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What Would a Freeman Do?

Decisions should be strategicThe classic line from the movie “300” invokes a troubled view of a no win situation. Queen Gorgo doesn’t reassure her husband Leonidas or console him. She baits him into making a decision that could bring terrible consequence upon her and Sparta. In small business we face the same kind of risk in evaluating the best decisions for daily business. Probably don’t attribute life and death to each one but the premise is still the same.

Education First

Before making any critical business decision you should consult many resources not just referrals and friends. Many of these potential participants have unknown motives that can jeopardize business in the future. Each opinion you review has to be evaluated against the opportunity, their potential gain, and risk if the advice is wrong. Sometimes this can be very difficult. This is the main reason to educate first prior to making important decisions. Don’t dismiss this advice as obvious. Think back on decisions you have made. Were they based on strategic planning or “gut” feeling?

Who Finally Benefits?

Often decisions are made based on short-term results rather than long-term benefit. Benefactors may not even be considered. In the case of buying “good deal” products and services stemming from potential gain rather than how the fit in the product mix, purchase may lead to disaster including stranded assets, confused marketing messaging, and misdirection of customer attention. The only benefactor of this situation is the first seller. Everyone else adds risk and potential financial loss during the sales process. Business decision-making should evaluate the final benefactor(s) and roles of eachparticipant(s). Many companies end up in serious trouble if this practice is not the standard. The question becomes, “was this a good deal for the company?”

Decisions by Committee

In small business, owners tend to make decisions based on their knowledge of a situation and not all the potential facts that can be gleaned by others. A good practice is asking for opinions and perspectives prior to making the final call. Teams always have a better “hive” mind and usually make better decisions.  Owners fear being overruled by the committee which can lead to decision paralysis and perhaps choosing a lesser path to success. Strong small businesses build human capital and treat their employees and contractors as useful assets and resources.

Putting It All TogetherDecisions should focus long-term

In essence decisions should be formed from careful screening of all available data, take into account perspectives and opinions, be evaluated against set requirements and guidelines, and make the company function better. If the result of a decision leads to a negative outcome, simply don’t do it. Apply strategy and planning to guarantee success. Start by using my seven step method to provide a ground floor to build on. Call or e-mail any questions because it is YOUR decision to make.

7 Tips to Build Better Business Relationships

Business Relationships Start with CommunicationThere are countless methods, tricks of the trade, and advice given by “self-described” gurus about the best ways to be in business relationships, but many fall short of executing actual tasks. I  find that many of my clients struggle with understanding their business value, messaging about their company, and truly taking interest in other business. They look at the world around them suspiciously rather than with an open mind and tend to miss opportunity to work interactively for mutual success.

The following list will help business owners and managers alike develop daily habits that will fuel better relationships and long-term growth and success. Some of them might be a no-brainer but some might surprise or be difficult to maintain. You be the judge.

1. Be punctual and prepared

As a business owner/operator punctuality remains the biggest obstacle to overcome and right after preparation. Many business meetings last too long or tend to become embroiled in side bar chatter effectively undermining the desired outcome. The critical step is knowing and setting expectations for each interaction and sticking to them. Which leads us to the next tip.

2. Craft interactive agendas

Body language in meetings says it all. Participants who are slummed over, doodling, texting, or whispering among themselves demonstrate lack of interaction with the subject matter. Interaction is a key component to any meeting and leveraging “group speak” is better than reading slides or presenting huge amounts of material in a classroom setting. People aren’t built to absorb data without creating clues, cues, and hints during the memory building process. Retention of 10% of any information is considered great. Ask yourself, “how much information do you retain from a long meeting?”

3. Listen actively and interpret  

Many business people claim to listen to their colleagues, alliance partners, or customers but don’t actually retain or regurgitate the same information. Nothing will kill a relationship faster than being perceived as someone who doesn’t “get it” or talks over the other person. Physical touch, leaning forward, and looking directly at the other person when they speak indicate interest and attention to what is being said. To show full understanding  interpret what was said and build a response using their data. Some people call this rapport. I call it a necessity.

4. Develop mutual interest outside of the subject matter

Too much direct communication about a particular subject can lead listeners away from the intended outcome. Retention of data and conversion to new ideas takes time and energy. Attempting to flood the conversation ends up in confusion. The best way to build mutual understanding is through interesting anecdotes and stories about material that is not directly related. This method gives participants a chance to link other experience to difficult concepts creating knowledge.

5. Follow up using as many methods as possible

Everyone has trouble with following up after interaction or meetings. The goal is to actively build on the meeting in creation of something better but often the results are neglect and lack of movement. I suggest a follow up e-mail, call, or note to insure the other party(s) have an understanding of what was said and expectations for the next meeting. This process can actually create an agenda for the next meeting that will be more productive.

6. Quality not quantity

Many presenters, partners, lunch dates, and colleagues suffer from word overload. Speaking too much or in circles turns off the audience and kills any relationship building. Nothing hurts worse than hearing someone drone on about a meaningless story, problem, or event. Linking concise messaging to expectation can build your reputation.

7. Be interesting and interested

Finally, each of us has expectations for our interactions with others. Communicating them to the other participant(s) has to build off of knowledge about their expectations. It is easier to speak about building cars to a car enthusiast than speaking than talking with someone who really doesn’t care about building, just how much they cost. A critical step in the relationship process is identifying what motivates others and leveraging that knowledge in communication with them.

This, by no means, is a comprehensive list and many of you will tell me what I missed. This list is designed to provide the basics and make you think about how you interact with others. If this post didn’t accomplished that, I will be happy to talk to you about it.

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