Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

How to Start a Blog for Your Business

necktie mouseWriting a blog is nothing to be afraid of. Sites like wordpress.com make it incredibly easy to put together a professional looking blog with a minimum of effort. My third-grader has put together his own blog page. I think my 79-year-old father could manage it too. If you can run a business, I feel pretty certain that you can post a blog.

Here’s why a blog is good for business, and why the blog should be written by you, the business owner. As Michael Gass, social media guru to the ad agency world, says, “People don’t build relationships with entities. They build relationships with people.” And of course you know everyone prefers to do business with people they know. A blog is one more way to connect with your target audience, and to build strong relationships with your clients or customers.

They also say blogs help your SEO. My understanding is that the search engines are constantly changing their equations for what appears at the top of a search, but some experts say writing a blog greatly increases the chances of people finding your website.

If you’re not even sure what a blog is, take a look at a few. Just get online and see what other companies are doing. You might be surprised at the companies with thriving blogs. Of course, if your competitors aren’t yet blogging, you’ve got a chance to get out there ahead of the pack.

My favorite small business blogger lately is Robanne Shulman of Plaid Monkey. Robanne is a personal shopper, and her company is named for the little monkey in the plaid jacket that belonged to the shopping mall organ grinder when she was a kid. I would imagine demand for personal shopping services are down in the current economy, but Robanne’s blog does a great job of creating need. If I get her blog about latest trends and she mentions that maxi dresses are a must-have, then I suddenly must have one. Boyfriend’s jackets? Get me one of those while you’re at it. Her blogs are short, filled with information I actually want and include plenty of photographs so I can see what she’s talking about.

Ready to give it a shot? Here are a few tips to make it a little easier.

1. Write in first person. This is not a book report. This is just you talking to your customers. Don’t be too formal or institutional. Think friendly and person to person.

2. Be authentic. Robanne’s blog is filled with slang and silly expressions that would make me cringe, if they weren’t pure Robanne. Go ahead and be yourself on your blog. Don’t think of this as a brochure or some official communication from your company to the public at large. If your blog feels too slick or polished, it actually loses points.

3. Give your audience tasty little morsels. Writing a blog is not about bragging. It’s about helping. It’s about offering your particular odd knowledge to people who can use it. What do you know that could be  helpful to your customers? Package it up into short paragraphs and send it out as your gift to the world.

4. Don’t worry about being perfect. Blogging is an extremely forgiving medium. It’s similar to the difference in what we consider okay in a quick phone text as opposed to a typed business letter. Besides, if you spend too much time making your blogs perfect,  you’ll never get around to blogging as frequently as you should.

5. Blog often. Putting up a blog once a month doesn’t count. It makes it look like you tried to join the social media movement but then got distracted. Make a commitment to blog at least once a week, but maybe as much as every day.

6. Blogs can be short. You don’t need to write a book. Most blog posts are between 250-500 words, but some are even shorter. Sometimes brevity is appreciated.

7. Do not sell on your blog. The blog is for engaging your customers, not hammering them over the head with a sales message. Just develop the relationship, and let the sales process happen in other channels.

5 Tips for When You’re a Millennial Bossing Boomers

30346741“Most of my employees don’t like me when I first meet them,” said a manager at a large global toy company. “I’ve been managing people for six years and only two have been younger than me,” said the Millennial.

“The older they are, the more they resent me. Some of them have been working at the company longer than I’ve been alive. But, I’ve worked at a few different global companies, so I have perspective and experience that they don’t.”

So how does he deal with their initial hostility? Here are his five tips:

#1“First of all, I don’t care,” he answered. “I can’t do anything about my age. I accept it, and they have to, too.

#2)  “Also, I put a process in place where exceptions always come to my attention. Whether, they’re good exceptions or bad, I want to hear about them. That helps me figure out who’s good at their job and who’s not. If you’re good at your job, then I let you do it. I don’t micro-manage you if you don’t need it, and everyone appreciates that at any age.

