A Time for Gratitude

December 22, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

At Strategies, we’ve been coaching and training owners of salons, spas, medspas, barbershops, and every other industry related business for over 26 years.

As coaches, we spend our days celebrating your successes and helping you overcome challenges. We love to inspire you and we deliver tough love when situations dictate.

And like you, I am the owner of an employee-based service business. The only difference is that you provide hair, skin, nail and massage services. We deliver leadership and best business practices through coaching and training.

You see, building a successful service business, beauty or business coaching, requires passionate and dedicated people.

Sure, you can go it alone, but there’s a difference between building a “private practice” and something capable of growing beyond your wildest dreams.

Our employees bring life and meaning to our vision. In return for their hard work, we provide growth opportunities in many forms.... Read More

Building Predictability Into Your Salon or Spa

October 29, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Definition of “Predictability”: The consistent repetition of a state, course of action, behavior, or the like, making it possible to know in advance what to expect.

Having predictability in your salon/spa business is like having your very own crystal ball into the near future.

  • You would know that monthly service and retail goals would be achieved.
  • You would be confident that Net Profit and your Profit & Loss Statement would put a smile on your face.
  • You would know that new hires would be skill certified on schedule.
  • You would know that first-time and existing client retention rates would reflect your culture’s commitment to excellence.

All in all, you would enjoy that sense of wellbeing knowing that your salon/spa would perform consistently well.... Read More

Compensation Laws Forcing Change on Salon & Spa Compensation

May 14, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

California is leading the charge on protecting employee wage rights.

Why should payroll tax laws in California matter to you? Simple, it’s more important than ever for all salon/spa owners to understand and comply with state and federal laws — especially when it comes to classifying workers who are independent contractors.

DISCLAIMER: We can’t decipher the law for you. We’re not authorized legal representatives. However, we’ve done our best to break down a complex topic to give you a better understanding of how it may affect you and our company. Please consult your legal advisor.

What’s happening in California:

In January 2016, salons and spas in California were wrestling with Bill 1513 that made the traditional commission model no longer compliant in California.

As per the Labor Code, compensation for salon/spa services was technically labeled as “piece-rate” work, and not commission.... Read More

Why BIG Change in Salons & Spas is So Tough – And What to Do About It

February 26, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

In life and in business, change is a constant. Even though most seem to understand that simple fact, resistance to change is about as constant as change itself.

  • Change is about innovating and evolving to get to a better place.
  • Resisting change is about being stuck and holding on to status quo.

Change can be incremental to fine-tune what is already working. Examples would be increasing pre-book rates, completing services within time standards and achieving consistent retail recommendations.

Although incremental change is about doing what you do better, it can often encounter stiff resistance and employee indifference. Change is almost always accompanied by frustration.

BIG change is about rethinking your company’s approach to doing business. At this level of change, the prime objective is “out with the old” and “in with the new.”

It’s the “in with the new” that challenges long-standing work habits, and throws “this is the way it’s always been done” thinking out the window.... Read More

Working Owners: Why You Must Work More ON than In Your Salon/Spa

September 19, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Why You Must Work More "ON" than "In" Your Salon/Spa

As a working owner, when you say, “I love doing [hair/skin/nails/massage]” … it is a true expression of your passion and commitment for the technical and creative work that got you into business.

Your work defines and fulfills you. And it should.

But the day you become a salon/spa owner … what defines you changes. Like it or not, your focus, determination, responsibilities and accountabilities are forever changed.

  • It’s no longer about what your hands can create … it’s about what you can envision, execute, organize, systematize, innovate and inspire.
  • More than anything, it’s about your ability to be a leader.

Doing great work is a very different career path than leading great work. Doing great work is a personal expression of your creative and technical talent.... Read More

Success, Paying Attention and Avoiding the Business Rollercoaster

September 5, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The dreaded rollercoaster ride is almost always traceable to owners that dialed back how intently they payed attention to their salon/spa business.

The salon/spa business has a funny way of sneaking up behind you and smacking you in the head. Almost always, owners get smacked because they weren’t paying attention to what is going on around them … and ahead of them.

  • All it takes is a little staff turnover, some overspending, a system breakdown, or a momentary lack of focus to push your business off course.

Success has a way of making owners feel safe, comfortable and content. They dial back their state of awareness and connectedness to the business. The days of hard work and relentlessly pushing forward fade away.

The ride to the top of the success rollercoaster took enormous effort and tenacity. When you get distracted and disconnected, the ride down can be an out-of-control, white-knuckle, thrill ride into cultural, operational and financial issues.... Read More

Everyone is Accountable for Salon & Spa Customer Loyalty

June 20, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Everyone is accountable for customer loyalty.



Yes, customer loyalty begins with leadership and that’s where the problem can begin.

Leaders are notorious for going on those infamous rampages when a customer quits the salon/spa or when customer retention rates go critical. The no-compromise question to ask is, “Where is the accountability and how far down in the salon/spa does that accountability go?” Playing the blame game is a compromise and totally unacceptable.

The no-compromise leader places accountability for customer loyalty in the hands of every company employee.

It cannot be any other way.

For this level of accountability to exist, employees need to understand just how accountable they are. What I’m talking about here is a team-based business culture.

In a team-based business culture, ALL employees feel the pain of a lost customer. They feel the pain when a customer has a problem that could have been avoided.... Read More

How to Keep Your Passion for Business Burning Bright

June 13, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Owning a salon/spa business can be an emotional roller-coaster ride with plenty of incredible highs…and crushing lows.

It’s a service business with non-stop interaction with the clients… …some that can be very demanding.

Leading and managing stylists, estheticians, massage therapists, nail techs, assistants and guest services staff can often feel like herding cats. Just when you think everyone is heading in the right direction … they scatter.

Delivering the best customer experiences and services requires constant training and continuous refinement of your operating systems.

And then there are the financial demands of the business to drive revenues and manage expenses:... Read More

10 Ways Every Salon/Spa Employee Can Start Stepping Up

May 2, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You see a client in the retail area that needs help

…but “it’s not my job to help.”

The lone guest-services staff is slammed with the phone ringing, clients needing to checkout and clients waiting to check in. You know how to check clients in … but you walk away.

There’s a pile of dirty towels that need to get washed … but “someone else will do it.”

You use a coffee mug, leave it in the sink and walk away … when the dish soap and sponge are right there. You didn’t have 15 seconds to clean your own coffee mug? Who was going to clean that for you? Your mom?

The trash can is visibly full … but you jam your handful of trash in and walk away. How much effort does it take to empty a trash can?... Read More

Why Salon/Spa Owners Wait Too Long to Take Action

April 25, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Why Salon/Spa Owners Wait Too Long to Take Action

I was recently honored to be the opening keynote speaker at the two-day Art of Business seminar in Philadelphia.

One of the benefits of being the opening speaker is that attendees get to hear my content and have the rest of the event to discuss their challenges with me. My keynote was on “Creating Profit.”

Rather than putting 450 people to sleep with the mechanics of financial statements, I focused on the thinking, behavior and decision-making that create profit.

  • I addressed the belief that getting busier and driving top-line revenue is no guarantee that profit will occur.
  • I addressed how to accurately forecast monthly revenue and expense budgets.
  • I addressed the monumental task of controlling payroll costs.
  • I drove home how sloppy spending decisions chew away at profit … and add debt.
  • I emphasized the need for building cash reserves.

After my keynote, I spent the remainder of the seminar at a table talking to owners and answering questions. Keynotes are fun, but one-on-one conversations bring out the real issues.... Read More

Why Salon & Spa Owners Should Not Fear Change

March 7, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


Fear sucks.

Fear is debilitating.

Fear magnifies stress.

Fear kills momentum.

Fear typically leads to more bad decisions or no decision at all.

Fear, and nothing else, is the final hurdle between you and taking that first positive step toward change.

FACT: Fear of change and inaction will always lead to the very outcomes you fear most … or worse.

So what do salon/spa owners fear most about implementing change? They fear that productive service providers will quit and take their clients with them. In essence, they fear that implementing change could potentially result in a significant financial setback.... Read More

Who Owns the Salon/Spa Client?

February 15, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Everyone knows about the “walls,” though few openly speak of them. These are the invisible barriers that stand between stations, between technical and guest services, between staff and ownership.

  • Everyone agrees the walls should come down, but few know where to begin. The fact is, many of these barriers can be circumvented, and eventually torn down, by a new approach to client service.

The question of who “owns” the client is central to the thinking of most stylists and technicians, because they want to own as many as possible. This is especially prevalent in commission salons/spas where income is based solely on individual service and retail sales. In such circumstances, more clients equal more money. But this mentality builds those infamous invisible barriers within the salon.

Everyone who works does so, at least partly, in the pursuit of money. Working long hours in order to live well is a common endeavor. But at what point do customer relations begin to suffer?... Read More

Why Salon & Spa Owners Must Be Relentlessly Persistent

February 8, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Can you feel the burn?

Leading a salon or spa business to extraordinary success is no different than working out.

If you have not done it in a while, that first effort is going to hurt. But after a couple of workouts, your body adapts to the effort and you push harder.

You’ve gotta push hard, recover and push hard again.

Getting to that elusive next level is the process of persistently applying positive stress in ways that inspire your team to adapt to higher and more refined levels of performance. If you’re afraid to apply positive stress for fear of push back from staff – you, your business and your staff are stuck.

  • Applying positive stress only works when the goal is worthy of the extra effort. When a leader’s relentless persistence detaches from the goal … it devolves into just doing the work.

A leader is like a throttle and your team is the engine. The leader instinctively knows how hard to push the engine based on current conditions. Just like an engine needs a throttle … a team needs its leader to set the pace and direction.... Read More

A Salon Owner Story: Never Give Up

February 1, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


Lisa Cochran is a true Southern original who tells it like it is…

She speaks from her heart and helps others find the courage they lost on their entrepreneurial journey.

About ten years ago, Lisa showed up at a Strategies Incubator Seminar stressed, burnt out and on the verge of losing everything. The second salon she opened turned into a disaster.

Things got ugly and Lisa was left with the pile of debt, unpaid payroll taxes, landlords and angry creditors.

Like many Incubator attendees before her, Lisa learned the skills and disciplines of…... Read More

Ten Salon and Spa Leadership Resolutions for 2016

December 28, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

As I processed my thoughts for writing this final Monday Morning Wake-Up of 2015, I had to remind myself that this also wraps up eight full years of sharing my No-Compromise Leadership thoughts with you. That’s over 400 continuous Monday mornings that we’ve shared. And if you’ve been a follower of mine from the beginning of Strategies, we need to add the 14 years and 168 issues of Strategies Magazine we published from January 1994 until December 2007. Add all the written content to my books, Strategies business courses, coaching and our annual Team-Based Pay Conference … and you’ve got 22 years of the best salon/spa business and leadership content in the industry.

The best way to bid farewell to 2015 is to offer you my TOP TEN New Year’s Resolutions for 2016. I wrote this list for the salon/spa owners and entrepreneurs that were bold enough … and crazy enough … to put everything on the line for their vision of building a business.... Read More

How to Fix the Leaks in Your Salon or Spa Service Pricing

November 30, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Any discussion on salon/spa service pricing can quickly turn into a debate based on historic practices, entitlement, ego and emotions. That being said, what follows is sure to open a “can of worms” debate.

A debate is a formal discussion of opposing viewpoints where the best debater is crowned the winner. My intent is not to win a debate, but to create an awareness of the issues and practices that do more to compromise and complicate salon/spa pricing than help it.

But, if anyone wants to debate, sound business practices will beat entitlement, ego and emotional arguments every time.

As you will read, most of the service pricing issues are more salon related than spa. Why? Because there is a heck of a lot more entitlement, ego and emotional stuff that exists on the salon side of the industry. Spa pricing is more consistent across service providers … even those with many years of experience. That’s so not true on the salon side where many price levels can exist within the same salon and are justified by the size of stylist’s clientele and years of experience.... Read More

Finding Your Salon/Spa Profit Sweet Spot: PART THREE

November 23, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Getting busier and working harder can drive top-line revenue, but more revenue is no guarantee that profit will occur. The process of creating profit is far more complex than selling more services and products and then checking that last line on your Profit & Loss Statement to see if Net Profit is positive or negative. Unfortunately, too many owners leave profit to hope, good luck and a favorable nod from the business gods. Of course, creating profit takes hard work, but it takes hard work and focus on the right things at the right time. Only then do you have the best chance of finding your salon/spa’s profit sweet spot.

Profit is the end result of a number of critical operational and financial disciplines. Think of it as an on going dialing in of systems, performance, information flow and a relentless commitment to paying attention to your numbers.

Here is a 7-point No-Compromise Leadership hit list that will help you dial-in and lock-in your salon/spa’s profit sweet spot:... Read More

How Systems Drive Salon/Spa Profit: PART TWO

November 16, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Systems bring structure and discipline to the profit creation process. Accuracy and extreme attention to detail is nothing short of non-negotiable. As a business coach, I’ve seen more than my share of “garbage in, garbage out” accounting and financial reports. Blatant errors, improperly posted or categorized entries, expense line items that no one can explain, and huge miscellaneous accounts, are just a sampling of the financial nightmares that regularly occur when poorly designed systems exist. The end result is totally useless financial reports. You just can’t make the best financial decisions with bad data. And with all due respect, sloppiness in the bookkeeping office is a darn good signal that compromise exists at the leadership level. Otherwise, such nonsense would never be tolerated for even a nanosecond.


Profitability systems extend far beyond general bookkeeping. When revenues are generated, there needs to be financial systems in place to ensure proper reporting. And wherever money is spent and purchases made, financial systems must be in place. Checks and balances, there is no other way to control and drive profitability.... Read More

Disciplines of Creating Salon/Spa Profit: PART ONE

November 9, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

Profit is simply a measurement of business performance. It’s the reward for generating revenues, doing great work and staying within budget. Job security, advancement, better benefits, being able to invest in the best training, getting the best equipment, etc., are all part of profitability. Realizing all of the amazing opportunities that profitability can deliver will require a no-compromise sense of urgency. Urgency is paramount to achieving profitability.

When a salon/spa business culture takes a lethargic, lack-of-urgency approach to profitability, it gets in its own way. It’s akin to letting go of the controls that allow leadership to guide business activities toward its profitability goals. The cash-flow plan is demoted to the “optional task list,” or evolves into nothing more than an annual ritual that is rarely, if ever, looked at or put into play. Reviewing financial reports or having cash-flow planning meetings happens when it happens, if at all. Financial discipline and consistency is out the window.... Read More

Success vs. Greatness In Your Salon/Spa Business

November 2, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

There is a huge difference between having the desire for success and actually achieving your definition of it. Desire is a longing for something; success is an outcome. Greatness is something else entirely. Success, based on your interpretation, is earned, while greatness is bestowed. Greatness is how your peers and the world around you define your success and that of your company.

