit from them as well.

  • There is a difference between what people say and what they do: In life and business, people will say almost anything… The reality: it is easier to say something vs. actually doing it. Don’t be fooled into believing that what someone says will actually happen.
  • Actions speak louder than words: Generally, people recognize the difference in what someone says vs. what they do… As a result, they will always remember you for what you did vs. what you said you were going to do.
  • Always under-promise, and over-deliver: In the same respect as above, always set proper expectations… Then, don’t just meet those expectations, crush them. In the end, it is better to surprise someone by going far and beyond the call of duty vs. disappointing them, simply because you failed to meet expectations. Under-commit and over-deliver, always!
  • Speak up and be heard: Actions may speak louder than words, but the squeaky wheel gets the oil… I’ve learned over time, the more active you are in life and business, the more attention you get. Just don’t be a pain in the ass.
  • Always be thankful: Never take anything or anyone for granted; always be thankful for the time people spend helping you out… Gratitude is always appreciated and remembered.
  • Business is business, never take it personally: It took me a long time to figure this one out. Doesn’t matter how much you love your job, boss, or co-workers; business is business. There are honestly too many people out there that will take advantage of you for their own gains or put their priorities over yours. I’ve personally heard a CEO stand in front of a company and say, “No one is going to lose their jobs”, and less than two weeks later, they laid off 25% of the workforce… I’ve had a manager recently tell me, “Trust him that he will not change sales quota”, only to change them a week later.
  • Never talk ill of someone: It can be easy to be pulled into gossip; we’ve all done it… But whatever you do, resist it at all cost. What you say can and will make it back to that person.
  • Don’t let anyone tell you what you cannot do: Set your own limits for how high you want to go in life and business. There will always be people around you that will set imaginary limits of what you can achieve; don’t listen. I’ve personally lost count of how many people have told me certain things were unobtainable, and I’ve proven them wrong more times than right!
  • Know when to stop: It is way too easy to get enveloped into a project, forgetting all sense of day and time… Know when to stop and take a break. Family and personal life are far too important to work your life away. That project and work will always be there tomorrow.
  • Work smart and hard: Do not be confused by hard work; it is always easy to find something “to do,” but it might not be the most productive use of your time. Regardless of what you are doing, be calculated and be smart about it… but work hard at it too. Nothing can stop a smart worker that works hard.
  • Learn from others’ mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes, and you’ll make your fair share of them in life… Constantly watch and observe how things are done and the outcome… You’ll make far less mistakes by learning from others.
  • Failure is okay: We will all have failures in our lives—some small and others big. It’s OK, no one is perfect… Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move on. Failure is okay, but giving up hope or stopping is not.
  • Seek a life of continuous improvement: Never stop learning… There are always ways to learn and find new and better approaches to improve something.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions: Never make assumptions, and don’t pretend to be the smartest person in the room. It is okay to ask questions. It is better to have clarity on something vs. proceeding forward with an assumption, only to be wrong in the end.
  • Try new things: Never be afraid of trying new things… You can never expand your horizons if you do not take the risk to try something out of your comfort level.
  • Be flexible but not a pushover: Things are going to happen and change over time… Refusing to change will lead you down a path of failure. But do not be a pushover when it comes to change either. People are going to point you in whatever direction serves them best. Ensure you do enough research and homework to guarantee it will serve you as well.
  • Always have cash reserves: If it’s anything the past few months have taught me, it is to always have enough cash in reserve that would allow you to move forward without income for at least six months (in life and business). What has happened during the COVID pandemic of 2020 has taught us that you never know when business will come to a screeching halt. Countless businesses of all sizes have found themselves in extreme hardships during this pandemic, simply because they didn’t have the reserves on hand. Once you see the money in the bank, it is easy to want to spend it.. When times of hardship come around, you’ll be happy you didn’t.

These were written to my son of three and a half years. Some day in the future when he reads them, it will help him avoid some of the hardships that I’ve had to endure in my personal and professional life… What other tips would you add to the list that have helped you in your personal or professional lives?

