Make Every Day Earth Day

Make Every Day Earth Day at the Office
“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” Has this become the mantra of the first two decades of the 21st century? To a dedicated few perhaps, but so far most behavior change has focused on recycling , rather than reducing or reusing the products we use in everyday life.
To see if I am making a correct assumption here, ask yourself if your habits have changed significantly in the last few years regarding conservation, energy efficiency, and a lifestyle with less physical waste. For example, do you turn off the lights more frequently, use water saving toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs and (Energy Star) appliances, and turn off computers and other “idle” media when they are not in use?
At work, have you switched to lights that turn themselves off when there is lack of movement in the space (as at the Alexandria SBDC offices)? Have you stopped the bottled water habit and switched to water filtered at the faucet instead? Do you use ceramic coffee cups and plates and individual reusable water bottles instead of the use once and throw away variety? Instead of answering “paper” or “plastic” at the supermarket, many shoppers, although still usually a minority, now bring their own multi-use non-woven or other grocery shopping bags. They are sometimes rewarded with five cents off at checkout. Some municipalities such as San Francisco have gone as far as banning stores from providing plastic bags and business seems to be thriving in spite of this minor inconvenience.
Surprisingly, changing behaviors can be good not only for the environment, but also for a business’ bottom line. There are plenty of ways to make a small environmental contribution and save the business unnecessary expenditure at the same time. Builders can construct energy-efficient buildings that are attractive to prospective tenants, and they do not have to become LEED-certified to do this. You, as a business owner, can reduce and reuse, as well as recycle, within your office or workspace and set an example for employees, customers and the community. If you develop a reputation as an environmentally-friendly business, that might help to attract new customers or solidify relationships with your existing client base.

Three Simple Steps

  1. Paper – certainly something that can be reduced, reused AND recycled. While not easy to go paperless, reducing paper output, and using both sides of the paper are easy steps in the right direction. It will also decrease the ink cartridge bill, which can be significant in itself.
  2. Mail – cutting down on snail mail will have an immediate impact. Fax, email and social media have reduced the need for using the post office, UPS or FedEx.
  3. Lunch room – providing a refrigerator and microwave oven for employees will be popular with staff, and will encourage them to bring food and beverages for lunch. Provide a way to filter water from the faucet to discourage the throwaway plastic water bottle habit and encourage staff to bring their own reusable water bottles. Plastic plates, utensils and cups are not necessities. Paper napkins may be harder to relinquish.
If you have the budget and opportunity to do some branding and be environmentally-friendly at the same time, there is an increasing choice of products made from recycled materials (e.g. pens or t-shirts made from plastic water bottles), reusable bags, including lunch bags, water bottles, and many other everyday items used in a typical workspace.
So, although there is only one official Earth Day, and it falls on Sunday, April 22, 2012, every day can be an opportunity to make a difference in our own consumption patterns. If we remember to “reduce, reuse and recycle” we can continue to make an individual and collective impact on conserving our scarce resources and the environment we are fortunate to live and work in, here in Northern Virginia.
The author, Judith Harley, owns and operates Oxford Communications, in Alexandria, Virginia. Oxford Communications provides branding for businesses, associations and non-profits through the use of custom-imprinted promotional items, corporate apparel and business gifts. Oxford Communications is known for providing creative environmentally-friendly options for clients.

Celebrate Earth Day by Recycling Your E-Waste!(ourtakeongreen.com)

 

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Effective Business Writing: The Seven Keys for Small Business Owners

The Seven Keys to Effective Business Writing from Ray Sidney-Smith on Vimeo.

Eliza Dolin, of Ivy Quill Communications, presents a summary of her recent workshop at Alexandria Small Business Development Center on “The Seven Keys to Effective Business Writing.”

Today in Small Business History: Architecture Loses a Genius. We Learn How Not to Run a Small Business

Portrait of Frank Lloyd WrightFrank Lloyd Wright died today, April 9, 1959. He worked for the acclaimed Adler & Sullivan architectural firm throughout the latter decades of the 19th century, under the mentoring of the great architect Louis Sullivan. In 1893, after departing with some dramatics from his employer-architecture firm, as his Wikipedia article states, “Wright established his own practice….” And, while we may have lost one of the greatest architectural geniuses of our Nation yet on this day, we gained some valuable insights into how (as well as how not) to run a Small Business from those years after 1893 when Wright ran his firm.

