I have just finished reading and enjoying Daniel Pink’s latest book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” It discusses what really motivates employees.  The ideas present in the book show us many of our traditional ways of rewarding employees is totally wrong and sometimes destructive.

What drives any of us to perform at our best? Is it money, fear of punishment, reward or is it something more than that?  Once I started reading “Drive”, I realized that Pink was on to something. It was time to upgrade my “Operating System” from one that has been too narrowly focused on reward and punishment to one that appealed to something bigger inside all of us; our intrinsic need for autonomy, mastery and purpose.

If you are a small business owner or in a position to manage others, this is a must read.  It will show you that money is quite often not what motivates employees but intrinsic motivations.  The book will discuss how to use this intrinsic motivation to create a great work environment and a happy work force.  The video below is a great talk Daniel Pink did at a TED conference a few years back.

How do you motivate your employees?  I’d love to hear your comments.

*Update!  In June 2012, Google announced that they are transitioning existing Google Places pages to Google+ for local business.  If you have an existing Places page, the content will automatically be moved over to the new Google+ page for your business.  If you don't have a Google+ page for your local business, you can create or claim your Google Plus page here.

Google Places (formerly Google small business center), is a wonderful tool for your small business.  The best part about it is that it’s totally free.  Too many small brick and mortar businesses are not taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity to create an online presence for their small business.  With the soon to be death of traditional yellow pages, and in most areas, print advertising, you cannot afford not to be online.  Customers today mainly are looking for what you have to offer online.  If you do not have a website yet,  you have to, at a minimum set up a Google Places account.  Did I mention that it’s Free?

Some really great features that have been added with the launch of Google Places are:

Service areas – Businesses who travel can show the geographic areas that they cover. Those without a storefront can make their address private.

Advertising with Tags – For 25 bucks a month, businesses (in certain cities) can use Tags to highlight their listings on Google.com and Google Maps. These are yellow markers that let you promote important aspects of your business. They can be used for things like coupons, photos, and other select features.  They don’t affect the rank of search results, but they give customers more information and may prove beneficial. You can expect Google to increase the number of cities where this option is available.

Business photo shoots – Businesses (again, in certain cities) can request a free photo shoot from Google to have the interior of their business photographed and added to their Place Page. We've seen Google do this in the past. Now we know what they're doing (learn more here). You can upload your own photos as well, just make sure they are of good quality.  Sometimes local photography schools will come in for Free and do the work since it is practice for them.

Customized QR Codes
– Google is providing customized QR codes from the Google Places Dashboard. The code will take customers to your place page, and can be used on business cards and other marketing materials. Customers can scan them with their smartphones.

See below for an introduction to Google Places

Google also gives businesses using Google Places great tracking stats they haven't been able to see in the past, like who'searching for them, how they're finding them, and where they're coming from.

Google is really making a push into the local search market, which is great news for the mom and pop local business.  “One out of five searches on Google are related to location, and we want to make sure that businesses are able to be found and put their best foot forward,” says Google Maps, Earth, and Local VP John Hanke.

The standard rules still apply to Google Places. Every listing must have a mailing address and there can't be more than one listing per physical location. Even physicians with multiple practices and services that cover multiple towns shouldn't have two listings. Google recommends in these cases that businesses use the description or categories to explain the different services offered. Google's quality guidelines can be found here, and may be helpful to businesses with questions about their listings.

With such a great Free resource for your Small Business, what are you waiting for?  It should take about 15 minutes from start to finish so get going today.

Are you using Google Places?   Share your experiences here.

Mr Productivity

Mr Productivity

I love to read, more specifically I love to read quality business books.  As a small business owner I feel like I am always short on time and can barely skim over a two page article let alone a 300+ page book.  I was speaking about this subject with a friend of mine who owns several small businesses and he suggested audio books to me.  A light went on in my head.  I commute nearly 30 minutes to and from my business each day, what a way to make more productive use of my time.  Instead of earning my graduate degree in 80’s Hair Band lyrics, I was inside my own mobile classroom..  Fast forward 24 months and 48 audio books later.  Today I feel like a knowledge sponge, having listened to books I otherwise never would have had time to read.  I have even expanded into awesome business pod casts and audio lectures.

