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    26 Sep

    I-Love-Lucy-candy-factory

    (Image from the famous Candy Factory episode of I Love Lucy – Lucy’s system didn’t work so well in this case…)

    The now ubiquitous tagline “There’s an App for that” gained so much traction for Apple they filed to trademark it in Dec. of 2009. If you have an I-phone, Droid, or tablet PC you probably are amazed at the ever growing number of applications available. Some are for just for fun, but many were created to simplify your processes and your life.

    So replace “App” with “System”? “There’s a System for that”. It certainly isn’t nearly as catchy, but for a business owner it’s even more important.  Have you ever walked through your business and observed how many repeatable systems or processes are in place?  In a really successful business you can bring someone new in, give them a little instruction, and turn them loose to follow the system you have in place and hardly miss a beat.

    However for most of us…we think we have systems in place but somehow the same mistakes happen again and again – which is a clear sign that you’ve got an issue.

    Call Before You Dig!

    Everyone has probably seen a “Call before you Dig” commercial or ad.  A large portion of my career was in the heavy equipment industry…and a lot of the equipment we distributed was “ground engaging”, which simply means during operation it will be penetrating the earth’s surface…digging. That means knowing the location of underground utilities is paramount.  Without that – you aren’t going to be getting any work done.

    I assure you every contractor and every municipality I ever worked with has a system in place that triggers someone to contact the “Call before you Dig” locating service well in advance of an installation crew arriving. But the reality is there were dozens of times I arrived at a job site to find out “the locates” weren’t completed or they weren’t done in the correct area. There was a break down in the System and the result is unrecoverable expenses in lost productivity for everyone involved.

    A Better way?

    It’s an ongoing battle, but as a business owner you have to continually look at your business and find opportunities to implement systems that will simplify your life or your employee’s lives, and improve productivity.

    If you don’t know where to start, find a small specific area in your business and start there.  Keep it simple, but take action. The system you design should be a written step-by-step process that you can hand to anyone of average intelligence and they can replicate it without you.  Creating a system doesn’t have to be complex, but it won’t happen without focused action.

    Do you have a system for selling your product or service? A structured way (a system) you prospect for clients? If a client has a complaint do you have a system to handle the complaint or do you just deal with them as they happen? Maybe it is a system to complete a task in your business management software (Quick Books. Peachtree, etc.) Proven repeatable systems are stress reducers and money makers.

    You can do it. “There’s a System for That!”

    We would love to hear about how you have implemented a system into your business and how it impacted you, your employee and/or co-workers, and ultimately your bottom line.  Please share your thoughts in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach

    23 Sep

    Today I’d like to share a guest post by SusanaB, Chief UI Consultant for FluidUI.  Her world is all about developing better interactions and her post is an interesting perspective on how a UX designer takes into account how people think and work.

    Susana does some cool stuff – here’s a quick rundown from her:
    clip_image002


    We create intuitive user interfaces for web, mobile and software. Our user-friendly clients include Sprint, Hallmark and emfluence. Give us a holler at 816.561.2315.

    Seductive Interactions

    SlideShare’s “Seductive Interactions: An Art & Science” is an engaging presentation on design strategy. Of the 175 clicks I found click 85, most valuable – its title: What Do We Know About People?

    they listed my ux take

    We’re curious

    Don’t list features and functions, let users discover them

    We’re also afraid of change

    Forecast changes and promote upcoming redesigns

    We seek patterns

    Be predictable, have consistency in menu, headers, colors, etc.

    We like to order and organize things

    Sort options, customize pages, Flickr Organizr

    We’re intensely self centered

    Tell a friend, favorites, iLike, StumbleUpon

    We’re lazy

    175 click slides are manageable w/a jump feature

    We’re visual thinkers and learners

    Thus SlideShare and demo video popularity

    We like to be the hero of the story

    We promote our thoughts and actions (blog, tweet) more than others

    We don’t like to make choices, but we like choice

    We are entice by Chrome’s market growth, but we just can’t leave FireFox

    We like to be in control (and to be guided)

    Allowing users to choose when to upgrade and provide demos

    We find novelty and surprise interesting

    New features and functions keep us coming back for more

    and so on

    We can generalize about people/users, but should always seek their feedback and act on it

    Thanks for reading my hero story. Here is the Seductive Interactions show, for more novelty and surprises.

    Thanks for the thoughts Susana

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    19 Sep

    razor

    It takes real effort to stay sharp – in fact most performance (whether it’s you or your team or both) naturally degrades over time if you don’t do anything to address it.

    It’s not rocket science, but this outrageous insight came to me this morning while I was shaving.

    It turns out that I have this issue about changing out my razor blades…I just don’t do it very often.  Not for any specific reason, it just doesn’t cross my mind.

    However when I do finally change the blade – like I did this morning…Wow!  Huge difference!  The razor doesn’t pull anymore.  No burns, no cuts!  The whole process is smooth.  It’s faster…and the end result is much better!  It’s a completely different experience (and outcome).