 

FUNCTION OVER FORM

Louis Sullivan coined the phrase, "Form ever follows function."
Louis Sullivan coined the phrase, "Form ever follows function."

Frank Lloyd Wright was the force behind Usonian-styled housing design and what he believed was the way in which to overcome the great housing problem. Clearly, this was inspired by his mentor, again Louis Sullivan, who coined the phrase, “Form ever follows function.” We’re lucky to have one of the examples of this style of design right here in Alexandria, Virginia, the Pope-Leighey House, which was reconstructed and moved to its current place in southern Alexandria off of Route 1.  You can visit the Pope-Leighey House to see the tour and experience the brilliance of Wright’s design. Contrary to his architectural beliefs, the principles of utility in designing a house was also not apparent to Wright in his own finances. If you read his biography, you learn that he forgot about the basic principles of business–to turn a profit. He loved to live and dress lavishly and died penniless. His legacy is great but not because of his financial wealth. In business so often we forget that utility is much more important in Small Business than looking perfect. Let Wright be a lesson for us all.

Pope Leighey House - 1940 - an example of the Usonian architectural style of Frank Lloyd Wright
Pope Leighey House - 1940 - an example of the Usonian architectural style

 

 

RELATIONSHIPS MATTER

Though his relationship with Louis Sullivan was challenged, he still paid for and buried his former employer and erstwhile-friend when he died, also impoverished and alone in a Chicago hotel on April 14, 1924. Relationships matter in Small Business, much more than with big brands, even when the professional relationships are strained. Many small businesses in the United States are started and grown with the people we know and trust; even more are built with family members (husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, children and extended family). These are relationships worth preserving, even when the business of life impacts the personal. You never know when you need your former business colleagues, family business partners and long-time friends turned business associates to bury you, but you know that day may come.

FAIL WITH GRACE

One of the most vital traits for every successful entrepreneur is our ability to persevere in the face of repeated failure. Perseverance requires a belief you learned something from the prior failure to make your next plan a success. Frank Lloyd Wright suffered losing one of his wives and adopted daughter in a house fire; his subsequent rebuilding of the house was also burned down a few years later. He rebuilt the home (Taliesin III) even though he suffered a loss of some half-million dollars in 20th century currency! Frank Lloyd Wright also had two failed marriages, another failed relationship that virtually ruined his career here in the United States, and still managed to publish the great portfolio that made him famous in Europe. In the face of adversity, it seems that Frank knew how to fail with grace, brush off the dust (read, gossip and backstabbing), get back up on the horse and charge forward into the next chapters of his life. We should all be so lucky to have such resilience.

 

While Frank Lloyd Wright may have made some great mistakes in his life, he still stands as a great lesson for us today as Small Business owners.

 

Louis Sullivan photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
Frank Lloyd Wright photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
Pope-Leighey House photographs courtesy of cliff1066™ 

Hiring the Right Professional

Wow! I'll Buy One! cartoon by Clay Butler

 

Delegation is a skill that when done properly, saves you time, creates a circle of support, and enables you to achieve much more than you could on your own.

Hiring the wrong person wastes huge amounts of money invested in people not capable of delivering what you need them to do. It also steals massive quantities of time you did not budget. Women have particular difficulty delegating–as they often don’t want to burden others who may have full plates, are afraid to ask for what they need, and are hesitant to be too probing when interviewing.

My client, Emily, came to me with a history of poor delegation experiences. Whether hiring a handyman, housekeeper, assistant, or architect, she always ended up shocked and disappointed at the work they produced, feeling like all the dollars (and hours) she and her late husband had invested went swooshing down the drain.

The latest: she’d hired a fitness coach to put together an exercise and nutrition plan for her. Her assumption was she would get a complete program – a month’s worth of workouts and a month’s worth of menus. She expected instruction on the workouts and recipes to go along with the variety of menus. After paying a small fortune, you can imagine her shock, when all the fitness coach sent was an exercise book describing different types of exercises she could do, shopping guidelines, a handful of meal suggestions, and links to online websites with recipes. In analyzing the history of their communication, we discovered where Emily had gone wrong–she’d been very unclear about what she’d hired the fitness coach to do. I suggested Emily reach back out to the man, explain the mistake, and ask what it would take to get what she wanted.

