How to Play to Your Strengths: Think Strategically about Yourself for Career Success

For career success, you are told to play to your strengths. Sounds simple except that you may not be fully aware of your strengths or of what is required in a particular job.

We aren’t very aware of our strengths because we discount them. Things we enjoy doing and find easy to do are indicative of strengths, but precisely because they come easy to us, we say that it is just our job or surely anyone can do that. When we get a compliment for doing something well, we are surprised because we thought there was nothing to it. Conversely, we are keenly aware of our weaknesses. As a result, we have an unbalanced self-perception. The reality is that we have many more strengths than weaknesses.

It also depends on who we compare ourselves with. If you compare yourself to Jack Welch, you may see more gaps in your portfolio of strengths than if you compare yourself to a junior colleague. Also, if you are in a specialist function, say finance, you may not know much about marketing, operations or human resources. So, you can always find people who know more than you do about something or who have strengths that you lack.

Strategic Strengths and Weaknesses

Skills are only career strengths if they relate to success at work. You might be a ping pong ace but this won’t help you get that management job you want. You might be hopeless at selling anything, but this is irrelevant if you don’t want a career in selling. So, we have strategic strengths and strategic weaknesses. The former are those that most closely fit whatever career direction you are pursuing while the latter are just those weaknesses that might block you from getting where you want to go. The good news is that you don’t need to fix all your weaknesses if they aren’t standing in the way of your preferred career path.

There is an excellent reason to play to your strengths, once you have identified them. It is well known that people have more confidence when they are doing things they are good at. Success is more likely, you will appear more decisive and you will inspire more confidence in the key people you need to impress. On the other hand, if you continually play to your weaker side, you will appear hesitant, clumsy and lacking in confidence. Worse, your discomfort could well undermine your confidence in your strengths.

When looking for a new job, start by assessing fit. Will your target job be a good match for your strategic strengths? There will always be some learning to do in a new role, but make sure that your major weaknesses won’t get too much exposure.

Why Businesses Are Going Green: The Benefits of Becoming an Eco-Friendly Corporation

The release of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” caused quite a stir, attracting both criticism and applause in equally large quantities. Regardless of whether you are a believer or a sceptic, this documentary, which looks into how mankind is contributing to global warming, has really got people thinking about how their actions impact on our environment. The film reflects a growing trend in which more and more people are deciding whether or not they use a company based on their environmental standpoint. This can be seen in the countless blogs and forums that are springing up around the globe, with the main focus being on which companies are environment friendly and produce ‘green’ products and services.

Many corporations are incredibly resistant to changing traditions and ways of doing things that have been built up over the course of many years. However, there are actually a lot of benefits to going green. Plus, if companies don’t alter their habits to fit in with the changing viewpoint of the population, they will soon be left behind by their quicker, smarter rivals.

A Healthier Bottom Line

Many business owners believe that changing their processes to fit in with a more eco-friendly world will be expensive and time consuming. While it is true that environmentally friendly products can be more costly to purchase, in the long run they can save you and your business an awful lot of money. For example, using high-efficiency lightbulbs, such as compact fluorescents, will cost you 75% less to run than standard lightbulbs and will last 10 times longer. Using email as much as possible, instead of sending faxes and emails, will also significantly reduce your company’s overheads. According to document delivery company Captaris, an enterprise with 30,000 employees that sends and receives two pages a day can save over $2 million a year by digitalising its paperwork.

Keeping the Customer Happy

Increasing numbers of people are deciding whether or not they use a company based on how eco-friendly they are. This means that it is becoming more and more important that businesses make environmentalism a part of their brand.

What Else Can You Do?

There are numerous things that you can do to make your business more environmentally friendly. You can take steps towards becoming CarbonNeutrual. You can reduce waste by recycling paper and making sure that you dispose of items such as unwanted office furniture, batteries, lighting and plastic in the appropriate manner. You can also choose suppliers that back packaging for reuse. The possibilities are endless.

Let the World Know about Your Eco-Friendly Stance

While you may feel uncomfortable about ‘blowing your own trumpet’ when it comes to green issues, don’t keep your eco-friendly activities and achievements hidden under a bushel. Customers, clients and shareholders will all want to know about your green efforts. Most individuals will be happy to learn that they are dealing with a responsible, environmentally aware corporation.

If you are not quite sure how to sensitively publicise the fact that you are taking some steps towards being more sustainable and eco-friendly, you can always contact a reputable public relations agency. A number of ‘green’ PR companies, including Green Planet PR in the United Kingdom, have sprung up in recent years. These consultancies only take on green businesses as clients and focus primarily on making people aware of environmental issues. Other agencies, such as Intermediary Communications in New Zealand and MWW Group in the United States, make a special effort to incorporate green PR and corporate social responsibility services into all of their strategies.

