Archive for the ‘Staff management’ Category

Marketing is easy …

… or is it?

Looking from the outside in, it seems easy. All you have to do is make your product or service look appealing, advertise in the right places and there you have it.

At least, so I thought a few months ago. But I have to admit to being wrong.

Marketing is hard.

Take online marketing – something I’ve been trying to get my head around over the past few weeks.

My expertise lies in producing effective content and publishing, or getting it published. This works fine when I’m talking to editors, journalists, and face to face with potential clients.

Our website is starting to look pretty sharp and our blog’s going pretty well, attracting links and comments.

Site visitors and blog subscribers are on the up.

But it ain’t that simple. Window-shoppers are one thing – converted customers come much harder.

Taking those window-shoppers by the hand, drawing them through your site on a journey of discovery and convincing them to click that order button – now that’s the art of online marketing.

Then there’s SEO and a whole world of analytics to help you optimise these opportunities – that’s the science of online marketing.

From there you might move into pay-per-click advertising, managing databases and auto-response emailing (we use, e-newsletters, reciprocal linking, online referral programs, creating and distributing effective offers.

Then you remember that there’s a real world out there too – working with the media remains important, as do opportunities for networking, joint marketing initiatives, giving presentations.

You can do it all yourself. Here’s one lady who is – and this is one of many blogs that can help you do it.

But if you’re exhausted by just reading this, don’t be too proud to ask for help.

A good story isn’t enough – it’s how you tell it.

How to run a mediocre business

Every entrepreneur (in fact every employer) should read this post, which is far more upbeat than the title suggests. It needs no further comment:

Knocking the Exuberance out of Employees

Work as play

Woman on swingIn one of my other lives, I study psychotherapy, and a recent class examined the concept of ‘play’ – its importance in child development leading to a healthy adult psyche.

After establishing what was involved in play – exploration, experimentation, risk-taking, imagination, role-playing, trial-and-error, all those things that help to build fully rounded human beings – our tutor posed a question: ‘When, in your life, do you play?’

I surprised myself by immediately answering: ‘When I’m at work.’

This led to a discussion about work as play, and how this can be a helpful way to approach the elements involved in a working day, such as planning, discussion, concept development and so on.

So often we get caught up in deadlines, processes, systems. All these are necessary, but they only facilitate, they don’t create. Without play, your business is in danger of becoming its processes.

With play, you won’t just have fun – you’ll probably end up with a creative energy suffusing your business.

So encourage your staff to play with ideas, have a go, draw pictures to express new structural concepts, throw words around to develop a new business angle, and if a meeting takes an unexpected turn that takes you off the agenda, go with it and see where it leads – you never know where you’ll end up.

The play environment succeeds because the child is free to explore within safe limits – allow this for your staff and you’re onto a winner.

There isn’t a great deal of interesting web content on this subject, but plenty treating work and play as oil and water – mutually exclusive.

I did find this interesting article about South American Indians – Leisure in Action: Work as Play – for those wanting to stretch their psyches around the ‘work as play’ concept.

Are you wasting skills?

Businessman ready to cleanAnother lesson gleaned from the seminar day mentioned in my last post has refocused my attitude to managing skills.

You will probably have found that managing a small business has demanded a whole new set of skills. And if you’re anything like me, some came naturally – and some didn’t.

Not only that, but the skills you think will come naturally sometimes don’t, and vice versa.

For example, my expertise lies in writing and editing, with a background in media and publicity. So you’d think I’d have a handle on marketing. Not so. Issues such as branding, market research, producing company brochures, designing an effective website have all left me stumped.

For a while I struggled to master these skills – spending hours researching, drafting, refining, brainstorming – until a seminar presenter switched a light bulb on in my gloomy head. And this was later reinforced by a blog post from Greg Chapman – Your Business’ Most Important Asset. Time!

Why was I spending all this time trying to master a new skill set that certainly wasn’t coming to me naturally, when there are exceptionally competent specialists out there who can do it for me?

Sounds obvious – but how many small business owners or managers do you know who don’t just manage their business – they do the book-keeping, produce marketing collateral, cold-call prospects, do the post office run, replenish the coffee supplies and clean the toilet?

By doing everything, we imagine we’re saving a heap of money on costs and forget how much we’re losing.

I learned that one of your first tasks should be to establish a realistic hourly rate for your expertise. Whether it’s $50 or $500, it becomes difficult to justify time-wasting.

This also serves as a benchmark to help you establish your goals in terms of ROI in your business.

Value your skill set – and those of your employees – by nurturing what you each do well and delegating what you don’t.

Recruiting and keeping staff

Recruiting staffHaving worked in three countries for several companies from massive corporate conglomerates to the smallest of small businesses, I have clear views about the advantages of working for a small business.

Experience doesn’t make me an expert, so I’m keeping my editor’s hat firmly on – this means I’ll be bringing you my personal overview with links to the real experts through research. That way you can keep up with the latest inspiration for small business by simply subscribing to this feed.

On the subject of staffing, take heart. Small companies struggling to recruit – and importantly to keep – top quality employees have a number of strategies available to them.

First the facts. Staffing Turnover and Retention presents a dry round-up of the reasons for staff turnover (the retention section is still to come – I’ll let you know when it arrives).

There are no surprises here, but two of the main criteria for staff retention – job satisfaction and organisational commitment – are worth highlighting, as they are often easier for a small business to provide.

Take a look at Small-Business Secrets to Hiring, which sets out ways small businesses can sell themselves to potential candidates. This is a US article, but most of the comments are generic enough to be useful.

Briefly, a small working environment can encourage engagement in the business at a high level, interaction regarding benefits and conditions, and attention to tailored career development. It is easier for a small business to show employees how highly valued they are, to offer flexible working conditions and to involve them in decision-making. All this leads to greater job satisfaction and company loyalty.

As for the question of perceived lack of security – the largest company I worked for offered the least security. Downsizing meant middle managers were occasionally seen clearing out their desks at a few minutes’ warning, and stress levels were high.

I have felt most secure – and enjoyed myself most – when working for small companies that reward loyalty and hard work with protection and career development opportunities. Sure, $$$ are important – but research shows that they’re not the most crucial factor in staff turnover.
So how do you find those skilled and loyal employees?

The UK’s Sunday Times advises Look Locally to Recruit the Best Workers. The article goes on to offer simple and wise advice on how to extract the best candidate from the mix.

Personally, when I have been involved in selecting candidates for interview, I have looked for something extra – maybe they gave up their degree in chemistry to join an expedition to the Antarctic, or maybe they left a secure sales position to set up an unsuccessful dog-washing company. Even if there is an element of failure in these choices, they were willing to take a risk on something they believed in. That’s a valuable quality.