Tag Archives: financial stress

Small Business Strategy: The Power of Reflection

It’s amazing what you can get done getting still. Most small business owners, myself included, spend most of their days moving as fast as possible, getting things done, checking things off the list. But the most important work happens faster when we stop.

Once a year, my business partner and I go to Arizona for several days to think about the business. We take a thick workbook filled with questions about every aspect of the business, from our business development strategy, to how we define our company brand, to how we think each employee is doing.

For the first few days, it may look like we’re not doing much that’s productive. We go on hikes, have massages, take yoga classes, take naps. This year, Arizona had an unexpected cold snap and we spent a lot of time in our rooms sitting by the fire.

Then, ideas begin to surface. New-found clarity pulls everything into focus. Suddenly, we see business opportunities that we hadn’t noticed before. We notice things we need to change that we’d been moving too fast to see.

These annual trips are where we set our vision for the company. There are all sorts of important milestones in our company’s growth that can be traced back to an idea we had during Shiatsu or sitting by the pool on our Arizona retreats. If we hadn’t done these trips consistently through the years, there are plenty of times we would have veered off course and not caught it.

The trick is taking the time, even when you think you don’t have it. Or when you think the company can’t afford for you to spend money going away somewhere to loll around.

Our trips are definitely expensive, but I’d say they’re one of the most important items in our annual budget. My business partner and I were talking yesterday, after our most recent Arizona trip, about how we could have spent that same amount of money on an executive coach for the year, or joining a CEO roundtable group, or any other sort of professional development that most business people would find a reasonable investment.

But for my money, the best bet is giving yourself a chance to sit still until you begin to see where you need to go next.

When can entrepreneurs stop worrying about winning more business?

growth“My business seems to be successful,” said the new entrepreneur, “but when do I get to quit worrying about enough work coming in?” Jo Ann is an accomplished marketer, with 20 years of experience under her belt and an MBA, not to mention gorgeous and personable. She left her post as VP/CMO at a venerable brand to start her own marketing consultancy.

“Never,” was all I could tell her. In my years of running my own companies, I’ve been able to come to a strange peace with that fact, but some days it requires a certain amount of zen not to completely freak out.

I gave her my rock climbing metaphor. When I was just starting my first ad agency, I  asked that same question of my friend Bill, a wildly successful illustrator who has run his own business for decades. Bill’s personality is about as low stress as mine is high, and I would never peg him for a worrier. (One night at some industry event, I remarked to Bill that it had been a gorgeous afternoon. He agreed, and revealed that he’d turned down a job to do a Newsweek cover that afternoon so he could go hiking instead. I was impressed, but he laughed and said, “I’m thinking I made the wrong decision.”) Bill told me the same thing I told Jo Ann: never.

Bill said he still worries all the time, but he doesn’t view worry as a negative. He suggested I try to enjoy the fear, the same way I enjoy the fear inherent to rock climbing. “Think of it as exciting,” he said. “It’s scary, but it’s kind of fun.”

Here are my four best tips for maintaining perspective:

1. Redefine worry. Worry can be useful, if it wakes you up in the middle of the night with the realization that you won’t be able to make payroll unless you collect that big receivable that’s running late. Worry can make you get up the next morning and get your client on the phone to help push that invoice through their accounting department and get you a check. Instead of telling yourself that you’re worried, maybe you’re actually just “aware.”

2. Remember how much is in your control. Although you can’t control the economy or a potential client’s budget cuts, you can control your efforts. During slow times, ramp up your networking, your outreach, your marketing. In your own business, you truly have more control over your success than you would working for a large company.

3. Give seeds time to grow. For the sort of professional services many small businesses are selling, the sales process can stretch out for years. If you don’t get a piece of business you pitch today, that doesn’t mean you won’t win some work from that client somewhere down the road. At Tribe, we got our first project from UPS a full two years after I’d sent an introductory letter to a heavyweight there. He’d kept that letter in his files until he had a need for us. Similar story with our Chick-fil-A clients. Life is long.

4. Don’t slack off in good times. When a small business is busy, it’s usually all hands on deck to get the work done. It’s very difficult to come up for air long enough to formulate any sort of marketing efforts. Just don’t let your business development machine grind to a complete halt. Keep pitching. Stay visible. Be in touch.

I’m sure some of you out there have tips to add to that list. How do you deal with the relentless need to keep drumming up business?