New Craft Business Ideas: What Types of Crafts Will You Make?

If you are a mom with preschool to elementary aged children, you probably have a degree of experience with crafting. Some older people have been knitting, crocheting, and weaving for years. Did you ever think you could turn that into a business?

Even Pace

One word of caution is not to try and make several things at first. On one hand, you will drive yourself crazy trying to put together multiple crafts without even knowing how well they will sell at first, and on the other hand, you cannot “specialize” with too many hands in the pot. What this means is, people will tend to take your craft business more seriously if they think you are specialized in certain things.

Let the Juices Flow

Try to be creative. A lot of crafters will make the same old thing year after year, month after month, and you will see duplicate crafts everywhere. Be unique. Sell something that is not on the market quite so abundantly.

Materials Needed

Once you decide what you will make you will want to decide on the materials needed. You can find wonderful sales if you look hard enough at department stores and local craft retailers. You might also consider some Internet sites that offer deep discounted craft supplies, such as Factory Direct Crafts or Sunshine Crafts. Another great place to buy craft supplies is eBay. Search on Hobbies & Crafts, and then choose the subcategory for the types of supplies you are looking for. There are some really good prices on eBay!

You want to buy quality materials. People can tell when you have skimped on materials. Crafts just don’t look as nice with cheaper materials. You will probably be happier knowing you sold a top of the line product. That is how you build a reputation in the crafting community. Familiarity with materials will come in time, but you should take the time to become knowledgeable about the materials you are using.

Making a Profit

Of course, you want and need to make a profit. After all, that is why you are considering starting a craft business. You will be, in essence, a craft retailer. Retail businesses cannot stay in business if they are not profitable. Once you decide on your product, you must price materials and add extra money into how long the project will take you to make and how much profit you are willing to settle for. This is not an easy task and deserves some deliberation on your part. You want to be fair to yourself.

Finding Time to Craft

You will want to find a time to put your crafts together when you are calm and relaxed. Trying to put crafts together in the mornings when kids are getting ready for school, etc., can be tricky and stressful. That makes for a nervous atmosphere for crafting. You may want to assemble crafts and think of new ideas while the children are watching a movie in the afternoon or when they go to bed. Find your most productive time.

Craft Business Plan: Business License Information and Bookkeeping

Starting a craft business does not require as much upfront capital as a regular small business. That is the good news. The other news is that it does take some capital. Here are some tips for acquiring the proper license and ways to keep good records for your new business.

Should I Get a Loan?

It is suggested that you do not start your craft business with acquiring a loan. A loan is something you will have to commit to and getting those monthly reminders can be quite a hassle. Simplify your business. Don’t get into debt over this venture. You can simply fund your business with your own money. Raise some money first by having a yard sale (or selling “stuff” on eBay). Take that extra money to fund your business.

Obtaining Proper Licenses

While a craft business can be lots of fun and hard work, the hard work is not over yet. It is imperative that you are properly licensed to sell your crafts. You will need to contact your State Business Licensing Department to get the details on how to get a business license. It usually costs nothing or next-to-nothing to obtain such a license and can be done very easily. You will need to charge and report sales tax on a quarterly or monthly basis to the proper taxation authorities. They will usually automatically send you proper tax forms to be completed. In fact, most taxation departments allow you to make payments on-line, if that is your kind of thing. Please take the time to do this part right. You don’t want to have the hassles of backtracking and searching for records if something is asked of you. Make sure you file properly with the IRS, as well. You will want to use Form 1040-ES to file quarterly. Visit the Small Business and Self-Employed One-Stop Resource for all the information you need to file properly.

Bookkeeping Information

You can find terrific bookkeeping software at great prices, if you look for sales. It will keep track of all your expenses and income for you and you don’t have to worry about manually keeping track of those things. Quicken is a good program for bookkeeping needs, but there are many, many other brand names, too. Of course, you can do the work manually. There is really nothing wrong with that approach.

Get a separate checking account for your business. It just keeps your business separate and makes the bookkeeping easier. Most banks offer free checking, so that makes it even more attractive to do this.

