Blog

Spring Cleaning your Inbox

Increase productivity by eliminating your #1 distraction

Spam, junk mail and sales pitches that we don’t need.  The endless stream of email never seems to ending. Its 2014 and living without email is impractical and for most professionals it’s impossible.  Email is an invaluable tool and has transformed communication both inside and outside of business but at the same time has become the bane of our existence.  We are often slaves to our inbox instead of using this incredible tool to make our lives and professions more efficient and productive.  Consider just 30 years ago the idea that you could send an electronic document from your computer to anyone in the world and most people would think you were crazy.  Now we do it from our cell phones sitting in Starbucks and are irritated if we don’t get a response in 3 minutes.  The invention of email was quickly followed by junk mail, spam and viruses hidden in those messages.  But, the world was hooked, we can’t live without email, the value is so great that we tolerate the irritation and inconvenience of the message noise in our inbox as we sort through looking for the valuable information hidden like a needle in a haystack.  And even when we find all the important messages they sit there staring back at us, reminding us of projects that need our attention, distracting us for our current work.  This cycle quickly can add up to dealing with email for several hours a day or more killing our productivity and efficiency.

It’s clear that productivity and efficiency require moments of focus. Sometimes those moments are 15 minutes and other times several hours are necessary.  While writing this article I’ve been distracted 3 or 4 times and have had to regroup, collect my thoughts and then continue the process.  This is not efficient and proves that we need to continue the fight for focus and efficiency with our time every day.

So what can we do?  First of all work diligently to eliminate junk from ever getting into your inbox.  Depending on your email provider (e.g. Google Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft Exchange) and your mail client software (e.g. Gmail Website, Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, various smartphone apps) you already have some of your junk mail blocked.  There are also third party tools that can aid in blocking the worst of the offenders.  Google does a pretty good job of this and so do the other major mail services.  To get into all the specifics would be a whole series of articles.  Consult your provider for more options.

Once the mail reaches your inbox it up to you to deal with it.  This is where we need to develop habits that allow us to stay efficient and manage our inbox not the other way around.  I use a 3-pronged approach to inbox management:

  1. Unsubscribe, Unsubscribe, Unsubscribe
  2. Folders
  3. Keep inbox empty (Inbox Zero)

 

Unsubscribe: When you come across spam and junk mail you have a few choices.  First you can simply delete it.  If you find yourself regularly deleting email from the same company you can unsubscribe.  Often we subscribe to thing we find interesting but then quickly realize its better to go looking for the information when were ready rather than be bugged by it every day.  At the bottom of most messages of the informational type will be an unsubscribe link.  Click on it, follow the instructions and get the flow of junk slowed down.  Note: Stop subscribing to stuff!

Folders: Folders are critical to efficient use of email.  Each mail system you use has the ability to separate saved messages in sub folders.  Its important to have a few key folders that you use to manage your messages and enough archive folders to stay organized.  Keep it simple.  You should use no more than 3 to 5 folders for active. I use a 3-folder system; ACTION, READING and TO BE FILED.  The ACTION folder is where I spend my day, these are the items that I decided are a priority and need my attention.  The READING or READ LATER folder is used for causal reading that is interesting but non-critical and the TO BE FILED folder is for archived items.  Let me be clear I have dozens if not hundreds of folders sorted by the various business and personal activities that I’m involved in and sub divided as necessary to organize all the activity.  The difference is this is where I file away messages after I have acted on them.  The 3 primary folders are my daily activity folders.

Inbox Zero: This is often the most difficult for most people to get their head around.  They can’t imagine having 0 messages.  Many people let their inbox manage their day.  If they move a message they would never remember to act on it.  But if you are diligent and have a system then you can manage your priorities and your mail instead of the other way around.  The idea of Inbox Zero is to daily purge your inbox of all messages.  Simply go through every message and delete, move it to one of the three action folders or act on it.  You start from the top and go one by one through every item.  The easiest are the junk that can be deleted immediately.  The more difficult are the interesting items that can distract us for hours but are not a priority. Do not get sidetracked for an hour looking at a new car that you’re not going to buy anyway. You have 5 seconds to decide if its something you want to save for later or just needs to be deleted.  If you’re not sure then delete it.  Most email systems allow you to find delete items anyway.  If you want to save it for later move it to a READ LATER folder.  This should leave us with the items that are legitimate items for us to act on.  Use the two-minute rule that says if you can complete the action in two minutes or less do it now and get it done.  If it will take longer then move it to your ACTION folder.  That’s right don’t work on it now, now your focus is on your inbox not browsing your mail for something to work on.  This is where you will go to look for your work priorities not your inbox.  Finally, anything that is complete or doesn’t require an action then move it to the appropriate archive folder or to a TO BE FILED folder that can be filed later.  I use a TO BE FILED folder when I’m purging from my smart phone.  Then I can archive these later when I have a few minutes of down time or I need to take a break from bigger projects.

