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Business Strategies

Business StrategiesLeadershipOrganization

Creating a Meeting-Smart Space

Modern conference room

We’ve all been there. You’ve been called into a meeting which does not involved your projects or is just a rehash of a previous meeting. Or maybe it’s that weekly conference call that literally is a rundown of the last week’s conference call. Are unproductive meetings weighing you down? The truth is that companies waste billions of dollars a year with unproductive meetings. Here are some ways to identify whether or not your meetings are costing your business time and money and what you can do to streamline your efforts.

Meetings with No Purpose

Meetings are necessary for communication and done right, they are invaluable. It’s common for companies to hold meetings for status updates and team bonding. Granted, these things are necessary for deadlines to be met and for a team to work well together. But what happens when meetings are held just for the sake of having a meeting?

* Meetings with no purpose drain employees of energy and lead to low morale and bad ideas.

* Fifty percent of high-level manager time is spent in meetings. Your most valuable and most expensive team members are wasting the most time.

* The money that is lost each year in an unproductive meeting could be spent furthering a company’s vision.

* People put off having inconvenient discussions by scheduling a meeting instead.

* Limit the number of meetings. Train your team to treat meetings as a time-intensive endeavor.

How to Avoid Death by Meeting

Obtain a written agenda in advance. Start with a list of topics to be discussed and make sure that material is provided to attendees at least one day before the meeting. For better results, provide background information on the agenda so that everyone attending has the same information. If you are invited to attend a meeting where an agenda has not been provided ahead of time, ask for one so that you may be better prepared.

For frequently held meetings such as a weekly status meeting on a project, save time by creating a meeting template. Once you have that in place, preparing an agenda becomes a matter of filling in the blanks.

Running a successful meeting is common sense and it begins with a facilitator setting a clear, pre-meeting purpose. Leave boring, unproductive meetings behind and use your everyone’s time in the best manner possible.

For even more tips on how to make the most of your meetings, read the full story HERE in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Tools for Success magazine. You can also pick up a print copy of the magazine at a Progress Bank location near you. Click for a complete list of LOCATIONS.

Ann Marie Harvey is Vice President of Communications at Vertical Solutions Media. She specializes in creating dynamic copy that is both genuine and compelling. Editing the written word is her passion.

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Business StrategiesHuman Resources

8 Tips to Retain and Attract Top Talent

Recruiter Rating Female Employee With Five Stars

Human Resource and hiring experts agree on one thing—employers need to up their game when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent. In today’s economy, job seekers have many options to choose from and it takes a strategic approach to not only hire them but to retain them. Below are best practices to ensure your small business is proactive about future growth.

1. Build talent communities.
A talent community is a group of skilled employees engaged by relevant content appropriately peppered with the company’s brand that resonates with candidates. Waiting to recruit until the time of need is a foolish proposition. Within the high demand skill areas, such as Information Technology, this strategy fails to produce a high volume of readily available, high quality recruits.

2. Put a career site in place on your website.
Career sites are super easy and relatively inexpensive to put into place. Most Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) allow you to create custom landing pages to highlight careers on your website. Many of these systems syndicate to multiple job boards for free—increasing your exposure to qualified candidates.

3. Referral bonuses.
A referral bonus is used to incentivize employees to identify new talent by referring friends or peers within the industry to join your team. Who knows the qualifications of the job better than those who are currently in it? If a current employee refers a new employee to you that is subsequently hired (because let’s be honest, we all want to work with our friends), then provide them with a referral bonus.

4. Make sure you are spreading a consistent message.
From LinkedIn to Facebook to Instagram, every post you make should be telling the story of your brand. From employees volunteering in the community to team-building outings, everything you post is a subtle recruitment story and is the image of your environment and culture.

The above is an excerpt. To read more tips about how to retain and attract top talent, click HERE to read the full article in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Tools for Success magazine. You can also pick up a print copy of the magazine at a Progress Bank location near you. Click for a complete list of LOCATIONS.

Ashley and Bo Ryals are the owners of DecisiveIntel, a concierge recruitment marketing firm that targets cyber security, information technology and engineering firms in the Huntsville, Ala., area. They provide customized talent sourcing, career coaching and compliance consulting.

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Brand IdentityBusiness StrategiesMarketing

10 Questions You Should Ask Before Branding Or Re-branding

Whats Your Brand?

