Tasteful Follow-Up with New Networking Connections

Salim104When it comes to building a business, many entrepreneurs regard networking as a “necessary evil”. Even among those who enjoy attending networking events, the idea of following up with those new contacts sometimes feels uncomfortable. We don’t want to be seen as overly aggressive, or even worse – desperate.

But without follow-up, we’re letting the opportunity to nurture a potentially fantastic relationship slip through our fingers. So what’s an uneasy networker to do?

I spoke about this with Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, and she admitted that even she might be dismissive of a bland follow-up e-mail that read, “It was really nice meeting you at that event. Let’s stay in touch.” Says Zack, “I’m thinking, yeah, sure, you probably sent this to six other people too.”

But Zack says she’d react much differently to the same e-mail if it included an attached article about something of particular interest to her — for example, an article related to one of her current business projects, or a hobby she may have mentioned in conversation. The e-mail might include a line like, “I attached this article because I saw it and it made me think of what we were talking about at the event.”

This slightly different approach via e-mail “does a couple of things,” says Zack. “One, it makes you seem really thoughtful and authentic, and two, I know this (e-mail) is really intended for me and you’re not asking for anything, but providing something. At that point, you’re making me want to stay in touch with you.”

According to Zack, the key to follow-up success is personalization. Not only does it make you seem like less of a “pest”, but you’re also showing that you were truly listening to this person when you talked (closely enough to remember one of their current interests). Additionally, you’re following up with a spirit of helpfulness and generosity, rather than making this person feel like the only reason you care about them is because of what they can do for you.

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Performance Reviews That Get Floundering Employees PUMPED!

ImageEmployee performance reviews.  Believe it or not, they’re a task some business owners actually look forward to.  It’s a fresh opportunity to remind your team what an appreciative guy or gal they work for.  Warm feelings abound when you let your employee know in specific terms that you’ve noticed their best efforts.

But some of you may be procrastinating, all because of one or two “tough cases”.  Maybe someone in your organization hasn’t been pulling their weight lately.  Maybe there’s a personality clash with you or a co-worker.  And you hate to exacerbate the situation by creating a confrontation.

I don’t need to tell you that ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.  In fact, without your intervention, it may actually get worse – and it’s your business on the line.  If an employee’s poor performance or bad attitude affects your bottom line, the responsibility is entirely yours.  You’re the leader. You know this.

But here’s the good news.  That inevitable conversation you’ve been ringing your hands over doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.  Try these tactics for creating a more productive and less confrontational meeting:

–        Before the meeting, psyche yourself into this idea: your goal is to send your employee out of the room feeling pumped up about his or her job.

–        Don’t pull him or her into your office without warning.  Schedule your meeting in advance and give the employee a chance to prepare.

–        Remember that blatant criticism is almost never helpful.  Instead, take the employee into your confidence by sharing your goals for the company and how you envision that individual playing a role.  Tie the employee’s work and results in to your vision, and discuss what could be done differently to reach a shared goal.  Include the employee in developing his or her “plan of attack”.

–        Always include some kudos.  Even if you have to look really hard for them, find and acknowledge the positive aspects of the employee’s performance.  You’re less likely to get the results you desire if you dwell entirely on the negative.

For those of you with small businesses in New Jersey, you’ll find a wealth of valuable information in my book Straight Talk About Small Business Success in New Jersey: How to Maximize the Growth, Cash Flow, and Profitability of Your Small Business.

Until next time,


The Hidden Benefits of Staff Meetings

salim102OK, be honest: when was your last staff meeting?  Granted, some of you are very good about having regular meetings with your team members, and that’s great.  But I also know a hefty percentage of you like to let it slip.

Why have them?

Regular staff meetings are the heartbeat of a thriving business.  They allow your staff to connect, get informed, and be prepared for their forthcoming work days.  They’re also a valuable opportunity to take advantage of your team’s collective wisdom concerning the inner workings of your business at every level.  Tap your team for solutions.  Have a brainstorm.

Take special note of the first word of that last paragraph: regular.  Sporadic meetings won’t be taken seriously by your team.  Make a consistent schedule and commit to sticking by it.

But back to why you may be avoiding these meetings.  Do you fear you won’t know what to say?  That you’ll be boring?  That the whole thing will be a waste of time?

