What Will You Make of 2020 in Your Salon/Spa?

January 5, 2020 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The New Year’s Eve celebrations are behind us. This is day six of a new year and a new decade.

It’s time to look ahead, lock in your goals, and get down to the business of growing your salon/spa.

To get your business and leadership juices flowing, answer the following seven questions:

  1. What challenges do you want to leave in 2019? You can probably rattle off five or six without much effort. If cash flow was a challenge, what needs to be done beyond just cranking up revenue? If customer service consistency was a challenge, what needs to be done to ensure every client receives your brand experience? If productivity rate was a challenge, is it because you’re over staffed, sloppy appointment booking, inability to work within time standards, or something else? KEY: Every challenge has a solution and solutions require leadership decision making, information flow and accountability. The only reason to drag last year’s challenges into 2020 is to avoid making decisions. Get it done.
  1. What’s your plan to grow your business in 2020? Working harder doesn’t necessarily translate into business growth. In fact, if you work harder on the wrong stuff, you’ll be spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. KEY: Business growth requires a plan. That plan needs to be broken down into quarters, months, weeks and days. Set your targets and completion dates and work backwards to the starting point. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan. In fact, one page is ideal. Get it done.

  2. What are your two big change initiatives for 2020? If you have no big change initiatives planned for 2020, your salon/spa is officially operating in a comfort zone. It’s coasting and will eventually slow down and stop. Why just two big change initiatives? Because it creates focus. When change initiatives overlap, one or both will likely fail. KEY: Big change initiatives wake everyone up. Change initiatives create a sense of urgency that builds momentum. But change initiatives must be planned out and communicated so everyone knows the objectives and their roles. Get it done.
  3. What’s your plan to upgrade your leadership skills in 2020? Sharpening your leadership sword just makes sense. It keeps you energized, builds self-confidence and expands your personal capabilities. KEY: Register for a business course, hire a business coach or read six leadership books. As a guide, think about the skills you’ll need to run a company that’s 10x the size of your company. Get it done.
  4. What’s your plan to develop your leadership team’s business skills? A leader that chooses to wear all the hats is going to be frustrated and overwhelmed. In contrast, building and surrounding yourself with a capable leadership team accelerates growth through shared responsibility. KEY: Leaders that strategically let go of control actually lead better. It’s the simple act of divide and conquer. The more you develop their individual skills in their area of responsibility, the more you can focus on growth. Get it done.
  5. What’s your plan to improve your time management skills? The entrepreneurial spirit is amazing. It can also be an incredible time waster. This is especially so for service provider owners that make the jump to full-time leadership. Without the appointment book to keep you busy, time evaporates. KEY: There are a multitude of project and day planners in both print and app versions that can keep you focused and on task. At Strategies, we use a cloud-based app called Teamwork. Basecamp is another great project planner. To work, there must accountability to completing tasks. Get it done.
  6. What’s your plan to improve team information flow? Salons and spas are notorious for dismal information flow. A couple of team meetings a year is far from effective information flow. That’s why daily huddles are so vital. KEY: Daily huddles deliver “gotta know” information so everyone is on the same page. If you’re not doing daily huddles, information flow is not flowing. There are a number of fine apps to keep your team communicating. Teamwork offers Chat. There’s also GroupMe and Microsoft Teams. The less information flow, the more isolated and fragmented your team becomes. Get it done.

Here’s my challenge to you: The 2020 clock started ticking at 12:00am on January 1st.... Read More

10 Salon/Spa Owner New Years Resolutions for 2020

December 30, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

The start of a new year has long been a time for making resolutions. One year comes to an end and brand spanking new year is about to begin.

New Years provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on what was and to look ahead at what can be.

This New Years brings that added twist of being the end of one decade and the beginning of new one. Why not ponder the opportunities the next ten years can bring?

So we do the annual ritual of making resolutions to ourselves and the achievements we wish to realize before this next New Year comes to a close.

For this final blog post of 2019, I’m going to ratchet up the level of commitment these ten resolutions require.

Why? Because these resolutions are about what you’re promising to do for your salon/spa company and your employees.

These ten resolutions focus on shaping your leadership behavior and that push to achieve significant gains, rather than marginal or flat performance.... Read More

What Motivates Salon/Spa Employees

December 14, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Michell Bartlein, owner of Savoye Salon Spa, located in Green Bay, WI, and Team-Based Pay Award Winner, posted the following in our Strategies Salon Spa Business Idea Exchange discussion group on Facebook:

We are very selective who we allow on our team. I find myself struggling to discover what makes service providers tick and be motivated. Am I focusing on the wrong area?

I want to grow our team but struggle with the graduates coming out of cosmetology school. So, we decided the best thing to do is to go visit the schools, right?!

Yesterday a team member and I went to a school and did a presentation on “Life After School.” We presented a 50,000-foot view of need to knows including an overview of the different pay systems. The students were very engaged.

I also figured that this would be a great test group to help me better understand the next generation’s thinking. I gave them three simple questions to answer.... Read More

What Do You Mean You’re Bored?

December 8, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

You’re the owner of an employee-based salon/spa.

From operations, employee management, and culture building, to finances, planning, training and marketing, you have more “responsibility hats” than you know what to do with.

Owning and leading a salon/spa can be tough and exhausting work that continuously piles onto your shoulders.

So much so that when I hear owners say, “I’m bored,” I struggle to understand where that boredom is coming from.

I’m a business owner and know those leadership responsibility hats all too well. Strategies is over 26 years old and I’ve never experienced boredom.

As a business owner, I have experienced excitement, fear, frustration, pride, anger, extreme confidence and an occasional lack of confidence. But never boredom.

That’s why I’m puzzled when owners say, “I’m bored.”

As a business and leadership coach, it’s my job to drill down on the “I’m bored” statement to determine where it’s coming from.... Read More

How to Move to Full-Time Leadership and Retain Your Self-Worth

December 1, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Your passion has always been performing services and caring for clients. However, your salon/spa is growing in size, number of employees, and complexity.

You’ve been reducing your service hours but still find it a challenge to keep up with your business and leadership responsibilities. Something’s got to change.

After years of performing services, it’s time for you to become a full-time leader.

Decision made. You hold a team meeting and reveal your full-time leadership plan. You’ll finally be able get all that business stuff you’ve been stressing over done. Yay! Your team totally supports your decision.

Now comes the announcement you’ve been dreading — telling your clients that you are no longer doing services. As expected, your clients are not thrilled, but most are willing to try other service providers.

Fast forward six months…... Read More

Seven Keys to Go the Distance — To Go Beyond

November 11, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

In just over two months, I’m going to turn 70 years old. And guess what? I still have goals for what I want to accomplish in my business and personal life.

My company, Strategies, is a young 26-year old. And guess what? It has goals for what it wants to accomplish.

The difference between me and my company is pretty basic. You see, achieving my personal goals is up to me and me alone. For Strategies to achieve its goals, it’s my team’s responsibility.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons over my almost 70 years. The most important lesson is that the responsibility to achieve what I want in life rests squarely on my shoulders.

To achieve it, you must earn it. To earn it, you must be committed to go the distance.

But what exactly does going the distance mean? To me, going the distance means seeing a project, goal or vision through to completion.

It also means dealing with the setbacks, roadblocks, wrong turns, bad decisions, indecision and other stuff that gets in the way.... Read More

Where Your Salon/Spa Would be Now?

October 27, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

“A business moves at the speed of its leader.” That’s what Strategies Coach, Daryl Jenkins, says when an owner asks how long it takes to implement change.

There is so much truth to Daryl’s statement because every salon/spa owner is a unique collection of thinking and behavior, strengths and weaknesses.

Owners have their own tolerances for financial risk taking. In the coaching business, it’s pretty common to work with owners that have amassed a mountain of debt. Likewise, we work with owners that strictly manage debt and many that are debt free.

When it comes to decision making, there are owners that weigh every detail multiple times before making a decision.

Some owners procrastinate on decisions hoping the problem will fix itself or just go away. Business problems never fix themselves.

Of course, there are those owners that make decisions based what they feel in their gut. Sometimes, gut decisions work out. Most times, that “gut feeling” is just gas.... Read More

Why the First 10% of Effort Makes or Breaks the Remaining 90%

October 13, 2019 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

Remember all those great ideas and projects you had that never got off the launch pad, or fizzled shortly thereafter?

Well, of course you do.

Like most salon/spa owners, your entrepreneurial nature is always thinking and exploring ways for your company to perform more efficiently, profitably and competitively.

And like most owners, you’re busy as heck fighting fires and switching from one leadership hat to another. You’re just trying to keep up with the rapid pace of leading a service business. That’s part of the reason so many new ideas, systems and projects never see the light of day.

FACT 1: If the first 10% of an idea, system, project or vision is half baked, it doesn’t stand a chance.

FACT 2: The first 10% of effort that goes into a new idea, system, project or vision represents the foundational blueprint that supports the remaining 90%. That first 10% of effort defines the why, what, how and when.  ... Read More

TBP19 — Reflections on Two Extraordinary Days

October 6, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

Planning began 18 months ago with the decision to hold our sixth Team-Based Pay Conference in Atlanta. And for over a year, we devoted thousands of human hours into making TBP19 something extraordinary.

Well, TBP19 wrapped up seven days ago. We’re all back in our homes and offices. There are phone calls to answer, emails to answer and a four-day Incubator Seminar in our Business Academy to prepare for.

But there is this post-TBP19 mix of emotions that still surrounds each and every one of us.

First, we are all exhausted. We went to Atlanta to give it our all and we did just that. Pulling off TBP19 is both exhilarating and stressful.

Where’s our stuff! An advance team arrived in Atlanta on Friday, and immediately discovered that the two pallets with EVERYTHING we needed for the conference did not arrive. Even worse, the trucking company’s website showed a new delivery date of Monday. Holy crap, the conference ends Monday.... Read More

When the Air Gets Thick — Let Employees Vent

September 28, 2019 | By Eric Ducoff | 1 Comment

Without a doubt, salon and spa businesses can become pressure cookers for drama, rumors and stress.

It doesn’t take much to thicken the air with emotional funk.

  • The departure of a vocal employee, voluntarily or otherwise, can stir the pot.
  • A new employee can disrupt the culture.
  • Changes to procedures, systems or pretty much anything can set things off.
  • Bad communication, budget restraints, promises made with good intentions but never fulfilled can fester and eventually contaminate the culture.

When the drama and stress go on too long, everyone pays the price. Employees are miserable, owners get stressed and client experiences suffer.

The BAD news is that too many owners allow the funk to fester, fearing the fix could make matters worse and one or more employees could leave.

The GOOD news is that employee frustrations can be solved relatively easy if approached properly.... Read More

Twenty-Six Years of Strategies

September 22, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

Holy crap! My company turned 26 on September 13th. Yes, that would have been “Friday the 13th.” Perhaps that’s why we let it pass without much fanfare.

As my thoughts drift back through the years, I feel a profound sense of pride on many levels that I would like to share.

  • My vision has never wavered: From day one, Strategies has been about making a difference in the lives of those that entrust us to coach and train their companies. It’s about helping owners and their employees find and live a better way to do business. Every member of the Strategies team is 100% committed to the vision and the responsibilities it requires.
  • Together, we overcame the challenges: Like any business, we’ve had our challenges. I’m responsible for a few, like my encounter with depression back in 2007, and ten years later when I was hit and seriously injured while riding my bike. Both times, my team stepped up to allow me time to recover. When the economy tanked in 2008, we responded by redesigning our seminar and coaching programs to make them more accessible. And, after 14 years of publishing Strategies Magazine, we made the tough decision to make the December 2007 issue its last. Today, my Monday Morning Wake-Up blog post has ten times the number of readers.
  • Strategies past team members: When you truly believe in your vision and your work, you attract like-minded followers. Over the past 26 years, employees and coaches have come and gone. Without question, each and every individual played a role in our growth and success. To those that moved on, I say, “Thank you for your contribution.”
  • Strategies current team members: Strategies is a very different company than it was ten+ years ago. We have tight systems, shared and focused leadership, and a company culture that is nothing short of amazing. I am blessed to have the most amazing leadership team and coaches ever. To the twenty-five+ that represent Strategies today, I say, “Lets continue our mission to bring best business practices to the salon/spa industry.”
  • Team-Based Pay is officially mainstream: This coming weekend in Atlanta, GA, September 29-30, we will be holding our sixth annual Team-Based Pay Conference. Not only is TBP19 the largest we’ve done — it’s incredibly-close to being sold-out. TBP salons, spas and medspas from all over North America will gather to learn, share and re-energize. On Sunday evening, we’ll be holding our 5th annual TBP Awards Ceremony. The Strategies team works tirelessly to make each TBP Conference better than the last. All I can say is, “Thank you for believing and making a dream come true.”
  • Who’s afraid of technology?: Strategies surely isn’t. In 2014, we built our first-generation coaching portal fondly named, the Command Center. Everything related to Strategies coaching was built into the Command Center, including a back end for documenting coach calls and monitoring progress. In late 2016, we began work on Command Center 2.0 and launched it the following Spring. Custom spreadsheets are better than ever, as is its entire functionality. Today, we have our own full-time programmer to keep CC2.0 humming along. We also moved operations and marketing to custom-built version of Infusionsoft. Our technology investment is huge — and, thankfully, it all works.
  • Onlive — The future of education is now: As much as we love our Strategies Business Academy and other seminar venues, this year we launched Onlive Training to bring live interactive learning to your computer. This meant taking over the entire first floor at our corporate headquarters and building a full-blown video studio with all the bells and whistles to do serious full-day live-feed broadcasts. In March 2020, we will begin delivering our flagship Incubator Seminar Onlive, one full-day each week for four weeks. We can’t wait to share the Incubator Onlive experience with you. Stay tuned for details!
  • What’s Neil going to do?: For some reason, I keep getting asked this question. Maybe it has something to do with me turning 70 this coming February 2nd. So here’s my official answer: I have a great team that’s been pretty much been running Strategies for a good number of years. I oversee my company and offer my guidance when asked or if necessary. I write my Monday Morning Wake-Up and do a few speaking events a year. Honestly, I’ve traveled enough in the past 50 years. As for my health, I would have done 3,000 miles on my bike this year if I hadn’t slashed a tendon on my thumb with a saw last 4th of July. I’ll wrap up 2019 at about 2,100 miles. Not too shabby for a guy about to turn 70.

Here’s my challenge to you: This is my story on my company as we begin our 26th year. We worked through our challenges and celebrated our successes.... Read More

That Love/Hate Relationship with Your Salon/Spa

September 2, 2019 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

Of course, you love your salon/spa business. You’re proud of what you built. You should be. Heck, starting and growing any business is tough work — especially these days.

And with all that pride and passion you have for your business, there are those times when you don’t feel that much love. In fact, there are times you just plain old hate your business.

FACT: As an owner, you openly share your love for your business with everyone. When you’re in “hate” mode, you hold it all inside you.

You only discuss the hate stuff with that little voice inside you. It sounds something like, “I’ve had enough of this [insert problem].”

When you go deep into hate mode, the internal conversation sounds like, “I’d like to sell it and get out.”

Guess what? The whole love/hate relationship with your business is simply part of being an owner. Owners can’t “punch out at the end of the day” and leave the problems at work. The problems and challenges stay with you 24/7/365.... Read More

Is Your Salon/Spa Consuming Your Life?

August 11, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

FACT: The state of your salon/spa company determines your state of being.

If your employees are productive, clients are happy, and the company is profitable, you feel good.

Likewise, if you’re constantly fighting fires, employees are driving you crazy, and cash flow is barely flowing, you feel stressed and overwhelmed.

We brave entrepreneurs work and fight hard for our companies to succeed. And when they are successful, we continue to work and fight hard to sustain that success and drive growth.

Building a successful salon, spa, or any business, is a roller coaster ride of wins and losses, good times and bad. Because we believe in our vision and risked damn near everything, we find a way persevere.

As we try to figure out the complexities of “leadership,” we begin to relate to terms like workaholic, micro-manager, moody, stressed out and overwhelmed.

Without even realizing it, our companies become part of who we are. We willingly sacrifice our time, our thoughts, and too often, our well-being, so it can succeed.... Read More

Three BIG Cheers for Blush Salon Spa

August 4, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Lacey Spaulding is the owner of Blush Salon Spa in Fargo, ND.

  • Lacey is a long-time coaching client of Strategies and winner of the 2016 Team-Based Pay Award for Culture Shift.
  • Lacey has grown Blush into an efficient, profitable business with a truly impressive team-based culture.
  • Blush Salon has been in the very capable care of Strategies Coach, Steve Swanson.

But nothing can prepare a leader and team for the sudden and tragic loss last June of Johnny Grey, who was not just a valued team member, but a team member with an infectious spirit for life and dedication to teaching and delivering the highest standards of professional salon services.

On August 2nd, Lacey posted the following to the Strategies Facebook page.

I seriously can’t even make this up. We hit our July service goal on the EXACT DOLLAR yesterday. We exceeded retail by $339, and hit service right on as our very last client checked out last night! ... Read More

Being the Leader Your Vision Requires

July 22, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

When I think back to my decision to start Strategies, I had a very simple vision of what I wanted Strategies to become. My vision was to build a business coaching and training company for the salon/spa industry. That was almost 26 years ago.

Much has changed in the industry and technology, especially the internet. Even though my start-up vision required a few strategic course corrections, my initial vision remains solidly intact.

I knew from the beginning that turning my vision into a functioning and profitable enterprise was going to test my leadership abilities. And it most certainly did. Like all entrepreneurs, I sacrificed a lot to build my company.

As I look back, and as many have told me over the years, I never wavered from my core beliefs on the systems and approaches to lead and grow a successful and profitable salon/spa business. Most notably is Team-Based Pay and Strategies team-based business model that is the core of all we teach.... Read More

What it Really Takes to Be and Stay the Best

July 14, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

What does being and staying the best mean to you?

For me, there are three answers:

  1. I need to challenge myself to deliver my personal best. Even at 69 years of age, there is still room for improvement as a leader, businessman and decision maker. This also applies to my passion for cycling. I still want to ride faster and climb hills stronger.
  2. I need my company to stand out from the competition. There are many coaching companies and independent coaches in this industry. For me, being and staying the best means coaching salon/spa owners to achieve the results they seek and expect. Saying and thinking your company is the best doesn’t make it the best. Delivering consistent results creates value. The more value you offer, the more your company stands out from the competition.
  3. Lastly, and most importantly, my company needs to perform at a level that infuses pride in all we do. Shared pride is what shapes and reinforces our company culture. Shared pride gives every member of our team a sense of ownership and responsibility to deliver their best efforts. This far exceeds the inherent need to win. It represents the shared value that pride in accomplishment is hard earned every day.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership thoughts to help you and your team be, and stay, the best company you can be:... Read More

How to Make “What If We Went For It” Happen

July 7, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

FACT: For owners, it doesn’t matter where your salon/spa is today, your brain is always processing those “what if we went for it” thoughts, ideas and visions.

As an owner, it’s always about getting to a better place. It’s about getting to that next level of business success.

It’s important to remember that these “what if” thoughts aren’t about the little stuff. They’re about achieving profound gains in operational, financial, customer service, technical excellence, facility, market position and more.

These “what if” thoughts sound like:

  • What if our salon/spa was seriously profitable?
  • What if we had a big cash reserve?
  • What if the best employee candidates were coming to us?
  • What if we doubled or tripled the number of first-time clients — and retained them?
  • What if we could afford great benefits like health insurance?
  • What if we had a killer in-house skill development program that ALL employees were required to complete and maintain?
  • What if we doubled our space, bought a building or opened more locations?
  • What if I could pay myself well as the owner so my pay isn’t dependent on my personal service sales?
  • What if our level of customer service was second to none?
  • What if every client received a prebook date and retail recommendation?

But these “what if we went for it” thoughts have one big nemesis. It’s called leadership and it’s more complicated than most salons/spas ever realized.... Read More

How to Get Things Done

June 10, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Everyone wants to get things done.

Getting things done means making progress.

It means accomplishment.

Heck, getting things done just feels good!

So why is getting things done such a challenge? I’m not talking about simple things like tasks on a to-do list.

I’m talking about those profound things that require courage, commitment and tenacity to get to a better place.

When it comes to getting things done, it’s the same for personal and business:

  • You can’t lose weight or get physically fit if you don’t make better decisions on what you eat and make time to exercise and workout.
  • You can’t advance or fix what’s not working in your salon/spa without implementing change.

FACT: We all have dreams and visions for our future. Achieving those dreams and visions means getting things done.

So if you’re ready to get things done, here is my No-Compromise Leadership hit-list to get you started and across the finish line:... Read More

A New Coach’s Fresh Perspective on Her Business

May 20, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

We recently graduated four new Certified Strategies Coaches. To graduate, they had to complete a rigorous training program and demonstrate mastery of Strategies Team-Based Pay Business Model and the systems that drive it.

One of our new coaches is Alayne White, who is the owner of the two Alayne White Spas in Rhode Island.

Alayne, who is a prolific writer, decided to write the following blog post that describes how her Strategies Coach Training changed the way she looks at her company and her employees.

There are so many insightful takeaways, that I decided to share it in my blog post.

A Fresh Perspective

I walked into my first training with an extra bounce in my step. I was excited to start my new alternate career path of becoming a Certified Coach for a company I had been born and raised with called Strategies. Because I have been a recipient of their wisdom and business strategies since I opened my business over seventeen years ago, I considered myself already a member of the team.... Read More

10 Reasons to Celebrate Being a Salon/Spa Owner

May 12, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

As a salon/spa owner, it’s pretty easy to list all the stuff that stresses you out.

  • Employees can drive you crazy
  • Cash-flow challenges can keep you awake at night
  • Fighting fires and problem solving can wear you down

Too often, the very things that feed our passion, and sense of pride as owners, get overshadowed by the daily stress of business.

