Pt 2: Start Small Win Big 2013 Challenge

Here she pushes you to identify your most important business goal and helps you achieve it in months. Missed last month’s segment with Steps 1 through 4? Find it at where you’ll see extra tips from SUCCESS editors and from Ramberg, and experience the fun and support of fellow SUCCESS readers. You’ll win a shot at fame—the winner’s story will appear in SUCCESS—while boosting your business results. It’s go time!

5. Talk to your customers.

Let’s face it. It’s easy to get tunnel vision. It happens to the best of us. We sit around with our colleagues and talk about what we like and dislike about our product and discuss what to change. If this sounds familiar, you are doing yourself and your company a disservice. In order to really understand the value and potential value we bring to our customers, we need to talk to them. So your task here is to gather a group of customers and ask them what they like and dislike about your product or service, as well as how they feel you can better serve them in the future.

There are a few ways you can do this, including polls and surveys, but I suggest you do it in person. Call a few customers and ask if they’re willing to grab coffee with you. You can do this in a group setting or individually. Chances are, you’ll get a lot of people happy to help, and while you don’t have to pay or offer them anything, I suggest that you present them with something as a thank-you once the meeting is over.

When you meet with these customers, here are a few things to think about. First, don’t go to the meeting with preconceived ideas about what you expect to hear. If you do, you probably will inadvertently direct the conversation to fit your expectations. If need be, bring someone from your office whose views do not line up with your own so you can really keep the discussion unbiased. Second, keep your questions open-ended so they can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. For example, you could ask, “What do you like and what do you dislike about (your product or service)?” Keep in mind, people may feel uncomfortable putting down your product in front of you, so make it clear that you are interested in both the positive and the negative.

Finally, do more listening than talking. You are there to learn, not sell.

At some point during this process, you should become your company’s customer as well. For instance, if you have a spa, go get a few treatments. If you have an online retailer, buy something. You’ll find that when you experience something as a customer instead of as an owner, you’ll discover clear improvements you can make in places you had overlooked. Donna Perillo, owner of a nail spa in New York, says that as a customer she has noticed things such as the tea being too cold and the music playing too loud—things she didn’t notice before.

6. Put systems into place to keep your staff focused.

As you go through this exercise of identifying and reaching for your goals, it’s incredibly important that you communicate this to your staff and make sure everyone is on the same page. Time is precious, and you don’t want employees spending theirs on projects that aren’t aligned with those goals.

Once I graduated from business school, I worked for a woman named Tracy Randall, now the CEO of my former company The company started in the late ’90s and, as with many dot-coms of the time, grew quickly right out of the gate. I was employee No. 5, but within a year after I was hired, we moved into new offices and more than doubled our staff. It kept growing. As you can imagine, with everyone working at a fast pace, it would be easy to lose track of things. So Randall put a system into place that allows her to ensure everyone is working toward the same goals. Every morning she has a quick “daily check-in” with her top managers, when they list their top priorities for the day. Each week Randall has a meeting when they discuss what they hope to accomplish that month. In turn, the managers do the same with their staffs.

While at first blush this may seem like micromanagement, if you execute it properly, it’s not. The purpose of these meetings is not to police every task your employees are conducting, but rather to make sure everyone is on the same page. It keeps open the lines of communication and helps avoid a scenario in which one of your employees spends the majority of her time on a project that isn’t important to the company.

7. Tap your network.

I recently sat on a panel discussion with Chris Rabb, author of Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity, who said one of the keys to being a successful entrepreneur is having access to the right people. Whether it’s to fill a need for funding, partnerships, good employees or whatever, you’re always going to need the help of others.

So be proactive about this. Chances are, in your current network of contacts, you have a wealth of resources you haven’t taken advantage of. For example, do you have a friend who works at the local newspaper? If so, have you asked him to look over your press pitch and help you get it to the right reporter? Others can help you by introducing you to people in their network. For example, do you know someone who is friends with someone who works at the retailer you’re dying to get your products into? Make a list of such people, and next to each name, write a specific thing you could use from them. We’re often shy about asking people for help but shouldn’t be. If you have a good product or service, people generally will be excited to be a part of it and welcome the chance to offer assistance in some way. But it’s important to ask for this help in the right way.