You will want to itemize your expenses by materials, craft show table costs, advertising costs, etc. As well, you will want to itemize your income as eBay income, craft show income, in-home parties income, etc. All this requires is a little note in the memo section of your checkbook. That is one reason why you should use a software program for bookkeeping because it is so easy to sort your itemized assets and liabilities. This way you will know where you are making and spending the most money. You can always allocate funds from one place to another, but at least you will know where money is coming and going from. And, if you use your craft business income as extra income for the family, personal needs, etc., you can transfer funds to your regular checking account.

Advertising Your Craft Business: Approaches to Getting Your Name in Front of People

Advertising is a big commitment and takes a lot of work on its own. Putting crafts together is time-consuming. Advertising is another facet all on its own. No one will ever know you are selling crafts, if they don’t know about you. You need to be aggressive when it comes to advertising.

Approach 1

Advertise your crafting business using eBay. It offers you a way to get your crafts on an on-line with little cost. You will want to charge what you honestly believe the craft is worth. Even if you don’t sell something one week, it doesn’t mean you won’t get 10 bids the next week. Make your auctions come alive by learning simple HTML coding. Pictures are a must on eBay. People want to see what they are buying before they will bid on most items.

Approach 2

Advertise your craft business in a local newspaper. Let people in your community know that they can find you. You might say that you are selling crafts and to call you for an in-house party. Maybe you can even advertise in your church newspaper or other organizational newspapers of things you are involved in. You could advertise in your metropolitan area newspaper, but that costs quite a bit more.

In-house party ideas: In-house parties are fun and moms love to get out of their houses to have a good time with other moms. When starting your own business, it is probably best to have an in-house party at your house first. The hope is that once you have a party, you will book some parties at other people’s houses, and then book parties from their party, and so on and so on! Here are some tips for a successful in-house party:

  • List of attendees and send out postcards announcing your party.
  • Say when, where, and what the party is about. Don’t give too much information away on your mailing, but just enough to pique their interest.
  • Serve light refreshments and have prize drawings, as well.
  • Before the party you will need to make your own order form or purchase one.
  • You will want to display your crafts in an attractive way, so the ladies can browse and see what wonderful items you are selling.
  • Take a few minutes to talk to the ladies and tell them about your crafts. Let them know what inspired you to make these crafts and then explain each craft individually, passing them around while you are talking.
  • Come up with some games for the ladies to play and give away small prizes.
  • Don’t forget to let them know the expected delivery date of their products.

Approach 3

Business cards are professional and easy to make. If you have a computer program that allows you to make your own business cards that is a great way to get your name out there. Post business cards at your local grocery store. Give out business cards to all of your friends and family. Craft business cards don’t have to be serious. They should look fun and inviting! Crafting is a representation of fun and imagination. Your business cards should be fun and imaginative, too! Small copy stores offer inexpensive alternatives to printing business cards, as well.

Approach 4

Every e-mail you send to someone should have a signature line. Use this on all of your outgoing e-mails always! It does not matter who the e-mail is going to…they should be directed right to your eBay store or other on-line store.

Approach 5

Flyers are another good way to advertise. You can go gong-ho on a flyer! Say what you want with as much space as you need. Flyers can be distributed to neighborhoods, churches, schools, etc. This is probably the most creative way you can advertise your business. And, it really doesn’t cost very much at all (mostly your time).

There are other ways to advertise, but this will definitely get you started. Word of mouth is good, too. Don’t be afraid to tell someone about your business. They may really be interested and if you don’t say something, they will never know.

Succession Planning: Pave a clear path to the future of your company

It’s virtually impossible to predict when and why a key employee will choose to leave an organization. What happens in your company when someone suddenly dies, resigns, or is promoted? Is there a mad scramble to replace the departed individual, or is the transition smooth and orderly?

Any company, regardless of its size, can benefit in a variety of ways from succession planning. Here’s how:

  • Expected and unexpected vacancies can be filled quickly and smoothly with talented personnel who are trained and ready to handle the job.
  • When such a change takes place, there is a minimum of transitional productivity loss and no panic.
  • The emphasis on internal development has a positive impact on employee morale, productivity, and retention.
  • In a large or geographically spread out organization, high-potential employees aren’t overlooked because of where they happen to be located.
  • A succession plan carefully linked to the company’s current needs can respond to a changing business environment by identifying key talent that will benefit the organization today as well as tomorrow.

