Bite-Size Chunks of Wisdom

June 2014

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Much is being written about burnout. Just Google the term and you’ll receive 52 million results in less than a second. Unfortunately, that doesn’t alter the debilitating landscape for entrepreneurs facing the exhausting influence of burnout.

Any small business entrepreneur who has teetered on the brink of weariness understands, only too well, the forewarnings of pending burnout. The early warning signals exist — if we only paid attention to them.

Early Warning Signs

Sadly, many entrepreneurs are missing an “off switch” and are not equipped to recognize the warnings until its too late. Here are some of the indications of impending burnout:

  • Inability to fall asleep readily
  • Waking up fatigued and groggy
  • Undergoing a run-on business narrative that keeps you awake at night
  • Craving more and more caffeine
  • Consuming more comfort foods in an attempt to unwind and lessen stress
  • Difficulty focusing on one project for any length of time
  • Diminished creativity
  • Ineffectiveness in decision making

Burnout Avoidance System

If you’re one of those ambitious entrepreneurs that doesn’t hear — or heed — the early cautionary signs of burnout, you need a system that interrupts a budding burnout lifestyle. Here are six ways to ensure long hours and stress doesn’t trip your circuits and cause you to burnout:

1. Block out 30 minutes for lunch. This doesn’t mean you eat lunch at your desk. It does mean leaving your office for 30 minutes — at a minimum. The change of scenery keeps you renewed and invigorated. And, if you “take 10” outside, research demonstrates you’ll return to your desk renewed and ready to take on the remainder of your day.

2. Institute a hard stop time for each day. If you’re like me, my list of things to accomplish each day inevitably surpasses the amount of time in my day — much like my client who needs a 33-hour day! A pre-determined stop time — like an automatic lock on the bank safe — signals the end of the workday and time to transition to recharge your batteries.

3. Plan for the unexpected. If there’s one thing the 21st century teaches, it’s to “expect the unexpected.” Even so, few entrepreneurs accommodate the unexpected in their schedule. Allow 60–90 minutes of “white space” — unplanned time — in each day to handle the unforeseen.

4. Exercise to energize and decompress. Plenty of research studies have proven the significance of exercise on mood, motivation, and stress — including how exercise boosts sales. Why not make daily exercise part of your sales strategy? With 30 minutes of cardio to energize your mornings, and 30 minutes of yoga to decompress as you exit your office, you can count on a more balanced level of energy to get through each day with flying colors.

5. Plan for one uncommitted day each week.  A 24-hour period minuses promises and pledges — personally or professionally — doesn’t happen without some forethought. Plan, in advance, to treat yourself to 24 hours every week of nonstop “you” time. Then vigorously protect it with the same gusto you bring to your work as an entrepreneur.

6. Manage your expectations.  Ambitious, high-performing entrepreneurs are eternally optimistic about what’s possible to achieve in a day. The endless enthusiasm, which makes entrepreneurs a joy to work with, can also grind their gears to a nub, rendering them ineffective. A healthy dose of reality, blended with your endless optimism, helps you deliver on your promises without the unnecessary race to the finish line.

Undoubtedly, burnout comes at a high price. From the quality of your work to high levels of anxiety associated with excess stress to time wasted when you’re unable to focus and troubled by decision fatigue, the cost of burnout certainly isn’t worth the price being paid.

If you happen to be one of those entrepreneurs — like me — absent an “off switch”, a Burnout Avoidance System is the best protection against perpetual weariness, fatigue, and stress.


Ask any small business owner how s/he feels about selling and you’ll get a sour lemon face. Few SBO’s really embrace and enjoy the sales process. Consequently, they are “sales reluctant” and their avoidance of learning how to sell in the 21st century is killing deals.

Thanks to content marketing and inbound marketing, 70% of all your prospects are sold before they engage you — or your sales department — to complete their transaction. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad…

Many entrepreneurs using sales techniques straight out of the 1970s are buying back what the prospect has already decided s/he wants to purchase. They are “unselling” their potential buyer with outdated sales lines and lingo.

