Friday, July 1, 2011

5 Lessons Learned In Small Business

Small business is a lifestyle. It's a gutsy way of living.  Let's stop for a moment and consider what's involved:
  • Taking the Leap: Believing in yourself and that you can do it. 
  • Taking the Time:  It can be a 24/7 position until it grows into your vision.
  • Extending the Effort:  Building something that others find valuable and the kind of team that can help you realize your dream for years to come.
There is no doubt about it, small business takes guts and determination – and at times, it can be somewhat akin to the school of hard knocks.  So here are 5 lessons that I've learned in small business thus far:

A Lesson in Social Media
It won't just happen - the whole "build it and they will come," thing just doesn't work with social media. So many people are participating, there's so much information, that there has to be a plan, a schedule with some type of strategy behind it, and a draw. Without a plan you quickly realize that it's way to easy to get lost inside sites like Facebook and Twitter – and it's just as easy to simply be ignored. Social media is hungry. So hungry that you have to communicate consistently - feed it daily - or you lose your impact. 

But alas, there are tools like HootSuite and Social Oomph to make that part a little bit easier. You can sit down once a week and schedule what you want to say all week long and it keeps you social - even on those busy days when you can't be all that social. 

A Lesson in Online Reputation
In 2006, ABC News Primetime conducted a 6 degrees of separation experiment. They tested the theory that everybody on the planet is only separated from everyone else by six links.  Six degrees of separation didn't hold up for everybody but on average, it did. 

I am convinced that when it comes your online reputation it just may be true 90% of the time. In terms of marketing, we want people talking about us and we want them saying favorable things. The best way to do this is to provide exceptional service - service that goes above and beyond the call of duty sometimes.  Providing a special service on occasion makes people feel. . . well, it makes them feel special. 

Best of all, when people have been treated in a special way, they like to talk about it.  But that takes planning and systems, which leads me to another lesson. . . 

A Lesson in Chaos and Control
Disasters happen - natural disasters and the ones that we tend to create. I have learned that in moments of chaos, when all control is out of my hands, that my best defense is a good offense. And by that I mean that disaster planning is the best thing I can do for my small business but it tends to be the last thing that I want to do - until everything goes wrong, of course.

After learning the hard way, I realized that there are two tools that help me plan for disasters: remote backups and documented systems. There are so many remote back up options available, Carbonite being just one of them, that having a backup to the information that impacts your company is as simple as saving a file on your computer. But the thing that helps me the most is documenting and saving (locally and remotely) key information that I would need in a disaster. This has included backups to client files, my financial files, my passwords, etc.

I may not be able to control every bit of chaos that happens - but I can get ready for it. 

A Lesson in Online Attacks
Speaking of control: You can't control what people say about you, but you can put your tactful "two cents" in if you know where the conversation is taking place. I've learned that transparency and honesty go a long way with most people – especially when it comes to building trust. But you'll always have those few that just want to say what they want to say. And for those individuals that don't really care to resolve an issue so much as they enjoy talking about it, there is the grace to move on with the rest of your business and your life.

I appreciate tools like Google Alerts and Social Oomph. They let me hear what's happening in the virtual world without having to hunt it down myself. You can schedule a keyword search for a person, the name of your company, an industry buzz word, etc. Every time that word or phrase is mentioned online, you are alerted by email.

This lets you live your life and allows the information to come to you - and you receive the benefit of being one step ahead.  

A Work From Home Lesson
Working from home is fantastic.  It's great on the resources, too:  less gas, less overhead, and less on lunch – just eat in your own kitchen. But in order to make it work, you have to set some strict boundaries for yourself.  

Boundaries such as:
  • Steady office hours (so that you don't end up working all day, every day).
  • Dedicated work space (so that all your papers don't follow you to bed each night).
  • A little escape planning (because it's easy to burn out and feel isolated).
Ultimately, even just a short afternoon walk, a stroll through your backyard, and a good night sleep is a best friend to professional and personal creativity. And it's creativity and consistency that drives business.

So there you have it.  Those are just a few of the lessons I've learned thus far.  How about you?

* * * * *
After being a 20+ year member of "the rat race," Staci traded in her office, opted out, and joined the virtual world and the Small Business Trends community. Staci hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is the Operations Manager for Small Business Trends, LLC and is also the Producer of the Small Business Trends Radio Show.
Thanks to Egoist Blogspot
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How Appropriate Employee Rewards Are Like Good Wedding Presents

I've written before in Compensation Café about the difference between compensation and employee recognition (and the rewards often associated with recognition). To summarize: Cash compensates. It does not motivate.

This is largely true for three reasons:

1) Cash is expected in a set "trade" agreement.

Simply put, cash is the expected (and in many cases, legally required) recompense for services rendered. Employees expect to be paid in cash for the work they've provided according to agreed terms. Yes, cash is often the medium of reward given to employees in terms of a bonus, but like a paycheck, these bonus often become an expectation as well (e.g., Wall Street's bonus culture).

Even when cash rewards are given more frequently, most organizations slip these rewards into the paycheck. This means employees often don't realize the reward has been given as the extra cash slips right out again, leading to the second challenge of cash rewards…

2) Cash is not memorable.

When company leadership goes to the effort of investing in employee recognition and rewards, immediate benefits are the increase in positive working relationships built through the "power of thank you". This leads to increases in employee productivity, retention and engagement.

Rewards associated with that recognition extend these benefits long after the formal recognition moment occurred. Cash, when used as a reward, loses this benefit because it is too easily spent on things of daily life – gas, rent, groceries – leading to the third challenge of cash rewards…

3) Cash cannot elicit long-term positive associations and memories.