    Realistically I should have changed the blade weeks ago…but I didn’t consciously notice that the performance was degrading.  The old blade technically still worked…just not as well.  Because I wasn’t paying attention my morning shaving process had become a lot less effective.

    What are you not paying attention to?

    The world moves fast and most of us are spending our time and effort just to keep up the pace.  We fight fires.  We deal with the squeaky wheels and basically ignore everything else due to lack of time or energy.

    But while you’re ignoring aspects of your business, the performance is degrading.

    How about that website that you built 3 or 4 years ago?  Is it still performing for you the way it did when you launched it?  (Did it ever perform for you?).

    How about your back office systems?  Is there a better…maybe a more automated way to create invoices, take payments, communicate or deliver your services?  Are you spending a lot of time and effort on certain tasks just because that’s the way you’ve always done things?

    Chances are, if you’re still doing things the same way you did a couple of years ago and you haven’t really thought about it, you’ve lost the edge and you’re not performing as well as you could in that area.  It’s not a significant enough issue to shut you down, but over time when many parts of your business aren’t performing well…you’ll have a major issue (kind of like death by a thousand cuts).

    The good news is that when you finally do upgrade you are going to be amazed at how much better things work.  Technology, new ideas or processes, different employees – all of those things can lead you to a new breakthrough way of running your business.  It’s a never ending battle, but by consciously looking at the neglected parts of your business on a regular basis, you can get ahead of the game.  It’s not quite as easy as just putting in a new blade, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

    As an example, I upgraded to a new version of Quickbooks not long ago and I was able to cut a few hours out of my monthly accounting work…not bad for a small investment.

    How about you?  What’s some aspect of your business that needs a refresh?  What process needs to be sharpened or replaced?  What’s something that is holding you back (maybe more than you realize) that you could fix up?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    12 Sep

    brutal

    In Jim Collin’s book “Good to Great” he discovered that one of the key drivers for great companies was the consistent ability to “Confront the brutal facts”. 

    “Great organizations lead with questions, not answers. If the organization openly confronts the brutal facts of each situation, the right decisions will often become self-evident..”

    Basically it’s the ability to do a completely honest and thorough assessment of your current situation – be willing to hear and face the truth, no matter how painful and bleak it might seem.

    One common area of brutal facts for many companies centers on employees and their costs.  To start with you need to make sure you’re following another one of Collins key tenets…having the right people on the bus…and in the right seats.

    This process includes taking into consideration the employee’s strengths and weaknesses and matching them with the roles and responsibilities in your business. It also means having systems and training procedures to ensure they have every opportunity to perform at their highest level. You have to give them the tools to succeed.  Everyone wants to succeed and do a good job, but if you don’t have the right people in the right roles with the tools and support they  need, you are going to fail. 

    When’s the last time you really looked at how your employees fit in your business as it is today?  Do you have the right people in the right roles?

    What about confronting brutal facts when the issue is employee numbers and costs?  What do you do when forces outside your control create an environment of change, change that will affect your current staffing needs?

    Example – The US Postal Service

    Although it has been developing for some time, the US Postal Service will remember the fall of 2011 as the time they were forced to deal with changes that are affecting them in a monumental way.  Caught in this transformation are over 500,000 US Postal employees who for the most part have all been doing their specific jobs perfectly well. However, the internet has changed how we communicate & conduct business…forever. Changes are needed to rescale a US Postal Service into an entity that has the potential to sustain itself, which will undoubtedly mean fewer employees. It has to be dealt with; it is a “brutal fact”.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen with the US Postal Service, but what happens all too often in the small business world is a lack of confrontation.  Business owners do not want to accept that a significant change is taking place and so they keep doing what they do in hopes that it will get better on its own. First a few weeks pass, then a few months, and sometimes it turns into years. If they would just truly look at their market trend, at their data, their cost structure, confront the brutal facts, it would be clear a change needs to take place.

    In my personal experience, the longer I waited to make an employee change the higher the number of people I negatively impacted. I realized as a business owner, it is imperative to make decisions that keep your business financially sound at all times. If you don’t, you are jeopardizing the livelihood of all the employees and not just the few that may no longer have a place in your organization.

    For a small to medium sized business owner this can be a particularly sensitive matter because employees often feel like family. It is completely different than terminating employees for performance issues or when they simply don’t fit your culture. The “brutal facts” are often painful, but at the end of day a downsizing of the company may be the best solution for your company to once again experience momentum and growth (and ultimately add employees again).

    Where do you stand on your cost structure?  Are you in the red or the black?  Do you need to consider cutting headcount to make sure you’re still healthy?

    Have you confronted the Brutal Facts when it comes to your financials?  Has your world changed and you’re not willing to confront it?  We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please share your comments below.

