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A Women Business Owner’s Guide to Cleaning House: And Dramatically Improve Your Effectiveness

Monday, June 20th, 2011

If you haven’t read my last blog, Secrets Every Woman Entrepreneur ShouldKnow To Increase Her Productivity, you should read it before reading this one.

 

The basic premise of my last blog was to show you how to clear your head of the “productivity preventing” clutter.

 

Now it’s time to rid yourself of your physical clutter – all of the other junk in your life that may be weighing you down. Lifting the weight will produce a marked increase in your effectiveness.

 

I promise.

 

So, it’s time to clean house. As a women business owner, the best thing you can do is to kick butt and lighten your load while keeping a couple of vital things in mind.

 

I present to you — Thing 1 and Thing 2.

 

The first thing that you should do is establish an “In Basket” or if you’re like me – an “In Crate.” This is where you will put anything that you find that is potentially actionable – meaning you will need to decide what you are going to do with “it” at a later time.

 

The second thing you need to do is to search your home, office, and car for anything that is not where it belongs. And depending on how organized a lifestyle you lead, this could be easy or it could be painful.

 

You are looking for physical stuff like your supplies, tools, gear, office equipment, reference materials, pictures, recognition awards, etc. These are things which may require no action except to put them in their proper place. If you can put an item in its proper place in two minutes or less – just do it. If not, it goes into your In Crate and becomes actionable later.

 

Practically, work your way around your home and office examining —

 

  • The Top of Your Desk
  • Countertops
  • Desk Drawers
  • Cabinets
  • Shelves
  • Floors and Walls
  • Office Equipment
  • Furniture and Fixtures

 

Once you begin to go through this process, your memory will be jogged with actionable items (tasks) – but this is not the time to stop and do anything except put the actionable items in your “In Crate.” If the item is too big to put in the crate, then make a representation of the item on a sheet of paper and put “it” in the crate. If you think of actionable items, write them on a piece of paper and put them in your In Crate too.

 

In the process, you will probably begin to amass a serious heap of trash, recycling, and things that you decide to give away.

 

CAUTION — Do not slip into project mode and start doing major organizing. You will have more than enough actions to keep you busy when you are done with this cleaning process.

Just watch your In Crate grow. This is a good thing.

This could be one of the healthiest house cleanings you’ve done. If you have really been honest and collected all of the stuff that had captured your attention, you are ready to get to the bottom of your In Crate.

According to productivity guru, David Allen, you are ready to “Process In.” You are ready to do something with the stuff.

Here we go…

At this point you need to determine the exact next action for each item in your In Crate. For example, if one of your items is to get your quarterly taxes done, your action is not “get my quarterly taxes done.” The next action might be, “review tax file to ensure I have all necessary documents” or “call accountant.” To be clear – decide on the next tangible, physical behavior that you are actually going to do.

Once you have decided the next action, you really have only three choices according to Allen.

  1. Do it (if it takes less than 2 minutes)
  2. Delegate (if you’re not the best person to do it)
  3. Defer it (put it into you organizational system as a “to do later”)

Remember, if you delegate an action, you really need to make a point to delegate systematically and clearly – checking for understanding of the action. And you need to follow-up to make sure it got done.

If you defer an action, the action needs to be clearly written down in your organizational system. For ease of processing, you might want to simply put a sticky-note on the piece of paper in your In Crate and log each deferred action in your system as soon as you get to the bottom of the Crate. Don’t feel compelled to schedule these deferred actions all next week. Schedule some really soon, others for someday, and you know the drill – specifically schedule those that you need to do on an exact day at an exact time.

Make sure that you remind yourself of those items that you are waiting for some one else to do. If you delegated properly, you gave some one else a specific due date for getting back to you.

Lastly, let’s talk about projects. You may have found and defined a ton of projects – maybe 50 or 100. The narrow definition of a project is any item or outcome that you are committed to achieving that takes more than one action to complete. Write these down in a project plan with dates, times, those that you need to delegate items to – and remind yourself of the individual items on a regular basis.

You should be seriously on your way to having your environment cleared from clutter and your head free from thinking about it. Your result is that you will see your path ahead clearly, feel energized and empowered, and achieve results in a way that makes you very successful.

Here’s to cleaning house!

 

Secrets Every Woman Entrepreneur Should Know To Increase Her Productivity

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

A women business owner like you can use all the help she can get.