10 Questions You Should Ask Before Branding Or Re-branding

There are dozens of questions that Ad4! Group asks when doing a brand development project. We ask questions of the brand owners, employees and the brand’s customers and vendors.

We design these questions to give us a strong understanding of key information that’s necessary before even starting the branding or re-branding process. As every company is unique, our questionnaires vary according to the client; however, we regularly use the following 10 questions because the responses help us build a foundation of understanding where the branding process should lead.

  1. What value does your brand provide the market?

This question comes in lots of different flavors, but it boils down to “What is your Unique Sales Proposition (USP)? In other words, what do you provide the market that no other brand provides in quite the same way, with the same quality, timeliness or whatever variable you think is important.

If we had to pick between your business and another business down the street that appears to me to be the same, why would we pick yours?

 2.Why should the market believe you?

What evidence can you provide for question 1 above? You SAY you’re the best at something, so how can you prove to the market that your story is true?

  1. Do you understand the market’s perception of your brand?

What does the market think of your brand? Not what you want, hope or desire, but what do the individuals in the market really think about your company? It’s easy to get yourself turned around on this question because you want the market to love your brand. You want to be like Nike or Apple, but you’re not. Understanding where you stand can be a sobering proposition. But if you want to develop a remarkable brand, you need to understand the truth. You need to know how the market views your brand so you can begin to improve.

The above is an excerpt. To learn the 10 Questions You Should Ask Before Branding Or Re-branding, click HERE to read the full article in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Tools for Success magazine. You can also pick up a print copy of the magazine at a Progress Bank location near you. Click for a complete list of LOCATIONS.

 

Author: Felica Sparks is the founder of Ad4! Group, Communications that Counts! Her focus is on assisting companies with all their growth strategies, beginning with their brand.

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Business StrategiesOrganization

The Commitment Of Focus

Focus Image-B&W

The Commitment Of Focus

Positive constraints are crucial to development. A positive constraint is essentially a scheduling commitment that forces focus. The act of discipline brings freedom. You can’t climb a hill by dreaming about the top, you climb the hill by the discipline of walking up the hill.

We all like to imagine the artist waits for inspiration to strike and then creates a masterpiece or the entrepreneur sits and stews until a good idea suddenly appears and they start a business. The reality is things don’t happen like that. Artists wake up and force themselves to do their art. Entrepreneurs wake up and force themselves to brainstorm.

Think about where you want to be professionally, personally and relationally — then work backwards. For instance. if you want to open a bakery, you need to be able to bake, so a positive constraint could be forcing yourself to bake something everyday. Not only would you perfect your desired taste, texture and consistency, but you’d also have very happy neighbors.

Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever you want, it’s the discipline to do what you should.

 

Author: Ben Tanksley is the Vice President, Visual & Digital Assets for Vertical Solutions Media. Over the past decade, Ben has worked in video production, web design, graphic design and photography and has spent three years living and working in China. Learn more at www.verticalsolutionsmedia.com.

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Business Strategies

Fighting Goliath

Tiny businessman looking up on huge legs of another man

Fighting Goliath

How local small businesses can compete against industry giants.

As David walked into battle to fight the giant, Goliath, he was outsized and out-armed. However, he was bold, innovative and agile and he used his advantages to successfully take down the giant. If your business is in an industry that is populated by rising giants, you might be concerned whether you are equipped for the battle ahead. However, with the right team and strategies, you can develop a powerful and effective battle plan to attract and convert customers.

FIRST, HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON.

Business owners often get so distracted by the day-to-day of business operations that they don’t take the time to plan. Every military strategist knows that you must have a plan before you get to the battlefield. If you don’t have a business and/or marketing plan that outlines the challenges you are facing, take a pause to develop them. Before he faced the giant, David stopped at a creek and carefully selected just the right stones. Although he ended up only using one, he had quite a few more in his pocket, just in case. Likewise, you will need some carefully selected strategies in your plan.

The above is an excerpt. To learn the Seven Strategies for Fighting a Business Giant, click HERE to read the full article in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Tools for Success magazine. You can also pick up a print copy of the magazine at a Progress Bank location near you. Click for a complete list of LOCATIONS.

 

Author: Bethany Meadows is the owner of Vertical Solutions Media, a full-service marketing agency specializing in brand storytelling, content marketing and creative growth strategies. Learn more at www.verticalsolutionsmedia.com, or email bethany@verticalsolutionsmedia.com.

