May 10, 2011

The Funny Thing About Ideas

Ideas are a funny thing. The best ones seem to come out of nowhere, often at the most unusual times. Like many entrepreneurs, I know many, many more great ideas have come to me at 3AM (when, at 2:59 I was sound asleep) than when I was sitting behind my desk. And when this happens, the irony is never lost on me that all that time I was spending intensely focusing on finding a solution was actually holding the solution back. I don’t know why this is, of course, but in hindsight, I always appreciate the comedy. This helps remind me to not take everything so gravely seriously and it helps me remember that this all is a game, a game that is only fun when you keep it enjoyable.

Most entrepreneurs have lots of ideas. As a breed, we seem the world in terms of what it lacks, and when these realizations come, our minds immediately spring into solution-design mode. We are good at this because this is what we do. We are sort of idealistic maintenance people of the world. We see problems and we set out to fix them.

In fact, the biggest skill most entrepreneurs can learn is to tell the good ideas from the not so good ones. Usually, the great, as well as the horrible, ideas are easy to spot. But, when we get into the gray area between good and meh, things can get a little murky. Our acuity, of course, sharpens with experience. That is, the more ideas we have run down the better we will be at pre-judging future ideas. We can more quickly see what the impact this new idea will have on our resources, and we can learn to do cost/benefit analysis practically on the fly. Continue reading »

Apr 28, 2011

Attention to Detail, Not Just for the Little Guys

When we think of big, established, multi-national corporations we often think of tired, slow, lumbering behemoths. In fact, it is my personal opinion that the corporations of the world actually create most of the entrepreneurial opportunity in this country. From their misguided approaches, to their lack of agility in being able to respond to market changes, most corporations are usually only good at one thing, generating a profit. And through this single-minded focus, things like excellence and innovation almost invariably get sucked out.

As entrepreneurs, often it is precisely these missteps which give us our opening. Plus, if our little companies were not able to stand in stark contrast to the daft, profit-sucking, soulless machines that most corporations are, no one would really ever care about what we are doing. That is, no one would get too excited about fighting the man if the man were already doing a good job. No, forget that. Down with the man, because the man sucks.

Most corporations are saddled with so many layers in their decision approval processes that they simply cannot help but to only approve the most unimaginative, least daring ideas. In my mind, corporations are more about defending resources against loss than about really doing something special. Oh sure, if they are able to do something special along the way that is fine, but really matters is being able to “make the quarter”. After all, no amount of innovation, creativity, or even customer goodwill can be a truly effective counterweight when you are losing your stockholder’s money. Continue reading »

Apr 25, 2011

Life is Too Short to Spend It in a Cubicle

Ah, the cubicle. At least to me, this is one of the main symbols of corporate “bad for you, good for us” mentality. Even though every major study shows that everything from productivity to workplace health takes a nose-dive with cubicles, still they are a mainstay of the corporate environment landscape.

If you are anything like me, cubicles have the unique ability to make you miserable. Sort of like a playpen for grown-ups, we are put in our little enclosures so that we cannot get into too much trouble. Everything is built to be confining, yet open. Confining so that square footage can be maximized, and open so that management can keep an eye on what you are doing in your little cubby all day.

We are put into these right-angle boxes, ostensibly, to keep us focused and integrated. However, I have always found that working in a cubicle actually accomplishes the opposite. Since the environment is open, I am always leery to have long conversations with co-workers, since this would surely be a distraction to everyone else. Additionally, with all of the other conversations and phone calls that are going on, it is not hard to have your office be a daily recreation of Office Space. “Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking, just a moment…” Continue reading »

Apr 15, 2011

Escaping Burnout

To anyone who has ever gone through it (or lived with someone going through it), burnout is never easy to deal with, especially when so many sources in our society encourage pushing through to achieve success. Although there is a lot to be said for persistence and perseverance in times of struggle, burnout is a special exception. To me, symptoms of burnout point to larger issues at play, and there is no need to suffer in vein.

In the simplest sense, burnout is a conflict of effort and priorities. That is, if you spend 80% of your time and effort on things that are not really a priority to you (and ignore the things that really are), something will have to give at some point. From another point of view, burnout can be described as spending a disproportionate amount of time on things that are energy draining to you than on things that are energy replenishing (or creating).

To be clear, I define burnout as a prolonged sense of emptiness and exhaustion. For professional types especially, the trends of increasing work hours, increased expectations of productivity, and simply having to create more with fewer and fewer resources builds an environment where burnout is not only possible, but often probable. To the burned-out person, overwhelming feelings that they have had their heart and soul strip-mined are all too common. Although this is an intensely painful and stressful situation to deal with, it can be rectified. Continue reading »

Apr 14, 2011

Small Business Q&A: Making Good Hiring Choices

In another Small Business Q&A post, we take a look at a common hiring question.

Q: I feel like my business can’t grow because I do not have enough people and I have to do everything. How do I make good hiring choices at this stage of my business?

A: Often, some of the most difficult situations come at this “maturing” stage of a business. That is, your business is growing up to really take on its own identity, and to survive, it needs to expand beyond you.

