Many business owners start off with a great idea that will change the world and, through time and effort, they will evolve personally and professionally to be the best in their field. Though you might not think of it these terms, what they are actually doing, actually reaching for, is “mastery”.
You know this, because you work day and night, you have put in the hours of work, training, research, and sweat. I don’t have to tell you that becoming the master of business requires hard work. Malcom Gladwell would tell you that it takes 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to master a skill.
Imagine watching the best Formula One driver, or the most incredible ballerina. They make their chosen trade look so easy, and accessible. It is only when you attempt to duplicate the complex beauty of the Dance of Sugar Plum Fairy (reported to be one of the most difficult roles to dance), or harness the 1000 horsepower around a turn pulling 3 G’s in a Formula-1 car, you realize that just because something looks easy doesn’t mean it is.
And that may be true for something like ballet or the violin where the skill is quantifiable. Becoming a master in your field of business however, is much more than “time in” on any endeavour.
As I look around there are any number of businesses supplying goods and services to their customers in thousands of industries. What separates the successful from those who have become a master at their industry is a gritty combination of discipline, hard work, humility and generosity. Most of us would agree with the first three, but generosity?
There’s an old adage, “if you want to learn something well, teach it to someone else”. In order to teach well, it requires that you face your presuppositions about things, unearth those ideas that you didn’t even realize you believe. Being the master of any subject (even one that you invented) requires you to be able to objectively look at whatever you’re doing and seeing ways it can be improved. To teach someone else what you know requires a certain generosity. After so many years of defending your own turf, that can be difficult, but that generosity has the reward of unearthing flaws in your system in order to improve them, and you cannot master what you think is perfect.
One of my favourite business books is “Raving Fans – A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. Published in 1993, the concepts in this book are as relevant today as they were then – perhaps even more so. One of the best ways to increase customer retention is to simply over deliver whenever possible. Giving your customers or clients more than they were expecting is a great way to keep them returning to your store or website (read: “raving fan”).
Who doesn’t like to get free stuff?
How can you over deliver to your customers as often as possible? Here are some unique customer service ideas to get you started (not surprisingly, it’s the little things that count and it doesn’t have to cost much).
- Give your customer a bonus, this could be a sample product, access to a coaching call or access to a private mastermind;
- Send them an article or a website link about something you know they’re interested in;
- Offer your customer a coupon for a discount on their next purchase. This also helps to get your customers visiting your store or website again. You could also offer a free sample, a consultation or a buy one get one free;
- If you offer a service, the best way to over deliver is to get the project finished ahead of time. Beating deadlines is a wonderful way to add value to your own offers and gain lifelong customers;
- Small gestures can go a long way in gaining appreciative customers. Sending a handwritten thank-you note by regular mail is one way to achieve this. Other small gestures include sending birthday and anniversary cards, or any number of other card ideas. (Tip: ‘Lumpy mail’ gets opened more often than flat mail…)
- Why not set up something such as a Customer of the Month or Customer Shout Out. Here you would thank your customer or highlight something they did that you thought was really cool;
- Invite them on an outing at your cost and go with them – a round of golf, a cycling trip, concert, festival. This is a fantastic way to build rapport with your customers and shows them you care.
Don’t forget to celebrate with your clients and customers and even fellow business owners. If they win a new contract or make a significant improvement in their business, send them a card or small gift. This sends the message that you’re paying attention.
Another fantastic way to over deliver to your present customers is to network with other business owners. Refer local businesses that offer quality services and products, which you do not carry. By doing this, you create resources for your customers and clients and you also help support local business. Always be sure to check out these sources first though because your reputation is on the line. You don’t want to recommend a bad resource or product to anyone.
When you think of the most expensive admin assistant on the Planet, you might think of someone like Tony Stark’s assistant who puts up with all his quirks, but who is handsomely paid for her hardship. Or a billionaire’s assistant who is available 24/7 and at a moment’s notice may be called upon to drop everything and jump on a plane to Tokyo to attend meetings with their boss. You might think that…… and you would be wrong.
YOU.. yes.. you… are the most expensive admin assistant on the planet.
How can this be true? It’s because studies show that administrative tasks take up as much as 25% of an organization’s time.
So, what does this mean? Before we even talk about the dollar cost of this truth let’s talk about time. As a business owner, working a very conservative 60 hours a week, this equates to 15 hours per week. Which may not seem like that much, but how about when we look at the annual cost of this truth?
