Thursday, June 6, 2013

Networking for introverts

Most people assume business owners are all extroverts capable of walking into a room full of strangers and striking up a conversation with ease.  This assumption is partially what keeps introverts from stepping out and creating their own business.  However, it is possible for an introvert to network and build a business – it just takes a bit more tenacity and some stress management techniques.

Though most people don’t believe me, I am far more comfortable delivering a speech at the front of a room than I am attempting to speak individually with people I don’t know.  Here are a few tips that have worked for me when it comes to ‘working a room’ feel free to add some of your own in the comments section.

  1. Make one connection before the networking event. It always helps to know at least one other person in the room so it’s best to try to make a connection prior to the event.  For instance, if your local Chamber of Commerce is hosting a networking event, stop by the Chamber office and introduce yourself.  The Chamber staff is there to help business owners.  They will often have at least one person available to speak with you and it’s often a staff member who will be attending the event.  This way when you walk into the room, you’ll know at least one person.  Be sure to ask the staff what other businesses within the group might be able to help you in your business.  You’re looking for complementary businesses so you know whom you want to seek out at the event.
  2. Do something to calm your nerves before the event beginsFor some people this might mean having a big breakfast or going for a run.  For me, eating right before I do something that makes me anxious is out of the question.  I eat lightly, if at all, right before a networking event and I take a few moments to relax before leaving my car once I’ve arrived.  Sometimes the stress of traffic getting to an event can linger.  It’s best to push the reset button before heading into another situation that causes you stress.
  3. Set a goal for connections at the event.  A goal will make it more manageable, especially if your stress level rises while you’re there.  Set the number before you walk into the event and give yourself permission to leave once you’ve spoken to, and exchanged business cards with, that number of people.  Don’t make the number too large at first.  You want to be able to accomplish this goal and thereby make it easier to attend the next event.  When I first started going to networking events my goal was three.  Currently, I strive for five.  Eventually it will go higher but I had to get to a place where I could comfortably speak with three people each and every time before I raised the bar.
  4. Smile, smile, and smile.  Once inside, it will seem impossible to meet the goal you just set in the parking lot.  I know, I’ve been there, and as daunting as it seems at first it is possible to accomplish your goal.  The key is to smile at everyone who looks in your direction.  Eye contact and smiling tell them you are friendly, not standoffish.  The key to starting a conversation is to look like someone people want to engage in conversation.  Overcome your nerves by smiling, nodding, and saying hello to everyone who meets your gaze.  This is faking it but it’s your best bet.  This also means the other person will likely smile back, say hello, or otherwise invite you into the conversation.  Often if there is a group and one member meets your eye they will make room for you within the group.  By just talking to that one group, you may be able to meet your goal and be able to leave.  Not everyone who meets your eye will invite you into his or her conversation.  Try not to take that personally, as it could be that they are discussing something beyond casual small talk.
  5. Be sure to pay it forward.  Once you’ve made a connection or two at an event, be sure to be on the lookout for others trying to come into your conversation.  Just as you struggle to find a way in, so do many others.  Be sure to smile and say hello to anyone who meets your gaze while you’re casually speaking to someone else.  Invite them to join your conversation.  You benefit from doing this in two ways.  The new person is now one more in your goal number and they are likely to remember you at future events because you were welcoming to them.  This will make it easier for both of you at the next networking event because you’ll know each other.     

Thursday, March 7, 2013

International Women's Day

Suffragettes, New York Times, 1921
Tomorrow, March 8th, is International Women's Day, celebrated in more than seventy countries around the world.  While women here in the United States have many rights and privileges, due to women who came before us, like the Suffragettes pictured in the photo to the left, women in many other places are not as lucky.

I am grateful to have been born in the United States and to have had so many women fight for rights I often take for granted.  For instance, I worked from home today while also doing work around the house.  I was able to combine my outside the house job with all of my inside the house jobs.  As far as women have come, housework, is still largely considered women's work.  Even if in a household the man contributes by doing a fair share of the housework, others still judge the woman for the state of the house.  If it's spotless the woman will get the praise, while if it's messy she will be judged.  Regardless of whether she deserves credit or fault, the majority of people in the United States will associate the woman of a house with the state of the house.  This is why there are still some strides for women, even those in the best of circumstances, to make in the United States but this is the definition of a First World problem.

I considered this today as I balanced doing laundry and cleaning the kitchen with fielding phone calls and checking emails.  My life is far from perfect but I do have a number of reasons to be thankful.  I am able to work, both in the home and outside the home, as I choose.  I also can easily leave if I so desire.  There are no societal restraints on me if I do not wish to stay in this home any longer.  My daily life is made up of choices of my own making, not decrees by a husband or his family.  Many women around the world are not so lucky.

