11 Easy Tasks a Virtual Assistant Can Do to Help You Become More Productive

Your time is valuable. What is one way to leverage a virtual assistant to streamline your tasks and make yourself more productive?

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1. Email Triage

Having a virtual assistant who can answer customer support emails and manage your inbox is a lifesaver! You’ll want to work closely the first few weeks to set parameters, but allow them to handle easy requests like booking appointments, sending information and declining requests to “meet for coffee.” Over time you’ll be in your inbox less and less, freeing up valuable time.

– Kelly AzevedoShe’s Got Systems

2. Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping is one of the most important tasks a virtual assistant can help manage. Having someone keep tabs on bills, invoicing, payroll and other financial matters is imperative. By outsourcing your bookkeeping system to a virtual assistant, you can free up significant time each week. Not only are bills paid on time, but you increase the likelihood of finding financial inaccuracies sooner.

– Dave NevogtHubstaff.com

3. Delegation of All Admin Tasks

Give your smaller tasks and admin to your virtual assistant: setting appointments, tidying inboxes, creating reminders. These are great uses of a virtual assistant. If you end up in a lot of remote calls, having them on board to take minutes and make key action notes is a great way to free up your mental space for the meetings.

– Nicole MunozStart Ranking Now

4. Organization

I utilize a VA for simple yet somewhat tedious tasks that require time and organization. I will create and share a screencast video of a process for ongoing tasks that need to be constantly organized, and I will send that along with full instructions to the VA. This way there is no confusion and I can be confident knowing that tasks that take time from my schedule will be completed properly.

– Stanley MeytinTrue Film Production

5. Social Media Content Creation

Social media requires daily attention to grow your followers. You could have a virtual assistant focus on creating image overlays for Facebook using Canva.com and pinnable images on Pinterest.

– Syed BalkhiOptinMonster

6. Any Tasks That Fit Skills

I’ve found that virtual assistants are very flexible to take on all types of roles, including typing up all strategic documents, transcribing video conferences and handling all types of administrative work that frees me up to focus on bigger picture items.

– Zach BinderRanklab

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7. Project Management and Follow-Ups

I use a virtual assistant whose job it is to follow up on all delegated tasks, make sure tasks are not overdue and send out follow-ups when employees or freelancers are behind on their tasks. Instead of having to spend a lot of my time following up on tasks assigned to others and making sure that tasks and projects are moving along, the virtual assistant will take care of that, making them invaluable.

– Marcela De VivoBrilliance

8. Appointments, Orders and Digital Paperwork

I use a virtual assistant to handle all my personal and professional appointments, do any product ordering or online shopping I need done, and fill in, file and take care of any digital paperwork. This saves me so much time and is well worth having this kind of support.

– Peter DaisymeDue

9. Tasks You Do Not Need to Be Doing

There’s a good chance you already know what they are. It could be trying to move a graphic a pixel over on your website or trying to schedule and post things to WordPress. Get someone to handle the simple tasks so you can free yourself up to do more big-picture thinking.

– Ismael WrixenFE International

10. Calls and Scheduling

My company has depended on virtual assistants to answer our calls for years. Before I was able to afford front-desk associates, I relied on virtual assistants to book all of my appointments so that I never missed a call while I was in a session. Now, we still use their services for client relationship management, reminder calls and appointment bookings when my front desk is unavailable.

– Rachel BeiderMassage Greenpoint, Massage Williamsburg

11. Routine, Repetitive and Time-Consuming Tasks

If you don’t have an assistant, you probably are an assistant to yourself. Getting one could be an excellent way to magically get more hours in this mythical 40-hour work week. If you already do 80 hours per week, that’s the time to review your workload, identify repeatable tasks and delegate them to a virtual assistant. Start with the most time-consuming and often-recurring chores.

– Andrey KudievskiyDistillery

 

Article Originally Posted in Noobpreneur

My article for Business Collective on The Rise of Workplace Wellness and How You Can Take Advantage

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Your customers and clients may be experiencing more stress these days, giving your small business an opportunity to cater to their wellness needs.

Stress has always been a driving force in the wellness industry, but we seem to have moved past just personal stress to a collective, politically-induced stress. No longer are people simply seeking to remedy relationship or financial troubles; stress about politics and the security of the future is becoming more and more common. As a business consultant for wellness practices and the owner of two massage studios in New York City, I have seen this trend unfold firsthand.

Like many, I was exhausted by last year’s tumultuous election, so imagine my surprise when I learned that it was actually great for business. I first noticed an uptick in client bookings in the fall of 2016 and my sessions — which are typically pretty quiet — became more lively as clients voiced their worries and concerns about politics. Stress and anxiety commonly manifest themselves in physical ailments like muscle tension, TMJ (jaw tension from teeth clenching), headaches, insomnia and fatigue, which are problems we treat frequently.

I had a feeling that trying to deduce electoral math and being glued to Facebook, cable news and Twitter were physically impacting my clients and the demand for my business. The numbers proved me right: We saw a 20% increase in new clients in Q4 of last year and in the week after the inauguration, we saw an additional 50% surge in bookings — and there’s no sign of it slowing down. The demand has been so high that we’re adding additional employees to our roster.

At the same time, I saw a growing trend in the corporate world as blue chip companies like Aetna and Facebook adopted progressive workplace wellness programs, and media mogul Arianna Huffington launched Thrive Global, a wellness company dedicated to helping companies and employees reduce burnout. At a time when people were dealing with a new kind of post-election stress, I felt wellness was reaching an audience that hadn’t previously been tuned in.