What does greatness looks like? For a company to enter the coveted realm of greatness, its values, thinking and actions must synchronize to create an unyielding gravitational pull that draws it through levels of success to greatness. The only thing that can disrupt this gravitational pull is a compromise in the company’s values, thinking and/or actions.

Let’s explore what this gravitational pull looks like in a successful company versus a great company. Yes, there is a huge gap between success and greatness.... Read More

Grow Your Business, Not Columns On The Appointment Book

October 26, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I just read in the New York Post that salon industry icon Nick Arrojo is suing former stylist Paul Fox from his Varick Street salon for $3.5 million in damages for stealing five employees and his confidential client list, and opening a competing salon just 13 blocks away. The article states that Arrojo spent years training the former staffers, a fact that is touted in the former staffer’s bios at the new Paul Fox Salon. The suit states that the ex-staffers violated confidentiality and non-compete agreements.

Arrojo had a walkout … no different than the countless walkouts experienced by salon owners since the birth of the professional salon industry. Ask any gathering of salon owners if they have experienced a walk-out and all but a fortunate few will confirm they have. Like Nick Arrojo, the stories are like rubber-stamped accounts of broken trust, lost investment, plotting, collusion, stealing, lost revenue, bad-mouthing and the arduous task of rebuilding. All are stories of a business that took years to build that were blown up with their once employees, clients and cash flow relocated down the street.... Read More

FIVE Growth Drivers That Can Transform Your Salon/Spa

October 12, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Growth doesn’t happen by accident or good luck. In business, there are Outcomes and Drivers. Outcomes are measurements and scores of the company’s ability to execute. Drivers are the mini-engines that work in unison to deliver the energy to produce the desired outcomes. The better you dial in the Drivers the more impressive the Growth Outcomes.

Here are the top five Growth Drivers that, when dialed in, can deliver next level growth beyond your wildest dreams:

Driver 1 … Productivity Rate:
In a service business, you sell time. You buy that time in the form of payroll hours. The more hours you buy from employees, the more inventory of hours you have to sell. The total of all salable hours for a day, week or month represents 100 percent of your inventory. The more focused and strategic you are at buying and selling hours, the higher your productivity rate. The optimum productivity rate target is +/-85 percent. If your total productivity rate is running below 70 percent, you’re buying too many hours because you’re operating inefficiently and not producing enough demand.... Read More

When You Want It Bad Enough

August 17, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Everything changes when you want it bad enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s advancing in your career, starting and growing your own business, achieving a once unthinkable goal, or mastering new skills and abilities. When you want it bad enough, it exists with absolute clarity in your mind. When you want it bad enough, the path reveals itself. And when the path is uncertain or brutally challenging, you push forward because lowering your expectations and quitting is not an option.

I started Strategies 22 years ago with nothing but a credit card, a couple of computers, the ability to effectively write and speak about business concepts, and an unrelenting desire to teach others about leadership and what it truly takes to grow a profitable company. For the two years prior to Strategies, I became part owner of a commercial printing company. (Yes, it was an odd path for a former hairdresser and multi-salon owner.) I knew all about graphic design and pre-press, but very little about running the production floor of a printing company. My grand plan was to print Strategies magazine on my own presses. The short story is, that path became brutally challenging. Aging presses, broken machinery, a bad partnership and no cash required tough decisions before I lost everything.... Read More

Choosing Your Business Model: Employee or Independent Contractor

July 20, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

A business model is best described as a schematic that defines all of the working features, components and capabilities that will drive the business. If you want your business to deliver consistent quality and growth potential, those elements must be built into its business model. If you want your business to deliver flexibility with minimal management oversight, those elements must be built into that business model. Just like a Ford F-150 truck will never perform like a Ferrari 488 GTB, a business model can only perform the functions it was designed to deliver. A McDonalds will never perform to the standards of a Chef Gordon Ramsey restaurant.

An independent contractor (booth rental or suite) business model will never perform like an employee-based business model. The two business models are diametrically opposed and, by design, conflict with each other. The employee-based model generates revenues through a coordinated process of delivering services and products to the company’s customers. The independent contractor model generates revenues through rental fees collected from independent contractors that service their own customers, add-on services for independent contractors and potential retail sales.... Read More

Customer Service Is All About Sense of Urgency

July 13, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Sense of urgency takes on new meaning and purpose when discussing the Customer Satisfaction Business Outcome. Think about the times you walked into a business and waited for someone to notice and take care of you. OK, now think about the times you waited while watching employees talk to one another and were totally oblivious to your presence. How about those times you sat in a restaurant watching other tables being served that were seated after you? What about that customer service representative that promised to call you back in an hour … and never did? These are all symptoms of a breakdown in sense of urgency.

Sense of urgency and customer satisfaction are inseparable. If your business fails to deliver on a customer expectation, it will show in your first-time and existing client retention rates. It’s that black and white. Nothing infuriates clients more than shoddy or substandard service. If a business fails to deliver on its quality and experience promise, it must be regarded as a breach of contract. Likewise, attention to detail, amazing service and the efforts any business makes to exceed the ordinary and deliver the extraordinary is what truly defines world-class brand.... Read More

Five Ways to Lead Through Push Back

July 6, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Your business seems stuck and just can’t muster the collective energy to shift into a faster gear. Monthly goals have become a string of near misses. Your team is getting complacent and you know all too well what can happen when average infects your culture. It’s time to shake things up and that’s exactly what you do. You introduce some new and exciting initiatives that you thought your team would embrace with open arms. Instead, you get push back. Push back to growth. Push back to opportunity. Push back to step into the unknown, because known became too comfortable.

Every leader eventually encounters push back to new ideas and change initiatives that require new thinking, new behaviors, new skills and new levels of effort and team engagement. And when encountering push back, leaders can either cave in and accept that status quo is their fate, or, leaders can lead through the push back and take their company to a better place. Leading through push back is like threading a needle. You can’t thread a needle using a hammer. It requires focus and a steady hand. Leading through push back is where No-Compromise Leaders take center stage and shine.... Read More

Ten GOTTA DOs to be the BEST company

June 29, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

When someone says, “I want to be the best at what I do,” what does it really mean? When a leader says, “We are going to be the best,” what exactly does that mean? On an effort scale of one to ten, is this commitment to be the best a no-compromise, whatever it takes, TEN, or something less? If it’s a ten, then it’s a done deal. You, or your company, will be on a quest to be the best. If it’s a seven, eight or nine, it is not a done deal. There are conditions and self-imposed restrictions on the level of effort and commitment that will be expended to be the best.

Here are my TEN, No-Compromise Leadership GOTTA DO’S, to be the best:

  1. Gotta set the bar: The quest to be the best is a destination. It’s that mental picture of yourself and your company that you see and feel every day. It’s a relentless vision that you can’t shake off. It’s not only out there waiting for you; it’s beckoning you … almost daring you … to seize it. Call it manifestation, vision or whatever you prefer, it’s where you want to be – where you want your company to be. Define it. Describe it. Set that bar high enough and bold enough for all to see. Then go for it. Anything less is a compromise.
  2. Gotta want it bad: There’s just no reason to give something your best all-out effort if you kinda-sorta-feel like you want it. That’s when OK is good enough. When being the best at what you do … when owning, leading or being part of the best company ever … is what you want, that’s what fuels the fire to give it a level ten effort. You become the embodiment of words like tenacious, relentless, passionate and achiever. Anything less is a compromise.
  3. Gotta be authentic: Anything less than an effort of ten allows you to “talk” about being the best, without authentically having to “walk the talk.” Why bother if you, your team and your company are not willing to play at ten? The quest to be the best means pushing and exceeding the limits of your ability. If you’re not willing to break a sweat, feel the burn and discover breakthroughs, then don’t tout or advertise that you’re “the best” when you’re really committed to being something less. Sooner or later, your employees and your customers will figure it, and you, out. Be authentic, because anything less is a compromise.
  4. Gotta live it every day: It’s easy to give lip service to being the best, but it’s something entirely different when you “live” being the best every day. When you live it every day, it shows in your demeanor and how you approach everything you do. There’s an intensity of purpose in everything you do that sets the tone for the entire company. More importantly, how you live, being the best every day, continually reinforces the foundation of your company culture. In so many ways, it is you, the leader, that establishes the thinking and behavior of the entire company. If you don’t live it every day, why should anyone else? Anything less is a compromise.
  5. Gotta preach it: I always remind owners and leaders that they are the voice of their company. And as the voice of the company, the task of relentless communication rests on your shoulders. Relentless communication keeps the vision intact. Relentless communication keeps everyone on the all-important same page. Relentless communication is the steady drumbeat that maintains company momentum. Relentless communication persistently clarifies expectations. Being a leader is very much about being the company’s preacher. Anything less is a compromise.
  6. Gotta coach it: Great leaders bring out the best in those they lead by coaching them … not reprimanding them. The more a leader stays in coaching mode, the more productive, consistent and self-correcting the team becomes. And the more a leader coaches, the more that leader is set free to plan and look down range to seek out new opportunities. Command and control leaders may drive some pretty impressive numbers… but those numbers often come at the expense of being the best. You are your company’s most important coach on its journey to be the best. Anything less is a compromise.
  7. Gotta keep it pure: When the quest is to be the best, good is never good enough. Indifference and mediocrity will quickly contaminate every facet of the company. Being the best is about keeping the company’s performance, standards, values and integrity pure. Simply put, it’s about keeping the company’s culture pure. This requires leaders to make tough decisions about people, systems, quality, brand identity – everything and anything that represents and embodies what the company stands for. You can’t be the best if you allow B players on your A team. You can’t be the best when you see a problem and do nothing about it. You can’t allow a double-standard that allows special privileges or get-out-of-jail cards for some and not all. Anything less is a compromise.
  8. Gotta measure it: You can’t tell how much closer you are to being the best if you don’t measure your progress during the journey. Being the best is both qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative means you can “experience” what being the best feels like in terms of shared pride and camaraderie. Quantitative means precise measurements and gains in critical numbers. To be the best, you can’t just “feel” it … you must measure it. Anything less is a compromise.
  9. Gotta fail: The road to success is never a straight line. There will be setbacks, speed bumps and failures along the way. You know the drill … learn and grow from your failures. If you lead your company into the fiery pit of hell, you can certainly lead it back to daylight … if you maintain the perspective that failure and setbacks are inevitable. Being the best is really about how you react when things go sideways. Yes, it’s fine to beat yourself up. Besides, no one can beat you up as well as you can. The only way to stop feeling like crap is to re-engage, take control of what’s in your control … and start the rebuilding process. Anything less is a compromise.
  10. Gotta keep it going: Congratulations! You and your company have become “the best.” Enjoy. Celebrate. Remember the moment. Then it’s on to the next level. Too many leaders and company’s buy into their own “we’re the best” hype, become complacent and begin the long slow slide to average. The true test of being the best is the ability to sustain it. Anything less is a compromise.

– – – – – – – – –... Read More

Of course it is your company, but

June 8, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

myway-highwayAs a leadership coach, the best way to gain insight into how a company is run is to talk to employees. They willingly share the good, the bad, and the ugly about the culture of the company, its structure and its leader. Because the purpose of venting is to clear the air, I always get an earful of all the stuff that owners do that drives their employees crazy. Business owners are entrepreneurs that believe enough in their vision to put everything on the line to make it a reality. Owners are passionate. Owners can be intense. Owners are often stressed. And when under stress, some owners play the “it’s my company” card to get their way.... Read More

Pride is an Outcome

June 1, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

pride2In order to experience a profound feeling of pride, it must be preceded by an accomplishment. To feel pride in your new car or new home, you had to earn the financial wherewithal first. To earn the financial wherewithal, you had to build your career and establish yourself in the business world. To feel pride in your business, you had to work hard, take financial risks, make tough decisions and learn how to recover from the not-so-good decisions. In every way, to experience that profound feeling of pride, you must earn it every step of the way.

There is a difference between feeling grateful and feeling pride. When you give an employee a promotion with new levels of responsibility, the employee may feel grateful for the opportunity … but it’s that feeling of pride for all the hard work that went into earning that promotion – and your trust – that is most profound. When the line between gratitude and pride becomes blurred, raises, promotions, incentives and special privileges can easily degrade into entitlement thinking and behavior. Pride is an outcome because it can only be earned through hard work and a commitment to go the distance. It is the leaders responsibility to never allow a culture of entitlement to contaminate a culture built on pride of accomplishment.... Read More

Your business. Your creation. Your dream.

May 18, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

business_dreamWhat you read in these Monday Morning Wake-Ups is about real life entrepreneurial leadership. I write for you, the small business owner, because you were crazy enough and bold enough to risk everything for the dream of building a company your way. I write for you because tough challenges come along with building a company that test your tenacity and capacity to manage stress. I write for you because you are wise enough to know that the decisions and business disciplines you avoid and procrastinate on the most are the ones that always get you into trouble. I write for you because I know all too well that an entrepreneurial dream can quickly turn into sleepless nights and get scary as hell. Lastly, I write for you because I respect and honor the level of responsibility that rests on your shoulders. Like you, I too am an entrepreneur.... Read More

Time to remix and drink your Kool-Aid

May 11, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

kool-aidAs kids, we loved to drink Kool-Aid. Just water sweetened with sugar, tart fruit flavors, artificial coloring and absolutely no nutritional value, it was just fun to drink. Maybe that’s why “drink the Kool-Aid” became a metaphor for a group’s shared belief in some intangible thing. If you drink the Kool-Aid, you believe and instantly become a group member. If you don’t drink the Kool-Aid, you’re with the non-believers.

When we were kids, mom mixed the Kool-Aid … and it tasted good. In business, leaders mix their own Kool-Aid for their followers to drink … and that first sip tastes so good. It tastes so good because the mixture embodies the leader’s vision, passion and drive to create a company that stands for something special and unique. That Kool-Aid captures the imagination of like-minded people. A dynamic culture evolves that is innovative, energizing and seemingly invincible. To be part of such a company, or group culture, is a privilege and a life experience that resets and raises your belief in your own potential. And it all started with a sip of Kool-Aid.... Read More

The Choice: Take control or make excuses

May 4, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

take_controlThings happen for a reason. There is always an explanation for an outcome … whether it is good or bad. It can be an inspiring story of a leader stepping up and taking control of his or her reality to create the best possible outcome. In contrast, it can be a docudrama describing all of the real, and perceived, obstacles and hurdles that prevented the most desirable outcome. Before the elements of the inspiring story or docudrama explanations begin to unfold, the leader makes a choice to take control or begin manufacturing excuses. It’s a choice to take control your own destiny or abdicate control and mask the outcome with excuses.... Read More

Because it is about The Cause

April 20, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Businessman demonstrationCall me crazy, but I have never gone to work for the money. If the work I do is meaningful to others, the money will come. If the work I do is specialized and addresses urgent issues, the money will come. If I do my work with passion, integrity, respect and a profound sense of caring, the money will come. If the work I do is for a worthy cause with higher purpose, the money will come. To me, money is an outcome. Money is a measurement of the effort, results and quality I put into the work I do.

