Behold, the power of social media.
Last month, we ran the Share Your Success contest on our Small Business Computing Facebook page. And several brilliant, entrepreneurial minds accepted the challenge.
Proving that social media can be more than a platform for accumulating "Likes," spreading memes and trading funny cat videos, Small Business Computing's readers shared some great -- and surprising -- secrets to their success. Today, we announce the winners and celebrate the crafty ways that they grow their businesses.
The first place winner takes home a slick Kindle Fire HD. But the entire small business community gets to share in some hard-earned insights that can help their businesses flourish.
Here are our Share Your Success winners' top small business tips.
Grand Prize Winner - Mark Wilson, CEO of e-Verifile
Mark Wilson, CEO of Atlanta-based e-Verifile, a provider of pre-employment screening services, offered wisdom that, at first glance seems to fly in the face of our mission here at Small Business Computing, which is to empower entrepreneurs through technology. But as his winning entry shows, thriving in today's fast-paced, hyper-connected business climate not only depends on implementing and using technology smartly, it also means knowing when to pull the plug.
For improved interoffice communications and a happier workforce, don't be afraid to shut off your email, says Wilson.
"Encourage limited inter-office emails in today's digital world; people have grown accustomed to sending emails opposed to traditional means of communication, such as picking up the phone or walking to a colleague’s desk. While email can be a significant time saver, it is also an easy way for important messages to get lost in translation, especially in the work environment," advises Wilson on our Facebook page.
And Wilson practices what he preaches. At e-Verifile, Friday is no internal email day.
A little face time or a quick phone conversation can have big benefits. Reducing the volume of internal email cuts down "misinterpretations and misunderstandings and emails that don't have clarity," says Wilson. Even better, it helps avoid those endless, time-draining email chains that are always just one wrong reply away from getting completely derailed.
"There's a good balance between the effective and efficient use of technology and human interaction," says Wilson. If things tilt too much into the realm of technology, the personal element of operating a business can get lost, harming productivity and potentially leading to negative customer experiences.
No-Email Fridays helps build camaraderie and is "helpful to me as a CEO to establish the culture," says Wilson. And there's something that often gets lost during the day-to-day challenges of running a business: fun. Policing the policy has become a friendly competition.
Banter and conversation now echo throughout e-Verifile. Wilson says the rule "has people talking to one another." You know, that thing co-workers did before email came along.
Foster Passion and Drop the Ego
Runner-up - Rory O'Brien, IT Entrepreneur
Rory O'Brien knows better than most people about keeping that entrepreneurial spark alive. He currently works for a maker of hedge fund software, organizes TedX events and has a couple of side projects that keep him busy and one step closer to heading a technology startup one day.
That's a heaping plateful of responsibilities. How does he keep it together?
O'Brien's contest entry says it all. "Keep the passion alive most importantly, but drop your ego and take advice from those with experience. And really take it to heart."
When day-to-day challenges make it hard to keep your goal in sight, O'Brien recommends emulating successful people in your field. One thing that they have in common is that they are "super happy and excited to do what they love."
Still in a funk? "Channel the Steve Jobses, and Wozniaks and Bill Gates," says O'Brien. Even if you never achieve their levels of world-changing influence, their example is a good roadmap for personal success.
And don't let your ego get in the way, especially if you're just starting out. "You always have to be listening," says O'Brien, particularly to the advice of venture capitalists that you may need to call upon one day.
Lastly, don't dismiss the experience of others, even if their viewpoints are a complete 180 degrees from your personal outlook. At the very least, their advice offers you a different lens to view your market. Sometimes a change of perspective is all you need to reveal new opportunities.
Reputation Management for Small Businesses
Runner-up - Roshanda E. Pratt, president of REP Communications Network
A television news veteran, Roshanda E. Pratt knows first-hand how damaging a media debacle can be for a company. But there's one thing that's worse: avoiding the media.
"Reputation management is for every business whether big or small. Just think: how did a 'big' business become big without taking the time to build their reputation," says Pratt in her contest entry.
Pratt, a former TV news producer, is now the head of a media relations and consulting firm called REP Communications Network. And like many successful entrepreneurs, she follows her own advice.
Before setting out, begin by "creating code of ethics, a mission statement," advises Pratt. The benefits are twofold, she says. First, it provides clarity in your business dealings. "You know what you stand for and what you don't want stand for," says Pratt. For clients, "it helps establish who you are as a small business person" and gives them confidence knowing that they're in the right hands, she adds.
Next, it's time to cultivate a relationship with the media.
Offer yourself up as an authority or an expert. "You have to do your research and put in your time and attention to get it done," she says, but the effort is worth it. "There are a lot people out there looking for information. Everybody is looking for answers," she says. Set yourself -- and your business -- apart by being the one who provides it.
What do you do when something goes wrong?
"Deal with it head on," encourages Pratt. Be honest and authentic in your response, but do it in a timely fashion. Put together a plan and "handpick the people who are going to respond to the situation." The last thing you want is a person who is not qualified to speak for your business to voice your company's stance on an issue or situation.
Finally, as small business owners, take reputation management as seriously as the big businesses do. "You don't have to play small. A small business is very much a brand," reminds Pratt.
We'd like to thank everyone who participated in our Share Your Success contest. If you haven't yet, be sure to check out – and Like – our Facebook page where you can share your ideas and experiences with other entrepreneurs and small business owners.
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