We tend to forget why we became owners in the first place. And if we forget why for too long, stress can lead to resentment.

FACT: You can’t be the leader your salon/spa needs, or build a culture that rivals all others, when you feel resentment for all that you’re responsible for.

So let’s step away from the daily stress and focus on the positives and the possibilities that bring pride and fulfillment as an owner.

Here are my ten No-Compromise Leadership reasons to celebrate being a salon/spa owner:

  1. You lead employees to achieve their full potential: As a leader and business owner, this is your prime responsibility. More importantly, it is the one aspect of ownership that delivers priceless pride. Without question, you will hire your fair share of unmotivated duds, but there will be many employees that will become more than they ever dreamed possible under your leadership. It’s a gift of knowledge, drive, passion and performance that you pass on to a new generation. This alone is truly a reason worthy of celebration.
  2. You create livelihoods for employees and their families: Business ownership is so much more than generating profit and money. Employees help you grow a viable and sustainable company. As the company grows, incomes grow, benefits improve. Financial sustainability flows from your company to your employees and their families in the form of livelihoods. You will help many buy their first car and their first home. It’s all part of the culture of shared success and how your company provides for the wellbeing of those that make it work.
  3. What you envision, you can create: Damn, what more can any entrepreneur ask for than the opportunity to envision an idea and to bring that idea to life? You are the artist, engineer, builder, trainer, coach, pitch person, financier and head of maintenance for anything you can envision. You are the captain of your own ship and in control of your own destiny. Envision your business journey and go for it. This level of freedom of expression is truly worthy of celebration.
  4. You are the decision maker: The keys to launch ignition are in your possession. The “GO” button sits on your desk. Within the financial reality of your company, you can decide where and how to spend and invest. You can give raises to those that earned it and stop giving paychecks to those that didn’t. You can promote key employees and take them to their next level. You can expand your company or shrink it. You can cut expenses to protect profit. You can build cash reserves or live on the financial edge. Your company and your employees depend on your business sense and good judgement. Through it all, you are the decision maker which is truly a reason worthy of celebration.
  5. Sharing control and responsibility enables growth: Control freaks will always struggle to grow their companies. Why? Because they can’t let go of the controls. Because people can’t grow when they’re surrounded by roadblocks. The best teams are comprised of key players in key positions. These players possess the level of authority to control their area of responsibility. All share absolute clarity on the vision and the goals and the timelines. Empowered teams move and grow companies farther and faster. What an honor it is to lead such a team and truly a reason for celebration.
  6. If you don’t like it, you can change it: As the leader and owner, you can choose to complain about what you don’t like and point the finger of blame in all directions. Or, you can change what you don’t like and fix what isn’t working. OMG! Why waste time, money and drama tolerating what’s not working? Why identify a problem and not fix it? It’s your company. It’s your investment. It’s your personal guarantee on the lease and loans. Making tough decisions that may rock the boat may not sound like a reason to celebrate, but it sure as hell is. When you’re the owner, there is no “they” to fix it. You’re the owner. You are “they.” And that’s a reason to celebrate.
  7. The tighter your culture, the faster you grow: Culture is the collective thinking and behavior of your salon/spa. Cultures are made. More importantly, cultures must be carefully crafted (vision), systemized (structured), empowered (trust) and protected (leadership). Ultimately, your company’s culture reflects your leadership. There is no autopilot for culture building and maintenance. Culture building and maintenance is a daily responsibility that is nurtured by information flow and teamwork. Being able to build a culture that reflects your vision, values and work ethic is a massive reason for celebration.
  8. It’s never as bad as you think: Please reread reason number six. Things get bad when owners don’t pay attention. Things get bad when known problems go unchecked and manifest into major problems. If it looks like it has the potential to get bad, be the No-Compromise Leader your company needs and take action. If it already is bad, there is almost always time to fix it and heal your company. This “it’s never as bad as you think” reason to celebrate being an owner, means that you have the power to prevent or fix what’s broken.
  9. You can design your ideal job: The proceeding reasons to celebrate all lead to the simple fact that you can design your ideal job. This is your reward for doing the work and sharing control and responsibility. It’s your reward for all those years of giving your blood, sweat and tears to your company. Now you get to choose the work that you do best. To do the work that fulfills you. This is truly a reason for celebration.
  10. Profit is your reward: This reason is the most special of all. True, profit is simply a measurement of how well your company performed over a specific period of time. To me, profit is special because profit reflects something deeply personal. Sustainable profit symbolizes the many hard-fought victories and sleepless nights. Sustainable profit also means having the ability to build the cash reserves that provide a level of security for my company. Achieving and maintaining profitability represents so much more than money. It represents a very personal reason to celebrate, appreciate and give thanks.

Here’s my challenge to you: Take time to reflect on each of the ten reasons to celebrate being an owner. If your current reality for any one or more reasons wants you to do anything but celebrate, what are YOU going to do about it?... Read More

Why We Become Salon/Spa Owners

May 5, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

We recently had a salon/spa owner ask, “Why do we subject ourselves to the financial stress and sleepless nights to be an owner?”

Here’s my response:

The older I get, the more interesting those Social Security earning history statements become. Why? Because each statement is a look back in time to my annual income each year since my very first paycheck.

It’s so easy to see the two worst times in my working career. Both were stressful beyond words. The last worst time was 26 years ago. Damn near lost our home.

But that’s when I started Strategies. September 13, 1993. Like any company, we’ve had our ups and downs … but every lesson learned and applied is a better step in the right direction.

Strategies has been consistently and extremely successful for many years now because we practice what we preach. More importantly, we never rest on our laurels. We keep pushing forward. That’s the culture that makes us strong and resilient. ... Read More

The Dilemma of Delaying Change to Avoid Staff Pushback

March 25, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

In business, implementing change can be derailed by anything from a speed bump to a brick wall.

FACT: A business that resists or delays change is on the path to irrelevancy.

In the salon/spa industry, change of some sort is always a hot topic of discussion, but too many owners get cold feet when staff pushback thoughts clog their mental filters.

FACT: Too many owners delay or avoid change out of fear of losing busy service providers.

Yes, losing employees is a valid fear. It’s like the salon/spa industry has been cursed with staff walkouts and that “star” employee taking his or her loyal following down the street.

The financial devastation left behind can take months, even years, for a salon/spa to recover from.

The big question that all owners must ask themselves is:

What amazing things would I do for my company and my employees if the backlash of losing staff and cash flow wasn’t a factor?... Read More

How to Become a “Hands-Off” Salon/Spa Leader

March 10, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Many salon/spa owners fantasize about someday being an “absentee owner.”

I purposely use the word “fantasize” because absentee ownership is a truly elusive business destination to achieve.

My definition of absentee ownership: To own a salon/spa business that operates efficiently with the critical numbers to prove it, consistently delivers on its brand promise, provides career and income growth for employees, and generates a predictable Net Profit and Return on Investment.

So, what does “absentee ownership” have to do with becoming a “hands-off” salon/spa leader? EVERYTHING.

Becoming a hands-off leader is a non-negotiable prerequisite to successful absentee ownership.

A PROFOUND QUESTION: What would happen if you were unable to work in your company and needed to continue taking a paycheck?

For salon/spa owners, being unable to work and be financially dependent on their company is perhaps the scariest of thoughts.... Read More

Owner’s Guide to Overcoming Setbacks and Inconveniences

March 3, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Leading and growing a salon/spa is anything but an exact science. Even the best laid plans are not immune to setbacks and inconveniences.

Setbacks are easy to understand, and they are going to happen. Employees will come and go. Cash flow challenges will occur. Things will breakdown. Good ideas will go bad.

Inconveniences are best described as “annoyances,” like employees being late for work or not following protocols.

Inconveniences trip you up.
Setbacks can knock you down.

The intent of this blog post is to bring clarity to how you respond to the inevitable setbacks and inconveniences of being a leader and business owner.

Salon/spa owners are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are typically passionate and emotionally invested in their businesses.

It’s easy for an inconvenience to become a setback.

It’s easy for a setback to become a crisis.

Here are my No-Compromise Leadership strategies for overcoming setbacks and inconveniences:... Read More

Salon/Spa Owner’s No-Compromise Leadership Tune-Up

February 4, 2019 | By Eric Ducoff | 3 Comments

Compromise can occur in every nook and cranny of your business.

What’s a “compromise”? It’s a malfunction that occurs in your salon/spa causing a ripple effect in the performance of your business.

It can be as simple as employees taking personal calls while servicing customers, wasting company supplies or circumventing procedures.

Even the most basic forms of compromise can derail productivity, contaminate your culture, sap profits and destroy vital customer relationships.

Ultimately, almost every business malfunction, even those annoying little ones, can be traced back to the leader.

When compromise exists in the core behavior and thinking of the leader, it will impact the performance and culture of your company.

When a leader avoids making a vital decision of any kind, the cost of compromise can truly be colossal.

Every aspect of a company’s performance is a reflection of its leaders’ thinking, behavior and ability to execute.... Read More

10 Secrets to Managing Salon & Spa Success

January 21, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Building a successful business is what all salon/spa owners strive for. If you’re not in it to win it, why even take the risk?

In almost every case, the journey to success is a rollercoaster ride. The good times and wins inspire you to keep pushing forward. The bad times are always valuable lessons that make you a better leader and decision maker.

What’s interesting about building a successful salon/spa is that it’s all relative to a moment in time.

FACT: Being successful today is no guarantee of long-term success.

To truly succeed in business means consistently adapting, evolving and innovating your salon/spa and your leadership abilities.

Strategies has been in business for over 25 years. We’ve survived the bad times and capitalized on the good times. My approach and style of leadership is different today than it was in those early years.

Strategies is profitable, growing, innovative and has a culture that we all fiercely protect. So much so, that I’ve been reflecting on what made Strategies successful and how we work hard to ensure that success is sustainable long term.... Read More

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Employee-Based Salons & Spas

December 31, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

You have to be living under a rock to not recognize that the salon/spa industry is in a state of dramatic change.

The most significant change is the rise of the “independent” working in booth rental and suites. Social media, especially Instagram, is their marketing vehicle.

To put it mildly, owners of employee-based salons/spas are concerned, perhaps even baffled, about how to insulate their companies, their employees and their customer base from the lure of booth rental and suites.

It’s always been my opinion that the traditional salon/spa business model, built on commission and individual clientele building, is the root cause of the industry’s woes.

And that’s exactly the reason that Strategies has been relentlessly teaching and coaching our Team-Based Business Model for over 25 years. It builds viable, sustainable, systematized, profitable, culture-based salons and spas.... Read More

How Leading Behaviors Create the Right Salon/Spa Outcomes

December 24, 2018 | By Brett Pierce | 1 Comment

Sometimes salon and spa owners just can’t stop themselves.

They react to the performance numbers they don’t like seeing, morph into “task master” mode, and proceed to tell everyone, “You need to get these numbers up.”

The importance of getting “the numbers” up is a no brainer. But “the numbers” are an outcome. And achieving the right outcomes means getting the behaviors right.

  1. Leading through Behaviors vs Managing the Outcomes/Results.

On the extreme …

Rent and payroll taxes are due, productivity and pre-book rates are in the danger zone. Making goal looks more and more like a pipe dream. The company is telling you, “Hey fearless leader, our cash reserve is depleted, and you need to fix this now.”

The leader misinterprets how the salon/spa got into this condition and becomes reactive instead of proactive.

The leader begins speaking in numbers and not about the behaviors. Employees react by thinking that the company has become all “corporate” and all the leader cares about are the “numbers.”... Read More

Taking the Pain Out of Salon & Spa Performance Reviews

December 17, 2018 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

When it’s performance review time, it’s a sure bet that you’re not beaming with excitement.

In fact, conducting scheduled performance reviews is probably the one leadership responsibility that owners procrastinate on the most. That’s why just about every owner chuckles when I ask, “Do you do quarterly performance reviews at least once a year?”

So why is it that something as essential as one-on-one performance reviews can be regarded as painful?

Too often, performance reviews are regarded as confrontational and outright uncomfortable, especially when performance and behavior issues exist.

  • Issuing praise and accolades is the joyous reward of leadership.
  • Dispensing the not-so-fun corrective and disciplinary stuff is where vital information gets stuck in the leadership blockage muck of emotions and fear of confrontation.

Performance reviews are formal opportunities to guide and coach employees to reach their full potential.... Read More

Reasons for Salon & Spa Owners to Be Thankful

November 26, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

I hope the title of this Monday Morning Wake-Up grabbed your attention. Why? Because being the owner of a salon/spa today can be stressful and, at times, unforgiving.

Leading and dealing with employee challenges can wear you down.

Fighting to create profit, control expenses and manage cash flow can be nerve-racking.

Motivating your team to achieve goal each and every month can have you searching for ways not to sound like a broken record.

The list of things that dial-up stress levels goes on and on, and through it all, there’s something about your salon/spa that is special beyond words.

At the end of the day, we entrepreneurs all belong to a special club of dreamers and tenaciously hard workers. We owners willingly share our war stories, frustrations, failures and successes.

So, as we enter the 2018 Holiday Season, I felt it only fitting to offer up my personal list of No-Compromise reasons for owners to be thankful:

  • We’re still in business: My company celebrated its 25th anniversary last September. It’s been a crazy journey that has seen its good times and bad. As owners, we figure things out. We work through adversity. We learn from our mistakes, at least most of the time. Many salons and spas go out of business. But many survive and thrive. If you’re still in business, be thankful. It means you can always get better and do better.
  • We create careers: Yes, I know employee turnover at salons and spas is an ongoing challenge. But as a business, our job and our purpose as leaders is to grow talent and create careers for our employees. We have the privilege of helping people earn a living by developing their skills and challenging them to achieve their full potential. Employees will come and go. But while under our leadership, our job is to bring out their best to ensure that our companies are the best they can be. Be thankful to each and every long-term employee that stays with you on your journey. Be thankful for the opportunity to have been a positive influence on the careers of those that chose to move on.
  • We control our own destiny: As owners, we chose to pursue our dream and vision to build, lead and grow our own company. If we pay attention and practice all the disciplines of business, we can be rewarded in ways that go beyond making money. Of course, making money is important, but the money is really nothing more than a measurement of business and leadership abilities. Be thankful that you control your own destiny — even though it may feel like you’re being tested every day.
  • We create profit: Yes, I know that many salons/spas struggle to be profitable. The truth is, profit is a measurement of the effectiveness of your leadership and systems. If you’re struggling to be profitable, something in your business needs fixing. It could be your leadership. Likewise, if your business is profitable, you have the financial means to grow and expand your salon/spa. Profit is also your reward for dialing in your systems and being a good leader. Be thankful that you have the opportunity to earn a profit in addition to your regular pay.
  • We are building something of value: Too many owners forget that starting a salon/spa company is about creating something of value. Your company is more than a place to work. It’s an opportunity to build a company and a brand that has value. We all will reach that time in our careers when it’s time to retire or chase a new dream. When that time comes, the selling price of your salon/spa, and how well you managed debt, should allow you to walk away with your reward for all the years of hard work. Be thankful you have the opportunity to build something of value because that is an entrepreneur’s end game.

Here’s my challenge to you: At one time or another, every owner has thoughts that sound like, “Why am I doing this?” It’s all part of being an entrepreneur.... Read More

The Salon/Spa Quest to Beat Your Best

November 19, 2018 | By Eric Ducoff | 2 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to beat your best a lot lately both personally and business.

Personally, this was supposed to be my comeback year for cycling after my accident in 2017. I quickly discovered that getting back to pre-accident condition wasn’t going to be fast or easy.

  • On almost every ride, I have to push through recurring fears of getting hit again. The fears pass once I’m out on the road, but sure did deflate the motivation and excitement to get out and ride.
  • For the first time in 10 years, I wasn’t able to finish the entire 150-mile MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride with Team Strategies. It was brutally hot, and I overheated. Better safe than sorry. Even though I raised over $10,000, my best effort ever, not finishing still frustrates me.
  • I came back a few months later at the 150-mile MS City to Shore Ride. I not only finished, I beat my best average speed for 150 miles.
  • In 2016, I rode 3,820 miles — my best ever. I only did 1,525 in 2017, the year I got hit. I’m at 2,250 for 2018. At 68 years old, many people are impressed over my miles. In 2019, at age 69, I am determined to beat my best year and top 4,000.

In business, I am so proud of my company and my team. As we have consistently done for many years, we have already beaten our best year ever. It wasn’t easy. We innovated new coaching and training services. Automated more systems. Our coaches spent more time on the road doing on-sites and classes than ever before. We worked hard to earn the win.... Read More

It’s Time to Create a NEW Salon & Spa Golden Age

October 15, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

If you were part of the salon industry in the early 1970’s, you remember when precision haircutting took the industry by storm.

Haircutting and blow-drying transformed salons as we knew them. The weekly wash and set salons’ days were numbered. Baby boomers wanted more natural hair and absolutely nothing to do with teasing and spraying.

I graduated beauty school in 1971. I was 21 years old and fiercely determined to establish my career in the salon industry.

I was hungry for advanced training to learn everything I could about haircutting, blow drying, curling iron work, color and perming.

In the Fall of 1973, I opened the first haircutting salons in the area and a second one two years later.

I’m sharing my story because what I experienced in the early 1970’s was the beginning of a 30+ year span of what many now refer as the industry’s “Golden Age.”

That Golden Age was fueled by a passion for learning, excellence and elevating the professional salon industry. (I’m focusing on salons because the “day spa” didn’t emerge until the early 1990’s.)... Read More

When You Have to Fire a Salon or Spa Employee

October 8, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

What follows is an all too familiar story of what can happen when you fire an employee.

It was posted on our Strategies Salon/Spa Business Idea Exchange Facebook discussion group.

Here to commiserate: (I’m on Team-Based Pay.) I had to let go of my esthetician after almost a year of poor performance. Despite numerous meetings, classes, encouragement, tracking — even a Performance Improvement Plan — it had to end.  

Her performance never improved, so it ended today.  

She threw everything in the book at me saying that I am a terrible person and she will be living on the streets now, etc.

Now she is getting my other ex-employees involved (the last one left over five months ago and I haven’t talked to them since) and now one of them won’t stop calling me demanding an explanation.... Read More

Who Gets the Credit? The Salon & Spa Dilemma

October 1, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

It seems like the most basic and innocent question anyone in the salon/spa business could ask.

Someone does a service, assists in delivering that service, or upgrades that service with an add-on. Someone asks, “Who gets the credit?”

  • Too often, the prevailing industry thinking is, “Why should I do this if I’m not getting credit?” More accurately stated, “If I’m not getting paid a piece of the service price, I’m not doing it.”

A client is at checkout. Doing her job, the guest services employee sells a retail product to the client that the stylist never recommended.

  • When ringing out the retail sale, she rings the service out under the stylist’s name and the retail under her name.
  • The stylist has a fit that he/she didn’t get the credit.
  • The owner moves the retail sale credit to the stylist.
  • The frustrated guest services employee says to herself, “So every time I do my job and sell some retail, I lose the credit to a service provider. It’s not worth the effort, I always lose the credit.”

Recently an owner posted this question in our Strategies Salon/Spa Business Idea Exchange Facebook Group: ... Read More

25 Years of Strategies — A Look Back and a Look Ahead

September 10, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 11 Comments

I started Strategies in small office at 40 Main Street, Centerbrook, CT, on September 13, 1993.

My first priority, when I started Strategies, was to write and design the first issue of Strategies Magazine, that issue was dated January 1994, Volume 1, Issue 1.

I published Strategies Magazine for fourteen years with the final issue being December 2007, Volume 14, Issue 12. We published 168 issues in all and I was proud of each and every one.

There was no Internet to speak of back then. By the early 2000’s, print media was quickly becoming obsolete.

$89 subscriptions for our 16-page, no advertising, magazine were tough to sell and Strategies primary business shifted to business seminars and coaching. It was time to say, “goodbye” to my beloved little magazine.

We held our first Incubator seminar in the Spring of 1994. From that very first Incubator, we began teaching what eventually became known as Team-Based Pay. From day one, Strategies and I became known as that “Team-Based Pay” guy/company.... Read More

10 Reasons It’s Great to Own an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

August 27, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Strategies Coach, Melanie Loboda, recently completed a Team-Based Pay (TBP) conversion for Brooks and Co. Innovative Hair Design in Edwardsville, PA.

When I posted my “Welcome to the TBP family” on our Strategies Facebook page, owner, Mary Ann Brooks, replied, “Thank you Neil for starting your awesome company!!” That made my day.

I’m sharing this for two reasons:

  1. I have a deep sense of pride and an unrelenting passion for the company I started 25 years ago.
  2. I deeply respect owners that have the wisdom and confidence to implement change — especially a new compensation system and business model.

There is nothing easy about starting, owning and leading a salon/spa company. There are the inevitable setbacks, stress, and the hard-fought comebacks.

Through it all, there are specific reasons that keep us going and pushing forward.

Here are my TEN No-Compromise Leadership reasons why it’s great to own an employee-based salon/spa company:... Read More

How to Create a Salon/Spa Culture of Accountability Without Confrontation

August 20, 2018 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

Salon/spa owners are always asking, “How do I get ‘them’ to hold each other accountable?”

The question that owners need to be asking is: How good am I at holding myself accountable?

When it comes to leadership, the answer is always, “You get what you model.”

Accountability is simply the responsibility to account for one’s actions.

For owners and leaders, it is the responsibility to hold others accountable for actions and behaviors that are inconsistent with the company’s vision and values.

So why is accountability so hard for so many owners and leaders?

More importantly, how do we achieve accountability without being confrontational?

The answer, in most cases, is the fear, or discomfort, of initiating what could be an unpleasant conversation.

FACT: Too often, people in leadership positions are afraid, or just uncomfortable, because they relate accountability to confrontation.... Read More

Is Your Salon or Spa Drowning in the Sea of Sameness?

August 13, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

“Sameness” means little distinction between one salon/spa business and another.

