Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Maria Stevens, @smallbizchatter. Maria is a seasoned entrepreneur, business strategy coach and professional speaker. Her areas of expertise include small business sales and marketing, strategic planning and leadership and motivation. Maria is the founder of “School for Small Business” – a group coaching class specifically designed to teach small business owners how to improve their results by developing their business skills. Most recently, she has created an exciting, new webinar course for small business owners and entrepreneurs entitled “The Ultimate Small Business: Supercharge your Company’s Growth with 5 Simple Strategies”. For more information check out http://stevenscoaching.com
SmallBizLady: Why is coaching valuable to small business owners and entrepreneurs?
Maria Stevens: Good coaching programs are able to help their clients address the underlying attitudes and beliefs, and this is the secret to real behavior change. Without this component, much of what is learned in a training seminar or program is never applied or implemented. Once we address what’s holding us back, we’re open to learning something new and then truly integrating the new concepts into our actions and behaviors.
SmallBizLady: What is the most important factor when it comes to business success?
Maria Stevens: Taking action. Many SMBs want their businesses to improve, but not everyone is willing to truly invest in their skills, invest in themselves and ultimately, their business to take their results to the next level. Those who do, those who persist will be the ones who prevail.
SmallBizLady: Is a mission statement REALLY important for a small business?
Maria Stevens: YES! Far too many business owners struggle through making critical business decisions without the clarity and focus that the mission statement provides. The mission statement sets the course and provides the guiding light by which all strategy – marketing, sales, hiring, etc. should occur. Once the mission statement is in place (and ideally, often referred back to), the strategic planning is much simpler and the eventual results of the business are much more successful.
SmallBizLady: Why do so many SMBs struggle with time management and focus?
Maria Stevens: I believe that it really boils down to a matter of self-discipline. It’s very easy to get distracted when you are running your own business…from constant emails, client issues, staff problems, etc. It takes discipline and focus to avoid the immediate “get-it-done” payoff of either solving a staff issue or responding to email, for example. SMBs need to move away from this constant reactive state to proactively manage their business. This means delaying the instant gratification of task completion and spending time every day on the critical priorities to achieve the long term goals of the business.
SmallBizLady: One of the biggest complaints for SMBs is finding good employees, or hiring the wrong people. Why is that?
Maria Stevens: Most of the time, I find that SMBs lack a consistent hiring process. It doesn’t need to be fancy or involve a lot of extra work, but by following the best practices, such as using a simple scorecard, using phone interviews, and asking to have the reference interviews set up, SMBs can significantly reduce the amount of bad hires and excessive turnover costs. But the main thing is to have a consistent process.
SmallBizLady: How can a small business owner motivate their employees?
Maria Stevens: Again, this comes back to the owner and the management/leadership of the company itself. It’s not about “making people motivated”, it’s about having strategies and processes in place that create a work environment in which employees choose to be motivated. This includes things like ongoing training and more proactive communications. Most SMBs don’t feel that they don’t have time for training or regular team meetings, but in the end more time is wasted on mistakes and daily issues in the absence of regular training and employee development.
SmallBizLady: Why do so many SMBs struggle with marketing?
Maria Stevens: For many, marketing is simply an overwhelming concept. Between all the options in social media alone- blogging, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn …to advertising, direct mail, trade shows and the Internet, it’s really confusing. Which should you try first, and how should you put it all together? As small business owners, we don’t have the budgets that the big corporations have, so making the right marketing decisions and investments is critically important.
SmallBizLady: What is one of the biggest mistakes you see with SMBs and their marketing strategy?
Maria Stevens: What I typically find is many start-ups rushing to get their website done or have their brochures or business cards updated before they have clearly carved out their branding strategy. Then, when it comes to providing content for these promotional vehicles, they draw a blank, because they’re starting in the wrong direction. SMBs need to get clear on their vision and their customers’ needs/problems, and THEN, refine the actual marketing message. From there, it’s a simple matter of plugging the marketing message as appropriate into the various marketing vehicles.
Even for established SMBs, they can get caught up with the latest marketing fad and lose sight of their customers, and what’s in it for them.
SmallBizLady: How can SMBs better manage social media marketing for their small business?
Maria Stevens: It can seem overwhelming to find the time when SMBs are already stretched so thin. I recommend using what I call a “content calendar” upfront – create an outline of as many content topics as you can in a list format, even with some bullet points. Then, schedule a slot of time daily or weekly, depending on their goals to put the blog, post, tweet, etc. out there. If the content already exists in some format, which it likely does from previous presentations, faq’s, etc., it’s less work because you’re revising and updating that content as opposed to coming up with something from scratch each time.
It’s much less overwhelming when we know we don’t have to sit down and think “hmmm…what should I write about today?”
SmallBizLady: In the age old debate about sales being an art or a science, where do you stand?
Maria Stevens: Sales is an art, definitely! Forget fancy sales training with diagrams, arrows, funnels and phrases to memorize. Those who excel in selling are expert communicators, regardless of their industry or niche. Expert, competent communicators are…adaptable, empathetic, know how to manage the conversation, appropriate and effective. They operate with a purpose, yet are flexible to the customer. No 2 sales calls will be the same because no 2 people communicate the same. That is why sales is an art.
SmallBizLady: What is one of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to selling?
Maria Stevens: Talking too much!!! When you’re talking, you’re not selling! Your ability to ask questions and listen will most definitely determine your close ratio.
SmallBizLady: How can salespeople and business owners really up their sales game?
Maria Stevens: Sales people need to work on their communication skills, specifically, the ability to be assertive (not aggressive) by asking the tough questions. Using assertive communication techniques cuts through the miscommunication in the typical sales situation, gets to the bottom of the prospects real intent, and ensures that the seller is spending their time on the right prospects.
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For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.