100 Ways to Be a Better Entrepreneur

Topics 61-75

Get Your Business Organized

61. Get Others Organized
You may have this organization stuff down pat, but what about your business partners, spouse or business associates? No matter how neat you are, the disorganization of others can impact your business. Try this to bring a little more order into the lives of those around you:

  • Use positive reinforcement. Instead of focusing on other people's disorganization, praise them when they make an attempt to get organized. They knows they're disorganized and don't need to hear your criticism.
  • Teach by example. You can't expect someone to listen to you extol the virtues of organization when you're a mess yourself. If you've changed your style from disorganized to organized, be willing to share the secrets behind your transformation.
  • Be patient and realize everyone is organized to a different degree. Keep in mind that if someone changes one bad organizing habit, his or her productivity will start to increase. Give that person time to make changes and offer encouragement when he or she makes an effort to get organized.

62. Bit by Bit
Organizing projects are best done one piece at a time. Follow these tips to whittle down each step in your process:

  • Determine the main areas you need to organize, and enter them on a list in your daily planner, handheld or contact manager.
  • Break these areas into smaller tasks, and enter those tasks on the list. Make the tasks small enough that they're manageable but not so small that they're insignificant.
  • Put a realistic deadline next to each task.
  • As you accomplish each task and organize various areas, remove the task from your list.
  • Avoid the tendency to bounce around your office from one area to another while organizing. When you focus on one area, you'll be able to accomplish more.

63. Clean Out Your Drawers
If you're buried under a pile of papers and your drawers are filled with more napkins, pen caps and sugar packets than usable office supplies, it may be time to clean out your desk. But where do you begin? Here are five steps to help you de-clutter your desk drawers:

  • Remove. Whatever your situation, the first step is to remove everything-take out all the pens, pencils, clips, sugar packs, tea bags, photos, keys and dried-up candy.
  • Sort. As you remove items, sort according to like items. Sorting shows that you have 87 pens and 830 clips. Ask yourself, "Do I really need so many?"
  • Eliminate. After you've discovered that 54 pens don't even work, or that the sugar packets are rock-hard, then you can eliminate the items directly into the trash or into a box labeled "to go elsewhere."
  • Contain. Stop and think-if you put all that stuff back into the drawer, it will soon be a jumbled mess again. Instead, keep those groups sorted and separated at all times by first containing them. If you put each group in a drawer divider or shallow box before placing them back in the drawer, they'll stay in one place.
  • Assign. Don't just stick the containers in the drawer. Assign them a place. Unassigned items simply float from place to place.

64. Write It Down
Experts recommend entrepreneurs employ not one but two to-do lists. The master list contains a maximum of three items of long-term importance, like "grow sales" or "get new customers." The second list contains day-to-day to-dos that represent tactical steps to completing those strategic to-dos.

Once you have your lists written, categorize all items, tagging them as projects, phone calls, errands, agenda items, work to be done at your computer or desk, things you can do anywhere, and items that aren't urgent.

Review your list items frequently to see if items are listed correctly and should be there to begin with. Working over your list in advance daily and weekly means that, when you consult your list, you don't have to rethink your commitment and your plan right then.

Don't forget to cross things off once you've completed them. Checking off your to-do list not only keeps you organized, but also shows exactly how much you've accomplished.

65. Get in Control!
To work productively and efficiently, you need to create a work environment that supports you. Regain control of your work life by following these steps:

  • 1. Create your vision of a clean work environment. Using your existing office space, sketch the ideal configuration of your office on paper. Remember to create a space for your old project files, financial statements and client information.
  • 2. Take one day, right now, and organize. You will never have the time to organize unless you schedule it on your calendar. Using your sketch as a guide, go after your mess.
  • 3. Unsubscribe from information overload. Throw away the magazines and catalogs you will never read-they just sit there and taunt you. Cancel unwanted subscriptions, and get off any mailing lists that do not help you achieve success.
  • 4. Create a new project file folder. A new project usually generates a temporary mess. To avoid spillover, put all new project information, drafts and associated paperwork into an expandable file folder.
  • 5.Schedule one cleanup day after every vacation. Add one day to your vacation to organize your thoughts, projects and priorities. A cleanup day lets you organize paperwork from previous projects, pay outstanding bills and answer client mail.

