Category Archives: Business Tips

4 Reasons Leaders Waste Valuable Meeting Time

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4 Reasons Leaders Waste Valuable Meeting Time

The meeting that could’ve been an email: We’ve all been there. As much as we want every meeting we attend to be productive, almost every one of us has left a meeting wondering: “Was that really necessary?” 

According to a study by Harvard Business Review, 71% of senior managers in a range of industries say meetings are unproductive and inefficient. Executives spend 23 hours per week in meetings, on average, up from 10 hours in the 1960s.

Almost nobody actually enjoys meetings. So why do leaders waste so much time in them?

1. They get sidetracked.

Given how long they spend in meetings, many leaders struggle to create an agenda for each of them. Some are thinking ahead to the next one, while others try to tackle every meeting on the fly. 

Meetings should always have a defined purpose. Make that reason clear when calling the meeting, and prepare an agenda immediately after scheduling it. Give other participants a chance to comment on and contribute to it.

Setting a specific agenda ensures that you show up prepared, and it also gives your team members an idea of what to expect. Whether you prepare to use a written list or a series of slides, developing an agenda allows you to guide the discussion. 

2. They are disorganized.

Business leaders have hectic schedules as is, and meetings only add to the craziness. Staying organized is key for productive meetings.

Use scheduling software to manage your meetings. Calendar allows you to pick times and dates for your events, share your availability with others, and avoid scheduling conflicts. What’s more, Calendar’s dashboard shows where and with whom you spend your time, helping you make sure that your schedule aligns with your priorities.

Without a shareable scheduling system, it’s tough to know who’s coming to a meeting or whether someone might need to duck out part way through. Those details let leaders structure meetings in ways that make the most of everyone’s time. 

3. They have too many meetings on the calendar.

Between meetings, interviews, and training sessions the number of meetings on your calendar can add up quickly. It’s important to know when meetings are appropriate and when they are not:

  • When you should have a meeting: when you need to plan for the long term, get or give feedback on major projects, host executive-level negotiations, or deliver employee performance reviews.
  • When to keep meetings short (or not have them at all): when you need to share weekly progress updates, present revenue and expense breakdowns, brainstorm for marketing assets, or explain changes to your personal schedule.

When leaders use good judgment, they can cut out meetings that are unnecessary and focus on the ones that matter.

4. They can’t keep their employees focused.

The most wasteful type of meeting is one that attendees do not find valuable. If you want your employees’ meeting time to be spent effectively, it’s important to keep them engaged throughout.

There are multiple ways to make meetings more interesting:

  • Add visuals to presentations. Photos and videos can drive home key points. Beware, though, that adding too many visuals wastes time by distracting attendees.
  • Encourage group participation. Activities encourage buy-in from non-presenting members of the meeting. Ask people to raise their hands in response to certain questions, or request suggestions around a challenge. 
  • Keep all meetings under 50 minutes. Meetings that last for an hour or more should be split into two or more sessions. Set a timer if your meetings consistently overrun their slots.
  • Identify key takeaways at the end of each meeting. Concluding meetings with action items not only makes them more meaningful, but it provides markers for future measurement. When meetings begin with a review of the prior one’s action items, participants feel a sense of purpose and accountability.

Unproductive meetings may seem like a fact of life, but they do not need to be. Schedule only the meetings you need, always develop an agenda in advance, and keep participants engaged. Neither you nor your employees have time to waste.

Wake Up, Listen Up: 7 Podcasts to Kickstart Your Day

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Wake Up, Listen Up: 7 Podcasts to Kickstart Your Day

In the car, on the train, or while you walk to work: Your morning commute is an ideal time to kickstart the day with a podcast. 

Unlike articles and videos, podcasts let you keep your eyes on the road and your mind on your bigger things. Multitasking may not work in many contexts, but audio content lets you learn new things while you go through your morning routine.

What show should you choose? You probably aren’t looking for a dense, data-heavy podcast. But when you’re gearing up for work, you probably don’t want a fluff-filled talk show, either. These podcasts offer the perfect balance of educational and easy:

1. The Daily

This one’s for the news junkies out there who don’t have time to sift through multiple sources. Published each weekday by The New York Times, The Daily is a quick, 20-minute recap of the day’s biggest stories.