A knock-on benefit for companies that include personal, meaningful rewards with recognition is the lasting association of positive memories with that reward for the employee. Every time the employee sees the reward item, they are reminded of the value the company places in the employee and in their work.

I was reminded of this point when skimming through an article on the power of wedding gifts – long after the wedding (and sometimes the marriage!) is over. Here's one example:

"When my husband and I got married, we were young and very broke, and our friends and family at our very small wedding all gave us cash, at our naïve request. I regret that now. After many years and two children, the few durable wedding presents (some Tiffany plates, a blue casserole dish) hold good memories of good times. The cash, on the other hand, a stunning fortune of some $300, is long gone on something ephemeral like rent."

Note the treasured durable presents are likely far less in value than the amount of cash, but those are also the gifts far more treasured. Similarly, strategic employee recognition and reward programs do not require a significant monetary investment – but they do require time and thought.

The same is true in employee recognition and rewards. Leave cash where it belongs – in your compensation plan. Take full advantage of your investment in employee recognition with tangible, meaningful and highly personal rewards.


As Globoforce's Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. His articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston.

Thanks to Derek Irvine / Compensation Café

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The Naughty Entrepreneur Checklist: 40 Reasons Why You Are Not Seeing Results

If you are wondering about what the Naughty Entrepreneur Checklist is, it's a checklist of all the things you "should not" do or ways you "should not" be if you want to move forward in your endeavors. I put the words "should not" in quotations marks because what you should or should not do is subjective.

You be the judge…

However, if you see yourself falling into most of the circumstances listed here, there's a good chance you are not getting the results you want with your online business.

So without further ado, here is The Naughty Entrepreneur Checklist:

Entrepreneur Checklist

If you are guilty of any of these naughty behaviors, don't worry. It just means you got it a bit backwards and we have to turn things around a bit. I myself still fall into several of these old bad habits! Still working on the saying NO part. It's a work in progress. ;-)

But lets work on it shall we? Here's your homework assignment.

Action Plan:

  1. Either print out this page or click on the link below to access the pdf version of the checklist to print out.
  2. Start checking off the areas that you feel you've been a naughty entrepreneur.
  3. Make it a commitment to do the exact opposite of what has not been working for you!
  4. Hang it up somewhere readily visible to refer to it constantly to ensure you do not fall back into old habits.
Note: Keep a copy of this checklist on your computer. As you begin tackling some of these issues, you will have less and less of them checked off. So I would suggest printing out a new copy each month and monitoring your progress.

So what about it? Are you a naughty entrepreneur?

Please share this post and help other entrepreneurs tackle their unproductive and ineffective habits!

About the Author:- Online Business Advisor & Trainer, Michele Welch is the founder and owner of NewBizBlogger. My mission and commitment is to share online business tips and training to those starting their own online business ventures. I'm also the co-founder of Wordpress Junkies -The Wordpress Social Network.

Thanks to Michele Welch

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5 Ways To Trim Business Expenses And Boost Efficiency

Any good businessperson will tell you that every dollar you can shave off your expenses is another dollar in your pocket. In a tough economy, that lesson is particularly important. It's worth your while to spend some time, preferably every quarter or so, going over your cash flow statement to see where you can cut back.

Here's what you should focus on, says Andrew Jensen, a business efficiency consultant:

  • Employee theft. Not just office supplies, although those tend to walk out the door rather frequently. I'm talking about something less tangible: time. "Personal time on the computer, loafing around on the Internet, personal e-mails, social media like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, forwarding e-mails to co-workers, which more or less multiplies across the office—this all represents time being wasted," says Jensen. It doesn't seem like a huge issue, but if you know how much you're spending on payroll an hour (which you should) and you think about what one wasted hour equals in real dollars, you'll see that this can easily affect your bottom line. The solution? First of all, a written policy should be in place. Then you can take it a step further and use tracking software on computers. Jensen recommends Network Magic from Cisco, which runs around $40 and allows you to take periodic screenshots of up to eight computers. Even if you don't want to ban personal use completely, you can use programs like these to make sure that your team is as streamlined as can be.
  • Regular bills. Phone, Internet, utilities...these all tend to hover around the same amount each month, so most business owners just hand them over to the person who does their books, whether that's a full-time staff accountant or an outside bookkeeping service. But take the time every few months to really go over these bills with a close eye. Maybe you had an initial deal for Internet that's since run out—the price has gone up, but you may be able to negotiate it back down or shop around to other providers for a better deal. Your long distance charges could be out of control—this is another area that is prone to employee theft. In other words, you really need to audit yourself regularly to make sure you're not overpaying for monthly services. Other areas to focus on? Venders who may have offered you a discount—make sure you've received it—and bank fees, says Jensen.
  • Advertising. This is one area—among many—where planning is key. "A lot of small businesses take more of a shot gun approach, they just spread their dollars everywhere. But especially in a really tight economy, I recommend that you sit down, take time to get to know your customers and where they're coming from," explains Jensen. That could be something as easy as asking customers how they found out about you when they walk in the door, then taking that information and comparing it to how you're advertising.  If you're online and in radio ads but everyone you speak to is coming from the Internet, you're probably safe to cut out the radio portion of your budget. Don't discount free or cheap forms of advertising either, like social media. Used wisely, Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare can get your company's message out for very little money.
  • Ask for discounts. The easiest way to get them is by paying upfront, says Jensen. "If you pay upfront, or within a week or 10 days, many supplies will give you a discount. Payment times have increased to up to 90 days in this economy, so if you can approach a supplier and explain that you've always paid right away and you're looking for a three or five percent discount, many will say yes." Bolster your case by doing some research beforehand so you can be prepared with information on where you can find the same products and services at a lower cost.
  • Enlist the help of your employees. They're on the front lines, so they're often helpful in pinpointing ways you can cut back. Ask for feedback and set up some kind of incentive system: Maybe everyone who submits viable ideas will be entered in a drawing for a $50 gift card of their choice.

Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with Check out her blog at and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Thanks to Jean Chatzky / Open Forum / American Express Company

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14 (Almost) Free Ways To Stay Entertained On The Road

There are times I love the bursts of downtime I get on the road. I grab room service, watch the latest episode of Castle on my computer (again)...and yet there are others, when I'm in a strange city, that I find myself a little bit bored, scratching my head for things to do to fill up the time between meetings or conference sessions. So I thought I'd put together a little list, with the help of seasoned solo traveler Marybeth Bond, also known as the Gutsy Traveler.


Here are 14 activities to keep you occupied:


1. Start planning your next trip


Not for work, but for pleasure. It can take a lot of time to plan a vacation, even if it's just a short jaunt, so start doing research now, even if you don't have the date on the books. As a bonus, having a vacation on the horizon will help you power through long days when you get back in the office.


2. Buy and send a post card


If you don't have a spouse or children, send one to your mother (she'll be thrilled!).


3. Go for a swim


If you're staying in a place with an indoor pool and it's been years since you dove in for a few laps, you'll be amazed at how good you'll feel after. And if you're not, ask where the local Y is located and see if you can buy a cheap day pass.


4. Catch up on your reading


"About a week before I travel, I'll start saving magazines and articles I want to read, and that's the first thing I do when I get on the plane," says Bond. Reading for pleasure—whether that means a trashy gossip rag or the New Yorker—is really relaxing.


5. Hit the museums


Ask your hotel's concierge for a recommendation, or do a little research. Even if you just have 45 minutes to spend, it will turn your work day into a pleasure day. Many of these offer free admission; some ask for a nominal donation.


6. People watch


"When I first get to a place, I have a morning ritual: I'll go to a café, sit with a cup of coffee or tea, and people watch. Don't multitask, just watch people. It's so relaxing, and it helps you get all of your thoughts for the day organized," explains Bond.


7. Knock some errands off your list


This depends on what you're buying, and how much space you have in your luggage, but use this time to get things done that you haven't been able to do at home. Get that new pair of shoes you need, replace the make-up you've had for far too long, take your clothes to the dry cleaner so they'll be fresh when you get home.


8. Exercise


This requires some advance planning—you need to pack tennis shoes, at least—but see if your hotel has a gym, or follow along with some YouTube videos.


9. Watch a movie – without the hotel prices


If you have a laptop and a Netflix account, scroll through their Instant service to see what movies you can stream right on your computer.  There are some television shows available, too.


10. Go to the hotel happy hour

More and more, hotels are offering free events in the late afternoon and early evening, often with wine and light snacks. Why not stop by and meet your fellow road warriors?


11. Get back in touch with old friends


"I'll often go through my address book and pick out two people I haven't communicated with in a long time, and compose an e-mail to them," says Bond. You could also pick up the phone and call someone to catch up. Even more fun? Find your prom date on Facebook.


12. Go for a walk


The best way to see a new city is on foot, so why not take a stroll around the area and see what you discover? You can even ask your hotel's front desk for directions on which way to head for the best scenery.


13. Take pictures


These days, it's hard to find a cell phone without a camera, so you don't have to lug any extra equipment along. Bond says in bigger cities, she likes to walk around and take pictures of interesting store windows.


14. Visit a few tourist attractions


Why not? You don't know when you'll be back. Check out the Golden Gate in San Francisco (or take a stroll down Lombard Street), walk through Central Park or across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, visit the Bean in Chicago's Millennium Park.




Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with


Thanks to Jean Chatzky / Open Forum / American Express Company


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The Importance Of A First Impression

First impressions are everything. This rings true at dinner parties (don't drink too much wine) and on a first date (same). But it's also, of course, true in business. If you blow it with a customer or client, they're unlikely to give you further business, no matter how many apologies you offer up. Worse, they may tell friends of their experience. Soon, the tale of your screw up is all over the blogosphere, if not the actual town.

So how, exactly, do you get it right? Here are tips from Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Rapport and Leave a Positive Impression.

