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

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.

BIZMix June 24th 12-2pm

June BIZMix
“Social Media”BIZMix: FREE Education and Networking Event

Talan SBS and our social media experts invite you to join us at our June BIZMix! In attendance will be 50+ business professionals, including business owners, leaders, and representatives. We will gather for networking and learn how to begin improving our social media plans today. Lunch will be included in this FREE event designed to help you keep your business in business through education and qualified connections!

85% OF CONSUMERS DON’T KNOW YOU EXIST TODAY!

Consider this…85% of consumers want to use social media to engage with companies. Will they be able to find YOUR company?

•You need to get engaged today before there’s no catching up.
•Companies who use social media effectively know how to improve their brand. •It’s an excellent tool for two-way communication with your customers.
If you’re reading this webpage thinking: “social media is just a temporary fad, it’s too difficult and confusing to navigate. I’m going to wait for it to pass, and then get involved in the next instrumental marketing tool.” You’re wrong and based on statistics you will not be in business 5 years from now. Don’t wait any longer or you’ll be doing a huge disservice to your business:

•Using social media in a strategic, effective way is the number one best opportunity
•It’s inexpensive AND reaches a large audience.
•It’s the only marketing tool out there that effectively serves both purposes of an advertisement.
•Social networks are where people ARE tuned in today.

Register today, to start or improve your social media plan!

Leadership for Positive Change

 

With the Chick-fil-A Leadercast only 10 days away, we’d like to express our thoughts TODAY on what being a leader is (before this much anticipated event).  So here’s what we think, and what inspires us as leaders.

First of all, it’s so important that people realize that a leader isn’t just a manager, or CEO.  This being said, an entry-level employee, or someone who is unemployed can be a leader.  Leadership doesn’t just take place in a work-setting.  There are mothers and fathers who are the leaders of their families, or sports players that are the leaders of their teams.

A leader is someone who has a voice- and wants to make positive change.  As we’ve learned from CFA Leadercast speaker Seth Godin, a manager and a leader are two completely different things!  Leadership is not practical, and it isn’t everyday- leadership means helping someone grow in a vast way.  If you’re a leader you don’t just do what you’re told and wait for change, instead you’re innovative and take action now.  With technology and competition the way it is today, if you aren’t being a time-based industry leader, you will fall behind! 

True leaders don’t just think about how they can make a process run better, or treat friends, family and employees more fairly, they take action.  They demonstrate integrity and receive respect.  They aren’t intimidating and unapproachable, but rather are easy to talk to and hand out meaningful advice.

The thought that we can constantly improve our leadership mindset, working toward a common goal, and motivating employees to reach goals is what inspires us to continue and become better leaders.  We know that our presence in the small business community will help small business owners increase their confidence, expertise and most importantly passion for their companies.  Small businesses are what our country was built on, and we know it’s the root of improving our economy and patriotism for not only the United States, but Michigan made products, companies and ideas.  We need to support and invest in our local small businesses to begin positive change.

We hope to gain more insight as to what defines a leader, and how to be better leaders ourselves after attending this once in a lifetime opportunity.   Being able to hear from the world’s most influential leaders, including: Seth Godin, John Maxwell and Robin Roberts LIVE in one day, we feel extremely lucky and are enthusiastic about all we have to learn and implement in our business.  We will spread this knowledge to our clients, who in-turn can spread this knowledge to others.  After hearing more about the Leadercast from past attendants, we are certain that everyone in attendance will go home with actionable steps to improve their business, and every other aspect of their lives in order to be “a positive voice of change”.

Thank You Chick-fil-A for putting together this incredible event and allowing us to be the host-site for Metro Detroit!