Small Business Strategies: Simple Feng Shui for your office

Guy in suit meditatingMaybe it will increase your financial success and maybe it will just make your office a more pleasant place to work, but a little Feng Shui certainly can’t hurt. At Tribe, we hired a Feng Shui expert to help with our new office when we were in the middle of its design. She nixed a few things I’d planned, like putting the accountant in a tiny office with no windows and cool blue paint in the lobby and common areas. (We made the windowless office a meditation room instead and chose a warm adobe clay color of the lobby walls.) I can’t say if it’s had an impact on Tribe’s success, but I know that when I’m there, I generally feel both relaxed and productive.

Here a few things you can do to add a little Feng Shui to your workplace, whether you work at home or in office space:

1. Make sure your desk is positioned for power. That means you don’t want your back to the door or a hallway. You should be able to see people coming, so that symbolically, you can’t be attacked unawares. You also don’t want your back to a window, which is too exposed and doesn’t offer strong backing behind you.

2. Activate your wealth corner: The far left corner, as viewed from the entrance to your office, is considered your area of wealth, symbolically. Put something green and growing there, like a tall potted plant, or maybe wind chimes, to create movement. Same goes for the far left corner of your desk. Place something there that means financial success to you. In that corner on my desk at home, I keep a paperweight that used to sit on the desk of a friend of mine, who not only enjoyed great wealth, but also used her financial resources to benefit many people. 

3. Activate your helpful friends: The near right corner of your desk, and of your office, symbolizes helpful friends. That’s a great corner of your desk for the phone. If cords and phone jacks make that problematic, try your Rolodex or your Blackberry or a stack of business cards for key contacts. 

4. Choose the power seat in meetings: For a client presentation or any meeting where you’ll want as much power as possible, choose a seat about midway along the side of the conference table, facing the door. Many people assume the head of the table is the power spot, but trust me, the middle of the table puts you in a more powerful position. 

5. Get rid of the clutter: This one is perhaps less interesting than the preceding tips, but it’s hugely important. Do whatever you have to do to keep your surfaces clear of clutter, especially old, inactive clutter. If you’ve got stacks of paper on your credenza for a project you’re actively working on, that’s one thing. Piles of old mail or unread reports or other inactive clutter are surprisingly draining. Get rid of them, and you’ll feel a surge of new energy.

Small Business Strategies: Dealing with tough economic times

guy leaping cliffsThey say desperate times call for desperate measures, but there’s no reason to panic. My recommendation to business owners worried about the economy is to adjust to current conditions as needed, but without losing sight of the long term. This recession won’t last forever. The first goal is to make sure your company is still standing when the tide turns, and the second is to be prepared for rapid growth when it does. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the years, in most cases the hard way.

1. Don’t postpone layoffs. If you know you’re going to have to lose people, do it sooner rather than later. The only difference is that if you do it earlier, you stop the leak in your payroll expenses that much more quickly and you can probably afford to offer better severance packages. If you’ve lost a big client due to the recession, cut your staff immediately. That makes it much easier for them to connect losing their jobs with the company losing that business, and not because they weren’t performing.

2. This is a good time to prune dead wood. Ask yourself if there’s anyone on your staff you would not hire today, knowing their work habits, abilities, attitude and suitability for where your company is now. If there is, you might want to gently release them. If you’re afraid they couldn’t find work elsewhere, maybe you ought to give them a little more credit. You’d be surprised how often business owners offer a huge severance out of guilt, only to find their former employee gainfully employed almost immediately. Yes, even in this economy. 

 3: When business is slow, do something. Anything. In my experience, it doesn’t really matter what you do to stir up new business, as long as you’re putting some energy into it. Pick up the phone to call a few prospects or brainstorm some new way to market your company or just take someone to lunch. Somehow the sheer force of that activity shifts something somewhere out there and suddenly the phone starts to ring with business. Often not with the people you’ve been calling or wining and dining but from someone completely out of the blue.

4: Say no to clients who aren’t right for you. One of the hardest things for business owners to do is to turn down a paying customer. Especially when times are tough. But it’s crucial to building the business you want. Decide what sort of clients are a good fit for your company and then be ruthless about turning away the ones who aren’t. Refer them to some other company who would love to have them and it becomes a win for everyone. 

