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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Easy Secret to Making Yourself Better at Anything

The Easy Secret to Making Yourself Better at Anything
By Sarah Chang, April 26, 2014
I’m a big believer in self-reflection, and I’m all about finding ways to make things (including myself!) better whenever possible. The reality is, none of us are perfect. Whether it’s for work or personal development, there’s always opportunity for growth. And the question for most people isn’t if they can do something to improve, but how.

Both research and trial and error suggest that one of the best ways to make something more effective is to measure it. So, why not apply this to your own life? A simple tactic that I’ve recently adopted is creating my own personal feedback system.



How it Works

At the end of the day, week, meeting, event, you-name-it, rate how you think it went on a scale of one to 10.
If it wasn’t a 10, ask yourself: “What would have made it a 10?”
That’s it.

Putting a number on an intangible experience suddenly makes what was amazing or not so amazing about it a lot more clear. When you acknowledge that things didn’t go perfectly, you accept the fact that there’s room for improvement, and more importantly, what that improvement might look like. It’s an insanely easy way to gain clarity, and the approach shines a bright light on exactly what you can do differently next time.


In Action

Think back to your last team discussion. If you’d score your performance an eight out of 10, what could have made it a 10? Talking a tiny bit less and listening more to the great ideas being shared? Or maybe not being afraid to speak up when you had a really great idea? Keep that in mind next time.

If you’re new at sales, perhaps your most recent pitch was a six. So what would a solid 10 look like? Starting off a little less aggressively in the beginning and instead asking more questions to get a better sense of your customer’s needs? You can bet that’ll happen in your next pitch.

Perhaps you met a few interesting people at that networking event last week—good but not great, a seven. What would have made your time more worthwhile? Making your way around the room more instead of spending so much time with that one person you already knew? There you go.

This doesn’t only apply to professional improvement—take a moment to zoom out and think back to the last year. Taken as a whole, how does it stack up, and how could it have been better? A five or an eight, you’ll know what made it so. Whether it’s spending more time with family or setting personal goals earlier, adjusting your priorities for the year ahead is so much easier.

On the flip side, if any experience did deserve a perfect 10 (be honest!), then you’ve got all the more reason to pat yourself on the back. You did your best, and it couldn’t have gone any better—congratulations!


Consistently ranking my own performance on this scale has been the most effective and powerful way I’ve found to fine-tune any areas of improvement. Best of all, rating yourself and facing imperfections is much less intimidating than having someone else (read: your boss) do it for you. As long as you know what getting better looks like and make an active effort towards it, you’ll be golden.

Financial Terms business owners should know!


Every small business owner, from a retail store proprietor to a design agency founder, will need to handle finances in their lifetime. Whether or not you outsource finance to an accountant, it’s important you know some basic terminology and concepts surrounding finance:

Accounts Receivable: The money that is owed to a company or consultant by its clients or customers.

Amortization: Paying off a debt over time. The amount of money you owe is amortized as you continuously pay down the debt.

Annuity: A series of equal payments that are paid at a specific time each year for a specific number of years.

Assets: Anything owned by a company or individual that has monetary value. This can include “fixed” assets, such as property, vehicles or machinery, and can also include intangible assets, such as intellectual property.

Balance Sheet: Typically a monthly measure of a company’s financial health. Every month, companies reconcile the amount of revenue they generate with the amount of expenditures to determine their balance. This balance is then carried over at the start of the next month, where the revenue generated is added to the balance, and then the next month’s expenditures are deducted again. This is sometimes referred to as a rolling balance or carry over.

Bottom Line: This phrase has become so commonplace it’s almost cliché. The bottom line refers to the net amount of money your business earns after all expenses are deducted from your gross income.

Capital Expenditures: Any purchases you make for your business that will be useful beyond the year you purchased the item. This allows you to capitalize on the expenditure. Common types of capital expenditures are computers or manufacturing equipment.

Cash Balance: The amount of cash or capital you have in the bank at the start of an accounting period. In an organization with an ongoing balance sheet, this cash balance is typically carried over from one accounting period to the next.

Cash Flow Statement: This is a financial statement that is used to track the flow of capital into and out of a business during an accounting period. Cash flow statement analysis is key to understanding the economic stability of your company and should be evaluated frequently.