Decisions That Can Help Carry Your Business Through COVID-19

Hep Carry Your Business Through COVID-19This is a difficult time for small business owners. The pressure is higher than ever for companies that already lived on narrow margins. Right now, smart moves are necessary for pushing your business into the future. Fortunately, we live in an era where technology is on our side, as long as we know how to use it. Here’s a look at a few types of tech that can aid business owners now:

Connecting While Apart

Social distancing never looked so efficient:

  • Video chat software and other virtual connection tools allow your team to meet from the safety of their own homes.
  • Remember, you need to take a tailored approach to virtual meetings to ensure they go well.
  • If you haven’t already, make sure your team is using secure communications to prevent fraud or data leaks.

 Fostering A Healthy Workspace

Keep your people safe once in-person work resumes:

  • Make sure your HVAC and air-filtration systems are up-to-date.
  • Consider having UV-C lights installed into your HVAC system to kill germs in the air.
  • Use HEPA-Filter vacuums to clean carpets regularly, and consider installing inexpensive fresh carpeting.

Moving Forward With Confidence

Set your business up to thrive in the post-COVID world:

  • Make a note of software that helps you thrive remotely, and continue to use any tools that will stay useful in the office.
  • Focus on expanding your digital marketing efforts, and hire an SEO expert to ensure you’re hitting the mark.
  • If you nail a virtual routine, consider going fully remote, which saves money on office space and widens your pool of potential employees.
  • Connect with 3SixtySMB for an assessment of other areas where your business might improve.

We are in an unprecedented moment in history. Small businesses are dealing with risk, but they’re also facing an opportunity. Take the initiative and use the right tech to your advantage, and you could see a brighter tomorrow than you’d ever imagined.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Guest Article by: Elena Stewart via https://www.elenastewart.com/

The Importance of Delivery to Keep a Small Business Financially Stable

Customer Delivery and RevenueToo many times we see businesses focus so hard on winning new business, they forget everything that follows the initial customer win… The stark reality is that only focusing on the initial customer win will ultimately lead to a large majority of businesses’ failures.

Let us share with you a brief example. A few years back, 3SixtySMB worked with a firm that was in the consulting services industry… This firm had seen six years of exponential growth, until they hit snag and had four years of declining bookings numbers. Their CEO thought they had strong brand in the industry and couldn’t for the life of him understand why their bookings numbers were declining. Afterall, they always had a large number of projects in the pipeline to be completed and even had a waiting list for new projects. As part of our work, we reviewed the business in its entirety and found multiple areas of improvement for the firm. But there was one area that was sticking out like a sore thumb: their services delivery. To start, they had hundreds of thousands of dollars in backlogged projects that were either undelivered or taking longer than they initially planned. The CEO saw this as a full project pipeline with a waiting line to begin new projects…“a problem any business would be lucky to have,” he quoted. In reality, it was the exact opposite.

Where the CEO had seen a healthy pipeline of activity, in actuality, it was a list of customers with growing frustration to how long their projects were taking to complete, and customers that sales could not sell to. As we spoke with various customers, their frustrations began shortly after the sale was finalized, as they were sent to a virtual purgatory waiting for their projects to commence. Many of the customers described it as feeling, abandoned… Their frustrations didn’t stop there. Once their projects officially kicked off, they were quickly met with delayed deadlines and longer than projected project schedules. Although the end result of the work was typically more than satisfactory, most customers said they that they looked for another firm for future projects. These challenges within the delivery cycle directly affected revenue; waiting customers were unable to sign off on new work, and once the work was actually completed, they were so unhappy with the process, they made the decision not to spend with the firm again. There was also another side effect. Word of how slow and sluggish this firm was began to spread throughout the industry. As a result, they were losing net new business without even knowing it. At the end of the day, this CEO was so focused on the sales team and the decreasing bookings numbers, he completely overlooked delivery. He was putting continuous pressure on his sales team to deliver new bookings that he was literally burning them—and the customer base—out, while the main issue for declining bookings was actually the result of a poorly designed delivery process leading to unhappy customers.

