Category Archives: Small business

Tasty Tips to Say Thank You

Did you ever receive a letter in the mail saying ‘thank you’? Whether it was thanking you for a gift or thanking you for your time, I am sure receiving that ‘thank you’ made you feel valued. I know that, personally, when I provide something to someone, hearing that they appreciate it makes me feel valued. And if you are a hard-working professional, you know that keeping up with the valued relationships of your suppliers, distributors, and corporate partners can be a lot to handle.

With how many things we all take on, making sure to say “thank you” to all these partners tends to be low on the priority list. However, this is such an important aspect because making your business partners feel valued is what lets them know that you really appreciate their business. This is where our corporate gifting comes in. At Grandville’s Cookies and Cupcake by Design, we provide a personalized way to say “thank you” by putting the company’s logo right onto a delicious cookie or cupcake and customizing it for your industry. We will even hand-deliver it to their office in the greater Grand Rapids area, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Lakeshore.

With us, we make your priority list a little shorter and will take care of it all for you. Visit our website at www.grandrapidscookiesandcupcakebydesign.com or stop in and see what we can do to make your life a easier and your corporate relationships better.

Do Your Employees Manage Your Time or Do You?

Recently, I went back to school! It has been 27 years since I graduated from college, please do not do the math and figure my out my age! Anyway, after owning my own business for 18 years I decided I needed some new ideas, a little motivation; keep up with the times, yada yada. So I enlisted the advice of my local chamber and was put in touch with a business consulting firm, Mastermind Business Consulting http://mastermindbc.com/. After learning about their services, the decision was to attend a 6 week class on Leadership, Vision and Business Planning. This class encompasses a variety of topics to assist me including one on time management.

I know, I know, I am an adult. I run a business. I run a household with busy children. I can run a Google calendar with the best of them. And so what can I possibly learn about time management? After all, time management is not something new. But when you think about it, how often do you really learn about how to plan your time? I know this was not a class I took in college.

As a small business owner, we wear many hats and get pulled in many directions. I always say that my title should not be Small Business Owner, but should be Chief Problem Solver. When a customer issue arises, or a piece of equipment breaks, we call the owner. I would show up to work with a list of things I would hope to accomplish and by the end of the day, and a million interruptions, I didn’t get to complete my list. And, worse yet,  I didn’t spend the appropriate amount of time on building my business or tasks that make me money. Anybody else struggle with this?

A first step to change this pattern is to track your time to see where you are spending it. There are great easy tools to use.  I found www.toggl.com, the easiest time tracking tool, and it’s free. There are many others out there to choose from.  Find one that works for you. Many are mobile friendly. Every little thing I did during the day was recorded. You will need to do this for a few weeks to gather enough data and be able to evaluate your work patterns. After you do this, you now know how long you need to work on certain projects and also can look for tasks that might be better off delegated to others; the old adage, if I am not making money at this task or building my business, who else could do it for me?

Now you know where you spend your time. The next step is to plan your time by using a default calendar. Take any calendar you like to use and block out your time for the week or even month, if you have certain projects that are just monthly. You will block out groups of time and assign those blocks specific tasks. Do this for every work day of the week. Be sure to be reasonable and leave yourself empty blocks of unscheduled time because, after all, you are a small business owner and something is bound to pop up! An example on my calendar is I schedule Wednesday mornings for blog writing. Honestly in the past, this task would get pushed off and I would start off Wednesday morning with my to-do list. And the next thing you know, I pushed off blog writing yet another day. I have prioritized my time and my schedule. I wouldn’t cancel a meeting with someone else, so I am not going to cancel a meeting with me either. Guess what happened? I get my blog posts written on Wednesday mornings now! I feel so accomplished!

Finally, share this default calendar with your employees. Now my employees know Wednesday mornings until 10:30am are blocked out for blog writing so, unless it is an absolute emergency, they respect my time instead of constantly popping in my office and asking questions. They save their questions, because on my calendar right after “blog writing” is “Employee questions, issues, planning and goals,” which is the time all those little questions that were previously numerous interruptions get answered in less than 5 minutes all at once.

These practices are simple, so practical; I question why I never bothered to do this before. It just takes a little time to practice, execute and train your employees. After doing so you will find you are more efficient and, instead of others managing your time, you are managing your own time. You have 525,600 minutes in a year. It seems like a lot, but we all know the saying “Time Flies”.  So, by managing your work time, you will have more free time to do the other things you love to do.

Either you run the day, or the day runs you” Jim Rohn

Does Your Small Business Have an Operations Manual?

operations-manual-1Want to know a lesson I learned the hard way? Take the time to write down and create an Operations Manual for each department of your small business. Whether you have one employee (aka yourself) or a slew of them, having a go-to manual is the pivotal step to allowing yourself to grow, take a vacation, have a sick day and create a work environment that is consistent and will create less stress on yourself as an owner.

When you think about it, the entrepreneurial evolvement is a funny thing. The typical first-time business owner spends so much time planning how you are going to open your business. You create the 5-year business plan because we all know your financial institution is going to require this. You meet with legal advisors, marketing advisors, do market research, talk to all your friends and family about your great business idea and, before you know it, you are realizing your dream and opening your doors! Whew, take a breath. You did it! So why is it usually the business owner’s planning then slows down? You don’t realize the importance or think you need a detailed plan of daily events which can lead to finding yourself in reactive mode.

Your days become spending time taking orders, fulfilling orders, bookkeeping, hiring employees, marketing, networking and, in a nut shell, running your business. You become the face of your business, the person with all the answers, the one who hires, fires, trains and does it all. This is fun, the natural excitement of seeing all your planning and work come together. This is also a good time to stop and ask, does your company have Operations Manuals or each department? If the answer is No, I would highly encourage you to take the time.  Yes, I know you do not have time and this does not seem like a high priority. But what happens when, on Day 3 of your brand new business being open, you go in Labor and Delivery with your second child (yes, true story) and you are not the face of the business for that day or that week while you try to recover from giving birth? Where is the go-to plan now? Do you have a written plan that others can follow? While you are out do you know who and how they will take, fulfill orders and be the face of YOUR business? After all who is going to take out the trash if you are not there to tell them?

Not only is having a how-to manual a good idea for situations like we discussed, but it is also imperative to allowing yourself the chance to work ON your business and not IN your business. Utilizing these tools and this philosophy will allow you to grow. I always love the saying. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

So, what did I learn the hard way? Not having a written Operations Manual in all aspects of my business was exhausting. I was the one who had to leave the hospital with a 3-day old baby girl and head back to work. Fast forward 18 years later, I survived, I now have an 18 year old teenager, my business has survived and I find myself in the same place (no, I am not expecting another baby).

We recently moved our business and, as a result, our business has grown significantly. Yeah for us! But we are experiencing growing pains and suffered some hiccups which has caused stress and reeled me back into working in my business not on my business.

Why? Because we failed to update the Operations Manual to reflect our new environment, new location, new products and additional employees.

My confession…it has been two years since we moved! We have been reacting and winging it for two years. Geez, not only do I learn the hard way, I am apparently a slow learner. With that said, my next month is going to be spent on updating these important documents. However, I know investing now, will create more harmony, less stress and consistency. Having this will ultimately allow me to get back to what I like of owning a businessl the marketing and networking!

Happy Planning!

Co-Branding is Sweet for Business

We hear the term co-branding frequently these days and always think of national products. However, there are ways and benefits for small businesses to co-brand as well.

Co-Branding is basically a partnership between your brand and another brand with the goal in mind to create synergy and form an alliance to work together. The object for this is to combine the strength of two brands, maybe in order to increase the premium consumers are willing to pay, make the product or service more resistant to copying and with the ultimate goal of increasing sales. In addition there can be some savings. Using this technique with the right brand can be a very cost-effective way to market your brand and gain new customers you might not have thought were in your target market.

happyRecently I co-branded with a t-shirt company. I am a cookie and a cupcake shoppe so I am sure your first question is, “What do these two brands possibly have in common?”

