Road to nowhere

5 Signs Your Business Is On a Road To Nowhere

Road to nowhere

Do you feel like you're getting nowhere with your business? Have you lost momentum and now feel like you're just spinning your wheels?

In your first year or two of business, the enthusiasm is high, optimism is at its peak, and you can overcome most obstacles with sheer will.  That first year is awesome, scary and a roller coaster ride that non-entrepreneurs will never experience.

But what happens after the momentum fades, your new business shine fades, and the only thing you are left with is the day to day work of the business?

Welcome to the messy middle.

The messy middle is that part in your businesses life where you need to work on the day to day activities of your business.  Things you can't ignore (or make excuses for) once you are out of that startup phase.  It's the part where you actually turn your business into an actual business, one that will live on for many years to come.

The messy middle is where you figure out how to manage people, create processes, manage finances and learn how to refine your marketing as your startup marketing budget is long gone.  Entrepreneurs hate this part of the business, the part where you need to figure out how to make your business work for the long haul.  The term, “Serial Entrepreneur” simply means a person who loves to create and start businesses but hates running them.

Most small businesses fail within the first 5 years.  Almost none fail in the startup phase, where you have the funds and the will to weather the storm.  Most small businesses fail when they run out of money before they can figure out how to make their business work.

Businesses that succeed or fail all go through this messy middle phase.  The difference is that successful businesses learn how to make their businesses work before they run out of money, or the will to go on.

I've been in this situation a few times in my life, where I didn't know if the business (or myself) would make it.  A few times the business didn't make it, a few other times it did and eventually thrived.  I also know dozens of entrepreneurs who have been there, sometimes the business fails, other times it lives.  I have a few friends that have incredibly successful businesses, both in monetary terms and personal satisfaction, all of them at some point had some serious doubts about their business and themselves.

So what's the difference between businesses that fail and ones that thrive?  It's hard to tell the difference in those early years, but there are some key areas that successful business owners seem to get right eventually.

From my experience as a business owner and working with lots of other business owners over the years, there are a few skills and mindsets that separate successful business owners with ones who will eventually have to close shop.  You can get away with these when you are starting up and still trying to figure things out, but eventually you will have to face them or risk hitting a wall that your business may not be able to overcome.

You have your hand in every aspect of your business

Ever hear of whack a mole?  That's you and your business if you keep your hand in every pie.  It's good in the beginning as you need to understand how things work before you can delegate, but if you are still doing this 2-3 years down the line and can't trust/train others to take on non-essential roles, your days are numbered.  You can't grow your business when you are the one doing everything, eventually you will hit a wall that you can't overcome without other people.  This is also the number one reason for burnout, you become so overwhelmed doing things you don't want to that you begin to hate your business.

Whack a Mole Meme

The most important things in business are marketing, sales and customer service/retention.  That should be your world and you should let others take care of everything else.

The book, The E-Myth Revisited, is a must-read for any business owner.

You refuse to spend money on marketing

If you refuse to spend money on your marketing efforts, you are doomed.  You can get away with sweat equity, networking and doing everything that involves time but not money, but eventually you will reach your limits as these are non-scalable activities that don't let you generate business on demand.  You need to spend money to make.

As you grow your business, your time will become very valuable and you will need to figure out marketing strategies that don't involve you spending all of your time trying to grow your social media networks, attending networking events and other time-consuming activities that are stopping you from growing your business.  While these activities may be important, you will see that successful business owners are very selective about how they spend their time and money.  Especially, if it means they can have more of their time back to concentrate on growing their business.

You can never find good employees

You may find a lemon once in awhile, but if every employee you hire is terrible, the problem is you, not them. Your job when hiring is to interview, hire, train and mentor your employees.  If you miss any of these or do them poorly, you will ultimately have sub-par employees.  But it's your fault, you expected an off the shelf ace employee. You hire for talents and personality and you train for skills.  You need to keep people motivated and inspired to work for you.

You will reach a point in your business where you will need others to help you grow.  You can't do everything forever.  Business owners that do not know how to hire and manage good people, will eventually implode as it creates an expensive and time-consuming cycle of revolving employees.  This leads to frustration for the business owner and poor service for your customers.

Charles M Schwab Quote about arousing enthusiasm in other men

Charles M. Schwab of Bethlehem Steele and right-hand man of Andrew Carnegie, credited all of this success to his ability to create enthusiasm among the people around him.  He was also paid 1 million dollars a year by Andrew Carnegie to run his steel operations at a time when most men were lucky to earn a few hundred dollars a year.