Tomorrow I will be attending meetings and working in my office.  I will celebrate International Women's Day by being thankful for all the things that happen through out the day because I chose how I will spend the day.  I'll also take time to think of the women around the world who also work hard each day but don't have nearly the rights or options that I do.  The fact that so many of their countrymen will be celebrating their contributions is a step in the right direction but there is still a lot to be done for them to catch up.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Use your time effectively

How do you spend your time each day?  If you started using the Toggl application we featured in a previous post, you should have an idea of what tasks are taking up your time.  Are you making the best use of a day?  Are you actually making as much money as possible?  Remember, the average business owner could generate $100 more each day if they just had one more hour per day.  Can you find ways to give yourself an extra hour?  

In order to gain that hour - or that $100 - make a list of the things you do best in regards to your business.  Are you the star closer for deals or are you the technical expert?  Do you relish the chance to go through all your business data or do you enjoy talking to people about your product?  Is your favorite part of the day when you help customers or is it when you're working alone on a problem?  Make a list of all the tasks you do well.

Now that you have the list of things you can pat yourself on the back about, make a second list of all the things you are not as savvy about.  Be brutally honest with yourself.  What is it that you dread doing?  That's usually a good place to start, as we tend to enjoy doing things we're good at doing more than those we struggle with doing.

Once you've finished your second list, take the two lists and compare how much time you spend on the various tasks.  Chances are the things you do well take up less time per task than the other items.

This is excellent information because it tells you where your strengths lie.  The best use of your time is to spend it doing the things you do best.  Everything else can, and should, be outsourced.  If it takes you hours to update your website or social media pages, you should hire someone to do it for you.  The same goes for doing your taxes, updating your inventory, and shipping products.  It can also mean you should hire a salesperson to do the selling if that's not your strong suit.  The time you save can be put to better use and generate greater income in the process.  Play to your strengths and manage your weaknesses and your business will be better for it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

5 Tools You Should Start Using Today

There are several tools available to increase productivity.  These five are ones you should start using today, if you aren't using them already.  Each one performs a different function.  Some are time savers and others provide data about your business.  Data is just like a location map.  It tells you where you are and that is essential in helping you get to where you want to go.  It's impossible to know if you're making progress if you don't know where you started. 

1.  Evernote.  Evernote is a popular notepad system.  Your Evernote account can be viewed on the web from anywhere and it will have the changes you made on your smartphone application.  The cloud is a beautiful thing.  You can also create multiple notebooks in Evernote, meaning it's like carrying many notebooks in one application.  Personal lists and business lists can be separated easily.  There are tagging and sorting features to help you organize your notes better and make them easier to find.  It also has the capability to add photos to a note, as well as voice recordings.  Those are excellent features when you're sharing notes, no longer does someone have to visualize what you're describing - they can just look at the attached photo.

2.  Bitrix24.  Surprisingly not many people use Bitrix24 yet.  The intranet you can create for your company is not only easy to use, it's also free for up to 12 users.  While some features, such as task reporting, require the upgrade version the free version still has great versatility for small teams.  You can collaborate on projects, assign and manage tasks, and communicate effectively with team members via conversations, commenting, or instant messaging.  All communications, including instant messages, are saved allowing for better project documentation.  The best parts; task management and Gantt charts for project management and the CRM for sales tracking.

3.  Toggl.  Toggl is a time tracking tool.  With both web and mobile applications, you can track your time at the office and away from it.  You're always busy, but what are you busy doing?  If your employees spent 45 minutes a day checking Facebook or talking on the phone with their spouse that would be unacceptable, right?  Hold yourself to the same level of accountability.  You'll also have a better handle on the effectiveness of your billing structure.  If you actually spend 3 hours on tasks you usually charge 2 hours to complete, you're losing money.  Toggl gives you the data to know where your time goes each day and if you should raise your prices.

4.  Hootsuite.  You're on all the social media networks but you don't have the time to update them regularly.  Use Hootsuite to schedule posts to all of your social media networks at the same time.  You can even schedule them in advance.  You can also check the notifications and activity streams for all of your social media networks, allowing you to log in at one site to see them all.  Hootsuite is easy to use, time saving, and free for a limited number of streams.  If you don't already have a social media presence, or if you need help managing yours, contact us to schedule a consultation.  We're happy to help.

5.  Jing.  A screen capture tool that is free and very easy to use.  Jing can be used to capture an image and it allows you to select the area you wish to capture.  It also will allow you to take screen videos which can be used to demonstrate how to's to employees or clients.  The share feature is also very user friendly, enabling even novices to share images and videos like a pro.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gift Giving

Tis the season for gift giving to families, friends, clients, and customers.  Just like gifts you give to your family and friends, gifts to clients and customers should take into account the types of activities and items they enjoy.