Think of The Daily like a first cup of coffee. Host Michael Barbaro brings New York Times reporters in to share a bite-sized version of a larger story they’re reporting. It’s sharp, thought-provoking, and over before you know it. 

2. HBR IdeaCast

If you like to start the business day thinking about business, give HBR IdeaCast a listen. Harvard Business Review’s weekly podcast features cutting-edge thinkers in business and management on subjects ranging from digital transformation to combating subconscious biases. The shows, which run between 20 and 30 minutes, invariably offer actionable ideas to help entrepreneurs grow personally or professionally. 

3. How I Built This

Have you ever wondered how big-name brands and movements came to be? In NPR’s How I Built This, host Guy Raz interviews innovators, entrepreneurs, and next-generation thinkers about how they developed their signature achievements.

Who are those entrepreneurs? The founders of Patagonia, Zappos, and Lyft have made appearances, as have the owners of “Main Street” companies like Tate’s Bake Shop and Chicken Salad Chick. If you’re looking for a place to start and like the NBC show “Shark Tank,” check out Raz’s interview with Daymond John

4. The Pitch

Speaking of “Shark Tank,” The Pitch takes the investing show’s approach to the airwaves. The Pitch’s tagline says it all: “Where real entrepreneurs pitch to real investors—for real money.” New episodes air only once a week, but they’re anything but predictable. As with “Shark Tank,” investors sometimes bite on unexpected products and pass on ones that, to the listener, seem promising. Some listeners might find it a little high-stakes for the morning, but it’s certainly a good way to wake up. 

5. TED Radio Hour

If you’re a fan of TED Talks, try the TED Radio Hour, which companies multiple Talks around a single theme. The podcast hits on everything from how to be more creative, the power of positivity, and why kindness is so important.

One thing to beware of: TED Radio Hour episodes last, as the name implies, a full hour. Be prepared to hit pause when you pull into the parking lot at work. 

6. StartUp

Think of StartUp like How I Built This but for the startup ecosystem. Gimlet Media’s Alex Blumberg hosts an eclectic lineup of leaders who fall outside the lines of traditional business. With his signature offbeat humor, Blumberg interviews personalities from cycling whistleblowers to gay country music stars. With episodes running roughly half an hour, StartUp is a great way to laugh while you explore the nooks and crannies of entrepreneurship. 

7. Planet Money

Planet Money might be best described as a podcast about money for people who hate money. Although each episode has some sort of tie to the finance world, they’re often looser than expected. The tale of the FCC taking on robocalls, the cost of free doughnuts, and the business side of choosing the color of the year are some of the more noteworthy topics the show has recently covered. Short, 15-25 minute episodes make Planet Money a great choice for commuters.

Whatever your business background and listening tastes, there’s a podcast for you. Put one on, sit back, and start your day with a good story.

6 Tips for Working Through the Winter Blues

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6 Tips for Working Through the Winter Blues

Winter is a tough time of year. Leaving the house is hard enough; running a business can feel downright impossible.

For some people, the winter blues get so bad that they’re diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. But even if your energy levels are only a bit lower in the winter, your company could suffer. As the leader, you set the tone for your entire team.

Don’t let that happen. Take these tips to stay productive and keep your spirits up during the long, cold days:

1. Keep it warm and bright.

Studies have shown that cold, dark environments have negative effects on cognition and mood. Work is already demanding, and a chilly or dim office will make it that much more difficult. 

Don’t wait until you’re shivering to throw on those additional layers. Keep the overhead lights on, and get a lamp for your desk if you’re still struggling to make out text or other small details. Grab a cup of hot coffee or hot cocoa to sip on while you work.

2. Prioritize friends and family.

One of the most important lessons entrepreneurs can learn from holiday traditions is to stay in touch with loved ones throughout the year. They can provide motivation, someone to vent to, and a much-needed break from work. Even if you think you can tough it out, you’ll have an easier time if you stay connected.

Schedule at least one social event each week. Invite your siblings over for dinner. Go to happy hour with your former co-workers. Catch up over coffee with a friend from college.

