Every business owner deals with suppliers. Sometimes these suppliers are obvious: cafe owners need food deliveries, gallery owners need artists, shop owners need products to sell. If your business is primarily service based, you might need to think a bit more carefully to work out who your suppliers are.
As a small business owner you’re probably unlikely to regularly use the services of all of these professionals, but I’d be surprised if you didn’t use any of them. These people are your suppliers in just the same way as a butcher or grocer are suppliers of a restaurant. After all, you rely on them to keep moving forward in your business.
- Your internet provider
- Your landline and mobile providers
- Your web hosts
- Your web design company
- Your marketing consultant
- Your print company
- Your accountant or bookkeeper
- Your virtual assistant
- Your business coach
- Your team of industry freelancers
- Your social media consultant
- Your copywriter
- Your graphic designer
I meet with small business owners every week and there are certain problems that come up again and again. One of the most common ones is problems with suppliers. Unfortunately, I think the reason many of us small business owners bump into issues with our suppliers is because we have become complacent with them.
This can work two ways.
One: if you’re complacent with your suppliers you may not notice when they’re doing a poor job
Just because you’ve been working with someone for a while doesn’t mean you have to continue working with them: especially if they’re not doing the job you need them to do. If you find yourself constantly complaining about your bookkeeper, or your virtual assistant, or your web host, perhaps it’s time to make a change.
This may mean sitting them down and setting new expectations for their work, or it may mean deciding to work with someone completely new. There’s no benefit in the familiar if it’s no longer working for you! Investing the time to source a new supplier could bring you a great deal more value in the long run.
Two: if you’re complacent with your suppliers you may not notice when they’re doing a great job
Being complacent could lead to the opposite problem: that you stop noticing what the people around you are doing, even when it’s really helping you out. This can be a problem as failing to appreciate your suppliers may damage your relationship with them. Taking the time to notice what your suppliers are doing and thank them for their hard work is a simple but effective way to maintain effective working practices.
Of course, there’s another issue with being complacent about how well your suppliers are working. If they’re doing a really good job that’s not quite on your radar, you may be missing out on additional work they could do for you. They may be able to get double the results for you if you were to free up a few more resources for them to work with: but you’ll only know this if you take the time to evaluate their progress.
So when was the last time you re-evaluated the people your business works with? Sitting down to look at the facts, figures and results could be a big eye-opener.
Want to make sure you’re not missing out on more business advice like this? You can sign up to the Green Shoots Coaching newsletter by scrolling to the bottom of the page.
When you’re a business owner it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with all the things you have to do. There are so many plates that need to be kept spinning and if you’re in sole charge of keeping them all up in the air, it can often feel like it’s just too much.
These spinning plates can be things like:
- Fulfilling orders
- Meeting with clients
- Hitting deadlines
- Responding to emails
- Keeping track of finances
- Maintaining marketing campaigns
- Communicating via social media
- Updating your website
- Tracking progress
- Setting goals
- Doing big picture planning
- Reaching targets
When you look at a list like this, it’s no wonder that running a business single-handedly can often feel like it’s just too much to handle! Trying to do all these things at once is nigh on impossible.
Luckily, there is a way around this. It’s a simple technique that doesn’t involve hiring staff, delegating to others or ignoring tasks all together.
Want to know what it is?
Just do one small thing at a time.
Often the reason we feel overwhelmed is because we’re trying to do too many things at once. Technology is a wonderful resource for business owners, but it also makes it incredibly tempting to always be trying to do three or four things simultaneously. It’s not surprising we often feel as if we’re in overdrive.
If you can get out of the multi-tasking habit and resolve to just focus on one small thing at a time, you’ll likely find that your productivity improves massively and that your stress levels drop.
So how can you do this? Here are two things to try.
One: make it a habit to focus solely on one thing at a time
When you are checking your emails, sit down at your computer and check your emails. Once you’ve finished, close your inbox and move onto the next thing. Try to only have the tabs or programmes open on your computer that are absolutely necessary for the task. If it takes a few moments for the internet page to load, use that time to think about the task at hand… not to check something else on your smartphone!
It may only be when you start really trying to focus on one thing at a time that you realise how much you’ve been doing the opposite. Building a new habit can take time, so do be patient with yourself.