I usually purge my inbox at least once a day, although it doesn’t last very long.  New mail is flowing in 24/7 but my attention is on my ACTION folder not my inbox. The key to managing your inbox and achieving inbox zero is being intentional.  Schedule time each day to go through you inbox. The ACTION folder is what you should work from.  You are now deciding your priorities not the entire world. If you need to have a CRITICAL folder to differentiate priority that great but use caution because if you have too many folders you will just shift the chaos from your inbox to your folders.  Getting back to the inbox, if the next message is junk delete it, if its informational but doesn’t require action move it to the TO BE FILED folder or directly to the archive folder.  I use the TO BE FILED folder primarily for when I’m purging my inbox from my smart phone.

Start today and stay true to your ACTION folder.  Don’t let your Inbox set your priorities.  You are on your way to more efficiency and effectiveness.

Working Social – Organic Networking

The right way to network and build your business

I walk into Starbucks and I see the usual suspects.  The hipster group is well represented and the soccer moms are getting their energy to gear up for the afternoon cycle of pickups and drop-offs. Then I see them, you know them, and you might even be one, one of them, the business guy with his laptop/briefcase/coffee and newspaper.  He’s setup shop and is settling in for a long stay.  He looks content but then I notice something off.  He seems a little uncomfortable, too muck noise, too many people too close.  These aren’t business people. These aren’t his peers.  He wants to have his own office but keeps justifying this overuse of ‘free’ Wi-Fi as being frugal.  The scene continues like this through out the morning, different faces but the same situation.  It looks like is social but its not, its just frustrating.

What he really wants (even if he doesn’t realize it) is to be Working Social. Working Social looks somewhat like a coffee shop but with less grinders and blenders and cash registers; with plenty of coffee and with more desks and more business people and conference rooms and a copier.

When you are Working Social you are working with your peers, other business professionals who can appreciate your need for isolation and exposure, camaraderie and candid conversation.  The level on conversation can range from “how’s the family” and “is it really snowing again” to “did your client accept your proposal” and “thanks for the referral” and “I met a guy who needs your services”.  Through natural conversations people Working Socially naturally get to know each other.  They get to know each other’s business and family and along the way get to know each others character and come to build trust with each other.  Referrals happen naturally among trusted peers, among friends. This is not a forced referral environment but more like, I know you and respect you and want to refer people to you.

Working Social can’t happen at Starbucks or Panera or in an individual office.  It can only happen is a shared environment intentionally designed to bring like-minded individuals together.

“Hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?”
– Hermey (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

Coworking shops and true “shared offices” are some of the only places to find people Working Socially.  Without this daily interaction among each member it’s impossible to build the relationships that will blossom into trusted referrals, peer-to-peer business deals and a genuine caring about each other and each other’s success.

So, go out there and find a good coworking shop; there are plenty to choose from. Junction 440, Bamboo, and Grand Circus are some of the choices in the city of Detroit, and there is Metro Work Space (my office) in Livonia and Farmington, Byte and Mortar in Troy, and Workantile in Ann Arbor, to name a few. These offices provide something more than what is listed as amenities—something more than you can find in any coffee shop, and something you will never get from a traditional office. Coworking is not a fad; it’s not just a cheaper office. It’s a new way to work, supported by sites like http://www.commerciallightingcompany.co.uk/, and a better way to work. It’s working socially.

Business Success: Take you Foot off the Break
car rain

When your business is struggling, pressing on the breaks and holding back seems to be the best strategy but sometimes you need to let up on the break to regain control of your success.

We are often the most cautious when thing aren’t going well.  Our first reaction to a weak economy or other downturns in our business is often to pull back, reduce expenses and prepare to weather the storm out.  This is not a bad idea and those who miss identify a downturn and go about business as usual are often much worse for wear, and if you have business and a store getting the right shop front shutters can be essential for this.  But how long do we hold back,  how long do we keep our foot on the breaks.  You don’t want to act foolish or be in denial of reality but you can’t cut you way to prosperity.  Eventually you have to let up on the break and regain control of your business which can also be achieved by implementing new tools like the one described in this guide about understanding pay stubs.