Growing a business isn’t without trial and error, and there are specific challenges that small practices should keep in mind when catering to stressed out clients. Keep these tips in mind to capitalize on the latest wellness trend:

Don’t Be Afraid of the Big Fish

Just because your business is small, that doesn’t mean you can’t work with a large company or corporation. Small businesses can reach new audiences and build partnerships by offering services to large companies and coordinating office wellness events. We have partnered with Red Bull, WeWork and Whole Foods to offer chair massages to employees for on-site stress relief.

Companies are interested in the benefits of having wellness services at work, which can keep insurance costs down and boost employee productivity. With just a few practitioners, your business can reach a new customer base that wouldn’t otherwise discover your practice. When approaching a new partner, make sure to tailor your approach and market the specific benefits that they can expect from working with you.

Diversify, Diversify, Diversify

At a time when customers are becoming savvier in the wellness space, it’s important to diversify your services. Consider including massage, reflexology, acupuncture, aromatherapy, reiki and alternative wellness treatments. Before seeking new talent, look at the expertise you already have in house: Many practitioners are trained in multiple disciplines but don’t always promote all of their areas of expertise.

You Absolutely Cannot Skimp on Talent

This is imperative. For small businesses to stand out in the wellness space, it’s critical to hire excellent staff members who can provide high-quality care. This is important for all service-based industries, but even more so for practitioners who have close relationships with their clients. This is the easiest way to keep retention rates up and your clients coming back.

To make sure that your guests are getting the most out of their experience, consider using client feedback software or post-treatment surveys. A great practitioner will have a consistently high client retention rate.

Focus on Consistency

One of the biggest challenges small businesses will face as they grow in the wellness space is maintaining consistency and a high caliber of customer service. Our clients know exactly what to expect from each visit, so we are confident they will want to return. Having a clear manual of operations goes a long way in helping keep things running smoothly, and I always encourage clients to speak up if they are unhappy with their service.

Aim to Exceed Client Expectations

When your goal is to help your clients cope with pain and stress, I encourage my team to aim to exceed a client’s expectations. Just because you provide excellent service, that doesn’t mean their ailment will vanish, so we provide clients with additional information and therapy for self-care at home. I’ll frequently recommend specific stretches or strengthening exercises that become integral to a client’s daily routine. We also collaborate with other practitioners, such as acupuncturists, chiropractors, physical therapists and pilates instructors. It’s important to create an atmosphere where practitioners feel like they can and should go the extra mile for their clients.

Though there is uncertainty about the future, it appears that the trend toward wellness is here to stay.

Published on 9/6 in Business Collective

14 Unconventional Ways to Increase Social Media Engagement

I contributed to this Influencive Article about unconventional ways to increase social engagement:

With the number of social media users expected to reach 2.46 billion this year, no sane marketer can ignore these platforms for growing a business’ target audience, client base and revenue. But how can you stand out from the competition?

Aside from the obvious advice such as generating high-quality content geared toward your target audience, there are other, more unconventional tactics to differentiate your brand. Below, 15 members of the Young Entrepreneur Council give their best advice on social media engagement.

 

#1 Tag Someone You Love

When we post something relevant, we ask our followers to tag someone they love. When they do this, it helps give someone they care about the warm and fuzzies, and it has a viral contingent for us. Strategically doing posts like this a few times a month helped grow our Instagram channel to almost 50k highly engaged followers in a year. —Mark Krassner,Expectful


#2 Get People Riled Up

People love to be a part of a conversation. Give them a reason to. Ask questions where they can voice their opinion and engage. Think of topics that are hot buttons, such as Chevy vs. Ford in the automotive world. What things in your industry draw opinion preference people want to talk about? —Jeff CayleyWorldwide Cyclery

 

#3 Use Direct Messenger

Allowing the messenger service to be used and leaving it open throughout different parts of the day has been great. I schedule time to talk directly with prospects and it’s turned into greater engagement once they realize they can chat like this and get an immediate response. —Peter DaisymeDue

 

#4 Be Punny

I engage in wordplay as often as possible. Using puns appropriately is a great way to make the content creative, and your followers appreciate the time it took to think about what you are saying. Putting extra effort into the words you use is a small, scalable change that makes an enormous impact. A good pun elicits an emotion or feeling of amusement that resonates with your viewer. —Matthew CapalaSearch Decoder

 

#5 Do Facebook Live AMAs

I began a series of 100 episodes of Facebook Live Ask Me Anything, which has helped me more than double my engagement with followers. During these AMAs, the questions asked by fellow entrepreneurs and those in the world of digital marketing always expand into something bigger due to responses by others. This strategy works because it’s ultimately based on educating over just conversing. —Kristopher JonesLSEO.com

 

#6 Ask Interesting Questions

Rather than always providing lots of content, I find that people engage with our social media when we post intriguing questions that people want to answer. Hearing our online community provide insight and share their experience is a really nice way to stay connected and learn more about our clients. —Rachel BeiderMassage Greenpoint, Massage Williamsburg

 

#7 Use Facebook Groups

Use Facebook Groups to let your followers connect and interact with one another. It’s essentially like a built-in discussion forum for your audience. This basically allows you to increase engagement with your brand without having to do much legwork at all. You may want to monitor the discussions from time to time, though, just to see what’s being said. —Andrew SchrageMoney Crashers Personal Finance

 

#8 Post Unrelated Stories and Pictures

We are a tech company. However, we create several posts in our social media strategy that has nothing to do with technology—mainly related to lifestyle and events. These posts really help us win followers. We recently posted about healthcare and technology, earning a lot of followers and generating likes from existing followers. —Piyush JainSIMpalm