Hiring is tough, no one who has done it will argue with that. There are so many dynamics, from team building, to building a symbiotic arrangement of positions, to simply finding enough time to hire someone. After all, if you had all the time you needed to hire, you probably would not need anyone to help you. The key is to be smart with your time, and your goals, in order to achieve the long-term results you are after.

When I look at hiring, the first thing I think about is being clear about what I want. This may sound funny, in that, of course, you want someone to help you. However, at this stage of your business, your first few hires will probably be your hardest. Never again will you bring on staff members that have such a profound impact on your business, and on the way you interact with your business. Continue reading »

Apr 10, 2011

Small Business Q&A: Establishing an Internet Usage Policy

In this post we will look at a common question that I get regarding Internet access for employees (and how to manage it)

Q: My employees have Internet access at their desks. How do I establish rules for Internet use that will be effective?

A: We read articles about employee Internet usage all the time, and I do not know of a business owner who does not squirm at this topic a bit. Most business owners do not want to be policeman/policewomen over their staff’s Internet usage, but they also want to insure productivity levels that are in-line with company goals.

Since privacy issues can be a concern, what I have seen that is quite effective is giving new hires an Electronic Use Policy to sign upon hire. This way, each party knows what is OK and what isn’t. Often, egregious Internet usage starts small, and before anyone knows it, it has become a big problem. Continue reading »

Apr 6, 2011

Preparing to Hire Your First Employee

Some of the most common questions that I get from small business owners I work with have to do with hiring, especially hiring the first employee. From personal experience, I would have to say that this area is one of the more challenging and confusing for owners of growing businesses.

Entrepreneurs often have two particularly nasty habits. The first is that they finally breakdown and hire someone when they cannot stand to do a particular function anymore. For my business, this was customer service. Although I loved interacting with the customers, I found the stop/start on a dime nature of customer service work makes working on long-term strategic and planning projects very hard.
When faced with this scenario, entrepreneurs will often hire a fully qualified person to fill this roll, and then drop the function like a hot potato in the new hire’s lap. Being so relieved to never even have to use the words “customer service” together again, the entrepreneur will often ignore this function completely.

Inevitably, a real “out of sight, out of mind” mentality develops, and the new hire goes along his/her way to fulfill the function the best way they can. Unfortunately, without an appropriate level of management and oversight by the business owner, the new hire’s function can “go rogue”, losing the qualities the business owner worked hard to create. This scenario can also cause a lot of stress and strain on the new hire, since it feels like they are working without a net, and many/most people like some amount of structure and communicated expectation in their job function. Continue reading »

Apr 5, 2011

Book publishing on Kindle 4/12/11!

Get Out From Under Your Business will be officially publishing on the Kindle Tuesday 4/12/11! Other platforms coming soon include:

    Barnes & Noble Nook
    Blackberry (for the upcoming Playbook)
Apr 2, 2011

Key to Business Success: Love the Work You Do

Most of the people I know who are unusually successful in their field have a unique trait in common. They love the work they are doing. To them, collecting a big paycheck (or nearly any paycheck at all, for that matter), is simply icing on the cake. Every day is like a mini-vacation, and work has ceased to have the four-letter definition most of us have for it. To these people, the work they do has such a strong personal draw to it that they would do it for free, if need be.

I work with a lot of small business owners and budding entrepreneurs, and this trend sticks with this group too. Often, one of my first questions to this type of client is why they want to start the business they have in mind. If the answer is “I want to be my own boss.”, or “I want to make a lot of money.” I will often advise them to go back to the drawing board to find a business concept with more gravitas for them. Often, people find that working for themselves means they will be working for the most demanding boss (themselves) they have ever experienced. And, when the money isn’t freely flowing in, as is often true for startups for significant amounts of time, what motivation to keep moving forward will they have then? Continue reading »

Mar 29, 2011

Hiring by Design (Rather than by Default)

As almost any business owner and they will tell you hiring is a thorny subject. After all, with so much at stake with a hiring decision, it is understandable that this process would create angst and confusion. Depending on your industry, it can take anywhere from 3-12 months to train an employee, and starting over after a bad hire not only resets that clock, but also means that all of the recruitment expenses must be paid again (and you take the morale hit of having to introduce another new person into your team).

It is important to note, though, that even though these expenses are considerable, it NEVER makes sense to prolong a firing decision when you know someone has to go. Damage to company morale, company performance, customer/vendor relationships, etc. can go FAR beyond the cost of cutting bait. The old saying of “hire slow and fire fast” might as well be permanently post-it-noted to your computer monitor.

The trap many employers fall into when hiring is feeling they have to hire someone RIGHT NOW! And, like any other large company expenditure, the first (and most important step) in this process is to simply know what you want. This may sound simple, but I have talked with so many business owners that have ended up hiring bad fits for their business, simply because they did not know exactly what they wanted. Also, the whole resume reviewing, interviewing, hiring process can be so deeply psychological, business owners will always benefit by designing exactly what they want in a new hire before the hiring process even starts. Hiring the best of a bad lot will never yield good results, and sticking to your guns to get what you want may be the most valuable hiring decision you can make. Continue reading »