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Your business is running well, profits are growing, and you feel the urge. You want to push to the next level. How do you know itâ€™s the right time? Check out these five signs itâ€™s time to expand.Â
Your Finances Are OrganizedÂ
Your financial records are filed. Your accounting system is set up completely and you know how to use it and you do use it. You know where your money is and you keep track of where itâ€™s going. You make sure your bills get paid on time. You pay invoices before they come due. You negotiate with vendors for the best rates.Â
Youâ€™re either a whiz at accounting yourself, or youâ€™ve hired a company accountant, or you have a great accountant on retainer. You know the numbers, and you watch (and can easily track) your bottom line.Â
Your Teams Are StrongÂ
No matter how great your product is, and how stellar your customer services is, without a unified and strong team, you donâ€™t have a business ready for growth.Â
Do team members communicate well? Team meetings run for a purpose, not for socializing. Team members play together nice. Telecommuters check in regularly. In-house people get along. The teams are meshing, and the managers are managing (but not micromanaging).Â
If you have the right people in the right positions, you have a solid business. If youâ€™re seeing one people problem, itâ€™s this: everyoneâ€™s workload is growing, but everyone is working at maximum output level.Â
Your Profits Are SteadyÂ
You have a good profit margin. A track record of profits. Growing profits. And from all financial forecasting and sales figures, you expect to see continued growing profits.Â
This is the biggest, best, and boldest sign but if the other signs donâ€™t accompany it, donâ€™t lean on profits alone to make your company fit for growth. Profits matter, certainly, but without a strong team or a functioning financial system, profits are not enough.Â
A diminishing or leveling profit margin doesnâ€™t always mean you are doing something wrong; it could mean, in fact, that growth is necessary. Without growth, your business might not able to meet increasing demand. As a result output will level off, meaning profits will either steady out or, perhaps, slow down as you cease pushing and marketing with the same zeal.Â
Your Cash Flow Is PositiveÂ
Your incoming cash exceeds your outgoing cash, even on the lean days and weeks. You understand your sales cycle, and you have a streamlined payment process. Youâ€™re not depending on a haphazard â€śhope the payments come through before the bills come dueâ€ť methodology. Instead, you are proactive.Â
You know how to in get cash in before cash goes out. You see the cycles, the ebbs and flows, that are a natural part of running a business. Youâ€™ve learned how to work with those ebbs and flows, not overextend your finances, and not assume a cash-confidence you shouldnâ€™t have.Â
You keep the whole financial picture in mind, and that allows you to make good decisions and keep your cash flow positive.Â
Your Funding Is ReadyÂ
You know you want to expand, and you have the capital in place (or a sound plan for getting it) to fund that expansion.Â
Expanding a small business to the next level can often feel like a leap in the dark for small business owners. And it is, if you donâ€™t have adequate funds to finance it. If youâ€™re ready to expand, you will have a phased-out plan for how that expansion should happen. You will have accurate figures for how much each phase will cost. You might even have a timeline in mind for how long each phase should take to complete.Â
Expanding without funding is like jumping without a parachute. It might be exciting at first, but itâ€™s going to end in disaster.
If youâ€™re looking at your healthy business and seeing these signs, congratulations. Youâ€™ve done a stellar job of growing a small business that can move onward and upward. If youâ€™re not quite there yet, now you know what to tackle. See you on the next level.Â
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Slow times are part of any small business. Fortunately, you can act to help your business survive, and even thrive, through them. Hereâ€™s how.
Know That Theyâ€™re Coming
You canâ€™t predict all the slow times, of course. But if your business has trackable trends, such as a summer sales boom and a typical winter lag, stay aware of it.
Look at the bigger picture, too. Tracking trends in your industry can help you see when cyclical dips and upticks tend to happen.
Keep Tracking Your Cash Flow
Tracking your cash flow is good, but a short-term view of cash flow can get you into trouble. Some business owners will see a high sales month as a sign that itâ€™s a good idea to expand their expenses. Additional expenses may be fine as long as your sales are high, but not once you hit that low season.
To keep your cash flow consistently healthy, donâ€™t add on expenses just because you have one or two good months. Track your cash flow by quarters and seasons, not week or months.