 

#9 Ask for Expertise

People like to think they are smart—it’s a pretty natural feeling to enjoy. So, if you’re trying to increase engagement with your social posts, get people to think they are experts. Ask somewhat broad questions and let people weigh in, but try and get something out of it. If you can grab an email address in exchange for people voicing their favorite tips and tricks, then you’ve won. —Bryce WelkerCrush The CPA Exam

 

#10 Hold a Facebook Caption Contest

Our company hosts a weekly photo caption contest on Facebook. Our social media manager scours photos related to our industry, then posts an amusing one on Facebook each Friday. People write funny captions and the five most “liked” captions are voted on. The winner earns free products. This contest has grown to thousands of responses each week and has created a huge community in itself! —Diego OrjuelaCables & Sensors

 

#11 Tag People or Companies

A great way to reach additional people with social media posts—e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn—is to strategically tag people with certain levels of influence, etc., to posts. This alerts them to the post and they are more prompted to share it. Furthermore, if you tag someone on LinkedIn, LinkedIn will proactively share your post to that person’s connections. —Adelyn ZhouTOPBOTS

 

#12 Use Instagram Live

Instagram Live is a really intriguing method to engage followers. Being raw and unedited in front of your followers demonstrates your willingness to step up at any time, and it gives them a behind-the-scenes feel, which is exciting. —Abhilash PatelAbhilash.co

 

#13 Post a Binary Puzzle for Engineers

Instead of posting the usual boring “congratulations” with upcoming holidays, we designed an old-fashioned binary code card that our core audience loved. It’s not for everyone and apparently worked well in a technology-focused community. It was a fun and unusual way to ask people to solve a puzzle without actually doing that! —Andrey KudievskiyDistillery

 

#14 Offer Thought Leadership

The common idea right now is that to achieve a following, you have to be proactive and say things just for attention. But if you live by that sword, you die by it. I have unconventionally decided to never tweet and to instead express my views in thought pieces where I am more fully able to express myself and my ideas. —Paul GrossingerGaingels

With Preparation and Delegation, Entrepreneurs Can Enjoy Their Summer Vacation

I contributed to this article in Huffington Post via YEC:

Warming weather — and students out of school — mean more employees will be out seeking some down time in order to unwind with family and friends away from the office. As business slows, it offers a chance for company leaders to step away from the office for a little while and recharge. This is important, as going top speed all the time is detrimental to both health and success. Letting go, though, isn’t easy: It requires both preparation and delegation. Here are some ways entrepreneurs can ensure they can take that summer vacation.

A. Treat Your Company Like a Pet, not a Baby

Your company isn’t a baby, it’s more like a pet. You can leave it at home for a few hours. You can have someone else watch it for a week while you’re away. If you’re too precious with it and holding it too tightly, you’re not really able to take care of yourself and have time away, which is essential. - Rachel BeiderMassage Greenpoint, Massage Williamsburg

A. Delegate and Trust Your Team

Delegation is the name of the vacation game. Too many times owners simply don’t understand how important true delegation is, and instead they give their managers and staff very few responsibilities. Your team should be able to run the business in your absence; if you leave and the business falls apart, you’re failing as an owner. Delegate and trust your team, and take the break you deserve. - Blair ThomaseMerchantBroker

A. Don’t Be Indispensable

No team member should be indispensable. Business experts talk about the bus factor or key person risk of a business: How many people would have to be hit by a bus for the business to be in trouble? Entrepreneurs should make sure their business’s bus factor is as high as possible. If there is redundancy for every role, taking a vacation shouldn’t be a problem. - Vik PatelFuture Hosting

A. Leverage Your Mental Prime Time

The key to taking a summer vacation as an entrepreneur is to be extremely productive with your work time. Identify when you are the most productive, and focus on the tasks that are the highest priority to complete during that time. To do so, eliminate distractions — such as calls and emails — and instead use the time you are at your mental best to accomplish your most important tasks. - Doug BendBend Law Group, PC

A. Get Stuff Done Ahead of Time

Get as much work done as possible before your planned vacation. Assign out all of your responsibilities to specific employees. Let your vendors and other business contacts know that you’ll be away so they don’t think you’re ignoring them while you’re gone. Wrap up any loose ends right before you leave, and enjoy. - Andrew SchrageMoney Crashers Personal Finance

A. Put a Few Vacations on the Calendar

I always need to cancel a couple of vacations a year. During the summer, I’ll put a couple of weeks and a few long weekends on the calendar with the expectation that I’ll need to cancel one or more of them. Putting the dates on the calendar early gives me a much higher chance of success. Another tactic that works: Book an international flight! - Mitch GordonGo Overseas

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A. Schedule Work and Launches Before or After Summer

Summer is really a good time to take a vacation for entrepreneurs because their audience may be less likely to be around during that time anyway. The fall, winter, and spring are ideal for product launches, promotions and other significant business activity. When you look at the year in quarters, you can easily carve out vacation time in the summer. - Zach BinderRanklab

A. Conduct a Trial Run

So you’ve built your business from the ground up, never taken a day off, and you’re unsure what will happen if you take a vacation. Work to set up procedures so your team knows how to handle everything without you. Work “on” your business, not “in” it. Then test it! Conduct a trial run by taking one or two days off, and let your team prove themselves. After that, progressively lengthen the time you’re gone. - Kyle GoguenPawstruck

A. Play the Role of Traffic Cop, but Don’t Create Work

I’ve tried to have vacations where I completely unplug, but I find that I’m stressed knowing that work is piling up. My new approach is to play traffic cop. I don’t “create work:” i.e., I won’t start a new project. But I stay connected and make sure to unblock the team. If they need me, I’m responsive. And if an outsider needs help, I direct them to the right employee. - Aaron SchwartzModify Watches

A. Turn Off Email Notifications

It’s important that when you’re taking a vacation that you really take one. If you instead spend most of your vacation time checking your emails and worried about the status of the business while you’re away, you’re not giving yourself the break that you need. Being better at your job depends on finding balance, so it’s important to make that balance possible. - Kelsey MeyerInfluence & Co.

