You’re Delegating Poorly. Here, let me do it…

If you are someone who has felt compelled to ‘do it all’ because nobody can do things better than you – stop reading. You are either the world’s most undervalued and underpaid at X skill, or you are in denial about your ability to avoid the temptations of micromanagement and delegate effectively. Either way, this post is of no benefit to you. If however you are comfortable enough to stretch your mentoring skills and leadership capability, I’ve collected some tips to help you get started.

Tip #1: Take stock. Really.

You are busy. Too busy to know how busy you really are. If you can’t manage your workload, you will never be able to manage that of anyone else! Stop reading and get back to work. Seriously, it is OK to approach delegating as a science before an art. Making a prioritized list will help you quickly identify activities that suck up your time (more on that in tip #2) and also show you where your greatest ROW (return on work) is. Make sure you account for every billable minute of your week – no matter how you are paid. Being in denial about how much time you spend on email, meetings, etc. will hurt you in the long run.

Tip #2: Take advantage of low-hanging fruit.

Recognizing what and when to delegate projects is arguably one of the most challenging aspects of becoming an effective leader. But managers who create a welcoming environment for new ideas will often find their employees become more empowered and take the initiative.

Tip #3: Share the fun stuff

I was once accused from one of my peers of “getting all the fun stuff”. The cause of her dismay was twofold – I had a manager who empowered me (see Tip #1) to speak up and create my own opportunities, projects. In between those my boss also did something I’ve seen few other managers do: she gave me some of her most favorite projects. As a leader, sharing the work that makes you love your job can instill the same passion and intrinsic motivation to your reports – making their work better, and your team a greater success. Delegating only ‘grunt’ work, however, could prevent your employee from wanting to take on more responsibility and ultimately cause great resentment.

So if you want to be known as the “cool” manager, or the team who somehow gets all the ‘rock stars’, take a few moments out of your busy schedule to reflect on how well you delegate. Feel free to share any additional tips or experiences you’ve had with successful (or failed!) delegation.

3 Things Small Businesses Need for a Rainy Day

March 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Many Bay Area businesses are familiar with the concept of contingency-planning. While we may not have to deal with many a snowday, the regularly shifting landscape (literally!) and general disdain for sitting in traffic have given us the perfect opportunity to create a slew of virtualization solutions for doing business. There are now hundreds of these ‘hosted’, ‘virtual’, ‘cloud’ applications. So I have singled out three that every small business should try out; if not for a rainy (or snowy!) day, then to realize the potential cost-savings:

1. Phone Services – Hosted telecommunications
Many local news stations have begun to deploy Twitter #hashtags to notify tech-friendly students and teachers of school closures – a fine solution – for communities that are 100% ‘plugged-in’. A few school districts however have moved to the head of the class this winter by activating virtual ‘hotlines’ – dedicated telephone numbers that people can call anytime for weather-related updates. Virtual hotlines can be set up in minutes online for $10 or less, allowing schools and offices to keep people informed without having to face the elements. [Inserting shameless plug for my former employer, Halloo, here. :)]

2. Web-based file storage
Not only do services like Dropbox and GoogleDocs let you access your files from anywhere, they include handy smart phone apps to boot! Ignoring my fear of sounding dated, I have to let you know the drawback to these services is you won’t be able to give any sort of ‘dog-ate-my-homework’ or ‘lost-in-the-flood’ excuse.

3. Online bookkeepers
Forget the obvious disaster-planning elements here. All small businesses need a reliable accounting system in order to focus on the more important task of getting and retaining customers. The free services from Rhino Accounting and Kashoo let users track transactions, generate invoices and reconcile statements on the go – but if you’ve already bought into the Intuit brand for your taxes, you may be willing to splurge on the modest fees to use QB Enterprise Solutions.

The bottom line: With the proliferation of hosted apps and web-based business solutions, there’s no reason to subject your business to the risks of loss from the unexpected acts of Mother Nature.