  • Polish your presence. Starting online. One of the best investments you can make is a good Web designer who can create a clean, eye-catching site for your business. Trust me, it's worth the money, because it's often the first thing customers and clients see.  If your website is disorganized, confusing or just plain unprofessional (no music, please!), they'll assume your work is as well and move on to the next guy. Make sure to extend this advice to every other aspect of your business—business cards, your e-mail correspondence (there's no excuse for poor spelling or bad grammar), your signage, social networking websites, and your office.
  • Get off the computer. Speaking of social networking—it's a handy tool. Facebook and Twitter provide free ways to get your business and your message out into the community. You can interact with your customers, solicit feedback, announce specials or deals, and drive people to your website and ultimately, your business. But they can't stand alone, says Fine. "A favorite quote by John Le Carre I often use applies: 'A desk is a dangerous place to view the world.' Social networking such as Twitter and Facebook create buzz and visibility, and Groupon brings in streams of customers, but without positive face to face interactions, a patient complains about an uncaring doctor or a restaurant loses customers because they're not warmly welcomed." Don't forget about the power of face to face interaction.
  • Network. We all know networking is key to any successful business. But you can't just show up at a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event and call it a day. In order to leave a lasting impression, you have to make an effort. A couple tips from Fine: Use names (correctly); don't rely on nicknames or avoid using a name that you're not sure how to pronounced; do your research ahead of time so you don't run into this kind of trouble (or, simply ask). When someone offers a business card, take a moment to really read it and acknowledge something about it—the logo, the company name, the design.  It shows respect and interest. And finally, be sure to introduce people if they don't already know each other. It's just common courtesy, and if you facilitate an interaction that turns into a business deal, they may return the favor some day.
  • Show a genuine interest. In your customers, clients and employees. If a client has a complaint, repeat the specifics to make sure you understand what happened and show that you're really listening to the facts. And make the questions in your everyday interactions specific, instead of superficial, says Fine. "Instead of 'How are you?' ask 'What's been going on with the kids?' Instead of 'How is the project?' ask 'Can you bring me up to date on the project?' Instead of 'How was your weekend?' ask, "What did you have going on this weekend?' Close-ended questions sound clichéd and not sincere in everyday conversation."
  • Be a problem solver. After all, that's what any business is truly about. When you decided to set up shop, you no doubt identified a problem in the market or community that you could solve. Follow through on that premise in your day-to-day interactions, says Fine. "Customers, clients and employees are all looking to have a problem solved. The organization that supplies good feelings is the one that we are most likely to invest our loyalty in." That means going above and beyond, constantly brainstorming how you can do better, and being flexible in your approach.


Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with

Thanks to Jean Chatzky / Open Forum / American Express Company

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6 Ways To Improve Your Company's Online Content

Content creation is very important even if your business is not an online business. When referring to "content," we mean websites, blogs, videos, audio podcasts and even Twitter and Facebook updates.

Search engines have changed the way your customers and buyers are looking for product information online, and fresh content is a great way to ensure that your website or blog stays relevant and places higher in search results. Content creation tools and technology has made it easy for you create and distribute your content online. According to eMarketer, the number of blog readers in the U.S. will reach 122.6 million in 2011, representing 53.5 percent of Internet users. This is indeed a huge audience, but remember that you have to compete with millions of other blogs and websites out there.

So, how can you distinguish yourself and and gain the attention of this massive online audience? It is no longer enough to create content about your business and products to gain audience attention. Expand the horizons of content creation and talk about your customers like you talk about your business.

Here are some tips:

1. Become a storyteller

Storytelling is the best form of communication. Your audience likes to be fascinated and will remember the key elements of a story very vividly. For example, if you are a chef in a restaurant, talk about what you pack in your kid's lunch box. A human story transforms you from being just a business to being a person. Share your customer success stories and let people see behind the curtain.

2. Write for the customer

Think about the small-talk and conversations you have with your customers as they walk into your business. You talk about tax time, holiday gift giving, challenges of the economy. You can add these same topics to your content calendar and converse about them with all of your customers on the Web. You can write the posts yourself, or you can ask experts for helpful tips.

3.Engage a community

Small businesses in particular depend on the local community to succeed. People in certain industries, like realtors and insurance agents, have the pulse on the goings-on of the community and often participate in local events, but owners of any business can get involved in the community. Move this conversation online and write about community events, such as high school football games, local fundraisers, community walks and county fairs. Be sure to broadcast the content on your website, blog and Facebook Page for maximum reach. A great example of this kind of content can be found on the Bates Nut Farm Facebook Page, where you see the community discussing events, like neighborhood yard sales.

Another good way to build community is to guest-write on other community blogs. Your local community organizations have websites and blogs that could probably use some more content, so get your name out there by writing articles for them or for community news sites like This is also a great networking opportunity—you could meet people whom you could invite to post on your website or blog, too.

4. Include multimedia

Offline events are a great opportunity for content—you can post videos or podcast interviews of attendees sharing their top takeaways from the event. Use the opportunity to post a recap mentioning the people you meet and takeaways from the conference. The beauty of multimedia is that it ranks higher in search, giving your content a better chance to be seen than if it were just plain text. Make sure you let your subjects and sources know that you've mentioned them in a multimedia post on your blog or website—then they can share the post within their networks and expand your audience.

5. Consult others

Create a small business advisory board with friends and acquaintances who can help you choose new tools and technology. Use their advice to inform your audience of tips and trends that you've learned. Also, look for websites or blogs that have higher search rank and/or greater traffic than yours and approach the owners to see if you can guest-post there.

6. Play on pop culture

Another content tip is to look at pop culture topics and see if you can weigh in on them, or at least draw on them in a relevant way. For instance, back in January, the U.S. Census Bureau put out facts and figures on the Packers and Steelers, who were playing in the Super Bowl. Look at data and figure out what is relevant to you—a merchant might find interesting statistics about customers paying with cash versus credit cards. Choose topics wisely and try not to tread on controversy, but have fun publishing varied content that will entertain, enlighten and grow your audience.

Measuring your results

For every action you take on your website or blog, you should measure the results to see what is working. You should look for three things in the data:

1. Referral traffic

Are you getting visitors from new sites? Who is referring more traffic to you? Knowing this helps you focus your content so you can get more "link love" from those referring sites.

2. Top content

Which content got the biggest audience? Sometimes this bigger trend builds up over time, so make sure you check your analytics at long intervals, like month-to-date and year-to-date.

