Delegation Dilemma

9 Dec

Guest Blog written by Kevin Elliott

“If you want something done right, do it yourself”.

Okay, because I am a diehard business guy, and I am writing to business people, I can keep it real. One of the hardest, but most crucial, tasks for we entrepreneur types to do is relinquish any part of our business to another. We hate it. And that is for the very same reason we got into business in the first place. We believe no one can do what we do better than we can.

Now, to outsiders, that seems arrogant, but we know different. We know that if you are going to survive as an entrepreneur for five minutes, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities. I mean, think about why many of you left corporate jobs (or in my case, never took one in the first place). One day you looked around and thought to yourself, “I can do this better than these clowns.”

So off you went, and good for you. However, the brazen confidence required to start a business can also be the entrepreneur’s Achilles’ heel. Because after the scary days of slogging away in isolation, building a client base, working on borrowed time and money, and generally living in indentured servitude, something happens. Your business actually starts to grow.

Then comes the real difficulty. You realize you simply have more work than can possibly be done alone. You realize (cue panicked feeling) that you must hire out.

Here is the reality, a hard one for people like us. Without exception, if your business survives and grows to this point, you will have to bring people on or it will stop growing, and may even decline. I say decline because, before we consider hiring, most entrepreneurs will go a long time at beyond max capacity, something we cannot do forever. You must find valuable people to include in your business if it has a chance to continuing expanding.

So how do we do that? Some of you may have already tried hiring quality people, only to get burned and frustrated. I know I have. But it is possible to get beyond this point. And hey, if anyone knows how to blow through obstacles, it’s an entrepreneur.

Here are 3 tips to help you as you grow your business into your first hires.

1)      Answer this question: Do you really want to grow your business? Think about this before you answer, because it reveals a trap into which many business folks fall.

Say you have a craft jewelry business. You love your work, creating wearable art. You have done the show and boutique circuit, and then BOOM, the orders start rolling in. Too many orders for you to handle. What to do? Say you even find a talented young person whom you can train to make your product, thus allowing you to grow into a management position.

Is that what you really want? If your enterprise continues to flourish, you may never make another piece of jewelry yourself again. And herein lies the trap. Many people start a business because they love doing a certain thing, not running a business that does a certain thing. If you just love doing your thing, it is possible to have a business doing it, just not a big one. By the way, that is not the same thing as a failed business. Think about the art world in particular. It is possible to have such quality work that people will pay enormous sums for your individual pieces, thus allowing you to be a one person show (with a good bookkeeper, of course). One way or the other, though, you must grapple with this question before proceeding.

2)      Find people you trust: You are laughing in my face right now, aren’t you? I know, this is a tough one, but if you answered the above question in the affirmative, you have no other options. You must find people you can train and trust to help you grow your business. And I have not met a business owner yet who told me the first hire s/he made was the best employee he/she ever had.

There are resources, like hiring agencies and web services, but at the end of the day, this is just a numbers game. Continue to seek out and hire the very best people you can find, because good people are going to be your most valuable business asset. And come to grips with the fact that there is going to be some turnover. Some may even learn all they can from you, start their own business and become your competitors. Unpleasant, but true. I told you I was going to keep it real.

3)      Actually trust them: Once you find those wonderful, valuable, indispensable beings who do turn out to be great employees, do everything you can to keep them. Love them, pay them well, send them on vacations, whatever. I had a very successful business owner tell me one time that he paid his employees incredibly well because he wanted to make sure they couldn’t afford to leave him. I have another owner friend in real estate who writes a love note to her staff every single day. Do what it takes to find people you trust and hang on to them for dear life.

But more than that, actually trust them. This, perhaps, is the scariest part of all for the entrepreneur. “Micro-manage” has become a byword in business, and for good reason. Malcolm Gladwell says the three elements of satisfying work are autonomy, complexity, and a clear link between effort and reward. Challenge your people, then step back and let them go. It doesn’t mean sacrificing quality. It doesn’t mean cheating your vision. It simply means your business is growing, so take it as a sign of good health.