A. Respect Your Boundaries

Internally respecting your own boundaries will help your clients and associates respect your boundaries too. Once you learn that a break gives you mental space and improves your productivity, you’ll give vacations a priority. No one can operate at a high level of productivity all the time. Recognize that breaks will only help, and make sure you have a clear plan for delegation. - Marcela De VivoBrilliance

A. Relax and Let Go

It’s more of a mental thing versus logistics. It’s letting go, realizing you need the break and that business will carry on without you. There’s always a will if you look hard enough. Most entrepreneurs believe it can’t go on without them, but really can for a week or even longer. Get over that belief and enjoy the time off. - Drew HendricksButtercup

HOW JOURNALING CAN MAKE YOU A BETTER MASSAGE THERAPIST (A SIMPLE 3-STEP PROCESS TO GET STARTED)

I contributed to this article in Massage Magazine by Christina DeBusk

When it comes to journaling, people tend to either love it or hate it, according to those who frequently write about the subject.

If you love it, then you likely already know the value this particular activity can provide.

But if you fall into the latter category and just can’t seem to get yourself to sit down and put your feelings on paper, you might just change your mind once you understand how much this one action can benefit you and your massage therapy business.

Benefits of Journaling as a Massage Therapist

Journaling is probably best known for its psychological benefits. New York’s University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) lists a few of them on its website, some of which include: easing anxiety, reducing stress and relieving depression.

URMC also stresses how journaling has positive effects on your mood. This is beneficial in massage therapy because most clients prefer a happy therapist versus a therapist who seems angry or sad.

A good mood tends to be contagious, enabling you to have an even more positive effect on the health and welfare of your clients.

Basically, when you’re relaxed and in a good place mentally as a massage therapist, your clients will find it easier to be more relaxed and in a better mental space when they’re with you. You’re also better able to focus on reading your client’s body, because you won’t be sidetracked by negative emotions floating in and out of your head during your massage sessions.

Journaling has physical benefits as well. In an article published by Psych CentralMaud Purcell, L.C.S.W., C.E.A.P., shares that research confirms this , noting that various studies have connected the act of journaling with healthier immune cell response, fewer symptomatic issues with conditions like asthma, and partial relief of chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Additionally, in February 2010, a literature review was published in the American Journal of Public Health and it looked at a variety of creative outlets and the impact they had on physical health.

What the researchers discovered is that those who express themselves regularly have reported experiencing greater control of their physical pain, less fatigue, fewer sleep issues and improvements related to physical disabilities, just to name a few.

How can you enjoy all of these benefits, mental and physical, especially if you’re new to the art journaling?

Fortunately, the answer to this question is fairly simple as it involves following a short, 3-step process.

Step 1: Decide Your Journaling Type

Typically when people hear the word “journal,” they envision a notebook full of lines, which is where you place your thoughts, feelings and concerns expressed in words. While this traditional form of journaling is probably still one of the most used formats today, other types of journals do exist. One is a visual journal.

Covers from Kathy Morelli’s visual journal

A visual journal is a journal where you use images, pictures, shapes and patterns to convey whatever is on your mind. Kathy Morelli, L.M.T., C.A., L.P.C., is both a massage therapist and a licensed professional counselor in Wayne, New Jersey, and she says that she has been visual journaling for almost 50 years, starting when she was just 12 years old.

“I write and also use magazine pictures, oils pastels, markers, and colored pencils to express fluid emotionality, in a right brain type of way,” says Morelli. “This helps me ground myself, to think things through, [and] to explore issues with both my right and left brain … logically and emotionally.”

How do you know which type of journal—a word journal or a visual journal—is right for you?

If you find it relatively easy to communicate what you’re feeling and thinking using your language of choice, then a word journal is probably the way to go.

However, if you find more release in creating some type of imagery, such as by painting or drawing, then you’ll probably find a visual journal more helpful to getting your feelings out.

Step 2: Determine Your Journal Size (Think Logistics)

A second factor to consider when journaling is logistics. In other words, what size journal will work best for you given wherever it is you intend to use it?

Ideally, you don’t want one that is so big that you’ll never get it out and use it, but you also don’t want one so small that you’re constantly losing or misplacing it.

Morelli says that, while her journal of choice is actually a large spiral sketchbook, she does have more than one, keeping an 8 x 11-inch journal for travel and a larger 16 x 25-inch journal for home. When selecting the size of your journal then, think about where it is you intend to journal and make your decision from there.

If you will always journal at home, for instance, then you can probably get away with something that is larger in size because you won’t have to move it.

Or, you can do what Morelli does and use two, one for travel and one for when you’re in the comfort of your own surroundings.