Here’s what she learned:

It took me a while to work up the nerve to call Bill. I had a really hard time getting in touch with him, too. I finally heard from him after a few phone calls. Seems he has a different approach to fitness coaching – I was looking for a structured, detailed plan. I would show up, he would tell me what to do, and I would head home and follow his recipes. Bill’s approach is based on giving me the tools to make improvements. He doesn’t coach his clients through the workouts, and he doesn’t have the “bank” of recipes in his database I’d assumed he did. He believes in cooking based on ingredients I enjoy eating the most. Ah, well. Looks like she was never the right match.

Based on my experience in looking for the right assistant, I provided Emily with an organized process for improving her batting average with future hiring of the right professional.

  • Define your expectations. Sit down with pen and paper and ask yourself the following: How will I measure success for the money I am investing in this person? What do I expect they will bring to the project or task that I can’t do myself? List the time, skills, and talent you imagine this person needs to do this job (i.e. creativity, flexibility, speed, integrity, etc.), and devise questions that will probe at their skills in each area. Being crystal clear on what you want makes it easier to recognize the right resource when you find it.
  • Interview based on historic performance, not future vision. When interviewing, we often ask questions in hypothetical terms–e.g. “How WOULD you do something…”which only produces answers based on what the candidate thinks you want to hear. History (or behavior) based interviewing stems from the belief that the greatest indicator of future success is past behavior. Try asking for examples from past job experiences, using questions that begin- “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of a moment that…” You’ll be amazed at what you hear. By listening to each candidate’s detailed stories of what they have ACTUALLY done, you are in a FAR BETTER position to evaluate if they are a good match for your needs, and have the experience to deliver on your goals.
  • Comparison Shop (at least three candidates). Emily had hired this fitness coach without doing her homework. It was on a whim, after hearing about the experience of a friend of hers who had recently moved to a retirement community in Florida. Emily was so enamored with the experience her friend had received, and she assumed all fitness coaches operated in a similar fashion. Always interview at least three candidates, so you have options to compare and contrast. Shopping allows you to pick the person who is the best match for your specific needs, and often helps you learn what is reasonable to expect.

Taking the time to be clear and methodical when hiring, may take longer up front, but it could surely help save you beaucoup dollars (and precious time) in the end.

Workshop Recap: From One to Many — Smart, Effective Hiring – Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources

Attendees of Small Business Hiring Workshop at the Alexandria Virginia SBDC

Alexandria SBDC hosted their monthly Brown Bag Workshop yesterday and it was a packed house! Patricia (Patra) Frame of Strategies for Human Resources provided a higher-level prospective with some well-conceived, practical lessons for hiring practices for Small Business entrepreneurs new and growing. If you haven’t yet, you should check out Patra’s blog post, Hiring the Talent You Need to Succeed, that was published last week here on AlexandriaSmallBusiness.com. Here’s our Twitter transcript and summary video, and I’m sure the slidedeck will go live on the Alexandria SBDC website soon. We hope you can join us at future Brown Bag workshops or via our live Twitter conversations!

TWITTER TRANSCRIPT

David Martin of Gold Works Custom Jewelry Design and Repair discusses his hiring needs
David Martin of Gold Works Custom Jewelry Design and Repair discusses his hiring needs

We launched our first foray into live-tweeting on Twitter at this workshop with the hopes of engaging Small Business entrepreneurs in Alexandria that cannot make it to the event but would like to participate and learn with us anyway. While live tweets will never outweigh the benefits of attending in person (think of the free, one-to-one networking opportunity!), being with us via Twitter is a great way to market your business, generate Twitter buzz around content for your target audience, and to learn and share virtually with your fellow local businesses.

Click the link to the right for the transcript: Tweetchat for alexvasbdc hrsmarts 2012-04-03

SUMMARY VIDEO

Facebook Timeline Comes to Brand Pages

W3 Consulting's New Facebook Page Timeline

If you’re like most Small Business owners, your Facebook Page stood the same way today as it will tomorrow. However, Facebook has changed your Page to the new Timeline format whether you, I or your customers like it or not. Actually, they did so on March 31, 2012. Facebook is not where I engage my target audiences primarily so all I do is typically syndicate curated content and self-published content to our Facebook Page (like my blog posts and tweets), but for many Small Business owners it is currently their main Social Media hub. (My Facebook Page with all of 26+ Likes would have stayed the same, except that I posted a coverphoto to my Facebook Page in anticipation of writing this post today.) I am writing this article to educate you about the good, the bad and the ugly (sorry, there’s not much good here) of Facebook Timeline, in hopes of providing you with a small business strategy to leverage the change to benefit your bottom line.

