There’s an old joke that a consultant is someone who listens to the employees, tells management what they are saying and takes a fee for it. This is truer than most consultants would like to admit. If you want to solve a problem without paying a big consulting fee, learn to do three things:
- Listen to yourself
- Listen to your team
- Do what makes sense
Yes, it’s really that simple – 90% of advanced tools like process re-engineering, project management and quality management are just common sense. My mom once asked me what I did for a living. When I explained it to her, she said, “But that’s just common sense.” I replied, “It’s because you call it common sense that I’m so good at it.” Good old mom!
The Common Sense Approach
1. Fix what you can, instead of blaming others
Sure the economy sucks, suppliers mess up, and customers are a royal pain. That is as true for your competitors as it is for you. What makes winners different is what we do about the problems we can solve, and how we inspire our team to take a can-do attitude and do good work.
2. Fix the right problem
Think like a doctor. You wouldn’t be happy if your doctor gave you stomach medicine for a heart condition. In business, though, we often fix the wrong problem. For example, when sales are low, we push the salespeople. Most likely, they’re already doing a good job, and the problem is in marketing. Remember, the cause of a problem is almost never where the symptom shows up. Find the cause and fix it; you can’t fix a symptom.
3. If the problem comes back, find out why, and fix it
Say you have some defective parts in your products. Getting rid of them isn’t enough. How do you know more defects won’t arrive with the next order? Instead:
- check with your supplier: How can they confirm that there will be no future defects?
- change your contract: Add a penalty for defective parts.
- change the way you choose suppliers: Go for quality, and prevent the problem.
Now that you know how to fix problems, you just need to find the problems that need fixing.
4. Find problems by complaining
I recommend complaining. There’s a great technique for finding your problems – and blowing off some stress – from Barbara Sher’s book WishCraft. She calls it the power of negative thinking. Stand in front of a friend and deliver a stand-up comedy routine titled, ‘What’s Wrong with My Business?’ Complain about everything. Be specific. Rant, rave and get it out of your system. Have your friend write down every complaint. There’s your list of problems. Now start solving them.Which problem do you solve first? It doesn’t matter. If you have time and energy, fix the one that will be the biggest boost to your bottom line. If you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off, then fix the one that is bugging you the most.
5. Listen to your team
Go to your team, and tell them you want to make a fresh start. Tell them you want them to enjoy their jobs more and get more done. Ask each person on the team for three problems that you can fix to make their lives easier. If you haven’t done this before, it may take a while before they take you seriously, but you’ll get there. And when you do, you’ll find that after you help them, they’ll be ready to help you.
6. Your business works best once you’ve fixed the pipes
Be the plumber for your business. When you fix all big leaks, things start to flow. When you fix all the small problems, profits shoot through the roof. What flows in a business? Products, services and solutions flow to your customers and money flows to you.
I hope you’re not in business just to make money. The purpose of a business should be to do what we love, love what we do, make our customers happier and better off, and the world a better place. But money is the measure of a business.Track money – gross revenue, expenses and net revenue – to find what is working, and what isn’t. Then fix your business.
There’s More To Team Management Than Leadership
When you’re running a business you need to ensure that your employees are on your side, helping you to make profits. Giving them job security, taking them seriously and treating them with respect, will go a long way in enhancing loyalty and productivity.
The staff that work for you determine:
- How happy your customers are with your business
- The quality of the things that you sell
- The costs that you incur to sell your products and services
- Your risks – the things that can go wrong and how much it costs you
All of these things determine your profitability and how competitive your business becomes. How do you ensure that everyone is on the same side and helping you to make profits?
At work everyone believes that they are getting something (such as money) and are giving something in return (such as time and effort). They are weighing up in their mind “how much am I giving, how much am I getting in return and is this fair?” If they believe that they are:
- Giving too much or
- Getting too little
- Then this is unfair, and they won’t work well (poor productivity – how much they produce).
The manager needs to:
- Know what people are thinking about what they are giving and getting and
- Manage the giving or getting side
- So that people become more productive
In a smaller business you sometimes cannot afford to pay more or provide the sort of benefits (pensions, medical aid, bursaries etc.) that larger firms can and so the staff may be unhappy, not be productive and be on the look-out for something better.
How do you increase happiness without money?
- Job security – knowing that you will still have a job next year – and that you will get paid on time.
- Contributing to the success of the business. If you train staff to have the knowledge and skills to do a better job and you then encourage and support them to do this then they are happier, and you increase profits. If you then share some of these profits with the staff that helped you to make them then everyone wins!
- To be taken seriously and treated with respect. If you do this then staff are happier, and they will also treat your customers with respect.
- To be part of the team. You can often do this by having a regular briefing on what your plans are and discussing ideas. Because staff are doing the actual work they will often have good ideas and then will be motivated to implement them – it was their idea after all!
Staff leaving you all the time is a can destroy significant value. If you implement the strategy above, you will have happier staff that are more productive and a more profitable business.
Jeff Bezos Reveals 3 Strategies for Amazon’s Success
One of the richest men in the world shared his leadership tips for running a company.
“It remains Day 1.” That’s how Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, signed off in his 2018 letter to shareholders. He’s been propagating the “day 1” mantra for decades, and it’s meant as a reminder that Amazon should never stop acting like a start-up – even though the company now boasts more than 560,000 employees and more than 100 million members of Amazon Prime, the company’s paid service for free shipping on select items.
Here are some of the most useful nuggets of wisdom Bezos shared in his letter and during a recent onstage interview:
1. Standards are contagious
Bezos says he believes high standards are teachable rather than intrinsic. “Bring a new person onto a high standards team, and they’ll quickly adapt,” he writes. “The opposite is also true.”