It is okay to think you can do your work better than anyone else. In fact, it is a job requirement, and part of what I love about entrepreneurs. It may be true that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t train people to do it right. Find those people, love them, and grow your business.

Advertisements

The Three Year Mark

16 Oct

I am not going to waste time lamenting about my sporadic blogging today.  There is just too much to be done sometimes and blogging has had to take the back burner.

This past week marks the three year anniversary of my exit from a corporate job and my entrance into the world of entrepreneurship.  The journey has not been easy and the lessons learned have been some of the hardest in my life, but I have to say Its been a lot of fun too.

In business, making it to the three year mark is a milestone of sorts.  The first year is traditionally fraught with failed attempts and blind scrambling to see what works and what doesn’t.  The second year hopefully provides more stability and growth but can still be full of pitfalls and misfortunes.  I have had a bit of all of it and there have been several times that I was ready to throw in the towel and go get a “real” job.  It’s not easy hanging out there on your own, and anyone who has done it for any length of time can surely attest to the fact that it can be both lonely and frightening.  I don’t want to act as though that is all behind me and the clouds have parted, angels are singing, and money is falling from the sky, but a new sense of perspective has set in with it all.  So if you will indulge me, I will share the biggest lessons I have learned in my three years as a stand alone Clever Girl:

  1. Desperation breeds bad decisions.  Of course this is obvious, but it is also hard to avoid, because as it turns out, you have to start somewhere.  My business is a BtoB service, so in order to get paid I need for businesses to hire me as a consultant.  In the beginning I couldn’t really afford to turn anyone away, but unfortunately that lead to agreeing to work with people who I knew would present problems.  I said yes one too many times out of the desperation of just wanting to have something, before finally learning to trust my gut and not agree to work with someone out of sheer desperation.
  2. An invoice is not the same as a paycheck.  Again, Duh! but after years of a steady paycheck, I had to really learn how not to spend my money before it was in hand.  I naively thought at the beginning that once I sent out an invoice, payment was going to be sure and speedy.  Sadly, this is not the case.  I will say that most of my clients do pay and pay as quickly as they can, but it is still never as steady and sure as an employer paycheck that arrives on the 1st and 15th with certainty.  When you own your own business, it pays to budget and not to count your money before it’s in hand.
  3. Networking and interactions need to be deliberate.  When you work in an office you are always networking in a way.  There are corporate functions to attend, people to kibitz with on a daily basis, and interactions are not only common — they are unavoidable.  Working for myself was at first a very lonely experience.  I had never had a job before that consisted of just me.  I met with clients of course, but in the beginning at least 75% of my time was spent alone.  I had to make an effort to attend events, network, and socialize on a business level or I would just sit in my house staring at a screen for 8 hours and realize I hadn’t spoken to anyone.  I eventually sought out office space where I could be around others and have more interactions, but I had to deliberately seek it out, it wasn’t just the default environment like it was when I was employed by a large company.
  4. Sometimes you have to ease up on yourself.  Anyone who has been successful in business will tell you that they pushed themselves harder than any employer ever had.  I too was working 12 to 14 hour days and all weekend long.  You kind of just have to at first, but there does come a time where you also have to breathe.  This last year has taught me that I am more effective when I give myself breaks, take advantage of the fact that I set my schedule and it is flexible, and when I just plain cut myself some slack.  I think maybe that is a hallmark of getting to the three year line.  I feel like I can finally stop and breathe a little, but then get back to work of course.

All things considered I couldn’t be more pleased with the way things have turned out thus far.  I am not particularly proud of the angst leading up to my epic exit from the corporate world, but I am thankful for where it lead.  I haven’t ruled out going back to the corporate grind someday, if the job and situation was right.  For now though, I am happy to feel like I am a wiser Clever Girl with a business that is growing and thriving 3 years in.  I couldn’t have done it without a whole lot of great support and truly wonderful clients.  I am grateful beyond words to all of them.