3SixtySMB follows the motto “the customer is everything,” and in order to get this firm back on track, we implemented a few changes to their process, communications, and tracking with that motto in mind:

Project coordination – It was a tough pill to swallow for this firm’s CEO when it was recommended they hire a project coordinator which would be a cost to the business… It was this person’s function to maintain project coordination from the initial start of the project, all the way to end of it. At the end of their day, their job was to stay on top of clients and internal staff to ensure that each and every timeline item outlined within the project was delivered and on time.

Before the win – Before a customer agreement was even signed, we created a process to ensure that a mutually agreeable project timetable was in place… This was a joint effort between the sales and delivery teams to ensure that the sales team is promising a feasible timeline to the customer. This was then relayed to the customer to ensure that proper expectations were in place from a timing and delivery standpoint before an agreement was signed.

Project kickoff calls – Each new deal that was won had a kickoff call immediately set up by the sales team… The purpose was simple: explain to the customer exactly what they just bought and establish clear and definitive next steps for the project based on the pre-approved timeline agreed upon in the sales process. This allowed for each and every project to start off with momentum and a clear timeline of deliverables, while effectively passing the customer to the delivery team without them feeling abandoned.

Project milestone documentation – After each kickoff call, the client was supplied with a document that detailed each and every step within the process… The primary goal was to ensure they had full visibility of the project. This also allowed the firm to use the document as a measuring stick to ensure deliverables stayed on track. As certain items were pushed out, this document was updated and then shared back with the client for full visibility of how changes affected the timeline.

Project tracking – We have a saying of “what gets measured, gets done,” and that is what was implemented within this firm. Utilizing some customization within Saleforce.com, we were able to build out a full reporting structure around the various stages of each project contracted. This reporting structure not only allowed for the project coordinator to easily maintain focus on each project daily, but it allowed for the team to group together weekly to review project statuses during their team meeting.

Weekly project status meetings – We all hate meetings, but again, what gets measured, gets done… These meetings were typically held between sales, delivery team, and management, with a goal of understanding the various project statuses. This allowed for the entire team to understand where each project was with regards to status and to find ways to move along stalled projects as a team.

Communication – We emphasized communication—both internal and external. Internally, sales was copied on all messages that went out to the client. This ensured that they maintained up to date on project progress. Externally, we pushed to over communicate with clients as well. The goal was to ensure that they didn’t feel abandoned, while allowing them to feel as if they had control over the overall project timeline.

Once the firm became adjusted to the process, project completion times were cut significantly without sacrificing overall quality… These changes, along with a few others, allowed the firm to double sales within the first year of implementation, while seeing further growth as time progressed.

When it comes to building a winning business, the initial customer win is less than half the battle. Regardless of your industry, it is as important to have a strong customer delivery platform as it is to have a strong marketing and sales strategy. Step back and think about some of your latest purchasing experiences. Did you have a good or bad experience with them? Now think about how that experience will influence your willingness to go back to those same businesses. Well, the general public thinks exactly the same as you do, and good experiences lead to repeat business while bad experiences lead to never returning to that business again.

Let’s dive in a little deeper:

Repeat business – Quite simply, the number one reason to ensure proper product and service delivery is to ensure happy customers… And happy customers can and will return! And, let’s not forget that new customers are hard and expensive to win in the first place. Happy customers are easier, faster, and much less expensive to bring back, time and time again, making any business more profitable over time.

Happy customers are also exponentially more likely to not only continue to purchase but expand their purchases as well… In the B2B space, I’ve seen $100,000+ annual relationships start with a small $10,000 purchase.

