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    25 Oct

    linkedin

    I’m a big fan of LinkedIn.  They have a clear focus on professional business networking and they’ve created an extremely effective tool that every business owner should be using.  In fact if you’re not using LinkedIn, now’s the right time to create a profile and start linking!

    One of the things I really like about LinkedIn is the steady pace of innovation they’ve had over the years.  They don’t score a hit with everything they roll out, but they are constantly improving and adding new useful functionality.  Considering LinkedIn is a free site that offers a ton of value for business professionals, that’s a pretty good deal!

    Just in the last year or two, they’ve made changes to groups, the advertising functionality and even some minor profile changes, but what you should really check out as a business owner is how they’ve been quietly adding stuff to the Company page functionality.  It started when LinkedIn added the ability to follow companies and more recently they’ve added several other worthwhile capabilities worth checking out.

    New Company Page capabilities from LinkedIn

    - A Careers tab that allows you to centrally post for jobs at your company along with lots of other customization and capabilities (some of which cost money).

    - A services tab which allows you to create detailed descriptions of the services you offer (and allows people to post recommendations / testimonials for those services directly.

    - An analytics tab that gives you a breakdown of page views, unique visitors, and a trend on followers.  (We would love to have more followers at Aspire…here’s what our page looks like.  We’re still adding some things to it).

    LI-company

    Finally – LinkedIn also just added the capability to do Company Status updates.  Note – you have to edit your company page and specify who is allowed to make an update in order for the field to show up.

    Kind of unrelated, but LinkedIn also just added a Classmates feature which helps you find anyone who went to your college at the same time you were there.  There was always a way to do this via search, but they’ve done a nice job giving you information and the ability to filter a lot of different ways.  Check out LinkedIn Classmates

    Have you created and updated your Company page lately?  People are looking for you and the more positive information they can find, the better off you’ll be.  What do you think of Company Pages?  Any success stories or concerns?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    17 Oct

    barharbor

    Long term business success requires a lot of things done right, but one of the most critical things you can do and fully within your control is to live and breathe great customer service.

    Why do some companies become an Amazon?

    Hopefully the following will cause you to reflect. Maybe it will spark an opportunity for empowerment in your business.

    A tale of two businesses….What company is your business modeling?

    Amazon

    This past week I placed an order on Amazon and it was supposed to have Free Shipping. Somehow, I selected the wrong box during checkout and the order was processed with 2 day Shipping Charges. The shipping was almost as much as the order!

    However, the Amazon solution was painless, simple, and efficient. I simply went to their website, connected to a live chat person and had two short posts explaining the situation. The reply was simple. “Mr. Steinlage your credit card will be credited the charges. Is there anything else we can help you with today?”

    I didn’t have to explain my position over and over. The customer service representative didn’t have to check with a supervisor. It was over. Just like that; two simple posts and it was resolved.

    Did Amazon gain a raving fan? Am I likely to be a return customer?  Would I recommend them to someone else?

    Amazon has created a culture of customer service.

    Local Restaurant Chain…

    One of my brothers was in town recently and our families went out for dinner. One of the teenagers with my brother’s family ordered an item that was supposed to be for “kids only”, simply because that is what looked good on the menu. However, the restaurant employee was adamant that this teenager could not order this because she over the age limit. There was no reasoning, no option to pay extra, no logic, simply a policy that was drilled into this employee. The employee’s stern position even created commotion among other dining customers. It was truly bewildering to witness! In the end, we let it go and did not get the “kids only” food item.

    Did this local restaurant gain a raving fan? Am I likely to be a return customer?  Will my brother (or anyone else that saw this happen) every return or recommend them to someone?

    I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sure your team, your employees, your staff, and you keep common sense in your business. You need to trust and empower your employees to make simple decisions when the opportunities present themselves.  Create a simple checklist or set of rules for what they’re allowed to manage and when they need to bring in someone else.  Hire the right people and give them room to shine.

    Trust me, your employees want to make decisions that are in the best interest of your company. They want You to be pleased with their performance and more importantly, they want the customer to be happy. If you honestly don’t think they do, they shouldn’t be part of your team.

    Amazon ‘Gets It’. Do you?

    We would love to hear how you address this in your business. Feel free to share in the comments below.

    Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach

    11 Oct

    socbusiness3

    As a small business owner, you have lots of people telling you that you MUST be on social media if you want to thrive…or even if you want to survive.  It’s not just Social Media anymore, it’s Social Business. 

    I’m sure you’ve heard the statistics:

    - 1 out of every 9 people on the planet is on Facebook (750 Million +)

    - Facebook now tops Google for weekly online traffic

    - People upload 3000 images to Flickr…every minute! (here’s my page)

    - 1 in 6 marriages are people who met online (nearly twice the number who met in bars)

    - Sadly 1 in 5 divorces is being blamed on Facebook

    The reality is that Social Media has arrived…and you do need to be doing something with it for your business…but it’s not a silver bullet.  You have to find an approach that makes sense, isn’t going to overwhelm the business, but still gets you out there.

    Here are 4 fairly simple steps that can help you make sure your Social Business efforts aren’t wasted.

    1. Recognize that Marketing has changed

    The world has changed in the last 10 years, and it’s no surprise that marketing (and sales) have changed along with it.  10 years ago, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube didn’t even exist.  Mobile?  You could kind of get to the internet on a mobile phone, but it sucked and it wasn’t really worth the time or the effort.

    Fast forward to today – if a consumer wants to buy something, wants to learn something, wants to get opinions, they will go online and search for it themselves, no matter where they are.  They don’t want and they don’t trust traditional advertising.  So where does that leave us from a marketing standpoint? 

    “Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t”.  Seth Godin

    If you want to market your business successfully, you need to be found online (because that’s where people are searching) and you need to attract potential buyers…not interrupt them.

    2. You have to have a plan

    Just being online isn’t enough.  You’re going to invest time and money to support your online marketing efforts (although probably a lot less than you would have had to invest in traditional marketing).  And since you’re investing, you need to be clear on a few things:

    • What are you trying to achieve (drive traffic, generate leads, educate, raise awareness, support customers – all of these might drive to different strategies).
    • Who’s your target (and where do they hang out)?  What are they looking for (keywords)?  What do they want?
    • What’s your message?  What benefit or outcome are you delivering?  What problem are you solving.  If you can’t be clear on this, you aren’t going to attract anyone.
    • What’s your call to action?  What do you want them to do next?  Call you?  Download a report?  Visit your location?  Buy something?  Be clear and keep it simple.

    On top of all of that, you need to have a quality website.  It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy, in fact simple is probably better.  But it does need to be clean and professional.

    3. Develop a Social Media Presence

    Once you have an idea of what you’re trying to achieve and you have a sense of who your target is, you need to pick a starting point for where to go with your social media presence. 

    If you’re selling something to consumers and it’s visual or has an emotional component, then Facebook is probably the best place to start. 

    If you’re selling to professionals or other businesses, then LinkedIn is probably your best bet.

    Twitter is great is for engaging fans and supporting customers and there are lots of other choices out there that are smaller more niche plays (i.e. Lawlink for Lawyers or Bakespace for people who love to cook).

    Whatever makes sense for you, pick one site to start with, set up an account and start listening.  Listen for people who are talking about your industry, your product, your competitors…get a feel for what’s being talked about.  then start using that information to engage with the influencers.

    Use Google Alerts and tools like Tweetdeck to setup searches to help you stay on top of things without spending hours every day doing it.

    4. Develop Great Content!

    Finally – the real secret to Social Business success is to develop great content (and host it on your site).  Content that will especially appeal to the potential customers you’re attracting.  That content could be a Blog, it could be a series of reports or great emails, it could be videos (check out Will It Blend) or even podcasts or webinars.

    The point is that you need to create great information that will inform, educate maybe even entertain the people you are trying to attract.  They get to know you, they get to see that you know what you’re doing and talking about and they have enough information to decide if they want to take the next step with you.

    On top of all of that, Google loves great content because it drives backlinks to your site and builds out a lot of context for keyword searches…which just means that your Search Engine Optimization will be a lot stronger than if you didn’t have content…always a good thing.

    Bottom line – your prospective clients are looking for you online, so if you want a shot at them, you have to be found.  And when they find you, they want to get to know you and understand you.  They want to learn from you, they want to be sure you can solve their problem.  It’s not easy, but if you can do all of that, you will be in great shape in this new world of marketing and social business!