3. Take care of yourself.

As tempting as it is to indulge in comfort foods, it’s crucial to pay attention to your health during winter. Minimize processed foods, and eat plenty of protein and healthy fats. Take a vitamin D supplement, which can ward off depression, if you do not spend much time in the sun. 

Also consider joining a gym, especially if you do not have exercise equipment at home. Exercising outside is tough in the cold and snow, and cardiovascular exercise has massive benefits for mental health. If motivation is an issue, hire a trainer to push you through your workouts. 

4. Take your time.

Although there’s nothing wrong with wanting to achieve your New Year’s resolutions, remember to pace yourself. If you’re feeling stressed, slow down. Take a 15-minute break to go on a walk, meditate, or eat a snack.

What if you can’t seem to shake the stress? Give yourself some more time away. Vacation season is over until summer for most people, meaning you’ll be able to find deals on everything from airfare to hotels. Your wellbeing is worth it. 

5. Look forward.

Setting goals is incredibly motivating, and right after the new year is a perfect time to do so. Think about what you want to achieve in 2020, and share those goals with your team.

Use the SMART goal system:

  • Specific: Don’t say you just want to grow your revenue. By how much? Over what time frame? Through what means?
  • Measurable: Be sure that you have a system for checking progress on your goals. If you can’t put a number to it, then what outcome would indicate that you’ve met your objective?
  • Achievable: Is your goal realistic? You may want to make a million dollars tomorrow, but that probably isn’t going to happen.
  • Relevant: If you’re a startup founder looking to grow your company, don’t worry about whether you can hire fifty people in a month. Focus on hiring a single great employee instead.
  • Time-bounded: Goals are just dreams if they don’t have a timeline attached to them. Remember to be realistic about the amount of time that the associated tasks take.

6. Practice gratefulness.

Do not underestimate the power of gratefulness. Research suggests that gratitude has health benefits ranging from greater life satisfaction to a stronger immune system to reduced anxiety. Keep in mind the only difference in the tested individuals was their mindset.

Be grateful for what you have and the position that you’re in. Meditate on your gifts, and share them with others. Take time each morning to journal on the positive parts of your life. 

Start the new year off with a mindset of self-care and abundance. When you surround yourself with the right people and practice healthy habits, winter doesn’t stand a chance.

6 Tips for Instilling Wellness in Your Company Culture

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6 Tips for Instilling Wellness in Your Company Culture

Wellness is more than a corporate buzzword: It’s the work of keeping employees happy, healthy, and productive.

Many leaders realize that wellness is a worthwhile investment. But what they don’t know is how to do it: The reason many programs don’t move the needle on health metrics is that companies preach wellness without building it into their culture.

To make wellness a cornerstone of your company culture:

 1. Promote breaks.

A company that does not understand the value of breaks is sure to struggle. Workers can only handle so much stress before it starts to sabotage their productivity. Letting them take 15-minute breaks periodically will help them sharpen the saw of their productivity.

Don’t dictate what workers do on their breaks. There are plenty of ways to use a spare 15 minutes well. Some people enjoy walking around. Others would rather sit, read, or do a crossword puzzle.

2. Create a calm environment.

Clutter isn’t just unsightly. According to Psychology Today, cluttered environments reduce wellbeing, cloud thinking, and impede mental health. Chaotic spaces tend to be more stressful and less productive places to work.

Think beyond the physical environment. Poor time management creates mental clutter. The result is procrastination, overextension, unpunctuality, and over time, burnout.

3. Offer healthy foods and snacks.

Food is fuel. Stocking healthy foods for the team ensures that they don’t have to reach for a candy bar or drive to a local fast-food restaurant when they get hungry.

Place bowls around the workplace with snacks like bananas, apples, and protein bars. Fill the fridge with hydrating drinks like sparkling water and Gatorade. Be sure to ask team members about allergies before introducing new foods.

4. Set up group activities.

Learn what you team members like to do outside of work, and create hobby groups for them. Go on walks together, try group yoga, or simply set up a recreational basketball league. Socializing is good for mental and physical health, and it reminds workers that they are part of a team.