Step 3: Ask (And Answer) the Right Questions

Once you have your journal and are ready to use it, the next and final step is to decide what you’re going to journal about. Rachel Beider, L.M.T., is the owner of Massage Williamsburg, and she says that, while she uses her small, portable notebook to help her “stay on top of my dreams, goals, and emotional check-ins,” it’s the questions that she answers in her journal that help push her in the right direction.

“A question that often comes up for me as inspiration to journal is: What has shifted?” shares Beider. “Sometimes noticing these small, subtle changes is helpful for me and helps me answer much bigger questions while staying on a path that’s true to my values and goals.”

Essentially, this is the heart of journaling, which is to figure out what is going on inside of you mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This helps you correct any problems you face, resolve any impending issues that have been bothersome, and ease your troubled mind.

When all is said and done, journaling not only makes you feel better mentally and physically, but it also helps you become a better massage therapist, keeping you in tune with yourself so you can also be more in tune with your clients. That makes it an action that is worth doing, even if you don’t initially like it.

Who knows? You may just change your mind when you see what a positive impact it has on your personal and professional life.

12 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Acting on a New Business Venture

Photo by tran-mau-tri-tam

Photo by tran-mau-tri-tam

I contributed to this Huffington Post Article:

“Eureka” moments can hit entrepreneurs hard. After all, it’s natural to see opportunities where others don’t. But before you decide to act on that new business idea, you need to make sure it’s not just a flash-pan plan. In order to help you decide, ask yourself the following questions:

A. Is it a product or a business?

A lot of great ideas out there make great products, but creating a business is quite different. Whether your idea is a product or a business changes the way you should proceed. For products, focus on getting the product to market and maximize sells. For a business, think about the bigger picture of putting together a growth strategy, building a team and creating a defensible position. - Andy KohmVendOp

A. Have I done the research?

Doing the research and talking to your potential customers now before you start is much cheaper than after. A lot of work actually needs to get done before you officially start acting on your next business idea and research is the bulk of it. So before you dive head first, ask yourself: Have I talked to my potential customers? Is this something they want? - Christopher SwenorEast Coast Product

A. Is there value in solving this problem?

Business ideas are a dime a dozen, but successful businesses aren’t built on ideas alone. The idea has to solve a real problem and the solution has to create enough value for people to be willing to pay for it. Make sure the value is there before you waste time, money and opportunities building castles in the air. Lack of product-market fit has caused the demise of many a startup. - Vik PatelFuture Hosting

A. Am I ready for the sacrifice and risk?

Assuming you’ve already validated your idea, being an entrepreneur comes with big sacrifices which can undermine your success if you’re not ready. You have to sacrifice time with family and friends, and the security of that regular paycheck will be gone. Oftentimes I think about the early struggles when I started my first company. I never had to beg, borrow or steal until I became an entrepreneur. - Tim MaliyilAlertBoot

A. Can I scale?

The core business idea will be the single-most important step in building a successful business. An OK idea will only take you so far, but a great idea will set you apart from the rest and offer true returns on your time. Asking yourself if your business can scale will be a litmus test to identify if you are onto a great idea or not. The more scaleable a business is, the more you can succeed. - Diego OrjuelaCables & Sensors

A. Who is on the team?

It’s easy to find opportunities. It’s even easy to map out a business plan. It’s difficult to understand who else is needed for a new business idea to succeed. Successful entrepreneurs realize they can’t do everything by themselves, and often the cost of doing so is too high anyway. You have to factor in your expertise and then bring in partners who can complement what you don’t know. - Krish ChopraUnited Medical Rotations

A. What’s my competition?

Competition is not a reason to discount a business idea. Disrupting existing niches and executing better than the incumbents is the game we’re in. But entrepreneurs should ask themselves what the real cost of being better is and whether they can build a product so much better — or cheaper — that users will be motivated to switch, especially if there are established players with deep pockets. - Justin BlanchardServerMania Inc.

A. Would I buy my own product?

Would I buy this myself? If you aren’t willing to be a customer of your own products, then you have no business selling them to someone else. If you’re on the fence, resolve your own objections to win over yourself, and by doing so, you’ll be proactively resolving objections that your actual customers may have. - David CiccarelliVoices.com

A. Is this what I want my life to be about?

Before starting your next business venture, ask yourself the overarching question: Is this what I want my life to be about? How does this build the life that I want? Does it fit into the vision I have for myself? If it doesn’t fit into what you want your life to be about, ask yourself if it’s really worth the sacrifice. - Rachel BeiderMassage Greenpoint, Massage Williamsburg

A. Am I thinking big picture or instant gratification?

It’s important to step back and decide whether this is just something that you want right now or something that will benefit your company as a whole in the long term. Sometimes you get lucky and those right now desires pan out in the long run, but usually they’re short-sighted and a waste of everyone’s time. - Kevin ConnerVast Bridges

A. Do I have the time and resources for proper execution?

We as entrepreneurs are always on the go, and we’re constantly thinking about our next great idea. Before you act on your next idea, ask yourself if you have enough time and resources to devote to the project. Nothing is worse than a half-ass job. If you truly believe in your idea but don’t have the time and resources, take a second and give it some thought and planning before you get started. - Dave NevogtHubstaff.com

A. What’s my contingency plan?

Once you’ve done your research and are ready to move, you still need a contingency plan. Nothing in business is linear. One minute, for all you know, you’ve created a workable prototype, have backers, and a ripe and ready market. The next, your product is being scrutinized and found to be completely unnecessary. What’s your contingency plan when something like that happens? - Cody McLainSupportNinja

Rachel Beider in Huffington Post: 11 Ways to Involve Employees in Creating Company Culture

11 Ways To Involve Employees In Creating Company Culture 

via Huffington Post

There are a lot of different ways to create a company culture. One of them is getting employees involved in the process. This not only builds buy-in, it also improves engagement. The people influencing decisions are naturally going to choose activities or goals that interest them. So how can you creatively encourage employees to build their own company culture?

