Business Banking E-Newsletter - August 2013

Small Business Tip: Increase Sales Without Spending a Lot of Money

Increasing your sales doesn’t always have to mean spending money. Take a look at what is already working for you, and find ways to build on those successful elements. The Direct Selling Education Foundation, a BBB National Partner, recommends the following ways to increase sales without increasing your spending:

Identify top customers and offer them more. You likely have loyal customers who spend more on a regular basis than others. Identify those people and offer them more than they already get. For example, start a VIP program where top customers receive special promotions, incentives, or exclusive access to new products and services. When your top customers know how much they are appreciated, they will not only embrace that “VIP” role by patronizing your business more often, but they will want to share their positive experience with their families and friends. Superior customer service can have far-reaching effects on your overall business.

Customize your sales pitch for each client. Each client is an individual and should be treated as such. Don’t go with a generic sales pitch that every single client hears. Do some research about each person, and incorporate something personal about him or her into your pitch, especially if it’s something you share (an interest in sports, a community activity). When you can relate to clients on a personal level, they will be assured that you have their best interests in mind.

Increase goals for referrals and sales will increase. Bump up your goals for getting referrals. It doesn’t have to be a large jump, but setting the bar higher will motivate you to work harder and acquire more. Instead of shooting for 5 a week, increase your goal to 7 or 8. Make the time in your schedule to meet this new goal, and you’ll find your sales increasing steadily over time. Each time you find that you are meeting the goal on a consistent basis, consider raising it again. Your business should never run in a straight line, but should always be heading in an upward direction to maintain growth and success.

Interact personally with customers more frequently. This may come easier in a retail business, but no matter what type of business you run, make the effort to interact with customers on a personal level as often as possible. Learn their names and one or two facts about them. People love going into a place where they feel like more than just a number. One customer of a local deli states that the moment she realized she would never take her business elsewhere was when the owner greeted her by name, asked how her daughters were, and offered her “the usual.” It’s a comforting feeling for a customer and will go a long way to acquiring loyalty and appreciation.

Find ways to improve upon what works for you, break out of your comfort zone, and always look to set the bar higher for yourself and your business.

Staff Stretched to the Limit? 4 Ways to Tell

Chances are during the recession you called upon your employees to pitch in in ways you wouldn’t have in more flush times. And chances are you’re still running with a streamlined staff, even if you see better times ahead. While “stretch roles,” as experts call them, can help employees grow, they can be bad for business in the long-term, affecting not only your employees’ behavior but your efficiency and your bottom line. Here, four experts share signs to help you identify if someone, or something, in your organization is about to snap:

Symptom: Business Bottlenecks. Look for places in your business where process has stalled, and you’ll likely find an overburdened employee, says Dave Berkus, superangel and author of the popular blog Berkonomics. He says bottlenecks are caused when someone, maybe even you, is so booked he or she can’t break away to complete an important task or make a crucial decision.

This can have serious impact on an entire organization because everyone before or after the bottleneck is left in limbo. For example, Berkus says, if you run a computer company and your installer is two weeks behind, billing is delayed on one side of the bottleneck, and trainers are left waiting on the other. In this case, bringing on some help could break the bottleneck free.

“That one person you hire will make 20 people more efficient if that person solves the problem at the point of constriction,” Berkus says.

Symptom: Customer Complaints. The downturn might have forced you to get creative, pulling a customer service rep to help with sales or getting your IT guy to handle your Twitter feed. This is the wrong approach if client satisfaction suffers. If your metrics reveal lower than expected customer service scores or you’re getting mixed reviews from clients, it’s time to take stock of stretch roles.

“That feedback could be an early indicator that things are starting to fail and that there’s risk,” explains Jamie Latiano, vice president of human resources for In Flight Entertainment, based in Irvine, Calif., and president-elect of the Orange County chapter of the National Human Resources Association. “An assessment has to be made to see whether your internal team members have the strength and experience to meet the growing needs of your growing business, or if they’re capped where they are.”

Latiano suggests staffing for the future. “I encourage leaders to think a few years ahead,” she says. “You may be investing in talent that’s a little heavy hitting right now but that’s the experience that’s going to help you meet your objectives.”

Symptom: Behavior Changes. You don’t need to look far to find signs of burnout in employees, especially during a time when job satisfaction is at one of its lowest levels in 22 years. Overstretched employees may exhibit a wide variety of behavior and personality changes, according to Debbie Zmorenski of Orlando, Fla.-based Moren Enterprises, and bosses should look for red flags.

