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Determine Whether Working With a Friend is a Good Idea

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Determine Whether Working With a Friend is a Good Idea

There’s no way to sugarcoat this; starting a business is no easy task. You wear multiple hats; you’re continually building clients, don’t forget networking. If you’ve built many businesses, as an entrepreneur — you understand the very real possibility of failure. But how do you determine whether working with a friend is a good idea?

Indeed, it’s a wonder that anyone would ever contemplate starting their own business. But, as Jimmy Dungan said in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

There are plenty of entrepreneurs who have decided to make this journey just a little bit easier — by teaming up with someone else. For example, Bill Gates had Paul Allen, and Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak. The reason? Each partner brings something different to the table — whether that be different skill sets, lessening the workload, or having additional access to funding.

Maybe you want someone to gripe to, or someone to run your ideas past and have a second set of eyes on a project.

But, instead of approaching a stranger or acquaintance, why not just go ahead and start a business with a friend? After all, it worked for Gates and Allen and Jobs and Wozniak. There have been many famous entrepreneurial teams. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, and William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson — so why can’t it work for you and your friend?

Well, before you and your best friend get too far ahead of yourselves, you both should take a close look at the good and bad of working side-by-side with a friend.

Why You Should Start a Business With a Friend

You have a co-founder that you know and trust.

After spending years being acquainted with your friend, you know what their belief systems are, how they react to specific situations, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. You also know how to get under each other’s skin, so hopefully, you’ll avoid triggering those emotions while in the workplace.

More importantly, they are someone you trust entirely — and know that they would never intentionally do you any harm. What more do you want of a co-founder or colleague?

As Stephen Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

You can speak freely and comfortably.

When you have a trusting and honest friendship, you can pretty much say whatever’s on your mind freely and comfortably. Sure. There will be times when they’ll say something that you don’t want to hear — or that you don’t agree with — but you know what they’re saying is genuine and sincere.

As a result, you can keep each other in-check since you’re calling each other on your BS and ultimately do what’s best for the business.

Creates a positive work environment.

Having friends at work can be extremely beneficial. 70 percent of employees believe having office friends is the “most crucial” aspect of obtaining a fulfilling work life. What’s more, office friendships lead to higher engagement and productivity and a stronger connection to the company.

You have someone to bear your burdens.

Starting a business on your own, as already mentioned above, it no easy task. It can also be incredibly lonely.

But, when you have a friend by your side, you eliminate this loneliness. More important, you have someone to share your burdens with your — whether that be financial or completing tasks on-time. And, because they’re going through everything you are, you can vent to each, celebrate accomplishments, and even throw a couple of drinks back after a particularly challenging week.

You share the same vision.

Friends tend to think alike — that’s likely why you became friends in the first place. You and your friend being able to think alike is actually a great asset for your business.

You likely have the same goals, values, and vision for your business. Thinking alike can come in useful when you’re pitching an idea or your business to a client, prospective customer, or interested investors. If you know what your partner-in-crime is going to say next, then you can set them up seamlessly.

Decisions are easier to make.

As I just mentioned, friends tend to think alike and have a similar vision and belief system. That can make it easier to agree on business decisions — even if you have a different opinion personally.

Remember, spending too much time making a decision isn’t just time-consuming, it can also drain you mentally. You want to save that energy for more important decisions.

They accept your strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s say that public speaking isn’t your thing, but you’re one heck of a coder. But, your friend is charismatic and loves speaking. Instead of them asking you to pitch your business to an investor or at a conference, they would instead ask you to make a killer website to impress others. They also wouldn’t get upset or frustrated in areas that you’re weak — and vice versa.

Simply put, you accept each for you are. As a result, you can leverage each other’s strengths and improve on your weaknesses.

More friend time.

When you work with a friend, it sometimes doesn’t feel like work at all. You get to shoot the breeze, have fun, and create memories. As a result, going to work becomes more enjoyable and relieves stress.

Why You Should Not Work With a Friend

It can be hard to distinguish between work and play.

At the same time, chatting and hanging out all day isn’t always great for productivity. Instead of focusing on work, you’re busy talking about a movie you watched over the weekend. On the flip side, when you’re outside of the office, you may start talking shop instead of just enjoying each other’s company.

No matter how much you love your business, you both need to set boundaries and separate work from play.

Also, you may let workplace difference spill over into your personal lives. For example, if you and your friend are disagreeing on the direction of the business, and it becomes heated, that could make your social life a bit awkward.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

As friends, you probably know a lot about each other. But, knowing too much of others can erode respect.

For example, if you don’t agree with the lifestyle your friend is living, you may feel that they’re someone you shouldn’t work with. Even despite the fact they’ve shown up to work every day bringing their A-game.

Who’s the boss?

Even if you’ve agreed on established roles, it can still be tough to take orders from your friend — and they probably feel the same. As a result, there may be a power struggle.

You must compartmentalize relationship issues.

Friends fight. But, you can’t let those little personal squabbles interfere with the business. No matter how ticked you are at each other — you must remain professional and discuss any disagreements calmly and rationally.

In other words, you need to learn how to compartmentalize any relationship issues you have. Just because you’re at odds personally doesn’t mean that you’re currently at odds with your business partner.

Performance issues can be awkward to address.

When an employee isn’t delivering the results you expect, the conversation isn’t complicated. You have a conversation with them, determine what the problem is, and discuss the ways that they can be more productive.

That conversation isn’t so straightforward with your friend. You may be too empathetic, or they’ll take what you’re saying too personal. It may be an awkward conversation, but it’s necessary if you want your business to thrive.

Friendships don’t always translate to business compatibility.

Sure. You and your friend may share similar values and philosophies. But, you may have completely different approaches to completing various business tasks. That can lead to conflict and when trying to build your business model and company culture.

You know the same people.

Networking is critical when starting a business. But, how much networking can you do when you and your partner know the same people?

Networking may be a greater challenge, but knowing how to find and establish new connections may not be challenging.

A failed business can lead to a failed friendship.

If you fail in this business venture — it can be the absolute worst-case scenario.

Let’s say the business fails, and you blame each other for the failure. You didn’t just lose business; you also lost your friend.

If you’re still on the fence about working with a friend, here are some questions you should ask yourself. Determinations will become more apparent with questions.

  • Do you share the same business goals and values?
  • Do your work habits and schedules align?
  • Can you complement each other’s skills and talents?
  • What roles and responsibilities should each partner take-on?
  • How will you resolve conflicts?
  • Are your personal lives stable?
  • How long have you known each other?

Just make sure that you cover all of the topics to do with your business that you can think of. A first business venture is usually the one that friends get together in. You want the best from your first business venture. Take the time to set up all of the parameters so that you and your friend can remain great partners through thick and thin.

12 Ways to Encourage Your Team to Speak Up

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Communication is a skill that all successful leaders need to acquire and maintain — not just in business, but also life. Having the ability to speak in a calm, concise, and clear manner will help your team be able to do likewise. Sharing your vision, goals, and expectations is only one piece of the puzzle. It takes an accomplished communicator to encourage a team to speak up. After all, excellent communication helps strengthen relationships, allows the exchange of ideas, and assists your organization in overcoming barriers. There are 12 ways to encourage your team to speak up.