1. Lead by example.

Start your next meeting by announcing a new team event or activity. Explain that you’d like to do events or activities on a monthly basis and that you’d appreciate everyone’s involvement. Get each individual to contribute ideas for fun activities to do as a company. This is an easy way to get the entire team to build a company culture and be involved in these types of decisions. - Russell KommereSoftware Associates Inc

2. Put them in charge of events or activities.

Have employees create an activity or event schedule around certain types of cultural norms they want to integrate into the main culture. This empowers them and helps them feel more involved in the process. Plus, it helps you know exactly what they want to do. - Drew HendricksButtercup

3. Ask team members to share stories.

Each week during our team meeting, I ask a question that lets people share something about their life. One of my favorites is, “If you could save one non-essential good from your home and had to leave everything else behind, what would you save?” I feel it’s a practice that fosters a culture in which everyone on the team feels very connected. - Mark KrassnerExpectful

4. Create a Facebook group.

My company is spread out over two locations, and as we grow, one of my favorite ways to keep in regular contact with all of the employees is via our Facebook group (for employees only). They share videos, pictures of their families and post events that they are hosting, like performances. This creates a fun company culture that is created and run by the employees. - Rachel BeiderMassage Greenpoint, Massage Williamsburg

5. Get out of the office.

Deep personal connections among team members require time away from the computer and out in the real world. Whether it’s food or drinks after work, a monthly outing or a quarterly retreat, having a chance to leave work at work and have real conversations with each other is key. Add a unique activity or environment, and you’re likely to see a big boost in relationships. - Ross BeyelerGrowth Spark

6. Hire the right people from the get-go.

Culture is built by the team organically over time and can’t be forced. As a leader, you set the loose guidelines, but your team is what brings it to life. The key to encouraging your ideal culture is hiring the right people for your company from the start. Employees that fit and agree with your vision are crucial. One bad egg can ruin culture, so keep it in mind whenever interviewing candidates. - Kyle GoguenPawstruck

7. Treat everyone to lunch.

Every Friday, we bring a catered lunch into the office. Because it’s only once a week, it’s something that most people are able to join. It’s an informal break where employees can chat, talk shop and in general forge stronger relationships with each other. Plus, everyone loves a free lunch! - Stan GarberScout RFP

8. Designate time for non-work-related conversation.

As a remote company, we have to be creative when it comes to facilitating company culture. We have special Slack channels designated for topics that aren’t work-related and encourage our team to take part in the conversation. This gives our team the chance to get to know one another on a personal level and take initiative with creating and building their own culture within the organization. - Jared BrownHubstaff Talent

9. Let them brainstorm alone.

I recently had my team meet without me to discuss their goals and ideas for the company. They’re compiling what they came up with on a vision board to review with me. I’ve found this gives them a forum to be creative, share ideas and feel invested in the direction of the company. - Leila LewisBe Inspired PR

10. Trust them with an assignment.

The only way your employees will truly buy into your company culture is if they take pride and ownership in what they do. They might be intimidated, but they’ll rise to the challenge knowing that you are trusting them with your business. Employees seldom want to disappoint their boss, so you can expect to see good results! - Duran InciOptimum7

11. Encourage individual freedom.

I like to give my individual teams the power to create their own schedules, internal dynamics and personal workflow. For example, our production team organically initiated daily walks around the block, which has now become a key opportunity for them to clear their minds while bonding on a personal level outside of the office. I’ve found this has even boosted overall productivity. - Justin LefkovitchMirrored Media

These answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Rachel Beider in Forbes Magazine

When To Open A Second Location To Grow Your Small Business 

Article by: Marcia Layton Turner for Forbes

“When you are completely booked solid, you have only two options: raise your rates or expand (or both!)” says Rachel Beider, licensed massage therapist and owner of Massage Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, NY. Beider’s solution to growing a small business was to add a second location in Brooklyn, named Massage Greenpoint.

“After raising our prices, we still had long waitlists of clients,” she explains, “and I knew that many were coming from the neighborhood just north of ours.” So Beider found real estate a little farther north from her original studio and opened her doors. Massage Greenpoint has been open now for six months and is continuing to grow. “It is the best investment that I’ve made,” she says.

Many business owners question whether it's time to open another location, wondering if they're creating new opportunities or spreading themselves too thin. While you can never know for certain before taking the leap, these entrepreneurs found that certain conditions were signs that the timing could be right.

Increasing Capacity

For Beider, capacity was the factor that most impacted her decision to open another location – her first was fully booked. She was confident that opening a second location would in no way cannibalize her first, and would allow the business to continue to grow.

Opening a second location improved customer service, by making it possible for more clients to book appointments. Since many clients were traveling south to Williamsburg, opening a location closer to their homes and offices also improved customer satisfaction.

Establishing Growth Criteria

While Beider used the fact that her business was consistently full as a sign that it was time to expand, Jeff Shapiro, owner of Spindle Fitness, set specific milestones that his business needed to hit before the company would consider opening additional locations. While the company’s goal was to become a multi-location business, Shapiro first wanted to achieve a positive cash flow and have trained staff in place, ready to train others.