Two: break your to do list up into smaller chunks
When you add a new task to your to do list, how do you do it? Do you add tasks by whole project or by individual steps? If it’s the former, that may be part of the reason why you feel overwhelmed. When you add a whole project to your list, it an be difficult for your subconscious mind to work out how it’s going to address it. Depending on your profession, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to complete that whole project in one sitting. A web designer doesn’t design a website in one afternoon, just as a shop owner doesn’t manage a new product launch all in one go.
Your to do list is likely to feel a great deal more manageable if you add tasks in manageable chunks. Remember: you’re just doing one small thing at a time.
The great thing about working this way is that those small things will add up very quickly to equal big things and big progress.
Have you got any other simple tips for avoiding overwhelm in business? I’d love to hear them. Why not share them with me on Twitter? I’m @GreenShootCoach.
How have the first two months of 2016 been for you and your business? Some of you may feel as if it’s been half a lifetime since Christmas, while others may feel that the year has barely got going.
Whatever your January and February have looked like, the end of the month is a natural time to take a step back and reflect on how far you’ve come. The best way to do this is usually to look back at your goals and targets and measure your progress against them.
But what if you don’t have any goals in place?
Many business owners use the start of a new year as an opportunity to set goals and targets for the twelve months ahead. However, the start of a new year can often be a manic time! You may have been too occupied with post-festive tasks and the end of the school holidays to have had a chance to sit down and think about the big picture for your business.
Equally, you may have gone the other way. It’s easy to get swept up in the ‘New Year, New You’ mentality on January 1st and make impulsive goals that aren’t truly consistent with your long term ambitions.
If you’ve found yourself in either situation, don’t worry. It’s certainly not too late to set goals for 2016, or even to change the ones you set originally.
Goal setting doesn’t have to happen on anyone else’s schedule
Here’s the good news: there are no rules about when you can set goals! There are certain points in the year when there is more of a cultural expectation to set goals, such as new year or the start of the academic year, but these times won’t work for everyone.
Goal and target setting is a very personal process. For best results I’d always recommend finding a target setting schedule that works for you.
You could consider:
Re-evaluating goals on your business anniversary:
If annual goal setting makes sense for you, why not pick a date to do it that has personal significance? This could be the anniversary of the date you started your business, the end of your industry’s particular ‘busy season’ or perhaps even your birthday. You may find that choosing a date away from traditional resolution periods gives you more headspace to make wiser choices.
Setting quarterly or monthly targets:
A year is a very long time! Some business owners find that it’s too long to focus on just one big goal. It may work better for you to set quarterly or monthly targets. These are likely to be smaller, more achievable goals that will enable you to see real progress.
Working with a goal setting professional:
We all have different strengths. Setting and sticking to SMART targets might not be yours. If this is the case, it doesn’t have to be a problem. There are a wide range of professionals who are qualified to support you through this process. Regular sessions with a business coach could have two benefits in this sense: they could help you to make wise decisions about goal setting and provide a built in accountability factor.
Will you be taking time over the coming weeks to re-evaluate current goals or set new ones? If so, you may find it helpful to take a look at some of my previous blog posts on goal setting.
Have you ever heard what Thomas Edison said after years of work trying to get lightbulb prototype after lightbulb prototype to work?
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Isn’t that a great way to think about failure? By considering each wrong step as a kind of progress, Edison was able to keep moving forward with his efforts. And, of course, it all paid off: he did eventually patent the first commercial lightbulb in 1879.
I think we could all learn a lot from this mindset. When we get something wrong, we often immediately categorise it as a failure. Unfortunately, doing this has two results:
- It makes us feel bad
- It can stop us from trying new things in the future
When you get something wrong, it can be very tempting to just give up on it. This is especially true in business when we often have to put ourselves far out of our comfort zone in order to grow. Perhaps you’ve tried a new marketing campaign and got very little response, or maybe you launched a new service with great fanfare only to find that no one wants to book it.
Experiences like these can be really demoralising. I know because, like all business owners, I’ve had similar experiences myself. But before you give up, consider this: what if Thomas Edison had given up just one lightbulb prototype earlier? He would never have found the one that worked and would therefore never have been able to enjoy the results of all his hard work leading up to that point.
