I can’t stress enough how important personal branding is for entrepreneurs. You may not realize it, but each one of us is a brand. Type your name into any search engine and the results will show you exactly what your online brand is. Did you make a conscious effort to create and promote your brand? Does it accurately represent you? Is it targeted towards a specific audience?
Although the words brand and branding are often used synonymously or confused with each other, they are separate and unique.
What exactly is a brand? A brand is your unique identifier, your market identity. It represents you in the marketplace – who you are, what you do, your reputation, trustworthiness, and the quality of your product or service. Your brand is how your customers perceive you and how they feel when they do business with you.
Sir Richard Branson is the perfect example of a personal brand. Although he’s the founder of the Virgin properties – Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Records among others, Sir Richard Branson’s personal brand is the most powerful of all. People want to do business with the Virgin properties because of Sir Richard Branson. The personal brand drives the corporate brand.
Personal branding has become increasingly important. People trust people, not corporations. They want to do business with people, not corporations. Your personal brand is your differentiator. It creates an emotional connection between you and your customer. Ultimately, it defines the value of your business. In order to stay competitive in today’s marketplace, you must have a strong personal brand.
Branding is the active process that shapes your brand. It requires a strategy and targets your core audience. Branding can include the name of your company, logo, other visual assets, website, communications and media.
Entrepreneurs who are more influential pay more attention to their brand rather than just their branding. As an entrepreneur, how can you build your brand? Ask yourself:
- Who are you? What do you stand for? What do you offer? How are you perceived by others? How do you want to be perceived by others? Be authentic. Your brand should be reflective of who you are.
- What do you do? What product or service do you offer? What is your value proposition? What differentiates you from your competition?
- Why does it matter? Define your purpose. This will give you great direction.
Evaluate your brand. Your brand should tell people who you are, what you offer and differentiate you from your competition. Is your brand reaching your target audience? Are they responding positively? Are you delivering on your brand promise? If not, it’s time to reassess and make changes.
Is your personal brand and branding effort working for you? Want more advice on brands and branding, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!
One of the biggest challenges I find many small business owners face is dealing with complacency. When a new business first starts out, owners are overcome with excitement with every forward step. But at one point or another, the excitement of the early days starts to slow down, and eventually your company may begin to experience a plateau.
A stagnant business is one that faces little to no new activity for an extended period of time. Complacency tends to come from sticking with the status quo and getting used to your business’s “comfort zone”. Many business owners adhere to the mindset of “if it was working for the first 5 years, why change it now?” The truth is, sometimes change is exactly what you need to revitalize your business and get it growing again.
If you’re facing complacency in your business, below are 5 steps for revitalizing your business to get it back on track for growth.
1) Find out what your customers want
A lack of understanding about what your customers truly want from your business can be detrimental to your small business. This is why engaging in market research is essential to drive your company’s growth. Have you had a conversation with your customers to find out what needs are being met, and what needs aren’t? By hiring a market research company or a marketing agency with a specialization in market research to conduct unbiased market research, you will be able to gain invaluable information about your customers as well as your competitors. Once you’ve done this research, you’ll have a much better idea about how you can fulfill your customers’ needs to the best of your ability.
2) Focus on increases in certain sectors and products
Your industry landscape changes at such a rapid pace, and as a small business owner, it’s important that you keep up-to-date with it. Look at projected growth sectors to get an understanding of which products or services are headed for long-term growth, and which ones are on the decline. Some may be obvious, but others may not be so apparent. This is why it’s crucial to take the time and do proper research. Once you have a better idea about the projected growth rate of certain sectors, consider shifting your business model to become more aligned with these industry changes.
3) Re-examine former revenue sources
While focusing on changes in the industry landscape is important, equally important is looking at what has traditionally brought you revenue. After the first few years of your business, you may have lost focus on areas that were once reliable sources of revenue for your company. Have you steered your attention towards niche areas as a result of increased demand, and lost sight of your more dependable revenue sources? If your business has stalled, one of the first things you should do is gauge whether or not you have neglected some of your core competencies at the expense of chasing something new.
4) Review your company’s operations
I’ve found that many small businesses do not focus enough time and energy on their internal operations. Often, owners struggle to let go of the “startup” mindset they once had. This is a shame, as a company’s internal operations can have a huge influence on the productivity of their business. As your business grows, it’s important you grow with it. In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of delegation. Are you delegating work where necessary? Have you considered outsourcing certain tasks to allow you to focus on growing your business?
5) Create a plan
The only way you will be able to properly execute the above steps is if you have a solid plan in place. It’s essential you know exactly what resources are required and how much time and energy is needed to accomplish what you want done. Understanding these two key areas will allow you to set realistic short-term and long-term goals for your business. Remember, making any large-scale changes to your company takes time, so patience is needed to see through your goals.
It is important to keep the momentum going in order for your business not to stall. Although complacency is a frustrating obstacle to face, it is quite common. By following these 5 steps on how to revitalize your business, you’ll be equipped with the confidence to move forward and make the necessary changes needed to get your business back on the track you want it to be.