Unfortunately, a study from VitalSmarts shows that “one percent of employees feel “extremely confident” when it comes to voicing their concerns in the workplace at critical moments.” Additionally, “a third of employees say their organizations do not promote or support holding crucial conversations.”

How can you change these types of statistics? Start by implementing the following 12 techniques.

1. Get to the root of the problem.

The absolute first step you need to take is identifying why people aren’t raising their hands. If you don’t know why, then how can you fix the problem? It’s like if your car doesn’t start when you leave in the morning. You can’t repair a problem unless you know precisely what’s wrong in the first place.

You could interview your team or conduct focus groups. Someone other than you should do this interviewing, as they’re probably afraid to tell you why they don’t raise their hands. You could also issue surveys to get to the bottom of what’s going on. The issue may be because they’re afraid of being criticized by others on the team, or being overlooked for a promotion. Or, they may not understand what you expect from them.

In short, you need to find out what’s holding people from voicing their opinions. Then you can find ways to correct the course.

2. Don’t overwhelm your team.

Let’s say that you have everyone gathered for a team meeting. Without even giving attendees a chance to get settled, you bombard them with way too much information. Even worse, what if the assignments you’re throwing at them are abstract, complex, or even utterly boring.

If every member of your team has their head spinning, or they’re yawning, then they’re not going to be engaged. How can they ask questions or provide input when they don’t know exactly what’s happening? Or, they don’t even have the opportunity to participate because as the CEO, manager, or boss — we’re jumping from topic to topic too quickly.

Whenever presenting information, keep it as simple as possible. Skip the jargon and only focus on the top one or two issues. Remember, you don’t need to cover everything right now. Save the less critical stuff for another time.

3. Apply radical candor.

Kim Scott, a former executive at Google, coined the phrase “radical candor.” It may sound like a complex system. But, in reality, it’s merely creating a bs-free zone.

“Radical candor is clarity offered in the spirit of genuine support, where people feel it’s their responsibility to point out one another’s weaknesses to give them a hand up to the next level,” explains Grainne Forde on Teamwork.com. “Scott illustrates radical candor with an example in which her very inconsiderate boss told her she had a lousy speaking habit.

Scott was saying, ‘um’ too often. In front of the group, he told her that “um” made her sound unintelligent — and then offered to pay for a speaking coach to improve the problem.” Some would consider this a bit harsh, “her directness compelled her to take the feedback seriously and improve.”

I’ve found the degree of “radical candor,” Scott is talking about, should be saved for a one on one. Then after your “radical candor,” hand out a little extra encouragement. With one small compliment, your employee doesn’t consider you an enemy.

To achieve radical candor, both leaders and employees need to realize that feedback is constructive because it allows for growth and development. Additionally, there needs to be transparency. It’s the only way you’ll be able to assist them in working through their weaknesses.

4. Reward people for speaking up.

I vividly remember the first year I went away to a summer camp. The first couple of hours, I was fine. But, I became incredibly homesick later that night. After a couple of days, I was over my bout with homesickness and had no problem enjoying myself.

Towards the end of the week, the other kids in my group began discussing who would receive an award along the lines of, “camper of the week.” I suggested that maybe I would get nominated. This lead to the camp leading asking, “Why? You were homesick and didn’t say anything for a couple of days — and now you talk?”

Some people might think that he was out of line. But, he was right. Sure, I was engaged and did my best to be an ideal camper. But, that didn’t mean I deserved an award. At the same time, the person who did receive this award mentioned that they were proud of me. Now, that recognition was an awesome feeling.

My point is this. You don’t need to throw a party for an employee who asked a question during a meeting. But, you can still show them that you appreciate their contribution when they offer a comment. For example, if they make a high point during a meeting, genuinely thank them for participating. A genuine thank you can be two words. Thank you!

Hemant Kakkar and Subra Tangirala write in the Harvard Business Review, “[I]f you want your employees to be more vocal and contribute ideas and opinions, you should actively encourage this behavior and reward those who do it.”

5. Make meetings more engaging.

Meetings can be a serious time-waster. They can also crush productivity and morale when not when properly. However, there times when meetings are necessary. That’s why making them more effective should be a priority.

While there a multitude of ways for you to improve meetings, making sure that they’re engaging should be at the top of your list. You can achieve meetings worth showing up for, by:

  • Kicking things off with an icebreaker like telling a story or playing a fun game or activity.
  • Not using industry slang or terminology.
  • Asking invitees to leave their phones somewhere else.
  • Saving handouts until the conclusion of the event to avoid distractions.
  • Leaving time for a Q&A at the end.
  • Sending out an agenda in advance so that no one is surprised. Also, this gives invitees an opportunity to review any relevant information and prepare their questions or concerns.

6. Stop dominating the conversation and listen.

While I wouldn’t say this trait is part of all entrepreneurs — I do think that some of us have such a healthy ego that we love hearing ourselves talk. The problem is that if you’re always dominating the conversation, others won’t even bother chiming in. What’s the point when they know there’s hardly a chance to be a part of the discussion.

While there are times when you need to speak, work on talking less and listening more. It may take some practice. But, this is probably one of the most straightforward strategies to get your team to speak up more often.

7. Be aware of body language and power cues.

Body language and power cues are probably not something on the top of your mind. But, your nonverbal communication most definitely impacts the people around you. Think of it this way. How likely would you be to “willing” share your thoughts with a leader who is continuously frowning and standing there with their arms crossed? Probably very unlikely.

But, what if they smiled, made eye contact, and stood in a relaxed, upright posture? You wouldn’t feel as intimidated. A quick couple of words about mastering your body language — soften power cues. For example, leave the expensive wardrobe at home and wear something that doesn’t intimidate your employees. Consider replacing your office’s rectangle desk with an oval one so that you can sit next to them.

8. Boost teamwork.

“When employees work in teams, they actively practice sharing their thoughts and speaking up to accomplish tasks as a group,” writes Eric Friedman over at eSkill. “This gets them used to talking about their work, whether it’s sharing new ideas or concerns, and can be applied on a wider scale to the entire company.”

Fridman adds, “Teamwork also works on a psychological level by bringing employees closer together, helping them form bonds to each other and the work, which will help them feel more confident to speak their minds.”

9. Accept different types of feedback.

When you need to collect feedback, use a variety of methods to do so. Allow your team to express themselves; however, they’re most comfortable. If they have no problem speaking, then don’t force them to write down their thoughts. If they don’t want to discuss a sensitive issue out in the open, block out time for a one-on-one or place a suggestion box in the office.

10. Explain the consequences of participating.

Explaining the consequences of participating does not mean retaliating against employees whenever they share their thoughts. Nor does it indicate that you’ll punish those who aren’t contributing to the conversation. Instead, a consequence in this setting means letting your team know the importance of speaking up.

For example, what if an employee isn’t crystal clear on a task that was assigned to them during a meeting? They might be embarrassed about asking for more details in a meeting. But, by not raising their hand, they aren’t able to complete this responsibility, and likely there were a few others that didn’t get the information. As a result, this can impact not only their career, but also this action can put the rest of the team and organization in jeopardy.

11. Encourage them to take a public speaking class.

In the early days of my career, I was terrified about speaking in public. But, this was a fear I had to overcome. So, I took a public speaking class. Not only did it improve my speaking skills, but it also made me feel more at ease in front of a crowd.