My work has always been about a very personal cause. The cause is about helping entrepreneurs to grow truly amazing companies with amazing cultures that are emotionally and financially sustainable. It is the “cause” that created my company, Strategies, and kept it thriving for over 21 years. It is the “cause” that attracts clients and talented and passionate staff to Strategies. It is the “cause” that provides a living and security for my company’s employees and my family.... Read More

Are you working harder for less?

April 6, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

work_hard_for_lessThis Monday Morning Wake-Up is for all the owners and leaders that are stuck in survival mode and growing weary of being in a state of working harder for less.

Owning and leading a successful business has always been about giving it all you’ve got. You willfully give your time to the point where working a forty-hour week would feel like a vacation. You give your personal resources in terms of money, taking on debt and using personal assets as collateral. More than any other factor, you give your passion, energy and emotional capacities to pursue your business vision. In so many profound ways, what you give … and sacrifice … for your business is a commitment to perpetually live at or beyond the brink of your comfort zone.... Read More

Do not be a business maintenance man

March 23, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

maintenanceMan2When I was a young man starting out on my first job, I thought to myself, “I want to be the manager.” I was always fascinated with business and what made it work. I love the energy that comes from a team of people working together and believed that I had the ability to “manage” a team. From the beginning, I worked closely with the manager to learn everything I could about being a “manager.” I learned about handling money, scheduling for productivity, setting goals, inventory control, filling out reports, performance evaluations and keeping everyone on task.

Holy crap … I wasn’t learning how to be a leader – I was learning how to become a business “maintenance” man. I mean no disrespect to managers, nor am I suggesting that managers do not lead people. My point is that the primary role of a manager is to ensure the successful operation of a business or department and to make sure that the work gets done. Yes, a manager is responsible for hitting goal and ensuring growth … but the work of leadership is something different – something uniquely special. FACT #1: A leader in maintenance mode is stuck. FACT #2: An enlightened manager can rise to become an extraordinary leader.... Read More

Consistency is a choice

March 16, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

consistencyJust how good do you want to be? What level of the game do you want to play? How important is that vision of yours? How passionate are you about the work you do? How committed are you to achieving excellence? If you were an aspiring athlete with your sights set on winning Olympic gold, your coach would tell you in extreme detail what that road map to winning would look like. The coach would explain the relentless hours of training and the pain of pushing through your perceived physical limits. The coach would simply detail the process of achieving consistency in execution at a world-class level. Then, it would be your choice to choose the path to consistency.

Consistency is about repeatability and the achievement of incremental performance gains. In the beginning, the gains can be significant and impressive. However, at the higher levels of consistency, the gains are hard earned through continuous refinement and practice. And it is when the going gets tough that your answers to the five opening questions are put to the test. Winning your version of Olympic gold may be the ultimate prize … but achieving your personal best level of consistency is what matters most. It is also what separates those that are committed more by words, from those that are committed by deeds and hard work.... Read More

Culture shifts live or die with clarity and information flow

February 23, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

I’ve witnessed more attempted culture shifts during which the leader charges off in a new direction only to discover that his culture is still locked on the old heading. That occurs when employees lack the clarity on why the company changed course. There was no detailed mission plan or map to follow. There was no information flow to share progress or challenges. In such cases, it doesn’t take long for the change initiative and culture shift to sputter and fizzle out. Yes, culture shifts can collapse in an instant.

It is vital that you understand the complexities of the task ahead. Rest assured, a culture shift will occur in your company. It will require tremendous energy and relentless focus from you and your leadership team, most being expended in the early implementation stages. It’s the equivalent of turning a massive aircraft carrier around. All of the forward momentum of the ship must be shifted in a new direction … and maintained until it aligns on the new course heading. More importantly, that wide turn and new heading must be free of any navigational hazards. Yes, in business you must be prepared for the unexpected, but plotting the best course that is free of hazards certainly improves the odds of achieving your goals.... Read More

Death, Taxes and 1099

February 16, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

death-taxesThere was a “lively” thread on Strategies Idea Exchange forum on Facebook. A group member posted, “I just spoke to an owner who files a 1099 for her staff, but doesn’t call it ‘rental’. She lets stylists make their own schedules, she provides products and all services are booked through the receptionist. She pays commission. Does this make sense? I’ve never heard of classifying someone as an “Independent Contractor” while paying commission.” The thread quickly grew to over 65 comments, became quite heated … and one poster that resorted to profanity got booted and blocked from Strategies Idea Exchange.

I have been involved in the independent contractor versus employee debate for what seems like forever. The debate is about two diametrically opposed business models – Employee Based or Independent Contractor (classified as 1099). One business model employs individuals to do the work. The other model leases, or rents space to individuals to do their own work. Seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. The IRS has very clear and specific guidelines to classify workers as independent contractors or employees.... Read More

When you are committed to going for it

January 26, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

committedIt starts as a “what if” vision of the possibilities awaiting you … if you commit to go for it. What is “it”? “It” could be your career, your company or an accomplishment that is profoundly personal and meaningful to you. The “what if” vision may take years to achieve, or it can live in your mind’s eye only for as long as you can remember, but the big question remains the same: when will you decide to go for it? When will you flip the switch from “I want to” to “I’m going to”? The “I want to” setting doesn’t get you anywhere. It holds your vision captive, untested and always out of reach. The “I’m going for it” setting, on the other hand, is all about taking action to step into the unknown and transform your vision into reality.... Read More

The damned if you do, damned if you do not hiring decision

January 19, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

hiring_dilemma2The situation: Revenues are falling flat and the company is missing its monthly goal more often than not. It’s not that the company is doing poorly; it’s just stretched financially. Your company has reached an awkward stage where it needs to hire someone with a specific skill set, but the financials to support adding on a new team member simply do not exist. As the leader, you’re frustrated with the feeling of being stuck because you know what needs to be done but you also know that making an expensive hiring decision can convert that frustration into some ugly financial stress.

The opportunity: Even though you weren’t actively searching, you happen to meet an individual with just the right credentials and experience. It’s like the universe heard your request and delivered a seemingly perfect candidate. You do the interview and the fit looks even better. Sure … there were just a couple super teeny-tiny red flags, but you wrote them off as interview jitters. The fact is you really like what you see; you want to close the deal and hire this perfect candidate.... Read More

Delivering excellence is more than a choice

December 15, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

excellence_choiceExcellence is a beautiful thing to behold, but what is it? It is that rare state when all things converge flawlessly into a product, service or experience. It is the culmination of innovation, fierce attention to detail, finely honed systems, discipline and accountability to a desired end result. And once achieved, that state of excellence is admired, respected and sought after.

In business, excellence is coveted by many but only earned by few. It is much like the Lexus tagline, “The relentless pursuit of excellence,” where the word “relentless” defines the extent of the company’s commitment to chasing the extraordinary. Without “relentless”, the word “pursuit” becomes highly suspect in its meaning and intent. A company can easily give lip service to its pursuit of excellence without ever channeling the resources, commitment and leadership necessary to achieve it. Simply put, you may want excellence … but how far are you willing to go, and what are you prepared to sacrifice to get it?... Read More

Anatomy of a cash crisis

December 8, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

hurricaneFor entrepreneurs, there is nothing more dreaded and stressful then going through a cash crisis. Much like the “battle stations” siren on a warship under attack, a company experiencing a cash crisis instantly goes into reaction mode to batten down the hatches and plug the leaks. The truly tough work is keeping a “business as usual” demeanor to avoid freaking out employees and exposing customers to the crisis that is occurring just behind the curtain. Unfortunately, the more critical a cash crisis gets, the more it impacts employees and the company’s ability to deliver its standard of excellence to its customers.... Read More

2014: Home-stretch thoughts

December 1, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

home_stretchToday is the first day of the last month of 2014. So far, you have eleven months of business in the history book this year. You’ve eaten your Thanksgiving feast. The craziness of the Holiday season is officially underway. The time for implementing change and course corrections is behind you. Your company is either prepared to make the most of this final month, or it is not. All you can see ahead of you is the mad dash to New Year’s Eve and the welcoming of a fresh new year of opportunity called 2015.

This is a transitional time of year, good for both reflection and forward thinking. At this point, you’ve had your successes and failures. You’ve had initiatives that went sideways. You’ve said “good bye” to some old employees and welcomed in some new ones. You’ve hit your goals and missed your goals. You’ve loved your job … and there were times when you’ve hated your job. And on January 1, 2015, your Profit & Loss Statement revenues will revert back to zero and the endless process of leading your business will start all over again. The question to ponder now is … what do you want to change in 2015?... Read More

My BIG No-Compromise Project

November 24, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Command_Center_Marquee2This Monday Morning Wake Up is a little departure from my usual rants on leadership and more about sharing a very special project that I’ve spent almost a year building. I’m very proud of the results and hope you appreciate what it took to make my BIG no-compromise project a reality.

The idea had been kicking around in my head for years. It was one of those infamous “game changing” projects that act as the missing link in connecting accountability to application, urgency to strategy and focus to vision. This is high-level leadership strategy distilled down to no-compromise, “If it needs to be done, get it done” leadership thinking, behavior and execution. It is 21+ years of Strategies’ training, systems and methodology at your fingertips 24/7/365. In the early days of 2014, it was time to bring my idea to life, and we began building what we now call the “Strategies Command Center.”... Read More

If there were nothing but green lights

November 10, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

green_lights-#1There are specific milestones in our lives when vision, determination, ambition, self-confidence and opportunity collide in ways that explode all the fears and obstacles that seemingly lay before you. These are the transformative moments when you step willingly into the unknown and take responsibility for your own success. It’s like driving to a destination with nothing but green lights before you. You become so positively charged that you overcome and break through the negative resistance that accompanies all bold journeys. And when you encounter the inevitable setbacks, you simply push harder until you’re back on your intended course.

The truth about these milestones is that you have total control over when and how often they occur in your life. Your current reality … better known as your life … is what keeps milestone moments at bay. You don’t have the time or money. You give the risks more energy than they deserve. The goal you want to chase will meet resistance from those you lead so you discount its value. The confidence busting “what if it doesn’t work?” question eventually starts changing all of your green lights red.... Read More

Leaders are always a work in progress

November 3, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

work_in_progressOver twenty-one years ago, I founded Strategies to coach and train business owners in the disciplines of leadership, performance and growth. I am proud beyond words of my company. In 2008, I wrote a book called No-Compromise Leadership. It won the 2010 IPPY Award for business and leadership. I am also proud beyond words of that book. Guess what? After 40+ years of doing classes, keynotes, countless articles, three books, and coaching leaders … not to mention writing 354 Monday Morning Wake-Ups … I am proud to say that as a leader, I am still a work in progress. I still have much to learn and many disciplines to master.... Read More

Founders Fatigue Epilogue: To become reinvigorated

October 27, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

invigorateMy Founders Fatigue MMWU of a few weeks ago not only hit its mark, it pushed some owners to recognize that they have Founder’s Fatigue and inspired them to do something about it. I was glowing as I read one such email from a husband and wife team that own a wildly successful, six million dollar company. They attended a Strategies Incubator prior to opening in 2003 and have grown a model Team-Based Pay company ever since. Their words were inspiring because no matter how successful a company may be, owners and leaders are always susceptible to Founder’s Fatigue.

Their email said, “We were suffering from Founder’s Fatigue and badly needed the shot in the arm we received at your recent Team-Based Pay Conference. We returned reinvigorated and ready to improve our company’s culture. Yes, we have drifted over the past few years … but now we are working hard at getting back on track. It’s amazing how liberating it feels when you finally make the tough decisions and move forward. Almost feels like it did when we first set out on our entrepreneurial journey – only we’re much more profitable. :)”... Read More

The Conversation

October 20, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

conversation#1As a business coach, much of my work centers on guiding leaders through the wonderful, wacky world of human thinking and behavior, both of those they lead and their own. Dealing with financial stuff is easy. It’s math. Spend less than you bring in and there will be profit. Revenue projections and budgets are mathematical assumptions that we fondly refer to as “wild-ass guesses.” But it’s the leader’s thinking and behavior that brings the numbers and profits to life. System and procedure design is easy too, but it’s getting people to buy into and live the change that tests one’s ability to lead. And to truly become a No-Compromise Leader, you must master and engage in “the conversation.”... Read More

The Team-Based business model ROCKS

September 29, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

TBPC_groupOn September 21st-22nd, Strategies held our first annual Team-Based Pay (TBP) Conference in Chicago, IL. It’s amazing that 158 business owners and leaders gathered to learn, to be inspired and to celebrate this thing called “Team-Based Pay.” Heck, it’s just a pay system. But labeling it “just a pay system” is a shortsighted conclusion that discounts what a company can achieve by rewarding the right overall individual and team performance. Team-Based Pay isn’t about the “pay” … it’s about achieving excellence by defining and rewarding excellence. It’s about building a team-based business model that is void of the “I/me/mine” commission mindset.... Read More

What you need to know but do not know

September 15, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

need_to_know2Being a truly effective leader means being in the know about everything that is going on in and around your company. But being in the know about “everything” is impossible and would probably cause your head to explode. Yet, every day there are forces at work that could impede growth, hinder productivity, drain cash flow, degrade your brand or cause you to miss a major opportunity. By forces, I’m referring to the people side of your company where decisions are made and where thinking and behavior deviates from the company’s vision and core values. This is where personal or collective compromise can throw a wrench in what should be your well-oiled machine.

In business, believing in the old adage, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” is like avoiding reality by sticking your head in the sand. If you’re having cash-flow problems and you’re not paying attention to – or can’t read – your financial reports, and you don’t have a cash-flow plan/budget … then you don’t know what you need to know. If you’re having productivity issues and pushback on much needed changes, but do little to change your “I don’t like structure” leadership style … then what you don’t know – you need to know. If you’ve ever discovered a major problem and uttered the words, “How was this happening right under my nose?” … then you don’t know what you need to know. Got it?... Read More

The No-Compromise approach to building and protecting your BRAND

August 18, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

brand-1Every company has a vision of what it will become. That vision defines how big a company will grow, the markets it will serve, its commitment to excellence, its core values, its growth opportunities, its potential financial rewards and all those other lofty and worthy things that represent a well-crafted vision. Company visions are supposed to be enticing and empowering because they define the quest. But within those visions resides one of the most essential components to achieving any goal – your “brand.”