Want to know how to hire and mentor great employees?  Read this book.

You're not a people person

Everyone business has a customer, if you don't like interacting with people or collaborating with others, then it will eventually show and reflect on your business.  If you don't enjoy being around people or you get frustrated easily with others, it'll be difficult to grow a successful  business.  Customers and employees won't want to be around someone who doesn't want to be around them.

You can probably see a theme in this article, that you need a team of people to help grow your business and to allow you to concentrate on the important aspects of your business.  These people may be employees, contractors peers,or 3rd party vendors but you will need to work with them all in order to grow your business.

Chinese Business Quote - Dont open a shop unless you are rpepared to smile

Dale Carnegie's classic, “How To Win Friends and Influence People”, is a must-read for every business owner.

You're not excited about your business

You may not love the actual product or service you offer, but you should love the business itself.  I know many business owners who aren't necessarily passionate about the product or service they offer, but they are passionate about growing a business, serving others and the satisfaction that comes from building a successful business.

What makes business exciting are the possibilities. If you aren't excited about that, then maybe you are in the wrong business or maybe owning your own business isn't for you, there is nothing wrong with that.  When you are in that “Messy Middle” of your business, the only thing that is left is the work itself, so if you don't find the work exciting and fulfilling, then what's the point?

Whether you have your own business or work for someone else, who wants to spend 30-40 years doing something they don't enjoy?

What road are you on?

You may be able to get away with one of the above and still have a successful business, but if you start identifying with a few of the above points, then maybe it is time to pause and reflect on your business and where it's headed.

Do Your Business Goals Align With Your Life Goals?

Planning your life goalsDoes your business free you to enjoy life or has it become a ball and chain than keeps you from doing what you really want in life?

When you're just starting to put together the ground work for a new business, before you start anything, you should sit down and think about your goals.

Not your business goals, but your life goals.

There are lots of unhappy small business owners.  Maybe they're not making the kind of money they dreamed of.  Maybe they feel like a slave to their business, never able to take time for themselves.  Maybe they just don't like their business anymore (it happens).

I think the really happy and successful business owners are not only doing what they love, but doing something that aligns with their life goals.

My first real business (I had several mini failures) was in retail.  It was something I thought (emphasis on “thought”) I understood and it seemed like the perfect fit for me.  I like people, I enjoy relationship style selling, I could wrap my head around how it worked.  Great fit indeed.  Man, I was so wrong.

It was about a year into it that I realized I made a mistake.  Actually, it was like a month into it but I was in denial. Unfortunately the lease was already signed, the construction was paid for, the employees were hired and the bank loan I personally guaranteed was in full force. Not something I could easily back out of.

The business I was originally in love with went totally against what my real life goals were.  I didn't realize it until it was too late.  Yeah, I'm an idiot, but it happens all the time.

So what was the problem?

Number one, I never sat down to think about what my life goals really were and if this business was in-line with them.  I was blinded by the endless possibilities of money, prestige and what I thought would be freedom.  Number two, I think I let my dreaming get in the way of reality.  If I sat down and looked at my life goals, I would have realized that brick and mortar retail was not the best fit.

Life goal and business goals

My Life Goals

We homeschool our 4 kids (when I say we, I mean my wife, on top of helping run our business).  One of our goals has always been educational travel with the kids.  Instead of reading about history, we could travel around the world and let them experience it first hand.  I guess this goals fits into our bigger goals of building a really strong family.  What family wouldn't want that as a goal?

I have some other life goals, but in the end, my main life goal revolves around experiences with the family.

But here was the problem, the business I chose was not conducive to my life goals.

When it comes to retail:

  • You have a fixed location which ties you to a geographic area
  • You have tons of overhead and potential financial responsibilities
  • You have employees that need you to train, manage and mentor
  • You have enormous pressure to market and keep people walking through the doors due to your overhead

I think it was the exact opposite of what I should have chosen as a business.

Now let me say there is nothing at all wrong with retail, I'm actually still involved in it and do enjoy it, but it required enormous overhaul (and a few years) on my part to get it working properly to fit in with my life goals.

If I had chosen a different type of business, I could have saved myself lots of heartache and stress.  It's like trying to force a square peg into a round hole….if you push with enough force you may eventually get it through, but wouldn't it be easier if you chose a round peg to start with?

To make things work I had to learn how to hire and train great people, learn how to let go and delegate and to build operational systems that could take me out of the equation when possible.

So what would I have done differently?