If there are members of your organization, why have nightmares about public speaking, recommend that they also take such a class. It could be online, at a community college, or through an organization like Toastmasters. Here: 7 Powerful Public Speaking Tips From One of the Most-Watched TED Talks Speakers

12. Lead by example.

Do you think that your team will feel comfortable enough to speak their minds when you aren’t? Of course not. It may sound off a vibe that this isn’t an environment where people can openly share thoughts and ask questions.

While you should certainly listen to what others are saying, the other part of being a great communicator is clearly expressing your expectations. It’s also asking precise questions and not being shy when it comes to public speaking.

Moreover, don’t hide in your office all day. Walk around and chat with your team. Check-in with them to see how they’re doing and if there’s anything you can help them with. Go to lunch. These connections may not seem like a biggie, but the relationship shows that this is a workplace where people can comfortably speak up.

8 End-of-Summer Services to Schedule for Your Business

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Work doesn’t stop in the summer, but fall still feels like a reset. As the hottest season of the year winds down, it’s time to prepare for what’s ahead.

Internally, this means brainstorming and strategizing for your business. But getting ready for the fall also involves accomplishing some back-burner tasks. These are items that we tend to put off until the last minute. 

Many of these items are more urgent than we might think. Accomplishing them can avert future crises and keep customers happy. Luckily, they also tend to be services that people outside your company can do. 

Why not get ahead this year? Before summer ends, set up appointments to handle these tasks:

1. Deep-cleaning the office

Especially as COVID-19 rages on, keeping the office clean is an ongoing task. But once in a while, it’s necessary to do a deeper clean than usual. 

Think about the spaces in your office that receive less attention. Grime can build up and attract pests over time. So before the fall, hire a company to clean every nook and cranny. 

Treat this as an office reset. Encourage everyone to take home old trinkets, snacks, and other possessions they don’t need to do their jobs. 

2. Repainting

Your walls might need a new coat of paint before the summer ends. Small marks and scrapes build up, especially if you regularly have kids in the office.

Repainting is an opportunity to rethink your office color palette. Choose wisely to make the space more relaxing for customers and employees. Earthy tones can help you cultivate an atmosphere that is both inviting and productive. 

3. Cleaning the gutters

It’s easy to forget, but getting your gutters cleaned is a critical part of protecting your office.You need to clear them at least once a year to protect your roof, your foundation, and your landscape from excessive rainwater. 

Make sure the professional you hire is insured. Accidents happen, especially when people are on a roof. 

4. Checking your heating system

As fall approaches, the weather is going to start cooling down. It’ll be a nice respite from the summer heat at first, but it won’t be long before the chill sets in.

Don’t wait until your heater fails to get it serviced. Before the mercury drops below freezing, make sure it’s ready to handle the colder months. Your customers won’t want to sit in the cold as they wait for their appointment. 

5. Scheduling a group counseling session

Unlike the prior suggestions, this service is not for your building. But it could transform the dynamics of your team members for the better. 

As people buckle down and vacation season ends, getting the team together for a heart to heart is a great idea. Scheduling a group counseling session can let people air grievances and bond in ways that an all-staff meeting simply can’t. 

Unless you’re trained, don’t try to facilitate this yourself. To make group counseling work for your team:

  • Explain how you think counseling would help the team.
  • Coordinate everyone’s schedule to find the right time.
  • Ask a licensed professional counselor to come to your office — or to chat with everyone on Zoom.
  • Prepare your employees for what to expect beforehand.
  • Conduct a retrospective by asking each attendee’s takeaways.

6. Prepping Q3 taxes

Tax day is coming on September 15, but don’t panic: There’s still time to sit down with your CPA. Still, you don’t want to find yourself scrambling to get all of your paperwork together at the last minute.

If you don’t have an in-house accountant, reach out to local accounting services. Determine who has capacity to squeeze you in. Before deciding on one, ask around: Have other entrepreneurs in your area had a good or bad experience with any of them?

7. Redesigning your website

Has it been a while since your company website got an update? Hopefully, it’s updated with your company’s information. But a full-scale redesign might also be in order

Redesigning your website is a good way to revitalize your brand and roll out something special this fall. You can also make navigation more user friendly so that customers can more easily book appointments and make purchases. 

Bring a web designer in, and brainstorm ideas that they can work with. The right person can take what you give them to another level.

8. Servicing company vehicles

If your company relies on vehicles, make sure that they’re running smoothly before the fall. Get an oil change, rotate the tires, check the battery, and make sure the antifreeze is in good condition. You don’t want a nasty surprise, such as a vehicle not starting, when a member of your team is heading out to an appointment. 

The sooner you get these back-burner tasks done, the better you’ll be able to focus on what your business does best. End the summer with these preparatory tasks, and you’ll set your business up for an even better fall. 

How to Boost Employee Engagement With Community Involvement

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Community involvement is more than a branding opportunity for your business. While showcasing your values is never a bad idea, there’s more to the story. 

Your employees are also members of the community. Their sense of how your company gives back to that community can affect their engagement levels at work. Companies that are heavily involved in their communities have high levels of employee engagement

Why is that? Because employees want their work to be aligned with the things they value. When your company makes an effort to improve where they live and work, they see that.

The good news is, there are many ways for your company — and its employees — to get involved. Take a look at the following ideas to jumpstart your company’s local involvement:

1. Institute volunteering days. 

Many local organizations need manpower just as much, if not more, than monetary donations. Volunteering takes time: That’s why employees would probably appreciate a day off centered around volunteering. 

One way to make this happen is to give employees paid time off to volunteer. Let them choose the day and organization. Link employees to local opportunities they are interested in. 

Another way to do it is to volunteer as a team. In this case, you’d get your team together to figure out what organization to serve. After reaching out to the organization, you’d all take the day off together. Not only can this scale your contribution, but it acts as an opportunity for your team members to build stronger social bonds. 

The key to company volunteering is that it’s ongoing. Continue to reach out to organizations in need. Build service into your company calendar on a monthly basis. Volunteering isn’t just an investment in the organizations you’re helping; it’s also an investment in your employees. 

2. Sign up for sponsorships.

Another great way for a company to get involved in its community is by sponsoring philanthropic events or programs. People call companies for these kinds of opportunities all the time. 

Don’t ignore them. Better yet, go the extra mile and seek out initiatives to sponsor. Common opportunities include:

 

  • A charity race, such as a marathon or triathlon
  • An annual festival that is a staple of your community
  • A local art gallery
  • A library or nonprofit bookshop
  • A local school’s theater production
  • An afterschool program for kids
  • A sporting event

Look around: The opportunities are endless. And if you’re not in a position to donate money, you could always offer to do pro bono work. You could provide free samples of your product. This way, you’ve both marketed your company and helped make an event possible. 

3. Organize your own local event.

Although other organizations would appreciate your help, why not throw your own community event? It could be something educational or artistic. It might be something purely fun, such as a block party with food vendors and performers. You could even get other companies in your network involved.

The key to event planning is to know who will attend. That knowledge allows you to tailor your event to the audience you expect. And while it might be appropriate to organize an event that directly correlates to what your company does, don’t feel limited. Planning something with a wider appeal is a great way to get attention for your company. 

Encourage employees to help you plan the event. Those who do will get to witness their community impact firsthand. 

