Michael Akbar - Business Advisor


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Effective Listening

Few weeks back I wrote about my discovery of how Toastmasters helps my clients do a better job of cold calling. I also spoke of the primary reason I joined Toastmasters few years ago. My reason was to become a better speaker. What I didn’t realize was that Toastmasters was going to help me in another area where I actually needed even more help, an area which is absolutely critical to our business success and frankly success in every other area of our lives and that is effective listening.

Frequently, as part of my coaching engagements, I accompany my clients on their customer meetings. And consistently I witness their eagerness to continue a presentation and hammer down 8 more features and benefits when their customer has already asked them what’s the next step, and when we can get started, or more sadly when the customer starts talking about more serious problems that they hope my clients can help them with, and these are typically problems that if solved, not only bring more income to my client, but also turn these customers into longer term repeat business and great sources of referrals. So often we leave that extra money on the table because of our preoccupation with saying what is on mind as opposed to be fully present and responsive to what we are being told.

Now everyone, including myself, thinks we are better listeners than we really are. Are we capable of listening better? Absolutely; but just like anything else our listening muscles need exercise and here again another very important part of Toastmasters function, that is, evaluating speeches can be of enormous value in improving our listening skills. And the fact that our evaluation is also evaluated gives us timely feedback that can help us improve on this most important transferable skill.

Quarterly Business Alert – Dec 09

Toastmasters and Cold Calling

Most people hate cold calling and that includes both those who have tried it and those who didn’t even bother. There is no question that cold calling is not the most enjoyable part of doing business but for many startups and even for mature businesses there are times when cold calling is a necessary evil and if executed properly will produce results. So you can bet I have done my share of cold calling and have trained and coached many of my clients’ employees to do it in an effective way. But what I noticed several years ago was that I actually became more comfortable and productive at cold calling after joining Toastmasters!

Now I don’t think many people at Toastmasters International are aware of this but one of the exercise we regularly do during a Toastmasters meeting is a very valuable tool for becoming more comfortable at cold calling. I am talking about table topics when without warning you are asked to stand up and talk about something you had no clue about a minute ago. I think table topics really help strengthen one’s objection handling muscles and almost everything else one learns at Toastmasters help us conduct a more effective telephone conversation.

So nowadays besides helping my clients develop a laser sharp sales plan, if its execution involves cold calling I encourage their staff to go find a Toastmasters club near them and join, have a lot of fun and get more commissions thanks to improving their skills.


One of the best investments I have made for my career was joining a Toastmasters club. So when recently I was asked by Bethesda Community Toastmasters (http://club2529.freetoasthost.org/) to help the club with their public relations efforts I jumped at the opportunity to pay back.

For those who have known me in a professional context the fact that as a younger man I was a closet introvert is hard to believe. Then the idea that I would one day stand in front of audiences and have a ball was as remote as travelling to Mars. In fact I was so introvert that from the day I was told about Toastmasters to the day I actually went for my first meeting took more than three years!

I went to Toastmasters to improve my speaking skills. What I learnt was that Toastmasters had a lot more to offer and it ended up helping me professionally in areas I could have never imagined.

Move of my website

You may note that I have now started to use WordPress as the content management system for my website as well.

The Marketing Module

Today my colleague Gary Banko and I presented the marketing module of the small business university at the Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union.

I am scheduled to present the sales module next month on Thursday 2 April.  The focus of the presentation will be on business owners who also have to perform sales functions as well as those who must hire, manage, motivate and measure the performance of salespeople who work for them.

Business Owners University

I have now started to promote the program we have put together as Business Owners University (SM).  Furthermore I plan to engage my other colleagues at the Institute for Independent Business to participate and deliver the Business Owners University (BoU) content all across the country.

Where a business owner sits is a tough and lonely spot!

I ended the last post with the question of how the owner’s unique profile relate to the state of his or her business.


Well a business can also be broken up into 8-11 areas.  The founder of CMT, Carl Gould discovered an interesting association. He labeled Sales and Marketing into “I”ncome, Operations and HR into “S”ystems, Legal, Finance and Technology under “C”ontrols, and Planning and TLE Management into “D”irection.  Empirical data shows that individuals with a strong D in their personal preference which stands for Dominance also are stronger in their personal focus on Career and Time Management, etc. and do well with planning and TLE management.


One of CMT’s many tools is DISCoverY Diagnostics which measures a company’s performance in those 11 areas.  The Result is the business wheel which is shown here.  There are some significant observations about this wheel:


First, if we develop the owner’s personal profile using CMT’s DISCovery Behaviors, you will observe a visual correlation between the two wheels. After the earlier discussion this may now sound self evident. 


The other thing that is clearly evident is that if the following was the wheel of your car you would have a pretty bumpy ride and the same applies to your business.  In fact a healthy business needs to be measured at 5 in all the areas on this graph; that is equivalent of a fully inflated tire.  Any area which is rated below 4 requires attention and any area below 3 is in crisis. 


The gap between 5 and the actual rating in any area is the result of the owner’s response to a series of highly objective questions.  Two different companies could have the exact rating in a particular area and yet the issues that caused the gap could be different for each.


But one thing is certain; making the business thrive requires filling that gap, and in the same way that the cause of gap for two different companies could be different, the order and priority of measures to be taken could be different.


So in summary to maximize a company’s capabilities and chances to thrive in hard times first we need to develop a profile of how that business rates in various areas of business and then come up with specific strategies to fill their gap.


There is however an additional point to which we alluded earlier.  As we said earlier the current profile of the company correlates to the profile of the owner. So just setting plans and strategies may not guarantee change.  If it was that simple entrepreneurs being the smart people that they are they would have made those changes already. 