  • I would have started with understanding what my real life goals were as a starting point
  • I would have evaluated if the business I wanted to start would help or hinder those goals.  You have to be honest here, it's easy to gloss over things when you're in love with your business idea.
  • I would have done more research.  If I had spoken to more retailers, I would have learned more about what I was getting into and challenges I was going to face.
  • I would have made sure my life and business goals were in-line with each other.

It's never too late to re-align your business and your life.  It's easier to do it from the beginning, but if you're in the middle, you can do it too.  If I did it, anyone can.



What To Do When Your Business Gets Stuck

Rut in the roadIs your business stuck in a rut and you can't seem to get out of it, no matter how hard you try?

It seems like the harder you push, the more money you spend… just can't seem to push the business forward.

It's not the business that's stuck, it's you.

For small business owners, you and your business are tightly intertwined.  Your attitude, energy and perseverance has a direct impact on the success of your business.

If you feel optimistic and full of energy, your business and employees will feel it.  If you're stressed out and depressed, they will feel that as well.  You're the captain of this ship and you decide where it goes, for better or for worse.

 When You Are Stuck

All business owners get stuck.  Sometimes it's easy to pull yourself out of it, other times it's like trying to get out of quick sand, the harder you try, the deeper you sink.

That's usually when that lingering feeling of panic and hopelessness starts to sink in.

The most important thing is to recognize that you are stuck and to know that it's something that happens to all of us.  Before you go and try and roll that boulder up the hill, take a minute and breathe.

Firefighting Days

Gary-Shouldis-FDNYWhen I was in the NYC fire department (seems like a lifetime ago) we did a lot of training.  Probably about 50 hours of training for every hour of actual firefighting.  When the stakes are high, you can never have enough training.

When you're inside a burning building, it's a surreal event.  It's pitch black, you wouldn't be able to see your finger even if you poked yourself in the eye with it.  You're wearing an oxygen tank, so the only sound you hear is your own breathing, just like Darth Vader in Star Wars.  You can feel heat coming through your bunker gear (firefighter clothing), knowing that if you didn't have this gear on, you're body would fry like an egg.

As a firefighter, you're trained for this.  You know what your job is and what you need to do.

Everything is cool until you get lost.

Getting lost inside a burning building is scary.  You've lost your sense of direction, you can't see a thing and the only thing you can hear is your own breathing…..which is getting faster.

You also know that with every breathe you take, you're oxygen tank is getting lower.

At this point it's easy to start to panic.  Especially when conditions are rapidly deteriorating.

When this happens, that mask on your face feels like someone is trying to smother you with a pillow.  The natural instinct is to pull of your mask so you can breathe air and get that suffocating feeling off of you.

But a firefighter knows if they do this they will die.

The super heated gases in the air will fry your lungs on the first breathe.  If that doesn't kill you instantly, the carbon monoxide will.

When a firefighter gets lost and panic sets in, the first thing they are trained to do is not to try and escape, or yell for help.

When a firefighter realizes they are lost, they stop what they are doing and breathe.

They're trained to stop, get their shit together……and then figure out how they're going to get out of their predicament.


Stop and Breathe

When you're lost, the worst thing you can do is keep moving.

When you recognize you've lost your way, the best thing you can do is to stop what you're doing and breathe.

Most of us business owners, when we feel lost, we try and push harder and harder, hoping to break out of the rut we're in.  We put in more hours, we start stressing out over everything and we start throwing money at marketing initiatives hoping that'll be the cure.

It's panic mode, and if you don't stop and pull yourself out of the situation, you'll be running in that mouse wheel until you tire out and collapse.

Instead of more work and more hours, it's time to step back, regroup and think logically about how you and your business are  going to get out of this.


So What Do You Do?

After you've stepped back, recognized that your business is stuck and you're the only person that can get it unstuck, it's time to put together a plan of action.



When a firefighter gets lost, they will stop and backtrack in their mind to see at what point things went south for them.  Look back and reflect on what got you into this rut in the first place.  Have you been distracted?  Have you cut back too much on marketing because cash flow is tight? Are you feeling stressed out and depressed?  Is the customer service starting to falter because you're not training and mentoring your employees like you used to?

Spend the time necessary to identify the cause of the this stagnation before you try and get yourself out of it.  You want to be like traditional medicine where you treat the cause of the problem, not like modern medicine where you only treat the symptoms.



Once you've identified what's been keeping you from moving your business forward, you can start putting together a plan to get you back on the right track.  Figure out what resources you will need to get you back on track.  This could be better training, a better attitude, smarter marketing or maybe you're just overwhelmed and you need a break so you can come back refreshed and ready to take on the world again.