Speed of delivery – After analyzing thousands of small businesses, a core theme that is a killer for most is their ability to deliver their products and services in a timely manner. Not only does it frustrate customers having to wait, but a waiting customer cannot buy more… So, not only is making your customer wait turning them into an unhappy customer, but you’re hurting your chances for that customer to buy from you again.

Customer referrals – Another side effect of a happy customer is they tend to tell their friends and co-workers of their experiences… Customer referrals are the lifeblood of a small business. They tend to be a much lower cost of customer acquisition and close much faster than a net new win. And the process tends to be cyclical as they tell their friends, and so on. There are many good small businesses that solely function on referral business. However, again, on the flip side, customers can and will tell their friends about negative experiences as well.

Online reviews – No longer do customer experiences stay within an inner circle of friends and family; there are literally hundreds of websites and online forums that customers share their experiences on… Regardless of whether you love or hate these sites, the reality is customers are on them daily sharing their own experiences (good and bad)… Too many negative reviews can literally kill a business.

When growing a business, it can be all too easy for a firm to focus on new customer wins as customer bookings are the lifeblood of a business… But, if you are not a customer centric business with a focus on product delivery, you’re setting yourself up for failure. And in the long run, you’ll just end up drying up the well. Becoming a customer centric business doesn’t require a whole heck of a lot of money; a majority of the businesses we find that are struggling with delivery simply lacked a defined and measurable process around delivery. With a little bit of process and measurements in place, what gets measured, will be done!

 

The Importance of Technology in Your Small Business

Outdated TechnologyA common theme within the writings and consultation that 3SixtySMB takes on, is the pure and simple fact that businesses that remain stagnant can and will eventually fail… To avoid becoming stagnant, it is important for a business to constantly look into the mirror of self-reflection in order to find ways to continuously improve their business. One enabler within small businesses that we find commonly overlooked, is the area of technology… Technology costs money, and in the eyes of most small businesses, anything that costs money and doesn’t have a direct financial ROI, is taking money directly out of profits. However, technology is the unsung enabler within a small business that directly impacts how people perceive a business and its ability to efficiently communicate with them. Let’s expand upon this a bit by sharing a specific example we ran into recently:

A firm 3SixtySMB recently worked with had been in business for roughly 20 years with 25 employees… These employees were a mix of office-based and remote, with many frequent travelers throughout the firm. As part of the work we conducted with this firm, we reviewed multiple aspects of the business in order to help find areas of improvement throughout the firm to help them become more efficient as a business. One item that was continuously overlooked by the firm was its phone system. As, in the words of the CEO and owner, “It was nothing more than a means of communication, and it worked; people were able to pick up the phone anytime and make a call anytime they wanted”. Herein lies the problem; their phone system was just about as old as the business itself, and without them noticing, it was a major inefficiency within the business, costing them an unknown amount of time and money. Let’s dive in a little deeper on this.

After a complete review of their phone system, we found several problems:

  • This phone system was made shortly after caller ID made its way into businesses, and it was very limited in its capability.
    • Caller ID disappeared – As an example, once a call was picked up, both the name and phone number would disappear.
    • No caller ID logs – This system was so old, that it had no caller ID logs. Which meant, if someone got up from their desk and received a phone call and the caller did not leave a voicemail, the employee would never know they even received a call.
  • Physical phone number forwarding – This firm had several remote and frequent travelers as part of the team. Their current phone system was poorly designed for these team members, as each phone number had to be forwarded to their remote lines physically on a phone at the headquarters. This led to physical phones randomly placed throughout the headquarters with the sole purpose of forwarding phone lines to remote workers. This also became a problem when the business would lose power for any amount of time… As during these power outages, there would be no ability for these remote workers to receive a phone call. And, once power was restored, the office manager had to reprogram each and every phone for these employees. A worst case scenario that happened for this firm was when their building lost power for a week straight due to a construction mishap.
  • Physical voicemails – With the physical phones, came physical voicemails which lived on each and every phone. This meant when someone left a voicemail for an employee, it would be left on the phone back at headquarters, leaving these remote employees to check their voicemail several times a day… Frequently while onsite, we would see red blinking voicemail lights on some phones for days on end.