#3) “Another thing is I make my employees look good. I’ve set up the exception reports so that I find out about problems before they become a real issue. Then I help work through concerns and figure out solutions. This way I’m not always talking with employees about what they did wrong, but rather moving the business forward.

#4) “I put 95 percent of my effort into my top performers. That’s who does most of the work anyway.”

And, what’s Number Five, you ask?

#5) He finishes with, “I never deny vacation. Ever.”

I Want to Speak With Your Manager

The customer wanted a discount on the armoire. “I’m authorized to give you a five percent discount,” said the salesperson. “I was thinking 25 percent,” countered the shopper. The salesperson’s eyes widened. After a small verbal struggle ensued, the customer said, “I want to see your manager.”

Having faith in the boss can be scary words to hear, unless you know that your boss has got your back. In this case, the salesperson’s manager came onto the floor and said that five percent was the best discount they could offer. Of course, the manager was the storeowner and could do whatever she wanted, but she backed her employee. And, even if she had wanted to give a higher discount, she knew that rewarding an unfairly irate customer would win her no points with her employee.

The salesperson said, “That’s why I work here. I trust my manager is there to support me, so I’m confident doing my job. When I’m stuck in a tough situation, I just do what’s right without having to worry about ramifications from up above in the chain of command.”

Trust is always a big deal in any relationship, but the recession puts added pressure on the connection between manager and employee. It’s an issue in every industry around the world as managers and employees work together to get the business through a tough economic time. Make sure the pathways for honest communication are open and deal with tough issues as soon as they arise. The recession will be over soon. Trust lost during the recession could take years to rebuild.

Managing Meeting Time

bored in meetingsThe reign of the long meeting is dead. Over. Done. They say Millennials don’t like long meetings, but I really don’t know anyone who likes them – young or old. If you’re a manager who has long meetings, your reports probably don’t like you.

Not only are long meetings passé, so are days full of multiple meetings to the point where you can’t get any work done. Now, I know that this will rub some people the wrong way, but I’m guessing only those of you who spend your days in meetings. And, I’m also guessing you secretly dream of days without any meetings.

And, your employees need you. Listen to this: “I work hard for days to get everything ready for a five minute meeting, which never happens because my boss was called into a last-minute urgent meeting with her boss.

“I come in early the next day and linger around her office to catch her walking in. I’m desperate. I’ve got deadlines. When we finally sit down, she can’t remember what we decided in our last meeting, so we end up going over that again. And, now that she’s looking at everything with a fresh perspective. It’s all wrong.

“But I guarantee you that three meetings and four months from now, we’ll end up back where we were six meetings ago.”

If you are a “meeting-challenged” manager, then challenge yourself to have one meeting-free day a week. Your reports will thank you and you can revel in the freedom of taking care of business on your own schedule.

Is it Wise for Leaders to be Vulnerable?

I would have said “no” before talking with a friend and colleague of mine who’s a senior manager at a national quick service restaurant chain. 

“I spend a lot of time in conversation with my employees,” he said. “I try to be as transparent as I can be. I teach through vulnerability.

“What I mean by that is I’m not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ There is health in helping people understand that you don’t know everything. This creates trust.

“It can be hard to expose yourself at that level, but you reach a point at your career where you have enough experience and feel comfortable enough that you’re not always performing. You have to trust yourself.

“Sometimes, even when I know the answer, I still say ‘I don’t know.’ I want employees to be able to work through situations themselves. I don’t want them to rely on me too much. They’ve got to learn to flex their own muscles.”

It sounds to me that showing a little weakness actually gave this manager the upper hand. Plus, employees will eventually figure it out if you’re not being completely honest with them. And, if that happens, they’ll never forget it. They’ll also never forget the times you rolled up your sleeves to find a solution together.

For more on leadership best practices, see Leadership: How Can You Lead with Humility and Get Respect?

The One Page Rule of Communications

30444993I was sitting around the table with a Boomer college professor, a Gen X small business owner and a Gen Y business executive. This might sound like the opening to a corny joke, but what they offered was some interesting advice. Although it did make me LOL.