Whatever it is, put together very specific action steps on how you will get out of this stagnant state.  Start with small steps and gradually work onto bigger ones.  A first step might be to send a newsletter out to your customers because you haven't done so in a long time,  or to take your employees out for lunch because you don't remember the last time you did.


Take Action

You can do all of the reflecting and planning you want, but if you don't take action and change the course of the ship, it's all a waste of time.

Most non-business owners think that the value is in the idea, where most business owners know that execution is where the rubber meets the road.  Taking action is what's going to pull you out of that rut, not talking about it.

Stop saying and start doing, or as Ben Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said”.


Breathe, Then Do

You've stopped and stepped back from the situation. You've identified the cause of your stagnation.  You've developed a plan to get you out of it.  And you've taken your first action steps free yourself from it.

Congratulations, you're no longer stuck.

It'll happen again, it always does.  But when it does, let your training kick in and breathe.

3 Questions Great Managers Always Ask Themselves

You can work for a great company, but if you have a poor manager as your direct supervisor, you won't be happy there.

Same with school, you can be in a poor performing school but have an inspiring teacher that can inspire you to become a better person.

It's the person that is closest to you that affects you the most.

As a business owner, the success of your employees and your business rests on you.  You are the leader, manager and role model.  Your employees look to you for guidance.  You set the tone and culture for your business.  People want to work for people that inspire them, that teach them, that are looking out for them.


Are you attracting and retaining great talent or are you driving them away with your management style?

Great managers are hard to find, most just get in the way of productivity and serve to annoy those under their supervision.  Am I exaggerating?  Maybe, but we've all had managers like that in the past, where their only true purpose was to look over your shoulder and coach you on things they were clueless about.

So what's the difference between a great manager and a mediocre one?  There are lots of things actually, much more than can be covered in a single blog post.  I'm going to share with you what I think separates great managers from mediocre ones.

Whenever a situation arises, the first thing they do is look to themselves.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ― Stephen R. Covey

No knee jerk reaction to find someone to blame.

No excuse making.

No yelling.

They pause and reflect before taking action.

A great manager understands that they have a lot of responsibility and their action or inaction can have an enormous impact on the performance of those working under them.  They understand that ultimately they are responsible for everyone below them.  They know that the only person who buys an excuse is the person giving it.

If you're a business owner, then you sit at the top of the pyramid, nobody above you to blame.  Yes, you're responsible for everything that happens, directly or indirectly.

I think great managers understand the art of thinking before speaking.  When something happens or someone screws up, the first thing they do is look to themselves.

Before they open their mouth, they ask themselves the following questions, in this order:

Was this my fault?

Most of the time, the question asking stops here.  You can usually trace the origin of the problem back to something you did or didn't do properly.  It can be failing to properly communicate your expectations, inadequate training or abdicating responsibility when you were supposed to be delegating it.

A great manager will start the scrutiny process with themselves before looking to external causes.  They'll look at ways they could have prevented the problem in the first place and then take action to minimize the chance of it happening again.

A poor manager will look to place blame as far away from themselves as possible, usually at all costs.  In real world terms it's called throwing someone under the bus.  People hate this and it's the quickest way to lose the respect of the people working for you.

Was there a breakdown in the process?

Many times it's not the employee that's to blame for screwing up, it's the process itself.  Maybe there aren't enough checks and balances in place or gaping holes in the process where people have to make assumptions they shouldn't have to.

A great manager will look to see if there are flaws in the current process that needs to be fixed.  You can often find process breakdowns by speaking to your employees, they'll be more than happy to share them with you.  Breakdowns in the process are great opportunities to diagnose and strengthen them.

A poor manager will leave gaping holes in the process and then yell and scream when things don't go perfectly.  These managers expect you to “read their minds”.

Is this an Employee Concern?

Maybe you need to provide more training or communicate with them more often to set expectations.  Maybe they're in the wrong position and you have them doing something they're not suited for.

Maybe you just hired the wrong person.

You should never feel good about firing someone.  As a manager or business owner, if you ever have to fire someone, it's because you failed.  You failed at one of 3 things:

  • You failed at hiring the right person
  • You failed at training this person
  • You failed at properly managing this person

Yes, the buck stops with you, even when they screw up.

As you can see, all 3 questions really track back to the same thing, you.  Great business owners understand that they are ultimately responsible for everything that happens with their business.