720 HOURS per year the average business owner spends on administrative tasks, that’s THREE MONTHS! Take that 720 hours and multiply by your client charge out rate. Not only is that a lot of money for doing back-office work that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place, it’s also money you haven’t billed because you’ve been doing “the paperwork”. If you outsourced these tasks alone at a much lower rate (hopefully) than you bill your clients, just think what you could do with an extra three month’s worth of time and a whole lot of extra money every year!!!
- How could your organization grow?
- What activities could you do with your family?
- How could you invest in your network and members?
- How could you serve your community?
If you have ever thought, “if only I had more time…” (you know that’s just an excuse, right?!?) and yet repeatedly find yourself burning the midnight oil filing invoices, inputting information into a database, updating your social media (or wishing you had time for social media)…
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day so why not change things up and use those hours to full advantage?
Outsourcing of services is becoming more and more mainstream and with the abundance of former corporate workers who have vast knowledge and experience and now run their own businesses, you will likely be able to find someone to help you for a reasonable amount of money. Just as business owners can operate from just about anywhere, resources can provide services from anywhere. But whatever your needs are, always remember: “buyer beware”!!
Here’s a few things to consider when outsourcing:
- The lowest priced outsourced solution may not be the best; good people cost money and beware that even these days, you still get what you pay for.
- If you’re just starting out, outsource from the very beginning with a Virtual Assistant and a bookkeeper and grow your team from there. As your business grows, you can take on a web designer, a ghost writer, a graphic designer, an executive assistant, a project manager, etc.
- Don’t outsource a task just because you don’t want to do it. There will be tasks that only you can do because they’re important to operations and strategic plan.
- Always strike a fair deal with your resources and treat them with respect. You’re relying on them to handle important tasks for you and your business so don’t take advantage of them.
- Bartering. This is a great way to get things done for no cost in exchange for services. Make sure that you and the resource are clear about the terms and that the services you each provide are both what you want. Beware that this mode of payment isn’t for everyone.
On the personal side of your life, you might think about outsourcing to further free up your time:
- A personal assistant to help keep you and your family organized;
- Housekeeper/house cleaning service;
- Property maintenance;
- Grocery service, errand service
When I first started my remote support agency, I thought I would lay-off my housekeeper, thinking that since I would be working from home, I could manage the house myself. A very wise business coach I met during my early networking days advised me against it. The reason? “You’re going to be at work during the day.” She was correct, of course, and my housekeeper is still with me to this day. What are your priorities? What would make your life easier and be less stressful for you? Give it some thought!
When an organization needs to write a proposal, it can be for many different reasons, such as business proposals, project proposals, proposals for research funding or non-profit organization funding, each of which require a particular focus. Today I’ll focus on writing proposals in response to a solicited request, like contract work.
All organizations need revenue, whether they are non-profits, associations or business enterprises. While it’s great to have repeat clients and members, there are times where organizations have to get out there and look for that work by other means and one method is by responding to a Tender, Request for Quotation, Request for Services, Request for Proposal, etc.
At times when an organization is provided with one of these Request documents, it can be met with some shock as to the amount of information being requested for a simple piece of work. Why so much detail? In short, some of the Requests may be from clients that use public funds and are accountable for how those funds are spent or the client is simply seeking good value for money and are looking for evidence from organizations that their potential contractor is capable of providing the services in a manner that is of good quality and is cost effective.
So, what makes a good proposal?
Like any consumer, the client is looking for good value for the money they plan on spending. By responding to what they are looking for, or solving their problem, stated in the request in a clear manner, a well written proposal can give you the edge on the competition.
There are many areas on the internet to find information on how to prepare a proposal. For example, if you are considering preparing a proposal for the Government of Canada, you may want to check out their site at buyandsell.gc.ca on Preparing Proposals.
Let’s take a look at some of the Do’s in proposal writing:
- Do read the request thoroughly to understand what the client is looking for. You need to understand where the client is coming from in their current state, their needs, and possible opportunities to provide a solution to their problem.
- Do ensure the goods or services are something your organization provides. If you are looking at a Request that is asking for something you may not provide, you may have to look at sub-contracting a portion of that work (if allowable), or it may not be worth your time to respond.