4. Invite students for a company visit.

The students in your community can benefit from engaging with your company. Bringing them in for a field trip can be inspiring, while giving your team a sense of gratification. 

Reach out to local schools. Let them know what you could teach young people. For younger children, you could discuss what your business does and show off product concepts.

For secondary students, talk through your industry as a possible career path. You could pair employees up with students and have them discuss what they do. What does the work look like? What difference does it make? How can they follow in your team’s footsteps?

Another option is young adults. Bring college students in to talk through internship opportunities. Work with local colleges to offer course credit for the work they do. Put students who might not be a perfect fit for you in touch with other companies in your network. 

Contributing to your community boosts your company’s image within your community. Your employees will see that, and they’ll feel all the better about their role within it. 

5 Ways to Create Constructive Competition at Work

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Competition can tear people apart. Whether it’s friends fighting over their love interests or disputes over money, the wrong kind of competition can sour even the strongest relationship.

But not all competition is bad. In a business environment, it can motivate workers to perform at a higher level. Across a company, it can create camaraderie, build culture, and boost focus.

What’s the difference? The first sort is destructive; the right kind is constructive. 

How can you get the good parts of competition without risking the bad? It’s all about context. Here’s how to get your team members to butt heads in ways that build your business:

1. Be open about your expectations.

Whether it’s a sales competition or a summer fun run, it’s critical that you tell participants what you expect from them. Remind everyone that, regardless of who wins, you’re one team. That means no disparaging comments, dirty tricks, or hard feelings afterward.

There may be periods when your upfront spiel isn’t enough. When that happens, simply bring everyone together for an open dialogue. Left unchecked, excessive competition can lead employees to overwork themselves to the point where productivity actually drops. 

If you do need to have a heart-to-heart with your team, realize it doesn’t necessarily mean you failed to create the right environment. Competition can get out of control on even the closest team. What counts is whether and how the team comes back together.

2. Put employees in teams or pairs.

One danger of an overly competitive work environment is that it isolates workers from one another. In that context, even the smallest mistake or shortcoming can be demoralizing. The result can be frustration, aggression, and ultimately, employee turnover. 

To combat this, put employees in pairs or teams. Having even one other person on your side can stave off a sense that everyone is out to get you. Be sure to move people around periodically to fight the formation of cliques.

If you’re not sure how to pair people up, try personality types. Not only does it reduce the risk employees think you’re playing favorites, but different types can shore up each other’s shortcomings. 

3. Start with the fun stuff. 

Words have a way of tripping people up. The word “competition” can be upsetting or scary for some people. Words like “game” or “contest” have more positive connotations. 

But don’t just use the word “game” and think it’s enough. Before setting up things like client service competitions, get employees used to fun contests. Favorites include:

  • Fitness challenges

Get everyone moving, especially if you run a desk-based business. You’ll cut your health insurance costs while reducing absenteeism.

  • Cook-offs and potlucks

Who can cook up the tastiest chili? Do the bakers on your team have a favorite cookie? 

  • Trivia contests

Who knows the most about British rock bands of the ‘60s? What about Civil War generals?

  • Intramural sports

Is your agency or the one down the street better at baseball? Who’s got game when it comes to basketball?

Once everyone is comfortable playing games together, graduate to work competitions. The healthy competition you’ve built should translate seamlessly. 

4. Emphasize self-competition.

Constantly comparing yourself to others is anxiety-inducing. It’s much more fulfilling to compare yourself to your own accomplishments.

Encourage employees to set their own goals. Maybe your email marketer’s goal is to boost her clickthrough rate by 5% next month. Perhaps your engineers have a per-feature development time to beat.

The key is to redefine winning. Remind your team: When you’re competing against yourself, it doesn’t matter how anyone else performs. All that counts is whether or not you can post a personal best.

5. Offer the right rewards.

Rewarding employees for their growth is critical.  To figure out the right rewards, it’s important to know what your employees value.

In some contexts, bragging rights might be enough to get people going. In other situations, a bonus at the end of a quarter would make more sense. 

The good news is, rewards don’t have to break the bank. You could offer winners:

  • A physical trophy 
  • Extra time off work
  • A prime parking spot
  • Free lunch on the company
  • An office or desk location of their choice
  • Gift cards to local retailers or restaurants

The key is to align the prize with the effort required. Offer too small a prize, and people might not feel motivated to work for it. Make it too big, and the competition could become cutthroat. 

The key to office competitions boil down to one word: healthy. It’s a balancing act: You don’t want to create tension on the team, but you also don’t want people to feel like it’s OK to coast.

You know your team best. Pair people thoughtfully. Offer prizes they’ll actually appreciate. Dip your toes before diving straight into revenue- and cost-related competitions. Interteam competition is valuable, but only when it’s done right.

How Effective Leaders Solve Problems

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What separates great leaders from disastrous ones? Depending on the offending habit, you’ll find there isn’t just one answer to that question. In most cases, employees will list mistakes like failing to set goals, bullying others, trying to do everything on their own, and resisting change — and even being unkind. But, effective leaders are known to solve problems.

Do they look for a quick fix? Do they pass the buck? Or, do they pretend that they were unaware of the problem in the first place? No —  that’s not an effective leader. Instead, they tackle problems head-on and exhibit the following characteristics.

1. Is this my problem?

“The first thing I do,” former USC president Steven Sample told Bill Hybels at the 2004 Global Leadership Summit, “is to figure out if this is really my problem!” It’s a simple question to ask. But, it will definitely help you determine whether you can really solve a problem or not.

Think of it this way. You and your team are hard at work when suddenly the power goes out. The cause? A traffic accident that knocked out a transformer. You might call the electric company and still get some offline work done. However, you personally can’t resolve this issue since it’s completely out of your hands.

Sometimes, you just need to learn how to surrender. And, more importantly, admit that you aren’t always going to be able to save the day. Instead, focus on solutions that you do have control over.

2. Asks lots of questions.

“Problems are often rooted in miscommunication,” writes Peter Gasca in a previous Entrepreneur article. “Before you jump all over an issue, ask questions — many of them — and determine if you simply may have misunderstood the problem at hand.”

As an added perk, by “asking the right questions of the right people, and examining a problem objectively, there is a very good chance that the issue you have identified is more a symptom of a much more significant problem,” adds Gasca. “Dig deep and find the root problem first, then begin making a list of actions you can take to resolve it.”

Whatsmore, this strategy can give you a chance to determine the scope of the problem. As a result, this will help you allocate the appropriate time and resources to it.

3. Communicate transparently.

“Problem-solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of view are freely expressed,” explains Glenn Llopis, author of “Leadership in the Age of Personalization.” From his experience, Lupus has witnessed “how difficult it is to get to the root of the matter in a timely manner when people do not speak-up.”

Because “communication is a fundamental necessity,” it’s vital that those involved feel comfortable expressing themselves. “Effective communication towards problem-solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust her intentions and feel that they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened as well as specific solutions,” states Llopis.

“Once all voices have been heard and all points of view accounted for, the leader (with his/her team) can collectively map-out a path toward a viable and sustainable solution,” he adds. “As fundamental as communication may sound, don’t ever assume that people are comfortable sharing what they really think.” To counter this, trust your instincts and challenge your team to develop innovative and effective solutions.

Additionally, make sure that you break down silos. And, that you are always open-minded to the feedback and suggestions you receive.