Take Your Sales Skills to the Next Level!

66. Dust Yourself Off
There isn't a salesperson alive who hasn't experienced a slump. If you find yourself coasting downhill, here are four steps to follow to pick yourself back up:

  • Call on your satisfied customers. Look for additional ways to satisfy their needs or new needs you can meet. Learn about their new problems and challenges, and come back to them with fresh solutions.
  • Concentrate on bread-and-butter accounts. Different accounts have different sales cycles, with some taking up to a few years. Sometimes, you get so caught up with landing big one that you forget about little accounts with shorter sales cycles that can bring in money now.
  • Stay on top of business and world news, and how these events might affect customers. Look for sources that will give you new ideas on how to fine-tune your activities and target your customers more efficiently. Read materials that will help you speak to your customers in their language. Learn more about how other people grew their businesses.
  • Be selective about the company you keep. If everyone around you is in a slump as well, you'll drag each other down. Surround yourself with people who are excited about what they do and ride on their momentum until you can build your own.

67. How'd I Do?
How can you improve if you don't find out where you went wrong and what you did right? Always ask for feedback. If you want to improve your sales presentations or your relationships with customers, ask them what you need to do to maintain and increase their business. While a great learning tool, asking for a customer's opinion is also a good way to show customers you care and are willing to work at solving problems. Asking for feedback can also save a customer relationship. While dissatisfied customers don't always complain, they very rarely buy from you a second time. 68. Listen Up!
One of the most important things you can do to become a better to seller is to become a better listener. You should be listening at least 50 percent of the time.

Improve your listening skills by taking notes, observing your prospect's body language, not jumping to conclusions and concentrating on what your prospect is saying. Also, track how much talking you're doing. If you're talking twice as much as your prospect, or more, it's time to take the backseat and listen.

69. Learn From Your Mistakes
While there's no way to completely avoid making mistakes, there are still plenty of ways to get the most out of the mistakes we do make. Here are three methods to deal with your mistakes:

  • Put your ego aside. It's easy to get angry or frustrated when things don't go your way, and hold on to the idea that it's someone else's fault things went wrong. But there's only one way to find out what the problem was-ask the customer. Listen to what they have to say and see if there's still time to save the sale.
  • Use a setback as a setup for future success. Let your errors be the motivation for making improvements the next time around. You've put in a lot of time and effort-and if you don't learn from what went wrong, all that time is wasted.
  • Take a proactive approach. Read everything you can about your profession, industry, products and services. Meet with people who have particular skills and talents and share information with them. Keeping your mind fine-tuned helps you eliminate making future mistakes.

70. What Not to Do
To sell smarter you need to eliminate all those things that waste your, and your customer's, time. How can you work more efficiently? Try steering clear of these time-wasters:

  • Dealing with people who can't make the buying decision. Make sure the person you're speaking to is a decision-maker. Don't be afraid to call the higher levels, even the president of your target company.
  • Working without a priority list. Make a top 10 list of your biggest accounts and a top 10 list of your biggest prospects. Look at this list every day to keep yourself focused so you can spend your energy on getting the best return on your investment.
  • Relying on technology rather than on relationships. Sales are made from relationships, and it's difficult to establish relationships on a computer screen. Keep e-mails short-remember they're great for passing information but can never take the place of one-on-one communication.

Protecting Your Business

71. Preparing for the Worst
In case of an emergency, such as a flood, fire or earthquake, it's tough for even the strongest of us to keep a level head. So why worry about what's going to happen to your clients, contacts and important documents in the heat of the moment? Why not start planning for disaster now? Here are four things to think about:

  • Business-interruption insurance and records reconstruction are good policies to look into. Although disaster insurance can be costly, it may also be worth checking out.
  • Be sure to back up all your crucial data and keep those files off site in a safe place. And be sure to check on them from time to time.
  • Make copies of important paperwork such as customer contracts, employee information and legal documents, and keep those off site as well.
  • Make sure that each of your outside vendors also has a disaster plan in place. You don't want your business adversely affected because one of your vendors hasn't planned ahead.