Prioritize All Expenses
Reducing expenses, is, of course, an effective way to help your business handle lean times; but how does one do that, exactly? First, make a list of all your expenses. Then arrange those expenses in tiers, or levels of priority, from 1 to 4:
1. Non-negotiable, uninterruptible expenses (rent and utilities and salaries).
2. Non-negotiable but interruptible expenses (inventory purchases).
3. Negotiable but important (marketing, fleet maintenance).
4. Negotiable, less important (supplies, seasonal decor, bonuses, training).
Donâ€™t Reduce What Makes You Money
The biggest temptation during slow times is to cut out the biggest expenses. Unfortunately, these are usually the expenses that bring you income: salaries, inventory, and marketing.
Cutting the things that bring in funds might seem like an answer; at the offset, you will have greatly reduced expenses. You will also soon have even more severely reduced funds.
You canâ€™t make money if you cut out the expenses required to make produce and sell. Reduce the expenses that donâ€™t relate directly to sales. Maintain the expenses that drive your sales. Generally those are your employees, your products, and your marketing.
Do negotiate with vendors for better terms and deferred payments. If youâ€™ve been a good customer with a good payment history, you should be able to get some wiggle room for a few months.
Do ferret out those overdue accounts and start collecting. Send a friendly but firm reminder to all past-due. Follow up with a friendly call a few days later toÂ confirm that the reminder was received and the payment has been sent.
Do examine your payment process and look for ways to streamline it. The faster you get paid, the better off your cash flow will be. Be sure your invoicing process happens immediately after the sale. And if you can expand your payment gateway to include more options, do so.
Focus on What You Can Do
Spend time on the projects and improvements that normally get shoved to the back burner.
Focus on improving your business. How about organizing your inventory, improving your accounting system, or streamlining your follow-up process? Improve the parts of your business that help you run more efficiently, improve quality, and keep your finances on track.
Focus on increasing customer loyalty. Write that email newsletter. Read all the customer feedback you can get. Send out a survey. Talk to the customers who are around. Follow up with the customers who arenâ€™t.
Focus on targeted, special promotions. Maximize your social media and content marketing. If you have time (but not money), you can research how to write a blog post, best practices for using Pinterest, and the optimum times to upd ate Facebook. Then you can start implementing what you learn.
Focus on training your employees. Spend the time improving your customer service practices, writing scripts and documents needed for daily use, dealing with common clogs in the workflow, and establishing the policies and procedures that you should already have in place.
Lean times arenâ€™t fun for small business owners, but they can be productive. And if you use them wisely, they can help you to maximize the busy times when they do come around again.
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What you think you know about creativity might just be holding you back.Â
The Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Model Is Just WrongÂ
We’ve long used the distinction of being a left-brain or right-brain thinker as a cute little way to show that a) we’re smart about brain stuff and b) we’re either creative or not creative.Â
In our neurological model, the left brain was all about decisions and analysis, definitive thinking and action, absolutes and logic. It had nothing to do with the effervescent, visual, expansive, relational right brain of creativity.Â
The only problem is that this particular model just isn’t accurate.Â
Research shows, in fact, that creative thinking does not belong to any particular side or area of the brain, but can “call up” multiple areas from either side of the brain. It really just depends on what kind of creative problem you might be solving.Â
This means, of course, that if you’ve always identified yourself as a logical, left-brained person, you are no longer off the hook when creative problems arise.Â
Time Constraints and Stress Hurt CreativityÂ
Constant deadlines, high-pressure work environments, never-ending urgent emails, and an unending to-do list have a bad effect on creativity.Â
Studies show thatÂ working under pressure and looming deadlines results in higher anxiety and lowered creative processing. Though we all understand that anxiety thing from experience, we might not realize how time constraints can hinder our creative thinking.Â
We actually can come up with ideas or solutions or whatever is needed; it’s a survival response. But while we think we are being creative, what we are actually doing is pumping out mediocre responses in hopes of avoiding the perceived danger of missing that deadline.Â
Not Working Really Helps Creative WorkÂ
Taking breaks. Taking a nap or taking a walk. Grabbing a quick coffee and a chat. All of these things don’t look like creative work. They look like the opposite of work. But what they produce in the brain - dopamine - leads to an increase in creativity.Â
AccordingÂ to recent research in the field of neuroscience, the more dopamine we have in our brain, the higher our creative drive becomes. So doing those things that release dopamine, like staring out the window at a beautiful sky, fitting in some exercise, or distracting yourself with a pleasant break, do help us in our creative work. It just doesn’t become obvious until the dopamine-inducing activity is over and we settle back into work, feeling strangely refreshed and full of ideas.Â
How to Use the Science in Your LifeÂ
How can the science help you to increase your own creativity or encourage creativity in your team? Here are three ways.Â
1. Don’t dismiss analytical thinkers as “uncreative” people.Â
Subscribing to the left-brain/right-brain stereotype might lead you to doubt your own creative ability, or to cut off creative input from team members who don’t fit a certain creative profile. Retrain yourself to be open to creative input from anyone, because there really is no personality type when it comes to creativity.Â
2. Set soft deadlines on projects and assignments.Â
A soft deadline gives you a time buffer, which is not only useful in case a genuine emergency does arise, but is also extremely helpful for creativity. Even when you are acting as if your soft deadline is the real thing, your brain knows it’s a front. This knowledge lets you relax and settle into creativity instead of tightening up under a deadline that is real and much too soon.Â
3. Use a timer method for working and breaks.Â
The Pomorodo technique, a popular timer method, is based on doing 25-minute work sessions followed by short (5 or 10 minute) breaks. Do focused work, then take a break. Repeat as needed for a workday routine that allows you to get stuff done while also giving your brain much-needed rest time. Use your breaks wisely (think relaxation and happiness, not cramming in another to-do or listening to people complain) and you can see those work sessions get more creative.Â
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Holidays bring a general air of festivity and a whole list of traditions, fr om office parties to tree-trimming to gift exchanges, fundraisers, and community service opportunities. Then there are more vacation days than usual, plus, for many businesses, a huge rush in work orders and customer service needs. All the festivity can cause a lot of disruption to work getting done.
You don’t want to be a Scrooge, but none of us can afford to be unproductive for weeks even for the holidays. Try these tips to stay festive and stay productive.
1. Stick to your daily routines as much as possible.
When our schedules change, we tend to react to those changes by changing our routines. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but often those routines can help us find our place even in the midst of chaos. When you find your daily schedule getting crowded or interrupted, do your best to stick to your routines, even if you have to adjust them a bit.
The beauty of a good routine is that it doesn’t have to be time-dependent; even if you get a later start or an earlier cut-off time, simply go through your routine at an adjusted time. Shorten it, if needed, or eliminate parts of it, but stick to your basic structure. Keeping your routine in place will help you to get your mind in the work-groove and find your place of productivity.
2. Set a distinct focus and clear goals for the month.
You’ll have to deal with the chaos and change in your schedule during the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s. Plan to do so by giving yourself a very clear focus for work.
You can’t do it all at anytime, and when there’s upheaval due to holiday parties and travel plans it’s even more important to be realistic. Make it easier on yourself to get right back to work by setting realistic and measurable goals. Be specific about what you want to accomplish during this month, so you know what to focus on during work time and can make the most of those hours.
3. Choose the holiday traditions you love; skip the rest.
An abundance of holiday traditions does not mean that you have to participate in all of them. Choose the traditions that you love, the ones that mean something to you. Let the rest go.
You can love the holidays and participate in some festivities, but there’s no reason you have to participate in everything. By making deliberate choices about the traditions you will be part of, you help yourself to make the deliberate choice to focus on work during other times.
4. Have an alternative ready for invitations.
When you’re approached during your work hours with an offer for some sort of holiday festivity, extra break, or treat, have a statement at the ready with an off-work alternative.
The idea isn’t to avoid holiday fun, but to maintain productivity while also taking part in the holidays. So instead of agreeing to an in-office event that will eat up your work hours, make another offer. Say something like, “No thanks, I’m not going to take a break right now, but I’d love to do something after work.”
5. Take care of yourself.
With all the extra food, treats, parties, and festive occasions, it’s easy to let self-care slide. You’ll exercise later, you tell yourself. You’ll catch up on sleep later.