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Business StrategiesLeadership

3 Boundaries To Help You Stay On The Path Of Productivity

Legs of a couple standing opposite each other

It’s easy to go off-roading during the day when you should be staying on the path to productivity instead. Business owners often talk about the need to be more productive. They’re frustrated about daily interruptions. They want to make more progress – faster.

Of course, as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to focus on the big goal. Who else will keep the ultimate destination in view for your company? When challenges arise, you may question the goal. “Is that really where we want to go?” “Maybe our goal isn’t clear.” “Perhaps it’s too unrealistic.”

The problem isn’t the goal. It’s often a boundary issue. Without clear boundaries, you’re taking a circuitous path to reach your goal. What takes you off path? Here are three possibilities:

  1. Unclear boundaries. You don’t have proper boundaries in place to begin with. You’re stuck in habits that don’t serve you well. It could be that you’re responding immediately to any request regardless of the level of urgency. Or you’re allowing too many people to have too much access to you.

Establish clear boundaries to determine how you’ll go about your work and how other people will engage with you.

  1. Violated boundaries. These are boundaries you’ve established that aren’t being respected by other people. For example, you’ve asked team members not to disturb you for a couple of hours during a critical meeting, yet they continue to interrupt. You may have conditioned them to come to you before making decisions. But you’re really bottle-necking the processes.

Help other people identify new ways to work around you when needed.

  1. Invisible boundaries. You’re crossing your own boundaries and don’t even realize it. For example, you think you need to be involved in a meeting when your presence isn’t really required. As the owner, no one is stopping you. Exercise self-restraint. Discern each temptation to get involved. Remember the more commitments you say “yes” to, the more you need to say “no” to.

Boundaries in business are a good thing. They keep lower priority issues from entering your space. And they keep you from meandering into territory that you don’t belong. In some cases, you need to build a wall, especially when stakes are high. In other situations, a screen will do. You can keep an eye on outside activities while remaining inside to handle your own. Build better boundaries to guard your time and reserve your energy to do your best work. Secure your boundaries to unlock greater success.

Author: Gayle Lantz is a leadership consultant, author, speaker and founder of WorkMatters, Inc., (www.WorkMatters.com) a consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders think and work smarter.

 

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Business StrategiesOrganization

5 Tips to Prepare Your Small Business for Tax Season

Tax written on a wooden cube

Even if you’re staying on track with your New Year’s resolutions, every small-business owner has to prepare for tax season. The major deadline may be a month or two away, but it will approach faster than you think. Here are a few tips to think about as you begin.

1. Try bookkeeping online

For all the times a cashier asked you, “Do you need a receipt?” hopefully you said yes when it was for business. Now is the time to organize all of your receipts and records from last year, whether in paper or online, and keep them all together in case of an audit. If you find paper receipts cluttering your workspace, consider storing them online using nifty apps like Shoeboxed and Neat.

When it comes to taxes and the Internal Revenue Service, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if your business is in its early stages.

2. Separate personal and business deductions

For small-business owners especially, make sure that your personal and business expenses stay separate. As you follow the Section 179 guidelines and divide up costs, check your personal bank accounts for any business expenses or employee reimbursements.

Remember to check for any changes in the rules for deductions. For example, business rates for standard mileage deductions went up last tax year to 57.5 cents per mile, an increase of 1.5 cents from 2014. Another thing to note is the relatively new simplified option for home office deductions, in which home use for business can be calculated by square foot, not just percentage. Just be sure to know the limits of these deductions as they apply for your business.

3. Apply for an EIN

If this is the first tax season that you have employees or you recently restructured your business, you will need to get a new EIN. This is an employer identification number, a nine-digit number given by the IRS so your business can be identified consistently on taxes from you and your employees. Applying online will be the fastest way to receive your EIN.

4. Keep taxes for your employees and contractors straight

Distinguishing your employees from your independent contractors is crucial. Simply put, an employee’s work can be monitored for what and how things are done, whereas a contractor’s work can be controlled only when it’s complete. For taxes, this freedom of action makes the contractor a self-employed worker who files a Schedule SE (Form 1090), or the self-employment tax.

For employees, payroll taxes include income, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes. Employers withhold the first, withhold and pay the next two, and pay the last. Then employees can file their W-2s.