None of these things need be true.  Decide in advance on an agenda – and the narrower the agenda, the better.  Make sure all attendees are aware of the agenda in advance.  Then, stick to the topic at hand.

Be firm about steering the conversation back to the agenda if you see the meeting headed in too many other directions.  Table the participants’ other concerns and comments for future staff meetings, or agree to meet with staff members individually.

Before wrapping up the meeting, assign action steps to specific people.  Follow up with those people within a reasonable amount of time to ensure the task is getting done.  If not, you’ll have the opportunity to dig deeper and find out what tools the employee is missing in order to make things happen.

Haven’t had a meeting in a while? Your assignment: identify one nagging problem in your business.  Have a meeting and ask your staff to help you find a solution.  I think you’ll be hooked.

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Competition? What Competition?

salim101Wouldn’t it be great if your small business had no competition whatsoever? Imagine it. Whenever someone needs what you sell, they immediately think of your business and no other.

No matter how small, how new, or how commonplace your type of business, you can be that entrepreneur who smiles and says, “Competition? What competition?” And getting there doesn’t have to cost a fortune. It’s all about fostering good feelings.

When you give your customer good feelings about your business, you’re all but erasing the competition from his or her mind.

Start by giving thanks. It almost seems too simple and obvious to work. But be honest – when was the last time you walked away from a business transaction of any size and felt genuinely appreciated? If it wasn’t for you and others just like you handing over your hard-earned money, that business wouldn’t exist. When the most we can expect most days is a half-hearted “thank you” from a disenchanted cashier or receptionist, showing genuine gratitude to our customers makes us instantly memorable.

Appreciation can be demonstrated in so many ways, from a few sincere words over the counter (“You know Mr. Jones, you come in here every Friday night, and I just wanted to personally thank you for your repeat business”) to a gift certificate to a local restaurant for a customer’s birthday (“Happy Birthday! Enjoy your birthday dinner on us.”). Get creative. How can your business say thanks?

Another way to cultivate those warm fuzzies is by anticipating your customer’s needs.

We are living in a world where multi-tasking has become second nature for most. We’re working while we’re worrying, making deals while waiting in the dentist’s office and talking to our kids about their homework while grocery shopping. What’s truly valuable these days is someone who can think for us, because we’ve already got too much on our minds.

As a business owner, you’re in a position to make each customer’s life a little easier. They’re coming to you because they have a problem to solve. They’re having back pain, so they come to you, the chiropractor, for relief. They have coffee breath so they stop into your shop for a pack of gum. They’re worried about the future so they come to you, the financial planner, for advice. Once you understand the customer’s problem, push yourself to imagine what else they might need. What other problems might go along with that initial problem? How can your business help solve them? What can your business do to reduce the load on that customer’s shoulders? Make her feel good about your business, and she’ll feel good about coming back to you.

Need a gift for a New Jersey entrepreneur? They’ll find a wealth of valuable information in my book Straight Talk About Small Business Success in New Jersey: How to Maximize the Growth, Cash Flow, and Profitability of Your Small Business.

Until next time,


Why Small Businesses Shouldn’t Send Press Releases to the Media

salim100You may have heard a thing or two about how getting attention from the press can give your small business a big boost. Who doesn’t want their business featured in the local newspaper, on their regional network television station, or on morning drive-time radio? After all, it’s free advertising, and it’s great if you can get it.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs go about getting media attention the wrong way. Most commonly, business owners will write up a press release and send it to local journalists, expecting to get a prompt and enthusiastic response.

Clearly, these business owners have never heard from Joan Stewart, “The Publicity Hound”.

I recently interviewed Joan Stewart recently and here’s what she shared: “Journalists despise press releases. They get thousands of press releases a day, most of which are garbage.” And she means that literally. The majority of press releases received by journalists and producers wind up in the paper recycling bin.

Instead, Stewart stresses that most of today’s journalists go looking for their sources online. If your business is a winery, for example, and you want to be called when a local reporter is doing a story on local wines, you’ll want to be sure you can be found on the internet. A winery owner who wants his business to be “found” by journalists needs to think about what keywords and phrases a journalist might type into a search engine when looking for a winery. Then, that winery owner needs to get his business online in ways that utilize those very words and phrases.

One way to do this is to create a business blog. Stewart explains: “A blog is a place where you write and comment on your area of interest. You help people with their problems, you answer questions, you share tips and comment on breaking news stories…you talk about your industry and help people better understand what you do.”