4. Don’t point fingers.

“When we assign blame we are pointing the finger to who or what is responsible for a fault or for a wrong doing. We are trying to make others accountable. Blaming does not solve a problem it usually only makes people defensive.” — Catherine Pulsifer

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Bad leaders focus on blaming others. Instead, they should lead by example and own their mistakes. But, what if you aren’t responsible for the mishap? Well, use this a teachable moment. What did they learn? And, what are the solutions to fix the problem?

In short, take accountability for your actions. Encourage this trait among your team. And, as opposed to playing the blame game, work on solutions.

5. Focus on the big picture.

Here’s a reality check for you. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have the time, energy, and possibly resources to solve everything. The answer? Stop obsessing over the small things.

That doesn’t mean you should sweep these minor inconveniences under the rug. After all, they could grow into something much larger down the road — like a gnarly, unmanageable dust bunny. Instead, take a moment to think about how the situation is going to affect you and your business in the long-term.

Think of this way, you notice that there’s a tiny leak in your roof. Right now, it’s not that big of a deal. But, if left unattended, it could do serious damage to your building, equipment, and even the health of you and your team. Because of this, it should be addressed sooner than later.

As a general rule of thumb, use the 80/20 rule when solving problems. In this case, you would resolve the 20% of the issues leading to 80% of your problems. Don’t get too hung up on the exact figures here. The idea is to put out the fires that are causing the most destruction.

6. Rest, sleep, and leverage data.

“Throughout life, there are times when you must take immediate action,” writes Deanna Ritchie, Editor-in-Chief at Calendar. “For example, your child picked up a small item, which presents an obvious choking hazard, and it’s heading right towards their mouth. Or, your business just experienced a cyberattack, and all of the sensitive data you have stored is in jeopardy.”

“During times like these, you don’t have time to think,” adds Deanna. “You need to act.”

“However, with most of the decisions you must make, you usually have some time to mull things over a bit,” Deanna says. “And — thinking — is often in your best interest.” The reason? Because you’re well-rested, you have a clear head to make the best decision possible.

Furthermore, this gives you time to gather and analyze data. For instance, you could turn to analytics to help you solve your team’s time management problems or pinpoint inefficiencies in business processes. Armed with this information, you can make more informed decisions that are backed by facts.

7. Be preemptive.

“The wise warrior avoids the battle.” — Sun Tzu

I love that quote. It’s a simple way to describe the importance of being preemptive. But, what exactly does that have to do with solving problems?

I’ve already alluded to this, but it’s all about fixing something before it breaks. For instance, you could purchase all new computers for your team every couple of years before they breakdown.

I know. That seems like a lot of work. But, if you’re constantly exploring, keeping up with the latest trends, and paying attention to early warning signs, then you’ve can succeed in making preemptive changes.

8. Find the right talent and let them grow.

“Leadership becomes an intermittent activity as people with enthusiasm and expertise step up as needed, and readily step aside when, based on the needs of the project, another team member’s strengths are more central,” writes Deborah Ancona and Hal Gregersen in HBR. “Rather than being pure generalists, leaders pursue their own deep expertise, while gaining enough familiarity with other knowledge realms to make the necessary connections.”

“No one assumes that the life of a team, or even an organization, will be prolonged for its own sake,” state Ancona and Gregersen. “They expect to be involved in a series of initiatives with contributors fluidly assembling and disassembling.”

As such, knowing how to assemble the right team is a key leadership talent. “To tackle a problem, they need to find the right talent and to convince others that their project offers the chance to be part of a breakthrough,” they explain.

With your team in place, you also need to empower them. The easiest way? Grating them autonomy to solve problems how they want. If it backfires, don’t be hard on them. As mentioned above, let them learn from the experience and figure out what went wrong.

 

How to Plan a Stellar Speaking Event for Your Business

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When you hear the phrase “speaking event,” you might think of a huge conference. It sounds like something complicated that only a large organization or corporation could do. 

Think again: Any business can host a speaking event. Picture something more in line with a team-building workshop. The only difference is, engaging with the speaker is more central than the activities. 

A good speaker can make it look like a cinch, but the truth is, there’s a lot of moving parts. If you want your speaking event to be stellar, focus on these seven things:

1. Choosing the right occasion

Every event needs a “why?” Otherwise, it’s just a rambling monologue. 

You don’t want your audience to wonder “What’s the point?” Make sure to select an occasion that merits bringing in a speaker.

The good news is, there are plenty of reasons to plan a speaking event. Popular ones include:

  • Motivating employees before a busy period
  • Celebrating a job well done at the end of a busy period
  • Breaking the ice on a new team
  • Starting a discussion about company culture or team dynamics
  • Promoting productivity or wellness strategies to improve performance
  • Providing an opportunity for future leaders to learn

To be clear, that list isn’t exhaustive. As long as you can articulate your “why,” go ahead and schedule your speaking event.

2. Picking the right speaker

What would a speaking event be without a speaker? Selecting the right person is just as important as finding the right occasion. 

Relevance is key. If you’re trying to promote diversity and inclusion, for instance, why would you choose a speaker who built his or her name in sales?

Remember that your speaker doesn’t have to be a big name. Consider inviting someone with a personal connection to your company or subject, such as:

  • A close friend in your industry
  • A community member who advocates for your company
  • A client who had a exceptionally good — or exceptionally poor — experience
  • Someone from an organization that your company sponsors

You don’t have to break the bank to do a speaking engagement. Do what you can with what you have. 

3. Figuring out the number of speakers

Rather than inviting one person to speak at your company, you might consider multiple. One upside of choosing a low-cost speaker is that you might be able to afford more than one.

If so, think of your speaking event as a mini-conference. Allow team members to choose which talks they want to attend. Get everyone back in the same room to listen to your keynote speaker.

Another way to involve multiple speakers is to plan a panel discussion. Choose guests with different perspectives on your topic, and select someone to be your moderator. 

4. Finding the right location

There are pros and cons to any forum. You can hold it at your office, at an external venue, outdoors, or virtually. 

If you have the space, holding your speaking event at your office keeps things simple. With that said, it could make employees feel like it’s just another work meeting.

Doing a speaking event at a third-party location, whether indoors or out, can add excitement. However, this could cost more money depending on what space you find to do it. 

Finally, doing the event virtually might be a good option for a remote team. Particularly during COVID-19, it can also keep your team and speaker safe. But it might be harder to connect with a speaker when nonverbal cues are limited.

5. Setting up your equipment

Unless your speaking event’s audience will be small, you’ll need some sort of amplification system. And if the speaker has slides to share, he or she will need a screen and projector. 

When used well, technical equipment can enhance a speaking event. But as we all know, it can also be distracting.

Be sure to test any equipment your speaker will need beforehand. If you can afford it, hire a professional to manage the sound. Make sure any slides or clips the speaker wants to show display well.

6. Taking care of the speaker

Aside from compensating a speaker, it’s also important to be hospitable. Treat people how you’d want to be treated. 

If your speaker is coming in from out of town, assist them in finding accommodations. Allow them to mingle with your company as they please. Make sure they’ll have meals and water available throughout the day. 

When it comes to their speech itself, however, give them space to do their thing. Resist the urge to micromanage. And be sure to give them an introduction that highlights any accomplishments relevant to the topic they’ll be discussing.  