Sameness goes beyond location, design and decor to include skills, customer service excellence, and, most importantly, the culture of the salon/spa.

For employee-based salon/spas, sameness is the opposite of memorable. Nothing notable stands out. Branding is blah.

Ride down any street, pass any strip center, and you’ll see one salon or spa after another. Would yours stand out? Would yours consistently deliver memorable experiences?

My benchmark for a stand-out business

There is no shortage of beautiful inns in New England to choose from. There’s a reason why we keep going to back to Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford, Vermont.

From our first visit, its uniqueness was obvious. Dinners are truly four star. The hand cut wood Stave Puzzles are delightfully challenging and fun. The little touches like the handwritten welcome note on the bed, the handmade cloth heart “do not disturb” sign (that you can take home as memento), careful attention to allergies, and so much more.... Read More

When Salon/Spa Owners Say, “My Employees Would Never Go for That”

August 6, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

You hear another salon/spa owner describe how she does something in her business that gets great results. But, you respond, “My employees would never go for that.”

You’re having some business challenges that keep you awake at night. You listen to a possible solution, but you respond, “My employees would never go for that.”

You attend a business course and learn some pretty powerful approaches that could take your company to that elusive next level. Yup, you guessed it…that “my employees would never go for that” thinking slams the door on what could be a breakthrough for your company.

When salon/spa owners say, “My employees would never go for that,” what exactly does it mean?

  • Is it fear it may not work?
  • Is it fear things could get worse?
  • Is it fear employees may quit?

What it really means is that you, your company and your employees are stuck. It means that nothing is going to change. Tomorrow will be a repeat of today.... Read More

What is Your Salon or Spa Worth?

July 23, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Wherever your salon/spa is in its business lifecycle, the most important question you must be able to answer is, “What is my business worth?”

Unfortunately, most entrepreneurial owners don’t even ask the question until it’s too late.

“Too late” typically means one of two things.

  • Your salon/spa isn’t doing well; you’re getting beat up and want to get out.
  • You’re at or near retirement age and recognize that the time to sell is near.

FACT: The primary reason salons and spas earned a reputation for dismally low selling prices is because owners never focused on growing the value of their companies.

  • Being “busy” doesn’t necessarily translate into company value.
  • Doing $1 million or more a year in revenue doesn’t mean the business is making money.
  • Doing $1 million or more a year in revenue doesn’t mean it’s worth $1 million or more when it’s time to sell.

As an owner, you’re busy pushing to grow sales, keep people productive, pay the bills, solve problems and generally keep things heading in the right direction.... Read More

How Good Do You Really Want To Be?

July 2, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

How good do you really want to be?

This is a question that every salon/spa owner needs to answer.

It’s a question that keeps you focused on your goals.

It’s a question that cuts through all the daily stuff that piles up and chips away at what your company is capable of achieving.

Every salon/spa owner can paint a picture of the amazing service and customer experiences they want to deliver.

  • The picture shows every system working flawlessly and consistently.
  • It shows team members engaged and working together to grow the company.
  • It has every client receiving pre-book and retail recommendations.
  • It shows front desk and guest services staff going that extra mile to care for each customer’s needs.

Yes, it is a beautiful picture of business excellence. But it is far from real.

In too many cases, it is only a picture of “what can be” — not “what is.”

Even the best-of-the-best have ample room for improvement because being the best is one thing, staying the best requires an entirely different level of leadership.... Read More

Being the Owner of an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

June 25, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Why would someone get so excited about starting a salon/spa business knowing that the failure rate is high, staff walkouts are commonplace, and the stress level can often be unbearable?

The following insights begin to answer the question why someone chooses to become a salon/spa owner:

  • There’s something about the entrepreneurial spirit that is fearless.
  • There’s something about having a powerful vision for your business that it becomes a part of you.
  • There’s something about creating and growing your own team and creating a culture that embodies your vision, beliefs and standards.
  • There’s something about creating career growth opportunities for others.
  • There’s something about being in control of your own destiny.

After the doors open, the reality of what an owner truly bought into comes to light.

  • There will be good times and bad.
  • Leading creative people can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
  • Creating profit and positive cash flow is easier to talk about than achieve.
  • There’s a fine line between growing talent and growing your competition.
  • Recruitment and employee turnover can be brutally tough.

Devolving from “build it and they will come” to “build them and they will leave.”... Read More

The Super Duo: Salon & Spa Systems and Culture

June 11, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

A salon/spa owner is sharing how her team works together to achieve the company’s monthly service and retail goal. One puzzled owner responds, “How do you get them to do that?

The scenario is always the same when owners share how their team is always on time for huddle, consistently achieves high prebook rates, follows customer scripts and other essential salon/spa systems.

Owners will always ask, “How do you get them to do that?”

The same is true when a salon/spa owner implements a significant change with little drama or pushback. There will always be owners that respond, “My employees would never do that. I’d have a walkout.”

What’s the difference between a salon/spa that operates like a well-oiled machine and is able to implement major change and those that struggle?... Read More

How to Get Out From Behind the Chair or Treatment Room

June 4, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

For salon/spa owners that spend all, or most, of their time behind the chair or in the treatment room, it’s a simple case of leadership compromise.

By leadership compromise, I’m referring to the time an owner is working on clients while their business is begging for attention.

The issue gets more complicated when the owner’s service sales represent a significant percentage of the company’s total revenue.

  • In such cases, the owner’s revenues are essential for not only funding operations — but for the owner’s personal income as well.

Another issue is the internal conflict many owner’s experience when they’re more passionate about their creative and technical work and less about the demands of the business.

Why deal with financial reports, performance reviews, systems design and other business responsibilities when they can feed their passion for their work — and generate revenue?... Read More

How to Consistently Hit Salon & Spa Monthly Goals

May 21, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

You don’t need to be a fortune teller to accurately project achievable monthly salon/spa goals.

You don’t need to be a Tony Robbins to lead and inspire your team to hit goal.

What you do need is clarity on your leadership role, responsibilities and level of engagement that makes “hitting goal” your team’s priority.

Red flags start flying when I hear owners and managers make any of the following five statements:

  1. “We haven’t hit goal in a long time.”
  2. “I have no idea if the goals we set are doable.”
  3. “My team gives up when they see we’re going to miss goal.”
  4. “I keep lowering the goal so the team can hit it.”
  5. “I have some employees that could care less about the company’s monthly goal.”

If you have ever uttered any of the previous statements, contamination and dysfunction is present in your salon/spa culture.

Why? Because each one of the five statements identifies a disconnect between you, your team, and what your salon/spa must achieve to remain relevant and financially sustainable.... Read More

Is Absolute Clarity a Missing Link at Your Salon or Spa?

April 23, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Having absolute clarity on where you’re taking your salon/spa is what distinguishes the no-compromise leader from those with just the title of leader.

Having absolute clarity of objectives, direction and action plans brings the vision and mission of your salon/spa into the highest level of alignment.

  • Absolute clarity is like a business GPS. It sets the where and the how.

All good behavior starts with clear goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, what you’re doing doesn’t matter.

Salon/spa owners and leaders must have absolute clarity of where they’re taking their companies.

Absolute clarity ensures that the salon/spa doesn’t wander off course or make decisions that are not in alignment with its vision, such as expanding too fast or entering unknown markets. Decisions or course changes remain true to the vision and mission.

I need to drive this point home because salon/spa owners are notorious for justifying whatever it is they want to do. Compromise resides within that justifying behavior. Absolute clarity deters this behavior.... Read More

Feeding Your Passion for Salon & Spa Business

March 19, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 11 Comments

Owning a salon/spa business can easily be described as a “love/hate” relationship.

  • You love the good times because they can be exhilarating.
  • You hate the bad times because they can be excruciating.

However, no sane person goes into business because he or she wants to experience a prolonged emotional and financial roller coaster ride.

  • Why do we do it?
  • Why do we bet the proverbial ranch on vision that is risky as hell?
  • Why do we hire employees that either fill us with pride or drive us crazy?
  • What drives us and sustains us to be both leader and entrepreneur?

The one word that helps to answer these questions is PASSION. Yes, there are inspiring words like ambition, determination, innovator and visionary.

But the word PASSION doesn’t define WHAT you are, it’s defines WHO you are.

You can become a business owner for the independence, the money, or to just do things your way.

But when you have PASSION for not only what that business is, but for what it does, and what it stands for, there is something innately different and unique about WHO you are as an entrepreneur.... Read More

The Great “How to Train Salon & Spa Talent” Debate

March 12, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Salons and spas are technical skill and customer service based businesses.

The services you offer, the products you sell, and the customer experiences you create, represent your brand.

Services are delivered via the skilled hands and knowledge of your employees. Extraordinary customer service experiences are delivered by your employee’s thinking and behavior.

The challenge is that skill and experience are a difficult variable to control.

  • Young professionals fresh out of school may have the rough skills and passion, but they lack the experience necessary to refine their skills and feed their passion.
  • Service providers with years of experience are no guarantee of quality work … especially if their drive and passion to advance their skills has faded.
  • Hiring a service provider that can bring his/her large clientele is a tactic to acquire cash flow, but there is no guarantee that the work meets your salon/spa’s standards.

So the BIG question is, how long does it take to train not only NEW talent, but to keep experienced talent at the top of their game?... Read More

The Future of the Salon & Spa Industry

March 5, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 17 Comments

I’m writing this Monday Morning Wake-Up for the industry I have served and loved for over 45 years.

I’m writing this for all the employee-based salon/spa owners that have embraced what we teach and coach at Strategies.

I’m writing this for all the owners and industry leaders that say, “Team-Based Pay is too controversial,” even though we have almost 25 years of data and success stories that say it works.

I’m writing this for the next generation of salon/spa owners with dreams of building their own wildly successful companies.

Where the Industry is Today

If there was one word to describe where employee-based salons and spas are today, that word would be “uncertainty.”

Never in my all my years have I seen so many owners so concerned about the future of their businesses. If you’re one of them, you have every right to be.

  • The rise of suites and suite franchises is being built on the blood, sweat and tears of owners who spend years growing service providers into high revenue producers.
  • Owners reporting they just had employee walkouts are damn near an everyday occurrence.
  • Owners that are tired and beat up with turnover, debt and trying to be profitable are looking at booth rental or getting out entirely.
  • Professional retail products being sold on Amazon and other retail outlets like Ulta Beauty. The days of “Professional Only” are gone.

My intent is not to forecast gloom and doom for the industry and employee-based salons/spas.... Read More

Ten Defining Factors of Salon & Spa Success

February 19, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

One thing for sure, starting, owning and growing your own salon/spa business is not for the faint of heart.

To succeed, you must be bold and possess a level of determination that will be tested time and time again.

The problem is that boldness and determination are more about your spirit and attitude than your skill as a leader and businessperson. There are many bold and determined owners that get beat up and never truly experience or taste business success.

In a skill-based industry like salon and spa, the vast majority of owners are hair stylists, estheticians, massage therapists or nail techs. It’s one thing to be a successful service provider, building a successful company is a very different undertaking.

EXAMPLE: The dreaded “staff walkout” scenario is all too commonplace. Walkouts happen for a reason and can always be traced back to an owner’s leadership abilities.

The dilemma and danger of “Perceived success”

If there’s anything I’ve learned after four decades of coaching salon and spa owners, it is that “being busy” does NOT define success.... Read More

How to Make a Salon or Spa Comeback

February 5, 2018 | By Eric Ducoff | 9 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about comebacks lately.

At Strategies, we’re always coaching a number of salon/spa owners back from devastating walkouts, financial nightmares and other setbacks.

FACT: Setbacks suck. Comebacks are tough.

So why have I been thinking a lot about comebacks? As many MMWU readers know, I was hit while riding my bike on June 7, 2017. I spent 20 days in the hospital with injuries and now have a plate and screws in my left hip.

I love cycling because it keeps me fit. But the accident presented a major setback in my endurance and strength. Hey, I could have been killed. I’m grateful my injuries weren’t worse.

A few days ago, I got back on my trainer to begin training for my ninth MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride on June 30-July 1. It’s 150 miles from Boston to Provincetown. I’m captain of Team Strategies and ride with amazing people.

Last June, I followed my team ride from my hospital bed. That was emotionally painful.

THE POINT: It doesn’t matter if it’s a business or physical setback — the process of making a comeback and returning to optimal performance requires a specific mindset.... Read More

How to Achieve Salon & Spa Business Balance

January 15, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Achieve Salon Spa Business Balance

As leader of your salon/spa, how often do you find yourself trying to overcompensate when things are out of balance? You know exactly what I’m talking about.

  • It’s trying to lead when you keep falling short of monthly goals because your team lost its sense of urgency.
  • It’s when you take your eyes off the financial controls, expenses get out of hand and cash-flow gets scary tight.
  • It’s when team morale turns into a toxic stew that contaminates your once vibrant culture.

When the symptoms that your salon/spa business is even slightly out of balance, it’s imperative for you, its leader, to engage and restore balance.

Before you can do that, you must look at your own life. Do you have a sense of balance in your life? Are you calm? Happy? Have a clear sense of priorities? You need to have your personal house in order. If not, your staff will sense a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude that does more to keep it out of balance.... Read More

One “I” Can Wreck Your Salon or Spa Team Culture

January 8, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Teamwork Culture - MMWU - 1.8.18

We’ve all heard the line, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” It’s a pretty simple concept. Team and teamwork is about “we.”

In stark contrast, “I” is singular. It’s about “one’s self.”

The desire for personal success is empowering and captivating. It’s about the drive to achieve one’s full potential in career and life.

And then there’s this thing called “teamwork.” Teamwork is the pursuit of like-minded individuals to achieve a common objective, goal and vision.

It’s about taking a group of “I’s” and channeling its collective energy on achieving something truly extraordinary that cannot be achieved alone.

Today, more than ever, the salon/spa industry offers individuals a clear choice to seek career success as either an “independent” or to achieve career success as part of a team.... Read More

10 Salon & Spa Leadership Resolutions for 2018

January 1, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

salon spa resolutions

This begins my eleventh year of writing this Monday Morning Wake-Up.

The very first MMWU was on January 18, 2008 … this marks 119 continuous Monday Morning Wake-Ups.

As many of you know, 2017 was a tough year for me personally. On June 7th, I was out for a training ride on my brand new five-day old dream bike, preparing for what would have been my ninth MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride in a few weeks.

A minute after passing Strategies offices I was struck by a van that shot across the road into my path. Next thing I knew, I was being lifted into an ambulance. My left hip socket was fractured, three ribs in my upper back were fractured and my upper sternum crushed. I was in excruciating pain.

Yes, I did ask if my bike was okay. (I tried to wait but couldn’t help myself.) A few days later I found out that it died in the crash. If you ride a bike, you understand.... Read More

How Two Salon & Spa Employees Blew an Owner’s Mind

December 25, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

When your team-based culture is dialed in, employees can do amazing things that can blow an owner’s mind.

That’s exactly what happened to Bridgett DiVohl, owner of Royale Hair Parlor in Bloomington, IN. Bridgett is also a Strategies Coach.

I received the following email from Bridgett that was truly a joy to read.

Hi Neil,

I want to share a campaign that one of the Royale team members recently created that blew my mind. Sydney, one of our leaders, definitely finds value in everything we do as a team-based salon.  

To help us find our next great employee, I assigned her and a few others to listen to the Strategies “How to Recruit and Retain Staff” webinar. We had to let go the past two hires within the first three months.  

With everyone so protective of our culture, we recognize that having one employee that isn’t a fit can have an adverse effect on the entire team.  ... Read More

Love/Hate Relationship with Salon/Spa Rules & Structure

December 18, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Love/Hate Relationship with Salon Spa Rules & Structure

From birth, our lives are governed by rules and structure. There are rules when to wake up and go to bed, when to eat, what to wear and all those things not to touch. Yet we all tend to do and touch things we shouldn’t.

We go to school that starts and ends on time. Arrive late and you’re marked “tardy.” Don’t show up and you’re marked “absent.” Accumulate too many of each and you’re called before a higher power and introduced to consequences.

When driving, there are rules and laws to prevent dangerous situations and accidents. Many obey the laws and many test their limits.

In business, rules and structure shape thinking and behavior to create more predictable outcomes. The more thorough the rules and structure are dialed in, the more predictable the outcomes become.... Read More

Leading Overall Salon & Spa Growth

December 11, 2017 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

Leading Overall Salon Spa Growth

The “fill columns on the appointment book” approach to growing a salon/spa has been around forever.

It’s a pretty straight forward process of feeding a service provider(s) new clients and building individual request rates until the column(s) is full. Then, start filling another column. It’s the business equivalent of spinning plates.

Obviously, it’s really nice when a service provider comes with a “following” to instantly fill his or her column.

But that column of business that now lives on your appointment book, left a hole on the previous employer’s appointment book.

Such is life in the salon/spa business.

FACT: Employee turnover has long been an industry challenge, but it’s the devastation of staff walkouts that owners fear most.... Read More

Going BEYOND Salon & Spa Best Business Practices

November 27, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Beyond Salon Spa Best Practices

The first simple truth about salon/spa best business practices is that they are a collection of foundational methodologies, systems and behaviors that are evident in all great companies. The key word here is “foundational.”

The second simple truth about best business practices is that they are not a “one size fits all” solution.

The third, and most important, simple truth about best business practices is that they are more about achieving above average performance then they are about achieving extraordinary business performance.

Above average business performance is noteworthy. It helps a salon/spa stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Extraordinary business performance is something you can see, measure and experience. Extraordinary creates a unique point of difference that separates your salon/spa from ALL of its competitors.... Read More

10 Salon & Spa Leadership Non-Negotiables

November 20, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Leadership comes in all shapes, sizes and styles.

Some leaders excel at task management, while others struggle getting anything done.

There are leaders that can motivate and inspire, while others can frustrate and demoralize those they lead.

There are leaders who embrace change, while others avoid change like the plague.

No matter how you perceive leadership, the process of leading a team of people is easier said than done. So much so, that many in leadership positions barely scratch the surface of what true business leadership is all about.

The following ten non-negotiables will help position your thinking. As you read through the list, allow each non-negotiable to settle in.

READER BEWARE: At first glance, the non-negotiables will appear extremely basic. But to live and practice these ten non-negotiables every day as a no-compromise leader requires personal focus, commitment and determination.

Your leadership thinking and behavior is what those you lead experience and respond to. And the more you refine your leadership thinking and behavior, the more effective you are at guiding your team to achieve goals and, ultimately, your vision for your company.... Read More

Is Your Salon or Spa Overdue for a “Bookmark in Time”?

November 13, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Salon Spa Bookmark in Time MMWU 11.13.17

Like it or not, the selling of professional retail products is migrating to online.

Like it or not, if your employees don’t like working for you, they can go lease a pretty nice suite.

Like it or not, owning and leading a successful salon/spa business requires full engagement with no compromises.

Like it or not, all salons and spas have good times and bad.

Here’s the good news!

Whenever you’re ready, you can lead your salon/spa business to extraordinary levels of success.

Whenever you’re ready, you can put an end to the stressful bad times and lift your salon/spa out of the fiery pits of hell.

FACT: All businesses must change and evolve to survive.... Read More

How to Fall Back in Love with Your Salon or Spa Business

October 30, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

How to Fall Back in Love with Your Salon Spa Business MMWU

The request: A long-time Strategies client and salon owner gave me a call and asked:

“Can I pick your brain for a few minutes?”

Those few minutes turned into an hour and half.

The background: This owner has a very well run and profitable Team-Based Pay business, but it wasn’t always that way. Just over ten years ago, her business was deep into the “fiery pit of hell.” As always, it took a lot of hard work and tough decision making to transform it into a business worthy of admiration.

The tough question: She wanted to know how I worked my way out of a bout with depression in 2007 to grow Strategies into what it is today.... Read More

Why Indifference Creates Weak Links in Your Salon or Spa

October 9, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Why Indifference Creates Weak Links in Your Salon or Spa

Every salon/spa suffers from some degree of indifference. Without question, it is the single most toxic behavior that that infects company cultures and performance.

It can be as subtle as someone saying, “Why should I do that?” or, “That’s not my job – I’m not paid to do that.”

Indifference can be as blatant as people collectively refusing to follow new procedures or systems and sounds like, “If they’re not doing it, why should I?”

  • No matter how you view it, indifference is a toxic behavior that can spread rapidly throughout a service business like yours.

If you agree with the statement, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” then you can understand that even the slightest imperfection can result in catastrophic failure.... Read More

How to Promote & Pay a Top Service Provider

September 4, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

The scenario: You have a top service provider that’s been with your salon or spa for years.

  • This person is extremely talented, extremely busy and a mentor to other team members.
  • The thought of losing such a valuable employee is unsettling … so you decide to promote him/her to a leadership position as Education Director.

Time and time again, I’ve seen this exact scenario go the wrong way because the pay approach and job expectations were not thoroughly thought out and expectations/timelines not clarified.

The mistake most owners make is they take a busy commission stylist, esthetician, etc., and give them the title of “Education Director,” and pay $xxx more per week for the education duties.

The problem: Not adjusting the service provider’s schedule to carve out time to develop and deliver service and technical training.

The outcome: The busy service provider keeps cranking out services and making commission — PLUS collecting the “Education Director” pay — but NO education or training gets done.... Read More

What Got Your Salon or Spa Here, Won’t Get You There

August 28, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

what got you here won't get you there

Remember the day you opened your salon/spa? You were filled with excitement and anticipation to bring your business vision to life. You were prepared to give all the blood, sweat and tears necessary to be successful.

Adapt and overcome is a rule that all entrepreneurs live by.


Because the road to success is not a straight line … and it definitely isn’t smoothly paved.

Achieving business success is more like very few big wins, lots of little wins (all separated by setbacks, decisions that went sideways, financial gut punches) and endless lessons that come from managing employees.