Whether it’s a great marketing idea, getting funding for a women-owned business, or – today’s lesson – simply discovering ways to be more productive with your time.

Lack of focus leads to low productivity. Low productivity negatively affects your bottom line. (And drives you nuts.)

Productivity guru, David Allen suggests some very basic ideas for getting the most out of your time in his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity.

Allen suggests that you need to get ALL of your stuff into one place – your “In Box”. All of your stuff includes all of those things that are incomplete, anything that needs a decision about a potential action, and all the things that are out of place.

For now, let’s focus on the things in your head and heart. They are just as important as physical stuff — most likely more important.

To get started — get a large stack of paper and clear one hour. Begin a mental inventory of all the “to do” items in your head. This is the beginning of your brain dump.

Don’t be scared. Jump in. Go for sheer volume.

It’s okay if you want to start thinking about huge items like “end world hunger.” It’s equally acceptable to consider, “make kids’ eye appointments.”

You’re going to write only one item at a time on each piece of paper as you think of it. This is important for how you will be processing these tasks later.

You want to think through projects, commitments, meetings to be scheduled, banking, upcoming events, computers, equipment, etc. Thinking about your children, spouse, family, friends, your professional life, colleagues and community activities may seem daunting.

Trust me. This really works.

It’s helpful to use a tool called a Trigger List to help jog your memory. You can view a good one put together by OrganizeIt at http://www.organizeit.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/trigger-list.pdf .

After an hour or so of putting one item on each piece of paper you probably have a pretty full “In Box.” Now do one more thing and add any voicemails, emails, or tasks from your organizer for which you have not determined a next action. (You can print these one per page.)

Everything is now on paper. You’ll have a big stack. And you may feel worse at this point. But here’s the good part.

Now it’s time to start getting free from the stack . This doesn’t mean doing everything. It means that you will methodically decide what each item is — and what you are GOING to do with it. Here’s your decision chart for every item from David Allen’s site www.davidco.com

There are a few must-follow rules as you work through your decision process:

  • Start with first item in the stack and work down. (No cheating and no scanning for emergencies!)
  • Deal with ONE item at a time (This is harder than you think, but you can do it.)
  • If you touch an item, deal with it. (No returning an item to the stack.)

Okay, this is it…

Get your first item off the stack. What is it? Is it actionable? If it’s not, trash it – put it in a tickler file – or create a reference file. Keep reviewing the flow chart until it’s in your head.

If your item is actionable, determine if it’s a project or individual action. Follow the process. It’s easy. And it’s necessary to any woman business owner who wants to organize her life.

If you have an individual action, do it – delegate it – or defer it as outlined in the diagram. Major Bonus: Immediately deal with any action that will take you two minutes or less.

Be patient. The best way to learn this process is by doing it. You will get better at making these decisions with each sheet of paper you deal with.

You should begin to feel better and better — sheet by sheet — as you work through the process. Be prepared, this process can take a few day. But it is well worth it.

When you have finished “processing” you will have:

  • Round filed anything you don’t need
  • Completed a ton of short two-minute tasks
  • Delegated a ton of important stuff
  • Sorted any actions that will take more than two minutes into your own personal organizing system and/or placed on your calendar.
  • Clearly identified your major projects

Once you’ve been through the process, you’ll feel your mind freed to move on to more productive things. It’s a strategy every women entrepreneur should focus on. Getting more out of your time leads to more creativity, more peace of mind – and more to the bottom line.

WNN: Take Control of Your Cash

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

How Women Entrepreneurs Can Have Power Over Money, Emotions, and Beliefs
by Christina Lambert

I came across a book I thought women business owners (and aspiring business owners) like you would be interested in. It’s not a book on finding business grants for women, or getting business funding. But I think it’s worth 7 minutes of your time to review the highlights.

In 2009, Karen Pine and Simonne Gnessen published Sheconomics.

SheconomicsINPOST

Pine, a developmental psychologist, and Gnessen, a seasoned financial coach, have approached the barriers that often prevent women from being financially successful – and help find a way around and through them.

What’s the most common barrier? Our own thoughts.

Well, Pine and Gnessen offer you a new model.
A new way of thinking.
A clear plan for taking financial control.

Here are the highlights.

The Laws of Sheconomics

Law 1 –Take Emotional Control
Become aware of how your emotions affect the way you behave with money. Your attitudes about money are shaped by emotion. Instead of acting on an emotion – think about it.

