New audiobook is now available at Audible and iTunes

February 4, 2013

Do you feel trapped…stressed out and unhappy…burning the candle at both ends…trying to meet the never-ending demands of your business and wanting some semblance of a personal life too?

Set Yourself Free! You can control your business rather than it controlling you. You can have a thriving business…and enjoy it! There is a way out of your prison and you hold the keys.

If you prefer to listen, check out the audiobook. The hardcopy is still available at Amazon.

Set Yourself Free – How to Have a Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It!  by Stan Simkins with Juli Baldwin

Changing the Water in your Fish Tank

October 24, 2012

Anyone who has ever had a fish tank (especially salt water) knows how important it is and how challenging it can be to maintain the water at the proper levels to insure a healthy and happy environment for your fish. It’s so easy to develop harmful levels of pollutants (e.g. high levels of nitrates, ammonia and such) if you haven’t learned the steps necessary to test the water and how to make adjustments to create the proper balance. Worst yet, it’s so easy for harmful levels to develop simply because you don’t adhere to a prescribed maintenance schedule. I know because I am guilty of all the above. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I lost several fish due to my neglect in learning soon enough. Hopefully, the ‘fish Gods’ will forgive me.

How about you? Do you find yourself in the same situation when it comes to running your company? Are there areas of your operation in which you are just ‘winging it’ when you should be learning more about how to properly manage it? Are there skill sets you need to develop or activities you need to engage in more proactively (e.g. proper performance evaluation; marketing) that would help move your business to the next level? If you are like most small business owners, you brought quite a number of abilities and competencies to the job, but you would probably have to admit to yourself that you lack several that are critical to unlocking the hidden potential of your business.

Why learn the hard way when there are many resources available to develop your skills and perhaps impact your view about such things?  As a coach, trainer and consultant to small business owners for over four decades, I find that small business owners often can benefit from hands on guidance in a variety of areas that they take for granted but have never really received much training. Like myself with changing the water in my fish tank, they learn ‘the hard way’. Examples are: understanding and analyzing their financial statements, negotiating financing, handle employee performance issues, learning and applying Guerrilla Marketing techniques, improving production capacity and productivity, and developing their middle-management team. Sure, many do a ‘good’ job at these, but they never get to be ‘great’ at them.

For the same reasons that great golfers have a coach, many small business owners would be wise to find the right coach to help them become ‘great’ in some areas where there is untapped potential.

You can learn more about the many areas I am referring to in my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

Selective Neglect… Sometimes a wise choice

June 3, 2012

Perfection is not easily achieved, and if we tried to make all things perfect all the time, we’d probably drive ourselves crazy.  I’d like to introduce a
concept that might surprise you but which should make some sense after you read what I have to say.

I like to teach small business owners (SBOs) the art of ‘selective neglect’ to make sure they get the most important/valuable things done without unnecessary distraction by those things that have less/no value and which may have developed along the way. I use the term ‘selective neglect’ to describe ‘living with imperfection’ and I preach it all the time.  It’s more than just reestablishing priorities or ‘picking your battles’. It’s almost a way of life for many overachievers within the SBO community if they are going to maintain their highly productive and ‘driven’ work habits.

Now mind you, I’m not advocating negligent or shoddy work habits. What this is about is the fact that most SBOs habitually take on more than they can reasonably handle – whether by wise conscious choice or subconscious compulsiveness. It’s just in their nature and that can be a
good thing. Likewise, I am not advocating for the almost disorder-like folks who can’t stay focused on any one thing for very long and have an insatiable appetite for ‘too many things at one time’.

Productive SBOs have to revisit their ‘backlog of duties’ and determine which opportunities could/should be delegated
or simply ‘canned’ in order to create a healthy balance between what is retained and what is ‘canned’ or delegated. There is nothing wrong with
replacing one good idea (or a terrible idea) with a better idea so long as it’s not a constant dynamic that looks like a never ending game of ‘musical chairs’.