Sorority Girl’s Guide to Networking

I gave a talk on this chapter of my life at the Australian Graduate School of Management, where I completed my MBA last year. But as the new round of graduates ventures out into the workforce and begin asking for business cards and informational interviews, I remembered how timeless the networking skills I learned from being involved in one of the oldest, largest female fraternal organizations in the US.

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Better known for their exclusivity, sororities and fraternities aren’t the first thing professionals think about when it comes to professional networking. The truth is, these organizations existed long before the “Likes” of Facebook and LinkedIn. So how did these groups manage to vet the hundreds of interested college co-eds, while also priming their members to transition easily to the workforce?

In a word, RUSH. The grandfather of social networking, “Recruitment” (as it is referred to today) is the term used to describe the process sororities and fraternities have to meet potential new members and determine which are worthy of a membership invitation. Recruitment takes place over a 2-week span, and prospective members are invited to several parties where they can meet active members and learn about each house. It is a multi-round process of mutual selection. [Each sorority has a different method for vetting prospective members – but the collective “Greek” system at each university agrees on a set of ground rules. Nearly all sororities’ parties are dry or alcohol-free – not sure about the official fraternity policies.]

After Round 1 the prospective member decides which 5 out of the 7 houses she would like to revisit – meanwhile the houses decide which reduced percentage of visitors are invited back for Round 2. The process continues until the houses extend formal invitations or ‘bids’ to prospective members to accept.

Sounds a lot like a more socialized version of the job application/interview process, right? It is – only it moves much faster, and, depending on the recruitment strategy of the house, it happens on a much larger scale than the average job interview process. If you’ve been reading just to get sorority secrets, you are about to be sorely disappointed. But I am more than happy to share a few great networking skills that being in a sorority has given me.

1. Networking with a Purpose

Always have an objective or two before attending a social function. By this I do not mean you should be completely self-serving, manipulative, as in “he has an agenda”. Keep it simple. Here are some examples:

  • Know the host? Be sure to spend a few minutes with them and thank them for the invite.
  • Want to meet an honored guest or speaker? Stick around and introduce yourself (and bring business cards).
  • Don’t know anyone? Bring business cards, make an effort to meet at least 3 new people (also bring a pen or be prepared to jot down a few notes – referring to skill #3 below).

If you don’t go in with a plan, expect to waste time hugging the hors d’oeuvres, lingering by the bar, or being stuck in a corner listening to someone’s random companion talk about their pet cat’s chemotherapy treatments – for hours.

2. Small-talk is an art, but it’s easy and abstract

Ask 200 people the same 5 conversation starters in the span of 3 days and you’ll get REALLY comfortable approaching new people and getting them to open up. Starting with a yes/no question only gives you 50% chance of being able to continue the thread, so I’d advise against it. I most fondly remember the “What did you do last summer?” from Recruitment but in the working world it may not be as smooth. Some great convo starters:

  • What did you think of the last panel discussion (or, ‘of today’s program’)?
  • What brings you here this evening? –> aka “Do you work for [organizer]?”
  • How long have you been affiliated with [x] / how long have you been a member of [x]? (for events produced or hosted by said org)

3. Take Notes

There is NO EXCUSE to be flaky in this day and age with the first names of people you met, and/or whether you spoke about brands of running shoes or the economic state of the union. After a few minutes of chatting with someone new, offer your business card. It’s not only a well-timed token to prompt them to give you their card, but also a window of transition for you (see #4- exiting gracefully). The moment you are alone to type the iPhone memo or write on the back of your new friend’s business card, do it!  Networks are not effective if they are not filled with ‘qualified’ connections.