Envision a large funnel with an incredibly tiny opening at the bottom. You pour all those precious elements of your vision into the top of the funnel and stir it up a bit. What emerges from that tiny opening is a little encapsulated entity that represents the uniqueness, qualities, abilities, reputation and purpose of your company. It is simply called your brand. If you mix in all the right vision elements, your brand will be extremely valuable and precious. But what many leaders fail to realize is that their company brand is also extremely delicate and susceptible to damage from just about everything. Just as leaders are responsible for protecting a company’s culture, so too are they responsible for protecting the company’s brand.... Read More

A NO-COMPROMISE LESSON: When it is time to shake things up

August 11, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

shake#1The body language of the employees I was about to address oozed negativity and resistance. You could cut the tension in the meeting room with a knife. As the business owner prepared to introduce me, my mind was in rapid creativity mode, crafting my opening for this launch of a major change initiative that included a new compensation system.

It was show time. “Good morning,” I began. “As your consultant, I have examined every conceivable aspect of your company, and I’m happy to announce that absolutely nothing needs to change.”

As I stood silently, allowing my words to sink in, almost in unison the employees responded with, “You’ve got to be kidding. Everything here needs to change!” With the ice broken and everyone in agreement that significant changes were needed, I was able to proceed.... Read More

Controlling your own chaos

August 4, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

chaos2In many ways, the work of leadership is the work of controlling chaos. It’s a given that change is relentless, but to embrace change is to embrace chaos. Likewise, if you resist and avoid change, you feed chaos, because holding on to status quo is unsustainable, short-term thinking, as current strategies and systems will wither over time.

It’s also a given that problems will occur, equipment will break, seemingly good decisions will backfire, and employees will come and go. For this discussion, I’m simply going to define chaos as a state of varying degrees of disorder and confusion.

Chaos may be inevitable, but to a large degree, it is also controllable. Why? Because much of the chaos that surrounds and stresses leaders is self-inflected. Avoid a problem too long and it spins off waves of chaos. Over-commit yourself and chaos ensues. Hit the launch button on a new initiative or project before it’s ready and there will be chaos. Give incomplete instructions and poorly defined expectations and rest assured, there will be chaos. Keep a toxic employee on payroll too long and there will be chaos. I’m sure you get what I’m saying here.... Read More

Teamwork: Hard to get, easy to lose

July 28, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

teamwork3Business leaders toss the word “teamwork” around like some boundless, renewable resource. Well, it’s not. In fact, teamwork is a precious commodity revered by those who have achieved it and envied by those who want it. You can refer to employees as team members, use scoreboards and do huddles every day, but these exercises are no guarantee that teamwork will follow.

FACT: Teamwork is an outcome. It is the culmination of a multitude of complex forces, systems and accountabilities that merge into one truly dynamic state of being called teamwork. In this teamwork state of being, the collective energy of individuals harmoniously synchronizes to achieve the extraordinary. 
It’s much like achieving a true meditative state. One must learn to quiet the mind until a “oneness” with the world is achieved. This meditative state is difficult enough for individuals to master. Consider the added complexity of groups of individuals – all possessing unique personalities, ambitions and job functions – coming together to achieve that state of being we call teamwork.... Read More

How Thinking & Behavior Patterns Shape Your Culture

July 14, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

A person’s thinking and behavior patterns make them extremely predictable. That’s how you know certain employees are going to be late for work, that their projects will miss deadlines, and how they will react during a tough conversation. It’s why some people are detail oriented and highly organized while others are “big picture” and all over the place. It’s why some people work for a paycheck while others work to build a career and make a difference. It’s why some people fit your company culture and others do not.

For leaders, the challenge is to harness all those patterns of thinking and behavior into one highly functional and impressive tapestry. That tapestry is your company’s culture. Some patterns fit. Others don’t. Some patterns fade over time and need to be replaced. Some patterns act as support, holding things together. Some patterns lose their integrity causing the patterns that surround them to also lose theirs – that is, if you’re not paying attention.... Read More

Why the best business fix is rarely the first choice

June 30, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

potholeThe road to success is rarely a freshly paved superhighway. It’s more like an off-road trail that contrasts the easy stretches with obstacles, steep cliffs and, of course – lions and tigers and bears. Surviving the obstacles and hazards demands a good plan and the ability to adapt quickly should the plan go awry. And depending on the severity of the danger, sometimes the best plan is the toughest to execute. In do or die situations, you have to go with the best plan – no matter how tough it appears.

When things go wrong in business, decisions need to be made. Maybe it’s a crisis that’s been thrown at you, or a problem that has manifested over time into something big and ugly like excessive debt or payroll costs. The good news is that there is a fix for just about every business problem no matter how big and ugly it is. The bad news is that leaders often avoid the best and most thorough fix and run with the second best fix because it’s easier, faster, less controversial, will upset fewer people and will require less sacrifice. Translation: The second best fix is a quick fix that lacks the depth and potency to thoroughly rid the company of its big ugly problem. As a result, the problem resurfaces time and time again, as big and as ugly as ever.... Read More

Why some succeed and others do not

June 23, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

loserI’ve been coaching business owners and leaders for 40 years. I’ve written four books, one of which is an award-winner, on No-Compromise Leadership and business growth. It is a joy and deeply fulfilling to see leaders transform their companies from “OK” to being productive, efficient, and profitable – and vision/purpose driven. It’s even more rewarding to see leaders tenaciously and courageously leading their companies out of the fiery pits of cultural and financial hell to the daylight of teamwork, profits and cash reserves.

But yet… there are those that just can’t seem to find success – even when provided with a map and directions.... Read More

Consistency begins when Blown Plays stop

June 16, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

broken-play4In football, a “blown play” occurs when the original planned play fails to execute properly. The business equivalent of a “blown play” is when a system or procedure designed to create a specific outcome fails to come about the way it was planned. On the surface, blown plays are the result of inadequate training, preparation and communication. Go a little deeper and things like weak leadership, fragmented company culture and employee indifference add to the frequency and likelihood of blown plays.

The prime objective of leadership is consistency in execution. In my No-Compromise Leadership book, I give the following sequence:... Read More

Success in business is . . .

June 9, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

success_isWe dream about it. We fight for it. We put everything on the line for it. But what exactly is this thing called “success”? Success is often referred to as a destination, but if that is correct, how does one know if he or she has arrived? There aren’t any quantitative measurements that define success. There isn’t a GPS destination called success. And if success is so amazing, why are there people happy as could be that are barely getting by, while others have all the trappings of success and are miserable?

Business success is the ultimate enigma simply because you never know if it has truly been achieved. If you believe you have achieved success, there is always uncertainty as to its sustainability. A few miscalculations, distractions or bad decisions and your “success” can disappear in a heartbeat.... Read More

Leaders think and speak as WE

May 19, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

scullingIt doesn’t matter if your title is owner, president, CEO or fearless leader – you are responsible for the wellbeing, performance and growth of your company. Just like we humans, companies are born. Healthy ones grow and prosper creating opportunities for leaders, employees and stakeholders. Likewise, unhealthy companies can suffer and die. And, like humans, companies have vital signs that can be read in the form of Profit & Loss Statements, Balance Sheets and Statements of Cash Flows. Physically fit companies are disciplined, accountable and purpose driven. Weak and sickly companies are undisciplined, rarely get things done, and wander around aimlessly hoping to trip over success.... Read More

Thirteen No-Compromise Leadership Beliefs

April 14, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

trustWe have all seen leaders with diverse leadership styles who are successful at inspiring and creating dynamic team cultures. Some have charisma; some do not. Some seek consensus; some do not. Some have quick tempers, while others have great patience. However, what they all have in common are similar beliefs about people and what they can achieve given the right environment and culture. They recognize that the difference between ordinary people doing ordinary work and ordinary people doing extraordinary work is contingent on their leadership. They have a genuine commitment to the success and wellbeing of those they lead. Most important of all, people trust that the behavior they see in their leader is truly authentic because everything he does is consistent with his beliefs.... Read More

Understanding Drivers & Outcomes in Your Salon/Spa

April 7, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

At Strategies, every aspect of our business training and coaching is focused on what we call The Four Business Outcomes: productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer loyalty. Business success, and your success as a leader, is defined not only by the proficiency and mastery of each outcome, but by how equally you balance and synchronize The Four Business Outcomes. Think of each Outcome as one of the four powerful jet engines on a Boeing 747. Maximum efficiency and thrust to lift the 875,000 pound jetliner with over 500 passengers and cargo requires all four engines to be in sync. Should one engine underperform or fail, the performance and safety of the entire jetliner is compromised.

Outcomes are an end result. High productivity rates are an outcome. Impressive Balance Sheets and Profit & Loss Statements are outcomes. A unified and cohesive company culture with little employee turnover is an outcome. Fiercely loyal customers and high client retention rates are outcomes. In order to produce extraordinary outcomes, you’ve got to get the drivers right.... Read More

Ten Characteristics of a Successful Salon/Spa Business

March 24, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The best-of-the-best are committed to doing the “work” of business. They don’t avoid the stuff they don’t like or the tough stuff that defines a leader’s determination to win. Just like profitability, success is an outcome. Leaders and companies that master the disciplines of success stand out from their competition.

Using a simple grading system of 1 to 10 (10 being truly outstanding), each characteristic listed below establishes a benchmark that you can use to quickly assess the viability of any business … including yours. Using this approach, a score of 10 for each characteristic will yield a perfect score of 100.

Characteristic Number 1 – Leadership: First and foremost, the owner of a successful business functions as a businessperson. This means that the owner is engaged, accountable and drives performance by paying attention to the business. That being said, it’s easy to identify owners that are so engrossed in their non-leadership work that the business is essentially free-floating without direction, structure or systems. This is the equivalent of trying to run a business by remote control. It just doesn’t work.... Read More

Leading today into the unknown future

March 10, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

into_the_unknownThe one and only accurate prediction about the future is that it will happen. Exactly how it will happen is the unknown. You can create the most detailed plan for tomorrow, next week and the next few months, and reality may or may not play out precisely as you designed it. But it’s not supposed to. That’s the beauty of the future. You can shape it and influence it, but you can never control it. The key words here are “shape” and “influence.” The best leaders shape and influence the future. They adapt to and maneuver around the twists, turns and surprises they encounter along the way.... Read More

Is it time to hit the reset button?

February 10, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

reset_button1Achieving success is never a straight line. Mixed in with all the wins, leaps and bounds are setbacks, distractions and disappointments – perhaps even a crisis or two. Companies, and people, evolve over time into a collection of thinking and behavior that directly influences and impacts performance and quality. Even the most extraordinary leaders can only keep a company’s thinking and behavior in sync with its vision, mission and purpose for just so long.

Companies mature. Systems age. People and talent move on. Indifference finds its way into your culture. Sometimes, after being on your game for so long, you just want to say, “I’m tired.” It’s the simple process of evolution and time where the one absolute is that life and business are in states of perpetual change. You have to go with it, lead it and manage it. And every now and then, when change gets too far ahead of you and your company…you need to hit the “Reset” button.... Read More

Finding your leadership voice

February 3, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

There are a multitude of personality and leadership style assessments you can consult to provide insights into how you process information and react in various situations. Some leaders are open and direct – they take command, solve problems and fix things. They’re comfortable being in control. But none of this guarantees that these leaders can build dynamic cultures, inspire others and earn loyalty and respect. Open and direct can easily translate into “command and control” leadership and micromanagement. Other leaders are closed and indirect – they share little and struggle with leadership communication. They avoid confrontation. In stressful situations, they retreat.

Between open and direct, and closed and indirect, there are endless combinations of thinking and behaviors. There are leaders that lead with their hearts and emotions. There are leaders that are relentless taskmasters. There are leaders that capture the imaginations of those they lead. There are coaching leaders, hands-off leaders, trusting leaders and distrusting leaders. At the other end of this conglomeration of thinking and behavior emerges your leadership voice. It’s what others hear and react to either positively or negatively.... Read More

Your version of success

January 27, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

your_success_version3There are many interpretations and opinions of the meaning of success. It’s such a simple little word – success – yet it can represent the entirety of one’s life-long quest to achieve it. It’s like a thirst that cannot be quenched and a hunger that can rarely, if ever, be satisfied. Be it wealth, independence, status or the right to control your own destiny, true success is very personal and therefore, very complex. Only you can decide where and how high to set your bar for success … and how committed you are to achieving it.

I believe success is the desire to achieve something that you’re intensely passionate about and emotionally invested in. Something you are willing to sacrifice for. Something so worthy that you are willing to put yourself into the most uncomfortable situations to develop, test and hone your abilities. I pity those that have “success” handed to them because it is the journey that defines you, builds character and allows you to truly appreciate what you’ve earned.... Read More

True business success … or just an illusion

January 20, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

success_illusionI’ve worked with businesses that, by all outward appearances, were enjoying great success. They possess good brand identities, impressive customer lists, great looking facilities, cool equipment (gotta have cool stuff) and all of the other trappings of an otherwise successful business. Their owners drive fine cars and live in impressive houses in just the right neighborhoods. But one look behind the curtain at their financial realities reveals that these companies’ successes are more illusion than fact.

I’ve seen too many of these outwardly successful businesses that are starved for cash or on the brink of financial collapse. The most desperate are financially insolvent – they don’t have the cash to meet payroll, pay the bills or make payments on their bank loans. The emotional stress can be crushing. Sadly, almost every one of these dire and stressful situations can be attributed to leadership’s detachment from the financial reality of the business. A leader who is not fiscally responsible permits that thinking and behavior to infect and define the very culture of the company. That “just keep selling – we’ll be OK” rationale is pure denial at its best. It’s like announcing that the train won’t crash while not knowing what track you’re on, where it’s going or where it ends. Only your financials tell you if the light at the end of the tunnel is daylight or an oncoming train.... Read More

Be prepared to be uncomfortable

January 6, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

gorillaI receive Chris Carmichael’s “Weekend Reading” cycling coaching email. (Chris Carmichael is a retired professional cyclist, cycling coach, author and founder of Carmichael Training Systems … www.trainright.com.) Writing about long-distance endurance cycling, Chris lead off his latest “Weekend Reading” with this kick-ass statement: “Endurance sports are about suffering. If you want to get better, you have to be prepared to be uncomfortable.” This statement resonated with me because of how it correlates not only with cycling, but with business too. I asked Chris if I could use the quote in my MMWU and he said, “Yes.”... Read More

Ten No-Compromise Resolutions for 2014

December 30, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

2014_resolution2Here we are at the end of 2013. The New Year is a time for reflection on what was and looking forward to what will be. For Strategies, 2013 was an amazing and record-breaking year. It was also our 20th anniversary that we celebrated with parties in Chicago, Austin and at Strategies Business Academy in Centerbrook, CT – all at the same time. Using Skype video, I thanked my amazing team and Coaches for helping me change the lives of business owners around the country. And what better way to wrap up our 20th year than having the honor to be on the cover of Salon Today magazine with a feature story on Strategies? It was truly an amazing year.... Read More

How to dream big and not get in your own way

December 9, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

dream_bigAs kids, we dream about what we will be when we grow up without restriction. Our imaginations are free to explore whatever excites us and feels right. We dream of being cowboys, astronauts, movie stars, doctors, action heroes and more. As we age, our dreams narrow in focus to career and life goals. Reality and life have a funny and most efficient way of taking dreams off the table – or filtering how big and how bold our new dreams can be. As leader of your own company, allowing your dreams to be stifled or snuffed out is the precursor to stagnation and, even worse, becoming irrelevant.