The best way to deal with failure is to change your mindset. This is where tools such as NLP techniques can be really helpful for business owners! If you could reframe your thinking to consider each so-called failure as a learning experience, how would that change the way you worked?
- You’d feel more able to freely experiment
- You may find that creative thinking would come more naturally to you
- You’d be able to embrace a more playful innovation style
- You’d be less afraid to get things wrong
- Your big picture vision would be far less impaired by worries and doubts
- Experimentation would be much more fun
Simply changing your attitude to failure could have a huge impact on how you feel about trying new things and putting yourself out there. It could help you to embrace the idea of beneficial experimentation and give you the confidence to try new things with your business that you’ve been wary of in the past.
After all, every time we try something new and it doesn’t have the result we’d hoped: we’ve learnt something. Each one of those lessons is incredibly valuable as we can put what we’ve learnt into practice next time we try. For example, that new marketing campaign that didn’t get results? Next time you can try something different because you know that particular technique didn’t help you reach the right people. And that new service that didn’t get enough bookings? Consider it an opportunity to learn about what doesn’t resonate with your customer base in order to move closer to something that does.
How do you approach failure as a business owner? I’d love to hear about the ways you’ve turned a negative experience into a learning opportunity. Why not share your stories on the Green Shoots Coaching Facebook page?
Being in business with someone is a big commitment. This is true whether you’re in business with your spouse, a family member, a friend or a professional colleague. When you decide to go in on a venture with another person, it’s important to make sure you do ongoing checks to ensure you’re both still pushing forwards in the same direction.
I call these ongoing checks partner audits. These are serious conversations that are best done at regular intervals. Many of the sets of business partners I’ve worked with have found that it works well to formalise these checks to distinguish them from their other everyday conversations. This works particularly well for business partners who are particularly close in other spheres of life such as spouses, siblings or best friends.
Do you do a regular partner audit in your business? If not, I would definitely recommend it as something to think about. Here are five questions you may want to ask your business partner.
One: Are we still moving in the same direction?
Sometimes an unprofitable period can be explained by business partners who didn’t know they were actually working towards different goals. The best progress happens when you work together!
Two: Have your priorities shifted?
This relates to both your business partner’s priorities within the business and out of it. Depending on your relationship with your business partner, you may not know about any personal challenges they’re currently facing. Concerns at home or with their health could take their focus away from the business, so it can be really helpful to ask this question regularly.
Three: Do we still want the same things from the business?
Just because you wanted the same things when you started out doesn’t mean you will further down the line. Changing personal commitments might mean that the ideal work/life balance when you started out doesn’t work for you anymore. Equally, you may find that interests and passions shift over time and that one of you now wants to work towards slightly different goals.
Four: Is there anything that isn’t working for you at the moment?
Have you ever had a small niggling issue with someone you work closely with that has grown into a much bigger problem over time? Asking this question regularly can help you both to address those small niggles before they start to cause real resentment.
Five: Are you satisfied with where we are?
Dissatisfaction can be a dangerous thing, especially when it isn’t addressed. If your business partner isn’t feeling good about where you are in your business right now, you’ll want to know about it. There may be something you can do to address that dissatisfaction… or they may find that just saying it out loud makes them feel more in control.
Some business partners are great at communicating, even when it comes to big questions like these. Others find probing questions more difficult to manage, especially when they suspect they may not get the answer they were hoping for.
There’s often no correlation between how close business partners are and how good they are at managing a partners audit. In fact, I’ve worked with many sets of business partners who double up as married couples and still find it tricky to start these conversations!
If you and your business partner fall into this category, please don’t use that as an excuse for skipping important conversations altogether. Big picture communication is really important when it comes to growing your business and preparing for the future. Instead of avoiding the issue, why not bring in a facilitator? An impartial third party could help to facilitate productive partner audits that really have an impact.
Need advice on where to start or looking for someone you can trust to be that third party facilitator? I’d love to help. Why not get in touch?
Earlier in the year I blogged about making wise choices for your business in 2016. Many of you will have sat down to do something similar; whether you called them wise choices, yearly goals or New Year’s Resolutions.