5 Little Life Tips from Big Name Entrepreneurs

Herb Kelleher“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” crooned John Lennon. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Maybe you want to own a sustainable hobby farm, be a librarian or someday become the CEO of General Electric, there are principles that apply to everyone’s journey. Advice that comes from people who have accomplished their dreams can help you plan, execute and achieve your goals — no matter what they are.

Here are 5 little life tips from some well known entrepreneurs.

Bob Parsons: Get Out and Stay Out (Of Your Comfort Zone)

Security is for corpses

Success means stretching yourself to the limits. Bob Parsons, GoDaddy CEO, knows this to be true on a number of levels. In his “16 Rules for Success in Business and Life in General,” his first rule instructs the importance of taking leaps and trying new approaches, because, “security is for corpses.”


Dave Kerpen: When You Want Something, Give Instead

When you want something from someone, instead of asking, offer your service

Dave Kerpin image by Worth of Mouth Marketing Assn. via Flickr.

The CEO of Likeable Local credits his father-in-law for the best advice he has ever gotten. He explains to The Huffington Post that to act unselfishly and trustworthy establishes you as a true friend and a worthy person. When you want something from someone, instead of asking, offer your service. It may not always pay off, but more often than not it will work in your favor (and bring you good karma too).


Michael Moritz: Follow Your Instincts

At the end of the day maintain the courage to stick to your convictions

Three simple words made a big impact on Mr. Moritz as a young man. He clarifies this doesn’t mean you should “trust your gut” at face value, according to The Huffington Post. You must do extensive homework and analyze options carefully, but at the end of the day maintain the courage to stick to your convictions.


Herb Kelleher: Keep an Open Mind

Anyone should be accepted with an open mind, and everyone should have a chance to prove themselves worthy

The founder and former chairman of Southwest Airlines uses a piece of advice from his mother, who was a big influence in his life. “People should be respected and trusted as people, not because of their position or title,” he said in a CNN Money article. Do not trust a person because of high stature or important title. Anyone should be accepted with an open mind, and everyone should have a chance to prove themselves worthy. If you are talking to someone, give them your undivided attention. They should be the only one you are focused on at that moment. Everyone deserves that.


Derek Sivers: Be a First Follower

It takes guts to start something new, but it also takes guts to be the first one to follow that new leader

Derek Sivers is an entrepreneur who runs CD Baby, an online site where independent musicians can sell their albums. He gave a motivating speech on “How to Start a Movement” for a TED Conference that anyone could take to heart.

“The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader,” he said. It takes guts to start something new, but it also takes guts to be the first one to follow that new leader. There is no movement without a first follower.

Who inspires you?

Who are some of the famous and not so famous people that have inspired you?

Are You A Right Or Left Brain Thinker? [Infographic]

As a business owner, do you know if you're a Right or Left Brain Thinker?  Knowing more about the way you think will help in understanding yourself and why you prefer things the way you do.  It'll also help to understand your employees better and help you to tailor your management style according to their personalities.

The Infographic below is courtesy of

understanding right and left brain thinkers

5 Effective Tips for Creating Productive New Hires

Let’s face it, even in a booming economy, what company has the time to hire, train, and dedicate resources just to do it all over again in six months and for the same position!! Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes company’s need to part ways with an employee that is just not working out. Below, however, are five tips that I have learned throughout my career as a hiring manager, which have increased my new-hire retention and got the candidates I wanted.


Step 1 –Evaluate the job description. Just like anything, things change. However, most companies keep the same job description (JD) for years. The hiring manager should evaluate JDs before posting. A few suggestions:

  • Does the JD start with a description of your company? Ask yourself: if you didn’t know your company, and were looking at a job there, would the description inspire you AND get you excited about the company? Most of the time, this is an employee’s first introduction to the company. The description should not only explain the purpose of the organization and the mission, but the accolades, accomplishments and goals of the organization as well. Remember, you are seeking talented individuals (hopefully) and want to “sell” the company, just like you want the individual to “sell” him or herself to you.
  • How specific is the JD? The first 2-3 bullet points under job duties, responsibilities, functions (whatever you want to call it) should be the most important. Then the rest should be listed in order of priority. These duties should be clear and specific so no surprises await the employee once they start.
  • Does the JD list core and leadership competencies? I’ve seen many JDs that list the functions of the job, which is important, but fail to mention competencies. These are the attributes and personality traits that a manager and team members can often get frustrated with a few months into the job. Look at your ideal employees. If you don’t have employees yet for the specific role, write down what attributes that ideal employee would possess. These can be qualities such as: reliable, team player, political savvy, problem-solver, organized. After you compile your list, you can even write a brief description next to the competency. Here’s an example:

Accountable/Dependable – Must take responsibility for timeliness of schedule and breaks.

