Organize Your Reading Through RSS

rss buttons

I don’t deny I’m an information junkie. I love to read. I love to learn.

Using a RSS feed reader like Feedly or Newsify can help you organize your website and blog reading in categories on your computer, iPad or smart phone.

Look for the RSS icon on any website and you can subscribe and organize your reading.

I much prefer subscribing by RSS which cuts down on emails in my inbox.

I can star my favorites or save articles to Evernote (which is my favorite place to save information so that I can search and find in just a few seconds on any device).

I have one folder set up a “Daily Top 20” which I read every day. It’s a mixture of business and personal blogs that move and inspire me. Other folder labels include friends, food, humor, mom blogs, marketing, organizing, blog design…you get the idea. I like to read by topic and this type of organization has served me well over the past 6 years. When I have a little time, I can pick my topic and catch up on my online reading.

Here are 3 great reasons why Seth Godin’s blog earned a spot in my Daily Top 20 folder:

100 days later
The loneliness epidemic
Choose your customers first

He is a great writer. Short, concise and always makes me think in a new way.

Do you have a list of daily reads? Share in the comments what your favorite sites are that you’re currently reading!

P.S. If you currently use Google Reader as your RSS aggregator, this post from Michael Hyatt gives some good reasons to switch now:
7 Reasons I Picked Feedly to Replace Google Reader

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If You Build It, Will “They” Come?

baseball diamond Coors Field

Building a Website for Your Small Business

Iowa cornfield. Baseball diamond. Field of Dreams movie reference.

What does it have to do with building a website?

It’s the analogy I’ve used for the past 5 years or so when small business owners talk about the importance of getting a website up and running.

The dream of an official website is half the fun. The costs associated with building and then maintaining a website are often forgotten in the start-up budget. The learning curve is steep.

It’s true that your website is the new address that goes on your business card. No longer do people really care about your physical address; they really want to know if you have a presence on the web.

But first, you need to make some decisions about your website.

You need a domain name.
Your domain name is your web address that you own for as long as you pay the annual fees.
That’s an annual cost that should be under $20.

You need a web host.
Your web host is where all your web files, pictures, content, etc., are stored.
That’s an annual (under $100) or monthly cost (under $10).

You need software to build your site.
The choices are endless.
As are the costs.

This is where the help of a professional comes into play. This is also where you can save a ton of time by spending a reasonable amount of money so you don’t have to learn something new.

Or you can dive in and build it yourself.

The most important things we want you to consider are these:

  • Your budget
  • Your time

Is getting a website built right now, the best use of your time and money for your business?

Or would you be better off spending time out in the public and on the phone marketing your business?

Your website will be beneficial in the long run. It is a tool that can:

  • Add credibility.
  • Showcase your portfolio.
  • Highlight your services.

Take an honest look at where you are in business and make a good business decision.

The website will not jumpstart your business. You have to do that. It will enhance your business as you grow.

We use Bluehost and WordPress.

If you are still undecided, we offer a free 30 minute phone consultation and we’ll give you our honest feedback about whether you really need a website right now.

Already have a website and want to make it better?

Here is a great article from Clickin Moms about understanding and using google analytics with your website:
Is your website effective?

Bluehost is an affiliate link.
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5 Tips for Using Email as Business Communication

envelope

Email is a great form of business communication, but is often overused or used unprofessionally.

Here are few quick tips for using email:

1. Clearly state the purpose of your email in the subject line.

Make sure your email is read by simply stating the purpose and/or subject of your email.

2. Get right to point in your email, keeping your message short and simple.

For example, emails are a great way to remind your clients of an upcoming meeting or event. It’s not a good place for long, detailed communications.

3. If you have several points to make, try using bullets for clarity.

Long paragraphs don’t belong in emails. Try shorter sentences as well. Bullets are clearly, quickly read and are often remembered.

4. Use mass or group emails sparingly.

To make these emails more effective, consider creating a timeline for sending newsletters or business announcements on a set schedule — monthly, is a good rhythm to keep your business in front of your clients, but not overwhelm them.

5. Finally, don’t forget about the power of a hand written note sent via US mail.

A notecard is the perfect way to thank you a client for a referral, or the opportunity to serve them. It’s also a great way to recognize someone for a job well done, or to compliment them.

Several years ago, my husband made a New Year’s resolution to write a note to someone every single day. It was a lovely gesture. More importantly, it was a commitment to building others up. A simple handwritten note, complete with a postage stamp, let’s the recipient know they were worth the time it took to write them and pop the note in the mail.

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Tips for Leaving Phone Messages

phone message light

What are  the “rules” for leaving telephone messages as part of a business communication?

What do you say?

How many times can you call back without running the risk of being pushy?

Sherra and I are often asked these questions. To be honest, there isn’t one answer, but here are some tried and true guidelines for leaving messages:

Message #1

  • Say who are calling for.
  • Identify yourself.
  • Remind the person you are calling where you met, or how you are connected.
  • Let them know you’ll call back the next day.
  • Give them a time frame for your return call.
  • Leave your number in case they would like to call you.
  • No need to go into detail.  Just make it short and simple.