The other rule that all entrepreneurs must live by, but too often don’t, is that as the dynamics of business and the marketplace change, so must the business. More importantly, to be a true market leader, your business must operate at the leading edge of change.... Read More

Salon & Spa Leadership: More than Written Words

August 14, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Salons and spas aren’t the only businesses that struggle to get employees to consistently follow procedures, rules, read important information and vital internal communication. All businesses struggle.

That’s why I cringe when I hear owners say, “I’m writing an employee handbook to get my business organized.” No matter how big or small your business, handbooks and operations manuals are an absolute must.

FACT: Handbooks, manuals, emails, text messages, group text apps, group project management apps, and other non-verbal tools are merely words that scratch the surface of true leadership.

Reality Check: To ensure that every member of your team understands the game plan, rules, procedures and expectations, nothing surpasses verbal communication.

  • Leadership brings words to life
  • Leadership makes it important
  • Leadership creates the sense of urgency to get it done
  • Leadership reinforces the culture
  • Leadership implements change and sees it through until it sticks

Perfect Example: Posting “invisible” Scoreboards... Read More

Three Business Lessons from my Accident

July 17, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


This is my first Monday Morning Wake-Up since June 12th.

I’ve been writing my weekly Monday Morning Wake-Up (MMWU) non-stop for over ten years.

It’s a responsibility that I take seriously because leading and growing a successful salon/spa in these tumultuously changing times is tough … even for the most experienced leaders. And I take pride in doing my part to help you get there.

However, on Wednesday, June 7th, at 5:30pm, my life and world was turned upside down.

I am an avid cyclist. I left the office around 3:00pm to do a 20-mile training ride in preparation for my tenth MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride. I was looking forward to leading Team Strategies on the 150-mile ride from Boston to Provincetown that was coming up on June 24-25.... Read More

How to Be Prepared When Top Service Providers Leave

July 10, 2017 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments


As a leader of a company, you develop relationships with your team members.

They show up to work without fail for 5, 10, or 15+ years without missing a beat.

You can count on them.

You attended their weddings, went to their baby showers and paid your respect at the funerals of their loved ones. They have been to your house for holiday gatherings, and even babysat your kids.

Then, one day, they walk into your office and give their two-week notice — as if two weeks is really going to give you enough time to prepare for how this will impact the business.

Needless to say, the emotional impact is going to be troublesome, as well.

As the conversation continues, the employee swears they are not going to take any clients or formulas, and when asked, they vaguely explain that they are still unsure of where they are going.... Read More

How to Build Trust in Your Salon or Spa

July 2, 2017 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

how to build trust in your salon spa

Have you ever managed people who just didn’t trust one another?

We hear it all too often at Strategies …

  • The service providers don’t trust the front desk to book appointments correctly.
  • The front desk doesn’t trust the service providers to run on time.
  • The employees do not trust the manager to be fair to them.
  • The owners do not trust that the managers will hold the employees accountable.

…. and it goes on and on in a self-defeating, crazy circle of “NON-TRUST.”

This scenario is played out in salons and spas every day.

The fact is, a team without trust isn’t really a team. It’s just a group of individuals, working together, often making disappointing progress. When you have trust, it promotes creativity, empowerment, teamwork, and the leadership needed during times of uncertainty and change. What’s left is a culture of trust that is an asset for any salon or spa.... Read More

The Salon/Spa Owner’s Guide to Scaling Back Services

June 26, 2017 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

salon spa owners guide to scaling back services

You’ve built the most beautiful salon/spa in your town.

Clients love you.

You are really busy — like, 12-hour days busy — and plenty of cash is flowing into the register!

Great situation, RIGHT?

There’s just one minor problem…You’re the only one who is busy. 

Every week, we have multiple conversations with owners facing this exact situation, with each sharing their frustrations about looking up from their chairs, or emerging from their treatment rooms, to see staff hanging around with no clients.

Here is the far-too typical phone conversation we have with salon/spa owners:

Strategies: “How many hours per week do you perform services?”
Answer: “40+ hours.”... Read More

Is Your Salon or Spa Prepared for the Unknown?

June 19, 2017 | By Michael Yost | No Comments

is your salon or spa prepared for the unknown

The Unknown

Let that word sink in, because it can, and will, impact all of us at some point in our lives.

At Strategies, we encounter the Unknown everyday in our coaching work with salons and spas. Before you know it, the Unknown can rear its head with issues surrounding:

  • Staff leaving
  • Having enough cash
  • Low team performance
  • Lack of strong leadership
  • Suites opening down the block

Two weeks ago the Unknown hit close to home at Strategies. Our founder, Neil Ducoff, was injured in a bicycle accident just two blocks from our corporate offices. During the first few days after the accident, there were many Unknowns. But thanks to the systems and infrastructure we’ve worked so hard to create here at Strategies, business was able to continue on as usual. (We’re happy to report that Neil is on the mend and a full recovery is expected.)... Read More

The Secret to Salon/Spa Success Hasn’t Changed

May 8, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

I’ve been training and coaching salon/spa owners since the mid 1970’s. I’ve coached wildly successful businesses and I’ve coached more than my share of owners out of the fiery pits of hell.

Sadly, I’ve coached salons/spas that just couldn’t figure success out and closed their doors.

In almost every case, no matter how accurately I pointed them toward daylight, they would find a way to sabotage their own recovery.

Through it all, I’ve acquired a keen perspective of the thinking and behaviors that drive success … and those that lead to business nightmares.

There are no shortcuts to success.

There are no quick fixes.

Just the other day, a former coaching client called me seeking guidance. Her business has been struggling for a long time. She was at the point of making that really tough decision … close it or fight.

She decided to fight. However, the decision to fight, as admirable as it sounds, is very different from actually fighting to save a business.... Read More

Making Tough Salon and Spa Decisions

May 1, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Making tough decisions is just another responsibility of being a salon/spa owner. You don’t have to like them, but you absolutely do have to make them.

The tough decisions I’m referring to are the ones that rip at your core, keep you awake at night and refuse to give your mind a few moments of peace.

The problem with making tough decisions is that when you finally make them, the relief is only momentary. The weight on your shoulders simply shifts to the execution phase.

A really tough decision

A coaching client recently asked for my guidance on a really tough decision regarding a long-term, full-time employee’s health challenges. Eight months ago, this busy and popular stylist began having life-threatening health issues that required surgery and extended time off of work.

The owner did her best to support the employee through her health challenge. The team also stepped up by chipping in to pay the employee’s half of her health insurance until she could resume full-time work, which was supposed to happen four months ago.... Read More

Salon & Spa Owners: Seize this Moment!

April 17, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Salon Spa Owners Seize the Moment

The more owners I talk to, the more I hear them saying how tough business is these days.

Topping the list is the fear of losing staff to the lure of suites.

Then it’s rising costs.

Then it’s hearing clients say they can buy the same professional products cheaper from Amazon and other internet sites.

And on and on it goes.

Over the last forty years, I’ve written countless articles that included the statement, “These are tough times to be a salon/spa owner.”

Guess what? Growing a successful business IS tough. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking forty, ten, five years or one day ago, business has always been described by one word: Tough.

When the universal word to describe business is “tough,” the worst strategy is to stay in the same boat with owners that refuse to change. They’re all hoping things will get better. Guess what? “Hope” is not a strategy. Hope doesn’t stop a boat from sinking.... Read More

Change, Suites and the Four Salon & Spa Success Absolutes

April 10, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


The pace of change doesn’t care about the current state of your salon/spa. It doesn’t care how young or old, energetic or tired you are. It doesn’t care how much you think you know or what keeps you up at night.

The pace of change doesn’t care if you want to play the business game fast, slow or not at all.

The pace of change is the relationship of time and innovation. It’s relentless. It’s disruptive. It can be exciting for some and be intimidating for others.

As an employee-based salon/spa owner, you have four choices:

  1. Be at the forefront of change.
  2. Try to keep up.
  3. Fall behind.
  4. Give up.

There is a disturbing level of fear among employee-based salons/spa owners. Much of it is centered on the growth of independents and suites. The rest is the usual financial stress of running a salon/spa in today’s business environment.... Read More

Are You an Obsessive Compulsive Salon or Spa Owner?

April 3, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Obsessive Compulsive Salon Spa Owner

One of the traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the need for “everything” to be a certain way or done just right.

At a salon or spa, the traits of OCD are manifested in an owner or manager in the form of micromanaging damn near everything…

Like getting involved in everyone’s work to the point where your hands are doing the work.


Taking a project you assigned to an employee and completely redoing it.


Redoing retail displays, refolding towels, organizing employees’ work areas, rewriting promos, training manuals, presentations and more.

If this describes your approach to leadership…

You’re driving your employees, especially your leadership team, crazy!!!... Read More

The Danger of Who Gets the Credit

March 20, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Danger of Who Gets the Credit

I was in a Barney’s New York store looking for new suit.

I narrowed the selection to a suit I really liked and was ready for some sales help.

About ten feet away, two sales people are having an argument about “who should get the credit” for a sale.

The store was pretty empty so it was easy to hear every word.

This went on for ten minutes while I stood there…waiting.

Had I not liked this suit so much, I would have left and no one would get the sale.

Finally, one of them came over to help. I said, “I could hear you both arguing over a sale. Customers shouldn’t hear that kind of stuff.” Embarrassed, she apologized and helped me buy the suit.

The “who gets the credit” argument plays out in salons and spas every day. Yes … it happens even in Team-Based Pay salons/spas.... Read More

The Salon & Spa Business Acid Test

March 13, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Salon & Spa Business Acid TestIn so many ways, a business is a living functional being.

It has emotions, behaviors and vital signs.

Your business can be disciplined and in amazing shape. It can be lethargic, disorganized and in terrible shape.

A salon/spa business can be financially healthy. It can also be cash-starved, burdened with debt making it just plain sick.

A business can outlive its owners … and a business can die.

A salon/spa business can “appear” successful … but one look behind the curtain can reveal toxic conditions that cannot be hidden indefinitely.

So how does YOUR salon/spa stack up?

Let’s find out!

I put together this salon/spa business acid test to help you identify what’s working right and what needs attention and fixing.... Read More

Salon & Spa Meetings & Education: Mandatory or Optional?

February 13, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Creating the right culture and achieving true team performance isn’t the result of wishful thinking, good luck or accident.

It takes leadership engagement and information flow (communication) to a level that far exceeds what most salon/spa owners and managers do.

  • If you want to consistently deliver extraordinary customer service experiences … set the bar high and lead your team to that level of consistency.
  • If you want a team of the most highly skilled service providers … then educate the heck out of them.
  • If you want your first-time client retention rate to go from 35% to 65% or higher … then eliminate the service and technical inconsistencies that stand in the way.
  • If you want your pre-book rate (percent of clients that check out with a future appointment) … then make “maintenance cycle recommendations” at the end of every service a non-negotiable.
  • If you want retail sales to jump 10% or more over your current retail percent of total revenue … then make verbal and written retail recommendations at the end of every service a non-negotiable.
  • If you want a guest services team that rivals Ritz Carlton … then relentlessly train them to be the best.

The list can go on … but I think you see what this is leading to.... Read More

A Salon & Spa Owner’s Thinking Guide to Firing an Employee

January 30, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Salon Spa Firing Guide MMWU 1.30.17

Firing an employee is a right of passage for every salon/spa owner.

Even after years in business, having to tell an employee, “I have to let you go,” rarely gets any easier.

Without question, most employee terminations are stressful and emotionally draining on owners. When you’re taking an individual’s job and livelihood away, terminations should never be taken lightly.

Firing an employee can also be disruptive to the salon/spa’s culture, especially if the one being fired has tight friendships with other staff members.

And then there’s all that stuff leading up to that decision to fire.

  • The performance issues.
  • The repeated conversations.
  • The lateness and absenteeism.
  • The persistent testing and breaking the rules.
  • The drama and stirring the pot.

Because of the stress and emotional impact firings can have, I put together this 10-step “Owner’s Thinking Guide to Firing an Employee” to help you work up to, and through, a firing decision:... Read More

Salon & Spa Culture: How to Get it Right

January 23, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

“Culture” has officially become the new business buzzword in the salon/spa industry…

…and rightfully so.


Because the more defined and disciplined your culture is … the better your salon/spa performs across the Four Business Outcomes:

  1. Productivity
  2. Profitability
  3. Staff Retention
  4. Customer Loyalty

FACT: “Culture” IS the collective thinking and behavior of an organization. 

It is the culmination of all the hard work on leadership, systems, coaching, team building and accountability.

So, what does “getting your salon/spa culture right” look like?

  • It’s when “whatever it takes” thinking and behavior, replaces resistance to change and lackluster performance in every area of your salon/spa.
  • It’s when the consistency and systems become the number one priority for all team members.
  • It’s when team accomplishment takes precedent over individual accomplishment.

Collectively, the three preceding bullets are where culture building at salons/spas encounters the most challenge … and resistance.... Read More

The Aging Salon/Spa Business Model

January 9, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

The aging salon/spa business model

The closing of The Ted Gibson Salon in New York City just days before Christmas has fueled the debate that the salon/spa industry has officially entered an era of dramatic change.

Ted Gibson is a GREAT stylist … one I have admired for years.

Gibson said in the Modern Salon interview, “We were open for six years before we had our first walkout, then we had one four years later, then another two years later and one back in September.”

That’s four walkouts over thirteen years.

Clearly, Ted Gibson’s celebrity work, the Ted Gibson Artistic Team, the Ted Gibson Academy and his new product company pulled his attention away from the salon.... Read More

10 Salon & Spa Leadership Resolutions for 2017

January 2, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

10 Salon & Spa Leadership Resolutions for 2017

This begins my tenth year of writing the Monday Morning Wake-Up blog.

The very first MMWU was on January 18, 2008. This marks 466 continuous Monday Morning Wake-Ups.

The best way kick off the New Year is to give you my TOP TEN New Year’s Resolutions for 2017:

Resolution #1 – Flush your mental toilet: Every salon/spa owner has fears, bad habits and fond memories of bad decisions and things that didn’t go right. Every salon/spa owner has experienced broken trust, toxic employees and mind-blowing drama. Every salon/spa owner knows the stress of cash crisis. Every salon/spa owner is endowed with varying degrees of the procrastination bug and the tendency to avoid things they don’t like doing. Guess what? Damn near 100% of the funky and ugly stuff that happens in business is self-inflicted. You’re not a victim. No one else did this to you. Recognize it. Own it. And flush it.... Read More

Salon & Spa Tip Income – The Facts on Payouts & Reporting

December 12, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 14 Comments

When it comes to proper income tax reporting at salons and spas, the practice of tipping can easily be described as an accident waiting to happen.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax law says:

The tip income you receive as a service provider – whether cash or included in a charge – is taxable income. As taxable income, these tips are subject to federal income tax, social security and Medicare taxes, and may be subject to state income tax as well.

There is nothing vague about the tax law. All tips are taxable income and must be reported and taxed.

IRS tax law DOES NOT say …

  • “If you only report tips on credit cards … you’re covered and you can keep the cash tips.”
  • “If you only report five or ten percent of your tip income … we’re good with that.”
  • “Hey owners, if you don’t want to bother with reporting tip income and withholding tax on tips … just tell your employees that it’s their responsibility. We’ll never come after you.”

The reality is that too many owners, employees and independent contractors choose to make up their own rules rather than adhere to the legal requirements of tip reporting and withholding tax.... Read More

Are You Prepared for Serious Salon or Spa Growth?

December 5, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Are You Prepared for Serious Salon or Spa Growth?

Every salon/spa owner has that special vision of the company he or she wants to build.

Some envision grand multiple locations that are systemized, highly productive and wildly profitable…

Others envision a single location with a highly skilled team, delivering extraordinary customer service experiences that’s busy and making money.

Having those amazing visions of what can be … and making those visions a reality … are two entirely different conversations.

For clarification, when discussing “serious salon/spa growth” … I’m NOT referring to a business that rents chairs/treatment rooms or leases suites. Rental and suites is about occupancy and collecting monthly payments.... Read More

Making Salon/Spa Revenue Goals the Goal of Everyone

October 24, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Making Salon/Spa Revenue Goals ... Everyone’s Goal

Salon/spa service providers easily relate to their individual weekly and monthly goals. They do the work. They watch their numbers. Some push hard to meet and exceed their goals. Others aren’t so numbers driven and don’t push so hard.

In business, there is only one score that supersedes all others … did the salon/spa hit its revenue goal? It may be great that some individuals hit their personal goal, but if the salon/spa … the company … comes up short of its revenue goal, there are real consequences.

  • Because revenue goals represent break even plus profit, missing goal puts stress on the company’s ability to pay its expenses, debt obligations and fund growth initiatives.
  • Everyone likes to get a raise, advanced education and better benefits. That can’t happen if the salon/spa misses its monthly revenue goals more than it makes goal.
  • Missed monthly goals ultimately force owners to cut back on expenses. The longer missing goal continues … the deeper the cut backs need to go.

In team sports, the ultimate goal is to have a winning season, make it to the playoffs … and win the championship. The better the level and intensity of teamwork … the better the chance of having a winning season and winning it all.... Read More

Are You Willing to Go for Excellence in Your Salon/Spa?

September 26, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Are You Willing to Go for "Excellence" in Your Salon/Spa?

When it comes to customer service and technical excellence, how great do you want your salon/spa to be? You probably answered something like, “Pretty darn great.” Now, describe in detail what that “pretty darn great” looks like.

Now … how does your current level of customer service and technical excellence of your salon/spa compare to your vision of “pretty darn great”?

Most likely, there’s going to be a gap between where you are now and that pretty darn great.

So … what is it truly going to take to consistently deliver great customer service and technical excellence to your clients?... 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

Salon & Spa Interviewing and the PAY Conversation

September 12, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

A phone call comes in for a position you want to fill. The prospective employee says, “I’m interested in the [service provider] position you have open. What commission rate do you pay?”

I have never understood why, in the salon/spa industry, the pay conversation can begin before an owner has a chance to say, “Tell me a little about your experience.”

Hiring a stylist, colorist, esthetician, massage therapist, nail tech or any other technical position, is all about finding the right fit in terms of skill, personality and culture. It’s an investment of time, energy and resources to create the right opportunity for the right individual.

It’s imperative to ensure that these pieces fit before the pay conversation begins.

The intricacies of hiring an employee is diametrically opposed to renting a booth or suite where the service provider’s ability to pay rent is paramount.... 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

Salon/Spa Scoreboards: Getting Everyone on the Same Page

August 29, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

At the top of every salon/spa owner’s wish list is, “how do I get everyone on the same page?” The only truly effective way to get everyone on that elusive same page is to have them all looking at that same page … at the same time.

For years, I’ve listened to owners say, “scoreboards and huddles won’t work.” The excuses range from work schedules that are all over the place to an outright fear and/or refusal to share the salon/spa’s true revenue goal for the month.

  • It’s like they want everyone to work really hard together for a goal that’s hidden behind a curtain.
  • Others only want to give individual goals in hopes that it all adds up to a company win. But that’s nothing more than growing columns on the appointment book … not growing a dynamic team-based company.

A simple information-flow acid test... Read More

Inspiring Millennials in the Salon or Spa

August 8, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Millennials in the salon or spa

I am not a researcher or demographics expert. I’m simply a life-long student of business, an observer and entrepreneur.

There is so much “labeling” of the thinking and behavior of a broad range of generations, that false assumptions are being made that directly conflict with the most basic rule of success.

Success is about working hard to achieve your goals and dreams. Achieving success has nothing to do with the year a person was born.

I respect and celebrate generational diversity. However, I really take issue with all this generation profiling of Baby Boomers, Gen X and now, Millennials. I don’t do it with people based on the color of their skin or ethnicity. I don’t do it with people seeking to start a career.... Read More

Owning an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

July 18, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Owning an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

There are many voices that say, “Commission salon/spas are a thing of the past.”

What I don’t understand is why “commission” … a method of compensation … is used to describe an employee-based business.

The voices predicting the demise of commission salon/spas mostly come from those involved in booth rental and suites (independents that rent and those that need to rent space). Ads for suites all tout the same theme …

“Be your own boss.”

Yes, suites are the new shiny thing and getting lots of attention, but they target the talent at employee-based salons/spas to fill those suites.

Commission salon/spas are easy targets because the hook is: “Why make 40% or 50% when you can keep it all?”... Read More

Career, Professionalism & Success in the Beauty Industry

July 11, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Career, Professionalism & Success in the Beauty Industry

If you’re going to do something with your life and career … do it to the best of your ability.

And if your ability comes up short, study and practice harder until you get it right. Work at it until you master it.

You get one shot at life. I don’t know about you, but I set out to make a difference in the world around me…

I wanted to succeed in business.

I wanted to be the leader of my own company.

I wanted to teach and coach. ... Read More

How to Overcome Being Overwhelmed

July 4, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

How to Overcome Being Overwhelmed

People are not computers.

You can’t just install an upgrade or a new app to scale up problem solving capabilities. People have emotions that surround life and work challenges.

When challenges exceed your capacity to manage the stress, feelings of “overwhelmed” take over. And when you’re overwhelmed … your ability to lead and make the best decisions is severely compromised.

As a salon/spa owner, you are especially prone to high levels of stress simply because you are the…

  • Leader
  • Coach/motivator
  • Decision maker
  • Marketer
  • Financial controller
  • Purchaser
  • Disciplinarian

… and the one with everything on the line. ... 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

The Dirty Truth About Salon & Spa Service Payroll Costs

June 6, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Warning: The following may be a tough pill for many salon and spa owners to swallow… but it’s one that needs to be swallowed nonetheless.

Ready? Let’s talk salon and spa service payroll costs:

The Strategies benchmark for service payroll (not commission rate) is 30 to 35 percent of total revenue (Service Sales + Retail Sales = Total Revenue) … as it appears on a Profit and Loss Statement.

Each and every time we post this benchmark on the Strategies Salon/Spa Idea Exchange Facebook discussion group, owners say, “No one will work for that commission rate.”