7. Planning the reception

A speaking engagement doesn’t end when the speech is over. Especially if it’s a formal event, encourage people to mingle afterward. One-on-one time with the speaker may be more valuable to attendees that the speech itself. 

Receptions don’t have to be big productions. Set out hors d’oeuvres and drinks, if appropriate. Put out materials like paper and pens, if your reception includes activities. It’s perfectly OK, though, if your speaker and audience members simply want to mingle. 

Speaking events don’t have to be stress-inducing or costly. If you have a receptive audience, an engaging speaker, and a fitting venue, you’re most of the way there. Sprinkle in some hospitality and tech-savvy team members, and you’ll be gold. 

14 Business Tasks That Can Be Automated

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As a business owner, you have a full plate. But, did you know that you can free-up your most valuable asset by automating tedious and redundant tasks? I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have the budget or knowledge to afford such luxuries. But here are 14 business tasks that can be automated.

In reality, these tools are affordable and user-friendly. And, this small investment will save you time and energy so that you can focus on your priorities.

Not sure where to start? Well, here are 14 business tasks that can be automated. You’ll thank us later.

1. Scheduling appointments.

Whether it’s trying to figure out when to have dinner with friends or book an important meeting with a client, scheduling appointments can be like pulling teeth. You suggest a date and time, only for the other party to throw out a completely different option. Next thing you know, you’re engaged in an elaborate game of cat and mouse.

Thankfully, with calendar scheduling apps that’s no longer a problem. Simply share your calendar with others through email or embed it onto your website. Now they can see when you’re available and select a date and time that works from them. The event is then automatically added to everyone’s schedules.

Moreover, you can make appointments with yourself, such as blocking out time for your priorities. It’s a safe way to guarantee that you won’t book something else during that timeframe.

And, better yet, tools like Calendar use machine learning to see how you’re spending your time. It will then make smart suggestions on how to schedule meetings so that those dog days of going back-and-forth are over. It’s pretty much-putting scheduling appointments on autopilot.

2. Master your to-do-list.

Are to-do-lists flawless? Of course not. But, they can still come in handy when planning how to spend your time. And, this is most true when your list has been prioritized.

As you’ve probably guessed, automation can help you make your lists mare effective. In turn, you’ll be able to conquer it. And, as you cross items off, you’ll want to keep that momentum going. In short, mastering your to-do-list will make you a lean, mean productivity machine.

If you use a tool like Zapier, then you could convert emails, notes, Slack messages, or form submissions into to-dos. Microsoft’s Flow automates workflows, while Focuster will add items from your to-do-list to your calendar.

3. Sorting and responding to emails.

According to a survey from Adobe, respondents “said they spend approximately five hours a day checking work email (three-plus hours a day) and personal email (two-plus hours a day).” That’s bonkers. And, just imagine how out of control your inbox would get if it wasn’t effectively managed!

Automation allows you to eliminate annoying emails or newsletters that are no longer relevant — thanks Sanebox and Unroll.me. You can also create canned responses in Gmail. And, most importantly there’s email automation where create emails that will reach the right people at the right time. For example, if someone placed an order with your company, they would receive an automatic message thanking them for their order and what steps to take next.

4. Posting to social media.

If you want to spread brand awareness, promote events, and engage with your audience, then you need to be active on social media. However, just like email, this can become a time-consuming task as you may get drawn into the rabbit hole of sharing, commenting, and liking.

Solutions like Buffer and Hootsuite allow you to schedule social media in advance. You can also use chatbots to deliver immediate responses. And, tools like Sprout Social can curate content and generate real-time reports.

5. Filling out online forms.

It may not seem like it. But, constantly filling out forms online can be a drag. Just think about how much time you waste plugging in the same information again and again. If you use Chrome, then the Big G will fill out forms automatically for you. But, you can also use RoboForm.

Both of these options are secure. And, they’ll also remember and manage all of your passwords passwords so that you don’t have to search for or reset them.

6. Data back-up.

When I was younger and more naive, I didn’t think about backing-up more computer’s hard drive. Sure enough, it crashed and everything I had on there was lost.

That’s not really a concern today. Most cloud services, whether if it’s Google, Apple, Dropbox, or Carbonite, will automatically back-up your data. That should definitely give you some peace of mind at night.

7. Recruiting and hiring.

Full disclosure here. You will have to actually speak with potential hires. But, automation makes this process a whole lot easier. For instance, with ZipRecruiter you could send out a job description to multiple job search sites at once.

Additionally, tools like Yello can be used to screen candidates and speed-up the interview process. And, since you’re already using scheduling tools, this can also simplify scheduling interviews.

8. Creating proposals.

“Generating a new proposal from scratch can be tedious and exhausting,” writes Sujan Patel over at Inc.com. “Plus, with so many people involved, getting a proposal approved and out the door can sometimes take forever.” And, with so much back-and-forth going on, quality can also take a hit.

“But by investing in proposal management software, such as PandaDoc, you’ll be able to consolidate all of your proposal tasks in one place,” Patel adds. “This will allow you to seamlessly coordinate with sales, marketing, legal and others and avoid confusion that could lead to issues.”

“Within the system, you and your team can also create templates so that you won’t always have to start from scratch,” says Patel. “With a streamlined system, you’ll create better proposals in less time.”

9. Document collecting and auto signature.

Regardless if you have full-time employees or a team of freelancers, there will be times when you need to gather documents and electronic signatures. Sending out reminders can be tedious. And, if you need this information by an exact date, it can also be stressful — think gathering all essential documents during tax season.

Moreover, you may need to have a vendor sign a contract or deal with client intake forms. Long story short, chasing documents, while necessary, is a huge drain on your time. Platforms like Integrify will automatically gather documents for you. Meanwhile, Docusign will automatically digitize important paperwork. It will also send out reminders via email.

10. Invoicing and billing.

We all have bills to pay, like rent, utilities, or payroll. Instead of manually writing checks like your grandparents once did set up automatic bill pay. As an added perk, it ensures that you’ll never be late or forget about paying a bill — which could result in your getting hit with hefty late fees.

Additionally, if you have recurring invoices, you can use a wide range of platforms to send out your invoice. Besides saving you time, it also can help you get paid faster.

Even if you aren’t handing your finances automation can at least free up some of your accountant’s time.

11. Lead nurturing.

The last thing that you want to do is waste your valuable trying to sell your product or service to someone who will never purchase it. That’s why gaining and retaining your leads is so clutch. At the same time, it can also be extremely time-consuming.

With automation, you can quickly respond to inquiries, assign inbound leads to sales reps, follow-up, and segment your leads. After gathering this information, it can automatically be put into a database so that you can pinpoint where they are in the sales funnel.

HubSpot, Act-On, and Marketo are some solid options for nurturing and converting leads.

12. Sales and marketing.

Arguably, the most profitable use of automation is assisting you with sales and marketing. After all, it’s impossible to stay in business when you don’t have cash flowing in.

When it comes to sales, automation can:

  • Set a framework for your sales pipeline.
  • Help you determine and focus on your hottest leads.
  • Remain engaged with prospects who aren’t ready to buy.
  • Welcoming new clients and customers.

Also, it can encourage repeat sales by reminding customers about abandoned carts and when their supply is running low. It can also suggest new products or services that they might be interested in based on past purchases.