Concentration: Usually represented as a percentage, this is the amount of business you are doing with one particular client or partner. You are considered over-concentrated if you only rely on a handful of clients to do business with. This can seem risky to investors and may hurt the longtime viability of your company, since so much of your success is dependent on few clients. It’s better to have a larger base to draw from, so that the loss of a client will not devastate your business.

Equity versus Debt: Both of these terms refer to ways you may have gotten capital to start your business. Equity is money given by investors in exchange for a percentage of ownership in the company. Debt is the money you owe to lenders that must be repaid over time.

Fixed Costs: A fixed cost is one that doesn’t change, regardless of volume or other factors. Examples of common fixed costs are rent, internet, phone bills, salaries, etc.

Gross Margin: Normally a percentage, this number illustrates the total percent of sales revenue a company keeps after subtracting the cost of producing any goods or services.

Income Statement: A document that can be generated monthly or annually outlining the earnings of a company by stating all related profits and expenses incurred over the specified timeframe. Also referred to as a Profit and Loss Statement.

Initial Public Offering (IPO): This is the first sale of privately owned equity or stock to the general public. Also referred to as “going public.”

Leverage: In terms of business, leverage is simply the amount of money you borrowed to start your business. Being highly leveraged can be considered a high risk for investors, since you’ll need to make substantial repayments that could cut into your revenue for many years to come.

Liquidity: In business, this refers to how easily and quickly a company’s assets can be turned into cash; for example, stocks are considered fairly liquid.

Overhead: Indirect costs or fixed expenses required to run a business. These costs are not normally related to the production or sale of a good or service. Salaries, rent, utilities, etc. are considered “fixed costs” that are factored into business overhead. “Indirect costs” can include things like advertising, promotional offers, etc. These costs may vary month to month, but they are typically always a factor in your operating expenses.

Return on Investment (ROI): Refers to the quantifiable percentage return you receive from a certain investment. For example, if you spend $10,000 on advertising that generates $50,000 in sales, you gained $40,000 from your efforts and your ROI would be 400%. ROI can be measured by other less-tangible figures (i.e. quality over quantity), but for the sake of business, it is typically the bottom-line percentage amount companies are looking to measure.

Variable Costs: These are costs that change on a fairly regular basis and typically vary based on what a company produces. These types of costs are much harder to predict and prepare for.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Red flags during an interview!

Filling an open position with the right candidate is an important yet challenging task. By the time a candidate makes it to the interview phase, the less qualified applicants are no longer contenders, making it your job to find the best option among the most qualified candidates.
Picking a new hire is an investment, and making the wrong decision can adversely affect your company. If you hire the wrong person, you could end up wasting valuable financial resources on the recruitment process, training or severance, in addition to potential problems that could arise with customers or fellow employees.
These are some red flags to look out for to ensure you pick the right person.

They Did Not Come Prepared for the Interview

If a candidate does not show up prepared for an interview, you cannot expect them to show up prepared for work. There are a number of ways to catch an unprepared candidate.
The first (and most obvious) red flag is when a candidate shows up late. Barring serious family or medical emergencies, tardiness without a prior phone call can be indicative of the candidate’s inability to leave room for error or to prioritize.
Another way to evaluate candidates before you even begin speaking with them is to ask them to bring information and materials to the interview, including two copies of their printed resume, professional references, licenses or certificates they hold, and two forms of identification. This information will be helpful when selecting a candidate and will also show his or her ability to follow instructions.
Make sure that the candidate has the appropriate demeanour and dress for the occasion. What you deem appropriate will depend on your company and the position, but you will want to take note of your first impressions of the candidate.
A good candidate will be enthusiastic and eager about the interview, and you should be able to see this from the moment he or she walks through the door. An ideal candidate will be dressed in clothes appropriate for your office—if not nicer—and should be well-groomed. If a candidate is late, under dressed or unenthusiastic, you may consider these red flags.