The Art of War

8 May

I don’t like conflict.  I know, who does right?  But when I say that I don’t like it, I mean, I get physically ill at the very thought of it.  I am just one of those people who likes everyone to be happy and get along.  That’s great for Fairy Tales and make-believe, but unfortunately in the real world conflict is inevitable.  In the business world it’s actually an art.

As Clever Girl Marketing grows and evolves, conflict has cropped up and I have had to screw up my resolve and face it head on.  I haven’t liked it, but I have learned a great deal in the midst of it.  I figure since I have been again avoiding my poor blog as if it were in direct conflict with me, I would take the opportunity to both put it in perspective and share some of what I have been learning about the art of war.

  1. Don’t take things personally – This seems almost glaringly obvious, but yet it is the hardest thing for many to really do.  Failure, competition that plays dirty, unhappy clients or customers, etc… can all seem very, very personal.  I fight this battle on an almost daily basis.  I have learned though that there is great wisdom in keeping perspective.  I do my best to right wrongs and learn from mistakes and then move on.  Nothing can be more crippling than wallowing in the hurt of taking things too personally.  Take it from a wallow-er — suck it up, learn, and move on. 
  2. Learn to pick your battles – In the face of conflict it’s difficult to not want to curl up and hide or worse lash out in defense. When it comes to the fight or flight instinct, my flight tenancies kick in hard and fast.  Unfortunately that is not the M.O. of great warriors.  Learning when and how to dig in and stand up for myself, my reputation, and my business in the face of criticism and competition has not been easy.  Take time to assess a threat (real of perceived), put it in perspective,  and then calmly decide if it is worth your time and energy to engage.  I found that there are times that it is necessary to do so, but when I take a moment and approach the threat with less emotion and more intellect,  it is usually much less threatening than it first appeared.  In addition, it is unbelievably rewarding to take a stand when it is merited regardless of the outcome.
  3. NEVER fight dirty – It doesn’t matter what was done, said, or (God forbid) posted on your facebook page, don’t resort to insults, low blows, or other nasty tactics.  If you are too upset, take a breath.  Run your responses by an unbiased third party before you say anything.   I can’t promise that you will come out ahead in every battle, but your reputation will remain intact.

I admit that I learned some of this the hard way, still cringing at the times I didn’t follow the above advice.  We are all fallible and flawed and sometimes just weary of being in the trenches, but I am convinced that these lessons serve me well when I heed them.  So good luck to you as you bravely face whatever business or personal battles may come.

Busy

10 Jan

 

My kids used to watch this cartoon when they were little, and the song seems to be resonating in my mind a lot these past few months.  Busy seems to be an understatement these days as Clever Girl Marketing finishes a second year of business.  I am honestly thrilled to see how far I have come in these 2 short years.  From a hope and dream to an actual company that helps other businesses effectively advertise and market even on shoestring budgets.  I have never been more excited to go to work, which is good because I think I may be breaking some records for working non-stop.

I say all of this not to complain or to sound oh-so-important, but just as a means of sharing some new understanding I have gained in all of it.  Owning a business, no matter what business it is, is WORK.  I would even venture to say that if it isn’t work, at least for those few years in the beginning, then you aren’t doing it right.  It is this time commitment and sweat equity that forces an entrepreneur to ask themselves if what they are doing is truly worth it to them.  Beyond getting rich or making a name for oneself, the questions is — does the passion exist to help pull through those times when it just feels like you’re spinning your wheels?  I have had to ask myself this hard question a lot in the past year, but I have surprised even myself in the resounding “yes” that keeps coming as the answer.  Yes, I love this enough to keep going.