This ensures that not only can the candidate perform the job but they are easy to work with and easy to coach.

Step 2 – Have a working interview. At one of my former employers, we would first have the human resources department phone screen the potential employee. Then, if they liked the candidate, we would bring them to the office for an interview with various other managers. If the interview went well, we would then check references, collaborate, and offer the position. As you could imagine, our turnover was extremely high. I started to incorporate what we called a “final, working interview”. The candidate would get to see “a day in the life” of the position before they were brought in for another round of questions (which can be completed on the same day). We would have the potential new hire shadow an employee that was successful and looking for leadership opportunities. This part is a great way to assess the candidate’s professionalism, level of engagement and overall enthusiasm about the job (not to mention a great way to also develop an existing employee). It also paints a realistic picture of the role and allows the candidate to truly know what they are committing to. Expectation setting is everything. Employees produce better results when they know what is expected of them, both on paper and in reality. At the end of the shadow, take the opportunity to assess the candidate’s thoughts and possible concerns about the position.

Step 3 – Set a probationary period or give a small project/assignment before offering full-time employment. I recognize that this will not always be possible for every role. However, this really helps create hard-working, productive employees. When an employee really has to “work” to get the job, the last thing they want to do is leave it. Once, while interviewing potential new hires for an administrative position, I had candidates submit an assignment using Excel. For sales positions, we set the expectation that a permanent position would be awarded after the candidate completed their training and sold a specific dollar amount during the probationary period. This created focused, determined employees right off the bat and weeded out the under-performers or those with the attitude that any job will suffice.

Step 4 –Introduce the new hire to the company. The first day on the job can be just like the first day of school, exciting and intimidating all at once. Aside from orientation and training, the first day on the job can really solidify the new-hire’s experience and level of production. Give these things some thought to ensure a great first day and future: who greets the new-hire? Will someone give them a tour? Is the work space ready? Do they know where the bathrooms are? Do they have business cards, a name plate, a welcome card and anything else creative to make them feel like part of the team? This leads me to step 5.

Step 5 – Assign a mentor (preferably someone with leadership desire). A mentor can help with the above things in Step 4, but ultimately a mentor will serve as another level of support for the new hire. The mentor usually wants to grow their career, and can handle accomplishing their own tasks, while taking on additional responsibilities. Mentorship also helps take some of the simple, “newbie” questions off the manager’s plate.


Many have experienced hiring what they thought were a strong candidate and found themselves frustrated six months later due to lack of performance. Following the above steps improved my new-hire performance ramp up time 50-70% and ultimately contributed to the decrease of employee turnover.


Valentina “Val” Ries is the owner and founder of Brava Coaching, LLC. Val has started two successful businesses and is an active member of many local business organizations She has dedicated her life to empowering others and helping businesses define their path to success. She has trained, inspired, and led multiple teams and managers to optimal production. Brava Coaching, LLC provides leadership, direction and support to business professionals and front-line managers. Brava Coaching’s goal is to increase companies’ overall profitability and employee retention through leadership development and coaching. Val has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Masters of Business Administration and is a small business counselor for SCORE


Are You A Great Manager?

Being a successful business owner means you need to be a good manager.  That is, unless you want to forever be a one employee company.

Your ability to manage other people can mean the difference between being a slave to your business (you do everything, always), and having the freedom to use your time how you want (your employees mind the store).  I'm sure when you were first envisioning life as a business owner, you were dreaming of the latter.

If you ever want a chance at having time away from your business, or even expanding to additional locations (there is only one of you), you must be able to do 4 things that will make you a great manager.

Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. ~Steven Covey

Hire the right team members

Most first time business owners may have managed people in the past, but few have ever actually interviewed and hired people before.  If you get this step wrong, the rest of the points below won't matter.  When it comes to hiring, as the saying goes, a leopard can't change it's spots.

The problem that most first time business owners make in this area is that they get impatient and frustrated with the slow moving pace of the hiring process (us entrepreneurs like to race through everything!) and eventually “settle” on someone, just to end the pain of hiring.

So what do you do?

Take your time. It may seem like an eternity but good people are out there.  Start the hiring process long before you will actually need someone to be sure you don't rush through the process and make a poor hiring decision.

Know what you are looking for, be specific!  Have a game plan before you ever post a job opening.  Do you know what the ideal employee looks like?  Do you know what skills and talents are required to be that super employee?   In the ground breaking management book, First Break All The Rules, the authors stress the importance of hiring for talent over experience, intelligence and determination.