Today I’d like to ask you all how things are going with those goals. The first month or so of working towards a new goal or target is often easier than we thought it might be. This is often due to the novelty factor of a new habit or routine. Unfortunately, as that novelty wears off it can often be difficult to make sure you keep on track, especially when new challenges crop up in the meantime.
So how is it going? Are you still in the honeymoon period with your 2016 goals or are you struggling to keep reaping the benefits?
February can be a tricky month for staying on target. If this feels true for you, it might be time to bring in some help. Investing in some coaching sessions could be an excellent way to ensure you stay true to your goals and work towards greater success in the future.
If you’re not sure how a coach would help in this situation, here’s a few examples.
A coach would work with you to review your 2016 goals
Sometimes we struggle to keep goals because they weren’t the right ones for us to have made in the first place. Alternatively, we may be having an issue because even though the overall goal is a wise one, the individual steps we’ve set ourselves in order to work towards it need tweaking.
An experienced coach would start by reviewing the goals you’ve set and making sure they’re achievable and relevant to your individual situation. They would also help you to break big goals up into a series of smaller manageable targets.
A coach would act as an accountability partner
Not only would a coach help to ensure the goals you’re working towards are the right ones, they would also give you further accountability to stay on target. Organising a monthly or quarterly check in with a coach can often help motivate us to have some progress to show!
A coach would offer impartial guidance and experience
It can be incredibly difficult to get a true picture of what your business situation looks like from the outside. A professional coach can be a great solution for this as they’re able to look impartially at the facts without getting caught up in the emotional side of owning a business. They would also be able to offer pointers and things to think about from their own experience, both as a business owner themselves and as someone who has helped countless other people through similar challenges.
A coach would remind you to focus on the bigger picture
When you work hard every day to keep things in your business ticking over it can be really easy to lose track of what you’re aiming for. Regular sessions with a coach would give you a neutral space to think about the bigger picture and remember why you set goals to begin with.
If you think it might be time to get some support with your 2016 goals, I’d love to hear from you. Why not read about how to tell when you’ve found the right coach for you or take my questionnaire to find out if you’re ready for coaching?
Owning a business is something many people dream of. The idea of being totally in control of your own schedule, the type of work you take on, the budget, the future direction and the management can sound completely blissful.
But what about the reality?
Being a business owner certainly can be blissful (at least some of the time!) but a lot of people in our position find the reality very different. If you’re finding that all the joy of being a business owner is being sapped right out of you, it can be tough to find the motivation to develop and grow.
Here’s some good news: it doesn’t have to be this way! Huge numbers of business owners get a great deal of joy from their career choice and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t be one of them.
Ready to make some changes?
The first step to rediscovering your bliss is to work out exactly what it is that’s sapping your joy. A little bit of detective work is likely to help you find the culprit. Sometimes this is an external factor, sometimes it’s internal and sometimes it’s a mix of the two.
Over the years I’ve helped many business owners get to the root of their business blues. I’ve listed some of the most common factors below.
In some ways, a little bit of stress can be helpful. It’s a great motivator and it can encourage us not to procrastinate, can give us vital adrenalin and can help us get the job done. Unfortunately too much stress can be paralysing! Uncontrolled stress is one of the biggest joy-sappers I come across as a coach. If this is playing a big part in why you’re no longer enjoying being a business owner, it’s time to take action. Mindfulness meditation, talking it out and a new exercise routine can all be beneficial, as can addressing the main source of your stress.
Sometimes the business we set out to run is not the business we end up running. This might be due to circumstances, a few wrong choices or even because of demand. Whatever the reason, if your business isn’t moving forward in a way you really want it to it may be time to pause, take stock and consider re-focusing.
Not Enough Support
It can be really tricky to manage all aspects of your business on your own. No doubt you’re excellent at what you do best, but just because you’re a fantastic baker, brilliant PR manager or terrific tradesperson doesn’t mean you’ll be great at all the other parts of running a business. If you’re struggling with your accounts, marketing your business, managing your website or taking appointments, it might be time to bring in some support. Yes there will be costs involved in this, but the time you free up will give you more space for more customer work… not to mention the benefits of the emotional relief!