3. Keywords

What keywords are people searching for when they land on your blog/website? If you see any keywords for which you don't have much content yet, you should add those subjects to your content calendar.

Thanks to Shashi Bellamkonda (Mashable) / Open Forum / American Express Company

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5 Daily Habits Of Successful Entrepreneurs

Have you ever noticed that when you get things right in your business, other opportunities start arriving, with almost no effort on your part?

It's all about momentum. Other people—potential employees, prospects, vendors—naturally want to be part of a good thing, so they flock when your business is growing.

In interviewing many successful entrepreneurs over the years, I've noticed that they often rely on small daily habits and routines—both in business and their personal lives that keep the needle on their business moving in the right direction. These disciplines aren't complicated but they pay big dividends.

Plan tomorrow's agenda today

Scott Cullather, CEO of inVNT, a live events agency in New York, meets with his key support team before the close of business to go over what's coming up the next day. "We review and forecast what tomorrow is going to look like and how we're going to get through that," he says. "It gives us an opportunity to re-prioritize. It also allows us to go to bed at night. Your mind does a lot of work for you while you're sleeping. You get there the next day and are much more efficient and productive." This focused approach has helped growth, he says. The company expects sales to rise from $20 million last year to at least $25 million this year.

Put your meetings on a diet

Ask entrepreneurs who left corporate America what they don't miss and they'll tell you it's those endless, often unproductive gatherings around the conference room table drawn out by flabby agendas and presentation technology that takes forever to get set up. Many fast-growth companies keep meetings short, so employees have time to get projects done. For instance, Cullather limits his afternoon huddle to about 15 minutes.

Find a way to manage e-mail that works for you

They key is to avoid getting sucked into constantly responding to and sending e-mails, which delays you from finishing projects on time.

Many business owners like the system suggested by David Allen, the well-known author of Getting Things Done. He offers a free PDF full of smart tips, such as putting e-mails you need to act on—and those you don't—in separate places in your inbox.

Another strategy that many use: Find ways to reduce the number of useless messages you view, so you have more time to work on what matters. OtherInbox, for instance, pulls e-mails from various senders into folders you've designated and even unsubscribes you from e-newsletters you no longer want. You can use it for functions such as filing all of your e-mails from a particular client in one folder. It's available on AOL and Yahoo! mail. Some enterprise systems offer filing systems, too—so if you use one, make sure you set aside an hour to master it.

Never stop selling

You'll lose productive days if you wait until you're almost done with your current projects to pitch new business. Projects can get dropped, clients can run short of cash and other things can go wrong in an economy like the one we're in. The smartest entrepreneurs I know are always cultivating new business, so they can quickly plug holes that open in their schedule. Often, it's a matter of sending in a project with a quick note saying, "Anything else I can help you with?" at the end. They are, of course, prepared to bring on temporary help in case they get overbooked as a result—even if it's simply through an arrangement with a reliable freelance colleague.

Exercise regularly

Cullather puts on his running shoes at 5:30 or 6 a.m. daily, and then hits the streets. "It's amazing to me how many creative ideas have come to me during these long runs in creative solitude," he says. "Not only does it give you the physical endurance to work 18 or 20 hours a day and travel around the world but it helps stimulate your mind and your thinking." When Cullather is traveling, he hits the gym—often a great chance to spend time with clients or network informally. "When we're working with Fortune 500 companies, their senior executives are there at 5:30 or 6, before the conference begins," he says.

Shouldn't you be there, too?

Thanks to Elaine Pofeldt / Open Forum / American Express Company

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The Perfect 7-Step Plan To Boost Daily Productivity

It makes us feel stressed, it makes us feel guilty, it makes us feel eternally behind. You know what I'm talking about: e-mail. The once-magical form of communication that has now taken on a kind of psychic overhead. It's an unsavory duty that you can't escape, like moving your car to avoid parking tickets if you live in Manhattan.

But since e-mail has become a sort of "can't live with it, can't live without it" medium, this post is not about getting rid of e-mail, making an e-mail charter, or dispensing more rules related to how to e-mail. It's about the things that we can do AROUND e-mail and other daily distractions to make sure we get the really important stuff done.

1. Get up early (or stay up late)

A recent study conducted by Christoph Randler, a biology professor at the University of Education at Heidelberg, backs up the theory that early risers tend to have a more proactive—and thus productive—mindset. But, regardless of whether you're an early riser or a night owl, there are major benefits to working outside of the traditional 9-to-5 window. Most importantly, a psychic weight is lifted. For instance, ignoring e-mail during the regular workday— when you know people are expecting a response—can be quite challenging. When you're working off-peak hours, it's easier to shut out distractions and focus whole-heartedly on the tasks that require your full creative powers. More thoughts from Zen Habits' Leo Babauta.

2. Do your most important task first

What's the most important thing for you to accomplish today? Decide what it is and do it first, before you check your e-mail. As Lifehacker's Gina Trapani writes: "Accomplishing something out of the gate sets the tone for the rest of your day and guarantees that no matter how many fires you're tasked with putting out the minute you open your email client, you still can say that you got something done. Once you're 'open for business' and paying attention to incoming requests, it's too easy to get swept away into the craziness."

3. Try batching tasks of similar types

We have a limited amount of brain power and focus to work with every day. According to multitasking research, every time the brain switches tasks, it takes us 25 minutes to get back up to speed. (And, yes, checking e-mail does count as a different task!) Batching tasks of similar types together helps you get into the "zone," and execute more quickly and efficiently. Right now, for instance, I'm taking care of writing/editorial-related tasks: putting together this blog post, writing a new bio for a colleague, and then editing some posts for my own website. After this "writing block," I will respond to e-mail for 30 minutes, and then focus on an accounting/budgeting block.