They Fail the Interview Scorecard

You will want to ask your candidate a number of questions to make sure they have the experience necessary to handle the position they are applying for. Make sure to ask open-ended questions that force the candidate to elaborate.
  1. Professional Experience: Ask questions that will illuminate a candidate’s work history and will help you understand their job skills. Red flags could include failing to provide specific examples or numbers to prove their success, holding no degree or having no relevant experience in the field they are seeking to enter. Keep in mind, however, that for some fields, a lack of education or relevant experience may vary in importance (for example, many software companies have found no notable correlation between higher education and success as a developer).
  2. Preparation:Ask questions that will reveal the candidates’ feelings about and knowledge of your business. Probe their understanding of and (perhaps even more importantly) their interest in your industry and your company’s goals. Red flags could include an obvious lack of research regarding your business or a lack of enthusiasm or experience in your field.
  3. Team Spirit: Ask questions that will help judge the candidate’s ability to work with a team, fit into the culture and resolve conflict. Red flags could include hierarchical thinking (for example, only focusing on pleasing senior-level employees), a need to “beat” or compete with co-workers, or a lack of experience collaborating with others.
  4. Resilience: Ask questions that help you understand how a candidate will handle stressful situations. Ask candidates to explain a situation in the past that caused them anxiety or stress and how they handled it. Red flags could include the inability to handle stress, taking their stress out on other people or not being aware of health risks to themselves or their fellow employees.
  5. Result Orientation: Ask questions to see if your candidate is focused on meeting your company’s goals while also setting personal goals. Red flags may include having no personal or professional goals, having goals that conflict with those of the company, or having no examples of achievements or positive results.

  6. Persuasiveness: Ask questions that will provide insight on your candidates’ ability to convince others of their views and how they will handle it when they are unable to do so. You can test candidates’ persuasiveness by asking them to imagine a scenario in which they are asking you to fund a project; what would they say to convince you? Red flags may include a candidate’s lack of decisiveness, an inability to elicit emotion or empathy, or continuing to push an argument that is not working.
  7. Initiative: Ask questions that will probe your candidates on their ability to set challenges and personal goals, and judge their likelihood to take on greater responsibility. Red flags may include risk avoidance, unwillingness to embrace and promote change, or a lack of personal awareness.
  8. Customer Orientation: Ask questions that show the candidate’s ability to represent your company to customers and to address their needs. Red flags may include a lack ofcustomer-service experience, not thinking about every customer’s needs equally, or setting their own priorities higher than that of the customer.
  9. Responsibility: Ask questions to see if candidates take responsibility for mistakes they have made and how they react to making mistakes. Ask them about a professional mistake that they’ve made in the past and what they did to rectify it. Red flags could include denying making mistakes, having little to no responsibility in their current job, or exaggerating in order to look like a stronger candidate. If you suspect a candidate is stretching the truth, you should check with his or her references.
Finding answers to all of these questions should not only give you a great background on your candidate, but it should also offer insight into his or her communication skills. Many candidates will have pre-rehearsed responses to your most basic questions, but giving them prompts and asking them to improvise will give you the opportunity to hear how they might react on the fly in a professional setting (and may also reveal some red flags in the process).

They Display Negative Non-Verbal Cues

Make sure you pay attention to non-verbal cues during your interview. This means watching how a candidate acts while answering your questions. You will be looking for a candidate that is attentive throughout the entire interview. If a candidate’s eyes wander, or if they slouch or lean back for most of the interview, this may indicate a lack of attention or interest in the discussion.

The Candidate Is Unprepared to Ask Questions

Once you finish asking the candidates questions about their job experience, you should give them an opportunity to ask questions about the position and/or your company. This is a good chance to see if candidates have a good base of knowledge about your company and if they are truly interested in the job itself. Red flags would be asking no questions at all, failing to ask insightful questions (for example, asking “so what exactly does your company do?”) or if they only care about the benefits or perks of the position they are applying for.
Look for these red flags to help determine which candidates are not only the most qualified for the position you are filling, but which candidates will come prepared and work best on your team. Keep them in mind next time you conduct an interview


Friday, April 25, 2014

Be More Productive in a Minute!

When you have a minute to spare here and there, it can be easy to succumb to checking Facebook or playing a quick game on your phone. After all, that's all you have time for, right?

Wrong.

In fact, there are plenty of productive ways you can use those minutes of free time—and since they can really add up over the days and weeks, we recommend you spend them wisely.

Need some ideas? Check out the one-minute video below from the folks at Muse for 10 things you can do in just a minute that will really propel your career forward.



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