Selective neglect enables the SBO to make a choice and remove the distraction of ‘unfinished business’ that can linger in the back of their head and be a distraction or source of unnecessary stress.

If this notion of selective neglect seems a bit ‘out there’, you may want to learn more about it in my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because you don’t have to have that ‘nagging feeling’ in the back of your head that does nothing good for you.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

P.S. If you’ve been faithfully following these blogs, you might have noticed that I ‘selectively neglected’ doing blogs for the last two issues.

My conciously-decided reason is a ton of other work that had higher priorities — including visiting my new grandson (first grandchild) – thanks to my son and his wife!  🙂

I don’t have time!

October 22, 2011

Yes, we’d all be millionaires if we got a dollar each time we heard this from others… or perhaps ourselves. How can one deny the reality of this when the actual workload is beyond our physical and/or mental capacity? It’s no excuse… just a ‘reaction’ to indicate that whatever else we are being asked to consider is simply not as important as what we already have on our plate.

Most times it’s a valid response, but many times it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to feeling overwhelmed.  I can’t count the number of times I have offered a business owner a great opportunity to promote their business for FREE on television (15-minute spots) or attend a powerful seminar that directly addressed issues of great concern to them only to be greeted with “I don’t have time.” We all know that one.  I wonder what different choices owners would make if there was a tax for not considering what was being presented before they could use that phrase. It’s almost like a person who was drowning in a rip tide saying “I’m too busy to catch that” to the person who was asking them if they could use a life jacket!

Yes, I know you’re probably saying to yourself, “Stan doesn’t really understand how many sales people and others would have me in a worse situation if I gave them my precious time.” True but what if I could give you a way to filter out such ‘wasters’ and look at ways to take advantage of those who could add value… to getting you out of the rut (rat race, rat trap, endless treadmill… call it what you want). Well then pay close attention if this interests you.

It’s called the ‘art of selective neglect.’ Some call it ‘prioritization’ but that implies that all things will still be on the table for consideration. I take it
a step further and suggest that most people have stuff that wouldn’t make a difference in the world if they NEVER did it! They just haven’t thought it through closely enough. If they did, they would either NEVER do it or simply delegate it to someone else and hope for the best.

By doing this, they free themselves up to receive the ‘gifts from heaven’ to which they might have otherwise said “I don’t have time for that”.

If you want to learn more about how to set yourself free, MAKE TIME to look at my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because just might ‘earn’ some free time from it.

Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

Personality… You’ve got it! So what?

October 3, 2011

That old song, Personality (1959), by Lloyd Price sure gets my feet moving and the words say it all. However, he wasn’t talking about just personality. Yet, isn’t that what we are looking for in the ideal employee … the right personality traits?

Some say, “Hire for personality traits because you can teach skill sets” (assuming that person possesses the aptitude to learn those traits with proper training). I agree with the underlying basis of that statement yet many employers do little to assess those personality traits in candidates before hiring other than to guess from interviews. Even with several people interviewing a particular candidate, there is much room for bias, poor questioning, and poor listening by interviewers. And then there’s a candidate who can ‘play the personality’ during the interview and seemingly provide the right answers. Worse yet, many interviewers are looking for someone ‘just like themselves’ when what they really need (for the best fit) is someone who is NOT like them.

Hiring the wrong people for the job (or good people who belong in a different role) is very common and the cost is much higher than most employers realize… because the cost is not just ‘wasted salary’ but the ‘opportunity cost’.

If you would like to learn more about this subject, and avoid falling into this trap, check out my new book, Set Yourself Free – How
to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It!

I’ve taken some very complex subject matter suited to psychologists and philosophers and presented it in a practical and understandable format. You may not become an expert but you’ll surely have a working understanding that can be put to use immediately.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me.

Drama… Small Businesses Should Have An Emmy Award!