72. Peace of Mind
Just as you wouldn't drive a car without insurance, it's best not to open a business without some type of coverage. So where and how do you begin? Just follow the steps below to get your business covered.

  • Find an agent. Locating an agent to help you identify the right insurance at the right price should be a high priority for every new business owner.
  • Types of insurance. After you decide on an agent, sit down with him or her to consider what types of insurance you may need. These might include property, liability, auto, workers' compensation and business interruption insurance.
  • Research your options. As with any buying decision, comparison-shop insurance policies and coverage and make sure you understand what you're comparing.

Lastly, here are some general rules for insurance coverage:

  • Consider buying a combination policy that covers both property and liability coverage. This could save you some money.
  • Look for a small-business insurance package that includes a full range of coverage. This is often much cheaper than buying coverage from several different companies.
  • See what your trade or professional association, chamber of commerce or other business association offers for group insurance coverage. The buying power of a large group may mean lower rates for you.

73. Why Can't We Be Friends?
You just lost one of your employees-does that mean clients are soon to follow? It could if you didn't make employees sign a noncompete agreement.So what is this magic contract? What does it do? Who should sign it?

A noncompete agreement is a formal contract between you and your employees in which they promise not to use information or contacts pertinent to your business in a competing situation. This could mean going to work for a competitor or starting a competing business of their own.

Which employees should sign noncompete agreements? While the prerequisites vary from business to business, the following is a good general list. (The term "employees" in this list represents executive level, management, supervisory and non-management personnel that are relative to that example.)

  • Employees involved in research or product development.
  • Employees involved in the design, fabrication, engineering and manufacturing process.
  • Employees who service products made and sold by your company.
  • Sales and service employees who have regular contact with customers or sensitive customer information.
  • Employees with access to sensitive business information or trade secrets.
  • Most importantly, employees who have sufficient information about your business that would allow them to start a competing business.

74. Get It in Writing
If you're doing business with someone, whether as a client or a provider, you're going to need a contract. Ideally, you'd have a top law firm at your disposal to hammer these things out for you, but the reality for most entrepreneurs is that they have to do these things themselves.

So what should a contract say? Here are the essential elements of a business agreement:

  • The parties to the agreement. In other words, your business name and the name of the other party, whether that's a customer or a vendor.
  • What each party is going to gain from the agreement. This is referred to in legal vocabulary as consideration.
  • The main terms of the contract. For example, what each party is promising to do. Obviously, it's extremely important that this part of the contract be very specific and include such things as the work to be performed, the price to be paid for the work, how and when payment will be made, when the work will be completed, how long the contract will be in effect, and whether either party is "warranting" anything.
  • Execution. Be sure both parties sign the contract and that the person signing (if he or she is representing a company) has the authority to sign.
  • Date. This is the date the contract is signed.
  • Delivery. Make sure each party receives a copy of the final signed agreement.

75. It's the Thought That Counts
Assets such as intellectual property, trade secrets, pricing formulas, customer lists, business plans, recipes and the like are typically the foundation upon which a company is built in a business world full of copycat competitors.

Here are five ways to protect the ideas, designs and plans that make your business unique:

  • Patents, copyrights and trademarks. These are legal filings that document your ownership and create certain legal protections to help you protect your property. Have your attorney assist you with these applications.
  • Confidentiality or nondisclosure agreements. These documents commit a party to keeping specified data and information confidential and out of the hands of unintended parties. Always consult an attorney on this.
  • Employment agreements. These agreements stipulate that all company assets are proprietary and that unauthorized disclosure of confidential information such as pricing formulas, customer lists and other data and information is prohibited.
  • Computer passwords, safes and locked file cabinets. When used properly, they can restrict access to proprietary information.
  • Data backup. Back up everything that is important. Digital documents should be backed up on a server that's in a different location or on a zip disk or CD that's kept offsite along with copies of important physical documents. Absolutely do not attempt to store anything important in your head.
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