Succession planning programs vary, but effective ones typically include:

  1. A current database that maintains information on each employee, including: what they are doing now; their career goals; what positions they are presently qualified for; their work history and education background; and their supervisor’s assessment of their potential. Larger companies should update the database daily; smaller operations can do it weekly—just be sure the information is never more than a week out of date. When an opening occurs, you can generate an immediate list of individuals who have been identified as qualified and eligible.
  2. Training on how the succession plan works as well as training to develop individuals and groom them for advancement. Cross-training is a critical component of succession planning as well as for smooth day-to-day operations. No matter what size your company is, there should be at least one person capable of stepping into anyone else’s position—including the senior staffers and even company owner—whether for a day or permanently.
  3. Simple but comprehensive materials, policies, and procedures. Succession planning doesn’t have to be—and in fact, shouldn’t be—complicated or cumbersome.

The energy and effort required to establish and maintain a strong, functional succession planning program is well worth it. The future of your company depends on having the right resources available at the right time—and the cost of a succession plan is far less than the price of rushing to promote unprepared or unqualified people.

Low-Cost Carriers: Skybus Airlines is the latest start-up to offer cheap fares

In the US airline industry, there’s a new kid on the block. Starting soon, start-up budget carrier “Skybus Airlines” will commence service, carrying passengers from Columbus, OH, to a handful of cities such as Burbank, CA; Richmond, VA; and Kansas City, MO [1].

Skybus plans to offer at least ten seats on every flight for $10 until December 15. Low-cost carriers, as the designation suggests, can offer rock-bottom fares by keeping their operating costs low. For Skybus, this includes eliminating the option of booking tickets through a call-center, and thus the expenditures associated with paying call-center employees. Tickets must be booked through the Internet instead.

Skybus isn’t the first airline to conceive of a low-cost business model. In fact, the concept has been around since the early 1970s when Southwest Airlines developed the first blueprint in the airline industry for cutting costs. Since then, start-up carriers that dream of soaring to profitability in an industry where competition is fierce still refer to many of the model’s original pillars.

Following are the components that Southwest Airlines devised to keep costs low:

  • Short-haul routes
  • No-frills service (e.g., meals, in-flight entertainment, seat assignments)
  • Standardized fleet (Boeing 737)
  • Use of secondary airports
  • Steady growth and expansion
  • Ticket-less reservation system and simple fare structure
  • High aircraft utilization
  • Higher seating density
  • Attempt to attract price-conscious consumers (not business travelers)

One of the reasons that low-cost carriers (LCCs) operate short-haul flights is that it enables these airlines to offer a no-frills service, which customers can tolerate for an hour or two, but not much longer. Also, by eliminating some of the services typically found on full-fare carriers, such as hot meals and entertainment, LCCs can save a tremendous amount of money.

Using a standardized fleet helps to keep maintenance and crew training costs low–so does flying into secondary airports such as Frankfurt-Hahn (as opposed to Frankfurt Airport), where fees for gates and landing slots are generally lower than at large, congested airports.

Steady growth and expansion is another key factor in reducing costs. If an airline expands its operations too quickly, it will face increased depreciation costs in the future. Depreciation refers to the drop in value of physical capital (e.g., the airplanes) as the physical capital ages. Rapid growth also lends itself to more competition over routes and landing slots, which hampers LCCs chances of profitability in certain markets [2].

Airlines can increase their revenue by keeping their planes in the air. LCCs like Southwest Airlines maximize aircraft utilization by decreasing total turn-around time or the time it takes an airplane to land, reload passengers, and take off for the next flight. The use of secondary airports and the elimination of seat assignments (to save time during boarding) are a few of the strategies employed to optimize turn-around time.

Finally, LCCs can keep costs low by increasing density in comparison to full-fare airlines. LCCs do this by offering a one-class cabin (i.e., removing first and/or business class), which allows a 737 to hold 20 or more additional passengers. LCCs typically rely on revenue generation that results from capacity-the number of passengers-rather than yield-the amount of money earned per passenger-which is considered to be a “revolutionary” approach in the airline industry [3].

Defining Your Web Strategy: Creating an Online Presence for your Business

Whether you have an existing business or are starting a new one – more than likely you need a web site to help market and/or sell your products and/or services. Creating an online presence is no small task but can be done well if you follow four phases. You need to:

  • plan it out based on your business requirements
  • build it (or buy it)
  • promote it
  • maintain it

Phase 1: Planning

Planning is the most important phase of the web strategy. Without a proper plan you are flying by the seat of your pants and that never works well. There are several activities in the planning phase:

  • Take an inventory of what you have now for an internet presence (if you have one).
  • Take an inventory of what your competitors are doing. Create a matrix of functions and features that you can evaluate each site on.
  • Define your top level business requirements – what do you want to achieve with an internet presence (these requirements must be measurable and achievable).
  • Define the audience (s) you want to target.
  • Then define your success metrics (how will you determine if your business requirements have been met?).
  • Define all top level Roles and Responsibilities for this strategy. These are the people that have ultimate responsibility for the strategy and the resulting internet presence.
  • Once you know what you want to achieve, break it down into manageable sub-projects. Don’t try to do it all at once. A phased development approach enables you to get a site up fairly quickly with some features and functions available while you monitor its performance and work on the next set of functions/features.