She says someone who used to be upbeat and outgoing may appear anxious, critical, angry or withdrawn. An employee once known for accuracy might make careless mistakes. Staffers may call in sick more often, or use more physical and mental health benefits. Conflict between employees may also bubble to the surface, and turnover rates may increase. Says Zmorenski, “One symptom can lead to an entire list of things that damage the bottom line of the company.”

But it isn’t as difficult or expensive to restore morale as you might think. Extending flex-time, increasing recognition programs and remembering to say ‘thank you’ go a long way. “It shows you appreciate not only the fact they’re carrying an extra workload but that they’ve stayed with you through the tough times,” Zmorenski says.

Symptom: Decreased Productivity. Ironically, the more individuals work the less they may be getting done, says HR expert Margaret Greenberg, founder of The Greenberg Group, a consulting and executive coaching firm based in Andover, Conn.

“You’ll see people that are just chained to their desk and don’t feel like they can leave. They think ‘If I just work longer and harder, I’ll get more done and catch up’ when in fact that’s a fallacy,” she says. Ask employees to log their projects, and if longer hours don’t seem to translate into increased output, it might be time to intervene. Encouraging e-mail shut-offs and mid-afternoon walks can actually increase efficiency, Greenberg says, as does taking time to plan before diving into tasks.

But Greenberg, co-author of Profit from the Positive, says there is a bright side to stretching staff beyond their original job descriptions, one that you can take advantage of. The increased responsibilities incubated talent and a greater perspective on how the company operates. “They can spot efficiencies and interdependencies to your benefit,” Greenberg says. “Stretch roles are not all negative all the time.” Take another look at job descriptions to see if promotions are in order or if you need to recast roles to fit what your company needs now. If so, encourage your employees to rise to the challenge


5 Keys to Inspiring Leadership, No Matter Your Style

Forget the stereotypical leadership image of a buttoned-up person in a gray suit hauling around a hefty briefcase. Today, standout leaders come in all shapes and sizes. She could be a blue jeans-clad marketing student, running a major ecommerce company out of her dorm room. He might be the next salt-and-pepper-haired, barefoot Steve Jobs, presenting a groundbreaking new device at a major industry conference.

"Our research indicates that what really matters is that leaders are able to create enthusiasm, empower their people, instill confidence and be inspiring to the people around them," says Peter Handal, chief executive of New York City-based Dale Carnegie Training, a leadership-training company.

That's a tall order. However, as different as leaders are today, there are some things great leaders do every day. Here, Handal shares his five keys for effective leadership:

1. Face challenges.

Great leaders are brave enough to face up to challenging situations and deal with them honestly. Whether it's steering through a business downturn or getting struggling employees back on track, effective leaders meet these challenges openly. Regular communications with your staff, informing them of both good news and how the company is reacting to challenges will go a long way toward making employees feel like you trust them and that they're unlikely to be hit with unpleasant surprises.

"The gossip at the coffee machine is usually 10 times worse than reality," Handal says. "Employees need to see their leaders out there, confronting that reality head-on."

2. Win trust.

Employees are more loyal and enthusiastic when they work in an environment run by people they trust. Building that trust can be done in many ways. The first is to show employees that you care about them, Handal says. Take an interest in your employees beyond the workplace. Don't pry, he advises, but ask about an employee's child's baseball game or college graduation. Let your employees know that you're interested in their success and discuss their career paths with them regularly.

When employees, vendors or others make mistakes, don't reprimand or correct them in anger. Instead, calmly explain the situation and why their behavior or actions weren't correct, as well as what you expect in the future. When people know that you aren't going to berate them and that you have their best interests at heart, they're going to trust you, Handal says.

3. Be authentic.

If you're not a suit, don't try to be one. Employees and others dealing with your company will be able to tell if you're just pretending to be someone you're not, Handal says. That could make them question what else about you might be inauthentic. Have a passion for funky shoes? Wear them. Are you an enthusiastic and hilarious presenter? Get them laughing. Use your strengths and personality traits to develop your personal leadership style, Handal says.

4. Earn respect.

When you conduct yourself in an ethical way and model the traits you want to see in others, you earn the respect of those around you. Leaders who are perceived as not "walking their talk" typically don't get very far, Handal says. This contributes to employees and other stakeholders having pride in the company, which is an essential part of engagement, Handal says. Also, customers are less likely to do business with a company if they don't respect its values or leadership.

