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When your employees ask for help, how you respond can either empower them to find a solution or make them dependent on your input. One simple response consistently empowers employees: answering with a question instead of a statement.

"The most common mistake managers make when helping a direct report solve a problem is a knee-jerk reaction to deliver an answer," says LeeAnn Renninger, director of LifeLabs, a Manhattan-based professional development and research organization, which offers a class on this technique.

The problem with advice is that employees don't learn to solve problems independently. They rely on you for answers. Beyond that, advice conveys a lack of confidence in someone's ability to find a solution, so it erodes your employees' self-assurance.

LifeLabs has found, through extensive research, that extraordinary managers ask more questions. "Instead of simply giving an answer, they help their direct reports clarify and deepen their own thinking," Renninger says. "It quickly increases the performance of their team."

Related: Inside Employee Motivation: Does Money Really Make a Difference?

Thoughtful questions can move a meeting past a stuck point, uncover overlooked patterns, inspire innovation, and motivate employees. Plus, a team with a manager that asks more questions has higher work satisfaction and a greater sense of unity.

Here are four exercises to help you start asking more questions: 

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If you've ever tried searching Facebook for a specific piece of information, you know how clunky it can be. You might have to navigate to multiple pages before you find it, and even then it may not be exactly what you're looking for.

Facebook took a big step this week in making search within the social network much easier by announcing the launch of Graph Search. Graph Search is an internal search engine that allows you to find things based on the interests and recommendations of friends and also their friends. You'll be able to search on things like restaurants, movies you should see, businesses you might like or photos of your friends taken in a specific city. For example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained how you can search for "Indian restaurants liked by my friends from India" or "my friends who live in Palo Alto, California and like Game of Thrones." If you're recruiting for a specific job, you could search for friends of a particular person who works at the company you're recruiting for.

So what does it mean to businesses selling a product or service? It's important for a couple of reasons:

1. Purchase decisions. People who search for things on the web tend to be in a purchasing mindset so there's never been a more important time to ensure your business is on Facebook.

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Although local advertising may seem synonymous with small-business, the majority of the money that's spent on local advertising comes from national brands. And with Google reporting that 50% of its mobile search is for local content (compared with about 17% of its desktop search), local advertising increasingly means mobile advertising.

So what can small-business owners learn from the big guys? Representatives from national brands and powerhouse ad agencies addressed the triumphs and troubles that national brands have faced in their attempts in hyperlocal mobile advertising at the "Big Brands Go Local" panel at this week's Street Fight Summit in Manhattan. Here are the five take-aways for your business -- no matter the size.

1. Make your copy personal. Local mobile advertising allows you to talk directly to a particular type of consumer-- know who you are talking to and what they care about. Highlight what you do well that they are interested in. And consider how it's going to be displayed -- both on smartphones and tablets.

2. Combine digital and traditional advertising tactics. Look at your advertising strategy for potential to cross promote across different types of media. Sean Muzzy CEO of Neo@Ogilvy, the digital media arm of advertising giant Ogilvy, gave the example of Ticketmaster's successful mobile push to drive customers to use of kiosks in Walmart

Entrepreneurs by their nature are jacks of all trades. But the most successful among them have mastered trading advice on how to succeed.

At Entrepreneur Media's 5th annual Growth Conference in Dallas, entrepreneurs Limor Fried, Jason Lucash and Bryan Silverman were each awarded the publication's top honors and were asked to share some insights with our readers.

Here's the advice they had for aspiring business owners:

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For companies that want to advertise their brands and products online, Google Adwords is possibly the most popular tool, offering pay-per-click and site-targeted options across many types of ads.

But if Adwords is out of your budget (Adwords pricing depends on the keyword categories you use in your ads) or you're simply not a huge fan of Google, the good news is there are several other online advertising platforms to choose from that are equally effective in enhancing your brand awareness and boosting traffic to your website.

Here's a look at four alternatives to using Google Adwords:

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No company founder can be on the ground all of the time, fully aware of every employee's performance and interactions at every turn. As a result, you may be missing important interactions, strengths and weaknesses that can tell you a lot about an employee's potential.

Some companies have turned to peer review systems -- either on their own or as part of a 360-degree review program which includes other components such as self-review and assessments by managers.