If a company or team operates with low standards, a new employee will often – perhaps even unwittingly – adjust their work ethic accordingly.
He also says that high standards in one area don’t automatically translate to high standards in another – it’s important for people to discover their “blind spots.”
Try making a list of your duties, then ask trusted colleagues to tell you which responsibilities are your greatest strengths. If certain things from the list don’t come up during the conversation, it might be useful to think about how you can up your personal standards in those areas.
2. Set clear, realistic expectations
If you’re looking to raise your standards in a particular area, the first course of action is to outline what quality looks like in that area. The second is to set realistic expectations for yourself – or for your team – regarding how much work it will take to achieve that level of quality.
Exhibit A: You won’t find a single PowerPoint presentation at an Amazon company meeting. Instead, teams write six-page narrative memos to prepare everyone else for the meeting.
Bezos says the quality of the memos vary greatly because writers don’t always recognise the scope of the work required to reach high standards.
“They mistakenly believe a high-standards, six-page memo can be written in one or two days or even a few hours, when really it might take a week or more!” Bezos writes.
3. Stay involved with the people you’re serving
Whether you’re selling a product or service, it’s a good idea to make sure you never lose touch when it comes to the people you’re serving – no matter how high up the ladder you climb.
Bezos says he still reads emails from his public inbox (email@example.com) as a way to keep his finger on the pulse of what’s happening with Amazon customers.
He says he believes focusing on what customers are saying is much more important for success than focusing on what competitors are doing, and he often compares customer feedback to company data to see where they misalign.
“When the anecdotes and the data disagree,” Bezos said at a recent leadership forum at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, “the anecdotes are usually right.”
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
You Don’t Have To Go It Alone: How To Find A Mentor As A Freelancer
Need a mentor but don’t know where to start? These tips can help you find your perfect mentorship match.
As a freelancer, having enough time to not only grow your business, but also grow your career can be challenging. Who can you turn to for guidance when you’re the boss? For those who strike out on their own, putting time and effort into finding a mentor (or several) can make a huge difference in establishing a successful freelance business.
Among small business owners who have professional mentors, the five-year survival rate for their businesses is 70 percent, according to a survey by BCSG; among those who don’t have mentors, the five-year survival rate is half of that.
Now that you’re settled into the new year, it’s the perfect time to reach out to your network (or establish a new one) and find a group of mentors. Here are some tips for identifying those who can help you achieve your personal and professional goals.
Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses
As a freelancer, it can be challenging to find the time to step back and examine your professional strengths and weaknesses. While it can be tempting to rely on a mentor to give you guidance on where you need to improve, you’ll get much more out of any mentorship relationship if you’ve done some self-reflection first.
Both will provide you with a detailed explanation of your personality, including analysis about workplace habits, relationships and ideal career paths. The results will help you understand how you interact with clients and colleagues, as well as what types of careers and working styles are likely to be a good fit for you.
If you need more help determining your working style or how to achieve the next step in your career, a career coach could be a great investment. Finding the right coach can help you develop a strong understanding of your own personality and work style. Once you know more about yourself, you’ll be able to better identify mentors who can help you play to your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses.
Form relationships through networking groups
Once you’ve had time to reflect on your professional needs, it’s time to find a mentor. As a good first step, look into virtual and in-person networking groups where you can meet people in your industry.
Networking groups and programs, like Entrepreneurs’ Organization, allow you to connect with other freelancers and business owners so you can learn from what they’ve experienced over the course of their careers.
This can help you find a mentor who’s also gone through the challenges of becoming a freelancer.
The location of your potential mentor can be a determining aspect as well. Having a mentor that lives close by gives you access to knowledge of the local trends and makes it easier to scheduling a quick chat. Meetup.com offers access to thousands of organisations around the world in sectors ranging from outdoors and adventure to fashion and tech to writing. If one event looks interesting, take the time to attend and talk to the other participants. One (or more) may have helpful insights for your career.
Keep in touch with former colleagues and associates
Just because you’ve decided to strike out on your own doesn’t mean you can’t still rely on former coworkers, bosses or other working relationships that you developed before becoming a freelancer.
Those you’ve worked with in the past are already familiar with your working style and approach to business, which is helpful context for any mentor/mentee relationship.
Make sure to keep in regular contact with former colleagues, especially those you admired when you worked together, so that you can use each other as a resource for professional questions or opportunities. Haven’t been in touch for a while? Reaching out can be as simple as sending your congratulations about a new job or reminiscing about an old work memory, but it can go a long way toward helping secure a valuable mentor.
Seek out people who inspire you outside your professional realm
Inspiring mentors can come from unexpected places, not just your professional bubble or your fellow freelancers. Take a few minutes to research interesting organisations in your local area, perhaps through volunteering, and get involved where you can.
Other volunteers might come from unique backgrounds and work in different fields or industries, so their points of view can provide you with unexpected perspective that may help you think about a challenge or client differently. A mentor from a different field has a unique opportunity to see your business from the outside and won’t be bogged down by conventional solutions.
Finding a mentor is one of the most valuable investments you can make for your future as a freelancer and for your personal work enjoyment.
Mentorship makes a difference all the way to the top – 71 percent of CEOs said having a mentor directly improved their company’s performance according to a study in a book by Suzanne de Janasz and Maury Peiperl.
Beyond the financial returns you can see from mentorship, having advisors you trust can make freelancing feel less overwhelming and more rewarding. So, make sure to put yourself out there and start building your mentor relationships.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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