13. Customer service and engagement.

Keeping your customers happy is a crucial part of running a business. Besides building loyalty, it can also help attract new customers through referrals and word-of-mouth.

Chatbots, as previously mentioned, can be used to address customer inquires in real-time — even during off-hours. It’s even being anticipated that by 2020, 85% of interactions without human interaction. Bold 360 and Drift are just two tools that can handle this task.

Furthermore, with so much data at your disposal, you can send personalized offers, content, and reminders to your existing customers. You could even attach surveys after a sale to gather much-needed feedback on how to improve.

There are a lot of sales and marketing automation platforms that can assist you in this area. Examples would be Constant Contact for email marketing automation, Keap for CRM, and BuzzPortal for customer engagement.

14. Update contact information.

How embarrassed are you when you call a contact only to be informed that they no longer possess this number? What if you sent out an email and it was returned?

People are constantly changing their contact info. And, if you aren’t on top of that, then you may have a contact book full of outdated information. Addappt addresses this by updating your contact information whenever it’s been changed.

There are some other cool features too, such as birthday and anniversary reminders. And, Addappt will also keep you updated on your contact’s weather conditions. You know. Just to remind them to bring an umbrella if it’s going to rain.

How to Build a Relaxing Office Environment on a Budget

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Your staff may be stellar. You may be the best at what you do. But neither necessarily mean your clients are coming away happy.

One of the easiest ways to soup up your client experience? Sprucing up your office space.

The environment you create sets the tone for how clients interact with your business. A winning office can make customers excited to come in, reduce complaints, and build customer loyalty. 

You want your customers to feel comfortable and calm. This is especially true if you’re in a line of work that makes people nervous: law firms and doctors offices, pay attention.

The good news is, you don’t need a full renovation or an interior designer to make your office a more welcoming place. Take a look at the following ways to create a relaxing environment without breaking the bank:

1. Declutter the office.

In an office, things will pile up. And if you just keep stuffing things in nooks and crannies, you’re only creating a bigger problem for the future. 

Take care of clutter by dedicating time to clean up the office. Be thorough: When you work in the same space consistently, it’s easy to miss things that customers are sure to notice. Mess can make them feel uncomfortable at best and claustrophobic at worst. 

Once you’ve gotten rid of things that you don’t need, reorganize your office to give it a full reset. It’s an opportunity to try something new instead of sticking to the status quo. In doing so, you create space both physically and mentally for your customers.

2. Change your color palette.

Have you ever considered how much color impacts the way clients experience your office? It’s a big deal. 

You can cultivate a relaxed mood in your office with earthy colors. Try a warm white accented with green and natural-looking wood. If you rely on warm colors, like reds and oranges, you’ll create a more cozy/sleepy vibe. If you use dim colors, your space might feel depressing. 

Aside from painting, you can freshen up your office’s colors by:

  • Bringing in plants that complement your furniture
  • Allowing as much natural light into the office space as possible
  • Putting art on the walls that depict serene, earthy scenes
  • Rolling out soft, neutral rugs
  • Replacing old drapes with flowing, semi-transparent curtains

A relaxed atmosphere keeps people calm yet alert enough for an office. It’s like what people experience when they are in nature. 

3. Check the temperature.

It’s easy to forget how much of a difference adjusting your thermostat even a few degrees can make. With that said, temperature can be a tough thing to get right in an office.

Everyone will have a different opinion about how warm or cold it should be. Employees may want control, but customers should also have a say. Find a happy medium: Maybe your chilly team member can put on a sweater, if it means setting the thermostat where customers want it. 

Don’t be afraid to adjust your thermostat frequently. If someone comes in shivering, turn the heat up a notch. And if they start sweating, switch it right back down.  

4. Provide snack options. 

Snacks are delicious, but they also lend a certain ambiance to an office space. Even if they aren’t hungry when they come in your door, customers like to know they have options. Munching on a cookie or apple can be soothing while they wait. 

Speaking of, it’s important to have a variety of snack options. Leave out some healthy options, but don’t be afraid to squeeze in salty and sweet snacks as well. Particularly if appointments run long, customers will be grateful for the bite. 

5. Don’t forget a good demeanor. 

Your office environment includes the people in it. Don’t forget to smile and maintain a positive demeanor.

Some employees are naturally gifted at making people feel welcome. Those who don’t may need to work on their relationship-building skills. Add people with a good aura to a relaxed environment, and you’ll have a winning combination.

Just because you don’t have a budget to completely change your office space doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Do what you can right now, and save the bigger changes for when you have a little more play in your budget. 

Major Hurdles for Startups of Productivity

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It’s not easy launching a startup. What, with overcoming obstacles like finding your niche, getting your finances in order, and working with partners. Oh yeah. You also have to worry about building your brand, marketing, and recruiting and retaining top talent. That’s a lot for anyone to take on.

But, one area that tends to get overlooked is productivity, which often gets confused with efficiency.

“While efficiency means doing more with less, wrote JotForm Founder and CEO Aytekin Tank for Entrepreneur. Productivity, on the other hand, “is about doing more with the same” while still pursuing quality. “After all, who cares whether you cross four extra tasks off your to-do list, if those activities don’t move the needle for your business?” asks Tank. “An effective morning routine or work schedule should help you to do more of what really matters,” he adds. “That’s why I believe founders and CEOs should focus on productivity, not efficiency.”

Additionally, when you focus on productivity, you’ll be able to finish what you start, boost morale, and achieve your goals. Ultimately, that will make your startup a success.

With that in mind, here are 10 major hurdles for startups to overcome so that they’ll be more productive.

1. Inefficient time management.

Despite the fact that time is your most valuable resource, it’s still astounding that so many founders don’t use it effectively. There is a multitude of reasons why this is the case. But, I think it boils down to the fact that they’re wasting too much time on time-wasting activities. For example, couldn’t your delegate or outsource your bookkeeping responsibilities or use automation and machine learning for customer service inquires and scheduling?

Freeing up your schedule of less important tasks and the things that you don’t enjoy doing, allow you to spend more time on what you love and do best. Moreover, it gives you the chance to learn and attend to your health and well-being.

That’s a crash course in time management, I know. But, here are some other time management tips startup founders should try:

  • Find out when you’re most productive and schedule your important tasks then.
  • Chunk up your week by doing similar tasks on the same day.
  • Establish new habits and strategies like the Pomodoro Technique, Mind Mapping, and Completion Bias.
  • Monotasking instead of multitasking.
  • Identifying common distractions and finding ways to avoid them.

And, most importantly, keep it simple. Relying on too many complicated strategies or tools can be overwhelming and counterproductive. If all you need is your Google Calendar to keep you in-check, then you do you.

2. Productivity tools aren’t being used correctly.

You’re probably tired of hearing it. But, it’s true. There really is an app for that. And, that can be a wonderful thing if you want to improve communication, collaborationplanning, and task management.

But, at the same time, haven’t we become too reliant on productivity tools? Again, I have nothing against them. It’s just that we forgot that these tools are here to help us and not solve all of our problems.

Before building up an arsenal of productivity tools, filter your search to the ones that improve your skills or fill an organizational gap. Or, in other words, use the tools that will work best for you. For example, a lot of people rave about tools like Freedom that can block distractions. But, if you have enough willpower and don’t need assistance in this area, then why spend the time learning and using it?