Many years ago while driving in the rain I suddenly encountered traffic quickly coming to a standstill.  Understand, this was before anti-lock breaks or at least before I could afford a car with anti-lock breaks or a car with good tires for that matter.  As I slammed on the breaks my car began to slide.  Moving forward and seemingly speeding up as it hydroplaned on the wet blacktop.  The cars ahead were growing closer so I attempted to steer to the open lane on the right but without any traction the car continued straight ahead.  I was slowing down but not enough to stop before a collision so I decided to lift my foot off the peddle and then I instantly regained control of my car and at the last second it jumped to the right avoiding a crash and coming to a stop without incident.  I was then able to continue my journey down the road.

What “breaks” are you afraid to let up on?  Is it the marketing budget breaks?  Is it the hiring breaks?  Is it the new market or new location breaks?  These are all legitimate concerns but there comes a time when we need to take our foot off the peddle and regain control of our business and steer it in the direction we need to go.

-Todd A. Luhtanen
President at Talan SBS, LLC
Consultant and Coach to Small Business

Evolution of an Entrepreneur (infographic)
Stick to your core strengths

Small businesses that experience success and growth need to abandon the mantra of doing it all.  But far to often, they take on ancillary activities that distract from the core strengths that made them successful.  They find themselves mired in back office processes and either work 16 hour days or the business start to slip.  Success is a great thing, it is after all the point of our business, but success is a very poor teacher.  “I’m a Doctor for goodness sake, I should be able to run my business!” Replace Doctor with any other profession and you have the mindset that get many business owners in trouble.  My advice is stick to your core strengths and outsource the rest. If you want faster expansion for your growing business, click here to learn more about Asset Finance companies..

Don’t get nervous, you don’t have to abandon your patriotism or defy your union brothers.  What I’m talking about is hiring business specialists to perform the tasks that they are specially trained in and you are not.  These can and should be local businesses many of which are also small businesses.  Why have a receptionist turned bookkeeper doing the CFO job when you can hire a CFO on-demand for the two weeks per year that you need them.  Your bookkeeper and bottom line will thank you.  Financial, Marketing, Human Resources, Employee Training and even Sales are areas that can and should be outsourced.  The main benefit for small business owners is the ability to focus on the core business.  The cost of being distracted (sleepless nights, missed deadlines and limited resources) is enough to make the difference in profit and loss.  So now,

get more sleep, make more money and outsource everything that is not your core business.

Social Media for Business: If You Can’t Do It Right

Social media can be a great tool for small business.  That is, if it’s used correctly.

There is so much information available on how to do this and that, it’s no wonder so many are doing it wrong.

It’s not to say that there is only one way to manage social media for business effectively, but if you’re going to do it halfway, you may as well not do it at all.

There are several schools of thought when it comes to using social media to market a small business you can also do with other services like this one you find if you click here.

Content Crowd

They believe that it’s all about content creation.  The more content the better.  It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re creating it.

Engagement Crowd

It’s about the conversation.  Make sure you engage people on various social networks and business will magically appear.

Feed Them Crowd

Share as much content as possible based on news found throughout the interwebs.  Set up an RSS feed to your Twitter and Facebook account, because hey, who has time to curate all day?

Forum Crowd

Hit up as many forums as you can, adding links to every discussion.  Doesn’t matter the forum, build as many back links as you can.  Since it’s a discussion forum, certainly your being social right?

Reciprocal Crowd

The more likes and followers you have the better.  It shows that your business is legit.  Email your friends and family to get them to like your page.  Follow as many people as possible, if they don’t follow back, then unfollow.  Remind anyone of Multi-Level-Marketing? If you feel like trying new ways, check out https://scaffoldingwrapadvertising.co.uk/.

So Now What?

The reality is that alone none of these make a ton of sense.  Managing social media for small business requires balance along with a sound strategy.  If you really want to meet new people/prospects here are a few ideas:

  • Find a way to engage locally
  • Find relevant forums.  Answer questions while sharing links back to your content
  • Stop the RSS feed.
  • Connect with locals on Twitter.
  • Focus on taking online connections offline
  • Use social media as a way to network
  • Create your own original content
  • Answer FAQ in blog posts
  • Follow back interesting people. Don’t feel obligated to follow everyone back
  • Share your followers content as well as your own
  • Answer questions on Twitter
  • Have a conversation on Twitter. Don’t just post links all day, your wasting your time.

If you find yourself Tweeting RSS feeds due to lack of time, what is it really doing for your business?  You’re sharing content created by someone else.  You’re not available to take part in any conversation.  Sure you’re getting clicks, but clicks alone will not help you grow your business.  Try finding a chat that’s relevant to your business.  Even better find local events you can attend.  You’ll be surprised what showing up will do for your social media campaign.

There is nothing wrong with tweeting information all day.  It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.  For example if you’re a City Department, you could share upcoming events, changes in schedules, local news.

