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Performance & Growth

The Debate Over Social Media At The Office

Candid talk from both sides about using cellphones and social media in the office, as told to Craig Matsuda.

Entrepreneur

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1.Yes, I Blog at the Office

And why not text and tweet, too? An employee at a high-tech start-up says he’s entitled

iPhone? Check. Calls? Sure. Text messages? Yes. IM? Of course. Blogging? Trying. Facebook. Certainly. Twitter? Occasionally

Why wouldn’t I do all these things at my job? I work at a high-tech start-up and you’ve got to keep up with the rest of the world even if you are, as I am, a soccer dad with two kids, a busy wife and a hectic life

I’m 46, the second-oldest person in my company. I know my twenty-something colleagues do even more stuff online and with tech toys than I do. So if I need to, of course I handle personal stuff at work. I surf for news on the web. I check in on friends and family on Facebook. I read tweets. I’ve even posted to my personal blog, which is about politics and midlife concerns. And, yes, while I’ve got the kids trained not to call or text me or their mother at the office, I’ve arranged a lot of stuff by phone, text or chat for their after-school activities

We’re a small company, so we all work together, mostly in one open space. We didn’t get around to buying a fancy office phone system and getting one now makes no sense. We all want to carry just one cell – the hottest model, of course – so we all use our own phones for both company and personal business. We communicate with each other by texting, IM, Skype calls and chat, Facebook – you name it. We do this rather than getting up to talk to each other sometimes

Our shop, as a result, can be a quiet place, though if you walk around, you see people have many different windows popped up onscreen for all those applications. And their smartphones are humming, and that next text might be about a date. But it could also be about a customer or a product.

In our office, people Twitter just to get random thoughts off their minds. But our firm also taps social media to get its message out to the public. So when I’m standing behind someone and I can see his computer screen,

I really can’t tell if that Facebook page is his own or the company’s.

Have we had problems with anyone slacking off, using technology for personal business or breaching security somehow? Not that I know of – and I would, since I’m also our company’s HR guy.

2. Hello? You’ve Got a Job to Do

This company has pulled the plug on Facebook and Twitter and is on the verge of banning cellphones too. A senior company executive explains why.

Like most senior executives in the credit management company where he works, when this man started out, there was just one telephone in each department. It sat on a supervisor’s desk. If you had an emergency, you took that call on the boss’s phone. Now, as I stroll through our operations, everyone has a phone on their desk or nearby.

So why does everyone also need a personal cellphone at work? Why shouldn’t we ban them on the job?

We’re seriously considering it. We barred access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. We don’t give smartphones and PDAs access to our network either. But people can use their cellphones to get on social media sites on the job – and to me, that makes cellphones a workplace issue.

We already have some rules and we talk a lot about common sense practices with cellphones and other personal electronic devices. We want to trust our people to do the right thing; we’re not cracking down on moms with sick kids. But that approach isn’t working.

We let tellers know they’re dealing with the public and it’s rude for them to be on cellphones.

We still get complaints.

We tell managers and staff to turn off devices when they’re in meetings. They still interrupt.

We run big service centres where our people must handle high-volume customer contacts in an exacting way and they can’t take personal calls on duty. We know from monitoring and direct observation that, in fact, they do.

Yes, productivity is a concern. Yes, supervisors are weary of squabbles over intrusive cellphone chatter. But here’s what’s most critical for us: we handle something dear to our customers – their money. We can’t make mistakes. We’ve got laws to obey. We need our employees’ undivided attention. Not long ago, I got a reminder of the security woes these devices create. I returned an upset customer’s call, which she took on her cell. She asked me to hold on as she put her cell on her desk and finished a conversation on her work line. As a result, I overheard an earful of confidential information as she spouted off the names of clients, their addresses, sums they owed and products delivered by her firm. Employees are just too casual with cellphones. We’re not stuck in the past. But the only way we can let people know we’re serious, and really discipline hard-core offenders, is by instituting a uniform policy banning cellphones.

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What’s Stopping Your Business From Growing?

Three masters of scale unpack the reasons why you might be failing at growth – or in danger of doing so.

Matt Brown

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So, what’s stopping you from scaling? If you ask Rich Mullholland, founder of Missing Link, the reality is that most entrepreneurs don’t need to understand what it takes to scale. “Scaling speaks to exponential growth,” he says, “which for the vast majority of business owners simply shouldn’t be a consideration. Growth by itself is okay, and even then, it should be growth as and when it’s required.”