Like the lame pick-up lines from the 60s and 70s, you may look good as you approach your potential client but as soon as you open your mouth, and an ill-advised line falls out of your mouth, your prospect no longer wants to date you.

Get Up to Speed on the Sales Process

Slick sales jargon that conjure up images of a loud, obnoxious used car salesman in gaudy plaid pants went out somewhere around mid 1980. Thank goodness.

With so much information at their fingertips, today’s consumer is much more informed before making any buying decision. In fact, 97% of your consumers conduct online research before making a purchase and they have reviewed 10–11 pages before starting the sales process.

Consumers still want to buy — they just don’t want to be sold. Consumers today are self-selling.

Learn to Sell – 21st Century Style

Your future client is really looking for three simple things from you.

First and foremost, your future client wants you to listen — really listen. Rather than wait for your turn to speak, they want you to tune in and really hear their needs. (That also means not responding to email while simultaneously speaking to a potential client.)

Secondly, they want you to answer their questions. Your potential client has done their homework. They likely have a pretty good understanding of the additional information they need to finalize their decision.  Don’t wander off from the question being asked with extra info that only muddies up the sales water.

Finally, help them arrive at a solution to their problem — which is the reason they came to you in the first place. Don’t try to dazzle them with all the bells and whistles of your product or service. Too many “I, me, mine, or ours” in your sentences and you can count on losing that sale. Mr./Ms. Buyer wants to hear what’s in it for them.

If you don’t like selling like it’s 1970, congratulations! Your buyer doesn’t either! Consumers today are smart, sophisticated, informed, and educated. It’s time to get up to speed on selling and meet your potential buyers where they’re at…in the 21st century.

Hiring great employees goes far beyond the relevant experience highlighted on a candidate’s resume.  Someone who is a great fit on paper might not be a great fit in other areas. I’ve shared a few questions that need answering to ensure you hire great employees.

  1. Can the candidate really do the job? Job candidates can spend hours preparing their resume and often tailor the resume to match job requirements. Don’t leave it solely up to the human resources manager to determine if the candidate can do the job. Invite a subject-matter-expert from the department or a colleague who will be working directly with the position to help with the interview process. Other effective assessment strategies include providing the top five candidates with a homework assignment that will test their fit for the position or conducting a real work scenario during the interview.
  2. Is the candidate ready to make a commitment to your company? A person who is serious about their career and working for your company will have done research in preparation for the interview. An ideal candidate will have done research to determine if they believe they are a good fit for the position. They should be able to share exactly how they match up to the position, and what their unique contribution will be. Employees are assets and each brings something valuable and unique to the company.
  3. Does the candidate have a good work history? Candidates will undoubtedly provide their best contacts as work references, but effective hiring processes should look beyond this first round of references. The Internet provides a wealth of information about job candidates, especially when looking over a candidate’s social media profiles.
  4. Has the candidate connected with the company in other ways? Great employees fit well within the company culture.  They get along with colleagues and represent the business very well when interacting with vendors, customers, and business partners.  Your best-fit candidates will find ways to connect with the company outside of human resources, such as signing up for the business newsletter, attending public events, following the business on LinkedIn, or connecting through the company blog or other social media channels.

Finding and hiring great employees takes time and is one of the most important investments a business owner can make. Find valuable resources with the Hiring Essentials Packet, your free gift when you sign up for the MJ Management Solutions Newsletter.

Now it’s your turn. What tips have you found to help identify great candidates?

Margaret Jacoby, Founder of MJ Management Solutions, Inc. provides small businesses with virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. This article first appeared at

Have you stood on the bank of a wooded brook and noticed the flow of the beautiful clear stream? The water is fresh and cold and flows easily and effortlessly down the stream — that is, until a small piece of debris reduces the flow ever so slightly.

Over time, more and more twigs, leaves, old beer cans, pieces of rubbish, and fishing lines collect on the fragments. Before long, the flow of the stream changes course making its way around the debris. In some cases, the flow of the water erodes the riverbank and alters the current of the stream.

Business is a lot like the logjam. Most of the time, business flows smoothly. That is, until one project you intend to address starts a logjam that’s difficult to come back from.

