Solopreneur’s Challenge: Professional Development

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. I recently got an invite to an interesting looking one-day event directly relevant to my interests and, with discounts, the price would only be $1600 plus expenses! I was talking with another consultant about all… Read more »

The post Solopreneur’s Challenge: Professional Development appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

Solopreneurs_Professional DevelopmentI recently got an invite to an interesting looking one-day event directly relevant to my interests and, with discounts, the price would only be $1600 plus expenses! I was talking with another consultant about all the events coming up in same week and she lamented how much was available locally that she wanted to go to compared to her available time.

Most of us realize it is important to stay current in our field. All of us need to learn new skills and technologies. Some fields require seminars, classes, or continuing education credits for licensing or recertification. Finding ways to keep your professional development a priority while funding it as well as making the time are challenges many solopreneurs find difficult.

When you are busy with clients or customers, it is hard to make the time. When you aren’t, you worry even more about the costs. Yet polishing your skills and knowledge is critical to your continued success.

Review Your Options

What is available locally? Take a look at professional associations in your field and what local chapters offer. Consider community college classes or university run seminars. Many professional groups and training companies offer programs in the Metro DC area, which cuts out travel and lodging costs.

The Alexandria SBDC runs a wide range of programs to help you learn new skills or keep up with changing trends. Many of these focus on marketing, retail, contracting, and employee issues. Also, the SBDC offers access to professionals who provide a wide range of free advice and consulting assistance each month to SBDC clients, including a lot of solopreneurs.

Local Chambers of Commerce and area business associations offer speakers and events that provide development options. Perhaps a Meetup group has what you need. There are a variety of small business, technology, women and veteran focused organizations offering great programs.

Check out online options. The SBA offers a myriad of online training programs. The Virginia SBDC Network does webinars on many topics, too. Consider a MOOC – many big name universities offer them and many also offer podcasts and webinars. Look at the various YouTube, podcasting, and webinar options – a little searching turns up a wide range of interesting programs.

Ask your mentors and others you trust for leads. You may find great events you would never hear of otherwise, I certainly have.

Make your continuing development a priority in your business plan. Set aside time and money each year to learn something new, keep up with changing technology, and develop new skills. This is easier if you are keeping abreast of trends in your field via books, trade publications, general business publications, professional associations, newsletters, and other similar resources – both online and off. In my field and many others, an annual legal seminar is critically important. Sure there are some quite expensive options but there are also local law firms which often offer less expensive or free legal updates. Your IT vendors and software providers may offer webinars or publications to help you keep abreast of important changes and security issues.
The Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, Potomac Tech Wire, Washington Network Group and others regularly publish lists of upcoming seminars, talks, and meetings which may meet your development goals – while offering good networking opportunities too.

TIP of the Month

“Make connections with people with complementary expertise. As a writer, my network includes great designers, photographers, PR experts, and others. I refer business to them and they refer business to me. The client benefits, and so do we.” Paula Whitacre www.fullcircle.org

The post Solopreneur’s Challenge: Professional Development appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Getting Ready for Business in the New Year

Start wherever you are and start small. -Rita Baily With each past year behind us with hopefully more good memories than not, business owners around the country usually spend this time of year looking forward to how to make the best

Start wherever you are and start small. -Rita Baily

Getting Ready for Business in the New YearWith each past year behind us with hopefully more good memories than not, business owners around the country usually spend this time of year looking forward to how to make the best of the upcoming year. Like with New Year’s resolutions, most plans never come to fruition. It reminds me sadly about how many business plans are started and not finished, nor ever looked at again even if they are. Considering the renewal of the calendar year, I think it’s an appropriate time to “kick the tires” and look at some often-overlooked areas of your business as we kick off this January. So, even if you haven’t looked at that business plan sitting in your desk drawer (which I also recommend that you do!), reviewing and acting on any of these business areas will improve your 2015 outlook. This is a natural time for getting ready for business in the new year.

Leadership & Professional Development

It never hurts to think about one’s own success to start. This is especially as important when you are the leader of your organization. When I started my first administrative position in a boutique law firm, I would never have thought one day I would running companies. However, I realized early on that my skills were depended upon by everyone in the firm. I was a leader as much of myself, as of the people who followed me when I was chosen to take the lead on a case. I learned quickly that I needed leadership and other professional skills that I wasn’t taught in school, and I needed them quickly!

