Q: We often hear about how stressful today’s world is compared with days gone by. Is this really the case, or does it just seem that way?
I really think most people have not used recent advances in technology to be more effective and efficient. We have so many tools at our disposal that can allow us to accomplish more in less time. This is critical for small business owners and entrepreneurs because our time, resources and energy are very limited.
Q: Can you provide an example?
There is a website called Hootsuite that allows you to manage several social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can use this site to set up your post in advance, saving time and allowing you to have a major presence on your social media platforms.
Q: Some entrepreneurs may feel that they can’t afford to make mistakes, which compounds the inherent stress of running a small business. How can they avoid this mindset?
I come across many entrepreneurs and clients that feel this way. One of the things that I try to get them to understand is that “making mistakes” is normal, and it is not the end of the world. Yes, we want to minimize as many mistakes as possible, but not making a mistake should not be our major focus.
Q: What’s a good way to respond to a mistake?
You want to understand why the mistake was made, what measures to put in place to avoid the same mistake in the future, and what can be learned from the experience. When you take this approach, mistakes can become powerful tools for your business. I believe when you remove the fear of “making mistakes” you increase your innovation and creativity.
Q: How often should the business plan be reviewed/updated, and what sections should undergo the most scrutiny?
Generally, once a year. But for a new business, you might want to do a review as early as three months in. If you’re still feeling your way through, you want to see if you’re on the right track, and how well things are working. And if there’s trouble, you want to jump on it as soon as possible.
Q: What are some ways to reinforce the lessons learned from a mistake?
The best way to learn from our mistakes is to talk about them and really try to learn what happened and why. One of the worst environments to work in is one that everyone is in constant fear of making a mistake. Don’t dwell on who made the mistake; it’s counterproductive. Focus on solutions and putting better systems in place.
Q: Nobody likes to say “no” to a customer, a new opportunity, or an employee. Though there will always be situational issues, are there things you can do in advance so that the decision to say “no” will be less difficult?
A lot of new small business owners and entrepreneurs stretch themselves too thin by saying “yes” to everyone and everything. This is why you must be very clear about your mission, business goals and target customers, and why it’s helpful to work with a SCORE mentor during the initial stages of your business. Developing a good business plan will help you identify the right opportunities and customers. Being able to clearly communicate what you do and what services you provide will help you steer clear of becoming a jack-of-all-trades.
Q: By the same token, are there the right and wrong ways to say “no” to someone?
It may sound strange, but referring someone to another business that can help them better than you could is a great way to build business partnerships and develop trust with that customer. The customer will most likely return to your business when they need your services or products.
Q: Being organized can help entrepreneurs better manage their time. What organizational tools or practices have you found to be most helpful?
I use three major tools to help me stay on track and organized:
- Meditating. The ability to get to a quiet place and think will help you develop better solutions, stay calm, and see things more clearly.
- A planning calendar. This allows me to identify some key dates, projects and appointments. I plan my week to ensure I give the right attention to the right things. Most people react instead of respond because they have failed to plan.
- A daily “organizing hour.” I use this time to organize, review and file. This allows me to keep track and stay on top of the important things in my life and business.
Learning how to manage your time will give you a huge advantage as well.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to maintaining a work-life balance as a small business grows, and how can they be addressed?
I prefer the word “harmony.” Balance makes people think that they have to divide their time in equal shares between family, business and personal interest. But when you think of harmony, think about an orchestra, every instrument doesn’t play at the same time or equal amounts of time, but they cooperate to make a beautiful sound. That should be your goal, that your life makes a beautiful sound.
Q: That’s an interesting concept. What are some ways to achieve harmony?
As your business grows you will need to invest some major time because you will be wearing many hats. The key to your success will be learning to hand-off everything that doesn’t require you to actually do it. Whether that is outsourcing, using a virtual secretary, or interns from the local college to do tasks that free you up to focus on the main part of the business.
Communicating with your family about your time availability and identifying some important dates for both your business and family are important. Decide what is really important to you. I have two young children and being home to see them grow up is very important to me. So, I have made the decision to design my business to accommodate my life, not the other way around.
Q: Is it wise for an entrepreneur to totally disconnect himself/herself from the business when taking time off? Or is it OK to maintain some kind of connection?
Like other entrepreneurs, I love what I do, so it is very hard for me to disconnect from my business. But over the years I have learned to step away so I can step back in refreshed and full of new ideas. I think you should step away as it relates to day-to-day operations, so I don’t check emails and so forth. Once again you want to build your business to support your life style and what’s important to you.
Q: Though entrepreneurs need to set work aside sometimes, there are also times when they need to focus on specific issues. What are some tips for minimizing distractions, and channeling one’s mental energy to the task at hand?
- Communication. I cannot emphasize this enough. Use your planning calendar and let all stakeholders know that you have a major project or event coming up and your time will be limited. This will allow everyone to be on the same page with their expectations of you.
- Choose your best environment for thinking and producing. Some people need to be in complete silence; others enjoy listening to music, taking long walks or drives. Learning what environment you produce the best in is invaluable. You must protect that environment during these times, whether it means getting out of the office or the house to ensure you can harness and focus your energy on the project at hand.
Q: What would you tell an entrepreneur who associates asking for help as a sign or weakness or fallibility?
Many entrepreneurs fail because they didn’t ask for help. Help is really freedom. When you ask for help, you free yourself to focus on your strengths. It gives you better perspective and it helps you to remain humble. Any entrepreneur who thinks asking for help is a weakness will hinder their growth and ability to build a strong business.
Q: You’ve often written about looking to mentors for help with difficult questions. What makes SCORE small business mentors so valuable to entrepreneurs?
If you take a cross-country trip without directions or a navigation aid, you are in for a long ride. The same thing happens when you don’t have business mentors. I can’t say enough how valuable and what a disservice a small business owner will do to themselves and their business if they don’t take advantage of the wisdom, knowledge, support and experience of the mentors of SCORE. The ability to ask tough questions and receive time-tested answers and solutions are invaluable.
Q: As a student of leadership, what have you found to be the most valuable guiding principle for setting and achieving one’s goals?
Just do it, go after your goals, without fear of failure. If you fail, learn fast and keep going!
Subscribe now to receive SCORE ExpertAnswers every month by email!