Try to identify what’s causing your feeling. For example, is it a reaction to a current issue or challenge?  Is it a result of a past experience, memory, or stored emotion?
Decide if the emotion is relevant. If it’s a real danger warning, heed it.  If it’s reinforcing bad habits, ditch it.  Then create a healthy response in line with what you’re aiming to accomplish (not your feelings) and take action in a way that will lead you closer to your goal.

Law 2 — Go Beyond Beliefs
Your financial beliefs become your reality and influence the way you behave.  Your beliefs determine what you achieve (or not).
For example, if you believe that you’re simply not good at earning money – guess what? You probably will continue to be bad at earning money. But if you believe that you can be financially successful, there’s a real good possibility that you will be!
Pine and Gnessen give this bit of advice, “First, you need to identify the things that are stopping you from being rich. Maybe you don’t ask for a pay raise because you’re secretly scared you’re not worth it. Once you’ve worked out what’s standing in your way, you can start to change your behavior and attitude towards money.”

Law 3 — Spend with Power
Be practical.  Make sure all your spending decisions are made for the right reasons. To spend with power, you need to understand why you may need to make a purchase.  The key word is “need.”  Resist any compulsion to make an impulse buy.
Keep track of your spending.  Create a spreadsheet or track your spending in a notebook or on your Iphone or Blackberry.   Do this continually and track yourself month by month.
Now you have real data to better analyze where you be able to cut spending and what areas may be real needs – especially if you are trying to grow a profitable business.

Law 4 — Have Goals
In order to have goals, you need to write them down.  Goals are specific.  Goals are realistic.  If you have a business plan these goals should come right out of your plan.   Make your money fit your plan.  And by the way — your business goals need to fit your life goals.  Having clear goals takes the pain out of resisting impulsive decisions.

Law 5 — Look Debt in the Face
If you have debt, this can be a tough one.  Certainly there is good debt and bad debt.  Bad debt is debt that you know you can’t afford to pay back. So you need to make a plan.  Make sure you figure out what you owe and how you’re going to pay it off.  List and prioritize your debts.
Pay off whatever you can right away and then work out how much you can afford to repay each month.  Choose a target date for becoming debt-free.

Law 6 — Share Financial Intimacies
It’s important to talk openly and honestly about your finances with those that you love and trust — including your business partners.   Actually, talking about money can be one of the things that build trust in a relationship.  If this is an area in which you feel challenged – you’re not alone.  Keeping financial secrets is a plague in any close relationship whether with a spouse, business partner or close friend.
Sharing financial intimacies is about building trusting, honest relationships.  It’s about being brutally honest with yourself.  The first step is realizing that you need to communicate with those important people in your life – listening for their perspectives and advice.  Begin with those relationships that you know are safe.  Practice financial intimacy.  It’s freeing.

Law 7 — Know Tomorrow Comes
Why put off for tomorrow what you can be doing today?  Tomorrow will come and you need to be prepared for its coming.  This is about having a plan for the future.  Do some research about pension plans, mutual funds, college savings plans.  Take a look your goals and determine priorities and timing of predictable expenses.

Embracing your goals will help you avoid making “here-and-now” decisions in a vacuum. Understanding your larger plan will help keep you on track to achieve it in the proper time.

With these laws, Pine and Gnesson take you into the depths of common thought patterns often held by women and explore their views about the female psyche.  These “laws” actually uncover truths that will help you make purposeful and powerful financial decisions.

One of the most profound points in Sheconomics is that many times we hold beliefs that limit our potential – especially in business.  You can be the best wife, mom, family organizer, counselor, and doctor… but be completely turned around financially.

Beliefs lead to behaviors.
Behaviors lead to habits.
Habits form lifestyles.

Remember — self limiting thoughts can be the root cause of financial paralysis.

Certainly, Pine and Gnessen don’t advise that simply changing your thinking about earning gobs of money will enable you to magically do it.

Sheconomics does encourage you to carefully analyze your current thinking.

Take specific actions to alter any current negative thinking.

Create a positive goal focused approach for your business and your life.