Difficult Business Challenges
We’ve all had them. Sometimes external factors can seem like they’re ganging up on your business and can cause all sorts of extra stress and unhappiness. It might be because of a demanding customer, a problem with a supplier or a contentious competitor. Either way, a difficult business challenge can dent your confidence and make you feel miserable. It can be really difficult to deal with issues like these on your own. A trusted advisor could help you look at the problem more impartially.
When people dream of owning their own business, there is one reality they often don’t realise: you’ll probably spend a lot of time on your own! This is definitely true in the early days when you may not have the budget to hire additional people. Some people thrive working independently while others miss the hustle, bustle and chatter of a busier office environment. If you fall into the latter camp, perhaps you could look at creating more business partnerships or moving to a co-working space.
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, don’t panic. These are all common joy-sappers that can make us business owners blue. Happily, most of them are fairly straight-forward to address. In most cases talking to someone can make a big difference. You could consider finding a mentor, partnering up with a fellow business owner or hiring a coach.
Whatever you do, please don’t let factors like these come permanently between you and your business owner joy!
As a professional coach I often get asked what my coaching style is. This is sometimes tricky for me to answer succinctly as the style of my sessions really does depend on the needs of each client! All my coaching services are offered on a holistic basis: I feel it’s important to look at the whole picture rather than just one particular segment of it. This means that if we plan a session to talk about your business or career, I’ll also be listening out for clues about how other areas of your life are affecting these, and vice versa.
I have always believed in the importance of offering significant value to my clients. Because of this, over the years I’ve made it my mission to draw on a wide variety of experiences, techniques and tools in order to help each individual or business I meet with to work towards their full potential.
Part of that metaphorical coaching tool kit is a range of behaviour techniques. These specialist tools can be designed to help you to change any behaviour patterns that are no longer working for you. Myself and my clients have had some great success with the practise of NLP.
NLP, or neuro-linguistic programming, is an approach developed in the United States nearly fifty years ago. The technique links what’s going on in our brain to the type of language we use and our behavioural patterns. Addressing these three areas can help to make a big difference to the way we act and feel, and therefore bring us closer to reaching our key aims.
Many of my coaching clients complain about finding it difficult to ‘switch off’ from work. Being unable to mentally step away from work in this way can make it difficult to enjoy socialising or even to be able to properly relax during downtime. I have helped many of these clients change this habit using NLP as well as a programme of exercise, meditation and mindfulness exercises.
What else could behaviour techniques help you achieve?
- dropping unhelpful or destructive habits
- overcoming an unhealthy relationship with finances
- being able to better manage stress
- trusting yourself to make better decisions
- creating new positive habits
- becoming more motivated
- improving the quality of your relationships with others
- reducing anxieties and worries
- gaining more confidence
- increasing productivity
Personally, I’m a big believer in the idea that there needs to be a strong rapport between the practitioner and the client in order for NLP to be successful. Presumably this is why this particular technique can be so valuable as part of the coaching process!
When you are looking for a coach, it’s really important to meet with a few professionals and choose someone who you feel you really ‘click’ with. Whether you are seeking support primarily with your relationship, your personal aims, your business or your career, coaching sessions are likely to involve some tough questions and the need to address some deep-rooted beliefs. Navigating all this will be so much more positive and productive with a coach you genuinely like and trust.
Want to know more about where the coaching process could take you? I’ve shared a lot more information here.
These days many of us business owners are communicating with our audience more than ever before. A lot of us write blog posts, send out regular newsletters, tweet, send Facebook updates and publish LinkedIn articles all as part of our regular marketing activity.
All these communication methods are effective and I speak to many clients who’ve had great success doing these things. However, I do think there’s a risk of getting so caught up in these digital conversational opportunities that we forget the value of direct two-way communication.
Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you picked up the phone to talk to a client? Many of us have become much more comfortable communicating from behind our computer screens and have forgotten the benefits of a quick phone conversation. Phone calls are more personal, often quicker for sorting out details and offer much more opportunity for ‘reading’ the person you’re talking to.
In fact, it’s not just phone calls that many of us are forgetting the value of. Business owners invest so much time sending out content to mailing lists, blog followers and Facebook fans that we sometimes miss out on the benefits of pro-active direct communications. A quick personalised email to a previous client – just to check in – could result in a new opportunity. This type of direct two-way conversation often reminds previous clients how much they have valued your work in the past and may inspire them to commission you again now or to recommend you to a contact.