And of course, stylists and other service providers post high attitude comments like, “I would NEVER give 65 percent of what I bring in to the owner.” Others say, “Based on my skill and experience, I would be insulted to be offered such a low commission rate.”

Disconnect on Service Payroll Percent

No matter how many times we clarify that our benchmark of 30 to 35 percent of total revenue has nothing to do with commission rates … it is clear that many owners and service providers are have difficulty understanding that we are referring to the total payroll cost for all service providers to the business.... Read More

Overcoming the Fear of Discussing Salon & Spa Service Prices

May 30, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Why is it such a challenge for owners and staff to discuss service pricing with clients?

Why do owners have so much anxiety about doing a necessary and justified price increase?

The cost reality

There is a value to all of the training, experience and dedication to deliver the services salons and spas provide to clients … none of which is free of charge to the business.

  • First and foremost, there is the cost of service payroll.
  • There are guest services and administrative payroll costs.
  • There is the cost of continuing technical and business education.
  • There is a cost to using the finest professional products.
  • There are overhead costs in the form of rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance, advertising, etc.
  • There is the cost to build out and equip an attractive facility.
  • There is the cost and repayment of debt that financed the start-up and/or periodic upgrading.
  • There is the need for the business to generate a fair profit on revenues.
  • Finally, there are the ever-increasing costs of doing business that eat away at profit.

Salons and spas sell time in exchange for services. Every hour that is sold … or unsold … has a cost. That means every service hour MUST be priced according to its “cost per hour + desired profit margin.”... Read More

Why Quick-Fix Decisions Can Wreck Your Salon or Spa

May 23, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


Quick-fixes are often never fixes at all.

How, you ask?

Here are three examples I’ve recently run across…

A salon owner calls asking for help to comply with California’s new AB 1513 law requiring that employees be paid for down time and rest time. That was Friday.

By the time we talked that Monday, the owner says, “I fixed the problem. Over the weekend, I put all employees on booth rental.” Wrong!

  • What his quick-fix actually did was slash his salon’s revenue capability, wrecked its culture and gave away his company’s most valuable asset … its customer list.
  • Converting to booth rental, or any other compensation system, does not eliminate the part California AB 1513 that requires “piece-rate” businesses (California’s Department of Labor has always classified salon/spa commission as piece rate) to pay employees for down time and rest time going back to 2012.

An owner hears me do a presentation on Team-Based Pay (TBP) and gets excited over what it can do for the future of her salon/spa. She keeps asking me how to calculate an employee’s pay from commission to TBP. I could see her entrepreneurial quick-fix seizure getting ready to flip the switch from commission to TBP. Wrong!... Read More

Grading Your Salon/Spa Retail & Pre-book Efforts

May 9, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Salon/spa owners: Are you flunking “Happiness”?

If the pre-book and retail recommendation is the undisputed professional conclusion to a salon/spa service … why isn’t every client receiving this essential professional advice?

  • Why the persistent push-back and indifference from service providers?
  • Why the disconnect between service providers and guest services staff at checkout?

“Happiness” is a super-simple system that Strategies introduced a number of years ago. It’s a system that connects service providers to guest services at checkout. It consists of a scripted “here’s what we did today recap,” a pre-book/recommended maintenance cycle and the recommended products for home use.

Simple? Yes.

Consistently executed? Not even close.

Related: Get instant access to our Happiness training video and cheat sheet here.... 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

When You Fall Out of Love with Your Salon/Spa

April 18, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Growing a successful salon/spa is not a blissful fun ride from opening day to extraordinary success.

Quite the contrary. It is a journey of wins and losses, highs and lows, pure elation and excruciating stress.

The labor-intensive nature of running a salon/spa can, and will, test the tenacity and leadership skills of all owners. But sometimes, the testing and challenges can become overwhelming.

When it becomes too overwhelming, some owners simply fall out of love with their business. It doesn’t mean they throw in the towel … it just means they stop trying so hard and just go through the motions of dealing with day-to-day operations.

Red warning lights start flashing when an owner falls out of love with his or her business. Why? Because when the owner hates showing up for work … so do their employees.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership thoughts on what to do when you stop feeling the love for your business:... Read More

When Salon & Spa Employees Choose to Leave

April 11, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

When service providers decide to quit a salon/spa, it is anything but, “Go gently into that good night.”

All too often, the process plays out with clandestine plotting and close teammates swearing secrecy. The easy part is quitting the salon/spa.

The difficult part is figuring out how to get the clients they serviced to follow them to a new location. The presumption is that all clients that requested them “belong to them.” And why not, they did the work.

Owners have a very different perspective. Owners look at their investment in training, coaching and filling the service provider’s appointment books with new clients. Owners look at the collective effort that is required to “build” a successful service provider.

Most importantly, owners regard their customer database, client history, formulas and other data as an asset and company property.

There are many voices in the industry that say, “no one owns the client” and that clients are free to go wherever they choose. Yes, clients are free to go wherever they choose. But, when the departing employee actively solicits those clients … often times through unauthorized use of client data … that’s when things get ugly.... Read More

It Takes 100%+ Team Effort To Hit Goal

April 4, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Nothing saps the energy, moral and confidence of a team than repeatedly falling short of goal.

Leaders get frustrated and, too often, the blame game and finger pointing spirals an already bad situation deeper into the fiery pit of hell.

An easy solution is to lower goal to make it easier to hit. But lowering goal to match current lackluster effort only reinforces more lackluster effort.

It’s not where the goal bar is set … it’s setting the level of effort to meet or exceed goal.

Service and retail goals are revenue targets that your spending budgets are based on. (Revenue goals and spending budgets are non-negotiable. Got it?) Repeatedly coming up short of goal means fewer dollars to fund operations. It doesn’t take long for cash flow to become tight and eventual financial panic to set in.

At Strategies, we coach the importance of having realistic monthly and annual goals. Monthly service revenue goals are based on the following formula:... 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

Rethinking Your Salon or Spa Appointment Book Strategy

February 29, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Rethinking your salon or spa appointment book strategy

Are you scheduling appointments or just filling orders?

Whenever a salesperson is referred to as an “order taker,” it means that salesperson lacks the initiative and experience to truly engage, discover and understand the needs of the customer.

The order taker goes after the “what do you need today” low hanging fruit and moves on.

A true salesperson, on the other hand, asks questions, listens intently, identifies problems, provides solutions, educates and builds relationships.

I’m not suggesting that order takers don’t work hard, because they do. They cover a lot of ground and talk to a lot of customers. It’s hard work collecting all that low hanging fruit.... Read More

10 Steps to a Perfect Salon or Spa Performance Evaluation

February 25, 2016 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

10 steps to a perfect salon or spa performance evaluation

It’s the age-old question posed by salon/spa owners…

Why don’t they ever do things like I want them to?

Well, maybe they never realized they were doing them wrong! If that’s the case, there’s no quicker and easier way to get staff back on track than with a performance evaluation.

One of the most effective ways to get the most out of your salon/spa staff is to give them lots of feedback. There’s a saying in Human Resources that nothing said in a performance review should ever be a surprise for an employee. Problems should be dealt with as they arise, and not saved for formal reviews. And be generous with your praise. What gets rewarded, gets repeated!... Read More

10 Ways to Keep Salon & Spa Staff Busy During Slow Winter Months

February 17, 2016 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments


Yes, the winter months often bring slower times in the salon or spa. But, that doesn’t have to mean you and your staff need to be unproductive. In fact, this is a perfect time for planning so you’re prepared to crush it for the remainder of the year.

Here are 10 ways to keep your salon/spa staff busy during the slower month:

  1. Technical and product knowledge training: Learning is a lifelong journey. Use this opportunity to advance the technical skills of your team.
  2. Clean out inventory: Remove all slow or non-selling inventory from the shelves until you’re ready for a targeted sales promotion.
  3. Write blog content: Assign articles to staff for 1/3/6 month’s worth of blog posts. Encourage people to co-write articles and staff spotlights. Remember, your blog is your knowledge hub to the marketplace. Showcase your expertise, and share those blog posts on social media.
  4. Offer additional skill certification courses: Use this downtime to ensure everyone’s skills meet your expectations. Now is the time to correct problem areas with specific re-training and coaching. Have senior staff mentor your newbies. Remember, this is different than everyone learning NEW skills. Instead, the focus here is that everyone is skill certified to provide the same level of service. This is critical when building clients that are loyal to the salon/spa.
  5. Plan product promotions: Ask staff teams to develop product (and maybe service) promotions for the next six months and/or upcoming holidays.
  6. Write and rehearse your scripts: Knowing what to say and how to say it are critical skills for any salon/spa that is looking to excel at the sales and client experience game. And the only way to guarantee your staff is speaking the language YOU want them to speak is through scripting. Get your staff involved. Map out every conceivable talking point and the appropriate response. Make it fun!
  7. Spring cleaning: When’s the last time you looked around your salon/spa and gave yourself a cleanliness reality check? Did you even notice those air vents have seven years of gunk on them? Encourage staff to thoroughly clean stations, general-use areas. Breaking the work up into teams makes it quick and easy for everyone.
  8. Visit local beauty schools: Take an afternoon and meet with your future workforce. Offer a brief presentation with your staff as guest speakers.
  9. Plan out your social media strategy: Want to know the trick to winning the social media game? Give your audience meaningful content that will enhance their social media experience. Show them fun stuff like behind-the-scenes antics, staff secret talents, funniest salon experiences, etc. Believe it or not, these will go a lot further than just hitting your followers with offers and promotions (although there’s a time and place for those as well).
  10. Software training: Does every member of your staff know how to run your point-of-sale software? Well, they should! Hold mini-trainings so everyone is prepared to jump in and help out a client if your front desk staff gets called away. Make sure to set your security parameters to restrict who has access to what (if applicable).

Now, if you’re scratching your head wondering how you’re going to get commissioned or rental staff to perform some of these duties, unfortunately, that is often the up-hill battle tied to a pay program that has conditioned service providers to think their pay is only based on what they produce in their chair.... 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

How Employee-Based Salons Will Endure Rental & Suites

January 25, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

There are those in our industry who believe that the popularity of booth rental and suites is going to mark the end of days for employee-based salons. Sorry, but this is not the case. Is there a decline in the number of salons? Yes … a few percentage points … but nothing worthy of saying employee-based salons are done for. Still, this kind of fear-based rhetoric is certainly enough to send needless chills down a salon owner’s spine and have them questioning the viability of their once predominant business model.

Booth rental has been around for decades and has most definitely penetrated almost every market. The emergence of salon suites and suite franchises solidifies the booth rental model’s place in the salon industry. However, with all due respect, much of the mass advertising for the “suite opportunity” is half-baked and misleading. Why? Because the suite business model is about getting stylists to sign multi-year leases.

Markets change, business models come and go … but to survive and thrive, independent salons must adapt. To truly succeed and endure – salons must become innovative and distinctive brands that deliver truly extraordinary technical skills and customer service at a level that’s often discussed, but rarely delivered.... Read More

How to Find Your Best Leadership Voice

January 18, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


As the leader, you are, and always will be, a focal point. You are the final decision maker. You are the protector of your salon/spa’s vision. You give, or hold back on, raises. You have the power to hire and fire. You are the voice of the salon/spa. And, because you are a focal point, your employees learn to read you like a book. They can tell when you’re happy, and they can certainly tell when you’re upset. All you need to do is walk into your salon/spa with “that look” on your face, and your team knows to stand clear.

All that you are … and are not … communicates through your leadership voice. Your leadership voice is uniquely yours because it embodies who you are, how you think and how you behave. It’s heard in many ways beyond verbal expression. Your demeanor speaks. Your written words speak. Your voice, inflection and tone speak. Sometimes your leadership voice communicates perfectly. And then there are those times when your leadership voice communicates in ways that can be damaging.... Read More

Why Set It and Forget It Does Not Work in Salons and Spas

January 11, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


The single most dangerous mode of business thinking is that you can just set it and forget it. You can’t do one performance review and expect exemplary behavior and performance for years to come. You can’t do one sales forecast or cash-flow budget and expect growth and profits every year. You can’t give an employee one raise and expect that raise to permanently satisfy that employee’s future income expectations. Likewise, you can’t pay a fixed or sliding-scale commission rate and expect it to perpetually motivate employees to do more and sell more.

The prevailing quest of many salon/spa owners and leaders is to find that magical “set it and forget it” setting. FACT: It just doesn’t exist. In business, that one strategy, that one plan, that one approach and that one system setting is always going to be short lived. The only permanent setting in business, life and nature is that “everything changes.” Before you start hyperventilating over the fact that everything about your business model is methodically becoming ineffective and obsolete … with some minor tweaks to your leadership thinking, it’s not that difficult to stay ahead of the change curve.... 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

Salon & Spa Employee Paychecks vs. Buying a Car

December 21, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Consider the annual income of three salon/spa employees from entry-level to senior service provider. If the-entry-level employee is making $10 an hour and working 40 hours per week, the annual gross income will be $20,800. A mid level service provider at a rate of $20 an hour, working 40 hours per week, will earn $41,600. A master level service provider at $45 an hour, working 40 hours per week, will earn $93,600. (Tip income is not included.)

Now, let’s go shopping for a new car in the $20,800 price range. There is a wide selection of economy-priced cars on the market today. From an expectation point of view, you want a decent level of quality, performance, comfort and some nice features like Bluetooth phone connectivity. You know your expectations must be in line with your budget – but you also will not accept any car that doesn’t meet your minimum expectations. QUESTION: When paying an entry-level service provider $20,800, why would you accept anything less than your minimum expectations?... Read More

Why Teamwork Is Your Salon or Spa Best Staff Retention Tool

December 14, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Everyone wants to be part of something – to belong. Team momentum and excitement are infectious. Teamwork pulls people together in the most positive and inspiring way. When your salon/spa’s team spirit is strong enough, even your self-proclaimed diehard loners and change resisters will find themselves subtly seeking a way to align with the team. Call it teamwork, camaraderie, or your family at work, the effect teamwork has on staff retention is the magic that every company can, and must, strive to achieve.

Throughout my working years, I’ve been part of three teams that stand out. With two of those teams, I was an employee. Of those two, one was a salon and the other was a publishing company. We were truly tight as co-workers, and relentlessly focused on goals and vision. Both companies had inspiring leaders who kept us on task and totally accountable for our actions and results. We were proud and WOW, were we ever productive. In both cases, when our teams’ fearless leaders moved on (one was promoted and the other turned into a jerk) the team energy and focus left with them. For me personally, I yearned for the involvement, camaraderie and growth I experienced on those teams. So much so, that without the team connectedness, I found myself looking for other opportunities beyond the company. In both instances, my searching led me to start my own companies.... Read More

Salon/Spa Walkouts: Devastation & Rebuilding

December 7, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

For a salon/spa, walkouts are the ultimate “destroy from within” scenario. What could be worse than once trusted employees clandestinely plotting to inflict severe damage on your business? What could be worse than having years of training and developing staff, loyal clients – and cash flow – relocate up the street?

In the walkout aftermath, owners are left feeling violated, scared and overwhelmed by the task of rebuilding. The stress and spinning scenarios of surviving a walkout can wreak havoc on an owner’s confidence and determination to rebuild. What will clients think when they return to a near empty business? Will you be able to meet payroll? How will the bills and rent get paid? Will you have to stop taking your paycheck? Will you ever be able to trust employees again? Many begin to question if business ownership is worth all the stress and hard work.

FACT: Walkouts happen for many reasons. Most often, the seeds of a walkout are unknowingly planted by the very owners and leaders that feel so victimized in the aftermath. Because of their labor intensive nature, a salon/spa is a leadership intensive business. Dialing back on any aspect of leadership, systems, accountability, employee development, appreciation and culture building assures the planting of walkout seeds.... 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 | 3 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

The TEN Worst Salon/Spa Leadership Behaviors

October 19, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

All leaders want their companies to perform flawlessly, but flawless performance is a rare occurrence. All leaders want their employees to believe in and support their company’s vision, but employees can find it hard to keep believing. All leaders want employees to be loyal and respectful, but loyalty and respect are something leaders earn rather than an expectation that can be controlled. All leaders want profitability and positive cash flow, but profitability and cash flow is an outcome of the leader’s financial discipline.

What happens on a leader’s watch is the leader’s responsibility. When things don’t go right, when mistakes happen, goals are missed, company cultures become contaminated and toxic, profits turn to loss, and debt increases … all these are connected to the leader’s thinking and behavior.

Here are ten of the worst leadership behaviors that, when combined, keep otherwise extraordinary companies stuck in extremely ordinary:... 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

No-Compromise Leadership Choices Drive Consistency

October 5, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

No-compromise leadership = Consistency across all four business outcomes (Productivity, Profitability, Staff Retention and Customer Loyalty). It’s such a simple equation. Yet, within its simplicity is a profound message to all who lead, or seek to lead others. The rich word for me here is consistency. Consistency is perhaps the most challenging aspect of no-compromise leadership to comprehend and live, because how one leads is influenced by the leader’s collective abilities, beliefs, behavior styles, perceptions and life experiences.

How long your voyage to no-compromise leadership will take depends on current behavior patterns. Some people are natural achievers while others are procrastinators. There are those who obsess over every minor detail in their quest for perfection. In leadership positions they can bog things down by micro-managing everything. At the other end of the spectrum are those who hate the details and do all they can to avoid them. In leadership positions, they can wreak havoc by communicating in such broad brush stokes that the outcomes they desire are vague and open to broad interpretation … if achieved at all. For a company’s performance and culture to be consistent, its leader must be a model of consistency. This is non-negotiable. It is one’s commitment and ability to be consistent that defines the no-compromise leader.... Read More

How To Keep Long-Term Staff Engaged

September 28, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Employee turnover is the age-old nemesis for all business owners. Recruiting, the hiring process, training and skill development are time consuming and costly. The real wildcard in the recruitment process is hoping that the new hires will adapt and fit into the company’s unique culture. At the other end of the spectrum are your long-term staff members. These employees have been with you through the good times and the not so good times. They’ve seen you at your best and, most certainly, they have seen you at your worst. They know the game, get their work done and represent the heart and soul of your company.

Like any long-term relationship, long-term staff members can present a unique set of potential challenges for leaders. At the top of the list is resistance to change. Because senior staff members typically require less oversight, they tend to settle into their routines and their own modified methods of getting their work done … better known as settling into their comfort zones. Once their comfort zones are furnished and landscaped to their liking, very often, even minor changes to workflow, work schedules or the introduction of new systems, is met with resistance.... Read More

Ten Must-Dos To Eliminate Salon/Spa Owner Stress

September 21, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

There are many reasons we entrepreneurs decide to set out on our own and start our own companies. We are driven by a vision to build something special and create our own destinies. We do it to create growth opportunities for ourselves and for those that choose to follow us and believe in our vision. Of course we do it for a financial reward and return on investment. We are willing to assume financial risks in the form of debt and obligations that require our signature to personally guaranty that, no matter what, all will be paid in full. We are the visionaries, the dreamers, the relentlessly passionate ones crazy enough to try and beat the odds of building a successful company.

Of all the reasons we start our own companies, one that is not on the list is to be stressed out. As we all know, there are times when the stress of ownership can be overwhelming and debilitating. There is the stress of making both big and tough decisions. There is the financial stress of paying bills, meeting payroll, making loan payments and being current on taxes. There is that crushing stress of debt that gets out of control. And then there’s the stress of leading and managing people. Heck … you’re probably getting stressed just reading about the things that get you stressed out.... Read More

How to Dial-In Your Salon/Spa Business Performance

September 14, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You have expectations for how your business performs. You want to maintain an optimal productivity rate while delivering extraordinary customer service. You want a great culture that inspires your team to go above and beyond. You want predictable revenue growth, a manageable payroll, controlled expenses, a cash reserve and a respectable net profit. Most of all, you want to enjoy being the leader of your own company and not be stressed out putting out fires, dealing with problem employees and struggling to pay bills.

The difference between achieving your performance expectations and being stressed out and struggling is the attention you give to “dialing in” the operational functions of your business. “Dialing in” means finding that optimal setting that achieves the desired performance. Think of leading your business like being at the control panel of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. There are multiple data screens, throttles, flight controls, dials, switches, levers and gauges. Each one needs to be set just right for takeoff, cruising altitude and landing. However, like in business, there are variables like wind speed, wind direction, temperature, the weight of the plane with passengers, baggage, cargo, fuel and more … that require a host of settings to be dialed in for current and future conditions.... Read More

Five Perspectives on Being a Salon/Spa Leader

August 31, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You cannot be the leader you are capable of without overcoming your own insecurities, fears and blockages. Every leader has stuff behind the curtain that gets in the way and holds you back, stuff you’d prefer to leave behind the curtain. Some leaders have issues with confrontational situations. Some leaders absolutely hate the disciplines of budgeting and cash-flow management. Some leaders obsess over big decisions and make them too late, or never make them at all. Some leaders want people to “just do their jobs” without having to lead, manage, coach or evaluate them. Some leaders know that their company is stuck, but fear what can happen if they rock the boat. Some leaders are great at the visionary stuff and pretty much suck when it comes to execution. Chances are, you are one or more of the “some leaders” I just described.

There is nothing simple about being a leader. You don’t get a crystal ball that allows you to see the future … yet you need to predict the future. You don’t have unlimited cash reserves. You will not hit every goal. People will do dumb things … including you. People will amaze you and people will frustrate and disappoint you. You will earn trust and you will feel the pain when trust is broken. You will hire many of the right people and some of the wrong people. You will fire some people because their work and behavior could no longer be tolerated. Likewise, you will have to fire good people that just couldn’t do the work. You will feel elation in your victories and agony in your defeats. Like I said, there is nothing easy about being a leader.... 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

Making Peace with Performance Reviews

August 10, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Do you do quarterly performance reviews at least once a year? That’s a line from my No-Compromise Leadership book that always gets an unsettled chuckle. Why? Because there’s something about conducting performance reviews that causes them to be avoided, conveniently forgotten or dreaded. For many leaders, the thought of scheduling performance reviews is the equivalent of sentencing themselves to hour after hour after hour in purgatory. If you regard once a year as bad enough, quarterly performance reviews are going to be pure torture. But no matter how you view the process, avoiding performance reviews is a massive leadership compromise.