I find that most of the clients I am working with feel the same way about their ventures and this inspires me as well.  There is nothing better than getting to collaborate with people who love what they do and are motivated to make it the best it can be.  In these uncertain economic times, I am beginning to think that this is not just a motivational ideal, it is an essential piece to success.  I recently read an article about the top traits of highly successful people, and hard work made the list of course.

My point is this, I haven’t blogged in a long while and I was feeling guilty…wait,  no that was just my motivation.  My point is that busy is good.  Busy pays the bills and earns a business a reputation for commitment and hard work, as long as it is the kind of busy that works smart as well as hard.  And this Clever Girl has been gloriously busy and I couldn’t be more grateful.  Now if technology can just get to the point where I can write blog posts telepathically while I sleep all will be right with the world.

How about you?  Have you been busy?  Is it a good busy or just chaos?  I’d love to know your take on it.

Being “Twitter Famous”

17 Aug

I know I write a lot about the internet, but those of us who were around before it was really a thing tend to be forever fascinated with its floating, shifting, ever-changing persona (if you recognized the lyrics there, know that I am more than a little impressed).  The fact that I am even writing this to publish on a medium where it can be read by millions (although my posts average slightly less) is incredible.  So here I go with another post about the never-ending wonders of the World Wide Web, but this time my focus is on learning to actually be seen, and not becoming roadkill on the information super-highway.

The advent of YouTube, and the ease and accessibility of creating a website, blog, and Social Media presence, has created an environment that is now being jam packed with contributions that range from brilliance to utter nonsense (I admit to laughing at that one) and everything in between.  How does a small business with limited resources even find a way to stand out and be seen amidst the noise and chaos?  Being one small voice in a chorus of billions is more than mildly intimidating, but if you have real value to communicate, I say it’s worth the try.  For what they are worth, here are some of my thoughts on standing out:

1. Stick to what you are good at – I’m not saying don’t try new things, by all means try them, but when it comes to making your presence known online, be good at what you do and then do what you are good at.  Don’t try to start a blog about fashion just because it is a popular topic.  If you have a business, service, or something of value that you have real insight on, that is what you need to put out there, not something that is just trying to keep with the latest trend.  Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame is far too generous in today’s fast paced world.  If you get 15 seconds of fame online, you are lucky.

2. Quality still counts – I am not talking about impressive flash or bells and whistles here, but a clean, informational website, good branding, and quality content go a long way.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot, you can do a GoDaddy website in 30 minutes and have it look professional.  Far too many websites are full of stream of consciousness prose and mindless clutter, not to mention the spelling and grammar errors, dead links, and distracting graphics.  Take a lesson from Google’s main page, clean and simple can be powerful.  Offer true quality over quantity and you will stand out.

3. Network, but don’t grandstand – The interesting thing about the internet, is it puts us in communication with people we would otherwise never have a prayer of interacting with.  I am not famous or well connected, and though I believe I am genuinely good at what I do, I am honestly not the best.  Still I have had the opportunity to interact with some pretty impressive people through facebook, blogs, and other online channels.  This is one of my favorite things about doing business online.  There is real opportunity to network with people and institutions you truly admire.  The temptation can arise though to comment on everything, be loud and obnoxious, but be seen.  There are even people encouraging this type of behavior as good “personal branding”, please refer to points 1 & 2 in answer to this.

So there you have it, some ideas from a little fish swimming against the current in a big sea.  I may not be “Twitter Famous” or “Virally Optimized”, but I am holding my own.  Here’s hoping you are too.

P.S.

This just makes me laugh, here is what NOT to do… (sorry in advance for the one off color word at the beginning, I swear it gets better)

How Does Your Brand Engage?

8 Jul

Often when I hear the word “Engage” the geek in me conjures up images of Captain Jean Luc Picard sitting sternly at the helm of the Enterprise giving orders — but here on earth, “engage” has become a buzzword for how businesses and brands interact with their customers.  The advent of Social Media has forever augmented the one way communication of advertising with the need to also engage in a two-way conversation with the customer.

In an attempt to keep up businesses jump headlong into Social Media, but once the Facebook page is up and your Twitter is going full tilt, the inevitable question  arises…what now?  Having a presence on all of the popular channels is one thing, but it really isn’t even half the battle, because now that you are out there what will you say?  How will you get people to “Like” and/or “follow” you and once they do, how will you keep them engaged and excited about your brand?

In my experience helping a diverse portfolio of business that deal in both business to customer and business to business I have found a few key concepts that will help build a foundation for managing your engagement:

  1. Be Real – There is nothing more annoying than trying to interact with a business on Social Media that only wants to sell to you.  It is important to put your personality out there a little bit.  Be humorous (but not offensive or political), be honest (but professional), and above all be helpful.  Link to blogs and other information that you find interesting and think is relative to your customer base.  Offer value with the information you push out on Social Media channels.
  2. Be Responsive – If you are going to have a presence online then you need to be ready to respond to issues, complaints, questions, and even compliments.  This is the whole point of engagement, your customer now EXPECTS to have a conversation with you.  Be sure that you don’t disappoint, but treat it just as you would any other customer reaction, don’t be defensive, rude, or evasive, deal with problems professionally and it will be noted by all who follow you on that channel.
  3. Be Consistent –  Most small businesses have peaks and valleys, times when you are so busy you don’t know what to do, and times when you wait for something to happen.  Sometimes the temptation can be to be very active when things aren’t busy and then forget to communicate when business gets hectic.  This is when it pays to have a designated person either within your organization or paid as a third party (I know a Clever Girl who does this) to keep postings consistent.  As with any form of interaction, people quickly grow bored and forget you if you aren’t actively posting content, but also get annoyed if you post too often (ex. filling a news feed with several posts in a row).

So there you have it…a few ways to engage correctly and embrace this trend that isn’t going away.  If you are still overwhelmed, call me, I can help.

Never Stop Learning

15 May

The title phrase rings in my ears as the sort of Public Service Announcement that would interrupt my mindless cartoon viewing on Saturday mornings as a child.  As powerful and wise as three words can be, the phrase has fallen prey to overuse and under appreciation.  My personal need for its meaning has been reborn as I work to grow my Marketing Consultation Firm.  In the business world today, I am freshly aware of how vital it is to keep learning new things.

Offering Marketing help to small business means that I not only have to understand the ever-changing face of marketing (both online and off), but also that I need to understand the client’s business well enough to effectively communicate their worth and value to the customer.  Each new client becomes an education for me as their needs become my responsibility. I have to admit that I really like this aspect of it though.  My survival in business is essentially tied to my ability to never stop learning.

I know, I know, it’s all well and good to pontificate and talk about the merits of learning, but how can it be practically applied?  So glad you asked.  I have found that I have to leverage my time in such a way that I take simple opportunities to learn new things.  One practical way is to have information sent directly to you.  RSS feeds, subscriptions to quality blogs, and even subscriptions to magazines and journals can have loads of information sent right to you, right where you are.  Don’t let it bog you down though or create info. overload, you will need to cull through and find quality sources to pull from.  Once you have your sources, be sure they are available to you when you have down time.  I use my smartphone and/or my tablet to keep information at my fingertips so that when I find myself in a waiting room, standing in a line, or grabbing lunch by myself I have my articles and magazines where I can access them and I can learn while I wait.

My suggestions to start your business and personal educational arsenal are:

  • Joining groups on LinkedIn (great resources on a wide range of topics)
  • Subscribing to CBS Money Watch (formerly BNET) quality writers share a wealth of experience on a wide range of topics.
  • Following professionals who make it their job to be in the know like Socially Engaged Marketing (a well-rounded resource for social media and online marketing info.)
  • Forbes.com and the Harvard Business Review
  • iTunes University (a newish product from Apple offering education downloads to their products on a myriad of subjects, much of it is free).

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow. ” ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo