Fred Koury

In a world where fast-paced technology dominates everything we do, the amount of personal contact is decreasing, leaving many first impressions at the mercy of an email sent from a smartphone.

But despite our reliance on technology, it’s important that we not lose the basics of our relationship skills. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to dealing with people, because ultimately it’s good business to make a solid first impression.

Here are some things we can do today to make sure each impression is a good one: 

1. Send a handwritten letter instead of an email after meeting someone new or adding a customer. This may feel archaic, but that person will take notice and know that you went the extra mile to make him or her feel important. I’m not talking about a form letter that you stamp a signature onto, but a letter they know you personally wrote and signed. 

2. Be professional in how you dress and how you conduct yourself. It is very acceptable in today’s society to dress down or settle for basic etiquette. But first impressions are everything, and we should make the other person feel important. Treat them as if you were meeting with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Make sure your appearance and actions send the right message. 

3. Add value. Find ways to add products or services to a contract the customer didn’t expect. By doing a little more than expected, you will stand out to the customer and help build a stronger relationship. You can also add value by introducing the CEO to other potential customers or suppliers that can offer additional help.

4. Stand out. Do something that keeps you top of mind, such as sending a small gift, book or article you think is of interest. Continue doing this throughout the relationship. 

Be vigilant about these things, because impressions can last forever. A blown opportunity to impress a potential new customer won’t come again.

 

Fred Koury 
President and CEO 

Smart Business Network Inc. is the publisher of Smart Business Magazine and operates SBN Interactive, a content marketing firm. 

Fred is committed to focusing on relationships, not transactions, in everything he does. 

(800) 988-4726

fkoury@sbnonline.com

www.sbnonline.com

www.sbninteractive.com

There’s a saying that necessity is the mother of all invention.

For most businesses in the last several years, tough economic conditions created a lifetime supply of necessity, resulting in companies large and small seeking creative ways to do more with less.

For most CEOs, that meant taking a long, hard look at every position and every product, weeding through the “nice to have” and “need to have” in both categories. The next step was taking what remained and finding new ways to maximize efficiency.

The silver lining to the economic downturn is that companies looked at things in new ways and became focused on efficiency. Those lessons remain in place today. Existing positions and potential new ones are given greater scrutiny than before, and products are measured and remeasured for profitability.

To continue to not only survive but thrive in this new economy, it’s imperative that these lessons are not forgotten. Companies need to operate at the bare-minimum of staffing levels to avoid unnecessary costs. Employees need to be cross-trained to keep everyone at maximum capacity to eliminate downtime. Products have to be scrutinized to squeeze every penny out of production costs and pricing needs to be studied to increase profitability.

Innovation and efficiency have to be paired to create new products that stand out from the competition. Take Sonos, for example. The company created a wireless sound system that easily plugs into your existing wireless router, providing music in any room with a Sonos device, all controlled from your iPod. Installation is easy — no need for a technician, and because it’s wireless, you no longer have to figure out how to hide all the wires older systems required. Add in a simple interface on a ubiquitous device and you have a winning product.

But Sonos can’t rest, for competitors like Bose are offering similar systems, looking to improve on the idea. If Sonos is innovative and does so in an efficient way, it will most likely continue to succeed.

We all have to continue our search for efficiencies within our organizations. We have to be willing to change processes, systems and people, even when those changes are difficult to make. Failing to do so will only put you at a disadvantage against competitors who did make the changes.

Never stop innovating ways to be more efficient in every aspect of your business. Innovation isn’t just about the next great product; it’s also about how you produce and manage that product and how you manage the people behind it.

A great product with an inflated cost structure behind it won’t do you any good in today’s economy.

 

Fred Koury is the president and CEO of Smart Business. Reach him at fkoury@sbnonline.com

No one likes to move backwards. The goal in business is to get better, beat the competition and grow. But sometimes you have to take a step back in order to enable your organization to move forward.

A pruned tree bears more fruit, even though it might require some painful cuts that aren’t pretty at first. Making cuts in an organization, whether it’s people or products, is never easy.

 

Courage may be needed

But what is it you are trying to hold on to? A product that’s not selling? A division that’s not going anywhere? An employee who isn’t the right fit? Admitting that it’s time to move on from those situations requires courage, because you are sacrificing a lot of time, money and effort that went into them.

Making a move like this can feel like starting over. The economic upheaval in 2008 forced this on many companies and industries, as everyone had to take a hard look at everything they did, why they did it and how much money was being made. The results weren’t always pretty at the time, but now, in many cases, they don’t look so bad.

For example, banks were pummeled, taking heavy losses in real estate and other ventures. Some didn’t survive, but those that did are stronger, have tighter controls and are in most cases, more careful about how they lend money.

Many bankers probably felt like they were starting over and taking a step backwards, but they, like many of us, were able to leverage relationships, knowledge and lessons learned to create an even better product. Overall, they are more solid and nimble than before.

Another example is Union Pacific Corp., which emerged from the recession with greater revenue, but fewer employees, thanks to selective pruning. It remains on a solid growth path.

 

Don't keep waiting

Some difficult situations are salvageable, but don’t wait forever. If you’ve given a product time to sell or a person time to perform and it hasn’t happened, it may be time to move on. Instead of trying to make something out of nothing, selectively prune your organization and focus your efforts on something that might yield better results.

The key in business is to focus on finding enjoyment in the things you do on a daily basis and not becoming obsessed with hitting that home run. Frustration comes when you are trying to get somewhere and aren’t — and refuse to admit it didn’t work. The real home run is being able to enjoy what you are doing every day.

It takes a different mindset to see a little pruning as a positive, but in the end, it will yield more fruit. ●

Fred Koury is the president and CEO of Smart Business. Reach him at fkoury@sbnonline.com

In the sports world, there is a clearly defined champion each year. Every team strives to be the one that finishes on top, but most don’t make it. Many teams have good seasons and might be satisfied with that, but only one is the true No. 1.

The question to ask yourself is, what is your goal? Are you trying to be the No. 1 player in your industry? Or are you happy with just having the equivalent of a good season? A lot of you might say you are aiming for No. 1, but are you really putting in the effort to get there?

Tiger Woods and Warren Buffett know what it takes to win. Steve Jobs created a dynasty.

Here are four observations on what it takes to get to the top. 

Continuous improvement. Tiger Woods has a coach. One of the best golfers in our lifetime has a coach and works with him to get better. The road to the top requires long hours of identifying every flaw in your organization and then working tirelessly to eliminate those flaws. Once you are on top, you have to work even harder, because all of your competitors will be using your success as the new benchmark.

Look ahead. Winners identify trends before anyone else and are able to take advantage of that knowledge. If you are working on continuous improvement, you’ll obtain what you need to move quicker than your competitors. Why? Because you will have networked more than the next guy, talked to more of your customers and interacted with your employees on the front lines. Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. was ahead of the competition with almost every product he launched. His few failures were partly because he was too far ahead and the market wasn’t ready.

Desire. If you don’t have the desire to be No. 1, then don’t expect to be No. 1. To be a champion, you have to have the heart of a champion. There’s nothing wrong with just being a “good” business, but don’t try to fool yourself by saying you want to be the best when you don’t really have the desire to do what it takes to get there.

Commitment. One clue that you might be lacking the desire to be the best in your industry is a lack of commitment. If you are only working 40 hours a week, you are probably not committed to being No. 1. With the talented CEOs who are out there, it would be almost impossible to work fewer hours than they do and expect to beat them. Warren Buffett would often start his day at 4:30 a.m., and he also saved $1,000 by the time he was 14 — a lot of money back in the 1940s. He was committed at an early age to being a success.

Do you have what it takes to win it all? ●

Follow Fred Koury on Twitter @FredKoury (twitter.com/FredKoury)

Contact President and CEO Fred Koury at FKoury@sbnonline.com

When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.

While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.

They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.

And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.

You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?

During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●

When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.

While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.

They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.

And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.

You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?

During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:37

Watch your margin

You would think someone like Douglas Merrill would be a heavy multitasker, with multiple devices in hand, fielding several conversations — both real and virtual — simultaneously.

But you would be wrong.

Merrill, who was the CIO at Google until 2008, doesn’t like to multitask. He says that when you do it, you aren’t using your brain’s full capacity and aren’t as effective. He recommends focusing on one thing at a time.

Billionaire Mark Cuban has his own time management strategy. Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, says you should completely avoid meetings unless you are closing a deal. Otherwise, he says, they are a waste of time.

Both of these proven leaders have learned that how you manage your time is paramount to your effectiveness.

As a CEO, you are swamped every day with calls and emails from people wanting a piece of your time. Some are internal, some are charity requests, some are from friends or family members and others are from service providers.

To help wade through this sea of information, it’s important to have a system in place to help you free up time to think about your business and the things that matter most in life. These open times are what author Richard Swenson refers to as “margin.” They are the spaces between ourselves and our limits that are reserved for emergencies.

But for many business leaders, there are no spaces left.

The way out of this trap is to set clear goals and values for yourself and your organization. Once you do that, you will have a filter through which to evaluate everything. Everything will have an immediate yes or no answer, eliminating the “let me think about it” category completely.

The key is to establish what your goals are first and then prioritize what is important. With your priorities straight, you will find more time to put toward important things on your goals list, but don’t forget to leave time on your daily schedule. There is no way to foresee all emergencies, so by leaving yourself some margin, when something unexpected happens, you already have time built in to deal with it.

Once you have margin built into your life, you have to have the discipline to stick to it. There will always be the temptation to take every meeting or answer every email. But if you use your goals and priorities as a filter, those requests are easily either accepted or declined based on where they fall on your priority list.

If you want a life where you can experience more peace and joy and less anxiety, start looking at your priorities and establish some margin in your daily schedule. ●

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 06:24

Ready, set, think

Thinkers solve problems.

Mark Zuckerberg found a better way to connect people with friends and family through Facebook. Larry Page and Sergey Brin invented a better way to search the Internet by creating Google. Steve Jobs showed us a better way to obtain and listen to music through the invention of the iPod.

None of these examples happened by luck. Each of these great thinkers spent a lot of time working to perfect their ideas. Great thinkers are not born, they are made.

To create great products and services, you have to develop the habit of expanding your thought processes and critical thinking skills. Why? Because the human mind tends to be lazy. It tends to repeat the same thoughts unless it’s trained to explore new ideas. Great thinkers put in the effort to analyze things in new ways and not accept the norm.

We live in a negative society where bad news trumps good news and the potential downsides of an idea outshine the potential rewards. It takes a lot of effort to retrain our minds to focus on the positives and the solutions rather than the ramifications of a failed idea.

Becoming a great thinker requires an investment of time; there are no shortcuts. You have to be organized and plan for it. Take time to think about the problems unique to your business or industry. Work through the pros and cons of any idea, looking for a way to make it work. Study competing companies and leaders and gain an understanding of how they think. It’s also helpful if you always do your heavy thinking in the same location, and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Some people do their best thinking in the shower or over a cup of coffee at a cafe.

But there is one major pitfall to avoid: Don’t equate change with new thinking. Just because you are changing something does not mean you are being a creative thinker. There might be several “accepted” ways of doing something within your industry, and changing from one of the accepted ways to the other isn’t doing anything different. The goal is to identify new ways of thinking and as a result, find a new solution to a problem that no one has thought of before.

Finding these unique solutions won’t be easy, but success never is. 

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