Focus

Entrepreneurs aren't rewarded necessarily by effort or hours. We're rewarded when the outcome, the product or service we're producing actually does something that people care about.
-Michael Burcham

We must be productive not just busy. A fiend recently said to me that they no longer work the crazy hours that they used to and instead have found ways to get more done in less time. Part of this comes from focus, part from being efficient, and part from not wasting time. Here are a few ideas if you want to get more done is less time:

  • Delegate. Let go of the task and don't worry about how the person or team will complete the task.
  • Improve your communication. Take a few minutes to make sure that what you're saying makes sense and won't require another email/phone call/meeting.
  • Group repetitive task. I have an email that goes out every other week, so instead of sitting down the day before to create the email (when inevitably a meeting will come up), I create and schedule a batch of the emails when I know that I'll have the time and won't be interrupted.

What to remember: There are so many ways to improve how you use your time, but the key here is to go into work with the mentality of improving a little bit every day.

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

It's always fun to talk about big ideas and sometimes just as fun to implement them, but are you measuring whether or not those big ideas actually worked? With some areas this is easy to determine. If a marketing email is sent out with a new format and there are more opens, click throughs, etc, then you know that there's something to the new format. Of course, you'll need to keep testing to make sure that it wasn't a fluke, but that's a different article.

What does this look like? Since most of us have sent out marketing emails, I'll stick to that topic. With KPIs there's a few things to look for in emails. These things can give you a good idea of whether or not what the new format is working. Those things are:

  • Open Rate
  • Click Rate
  • Delivery Rate
  • Opt-outs
  • Shares
  • Sign-ups

These are great areas to observe, but of course we can and should get more detailed and more specific with why we're looking at these figures. For instance, don't just look at the open rate, see that it's been consistently higher, and then call it a day. Instead, set a goal that you want the open rate to increase by a specific percentage and then list some ways that you think will help you accomplish that goal.

What to remember: Testing is everything. Set goals and ways that you think you can accomplish those goals and be realistic about the fact that you may have to change the strategy.

Is Social Media Helping or Hurting You?

Social media can be a great tool for boosting a business. It can also slow you down. Much like the infamous Netflix binge, social media can be a place where we fall down the rabbit hole only to emerge an hour (or two) later. This means a lot of lost productivity. Does this mean that you should quit social media altogether? No, of course not, but, as is with any tool, it should be used wisely and appropriately.

What does this look like?

  • Focus on what you're trying to accomplish. If you're posting for business, then do that and move on to the next task.
  • If you need a mental break, then set a timer and stop as soon as the timer goes off.
  • Remember that the world will keep spinning even if you don't see every post or respond to every question immediately.
  • Be discerning about what you respond to. Not all direct messages or comments need a response.

What to remember: Social media can be a very valuable tool if used wisely and a productivity destroyer if used unwisely.

Savings Accounts

Savings Accounts are a great thing, but only if they do what they're supposed to do. These accounts give us a place to house our money that's quick and easy to retrieve, but also gives us a little bit of money in return for holding it there. Since the banks are using that money to make money, it's only fair that we earn interest and that interest should be more the .10%.

What does this look like? It's common knowledge and it's not a bad thing that banks use the money (deposits) of its patrons to lend to other people. This is partly how they make money. The bottom line is that we need a place to store that emergency fund, but why not get paid to store it? Here are some things to look for when choosing where to store that hard earned cash:

  • There are many banks out there that offer 1.9 to over 2 percent APY. For a savings account that has a limited amount of allowed transactions per month, you should definitely get more than .10% APY.
  • It should be easy to get started. If a bank's process to sign up is user friendly, then it says something about how they view customer service and about how easy or not so easy it will be to bank with them.

What to remember: Your money should work for you.

Customer Service

I recently had some repair work done on my house and the payment experience got me thinking about our recent article on credit card use. One company was accepting credit cards on the spot and the other simply handed me an invoice. This means one company got paid immediately. The other is going to have to wait for me to either send a check through my bank or wait for me to write a check and send it through the mail. Both ways of paying by check mean that the company is waiting for the check to arrive (this could easily be a week) and then waiting for it to be deposited. While you may not be worried about the time, the facts are that by encouraging payment by debit/credit card, you make the payment portion of the transaction much more customer friendly and you get your payment immediately. This reduces issues with collections and is simply more efficient for the business. At the end of the day, the more efficient a business can be, the more it can automate, means the more time it can spend on its core purpose.

Automation

According to a few definitions I found when searching on this topic, automation is: the point where the process is completed with little or no human interaction. This happens in manufacturing of course, but also in many other areas. One area of note is in the realm of email, but there are of course many more. As time goes on, I'm sure that we'll see more as technology finds new and innovative ways to make our jobs easier.