Reducing Shipping Times and Expenses

In contrast, OnlineLabels.com wasn’t having capacity issues – the company could produce labels quickly - the impediment to growth was shipping cost and speed, explains CEO Dave Carmany. “To ensure people all across the country received our labels on a timely basis without having to pay premium shipping rates, we looked into opening a second location.” Its original space in Florida yields quick shipping to East Coast customers but slower delivery to the West Coast.

Evaluating the Cost of Expansion

“When we calculated what it would take to create a second manufacturing facility, hire a new set of employees, and cover the additional overhead that comes with having two locations, the benefits didn’t offset the costs. While our volume was increasing, it wasn’t at a quick enough pace to justify such a substantial business move.” Instead, OnlineLabels turned to its shipping carriers to negotiate deals that would speed delivery at reduced costs. Carmany admits it’s not a permanent solution, but it “bought our company time.”

Attracting New Business

Once you’ve decided the time is right to open another location, begin to communicate frequently with your current and potential customer base to prime the pump for future sales. Beider kept her community informed about the build-out of the second location via social media. She also emailed current clients and prospects with an offer to try out the second location. Finally, she had postcards printed up with a new client discount that she left at local stores, yoga studios, gyms, and other complementary businesses to help attract more clients. And they did.

Marcia Layton Turner writes frequently for and about small business. She is the author of The Unofficial Guide to Starting a Small Business and many others.

Rachel Beider featured in Entrepreneur Magazine

5 Stories That Will Make You Rethink Your Leadership Style

CEOs speak candidly of times they fumbled on the job, and what they learned in the process. Originally posted here

When he first became a business leader, admits Krister Ungerboeck, CEO of Courageous Growth, in St. Louis, Mo., he was a bit of a jerk. “I assumed that the CEO should be the smartest person in the room,” Ungerboeck told me recently via email.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

That was a mistake, Ungerboeck now acknowledges. Thanks to that mentality, he says, he tended to lead through criticism, he says. And that in turn led him to doubt the abilities of his team, and created an unproductive work environment.

But after receiving less-than-stellar feedback on an employee survey, Ungerboeck says he realized his leadership style wasn’t working. “When I finally realized that my leadership style left my employees struggling to feel inspired, I made a major transformation,” he wrote. “I learned that criticism is lazy leadership that is intended to pump up the ego of the boss by making the employee feel smaller.”

Since that epiphany, Ungerboeck has tried to do better by leading through encouragement. In fact, he now refers to himself as a “recovering a-hole.”

While his employees are now better off for the change, Ungerboeck is hardly the first boss to rethink his or her leadership style. Here are five stories of how other leaders came to realize they needed to do things differently:

Always be learning.

By his mid-20s Glenn Phillips was an award-winning entrepreneur. There was just one little problem: His software company wasn’t making money.

“While we delivered great systems and support, we were not profitable and I was not addressing the problem well,” Phillips told me. “I thought that I was smart enough and hard-working enough to ‘figure it out’ and solve our issues.”  

Related: 9 Ways to Recognize a Real Leader

Eventually, though, Phillips realized he needed help. “I started educating myself about running a business,” he said. “The education included peers, classes and lots of reading. I studied businesses, cognitive thinking, sales, capital and more.”

Soon, his business began to turn around. Today, as the head of Lake Homes Realty in Pelham, Ala., he says he makes continual learning a priority for everyone at his organization. He says he hosts regular lunch-n-learns at the office and leads in-person trainings. The company even has a reading library, and if an employee finishes one of the books, Phillips takes that individual out to lunch to discuss what was learned.

Leadership takeaway: Set a good example for employees by constantly seeking new knowledge. This will ensure that your entire company will always be learning and improving. Tools like Workramp can help your team reach its potential.

Accept your new role.

When Rachel Beider, CEO of Massage Williamsburg + Massage Greenpoint in Brooklyn, N.Y., set out to expand her business, she quickly saw she was spreading herself too thin.

“I was trying to do too much, including still seeing massage therapy clients directly, and being involved in the day-to-day tasks,” she told me recently through email. “I started to feel perpetually stressed and burned out, and I knew I wasn't giving my best to the position.”

That’s when Beider set a deadline for herself so she couldn’t make excuses and put off the change. “Though it was a scary transition, it has allowed me a lot more time to work on important things and see the bigger picture," she wrote. "I had to learn to delegate. Now, I'm a lot more 'present' at work, with less on my plate, and open to more suggestions on improving the company.”

Leadership takeaway: First-time CEOs often need time to adjust to their new responsibilities. And it can be hard to give up old tasks that feel comfortable. But, as a leader, it’s important that you step up and accept the fact that it’s time to stop spending energy on things others can do, and focus on running the organization.

Be adaptable.

“When I had five or six employees, I managed them all the same,” Beck Bamberger, founder of Bam Communications, in San Diego, Calif. said in an email.

That worked for a while, she said, but once the company grew to dozens of employees, she saw she’d have to adapt. “There was one particular client meeting where I noticed a highly independent, quiet but well-liked employee was not taking my feedback as well as a bubbly, vivacious employee,” Bamberger went on to say.

What he told her, though, just didn’t seem to click. “We had this awkward pause in the meeting where we sat in silence for nearly 20 seconds before we started (thankfully) laughing. Then I said, ‘Okay, you're different from her.’ This was a little a-ha moment for me in terms of leadership that was adaptable for each individual.”

Leadership takeaway: Not every employee responds the same way to the same leadership style. Great leaders recognize each individual’s needs and adapt accordingly. This ensures that every employee can perform at his or her best.

Think quickly.