3. Keeping up with demand is impossible.

“While this isn’t necessarily a bad problem to have, it can definitely cause problems for your business,” writes Chalmers Brown, CTO and Co-Founder of Due.com. “Just as you would prepare for the worst, you should also prepare for the outcome you are working toward — growth.”

“In this case, if you can’t keep up with production due to lack of resources or manpower to service demand you may be in serious trouble,” he explains.

“Make sure you have a well-defined plan for growth,” suggests Chalmers. “If you’re just launching your business, make sure you set clear and reasonable expectations.” An example of this would be if you have a limited amount of your product. If so, “make sure your customers know there may be delays if supplies run out.”

Additionally, “you should pay attention to surges in demand, like during the holiday season,” adds Chalmers. “A surge in demand should never be your biggest issue.” And, if it is, it could create bottlenecks that prevent you from being as productive as you should be.

4. Lack of planning.

Someone much wiser then I once said, “if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” As a founder, that probably means creating a business plan and taking into account things like sales, hiring, funding, scaling, and preparing for the unexpected.

However, it also involves planning. After all, as Angela Ruth perfectly put it, “productivity doesn’t happen. You need to make a plan.” And, here are a couple of ways to get you there.

  • Make the choice to be productive, not busy. At the minimum, prioritize your tasks, block out distractions, and be proactive instead of reactive.
  • Think 168 hours, not 24. Find out how you’re spending your time and eliminate time-wasting activities. You could also create theme days and set an intention for the week.
  • Harness the power of KPIs. Monitor your KPIs to make sure that you’re achieving your goals.
  • Fight off decision fatigue. Preserve your mental energy by spending less time on unimportant decisions. For instance, prep your lunch for the week so that you don’t have to make this decision every day.

5. Organizational culture is in disarray.

“So, you want a productive day, but it’s not possible because of your working environment, notes,” Dragan Sutevski, Founder and CEO of Sutevski Consulting. Since you have an open-door policy, people can come and go as they please. And, because you’ve made yourself so available, people will email or call you “for every possible problem.”

“These are only the fraction of possible distractions that will decrease your productivity level,” Dragen writes. “They are the results of the organizational culture that you have built in the past and is still active in your company.”

Unfortunately, this problem is this won’t just interfere with your productivity, “but also the productivity of your whole company.”

How can you change your organizational culture?” Dragen suggests your “spread responsibilities, and decision making among your team members and ensure that your culture will make all your team members accountable for their decisions and work they are doing.”

I’d also add that you should create a more positive work environment. You can do this in a variety of ways. But, you can use your values and priorities to guide you in the right direction. Most importantly, you should encourage everyone to speak up and remove any toxins from your organization to keep morale and collaboration healthy.

6. Lack of respect.

Whether you’re a startup, mom and pop operation, or Fortune 500 company, it’s imperative that you treat your team with respect. If not, you can expect poor morale, unfinished tasks, a lack of collaboration, and lots of wasted time.

How can you respect your employees? Well, Amanda Abella recommends focusing on the following areas:

  • Don’t be a jerk. “If you want your employees to stick around, treat them with dignity,” she writes. “This means you can’t have unrealistic expectations, you must compensate them fairly and you need to be flexible when emergencies come up.”
  • Prioritize health. Encourage your team to take time for self-care. You could also offer gym memberships, healthy snacks, flex schedules, and access to mental health resources.
  • Don’t waste people’s time. Don’t arrive late for meetings or keep attendees longer then the time allotted. Get back to them in a timely manner. And, don’t overload their work capacity or message them non-stop during off-hours.

Amanda also suggests that you respect yourself. “Keep an eye on the nasty tendency to be way too hard on yourself,” writes Amanda. “Take care of yourself and be a stellar example to the people who work for you.”

7. Autonomy isn’t being encouraged.

“The best way to encourage productivity and creativity in your team is for the managers (and founders!) to step back,” wrote SINC Founder Sam Dolbel. “Let your team manage their tasks freely and independently; you trusted them enough to join your start-up, so you should be able to give them a task and let them fly with it.”

Encouraging ownership drives motivation. And, “you’ll find that the more ownership someone is able to take of their role, the better job they will do at it.”

Of course, this is a tough pill for entrepreneurs to swallow. But, you can start small, like letting employees work remotely 2 days a week. You could also let them choose how they want to work and share their unique skills and talents. If you’ve clearly stated your expectations, then you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

8. No one is able to stay on track.

Tim Hyer, Founder of Getable, told Business News Daily that the biggest lesson he’s learned is the importance of focus. By nature, a startup is extremely resource-constrained,” he said. “The last thing it needs is to be spread even thinner than it already is.”

“When working on a brand new problem that no one has attempted to solve before, the possibilities are limitless — as are the distractions,” Hyer added.

Ty Morse, the CEO of Songwhale agrees. “The early years of a startup can be chaotic and desperate,” Morse wrote for Yahoo! Small Business. “Even a great idea needs capital to get off the ground.” As a result, you say “‘yes’ to anything and everything because you need clients; you need investment; you need to turn your idea into an actual business.”

“Too quickly you’ll take on too many things,” Morse adds. And, this “disrupts your focus.”

If you want to stay on track, Morse recommends:

  • Putting together a business model that works best for you.
  • Only sticking to one or two things that you excel at.
  • Firing your bad clients.

As for focusing on your daily activities, Deanna Ritchie in a previous Calendar article suggests that you:

  • Build your concentration like a muscle. “The ‘Pomodoro Method’ is a great technique to help you get started,” Denna writes. “Yes, it’s the same calendar and productivity hack where around 45 minutes straight and then take a 15-minute break.” But, since “you’re gradually building your focus muscles here, cut that time way back.”
  • Meditate. It’s a fast and effective way to keep you in the present and “bounce back from distractions and tame stress reactions.”
  • Optimize your environment. Maintain a clean and clutter-free workspace.
  • Stop multitasking. Seriously, it doesn’t work. Do one task at a time.
  • Manage your energy, not your time. Work during the hours when you have the most energy and concentration.

9. Success has a different definition for your employees.

If you’re no longer flying solo, then this is an important thing to remember when you want to empathize with or rally your team. Why? Because entrepreneurs and employees have different definitions of success.

Case in point, work-life balance.

For employees, balance an important factor that determines if they’ll join a stay with a company. But, it’s not for entrepreneurs since balance isn’t feasible. At the same time, founders also need breaks. So, you may want to focus on seasons instead. That means that if you’re on the verge of a product launch, you may put in 12 hour days. But, after the launch, you could disappear for a two-weeks if that’s your prerogative.

10. The workspace hasn’t been adapted to various needs.

Your workspace plays a huge role in how productive you and your team members are. If you aren’t comfortable and working from a filthy desk in a dimly lit room, do you honestly think you’ll be all that productive?

At the same time, we all have our personal preferences. Some people enjoy working in an office where they can hear background noise like typing and chatter. Others want absolute silence.

While you may not be able to accommodate everyone’s needs, you can allow them to decorate their workspaces however they want or listen to headphones. You could make certain areas of your office as silent as a library or permit people to work wherever they’re most productive.

Also, don’t forget to provide them with ergonomic furniture, a standing desk, and all the tools and resources needed to get their work done.

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