You will find this is habitual with “connectors” – people who seem to remember that you not only work for an accounting firm, but also like fly fishing in Colorado and know someone with a gorgeous rental cabin out there…

4. Exiting Gracefully

This was perhaps the most important skill I learned from sorority recruitment. The prospective members had only a limited amount of time to meet with as many members as possible to determine ‘fit’ with a house – when I was in school some houses used only a few ‘face girls’ as salespeople, while others utilized all of its members to meet prospective members. For the latter I found some common strategies for gracefully moving from guest to guest at a function:

  • Assuming you’re following the first 3 tips above, think of someone else you should introduce your new contact to. If they’re at the same function, all the better. If not, asking for the business card and offering an intro as a follow up is usually a good way to wind up your time with that person. Making an introduction of Person A –> Person B is the best way to “C” yourself out of the conversation.🙂
  • Bring a wing-man/woman. This is NOT just an effective strategy for those living the single life! As a wing woman at certain functions, I have rescued several a colleague from undying dialogue by visiting their circle and inserting the following line: “Here you are! There is someone I must introduce to you…” Though being wing woman carries the risk of letting your companion out of the convo circle only to get stuck in it yourself. If there weren’t sacrifice involved somehow, it wouldn’t be a ‘wing woman’. If my partner can’t introduce this connection to someone else, perhaps I can learn about his/her interests and make some intros of my own.
  • “Wow I’m really glad to have met you. Enjoy the rest of your night and I look forward to ___” – Your contact will feel so warm and fuzzy they may not even notice you when you leave.
  • I’m definitely going to take you up on the [golf invite/workshop invite]. Thanks again I’m glad we had some time to chat today.

Alternatively you could use more of an escape strategy than graceful exit. However, USE CAUTION when excusing yourself for drink/food/restroom. If it is just you and one other person, be prepared for that person to agree with your “suggestion” and also seek drink/food/restroom. Speaking of which, it’s time for lunch. Have a great rest of the week, and thanks for stopping by the blog today!

Hosted IVR Systems Finally Allow Small Businesses to Make Money From Their Phones

This article originally appeared in the Halloo Communications blog. I’m a Halloo alumna and occasional blog contributor – and a HUGE fan of the service – learn more about them here.

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All growing business experiences the following scenario at some point:

1. A new advertisement or marketing has started generating attention,
2. Potential customers start calling to learn more, and
3. The current business owner/staff start spending more time on the phone than on other critical business functions.

The deluge of phone calls can often overwhelm small- and mid-sized businesses as they try to qualify new leads, or answer general inquiries while still trying to maintain service quality elsewhere. Some hire additional staff, while others rely on the phone company to provide additional lines to manage the workload – but these options carry significantly greater cost than automating inbound calls.

To learn more, press 1 or read on…

An Interactive Voice Response System, or IVR, is the common automated menu system heard when customers call into medium or large sized businesses. Businesses can filter callers to specific people or work groups – such as sales or customer support – making inbound communications more efficient all around. Alternatively, some businesses use their IVR system to share pre-recorded answers to common questions, such as office hours or location info.

While your local phone company offers this service to business clients, the time and costs involved in creating your IVR system or making impromptu changes with this method (i.e. “We are closed for Labor Day”) can be steep since many require specific telephone handsets, call routing hardware or software licenses.

Savvy business owners have turned to hosted IVR systems, which provide the same features and functions on their existing telephones without requiring additional hardware or software. A hosted IVR system offers a business owner free and easy access to create, edit, and remove the menus or prompts – recordings the customer hears when calling the company – via web interface. This is especially useful for on-the-fly updates to customers, like a limited discount offer or an emergency office closure.

Hosted IVR systems also include turnkey addition of and edits to mailboxes on the web interface. Real estate listing services, for example, would use these virtual mailboxes to create MLS directories that connect buyers to recordings about specific properties – thus freeing up sales agents to follow up with the most serious prospects first.

Other directory services or referral networks add a direct inward dial number (DID) as a means to measure advertising effectiveness in different metropolitan areas, or to cater to local customer markets (i.e. pizza delivery services, community service groups, etc). These groups compare reports from the hosted IVR system against advertising campaigns to show which ads/number generated the greatest response.