“A few years ago, when my companies were just starting out, my employees or potential business partners would ask me questions, and I would let them linger for a long time rather than answering them right away,” said Tony Jakstis, founder of Casa De Lago Event Centers, in Orange, Calif.

Not wanting to make a bad decision, Jakstis took his time coming up with the best answer. But, sometimes, stalling can mean missing out on big opportunities. “A good leader needs to be able to hear any kind of problem or opportunity and make a key decision that will benefit the company,” Jakstis said. “If it fails and something goes wrong, then at least I’ll find out quicker. If I’m right, the job will be done.”

Leadership takeaway: Don’t be afraid to be decisive. Even if a decision doesn’t turn out as planned, see that not as a failure, but a chance to learn.

Find support.

Danielle Wiley, CEO of Sway Group, in Corte Madera, Calif., never wanted to be a leader, she says. Nonetheless, she found herself at the helm of a fast-growing company.

“With the rocketship success that Sway saw in its first few years, my own personal leadership growth couldn't keep up,” she wrote in an email. “We were no longer a small company, but one that 35 employees' livelihoods depended on.”

The weight of that responsibility led Wiley to isolate herself -- and her team to suffer as a result. “I knew I needed to do better, I just didn't know how,” she told me.

Around this time,the executive attended a dinner for women executives. She was at the same table as a woman who kept talking about a CEO advisory group that she had joined. Wiley decided to give the group a go.

Related: How to Retain Employees Through 'Servant' Leadership

“At my first meeting, I quickly realized this group was exactly what I needed," she said. "I began to see that my concerns and frustrations were the same other CEOs were experiencing. The group gave me a newfound sense of confidence and direction that I was able to bring back to the team.”

Leadership takeaway: Being a CEO is an experience unlike anything else. Finding others going through similar situations can provide much needed support and guidance.

Rachel Beider on Small Business Trends

"Keeping employees happy and healthy is good for business: You get more tasks completed (and with more creativity) if the people doing the work aren’t ill or tired. Some people love having a company-funded chance for personal development, while others prefer the options for flexible hours or 401(k)s. To narrow down what job perks resonate the strongest, we asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council:

“What company perk (bus pass, outside learning opportunities, etc.) do your employees find most helpful/useful and why?”

Best Employee Perks

Here’s what they have to say:

1. Continuing Education

“I will happily pay for my employees to develop new skills on their own time and bill me for the hours if it’s something they can bring to their role at the business. If you like to hire self-starters in the first place, you want to keep them at the top of their game by encouraging them to learn as much as they can.” ~ Adam SteeleThe Magistrate

2. Working Remotely With Flexible Hours

“Empowering our employees with the ability to manage their own schedule and work remotely has been a huge advantage for us. By allowing them to self-manage, they feel more invested in getting the work done as efficiently as possible, something we weren’t achieving by making sure they were in their chairs by 9 a.m. For us, it’s about the work getting done on time, not about where or when it’s completed.” ~ Kim KaupeZinePak

3. Team-Led Exercise

“Most teams seem to have a yoga enthusiast, a couple of runners, a cycling guy, couple ballers, and so on. We’ve had a ton of fun as a team allowing different employees to “lead” workouts during, or right before or after work. Not only does it empower the teacher and allow them to show off their passion, but it promotes a healthy work environment and usually involves a few laughs after the fact.” ~ Matt MurphyKids in the Game LLC

4. Personal Development

“We are planning on bringing our leadership team of 12 to the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland three times this year for intense personal development. In addition to learning new communication tools for their roles at work, they are working on marriage issues, identity issues, parenting issues and more. Supporting our staff in their lives impacts their work, while deepening loyalty to the company and one other.” ~ Corey BlakeRound Table Companies

5. Access to Entertainment

“Our company sits at the intersection of entertainment, technology, and the ultimate fan experience, so we stay at the forefront of new trends. Our employees get to try all the latest gadgets (such as Snapchat Spectacles and hover boards), go to the hottest shows, and enjoy exclusive experiences as part of their job. This ultimately helps them stay in touch with trends and excel at their position.” ~ Justin LefkovitchMirrored Media

6. Free Monthly Massages

“My front desk staff love getting the perk of free monthly massages at my massage studio. Sitting at a desk can take its physical toll, and regular massage therapy can make a huge difference in lowering blood pressure, alleviating headaches, reducing stress and tension, and decreasing anxiety. By providing them with regular massage therapy, they feel valued, and are happier and more productive.” ~ Rachel BeiderMassage Greenpoint

7. Health and Wellness

“My team takes advantage of a health and wellness perk that subsidizes things like gym memberships. Obvious benefits include a healthier, happier and consequently more productive work environment. Providing ample space and resources for employees to take great care of themselves is also a good way to illustrate the extent to which the company values them beyond their ability to drive revenue.” ~ Ryan WilsonFiveFifty

8. Annual Trip

“We do an annual, three-day trip that acts as several different things. It is a reward for another great year of work; an amazing team-building experience, as our entire team gets out of the office to hang together; exposure to something new, as we always pick a new place; and a recruiting tool. The trip has consistently proven to be one of the most valuable things that we do.” ~ Erik HubermanHawke Media

9. 401(k)

“I’m biased, but we hear over and over from employees at all types of companies that a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement is a valuable perk that gets both the employer and the employee a lot of “bang for your buck.” It also shows a strong sense of thoughtfulness and fiscal responsibility in a way that a bonus or a ping pong table does not.” ~ Roger LeeCaptain401
Bus Pass Photo via Shutterstock"

 

As seen in Small Business Trends