Rich’s key point is that growth for the sake of growth should never be a business owner’s primary goal. Growth should be strategic, and good for the company. Growth without a solid foundation can actually harm – or even kill – your company.

If your goal is growth though, here are three key points to keep top of mind.

1. Too many business owners don’t understand what it takes to scale a business

“Entrepreneurs are so focused on getting through the month with their cash flow intact that they often fail to lift their heads and look to the horizon,” says Allon Riaz, CEO and founder of Raizcorp. “Scale requires strategic thinking, while most entrepreneurs are in operational thinking mode.”

Howard Mann, president at Brickyard Partners and a US-based business turnaround specialist, advises business owners to stop focusing on revenue growth alone. “Scaling a business is about balance and too many entrepreneurs just focus on the speed of revenue growth. When revenue grows without the infrastructure to support that growth, clients leave as quickly as they come in.

“Instead of focusing on top-line growth, focus on maximum profit margins. This will completely change where you focus your efforts. I would rather have a $10 million business with 50% margins over the false glamour of a $50 million revenue business with razor thin profits.”

Related: Raizcorp: Business ‘Think’ has to come before the Business ‘Plan’

2. Without the right systems, process and people, you’ll never be able to scale

Allon believes the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make are:

  • Not arranging sufficient cash reserves for a growth period
  • Believing that the people who brought you to point A are the same people who will take you to point B
  • Having insufficient systems to scale the business

Rich agrees, adding that you need to focus on the business you want to be, and not the business you currently are. “Businesses often commit legacide,” he says. “They allow the legacy systems, put in place for a business of a smaller stature, to hold them back. Not to get too cheesy here, but to quote the Great One, NHL hockey legend Wayne Gretsky, you need to skate to where the puck is going. The systems you put in your business should be systems appropriate for the business you want, not the business you have. Sure, you’ll possibly be paying more in the short term, but it will be a fraction of what you lose trying to play catch-up later.”

Howard believes that losing track of managing the expenses required to manage growth is one of the biggest stumbling blocks entrepreneurs face. “To intentionally over simplify it, you want to figure out the most efficient and effective way to rapidly attract and close new clients while being able to serve and delight them at the lowest possible cost,” he says.

“Another mistake is taking on too much debt in the name of growth. We are all mesmerized by VC backed start-ups that put out press about their massive growth. You do not see how much cash they are burning through and that most of these companies have net losses that are growing as fast (or faster) than their revenue growth. Again, protect your profit margins. That is your growth fuel and protection against shocks in the economy.”

Related: [PODCAST]: Listen To Rich Mullholland Share Tips On Building Your Personal Brand

3. Growth for the sake of growth can actually kill your business

Before you embark on your growth journey, understand that growth, without sufficient structural foundations, can often lead to a business collapsing. “Some scale has the opposite of economies of scale, and actually becomes more expensive as the business becomes more complex,” says Allon. “It’s important to restructure the model as the business grows to ensure the highest possibility of economies of scale.”

Howard warns that a business structured to lose money as it grows is a poorly structured business. “Making the switch back to strong profitability after a growth phase is difficult to pull off,” he says. “Yes, we all know Amazon.com eventually did it. You are not Amazon.com. Growing with a net loss is a straight road to the business graveyard.”

Rich disagrees with the notion that growth in and of itself will lead to death. He believes that growth is, generally speaking, healthy. “I’ve seen businesses grow too quickly and not know how to deal with it, and I’ve seen businesses that out-grow the maturity of their management teams and get strangled by the firm hold the management team try to keep,” he says, but for Rich, this is the product of a business ill-prepared for growth, rather than a product of the growth itself.

“This is why slow is often better, as opposed to scale,” he says. “I remember when my son was young, and I was still his hero. I couldn’t imagine him shouting at me the way I did to my folks as a teenager – I’d be destroyed. So, I asked my dad about it, he smiled and said, don’t worry kiddo, they ease you into it, it all happens over time. By the time they start screaming, you’re ready. That’s true too for business growth. Most entrepreneurs are running their businesses as a real-time business school. You can’t always rush that education.”

Related: [PODCAST] Howard Mann, President Brickyard Partners – How To Survive The Struggle Of Running A Business


TOP TIPS

Allon: One top tip for business owners on scale is to remain strategic by knowing what you want to create and by ensuring a healthy balance of capital resources, sufficient people skills and the appropriate support systems.