4. Plan meetings during your low-energy periods

As we all know, a single meeting can easily wreck an entire morning's work, draining you of energy and interrupting your workflow. It's not always possible, but wherever you can strive to batch meetings together. Try to keep some days meeting-free, and when you can't group them together during a time of day—like the mid-afternoon dip—that you typically have low energy.

5. Take breaks away from your desk for deep thinking

At our desks, we are never alone. Even if you work from home in complete isolation, an ever-growing stream of communications are constantly chattering away. E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. compete for our attention and focus, scattering our minds and fragmenting our productivity. And even if we have the willpower to turn these channels off, their "closeness" can still impede our thinking. When you really need to do some big-picture thinking, step away from your desk and just use good, old-fashioned pen and paper to jot down ideas.

6. Respond in the right medium/consider picking up the phone

Often, we spend too much time trying to compose a "tactful" response, when we should really just be responding in a different (and more constructive) medium. If you're struggling with a particularly difficult e-mail for instance, ask yourself if e-mail is really the best medium to respond in. If the situation is tense or requires the communication of subtlety or feeling, e-mail is almost NEVER the right medium. Consider having a face-to-face conversation or picking up the phone.

7. Simplify your tools

Are you working in Photoshop, when you could be sketching? Are you fiddling around in PowerPoint, when you could just storyboard your talk on index cards? We often confuse the medium of content delivery with the actual content, and waste a lot of time in the process. For instance, it's much more efficient to figure out the content of a talk you're going to give by writing it on index cards, and then rearranging, cutting and editing the cards BEFORE you design the PowerPoint. (Why? Because you don't need to design the PowerPoint cards you're ultimately going to cut or rewrite!) New software or technology doesn't always make things faster. Question your tools.


This post by J.K. Glei is based on research by the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think thank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List

Thanks to J. K. Glei / Open Forum / American Express Company
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5 Reasons To Keep A Work Diary

Many historical figures kept work diaries or journals. Ben Franklin, John Adams, Andy Warhol, and countless others have recorded the events of their day in some form. While these historic diaries are incredibly fascinating for us to read today, the benefit they gave to the writers was probably far greater.

Richard Branson has written bestsellers based largely off of his years of recording his daytime thoughts and working experiences into journals. Reading Branson's thoughts motivated me to keep a loose log of work and life experiences as well. The ritual has helped me immensely, probably more than any other work or time management "hack."

My process is pretty simple: At the end of each day I'll recount what worked, what didn't, and some other random things that happened during the day. There isn't a lot of structure, just merely stream of thought that lasts about fifteen minutes. Sometimes I'll vent in wordy prose, other times I'll just make a quick list. I've found that it's not so much what or how I write, but rather that I do it. The results have been profound for me. I'd recommend this practice to anyone. Here's why:

1. The release

If anything, it feels good to unwind and recount the bits of the day. There's something about the finality in writing something down on paper that makes it more real, and makes the memories stronger. I doubt I'd be able to remember half of what I did throughout the day if I didn't recount them. It also helps with answering that recurring question of "Where did the day go?!"

2. An honest overview

If you're like me, you keep lists of stuff that needs to be done throughout the day. I've had days where the morning started with 15 things on the list, and ended with 13 left undone. Ouch. Yet being able to recall the day allows me to see some of the other things I did get done that weren't on the list.

3. See the wins

We often forget the things that we got done during the day for lots of reasons. We're taught at an early age that what we do isn't as important as what we didn't do. After all, what we don't get done often impacts us more in work and other social settings. This causes us to automatically shove the stuff we did accomplish into the back of our minds, and fret about the undone. However, focusing on what we have done—the wins—in our day rejuvenates. Going to bed looking at what was accomplished can be a massive motivator to help start the next day, and can keep us from closing the day on a sour note.

4. Minimize your mistakes

One definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over again, while expecting a different outcome. Similarly, it's easy to plow through each work day like the last, without giving a second thought to the events of the day. This is especially true for our bad days. On our worst days, we simply want to unwind and not have to relive the nightmare that was the previous working day. But it turns out the worst parts of our days are important to remember as well (even though it stings). Reverse engineering what went wrong is helpful to ensure it doesn't happen again, and work journals are perfect for this.

5. A new perspective on your day

The most helpful part of this exercise for me is getting perspective on what my days end up looking like.  After a particularly bad day last month I reflected, stiff drink in hand, on all the events of the day. This helped me to see that my day wasn't as bad as I had remembered it. In fact, it was a really decent day, minus a couple setbacks towards the end. In my mind I had made these setbacks out to be more important than they were. The day wasn't a total loss after all! Perspective is everything.

As our days move by us faster and faster, it becomes that much more important to take a breath, and reflect on what happened during the day. Without the perspective of our days, we can't really take satisfaction in our big wins, nor can we learn from our mistakes.

Thanks to Glen Stansberry / Open Forum / American Express Company


How To Take A Stress-Free Vacation

With the weather finally warming up, my mind starts turning to a summer vacation. I like to head to the Jersey Shore—not that Jersey Shore–for a week or two with my family. It's fun, relaxing and sometimes, admittedly stressful.

This, I'm sure, you can understand. Shutting down my computer for a week, breaking away from the office and putting most of my projects on hold—or allowing them to continue under the watch of my employees—is difficult. And I'm not one to micromanage.