    Chris Steinlage  Kansas City Business Coach

    Photo by bruckerrlb

    04 Sep

    momentum

    I was one of those weird people who actually enjoyed physics in college and in fact it still influences how I think.  Here’s an example…Newton’s First Law of Motion states that:

     A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion – unless acted on by an external force.

    The application to business? If your business is stagnant, if you’re feeling stuck…if you’re not seeing growth or momentum, then you have to make a meaningful change (create a new force) to get a new outcome.  Momentum starts with making something happen!

    Have you fallen into a rut with your business?  If things are going fairly well, it’s easy to let up and just kind of coast…and if things are challenging, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and just do what you have to to get by.  Either way, now is the time for you to apply an external force and make a change.  Invest quality time and think about how you’re going to get ahead…what can you do today to create momentum?

    Hopefully the list below can help you brainstorm an idea that will work for you:

    6 Ways to create momentum

    Every business is different and unfortunately there’s not a one size fits all solution when it comes to growing your business, but it’s a safe bet that at least one of the ideas fits your situation and could direct you towards next steps.  Pick the one that resonates the most and take action!

    Addition By Subtraction

    It’s the biggest mistake a business owner can make – many businesses have at least one and maybe several employees that just don’t pull their weight.  In some cases they’re really nice people but they don’t perform.  Or (and this is even worse) they’re very good at the work but they’re poisonous to be around and no one wants to work with them.  Whatever it is, if you have an employee who’s a bad fit, if you don’t have the right people on the bus, you can build up serious momentum just by getting rid of them.

    It’s always difficult to let somebody go but there’s no better time than the present to take some action and get that drag off of your business.

    Question – Do you have an employee that’s holding you back?  What would it take to act on it?

    Straight to the Bottom Line

    Most business owners are under-charging for their services.  Even if you think you’re priced right, it’s worthwhile to at least consider raising your prices.  It’s unlikely you’ll lose business (especially if you haven’t raised prices in the last year or two) and it could have a profound affect.  Raising prices is the only thing you can do that will immediately go straight to the bottom line.  Yes there’s a risk of losing customers, but even if you lost some volume, you’re still likely better off from a profit perspective – check out this table to see the impacts (second page).

    Question – How would your business be impacted if you raised your prices by 10%?  20%? 

    Revisit Your Marketing

    If you’re like most business owners, historically you’ve done some marketing and then you get busy and lose focus.  But you’ve got to have consistency if you want to win at Marketing!  What if you made marketing your strategic priority for the next 90 days and really invested time, effort (and money) into developing the right message and tactics?  Created a calendar to help keep everything on track?  Is it time to finally redo your website and establish some repeatable tactics that will consistently drive opportunities?

    Question – Are you effectively communicating the benefits and the outcomes you deliver?  What would it take to amp up your marketing in the next 90 days?

    Find a Referral Partner or two…

    Everyone wants to get great referrals and one of the best ways to do that is to find a great referral partner.  Find a complementary business that sells to the same clients that you want to work with, someone who sees the world in a similar way to you.  Add in a little creativity around packaging new discounts or find a way to co-marketing and you’ve got a fantastic new sales channel that will help drive new business to you and your new partner.

    Question – Who’s out there as a potential partner?  What product / service complements what you do? What would it take to set up a meeting?  Can you get the ball rolling this week?

    Finally Get that Big Project Done!

    Almost every business owner I know has at least one and usually several big projects that they’ve been ‘working on’ for an unknown period of time. It’s generally a wide range of stuff: 

    • Marketing stuff like redoing a website, developing great content marketing or creating a great newsletter.
    • Getting structured…hiring administrative help to free up time, delegating more, finding a difference maker sales person or employee.
    • New Stuff like rolling out a new set of products / services or revamping the ones you have.

    Whatever it is, what would happen if you really narrowed your focus and committed to getting that one big thing done in the next 90 days? You know it’s a great idea, you’ve been thinking about it forever…now is the time to commit to doing it.

    Question – What project has consistently been on your to do list for a long time?  What’s been holding you back?  How would you get really get started on it?

    Get some Help

    Building momentum is all about taking consistent focused action on great ideas -  you’re capable of doing that on your own, but it’s a lot more likely to happen if you get some help.  Find someone who can help you frame things up, get clear on what your constraints are and help push you to make things happen.  Of course you could always look into a Licensed Professional Business Coach or maybe a  Peer Group Advisory Board, but there are lots of ways to find help – the key is to get someone who will push you and support you.

    Question – Do you have resources or people you know who might be able to help you make something happen?  What’s the next step to getting them on board and helping you?

    This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of stuff you could do and you likely have different opportunities, but the one thing that’s true in every case is you have to take action if you want something to happen. 

    You want to grow your business – what are  you going to do to get the ball rolling?

    What ideas do you have for sparking growth?  I’d love to hear them or any feedback you have on my ideas above.  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach