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Article of the WeeK: How to Know When to Change Your Business Plan PDF Print E-mail
By Tim Berry, SBA.gov
 

Sometimes you need to stick to your business plan to make it work. Even a mediocre strategy consistently executed over time is better than a series of brilliant strategies that keep going off in different directions. Strategy often takes time.

On the other hand, there is no virtue in sticking to a plan, just for having stuck to a plan. We live with constant change. 

Which brings me to the dilemma that many business owners face:

Do I stick to my plan, or change it? If I change it, then is my plan vs. actual (reality) valid? Doesn’t it take consistent execution to make strategy work?

To which I’ll add;

 “It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” 
 – Chinese proverb

I’ve been dealing with this dilemma for years, as a business owner, entrepreneur, and consultant. I want to suggest some guidelines to help you decide whether to change the plan midstream, or not.

A Good Planning Process

It starts with having a plan that includes priorities, milestones, and expected results. Also, you have to track results and compare them to what you had planned or expected to see. And also, as you developed those expectations, you should have included assumptions.

Ideally you have that process going on already. Without it, there’s no plan to change, and you are managing reactively. If you don’t have a process of planning in place, start it immediately in order that you have a better planning process later on.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. – African proverb

Stay the Course or Revise the Plan?

Take some time each month to review your plan and its results. Once you have the process established, it doesn’t take more than an hour or two to get team members together.

Start that monthly meeting with a good hard look at your underlying assumptions. Identify the key assumptions and whether or not they’ve changed. When assumptions have changed, there is no virtue whatsoever in sticking to the plan you built on top of them. Revise your plan, automatically, when key assumptions have changed.

Then look at the differences between what you planned and what actually happened. Identify key differences between the plan and actual results. Some will be better than planned, and some worse.

For each key difference you discover, and all of them combined, use your best judgment and common sense to determine whether the differences were caused by false expectations or unexpected good or bad execution. Also, consider external and internal factors that may have influenced the results.

Maybe your expectations were too conservative, or too optimistic. In that case, you revise your plan. Use your common sense. Were you wrong about the whole thing, or just about timing? Has something else happened, like market problems or disruptive technology, or competition, to change your basic assumptions?

Maybe you discover you and your team have executed better than expected, or results were better than expected. Hooray. Stick to the plan. It’s working.

And maybe you discover that your execution was wrong, poor, or flawed. If any of those reasons are the case, work on executing better and change the plan.

Do not revise your plan glibly. Remember that some of the best strategies take longer to implement. Remember also that you’re living with it every day; it is naturally going to seem old to you, and boring, long before the target audience gets it.

 
Article of the Week: Five Tips To Turn Your Conference Talk Into A Networking Opportunity PDF Print E-mail

By: Christine Clapp, FastCompany.com

You landed a speaking role at an upcoming conference. Great! Now what? Well, if you're lucky, a decent crowd will show up for your talk, nod politely while you speak, and amble out afterward. That doesn't mean it was a failure-after all, this is how most presentations at formal events like conferences tend to go. They help you share a few ideas, raise your professional profile, and maybe lead to an exchanged business card or two.

But there are a few ways to turn your speaking engagements into much more powerful networking opportunities than just this. Here are five.

1. Provide a Handout

You may worry that conference-goers already have heaps of materials to cart around with them—and they probably do. But even if they toss it away afterward, a simple hard copy of your talk's key ideas can help them follow along better while you're delivering it and remember its details better afterward.

You don't have to go overboard. Just distill your main takeaways into a visually compelling one-page handout. Include a headshot, a quick biography, and contact information at the bottom or on the reverse. Many speakers print out copies of all their slides, but this can be costly (to your wallet and the environment), and it isn't all that effective. In most cases, listeners are more likely to review and hang onto a one-page distillation of your message, especially if it's got action items that relate directly to them. It may even be worth hiring a designer to help you polish up the look of your one-pager as well as your slides.

When it comes time for your talk, make sure you have handouts at place settings or on chairs before attendees arrive. This will prevent the distraction of waiting for handouts to make their way through the room as you start speaking.

2. Record Your Presentation So You Can Share It Later 

When you work hard on a big presentation, you should share it beyond the live audience (assuming you have the okay of event organizers). Some conferences will record your program for you. If not, consider hiring a professional videographer who can record high-quality footage of your speech. Look for one who uses more than one HD camera and captures sound with an independent microphone system—not just the one the conference uses to amplify sound in the auditorium. This way you can leave with a high-quality recording, even if one camera or device fails.