Disclaimer:  Pine and Gnessen seem to have the opinion that women shop to cope and make feel-good impulse decisions that are gender specific. I think that these thoughts are socialized and these types of behaviors are learned.  I am not one to believe that ALL women think the same and love to shop and ALL men are just better at making money.  I also don’t believe that we just “need to control ourselves” to avoid spending money impulsively.   At times, I thought the book was stereotypical.  However, it does provide a good framework for taking control of your financial decisions.

Posted by WomensNet at 12:22 PM No comments:

4 Great Tips for Women Business Partnerships

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

A lot of entrepreneurs like you come to WomensNet.net in search of grants for women business owners.  Nothing wrong with that.  We’re one of the very few places on the internet that will give women entrepreneurs a grant.

But if you’re looking for funding, here’s another idea you should give some thought:

Ask some of your friends if they’d would like to be partners (read: investors) in your business.  Your BFF could invest time or money – or both – in your venture.   Yeah, I realize that’s not the most earth-shattering revelation – but you’d be shocked at how many women business owners never pursue partnerships with friends, for one simple reason…

Women are afraid that if a business partnership goes bad, the friendship will go bad as well.  That’s actually a pretty good reason to shy away from partnerships.  Oil baron John D. Rockefeller put it this way: “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on founded on friendship.”

There’s wisdom in Mr. Rockefeller’s admonition.  But it shouldn’t be a deal breaker in forming a partnership with a friend.  Here are a few tips for making partnerships work for women business owners.

1. Create an operating agreement.  Many partnerships go south because the people involved didn’t put their expectations in writing.  It’s not enough to say, “We’re business partners.”  You have to put the details of the business in an agreement that everyone had a hand in crafting.

An operating agreement ensures each partner will be treated consistently in good times and bad.  Your agreement should lay out in plain language how profits, assets, debts and other responsibilities will be shared while you’re in business together.  It should also lay out the details of what to do if one partner wants out of the business.

There are many issues you should put in writing first, and the best way to forge an operating agreement is to do some research on the internet as to some major issues– then sit down and air your concerns honestly and openly with your partner.   Two partners might agree to split all the work evenly – but what happens if one person winds up consistently working more hours?  How will that partner be compensated?  There are a lot of similar questions you need to discuss.

The final step is to consult a lawyer if you think there are some unique issues that should be addressed in your agreement.

2. Don’t let your friend risk money that she can’t afford to lose.  This is a point of common sense.  If you ask a friend to invest $20,000 into your venture – and she has $500,000 in savings and investments, there likely wouldn’t be a huge emotional toll if the business struggles (or even fails).  But if your friend invests $20,000 by draining $15,000 in life savings, and borrowing another $5,000 from her mother – well, you get the picture.

Make sure any business partner can afford to lose the money she’s invested.  You don’t want your friend to wince every time there’s a downturn in the business, and to be hanging on every paycheck.  That’ll only lead to more stress on the both of you.

3. Partners offer emotional support.  Not only can you share the labor and responsibilities of running your business with partners – but you can all lend each other emotional support.  When things are going tough, you can all lean on each other… encourage each other… find solutions together… and work hard as a team.  Trust me – you can’t put a price on the emotional assets that a good business partnership brings to your venture.  As one business owner to me about her partnership, “When we hit hard times, it’s only half the pain.  But when things are going well, it’s twice the fun!”

4. “Sweat equity.”   You’ve heard the expression, “time is money.”  So if you can’t find a partner who can afford to put money into your business, find someone who will put in “sweat equity.”  In other words, give her an equity stake in your company for an investment of her time.

These partners are sometimes the best to have.  You don’t have to pay her cash for her labor.  And she doesn’t have to risk money she doesn’t have.  The truth is – a lot of women can name a handful of their talented friends who can help in a business venture.  Recruiting them to trade their time for a slice of your business should be a strong consideration.  After all, it’s better for you to own a smaller piece of a successful business, than 100% of something that fails…

Thanks for reading these tips.  And I hope you’ve been inspired to consider a partnership as another way to find funding for your women-owned business.  Getting your friends involved can be a fantastic resource for you. 

Why Learning to Write Copy Can Make or Break Your Business

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

by M. Belmont
WNN Staff Editor

You are what you write.  How you write can inspire people to want to know you better and buy your products and services.

In the parlance of marketing, writing to motivate your readers to take action is called “copywriting.”  And as a women business owner, you can’t afford to ignore the copy on your website.