What does this look like? I mentioned email in the first part partially because I know this area, but also, I think that it's a good area to talk about concerning automation. Over the past few years, email has changed dramatically from what it used to be and can now make marketing so much easier for the marketing and/or sales team. Some ways that it has done this:

  • Most email marketing systems will gather the data/analytics and graph them out for you so that you now not only have the numbers but also the visual aspect of how your email performed.
  • Secondly, emails can be scheduled. Whether this is a marketing email or an "I'm out of the office" auto response email, these tools are very beneficial.
  • Lastly, when I think of email automation, I think of auto responses to certain actions. This could happen when someone fills out a form on the website, in the case of ecommerce, an email reminding you of your abandon cart, or in response to an action taken in a marketing email.

Note: This is definitely in no way an exhaustive list, but more so food for thought.

What to remember: Automation is a good thing that helps free up time, make a company more efficient, and provide better customer service. In other words, automation helps a company to be able to focus on its core purpose.

Productivity Tool: Slack

I've used this tool informally in the past and it's been great. It can definitely be used in an inefficient way, but when used properly, it can speed up and help to organize communication. It's essentially a powerful chat app that is, at least seems to be, on a mission to replace email.

What does this look like?

  • For starters, there's a mobile and desktop app, so whoever you need to keep in touch with, (the outside sales team, your delivery drivers, etc.) you can do so all at once without sending an email and hoping that they see it.
  • The app is organized by channels or groups which is great if you have multiple teams/projects/groups/etc. This keeps all the communication and files organized and easily searchable. Plus, if someone needs to leave, then they can exit the channel easily at any point, which is more than I can say for email...

What to remember: There are a lot of great tools out there to help businesses, but not all are beneficial to every business. Explore, test, and find what works for your company.

Website Tools: "Calendar" Page

Not many people put up an actual calendar, but having all your events listed as far out as possible can be a great tool for any company. This lets your customers know where they'll be able to find you and also that you're remaining active in the community and in the industry.

What does this look like? A calendar can take multiple forms, but what works best for any given company can only be determined by trial and error. Regardless, here are some thoughts to consider:

  • It doesn't have to be a traditional block calendar. This could be a list for the week, month, or year. It could be links or a pop-up with additional information. Creativity is the key.
  • The display doesn't have to be boring and simple. With all the capability available that can be integrated into a website, just have fun. This obviously needs to fit your industry, but you could have different blocks of information that have an action triggered when they're hovered over.
  • Jumping off the last points, the blocks could link to more information or, if it's an event, could be a form for the customer to let you know that they're coming and if they have something to talk about. This gives you time to prepare and lets you see what your customers concerns are before the event.
  • Lastly, keep it updated. This doesn't mean that you have to remove the information, but maybe it's greyed out. Keeping this updated lets customers know that you're paying attention. It can also be reassurance that those forms they filled out are actually being read.

What to remember: Every company has to figure out what will work for them. This may take trial and error or you might nail it the first time. Regardless, look at the analytics so that you have numbers to back up the choice to stick with the decision.

Credit or Debit Cards?

The answer to this question is fraught with polarizing answers and depending on who you're talking to will determine what answer you receive. Regardless, I think it's worth writing about.

What does this look like? Some will say don't ever use credit cards because they're simply not worth it. Others will say that credit cards make it easy for employees to make purchases. I say that we have to look at the facts.

What are the facts? The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a few points to consider.

  • For those that say the points are worth it, I have one word, really? In reality, most cards give 1% return in "rewards". That means for every 1000 dollars spent you get 10 dollars back... not a great ROI. And all of the people I've talked to recently haven't been very thrilled with the flight benefits.
  • Now, some credit cards do have other benefits, for instance protection for unexpected travel expenses (i.e. things like lost luggage), travel insurance, extended warranties, zero foreign transaction fees, etc. I traveled with someone recently that had the added benefit of TSA pre-check included on their card. When time is money, this is a great perk.
  • On the other hand, assuming that you've taken the necessary steps (making sure that there's enough cash in the bank) debit cards can be viewed as easier and more efficient. No card to pay off each month and this also means no potential for late payment fees or interest charges.
  • Given that the average person spends upwards of 15% more on a credit card is something that should also be considered in this decision.
  • Lastly, we could talk about fees, but it's definitely possible to find both a debit card and a credit card without monthly or annual fees so I'll nix this topic.

What to remember: This decision should not be taken lightly. While under certain circumstances, credit cards could be a strategic move, mistakes could mean late fees and a large amount of interest charges and no one wants to spend money on those things.

