Things on My Ignore List

You’re busy. You probably have a “to do” list to keep you on task. The tighter your focus is during the day, the more you can accomplish. That means you have to let some things go by the wayside. We rarely create a written list of things to ignore, but we store all of them in our minds.

My ignore list is shaped through the prism of knowing what is most important in growing my business: acquiring new customers. If something comes up that isn’t focused on business development, I tend to ignore it because it will not help me achieve my goal.

By ignore, I don’t really mean to completely ignore doing something that needs to be done, just delegate it or put it off for after-hours work. For example, I don’t enjoy doing bookkeeping work so I hired someone else to do that. Also, my company gets so many customer support calls each day that I need a team to manage the volume. I’m always available for special cases, but most calls are easily supported by others.

The things I don’t focus on during the day allow me time to concentrate on the things that I need to focus on, the things that will help my company grow, the things that need to be done during normal work hours.

Here is my ignore list. I usually do these tasks during off-hours:

  1. Bookkeeping review (I have a bookkeeping team who handles day to day tasks)
  2. Catching up on my blog reading
  3. Reviewing reports
  4. Tweeting (I often schedule posts to go out throughout the day)
  5. Facebook
  6. Budgeting
  7. Basic research for competitive analysis
  8. Administrative tasks that I can’t delegate to someone else

My role during work hours is to generate new business, form partnerships and figure out other ways to grow the company. Anything else gets put on my ignore list till later.

Get in the Zone

When you’re extraordinarily focused for a short period of time, you are in “the zone.”

No Interruption Policy

Getting in the zone at work means no phone calls, no texts, no tweets, no meetings, no dialog with anybody, no checking your friends’ Facebook posts,  no interruptions  – period , except for an occasional sip of Red Bull.

We’ve all been there. You know it works. Getting in the zone empowers you to focus with laser-like accuracy on a specific task, problem or issue that requires your utmost attention. Everything else is tuned out. There is just one mission: get your task done.

It’s hard to get in the zone for long periods at a time. It’s like swimming underwater. You need to come up for air and have a change of pace.

All too often, we never allow ourselves to actually get in the zone. There is always an interruption. We use the interruption as an excuse not to focus. At the end of the day, we haven’t accomplished nearly as much as we could have. It doesn’t have to be like this. You can squeeze out so much more juice out of each day with a small shift in your mindset.

Pretend You’re Going on Vacation

Think about the work day before you leave for an extended vacation. You are so focused on making sure that everything you are working on has either been completed or your colleagues know the next steps to address in your absence. You are able to get in the zone.  You take a shorter lunch break and avoid all distractions so you can wrap up in time and enjoy your vacation. Getting in the zone is forced upon you so you ensure that everything on your “to do” is knocked out.

What if you planned in advance to get in the zone as if you were about to go on vacation the next day? How much more could you accomplish at the office tomorrow if your mind was dead set on completing a series of tasks that are important. Tune out the noise, the “triviata.” Only hone in on your mission and make it happen.

This magical day of accomplishment usually won’t happen by itself. You need to mark it on yourcalendar. I often take an imagination day  just to allow myself to get in the zone about business strategy. Other days, I schedule in 2-3 hour blocks of time when my phone is on do-not-disturb and my door is closed.

I can’t do this all of the time. When I do, this technique of pretending I’m going on vacation and allocating concentrated time to focus gives me a boost of energy followed by a sense of accomplishment.

Tell me about ways you focus to accomplish your tasks and goals.

Best Time to Call

I’ll bet your work day is packed. You have meetings, colleagues stop by with questions. There are all sorts of distractions.

So what is the best time to call on a prospect? Their day is probably a lot like yours.

Try calling them at 8:05 am or 4:50 pm, even 5:30 pm.

Why is the best time to call so early or late in the day? Simple. Most executives start their day early and end late. They are at the office far past 6:00 pm. I know I am. The only times I leave early are when I have another appointment that I have to get to.

Before and after normal work hours, most of their staff is gone. That means they are in the office and usually not as distracted. That’s the best time to reach without getting a quick brush off or having to talk your way past the gatekeeper.