Dreams are your BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) for you and your company. Dreams fuel your curiosity about the opportunities that exist beyond the horizon. Dreams keep you innovating and perfecting. Dreams feed your passion to stand out in a crowded marketplace of ordinary and they keep you striving to achieve your full potential. Why would anyone want to dream less – or not at all? (more…)... Read More

Are you managing your legacy?

December 2, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

legacyA box I had been waiting for arrived at Strategies. It contained a hundred copies of the November/December issue of Salon Today magazine. And there I was – on the cover of each and every issue. It was great to finally see which photo the editors selected for the cover. I was delighted with the choice and the layout. I’ve never been on the cover of a magazine or the focus of a feature article. Gazing at this pile of magazines on the conference room table created a strange mixture of pride, accomplishment and a deep sense of humbleness as 40+ years of hard work flashed through my mind. Through an array of emotions, one word kept surfacing – “legacy.”... Read More

Salon/Spa Financial Literacy: Why I Am Concerned

November 18, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

This blog post is for all leaders.

It doesn’t matter how new, old, small or large your salon/spa is, financial literacy matters.


Because too many leaders think they can run profitable companies without paying attention to their financial reports.

As a company that is coaching and teaching salon/spa owners every day, we are consistently finding that owners and leaders cannot answer the most critical … and simple … financial questions.

And this is not a new phenomenon. But this consistent exposure through our coaching and training work, and over hundreds of complimentary coaching sessions by Strategies coaches and myself has us seeing red flags flying all over the place. ... Read More

Set Your Salon/Spa Managers Up to Win

November 11, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Mastering the skills, disciplines and nuances of leadership is a lifelong journey of personal discovery, learning from tough lessons and savoring hard-fought wins. For the owner, entrepreneur and company leader, it’s about having the tenacity to test your limits of determination and commitment to grow a company into something truly extraordinary. Perhaps the single best word to describe leadership is “driven.”

Leadership moves at a relentless pace and managers, when called upon, are expected to rise to the challenge and execute the work of the company. Even with the best intentions, it’s not uncommon for managers to find themselves in over their heads. Too often, managers find themselves on the front lines with goals to achieve, projects to implement, teams to lead … and lacking essential tools in their management toolbox.
... Read More

12 No-Compromise Leadership defining moments

November 4, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

In my book, No-Compromise Leadership, I make the case that leadership is defined by one’s thinking and behavior. It’s about how leaders react to uncomfortable and challenging situations. It’s about personal commitment to do whatever it takes to grow and protect the company, its culture and its brand. More than anything, leadership is about personal growth and achieving one’s full potential so that the company can achieve the same.

There are no absolutes in leadership. Great leaders can crumble under stress. Great leaders can make questionable choices that jeopardize the security of the company and its employees. Simply put, all leaders are susceptible to human emotions, fears and self-doubt. By getting their thinking and behavior right, a leader stands the best chance of working through challenges and going the distance. Self-awareness and self-governance are cherished qualities of the No-Compromise Leader.... Read More

What does BUT WE ARE DOING OKAY really mean?

October 14, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

ambivalentGrowing a business and achieving extraordinary results is inherently dependent on the leader’s current state of mind, sense of urgency, level of confidence, and willingness to step out of his or her comfort zone. As a leadership coach and business trainer, my job is to serve as a guide for implementing change and, most importantly, to push leaders out of their comfy-cozy comfort zones. But when business problems are identified and the leader’s response is a wimpy, “But we’re doing OK,” compromise wins and growth opportunities move further beyond reach.... Read More

Twenty lessons from 20 years of Strategies

September 16, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

kick-butt2It was twenty years ago on September 13, 1993 that I started Strategies. It’s amazing how memories and flashbacks come rushing back at these milestones. And that’s exactly how I view Strategies’ 20th anniversary… as a milestone. It’s time to look back at the accomplishments, enlightenments, wins, losses, and of course, the lessons I have learned as the founder and CEO of my own company.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for understanding how business works and what it truly means to be a leader. In many ways, I started Strategies to create the perfect job that would allow me to achieve my full potential by feeding the passions that drive me. It’s been one hell of a ride and just so we’re all clear, my ride is far from over. Yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished at Strategies, but I have yet to achieve my full potential. There are a few more books to write, a ton of classes to teach, and many more leaders to coach. (more…)... Read More

Why owners have 360˚ vision – and others don’t

September 2, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

360_vision2Call it a blessing or a curse that owners can walk into their companies and instantaneously – like some futuristic omnidirectional science probe – identify a hit list of issues that need fixing NOW. They see items where they shouldn’t be, employees doing what they shouldn’t be doing, clients waiting for attention, and dirt that is clearly invisible to everyone else’s eyes but their own. While some owners truly believe that they possess supernatural 360˚ vision, most simply wish that others could see obvious issues and take action without being told.

There is a deep emotional component to 360˚ vision that is both good and bad. From a pride, quality, and leadership standpoint, it just makes sense that owners pay more attention to the details. The process keeps everyone awake and engaged while maintaining a healthy sense of urgency. But when 360˚ vision begins to feed obsessive-compulsive behavior, things can get ugly. It’s no longer about instilling pride and quality thinking and behavior; it’s about looking for everything that’s wrong. It’s about catching people doing something wrong, and that’s not leadership.... Read More

The three rules of implementing change

August 26, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

make_happenIn business and life, it is a given that change is relentless – that adapting to change is not only the key to success but essential for survival. Yet, implementing change, even minor change, is seldom met with open arms. The constant companion of change is resistance. Let’s face it – it can be difficult to let go of what has become comfortable, familiar, and predictable and step out into the unknown. We humans are simply creatures of habit. We love our routines. When we encounter change, we get uncomfortable and begin working as quickly as possible to adapt to change so that it becomes routine and comfortable again.... Read More

12 Characteristics of the Ideal Salon/Spa Manager

August 12, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 14 Comments

Savvy leaders surround themselves with great managers.

It’s the simple theory of divide and conquer…As a company grows, the leader’s job and responsibilities must evolve, too. Leading a start-up often has the leader working in the trenches to push the company to financial sustainability.

In contrast, leading a mature company with all the various departments and functionalities requires organizational charts and levels of management.

The leader of a multi-million dollar company has a very different set of issues to contend with than an entrepreneurial start-up.

The bigger your company gets, the more your role changes – the more you need to depend on your inner circle of managers to keep things moving in the right direction.

The problem with hiring a manager is that you’re not always sure what you’re getting. Some are good taskmasters but lack people skills. Some managers love the title more than the work. Others procrastinate, avoid problems, and lack initiative. So what exactly do the characteristics of the ideal manager look like?... Read More

Five things to know about Job Descriptions

August 5, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

job_descriptions2Job descriptions are one of those business tools, like policy manuals, that belong in every company. It simply makes sense that every job comes with a written description of expectations of what success in that specific position looks like. But job descriptions are nothing more than an outline or an overview – not a complete reference guide with step-by-step instructions. Still, as a leader you cannot underestimate the importance of having job descriptions, nor can you overestimate their functionality.

Interestingly, the only job description I have ever had is the one I wrote for myself as president of Strategies. It was an enlightening exercise because it forced me to compartmentalize my work into functional areas like leadership, financial, sales, curriculum development, writing, training, and coaching. The process made me zoom out and take a 30,000-foot view of my job and the work that I do. I recommend that every leader go through this process – and not just once, but regularly over the years.... Read More

What are you doing now that’s extraordinary?

July 15, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Extraordinary always stands out in a sea of ordinary. Where ordinary requires minimal commitment, achieving extraordinary demands 100% dedication to doing whatever it takes to get to the top. Many people, and companies, are OK with being ordinary and performing just good enough to get by. Ordinary doesn’t take that much effort and it’s certainly less stressful than the alternative; it’s like fast food served in a culture of minimal expectation. Conversely, extraordinary is like a fine-dining experience served in a culture of the most demanding expectations.

In business, achieving extraordinary is one thing – but maintaining it is where the real work of leadership, accountability, systems, culture building, and refinement are put to the test. It’s comparable to an Olympic athlete who trains for years to achieve peak performance for that one moment on the world stage. Once training stops, peak performance diminishes. Being the best and staying the best demands discipline, commitment, and tenacity.... Read More

When employees quit you

July 1, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

quitI did two breakout sessions at the Harms Experience last week in Scottsdale, AZ. Sunday’s class was on “Plugging Opportunity Leaks in Your Company,” and Monday’s session covered “How to Get Employees to do Great Things.” Both sessions are elements of my No-Compromise Leadership training. As always, my mission is to get leaders to examine their leadership thinking and behavior and how it shapes their company’s culture.

Near the end of Sunday’s session, I was asked a very familiar yet unsettling question: “As an employee, what do you do when it’s your leader that’s doing damage to the culture?” Instantly, a few more attendees chimed in, their hands shooting up with elaborations on that same question. In all cases, these employees were passionate about their work and their companies. They loved the team they worked with, and…despite what their leaders have put them through… they remain fiercely loyal. However, the bottom line in these cases is always the same: working for leaders that fail to see the damage they inflict on their own companies eventually drives amazing employees to quit. (more…)... Read More

Ten fixes to plug the opportunity leaks in your company

June 24, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

leaksbEvery company suffers those annoying leaks that sap momentum and energy. Anemic productivity, poorly designed systems, product waste, attitude issues, and uncontrolled spending can keep your company from achieving its full potential. Opportunity leaks won’t necessarily kill your company…but they will keep it frustrating to lead and grow, cash starved, and performing at or below average.

If you’re in business, you’re in business to win. That means being on your game as a leader. It means understanding the rules and disciplines of business. Otherwise, you’re playing to be average and that just doesn’t make sense. This isn’t rocket science. You can tell when a business is winning and profitable. Likewise, you tell when a business is struggling, constantly springing leaks, and getting in its own way. Like a ship, a business can’t get up to cruising speed when it’s taking on water. Winning businesses seize opportunities for improvement. When leaks do occur, they’re quickly identified and effectively sealed. (more…)... Read More

Why individual incentives compromise team performance

June 3, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

As a leader, you are responsible for harnessing and orchestrating the talents and capabilities of employees into a high performance team. To do so requires an ongoing commitment to training, coaching, evaluating, mentoring, and inspiring individuals to achieve their full potential – so in turn, your team can achieve its full potential. Yes, people work for money, but studies consistently show that money is not the prime motivator for job satisfaction and impressive performance.

Individual financial incentives motivate employees in the short-term picture, but emphasizing financial rewards leads employees to focus on personal gain at the expense of teamwork. Avoiding the short-term and producing the right outcomes over the long-term requires preparation. This means planning, discipline, and execution. Preparation shapes and defines your company’s culture. Preparation pulls a team together into a cohesive entity capable of achieving the extraordinary. It’s about the team, pride, quality, and winning. (more…)... Read More

What it really takes to be the best

May 27, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

the_bestGrowing a great company has nothing to do with luck. It has to do with your leadership ability to surround yourself with the best players; to innovate, execute, and make good decisions; and to manage cash while capitalizing on opportunities. Throw in a healthy dose of accountability and being the best just may be within your reach. And if you do become the best, you’ll quickly discover that it takes just as much hard work to stay at the top of the game as it did to get there in the first place.

Every company starts out wanting to be the best, but things happen along the way that keep pushing that coveted title further and further beyond your reach. A few years of bad decisions, cash-flow challenges, and dealing with toxic employees can sap a leader’s mojo and self-confidence. When a company’s thinking and behavior is stuck on average – i.e. not actively pursuing the extraordinary – the outcome, as expected, will continue to be average. (more…)... Read More

Leading is about believing in people

May 13, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

believe_inBeing the leader of a business is perhaps one of the most complex, rewarding, and often brutally frustrating professions. Leaders are constantly held accountable, subjected to relentless demands, and must always be at the top of their game. A true leader works tirelessly to drive the Four Business Outcomes: productivity, profitability, staff retention, and customer loyalty. But when you peel away all of the trappings of leadership, what it really comes down to is believing in people – and that’s where things start to get interesting.

A leader’s job is to achieve results through the work of others. They keep people and teams on task. They maintain order, direction, and momentum. But would you want to work for a leader who is solely driven by the numbers, in an organization where people are simply the means to an end? In turn, would you want to be that kind of leader? You will get your results, but at what cost to those you lead; and at what cost to the work environment, or company culture? (more…)... Read More

Six Strategies to Find More Time

May 6, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Our lives are consumed with deadlines, “to do” lists, emails, deleting spam, meetings, interruptions, urgent problems, family … and that spectacular bucket list of things you want to check off before you check out. We all know that time is precious. It simply ticks by and cannot be recaptured. Nothing drives this reality home better than remembering that our time in this world is finite – not infinite.

It’s virtually impossible for leaders to be immune from time management challenges. Stuff happens and you need to lead in the moment. The world around you relentlessly tries to invade and capture bits and pieces of your time. Guess what? You do the same to those around you. It’s what leaders do. All it takes is for someone to say, “I need to speak to you for a minute,” and before you know it, half a day has passed and you are thrown completely off schedule.... Read More

Six strategies to create a culture of accountability

April 22, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

This Monday Morning Wake-Up is for everyone – not just leaders. In its simplest form, accountability means taking ownership. You take ownership as a leader to grow your company, create opportunities for others, and ensure fiscal health. You take ownership of projects, situations, and outcomes. You take ownership in your behavior and the behavior of others. You take ownership when the wrong outcomes occur – even if not directly involved – because it happened on your watch. Accountability is about getting the right stuff done when it needs to get done. No blame. No excuses.