What’s your best leadership advice, I asked? The first one out of the gate was the Gen Y executive, “Never present anything over one page long. If it’s over one page, cut out the least important information. If it’s longer than one page, it’s not easy anymore.” OK, I’m thinking, this is a Millennial, after all. And, Millennials are famous for their short attention spans.

“I totally agree,” said the Boomer professor. Now, that surprised me. “My department chair is always saying the font size on everything I do is too small,” he said, “but that’s because I shrink everything to fit on one page. Nobody reads past a page. Everyone knows that.”

“I also make sure the first and last sentence of every paragraph is interesting. My students will read those while skimming, but anything in the middle of a paragraph is a maybe.”

The business owner joined in: “I’m on the road a lot and carry a lot of reports on hand. I just can’t be flipping through papers to get the answers to a situation. Make your life easy and stick to one page.”

Their advice is simple, I know. But it’s the wave of the future. And, if you combine our short attention spans with the endless amount of information available at our fingertips, the one page rule might be the only way to make sure the necessary information rises to the top. Actually, given the rise in Twitter’s popularity, it probably should be the one sentence rule.

Is it Enough for Employees to Simply Have a Job?

At this point, everyone knows someone who’s lost a job. Even with some positive reports trickling out about the economy improving, many employees are still waiting for the other shoe to drop – even if they’ve made it through a round (or rounds) of layoffs already. Here’s what I’ve been hearing:

Initially, they’re just happy to still have a job and plan to stay put. “I’m relieved to be here,” said a Deloitte employee. “But I can see that the changes (staff cuts) are moving closer to home.” One employee from The Home Depot said, “Before the recession I was looking for other jobs to make more money, now I’m staying here because at least I know I’ll have a job for the unforeseeable future. Right now, I’m not worried.” Of course, this employee left no doubt that once the economy recovered, he’d resume his job search with fervor.

Employees talk about the overwhelming pressure to prove their value every day. That’s especially hard to do when you’re company is entering unchartered territory due to the recession. A Deloitte employee said, “I think people work harder when they’re afraid of losing their job. The thing is that sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re supposed to be doing.’” An employee from McKesson said, “You can’t just cruise along. I think constantly about what I would say if someone from management asked me how I add value to the company.”

Are you an employer of choice? Even during “dark days,” employees at UPS talk about how the company is an employer of choice. “They’re engaging us any way they can on a daily basis, and that feels good during a time like this,” said one employee. Actually, I think in some ways this recession is forcing us to modernize for the better, like this year we had a teleconference for our annual management meeting instead of a big event where everyone attends in person.”

The final word: “We’re still a great company,” said a woman from Cox. From Deloitte: “I feel like they’re doing the best they can. Of course, I’d be totally freaked out if I was let go tomorrow, but I know they’re doing what they need to do.” A woman from UPS said, “I’m disappointed that I’m not going to be in the golden age of UPS, but I’m glad we’ve been conservative in the past and in general with our money so that now we can be flexible. I believe our company tries to take good care of us.”

And if you don’t want them, someone else will. Russell Coff, associate professor of organization and management at the Goizueta Business School, ways that firms able to weather the current economic storm are finding it’s a buyer’s market for those who can afford to add to staff. “There are people looking for positions who may not have another choice, and they may take a salary and a position that they may not have considered before. Kevin P. Coyne, a senior teaching professor in the same area with Goizueta, said, “It’s not smart to upset the hiring process. It can’t be ignored. If you neglect staffing issues, it can haunt you for five to six years or more.”

Responding to Negative Press

“I was thinking we’d do nothing, and it will go away,” he said. This was a senior manager at a global Fortune 100 company. He was talking about a workforce issue that was receiving major traction in the press. The company was working hard to get the facts out, but they were thinking about ignoring comments posted on blogs and renegade employee message boards. Here are three thoughts about the situation.