- Do ask questions where something is not clear, or you need information to help you prepare your proposal. These questions are helpful to the organization submitting a proposal and it may tell the client where they need to make the request clearer for all.
- Do watch out for question deadlines and submission deadlines – Proposals received after deadlines are usually not allowed.
- Do really take a look at the criteria in the Request. In most cases it is the criteria what your proposal will be reviewed against, so make sure to answer all parts of each criteria listed in the Request document.
- Do plan ahead to make sure there is enough time not only to write the proposal, but research the Client, understand the resources you have available, and have the proposal reviewed a few other people in your organization to make sure the submission is aligned with the Request. Another pair of eyes is always good!
The obvious Don’ts are those actions contrary to the Do’s above and:
- Don’t have the client search on external links for supporting material, especially if the request states that all supporting material must be in the proposal. In many cases, information from external sources can’t be taken into consideration and proposals are reviewed as they are provided, with no opportunity to add more in later. NB: some exceptions may be allowable, but they will probably be stated in the Request document, if they are.
- Don’t put it on your references to fill in the blanks of what should be in your proposal. If there is a request to provide references these are most likely only to verify what was stated in your proposal.
While it was mentioned above that Requests are received from clients, there are also many sites where organizations can search for potential Request documents to provide a proposal to such as MERX, Biddingo. Also check your city’s municipal, university, hospital or non-profit websites.
Best of luck in your proposal writing endeavors!
These last few weeks can be labelled as busy, chaotic, and exhausting and I’m not even talking about work! I’m talking about the holiday time off that just passed! While I am glad to be back at work, it’ s tough to get back into the routine again. On that note, I hope you have all had a wonderful, stress-free holiday. For those that are perhaps not feeling the back to work grind, I offer the information below.
Whether you had a relaxing time off, or you still need a vacation from your vacation, the transition back to the day-to-day routine of work, without the distraction, food and fun of the holidays is no easy task. So, first thing’s first: don’t be too hard on yourself, we’re all a little rusty getting back into the swing of things.
At times people may experience depression, the “winter blues” and anxiety. With winter settling in and the excitement of the holidays over, we push ourselves back to work and may not always recognize when it is time to take care of ourselves.
Don’t forget if you do need help right away the Canadian Mental Health Association has resources available.
A couple of years ago CBC posted an article on the anxiety of returning to work after the holidays and what you can do to manage it.
The signs of the “Winter Blahs” can include:
- Lack of motivation and loss of interest;
- Low energy;
- Difficulty sleeping; and
- Difficulty concentrating
However, there are a few ways to manage this form of depression that tends to linger during the winter months, so why not give some of these a try!
- LIGHT THERAPY:Use of an artificial light source, as light therapy to create the sunlight you would otherwise get during the summer months.
- SMALL ACCOMPLISHMENTS:Boost your motivation by completing small manageable tasks, recognizing each task as an accomplishment and step to a larger goal.
- HEALTHY EATING:Foods that contain the minerals and nutrients to get you through your day not only impact your physical health but can also be beneficial to mental health.
- STAY ACTIVE: (my personal favourite) Being active for 30 minutes per day is known to provide a fantastic boost of energy, confidence and provide an overall improvement to one’s mental and physical well being.
- EMBRACE THE COLD:As the winter is tucking itself in for a little while, there is no getting away from it and we may as well embrace it by getting out there and enjoying what it has to offer, such as skiing, snowshoeing, skating and even bundling up for that walk on your own or bring a friend.
So, what about getting used to that routine again? Even if you aren’t feeling the blues, maybe you are feeling the difficulty of getting back to the routine, so give a try with:
- Don’t set yourself up for negativity! – “Be the positive change you need.” I know it sounds a little strange, but taking a positive attitude to go back to work can be an excellent start to going back to work.
- Be ready for the pile of work and chunk it out into steps – sure you have been away from the office for a little while, so you might want to anticipate the pile of work that may be waiting for you.
Slow and steady wins the race:
- Step 1: Make that coffee have a seat
- Step 2: Make a list of the things that need to be completed
- Step 3: Then chip away at it, one thing at a time
- Be patient with yourself.
Bring something to work or do something nice for yourself and ease back into it. Remember it is a new year, so this can be a fresh start to fantastic things to look ahead and look forward to.
You can do it! Wishing you everything wonderful for 2023 from Barbara B. and the team at VWI.