To better understand the issue here I must introduce you to another finding by Carl Gould of CMT International.  That is the concept of seven stages of a business success.  Without getting in to the details of each stage, suffice to say that as a business develops it requires a different level of emphasis on D, I, S, and C functions of business.


So the owner/entrepreneurs face two challenges; just like any other human being they have a particular DISC profile which means they naturally tend to focus on some areas of business and there is a natural tendency to neglect other areas to which they are not naturally gravitated.  Secondly, a company’s need in terms of focus on D, I, S, C varies based on the company’s stage of development.


If you have followed this blog to this point and specially if you are a business owner, then I am sure you agree with me that where a business owner sits is one of toughest and loneliest spots in business, and so many things are stacked against him.  And I have not even mentioned the “common xx reasons for a business failure”.  And that is why the role that the Institute for Independent Business and it’s Business Support Program plays in filling these gaps are so essential to business success.

Help your business thrive in hard times

Now in the previous post I talked about the basic principle that should make every business owner very excited about economic hard times.  Realizing that this is an opportunity for us, if we apply the right tools, then how do we go about this?  What are some of those tools and strategies?


My good friend Larry will be talking about a number of measures in the area of accounting and financial management that are absolute must.  Most of these will not cost you anything extra.  In fact they will help you save and improve the cash flow.  What Larry covers are what I call universal laws.  You can apply them to every business and it will help.


I want to speak to a different area.   The Institute for Independent Business (IIB) of which I am an Accredited Executive Associate, is an International non-profit research, education, and accreditation organization.  IIB has been studying small business owners and their businesses since 1984.  Founders of CMT, Coaching, Mentoring, and Training International, who also happen to be fellow Executive Associates of IIB have been studying this data and have discovered an interesting result:


A small business tends to take the personality of the owner.  To really understand the meaning and significance of this observation I must first talk to you about what I mean by personality. 


Most of you are familiar with a variety of personality tests that are available in the marketplace.  The proprietary product used at CMT is called DISCoverY Behavioral.  This tool, not unlike many other products in the marketplace classifies one’s personality in terms of 4 parameters; D, I , S, and C. It is important to recognize that we all have all these characteristics, just like the way every color is made of Red, Green, and Blue (RGB). 


And just like colors where one color might have more of Red, then, Blue, and then Green, for example, each of us also have our own unique combination of D, I, S, and C.  In each of us one of these parameters is more dominant than the other, so for example I may be primarily D, then C, then I, and then S.  You get the idea.  This unique order and combination of these parameters directly dictate my behavior, in relation to other people, my preferred style of work, etc. This makes every one of us unique and while there is no good or bad about these parameters and profiles, it is true that people who excel in certain professions do have similarity in their profiles. 


Now how all of this relate to one’s business?



Small Business University (SM)

This week I will be working on the first in a series of new modules I am putting together for small business university(SM), a series of presentations aimed at helping business owners with practical advice that works.  One of the largest credit unions in our area will be sponsoring and promoting these presentations.  Since these modules are inter-related and build on each other I recommended that we offer them under the umbrella of Small Business University (SBU).


My good friend Larry Rubin of Aronson & Company suggested the title of “Help your business thrive in hard times” for the first module.  Larry will be presenting part of the first module.


These are the titles for all the modules:


Small Business UniversityHelp your business thrive in hard times

Small Business University – Planning

Small Business University – Sales

Small Business University – Marketing

Small Business University – Operations

Small Business University – Technology

Small Business University – Leadership

Small Business University – Financial

Small Business University – Human Capital 

Small Business University – Business Diagnostics Tools

Small Business University – The 7 Stages of Small Business Success


My goal for the first module is that business owners who attend this module should walk away with at least one take away; we have much more control over the outcomes, even in the very hard times.


Tonight I came across this quote which I think worth repeating here:


To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who has missed a train, bus, or plane.

To realize the value of one second, ask a person who has survived an accident.

To realize the value of one millisecond, ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.


Just think about this; the monetary rewards that the winner of a gold medal reaps are sometimes ten times or even hundred times more than the silver medal winner, all because of a fraction of a second.


What does that have to do with thriving in business?  Everything.


For those of us who were crazy enough to chase RFPs, we would spend hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, and there was only one awardee. The second place won nothing, zilch.


I hope the message is pretty clear; we can beat the competition or even dominate the market by being just a tiny bit better than our competition.  Now how difficult could that be?  And this applies to both good times and bad times.  So the trick to thriving in hard times, and in fact any time, is pretty simple, we need to be just a little bit better than those who won’t make it!  When you survive you are stronger and you are left with a larger market share. 

If your excitement on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest, is not already at 10, let me emphasis this important point; if we have the right tools and strategies, hard times could be our best ally!  Think about it, in good times you could, and in fact you should, apply exactly the same measures, but your competition is not as weak as you would expect them to be during the hard times. 


OK, So the idea is simple, but how easy is it to implement it, and where would one start? 


At last the templet I was looking for

Being a slow guy with no knowledge of CSS it took me a long time before I found the right template to use for this blog.   My main goal during this period was to be able to set up my blog to look as much as possible like my website www.syntony.com .

In the process I had the opportunity to be reminded of a very important lesson.  Every time we procrastinate out of the fear of unknown the best solution is to march on.  I dreaded editing these templates out of the fear of messing up the whole design.  But now that I have done it and have learnt how powerful CSS is I feel a great relief and can now focus on posting what I have been waiting for all these

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