5. Stay curious.

Good leaders remain intellectually curious and committed to learning. They're inquisitive and always looking for new ideas, insights and information. Handal says the best leaders understand that innovation and new approaches can come from many places and are always on the lookout for knowledge or people who might inform them and give them an advantage.

"The most successful leaders I know are truly very curious people. They're interested in the things around them and that contributes to their vision," Handal says.


5 Ways To Break Your Slump

Have you ever experienced the zone in sports? What did it feel like? Most describe it as effortless, clear minded, confident and flow. Imagine if you could perform at that level at work. By working with elite athletes and business leaders, helping them overcome slumps, reduce stress and access the zone more often, it is found that the principles for peak performance in sports are no different than the principles for peak performance in the business world. But very few people talk about the mental side in business. Why are some people prone to streaks and others prone to slumps? Here are the top 5 mistakes business professionals make:

1. They get stuck in feelings—When people are in a slump, they tend to feel things such as: lack of confidence, discouragement, negativity, anger, stress, and being overwhelmed. But where do these feelings come from? 99 percent of the world believes that it comes from something outside of them, like their workload, the economy, rejection, a rude comment, the weather, etc. The truth is nothing outside of you can affect how you feel. If it could, then everyone would react the same way in the same situation and we know that doesn’t happen. Feelings can only come from one place—thought. And thought is generated from inside us. We feel our thinking, not our circumstances.

Imagine this scenario: you are having a terrible day, you can’t close a sale, customers are complaining, and then a co-worker makes fun of your plaid tie. How do you feel? Probably angry, irritated or annoyed. Now take a little bit of a different scenario: you are having a great day, feeling on top of the world, and your co-worker makes the same comment about your tie, do you react the same way? Of course not; It’s not a big deal, and you feel just fine. You might even think they’re funny. What is the difference in those two scenarios? The situation was the same, but our state of mind gave us a totally different experience.

When people understand where those feelings are coming from (thought), they are back in control, instead of being a prisoner of their circumstances. We cannot control what thoughts come into our heads, but we can always choose which ones we give attention to and make grow, and which ones we ignore or dismiss, thereby keeping them powerless over us.

2. They think too much—One of the New York Yankees was in a major hitting slump. He tried to analyze and figure out what was wrong. He changed his grip, his stance, his stride…nothing was working. Finally, one day, he said to himself, “You know what? Screw it!” He stopped thinking about it. He stopped fighting through it, and he stopped trying to change his game. He “just” played. And he broke out of his slump.

When people try to implement a strategy to change technique, thinking, re-frame, or analyze, it won’t work, because that makes them think more. The goal is less thinking. The fastest way to break out of a slump is to do absolutely nothing to try to break out of a slump. The philosopher, Yogi Berra once said, “You can’t think and hit at the same time. A full mind is an empty bat.”

3. They dwell on past failures—Athletes often dwell on a shot they missed in the past. Salespeople often dwell when they don’t close a deal. When they stay focused on it, they feel it, and their performance goes down. What we think, we feel. That is why smart people sometimes do stupid things.  Oprah said, “Your focus is your future.” When you focus on the negative, it is impossible to get positive results. Living in the past is like driving while looking through the rear-view mirror.

4. They stress over winning—During a big game, athletes get anxious about winning and losing. So do people at work. The peak performers make every job important, but no job special. When working with businesses, the main goal is to understand that it’s great to have the desire to do well, but it’s important to realize that if you don’t do well, your life will be just fine. Most people don’t know where their anxiety is coming from so they attribute it to something out in the world, but it’s always coming from inside us. Realizing this helps us perform with freedom, clarity, energy, and enjoyment. It is completely normal to have stressful thoughts about a situation, but accept them for what they are…just thoughts. When we stop stressing over stressful thoughts, they don’t seem to come around as often or stay as long.

5. They think negative thoughts are bad—Have you ever had a negative thought? We all have, even the most successful people in the world, but most feel this is bad. When people believe positive thoughts are better than negative thoughts, they will search for them when they are not present, and that takes them out of the present moment. Thoughts are like dreams—random and powerless, unless we believe them. If we do, we feel it, and our performance goes downhill. It doesn’t make sense to believe your thinking if you know it’s just an illusion that was made up. If you wrote a nasty letter to yourself, would you read it and get upset? Absolutely not. People say, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” I say, “Don’t believe everything you think.”