This local t-shirt company created a brand here in Michigan called The Happy Michigan. They have created an entire line of unique apparel with this adorable logo.

happy-michigan-cupcake-shirtI am a native and I absolutely love the Pure Michigan craze with all the great slogans on t-shirts such as “Michigan unsalted”, “the Great Lake State”, “Michigan Nightlife” (with a picture of a campfire, hilarious!) and the creativity goes on and on. After talking with the creator of Happy Michigan we both said, “I make a product that makes people happy”.  And the creation of the co-branded Happy Michigan/Cupcake by Design T-shirt was born.

“Happiness is only a cupcake away”

I now have a product that will appeal to my cupcake-loving clientele and these shirts will also be featured on The Happy Michigan website. This is a new market for me, hopefully a few mouth-watering Happy Michigan customers will want to come and see what we have to offer.

Recently, one of our corporate clients was looking for a way to co-brand his company with another and we created this cookie bouquet for them.

bouquetThis mortgage company sent this cookie bouquet to a local realtor.Not only is this a Thank You gift for their referrals, but having both logos incorporated in this gift is co-branding. This product is a great example of sharing the expense of marketing to your clients, in this case the home buyer.

I challenge you, as a small business owner, to think of other brands that you can partner with. Co-branding doesn’t have to be just for the big dogs, such as Crest toothpaste with Scope mouthwash, or Tide with Febreze.  We little guys can build our brand, one local partner at a time.

Share with us any co-branding examples or ideas you may have that can benefit the small business. We would love to hear them.

Products in this article can be found at:

www.happymichigan.com

www.grandrapidscupcakebydesign.com

Got-A-Minute Meetings Increase Productivity

GotaIn today’s culture of technology, we have grown accustomed to getting instant feedback, instant replies and instant answers. There are many benefits of a quick Google search. A quick tap tap of my fingertips on my smartphone and, Presto, I get my answer. It saves a lot of time, but we have created a work culture of needing instant attention and results which wastes a lot of time. As the small business owner or manager, this pattern of work can be annoying, distracting, unproductive and create errors in your work when your team is regularly interrupting you with questions.

An article from the Wall Street Journal states that face-to-face interruptions account for one-third more intrusions than email or phone calls, which employees feel freer to defer or ignore, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Organization Studies. Other research published in 2013 links frequent interruptions to higher rates of exhaustion, stress-induced ailments and a doubling of error rates.

As the small business owner, I was faced with the challenge of allowing myself to be obtainable, approachable, compassionate, and informed with the reality of staying on task and maintaining some efficiency. I needed to create a way that is more effective for my time as I found I was constantly being interrupted. While reading the book: The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies by Chet Holmes he discussed the idea of Got-a-Minute Meetings and immediately I had that Ah Hah moment when I knew this is what we needed to do. To implement this, each team member would be required to have small note pad to keep on hand.

The idea is simple. Each employee is given instructions that, when something comes up that does not need immediate attention,  write it down. It is wise to give some ideas or specific scenarios of what you consider immediate versus what your employees might. Keep a list, and every couple of hours we will spend a minute or two going over these items. What an easy-to-execute policy that has helped streamline my time and helped my employees streamline their time as well.

This concept has worked so well that we now have implemented department Got-a-Minute meetings. These are scheduled once a week and throughout the week employees keep notes of things that come up, new ideas, problem-solving tips or a place to share how they feel the week went. The group convenes at the same time every week. To keep things timely and uncomplicated we have made these stand up, quick and to the point meetings. The purpose of these meetings has been to improve team work and communication. The benefit has been new product ideas have evolved. Another benefit is consistency among the team which always leads to more efficiency.

What strategies has your workplace implemented to minimize interruptions?