According to Maria Veloso in her book, Web Copy that Sells, good copywriting is crucial to your business.  Veloso says that 60-65% of buying decisions are made as people read in the first few sentences on your website.  Yep, your copy matters.

WebCopyThatSells

So here are Seven Simple Steps any women entrepreneur can use to boost website sales:.

1.    Tell your story. Most folks think that writing great copy takes great writing skills.  Actually, it’s a lot simpler than that.  Writing great copy starts with telling a story.  People want to know who you are… why you started your business… and how you can help them.  They want to connect with you as a person.  Remember – people don’t do business with companies.  People do business with other people.  Tell them your story – in plain, simple English – and tell them how you can help them.  That’s at the heart of compelling copy.

2.    Tell it with emotion.  Every great story is laced with emotion.  Emotion is the part that paints a picture in someone’s heart.  If you were going to sell cookies, you could tell folks that you use flour, sugar and chocolate chips.  But telling them that you use the same ingredients your grandma used when you were a kid – pure cane sugar, sifted flower and real Nestle’s chocolate chips.  Wow… I’m 9 years old again and in my grandma’s kitchen waiting for the cookies to come-out-the-oven!

3.    Define the problem.  Every potential customer is coming to you with a problem to solve. Even if you sell cookies.  Some people can’t make them come out exactly like grandma’s.  Some folks might not have the time to bake.  Some folks want cookies for a special occasion and want to bring a “wow” factor.  Whatever the motivating factor, people are coming to your business to solve a problem.  You fit a need and a niche in their mind.  Find out what that is and let it come out in your copy.

4.    Discuss why this problem hasn’t been resolved already.  “Bake cookies the way grandma used to bake?  Who’s got time to do that?  Nobody in today’s busy workplace.”  That’s a way to empathize with your client or customer.  No matter what your business is, you can empathize with your client’s problems.  It’s ok for the problem to exist – because you have the answer that will help them.
5.    Tell them how to solve the problem.  Here you provide a solution.  Do this in a clear, brief way.  In the case of baking homemade cookies, I did a quick Google search and came up with cookiesfromscratch.com.  I can’t vouch for their cookies, but their website copy is pretty good. So the way to get the taste of homemade cookies without all the work?  Call Laura at cookiesfromscratch.com.  She didn’t quite follow our tips, but if she had, she might have written something like, “Do you want to send an old friend a taste from yesteryear?  How about a tin of our famous oatmeal butterscotch homemade cookies!”
6.    Clearly state what is different about your product or service.  This is where you unveil your USP. Your “Unique Selling Proposition.”  With homemade cookies, the UPS is simple.  You make homemade cookies – not the crumbly cheap mass processed variety.  “We make every batch from scratch!”  Another USP could be that you deliver them right to your customer’s door.  Or your cookies are so good, you can give them as a gift – to your grandmother!  You get the idea.  Whatever makes you unique vs. your competition is your USP.

7.    Make a clear call to action.  Simply put, you need to tell your readers what they should do next.  This is there call to action.  “Call right now to get your shipment of made from scratch cookies.  In the time it takes to melt a stick of butter, you could have a tin of homemade cookies being shipped right to your door.”  Remember – you have to ASK your customer or client to take advantage of your service or product.  It sound simple enough, but most copy folks write leaves out this crucial final step.

What you communicate in writing defines who you are – especially in our web-based world.  Copywriting is writing that grabs people’s hearts.  It starts with a good story.  And ends with a call to action.

As a women entrepreneur, you want to make sure that your customers become your followers – your biggest fans.  And you want to inspire them to buy your product or service time and time again.  (Bonus: Your customers will inspire others to do the same!)

Try to put these copywriting ideas into practice as soon as you can.  Using this these simple tips can prove to make a big difference for you.

Survey on Women Entrepreneurs to pass along

Monday, May 9th, 2011

This was sent to us at WomensNet.net:

A group of graduate students from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management have been kind enough to partner with The Founding Moms to undertake a survey of mom entrepreneurs.
Our goal? To send the survey to as many mom entrepreneurs as we can, enabling us to receive a rich (albeit anonymous) data set that will allow us to discover never-before-seen information on this niche of women.
The survey closes on Sunday, May 15 (**just less than a week!**.) We’ve included a random drawing for a $50 Amex gift card, too. Thank you VERY much in advance, and I’ll be happy to send you the published findings upon request. THE LINK: http://bit.ly/bizmomsurvey