If your target demographic is moms of young children put yourself in their position.  While you may enjoy a great evening out at a local ball game, a mom of young children may not.  The first concern is whether all of your customers are sports fans.  If there is even one customer who might see a ball game as a less than spectacular evening, your gift may fall flat.  Also, moms of young children would have to get a babysitter for such an event.  Unless you're a children's activity place - like a bounce house - that is going to offer babysitting services for that evening, plan for an activity mom can do alone.  Great gift ideas for your customers - or giveaways throughout the year - if your customer demographic is moms are things like spa certificates, shopping trips, manicures, massages, and tea parties.  These are all things a busy mom can schedule for herself while dad is available to watch the little ones.  Plus, it gives the mom a break and an opportunity to pamper herself without cutting into the family budget.  A guilt free pampering in peace and quiet maybe the best gift your customer receives and that will keep her coming back!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reporting For Government Funded Projects

With a struggling housing market and diminished commercial building, many contractors are performing more government projects, such as schools, roadways, and municipal buildings.  These projects are a great way for a business to keep busy while the economy gets back on track but they come with some added responsibilities.  Since the specifications are often vague and usually skewed in the owner's favor, it's in a contractor's best interest to look into the reporting requirements prior to bidding.

As a result of the stimulus package of 2009, several projects, including some which were designed after the funding approval, are coming out for bid or are currently under construction.  These projects, that receive Federal funding, require a significant amount of paperwork to ensure the funds are being used the way they were intended.  However, not all of the specifications for these projects are clear on who is responsible for filing the reports needed or what reports are indicated.

One such specification we saw recently stated, "the Owner is to inform the Contractor if the Project will be funded in whole or part through Qualified School Construction Bonds ("QSCB”), Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (“QZAB”), or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “ARRA”).”  Considering the differences in reporting requirements for each of these funding types, it's necessary to know which funding is being provided for a project.  Furthermore, it is impossible for a  contractor to file all required reporting documentation without knowing the specifics of the Award as the Award Document is likely to include provisions from the awarding agency in addition to those mandated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.  For instance, the funding could be provided by a QSCB awarded directly to a school system by the U.S. Treasury Department with that department’s subsequent award stipulations outlined in the award document.  Review of the Award Document is necessary to ensure compliance and also to enable the filing of documentation already known to be required.

For the most part, you will need to have the following information to file reports:

· Prime Recipient
1. Federal Funding Agency Name 
2. Award identification
3. Recipient D-U-N-S
4. Parent D-U-N-S
5. Recipient CCR information
6. CFDA number, if applicable
7. Recipient account number
8. Project/grant period
9. Award type, date, description, and amount
10. Amount of Federal Recovery Act funds expended to projects/activities
11. Activity code and description
12. Project description and status
13. Job creation narrative and number
14. Infrastructure expenditures and rationale, if applicable
15. Recipient primary place of performance
16. Recipient area of benefit
17. Recipient officer names and compensation (Top 5)
18. Total number and amount of small sub-awards; less than $25,000

· Recipient Vendor 
1. D-U-N-S or Name and zip code of Headquarters (HQ)
2. Expenditure amount
3. Expenditure description

· Sub-Recipient (also referred to as FFATA Data Elements)
1. Sub-recipient D-U-N-S
2. Sub-recipient CCR information
3. Sub-recipient type
4. Amount received by sub-recipient
5. Amount awarded to sub-recipient
6. Sub-award date
7. Sub-award period
8. Sub-recipient place of performance
9. Sub-recipient area of benefit
10. Sub-recipient officer names and compensation (Top 5)

· Sub-Recipient Vendor
1. D-U-N-S or Name and zip code of HQ

While it is necessary for a contractor to obtain a DUNS number and CCR information, if they have not already done so prior to bidding or award, much of the information needed for filing will come from the Federal Award Documents given to the Owner.  If the Owner is unable to provide you, the contractor, with these documents it is still possible for you to track the information by requiring that all subcontractors and vendors keep accurate accounts of all materials purchased and used and all work put in place during each time period.  A journal similar to those used on larger state highway projects would be advisable.  While it will be possible for you to give the Owner the information without the Award Documents, it is not possible for you to file the information with the U.S. Federal Government without said Award Documents.  Although, that is not necessarily a problem because that reporting requirement is the responsibility of the Prime Recipient, the Owner, and while they can delegate the reporting to you as the Sub-Recipient they must provide you with the necessary information to do so. 

Know your responsibilities as the Sub-Recipient, make sure your subcontractors and vendors are aware of their responsibilities and keep track of all work put in place, materials purchased, materials used, and jobs created.  There are some owners who may try to hold your partial payments until this reporting is done but you should argue if they fail to give you all the information you need.  If you have any questions, need assistance with designing your reporting program, or if you want help with a claim letter arguing your case, please shoot us an email at  We've helped contractors in similar situations and we can assist you too.