July 23, 2011

I know this may come as no surprise, but the amount of ‘drama’ one can find in even the smallest of small businesses would put most soap operas to shame!  It never ceases to amaze me how much ‘stuff’ becomes the subject of internal conflict and other dynamics which have one common result… NO GOOD. While there is a place for constructive conflict, there is no room for the kind of drama that comes from such things as poor communication, hidden agendas, egos run amuck, employees on a power trip, owners/managers who are either permissive or abusive towards
employees and poorly selected and lead employees (or owners). Be assured this is not an exhaustive list because the reasons are only as limited as the imagination and personalities of the participants. The number of possibilities becomes endless when you add the component of ‘family dynamics’ to the equation!

Small business owners (SBOs) pull their hair out (if any is left) because it’s one of the most common causes of mental fatigue in their lives and often makes them feel more like therapists than entrepreneurs. As many SBOs have said to me (indirectly if not directly), “I’d love owning my business if I didn’t have to deal with employees.” The sad truth is that ‘dealing with employees’ is part of that responsibility and when that becomes a ‘nightmare’ it is usually a sign of leadership gaps – which includes ‘getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off… as noted by Jim Collins in his book, Good To Great. Another common mistake I see is keeping the wrong people on the bus far too long and
not having a recruiting program that gives you choices to bring the right people on the bus.

Many SBOs and their managers don’t realize they are ‘beating a dead horse’; i.e. trying to change people who have neither the capacity to perform nor the desire to behave in a productive manner. Terri Kabachnick, author of ‘I Quit But Forgot To Tell You, describes the ‘disengaged employee’ who is not unlike a zombie; i.e. you can see them moving about but they are not really ‘there’ at the same time. These folks take up space, contribute little… and often get away with it.

If you feel trapped by people like this, then you may want to learn more about it in my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because you do have choices and there is an effective process to get out of this dilemma.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

Are Things Slipping Through the Cracks?

June 27, 2011

If you’re like most small business owners I’ve worked with, you probably find yourself wondering how it is that no matter what you say or do to clearly communicate, motivate and reward people, there is always someone who ‘drops the ball’. Oftentimes, the common REACTION is to consider such ‘bad behavior’  as either intentional, or simply unintentional neglect, oversight, or  just attitudinal.

In fact those might be the cause; however, my experience is that the most common reason is SYSTEMIC. In other words, the people don’t have the right systems in place or don’t use them – to avoid such ‘slippage’.  W. Edwards Deming, noted international consultant, made this point by saying “… the fault lies not within the people, but in the systems they use.”

This is not to excuse people from the responsibility of their assigned duties, but it helps us to focus on what is usually the ‘cure’ to most
‘slippage’ situations I have seen. Oftentimes, ‘lack of training’ is a part of the ‘system’ that is missing. Likewise it may be the lack of ‘reminder’
systems; e.g. something as simple as a calendaring or contact management system… or the failure to use it!

All that being said, I believe the root cause begins with the mindset of the owner and/or the individual who is allowing things to slip.  I was once given a lesson by a former boss (who eventually made me his partner) that “People do what you INspect… not what
you EXpect.” At first I thought he meant I had to micromanage everything I delegated. What he meant was that there is a combination of things needed to avoid things slipping through the cracks: mindset, processes and systems.

So I always recommend that everyone adopt the concept of ‘delegation’ (still owning the responsibility for the outcome) as compared to ‘relegation’ (washing your hands TOTALLY of it). Equally important, make sure you have a system in place that will provide periodic ‘follow up’ and/or feedback. This is especially true when you are working with someone with whom you have not had a lot of experience. No sense learning the hard way!

You can learn more about this (especially in the section dealing with personality types) in my book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because personality type is also part of the ‘human system’ that you need to work with.

If you want to learn more about this subject, I hope you will take feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

Taking the Guesswork Out of Sizing Up Employee Candidates

June 13, 2011

“Getting the right people on the bus” (from Good to Great by Jim Collins) is one of the toughest jobs small business owners have. Sadly few owners are familiar with a valuable tool that helps remove much of the guess work of knowing the ‘natural personality makeup’ of candidates. Some owners think they have a knack for figuring out what type of person they are interviewing (driver, amiable… and the many labels described in the various personality profiles). While they may be close, they get ‘no cigar’ because it’s far more complex than that if you really want to make an intelligent choice among two or more qualified candidates.