Hiring and Retaining Good Employees in a Tight Job Market

job-concept-2-1140644-639x602When you own and manage a retail location, the pay range you offer to employees is typically minimum wage to just a little bit above minimum wage. College students, high school students or recent grads make for great employees in this pay range. When the economy is good, business is good, and more employers than ever are hiring, which all makes hiring and retaining not so good. In years past a help wanted ad at one of our local universities would garnish me about 20-plus applicants that I could whittle down to 3-4 to interview and eventually hire. I was in the driver seat, I could be picky….well in today’s environment not so much. I recently placed a help wanted ad and I got….(drum roll please) 4 applicants. That is more like a turkey drum roll if you ask me!

To find staff and keep the good ones, I have had to get creative and here are a few things that I am finding that works.

Transparency- I am completely honest and tell employees I cannot offer you more money, I know you have a lot of job opportunities, you probably might find some that can offer you more money but what I can offer you is…..

Flexibility – I am willing to work around another part-time job you may have, school schedule, your high school dance, your boyfriend’s grandma’s 80th birthday, whatever is important to you. I tell them I do not want you to miss these things in life, so with enough notice (key phrase) I am willing to be flexible.

Work towards PTO – Paid time off is a nice perk that is usually not offered in retail or part-time environments. Rewarding your employees with a ½ day or a personal day paid time off can be just enough to keep them from job hopping. After 90 days of employment you can start earning credits for paid time off. Average part-time person will receive 1-2 paid days off in a year, so this isn’t a huge sacrifice on the business.

Food- Well who doesn’t like food? I frequently reward the staff with pizza lunch. The key here is to do it just to say I appreciate you and not always tied to achieving a goal.

Ask their advice– I do not have the answers and I employ people who are good in their departments. Involving them in the process makes them feel important, needed, wanted, and you will find your employees have good ideas as well.

Roll Up your own sleeves– In times of being short staffed, I roll up my own sleeves and jump into production. This makes the employees realize you do care what they are going through every day and in turn helps them care more about your business.

Train Your Employees to Make More Retail Sales

CustomerWhen I ask one of my retail employees what their job focus and responsibilities are, they answer, “I will get what the customer wants, package their items nicely and be friendly and outgoing.”

Well, this is a good start, but to me this is order taking. I am challenged as a business owner and manager to always strive for more and develop salespeople. To do this I developed a four-pronged approach to waiting on customers.

Greeting: When a customer enters our store we greet them warmly with a smile, hello, or welcome, but we never say, “How can I help you?” Instead we ask, “Have you been in our shoppe before?”Why do we do this? To get us to point number 2…

Engage: By asking this question we can engage with the customer. If we ask, “How can I help you,” we are relying on the customer to know what they want and this becomes order taking.If our customer says, “No, this is my first time in your shoppe,” I usually have to contain myself from looking like an idiot and refrain from actually dancing, cartwheels or little flips because it is so exciting to get new customers, especially the ones that heard about you from word of mouth! YES! YES! YES!

We train our employees to tell the customer something special about us. For our business, some ideas would be, “We bake everything fresh here daily,” or “We have over 20 flavors of cupcakes today”.

Then we showcase the tiered price structure, such as “If you buy 6 or more cupcakes you get a price break per cupcake.” It is amazing how many customers will go from purchasing 4 or 5 cupcakes to 6. Would they have done this if our employee had just been an order taker and not a salesperson? Probably not, but yet so simple.

When a customer says, “Yes,” they have been in before, we welcome them back. After all, repeat customers are the bread and butter of any business! Then our staff highlights an item that is new, such as “We have our monthly cupcake flavors”….. or “Did you see this new cookie bouquet design?”. I tell my staff it doesn’t matter what you show, as long as you showcase something.

Daily Special: is the third step of the process. We create a product that is on special, packaged and sitting in front of the cash register. Our staff is to ask every single person if they would like a daily special of, for instance, chocolate covered pretzels, a bag of chocolate chip cookies, etc… We make sure it is a special and we track it by having a special code in our point-of-sale system. Impulse purchase, you have their attention, use it! And be honest, how many of us can say no to a bag of fresh baked cookies???