Since contractors don’t have payroll taxes, mislabeling an employee as a contractor can look like tax evasion in the eyes of the IRS and result in serious repercussions. Employers can be charged with penalty fees and interest on the employee’s payroll taxes.

5. Know the important dates

Your deadlines will depend on your business structure. For a sole proprietorship, the deadline to fill out a Form 1040 with a Schedule C is usually April 15 (but April 18 in 2016). For an S corporation, the deadline is a bit earlier. You have to complete the Form 1120S for income taxes and pay by March 15. For any shareholders, provide them with a Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S) so they can calculate share of income, deductions and credits.

If you miss the deadline, the IRS imposes a penalty fee of 5% monthly for late filing, up to a maximum of 25%. The total penalty is calculated from your deadline to the date you filed the tax return, so it’s in your best interest to file your taxes.

Make sure to prepare your business for the inevitable, and you will glide through tax season with minimal stress.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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Business StrategiesLeadership

Quick Tips for Getting Back on Track in the New Year

2017

It’s the New Year–a time for new beginnings. Are you feeling excited, optimistic and energized?

If you’re like many people I know, you might be feeling tired, sluggish and overwhelmed already. And it’s okay to admit it. It’s easy for pressure to build quickly after you’ve had a change to let go of work during the holidays. If you’re having trouble getting back on track, you’re not alone.

Here are some quick times for easing back into the New Year:

1. Take your time. You may not feel like you have a choice about the pace in which you operate, but you have more control than you realize. Set realistic expectations. Set boundaries where needed. Get clear about your priorities. It’s okay to walk before you run. What pace feels right for you?

2. Notice your resistance. When you’re too tired or you’re avoiding some activities, this might actually be a good sign. Pay attention. Maybe you don’t want to step back into the same environment or activities that don’t serve you well. Think about something new you can try–a change you can make that would give you more of what you really want. What are you resisting?

3. Don’t judge yourself. Too many people say, “I should be accomplishing more,” or “I should be more active,” or “I should lose more weight.” They think they are not good enough, capable enough, etc. Replace those thoughts with “I am…” positive statements like: “I am figuring things out,” or “I am taking one step at a time,” or “I am moving in the right direction.” What do you really need to hear right now?

4. Start small. Choose one area of your life or work that you would like to improve. Set a short-term goal. If you want to run a marathon, you don’t go out and run the entire distance. Maybe you’ll run a mile this week as a start. What’s something small you can do that will still give you a sense of accomplishment?

Pay attention to how you feel, not just what you do as a leader. When you feel strong, healthy and vibrant, you are more likely to enjoy life and work. Make your own well-being a top priority this year.

Author: Gayle Lantz is a leadership consultant, author, speaker and founder of WorkMatters, Inc., (www.WorkMatters.com) a consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders think and work smarter. Learn more at our Contributors tab.

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Business StrategiesOrganization

Collaborative Overload? How to Stop the Madness.

Business People Meeting Growth Success Target Economic Concept

Is your week filled with meetings, huddles, stand-ups and project group get-togethers? Staff meetings, feedback meetings, customer meetings? For many of us, we spend so much of our work week speaking and listening and working toward consensus, that we have little or no time to do the work that needs to be done by ourselves, in deep thought. Planning, thinking, analyzing, writing . . . all short-changed or absent due to the proliferation of collaboration. That feels like collaborative overload.

Most of us are looking to integrate collaboration into their cultures in one way or another – higher performing teams, better external collaboration with customers and vendors, and better collaboration among diverse teams for innovation and alignment. If you want to improve your creativity, leverage your resources for better results and get more engagement from every member of your company, collaboration is a powerful tool, when used correctly. However, “collaboration” has become a buzzword that simply means “more meetings” in many organizations.

Apart from regular, shorter meetings, only having the right people present, and keeping your agenda agile and focused, there are three key tools for keeping collaboration healthy and efficient:

Don’t aim for consensus. Too many times we assume that the best way of making decisions in a collaborative way is to have everyone agree to everything. This uses enormous amounts of time, and is often impossible to achieve. Instead, get a majority to agree, and the rest of the group to be able to live with and support that decision. The assumption becomes agreement unless you raise a red flag that you think a decision is a deal-breaker for some reason. (Raise the red flag? You need to propose an alternative.)