Then make sure you share it. Conference organizers may be willing to include it on their website, but you should post it on your own site, your LinkedIn profile, YouTube channel, the other social media accounts that you use professionally, too. Think of this as a powerful piece of content for making connections and starting new conversations. In this sense, the video of your talk is out there in the world, networking for you virtually.

3. Wear Something That Stands Out 

No, you shouldn't wear something totally outlandish, but it helps to dress in a way that makes you easy to recognize after your talk wraps up. After all, youwant people to come find you and strike up a conversation. So you might wear a brightly colored blouse or tie, or perhaps a blazer with an interesting print (just make sure ahead of time that the pattern won’t jump on camera).

Then make sure you continue to wear the same clothes the rest of the day of your talk so attendees can identify you even hours later. If conference events in the late afternoon or evening call for less formal clothing, consider wearing a casual shirt in the same bright color, or pair your unique blazer with jeans and an open-collared shirt.

4. Collect Business Cards 

This tried-and-true step isn't one you can ignore. When people have a meaningful interaction with you at the event, ask for their business card and offer yours in return. But this basic networking rule is worth reiterating with a caveat: Don’t be the annoying speaker who shoves business cards at every passerby. That's the quickest way to squander the platform you've been given.

Instead, try to jot down a note about each of your conversations on the back of the cards you're handed; this way you'll be able to follow up with those you'd like to connect with. A brief, personalized note via LinkedIn or email can go a long way. If an audience member approached you with a specific question after your talk, your message should contain a few links articles, videos, books, or other resources that the person might find useful.

5. Stay For the Entire Conference 

To make the most of your conference presentation, attend sessions before and/or after your own speech. If you speak early in the program, you can relax after your talk, network with fellow attendees, and learn from other speakers—both about the content of their talk and about different presentation styles you might want to try out yourself next time.

If you speak late in the conference, participating in earlier sessions helps you learn more about your audience and creates a chance to mention of other sessions and attendees during your talk. Plus, any new friends you make before it's your turn to speak can even serve as encouraging audience members.

Giving a great presentation at a conference takes a significant investment of time, if not money. But if you do it right, it can pay dividends long afterward, broadening your network and contributing to your business. Conferences are often packed with content in a way that sometimes makes it tough to stand out. But follow these five steps and you're likely to leave an impression on some of the key people who attended—and, hopefully, plenty of others who didn't.

 
Article of the Week: You Are The Face Of Your Brand PDF Print E-mail

By: Melinda Emerson, HuffingtonPost.com

Perhaps you once knew, or maybe still know, the actual people behind some of the local businesses you support. There’s nothing unusual about this, but the concept of “personal branding” wasn’t developed that much until the information age. Today, even huge corporations have attempted to put faces and personalities to their brands, creating a new dimension to their marketing.

As a small business, you are the face of your brand. That’s great news, because the “personal brand” is a valuable business tool. You don’t necessarily have to always be in public promoting your brand, however. If you show up late all the time that is your brand too. People want to connect names and faces to the brands they love, and by allowing customers to do that - whether through an in-person or through social media - you allow stronger customer bonds to develop. Here are some small business marketing tips on personal branding.

Give Your Fans a Look Behind the Scenes

Instagram is not only the fastest-growing social media site, it’s also becoming a major force in social media advertising. Mobile users love it, both for posting and browsing, and brands have taken notice. Some brands that have used Instagram to their advantage most successfully are ones that have not only beautifully showcased their products on the site, but also have allowed customers behind-the-scenes glimpses into business operations. Naturally, those candid photos display outstanding quality too. Many brands that choose to share behind-the-scenes information with customers hire professional photographers with particular understanding of Instagram for the task.

Make Sure All Your Web Properties Tell the Right Story

Though you don’t want all your web real estate to be identical, there should be consistency among all your web properties. Each page, site, and social media account should work toward capturing something essential about your brand and your team. Ask yourself if your web properties answer the following key questions:

  • How did your company get start?
  • Where is it headed?
  • What were significant events in your company’s history?
  • What have you overcome to succeed?