If workers aren’t interested in physical activities, set up discussion groups. Current events clubs, company improvement task forces, and foreign language groups give team members a voice.

5. Invest in perks.

Gym memberships and massage therapist visits cannot create culture alone, but they do get the message across that the company cares about the health of its team members. You can even include concierge services for when workers need groceries or office supplies.

If you aren’t sure where to start, look at the tech giants. Take Google: The Alphabet subsidiary offers its employees a host of unique perks, such as decompression capsules, a full on-site medical staff, and even free cooking classes.

You may not be able to afford all of the benefits that Google offers, but you can use them for inspiration. Create a list of perks that might fit in the budget, and ask team members for feedback on which ones are most important to them.

6. Ask for feedback over and over.

In order to be happy, positive, and productive at work, employees need to feel like they have a say. Sit down with team members monthly to get their thoughts on the company’s culture and how it’s affecting their personal habits.

Reward workers for suggestions on how to improve workplace conditions. Don’t penalize people who see flaws: Providing honest feedback is not the same as complaining. If employees’ suggestions conflict, get the group together to talk about how best to proceed.

Focus particularly on areas where multiple employees may need help. If two or more members of the team want to quit smoking, set up a cessation program that includes private counseling. If weight management is an issue across the team, perhaps activity trackers might make a good quarterly gift.

Workplace wellness programs are well and good, but a culture of wellness is what actually makes a difference. Leave no stone unturned: Physical, mental, and social health all matter in the context of overall wellbeing. Give employees the tools they need to improve in all of those areas, and you’ll be surprised at just how much stronger your company’s culture becomes.

5 New Year’s Resolutions to Take Your Business to New Heights in 2020

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5 New Year’s Resolutions to Take Your Business to New Heights in 2020

New Year’s resolutions are good for more than personal growth. If you want to grow your business in 2020, now is the time to set goals for the new year. Simply putting your goals on paper makes you 42% more likely to achieve them.

Growth comes in many flavors. Whether you want to give your culture, marketing, sales, or something else entirely a facelift in 2020, consider making one or more of these New Year’s resolutions for your business:

Resolution No. 1: Extend the holiday cheer.

The holiday season makes people happy. Unfortunately, the boost to workers’ mood and motivation doesn’t always last. If leaders don’t make an effort to maintain that environment, team members quickly reacclimate. Soon, stress seeps back in.

Leaders need to promote workplace harmony to keep tensions low and spirits high. Set out a box so colleagues can make cultural suggestions without worry. Review them at an all-staff meeting, and decide together which to implement. Give gifts and encourage gratefulness year ‘round, not just around the holidays.

Resolution No. 2: Be more transparent.

If there’s one resolution every company should make, this is it. Transparency plays an underappreciated role in productivity. Workers who feel included and understand company goals are more willing and able to achieve those goals. 

Make revenue and expenses an open conversation. Map out the business strategy for everyone to see. Encourage top-down, bottom-up, and peer-to-peer feedback. Use tools like Slack and processes like weekly updates to keep people in the loop.

Resolution No. 3: Manage time methodically. 

Another great way to boost productivity is to improve your time management skills. It’s easy to get caught up in daily distractions and busy work. Ask yourself each day, week, month, and quarter: What needs to get done, and where will it fit?

Start by implementing a zero-based calendar. Fill every 15-minute block with something, even if it’s merely meditating or responding to emails. Encourage your team members to do the same, and be sure to share calendars so everyone can see what others are working on.

Resolution No. 4: Set Sales Goals.

A business is nothing without sales. If you don’t have specific targets set for 2020, take a moment to do so. Think in percentages: You might want to increase revenue by 10% compared to last year, for instance.

To get there, you need a plan. Ask salespeople about kinks in your pipeline. Interview current customers about high and low points in their sales experience. If you haven’t already, invest in sales tools to automate outreach.

Resolution No. 5: Get more attention online. 

Digital channels are how most companies get business these days. If you buy billboards or newspaper ads, shift that spend to more modern tactics. Research suggests that organic and paid search, as well as social media and email marketing, have the highest ROI of digital channels.

