Decision Making Process

In any company or business, there is a process for making decisions. It may not be a formal or rigid process, or perhaps not a very complex process, but it exists. For example, a decision to switch brands of coffee might be made by Joe, who is the one who stocks the kitchen. A decision to spend $25,000 on Search Engine Optimization might require that the entire company (all 7 workers) sit down and discuss. Regardless, the process is there.

The question small business owners need to ask is whether their decision making process works. The answer is rarely a simple yes or no. The following is intended to show the impact of a good or bad decision making process, and why it is in your best interest to develop a good process.

There are several issues to be aware of when looking at any decision:

  • The impact to your business image and its ability to function. A $25 expenditure for coffee will be unlikely to change how your business is perceived, while a $25,000 investment in SEO can change your image and will affect your cash flow.
  • The trust you place in your workers. If your workers have a vested interest in your business, which most workers do to at least some extent, they will likely want to be able to provide input to some of the decisions that are made.
  • The amount of executive power any one person has should be limited to prevent bad or heavily biased decisions. This can be done by requiring a review of all decisions, with the size of the review dependent on the scope of the decision.
  • The amount of time spent following the process relative to the significance of the decision. Spending 2 weeks deciding which brand of coffee to buy is a waste of time, spending 20 minutes deciding which SEO package to sign up for is not nearly enough time.
  • Your time spent making non-business-critical decisions relative to the time you spend working on your business at all should be minimal. If you want your business to grow, you need to learn to delegate and provide opportunity for others in your business to gain your trust.

In a good decision making process, you should aim to balance the four issues above. Keep the process minimal relative to the size of the decision, and avoid getting involved in the small decisions (but do keep aware of what the decisions are). By monitoring the small decisions your employees make, you provide the opportunity for them to gain your trust and open opportunity for you to delegate more of the non-business-critical decisions, which allows you to focus on growing your business.

Email Overload and Prompt Replies

In today’s environment, information flows to the extent that merely filtering out the good data from the bad is a huge amount of work. The information superhighway is stuck in eternal gridlock during a blizzard, with the volume of information increasing at an exponential rate while the ability to locate quality information consistently decreases.

Your e-mail is no different. There is the large volume of spam. The joke your cousin e-mailed you (which has been circulating for two years, and you’ve read it three times before). A message from an university friend trying to arrange a visit. Newsletters from several magazines you read on a regular basis. An urgent request from a client for some data. The list continues.

To maintain a semblance of control over your inbox, you may want to try implementing the following strategy. If you have other suggestions for dealing with large volumes of mail, please let me know.

  1. Maintain separate e-mail addresses for personal and business, and be strict about it. I have 5 e-mail addresses that I actively maintain, and each serves a different purpose. One is for personal, one is my company e-mail address, one is provided by my employer, one is for mailing lists, and one is for business not part of any regular work (for example, messages from this blog). The lines between the addresses are strict, and it helps filter the level of importance for each e-mail immediately.
  2. Clean your inbox daily. This means reading each e-mail, either responding immediately if required, or marking it for further attention later.
  3. Use folders or labels for organizing the e-mails you have already read. I personally prefer the Google model of using labels, as some e-mails may need to be referenced from multiple categories.
  4. Set aside time each day to deal with your e-mail. If the volume is high enough, you may need to do this multiple times during the day. During those windows, deal with the high-importance e-mails and leave the others for later. Then set aside a time at the end of each day to read through the remaining e-mails.
  5. Check your e-mail frequently for new messages, or set up a notification process. Google has an application called Gmail Notifier which will show the first few lines of each incoming message as it arrives. Outlook will do the same. This prevents the build-up of high importance e-mails.
  6. Check your spam folder daily to ensure there are no real messages mixed in, and then empty the folder.
  7. If you read a message, and there is a quick response to it, do it immediately, even if it’s not very important. That takes it off your list of things to do.

New Website

After listening to people’s comments on the design and layout of my website, I have changed the look. The content will be updated over the next few days, but comments on the design, layout, and style are welcome.

Site Test Launch

I’ve posted a new version of my site, www.optimalupgrades.com (or .ca, they forward to each other). I’m looking for some feedback on the site. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Preparing to Attend a Networking Event

I discovered at a few recent networking events that while many people know what a networking event is all about, they do not know how to prepare for one. For example (details modified), at a recent event, I spoke to someone, and asked what he did. “I build decks and I paint and I have a lawn service.” I asked what he was looking for. “Oh, anything really.”

To me, he was clearly unprepared for the question, although he may not realize that. As a result of his answer, not only has he failed to make a positive connection, he has actually created a negative one. When I need the name of someone who does any of the 3 things he does, I will be sure NOT to recommend him. He has not established the basis for a connection, as I don’t know what he is looking for, nor do I have a sense of his credibility, competence, or reliability.

In order to prevent yourself from doing something similar, run through the following checklist before you walk in the door to your next event. Not only will you be able to avoid making such vague statements, you will be able to demonstrate your credibility by appearing prepared, confident, and goal-oriented. Some one who knows what she wants.