People relate to narratives and personal stories. They want to know the human side of your business, whether you sell hardware or baby clothes. Think about communicating details of your business story that “humanize” your brand and make people feel like they know you.

Let Them Know You’re an Expert and Thought Leader

As a successful small business owner, not only are you an expert on running your company, you are an expert in your field. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have succeeded. Make use of this by sharing information that goes beyond products. For example, why do you insist on organic ingredients in your cosmetics? How do you source your products to ensure the highest quality every time? Don’t be afraid of being interviewed, whether for print, a website, a podcast, or local media. (It’s a good idea to ask ahead of time what questions will be asked so you can prepare and position your brand prominently as a shining representative of its industry.)

There’s No Substitute for Integrity

You cannot be disingenuous and be the face of your brand. Small businesses that lack honesty and try to create a brand image that doesn’t match their actual values are always eventually exposed and thrashed online. People don’t necessarily want the face of your brand to be perfect, but they want it to be honest and authentic. Never give in to the temptation to portray your business as something it isn’t, because this is a major branding mistake. Be real and honest, and do your best to ensure your media presence is in harmony with what actually goes on in your day-to-day operations.

You don’t always have to seek media attention to be the face of your company. However, you do need to show customers what your company is about, who is behind it, and what it values most. Today, people develop stronger consumer ties when they feel like their favorite brands have a human face and strong narrative.

Don’t miss the opportunity to draw attention to your business by putting forth a real face to go with your authentic brand. It’s an essential part of maximizing small business success today.

 
Article of the Week: How Your Millennial And Gen Z Employees Are Changing Your Workplace PDF Print E-mail

By: Karsten Strauss, Forbes.com

As new generations of employees enter the workforce and management positions, they bring with them a new perspective. These days, we refer to those cohorts as Generation Z (born between 1994 and 2010) and their older counterparts the Millennials.

Netherlands-based human resources juggernaut, Randstad, recently partnered with brand strategy firm, Millennial Branding and London-based Morar Consulting to conduct a survey of more than 4,000 workers across 10 global markets between June 22 and July 11 to discover how Millennial and Gen Z workers differ in their professional outlook. Here’s a taste of their workplace wants, needs and direction.

On Leadership

“When you look at Millennials, in particular, in the workplace, they have an underlying desire to shape where they work; to make a contribution, to see that the role they play has a direct tie to a benefit in society,” says Jim Link, chief human resources officer with Randstad North America. That benefit could be to the organization that employs them or in the bigger picture.

Part of embracing their roles means being open to inspiration from higher-ups, says Link. “They like to be tied in directly with leaders. They’re looking for a leader who is communicative and able to share mission and vision and values, and how those things tie in with the work that they’re doing and with the work of the corporation.”

When asked, the Millennial and Gen Z survey respondents cited honesty, communication, approachability, confidence and the willingness to be supportive as the key traits of a good leader. Among Gen Z workers, nearly 84% said they themselves aspired to be leaders, while 79% of Millennials said the same. About 60% of the two groups said their leadership aspirations lay within their current company.

Working With Others

The majority of those surveyed felt they were either well prepared or very well prepared for working in teams. Most were also willing to act as mentors and cited their coworkers as the most important attribute of a workplace that allowed them to do their best work. From those coworkers, Millennials and Gen Z expect a willingness to collaborate with them and challenge them. Says Link: “The whole idea of working with mentors and coaches and people who can teach them something is very important to this group of people, particularly the Zs.”

When it comes to dealing with managers, Millennials and Gen Z expect to be listened to and have their opinions respected—over 50% of those surveyed said so. Also, 41% said they want their managers to let them work independently. About 45% said they wish to be mentored and given feedback on a regular basis. By regular basis, these younger workers – used to the instant feedback they receive from tweets and social media posts – mean weekly or after every project or assignment or even daily. That trend could slay the concept of annual evaluations, says Link, as less than 1% of respondents preferred an annual work assessment.

Workplace Environment

“The fact that (Millennials and Gen Z) rate workplace flexibility even over healthcare is fascinating to me,” says Link. “That’s the first time we’ve seen that.” The numbers are telling: when asked which benefits are most important to them, work flexibility ranked first, at 19.1%, followed by healthcare coverage at 16.9%. Breaking down those statistics shows that the two benefits are equally important to Millennials, but among Gen Z workers flexibility is almost 5% more important than being covered for healthcare costs—receiving a 401K did not even crack 10%.