Promotional Closing: the last step to our process is handing a gift catalog to the customer and mentioning to them “Here is our gift catalog, our product makes fun gifts and we also deliver,” so we have just planted the seed for a repeat purchase from our customers.

To properly train the staff we have role-playing meetings. We go through different scenarios, from the new customer who is lingering and has time, to the rushed customer who just wants their cupcake and doesn’t want to hear all your stuff. The point is to be sensitive to these customers, we are not trying to jam our specials at them, we are trying to engage with them and increase purchases of value to our valued customers but not annoy them.

Lastly, reward your staff! Set goals of how many daily specials to sell, or track how many times each employee goes through all four steps with a customer. Most important, track your average ticket sale, this number will tell you more than anything if your retail employees are becoming sales people.

Whether you are selling books, cookies or french fries, training your retail staff to become salespeople gives your staff focus in their job and together a group of focused employees can only better your bottom line.

3 Ways to Make the Workplace Fun for Employees

When interviewing prospective employees I often hear from them, “I want to own my own bakery someday, I think it would be fun”. My snarky older self thinks, if you knew how much “FUN” this really is, you might change your mind. The long hours, labor intensive, temperamental baking process, and staying educated on food allergies which these days Geez, this is becoming more labor intensive then any of the other items listed, and so on. Of course, during the interview, I smile, nod and say, “Yes, it is fun,” the interview ends and we go back to work.

Recently, after my interviewee left, I felt convicted to shake things up, get out of my snarky self and think about ways to put more fun into the workplace. After all, we are creating delicious cookies and cupcakes and delighting people with our product. Shame on me as an owner that I forgot this and took for granted the end result of what we are doing and creating; blessing someone’s day. It was time to motivate the employees again, reward the customers, rejuvenate myself and put some fun back into our environment. To get started I decided to:

  1. I hired a social media consultant – It was time for some new ideas, put some new pizazz into our marketing. The company I hired came up with ideas on how to engage our customers and in turn that engages our employees. I found a team that was willing to work within my budget. They create the strategies, I implement them, win-win. We have found the new ideas have increased our social media presence, resulting in more customer comments and sharing these with our staff has been encouraging.
  2. I purchased a small book called “Fish”, a proven way to boost morale and improve results by: Stephen C. Lundin, which you can order online.

Each of my managers was given the task to read it and come prepared to discuss 5 key ideas we could implement for our employees and our customers. This is an easy read; you can crank it out in an afternoon, but overall had some good points and reminders, well worth your afternoon.

  1. We met and brainstormed fun ideas.
    1. Monthly potlucks – this allows employees to get involved and share their favorite foods with their co-workers. I would suggest a theme, such as baked potato bar, taco bar, etc. or you might end up with some very random lunches. Hey, everyone brought dessert for lunch (okay, maybe you don’t find that all bad). There is something about the act of sitting around a table and discussing work and life over food that brings people together.
    2. Wacky days – monthly days such as wear a costume on Halloween, wear your craziest/silliest t-shirt to work day, Hawaiian theme, favorite sports team, camouflage, ugly Christmas sweater and you get the idea. Not only will this give the staff a good laugh it will also engage the customers as well and, as my new Social Media expert pointed out, something to talk about on Social Media as well.
    3. Pay it forward – This idea works well in November around Thanksgiving, each staff member will pay it forward for another staff member. For us this might mean choosing a task that is their least favorite and doing it for them, bringing them a handwritten note or small token gift. The point of our ideas is they do not all have to cost money and you are bringing a smile, which we all know is contagious.
    4. Motivational posters – we decorated the back of the bakery with attitude posters, customer service sayings, little daily reminders that help you put a smile on your face. Once again, make that smile contagious.

We have implemented these ideas for three months now and early results show that this is helping the camaraderie in our Shoppe. Employees are feeling appreciated. It is creating good will with customers and changing the daily routine to help create fun at work. After all, the average U.S. employee works an average of 261 days a year, so we could all use a little more fun in the year.

Share with us your ideas to put fun in your workplace.