Howard: Famed business owner Ricardo Semler said “Only two things grow for the sake of growth: Businesses and tumors.” Get crystal clear on why you want to grow. Once you do, find your balance between accelerating new business and the cost to manage that business.Scaling, like a scale, needs balance

Rich: Stop thinking about scale, and start thinking about solving an important problem that world has, even (especially) if they don’t know it yet. It the problem is real, and big enough, you will have a scale-able business.


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See Allon Raiz, Rich Mulholland and Howard Mann live at the first Secrets of Scale event, which will be taking place at the MESH Club in Rosebank on Thursday, 24 May. Buy your tickets online here: www.qkt.io/secretsofscale

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Performance & Growth

You Too Can Grow A Successful Subscription Company. Here’s How

Dog toys? Baby stuff? Puzzles? Makeup? How can you think ‘outside the box’?

Matthew Gallagher

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Subscription companies have a unique opportunity to connect with their customers. By offering a recurring product, they get multiple chances to interact. Products range from razors like those sold by Dollar Shave Club to wristwatches like the ones we offer at my company, Watch Gang. Then there’s BarkBox, which treats your dog to a monthly shipment of toys and treats. These companies are vastly different but share a common goal: Curating a high-value experience for members.

Thousands of businesses have adopted the subscription model. We’re seeing new companies launching all the time, in every niche, from Sock Work, which sends monthly socks and donates some of its revenues to veterans, to iFind Seekers, sending monthly puzzles.

What may be surprising to some is that businesses offering a recurring product have been around since the dawn of commerce: The Romans sold and delivered food and newspapers on a repeating schedule 2,000 years ago. In this country, weekly milk deliveries were common even before the Constitution was written.

Related: Dr Greg Fisher’s 5 Key Principles For Executing Your Growth-Driven Strategy

Interested in establishing a subscription business for your product? In my experience, I’ve come to recognise what I call the “five pillars” for the foundation of a successful and sustainable subscription business. Those pillars – community, value, discovery, service and integrity – are exactly what you should focus on:

Pillar 1: A thriving community

Having a community of enthusiasts speaks volumes about your company. It’s a sign of trust and brand affinity, and proof that people are genuinely interested in what you have to offer. They are willing to share their experience with others.

Your community is a trusted group of peers who are more than ready to authenticate a product, provide feedback on the service and help create a sense of belonging for like-minded members.

Your community drives your business forward, motivates you to improve and helps you craft service improvements. You have to be dedicated to growing and nurturing your community, because ultimately it is the backbone of your business.

Pillar 2: The delivery of value

Consider this: Why would customers want to “set it and forget it” when they can just order when it’s convenient for them? Why would they agree to a recurring payment every month for your service? The answer is value.

People have to get a product far more valuable than what they are paying for, which means you as the company founder have to go above and beyond to deliver added value.

Watch Gang, for instance, has price levels to fit all budgets, from $29 to $999 a month, and the watches members receive have a value that’s higher than their membership fee. At Barkbox, a $20 box is valued at over $40. Bluum, which offers a box containing the best-reviewed baby, toddler and mom products, has a monthly subscription fee of $34 with the box’s guaranteed retail value at $45. These are tangible savings, and for customers they provide convenience.

Related: How You Can Over-Deliver To Gain The Advantage

Apparently, customers agree. A Gang member recently sent a testimonial that stated, “My Watch Gang subscription is the only bill I actually look forward to paying every month.” A bill that’s welcome? This tells me that we have honored our commitment to delivering value.

Pillar 3: Opportunities for discovery

Subscription companies need to serve as a point of discovery. One of the reasons why subscription businesses continue to be so successful is because of the element of surprise — people love to open a box without knowing what’s inside. Subscription boxes give members the opportunity to discover new brands and styles.

Companies today are engaging members beyond just the monthly shipment. Birchbox offers loyalty points and money back for purchasing the full-size version of samples. At Watch Gang, we launched the “Wheel of Watches,” where members can spin a virtual wheel full of watches they may be interested in.

Related: Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster

They earn points to apply to the wheel every month they remain a member. This has become one of the biggest draws at Watch Gang, because it provides an entirely new kind of discovery experience – and it’s fun.