If you run your own business, you know exactly what I am talking about. Who leaves to go home at 5:00?  Very few executives do that.

If they aren’t in their office, they are certainly checking email when they wake up and before they go to bed. And when your message has less to compete with (i.e., fewer other emails they have to scroll through compared to what they get during the day), you stand a higher chance of getting a response.

In fact, my company, MailerMailer, just released our latest email marketing metrics report based on data from 1.2 billion email messages. We found that emails sent during off-hours generate the highest number of clicks on links within the message.

In other words, reaching people before or after hours gives you the best odds in getting their attention. Not only is it the best time to call, but is also the best time to send them email.

The Fastest Way to Build Business Relationships

To succeed in your career, you have to build business relationships. There is one thing you can give your business acquaintances that they will value immediately, positioning you in their minds as a source to watch.

What your prospects and clients value most of all, more than your sage consulting advice, has to do with them, not you. It goes right to the heart of their success. You likely encounter this relationship-building element all the time, but since you are not tuned into it you may not notice.

Give Prospects What They Really Want

What is this magical element? Business business relationships

Every company needs new and repeat business to grow. Finding leads and converting them into sales is always the top thought of the CEO — always.

You might be thinking, “I’ve got enough trouble finding leads for myself, how am I going to find them for my prospects and clients, too?”  The reason you don’t see those “other” leads is because you are not looking for them. Yet sources of leads are all around you and you can use them to build business relationships quickly.

Example: I subscribe to a weekly email alert from my local government. They send out solicitation notices for projects set aside for local small businesses. They buy just about every type of product or service you can imagine: janitorial services, printing, paper clips, advertising, computer services, everything.

I saw an announcement for web design services. My company doesn’t provide this service so usually I would delete that message. But some of my target market does web design. So, I forwarded that announcement along with a simple note that read “Hi Steve, I thought you might be interested in this lead.”

Tune In To What They Need

The amount of goodwill I created from that simple message, one that I would have otherwise deleted, went a long way in building a business relationship. People might not reply to other messages you send to them, but they never ignore a business lead. They will always appreciate your gesture.

There are sources of leads all around you. The next time you are at a networking event and talk to someone who might be a good fit for another person in your network – or even someone else you just met – let them know. Build business relationships by connecting two people who may have synergies. You will create goodwill for everyone.

Every time I share a business lead, I receive a reply thanking me even if the lead isn’t a good fit. My message shows that I am looking out for them, not trying to sell my services. And that builds business relationships faster than anything else.

Making Incremental Change

Sometimes, life feels like a golf game: moments of brilliance followed by long periods of mediocrity.

The trick to changing is to shorten the time between the moments of brilliance while making that time more productive. Like a golf swing, you get there through repetition coupled with corrective actions. You gradually make an incremental change.

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell writes that world class athletes have 10,000 hours of practice under their belt before they get to the caliber we see. As those incremental changes are burned into your memory, they become habits.

Incremental change means small, steady progress toward self-improvement. Here are 3 themes with increments you can make:

  1. Losing weight. Forget the diet fads. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that just by switching from whole milk to low fat milk, you can reduce 25-30% of your calories from milk. This little step done daily can make a big change in your progress. Next, make one more change – like cutting back one meal per week of red meat. Take the steps instead of the elevator. Each month, add a new habit and stick with it for the whole month so it becomes part of you. The incremental change will be a lot easier to do.
  2. Reducing debt. Unless you win the lottery, paying off debt will take a little time. Set a goal to avoid Starbucks for a month. Or go to the deli for lunch an extra day or two during the week instead of a more expensive restaurant. Pocket the money you save, don’t spend it. Find other ways to cut your personal spending little by little. At the end of the month, pay down a debt, whether it is an extra principal payment on a student loan or your mortgage. If you earn extra cash from an odd job or consulting project now and then, allocate the money to reduce your debt. The incremental change will make it possible.
  3. Attracting happiness. People tune out those who constantly complain. Buy a tiny spiral notebook and put it by your bedside. Before going to sleep each night, make a very small entry that starts with “I am thankful for…”  Think about what happened during the day that was good. There is always something, no matter now small. Monitoring what you are grateful for is a fast path to happiness.