Social media, in particular, allows you to create virtual customer environments. Online groups and forums are nearly free to set up. Beyond their branding benefits, they allow you to provide support to customers who might not be willing to call in.

Resolutions are powerful because they help you hold yourself and your team accountable. Think about where your business needs that discipline the most, and set your 2020 goals to suit. 

5 Unique Follow-Ups for Preferred Customers

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5 Unique Follow-Ups for Preferred Customers

Closing a sale is just the start. If you don’t want to ruin a good relationship, following up and staying top of mind is essential.

Think about what’s at stake. Get the follow-up right, and the customer not only comes back but also spread the word to other potential customers. Do it poorly, and that customer will spread the bad news even further. 

Not all follow-ups are created equal. The secret to a great one? A personal touch. Here are six ways to provide it:

1. Write a thank-you note by hand.

In the digital age, a handwritten note goes a long way. More than eight in 10 American adults see handwritten messages as more meaningful than those sent by text or email.

What if you aren’t the best writer in the world? Don’t worry about it. Nobody is going to judge you for a misspelling or missed period when you’re writing to say “thank you.” Keep it conversational and concise. Be sure to add something personal you learned about the customer during the sales process.

This follow-up technique works even better if the note is written on a visually appealing postcard. Pick one that your customer will want to hang on his or her fridge to stay top of mind. If the customer spent an unusually large amount, toss in a gift card to your favorite restaurant. 

2. Check in over coffee. 

Your customers know you’re a busy person. When you reach out to schedule a conversation over coffee, you signal to them that they are a priority. 

People can be picky about coffee shops, so try to find out what your preferred customer likes. Is she a Starbucks person? Is that indie coffee shop on the corner more her style?

The best part of this tactic? It’s a chance to open up new business opportunities. But don’t spend the whole time talking about work Ask about her as a person: What does she like to do in her free time? Does she have kids? What causes does she care about? 

3. Give a thoughtful gift.

Your best customers have been generous with your business. Return the favor: Give them something that you know they’ll find valuable.

Choosing the right gift is important. It could be something sold by your business, a book you know they’ve been dying to read, or a floral arrangement. Aim for the $50-$200 range, depending on how close your relationship with the customer is.

It’s also important to present your gift well. Wrap it appealing paper or put it in a bag with a bow on it. If it’s a gift card, package it in a colorful card. 

4. Highlight them on social media. 

Everyone appreciates a public shout-out. Especially if you have a strong social media presence, say “thank you” by featuring your top customers in a post or image. 

If you’re a B2B company, reach out in advance to ask how the customer would like to be positioned. Help them cultivate that image, and you might even earn them some new business.

Encourage members of your team to engage with social posts that mention customers, but make clear that authenticity is key. A salesperson who worked directly with the customer might be able to make a meaningful comment on the post, but someone in an HR role probably cannot.

5. Invite them to a company party. 

Your holiday party, after-work happy hours, and company game nights are great opportunities to make your best customers feel like part of the team. Invite them, ideally by phone or in person, for a night of fun.

Give customers a chance to interact with each other, too. Not only do your best customers probably have a lot in common, but bringing multiple of them to a company event can minimize awkwardness. That way, they aren’t the only “outsiders” at a team event.

High-value customers don’t come along every day. Make them feel special — because they are — by spending some extra time on the follow-up. Get it right, and they might just spend some more with you, too. 

Stumped By High Turnover? 4 Steps to Find Out Why It’s Happening

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Stumped By High Turnover? 4 Steps to Find Out Why It's Happening

In a strong economy, employees know they have options. Sooner or later, workers who aren’t satisfied with their jobs start searching for opportunities with other companies. 

Although this is good news for employees, it can be a problem for employers that are unaccustomed to an employee-driven market. 

Companies that do not understand (or are unwilling to make) the necessary adjustments inevitably pay the price in turnover. According to one study, employee turnover in 2018 cost US companies $615 billion. Of that, an estimated $469 billion was voluntary turnover that could’ve been avoided.