The project creating the snag is generally one near and dear to the growth strategy of your business. It’s nothing simple that can be easily addressed to keep your business flowing along its natural and healthy boundaries. It’s an initiative or project that requires time (yours) and brain cells (yours) to strategically fit into your business’ growth plan.

While it awaits your attention, more and more tasks, projects, and to-dos collect. Like fragments collecting on a logjam, before you know it, you have a stoppage that slows your growth and unintentionally changes the direction of your business.

Breaking The Small Business Log Jam – It’s Not That Simple

Although it may appear to be as easy as clearing the original obstruction, clearing a business logjam isn’t that simple. When business is moving fast— and who’s isn’t — projects and plans pile up at an astonishing rate.  As they collect, more requests and demands press everything together making action impossible. You’re stuck. And so is your business growth!

Once a backlog of activity is generated, this simple feat can require all hands on deck. To avoid “calling in the cavalry”, here are a few steps you can implement:

  1. Clear a logjam as quickly as possible. When you sense a slowdown brewing, set a timeframe of 24 – 48 hours to address and discharge the primary obstruction.
  2. Evaluate and implement techniques to keep business flowing. What’s the definition of insanity? That’s right — “Doing the same thing and expecting different results.” If logjams of work continually impact your business, you need a different system. Find one and install it.
  3. Delegate what and where you can. If you’re the cause of the backup, you need help. Don’t bottlenecking your business growth! Locate others, inside and outside, of your business to whom you can assign portions of the work. Delegation frees you up to keep projects moving.

It’s common for many entrepreneurs to consider a backlog of business a temporary situation — one that can be caught up on over the weekend or by working longer hours. That’s rarely the situation.

A logjams, in a way, is a sign your business is growing beyond its current capacity. Embrace it and address it before it changes the direction you intend to flow.

Innovation has dramatically changed the business environment. Technology has made information more accessible. Globalization has increased competition. We’ve moved into an age of instant gratification that has shortened the period over which success is measured. If a client can’t get the right answers from you immediately, they get it elsewhere. Yikes!

Business is moving at such an accelerated pace that I often question if we’ve lost a vital connection to our clients and ourselves. That was the topic during a recent conversation with a colleague. We began to look back, with great fondness, to how “old school” business succeeded.

Although we love how innovation has allowed our small business to be more competitive, there are some aspects of business “back in the day” that have been lost in the digital translation.

The Way Back Machine of Small Business

 “Way back when” or “when I was your age” were terms commonly heard growing up. Intended to demonstrate how easy I had it, my parents shared their experiences to prove how the world changed.

Respectfully, to the contemporary business owner of today, I’m reminded that, “way back when”, business succeeded because…

Bringing Back “Old School”

The term “old school” conjures up images from the past. Although some consider it to be “old-fashioned”, “old school” is looked upon with high regard and respect.

Today’s modern business can benefit from a few “old school” business practices like those mentioned above.

In what appears to be a less-connected, self-serviced world of today’s business, going “old school” undoubtedly puts your business head and shoulders above your competition!

 Advancements in technology have leveled the marketing playing field for small business owners. Although it’s more affordable for small businesses to market their products/services along side larger enterprises, the marketplace is changing and is crowded. Subsequently, there is little elbowroom for your potential audience to hear your marketing message.

One tool employed by smart entrepreneurs and small business owners to make sure your ideal client hears the right message at the right time is the buyer persona. A buyer persona, which is a fictional depiction of your ideal client, takes defining your target audience one step further by adding greater detail to your ideal client profile.

As a result of this additional detail, your marketing messages can be polished to better target your client’s needs, wants, dreams, desires, and challenges. Even in a crowded marketplace, your ideal client hears your message.

Baby Doll vs. American Doll

In many ways, how an ideal client was defined 10 years ago compared to how you describe your ideal client today reminds me of growing up.

My older sister and I were borne 15 months apart. To avoid unnecessary sibling rivalry, Mom and Dad bought us many of the same things – including identical baby dolls.

No one could distinguish my sister’s baby doll from mine, especially since they wore identical pink flannel pajamas – until my sister bit three fingers off her doll’s hand. Problem solved. The doll with the missing fingers was easily identifiable as my sister’s.

