Business Strategy First: It’s Not About the Technology

Business Strategy then Technology“You just haaaavve to be on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, other social media, and have a blog!”

“You absolutely need the new must-have app for business!”

Sound familiar?  Have you heard some well-meaning expert or colleague tell you this, likely within the last week?

Yep, me too! And if I hear about one more must-have, “this will solve all your problems”, gotta-have, magic bullet piece of technology I will scream, and that’s not good because it’ll scare my cats.

It’s not that I don’t like technology – in fact I like it quite a bit and have almost 20 years of corporate and entrepreneurial experience in technology fields.  It’s just that technology isn’t a magic pill that is going to save anyone.  In fact, too much or the wrong technology will actually hamper your efforts.

A quick Google search of the phrase: “business software” or “business applications” yields 614,000 results. The search phrase “business hardware” yields another 323,000 results.  As of the fall of 2013, the iTunes store had over 1,000,000 apps.

So, why don’t you pause reading this article, download them all, and then let me know how they help you?

OK, I am just being a smart-a*@, but the numbers don’t lie. There is a lot of technology to choose from for business and even more if you factor in all the personal applications.  Depending on who you listen to, you could easily end up with hundreds of apps in your workflow (or at least installed on your devices) that you either never use or use in a half-hearted manner.  It will slow YOU down much like too much will slow down the machine it’s installed on.

That’s why I say again – It’s not about the technology!  I can remember my first day on the job when I worked directly for a CIO of a major corporation. He said to me that in his opinion technology is meant to enable business. Nothing more, nothing less.  I share his philosophy wholeheartedly!

Yet, especially for so many self-employed business owners, I see technology strangling them, disabling them, and watering down their efforts.  I have clients and colleagues who practically gasp for breath talking about the stress technology creates for them.

This is why I want you to flip your thinking.

Strategy comes first.  Then come the tools to support that strategy.

Processes and procedures come first. Then come the tools to make those processes more effective and efficient.

As a general rule, less really is more. More peace of mind, more productivity, and more ease.

Every piece of technology (hardware or software application) should have a definitive purpose for being in your business.  “So-and-so at the latest conference said I should” is not a definitive purpose.

So here’s what I want you to do. [Read more…]

My Top 5 Productivity Tools for Business Owners

Top 5 Productivity Tools for Self-Employed Business Owners

“How you spend your time is more important than how you spend your money. Money mistakes can be corrected, but time is gone forever.” — David Norris

Time is precious in my book.  It is the one thing that once it is gone, you can’t get it back.  That is why I find it so important to be in the flow when it comes to how you choose to intentionally spend your time.  As a business owner how you use time is crucial to:

  • Earning money and profitability
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Serving customers well and delivering high quality work
  • The ability to expand and grow

Just to name a few…

Clients and colleagues ask me all the time about what tools I use to simplify and be more productive.  While what is or is not considered productive is definitely personal: Some people love time blocking their schedule for instance while others rage against and would take root canal over time blocking.  One thing is common across most people.  The easier, more convenient, and  consistent your systems are, the more likely you are to use and benefit from them.

Here are my top 5 current favorites for making life easier, getting the right things done, and freeing yourself up for what matters most to you.

Evernote

This handy note taking and filing app can be used on the web and via mobile devices (Android and iOS).  It is like a giant filing system of notes you take, web sites that you “clip”, or articles you save.  The power is in the tagging. By tagging each note with a category of your own making you basically have a compendium of important stuff at your fingertips wherever you go.

I use this as a swipe files for ideas to use with clients, marketing ideas, and quick notes from seminars, and important tips I receive. I also use it to track books I want to read, wines I want to buy, and recipes I find.  It is easy, versatile, and free (there is a premium version but I haven’t needed it yet and I use this all the time).  So free yourself of sticky notes and random pages of magazines and check out Evernote here.

Workflowy

Do you create to-do lists?  Who doesn’t?  This app is a brilliant way to capture all your to-do lists in a way that makes sense. You can nest them, tag them, search them, and mark them complete.  It works via the web and mobile devices (Android, iOS).  I use this to capture immediate to-do’s and takeaways from meetings and seminars. I also use it for tasks I want to get to but not immediately. This way I don’t forget and I have a focus point for my efforts. Check out Workflowy here. [Read more…]

3 Golden Rules to Get People to Answer Your Emails

Today I was enjoying the mini-mastermind group that I participate in. One person brought to the table the challenge of getting people to respond to their emails. Lack of response is delaying the organizations progress (while also driving him nuts as the project leader). What should he do?

This is a great question! I hear this from small business owners and corporate leaders alike. So, how do you get people to give you the responses you need by when you need them? Follow these 3 golden rules and you’ll be amazed what happens.

3 Golden Rules to Get People to Answer Your Emails
Image: Calendar cards via Shutterstock
 

1) Set the Stage

People are busy. The average corporate user receives and sends 112 emails per day. Goodness knows the small business owner sends and receives at least as many. So, in the noise, how can you get someone to read and act upon something you send? Set the stage with them by:

  • Acknowledging them and letting them know that you know they are busy (or volunteering their time as was the case with my colleague).
  • Assure them that you won’t send them unnecessary emails, communications, or reply-all unnecessarily.
  • Educate them that some emails you may send them are simply communications while others will require their action. Set a specific standard for those requiring action on their part. Use Action Required or Response Required in the subject lines of those emails and let them know you’ll be judicious with using this call to action.