Have a trial period.  I never simply hire a person, not until they have proven they can do the job with excellence and they work well with the rest of the team.  All new hires are on a 30 day trial period (with pay) with a weekly progress report on how they are doing.  You never know how someone will perform until they actually have to.

Have a proper on-boarding process.  Once you hire that great employee, make sure you make the most of it by providing a great initial experience for them.  The first few weeks is where an employee decides if this job will be a brief pit stop or a lasting career.

“The less people know, the more they yell.” ~Seth Godin

Communicate Clearly with your employees

Nothing breaks down the manager/employee relationship faster than not communicating with them.  Don't be the manager who only calls on their employees when there is a problem.  Lack of communication translates into lack of caring, and yes, your employees want to know that you actually care about them.

So what do you do?

Set expectations.  Let your employees know from day one what you expect from them.  Poor managers leave their people constantly “guessing” what is expected of them.  If you are very, very clear on what you want and what is expected (and remind everyone often), everyone will be on the same page and will know what is expected of them.

Give frequent feedback.  Don't wait until a quarterly evaluation to let your employees know if they are doing a good or a poor job.  Give feedback as things happen, as long as your being constructive and not critical of your employees.  Treat the positives as an opportunity to celebrate and mistakes as an opportunity to learn.

Be open to feedback from your employees.  Most managers will tell you “my people can tell me anything”, but if you ask their employees, almost all of them will tell you “You can tell him anything, as long as it's what he wants to hear”.  Be genuine in your wanting open communications with your employees, they know when you are full of it, even if you don't.

A manager's task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weakness irrelevant–and that applies fully as much to the manager's boss as it applies to the manager's subordinates. ~ Peter Drucker

Motivate and develop your employees

Being genuinely concerned about the growth and development of your employees will earn you a world of loyalty.  Not only their development at work, but in their lives as well.  One of the biggest reasons employees are satisfied at their job is that they feel that they are always learning and growing as an employee and as a person.  It's your job as a manager to bring out the best in all of your people.

So what do you do?

Find out what your employees are good at, and develop those talents even further.  Like a good baseball manager, it's your job to find the hidden talents of all of your players and bring them out to the surface.

Keep the work interesting.  Nothing kills motivation (and productivity) more than boredom.  Boredom comes when you are not being challenged, when you are not learning something new.  Keep your employees engaged in their work by teaching them new skills, challenging them to do more than they are doing and to think creatively about their work.

Know what motivates them.  If you know what motivates them, what really gets them excited, you can use that to bring out the best in them.  Does your employee value more time off?  Award time off for that employee if they reach certain goals and milestones.  Others may want more money, another may want recognition….it's your job as a manager to find out and use this information as motivation.

Celebrate the little things.  Don't wait until something “big” happens, look for those little things your employees do as a reason to praise them.  Everyone loves to be acknowledged for a job well done.

Men and women want to do a good job, and if they are provided the proper environment, they will do so. ~William Hewlett

Trust your employees

Your job as a manger is not to get stuff done, but to get other to get stuff done.  You should be providing all of the tools, skills and resources so that your employees can do their best work and get the job done.  This means that once you have given them these things, you need to step aside and let them work.

So what do you do?

Don't micro-manage.  Everyone hates the manager that is always looking over their shoulder, so don't do it.  If you did your job as a manager (and everything outlined in this article), you shouldn't have to.  Managers that do this either don't trust their employees (didn't hire correctly) or are very insecure in their position as manager (I feel sorry for their employees)

Let them make mistakes.  They will make them, but that's the only way they will learn and grow.  Be there to give feedback (and re-training if necessary), but don't be the manager who always jumps in at the first sign of a challenge.  Your employees will never learn and develop if they never have to think their way through a difficult situation.  Don't let your employees form a dependency on you, you will never be free from your business if you do.

Give responsibility.  Let your employees make decisions, and be responsible for them.  Give them authority to make decisions, set  guidelines where they are allowed to show discretion in a situation, like giving a discount to an unhappy customer.  A terrible manager will make their employees responsible for things they have no control over.

Businesspeople will be responsible if they are truly given responsibility without second-guessing. ~Chuck Martin

Are you a great manager?

Are you a manager who does all (or most) of the above?  Is there another management trait that is missing here?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on what it takes to be a great manager!