How Turnover Happens

Although inadequate salary or benefits are common reasons for leaving a company, they aren’t the only ones. Other reasons include:

  • Unclear or unreasonable job duties: Turnover is a two-way street. Employers who don’t provide accurate job descriptions, hire over- or under qualified candidates, or put too many obligations on their employees’ plates set themselves up to lose talent.
  • Unpleasant work environment: Bad management is a big reason behind turnover. Aside from poor leadership, companies with outdated equipment, poor morale, or office tensions set themselves up for retention issues. 
  • Inadequate career development: More than nine in 10 employees say they’d stay longer at a company if it invested in their careers. Workers need to feel like they’re advancing in their professional lives, or they’ll go somewhere that they do. 
  • Work-life imbalance: Nobody can work all the time. Employers who insist that workers put in more hours than they agreed to, provide little or no time off for family events, or give minimal vacation time won’t keep workers around for long.

Turnover happens for all sorts of reasons. Whatever the cause, there are a few steps you can take to reduce it.

Solving Steep Turnover

To boost your company’s retention rate:

1. Ask for (and listen to) feedback.

Talk to employees who are leaving your company as well as those who intend to stay. Keep an ear out for trends: Are the leavers all upset about your company’s vacation policy? Do the people who are staying love your office environment? Make clear that there are no wrong answers, and thank the respondents for their honesty. 

2. Get HR and management on the same page. 

Once you’ve learned what’s pushing people away from your company, take that information to your HR and management teams. Schedule a meeting with each group to chat through it: Chances are, they have questions about your findings. Suggest action steps as well as affordable ways to reward employees for their work. 

3. Decide how aggressively to fight it. 

Your HR leaders and managers know turnover is an issue, and you’ve given them some ideas about how to handle it. The next step is to decide together how much disruption you’re willing to put up with.

Say you’ve heard a couple of names come up again and again in those exit interviews. You could fire the people who are bringing down the office culture, or you could put them on a performance improvement plan. Every situation is unique, so use your best judgment based on the gravity of the issue and the individuals involved. 

4. Keep it up. 

Turnover issues are not solved overnight. As an employer, you have to commit to the people you hire. Give team members ways to talk about issues before they boil over: Set up an anonymous comment box, and read submissions publicly.

Make retention a regular topic at leadership meetings. Measure month-by-month changes to your turnover rate, checking whether investments in retention result in dips or spikes.

Rarely does turnover happen for just one reason. The sooner you get to the root of those reasons — and the more seriously you take them — the better. 

7 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Holiday Traditions

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7 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Holiday Traditions

For entrepreneurs, the holidays mean more than an annual sales bump. They’re a season to reflect on what holiday traditions can teach us about business.

Everyone celebrates the holidays differently. Some people are happy to enjoy the season sitting in front of a Christmas tree or yule log. For others, all that matters is spending time with family. Still others spend the time attending bake-offs and holiday parties.

But however you celebrate the holidays, you can learn a few things from common traditions:

1. Enjoy others’ lights, but don’t be blinded by them.

As an entrepreneur, it’s important to take stock of what others are doing. But just as you shouldn’t drive around all day just to look at Christmas lights, you don’t want to focus so heavily on other companies that you neglect your own.

Take the time to hang your lights. Differentiate yourself, and keep in mind that every budget is different. It’s all well and good to be inspired by others, but it would be pretty lame to copy someone else’s lighting scheme.

2. Do something nice for your neighbors.

Reach out to other businesses in your metaphorical neighborhood. Seeing other companies in your industry strictly as competition can cause you to miss out on key mentorship and partnership opportunities. 

Start small: Reach out on LinkedIn, and share content that you think might be helpful. Offer to get lunch in order to discuss ways you might be able to lend a hand in the new year. 

3. Reconnect with family and friends.

There are two major holiday letter-writing traditions: Christmas cards and thank-you notes. Both are a means for staying connected with the people you care about.

Just as important as establishing good relationships is maintaining them. Check in with the people that care about your business and express appreciation for their support. This includes not only customers and clients but also colleagues and suppliers. Don’t be that person who only reaches out when you need something. 