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    03 Oct

    woman in depression

    We live in Interesting Times…a breeding ground for stress – especially for small business owners.  Indecision in the marketplace.  Indecision in the political arena.  Will you make payroll?  Getting your pricing right.  Keeping the pipeline full.  Catching up on a huge list of critical stuff to do.

    All very stressful…and that stress has a lot of serious impacts.  Making it even more complicated, the U.S. business culture views stress as a badge of honor…the view is that if you’re not stressed, then you’re not doing it right!  Even to the extent that admitting to stress is a sign of weakness!  But the reality is that staying in a stressed out state may be killing your business.

    Let’s start with how stress physically works.  Physiologically we are wired to react to perceived danger.  So when we sense danger, we get pushed into Flight or Fight mode – which is great if you need to run away from a bear!  It’s not so great if the problem is a missed deadline or an irate customer.

    In a business setting neither Fight or Flight is a good option when it comes to dealing with your crisis.  Unfortunately your body doesn’t know that and it keys up the same way it would for a bear.  The results?  Increased blood flow (heart rate, blood pressure), a narrowing of focus and a shutdown of your higher level thinking.  It’s the cliché ‘Deer in the headlights’ effect of not being able to think when you’re in a panicked state…except it’s not just a cliché.

    Obviously that’s an extreme reaction…but did you know sustained lower level stress has many of the same effects?  Your body is tense and you lose creativity and the ability to see the big picture even with lower levels of stress.

    What are the impacts to your business when you’re stressed?

    • Communication suffers – you don’t listen well or empathize
    • Poor Customer Service – a tendency to over-react and be angry
    • No creativity  – it’s really difficult to be creative when you’re tense
    • Limited planning – stress tends to narrowly focus you on the most urgent issue
    • Poor health – continued stress can have a dramatic negative impact on your health
    • Poor productivity – you’ll work long hours, but it’s not likely to be productive
    • Lose the little things – you won’t have time for the details, which can be critical

    Bottom line – if you operate under continued stress, you’re not going to perform well and you will cause a lot of serious problems to your business.

    How do you address your stress?

    Admit the problem

    The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one…stress is not a badge of honor, there’s no need to be the hero in your business.  Acknowledge that you’re stressed out and that you would like to fix the issue.

    Focus on your Sphere of Influence

    It’s critical that you’re spending your efforts on things you can actually change.

    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

    Alternatively Stephen Covey suggests focusing on your Sphere of Influence rather than your Sphere of Concern.  Either way – you will get a lot of relief by not wasting time and energy worrying about things outside of your control (like the economy, your competitors, etc.).

    Slow Down and Breathe…

    Easier said than done, but something that will make a real difference in your stress level is to give yourself some time.  When was the last time you took 20 minutes…even 5 minutes and just sat still and didn’t think about anything?  How about taking 10 minutes a day to write down your thoughts.  You don’t have to be an expert in tai chi or meditation (but if you’re interested – here’s a great article on how to get started with meditation), you just have to find enough time and a quiet place to breathe.

    Start Saying No!

    Related to slowing down, in order to find the time in your schedule you need to start doing less, you need to start saying no!  What’s currently on your schedule or to-do list that you could gracefully bow out of or delegate to others?  Know what your highest impact activities are (the things that you do that make the most positive impact to your business and your life) and say no to things that aren’t on that impact list!

    Give yourself permission to say no and I guarantee you will start feeling less stress as you cut out things you didn’t need to be doing anyway.

    Get some help!

    There are professionals out there who can help you.  If stress is negatively impacting your life and you’re ready to do something about it, check out Dr. Ladd Carlston’s service at Mind In Motion here in Kansas City.  Dr. Carlston has been working on a unique approach for dealing with stress for the last 17 years.  I’ve had an opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at his work and I’m impressed with what he’s doing.

    His approach combines acupressure, chiropractic, deep massage, and breathing techniques together in a 45 minute treatment that clears mental and physical stress by shifting your physiology and brain function. The process isn’t for everyone, and it may not be a fit for you, but it’s worth learning more if you’re dealing with overwhelm or anxiety.  The recommended program covers 6 months with a session every week or two.  You can learn more at Mind in Motion.

    What about you?

    What stress relief techniques have worked for you?  Is stress negatively impacting your business?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – if you have a minute, share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    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