Getting the most out of your campaign requires effort.  Mailing it in won’t bring you success.  It’s more than just sending out tweets and Facebook updates.

Remember it’s about being social.

Customer Service and Business: You’re Out of Touch

Sometimes the power of social media makes you go “wow”.   It can be an amazing asset or your worst nightmare as realized recently by Netflix announcing their price increase.

In a nutshell, Netflix adjusted their price structure and raised prices by 60%.  They took something that consumers perceived as value and just like that gave them reason to question the expenditure.

Looking at the Netflix Facebook Page there are over 78,000 comments related to the announcement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the comments share the same sentiment.  Customers simply aren’t pleased with the increase.  Part of it could be the way the announcement was presented on Facebook.  The status update doesn’t offer much in the way of explanation, but links to a blog post on Netflix explaining the price increase.   The blog post alone has 12,000 comments with over 4,000 shares on Twitter.

Talk about social media working on all cylinders.  Unfortunately in this case it’s not the right kind of buzz.  They didn’t do themselves any favors either as Netflix was deleting customer complaints from Facebook.

What are the glaring issues here?

In this situation it’s clear that Netflix wasn’t in touch with customer expectations and over valued their product/service.  The customers have stated as much:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fix:  Do your homework.  Understand why your customers appreciate your product/service.  Spend time answering the “what if” by surveying some of your best customers before making changes.

They didn’t ease into the transaction and had to quickly backtrack by offering a discount to customers, further devaluing their product.   It was already too late.  Certainly they lost customers who will never come back.

Fix:  Give your customers time to adjust to the changes.  Making the switch quickly can backfire.

Price and value must go hand in hand. By not understanding the price point at which customers perceived the most value they again misunderstood the marketplace.

Fix:  This is an important aspect of any business.  Make sure that you know when and where price and value are in alignment.  If it’s not easy to find, figure out a way to create it.  That’s where marketing comes in handy.

Social media hasn’t helped, but it could have.  Netflix could have easily utilized social to address many of the issues above well before announcing the price increase.  They have 1.9 million fans on Facebook certainly they could have found a large enough sample size to survey.

Besides social media they could have reached out to customers via email by way of surveys.

From a business strategy standpoint it makes perfect sense.  Changes needed to be made, but when a strategic change backfires you’ve got major issues.

Part of what we do here at Talan is help small business navigate these sort of minefields.  We help business develop a strong strategy whether it be marketing, PR, exit strategies, or social media.

Understanding the risk associated with your decisions is an important part of being an entrepreneur.  Not doing so comes with enormous consequences.

If you found your company in this position how would you react?

 

Facebook for Small Business

Facebook has grown at a break neck pace and there is no doubt that it’s weaved it’s way into our daily lives.  We’ve all watched as business both large and small have utilized Facebook for business.

Chances are you already have a Facebook page for small business.  We thought we’d share how are we use Facebook for business to give you some ideas on how to make it work for you.

1.  Post consistently

Give your audience a reason to come back.  We try to post in the morning each and every day to catch those who check Facebook fist thing in the morning.

2.  Post Interesting Content

The content we share is relevant to our customer base.  We try to seek out content that can generate discussion and ask a question to spark discussion.  Even if we don’t get feedback we are trying to stay fresh in their minds.

3.  Ask questions

As per number 2, we try to ask open ended questions to hopefully get our fans to engage with our content.

4.  Share our Page

A link to our Facebook page is everywhere we find ourselves on the web.  It’s on our homepage.  We add it to other social media profiles.  We also try to add it to all of our traditional marketing materials such as our 48 sheet billboard.  If our customers don’t know we’re there how can they become fans?

5.  Create a default landing Page

A landing page has been a great way to welcome new Facebook visitors to our page.  We’ve used it to highlight upcoming events, asked for subscriptions to our email list,  and encouraged sign ups to our newsletter.

6.  Creating Events

Anytime we have an event going on at TalanSBS we create a Facebook Event.  Even though we’ve sent an email it’s another way to stay engaged with our audience.

7.   Utilizing Notes

Notes have been perfect for adding our blog to Facebook.  Not only does it allow for fans to read our content within Facebook and easily share it, the content provides back links to our website.

8.  Adding Pictures

Adding pictures of events or random acts that happen day in and out, helps us to connect on a personal level with our fans.

9.  Tagging

Anytime we can tag customers or friends we do.  It always drives traffic to our Facebook page.

10.  Adding Keyword Links

We utilize social media management software that allows for a keyword link for each an every post we add to Facebook.   Each time we do this it’s another vote for our website in the eyes of search engines.

That’s it in a nutshell.  An abbreviated list of how we are currently using Facebook for small business.  How are you finding the reception to your business on Facebook?

8 Reasons Your Website is Awful

Your website is your calling card on the web.  For that reason it’s important that you take care in how you present yourself.

If any of these apply to you, do not pass go, and immediately head to Google to find the nearest web developer/designer.

1.  About Us

If your About Us page is all about you and your accomplishments it’s time for a redo.  Focus on what is about your business that will connect with a potential client.  Why should they do business with you.

2.  Latest News isn’t New

It’s amazing how many websites have a Latest News section that hasn’t been updated in several years.  If you don’t care enough about your website to update it on a regular basis, what does it say about how you’ll treat your clients?

3.  Outdated Homepage

The web changes frequently and is fickel.  Styles change.  Bell bottoms and eight tracks have long been out of style.  The same goes for your website.  If you’re site is still in it’s original format, it’s time for a refresh.  We know quite a bit more about how people navigate websites.  An update will go a long way to increasing conversions.

4.  Bright Fluorescent Colors

When was the last time you visited your website yourself?  Bright colors hurt the eyes and makes it hard to read.

5.  Auto Start Video/Audio

Stop this immediately.  Nothing is worse than visiting a website with your volume full bore, only to be blasted with elevator music from 1983.  Certainly you want your video played, but let the content speak for itself.  If the video is worth watching it will be seen.

6.  Ditch the old Flash

Early flash sites had a lot of sound included when clicking on links and navigating to new pages.  Don’t force visitors to have to mute things to navigate your website.  It’s easier to just not come back.

7.  Poor Navigation

Where do you want us to go?  Do you have 15 different tabs?  Have you tried to stuff the kitchen sink on the homepage?  Make it simple.  Set up your website so it’s easy for visitors to find information.

8.  Designed for You

Remember this statement.  “Your website is not for your current customers, it’s for prospective customers.”  Your website is all about converting visitors into customers.  Focus on creating content that speaks to those seeking to do business with you.  Understand how they consume information and what drives their buying decisions.  If the amount of people coming to your website are seeking you out by name you need to better content or SEO (search engine optimization)

A website is key to your digital marketing strategy.  With the tools available today there is no excuse for having a poor online presense.  If your a do-it-yourself type WordPress or Joomla both make for great content management systems.  They both offer tons of plug-ins and themes to make your site look professional and polished.

If you need assistance TalanSBS can help get you started today.

What are a few of your website pet peeves?

 

6 Tips to Managing Cash Flow Schedule

Cash is king.  In your business cash flow is the ultimate king.  Do you have a firm grip on your cash flow?  Do you understand how cash flow affects your business?  Well you should.

The best way to monitor cash flow is by utilizing your cash flow statement.  If you use Quickbooks or Peachtree, this is a built in report.  A cash flow statement is a financial statement that shows how changes in a balance sheet accounts and income affect cash and cash equivalents, and breaks the analysis down to operating, investing, and financing activities.

Simply, it helps you understand the flow of cash in and out of your business.

The reason your cash flow is important is that:

  • it allows you to know if you can meet payroll and other expenditures
  • it tells potential lenders if you have the ability to repay
  • it lets potential investors know if your company is financially strong

Here are 5 ways to get your cash flow positive:

1.  Track customers’ payments

It’s easy to let 30 days turn into 45, especially if it’s one your best customers.  But there are bigger issues here, if you have to borrow money due to late payments you’re doing yourself a disservice.

2.  Set resonable payment terms

Don’t be afraid to offer a discount for early payments or a cash discount if it helps you get paid early.  Having cash in hand is key.  Offering a discount to get paid 15 days early can make a big difference in how you run your business.

3.  Check credit histories

Must do.  Don’t take their word for it.  Just because they have a big new building doesn’t mean they have the ability to pay or haven’t stuck someone else for services in the past.

4.  Take advantage of discounts

If you have the opportunity to receive a discount for paying early yourself, by all means take it.  But remember if there is no discount offered to hold on to your cash.  There is no sense in paying your bill two/three weeks early when you can use the cash (especially if you have a good handle on cash flow)

5.  Get Rid of excess inventory

It’s costing you money.  Even if you sell it at a discount it’s better than not selling it at all.  Plus it injects cash into the business.

6.  Wait

Do you really need that new iPhone/iPad/Tablet/Blackberry/Printer?  Think hard about it.  It’s easy to justify the expenditure, but will it really make you more efficient?  Purchases like these can nickel and dime you and kill cash flow in a hurry.

Understanding how to forecast cash flow will be a key asset in running your business.  If you need help reading or preparing cash flow projections contact us here at Talan Small Business Services.  It’s what we do.