Today, young children don’t have to fight over identical baby dolls – or bite off the doll’s fingers – to differentiate their dolls. Thanks to companies like American Doll and Build-A-Bear, kids can create toys that are distinctively theirs.

The More Your Small Business Knows

Just like American Doll or Build-A-Bear, bedazzled with better detail, your buyer persona is more easily identifiable in the throng of other buyers.

Therefore, your potential client is easier to locate online and offline for you and your referral partners. Marketing messages, sharpened to speak exclusively to your ideal client, are readily heard.  And, trust is built as your potential client experiences your understanding of their challenges.

The more you know about your potential buyer, the more effective your marketing.

Are you ready to get started?  Download The Buyer Persona worksheet and start building your buyer persona today.

Be sure to stop by and tell us all about them!

If a potential client were to ask, “What’s in it for me?” during a critical point in a purchasing conversation, how would you respond? Discover the answer to that question and watch your sales grow.

WIIFM, an acronym for “what’s in it for me”, is used in sales and marketing to gain an understanding of what influences the buying decisions of your consumer.

What Your Small Business Sells

 Think of your own buying experience. Was your most recent purchase decision made because of a pretty color or because of a weekly meeting with a strategic business coach? (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.) It’s highly unlikely these were the top influencers of your decision.

Items such as the color of a product or weekly coaching appointments are referred to as features. Features are aspects of your product or service that are tangible, factual, and identifiable. Features can include pricing, location, product construction, or services offered. They are of greater importance to you — the seller.

What Your Client Buys

When it comes to buying, clients buy products and services for their reasons, not ours. Clients purchase the benefits of the features of your product or service. (Is that clear as mud?)

For instance, a weekly meeting with a strategic business coach gives a small business owner confidence knowing they’re not alone. It intensifies the focus on critical initiatives that move their business forward more quickly. Ultimately, they accomplish their business goals more quickly with less stress.

Benefits answer the WIIFM for your client. They create emotion, incite passion, solve problems, and enhance results. Your clients are looking to buy benefits from you. Following their purchase, they then justify their decision with the features of your product or service.

The Feature-Benefit Distinction

Understanding the difference between features and benefits spells the difference between acquiring a client or not. It influences — or should influence — how we speak to our clients.

The feature—benefit distinction perplexes the brightest of small business owners as demonstrated by this email exchange.

I’m glad you asked about the difference between features and benefits.

Example #1: I have a coffee cup that is yellow/gold. That’s a feature. It describes the cup. Do I really care about the color of the cup? Not really. But what does the cup do for me? It generates a sense of comfort. I start my day with a yummy cup of coffee that lifts my spirits and starts my day out on the right note. Also, I bought the cup during an extended stay in Guam. The cup also reminds me of a time filled with fun, laughter, and joy.

Example #2: You have a precious baby that you want to make sure remains safe and secure at all times. You’re shopping for the perfect car seat. You’re not looking for one that’s tested by the latest organizations as the safest on the market. Well, you are but you’re shopping for a feature (safety tested/recommended) because it gives you peace of mind knowing you’re doing all you can to keep your baby safe. Keeping the baby safe is a benefit. We buy benefits first.

Example #3: Does a client care about the finished tax return? I would argue they don’t. But, they do care that the finished tax return keeps their tax liabilities to a minimum to help them save money. You create value for an intangible by speaking to the end result the client wants — XXX keeps your tax liabilities to a minimum and saves money because they take the time to prepare the tax return properly identifying all possibilities (i.e., exploiting loopholes?), etc., etc. Essentially, the client isn’t buying a tax return; s/he is buying what s/he wants the finished product to achieve. 

That’s the million dollar-marketing question — knowing what it is, understanding it, and speaking it.

Your turn. If I’m buying your product or service, WIIFM?

 Difficult clients. You know the one (or ones) I’m talking about. Your receptionist answers the phone, politely places the caller on hold and says, “So and so is on the line for you.” It’s when you say, “Ack! I don’t want to talk to him/her” that you know you have a difficult client on your hands. What you do next is critical — for your sake, as well as your client.