All leaders want to have a dynamic, efficient and productive business with a culture dedicated to delivering relentless quality. They want engaged employees who believe in the vision and purpose of the business. And more than anything … they just want employees that do their job. But what leaders want, requires that leaders also do the most essential part of their job – to coach and inspire employees. Performance reviews are simply part of the work of leadership to bring out the best in those they lead.... Read More

Anatomy of Payroll Expense

August 3, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

If you have a business, you have payroll expense. Even if you work alone, after all the expenses are paid, you are the payroll expense. Machines and computers may automate, speed and simplify many aspects of work, but a business is still about people. And when a business has people, payroll is and always will be the largest expense category.

Payroll buys a complex array of talent, thinking and behavior. People have ideas, dreams, passion, skills, courage, imagination and other purely human qualities that give a business life and meaning. People are also the most challenging aspect to leading and growing a successful company – especially in a service business where quality and excellence is dependent on how well the service experience is executed.

Here is my No-Compromise Leadership anatomy of payroll expense:... Read More

The High Cost of Leadership Indecision

July 27, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

For leaders, indecision is choosing inaction over taking action. Indecision is a choice that allows a problem to become a crisis, poor performance to become tolerated performance and potential obstacles to become concrete road blocks. Indecision also has a unique way of turning seize-the-moment opportunities into missed opportunities. No matter how you look at it, indecision stalls all forward progress.

When a problem exists in a business, just about everyone sees it. And the longer the problem persists, the deeper and uglier it gets. One of the fundamental principles of No-Compromise Leadership is: When a problem is identified … engage and resolve it. The “compromise” is when a leader acknowledges the problem and then avoids, ignores or procrastinates in addressing it. Employees then become indifferent because they figure if you don’t care … why should they. Leadership indecision feeds complacency and culture contamination throughout a company at a level that far surpasses the originating problem.... 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.

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Being the best team member

June 22, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Being the best means that every team member is committed to doing “whatever it takes.” Once the performance bar to be the best is set … it becomes every team member’s performance bar. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that fellow team members hold up their portion of the bar – even if it means holding up more than your share when another team member can’t. There is nothing idealistic about what it takes for a team to be the best. “No compromise” is the team mantra.

Here are my ten No-Compromise Leadership tenets for being the best team member:

  1. Be your best: You made it on the team because the team believed in your potential. Now it’s time to show up and perform. Now it’s time to deliver. The team didn’t hire you to be late, to procrastinate, to give excuses, to test the rules, to avoid work or create drama. The team doesn’t care if you’re a Millennial, Gen Y, Baby Boomer, black, white, gay, straight or transgender … the team wants to be the best and expects you to be, and bring, your best everyday. And if your current best is not enough, the team will help you, train you and coach you. Anything less than your best is a compromise.
  2. Help others be their best: Everyone brings special talents and skills to the team. When another team member is struggling, it is your responsibility to reach out your hand and help in any way you can. If it’s a skill or performance challenge, coach and train your fellow team members. If it’s a confidence issue, help them find their strength and belief in their abilities. Teams that want to be the best excel at helping and supporting each other. Anything less is a compromise.
  3. Step up or step out: No compromise means, “If it needs to be done – get it done.” Being the best team member means stepping up without hesitation. It means putting yourself out there to take on a challenge or fix a problem. When an individual continually steps back to let others carry the load, it’s time for that individual to step out. When a team wants to be the best, it cannot tolerate any weak links. Anything less is a compromise.
  4. Ask for help sooner: Being the best means the pace is fast and the focus is on the road ahead. If you’re struggling and falling behind, ask for help sooner rather than later. The team will adjust, support you and get you up to speed. On a great team, asking for help is an expectation, not a sign of weakness. In fact, asking for help sooner is the key to maintaining a fast pace. Ask too late and the team has to decide to stop or drop you. Anything less is a compromise.
  5. Respect and trust: It is every team member’s responsibility to honor and respect, not only their team members … but what the team stands for as well. Lack of respect, in any form, is a compromise. Lack of respect to the rules, policies and standards is a compromise. And nothing wrecks teamwork faster than distrust. The moment one team member has reason not to trust another; the team begins to self-destruct. It is your responsibility to earn trust everyday by delivering what you promise, by doing your job and by protecting the integrity of the team. Anything less is a compromise.
  6. Say something: People are people and sometimes they drift outside the rules or accepted behavior of the team. It is everyone’s responsibility to respectfully call out another team member when his or her actions or behavior compromise the integrity of the team. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “This isn’t how we do things here.” Too often, team members wait for the leader to address it. Teamwork is about shared accountability and stepping up. Say something. Anything less is a compromise.
  7. Live your role: Everyone brings unique talents, skills, thinking and behavior to the team and their role and position on the team. It is your responsibility to live your role to the best of your ability each day. Not everything can be defined on a job description. Living your role means being passionate and committed about your work. Living your role is about ensuring that your personal link in the team’s chain is strong and can be counted on when put under heavy load and stress. Anything less is a compromise.
  8. Oldies and newbies: Senior members on the team have a responsibility to each and every newbie’s success. Senior members are the keepers of the vision and protectors of the culture. Senior members’ skills and processes are finely honed and time tested. Senior members are the essential “pay it forward” part of the team. Newbies are the future and newbies bring energy and fresh thinking to the team. Yes, senior members learn from newbies too. For a company and a team to endure, getting the oldie/newbie dynamic right is a non-negotiable. Anything less is a compromise.
  9. Loners should be alone: Some people are loners and don’t play well with others … especially on teams. Some loners can adapt and find their place on a team. Loners can be talented and amazingly high achievers, but when their performance is achieved at the expense of teamwork, team performance will suffer. Loners that are allowed to occupy a place on a team will always be the elephant in the living room. Allowing a loner to continue on a team will create a double standard that will degrade the performance of the entire team. Team players belong on your team. Anything less is a compromise.
  10. Beyond your wildest dreams: The very nature of a team that is striving to be the best lifts everyone to a place of extraordinary opportunity. One of the major benefits to individuals that play on dynamic teams is how quickly they can progress to achieving their full potential. Career paths expand rapidly. Income potential increases. New skills and responsibilities are within reach. It is all possible because the team that wants to be the best is really a group of individuals that discovered the power of shared accountability. Anything less is a compromise.

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What if the accepted way is flawed?

June 15, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

There is a way things are done. Industries have their way of doing things. Businesses have a way of doing things. People have a way of doing things. This “way” is the accepted way. Deviate from the accepted “way “and you risk being labeled a renegade, troublemaker or just a plain old nutcase. But what if the tried and true “way” lost its potency? What if the “way” is flawed? What if there was a “different” way that was more effective, efficient, productive, stimulating, motivating, exciting and revolutionary? What if this different way was the breakthrough you’ve been hoping and searching for? And what if your response to this breakthrough way was, “This isn’t the way things are done.”? Poof … you watched opportunity pass you by.

In business, traditional ways of doing things are merely proven and accepted habits. When time, circumstance and new thinking merge, those habits are challenged. The flaws are revealed. A different way … a better way … emerges. The early adaptors are the pioneers. They question what is and challenge status quo. They figure it out. They make it work. Eventually, other leaders take notice. People take notice. Buyers take notice. Yet, competitors and naysayers label the new way a fad. They don’t “believe” in it. Well, fire wasn’t a fad. The internal combustion engine wasn’t a fad. The Apple I computer wasn’t a fad … nor was the iPod, iPhone or iPad. Total Quality Management wasn’t a fad. Open-Book Management wasn’t a fad.... 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

Testing your limits and lessons learned

May 25, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Bear-Mountain-FinishComfort zones are boring. Status quo is ordinary. “Doing OK,” means satisfactory but not exceptional. “Playing it safe” is a commitment to never pursue your full potential. When it comes to our potential to achieve great things, we all have our limits. Some people are just built to run or swim fast. Some people have high IQs. Some people are great with math. The point is, you will never know just how good you are, what your true potential is until you are willing to test your limits. And every time you test your limits at something, you gain experience. You learn. You get better.... 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

When your business does not feel well, you do not feel well

April 13, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

sickLike humans, businesses can have serious health issues too, like being cash starved, burdened with crushing debt, and a toxic culture. I always say, “My heart beats along with my business.” When it’s healthy, profitable and fun, I feel great. When it’s sick, I feel sick. If you’re a business owner, you know exactly what I mean.

If your business hasn’t been feeling well lately, then you’re feeling it too. Maybe your business is just out of shape and lethargic because it’s carrying too much baggage. You feel concerned, a bit stressed and perhaps even frustrated. If your business is sick, the concern, stress and frustration are magnified. And if your business is seriously sick … perhaps life-threatening sick … the stress and sleepless nights can be debilitating.... 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

Are you a control freak leader?

March 30, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

control_freakIf you want it done right, do it yourself. That’s the motto of a control freak leader. You oversee everything. You need to approve everything. You come up with the ideas that everyone else needs to execute. Your definition of delegating is allowing others the freedom to get things started, then stepping in, taking over and doing it the way you want. You’ve got your tentacles embedded into every nook and cranny of your company. Yes, you are a proud and worthy control freak leader. You are also the most frustrating, smothering and energy sapping leader to work for.

There are varying degrees of control freak leaders. Some are project and turf selective where everyone knows it’s best to keep their hands off. Some are pouncers that, like a wild tiger tracking its prey, hold back until they’re about to explode … then pounce on a project and rip it to shreds. And as described in the opening paragraph, there is the certified obsessive-compulsive control freak that meddles in everything to the point where nothing gets done.... 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

TOP TEN Worst Leadership Behaviors

March 2, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

bad_leadershipFor 40 years I have devoted my career to teaching, writing and coaching on entrepreneurial business growth and leadership. I included the term “entrepreneurial” because I am also a life-long entrepreneur. I just love all aspects of what makes a small business great. I especially love the passion that drives individuals to turn a vision into a functioning, dynamic and profitable enterprise.

On the flip side of all the stuff I love, is all the stuff that turns visions into nightmares, profit into losses, and passion into toxic waste. When a business drifts into dysfunctional behavior, it rarely has anything to do with the economy or stiff competition … it has everything to do with leadership behaviors that “destroy from within.”... 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

How to get employees to embrace ownership thinking

February 9, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

Some owners are happy when employees just do their job well. Get the work done. Follow the rules. Make clients happy. Don’t waste resources. Be on time. Take initiative within the confines of the “employee box”. This “just do your job well” approach is the traditional owner/manager/supervisor/worker hierarchy where people and groups are ranked according to status or authority. Each group or level places people in a “box” with set levels of authority. There’s nothing wrong with this approach and very successful companies have and will continue to emerge from this most traditional approach.

The limitation of the box level approach is that it constrains and contains the creative thinking of people within their designated box. At the worker level, the box is all about output and productivity and very little about creative thinking and decision making to do the work more efficiently. Creative thinking and decision making is reserved for the uppermost boxes that are often the most distant from the work. This approach leaves a vast resource of untapped brain power at the most critical level … where the work is actually being done.... Read More

Into the heart of Compensation Systems design

February 2, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

compensation_designIn its most simplistic state, a compensation system buys time from an individual performing work. That’s the easy part; everything beyond this point becomes progressively more complicated. Can the individual perform the work and deliver on expectations? Can the individual fit the company’s unique culture? Does the individual have the desire and drive to grow and excel? Is the individual coachable and adaptable to change? Will the individual show up on time … or show up at all? Will you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth every time you hand over a paycheck?

As previously stated, buying time from individuals is the easy part. Designing the components of a compensation system that drive the right outcomes is the tough part. There is a “layering effect” that begins with the actual dollars to be paid for the work and compounds all the way up to a career and income growth path. Every layer is a joint effort that links the thinking and behavior of employees and leadership in order to create the right outcomes. The concept of “pay for performance” is seriously shortsighted. It sets both employees and leaders up for frustration and failure because just paying for performance – handing out a paycheck – is no guarantee that genuine work will occur.... 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

The ultimate leadership wish list

January 12, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

leadership_definedIn its most distilled state, leadership is about getting to a better place. It is about leadership of the self, leadership of other people, leadership of processes, and leadership of resources. At a deeper, cerebral level, leadership is purely about shaping the disciplines of thinking and behavior. So what does this all mean? It means that being a truly effective leader capable of achieving and sustaining forward progress and growth is more a journey of self-discovery than a destination.

Leaders come in many styles. Some are great communicators while others are abrasive. Some are disciplined and organized while others are inconsistent train wrecks. Some courageously lead through various crises while others struggle with daily stressors, like making tough decisions and finding a light at the end of the tunnel. Some are compassionate and appreciative while others are … well … buttheads.... Read More

Twelve No-Compromise Resolutions for 2015

December 29, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

fresh_startAs we wrap up 2014, it’s the perfect time for business leaders to reflect on the year’s accomplishments, ponder the lessons from challenges overcome, and look to the New Year with anticipation, confidence and determination. It’s also a time to address those patterns of behavior that, much like a minefield of your own making, routinely cause things to blow up.

The annual practice of making New Year’s resolutions can lead to a lot of empty promises that you make to yourself. However, if you add a potent dose of No-Compromise Leadership thinking and behavior into the mix, you could enter 2015 on a road free of behavior minefields … but only if you are committed to the process.... 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

Founders Fatigue and what to do about it

October 13, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

fatigueI was doing a coaching call with an owner. We were discussing strategic changes he would like to implement that could dramatically increase revenues, address customer needs more quickly and efficiently, improve customer retention rates and provide his employees with significant income growth. His company was already quite successful and actively encouraged employee engagement through open-book management, team bonuses and profit sharing. His proposed strategic changes made perfect sense. I could hear the commitment and passion in his voice – until he began talking about his people and their reaction to his ideas. His tone changed as he shared employee resistance to expanding roles and new opportunities. And then he said, “I have owner’s fatigue.”... Read More

Reigniting your leadership passion

October 6, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

passionLast July I completed the 77-mile Prouty Ride in New Hampshire. There were hills-a-plenty and I turned in an average speed that was so slow I don’t even want to share it. I have a top-of-the-line Specialized S-Works road bike, so it wasn’t my equipment that was lacking. What was lacking was the ability of the bike’s engine – me. My growing frustration with my slow performance finally got to me. I may be 64 years old, but I know I’m physically capable of developing more power and speed – and reigniting my passion for cycling. So I hired Tracey Drews, a Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) coach, to kick my butt into shape. In two months, I increased my average speed almost two miles per hour and lost 10 pounds in the process. I feel great. I’m proud of my improvements. I got my passion for cycling back.
... 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

Keeping your business in balance

September 22, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

in-balanceI was boarding a 20-seat commuter plane with six other passengers. We took our assigned seats, most of which were toward the front of the plane. Just before the captain started up the engines, he came into the cabin and asked a few of us to take seats further to the rear. “We need to balance out the plane,” he explained. Given the explanation, I was happy to move to an aft seat. In the process, I found it interesting how immune we frequent flyers on commercial jets have become to flight dynamics. I know I never give it a thought.

But on that tiny plane, I was reminded how performance and safety depend on the proper balance. That captain knew that had he not balanced the weight, he would have had to over-compensate on the controls to keep the plane flying straight and true – especially during takeoff and landing. As captain of your business, how often do you find yourself trying to overcompensate when things are out of balance? You know exactly what I’m talking about.... 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

Perfect teams are like fuzzy benchmarks

September 8, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

fuzzy_numbers2Every leader has a story of that “perfect team” of people. The stories are always about a shared passion to achieve the near impossible – to overcome all obstacles. There’s camaraderie, mutual support and knowing that everyone has your back. And then there’s that sprinkle of magic that gives each and every team member the belief that, together, they are unstoppable. But gradually over time, members of the team move on and replacements are brought in. The legacy of greatness remains, but that magic and electricity is different … or else absent entirely.

For leaders, it is a privilege to lead such a perfect team. But how does such a team come together? Is it by chance or by design? Perhaps the real question is, can such a team be persistently and consistently replicated? Perfect teams are like fuzzy benchmarks. You know the stats they’re capable of producing. You know the required skills and can articulate how all the players should seamlessly interact. You think you know all the ingredients … but it’s getting that mixture just right that eludes you.... Read More

TEN No-Compromise Leadership Disciplines

August 25, 2014 | By Eric Ducoff | 1 Comment

leadership_disciplines2No leader is a complete package of thinking and behavior disciplines. For most leaders, being that complete package is best defined as a quest to becoming as near complete as one can get. Just how hard are you willing to work at it? Just how open are you to making profound changes in your own thinking and behavior? If you’re truly committed to becoming an authentic No-Compromise Leader, you will need to embrace the following ten No-Compromise Leadership disciplines:

  1. It’s not about you: Being a leader is innately personal. It’s about achieving your full potential by coaching others to achieve theirs … all in a singular effort to achieve the company’s vision. People fight for and are loyal to a leader’s fairness, integrity, compassion and courage in accomplishing something great and worthy. But a leader is simply a guide to a better place. When a leader devolves into “all about me” thinking, an egotistical and selfish dictator takes over. No-Compromise Leadership is never about you. It’s about the people you lead and where you are taking the company.
  2. Strive for absolute clarity: It’s hard for people to put their best efforts into an abstraction they don’t understand. No-Compromise Leaders take extreme care to communicate the company’s vision, objectives and tasks with absolute clarity. I use the term “absolute clarity” because it eliminates the wiggle room that gets many leaders into trouble and pushes leaders to thoroughly define their desired outcomes. Make a practice of embedding “absolute clarity” into your approach to communication.
  3. Orchestra leader: This discipline is for all those leaders that meddle and attempt to micro-manage just about everything. It’s an exhausting leadership pattern that fuels frustration in everyone – including the leader doing it. The role of a leader is like that of an orchestra conductor. The conductor leads the way through the musical score, keeping all the musicians and sections in sync. The conductor creates urgency, boldness and order to bring emotion to the score. But … the conductor never touches an instrument. Leadership means guiding and coaching others – and never touching their work. It’s about achieving the right outcomes through others.
  4. Respect levels of authority: This means that each member of your leadership team should be prepared and empowered to make decisions and guide operations that adhere to the company’s objectives and visions. The moment you bypass levels of authority by making or overriding the decisions of your leaders, you de-power that leader. Work with and through your leaders by providing the training, coaching and resources they need to fulfill the requirements of their position.
  5. Brain and heart balance: It’s great to be compassionate. It’s prudent to make decisions based on facts, analysis and probabilities. However, both brain and heart decisions must be properly balanced. Too much heart can have you tolerating intolerable behavior and performance, which often leads to double standards and contamination of your company’s culture. Too much brain and people become numbers and statistics. No-compromise Leaders strive to have a balance of both.
  6. Voice of the company: Companies have vital signs just like humans do. When a company is sick or encounters challenges, it needs its leader to speak on its behalf. That’s why No-Compromise Leaders always speak as “we” … not “me.” Leaders monitor their company’s vital signs and performance. Leaders plot the future of the company. Leaders address challenges with decisive action. In every way, the leader must always be the voice of the company.
  7. Measure what matters: There’s a reason they call “critical numbers” critical. If they’re not heading in the right direction, there’s a problem. No-Compromise Leaders have a set of critical numbers that are relentlessly monitored; numbers like gross profit margin, net profit, cash, client retention and productivity rate, among others. Leaders get into trouble when they don’t pay attention to their critical numbers – and even more serious trouble arises when they don’t know what the critical numbers mean. The most important part of monitoring critical numbers is in how they shape the company’s performance and culture. “What gets measured gets repeated” isn’t just some clever saying … it communicates how people and teams improve performance in order to push critical numbers in the right direction. What critical numbers are you measuring?
  8. Lift or drag: This is such a simple and powerful leadership process. If a person, system or project isn’t creating lift…then it’s creating drag. There is no middle ground. Lift is good. Drag is bad. Lift is fast. Drag is slow. Got it? No-Compromise Leaders have little tolerance for drag. If they can’t find a way to turn drag into lift – they eliminate the drag. For example: If you have a team of “A” players, allowing a “C” player to remain on that team is drag and will eventually degrade one or more of the “A” players into “B” players. That’s how cultures become contaminated.
  9. Urgency of the unknown: No-Compromise Leaders know all too well that comfort zones are merely “rest stops.” Getting trapped in a comfort zone means all forward progress stops and status quo officially becomes the accepted normal. The future is going to happen no matter what; leaders can either prepare and control as much of the future as possible … or allow the future to render them irrelevant. The future is an exciting place that is full of opportunity. It is the leader’s job to create a sense of urgency to embrace the future – not to fear it.
  10. Let go of the reins: This is the most difficult part of leadership. No-Compromise Leaders surround themselves with an inner circle of leaders that are in total sync with the objectives and vision of the company. Letting go of the reins is a natural and necessary part of leadership that ensures the company can live beyond its leader’s lifespan. Simply put, leaders that can’t let go of the reins by preparing and empowering emerging leaders are essentially forcing the company to live and die with the leader. Got it?

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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 to Control Your Time Bandits

July 21, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

You worked hard all day on a bunch of stuff. There were emails, phone calls, tasks, interruptions – and some fires that would have burned out of control had you not stepped up to play fireman.

You’ve had a busy day, but what meaningful work did you truly accomplish? How much progress did you make on those gotta-do projects scattered all over your plate?

Fact: being “busy” does not translate into being productive and making forward progress.

Being busy can mean you’re procrastinating on work you should be doing.

Being busy can mean that you’re doing work that others can and should be doing.