Peer reviews allow an employee's colleagues to assess the individual's performance. They can provide important insight into how employees interact with each other, including employees who have quietly emerged as leaders within the ranks without the accompanying formal title.

Related: The Best Ways to Praise Your Employees

However, these review systems can also be subjective, with employees letting personality issues and competition color their feedback. Joe Shaheen, managing principal of Human Alliance, a Washington, DC human resources consulting firm, weighs in with four ways to make these systems more effective. 

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In recent years, cloud computing services have made it more affordable and easier than ever for entrepreneurs to start up and run their businesses. But a report released today from Symantec highlights some potential costs of moving to the cloud that may bite the unprepared.

Symantec, in its 2013 State of the Cloud Survey, surveyed more than 3,000 organizations across 29 countries and found certain problems coming up again and again. "The benefits of the cloud are tremendous," says Tom Powledge, the vice president of products and services for Symantec's cloud and small-business group, but you have to take precautions to protect yourself.

Before moving key business functions to the cloud, the first step is to decide which areas of your business you want to entrust to a cloud service. Email management is the most common, with entrepreneurs ditching Microsoft Outlook and similar programs for web-hosted services such as Gmail. Once you've figured out what you want to move to the cloud, it's time to start researching compliance issues and determining how to manage the flow of data.

Related: 3 Tips for Keeping Data Safe in the Cloud (Infographic)

Few entrepreneurs know how to grow a business into a multimillion-dollar powerhouse better than Barbara Corcoran. So it's only fitting that the founder of the successful real-estate firm The Corcoran Group offered up the keynote address at Entrepreneur Media’s 5th annual Growth Conference in Dallas last week.

The event drew in close to 700 attendees -- mostly eager to hear of Corcoran's business blunders and travails, as well as her dazzling-success story. If you don't already know, Corcoran -- famously, at this point if you watch Shark Tank -- built up her towering New York City real-estate firm from just $1,000. After 30 years in business, she sold the company for $66 million.

But rather than offer the standard advice about passion, execution and innovation to conference attendees -- some of whom hailed from such far-flung places as the Ukraine and Brussels -- Corcoran opened up. Not only did she talk about being that awkward kid growing up in New Jersey, she unlocked the vault by revealing several of her top sales tips.
Here are just three of the stand-outs:

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Look at your desk. Is it scattered with unread papers? Adorned with family photos? Do you have toys that help you think? The way you organize and decorate your desk reveals a surprising amount of information about who you are.

At the office, we arrange our spaces to communicate our attitudes, goals, and values. As a business leader, your employees' desks can help you understand and motivate them more effectively. "People want to be known," says Sam Gosling, psychologist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You (Basic Books, 2009). "You're healthier, happier, and more productive when others see you as you are."

Take a look at your employees' desks. What does the space look like? What personal objects are there? "It’s really important to look for themes," Gosling says. Focus on the objects that seem consistent and permanent.

Here are a few easy things to look for, along with what they reveal about personality:

1. An organized desk says... you’re dependable and timely.

People with organized desks tend to be more conscientious, meaning that they are reliable, task oriented people who plan well and get their work done on time. "When I go into a space, I look for a calendar first," Gosling says, since an up-to-date, used desk calendar is another sign of a conscientious person.

Having a messy desk isn't a bad thing (creative people often do), but others may judge you incorrectly. "When people see a messy office, they infer that the person is disagreeable, which is not necessarily true," Gosling says. "My hunch is that the mess is unpleasant [to look at], so they assume the person is inconsiderate." 

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When it comes to keeping financial documents, a policy of "better safe than sorry" often makes for a messy and disorganized office. Professional organizer Regina Leeds had a client who had been traumatized by an IRS audit. As a result, she saved everything. 

"Every billing statement, every letter, every receipt– I couldn’t get her to part with a single piece of paper," says Leeds, author of One Year to an Organized Financial Life (Da Capo Press, 2008). "She had boxes of receipts going back decades."