Difficult clients, or “D-listers” as one of my clients calls them, share these characteristics:

  • Have unrealistic expectations
  • Don’t respect or value your work
  • Insist on the lowest rate possible
  • Require a lot of hand holding
  • Demand and drain your time and attention (and not in a nice way)

They tax you, your staff, and your systems. And, like “D list celebrities”, a D-list client has little bankability.

They’re so challenging, in fact, you wouldn’t wish them on your worst competitor. You just want them to go away! Sadly, most small business owners tolerate the D-lister, along with their draining, difficult behavior and dwindling value to the business.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

Consider this — is it really a good business practice to hand off or “fire” a difficult client that you agreed to take on? Granted, like dating, D-listers put their best foot forward — in the initial stages of the engagement. In all honesty, however, there are “red flags” you notice — and ignore.

It reminds me of a personal client experience.

We did incredible work together, moved his business forward, and met his business coaching objectives. Yet, he was dissatisfied with the work and demanded a refund. What?!

As I reflected on our initial conversation, I realized I disregarded a critical piece of information — this guy was rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it was sinking! No matter how good — or spot on — our work was, he possessed a “failure to thrive” mentality.

That’s not his fault. That’s who he is. I was the one responsible. I heard his words and chose to overlook them.

In my enthusiasm to acquire a client in the early stage of my business, I ignored a critical piece of information. No matter how well designed, executed, and successful the growth strategies for his small business, he would be a D-lister — difficult, disappointed, and dissatisfied.

Be Better or Be Gone

Once a D-lister is in your database, handling them properly is important to your reputation — no matter how much you loathe working with them.

In the age of social media and yelp, a bad review creates major damage for a small business that many don’t come back from. Unfortunately, the D-listers are most likely the one’s to post unflattering reviews.

We tip our hat to our client for generously sharing his D-lister strategy — consciously develop a plan for them to “be better or be gone”. Simple. Direct. To the point. And, most importantly, healthier for all parties.

When we knowingly take on a difficult client and/or one that does not fit our ideal client profile, it is our responsibility to ensure the D-list client is, in fact, more satisfied — either with us or with another company that is a better fit.

Just like your Mom told you “there’s someone out there for everyone”, there is another vendor, supplier, or service provider that can successfully meet, and even exceed, the demands of a D-lister.

Are you comfortable losing $21,000 a year with your business?  Of course not, but I ask the question to raise awareness about the important topic of high costs associated with employee turnover.  The Society of Human Resource Management, the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management, reports this figure as the estimated cost of employee turnover when businesses lose three employees per year.  The association estimates businesses lose an average of $7,000 every time an employee leaves the company.

Here’s more bad news…

 The costs don’t stop there. Our book Practical Tools to Manage Costly Employee Turnover, identifies additional tangible and intangible costs associated with employee turnover.


  • Cost to process termination
  • Pre-employment costs to hire replacement
  • Vacancy costs for temp to cover open position


  • Declining productivity due to change in team dynamics
  • Increased stress and tension to meet increased workloads due to vacancy
  • Loss of vital “tribal knowledge”

Here’s the good news…

There are resources readily available to help businesses lower costs and improve employee retention. Employee turnover information varies across industries and businesses. To better identify what losing an employee costs your business, begin by using an employee turnover checklist and calculator.  This information is quickly and easily downloaded, and can be modified to meet your business and industry. Learn more about your specific industry from the Industry Annual Report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a recent article published by Inc. Magazine, blogger Suzanne Lucas, confirms our list of real costs associated with employee turnover. Most notable are lost knowledge and higher training costs.  There are many reasons employees leave a position and a company, the challenge for small businesses is to identify the reasons specific to their team and business, and set up programs and policies to improve employee retention. Focusing on the issue also provides the opportunity to develop information sharing strategies, so that important information is retained by the company when an employee leaves. (Read Who’s leaving and why.)

Or, download a copy of Practical tools to manage costly employee turnover.  Receive 50% off the cover price with code MJMSHALFOFF2013.

Margaret Jacoby, Founder of MJ Management Solutions, Inc. provides small businesses with virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. This article first appeared at

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Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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