Take a moment to imagine what your company’s performance would be like if it was built on a culture of accountability. What would productivity look like? What would profitability look like? What would staff retention look like? Most important, what would client loyalty look like? Without a doubt, your company would be leaner, faster, and fiercely competitive. That’s the good news. The bad news is that too many companies give a lot of lip service to accountability but fall short of the level of commitment and execution needed to create a culture of ownership in their companies. As a result, creating distance between status quo and extraordinary performance is painfully and incrementally slow. (more…)... Read More

Six simple questions to test the health of your company

April 8, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

stethoscopeCompanies are very much like people. They are born from a union of ideas; they experience all of the awkward phases of learning to walk and develop basic skills; and hopefully, they grow up with much success. Like people, companies can catch colds – they face obstacles in health when it comes to performance issues, cash-flow challenges, and other problems that surface unexpectedly. Companies need to work out to stay strong and lean rather than heavy and lethargic. Companies can get sick and die.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to protect and ensure the health and vitality of your company. That being said, you are also the one who is ultimately responsible for making your company sick through bad decision-making, procrastination, allowing the company’s culture to deteriorate, poor cash management, and a host of other faux pas that leaders notoriously self-inflict.... Read More

Set employees up to win – not fail

April 1, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

simplifyEmployees get set up to fail more often than you think. It’s never done intentionally – it just happens. Tasks are poorly defined. Desired results are sketchy. The chain of command looks like a pile of broken links. Training is inconsistent and inadequate. There are leaders that actually expect employees to know what they’re thinking … and to execute their nonverbal commands perfectly.

Some employees try their best to deliver what they perceive they were charged to do and get chewed out when their performance doesn’t match unspoken expectations. Others give it half an effort knowing they can’t win. The end result is always a demoralized team and de-powered culture that is capable of so much more. Once a pattern of getting set up to fail settles into a company’s culture, getting things done takes more time, money, and resources. The company springs leaks that it cannot plug up fast enough.... Read More

Leading with blinders on

March 4, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

blindersLeaders have a unique ability to see what they want to see in their companies. They see their people working away yet never see the mounting frustration their approach to leadership is causing. As a result, trust erodes. Fiercely loyal employees begin to lose hope. Contamination spreads through the company’s culture. In coaching, the most difficult task of all is getting a leader to see that he or she is the root cause of what ails the company.

It’s not unusual for me to receive emails from employees reaching out for help with a leader who has run amuck. The following email typifies how quietly destructive a leader with blinders on can be to the very company they and their employees love.... Read More

Chasing Freedom

February 25, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

If you think about it, it’s a fascinating dichotomy how entrepreneurs throw their blood sweat, tears, and pretty much everything else into building their dream company – all while chasing the ultimate goal of freedom. Lets do a little reality check here: you work an insane numbers of hours, take on inhuman levels of stress, and bet your ASSets, all to be free to do the things you want to do – if you can ever find the time. Sounds pretty crazy when you really look at it, but I’m right there with you chasing my version of freedom.

Contrary to popular belief, this “chasing freedom” thing really isn’t about escaping your company to travel the world, live in a cabin by a lake, pursue your hobbies, or be with family. It’s about the freedom to chase your dreams and reach your full potential. It’s about the freedom to truly test the limits of your abilities – and to do it on your own terms. Yes, this chasing freedom thing is as profound as it is life changing. (more…)... Read More

There is no app for leadership

February 18, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

no_appThere’s an app for just about everything, so wouldn’t it be nice if there was an app for leadership? It could tell when you’re not paying attention, make decisions for you, handle your fierce conversations, and play a special ring tone when you should stop talking and listen. It could negotiate contracts, leases, and other deals for you. It could keep you from overspending so you stay on budget. It could even motivate your team to achieve extraordinary levels of productivity and excellence. An app for leadership would certainly have its advantages, but would you really discipline yourself to use it?... Read More

How to turn profit into cash

February 11, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

cash_machineOne of the great mysteries in business is why profit isn’t cash. Well, it’s not really a mystery – profit is more like an abstraction that requires further interpretation to fully understand its meaning. We can all agree that creating profit is a good thing and that negative profit (loss) is a bad thing. However, the mind games begin when there is profit but no money in the checking account. And why don’t you go out of business when your profit and loss statements keep showing negative profit? The answer is simple: profit isn’t cash. Hmmm … perhaps it is a mystery after all.... Read More

The quest for the right decision

February 4, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

decisionAs a leader, it’s your job to make decisions – the right decisions. The problem with this statement is that it is inherently flawed. If leaders are supposed to make the right decisions, why are so many decisions bad or riddled with consequences? The process of leadership decision making is subject to a complex array of fears, perceptions, opinions, relationships, egos, bad data, misinterpretations, and other factors. In the end, most leadership decisions fall into a category known as “WAGs” – wild-ass guesses.

Some leaders spew out decisions like a general leading an army while others obsess over every decision to the point where, should a decision ever come, it’s too little too late. Your approach to decision making is unique to you and how you process situations, data, opportunities, threats, and the world around you. Make more of the right decisions and you’ll be recognized as a great leader and businessperson. Make too many bad decisions and you’re out of a job and/or out of business. (more…)... Read More

Feed the Passion – Feed the Numbers

January 28, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

passion“When you’re in business, the numbers are everything.” Well, that statement is not exactly accurate. True, a business needs to generate sales to survive and thrive. Also true, a business must manage cash flow and drive its critical numbers. The problem is that numbers are cold hard facts – and leaders that are all about driving numbers can be pretty cold too. If all that employees hear is the daily hammering away at “hitting the numbers,” those very numbers can and will become a point of contention that demotivate staff, rather than encourage them to perform in the best way they can. Numbers are simply goals, measurements, and outcomes. Something else gives the numbers life. It’s simply called passion.... Read More

Grow your company first, not individuals

January 14, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

growthMy premise is simple: a company cannot offer growth opportunities for its employees if it isn’t growing strongly and competitively itself – or at least heading with intent in a growth direction. As a leader, your focus must always be on growing the company. To do so, you must assemble a dynamic team that is likewise locked into growing the company. Of course, you must recruit and cultivate new talent as well, but your job is not to grow individuals in ways that compromise the culture and integrity of the company. (See last week’s MMWU on “Hostage Management.”)

One could argue that if you grow individuals, you grow the company. Although I agree that growing individuals grows the company, the question is how a leader approaches this process. There is an inherent problem when systems focus an individual’s effort to grow at the expense of the company, the team and the culture. It is for this very reason that I have never been a fan of commission compensation based on “individual sales” rather than overall performance and behaviors. Damn if I’d ever pay for a bad attitude, resistance to change, ignoring rules, lack of teamwork, poor client retention and other issues that commission pay can’t address. (more…)... Read More

Change begins with a spark

December 10, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Your business has been performing in a pretty lackluster way for too long. You’ve been getting increasingly frustrated until – ZAP – you’ve had enough. You’ve been bored and not fully engaged in your business. Because you can’t figure out what you want to do, your business doesn’t know what to do, and it’s showing – ZAP – you’ve had enough. These are just two common scenarios where unacceptable situations generate enough energy to ZAP you with the spark that initiates the need to change.

Change shakes things up. Change is like a blast of fresh cold air that grabs everyone’s attention. Change is new, exciting, and scary because the outcome is uncertain. It doesn’t matter how detailed the plan is, stuff happens on the road of change that cannot be predicted. It is for this very reason that change begins with a spark. In order to get you to move into the unknown, to push you out of your comfort zone, you need a spark – a ZAP. The question is, how much of a ZAP does it take to get you to initiate change?... Read More

Five reasons why some projects fly and others crash

November 26, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

New projects or initiatives are interesting little devils. I refer to them as devils because you never know when they are going to turn on you and bite you in the butt. You can plan them out until every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed and still have them blow up on you. In contrast, there are those projects that went from their entrepreneurial epiphany to their launch, and beyond, in what seemed like a nanosecond with no glitches whatsoever. There are reasons why some projects fly and others crash and burn. In the tradition of every MMWU I write, the reason has everything to do with leadership. (more…)... Read More

Mother Nature empowers No-Compromise Leadership

November 5, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

I’ve lived in Old Saybrook, CT, for over 32 years. It is a small town bordered on the east by the Connecticut River and the south by Long Island Sound. When Nor’Easters or hurricanes come barreling through here, the wind, rain and high tides take a terrible toll. Just before Labor Day 2011, Hurricane Irene inflicted severe damage on shoreline homes and businesses. One in particular was the Dock and Dine Restaurant at Saybrook Point.

Dock and Dine is a local landmark situated right on the Connecticut River; they have been offering fine seafood and magnificent water views for over 70 years. Irene’s heavy wind gusts, turrets of rain and storm surges destroyed the popular docks in front of the building, ripped off the roof and swamped the eatery with 18 inches of water. After 12 months of extensive renovations, Dock and Dine reopened two months ago on August 24th. Last Monday, Hurricane Sandy flooded and pounded the restaurant once again. The owner had work crews in the next day cleaning up the mess. That’s determination. That’s no-compromise leadership. (more…)... Read More

Simple is better

October 22, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

I was flying home from Chicago last Wednesday enjoying my first-class upgrade. Across the aisle and one row up, was a sharp looking businessman working away on a PowerPoint presentation. I’m not in the habit of watching other people’s computer screens, but this one grabbed my attention. I could not read the words, but the slide layouts are what got me. Every slide was loaded with details in boxes with arrows and callouts. There were multiple slides exploding on each level of a massive organization chart. There were complex graphs loaded with text. And as he scrolled through the slide deck, that presentation had to be at least 80 slides long. I thought to myself, “This guy is methodically preparing to bore a room full of innocent people to death.”... Read More

Success is about showing up

October 15, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

One thing I’ve learned in my 62 years is that success never seeks you out. Success is about as indifferent and unemotional as it gets. It doesn’t give a hoot about your dreams and vision of what success means to you. It doesn’t care if you’re wildly successful today and lose it all tomorrow. Success is never in a rush. Success is just this extraordinary state that allows people, companies and organizations to bask in its glow and glory for as long or as little as they choose. There’s only one rule; show up and play to win. Otherwise, get out of the way.

I’ve been teaching, writing and coaching business and leadership for 40 years. I’ve had my share of successes and failures – but I keep showing up and keep trying to get better. When I look at my calendar and see keynotes, classes and consulting dates, I know that each and every one of them happens because of showing up and working hard. Speaker inquiries and coaching requests don’t happen by sitting around and hoping the phone rings. (more…)... Read More

Six critical lessons for creating profit

October 8, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

Profit is a strange little beast. Leaders fight for it – and obsess over it – but profit doesn’t mean cash in the bank. It’s like profit is some sort of sick mind game where you can be profitable and broke at the same time. Even crazier is that profit can be negative for extended periods and you’re still in business. And the ultimate body blow is when you have to pay taxes profit even though there’s little or no cash. Clearly it’s better to show a profit than a loss, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could get some control over that little beast?

The good news is that you can control that little beast if you follow these six no-compromise lessons: (more…)... Read More

Success and the Factor of TEN

October 1, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

In last week’s installment I wrote, “A leader must want to succeed ten times more than those they lead.” Take a moment to really feel the meaning and depth of those words. Wanting success to the Factor of TEN is the energy that transforms a leader doing a job into a No-Compromise Leader. It transcends ordinary to extraordinary. It’s that level of leadership that captivates followers and lifts them all to that elusive next level. It’s when action and results replace words and promises. It’s all in the Factor of TEN.

As leaders, we all want to succeed, but by a factor of what? Would you feel inspired and empowered following a leader with a factor of two? How clear and precise would the vision be? Would there a shared determination to achieve breakthroughs, or would average be good enough? During a coaching call with a client, I asked, “What is your biggest concern?” He responded, “Motivating my team.” I then explained my Factor of TEN concept. The conversation quickly shifted from productivity and sales to creating extraordinary customer service experiences – about lighting up each and every customer’s day. (more…)... Read More

Why your chaos becomes everyone’s chaos

September 10, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Much like a bag of mixed nuts and dried fruit, leaders are a mixed bag of thinking and behaviors. Some leader’s bags have more organization and discipline nuts, while others have an abundance of high vision/low detail raisons and dried bananas. Still others have an amazing assortment of complex nuts, fruit and yogurt-coated goodies making it so impossible to select just one that executing a handful of everything just makes sense. In the end, the leadership thinking and behaviors in your bag are unique to you – and that’s why leaders can drive those they lead nuts.... Read More

Where’s that fire in your gut?

August 27, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 10 Comments

No. I’m not referring to heartburn. I’m referring to that deepest level of passion that pushes you to fight for what you believe in, to achieve your wildest dreams – to captivate the imagination and spirit of those around you. If quantum physics is about manifesting thoughts into things, passion is about personal conviction and energy to achieve the extraordinary. Without passion, manifesting is nothing more than daydreaming. When I get an idea that ignites and feeds my deepest passion, get out of my way because something big is going happen. You can join me on my journey if you’re committed to work hard and go the distance. Stay home if you’re looking for an easy ride.... Read More

Social media for salons and spas Part 3

August 24, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Five best practices to keep followers engaged

In parts one and two of this three-part series, I touched upon the importance of jumping into the social mediasphere, as well as some basic policies and procedures to protect the interests and reputation of your salon or spa’s brand. This week, I’d like to wrap up this discussion by sharing five best practices for salon/spa social media efforts. Just because someone has “liked” or “followed” your social campaign, doesn’t mean they will anxiously read every post/tweet from here to eternity. On the contrary, they will quickly tune out if your message isn’t relavant and concise.

Here are five best practices to keep followers engaged in your salon or spa’s social media efforts:

  1. Value and Interest: When posting to your blog, Twitter or Facebook, ask yourself if your content adds value and interest to the discussion. Make sure your comment, post or tweet is a valued piece of information.
  2. Personality: In the social media realm, you are encouraged to use your own voice and bring your personality to the forefront. The web is a venue that is relaxed, open and diverse — embrace it. A voice that is over-institutionalized and rehearsed can repel your audience.
  3. Planning: Putting in place a social media calendar of sorts for the year can help to organize you on how to cross promote your material and the times of year when you know you will have big events and may want to do extra posts. Also think about who on your team would be the best person to handle your social media needs and whether that is one person or multiple people. Make sure you are consistently contributing  content. You donʼt want to let your followers down by only posting a couple times a year.
  4. Join The Conversation: Listening and responding to your fans/followers through social media sites is just as important as posting information. Make sure you are responding to posts and questions from your followers and fans. Being a part of the conversation already happening about your company shows you care and creates community. Also realize that it isnʼt just about you are saying, it is also about the connections your fans/followers are making to other fans/followers through your site.
  5. Be Brief And Link When Possible: Ideally, posts should be very brief, redirecting visitors to content that resides on another site. Whenever possible, link back to the company’s website.