Continue reading…

Hiring the Talent You Need to Succeed

Human Resources - Hiring Smart for Small BusinessYour organization’s future depends on hiving the right people to achieve your plans and grow successfully.  Hiring effectively is step one.
How well prepared are you to hire the right people?  Hiring is hard work and takes preparation and knowledge.  You need to know how to attract the best people, to convert potential candidates into actual applicants, and to assess whether a person can do the job successfully in your organization.
Have you had any training or spent the time to study hiring extensively?  Or do you fall prey to every blog post and business article on the most recent ‘do this’ trick?  We often think ‘I hired people in my old company and so I know how’.  But your process needs to support your mission, goals, and culture.  You need to understand more about the hiring process than you ever did in another company so that you have an effective process.  And then you need to ensure everyone involved in hiring understands how to interview and evaluate candidates.
So many job postings I see are boring lists of requirements.  Yet we wonder why we do not get good candidates.  Are yours the exception?   Then, too often we rely on ‘big-name’ sources to post our job ads, without knowing which sources are best for our needs.
If you have an application process in place, have you tried using it to apply for a job at your company from an outside computer?  How does it work?  What does your process say about your organization?  Does it encourage those you want or discourage them?
Do you, and anyone else involved in interviewing, know how to do that well so you can assess each person?  And, are you good at checking references?  Selecting the best match for your needs?
Learning to hire effectively and putting good processes in place can be done easily and pays big dividends.  Whether you rely on direct learning, hire a consultant to assist, or add trained recruiting staff, a little effort will significantly enhance your organization’s future.

Patricia “Patra” Frame is an experienced management consultant, speaker and author on human capital issues at Strategies for Human Resources.  Patra will be presenting “Hiring Smart” on April 3, 2012 at Alexandria SBDC; register here and come to this must-attend presentation for all small businesses and nonprofits who have limited Human Resources staffing.

Meetup — The Small Business Marketer’s Paradise

Meetup logo

If you’re a Small Business owner or marketing professional in a small business, you undoubtedly find yourself at a point where you go to networking events and keep running into the same people over and over again. The monotony is not only mind-numbing but it’s also bad for sales as you’re not building new leads for your “trusted referral partner” network by seeing the same folks all the time. Well, worry no further as Meetup™ is here! Er, they’ve been here for more than a decade, but we won’t mind that little detail. So, what is Meetup and why does it matter to Small Business marketing?

 

 

MEETUP, THE MOVEMENT

September 11th changed the world; strangers helped strangers that day in remarkable ways Scott Heiferman recognized. He wanted to keep that momentum going and it became the inspiration for Meetup.com. Meetup, according to their own website, is:

Meetup is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face. More than 2,000 groups get together in local communities each day, each one with the goal of improving themselves or their communities.

Meetup’s mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize. Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.

I enjoy seeing the “Do something • Learn something • Share something • Change something” motto when you visit Meetup.com before logging in, and that’s the essence of what makes the platform so versatile. I feel like they should add “in real life!” to that message because that’s the key component to what I think Meetup does. It bridges the digital-analog divide so many of us face today with digital (email, phone and text message) and Social Media communications as our primary business contact throughout the workday (and perhaps even more so in our personal lives, trying to stay in touch with family and friends with ever-increasing work hours and workloads). All the Meetups are live, in-person group meetings coalesced around a shared interest. And, what does this have to do with your Small Business marketing efforts you ask? Read on!

 

SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING ON MEETUP

Whether you’re trying to build your Small Business brand, increase sales to your local boutique or retail shop, or want to learn how to build a smartphone app, there’s a community of not only your target audience on Meetup but also like-minded small business entrepreneurs getting together to help you! That’s the power of Meetup! These meetings are usually free (though I believe in the give-what-you-can model since it does cost Meetup Organizers to create a Meetup group on Meetup.com and other administrative costs, plus the value of their time), you can see who’s going, and you can ask questions, share and collaborate before and after the get-together through Meetup.com.

I know that today with the proliferation of Web marketing, it’s easy to think that focusing as much of your resources on your Web presence is important but even I (a Web and digital business strategist) think that all the Web has to offer is worth nothing if it doesn’t make our physical, real world lives better! So, sign up for a Meetup account today, type in your industry, professional, service or product (or a current challenge facing your business), and RSVP for a Meetup in your community soon! You’ll be glad you did.