The purpose of this brief blog isn’t to teach you all there is to know about ‘personality profile’ tools (manual and electronic/online) but rather to make sure you know how beneficial they can be in helping you to AVOID bad choices. Too often we (unknowingly) favor a particular candidate for purely emotional reasons and we overlook (negative) traits that are evident during the  interview. Worse yet, we overlook traits that we can’t spot during the interview/assessment process. That’s a kiss of death. Even worse is NOT hiring a candidate that we incorrectly assess. For example, we might take ‘directness and a little assertiveness’ as AGGRESSIVENESS simply due to the situation or the type of question posed… or a myriad of causes. Yet the candidate was actually the right one if we understood his/her makeup more accurately.

Simply put, it takes a lot more inquiry and observation than most interviews will allow to truly figure out a candidate’s personality type. Yet, there is ample evidence that personality makeup can impact how well one will succeed in a particular role and in a particular environment. So, why do it ‘blind folded’ when there are many legally-validated tools to help nail down that one element in the selection process.

To learn more about this, you can read about some of the most common personality types and some popular profile tests in my new book (below). You can also do a web search just using ‘personality profile tests’ as the key word(s).

Some small business owners don’t want to spend the money or take the time to familiarize themselves with this concept and the tools for such. Their inaction stems from one or more factors; e.g. 1) fear of the unknown;  2) penny-wise/pound foolish cost-savings attitude; 3) skepticism about the validity of these tools and whatever!

Their mindset about this subject could make a huge difference in unlocking the full potential of their business. As I say in my book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It!, you must be ‘open to discovery’ and learn from experience (even if you’re certain it’s a predictable failure!) so long as you are not betting the ranch.  I call it a ‘calculated risk’ – not suicide.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

What Dinosaurs Could Have Learned From Us…

June 6, 2011

I remember seeing a cartoon many years ago depicting two HUGE dinosaurs (like there were ever any small ones?) looking at each other  dumbfounded. The caption at the bottom said, “If dinosaurs could have communicated, they would have ruled the world!”

I’m sure we all know the feeling of what happens when we fail to communicate properly… not unlike a bunch of huge dinosaurs or bulls in a china shop. No doubt you had that experience using our wonderful email technology… an accident waiting to happen on each press of the SEND button!

I cannot but shake my head in bewilderment each time I see (and have sent!) an email in lieu of just getting some exercise by picking up the phone. They say that act (of picking up the phone) does wonders for your forearms, shoulders and jaw muscles…

If I were to give any lessons on improving communication in viewing the ‘drama’ that is created by the use of technology, it surely would have to be the use of email to communicate about sensitive matters in lieu of picking up the phone. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that most times it’s simply a lack of courage to confront the issues in a 2-way manner.

It’s so easy (and habit forming) to haul off a strong message that you would probably never say on the phone and surely in person. And if you would, it probably would be posed in a much softer manner.

Being known as a rather ‘direct’ conversationalist, you can take the above from me as a confession – and they tell me ‘confession is good for the soul and may get me redemption. I suspect I’ll be waiting a long time for such at the rate I’m going. So learn from my experiences as an observer of other sinners… and myself!

Your mindset about this subject could make a huge difference in unlocking the full potential of your business as I say in my book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

Getting A Physical For Your Business

May 21, 2011

Why do many of us still get an annual physical even when we feel perfectly fine?  The answer is obvious. As the New York Lotto
ad says, “Hey, you never know” because sometimes the symptoms of some problems just aren’t evident. Well, the same can be said for your business!

Yet most small business owners would have to admit that the thought of doing this for their business never crossed their mind and they probably wouldn’t spend the money anyway.  It’s easy to fall into the routine of your business – especially when things seem to be humming along nicely.