 5: If no one ever balks at your prices, you’re not charging enough. Unless you’re trying to be the next Sam Walton, the low price leader is not a prize you want. Set your fees reasonably for the value you provide and then expect some people to tell you they’re too high. The ballpark number I use is that one out of 10 prospects will think we’re too expensive. We’d rather work with the other nine.

6: Use the lean times to do less visible work. Slow times are the perfect time to add a new expertise to your service offerings, to research a new part of the industry, to learn something you don’t have time for when you’re busy — like social media, for instance. Take a cue from nature. In the winter, when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind blows cold, the roots are down there underground doing their thing. Then when spring arrives, the plants are ready to burst out with vibrant green leaves and beautiful flowers. That abundant growth could be just around the corner. 


Seven spiritual lessons in running your own company

man dock computerMany small business owners will tell you that running your own company offers a spiritual path you must walk day after day. The business arena is where you get to play out your spiritual values in the real world. And if you’ve never struggled to meet payroll, you may not yet have truly tested your faith. Here are seven spiritual aspects I’ve noticed being frequent lessons of small business:

1. The Zen of cash flow: Money flows in and money flows out. The key, of course, is to have more coming in than going out, but the other key is not to freak out. Sometimes you’ll be in a tight spot. Other times you’ll have more money than you ever expected. Try to maintain your equilibrium at both extremes.

2. Growth through hard times: No one wants to go through tough times. But there’s no substitute for the gift they offer. Survive a painful stretch of business, maybe so painful that you think you might actually go under, and afterwards you’ll be very difficult to scare. That’s valuable.

3. Embrace the fear: Now that we mention it, if you scare easily, the life of an entrepreneur might not be for you. If you can let the scary parts be exciting and fun, you’ll have an easier time. Think of it as a game, like Russian roulette maybe.

4. Focus on the joy: There’s not much that’s more fun than building a company. If you’re the kind of person who can create a company out of thin air, then you have every reason to enjoy what you do every day. Have fun. Keep in mind why you’re doing this. Remember that other people are stuck in their cubicles somewhere, working for someone they may not even respect.

5. Take the high road: And remember that your people are watching you. When a client double pays, when your company messes something up, when someone needs to be fired, you set the tone for how everyone at your company will handle future issues. Make sure you’re setting an example you’d want them to follow.

6. Follow your bliss: Do what feels fun and exciting to you, and don’t bother with the rest. Or delegate it. Use your enjoyment (or the lack thereof) as a guidance mechanism for where to spend your time and where to take your company next.

7. The power of faith. Call it what you will – God, your inner wisdom or even the AA’s higher power – but do call on it. Sometimes you just have to hand the reins over to God, or whatever, and accept that there are some things that are simply beyond your control. Everything tends to work out. Believing that seems to help.

Is a recession a good time to start a company?

BearStarting a company isn’t easy, but it might be a whole lot easier than finding a job right now. In this economy, there are so many talented people on the streets, many of whom have years and years of valuable experience – and are accustomed to pulling in sizable salaries. How are they going to replace that income in a market where six-figure job openings are few and far between?

Launching a business can be the most efficient route to renewed financial security. Not all new businesses make it, but a great deal of any company’s success is within the control of the owner. Owning your own business remains one of the best ways to build wealth, with the potential for income much greater than what most companies would pay an employee.

Entrepreneurship also allows for the possibility of a little more life balance. Anyone who’s logged their time in a corporate gig can tell you that control over how your work fits into your life is generally rare.  Running your own business won’t mean not working hard, but it can mean enormous flexibility in terms of when and where you work. 

Actually, a recession is an excellent time to start a company. It’s not a very good time to be a job seeker, but it’s a great time to be quietly building something that can explode with growth when the economy turns.

It’s also a time when deals can be made. Need website help? Ask an out-of-work programmer to write your code for a particularly modest fee. Can’t afford a salesperson? Find an unemployed sales guy who’s willing to work for commission, just for the short term. Want office space? Look for a compatible company that’s had layoffs and see if you can sublease a spare desk or office.

Back in 2005, I wrote a book on women entrepreneurs. For years afterward, I received calls and emails from people who wanted me to help them figure out how to start their own companies. Recently, I’ve had a new wave of those requests, but there’s a difference this time. Before, I was hearing from people who wanted to start companies to make more money, or have more flexibility, or to fulfill a long-held dream of being their own boss.

Now, I’m hearing from a lot of people who never considered themselves born entrepreneurs. Starting a company is not anything they ever saw themselves doing. But in this job market, it looks like their best option.