4. Give yourself something to look forward to.

Advent calendars are used to count down the days until Christmas and meter out daily treats. Start each business day by checking your calendar and scheduling something fun for yourself, like a lunch out or leisure activity after work.

Be flexible, but set boundaries for when you will and won’t be working. Effective scheduling can save time and make the time you do spend working more productive. 

5. Throw a party. 

The centerpiece of most holiday traditions is a party or celebration. Family and friends gather for food, fun, and good company. Bring everyone together by hosting a similar year-end party at work.

Celebrations have business value: They build trust, deepen relationships, and release stress. Tension in the office can be culturally destructive, and periodic parties are a great way to alleviate it. 

6. Make yourself a wish list. 

Remember how, as a kid, you’d jot down everything you wanted from the new year? Pick that habit back up as an entrepreneur.

Creating a wish list helps you make your desires more concrete. Create two of them: one that’s aspirational, and another that is more practical. Know the differences between what you want, what you actually need, and what you can afford. 

7. Take time to rest. 

Both at work and at home, the holidays are busy. Although it’s good to celebrate, it’s just as important to give yourself a break. Taking a break is a great way to boost your productivity down the line.

Give yourself some grace: You’ve worked hard this year. Don’t beat yourself up for spending a few days away from work, taking a midday nap, or lounging around on a wintery day.

Enjoy the holidays, but remember what they stand for. When you get back to business in the new year, you’ll be that much more ready to reach for the next rung.

4 Fastest Ways to Ruin a Long-Term Client Relationship

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4 Fastest Ways to Ruin a Long-Term Client Relationship

Relationships, and particularly client relationships, require investment and maintenance. Without the proper care, even a long-term connection can break down. 

Losing a stable client can mean more than a hit to your profits: When a client cut ties, your business’s reputation is stained. That, in turn, may make other clients re-evaluate their relationship with you. And if you had a personal relationship with the client, that may suffer, too.

The good news is that with reflection and self-awareness, you can do your part to maintain long-term client relationships. Above all, avoid these four relationship-ruining mistakes:

1. You go dark when things go wrong.

It’s happened to all of us: The project begins to creep past its budget, or the timeline for delivery stalls.

It’s tempting to forget the problem and hope it goes away, leaving the client none the wiser. But the client will notice when his or her emails go unanswered. 

Always choose transparent, direct communication over avoidance. Transparency does not indicate weakness. In fact, transparent leaders are often admired because they admit to their flaws as well as their strengths. 

While it may be difficult in the moment, being upfront is important for maintaining a client’s trust in you and your brand. An informed client is a happy client.

2. You never initiate the conversation. 

Responding to a client’s requests for updates is important, but checking in without the client having to ask matters just as much.

First of all, waiting for the customer to come to you isn’t the best business strategy. It’s like waiting for a neighbor to pass by your lemonade stand instead of going door to door. Reaching out regularly to long-term clients keeps your services top of mind. 

Secondly, being the one to reach out builds social capital with clients. If you get to know your clients as people first, chances are that they’ll be more gracious when a deadline gets changed or a deliverable isn’t met. 

Treat clients like human beings: Ask about their families and hobbies. Celebrate successes with them, and likewise, send condolences when appropriate. If you’re worried you’ll forget, use automation to remind you to reach out regularly. 

3. You don’t set boundaries.

Boundaries might seem like just a buzzword, but guarding your time is important when you need to give lots of accounts regular attention. 

The best time to communicate expectations? The beginning of a relationship or, with long-term clients, the start of a new project. 

Ask your client how they prefer to communicate. Will he expect regular updates? Or would he prefer that you handle the project and only come to him with problems, questions, or a draft to review? Regardless, be clear that you aren’t available for out-of-the-blue calls or unnecessary meetings.

4. You repeat past mistakes.

Failure is hard to swallow in any setting, but it’s exceptionally difficult when it involves a long-term relationship. Clients who trust you will likely overlook one or two mistakes, but don’t expect them to do so if you keep making the same ones. 

What if you do make a stomach-churning, cheek-burning mistake? Don’t look outward for someone else to blame; turn inward and ask what factors might have caused you to make the error.