I have heard many potential clients say, “Hey, I’m doing just fine” when I offer to do an independent Operational Review. Sure things can appear to be ‘just honky dory’ but you never really know what untapped potential or insidious situation might exist because you are often ‘too close to the forest to see the trees’. However, this isn’t a commercial to sell a physical for your business. Rather it’s simply a reminder to get one – at least annually—and to tell you that there are many ways OTHER THAN hiring a paid consultant to do it.

Attending mastermind groups (groups of other small business owners who serve as a sounding board), being active in trade associations, having a mentor who understands your industry, getting your CPA to take a deeper look into your financials and your operations more than just a cursory chat about the P&L or balance sheet (e.g. comparing your stats to industry stats). Another way would be to step outside of your business as if you were not the owner and taking a very candid and critical look at EVERY area of your operations and asking yourself, “How could this be improved?” Even if you don’t know how, just acknowledge where the areas of potential improvement could be.

For inspiration, read Good to Great and Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins (each is available for under $6 on Amazon). Your mindset about this subject could make a huge difference in unlocking the full potential of your business as I say in my book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

Déjà vu… All Over Again?

April 12, 2011

At a recent mastermind group of small business owners that I facilitate (, I had a guest who posed a question to the other owners. It went something like this (hold onto your seats!):  “I’m wondering if I should hire a sales person for my company?”  That certainly seemed to be an innocent enough and relevant question until he said “None” to the question posed back to him: “How many sales people do you have now?” Imagine that this 3rd generation successor to a 10-person business-to-business service company (industry not mentioned for confidentiality) didn’t even regard himself as a ‘sales representative’ for his company. He said he didn’t regard himself as a
‘natural’ sales person, didn’t care for the role and that they had no other staff people in this role but ‘made it through 3 generations strictly on
word-of-mouth referrals and customer retention.  That sure is impressive to hear and perhaps the answer he wanted to hear was “No, you don’t need to hire a sales person.” Then again, maybe he was hoping we’d say “Sure, go hire one.” Then perhaps he could go tell his parents
that he was right and that 15 other business owners agreed with him (assuming that he was using the group to give him moral support for such a position).

However, what ensued as I watched in dismay was a non-stop ‘mindset’ of denial. No matter what good advice was offered, he had a pat answer already formulated for each seemingly valid idea or question. He sounded like he had heard these same ideas once before and had thought about them (for at least 30 seconds each!) and concocted what would appear to be a valid excuse to DO NOTHING about ANYTHING he asked us about. Sadly this is often the case with some small business owners and they don’t see the pattern of their thinking/mindset.

This mindset of ‘don’t make me do anything that will take initiative, risk, change, work effort or impose ACCOUNTABILITY on me’ reminded me why I was motivated write my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It. Prior to writing the book I had struggled with trying to define exactly what it was that I have done for 45 years to help small business owners. No, it wasn’t about the operational, marketing and financial issues that full-service consultants do. Rather, the defining element of what I did was ‘changing mindsets’ of owners and managers so they could get out of their own way!

If the young man in the above example could only have recognized his resistance to change and avoiding work and its impact on his business (having lost market share), perhaps he might have been more open to what was presented to him by some savvy business owners.

So why was did I title this particular blog ‘Déjà vu all over again?’  Because I learned afterwards that this owner did the same ‘dance’ with another similar group of owners not long before this meeting. Perhaps he was ‘shopping’ for a different answer than he was getting from each group because the most obvious answer to all of us at the meeting was: “Huh! Are you serious? Of course you need a sales person.” I wish I could tell you that he was just ‘getting several opinions’. If you were there, you would conclude (as the other attendees did) that he was just being thick-headed.

Just remember, it’s all about ‘mindset’. Learn more about that in my new book: Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small
Business… And Enjoy It.

P.S. Few acquisitions ever get done in less than 6 – 12 months from start of search…sometimes as long as 2 years!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at:

Strategizing for Growth – When the competition is hunkering down

December 15, 2010

In my last blog, I suggested that difficult times like we are now experiencing may be an opportunity for SOME…particularly those who are financially strong, well-organized, are composed of a strong team of workers and managers, have good sales staff and marketing systems and have may even have excess production/service capacity.