Lastly, being busy can mean that you’ve set yourself up to be an easy target for time bandits.... 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

When it is personal, it matters

July 7, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

MS-TeamStrategies-v2aOn June 28-29, five riders on Team Strategies departed the UMass Campus in Boston and began a 155-mile, two-day ride to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. This was the sixth time I did the MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride. As in past years, I managed to convince two new riders to join our team. I tell them it is an experience of a lifetime that they will never forget. I tell them the hills aren’t too bad on Cape Cod. And I tell them that we’re riding to raise money for a worthy cause. One of the new riders was Ronit Enos, a salon owner from Hingham, MA. The other new rider was my nephew, Adam Ducoff from New Jersey. Rounding out our team were Sonny Rapozo of East Falmouth, MA, and Robert Korpak, my neighbor from Old Saybrook, CT – both of whom I introduced to distance cycling a number of years ago.... 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

Challenging your own conventional wisdom

May 5, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

challenge_wisdomMany of today’s most powerful strategies and systems were derived from leadership thinking that challenged conventional wisdom. But empowerment, systemization, process management, open-book management, Team-Based Pay and other contemporary approaches to achieving breakthrough results will surely fail if the leader’s beliefs and thinking conflict in any way. Here’s a Neilism to drive that point home: “Leadership beliefs and thinking must align with strategies for measurable results to occur.”

For leaders, few challenges eclipse the need to objectively examine one’s basic beliefs about leading people. Leaders must do this in order to harness and organize your team’s collective efforts and achieve the right outcomes. The issue is that beliefs about leading people can work for or against you. For example, if your belief is that people cannot be trusted, it is unlikely that those you lead will trust you in return.... Read More

When doing it right is wrong

April 28, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

right_is_wrongSomething went “oops” in your company and one employee immediately stepped up to save the day. It wasn’t just any employee – it was that one amazing employee who always seems to step up when things go wrong or when a volunteer is needed to go above and beyond. This employee did the right thing … but a number of team members label the employee as a “show off” or so-called “teacher’s pet.” The company has been in a funk lately and there’s grumbling within the employee ranks. Yet there’s one employee who consistently steps up and kicks butt by producing numbers and results that are off the charts. This employee is doing the right thing … but a number of team members shun and bad-mouth the employee for making them look bad.
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On words written and spoken, and the passing of a mentor

April 21, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

Public_speaking-v2I have been a public speaker and writer for most of my working life, but never had any formal training in either discipline. In late 2005, I came across an ad in the Delta Airline’s magazine for The Buckley School of Public Speaking in Camden, SC. I did some research and was impressed to know that its founder and author of numerous books on public speaking, Reid Buckley, was a hands-on instructor. Since I had just begun writing No-Compromise Leadership, I decided the timing was right, and in February 2006, I headed off to Reid’s school to get my butt kicked by the master.... 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

Tuning up your profitability outcome

March 31, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

profitabilityWhen no-compromise leadership targets the profitability business outcome, it does so with a by-the-book discipline. That means that fiscal responsibility is practiced at every level of the business, from the leader and the leadership team to every salesperson, service provider, assistant, guest services representative and maintenance worker. Everyone pushes the numbers in the right direction. This becomes a culture in which everyone is responsible – everyone is accountable. Waste or cost without purpose is unacceptable.

Just as you can see, feel and measure a business with a high-performance productivity culture, so too you can see, feel and measure a business with a high-fiscally responsible culture. It doesn’t mean the company is “tight” or “penny-pinching”; it simply means that purpose and discipline are the rule with regard to how it deals with money, spending and cash-flow management.... 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

Lesson of the extraordinary oil change

March 17, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

GrahamGraham Kenny of Edmonton, Alberta, brought his car to the local Lexus dealer for an oil change. There is nothing exciting about getting an oil change. Your car needs it; you sit and wait in a plastic chair; you get it over with. But little did Graham know his mundane oil change would turn into a truly remarkable VIP experience. The waiting room at this Lexus dealer offered complimentary wine, a selection of Keurig coffee, sodas, bottled water, and snacks, and even one of those massage chair recliners with a built-in iPad. Graham was so impressed that he posted pictures and described his VIP oil change experience on Facebook.

The last thing Graham wanted to hear was, “Mr. Kenny, your car is ready.” He wanted his VIP experience to last. But wait a minute … we’re talking about an oil change here, not a fine dining experience! Lexus of Edmonton simply transformed the process of waiting for your car to be serviced into a VIP experience by giving attention to the otherwise boring waiting room. All it took was a little wine, a beverage selection, some snacks … and that wonderful massage chair with an iPad for surfing the web (conveniently set to lexus.com). Graham now looks forward to an oil change.... 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

Why leaders drive them crazy

March 3, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

Last week I did a No-Compromise Leadership talk for the Princeton Merchant’s Association. In attendance were bankers, restaurant owners, retailers, dry cleaners, non-profit associations, local media and others, all representing this prestigious university town. The response to my opening line, “Business leaders exist to drive their employees crazy,” earned the style of laughter that confirmed I was speaking to a group of worthy offenders. They laughed because in so many ways, my opening line is true.

Aboard ships there are mutinies. In countries there are protests and revolutions. In corporations there are work slowdowns and labor strikes. In hair salons there are walkouts. And everyday, in businesses all over the world, there are employees quitting leaders … not companies. Yes, leaders can be jerks, insensitive, overbearing, dictatorial, self-absorbed and egotistical. The more accurate description is that most leaders are a perpetual work in progress to get better at this job called “leader.”... Read More

A Case for Leadership Humility

February 27, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

humility2I have always regarded any leadership role as an honor and a testament to the trust others have in an individual to take them to a place of opportunity. They trust the leader’s judgment. They trust the leader will respect their contributions to the organization. They trust the leader will be fair, honest and open. They trust the leader will reach out his or her hand to lift them up when they trip or fall. They also know that leaders are not infallible, that inevitably mistakes will occur … and that mutual loyalty and respect is about standing alongside their leader in tough times.

What I just described is placing humility over pride – when a leader places the company’s goals and people above his or her own desires. When a leader places personal goals and self-pride before everything else, people become expendable and the company becomes one individual’s magic carpet to success, wealth and self-indulgence. No one wants to follow an egotistical, self-absorbed jerk. No one brings their best game and desire to win for a leader that devours all the glory, accolades and rewards – and lacks the decency to offer up a simple “thank you” to those that did the work.... Read More

Why I write the way I do and why it is important

February 17, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 36 Comments

your_success_typewriterMy demeanor has always leaned toward the more serious end of the spectrum. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been intrigued by business, leadership and the multitude of elements that make it work. That being said, it makes sense that I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost my entire working career. In the mid 70s, my passion for business found three powerful vehicles that allowed me to reach and interact with other business owners – public speaking, coaching and writing. I started my first coaching company in 1978 and never looked back.... 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

How to keep long-term employees from becoming change resisters

January 13, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Just as every leader understands the cost of employee turnover, they understand the challenges of keeping long-term employees engaged, positive and supportive of change initiatives. New employees are easier to train, coach and mold into your company culture. It’s an entirely different story with long-term employees. Like a marriage, long-term employees have been with you through the good and bad times. They’ve seen it all, and they know your strengths and weaknesses just as well as you know theirs.

When it comes to embracing change, new procedures and systems, long-term employees can either be your biggest advocates – or your most hardened change resisters. But resistance doesn’t mean they’re “not on the bus”; it just means they really like their seat. They’re comfortable in it … and everyone knows not to sit in or mess with their spot. Everything else can change as long as their seat – and their work – is left alone. The problem is that “the bus” is the company and it can’t remain competitive, innovative and fast if it cannot collectively adapt and change – including long-term employees.... 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

Six cures and preventions for the I lost my passion flu bug

December 16, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

cure-bugMy Monday Morning Wake-Ups are seeded by the challenges and issues of leaders I encounter in my work. Maybe it’s the shorter days of the winter solstice, the stress of the Holiday Season, or the wrapping up of 2013, but there is definitely an “I lost my passion” flu bug going around. It’s turning up in calls and emails coming into Strategies offices, in classes, and in coaching calls. I’m even getting Facebook messages from exasperated leaders and owners seeking hope for a cure. The common theme of this flu bug is simply a loss of passion for leadership and business.... 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

Daily Huddles, Scoreboards & Information Flow

November 25, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

ImageHeader-HuddlesThe worst assumption a salon/spa leader can make is that every team member is on the same page. That elusive “same page” lists gotta-get-it-done stats, including: the company’s percentage to goal for the month, productivity rate, pre-book rate, orders shipped, etc. Simply put, that “same page” is pure team progress – not individual progress. It’s what the team needs to achieve collectively. This “same page” data is so critical that it is the centerpiece of daily huddles. And yes, daily huddles are a non-negotiable in all companies.... 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 managers up to win

November 11, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

setup_to_winMastering 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. (more…)... 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

Chasing Consistency

October 21, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

consistencyConsistency is a beautiful thing. It’s what makes great companies truly great. It’s about a company’s commitment to getting it right not just some of the time, but all of the time. Going for consistency means that, as a leader, you are prepared to do what others will not. You are prepared to do whatever it takes and define yourself as a true No-Compromise Leader.

Consistency is about the execution of work and systems to exacting standards. It’s what defines world-class service. It’s embedded in the thinking and behavior of a company’s culture. Anything less than total consistency is a compromise. But it’s the journey to consistency that most leaders underestimate in terms of degree of difficulty and time. Consistency is something a company chases for a long time, and only those committed for the long haul stand a chance of catching it. (more…)... 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

Compromise spreads through a company like a virus

October 7, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

virus_alert2The impact of compromise is not merely subjective. It can be measured in extreme detail by a host of performance and operating reports, and most definitely in financial reports. Compromise is real and it’s costly. It infects and degrades everything, everywhere. It burrows in fast and deep and hunkers down for the long haul. It can kill change initiatives and be resistant to efforts to weed it out.

Still not convinced that compromise exists in your business? Well, think again. Perhaps the compromise isn’t severe, but rest assured, compromise is lurking in your company. And you don’t have to look very far to find it. So buckle your seat belt and get ready for a reality check. Here is a hit list of compromising behavior that is as common as employees surfing the Internet and sending personal e-mails on company time.... Read More

Culture and destroy from within

September 30, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

implodeIf you trace the origin of most business challenges, crises, and missed opportunities, you will undoubtedly discover that most (if not all) were created internally. Someone wasn’t paying attention or being held accountable and the blame game began. Destruction from within has everything to do with behavior and how negative behavior contaminates a business culture. To be a no-compromise leader, you must strengthen, nurture, and protect your business culture from contamination.

Your business culture is…

  • A truly dynamic entity that embodies the heart and soul of your company.
  • The energy source that not only powers your business, but links all behaviors and thinking to a common purpose.
  • What attracts and retains the best employees.
  • That which rallies the collective energy of the business to achieve breakthrough goals and drive growth.
  • What carries the business through inevitable tough times.
  • What touches customers in that special way that keeps them coming back for more.
  • What communicates the who, what, and why of your business to every employee and the world around it.

Just as computers are vulnerable to virus attacks, so too are business cultures. Culture contamination can be devastating to a business. Consider it a poison that can seep in at any time from any direction – internally or externally. Contamination reveals itself in the form of negative behavior, meaningless drama, and decreased productivity. However, unlike computers in which you can install firewalls and virus protection, your business culture is always exposed. Always. Economic challenges, fierce competition, headhunters preying on your best talent, and even the weather can seed contamination into your culture. But those external attacks on your culture are nothing compared to attacks that destroy from within.... Read More

Six steps to winning and getting things done

September 23, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

winning-strategyIf winning in business feels so great, why does it take so much work to get people to play the game to win? If getting things done is the only way to make forward progress, why is it so difficult for us to tackle the tasks on our To-Do lists? Procrastination, resistance to change, leadership compromise, lack of clarity, and indifference exist at varying levels in all companies. But when one or more of these detractors gets out of hand, the contamination spreads throughout a company’s culture, wins turn to losses, and getting anything done becomes a struggle.

Like anything worthy of pursuit, winning and getting things done is a process. Many leaders think it’s about pushing people harder. Some think “better consequences” stimulate better performance. Winning and the collective ability to get things done rest in the leader’s ability to conduct a complex orchestra of people, resources, and systems to achieve clearly defined goals and outcomes. Pushing people to work harder and do more without the right training, systems, and understanding of the goals and outcomes is a recipe for stress and dysfunction. Throw in some really cool consequences and you have the perfect cocktail for demoralizing people and wrecking a culture.... 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

Six reasons to go Open Book

September 9, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

company_financesI’m writing this Monday Morning Wake Up on September 6th in St. Louis, MO. I’m here to speak at Jack Stack’s 21st Annual Gathering of Games. It’s my fifth time speaking at this conference, which is the only one devoted entirely to the open-book business model. The first edition of Jack’s book, The Great Game of Business, was published in May 1992, one year before I started Strategies. To this day, it is my all-time favorite business book. To me, open-book management just makes sense. It’s how I run Strategies, it’s what we teach in our courses, and it’s what we coach our clients to do.... 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

Why are you buying behavior and performance you do not like?

August 19, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

stop_making_excuses2Every time you distribute paychecks, you are “buying” all of the behavior and performance your employees delivered for that pay period. You’re buying positive attitudes, initiative, accountability, trustworthiness, creative thinking, follow through, and other characteristics of a great employee. But at the same time, you’re also buying missed deadlines, chronic lateness, resistance to change, negative attitudes, broken commitments, low productivity, and a bunch of other stuff that drives leaders crazy. The question is; why do you continue to buy behavior and performance that is unacceptable?

Managers that don’t manage… service and sales staff that don’t deliver service or sell… employees that spend more time texting and on Facebook than working. We’ve all encountered these employees, the ones that put more effort into innovating excuses than into innovating breakthroughs. It’s entitlement thinking as opposed to engagement thinking; they are quick to say, “It’s not my job,” instead of stepping up, taking responsibility, and getting work done. This thinking and behavior exists to some degree in every company. The problem is that most leaders receive very little training or coaching to address the thinking and behavior issues that contaminate company cultures. That’s why the question we hear most in leadership coaching is, “Can’t they just do their job?” The answer is yes… if you stop buying the thinking and behavior you don’t want. (more…)... 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

Twelve characteristics of a great employee

July 8, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

great_employeeLeadership is about growing a company into something extraordinary. It’s about getting results, hitting goals, taking calculated risks, and creating profit. It’s about structure, discipline, making tough decisions, and, when necessary, leading your company out of a crisis. Leadership is many things, but it’s really about people. And it’s that people thing that gives leaders a true sense of fulfillment … or drives them crazy.

Imagine what it would be like to lead a team of perfect employees. Everyone would show up motivated and on time. Customers would be delighted beyond belief. Change initiatives would be as easy as flipping a switch. Competitors would be in awe. Of course, this scenario is pure fantasy. Even if you had a team of “A” employees, the combination of skills, personalities, thinking, and behaviors would still require a leader capable of bringing them all together to achieve a common goal. (more…)... 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

How to manage time like money

June 17, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

I was in Livermore, CA, last week doing a private No-Compromise Leadership training session for a client and friend. I stayed over an extra day so we could do a bike ride through the beautiful vineyards and countryside. While riding, we got into a discussion about time management. I said, “Manage time like money. Think of all the stuff you need to accomplish as if they are line items on a Profit and Loss Statement. Income is your time. Now, what would you do differently?”

Time truly is like money. We only have so much of it and always wish we had more. If we are frugal with it, we can maximize our time, invest it wisely, and be incredibly productive. We can squander our time by being disorganized, lazy, and a master of procrastination. Lastly, we can allow our time to be stolen by others simply because we let them. Like money, time will disappear if you don’t pay attention and budget it like the precious resource it is. (more…)... Read More

How to retire from your own company

June 10, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

retirement_planEvery entrepreneur is a unique mixture of passion, vision, innovation, gambler, salesman, and dreamer. The mixture may vary from one entrepreneur to another, but the common bond they all share is being crazy enough to chase their dreams and test their abilities to lead others. The failure rate of start-up businesses is staggering, but the entrepreneurial warriors that do succeed get to live their dreams and become captains of their own ships for many years to come.

The problem for successful entrepreneurs is finding a way to retire from their own companies. Many have that, “I’ll sell it and cash out one day,” thought tucked way back in their brain. Others have children working in the company and think, “My kids will run the company when I retire.” Still others maintain that, “My employees will run and own the company one day,” thought that allows them to fall asleep at night. These are all great thoughts, but in reality, most entrepreneurs are so caught up in running their companies that they do a pretty lousy job of building a solid exit strategy. Many just avoid it altogether. (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

When trusted employees steal

May 20, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

theft_000016530240XSmallA coaching client just informed us of their discovery that a trusted employee has been stealing from the company by manipulating and creating false transactions in the company’s business software. Luckily, another employee saw something questionable and informed the owners. After hours of examining and comparing transaction logs, it was clear who the culprit was, how it was done, and for how long it’s been happening. Damn…isn’t running a business difficult enough without having your own employees stealing from you – especially one from your trusted inner circle?

The owners were shocked and devastated to discover just how extensive their trust was violated by this key employee. To learn that thousands of dollars had been siphoned out of much needed cash flow is one thing, but to learn that someone you trusted intentionally stole from the company right under your nose is where the real and lasting damage is done. (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

Taking responsibility for your actions

April 29, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

finger_pointingA coaching client asked me for advice regarding an issue with a team leader that had been using the company credit card for personal expenses. By the time the abuse of the card was discovered, the charge totals were quite sizable. There were repeated warnings when minor personal charges continued to show up on the monthly statements. The company has a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, and this team leader had used them all. My client said, “This leader is really good at aspects of the job, is valued, and an asset to the company overall. What would you do if you were me?”... Read More

Six strategies to create a culture of accountability

April 22, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 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 reasons projects and change initiatives fail

April 15, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

arrow_crashThere is nothing more common in business than launching a new project or change initiative. That’s how companies strive to remain competitive and adapt to changing market conditions. It’s how companies tweak current systems and build new ones to improve productivity and maximize resources. New projects and change initiatives must occur for a company to remain vital and relevant. However, the other most common occurrence in business is the number of new projects and change initiatives that fail.

As a coach and consultant, my job is to help companies achieve the right outcomes in what I call “The Four Business Outcomes”: Productivity, Profitability, Employee Retention, and Customer Loyalty. To achieve different and more desirable outcomes, new projects and change initiatives must occur. If the company is in dire straights, its ability to execute change with a high sense of urgency is put to the test. Unfortunately, it is the company’s inability to execute change combined with a low sense of urgency that causes it to be in dire straights in the first place. (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

Dealing with change resisters

March 18, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Every moment of every day, change is all around us. Seasons change. Weather changes. Our bodies change. Our lives change. Likewise, business changes. Every day, new businesses are born – some grow, prosper, and endure for a long, healthy life, while others stumble and die. The one constant we can be sure of is that change is relentless. Some embrace it with open arms. Some wait to see what the new reality looks like and then jump onboard. And then there are the change resisters that hold onto the status quo with a white-knuckled grip.

Contrary to popular belief, change resisters don’t exist to drive you crazy – even though they can and do. Change resisters simply deal with change differently than most. They lock into patterns of thinking, behavior, systems, and cultures that become their “normal.” They get good at functioning in their “normal.” They know everything about their “normal.” And then change comes along, often with a wrecking ball, and starts knocking down their “normal” to replace it with something new and foreign. Their natural response is to protect their “normal” by resisting change. (more…)... Read More

Late is late

March 11, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

late2You’re reading my Monday Morning Wake Up. About 10,000 readers trust that it will be in their in-box every Monday morning. If it arrived on Monday afternoon, or sometime on Tuesday, it would be irrelevant – and so would I. Being on time is about honor and respect for those you work with, those you serve, and, more importantly, yourself. Lateness is not world class. Lateness is not professional. Lateness is living below the line.

I don’t like being late. I prefer to be early for work, appointments, and commitments. That’s how I’m wired. People that are habitually late are clearly wired differently. Some even take pride in their lateness, which is really nothing more than a feeble attempt get others to deal with their behavior and not hold them accountable. (more…)... 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

Do not be an Undercover Boss

January 21, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

I’ve watched the television show “Undercover Boss” a few times. It’s entertaining proof that most leaders are afflicted with the same form of tunnel vision. They get so wrapped up in “their work” they disconnect from what’s most important – their employees. The story line is always the same; the boss goes undercover by assuming the identity of someone looking to start a new career, works alongside employees, discovers things are wrong, bonds with some employees, gifts employees thousands of dollars and/or training they should have had to do their jobs. The show ends with the leader vowing to maintain the connection with employees.

Every MMWU is a reminder that leading and growing a company is tough work and that keeping your finger on the pulse of your company isn’t as easy as it sounds. As Undercover Bosses discover, to truly feel the pulse of your company means monitoring its pulse from the corporate office to the front line. The bigger your company gets, the easier it is for you to get disconnected from your people and the quality of their work. Even if you have a small company with just a few employees, it’s easy to get disconnected because you’re so busy working and generating sales. (more…)... 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

How to prevent hostage management

January 7, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

hostageWhen you admire a great company, you’re actually admiring the collective work of the people that made it great. Your responsibility as the leader is to establish where the company is going (vision/goals) and do everything in your power to help your people get there (coaching/training/mentoring/inspiring). Growing a company is about building something so extraordinary that it attracts the hearts and minds of like-minded individuals to join your quest. It’s about growing a company.

I am all about developing talent and helping individuals achieve their full potential. That’s what leaders do. You want the best talent and the brightest minds on your team. You want to surround yourself with individuals that are committed to pushing and driving the company forward. It’s about growing a company. (more…)... Read More

Ten Leadership Resolutions for 2013

December 31, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

2013_ResolutionsWell, here’s your final MMWU for 2012. It’s hard to believe that I’ve written five years of MMWUs – that’s a grand total of 260 fast-read strategies to help you stay in the No-Compromise Leadership zone. It is an honor and privilege to know that over 9,000 leaders from around the world start their week off with a little kick in the butt from me.