I hope this three-part series has shed some light on the very sensitive subject of social media and the salon/spa workplace. ... Read More

Why problems never fix themselves

July 16, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Leading a company in these crazy economic times is like riding a roller coaster complete with exhilarating highs and hang-on-for-your-life lows. There are even moments when you realize that there are things going on in your company that are out of your control. The larger your company, the more moving parts it has that can break down, shut down or spin out of control. Those moving parts that don’t function according to plan are called problems. And the dirty little secret about problems is that they never cooperate or help you out by fixing themselves.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes from simple quick fixes to nuclear meltdowns. They can be caused by mechanical failure, human error, or both. They can be caused by cash-flow challenges, disgruntled or indifferent employees, poor information flow, lack of inspiration and by leaders that have disengaged and checked out. Outside sources, like competitors, market conditions, and bad weather, can also throw a wrench into your operations. The simple truth is that problems are like viruses – once they attach themselves to some part of your company, they spread like wildfire.... Read More

Who ‘owns’ the customer?

June 22, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Recently, I went shopping at a local mall. A sales associate approached me to ask if I needed help. I told her what I was looking for. She immediately came back with knowledgeable recommendations. After trying on the selections, she asked if I’d like to shop some more, which I did. So far, so good.

As I was walking through the store, another salesperson offered assistance. “Wow,” I thought, “they really have this team-service concept down.” And that’s when it happened.

The first salesperson came over and scolded the second one for helping me! He left, embarrassed, without another word to me. I somehow had changed from “valued customer” to “instigator.” It left a very bad taste in my mouth, especially as I knew that once I left, that second associate would probably be further reamed out – all for the “sin” of trying to help a customer. Trust me, my desire to purchase new clothes plummeted after the incident!... Read More

How to harness the power of momentum

May 14, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

True forward momentum pushes through any obstacle. It has an implied efficiency because once an object achieves a certain level of forward momentum, it requires less energy to maintain that speed. By connecting the physics of an object in motion (a piece of matter) to a business in motion (an idea/concept), you gain a unique perspective on how momentum can work for a business.

A start-up business requires massive amounts of energy to gain enough forward momentum to sustain itself. Once it achieves a level of sustainable momentum, you can dial back the throttle a bit and allow “physics” to work for you. In essence, the leader is “piloting” the business by adjusting throttle to maintain its forward momentum. Achieve a certain level and the company can easily break through obstacles such as competitors, cash crises, loss of key employees, bad decisions and other issues. However, every obstacle the company breaks through chips away at its momentum. If the leader fails to throttle up the company’s sense of urgency to overcome the obstacles in its way, it will lose its energy and eventually stall. (more…)... Read More

Five strategies for staying focused on customer service

April 16, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You’re in a restaurant, waiting for someone to take your drink order. Scanning the room, you see plenty of employees. Finally, the waiter arrives and takes your order. You’re hungry and would like some of that bread that the party at the next table, who were seated after you, is enjoying. After a long wait the drinks arrive, and you order dinner (still no bread). The long wait and empty water glasses are in stark contrast to this restaurant’s reputation. You finish your meal and just want to go home. Now you’re waving your napkin trying to catch your waiter’s eye for the check. To avoid having to wait a minute longer, you have your credit card out to give the waiter when you ask for the check. Great food. Bad service. Zero peripheral vision.... Read More

Accomplish more

November 7, 2011 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

If your to-do list is as long as your arm and growing every day, the problem might be that you just don’t have a system for getting things done. Sometimes, making a list serves as a substitute for actually doing anything!

Get started on crossing things off your list – and not just adding to it – with the following tips:

  • Decide what really needs to be done. This goes beyond just jotting minutiae down on paper or using a computer-based task-listing program. It’s about figuring out what tasks are important to the operation of your business. If it truly needs to get done, write it down. Otherwise, when things get busy, too many things get lost in the shuffle. If it’s not necessary, maybe it’s time to let it go.
  • Build a plan. This includes the steps needed to get to the goal. It may be as a simple as a phone call or two, or as complicated as planning for an expansion. The more detailed your plan, the more likely that it will come to fruition. Include anticipated costs as part of your plan, as well as timelines. If there aren’t dates assigned to every step, things will fall through the cracks.
  • Assign tasks. Make sure everyone knows what their assignments are and when they’re due. Even if they’re ongoing tasks, they’ll need due dates. Set parameters for completion, such as the budget for a project or the end result you’re seeking. Leave the “how to get there” up to the staff member, whenever possible. Be clear on who’s responsible and don’t assume that “somebody” will just do it.
  • Be flexible. Unexpected issues, from a broken washing machine to the flu taking out your staff, are bound to happen. Look at the big picture. You won’t accomplish everything all the time. With a well-thought-out list, you will achieve key tasks and most everything else. When crises do occur, your staff will already be used to chipping in and being part of the solution.
  • Celebrate the completion of tasks. For bigger projects, celebrate the achievement of steps along the way. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what’s left to do. Take a moment and say thank you. Be encouraging and appreciative. When things are at their most stressful, be sure to take a moment to acknowledge the efforts of your staff. And, don’t forget the day-to-day efforts that make your business run efficiently.

A business is made up of countless tasks, sometimes a seemingly insurmountable number. When you break down the work into steps – and enlist your staff as allies – your to-do list will grow more manageable, both on a day-to-day basis and in planning for the future.... Read More

Yay team!

August 3, 2011 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Just because a group of people work at the same place doesn’t mean that they’re working “together,” toward the same goals. Successful businesses have strong teams. That’s true whether it’s a department store, your favorite restaurant or a salon/spa. When groups work together, the path is easier and the results are impressive.

There’s more to working as a team than sharing a business address or uniform. Start with these tips, and start reaping the rewards of teamwork:

  1. Everyone’s on the team. You can’t have a team if 80 percent of the staff is on board and a few people aren’t. This isn’t voluntary. The whole staff plays by the same rules. No exceptions. It means that everyone enjoys the good times, too.
  2. All team members have an important role to play. When we start thinking in terms of “star” employees and “everybody else,” we send a message about who’s important to the business. Which employees could your business operate without? The person who handles front-desk and administrative duties? Stylists? Massage therapists? Team members may not play the same functions, but each has a significant role to play. A drummer may not get the same recognition as the lead singer, but the show doesn’t go on until everyone’s on stage. Don’t play favorites.
  3. Great teams have great leaders. The owner and manager are the coach and captain. They must be an example to the team and a source of encouragement and support. Let’s face it, it’s challenging to own and manage a business. Your staff, your team, looks to you for how to act and react, and for how to respond to challenging situations. Make sure you’re giving the right messages, every time.
  4. No team can survive without communication. All you have to do is watch a pitcher and catcher in a baseball game to see how important communication is! You may not have such a complicated set of signs, but constant communication is a must, every day, both formally and casually. Don’t assume your team already knows something – tell them, and tell them again. There’s a reason a coach has locker-room meetings with the team before the game and again at halftime (and that’s in addition to all the communication during the game)! It’s really difficult to over-communicate.
  5. Team members take care of each other. It’s corny, but there truly is no “I” in team. While personal successes and growth should be encouraged, the team should always be shooting for mutual goals. Staff members should be helping one another out and looking for ways to make things go more smoothly for the team. Share concrete examples of how this happens at your business with your staff, and make sure you praise this behavior. Have team goals and be sure to celebrate when they’re met.

Fostering a culture of teamwork is not an simple task. When you do, everything about running your business should be easier and more enjoyable. And that’s a worthwhile goal for everyone.... Read More

Retaining customers is everybody’s job

June 8, 2011 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

It makes sense that it’s easier and more cost-effective to keep a current client than to attract a new one. Some studies show that it costs about seven times more to get a new customer than to keep a current one.

In view of that, it’s frustrating when you see your staff become complacent about customer service, especially with new clients. With so much competition and people spending carefully, it’s not enough to just get by. Customers want to feel important, that they matter to a business.

When it comes to customer service, you’re throwing money away if every staff member isn’t on board to make every client experience as good as it can be.

Try these tips to ensure that every client becomes a long-term customer:

  1. Make certain that front-desk staff is professional and properly trained. A customer starts forming an opinion before even walking into a business! A member of a salon/spa’s front-desk team has as much influence with the customer experience as a stylist. Essential front-desk staff skills include developing and using scripts to ensure results, selling service hours, using technology and dealing with difficult situations. (Check out Strategies’ High-Performance Front-Desk Staff Training. Click here to learn more.)
  2. Get the whole staff to care about offering a great experience. It’s apparent to the customer if staff is engaged and excited about what they do – or if they’re just looking at the job as a way to pay the rent. Whether it’s helping out with a shampoo or bringing a client a cup of tea, every staff member (management, too!) must look at each customer as essential to the business. There’s no such thing as “it’s not my job.” Client satisfaction is everyone’s responsibility.
  3. Add something extra. What would you like to receive if you were going for a cut? Think like a customer. What does it take to make a client go “wow”? A head and shoulder massage? Aromatherapy? A free sample? A bonus treatment? Tea and cookies? Not sure what to offer? Ask your staff and customers for their ideas!
  4. Pre-book every customer. This seems like an obvious step, yet many salons and spas miss this opportunity. Once a customer leaves without an appointment, there’s a chance that person won’t return to your business. Each customer must be asked to make an appointment prior to leaving the business – and a new service should be recommended, as well. If the customer doesn’t want to re-book, find out why. If there’s an issue of any kind, make it right.
  5. Follow up. Personal service can be lacking in today’s rushed world. Call a new client a few days after the appointment to see if the customer was pleased with the experience. If there was some problem, find a way to make the customer happy. Ask for feedback about the appointment. Even if you just leave a friendly voicemail, people will be impressed that you took this extra step. Be sure to reference the client’s next appointment. If the client didn’t make one, the follow-up call is a great opportunity to re-book. (P.S.  Long-time clients will like the extra follow-up, too!)

Creating loyal customers is the responsibility of every team member. When the whole staff is committed to creating an exceptional experience, clients are sure to come back.... Read More

Don’t get bogged down by poor staff relations!

April 18, 2011 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Have you ever walked out of a business and felt covered with toxic ooze from the in-fighting among employees? Or by the way the owner clearly favored one staff member over others? Or there was so much gossip and negative chatter that you just wanted to put your hands over your ears and hum so you couldn’t hear it?

Whatever you see and hear in your company, customers are also witnessing. Profitable businesses need staffs where employees are held to equal standards, where gossip isn’t tolerated, and where owners and managers know when to step in to ensure a positive experience for clients.

  1. Be consistent. This is why it’s so important to have an employee handbook, explaining duties, breaks, etc. When it’s in writing, everybody knows what’s expected. Don’t play favorites. Enforce rules consistently.
  2. Keep it about business. Sure, there are employees you like more than others. That’s called human nature. Your employees aren’t necessarily your friends. Evaluate performance based on, well, performance. Whether you like someone’s car, boyfriend or music choices has nothing to do with how they do their job. Unless something personal is interfering with job performance, keep it out of the conversation.
  3. Don’t get dragged into gossip. Almost everybody likes to gossip. It bonds us together as we find common gripes. As the boss you must stay above this to keep your credibility. And when you talk about employees behind their backs, you are not only betraying trust, you are playing favorites. Rise above. When you hear employees gossiping – whether or not you are invited to join in – ask them to stop. Gossiping is a surefire way to breed negativity in your business.
  4. Handle situations as they arise. Yes, it’s easier to “let it slide, just this once.” When you do that, you’re setting a precedent, for that employee and for the rest of the staff. “If I was late last week and it wasn’t a problem, why should it be an issue today?” “If Mary didn’t empty the trash, why are you upset that I’m not doing it?” If you see it and it violates the rules or isn’t up to your standards, say something. Let employees know where they stand.
  5. Know when enough is enough. When you’ve spoken to an employee about rules violations, given written warnings and offered suggestions for improvement, it may be time to consider a separation of employment. Don’t go it alone. Check with an attorney to ensure you’re doing it by-the-book. That’s usually not an easy choice to make. Once it’s done, frequently, the whole staff will breathe a sigh of relief – and you will, too, when you’ve moved on.

... Read More

Put time on your side

March 8, 2011 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

“There are never enough hours in the day.” That’s a thought that most of us have had at one point or another.

Some people never seem to have enough time. They’re always running late, acting as though they’re drowning in mountains of paper or talking about how much they have to do with so little time to do it.

The problem is often managing one’s time. With Facebook, Twitter, the Internet and cell phone plans with limitless minutes, it’s easier than ever to waste time, even while grumbling about being oh-so-busy.

Start taking control of the hours in your day with these time-management tips:

  1. Track your time. Yes, it’s tedious, but for one week write down everything you do in 15-minute increments. Be honest! It’s better to know that Facebook takes up two hours a day, than to wonder where the morning went. Just being aware of how you spend your time is the first step in getting your day more organized – and getting more done with less angst.
  2. Prioritize. Now that you know what you do and how long it takes you to do it, it’s time to decide what’s most important to do. That’s going to be different for everyone, and will vary day to day. Some tasks are urgent and must be completed by a certain date or time. They need to go to the top of the priority list. Others may be delegated to a staff member. And you might even find yourself deleting some items from your to-do list altogether.
  3. Make a list of goals you want to accomplish each day. Just as you would add extra time for a home-improvement project, make sure you schedule a bit more time than you think you need for each task. Things usually take longer than we anticipate. When we are truthful about how long things could take, it is much easier to stay on schedule. You won’t feel behind from the first task.
  4. Plan for the unexpected. Be sure to leave some open space for the unforeseen, such as staff questions or an appointment that runs long. And schedule in a break or two – it’s vital to clear your head, so go for a walk, have lunch, run out for a coffee. You’ll find yourself more focused when you do.
  5. Remember, it’s a process. When you lose track of time or are struggling to finish things up at 10 p.m., it’s easy to give up. Instead, review your day and try to figure out what happened. Maybe you didn’t allow enough time for a job or perhaps a genuine crisis threw your day out of whack. Whatever the cause, don’t beat yourself up. Just keep working on it – tomorrow is another day.

Success is in the details

February 15, 2011 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

We’ve all heard the saying, “Worry about the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.” While no one would necessarily advocate skipping the mortgage payment because you’re making sure there’s plenty of soap in the dispenser, there’s quite a bit of wisdom in the adage.

Too often, we get wrapped up in the big issues that frequently are out of our control. We truly can’t personally jumpstart the economy, stop a competitor from setting up shop nearby or keep that storm from hitting just on our busiest day.

What we can do is take control of the myriad details that customers notice every time they’re in your business, the type of details that might be easy to let slip through the cracks, especially when crises arise.