Opportunities for incremental change are all around us. One tiny step each day will get you 365 steps closer one year from now.

4 Ways to Balance Business Networking with Family Time

Got kids? Me, too. Need to attend business networking events while being sensitive to family time? Ditto.

Juggling family time and squeezing out an opportunity to attend business networking events can be tricky. Here are 4 ways to help with your balancing act:family time

  • Pick 3 “must attend” business networking events per quarter. When you have little ones at home, your time is no longer your own. You won’t be able to attend every event you want.  Find an average of one networking event per month that you would classify as “must attend.”  This means that by attending this networking event, you feel will learn something new or meet at least a handful of useful new contacts. Read more: How to Decide Which Networking Event Works Best for You.
  • Coordinate with your spouse. Having a supportive spouse is critical to managing work and family. This means if your spouse works, you should be sensitive to his/her requests as well. Coordinate who will pick up the kids after day care or after school activities are over while you attend the business networking event. Read more: Organization Tips for Parents.
  • Rely on your extended network of school friends. Schedule a weekday play date or homework time at your child’s friend’s home. You might find that your extended network is happy to help you periodically when you have to attend a business networking event, even more so if you return the favor. Read more: Setting Up Play Dates.
  • Don’t feel guilty about events you can’t attend. There will always be another seminar, another conference or another meet-up.  However, you can never get back time you lose if you missed your child growing up. Go to the soccer games, birthday parties and everything else you can attend. You will feel far more guilty later on if you lost that precious family time with your child. Read more: Letting Go of Guilt.

A Side Effect of Being Too Optimistic

Optimists say “yes” — a lot. They see the glass as half full. They look for the silver lining and the opportunities. Their positive attitude leads the way to reduced stress.

“No” is hardly in an optimist’s vocabulary. That means that the they will likely say “yes” to requests that come their way. Optimists are wired to find solutions, not dwell on problems. Sounds great.optimism

The side effect: when you take on too much, you may be unable to give your full time and attention to the effort required. Deadlines may get missed, co-workers may get frustrated. All of those things an optimist said “yes” to start piling up. Only the ones with the highest priorities get addressed.

The unfortunate side effect of being too optimistic: people may see ever-the-optimist people as flaky or unreliable.

I’m not suggesting you should start being more pessimistic. Continue to be optimistic.  Just start to say “no” a little more, especially when your gut tells you that you won’t be able to put your 100% effort into what you are about to take on.

When you consciously choose to let go, you are freeing your mind of the responsibility of that one additional task. There is less to think about and that gives you more mental room to really put your heart into what excites you.  It is liberating and rewarding.

And you’ll be happier.

3 Ways to Acquire New Skills

In this fast-paced modern business environment, the most important skill you can have is knowing how to acquire new skills. It doesn’t matter if you know how to write software code in the  programming language du jour or if you are the world’s fastest widget maker.  Those skills will be obsolete in a matter of years and a crop of recently trained people with newer skills will take over the hottest jobs.

The old thinking of “if I have this skill, I should be able to get a job” no longer works. Getting stuck in that mindset will harm your career. Making yourself pliable and open to new options is the key in today’s era of change.

Here are three ways that will give you the power to acquire new skills:

1. Read daily. Reading constantly will keep you in the loop about trends so you will know what’s coming and can take action to stay on top. If you see that your sector is declining, explore opportunities in sectors that are growing before it is too late.  Read more than the news.  Books give you a deep dive into subjects that can add to your reasoning process and build new skills. Read everywhere you can. The beauty of devices like the iPad is that you can access your newspaper, magazines and books whenever you want. In fact, a Pew eBook survey reported that 20% of Americans are now reading on electronic devices.

