100 Ways to Be a Better Entrepreneur

Topics 46-60

Improving Professional Relationships

46. Keep in Touch
In order to maintain good relationships with your banker, and other partners and providers, you must take the initiative. Try these three steps to keep in touch:

  • Make an appointment to deliver and briefly review the current state of your business, as well as a brief history of your company and current business plan. Be responsible for educating them about your industry.
  • Identify shared personal interests or values. Become a good business acquaintance. In conversation, be candid; never make false claims or exaggerate.
  • Never surprise anyone with band news. If things are not going well with your company, give everyone plenty of warning.

47. Supply and Demand
Be open, courteous and firm with your suppliers, and they will respond in kind. Tell them what you need and when you need it. Have a specific understanding about the total cost, and expect delivery on schedule. Keep in constant communication with your suppliers about possible delays, potential substitutions for materials and product lines, production quality, product improvements or new product introductions and potential savings.48. Finding a Good Insurance Agent
Too many entrepreneurs treat finding an insurance agent like going on a blind date. They randomly contact an agency, and then an agent is assigned to them. If coincidence played a role in the way you were matched with your agent, it might be high time to take stock of that relationship and start looking for a new one.

How do you decide whether your agent is meeting your needs? Ask: Does your agent have expertise in your industry? Is he or she up on the latest in commercial insurance? If not, don't be afraid to switch. The best insurance agents ask a lot of questions about the operation of your business-and they ask them often. To see whether your agent knows enough about your business, turn the tables and interview the agent. Ask general questions, such as: Can you recommend any new coverage? Does your company provide evaluation services? Why is this the best carrier? Have you asked me everything necessary to cover my exposures?

49. Bank on It
Bankers aren't in the business of better on your dreams or predictions; they are in the business of loaning secured money-money that is backed by both your personal guarantee and hard assets. Your banker has to answer to his boss and explain why he loaned you money, how you are going to pay it back and why you are a good risk.

The more your banker knows about your business, the more value you are going to get from the relationship. Create regular state-of-the-company status reports to share with your banker. This documentation can help him provide you with better service, aiding him in making quicker decisions about your business. The better tabs your banker has on your business can also help him give you better advice and maybe keep you out of financial trouble.

50. In the Loop
Your banker, attorney and accountant each have the ability to drastically influence the success of your business. The most important thing you need to do is nurture your relationships with them. The more they know about your business, and the better you know them, the more value you'll receive. Develop that close, long-term relationship, and you'll have someone you can depend on in your corner. When you hit the inevitable bumps in the road, they'll be there to help you.

Being a Better Boss

51. Never Stop Learning
In most companies, training and information flow downhill and not uphill. Over the next decade, successful companies will bring the knowledge economy full circle by making sure knowledge flows up, down and sideways. Smart entrepreneurs "hire up," meaning they hire people who bring the latest skills in technology, sales, accounting and other fields.

How can you create a "learning up" strategy? First, managers need to acknowledge that they can learn from rank-and-file employees. Then make continual learning a part of your hiring process. Ask management candidates how comfortable they are learning from employees.

Remember, there's no way you or your managers can be an expert in every area of your business, so don't be afraid to take advantage of knowledge wherever you can find it, even if it comes from lower-level employees.

52. Why Recognition Is a Must
Most entrepreneurs don't consider recognition a central part of their management practice. Below are three reasons why you need to take the time to recognize the good things your employees do:

  • If you recognize and make a bit of a fuss about the good things employees do, then you'll find yourself spending a lot less time worrying about the bad things they do. It's far easier to lead people to improved performance by thanking them when they do it right than giving them grief when they do it wrong.
  • Praise and recognize your star performers. Spotlight role model performances and role model employees. This makes them feel good, encouraging them to stay on board and keep trying hard. And it gives everyone a bit of inspiration and a clearer idea of what you want employees to shoot for.
  • Recognize good effort, not just results. When employees have a tough week, throw a mini party for them. Write personal thank-you notes to employees. Recognizing effort has a bigger impact than giving a prize at the end of the race.

53. Full Speed Ahead
Business owners and managers know they need good bottom-line results but sometimes it's hard to remember what each person in the organization needs to do to accomplish the desired result. Try these three tips to keep your company moving forward:

  • Ask employees what information they need. Use one-on-one opportunities to ask each employee if they have any questions about their work, what to do or how to prioritize.
  • Make sure employees share information with each other. In staff meetings, make a special point of asking each person if they have any information that other staffers may not be aware of. The manager running the meeting can get a lot more information out on the table by simply asking this question.
  • Make a point of sharing feedback about the work and why it matters. This gives employees a clear "line of sight" from their daily tasks to the big-picture reasons for them. It adds meaning and purpose, and keeps the workforce looking forward and moving in the right direction.

54. Trust Me?
Good communication is grounded in trust. No matter what people say, if they're not trusted, they're not believed. Therefore, in order to have good communication in an organization, you must make sure you do what you say you're going to do. People who do are trusted; people who don't are not.

In the name of keeping people informed, many executives tell employees about things they intend to do that don't happen, often eroding employee trust. Consultants often recommend organizations actually communicate less often as a step to improve trust, instructing employers to tell people only those things they have complete control over and know will happen as they say they will.