As a business owner, the holiday season can be overwhelming. With client demands at an all time high, staff vacations and strategic planning in the works for the next fiscal year, stress often pervades around this time. That’s why at this time, perhaps more than any other time, it’s important to take care of yourself and take time off from your business.
I’ve outlined below my top 3 tips for taking care of yourself over the holidays.
1) Do something you enjoy
Whether it’s volunteering, reading a book or playing one of your favourite sports, dedicate some time during the holidays to doing something that you love. It’s easy to forget about the world around us when we’re so immersed in our work, but you’ll appreciate the opportunity to rid yourself of work-related stress, even if it’s just for a few hours a day.
The holiday season is also a great time to spend some much needed quality time with your close friends and family members. Business owners are often so caught up in the day-to-day stresses of running a company that they often forget to make time for their loved ones.
Physical activity is a great method for reducing stress. There are plenty of winter activities that incorporate exercise, such as skating, skiing, tobogganing, or even just a walk. Fresh air every now and again is important to your health, cold weather aside. If you prefer indoor activities, visit your local gym for a workout or swim. Your eyes will thank you for the much-needed break from paperwork, smartphones and laptops.
Even if it’s just an extra hour of sleep each morning, do something that will make you feel revitalized. A fresh mind means that you’ll be focused on making the right business decisions come 2017, possibly from a different perspective you may have previously had. Mindfulness is a practice that you may want to consider for rejuvenation, which also happens to improve decision-making.
Dedicating some “me” time for yourself during the holidays may seem easier said than done, but the benefits are simply undeniable. If you’re anxious about the impact time off would have on your customers, informing them about office closures and/or reduced hours during the holiday season may alleviate some of the worry you have about not focusing on the business.
How do you plan on getting some R&R this holiday season?
For many small business owners, the idea of group health benefits is not even on their radar. Many would rationalize this as a “large company” benefit and too expensive for a small business. However, with the ever-present issues of employee recruitment and retention, employee benefits, from a small business perspective, is not a human resources issue, but rather a business decision worth considering.
As a business owner, it’s ultimately your decision if you want to offer group health benefits or other benefits to your employees, but I’ve outlined a few key questions you might want to consider when reviewing benefits for your employees.
- Is this part of an employee recruitment/retention strategy? Employee group benefits have become a standard part of an employee contract for most mid- to large-sized businesses as they can make potential and current employees feel they are valued and taken care. It can therefore play a key role in the decision-making process when candidates are deciding to work with or stay with you versus your competition. By offering groups benefits, are you evening the playing field in this regard?
- What is the demographic makeup of your employees? Take a look at the make-up of your employees: if they are mostly single, or millennials, they might be less likely to need or want health benefits. However, if they are older, with spouses and dependents, they may want, or even need a group benefits package. You may also want to consider the type of industry you are in; an office environment with full-time staff might have very different expectations than a construction company with seasonal, part-time, or contract staff.
- Can you afford this benefit? Group benefits can be costly to a small business, amounting to thousands of dollars per employee per year. How do you rationalize this benefit against potential pay increases, bonuses, etc.? Look at your bottom line, and specifically your recruitment costs and what you perceive as the “benefit” to offering this benefit to your employees.
- How can you define a benefit? In a smaller company with only a handful of employees, you may want to consider offering a benefit, but not a group health benefit plan. I have heard of several business owners who offer employees an annual lump sum cheque to cover medical or dental benefits or have their employees submit receipts for medical or dental expenses that are then paid for by the owner.
- What do they want? Decide on a couple of scenarios that you can afford and logistically implement and then speak to your team and get their opinions on group benefits packages vs. other benefits options. You may find that some employees want a benefits plan, or your employees would prefer to have a small cheque made out to them to cover medical expenses, or they may come up with an entirely different type of benefit.
The point of this exercise is to decide as business owners how you can show your current employees and future employees that your company is one that values employees by offering them what is valuable to them in terms of a benefit.
As a small business owner, have you ever considered offering benefits to your employees and if so, what type of benefits? What has the response been like?
Congratulations! You’ve landed a new client, now what? The first few months of your new business relationship will determine the level of satisfaction your client has with you and will ultimately factor into whether or not you have a solid working relationship from which to grow. In order to maximize your level of service during this new and exciting time, I highly recommend following a carefully crafted onboarding process.
An onboarding process acts as somewhat of a blueprint for the next few months of the new relationship by clearly outlining expectations for both parties involved. Moreover, it protects both parties by mitigating any form of miscommunication or false expectations.
I’ve outlined below the steps involved in creating an effective onboarding process:
1) Send a welcome email
With most things in life, first impressions matter. This is no different in business, and sending your client a personalized welcome email from a C-level individual at your company not only shows your commitment to working with them, but it’s also a nice gesture that opens a line of communication.
2) Learn their resources
Since every company is different and operates in their own way, knowing what resources they have available is important to accomplishing your goals. For example, and depending on the type of services you’ll be providing, you’ll need to establish what platforms each company uses, what internal staff will be directly working with you, and whom you can go to with questions.