Clearly, I'm not alone. According to American Express' research, only 46 percent of small business owners plan to take a vacation this summer. The remaining 54 percent are staying close to home (and the office) because of busy work schedules and a lack of extra money.

It's not too late to plan a trip, even if you can only squeeze in a short one., which does an annual vacation study, says that taking time out of the office has a lot of added benefits once you return: more creativity, higher quality output, less burnout.

"This is important for your overall well-being. You need to take time off from work in order to perform at your best level, and you deserve that time off, especially if you've been working even harder because things have been challenging over the last few years," says Allison Nawoj, a spokesperson for the company.

Here are tips for getting away without increasing your stress:

  • Plan in advance. Yes, I said it's not too late, and I meant it. But if you're just planning now, shoot for late August, not June. That will give you time to prep the office and your employees for your departure. "You can make sure you're covered and that your employees and co-workers are familiar with what you're working on," says Nawoj. Have as many meetings and briefings as you need to to feel comfortable with leaving things in their hands.
  • Delegate. This is extremely important when you're a business owner, but it's especially important when you want to leave the office behind for a bit. If you set up a system in which everything does not fall on your shoulders, it will be much easier to slip away. There's an additional bonus here, as well: Giving employees extra responsibilities shows that you trust them, which can boost moral. In fact, they might want to continue doing those jobs even after you return.
  • Spread the word. You need to personally tell clients that you'll be out of the office, and be very clear about exactly how reachable you're going to be. Hopefully, this will encourage them to save everything but urgent matters until you get back. But just in case, set up your out of office reply e-mail with details of who should be contacted in an emergency (again, this goes back to delegating) and record a similar message for your voicemail.
  • Stay in touch—sparingly. I know...this contradicts a lot of advice out there, that says you should completely unplug and enjoy your time away. But I know from experience that this sometimes isn't possible, and the way for me to have a stress-free vacation is to set a time to briefly check e-mail (and voicemail, if necessary) once a day. When I know that there aren't any fires at home, I can relax. If I haven't checked, I'm constantly concerned that something is wrong. But don't forget these two pieces of advice: First, just skim to make sure nothing needs your immediate attention. Second, if you can help it, don't tell clients about this system, because they may abuse it.
  • Minimize the damage. If you have an assistant, have he or she open your mail and even your e-mail while you're gone, flag what's important and delete the junk. You can do the same for voicemail. That way, the pile you come home to will already be sorted and you'll know what needs your attention. If you don't have an assistant, it's okay to ask another employee to take on this task, as long as his plate isn't already full.
  • Schedule time for catching up. When you get back, things are going to be a little frazzled. It's inevitable, so you should just accept it.  And by that, I mean block off the first two or three days after you return—no meetings, no conference calls, no lunches—so you can get through the pile on your desk, have employees bring you back up to speed, and ease back into the rhythms of the office.


Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with Check out her blog at and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Thanks to Jean Chatzky / Open Forum / American Express Company

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8 Ways To Get More Time For Yourself

Not long ago I began to feel very suffocated with my work and life. The constant struggle of raising a young family, growing a thriving business, and a long list of personal and professional goals can leave anyone feeling frazzled.

Some say work-life balance doesn't exist and on some days I'd be inclined to agree given the struggle I face with my own juggling act. But I'm determined to prove them wrong. I've found that one way to begin to find Work Life Joy is to try to carve out some "me" time. Here are eight ways to try.

1. Exercise

Although I've got a few pounds to lose since having a new baby, working out is important for so many more reasons besides weight loss. Since joining the gym, I've fallen back in love with my business, had more energy for my children, and found myself happier throughout the day. I'm more motivated and focused than ever before.

If joining a gym is not your thing, consider popular at-home systems like P90x or Insanity, both of which are getting hyped and reviewed from trusted bloggers like Pat Flynn and Yaro Starick.

2. Television

Here's where I'm supposed to tell you that the best way to stop the entrepreneurial buzz going on in your head is by mediating daily. But I personally have no experience with mediation and it seems a bit daunting to me.

A great, lazy way to escape the stress of unfinished to-dos and future plans, well besides doing the work, is to watch TV for a few minutes or an hour. With True Blood and Breaking Bad just around the corner, escaping for a bit will quiet the business and life thoughts circling your brain and immerse you in someone else's world for a short while.

3. Reading

Similar to TV, reading will allow you to venture outside yourself and enjoy the pleasures of someone else's life for a while. Whether it's something silly like Sh*t My Dad Says, thrilling like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or thought provoking like All Marketers Are Liars, you'll get much more from reading than just escaping—you'll become a better thinker, writer, and speaker too.

When you take regular time out of your business to sit back with a good book you'll see the benefits in your latest blog posts, the ideas you produce, and the way you communicate with the people closest to you.

4. Pursue a passion

Make a list of the things you've wanted to do in life but have never had the chance to explore. You probably already have a few things in mind, but you can take it further and make your list burst with ideas by jotting down things you did as a kid but never had a chance to explore in depth. My list contains figure skating, tennis lessons, soap making, and pottery classes. What about you?

5. Attend a retreat

With the Internet bursting at the seams with thought leaders and consultants of all kinds, there are endless retreats to help you restore sanity in a variety of ways. The benefits of any retreat, regardless if work is involved, is the chance to get away from all other distractions for a week or a weekend and give complete focus to one thing you'd like to improve.