There are so many more resources today at your fingertips thanks to the proliferation of edtech (i.e., educational technology, primarily here on the Web and Mobile). Here are a few resources you can use to build up your leadership skills:

Corporate Philanthropy & Community Service

The next phase of any great company new or veteran is learning to invest in their values as well as making a profit. It turns out that you get when you give; it’s a natural part of community building. There’s something almost mystical about how this works, but I assure you are wired to get more when you give than when you receive and this also works on the greater, business scale. Here are three ideas on how you can build some giving and volunteer opportunities for your business:

  1. Join Google One Today, a program that has you donate just one dollar a day, every day, to a charity doing something great for the world. Encourage your entire company’s staff (perhaps you can match or pay for the donations) to join Google One Today and share your giving experiences via your business Social Media networks.
  2. Think about creating a Corporate Philanthropy program, which is easier than you would think. A small community grant can mean the difference between a local organization making a great impact in your community (of course, tied to your business’ brand), or not being able to do it at all. In-kind volunteer support programs can even build up some organizations to a point where they can then become paying clients. There are many ideas and opportunities; click on the link above and get creative.
  3. You can additionally start a Community Volunteer program at your office, and require every staffer to give a certain percentage of his working month (say, 1.5 hours per calendar month, which is about 1% of 35-hour workweek). You can find many volunteer opportunities at Volunteer Match. It’s a marketplace for finding volunteers, and as its website says, “We bring good people & good causes together. Find a cause that lights you up. Get in touch with a nonprofit that needs you.” Why not bring this volunteering under one umbrella and coordinate the efforts with your company’s name at the forefront of benefiting your community. It’s the epitome of “doing well by doing good.”

Exit Strategy Planning

In the end, you cannot lead forever. While the science of rejuvenation is likely to see monumental progress in our lifetimes, endeavoring to possibly doubling some young generations’ lifespans, you will not live indefinitely. And, so you won’t be running your company that long either. Whether it’s by death, dissolution or deal, you will leave your company’s helm someday; why not decide how?

If you haven’t lately (or ever), now is a good time while you’re healthy and in positive spirits to call your trusts, estates and tax lawyer to work out details about how you want the disposition of your assets (including intellectual property) to be handled if you were to leave this life untimely. If you don’t have a legal adviser in an estate and tax advisory capacity, it’s best to find a specialist here at The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel; these are specifically-trained individuals to help you.

Of course, some of you hope that someday you will be able to sell your business for a billion dollars like Instagram or WhatsApp. Okay, perhaps something a bit more modest, say, a million dollars so that you can retire (if a million dollars is really enough to retire on nowadays). In this case, you might want to grab a copy of William Bumstead’s E4: Evaluating, Entering, Enhancing, & Exiting Privately Owned Businesses. A recommendation from my go-to exit strategy advisor and business broker, Lou Kastelic of Jordan-Crandus, E4 provides some valuable information on preparing your business for sale at any time during the phase of the company life cycle. Before or when you are ready to sell, I highly recommend touching base with Lou and seeing what your business’ value is and how to best position yourself in the marketplace.

 

Once you’ve made the first, small step in the direction of progress in any of these areas of business, you will feel like 2015 was already worth its weight in gold. What areas of business are most often not talked about and that you would like to make progress on in 2015? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Missing Link: Listening Skills

Listen, Understand, Act

 

Probably you have not been told to ‘shut up and listen’ lately…but do you really know if you are a good listener? Or why that is important to your own and your organization’s success?

The old line that ‘god gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason’ reflects the common problem: most of us do not listen well. Research shows that in the USA a far higher percentage of managers are extroverts than is the overall workforce. And many extroverts are better at talking than listening.

Listening well is a critical skill: good listeners are

  • more likely to learn of potential problems and solutions early;
  • better at assessing employees, job applicants, and potential partners or vendors;
  • more aware of changes which may affect them.

Good listening skills require some attention and effort to learn and use. They take an effort to turn off one’s own internal discussions, to think about what one is doing in a conversation, to ignore one’s phone or other distractions, and to change one’s talking habits. But your listening skills can be improved. And this will help with your personal life as well as your business!

Tips for more effective listening include:

  • listen for understanding of both what is said and what underlies the words or tone.
  • turn off your tendency to be defensive or think of your reply while the other person is speaking.
  • engage yourself fully in listening: make eye contact, say an encouraging word or nod periodically, take notes as needed.
  • ask relevant questions: for further information and to clarify your understanding of what you think you heard.
  • don’t interrupt or assume you know what the rest of the statement will be.
  • don’t give advice unless asked to.

Start by making a real effort to practice each skill above. As you master some, string them together when talking with someone you trust. Ask for feedback from a mentor or other close resource to check your improvement progress. Think about how much more effective you are in specific situations. All those steps will help you make being a good listener into a habit. People respond to being listened to very positively. And you will see the rewards!

A common characteristic of excellent sales people, top executive recruiters, and brilliant leaders is their ability to listen intensely. And to take what they have learned about the client or customer and use it for their own success. Being a good listener can help you achieve more — try it and see!

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management. Additionally, she generously provides one-to-one HR counseling once a month through Alexandria SBDC.