“Your voice is a voice of change, and change creates new possibilities”.  Register now at: http://tinyurl.com/46ndhch

Top 10 Reasons Small Businesses Fail

Top 10 Reasons Small Businesses Fail

We recently received an article from a client outlining the top reasons why small businesses generally fail. This question and the reasons related to the top 10 regularly face us in working with entrepreneurs. While we tend to focus our blog discussions on business success, rather than failure, it is important that we talk about and identify these issues because they are very real obstacles to success. Additionally, and perhaps even more importantly, the precursor to failure is ongoing stagnation and many points listed in this article are happening in your business right now whether you recognize it or not. So the question many ask is “if these are the top 10 reasons small businesses fail how do I avoid failure?” While this may be a valid question, the real question to ask is “how do I identify if my company has any of the traits that create these issues in the first place?” While there is no silver bullet in answering the question… the simple answer comes down to assessment. In your business, for which we recommend this check stub software, you should annually be assessing the organization, asking tough questions about the how and why you do what you do, and consistently measuring the results of your actions. But you shouldn’t do it alone. Bring in an outside resource by way of a mentor or consultant. These individuals should not have a financial interest in the organization or be on its operational leadership team. They should be “outside” resources whose interest is in the overall success of the company, not telling you what you want to hear. Through this process you should look at all areas of your business, giving you a chance to see it from the outside looking in allowing you the opportunity to identify potential problems before they can damage your company. Here is a link to the article-

TOP 10 REASONS SMALL BUSINESSES FAIL- ARTICLE

Protecting Your Products From Copycats

A friend sent us the attached article which was posted in USA Today on Monday September 20th. The main concept of the article is focused on protecting your products from copycats. While this topic is directly relevant to those of you who develop, invent and create new products, the article has some very good “take-aways” for every type of business leader. At its core, the article identifies that the awareness of our competitors’ position in the market, as well as always staying connected to the wants and needs of our customers, is critically important to maintaining successful growth. We hope you enjoy the article and look forward to hearing your feedback.

Click Here for Article- http://tinyurl.com/26zr3oe

Maybe you need a Business Divorce

By Lori J. Frank

We are taught that all that matters is the sales to your customer. If you Start searching for customers and sell your product or services then you will be rolling in the dollars. This is true, IF and only if, the customer is paying you! If not, all you are doing is laying out cash to your employees and your suppliers. Most business is conducted by a handshake (either actual or electronic) and rarely is there a written contract. We mostly trust that we will get paid for our product or services.

Let’s say you and your customer have done business together for a period of time after you graduated from business colleges. At first you were getting paid as agreed, and maybe a little early. As time went on, you started to notice that the customer is not paying you as in days past. You call and ask the owner why it is taking longer to get paid than it had been. You are told, “Well we are in Michigan and my customers are taking longer to pay me”.  Is that the truth or is my customer using the bad economy as an excuse? It doesn’t matter. In either case, you should start by asking your customer for Cash On Delivery and talk to the customer about an arrangement to pay the past due invoices. Most good customers will be embarrassed but will talk to you about making good on the debt. If your customer won’t discuss a concrete plan to pay the past due invoices, then it may be time to get the divorce and cut that customer loose. Furthermore, if the checks from your customer start to resemble a basketball and bounce, then time is running out on getting paid.  This is a red flag and all deliveries should stop unless payment is guaranteed either by bank check or by a credit card.

Lori J. Frank is a contributing member to the Talan education blog series. LJ Frank PC was formed in 1996 and the firm specializes in the collection of debt. They can be found at www.collectionlaw-firm.com. LJ Frank PC is located in Southfield but covers the entire State of Michigan. LJ Frank PC is a member of:

Michigan Bar Association

Oakland County Bar Association

Michigan Creditors Bar Association

Commercial Law League of America

If your business is in a situation where your cash flow is being negatively affected by clients who are not paying as they should, contact Talan today to discuss your options for reducing your exposure to this unnecessary risk.

Does Your Business Need a Retrofit?

Reading through an article today on entrepreneur.com, we were reminded of how important it is as small businesses to always stay connected to the changing needs of our customers. The article stated, “Small business owners who have worked long and hard to create their businesses and offer customer what they want are often the most resistant to change.” Interestingly enough, the ability to quickly change and adapt to the needs of customers if one of the most important competitive advantages that small business has over large and even medium sized companies. Unfortunately, so many small companies ignore this fact and choose to stay in the comfort zone, rather than seek ways to use their agility to gain advantage in the marketplace. If you are looking for ways to capitalize on your natural competitive advantage, TALAN is here to help. Contact us today for your FREE BIZstrength Profile and find out how you can stand out! Enjoy the article… http://tinyurl.com/yfaxhdv