Individually, these are not big deal breaking issues. However, once combined, what we uncovered was an out-of-date phone system that was painfully difficult for remote and traveling employees to deal with. But, there was a much bigger issue facing this firm, as their outdated phone system made them look slow and sluggish to their customer base, with zero disaster recovery options in place which had an untold amount of direct revenue impact to the firm. Again, the main driver for the executive team was they did not want to invest into something that they saw as completely utilitarian… What they didn’t realize is that for something as low as $12  – $15 a month per user, they could invest into a software-based phone solution such as Fuze or 8×8, that would send their phone system lightyears into the future. They could also combine other features that they were currently paying monthly for with Go-to-meeting. This was something the firm was already paying $12 – $16 a month for per user.

At the end of the day, for essentially what they were paying out-of-pocket for another provider, they were able to upgrade their entire phone system to be more inclusive of their remote and traveling workforce and provide more streamlined communications with their client base.

This is not at all an uncommon scenario, as again, most leadership within small businesses see technology the exact same way, “utilitarian,” and completely overlook the value that new technological enhancements can bring to the firm. As we work with clients to find areas of improvement, we look across multiple aspects like people, processes, technologies, and other enablers; and technology must not be overlooked. At a high level, here are some of the areas that could be improved upon with little to no investment from a technological perspective:

  • Software: Software can be expensive, however over the years, the innovation within software has grown in leaps and bounds… Many small businesses we work with are still relying on old on-premise technology, which makes it difficult for the remote and the traveling workforce to do their jobs. Then you have the added cost of maintaining physical systems in place; again, there are disaster scenarios such as power loss or fire that can effectively wipeout an entire business.
  • Website: Web technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the years as well. Not only does a dated website make a business look old and archaic, there are major ramifications from an online search perspective. Let’s not forget that Google search drives 81% of all sales these days.
  • Social media and online forums: Social media or online forums such as Nextdoor.com are not just for kids anymore and cannot be ignored by businesses… Social Media and Online Forums, Hidden Gems of Customer Insight
  • Document management: We wrote about this a while back (Digital Document Management for Small Businesses), but we still find that many businesses are heavily reliant on paper documentation of anything from HR and tax documents, to sales orders and invoices. Not only are stored documents a hog of physical real-estate, but they are extremely difficult to search within and completely unsecure… Then you have the fact that they are not friendly to a remote or traveling workforce, and completely susceptible to a disaster scenario such as fire.
  • Printing and scanning: Small businesses love to hold on to old printers and scanners way past their life expectancy. Not only does old printer and scanner technology cost an untold amount of time for the firm dealing with issues as they arise (which happens all the time), they tend to be completely inefficient as well… Something as simple as executing signatures on paperwork takes multiple steps of printing, physically signing, scanning, and then making physical copies, which takes a ridiculous amount of needless time. Whereas something as DocuSign and digital document management, cuts down on time and material cost.

These are just a few areas that we typically target within a small business to identify current areas of weakness that could be easily upgraded, completely cutting out inefficiencies, and in many cases, cutting cost.

 

How to Develop an Account Planning Strategy – Infographic

It can be difficult to figure out a routine that helps to streamline account strategy. How do you manage contacts and leads and follow-ups and use your resources in the most efficient manner possible? It can be overwhelming and lead to a lot of inefficiencies. And there’s the notion of trying to figure out how to personalize that account strategy, too. Luckily there are ways that you can use accepted account planning strategies to do just that.
Of course, you can start by figuring out what type of account you have – number of employees, industry, etc. But to really personalize things, you need to layer in the individual needs of the owners, employees, and customers in order to get a better understanding of how you can best manage the account. What does that mean for your processes and your account development? This graphic helps you understand it.

Click To Enlarge

How to Develop an Account Planning Strategy

Via Salesforce

This is a guest post by Quip