Your first message might sound something like this:

Hi Mary! This is Laura Harbolt. We met last week at the women’s networking group. I’m calling to follow up on our conversation regarding _____. I’ll give you a call back tomorrow around noon. Or if you’d like, you can reach me at (phone number.) I’ll look forward to talking soon!

Message #2

  • Identify yourself.
  • Let them know you’ll call back in a day or so.

Here’s an example of your second message:

Hi Mary, this is Laura. I’m sorry I missed you again — I’ll try you back next week, or if you have a moment, give me a call back at (phone number.)

Message #3

  • Call back at a different time of day.
  • If you don’t reach them, then know that this is your last phone message.

You’ll say something like this:

Hi, this is Laura. So sorry to have missed you again, Mary. I’m guessing this is a really busy time for you, and I totally understand. Please feel free to contact me anytime if I can help you with _____. And in the meantime, I’ll keep you on my list and be back in touch later on down the road.

If you haven’t reached your contact in three tries, chances are they are not interested — at least not now. The best investment of your time is to move on, leaving the ball in their court. Do add them to your pipeline, however, making a note of when to get back in touch.

Next time, we’ll talk about the dos and don’t of written communication.

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Tips for the Telephone

pastel telephonesTalking on the phone seems to be a dying form of communication these days. And yet the phone is one of your most valuable business tools.

While on the phone you can ask and answer questions and give feedback. The person you are talking with can hear the warmth in your voice. Together you can share a laugh or a concern. In a phone conversation you can guide your client to quicker decisions.

Here are 6 tips for using the phone professionally and effectively:

1. Schedule time to make phone calls.

Choose a quiet place. No driving, noisy children or sounds of a busy restaurant or coffee shop in the background.

2. Begin the conversation by asking if they have a minute to talk.

Offer to call back if it’s clear your client is distracted or in a hurry.

3. Respect your clients’ time.

Make your offer quickly and briefly.

4. Stay away from written scripts.

You can use notes or bullets to remind you what to say. Reading a script makes you sound like a telemarketer rather than a trusted service provider.

5. Expect to hear “no,” or “not now” sometimes.

If the answer is not now, let them know you will call back in a few weeks.

6. Never end the conversation without thanking the person you are talking with.

Let them know how much your appreciate their time and their consideration.

Next time, we’ll talk about leaving messages…

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How to Set Up a Communication System for Your Business

DV-00147797-001I’m all about using systems in business. They allow us to streamline everyday processes and to focus on the important stuff. Like serving our clients.

An effective communication system helps you stay in touch with potential and current clients — without feeling like you are bugging them or being pushy.

My next 4 posts are all about communicating with your clients in simple ways, complete with tips to do it professionally.

Let’s start with the most important form of communication — in person conversations. Most business relationships start with a face to face meeting. It might be at a networking event, a presentation, a gathering among friends and acquaintances, or just while out and about. These first meetings go a long way towards building a long term relationship. Here are 3 easy tips for effective face to face conversations:

1. Remember to keep the conversation about the person you are talking with.

Maya Angelou is right when she says:

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2. Learn about the other person by asking questions or using conversation starters like these:

  • Tell me about your business.
  • Who do you serve?
  • What made you start doing what you do?
  • What do you love about your business.
  • What are your plans for the future?
  • What does your work day look like?

These conversations are short and to the point.

3. Make a conscious decision to always end with a final statement and a simple question:

“I’d love to contact you to see how I might be of help. Can we exchange information?”

Nothing can replace in person conversations. In fact, experts tell us that over 50% of what we intend to say is conveyed via body language and facial expressions, not by the words we are actually saying.  Smile, nod your head, shake their hand. Show them that you are interested in them and what they are saying.

In the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at 3 more kinds of business communication: the telephone, email, and written communication. In the meantime, make it a goal to meet some new business contacts this week and get to know them!

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Virtual Tools for Your Home Office

logitech headset

One of the perks of being your own boss as a small business owner is working from home. The flexibility that comes with creating your own schedule and working during your most productive hours is a great benefit.

Another benefit is that you can work remotely with clients who may not be located near you. Learning to conduct professional appointments and meetings virtually will help you standout with your services.

There are many free and low cost options to connect with clients. Here are some favorite tools you can use when you need to have a virtual meeting:

For face-to-face virtual calls there is skype, facetime or google voice and video chat.

For phone calls with more than 3 people, try freeconference.com or freeconferencecall.com.

We use join.me for easy screen sharing instantly so you can share your computer screen while are talking.

There are many choices for web conferencing for groups. These services offer many different services and pricing packages:
GoToMeeting
WebEx
Meet.fm

Document sharing through dropbox or google drive are both easy solutions when you need to collaborate.

One more quick tip…
Along with your computer, smartphone and/or tablet, a good headset frees up your hands so you can take notes or use screencast or webinar software easily.

Save this blog post in your Evernote for reference. You are using Evernote, right?

How do you conduct virtual meetings?