Pillar 4: Amazing customer service

While not a subscription box, Zappos has repeatedly been recognised as a shining example of how to treat customers. The often forgotten, but arguably crucial, benefit you can provide to a member of a subscription company (or any company) is world-class customer service.

Of course it’s easier and cheaper to outsource customer service or offer email-only support to cut costs. But you have to remember that every call, every customer and every situation is unique. Your customers deserve exceptional service from real people whom you’ve empowered to solve their problems.

Some of the most important changes your company can make may revolve around your customer service department. A single phone call can have immense impact. Having a well-trained customer service team gives your company the opportunity to learn from valuable feedback.

It’s crucial to give your team members a voice in your business and encourage them to share what customers are saying, both positive and negative. These team members are on the front lines with your customers every day, so they need to be adequately supported and compensated.

Pillar 5: A high standard of integrity

Without a sincere commitment to the above four pillars, your subscription business may never be profitable or sustainable. That’s why maintaining a high standard of integrity means you put people over profit. You need to take a stand to help your customers and deliver on your promises – even when that might cost you.

Every time a customer reaches out for support, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity. It’s not an opportunity to make more money from the customer or even to deter him or her from canceling. It’s an opportunity for you to shine, as a beacon of good morals.

Set an example for all your employees and team members from the top, and it will trickle down to all day-to-day dealings within your company – with your customers, with your shareholders and with the public at large.

Today, anyone can launch a subscription business and start selling memberships; however, the businesses that will stand the test of time and truly become successful are those built with a solid foundation using these five pillars.

Related: 4 Ways To Make Your Business More Authentic And Successful

Investing time and resources into these five areas will help you not only grow quickly but also stand out as a company committed to taking care of its customers and employees.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Performance & Growth

Are You Prepared To Listen To Your Board Of Directors?

If you want to drive growth in your organisation, you need to listen to your board at critical junctions.

Carl Bates

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In speaking with shareholder-managers about creating a board of directors, at some point the most critical question of all raises its head. “At the end of the day, will you actually listen to them?” Having a board of directors is a great driver of profitability and performance as we have traversed in previous articles. However, if you are not prepared to listen to them you will not receive the value from having them there.

Listening at critical moments

It can be very easy to respond to this challenging question by saying, “Of course I would listen to them.” In practice, it can be a much harder reality.

More specifically, it can be one thing listening to your board when you like what they have to say, and another thing entirely when you disagree or do not like what you are having to hear. When your board is challenging you, making you feel uncomfortable or suggesting you are going down the wrong path, this is the time to sit up and take notice.

Related: Scale Your Values To Scale Your Business

Being the shareholder-manager and the entrepreneur means having to take a step back and take account of what others are saying. It can be an interesting change. I am sure that on your entrepreneurial journey you, as have I, have occupied that comfort zone of “what I say goes.” In the boardroom though, the last thing you want your non-executive directors to do is to turn-off because of the way you respond.

Do not avoid the tough discussions

As a non-executive director, I am not one who avoids the tough discussions. In a board meeting I once chaired, the board felt that whatever we asked or said about a particular issue we were told we did not know the context or management explained how much work had already been done. It was as though the entrepreneur had decided what was happening and did not want the board to get in the way.

The project in question was at an early stage and while it was a good idea it was going to require guidance and critique to support its success. The discussion got to the point where I turned to the shareholder-manager and asked, “What questions are we actually allowed to ask?” It was in a slightly heated tone, I will admit.

There were a few moments of silence while the room took stock. The point was made and management relaxed a bit. We then worked through the issues as a team. The entrepreneur still refers to that discussion and the fact that if he is not prepared to hear the board, then what is the point of having a board.

Related: Relax Spas Founder Noli Mini Shares Her Insights On Building A Business Of Value

It takes two to tango

If you are not getting this sort of level of challenge and debate, it may not only be your fault as the entrepreneur. It may not be because you have shut down conversations or stopped lines of questioning you have not liked. It could be because you do not have directors who are naturally challenging enough. If you have a board of directors, including independent non-executive directors, my question for you is, “When was your last tough discussion?” If this is a difficult question to answer then you should ask yourself, “Has my board turned off the tough discussions because of how

I respond?” or “Do I need to find non-executives who are really willing and able to challenge me?”

Building a high-performance board is a journey, not a destination. It is critical that you have the right people around the table to tango with you.

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