  1. Determine an objective for the event. Are you trying to get more contacts for your party-planning business? Are you looking for new ways to advertise? Potential business partners? Set a tangible goal for the evening, such as getting 5 names of people with entertainment connections.
  2. Prepare your Best-Test speech. Sit down with a pen and paper and list some skills that would help you reach your goal from step 1. Choose one or two, think of a creative way of stating that skill, and put together a quick example of how you applied that skill in the past. For more information on this, visit my post on Parnasa Fest.
  3. Make sure you have plenty of business cards, and that they reflect your goals for the evening. You can get cards made in a single day if necessary at many print shops. If you are planning on attracting people to your lawn-care business, don’t hand out cards for your painting services.
  4. Be prepared to talk. Think of several examples of your own work that you want to talk about. Prepare some questions to ask other people, such as What do you think of The Daily Planet for advertising? Did you feel you got a good return on investment? or Where did you go to get your website set up? Would you use them again if you had to redo the site?
  5. Bring a pen and some paper. Business cards can work as paper, but you can’t get very much information on a single card, plus you risk losing the card before the end of the event. A small notepad or a few sheets of paper can make a big difference.
  6. Don’t spend the evening talking to a couple of people. If you have that much to talk about, arrange to meet later to talk further. You’re at the event to meet more people, and it’s hard to do that if you spend an hour talking to one person and 45 minutes talking to the next. Set a limit for yourself, say, no more than 10 minutes before it’s time to arrange to meet at a later date. In a 3 hour networking event, you should be able to meet at least 30 people and know what they do, just by moving efficiently from one conversation to the next.

If you have any other ideas as to how to prepare for a networking event, let me know. If you try my advice, please let me know how it works for you. I would love to hear from you!

Top Reasons to Work From Home and Make It Work

There are many lists posted regarding reasons to work from home. However, many of the lists don’t consider the problems inherent in working from home, as pertains to those lists. What I will attempt to do here is list out some reasons to work from home, the potential issue with each, and how to work around the issue.

  1. Unlimited Income: This is often called the top reason to work from home. Unfortunately, it is not so much a reason to work from home as it is a reason to work for yourself, or in a profit-sharing organization. Be aware that to achieve unlimited income, you will have to give up reliable income. The greater the potential rewards, the greater the risk.
  2. Getting Away from the Corporate World: This may be a plus for some, but if your home-based business really takes off, you may find yourself back in the corporate world. Only this time, you’ll be the CEO. Again, the issues in reason #1 still apply.
  3. More Family Time: If you are truly working from home, then you don’t have more family time. In fact, you can never leave your job, since your office is where ever you happen to be at the moment. You gain time with the removal of commuting time, but if you want your business to be a success, you will have to devote all your energy toward that. However, you do have the flexibility to adjust your hours so that your free time coincides with when your family is around.
  4. Wear Anything: While you can wear anything, it’s not a good idea. Sure, if your shirt is a bit wrinkled, you don’t need to go press it, but it’s hard to sit down to some serious work when your in a bathrobe and bunny slippers. My recommendation is to be aware of this option, but not to use it except in rare cases.
  5. No More Negative Co-workers: However, there are also no more positive co-workers. Having other people around to bounce ideas off of, or to get outside expertise, is very helpful. Working from home makes it harder to find these people. If you’re planning on working from home, make sure you know how you’re going to find these positive people.
  6. Do What You Like To Do: Of course, this assumes that your home-based business has figured out how to make money from your favorite activity. This is a big assumption, but even if it were true, you will soon discover that in addition to doing your favorite activity, you are also an accountant, lawyer, sales agent, developer, secretary, etc. The joys of some portions of the job will wear off pretty quickly. Be prepared to contract out that work when you no longer enjoy doing it (or don’t have time anymore to keep up with it).
  7. Fewer Distractions: This is only true if you set aside a place to work and stick to it! If your home office is open to the family, they will distract you. If your business phone number is your home phone number, you will get countless calls from people who know you’re at home, such as relatives. Make sure your office can be closed off from the rest of your home (i.e. a door) and that you have a separate phone number for your business, with no access to your home phone number from within your office.
  8. Work Anywhere: Yes, you have the option of going to the [noisy] coffee shop or the library. If you plan on meeting clients on a regular basis, however, you need some space to call your own. Either set up a space in your home or rent some office space and work there. You can work anywhere, as long as it’s always the same place.

This list is by no means complete. If you’ve heard another reason touted as to why you should work from home and can’t see it working, let me know, and I will see if I can help you figure out a way to make it work.

Parnasa Fest 2

There are a few reasons to host a part 2 to Parnasa Fest, or, in fact, any networking event:

  1. Networking takes times. The first time you meet someone, they don’t know you, and therefore, may be reluctant to refer you to another associate. Only time can build your credibility, so seeing them at multiple networking events helps you meet them again.
  2. The first event was a success, as measured by the number of people who turned out, as well as by the fact that at least one referral (probably more, but I only know of one specific case) was made as a direct result of Parnasa Fest. This can help ensure that even more people turn out for the next event.
  3. There was something missing in the first event that would have made the event better: more hiring companies. One of the aims of the next event will be to get other recruitment firms to attend, as well as representatives from companies that are actively hiring (yes, a few such companies exist even in a lousy economy).

That being said, if you know of a company that is hiring, or if you have a connection to a recruitment firm, located in the GTA, please pass on that information and perhaps help someone get a job.

Website Launch

Today is the official launch of the Marlee Shul website: http://marleeshul.com. Still a work in progress, but the bare bones of the site are there, and it will be updated frequently over the next few weeks.