2. Have lunch with at least four people you don’t work with every month. That works out to one lunch a week away from your day-to-day colleagues. Meet with old business acquaintances to see how they are doing, with people you recently met at that networking event last month and with someone you just connected with on LinkedIn – this will capitalize on the strength of weak ties. Reaching out beyond your current circles exposes you to a wealth of information that can guide you to make the most opportune career decisions.

3. Join the board of a non-profit organization. Giving back to the community is important. Joining an organization is good. Getting on its board is better. Your leadership role will allow you to contribute more and, politics aside, can be rewarding in ways you may not initially imagine. The interpersonal involvement opens the door for sharing ideas and seeing the world in different ways. This helps shed light on skills that you might want to acquire so you can contribute more to your community. A side benefit is that you meet others with similar interests. When you need assistance, the community you help will typically be there to help you, too.

Other resources: 40 Useful Sites to Learn New Skills

What other habits do you have to acquire new skills? Please share in the comments below.

The Follow Up

Try this test the next time you are looking for any type of service:

  1. Visit several companies’ web sites.
  2. Fill out their contact form explaining what you are looking for.
  3. Count how many of these companies reply.

According to AMR Research, you can expect only 30% to follow up. Why is follow up so rare?

Likely reasons:

  • Your request falls outside of the scope of the company’s services.
  • The size of your potential business is lower than their minimum threshold.
  • There was no way to determine your level of interest or ability to purchase.

Unlikely reasons:

  • You have a lazy sales rep.
  • The company doesn’t instantly forward leads to sales reps for follow up.

If the company’s online form did not collect enough information, it might be hard for a sales person to know whether you are ready to buy. Commission-based sales people look for a return on their time quickly so they filter out unqualified leads to focus on ones that can result in real business opportunities.

Unfortunately, a delayed or non-existent response can be frustrating from the buyer’s perspective. This can create ill will that affects the company’s reputation.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

You may not be a sales person, but all of us receive requests by people that require a response. How quickly do you follow up when a colleague or acquaintance contacts you about an opportunity or needs assistance?

When you respond fast in every case, even if the answer is “can you send me more information, it will help me to give you the right answer” or “sorry, I can’t help you” you solidify your reputation as a trustworthy person who can be relied upon for timely follow up and honest feedback.

It is a competitive world and creating a personal brand of integrity has the ripple effect of increasing your day-to-day luck because people will remember their experience with you.

When and How to Follow Up with Leads

About three weeks ago, I was looking for a certain type of service. I clicked on an ad on Google and filled out a contact form for the advertiser to reach me. It was during the week so I figured a sales person would call me or at least follow up by email the next day.

No response.

Three weeks later, I got a very generic email. If you take out the type of service, which I blurred in the picture below, you could apply this email to virtually any service. Plus, the odd part is that their response was about me reselling their service, which is not what I inquired about at all.

This is a sad story. The company had paid Google for the click on their ad, gotten a qualified sales lead and then effectively threw it away because they didn’t follow up in a timely manner or with relevant material.  (Pssst… the letter was for concierge services. Would you have guessed that?)

Their lead generation campaign is generating sales leads. Yet nobody is following up the right way. They are wasting their money.

Follow Up the Right Way

Create a poster board on your wall with this reminder.  When someone contacts you:

  1. Reply within 1 business day (same day if possible) by phone.
  2. If you don’t reach them, try again the next day.
  3. If you still don’t reach them, send an email.
  4. If you haven’t gotten in touch with them in a week, send a follow up letter by email – or better yet record and send a personalized video – using this sample text:

John, thanks again for reaching out to us last week about our services. I’ve been unable to reach you via phone or email. I know you’re busy and I appreciate your interest in finding out whether our services would be a good fit for your company.

To help you make an informed decision about [your type of services], I will periodically send you our email newsletter. It contains a wealth of material that you might find useful for your business. When you are ready to connect, reach me at [phone number or email]. All the best, [signature].

If they haven’t followed up with you after several initial attempts, they may not be a qualified lead. By sending them your company email newsletter filled with educational – not sales – material, you stay on their minds so that when they are “sales ready,” they think of you first and reach out.  By then, you will have solidified your position as a trusted source so they will very likely take your call.