If managers do what they say they're going to do the majority of the time, employees will give them some leeway if a mistake is made. When trust is high, communication can be more relaxed and casual, but when trust is low, people won't give you the benefit of the doubt, no matter how good your intentions.

55. Show You Care
Here are some tips and tricks you can use with your employees to demonstrate great leadership skills. You'll create trust and loyalty by consistently showing your employees that you care about them and the work they do.

  • Be visible. Walk around the company-avoid hiding out in your office all day. If employees don't see you during the day, they can feel ignored or demoralized.
  • Celebrate victories. Set small and attainable goals every few weeks or months for your employees. It's easy to bring in cake and soft drinks to reward outstanding performances.
  • Encourage friendships among coworkers. Encourage interaction by giving your employees the chance to share their talents with other employees within your office. For example, if someone in your company plays chess and would be willing to teach chess to others who are interested, allow them to promote their skill and give them a place to teach those who'd like to learn.

Put Your Business in the Media Spotlight

56. Throw a Party
Hosting an event for your business or at your business can be a fabulous way to garner publicity. The event can take the form of an open house, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a seminar or a guest appearance by a celebrity, political official or someone else of significance. Once you decide that you are going to have an event, there are a few things to do to get even more bang for your PR buck.

  • Let your target market know you're having an event. An announcement can be made first with a press release to publications that reach your target market. Hand out fliers at your place of business, with customer orders and at any networking sessions you attend to get the word out about your event.
  • If you are having a speaker or another guest of honor, a separate press release announcing the appearance of that person can be issued.
  • Invite the media with handwritten invitations. Just like a party, invite the people you want to attend. Send invitations to the media, your customers and important prospects, friends and family.
  • Have plenty of press kits available to pass out to those attending. Pass them out not only to the media representatives, but also to your guests. Customers and prospects should receive any and all press releases that you issue.
  • Include in the press kit a frequently asked questions list about the company, person, product or service written in interview form. This makes it easier for radio and TV people to interview you or pick a few questions for press.

57. Write Your Way to Free Publicity
One of the most cost-efficient means to get your message out is to write articles for magazines, trade journals, web sites and newspapers that reach your target clients. Even if you have average writing skills, if you can propose compelling article topics that solve problems for readers, then you'll find editors who will publish your ideas. Here are four factors that make published articles a powerful vehicle to boost your business to the next level. Published articles will:

  • Position you as a leading expert in your field. The value of your knowledge hinges on how well you're recognized by the public as a qualified expert. A published article communicates that you are indeed an expert because your knowledge and ideas merit publication.
  • Convey a sense of third-party endorsement. If a trade magazine is willing to devote valuable space to print your article, then what you say must be important, right? At least that's the assumption readers subconsciously make.
  • Become marketing tools that sell long after the shelf life of the magazine. There are myriad ways to squeeze promotional value out of each article beyond its impact on the newsstands. You can leverage article reprints to enhance your direct-mail campaigns, networking efforts, sales presentations, e-mail marketing, press kits and web site content.
  • Lead to additional PR opportunities. Reporters and editors want to interview industry experts to support their research. When you write and publish articles on a consistent basis, you'll be able to attract more inquiries from the media and get your company written about more often.
  • 58. Get Ready for Your Interview
    The key to a successful interview is preparation. Since the chief motivation of most interviewers is to get information or create programming that's of special interest to their readers, viewers or listeners, it's your job to provide relevant content while at the same time weaving in your own principal PR themes.

To ensure your company's central message doesn't get lost, create a PR platform you can rely on as the basis for all interviews. This platform will be particularly useful if there is more than one person in your company who may be interviewed by the press, because it will guarantee consistent messaging.

What are the key messages you want to convey about your company, its products or services? Take a look at your advertising, brochures and web content; and identify up to three primary themes or copy points. Then weave them into a one-paragraph platform. Don't forget, your task is to create a PR platform that conveys your central themes in a way that also meets the needs of the audience.

59. Contacting the Press
Always begin by creating a "press list." This is a list of media that reach large numbers of your target audience and are looked to as reputable sources of information. Then select different media from your press list to receive various types of stories.

Before you decide what type of information to send, get copies of each publication to learn what kind of information will be most relevant to that publication's readers. For example, if your firm wins a local award, your release may be of interest to your hometown newspaper. But if you invent a breakthrough medical product, you should target general-business, consumer and medical trade press with your story.

To keep your press release from being lost in the hundreds or thousands of releases editors receive each week, take the time to research the name of a specific editor, news director or journalist to receive it. If you've become familiar with the newspapers, magazines and broadcast news stations you're targeting, it will be easy to identify the individuals who typically handle stories like yours.

60. Why Press Releases Are King
It's a well-known fact that a company's visibility will increase with powerful publicity. After all, publicity aims to bring the news of your company to the world. And the most important tool you can use to accomplish this is the press release.

What exactly should be covered in a press release? Think along the lines of "newsy" and interesting topics. Examples include: your online presence; important information and tools regarding a change in management or the business components you offer; special information that can be obtained online; the announcement of articles, events and appearances; relevant worksheets, tips and techniques; and so on.

When writing a press release, your goals should be uniqueness, timeliness and top-of-the-mind awareness. Once you achieve publicity and visibility, both your company profile and your client and prospect levels will rise. One successful story about your company resulting in free publicity is advertising worth hundreds and thousands of dollars.

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