While Leeds says there are financial documents you should keep for life, most can be held three years or less. Here are some quick guidelines on how long to hold the most common small business financial documents:

Safe to Shred
Unless it shows proof of a deductible expense, many documents and receipts can be shredded monthly or annually, says Leeds. For entrepreneurs, these include:

  • ATM receipts and deposit slips after they’ve been reconciled with your bank statement
  • Monthly and quarterly bank statements if year-end statements are received
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Your company is filled with creative employees. Some of them are easy to pinpoint and many others are brimming with untapped potential that can help your business thrive in an ever-changing market. Many companies unintentionally hinder creativity, so learning how to motivate creative employees can give you an advantage over your competition.

The way you treat creative employees has a snowball effect on the organization as a whole. "Companies forget that employees talk [to each other]," says James Berry, an entrepreneur and management professor at University College London. "The positive and negative effects of [a company's response to] creativity often spiral, so you want them to spiral in a positive direction."

By creating a culture that inspires creativity, you can motivate employees from all areas of the company to offer more ideas. That diversity improves your idea pool and increases your chance of success.

Try these four tips to motivate creative employees and encourage innovation:

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This week's need-to-know social media news.

Entrepreneurs of any age could learn a thing or two from Zach Marks of Melbourne Beach, Fla., about turning obstacles into opportunities. The 12-year-old has launched Grom Social, a free social network for teenagers and preteens under age 17. His motivation? Getting kicked off Facebook -- twice -- for violating the age restriction.

After borrowing $2,500 from his older brother, Marks set to work on his own social network, which now boasts Instagram and Twitter integration, and free educational content for kids -- even tutors to help with homework. As of last month, the new site had nearly 7,000 members.

Should the network take off, it could pull younger users away from Facebook. Meanwhile, Grom Social or another kid-friendly social network may itself become a gold mine for toy companies and other youth-focused advertisers and marketers. -- AppNewser

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Luck. Perseverance. Success.

These were all topics billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson discussed recently in a video interview with LinkedIn executive editor Daniel Roth. Branson was the first among the professional network's "Influencers" to cross the million-follower mark.

LinkedIn launched the Influencer network in October, allowing a select group of thought leaders in business to write posts and LinkedIn members to follow them. Other LinkedIn influencers include Barack Obama, Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and Guy Kawasaki.

In the interview, Branson answered a sampling of questions submitted by LinkedIn members. Here are some highlights:

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Selling properties to professional athletes is a niche that Birmingham, Mich-based realtor Jason Abrams discovered by accident. 

"I got a referral from a colleague to help an NFL player who was moving to Detroit," he says. "I later learned that the average homeowner moves once every seven years -- the average athlete, however, moves five times in nine years. I decided to find a way to receive more of those leads."

Almost eight years later, he's sold dozens of homes to clients like Derrick Morgan of the NFL's Tennessee Titans and Greivis Vasquez of the NBA's New Orleans Hornets. His jet-setting work as sports realtor is the subject of HGTV's new reality show Scoring the Deal

Abrams shares five tips for getting and keeping high-profile clients:

1. Know the 'in.' When selling a product or service to an athlete or celebrity, Abrams says it's all about referrals. "You won't get far going directly to the client," he says. "Instead, you need to build relationships with trusted sources of the client. For example, find a way to connect with an agent or financial advisor. If you can get these people sold on you, you have a much better chance of getting a referral."

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A roundup of the best tips of the week from Entrepreneur.com.

Most entrepreneurs have some idea of how important it is to choose the right legal entity for their business, but they may be unaware of the implications for their personal finances. Let's say you want to start a company, but you know it won't make any money in its first year. Many states, including California, would force you to pay a minimum tax out of your personal finances to cover your business obligation that year.

If you organize your business as a sole proprietorship, on the other hand, you won't have to pay a minimum tax, but you can be held personally liable for business debts. This is just one possible scenario. Look into your state's laws regarding business entities and, if necessary, speak with an accountant before locking yourself into a structure that isn't ideal. More: 6 Things About Money You May Not Think About -- But Should 

Tap into your emotions.
Don't let yourself get trapped behind "the veil of the professional role" which demands a buttoned-up reserve, says performance coach Achim Nowak. When you need to inspire your employees or clients, act as you do around your friends and family. In other words, act like a human being and let your emotions show. More: How to Be a More Charismatic Leader

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