If you're ready to get your health back on track, try an all natural St. Lucia getaway with Toronto nutritionist Meghan Telpner's Nourish Your Soul. Alternatively, if you're ready to take your business to a whole new level, work alongside two of the biggest names online with Pam Slim and Charlie Gilkey's popular Lift Off Retreat.

6. Make mornings calmer

I really enjoyed reading Inc's interview with 37signals founder Jason Fried because it offered a glimpse into his interesting life. More importantly, the interview revealed that even people managing big empires strive to find balance in life. Jason says:

"I try not to grab my phone and check e-mails first thing. I used to do that, and it's just not good for you. Instead, I'll go and brew some tea and try and relax a little bit. But the computer's always kind of pulling me toward it, so I end up looking at e-mail sooner than I'd like to."

By making it a point to do something simple yet nice for yourself every morning before tackling your work or family duties, you're setting yourself up for a calmer and more productive day.

7. Coffee dates

I got a yummy taste of freedom one day when I walked my daughter over to preschool and then decided on a whim to head over to a nearby coffee shop until I had to pick her up. I spent two hours puttering around on the Internet, drinking lattes, and trying tasty treats, and never once thought about the laundry pile at home or the work deadlines I had coming up.

Why not schedule in a fun coffee date for yourself as soon as you finish your most pressing matters for today? The taste of freedom will give you some perspective on your juggling act and you'll leave the cafe with more motivation to tackle the laundry and your looming deadlines.

8. Sing it like you mean it

My entrepreneurial uncle once told me that every time he had a meeting with a client, he would spend the entire drive over with the car radio blasting, singing along at the top of his lungs. My uncle said singing along helped him speak more powerfully and clearly when he got to the meeting. Better, he said it made him feel happier, more confident, and more energized every single time.

When is the last time you belted out your favorite songs word for word like your life depended on it? Do it and you'll see benefits in life and work, too.

Taking time away from your already busy schedule to pursue some "me" time might seem like it would create even more chaos in your calendar. But by finding a regular chunk of time—be it every day or even just once a week—you'll find that all those fuzzy feelings you get from pursuing time for yourself will cross over into your work and life, too, leaving you happier and healthier and better able to tackle both.


Justine Grey is a Web entrepreneur who writes Work Life Joy for frazzled business builders who long to work vibrantly and live beautifully. You can find her on Twitter at @JustineGrey chatting about life, work and her pop culture obsession.

Thanks to Justine Grey / Open Forum / American Express Company

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10 Tricks To Keeping Personal And Business Finances Separate

It's easy for your personal finances to get tangled up with your business finances. But no matter what type of business you're running, it's a good idea to keep your personal finances separate from those of your business. For one thing, doing so will make it much easier to figure out what you can deduct and what you can't at tax time, and it will also make it easier to grow your business or even sell it.


Don't worry if you haven't yet separated your records into personal and business stacks; it's never too late to start.


1. Set up separate checking accounts. If you have separate checking accounts and you are diligent about drawing on the right account at the right time, come tax time, all you have to do is review your bank statements for a clear picture. If you can manage to only use your business debit card and avoid cash, you may even be able to do your taxes and other financial reporting straight off your bank statements.


2. Keep separate shoeboxes for your receipts. You don't need to actually use shoeboxes to store receipts (in fact, something a little more elaborate is a good idea), but whatever you use should have two physically separate locations for personal receipts and business receipts. If you don't have time to collect and sort both personal and business receipts, prioritize your business receipts. The simple truth is that a tax auditor is unlikely to care much about your personal expenses, but will be very interested in your business receipts.

3. Get a credit card for the business. A business credit card will help you build up a credit history for your business separate from your personal credit history. More importantly, your credit card is one of the likeliest places for your finances to get muddled. Separate credit cards means that even if there's something a little out of reach of your business' current budget, you won't be tempted to use your own credit card.


4. Give yourself a salary and don't exceed it. If you write a check for the same amount every month from your business' checking account to your personal checking account, you can make it easier for both your personal finances and your business finances to stay on budget.


5. Set a budget for the business. Just as you don't want to pull more money out of your business than your business can afford, you don't want the business to pull more money out of you than you can afford. Many small business owners find themselves pumping money from their personal accounts into their company's whenever there's a shortfall. And sometimes it's unavoidable. But if you have a clear budget based on your business' current earnings, you can help avoid both.


6. Make sure your family and partners understand the business' status. It's important to remember that you're not always the only person involved in either your personal finances or your business' finances. Making sure that everyone is on the same page now can prevent problems later on.


7. Understand who is a business expense and who isn't. Among the biggest pitfalls in keeping your finances separate are entertainment, food and travel expenses. It's tempting to try to write off as much as you can as a tax deduction, but the simple fact is that dinners out with family and friends will not qualify as business expenses, no matter how you arrange things.


8. Draw lines between your home and your office. Create a division between your office and your home, especially if you work from a home office. Doing so lets you claim the home office deduction as well as divvy up bills. Even if you have a home office, your business shouldn't be paying the entire electrical bill for your house. At least part of that burden should fall into your personal finances.


9. Keep logs of business use. If you use a personal item, such as your car or your cell phone for business purposes on a regular basis, you should be keeping track of the split. Of course, life would be easier if you could have a separate car and a separate phone just for your business, but if that isn't possible, there are plenty of easy logging tools to use, especially for smartphones.


10. Talk to a financial professional. If you are at all concerned that you are misclassifying an expense or you're having a hard time keeping your finances separate, bring in a pro. He or she will likely be able to help you establish a system that works for your own individual situation.


Thanks to Thursday Bram / Open Forum / American Express Company


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