Stop having status update meetings. Many of the meetings we do have end up being a process of going around the table and hearing what everyone has done. Most of this information could be better captured in a dashboard, project document or even the dreaded email update. Sending a short summary of progress made and any issues or challenges ahead of a meeting. This allows you to focus on what really requires discussion instead of spending collaborative time passively listening to status updates. Now your meeting will be short and focused.

Schedule appointments for thinking work. If you really want to make sure you have thinking time, find a time in your week when you are least likely to get meetings scheduled. Set up a meeting with yourself on your calendar to block that time for thinking, planning, reading, writing or other work you do best by yourself. Give yourself over a solid hour or more. Most of us just use “white space” in the calendar for that work, but white space can by taken up by other meetings as quickly as sending a calendar invite. Purposely blocking some white space into thinking meetings helps you and others keep that time sacred. You get time to step back and think deeply about the big picture, planning next steps and simply being creative about the work at hand.

Healthy collaborative environments require a balance between conversation and time to think, and no one will schedule your thinking time for you. If you are feeling collaborative overwhelm, notice how your time is being used today, and apply these three ideas to carve out time to think. Spend less time in meetings listening or pursuing perfect consensus. You might even find you are better at collaboration when you have had time to digest new ideas and come up with new solutions to contribute.

Laura JenningsAuthor: Laura Huckabee-Jennings is the Founder of Transcend, which has been serving senior leaders and their teams since 2002. Transcend’s objective is to bring world-class tools and the latest scientific thinking about business and human development into a business to achieve ambitious goals. (www.LeadFearlessly.com)

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Business Strategies

Five Ways to Build Unshakable Customer Loyalty

Customer Loyalty Service Support Care Trust Business Concept

You work hard to attract your customers, so it only makes sense to have strategies in place for keeping them. Here are five ways that many businesses have found effective for building customer loyalty.

  1. Provide an exceptional customer experience.While this might seem kind of obvious, it is rarely easy or simple. Your customer’s experience is ultimately your brand identity. If their actual experience is not living up to how you wish to be perceived, then change the areas that do not measure up. When asked about their competitive differential, most businesses are quick to claim that they provide better service. But do you really? How do you know how your service compares to your competitors? Bottom line: Good or even excellent customer service is not enough. Surprise your customers by far exceeding their expectations and they will return again and again.
  2. Be real, genuine and transparent.One thing that builds distrust with your customers is when they sense you do not really mean what you say. If you market yourself as one thing but the customer experience is something different, they will wonder what else does not line up.Be honest with your customers even when things do not go as planned. Tell the truth, keep them updated and address the problem as soon as possible. Most of your customers will appreciate your candor. Bottom line: Don’t be defensive when there is a problem. Take responsibility and focus on solving it. Building trust in your relationship will go a long way in winning customer loyalty.
  3. Build a sense of affinity.Most people like being a part of a community, so give them ways to feel like they are part of something special. Social media channels provide a great way to talk with your customers and invite them to participate by posting photos with your product and sharing your information with their friends.Another great way to build affinity is through customer appreciation events, reward programs and incentives. Bottom line: Expand your customer interaction to a relationship instead of just a transaction.
  4. Ask for a review.In today’s online culture, studies show that as many as 88% of customers will read a review to determine the quality of a company. Furthermore, they report trusting that review as much as a personal referral.Bottom line: Make it easy for your satisfied customers to leave you a review. Be sure to thank them when they do.
  5. Have processes that are smart but flexible.Automation can be a good thing if they contribute to an exceptional customer experience. For example, including reminders and notifications is a process to potentially head off problems before they happen. However, be sure that you are not selling out the opportunity to build a personal relationship with your customer in favor of technology.In this age of computers and easy access to information, it can be easy to rely on FAQ’s or other online information to answer customer questions. However, a real point of differential can be making it easy to communicate with a real person. Make sure your contact information is readily available on your social media, advertising pieces and website.It’s also important to be flexible in your processes. There are always exceptions to the rule and remember, “The customer is always right.” Empower your employees to make decisions on the spot that bend or break the usual process in order to retain a customer. Nothing frustrates a customer more than to hear “No,” especially in a situation where it lacks common sense.Bottom line: Be efficient but balance it with the goal of providing the best experience for every individual customer.

*Published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Tools for Success magazine.

Author: Bethany Meadows is the owner of Vertical Solutions Media Inc, a full service marketing agencies that specializes in helping small businesses build strong brands and increase revenues.

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