To keep you from dragging the wrong stuff from 2012 into a brand new year, I went back into the MMWU archives and pulled ten topics that touched the right leadership nerve with readers. Read them. Digest them. Use them. Make each and every resolution stick. (more…)... Read More

A daily workout program for leaders

December 17, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

Like all great personal accomplishments, leadership is something you must work on relentlessly to get better at. Even then, the gains are incremental at best and always subject to setbacks. Just when you think you’ve figured out the leadership puzzle, you do something kind of dumb like compromise one of your own rules, rip into one of your employees in public, or launch a new project and then tell everyone about it. There may be no limit to the number of faux pas a leader can commit, but with determination and a commitment to personal change, all leaders can find that elusive path to integrity, improved communication and good judgment.

As a coaching company, Strategies works with leaders with all levels of experience, personalities, phobias, egos, good habits and bad habits. We refer to this conglomeration as “leadership thinking and behavior.” Collectively, it is the leader’s thinking and behavior that defines a company and its culture. The challenge is getting a leader to shed the stuff that detracts and interferes with a company’s ability to perform at optimum levels of consistency. (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

5 questions for salon and spa success in the New Year

December 7, 2012 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

The holiday season is in full swing. More than likely, this means that your salon or spa is busy, the appointment book is full (at least for the next few weeks) and clients are spending money. It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? Of course! Who doesn’t like to a full cash register? But in the back of your mind, there’s a small, quiet voice that’s calling out to you. And, if you’re a proactive salon or spa owner, you’ll know to listen carefully for the one simple question that little voice keeps asking:

What are you going to differently in your business next year?

It’s a simple — yet extremely sobering — question. Can your business, family and staff survive and thrive if you continue status quo? Or, are you ready to really drive the business forward?

Here are five critical questions to determine if you’re prepared for a prosperous New Year:

  1. What’s your plan for growth? Even if this year was wildly-successful for your salon or spa, if you don’t shake things up and fine-tune your thinking, systems and/or culture, there’s a strong chance you won’t see much additional growth in the year to come. Where will growth come from in your business? Is it waiting for you right now? Are there areas in your company where you see inefficiency and potential for improvement? Get your plan in place NOW to start producing revenues from these target areas.
  2. Does your team know how to get there? It’s a simple question. Does anyone besides you, the leader, know where you plan to take the company next year? And if so, do they know how? Do YOU know? Communication is the key to success. Plan your attack, get it down on paper, and then relentlessly communicate that mission to your team. Get them involved in drawing the roadmap. The more they are involved, the more motivated they will be to reach the desired destination.
  3. Who will lead the way? Great communication starts with a great leader. You own the vision of where you want to take your company. You stand at the helm of this exciting adventure. Great companies are built around great leaders. Hold yourself and your team accountable. Cheer their successes and guide them through their shortfalls. Be the leader your company needs you to be.
  4. Where will growth come from? We touched on this point earlier but it bears repeating: Where is the untapped revenue in your business? Is it hiding behind inefficiency and poor systems? Or will it come from new opportunities that are yet to be discovered? The growth is waiting for you, the hard part is finding where it’s hidden.
  5. Are you doing what you love? It’s a powerful question, isn’t it? Do you come to work everyday with a positive attitude, or does your heart sink when you step through the front door? If it’s the later, you need to find a way to turn things around. As the leader of your company, your attitude and happiness level is infectious. Are you trapped behind the chair when you’d prefer to be working on the business? If so, then start researching ways to transition out from behind the chair (Strategies can help). Do you enjoy leading meetings, tending to the books or doing color applications? If not, it’s time to start exploring how others in your company can start taking on these responsibilities. Perhaps it’s time to hire new staff. Just make sure you it makes sense for the business and the bottom line.

I hope this little reminder to listen to that little voice in the back of your head has gotten you thinking about the importance of planning ahead for the New Year. You can do it — all you need is a plan.... Read More

4 Tips For Surviving The Salon & Spa Holiday Rush

November 30, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

4 tips for surviving the salon spa holiday rush

Whether we like it or not, the holidays are here! While we all would like to think of the holidays as a happy and cheerful time, as salon and spa business owners we all know that it can also mean a time of high stress. Vendors are coming at us at all different directions asking us to buy more inventory to sell as gift items. Clients are clamoring to get in for the next appointment. Weather disruptions often play havoc on our hours of operation and the list goes on and on. Additionally, we also have all of our personal agendas that come during holiday time, like buying presents for family and friends, entertaining and the likes.

As we move into the holiday season, here are some professional and personal pointers to keep you level-headed and calm in the salon or spa this year.... 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

Understanding the dreaded ‘Entrepreneurial Curse’

November 19, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

Chances are the dreaded entrepreneurial curse has already found you. You can shake it off without much effort in its early stages, but over time, it finds its way into your thinking and behavior. It makes you question why you do what you do — if all the work and stress are really worth it. As the curse digs in, it saps your energy, motivation, and enthusiasm for those things that once fired you up and made the business game fun. It’s not that you fell out of love with your work and your company; you just have this overwhelming feeling of being “stuck.”... Read More

Going No Compromise means living it

November 12, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

Ever since my No-Compromise Leadership book was published in 2009, it has been both impressive and humbling when I realize the extent to which leaders have embraced its thinking, behavior and methodology. No-Compromise Leadership is about doing what’s best and right for the company, its employees and its customers. It is about clarity, purpose and mutual respect. It is about taking ownership in what goes right and wrong in the company. Most of all, it means, “If it needs to be done – get it done.”

I recently received an anonymous “Contact Us” from our website written by a demoralized employee. The message read, “How does one begin to follow a leader who believes in your No-Compromise Leadership strategies and work ethic yet does not live by them – unless it suits him? Examples: The leader overpowers or shuts down employee comments or suggestions. The leader routinely denigrates associates on (the) sales floor, during meetings, and makes unprofessional comments about certain customers in meetings.” (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

Do what you say you are going to do

October 29, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

A leader’s role is to see everything. You look for the right thinking, behavior and performance that will lift your company to its desired outcomes and vision. You make more tough decisions than fun decisions. You coach people to achieve their full potential. You keep projects on task. You look to the future to ensure the company prospers and endures. Through all the twists and turns that embody the role of leader, nothing matters more than your ability to establish a culture of integrity and trust.

Integrity and trust are earned one day at a time – one deed at a time. The title of leader is nothing more than an opportunity for you to demonstrate your ability to lead with integrity and trust or confirm that you are just a lot of talk – perhaps even a jerk. What many leaders fail to recognize is that they too are in the fish bowl under the constant scrutiny of employees, customers, vendors and the community. Simply put, all that you do and say is being evaluated and judged in real time.... 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

Hurts so good: Overcoming the pain of positive change

September 28, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | 2 Comments

John Cougar Mellencamp said it best: “Hurts so good. Come on baby make it hurt so good”.

Personally, I can think of a few times when that statement was actually true. One time was when I finished my first marathon in 95-degree weather. All the pain and commitment from months of training finally paid off as I crossed the finish line after 26.2 miles. Another was recently when I had to have physical therapy on my shoulder due to two dislocated ribs. As a stylist of 29 years, the pain in my shoulder had become almost unbearable when I would blow dry. My physical therapist pulled, twisted, massaged and made major adjustments that were down-right painful, but at the same time “hurt so good”. Now I’m on my way to a full recovery thanks to the pain I was willing to endure to get the end result.

Now let’s put a spin on this and relate it to running your salon or spa business. Do you have some painful areas that are clouding your vision for your company? Or perhaps there are some sore spots you need to address, such as people on your team that you would be better off without? Maybe you need to make some serious financial cuts that would be painful at first, but in the end would be more beneficial for the company and your financial future? The pain is worth the end result.... Read More

How to get employees to do great things

September 24, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

It’s one thing to be a great individual achiever by outperforming and outselling everyone around you, innovating the coolest breakthrough ideas, mastering the work that feeds your passion – perhaps even leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Yup, there’s nothing like being at the top of your personal game and being recognized as a rock star in your chosen field. It’s what’s possible when you have the courage and tenacity to relentlessly push yourself beyond the comfort zone of “ordinary” to “extraordinary.”

It’s something completely different to lead and inspire an entire company of people to do great things. It doesn’t matter if there are five, 500 or 5,000 people looking to you for direction and inspiration; it’s just not that easy to get that fire in your gut to burn bright in others. As a leader or entrepreneur, your dream was to grow a company – not be a cheerleader, disciplinarian, or babysitter. Heck, just getting employees to show up on time for a meeting or follow a new policy can be a Herculean task. It’s that “people thing” that keeps getting in the way. It wears you down and takes all the fun out of growing a company. (more…)... Read More

How to avoid hostage management in your salon or spa

September 20, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | 5 Comments

We have all seen a hostage situation, either on the nightly news, a drama or in the movie theatre. The situation is usually the same: You have someone that is irrational, angry, and unwilling to negotiate or reason with sound resolutions. The situation often appears hopeless as emotions run high. And many times, either a life is on the line, or people are endangered. Usually, the individuals that are holding others hostage have high demands — like a large amount of ransom money, a getaway car, political power or perhaps a one-way ticket out of the country. Whatever their reason, rarely does it ever have any direct connection to the individuals being held hostage — but it always has an immediate connection to the needs and desires of those in control.

Unfortunately, this same type hostage mentality plagues the day-to-day operations of thousands of salons and spas everyday. Think about these scenarios:

  • Have you ever had a high revenue-producing service provider that is holding your salon/spa hostage with excessive demands on the business (i.e. higher commission, Saturday’s off, a personal assistant that the company cannot afford, a new product line, etc.)?
  • Is this employee irrational and unwilling to negotiate/reason with sound resolutions that would make your company stronger  (i.e. pay that is in alignment with the health of the company, attending staff meetings, dress code, showing up to work on time, running on-time to care for the customer)?

What is at risk? Is it the financial health of the company, the clients or the other team members? Unfortunately, it’s all three.... Read More

The personal cost of success

September 17, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 21 Comments

As leaders and entrepreneurs, we have an insatiable desire to experience what the view is like at the next rung on the success ladder. And it never fails, the moment we establish our footing, we look up and begin wondering about getting to that next rung. It’s our personal quest to achieve our full potential. We may – and in all probability will – have failures along the way or drop a few rungs, but we always get up and get back in the game. It’s who we are and how we’re wired.

But it’s that, “Who we are and how we’re wired,” factor that leaders and entrepreneurs need a deeper understanding of. This is the area where personal sacrifice, at the expense of success, takes its toll physically and mentally, on personal relationships and family. It’s why finding “life balance” receives a lot of lip service but, like everything else personal, it too takes a back seat to career and business. I remember all those baseball games my son played that I had to leave after a few innings to catch a plane to some speaking gig. I remember the vacations we didn’t take and all those, “We’ll do it next year” good intentions. (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

How to get rid of the elephant

September 3, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

All leaders have elephants to deal with in their companies. Some are baby elephants that just get in the way while others evolve into huge obstacles that block all forward progress. Of course, the elephants I’m referring to are the large and small problems that leaders have to deal with. So while your kicking back this Labor Day, enjoying your adult beverages and BBQ, take a few minutes to ponder the size and extent of that herd of elephants waiting for your return on Tuesday morning. More importantly, ponder what you’re going to do to get rid of them.

No, I’m not trying to ruin your Labor Day by reminding you that there are elephants stomping around your company doing damage. My intent is to give you some strategies to get your elephants under control – or even better – to get them back on the game preserve where they belong. (more…)... Read More

Are your front desk systems firing on all cylinders?

August 31, 2012 | By Eric Ducoff | 1 Comment

It’s a scenario most of us have lived out hundreds of times: Coffee in hand, we unlock the front door to the salon/spa and walk straight past the front desk as we settle in to begin our daily duties as owners, managers, leaders, etc.

But lets stop right there and back up a few steps — keep going until you get back to the front desk. Now, take a minute to think about your front desk. Not the physical desk, but the experience your clients have when they interact with your front desk/guest services staff. Are clients treated friendly? Are appointments being pre-booked? Are retail sales being rung up? Are clients’ concerns being addressed quickly and courteously? Is the interaction your clients are experiencing on par with how you envision?

Now, ask yourself one last question: Are you doing your part to prepare your front desk staff to deliver the experience that you — and your clients — expect from them?

Here are a five simple areas to focus on to get your front desk systems firing on all cylinders:... 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

What if you went No Compromise?

August 20, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

As many readers of my Monday Morning Wake Ups know, I am an avid cyclist. I ride to stay fit – but deep down inside, I ride to challenge my endurance by riding harder and faster. And when training for a long ride, I head for the local hills that make my legs burn, my heart rate soar and lungs gasp for air. Riding is about pushing your body to its limits to achieve incremental gains in performance. Sports physiologist Allen Lim says, “Suffering is essential to the beauty and mystery of the sport. It gives the ride meaning. The greatest racers have a love of suffering that goes beyond any ratio of sacrifice to payoff.”... Read More

Social media for salons & spas Part 2

August 16, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Five guidelines of social media use

Last week, we discussed the importance of jumping in and embracing the enormous promotional potential that the social mediasphere offers. This week, I’ve put together some bullet points to consider when crafting your social media strategy. The following policy statements and guidelines are meant to assist you in your social media efforts, while protecting the interests and reputation of your company’s brand.

Here are five guidelines for social media use:

  1. Respect Copyright And Fair Use: When posting, be mindful of the copyright and intellectual property rights of others.
  2. Terms Of Service: Social media sites have their own terms of service. Make sure you obey these terms of service or your account with the site may be suspended.
  3. Respect and Ethics: Your company should encourage different viewpoints and opinions, and as a participant in social media, you should too. Be respectful of othersʼ viewpoints. If you disagree and would like to engage in a conversation, do so cordially, logically, and ethically.
  4. Accuracy and Honesty: Double check facts and details before you post — remember, once you post, it is out there. If there is a website you used to gather facts, provide the link for your readers to show accountability. Also, always write in the first person. If you make a mistake, admit it. Your followers will be more willing to forgive and forget if you are up front and quick with your correction. Maintain a high level of quality that exhibits superior grammar, punctuation and spelling.
  5. Transparency and Disclosure: When posting to your blog, Twitter or Facebook, ask yourself if your content is a valued piece of information. There are millions of people and companies on the web. If you want to stand above the clutter, make sure you provide content that is exciting, engaging and stimulating.

Next week in part 3: Best practicies for social media

Six things to know about 2013

August 13, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

This summer will surely be remembered for its record heat, widespread drought, and the over two weeks of excitement and thrills of the London Summer Olympics. Here in Connecticut, we’re just a few weeks away from those first crisp mornings signaling the transition to fall. Eight weeks from now, the maple trees outside my office window will be at peak foliage. Three months from now, we’ll be taking in the aroma of Thanksgiving turkey. Four months from now, we’ll be consumed by the Holiday Season and will be preparing to sing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in 2013. Time seems to be speeding by faster than ever.... Read More

How leaders lead to win

August 6, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

There is a wealth of leadership knowledge to be gleaned from the London Olympics. We’re watching the best-of-the-best athletes at the culmination of years of training and personal sacrifice. It’s their defining moment to win an Olympic medal or return home empty handed. It’s all about winning. And then there are the coaches who push, inspire, console and accept nothing less than perfection up to and through that final competition. It’s the coach’s job to find performance gains and levels of consistency that athletes cannot find on their own. The combination is a true testament to the power and potential of a single, shared vision.... Read More

How to make change initiatives stick

July 30, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

One of my favorite questions to ask in my No-Compromise Leadership workshops is, “What’s your hang time on change initiatives?” When I say, “hang time,” I’m referring to how long the change initiative remains in play before it fizzles or crashes and burns. At many companies, change initiatives resemble amateur rocket launches. There’s the heart-pounding and powerful rumble, fire and smoke plumes as the rocket lifts off the launch pad and rises into the sky. Leaders watch in awe as their shiny new rocket arches down range toward the heavens. But rather than breaking free of earth’s gravity, it continues its arch until it gracefully heads back to earth where it ends its journey in a distant thud.... Read More

The power of keeping salon/spa staff focused

July 26, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Maintaining a sense of urgency is a management responsibility not to be taken lightly. Complacency can quietly infect even the most successful businesses. It usually begins during a period of smooth sailing, when the “business as usual” mentality sets in, leadership relaxes, and the urgency that previously inspired growth and performance wanes. Personal agendas take a precedence over the business’ goals and needs. The team loses focus.

Perhaps more than any other, the salon/spa environment is a fertile breeding ground for complacency. At most salons and spas, a “pecking order” keeps gridlocked and overbooked technicians in square opposition to new technicians trying to get established. In the middle is a mix of rising stars and underachievers…and those who are simply satisfied with their present level of performance and income. If an owner or manager, by choice or necessity, spends a lot of time behind the chair, the grip of complacency tightens. Efforts to rally staff enthusiasm are hit-or-miss. Conflicting personal agendas and a lack of leadership blur the business’ focus.... Read More

The six plagues of leadership

July 23, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Just as leaders tend to fall into different leadership styles – like command and control, visionary, democratic, and of course whimpy – there are behavior patterns that tend to persistently plague leaders. When present, these behavior patterns can be anything from annoyances that chip away at a leader’s effectiveness, or they can be truly destructive to a leader’s authority, trust and honor.

I have devoted the better part of my working life studying, training and coaching leaders and leadership. Much of what I learned and believe in I documented in my award-winning book, No-Compromise Leadership. The overriding theme of the book is quite simple; If it needs to be done – get it done. However, it’s this presence of the leadership plagues listed below that interfere, degrade or derail a leader’s ability to get things done. The plagues are pure compromise.... Read More

5 ways to boost summer sales in the salon or spa

July 19, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Ah yes, the lazy days of summer. Often times, those lazy days seap into the atmosphere in the salon/spa — and you can tell things at the salon are little too slow, or just too quite. You walk on the floor and you feel as though you are being watched, and it looks like the staff is lacking energy or urgency. Is it because its summer and we are all chilled and relaxed? In the end, it doesn’t really matter what it is — we need a mood shift!

Here are few tips to recharge your team’s morale — and boost those summer sales:

  1. Identify who in the salon need an uplift, get them to go to hair show or class.
  2. When times are not so busy, bring in a motivator to come for an ” hour of power” (stand up comedy theaters often do team building sessions), or just play a game every morning to boost moral.
  3. Change the music.
  4. Have a sale contest with a team goal. This will hike up the urgency and, if you add elements that make it fun and engage clients, now you’ve created buzz!
  5. Great game: Give your staff an opportunity to do great things, and reward them for their efforts. Example: Each member has the opportunity to “wow” the client. The best “wow” gets a reward. Give a budget of up to $25.00 a person to wow the client, although you don’t have to use money for it’s not in the budget — everybody can get creative .

Create fun and it will change the atmosphere.... 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

Why 7 out of 10 new salon and spa clients don’t come back

July 12, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

You cannot argue with the numbers. From a technical standpoint, the beauty industry offers consumers extraordinary levels of skill and expertise. From a customer service and True Quality standpoint, salons and spas score poorly. No matter how badly you want to refute this assessment, it is impossible to argue with industry-wide numbers that show salons and spas are not retaining seven of ten first-time clients. Interestingly, poor retention remains consistent from value-priced salons right up to upscale, service-intensive day spas.

  • On average, only three percent of owners know their retention rate.
  • Half of these confuse request rate with retention rate — they are not the same.
  • Most have no means to track retention. Even those with point-of-sale computer systems often realize their software doesn’t track retention properly, if at all.

It’s your True Quality score. The overriding objective of every business is to attract and retain customers. The higher your retention rate for first-time clients, the higher your level of customer satisfaction, and the closer you are to delivering consistent True Quality experiences. Granted, you want to satisfy clients on every visit, but client retention tracking begins on the first visit. If your salon or spa fails to perform to client expectations on the first visit, there usually is no second chance. If your business has a 30% first-time client retention rate, don’t even think of using “True Quality” to describe your business.... Read More

Four ways you create what you do not like in your company

July 2, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

Leaders have this innate ability to see all the little things that are wrong in their companies. Call it a blessing or a curse, leaders see what many employees do not. From employees taking shortcuts and not following the system or rules, to lackluster customer service, dress code issues, bad attitudes, and poor follow through, it all shows up like blips on your leadership radar. It’s all the little stuff drives you crazy. And just when you think you’ve fixed one issue, another one pops up in its place. What’s that all about?

Your job is to be working on the big stuff that drives growth, performance and profits, so when your leadership radar screen gets overrun with little-stuff blips, you do what many frustrated leaders do – you hold a meeting. You prepare for the meeting by writing bullet after bullet of little stuff that needs to stop and go away. Just writing them down seems to relieve the frustration because for some strange and mystical reason, you believe that firing off each bullet in the meeting will kill off the unacceptable behaviors and performance. Guess that’s why they call them bullets.... Read More

Inside the mind of the entrepreneur

June 26, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | 2 Comments

Entrepreneurs are definitely a special breed. I like to say that being an entrepreneur is both a blessing and curse. We think and move at lightening speed, we aren’t afraid to take risks, and we can virtually see into the future. In fact, our vision at times seems so crystal clear that we often wonder why no one else can see what we see. We implement change and then it’s quickly on to the next initiative. We add and subtract, we move this here and that over there. Employees in our companies who resist change hate how we operate, and find it hard to keep up with our pace. The only time we’re really comfortable (and understood) it seems is when we are around other entrepreneurs.

Just recently, after a string of bad hires in my company which cost us dearly on so many levels, we decided to re-engineer our recruiting and hiring strategy. Okay, who am I kidding? I decided to re-engineer our recruiting and hiring strategy. There it is again, that pesky entrepreneurial attitude that rears its head like a race horse ready to bust through the starting gates at the sound of the gun.... Read More


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