Who would have known a simple suggestion would have opened up a whole new world of learning for me, I even discovered that i'm an auditory learner, making audio books even more impactful.  I learned two things from this experience. #1, when you meet a successful person, pester them (in a good way) about everything they know. #2, to become a success at anything, you need to have an obsession for it and a hunger to learn more.

Sites like Audible.com make it super easy and inexpensive to download and listen to audio books. Becoming more productive can lead you on a road to small business success. Give it a try, you may give yourself an MBA education during your once boring commute this year.

How do you make productive use of your time as a small business owner?

Don't be this Guy

Don't be this Guy

How many times a day do you check your email? Have you ever stopped mid conversation while speaking with someone to check and see who just sent you a message on your Blackberry? Not only is this rude, but it may be making you stupid. The average person checks their email 5-6 times a day. Opinion polls have indicated that many Blackberry users cannot go more than 5 minutes without checking their email. The 2006 New World College dictionary word of the year, “Crackberry“, rightfully deserves it's name.

Today'sworld is filled with rapid fire stimulation. Anywhere we go we can instantly be reached via text, email or phone. We are always on call and everything is immediate. We now live in an age where having to wait for something is the worst thing imaginable. Our attention spans have grown so short and we have grown so impatient that most of us have lost our ability to focus on a single task and to do it properly. This addiction to immediate access to email and other information is actually causing us to lose our ability to focus. In 2005, a psychiatrist at King's College in London administered IQ tests to three groups: the first did nothing but perform the IQ test, the second was distracted by e-mail and ringing phones, and the third was stoned on marijuana.

Not surprisingly, the first group did better than the other two by an average of 10 points. The e-mailers, on the other hand, did worse than the stoners by an average of 6 points. In order to remain fully focused on a task, most of us need undivided attention in order to get into the rhythm and flow of whatever it is we are doing. Take sleep for an example. If you were to interrupted every 20 minutes during the course of a night's sleep to answer a phone call or to check an email, would you consider that a productive night's sleep? How do you think these constant interruptions are affecting your work life? Worse yet, how is it affecting your family life? Are you the parent at your kid's soccer game with your Blackberry in hand the entire game?

Smart phones and their cry for constant attention may be hurting our ability to communicate. Really communicate. When we write a message using our phones we tend to keep it short and sweet. We write just enough to get our message across, no need for silly things like proper spelling or using complete sentences. We are too busy to spend any more than a few seconds responding to someone's request. The problem with doing this on a consistent basis is twofold. One, we are losing our ability to focus. When using a smartphone to communicate, we tend to put little thought into what we are writing. We tend to say things we otherwise would not say in person. When we write in erratic, fragmented language, we eventually begin to think like that too. Sloppy writing will eventually lead to sloppy thinking. Secondly, we think that being busy equates to being productive. Doing one thing well is better than doing three things poorly. If you try and juggle too many balls, eventually you will start to drop them.

Remember, your smart phone does not have to be constantly buzzing in order to feel important. If you selectively pick times during the day when you will check email it will free you to direct your attention to the matter at hand. Make it known to everyone to only text you if it's important, otherwise email you and you will check it later. When you are having a conversation with someone and your phone starts buzzing, it's OK to check it AFTER the conversation, not in the middle of it (unless your wife is about to give birth). Good manners and courtesy are still sought after traits in people. If you are working on an important project, shut your phone and email off and give it your undivided attention. You will produce better quality work. And lastly, when you are with your family, holster your smartphone and enjoy your time with the people who really matter.

Open for Business

What do you need to consider before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship?

1- Do I have what it takes to run my own business? Most people dream of being the boss but it's not always a party. Have you ever heard the term “The buck stops here”?, ” The fish stinks from the head up”? Being on top of the totem pole means having NO ONE to pass the blame to when times get rough, and they will get rough. Do you have the stomach for that kind of responsibility? Many don't, that's why they don't make it.