Five Tips That Go Beyond The Resume When Hiring


Everyone knows how to write a resume, or knows someone who can. I think everyone can remember putting together their first resume, trying to emphasize the important life skills they learned working part time at the local movie theater or spending their Summers as a camp counselor while in school. With a little creativity and writing savvy, anyone can make even their most meager experiences into a journey of personal insights and understanding. I once had a friend who listed on his resume that he was a customer service rep at “The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company”. He was actually a part time cashier at “The A&P” while in high school. See what I mean?


If you are a small business owner, the hiring process can be one of the most daunting tasks you will have to do, but it may be the most important. The people who you employ to represent you and you're business can either make or break you, so give the hiring process the time and importance it deserves. Here are five things to look for in a potential candidate that go beyond just reading the resume.

Always ask for a cover letter. Generic resumes can be created and mass mailed without much thought or effort. When posting for a position, always require a detailed cover letter along with the resume. A detailed cover letter is where the applicant actually acknowledges that they are applying for a position with your company and a brief explanation as to why they think they are a fit for the position. Be cautious of generic cover letters that do not mention the name of the business or the actual position that is being applied for. An applicant who is too lazy to customize their cover letter for you will most likely be the lazy employee that will drive you crazy as a business owner.

Start with a phone conversation. Before you schedule a face to face interview, find out how the applicant sounds on the phone. Do they sound pleasant? Do they speak clearly and can articulate themselves? Don't worry too much about what questions you ask them, the goal is to get them talking and to see if this sounds like a person who you think could represent you and the business. If all goes well, schedule an in person interview.

Look at how the applicant behaves before the interview starts. Any applicants that have passed the cover letter and phone interview stages are ready for an in person interview. The interview starts before, and extends after the actual sit down, so be sure to pay attention to the following:

  • Is the applicant on time. Being on time is very important. Sometimes things happen, maybe the applicant got lost or had car trouble but if they act like it's no big deal or they do not acknowledge being late, they most likely see tardiness as no big deal.

  • First impressions. Make sure you watch the applicant as they enter the business. Are they smiling? Are they dressed appropriately? Do they introduce themselves to the other employees or do they walk right past them? All good signs into a person's personality and potential fit for your business.

Ask the right questions to get the right answers. The in person interview is the time to ask detailed questions about the applicant and to verify information listed on their resume. The goal of the interview is to see if the applicant is a personality fit as well as finding out if they have the skills to perform the job. Ask open ended questions and try to get the applicant to do most of the talking. The more you can get an applicant to talk the more likely they will reveal their true selves. Some sample questions I like to ask are:

  • What do you know about our business? I like to see if the applicant spent some time finding out about our business and what we do. It shows that they are proactive and really interested in this position. If you do not have an online presence it may be difficult for the applicant to do this research. You could even email some information about you're company to them when you schedule the interview and see if they took the time to review it.

  • What do you think you can bring to the our business? After giving a brief overview of the business and the company culture I like to ask this question. I'm looking to see how well they articulate themselves and to also see what they think their strengths are.

  • You said you are______, can you give a specific example of how you are ____? Resumes are loaded with buzzwords like “Exceptional Communication Skills” and “Highly Organized”. Anyone can write this on their resume, I’m looking to see if they actually are. If a person says they are highly organized, they should be able to give a specific example of how they are organized. If they really struggle to find an example then you can probably say that it may not actually be a strong point of theirs, just something they thought sounded good.

  • What do you like to do with you're free time? I like this question because you can really find out what someone is really like and what they are passionate about. Do they like to sit on a couch all weekend and watch tv? Do they like to travel and experience new things? Do they like to write? You may be interviewing for a customer service position but you may also have just found the person to start the business blog you keep putting off.

After the interview. After the interview is over I will ask the other employees what they thought of the candidate. It's a good idea to get their opinions as they will be the ones working with the new employee. Though they will not make the final decision, they should have a role in the hiring process. They can also give you a different insight or tell you something they noticed about the applicant that you didn't.

So here are five additional tips that will help you go beyond the basic resume and to make a more informed hiring decision. It can be tempting to rush through the hiring process, especially when you are desperate, but do take the time required as it can be the most important decision you make for your business. What tips do you have when hiring a new employee?

How Great Leaders Inspire

Small business leadership quotesHere is a great talk by Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action.  It was recorded at a TED conference in 2009.  In this talk Simon talks about “The Golden Circle” and understanding the Why, How and What about leadership.  People do not follow you because of what you offer, they follow you because of why you are offering it and how it relates to them on a deep personal level.  He gives great examples of success and failure and shows that the companies that can inspire usually win out over the companies who try and buy you with deep pockets and fancy features.