I was reminded of how beneficial direct communication can be just before Christmas when I got in touch with a client I hadn’t heard from in a while. I’d thought of them earlier that week and wondered how they were getting on in their business, so when I had a spare fifteen minutes between appointments I decided to pick up the phone and catch up with them. It turned out to be a very serendipitous phone call: the client had just come up against a challenge she wasn’t sure how to deal with and my call prompted her to book a coaching session.
This kind of direct communication doesn’t have to be ‘salesy’ or uncomfortable. If there are some clients you haven’t heard from in a while, why not check in with them? You could:
- Give them a call jus to ask how they are
- Offer them a complimentary review
- Compliment them on some recent work or an article they’ve shared online
- Share a glowing review you’ve heard from one of their customers
- Let them know about a service or event you think they’d benefit from
- Tell them about an event or promotion you’re running
- Share a link to an article you’ve read
Of course, none of this is to say there’s anything wrong with social media communication. I think it’s brilliant, and the results often speak for themselves. My point here is that simple direct communications can also have huge value – especially when it comes to keeping in touch with clients you’ve worked with in the past.
Oh, and a final reminder… two way communication does work two ways. If you’re lucky enough to receive a direct communication from a client or potential client: make sure you remember to reply!
Running a small business is not for everyone. A small or micro business can offer a huge range of benefits and opportunities… but also comes with more than its fair share of challenges! I come across many of these challenges again and again, both in my own business and those of my coaching clients. One of the most difficult to address is the question of where the business owner ends and the business begins.
Have you come across this issue? It can be particularly tricky for service-related businesses. After all, when you are the product how can you maintain separation between you the individual and you the business?
Is this all sounding very familiar? You may be at risk of being ‘eaten up’ by your business if:
- You can’t take any time of from your business because no one can replace you
- You spend more time talking to your spouse or partner about your business than anything else
- You regularly give up your free time to catch up on work
- You can’t remember the last time you spent time developing non-work related skills or interests
- You spend more time networking with other business owners than you do socialising with friends
- You spend a lot of time using social media exclusively for your business
- You feel you are caught up in growing your business rather than taking time to consider an ideal work/life balance
- You mainly define yourself by what you do in your business
It can be uncomfortable to feel that your business is taking over your life. This is true even if you are very happy with your business and absolutely love what you do! It’s important to take pride in your work and business, but when things get out of balance it can start to cause problems.
After all, no matter how much you enjoy running your business or how successful it is, we all need to take regular time for ourselves. Becoming one and the same with your business twenty four hours a day, seven days a week is unlikely to be a healthy choice in the long run.
Want to make sure you don’t get trapped in a situation like this? Here are some little ideas from me for how to make sure you get breathing space and retain your identity even when you’re running what feels like an all-encompassing business.
Set non-negotiable time off
Most business owners find it difficult to mentally ‘leave’ their business at the end of the working day. There’s always more to be done and it’s easy to fall into the habit of working all evening and all weekend. It’s probably unrealistic to tell yourself that you’ll stop doing this completely… but what you can do is set yourself small pockets of protected time off. This could mean making a promise to never work after 9.30 in the evening, or blocking off weekend mornings to spend with family or get out into the fresh air.
Learn a new skill
Investing the time to learn a new skill can be incredibly rewarding. Doing this when the new skill is purely recreational is even better! If there’s a hobby you’ve always been interested in, why not make this the year you give it a go? Learning a musical instrument, taking up a new craft or joining a sports group can all be excellent ways to make space in your life for something that’s just for you.
Expand your business team
It’s difficult to maintain separation between you and your business when everything falls on your shoulders. Bringing in outside help can be an excellent way to remind yourself of this distinction. Don’t worry: expanding your team doesn’t have to mean taking on a member of staff. Engaging the services of a virtual assistant or freelance professional for just a few hours a week could reduce pressure and act as a helpful reminder.
How do you avoid getting eaten up by your business? I’d love to hear your tips and strategies. Why not share them with me by commenting on this blog post?