Take your cue from Brene Brown, who encourages leaders to “rumble” with their mistakes. Use phrases like “help me understand” and “I’m wondering” to put the onus for change on yourself.

What if you do make the same mistake again? Communicate clearly and directly, explain the situation, make an apology, and offer a path forward. In the long run, owning your actions and being a person of your word will always pay off. 

Strong client relationships are the cornerstone of any successful business. If in doubt about how to handle a long-term relationship, remember the Golden Rule: Treat them like how you’d want to be treated, and they’ll do the same for you. 

6 Stress-Management Tips From Top Business Leaders

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6 Stress-Management Tips From Top Business Leaders

Nobody is immune to stress. So how do business leaders who make it big manage to keep their heads on straight?

They learn to befriend their stress response. But if that’s the first step, then what are the day-to-day, ongoing things they do to harness their stress in healthy ways? 

The following tips, collected from top business leaders throughout the country, will equip you with the necessary tools to manage your stress:

Become The Master Of Your Own Stress

The ultimate goal of stress management is not a stress-free career; it’s to get the upper hand when you’re under pressure.

Small habits add up. Master your stress levels by incorporating these hacks from respected business leaders into your own routine:

1. Be proactive.

Often, stress and procrastination go hand in hand. Instead of putting off that major task or big project, get the ball rolling by taking initiative. 

That’s what Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, would advise: “Stress primarily comes from not taking action over something that you can have some control over,” Bezos told the Academy of Achievement.

Every marathon begins with the first step. Whether you make that initial phone call or send an email to jumpstart a project, taking action alleviates stress and puts you back in the driver’s seat.

2. Tackle one to-do at a time.

When faced with multiple projects and responsibilities, many founders try to juggle everything at once. But author and leadership consultant Devora Zack sees single-tasking as both more efficient and less stressful.

Research by the American Psychological Association supports Zack’s idea that multitasking actually makes us less productive, which creates more pressure to get things done.

Go through your to-do list one item at a time. You’ll enjoy it more, come up with a better product, and get the job done faster. 

3. Get grounded.

When you need a break, you need a break. Research shows that giving yourself a break during the workday not only allows you to recharge, but it can also boost creativity, memory, stamina, and decision-making skills. 

There are many ways to achieve this mental state referred to as “resting mind.” Oprah Winfrey admits she retreats to the bathroom when she needs time for quiet reflection. Many leaders start off their day with ten or fifteen minutes of silent meditation.

No matter your method, check in with yourself throughout the day to calm your stress response. Even just planting your feet on the ground while sitting at your desk and allowing yourself a few deep breaths can do wonders.

4. Block your day.

How does Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, keep his cool when working 100 hours per week at the two companies? With time blocking. Musk carves up his day into five-minute pieces, associating each with a specific task or activity. 

Stress management and time management are twin siblings. Instead of pushing your mental limits to finish a project deadline — and throwing everything that comes later in the day off-schedule — organize your time into similarly sized blocks.

Not only does this allow for much needed breaks, it also provides you with the opportunity to break down bigger projects. The more pieces you can split them into, the less stressful any one of them will be. 

5. Get enough exercise.

Physical activity is one of the best tools in your stress-management kit. Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, releases endorphins and refreshes your mind.

Leaders from Mark Cuban to Mark Zuckerberg to Richard Branson to Warren Buffett exercise daily. The Facebook founder loves to run, while Mark Cuban is known for his basketball game.

Exercise doesn’t have to happen at the gym, either. Try doing calisthenics at home. Go for a run. Haul your bike out of the garage for your daily commute each morning. Whatever gets you moving, do it. 

6. Refocus on a mental puzzle or game.

What if your mind is simply stuck on something stressful? Stick it to something else: Play a game of sudoku. Break out a crossword puzzle. Merely count stripes on the road as you walk.

Here, Brad Pitt has an interesting approach: the actor and investor walks around and analyzes building architecture when he’s feeling overwhelmed. Inevitably, Pitt’s mind moves to his own home’s structural needs. 

Overcoming pressure and tension when you’re a business professional or entrepreneur can seem insurmountable. However, altering small daily habits can make a huge impact in managing and mastering your stress for good.

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