Whether deployed to pre-screen callers, provide better service, or free staff from their phones, a hosted IVR is certainly an affordable, flexible way to test the waters of scaling a business.

Behind Enemy Lines – Insights from your Competition

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Today I met with a potential client to learn more about his firm and to identify future collaboration opportunities – and somewhere between hearing his sales strategy and learning about the company’s long-term growth plans, I recalled a valuable info source that small business owners often neglect after a while – competition.

If you stay tuned in to their marketing efforts, competitors can readily give you a free SWOT analysis. Imitation is more than sincere flattery. Have they begun mimicking your site design or pricing options? Congratulations! Competitors think you’ve bested their previous efforts.

Perhaps your closest rival has had runaway success in the press with a new product feature or release – that you’ve had all along. They could be marketing better, or worse, have a better-working widget for your top clients. Either explanation is just cause to re-evaluate product marketing policy.

Executive comments articles or industry publications can also offer hints on the overall strategic direction of companies in your competitive landscape. Are they trying to solve the same problem as you? As before? If not, these candid remarks could signal their intentions to leave the space or dig in and compete more fiercely for your customers.

Modus Operandi

Here are a couple of ways to keep an eye on the competition, without having to enlist outside resources:

  1. Lost Leads: Most Sales managers are familiar with the following two excuses for Closed/Lost leads – “Bad Product”, and “Bad Pricing”.  Granted, these excuses could signal a lack in savvy for closing the deal or inability to persuade through ‘value creation. But when taken with a few grains of salt, these insights can help businesses can stay ahead of competitors’ product and packaging tweaks before a substantial shift in market share occurs.
  2. Executive Moves and Hiring Trends: Even with the nearly 10% unemployment rate in California, the hiring wars among Silicon Valley’s hottest tech firms wage on. HP vs. Oracle. Googlers have migrated to Facebook…whose bodies have flown to Twitter…and so on. Companies send press releases on executive hires not simply to brag about a new face – but also to influence employee migration among top talent. While it may be obvious that organizational issues drive employees to competitors, it is harder for firms to realize the competitive threats resulting from the loss of top talent to complimentary players in the value net.

If one employee moves to a supplier, he/she could simply be interested in serving a different part of the value chain. If however you lose 3 top engineers to a reseller, that company could be looking to match your capabilities and services – and to sell them direct.

Too often small businesses forget to keep an eye on competitors when trying to scale. By listening to internal sales and employee data and by monitoring rivals’ marketing efforts, these companies can identify threats and opportunities more quickly and be more proactive when making strategic decisions.

Small World After All

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Based in San Francisco, CA, but has studied/worked/lived…

…throughout the US:  Chicago, IL   |  Des Moines, IA  | Anaheim, CA  |  New York, NY  | Philadelphia, PA  | San Francisco, CA

…in South America: Buenos Aires, Argentina

…in Europe:   London, UK  | Barcelona, Spain

…in Asia Pacific:  Sydney, Australia | Singapore  | Mumbai, India

Categories: About

Drake Marketing Rehab: Take a page from the Toyota playbook

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

A few weeks back my fellow Drake University alumni and I watched in horror as the school launched a new recruitment campaign called “D+”. The irony was initially completely lost on the agency and university marketing team, but after receiving less-than-desirable coverage of the campaign (Washington Post, Huffington, etc.) Drake began to back-pedal.

The University has since removed the obnoxious D+ logo and sent out emails to alumni from President David Maxwell that insist some form of market research was done prior to the campaign launch and that initial findings proved beneficial to DU recruitment targets.

Apparently Drake has also taken a lesson from Toyota’s recent “auto-biography campaigns” and initiated a customer testimonial channel on YouTube:

It is unclear whether the campaign is owned by the “D+” team or is more of an organic effort by Drake’s super-fans. But with fewer than 250 views of all “A Drake Love Story” videos, these evangelists have a lot of work to do.

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