But failing to take care of your basic physical needs, while also expecting your body to handle all that extra fat and sugar and alcohol, is going to slow you down. Get your time in at the gym, and get that sleep you need. Drink plenty of water and eat well whenever you can. Your body will have more energy, your mind will be sharper, and you’ll get more done.
6. Leave yourself clear directions.
Because the holiday season does offer more disruptions and distractions, it’s important to leave yourself clear notes on what you’re doing and where you need to pick up when you get back to work.
Leave yourself detailed notes on open projects. Ins ert all the important information in to your task list. Send yourself emails or voicemails with clear directions on wh ere to pick up work and to remind yourself of what the current priorities are. That sort of “breadcrumb trail” will make it simple and easy for you to jump right back in to work without missing a beat.
7. Party when it’s party time.
Spend your work time on work, but when it’s time to enjoy the holidays, do so without guilt. Our minds need a break from thinking about work, and we come back more productive after a break. Do your best to be effective and productive during work time, but once the holiday party or family festivity begins, join right in and enjoy the time.
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Mornings are magical, and not because of those little marshmallows in your cereal.
They’re magical because they hold an amazing power over the rest of your day. Use your first hour wisely tp set yourself up for an entire day that is productive and enjoyable.
Here are 5 ways to make that first hour count.
1. Start with a Plan
Your day begins better when you know what you want to do with it.
For this to truly work well, though, you don’t start your day by making a plan. You start your day already having a plan.
Make your plan the night before. You can do this in that last half hour of work, when you’re wrapping up for the day.
Or look at your schedule and task list before bed and spend a few minutes mapping out a plan for the next day.
Then, in the morning, in that first hour, spend five minutes reviewing your plan.
2. Feed Your Mind First
Breakfast is great. But food for the body isn’t food for the mind. Feed your mind with something insightful, something profound, something challenging.
Then give yourself a little time to soak it in: meditate for five minutes, or write for five minutes, or just sit and stare out of the window for five minutes.
Life is more than your task list. Fill your mind with some beautiful and good thoughts to carry with you for the rest of the day.
3. Quit Wasting Your Energy
Studies show that, like a muscle, our willpower weakens after much use. It needs time to build energy back up before it is at full strength. Making decision after decision is a quick way to deplete your mental energy.
So what are you doing, first thing in the morning, using up so much willpower on mundane decisions? You decide what you’ll eat for breakfast, and what you will wear, and what you will take for lunch, and which task you will tackle first.
You need to save yourself from wasting willpower on these decisions.
Spend a few minutes the night before setting up for your morning routine: lay out your clothes. Prep your breakfast items. Pack your lunch.
The more automatically you can go through your morning routine, the more energy and willpower you will reserve for the more important tasks that are coming up later.
4. Keep a Wall Around Yourself
The first hour of your day is for you: get ready, go through your morning routine, spend some time feeding your body and your mind.
Reserve your space and your silence in this first hour. Guard your privacy.
In other words, don’t begin with email and social media. Keep your notifications off. Don’t open the inbox. It can wait for another hour.
Use your time to focus and remind yourself of your goals, and get a head start on the important work you want to do. The urgent requests and endless intrusions will flood in later; there’s no need to open that door before you have to.
5. Picture Your Entire Day
This is an ideal exercise for the last few minutes of that first hour.
You’ve gotten physically and mentally ready for the day.
You have reviewed your plan.
You have maintained your space and focused yourself on the next actions.
Now, before you launch into work and face the world, take one minute and write down a sentence. A single sentence, written in past tense, describing your day as you want to live it *as if you already have*.
“Today I wrote the first two chapters of my next book and got in touch with that editor.”
“Today I focused and wrapped up the last tasks of that huge project.”
“Today I stayed positive even around negative people, kept a great mood going, and had fun doing what I love.”
“Today I helped my team work through some issues and kept the discussion open and honest so we could make progress.”
Now, with that sentence in hand, spend a few minutes visualizing yourself doing those things you’ve just described.
Picture the process.
Picture yourself doing that work, making those choices, responding that way, leading or deciding or focusing or accomplishing as you’ve just described. Don’t picture the end result (you’ve already described it in your sentence); picture the actions that get you to the end result.
Research shows that this type of visualization has a powerful effect on helping us to achieve our goals. Wrap up the first hour of the morning with a little power-punch of process visualization, and then go out there and have a great day.