Website Tools: Education

There's been a handful of times where I found myself, after using a tool for years, seeing someone using it in a unique way. Whether you call it a life hack or just being creative, problem solvers tend to come up with interesting ways to solve unique problems.

On the other hand, sometimes it's just easier to watch someone use the tool, in its intended format, to help us understand the best way to use the tool. In both these circumstances video and your website can be an invaluable tool.

What does this look like? There's no need for an expensive camera because in most cases a smartphone will do the trick. Now obviously, the better the equipment the better the video will be, but if you're just getting started, then something basic will work just fine. Here are some things to consider:

  • Lighting. Make sure that product and the demonstrator are clearly visible and that there aren't any shadows or glares.
  • Sound Quality. A basic pop-filter and a quiet room will drastically improve the sound quality of any video.
  • Setting. Think about where you'll demo the product. Would it work better to be on site or would a practice example work?
  • Script. Writing out what you'll say even if you don't plan to read from the script will help in making the recording run smoother.
  • Voice-over or talk during demo. Decide whether or not you'll talk during the demo or record the voice-over and add it in later.

What to remember: 1.) There's many options to consider when creating a video, but simply getting started means that you got over the biggest hurdle. 2.) The first videos may be great or they may be terrible, but keep at it and learn from the mistakes.

Diversification

Diversification, simply put, is a risk management strategy. I won't dive into all the reasons that businesses struggled around 2008, but what we do know is that companies that were more diversified fared much better.

What does this look like? As we've stated in the past, your specific level of tolerance for risk (i.e. does this keep you up at night) is highly individual to each and every company. Therefore, every company has to decide what amount of risk they are ok with accepting, but here are a few points to consider:

  • As we stated earlier, while there will be bad seasons in business that keep you up at night, in general your strategy should not keep you up at night. Some people disagree with this, however, not sleeping isn't a very sustainable practice.
  • Diversification has to make sense for your company. This isn't a question of whether or not you should, but rather choosing a product/widget/idea that makes sense for the company to add. i.e. is this an off shoot of what you do and therefore have some experience or are you just shooting in the dark hoping to hit something?
  • Diversification is a long-term strategy not something that you do for a season or a year. It's meant to both protect the company (the safe bets, cash cows, etc.) and help to push profits (the riskier options that help balance the company's stability and growth options)

What to remember: A company's diversification strategy should make sense for the individual company while also not causing the team to stress out or lose sleep.

Website Tools: Product Showcase Page

If you have an online store, then you could use your product page for this purpose. However, for those that don't have an online store, then showcase pages are a fantastic way to talk about a product and provide that all too necessary information at ay point that the customer may need it. This also helps with SEO for the website by providing valuable information to the search engines which then disperse that information to the world.

What does this look like? This page or these pages will vary based on demographics and the type of product, but a few things to keep in mind are:

  • Include high quality images that show more than one angle of the item and make sure that there's alternate text in case the image doesn't appear on the page.
  • Also, if appropriate, have video. This can be a great tool for showing the product in use and to describe how it works simultaneously.
  • From an SEO standpoint, don't just add industry lingo for the sake of adding it in to the page. Instead, let all the content be natural. Use the words that would naturally be used surrounding this product. Why? Google released a statement some time back that said if, based on their algorithm, a company was adding keywords to try and trick the system in an effort to boost rankings, then their rankings would be negatively impacted. Simply put, write real and natural content.

Note: There's far more that I could type up concerning this topic, but that would be a really long article... so instead of trying to cover every possible facet, I gave a few highlights and will now encourage you to go be creative, to start thinking outside the box.

What to remember: Quality and creativity are the key to success with these pages.

Debt...

For many companies this process of choosing to get their business out of debt is very complex and there's a good reason. This isn't just deciding that you want to pay off the home mortgage or car loan. At home you can make adjustments that simply can't be forced upon employees.

For many companies they use some form or multiple forms of debt to operate that would be difficult to pay off without compromising some aspect of the business. That's what makes this decision difficult and complicated because, unless you're busting at the seams with cash, something has to be given up to accomplish this goal. Regardless, there are benefits to paying off debt like no interest, more money in the emergency fund/savings account, and more available capital for starters.

What does this look like?

  • Make sure that you have a budget and that all expenses are listed (don't skip this step, it's important)
  • List out and prioritize the debts (everyone has ideas about how this should be done, but smallest to largest is a good place to start)
  • Create a plan with a time line and decide how much money to allocate towards the goal (this is different from the budget, it's more like a training plan with your goal being to end up debt free instead of more physically fit)

What to remember: Every company will set different goals and therefore must look at their individual scenario and decide what the company is capable of doing at this specific point in time.