Start by adopting these practices:

  1. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Whether you’re speaking to a client or an employee, choose your words carefully. Don’t speak in the heat of anger or make promises you can’t keep. Your words are a tool. As someone in charge, you can be certain that what you say will be remembered and dissected. Choose words wisely.
  2. Make sure every hair is in place. There’s a reason that became a phrase to describe someone who is “put together.” Your client’s experience is more than one facet of your business. Don’t think that a great service is going to make up for a difficult front-desk encounter, a messy bathroom or being out-of-stock on a favorite product. Every detail needs to be in place – every time.
  3. Getting by isn’t good enough. Sometimes it seems as though no one is going to notice if you cut corners, just this once. The trouble is that someone might take note of that missing detail and not come back. Plus, it’s really easy to let “good enough” become the new standard. Insist on excellence. Show your staff how it’s done.
  4. Put the systems in place. It’s much easier to excel when there are systems to help you get there. Don’t make your staff reinvent the wheel every day. Systems save a lot of unnecessary questions, a lot of unnecessary guesswork and a lot of unnecessary mistakes. Get the details down once and train the employees who need to know. More things will get done right, every time. The result? Smoother operations and less wasted time.
  5. Don’t use the details as an excuse. The “little things” are important, for sure. Don’t confuse “busy work” with taking care of the details of running your business. When you find yourself color-coding your filing system for the fourth time or changing your Facebook status again or alphabetizing the herbal teas, you must ask yourself if you’re just putting off a bigger task. Chances are that you are. And don’t chalk it up to being a “perfectionist.” Some details are worth fussing over; others aren’t.

Paying attention to the details is what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. True, the major issues won’t just take care of themselves; however, the small day-to-day details certainly won’t, either. And those could be the make-it-or-break-it details for your business.... Read More

New Year is the perfect time to review, define company values

December 29, 2010 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Values might seem like an old-fashioned word. Really, values are about the principles and ethics that guide our everyday choices, whether at work, home or dealing with others. It’s not about religion or political affiliation or the like, although certainly, those may help us develop our personal code of values.

It may sound strange, but a business has values, too. They’re what guide the staff of the company in its dealings with employees, customers, vendors, the community and others. When leadership doesn’t delineate and express the company’s values, staff members are left to try to figure out for themselves what the right thing is to do in any situation. And that might not be the same as what the owner would do.

Does your business represent the values you want it to? Get started on the right path by doing the following:

  1. Figure out what your own personal values are. Many of us have a vague idea of what moral code we live by and what we consider ethical. Formalize yours and put it in writing. Come up with situations you face regularly and decide what helps guide you in choosing the right path. What traits are intolerable? What type of behavior is mandatory?
  2. Ask your staff for input. Have an open mind. Your team may come from different backgrounds than you. Ask questions to see how people would deal with various ethical situations. Find out what values are most important to your staff and how they incorporate them into their decision-making. Ask each person to make a list of his or her most important values, and how they incorporate them into their lives.
  3. Define the terms. With your staff’s assistance, come up with definitions for the terms on the list, such as honesty, truth, kindness to all, and the like. Is there a difference, for example, between lying and telling a half-truth? Come up with the definitions together.
  4. Make a final list of your company values. Use your staff’s input but understand that this is your business. The values you choose are ultimately the ones you most believe in and want practiced in your salon or spa. Make the list easy-to-understand. Don’t have too many. Make sure that you can explain how each can be lived in day-to-day life at your business. That way, everyone knows what behavior is acceptable – and why.
  5. Review the list with your staff. Post it prominently. Keep the conversation open and ongoing. Review it at staff meetings. Discuss how certain actions exemplify the values on the list. Be proud of your values.

        Having a set of values is more than just a list on the wall. You don’t want to live by one code of ethics at home and another in your business. It’s important to live your values every day, and make sure that your staff does, as well. It makes for less stress, less conflict and more balance, at home and at work.... Read More

        Cultivate an awesome workplace

        November 5, 2010 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

        Every year Fortune magazine compiles a list of the “Best Companies to Work for.” While everyone likes a big salary and loads of vacation time, most of the companies that make the list offer a number of intangibles and seemingly insignificant perks that all add up to an exemplary work environment.

        If you find that the atmosphere in your business is sometimes less than ideal, try the following make your workplace one to be proud of:

        • Choose your mindset. A great workplace starts with the attitude of the owners and managers. Employees take their cues from those in leadership positions. Our moods are contagious. Even when times are tough, smile. Offer encouragement. Pay a compliment. Laugh. Your employees will follow suit. And that makes for a much more pleasant work environment. Your customers will notice the difference, too.
        • Think like an employee. Or even better, ask your staff members what makes a difference to them. Maybe you can tweak the way you do the schedule so your staff has more weekend time off. Or perhaps they would like a change in dress code. Bring in breakfast one morning or have a potluck dinner and brainstorm together. You might be surprised that some of the things that make the biggest difference don’t involve a lot of money. And you might discover that you and your staff have opposite ideas about what kinds of incentives really matter.
        • Empower your employees. Frustration often grows when people feel as though they don’t have any say over their destiny. Give up control whenever possible and let team members work things out by themselves. Give them a voice in major decisions, as well. Even if you don’t always agree with them, listen with an open heart and acknowledge their opinions.
        • Think about the little things. Every day is made up of countless small tasks and moments. Come up with ways to make the ordinary extraordinary. Say thank you for something you usually take for granted. Buy bagels, pizza, candy, fruit or other food – just because. Leave notes of gratitude for your employees. Never assume that they know they’re appreciated.
        • Have fun. It may sound simplistic, but fun workplaces are great businesses to work at. Yes, there are deadlines and difficult clients and orders that don’t come in on time. But people who laugh together and enjoy each other’s company weather the difficult times more successfully. Look for the humor in everyday challenges. Find ways to make mundane tasks fun. You and your staff spend a lot of time at work. Making that time enjoyable will go a long way toward having an awesome workplace.

                It takes a lot of effort to ensure that your business is a great place to work. The result is worth it. Extraordinary workplaces feature employees who are excited to be part of your business and who are fully invested in your company’s success. That’s the type of place that customers will want to return to again and again.... Read More

                Prepare for the worst of times

                October 26, 2010 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

                From oil spills to hurricanes, flash floods to tornados, the news is full of frightening headlines. The truth is that disaster can strike anywhere, at any time. Even scarier, you can’t be fully prepared for a catastrophe. However, there are certain steps that will help make a disastrous situation less devastating.

                While no one likes to think about the worst that can happen, planning for disaster may be the difference between losing a business and re-opening in a timely manner. These tips will help you be better prepared, come what may.

                • Expected the unexpected. True, you never know when a disaster will strike. Floods, earthquakes, ice storms, landslides, oil spills, fires, employee illness or death, and terrorism are just a few of the catastrophes that can befall a business. You can be fairly confident that, sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with some sort of troubles. Certain parts of the country have higher risks for hurricanes or other natural disasters. Learn specific risks for your area, so you can take appropriate preventative action.
                • Have a disaster plan. Decide information such as what records need to be stored off-site and where to keep them, and how to notify your staff in case of emergency. Make sure that all your insurance is up-to-date, including flood insurance, which many people neglect to purchase.
                • Know your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to coping. Some of us like to take charge right away, while others show their strengths as the crisis wears on. Know where you might need help and secure a co-commander ahead of time, someone who complements your skills and style of leadership. Remember, your employees will need lots of direction and reassurance.
                • Get your staff involved now. For example, enlist your team in developing an evacuation plan, putting together safety kits and marking emergency exits. Make a point of reviewing the plan on a regular basis and be sure to go over it with new hires. Make sure your staff understands the plan. Talk to your local police and fire officials if you want more assistance.
                • Be prepared for small crises, too. A broken dryer or temporarily closed road certainly doesn’t have the same magnitude as a fire or extended power outage. But such small crises can have significant impact on your business, as well. Have a plan for these extraordinary incidents, from how to pay for them to how to notify staff and customers.

                Crises are a fact of life. Whether you have a few hours warning or it takes you totally unaware, remember that your employees will take their cues from you. Breathe deeply and stay calm. Your staff needs to see the competent leader you are, through the difficult days and as you navigate your way back to more ordinary times.... Read More

                Negotiation doesn’t have to be win or lose

                October 14, 2010 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

                From the time we first tried to wheedle a later bedtime from our folks, we’ve all been negotiating in one way or another.

                Salon/spa owners and managers do a lot of negotiating – with employees, customers, vendors, landlords, family members, other businesses – well, you get the picture.

                Life may not be a cabaret, but it certainly can feel like one negotiation after another. Not every negotiation is about closing a big deal. However, similar techniques apply, whether an employee wants an extra day off or you’re working on a multi-year lease.

                Keep these tips in mind to ensure you’re getting the most out of your negotiations:

                1. Everybody wants something. That’s what gives each of us leverage in a negotiation. Knowing not just what you want, but what the other person wants, helps both parties reach a mutual understanding.
                2. Try to understand the other person’s mindset. It’s sometimes not enough just to know that Mary wants Saturday off. It’s often important to understand the “why” behind the “what.” There’s often more to the situation that what’s visible. Ask questions to uncover what might be going on behind a request. Walk a mile (or at least around the block) in the other person’s shoes. Two people may want the same outcome but have different motivations. You’ll be a better negotiator if you take the extra time to understand why someone wants what he or she does.
                3. Think win-win. Negotiation implies a winner and a loser. When you reframe that to give a little, get a little, you might get exactly what you need to get, while the other person (not your “opponent”) also gets what he or she needs. Try to leave everyone feeling good, even when certain aspects of a negotiation don’t go their way. Help the other person see why you’re making the decisions you are. Make it a positive experience all around.
                4. Know what’s most important to you. Because it’s no longer about winning and losing, you can give in on things that don’t matter so much to you. Perhaps you need someone to work late, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be Kate. Or maybe you can change a deal so that it works better for a customer. It’s not about always being “right.”
                5. Don’t be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. Sometimes we just dig in our heels and forget to listen to what’s being said. It’s not a sign of weakness to change your mind if a well-reasoned argument is made, or if you decide something simply isn’t that crucial. Knowing when to bend is the sign of an experienced leader. Of course, it’s all right to stand your ground, too. Just remember, though, ceding on a small point will often get you the majority of what you want.

                Negotiation is a big part of the life of any salon/spa owner or manager. Keep in mind mutual goals and stay positive. That will go a long way toward negotiations that are upbeat, positive and will get the results you need.... Read More

                Prevent and resolve conflicts for smoother operations

                October 6, 2010 | By Bruce Hourigan | 11 Comments

                Put two or more people in a room and, sooner or later, they’re going to disagree. The more people and personalities you add to the mix, the greater the opportunity for conflict.

                Salon/spa owners and managers can either fuel the flames of conflict, or help keep the peace, which in turn keeps the business operating more smoothly and with less stress for all parties.

                Try these tips to help keep conflicts at a minimum, and resolve disagreements quickly when they do arise.

                1. Share information. One of the biggest sources of conflict is people simply do not receive proper direction and therefore, make assumptions. When their assumptions do not coincide with yours, wham! Conflict occurs. Unless you work at the “Psychic Hotline,” make sure you communicate frequently and consistently.
                2. Put it in writing. Job requirements and expectations, such as dress code and time off, should be in an employee manual. This will eliminate many a discussion about whether or not so-and-so is due for a break or is defying the rules. Have a detailed employee manual, give each staff member a copy and enforce it without fail.
                3. Don’t create firestorms. While it’s fine to comment on behaviors that are out-of-line with the standards you’ve set for your business, don’t let your emotions get in the way. Hold your temper and handle issues calmly and objectively. Once you’ve lost your temper, you’ve lost control of the situation. Your staff (even those not involved in the situation) will remember your actions long after the initial conflict is forgotten.
                4. Nip squabbles in the bud. Resolve conflicts among staff members as they arise. Petty bickering often escalates to all-out war. Keep your finger on the pulse of your staff. Many conflicts become “he said, she said” affairs. It’s not about taking sides. It is important that these conflicts don’t start to affect the customers and other employees.
                5. Keep a positive atmosphere. The best way to deal with conflict is to keep it from occurring in the first place. When team members are happy and working toward shared goals, conflicts are far less likely to arise. That attitude starts at the top. Work on attaining and maintaining an upbeat attitude (yes, even on “bad” days), and making your salon or spa an enjoyable place to work.

                When you’re constantly putting out small fires, you’re left with less time to do the important work of running your business. And ongoing conflict keeps your employees from focusing on reaching their highest potential. Handling conflict promptly and trying to avoid it in the first place will keep your salon or spa a happy place for clients and employees alike.... Read More

                How does your salon/spa grow?

                September 22, 2010 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

                Growth is a topic on the minds of most owners and managers. Bigger isn’t always better, however. Growth needs to be profitable in order for a business to be successful.  And being a big company isn’t necessarily the right goal for every entrepreneur.
                As you plan for the New Year, keep these tips in mind to help clarify your goals for the growth of your business.
                1. Know your vision and follow it. Sure, it sounds basic. But many owners are vague on exactly where they want their companies to go. Ask their missions, and they respond, “To be the best salon,” or “To offer our spa clients a special experience.” Truly know what your vision is and decide what path you need to take to achieve that.
                2. Understand the numbers. Numbers may not be the most glamorous part of being a business owner. The truth is you won’t know if you’re on track to profitability if you don’t know where you stand financially. Even if you have a bookkeeper or financial officer, understand what the numbers mean – both now and in the future. How else will you know if you can afford to achieve your vision?
                3. Hire people as passionate as you are. Some hard skills are relatively easy to teach, but your staff either shares your passion for your vision, or they don’t. And if your staff doesn’t understand where the company is going and where they fit in, well, why not? It’s your job to communicate that and to ignite that passion in each employee. Don’t hire people who are content with the status quo. Look for people who can share your dreams and help you achieve them. Don’t forget to reward them along the way.
                4. Know what kind of sacrifices you are willing to make. Every business requires sacrifice along the way. Be aware of which ones you’re willing to undertake. It’s OK if you don’t want to give up all your free time or invest every penny in the business. There’s not one right way to grow. Just be honest with yourself.
                5. Plan for profitable growth. You won’t grow profitably if you don’t plan for it. How will your expenses change as you grow? Will you need more staff? A larger space? More equipment? Put it all on paper and see how it fits in with your vision. If it doesn’t, rework the plan.
                Wanting to grow is a natural part of being an entrepreneur. Being the biggest isn’t the only goal. Make sure that your long-term goals are realistic and fit in with your values and overall life plan. While your business can be all-consuming at times, it is just one part of the puzzle that helps you form a balanced life.
                Ready to dig in and get ready for 2011? Register today for the Strategies 2011 Salon/Spa Game-Planning Retreat.

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