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Are You a Leader? Four Ways Small Business Owners Serve

leadership signWho do you think of when I say, “Leader in the world of business?”  

A Warren Buffet or Bill Gates type? Maybe a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg?

Perhaps the phrase doesn’t bring to mind a particular person, but rather a “type.”

A CEO in a well tailored suit. The company President who is firmly rooted behind his desk.

If you own a small business, you are not only in business for yourself, you are probably in business by yourself. Even if you employee a small staff, my guess is that you don’t think of yourself as a “Business Leader.”

As Sherra and I work with our clients, we are reminded time and again that small business owners are the real leaders in the world of business.

If you are struggling to see yourself as a Leader, here are a few reminders of the things we see you doing. Day in and day out:

1. Serving as Leaders in Your Industry.

You are involved in professional organizations, networking groups, and continuing education. You represent your market with professionalism and a constant thirst for knowledge. Most importantly, you share freely with others, knowing that helping others be successful is a leader’s greatest gift.

2. Serving as Leaders in Your Community.

Small business owners often have flexibility in the work week. You choose to invest time in service. Whether at your child’s school, a local non-profit organization, or in small town politics, you model ways to give back to your own neighborhoods and cities.

3. Serving as Role Models in Your Family.

Small business owners have vision. You share that vision with your family and find ways to work together toward a shared goal. Many of you put your family right to work! Others remind your children and your spouses that time invested in business hours has a tangible pay off — a vacation, family time, bills paid, dreams made real.

4. Serving as Leaders for Your Clients.

This one is my favorite. For me, a real leader is someone who builds up other people. A real leader shares confidence, skills or products that make life better. You encourage others with a smile, a compliment, and a helping hand. Simply put, you make a difference.

As we wrap up February and look forward to the renewing energy of Spring, allow us to take one more opportunity to share our love and respect for those of you who work diligently to build something of your own. And to serve others at the same time.

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Does Your Passion Get In The Way of Your Profit?

money heart pillowThere is no denying that small business owners are passionate.

Whatever their product or service is, eyes light up and their voices fill with excitement when given the opportunity to talk about their business.

Often times what comes with that passion is a business owner who wants to give away their time or deeply discount their rates in the name of “love”. They love their customer and want to help them. They love their business and they want new clients. All normal.

But sometimes the love turns desperate. Not normal.

Desperate for clients and hungry to grow their new business, we’ve seen people let their business passion cut into their profit when they aren’t willing to stand firm on pricing. Don’t let those feelings of desperation overtake making smart business decisions.

Get Paid What You Are Worth

Make the rest of your February goals align with your passion. Love your business enough to set a solid pricing structure that matches your professional services. Reach out to prospective and existing clients and share your passion for your products and services while giving them fair prices. Be confident in charging what you are worth.

Side note:
You may think this doesn’t match our pricing philosophy from last year’s guinea pig blog post series. Please recognize that the guinea pig approach is for a brand new business to get some experience with a very small group of clients; usually just three. For existing businesses, it is a great approach if you need a marketing tune-up or want to experiment with adding new services. It is not a long-term marketing strategy.

Still having a hard time estimating jobs in your business?

Here is a great article that addresses that topic:

Why Estimating Copywriting Projects Is Like Learning to Play Tennis…

Even though the article is targeted for copywriters, it has some great tips for any service business. Be sure to read some of the great comments that follow the article too.

Remember passion and profit can work beautifully together – especially if you lose the “I’m desperate” sign!

We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and share your best tip on estimating projects and pricing.

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Share the Love this Valentine’s Day

I have to be honest. I am not a big fan of Valentine’s Day.

I think it started in high school.

red carnationAs a fundraiser, the student council sold carnations. For $1.00 you could send a carnation to anyone in the school, complete with a card that included your name…or not. On Valentine’s Day, the carnations were delivered to homeroom. All day, the popular kids walked around with bouquets of red and white carnations while others had one. Or two. Or none.

The flowers were a clear symbol of whether you were liked enough for someone to spend a dollar.

As a young adult, I came to view Valentines Day as a holiday for couples. And that leaves a lot of people out.

As a Mom, it’s easier to find a way to celebrate with my family. Still, my heart aches for the many who are alone or are not remembered with chocolates or flowers or candy hearts.

And then I remember that love comes in many forms.

We say,  
“I love that movie!”
“I love that song.”
“I love your outfit.”
“I love my yoga class.”  
“I love my neighbors.”

As a business coach I often hear our clients say,
“I love my business!”
“I love that I have flexible hours.”
“I love that I can do something I love and make money at the same time.”
“I love that I make a difference.”

So this year I am changing my attitude.

I am going to focus on the people who have made a difference in my life and I will be grateful.

This week, I encourage you to reach out to the people who are at the heart of your business — your clients.

  • Who has been a great customer this year?
  • Who has given you advice?
  • Who has sent you referrals?
  • Who has given you an opportunity that changed that way you do business?

Call those folks and tell them Thank You!

Or email them.

Or jot them a note and stick it in the mail.

Make this Valentine’s Day different by reaching out and sharing the Love.

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