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Expert tips for leading your small business into 2017
By Sheryl Nance-Nash and LaToya M. Smith
Great leaders are decisive, effective communicators with foresight who create a culture that inspires their employees. Those traits, skills, and qualities develop over time.
To help you guide your company into 2017, we asked experts to sound off on some of the biggest leadership questions of small business owners like you. Read on to gain insight that can help you achieve your best year yet.
Q: My biggest leadership challenge is balancing customer feedback with the strategic vision for the growth of the company. How do you know when to implement customer feedback into your sales process versus ignoring it and building what you know they would want and need anyway? —Bryan Clayton; GreenPal; three years in business; Nashville, Tennessee
A: Set strategically where you want to go. Focus on what pain you solve and which buyers have the money to solve the pain. A company that serves everyone really helps no one. While selling and servicing these customers, listen to their feedback and gradually incorporate it into your company’s direction to boost sales. Remember, customers vote with their money. It’s the best way to figure out what they want.
Q: I’m transitioning from running a small agency to a medium agency. What are the biggest hurdles for business owners when making the transition from small to medium-sized businesses? —Chris Post; Post Modern Marketing; six years in business; Sacramento, California
A: The biggest hurdle is the organization, process, and infrastructure that needs to be created to run a larger company. At a smaller company, these things can be taught orally, but at a larger company, all leverage will be lost without this structure. With more people and a bigger organization, it also takes longer to change directions and respond to the marketplace. [A] common culture is also difficult to maintain as the company expands with additional team members. Get away from a hub and spoke model where everything has to go through you. Draw the organization based on who can make decisions on their own in specific areas. If you are the only one that can make important decisions, this needs to be shifted to a more hierarchical model.
Q: What is the best way to discipline an employee? For example, publicly, privately, or does it depend on the context of the situation? How can I use that employee’s misbehavior or mistake as a teachable moment for the entire company without humiliating or making the employee feel uncomfortable? —Clint Evans, Stand Out Authority; two years in business; Austin, Texas
A: Meet with them privately to point out the mistake and seek next steps so it does not happen again. Teach the mistake to others without placing blame on the individual and focus on the future solution.
Q: When staffing positions, how do I make sure I get the right people in the right seats? —Mary “Mickey” Swortzel; New Eagle Consulting; eight years in business; Ann Arbor, Michigan
A: Match for attitude, not skills. You can always teach skills, but not their attitude. Make sure anyone you hire is a cultural fit.
Q: How do you manage a remote team? Our business is 100 percent remote, with a team throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world. Can you provide tips for communicating, creating processes and building culture? —Dayne Shuda; Ghostblogwriters.com; six years in business; Eau Claire, Wisconsin
A: Remote team members can feel like they are on an island, so here are a couple of tips for building community and connection.
Q: Our customer base has changed over the last two years. How do I get a better understanding of exactly whom our customer base is? —Candice Galek; Bikini Luxe; two years in business; Miami
A: Understanding your customers’ most pressing issues, problems, and desires is important. Each person in your customer base has a specific want or need and is naturally receptive to consuming information that helps meet their challenges. By understanding what your customers care about, you can start creating content to meet their needs. As they begin to engage with your content, you can develop a deeper understanding of how this challenge affects their lives. With this engagement, you also can recognize the engagement patterns of your best customers.
Sheryl Nance-Nash is a seasoned journalist who has written about personal finance, small business, and career-related topics for more than a decade.
LaToya M. Smith is a journalist and editor who covers finance and small business. Follow her on Twitter: @LaToyaReports.
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