Cutting the cost of gaining market share:  If I told you that you could save tens or hundreds or thousands of dollars (maybe millions) by acting now – not 3-5 years from now – in order to gain market share, would that get your attention? Well that’s been my experience over 44 years. While others are reducing marketing budgets, succumbing to predatory pricing practices (because they don’t have strong sales and marketing systems/staff and/or because they don’t examine their product mix…and on and on), you can be taking advantage of their weakness while capitalizing on your strength.

So, as simplistic as it may seem to some, let me pose this question (you’ll get the hint if your reply is in the negative): Do you have an updated marketing plan? If you do, does it reflect the reality of TODAY’s environment?   Did it get created with staff involvement or did you just ‘get it over with by yourself? Do you believe the sales forecasts have any real ‘meat’ to them or are they just a ‘bull’s eye on a dart board’ that you picked to ‘get it over with”?

Few small business owners ‘love’ doing the marketing planning process and especially the sales forecasting portion… the  way it should be done. 

Getting stuck in day-to-day routines is no excuse for avoiding good planning. We’ll talk next week about how to make this less painful …and one that will actually get you excited about the process.

Question: If you knew you could significantly increase your chances for success, would you invest 40 hours to get off the ground with a written marketing plan?

Times Are Tough – Is hunkering down the right strategy?

December 8, 2010

I’ve been through enough business cycles in 44 years to know that we are experiencing one of those cycles but with deeper and longer lasting impact than any before my professional career. Yet, I’m of the opinion that tough times for some become opportune times for others. I’m told that fortunes were made even during the Great Depression. So with that theme in mind, let me suggest that the answer to the question, “Should you hunker down in tough times?” is: “It depends on your situation.” Sorry for using the old “It depends” response that so many advisors seem to rely on. However, let me give you more clarity and direction… and what we share with our clients.

In my experience working with over 300 small businesses in more than 80 industries, I see a consistent pattern:  if you want to gain market share at the least cost, do it during lean times. What better lean time could there be than now in the past 50 years? If you are a solid company (i.e. strong financially, well-organized, strong team of workers and managers, good sales and marketing systems and staff, excess production/service capacity), then you definitely want to be developing a growth strategy that takes advantage of competitors who have decided to lay low. This doesn’t mean go wild and throw money and other resources into the wind. It simply means that you should develop a strategy, coupled clear focus and an action plan that takes advantage of the weaknesses of your competition and capitalizes on your strengths.

Next week:  learn more about the specifics of how you go about this process.

Question: Is your company poised to go after market share in tough times?

Is Your Sales Staff Holding You Hostage?

November 15, 2010

When you have a small sales force, as do many small businesses, it can be a scary thing if you lose even one salesperson. Consequently, many small business owners continue to put up with poor productivity in the name of stability. We often rationalize our inaction with reasons such as, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” or “I’m only paying them commission for the sales they make.” Or we keep underperforming salespeople because we fear the perceived repercussions of holding them accountable – that they will quit and take their customers with them. 

Do you notice a common theme here? All of these reasons have to do with our mindset as owners rather than what our sales staff is – or isn’t – doing. In other words, our sales staff isn’t holding us hostage – we are!

In my experience working with over 300 small businesses in more than 80 industries, most salespeople don’t lack the selling skills necessary to do their jobs more effectively, although there is always room for improvement. And while they “talk the talk” about wanting to prospect for new business and close more sales, the real issue is whether their activities and activity levels are adequate to achieve their sales goals.

Are you familiar with the saying, “Inspect what you expect”? As owners, we have to know the true story of what each salesperson is doing vs. what they say they are doing. If you’re not getting specifics and tracking actual behaviors, you’re a sitting duck for all the “BS” some sales staff will throw at you to convince you they’re working hard or are just victims of a tough economy. (In a tough economy, you have to work even harder…not just complain more loudly!)

Tune in next week to my blog on what small owners can do about this.