He’s right, sort of. It will go away. That is, the opportunity to effectively and authentically join the dialogue will go right out the window. Don’t you get irritated when you ask someone a question and they don’t answer? If you ask someone to pass the turkey, and they wait a few days before doing so, don’t you worry that the meat’s gone bad?

If you don’t get your message out, someone will fill your mouth with words. It’s just too easy not to on the Internet, even if it does rub our moral fiber the wrong way. Even if you have bad news to deliver, do it with tact and grace. Employees are smart. If what you say makes sense, then they’ll use that information to make their own decision. They’ll respect your transparency, and that might be enough to save, and even strengthen, the relationship.

Recent research by UberCEO.com revealed that not a single Fortune 100 CEO had a blog. Two had Twitter accounts and 81% were absent from Facebook.
But social media is not going away. Embrace it. The good news is that you know it’s a viable way to reach people, and you can make it work for you and your company.

The Recession Puts a Freeze On Motivation

People are struggling with the next step in their careers since the recession has resulted in hiring freezes and promotion freezes at their companies. Take Millennials, for instance, who are trying to land their first job out of college.

“I’ve heard that anyone who gets a job now will get hired at such a low salary compared to before the recession that it will take them years and years to recover that money,” said one advertising major. “It’s just as well I stay in school and wait it out.” Hmmm… now that I think about it, that could be just a ploy for more party time. Except that I’m hearing this bleak outlook from other people, too.

One Gen Y was asking me for advice on her job search. “I just got laid off from a non profit,” she said. “I can’t find a job, and some of the internships look interesting, but will they even consider me?” I responded that I’d heard that some people were writing companies asking if they could be considered for the position of “assistant to the intern,” so I didn’t think she had anything to worry about.

People who have jobs voice that they’re grateful and feel lucky, but are worried about their career development. “What bugs me the most is the freeze on promotions,” said one UPS employee. “I’m OK with freezes on merit increases and stopping 401K matches. Those will come back during the good times. But with my promotion, I feel like I’ve been on the cusp for so long, and this recession is just another roadblock. If I can’t move up, what’s my motivation?”

That UPS employee’s view is the downside of the company’s commitment to never have layoffs, which has earned it many loyal employees. Many companies have used this recession as an opportunity to “get rid of dead weight” and open up opportunities for upward movement.

A few days after the UPS employee’s comment, they put out a message about professional development that made her feel a little more hopeful. “They said that when the economy kicked back in, they’d be looking to promote the next round of leadership, so you better keep developing yourself and taking advantage of learning opportunities so you’ll be first in line.”

If your company can’t promote people right now, try to let them know the game plan so they don’t lose steam. Employees’ continued commitment is the best thing for the business, and it’s reasonable that employees want to know their hard work during this time will benefit everyone, including them.

The same goes for that college grad you have your eye on, but can’t hire until business picks up. If they can see the big picture and opportunity down the line, they might be willing to take their less ideal job for now if it means the perfect job later.

Generation Xers are Excellent Bridge Builders

Take for instance, communication styles. Gen Xers were raised communicating face to face (Boomer style), yet they’re comfortable with technology and social media (Gen Y style). They’ve also claimed the middle ground when it comes to work-life balance. They can bring home the bacon and take time to stop and smell the roses, unlike the all or nothing approach of some Boomers. Millennials tend to enter the workforce with a 9 AM to 5 PM attitude right off the bat.

Another plus about Gen X is they’re most likely filling the ranks of your middle management right now, an easily accessible and relatively untapped resource. They’ve been in the workforce about 20 years. They aren’t as notorious for job hopping as Gen Y, so they’ve usually been around long enough to know what they’re doing and to become grounded in the culture themselves. At the same time, they usually have hopped around a bit more than their Boomer counterparts, some of whom have worked their entire career with one company.

Gen Xers have definitely claimed the middle ground, which has gifted them with opportunities to negotiate and interface with different age groups, work styles and backgrounds. This experience is perfect for getting people to the table to share the information that will keep their businesses running successfully for the long term.