This is about teaching people what you expect from them while also letting them know what they can expect from you.

2) Be Succinct

If you require a response, get right to the question. Keep it simple. Just a few short questions maximum. Don’t combine with other communications or the questions will get lost in the shuffle. Make it quick, easy, and obvious for them to respond. Given them a specific respond by date.

3) Consistent Follow-Through

You need to do what you said you were going to do in step #1. That means you don’t turn into an “email-hole” sending excessive emails or getting carried away with the Action Required emails or start using those URGENT exclamation point thingys. Urgent is a rare occurrence, treat it as such or you will be the one who cried wolf and people will set up an automated email rule to put your emails right in the trash. You’ll spend all your time begging people for input and find your progress stalled.

Does this mean that if you follow the 3 golden rules that you’ll never find yourself waiting on a response? Of course not. People are busy and things get lost in the shuffle. However, if you follow these golden rules you just might find your job gets a lot easier, you get more done, and communications improve exponentially.

This post originally appeared on BlogHer.com

Low-Tech Days = High Creativity

Technology and Small Business OwnerTechnology free days breed creativity. As business owners we’ve seen technology begin to take an increasingly large role in our lives.  From all the moving parts of internet marketing to productivity tools, to the fact that almost everything you need to do is in some way connected to a device that is connected to a network, it never ends.

You can quickly get oversaturated by technology.  When something breaks and technology isn’t working, all hell breaks loose and business slows to a crawl as you race frantically to get help from often wildly unhelpful technical support. Overwhelming at best, exasperating at its worse.

If you want to be creative, alive, effective, and successful in your business you need to occasionally get out and go low tech.

Why is this important?

First, from an inner awareness and personal excellence standpoint, you can’t be creative if you’re so saturated with technology demands that there is no space in your psyche.  You know the feeling… your brain literally hurts and you get to the point where you feel like you couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag.  Definitely NOT the mindset to be in for innovation, creativity, and strategic decision making.

The reality is too few small business women take time out – from the business AND the office – to get the creative juices flowing. When was the last time you just took a half or full day to create space in your mind, body, and soul?

The more doing and doing you’re doing, the less chance you have to feed any of the creativity needed to be successful, innovate, or solve problems. When it comes to strategic planning and making wise decisions along the way, it is near impossible to do that sort of creative brainstorming and planning without getting away from it all.  You don’t need to rent office space or go on a luxury getaway, you only need to disconnect for a while and get out of the usual mode of operation.

We tend to stay glued to our PC and our office figuring if we just work a little harder everything will fall into place. Unfortunately, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. If you’re looking to start or grow your business, that’s not going to work so well.

Now, let’s look at some practical action you can take to make some low tech time a reality.  Even if you know you should take the time but you aren’t actually doing it then you get nowhere.

  • Give yourself permission: You need to accept the fact that your business will grow faster and you’ll be more productive if you take this low tech time away.
  • Remove yourself from the office:  Ideally you want to get out of your usual environment. Whether it is a full-fledged retreat or simply time at the park or coffee shop, just get out.
  • Leave technology, plans, and spreadsheets home: Free yourself from all the stuff and simply carry in your head and heart a vision for yourself and your business.
  • Fall in love with pen and paper: I’m all about getting as paperless as possible and yet I love to physically write on something. Magic happens when you remove the technology that stands between you and your ideas and creative process.
  • Rejoice in the process and space: Bring nourishing food and refreshments. Be comfortably dressed. Breathe deeply.  Take note of being present and enjoy the freedom from interruptions, technology, and gadgets (even if it makes you nervous and gives you a twitch of withdrawal at first).

I encourage you to try out a low-tech day within the next 30 days to truly set your business on course for the year ahead!

 

photo credit: laffy4k via photopin cc

Email Simplified

My email was killing me. I’m not exaggerating…  While I had good procedural systems in place for my business, recent technology changes resulted in me being buried by an avalanche of email glitches and had me ready for the funny farm.Email Simplified

As any truly serious business owner does, I have a business email branded at my company’s domain and also have additional email addresses for my office assistant and some automated tasks.  No big deal in the grand scheme of things. Three or four email addresses, only one of which I personally monitor daily.

Problem was, once I added additional devices to my business systems (iPhone, laptop, desktop), the neat little world I had known via years of using Microsoft Outlook fell to shreds.  The company with which I had email service was as unhelpful as they come and I couldn’t take it any more.

I was experiencing:

  • Duplicate emails
  • Emails that made a return appearance in my inbox over and over despite being deleted
  • Unreliable delivery (even between my own accounts!)
  • Slow performance

I was ready for a straightjacket (particularly over the re-appearing deleted emails!). I crave things neat, organized, and handled and this was the antithesis of that.

Let’s remember, email is only a tool; one that is meant to enable (not disable) your business.  It can be a huge time-waster if you don’t set operating procedures and boundaries around how you use it.  It can leave you feeling like a slave to your business. 

Yet the truth is that no one ever built their business simply by staying behind a desk looking at and responding to emails. NO ONE. [Read more…]

How to Prioritize When Everything is a Priority

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