For a winery, that might mean blogging about the winemaking process, educating the reader on different types of wines, and offering suggestions on wine and food pairings.

Another way to “get found” is to take all those press releases you’ve written and post them online. Instead of sending them directly to journalists, Stewart advises, “you can write press releases galore and post them online on press release sites or through press release distribution services. Why? To be found by the search engines. Your press releases will be found if you’re using the same words in your press releases that (journalists and consumers) are typing into Google.”

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5 Personality Traits of Born-to-Be Entrepreneurs

salim99In today’s challenging job market, many of the unemployed or underemployed are going into business for themselves. In many cases, entrepreneurship wasn’t something to which these people aspired, but tough economic times forced them to find a way of generating income –often by starting a business.

You may be considering entrepreneurship for yourself, whether you find yourself unable to regain footing in an area of former employment, or because you think you’ve got the next great business idea. Whatever your reason, it’s worth taking the time to see if you possess most (if not all) of the following traits of successful entrepreneurs. Without most of these traits, you may want to think twice before committing to a business of your own.

1. Decisive. Entrepreneurs can’t avoid making decisions. It’s something they necessarily do every day – sometimes on a moment’s notice, and often without anyone else to consult. You can’t be wishy-washy about decision-making when you’re running the show.

2. Organized. Research shows that many small businesses fail due to poor planning. Smart planning can only be done on a foundation of good organization. If your financials are a mess, if your inventory is a disaster and your schedule is consistently chaotic, you’re probably not in a position to do any strategic plotting for your business’s success. Organized people make better planners.

3. Fit. Entrepreneurship can certainly be a highlight of a lifetime, and the source of tremendous personal gratification. But it’s no walk in the park. Running a business requires physical and emotional stamina. Are you fit enough to put in 12-hour days, six or seven days a week? That’s often what it takes to make a business successful.

4. Self-Motivated. When you’re the boss, there’s no one telling you what to do and when to do it. Granted, that may be part of what appeals to you about entrepreneurship. But running a successful business means you must be capable of both telling yourself what to do, and doing it. Do you have the passion to keep moving on your own?

5. Easy-Going. Are you the type who easily lets things “roll off your back”? Minor annoyances, insults, difficult personalities. If you’re naturally inclined to keep stress at bay, you may be a good candidate for entrepreneurship. Being in charge of a business is a stressful position to be in. If you’re already good at keeping your cool, you’re at a significant advantage. Furthermore, you’ll be coming in contact with many different personality types while running your business – some more pleasant than others. If you can tolerate the trolls, you’ll be on Easy Street.

Feel like you’ve “failed the test”, but your heart’s still set on entrepreneurship? No worries. Most of these qualities can be cultivated. Set some specific goals towards improving the areas where you fall short, and you’ll be setting yourself up for smoother sailing in business, and in life.

For those of you whose small businesses are in New Jersey, you’ll find a wealth of valuable information in my book Straight Talk About Small Business Success in New Jersey: How to Maximize the Growth, Cash Flow, and Profitability of Your Small Business.

Until next time,


Buying an Existing Business: Pros and Cons

salim98Thinking of buying an existing business? The evidence is clear: your chances for success are best when you purchase an existing business or franchise resale. However, I encourage you to review the following list of pros and cons, as taking over an existing business is not ideal for every would-be entrepreneur.

The pros of buying an existing business:

1. The business is already up and running
2. The business is likely to have an existing base of customers, employees and suppliers
3. There exists a tried-and-tested business formula, one that you can emulate (or at least a baseline to improve upon)
4. The previous owners are likely to lend support and goodwill
5. Generally speaking, the chances for success are better than starting a similar business from scratch
6. It may be easier to obtain outside financing because of an existing track record.

And now for the cons:

1. A large investment is often required
2. The loss of an owner or manager may lead to a disruption of operations
3. There are costs associated with business transfer: solicitors, surveys, accountants, etc.
4. It will take time and possibly travel to research available opportunities
5. You might inherit inept employees, or employees who are loyal to the previous owner, but not you
6. The present location might be limiting. You may be locked into existing policies and practices of the business, at least for the foreseeable future.

Purchasing an existing business could very well be the smartest thing you’ll ever do. Just be sure to arm yourself with plenty of knowledge going in. It’s what any savvy business person would do – and I’ve got a feeling that’s you.

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