Phase 2: Building your site

This is the phase where you start gathering the details of what you are going to build, how you will build it and then the actual build. It is usually broken down in sub-phases as follows.

  • Complete detailed functional and business requirements
  • Develop the Information Architecture for the site. This is a blueprint for how the site is laid out. The Information Architecture is done once and updated as necessary for each sub-project defined.
  • Define the content requirements and starting pulling the content together.
  • Complete the Creative Design – this is how the site will look.
  • Develop the technical design or if buying a solution, define the technical and functional requirements needed and complete a product evaluation and selection process.
  • Build or buy your site and complete each sub-project accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to test your site for usability and for functionality.

Phase 3: Promote

You can have the best web site on the internet, but if no one knows it’s there – what’s the point? Things to consider in your marketing strategy:

  • Online advertising with Google/Yahoo
  • Search Engine registration and optimization
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Cross Channel Selling
  • Privacy Policy
  • Blogs
  • eNewsletters

Phase 4: Maintain

How do you maintain your site? It’s an on-going process of monitoring and modifying as necessary to ensure you are meeting your business requirements. Complete regular reviews of the web statistics for the site. What are the peak visitor times, where are people coming from and where pages are they leaving from? How long are they spending on your site and what are they looking at the most? This information will tell you what parts of your site are working and what aren’t. It will also help you determine where your marketing is working.

Maintenance also means keeping up with regular technology patches and updates. Fixing bugs that may have been missed during testing phases and updating information architecture as necessary are also part of this phase.

A Strategy needs to be closely Monitored

Creating an online presence can be a lot of work. Defining your web strategy means planning what you want to do, building your site, promoting it and maintaining it. It’s important to understand that a web strategy is cyclical in nature. This means that once you define it, you need to revisit your plans on a regular basis to ensure the strategy is still in line with the business needs, and that you are meeting your expected goals. You may also want to modify parts of your strategy to take advantage of changes in internet technology.

The Art of Entrepreneurial Growth and Development

The following article is by guest writer Pat Mackaronis, CEO and Founder of Brabble, Inc, a social network based in New York City. Visit Pat on Twitter at @patty__mack.

Entrepreneurship has many rewards and nerve-wracking complexities associated with it. There are numerous individuals who fear the very thought of creating something from nothing or “beating the bushes” daily to discover the next golden globe of opportunity. It is seen as an impractical profession by those who are more comfortable with the safety of predictability.

Every artist must go through a process of developing their technical skills before they experience the beauty of self mastery. In order to transition beyond the phase of a novice to a master, one must be fully aware of the commitment that will be required. Let us explore the 5 phases of Entrepreneurial Growth and Development.

Awareness– What is it that is burning within your heart and mind to share with the world? Is there a nagging issue that you desire to be an advocate for? How do you discover what you were put on this earth to do? This will require diligent introspection and self reflection on your part. It is necessary to understand your purpose at the most intricate levels in order to sustain your momentum during times of hardship and challenge.

Vision– How will your purpose change the world? Who will it inspire? What will you need to make it come to pass? Who will be the team players rallying and marketing your ideas to be showcased on greater platforms? What is the plan of action daily required to reach your predetermined goals and aspirations?
Commitment-Are you ready to invest 60-80 hours a week in your new endeavor? Are you ready to sacrifice sleep, experience mental fatigue, financial struggles, emotional distress while promoting a positive attitude and high volumes of productivity?

Testing– Are you prepared to do battle against the silent fears of your soul? Are you willing to press beyond your innermost fears? If you have to pursue your dream alone is there enough passion for your mission to keep moving forward? Are you intimately acquainted with every self sabotaging habit that needs to be eradicated out of your life? The tests of life will reveal the strength of will that resides in the crevices of your being.

Growth– It is at this phase where wisdom evolves and all of our encounters along the path of life begin to make sense to us. We realize that everything that didn’t break us was designed to shape us into powerful individuals who appear as works of art in the minds of all who have beheld our leadership potential magnificently expressed.

The process of entrepreneurial development can be painstaking, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges that lie ahead. As you embrace your greatness live in a state of awareness, stay focused on your vision, be committed to your cause, be prepared to endure great testing and embrace exponential growth in your character, will and emotions.