Justine Stamen Arrillaga is the founder of the amazing TEAK Fellowship in New York City, which helps talented students from low-income families get into—and succeed at—top high schools and colleges. She advises that whenever you request someone’s help, give them three specific things they can do for you. While people often want to help, the reason they don’t follow through is because they’re not sure about what they can do for you. When you made your list, you were specific about your needs. Share this with your contact. This makes it easy for everyone and increases the chances that they can do something for you.

Here’s an example of what I mean. When I was repeating this piece of advice to a friend, he told me an example of the right and wrong way to ask for help. A woman (Lisa) he knows recently asked him to provide her with some help getting press coverage for her store. Lisa forwarded some ideas to my friend, but didn’t specify what kind of coverage she wanted—local, national, trade, etc. She didn’t follow up, and he got busy, so while he would’ve been happy to help, the request went nowhere.

Conversely, another friend of his (Rick) asked him to help make a contact at a specific magazine. Rick sent my friend an email that he could pass along to the reporter and the two of them ended up having a conversation. Rick made it easy to help him, and because of that, he got results.

8. Review your social marketing plan.

By this time, I hope each of you has a presence on social media. If not, then Step 7½ should be for you to join Facebook or another social network (more on that in a second). For this step, I am going to assume that you are already a member and, if not active, then at least know that you should be.

Social media, as you probably already know, is a wonderful way to reach and stay engaged with your customers. That is undeniably true. Social media, as you probably also know, is free. Well, that isn’t as true. While it doesn’t cost anything to have a Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest account, it does take up a lot of time, and that can translate into an employee salary or a contractor fee. So when you think about your social media marketing plan, be strategic.

Unless you’re already a pro, I suggest focusing first on just one of the networks. Choose the one that best fits your audience. For example, on Your Business (the show I host on MSNBC), we recently profiled a wedding dress company whose founders concentrate on Pinterest to market their clothing because they’ve seen the most engagement there.

Second, set a goal. Simply racking up “likes” on Facebook or followers on Twitter isn’t enough. The reason for connecting with people is to get them to take actions that benefit your company, such as buying your product. Here is the interesting part about social media, though: You shouldn’t use it to sell. Instead, you should think of social media as a way to engage people so you are top-of-mind when they’re ready to buy the type of product or service you sell.

When it comes to social media, the most important thing to do is be interesting. You can do this in one of two ways. You can either generate new content or curate existing content, pointing to useful information around the web. Either can be effective in recruiting. And as you put together your posts, think about the kind of people you’d like as customers and write about topics that interest them.

9. Get yourself organized.

It’s hard to get anything done when you have 400 emails in your inbox, a desk piled high with papers and boxes filled with invoices. Whether you know it or not, this disorganization is probably weighing you down and keeping you from getting things done as well as you could. So get yourself organized!

Here are some ideas I’ve learned from experts on organization, as well as from people who are just really good at it.

Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out, Second Edition: The Foolproof System For Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life, suggests having an office cleanup day. This is the day to get rid of the piles, assess what’s in closets and ditch the computer cables gathering dust in the corner. To do this correctly, you need to plan it in advance and create guidelines on what you’re going to keep and throw out, and where things will go. The last thing you want is to create new piles for the next organization day. Also, be sure to have garbage bags, storage boxes and such. If you do a thorough job, it will be a big load off your mind. For most of us, working in an organized environment is much easier than working in a cluttered one.

Cara Natterson, who runs Worry Proof Consulting, says she always keeps a large supply of file folders, blank labels and a label maker. If you don’t have the supplies, chances are documents will just end up in a big pile. It’s that simple.

Dhenu Savla, an immigration lawyer, says to calendar everything. This is something I live by. Keeping a master calendar of personal and business appointments helps you track your time and avoid double-booking or rushing around unnecessarily. So put everything in your digital calendar from now on.

And finally, make your way through that inbox. Take an hour to unsubscribe to every newsletter you never read. You can always subscribe again later. And if you don’t have them already, create folders in your email system to store important communications you need to save.

There you have it: nine steps that will help you achieve the goal you set a month ago. You may not have all the answers yet, but keep saying “I think I can” and you will figure them out. I look forward to meeting the winner at lunch!


JJ Ramberg is an author, the founder of and the host of MSNBC's small business program, Your Business. She was the featured mentor for SUCCESS' latest Start Small Win Big entrepreneur challenge. 

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