3) Establish mutual goals
A new business relationship is a two way street, and success is dependent upon clear communication and support offered by each party. Simply because a working agreement has been established, it doesn’t automatically mean both parties are on the same page. It is through the onboarding process that the details of the contract can fully be planned for effective execution.
4) Have a kick-off meeting
Whether over the phone or in person, hosting a kick-off meeting with key members involved in the launch of a service is an important step for setting expectations and weeding out any kinks that may have been overlooked during the original planning phase.
5) Obtain feedback
Once your business relationship has begun, checking in with your client to provide updates and ensure their satisfaction is key to demonstrating your willingness to foster a successful relationship. Not only will this show them your commitment to providing excellent customer service, but it will allow for any concerns or necessary changes to come to light. Having a 30, 60 or 90-day feedback session is recommended, but you can customize this plan based on your client’s preferences.
As you’ve probably realized in your business ventures, every client is different. Making tweaks to your onboarding process may be required depending on what each client’s expectations of you are and vice versa. Ultimately, an onboarding process is created to help you achieve success and maintain a mutual understanding with your client, so putting in the time to carefully craft one is in your best interest.
Do you have an onboarding process in place for new clients?
As a business advisor I see the issue of poor performers come up all the time. If you’re a small to medium-sized business owner you want to be out there growing and developing your business, not mired in staffing problems. Without big human resources departments and manuals of policies and procedures to follow, I know you often don’t have a roadmap on how to deal with poor performers. The reality is that regardless of the size of your business or your particular industry, at some point you will have to deal with this issue.
What are the causes of poor performance?
Poor performance can be the result of many things including:
- Not understanding expectations
- Lack of ability
- Lack of motivation
- Not a team player
- Chronically late
- Bad attitude
- Personality issues
- Non-work related problems
- Health issues
Why is employee performance so important to your business?
Employee performance affects organizational performance. A poor performer can create a toxic environment in your workplace, dragging down your entire team.
How can I avoid poor performers in my business?
Here are a few measures that I feel may help you to avoid the problem of poor performers.
- The hiring process: Choosing the right employees is crucial to a successful business but it’s not easy. If upon re-evaluation, you’ve discovered that you’ve hired several poor performers, perhaps you should consider outsourcing the hiring process to an external agency. The money you pay to the agency may actually save you money in the long run.
- Job expectations: Be clear about exactly what the job entails and what your expectations are.
- The onboarding process: Onboarding helps new hires acclimatize and orient to your business so that they can quickly become productive, contributing members of your organization. Have an onboarding plan in place for new hires and make sure that the tools they need to do their jobs are in place on their start date. E.g. workstation, computer, security pass, etc.
- Regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings: One-on-one meetings between employee and manager can potentially head off problems. Speaking about issues as they arise or have the potential to arise is always better than leaving them to fester and grow.
What can I do if I have a poor performer?
In my experience I’ve found it valuable to try and ascertain the root cause of poor performance before any action is taken. If the reasons are personal or health related and have nothing to do with the job, perhaps a leave of absence is in order. If an employee is lacking in ability, perhaps upgrading their skill set or transferring them to a different department is the answer. If the problem is attitude or motivation perhaps setting performance goals will inspire the necessary change. Try instituting quarterly performance reviews to address any performance issues and monitor improvement. If all else fails, you may have no choice but to let the employee go.
As a first step, I suggest that you review poor performance issues you’ve had in the past or are dealing with now. Evaluate what action to take in order to rectify the present situation and what changes you can make going forward in order to avoid the issues of poor performers.
Are you suffering from vacation deprivation? If so, you’re not alone. So much has been written about the importance of a work/life balance, but not enough Canadians are living it. According to Dr. David Posen, author of Is Work Killing You?, “Humans were never designed to have stress all the time. Our stress reactions were designed to be turned on and then off. That’s the healthy cycle. But today we operate in a semi-permanent state of stress. Proper vacationing is an antidote to chronic stress. It is absolutely imperative that Canadians are vacationing each year – and not just one time per year.”
I understand from many of the business owners I work with that you worry about leaving your businesses because you feel nobody else can do your work, and although that may be partly true, I can guarantee that if you burn out – you risk not having any business to run.
Make this the year that you take a vacation – consider it preventative medicine – and instead of just thinking about taking a vacation, prepare for actually taking one by following these 4 tips:
- Plan your vacation during a slow period. It will definitely reduce your stress levels about going away.
- Deal with all time sensitive issues before you go. In theory, anything that arises in your absence should be able to be dealt with by your staff or wait until you return.
- Contact your clients well in advance and let them know you’ll be going on vacation. If they have anything that requires your special attention you’ll be able to take care of it before you leave. Delegate a point person for them to contact in your absence.
- Empower your employees to step in and step up while you’re on vacation. Delegate specific tasks or duties. Leave detailed instructions about how to deal with situations that may arise. If you’d feel more comfortable with regular status reports, have a staff member email you at a predetermined interval with a report of the company’s activities during your absence. Let your staff know that they can reach out to you under certain circumstances and be clear as to what these circumstances could be.
All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. We all need time to relax, recharge and reconnect with family and friends. What are you waiting for? Start planning your vacation!