Turning Ideas into Profits

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

Venture capitalists hear lots of good ideas. The challenge is turning those ideas into businesses that generate profits. Building a successful business requires a combination of creativity and implementation.iStock_000022382917XSmall

If you’ve ever had any sales or management training, you know that one of the key strategies taught is understanding personality types. As a business owner, you need to be able to recognize two personalities in order to be effective at turning ideas into profits: the creative visionary type, who is always brimming with ideas but never seems to be able to take them any further, and the realization type, who may lack the ability to think creatively but knows how to make things happen. These personalities can complement each other perfectly when given the right environment and opportunity to work together. If you can find both personalities among your company’s leadership or staff, you’ve got that magic combination of innovation and execution that every business needs to succeed.

Cultivate strengths. By supporting the talents of each of these personality types, you can harness ideas and processes that will help your business stay competitive and fresh in the marketplace. For example, many creative types come up with their best ideas when they’re alone and free from distractions, so assigning them to work as part of a group may actually lower their productivity.

Harvest ideas. You know how all those brilliant ideas that only seem to happen during your morning shower are lost forever unless you write them down right away? Creative personality types are notorious for having so many ideas that most of them never see the light of day because there wasn’t an opportunity to communicate them. Capture your staff’s ideas by providing an outlet where the ideas can be recorded–an idea board. If you think it will increase participation, allow them the option to post ideas anonymously.

Stimulate ideas to develop. When choosing the area to place the idea board, pick one that’s frequently visited, promotes open discourse, and has an atmosphere where staff feel relaxed (since pressure stifles creativity), such as the break room. A large dry erase board, chalkboard or flip chart will not only provide plenty of space and ease for the creative personality types to record concepts, but the realization types are now able to see those ideas. Bringing them together could generate spontaneous discussions about feasibility, pros/cons and implementation issues, which help the ideas evolve into tangible actions.

Offer a forum to communicate ideas to management. How many great ideas don’t get implemented because they have to fight their way through a web of bureaucracy in order to get heard by the people who have the power to put them into practice? Unless management has the opportunity to hear them, all those ideas will never leave the break room. Whatever the size of your business, you probably already have regular meetings with your staff, the leadership team or your board of directors. Add a segment to the agenda where your staff can present their ideas.

Collaborate online. Implementing software that allows employees to openly communicate their thoughts and discuss ideas with even the highest level of management, is an effective way of collaborating in real-time. Brilliant ideas won’t get lost and the amount of sharing is unlimited. Try a company-focused social network or similar application to bring life to your workplace.

You probably already know the people in your business who can help you turn ideas into profits, you just need to make it easier for them to do it.

No employee left behind: When an employee is struggling

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

Take a look at your last auto repair receipt. What makes up the majority of the cost of the repair? Labor. You don’t need to ask an accountant what is often the largest expense on an income statement. Labor. Why is labor so costly? Because it’s the most valuable asset your business has.

Finding the right staff and keeping them happy and productive is one of your greatest challenges as a business owner. Your staff have an impact on your company’s image, profitability, ability to meet project deadlines and level of customer satisfaction. But their performance is also dependent on your management skills, so when an employee’s performance is suffering, ask yourself first “Could the problem be me?”

Micromanaging. Why does this sabotage productivity? Because all your employees want to feel recognized for their talents and trusted in their abilities to accomplish their tasks. When you micromanage, you’re sending the message that you aren’t confident in your staff’s capabilities. If that’s the case, why did you hire them in the first place? By implying that you have such low expectations of your staff, you’re taking away their opportunity to shine. Allow your staff to show you why you hired them by letting them do what they do best.

Lack of direction. If you find that your staff aren’t doing their work, maybe it’s because they don’t know what to do or don’t have enough to do. When you make sure they understand what work is their responsibility, when it needs to be done, and why it’s important, you’re giving your staff a sense of purpose. Check in with them during a short daily or weekly meeting to assign tasks, prioritize continuing projects and hear their progress.

Not enough communication. Rumors are often at the root of low morale. If your staff aren’t hearing the news from you first about what’s really happening, they can only guess. Don’t provide an opportunity for rumors to fester and create discontent: nip rumors in the bud by showing your staff that you’ll always be upfront and honest with them. After all, your staff are invested in your company almost as much as you–their livelihoods are dependent on it. Let them know before anyone else about major developments and involve them in making important decisions.

No positive reinforcement. It’s your responsibility to keep your staff motivated. What’s the best way to motivate them? Bring out their competitive side with contests and coveted prizes? Offer a carrot with a performance bonus? Foster ambition with promotion opportunities? It certainly won’t hurt to try any or all of those options. Or it could be as simple as making a point to regularly let your staff know that they’re doing good work and you appreciate them.

If an employee is underperforming, look to yourself first to find out the cause. Since every employee is a valuable asset to your company, are you doing enough to make sure no employee is left behind?