According to Link, younger works are more interested in accumulating rewarding experiences, not thinking ahead to later chapters in their careers. “Remember, this is a generation that has an eight-second attention span,” he explained. “So the ability to communicate to them, to show them value, to get value from them is in the same burst of time that they’re able to get information today and communicate with others, which is instantaneously. I think it’s going to dramatically change the way work gets done in the future.”

Technology Is Key                                                                  

When asked which industries they are interested in working in, the most popular among respondents was IT (24.9%) followed by technology (19.8%). Those numbers are not entirely surprising given the extent to which technology has become ubiquitous in the modern world and how companies that either create technology or embrace it wholly have come to great successes.

That technology and digital communication is such a massive part of their lives outside of work – and often a guilty pleasure or distraction when they are at work – would mean a workplace that doesn’t adopt it to the best of its ability could seem outmoded. When asked which technologies they would like to see employers incorporate into their organizations, Millennial and Gen Z respondents said social media (41.4%), wearables (26.5%), virtual reality (26.1%), and robotics (20%).

Possibly the most important tech an employer would need to take up to satisfy Millennial or Gen Z workers those that improve their work-life balance.

“What is more appealing to these workers appears to be things like flexibility,” says Link, “the ability to have an adaptive workplace that has high uses of technology and enables that technology either through devices that they bring themselves or through knowledge-sharing systems, collaborative systems at work. The whole idea of being able to work remotely and telecommute and all of these kinds of things were things that Millennials really brought to the workforce and Generation Z is only going to continue that because in the world in which they grew up, everything they did they did collaboratively through apps or software. Going to a workplace that doesn’t have that or doesn’t enable that will be difficult for them.”

 
Article of the Week: Five Ways Social Media Can Help Your Small Business PDF Print E-mail


By: Gaurav Kanabar, Tech.co

The importance of social media has increased over last few years. Today, nobody can imagine a business without social media presence. A proper
 campaign can yield fruitful results for your business in multiple ways.

Business
 relationships can be enhanced and nurtured while promotions can tie in more organically with your overall marketing and branding efforts. Here’s a look at five ways social media can become a win-win for your company.

Leverage Real-Time Engagement

Social media can help you increase your brand awareness and boost interaction with prospects or potential customers in real-time.

For instance, when
 a client has a question or issue, they can voice it on social media, and you can respond and solve it in a timely manner. As a small business marketer, identify the social networks where your customers spend time as soon as possible and actively engage with them.

Create Community Value

Social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have very active communities. You can find a community within your niche by identifying keywords, hashtags and discovering customer interests. Then start offering
 valuable advice to the niche communities in your targeted social platforms.

In a short period of time, your authority in that community will increase gradually and you will be seen as an expert in your
 niche. Once you have earned trust and goodwill, you can start referencing product or services that will solve their problems. This can work
 wonders if implemented with the right planning.

Create Content to Fuel Sales

Content marketing is a very important marketing tool; a tool that can also drive results for your inbound (and overall) marketing strategy. Creating content that can attract people in your niche and distribute it across
 targeted social media platforms will improve awareness and user engagement. Ensure your content is relevant and useful.

First, understand your sales funnel (the process you want your customers to experience as they go from prospect to lead to the client to repeat customer) and then create targeted content for your audience that addresses their needs at each step of your funnel. This can be very useful technique if you follow a well-planned content strategy.

Build Influencer Relationships

Using social media is a great way to find and interact with influencers in your niche. Social media influencers often have a strong (in numbers and relevance) and committed following. If they
 get the word out about your business, then you are likely to gain attention from their followers.

You can build relationships with influencers on Twitter by commenting
 and re-tweeting their content, share their blog posts on social media, make useful comments on their blog, etc. You can also invite influences to sample your products and services for free
 and request a review or quick feedback (i.e. a testimonial) and then share it in your marketing and press efforts.

Support Social Efforts with Paid Promotion

Almost all established social media networks offer paid promotion for businesses and brands. If you have a small marketing budget, then social media paid promotion is a viable and proven option. Often, paid social media campaigns can yield higher conversions than other types of traditional media.

For instance, Facebook advertising offers a highly targeted paid promotion opportunity that has the potential to increase leads. You can reach people who are more likely
 to engage with you and your content.

 
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