2- Be comfortable with risk. There will be lot's of risk, your money, your time and your reputation are all on the table for everyone to see and criticize. You will never be able to remove risk, all you can do is try and minimize it with lots of planning, preparation and education on your planned venture. Dolly Parton said “To get the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain”. Sometimes it rains a lot.

3- You always need more money than you think. Make sure you have enough money on hand to see you through the start up phase as well as potential setbacks. This applies even more if you have a family to support. Most start up business don't just fail, they either give up too soon or run out of money or had no business being in business to begin with. Whatever you business plan says, if it's not viable with only 50% of your projected revenues, then I wouldn't trust it in real life.

4- Be in it together. If you have a family, make sure everyone is on board with the decision. Many family situations have gone to ruin because one spouse went into a venture with the family finances without support of the other. If one of you is dead set against it, think long and hard before jumping in. “We blew it” is much better than “I told you so” if things don't work out.

5- Is it what I really want? If you enjoy stress and worry free weekends playing golf and hanging out with friends then maybe starting a business is not a good solution for you. Having your own business will keep you physically and mentally occupied most of your waking hours for a long time. Starting a business is like growing a flower, it needs lots of care before you enjoy the bloom.

If your still not sure the best thing you can do is start reading. Michael Gerber's “The E-Myth Revisited” and Norm Brodsky's “The Knack” are two good glimpses at life as a struggling entrepreneur. Good luck!

VOIP Professional

VOIP Professional

With the economy in the shape it is today, many small businesses are facing some tough realities as how to manage their business. Small business owners are keeping spending to a minimum and controlling costs while they ride out this economic downturn. Many seasoned business owners will tell you the good thing about running a business during a downturn is that it forces you to really look at your business and decide what’s important and what’s not. All operating costs and expenses are looked over with a fine toothed comb and it is in this time that many business owners find money that has been going to waste.

Depending on your business, your telecommunication costs can eat up a sizable chunk of your budget. Over the last few years VOIP technology has really come of age as costs keep getting lower and service keeps getting better. Listed below are the 5 reasons you should consider making the switch to VOIP technology for your business.

1 – It’s Cheaper than old fashioned telephone service. Although you will spend several hundred dollars in equipment to get yourself set up, the savings over the long run can be substantial. One of the biggest savings is long distance charges. Besides having to pay long distance access fees each month, most traditional phone companies charge rates considerably higher than VOIP providers. Most VOIP plans come standard with almost every feature you can think of while traditional phone companies usually charge a monthly fee for even the most basic features. These add on fees can quickly add up on your monthly bill.

2 – Unified Communication. Unified Communications is a fancy word to describe the ability to integrate your VOIP phone service with other communications such as email and computer programs. With unified communications you have the ability to have voicemail messages emailed directly to you wherever you may be. Long gone are the days you have to repeatedly call into the office to see if there are messages waiting. Another great application for VOIP is integrating it into a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) program for you business. Imagine when the phone rings the computer screen automatically pops up the account history of your customer before you even pick up the phone. Talk about a great customer service tool.

3 – The technology is here. In the early days of VOIP chronically dropped phone calls and sounding like your calling from Mars were the norm. Over the last few years bandwith has increased to a rate where businesses can operate several applications, including VOIP, over their internet connections without losing quality. Quality of Service technology, which gives VOIP and streaming video priority over data transmission has also paved the way to superior Voice over Internet phone calls.

4 – Hosted PBX. Traditional PBX (Private Branch Exchange) systems were usually reserved for big business as it is very expensive to set up. You also need someone with IT experience to manage it. With a Hosted PBX, the entire system is hosted on a remote server, where you, or your service provider, can manage it remotely. All of this can be done at a fraction of the cost of a traditional PBX system while giving small and home based businesses the professional image they need to compete with the big boys.

5 – It’s coming anyway, whether your ready for it or not.

Traditional phone services are going the way of the dinosaur. High fees, long term contracts and poor customer service has been the hallmark of traditional phone companies for a very long time. VOIP and Hosted PBX plans offer the small business owner lower telecom costs, more productivity and a chance to take their customer service to the next level. There are dozens of VOIP providers to choose from, the important thing is to educate yourself on this technology and seek out a vendor who can provide the proper support and consultation for a seemless transition.