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Made In Miami – Ilo Gear

Jody: Hello everybody. This is Jody Johnson. Welcome to Made In Miami, where we interview small businesses here locally to learn more about why they love doing business in Miami, how they got started in their business and what their advice would be for others who are about to start a business or looking to grow their businesses. Today we’re going to be with Liz Nieves of Ilo Gear.

 Hi Liz. Welcome to Made In Miami.

Liz: Hi Jody. Thank you so much. I’m super grateful to be here.

Jody: We’re delighted. So tell me a little bit about how people can find you, the name of the company, and the best way for them to be able to find you once they know how terrific you and your business are.

Liz: All right. So we’re very heavily on social media presence, so definitely on Instagram, it’s Ilo Gear. On Facebook, it’s the same. We also have the .com as well. And then, we do have a physical store here in Miami, which is our flagship.

Jody: OK. So Liz, tell me how did you start this business and why did you start this business.

Liz: I started this business out of necessity.  I am an immigrant, a Cuban immigrant. I am an only child from a single mother. And when my grandmother had passed away, I was 20 years old going to the University, majoring in biology, believe it or not.

Jody: Really.

Liz: Yes. Everybody thinks that’s very funny. She, my grandmother, passes away. And we lived in a very small efficiency. She used to receive food stamps, this was a great help when my mom worked in the factories in the 80’s and 90’s in the factories in Hialeah. So, my grandmother passes away. My mom has a heart attack six months later and I was basically up to feed us and pay the rent within that month.

Jody: Wow.

Liz: Yes. So, thankfully, I had taken sewing classes in high school. I went to work Coral Gables High.

Jody: You never know.

Liz: Yeah. Thank God for those home ec classes. Actually, I ended up receiving a scholarship for actually creating garments. I had a home ec scholarship that I used for FIU and I had a lot of friends that were dancers. And, I reached out to them and said, “Guys, I’m in desperate need. Whatever you need, I’m here. I can make anything for you guys. I need extra money.” And, sure enough I started that way. And before I knew it, it was like, you should make business cards. And then, I was like OK. And then I was like, why would I make business cards, I’m a biology major. And they’re like, No, you should do it. And then, now we’re here. And then, after 2015, after doing a lot of custom work and really having a very small mom and pop, very local business, at one of a kind, custom made, we decided, let’s take this national. Let’s grow. This was implemented and, thankfully, we’ve had you guys to come and help us tremendously with that. We created Ilo Gear, and so Ilo Gear now is a national brand. We do sell internationally. We’re in a few countries now.

Jody: Yeah, you were just in Italy right?

Liz: Correct. And in London as well.

Jody: Right. So tell us a little bit about what you’re doing exactly, because my understanding is you’re still doing the dance wear for the young dancers, but you’re also doing activewear. So say a little more about that.

Liz: Correct. So one of the things originally, when we created Ilo Gear, I decided I really wanted to go out into the active world. I’ve been an athlete my entire life. I’ve done a half Iron Man.

Jody: I can see.

Liz: Thank you. I’ve run marathons, half Iron Mans. I’ve done track and field since I was in middle school, so my mentor said to me, “you know you’ve been in the dance world you already, have an audience. You all ready have a clientele. If you launch under an activewear platform”, I’m sorry “dance wear platform, you would be able to have a return on investment right away.” And, so now for this year we’re actually launching the activewear portion of it and we’re very very excited.

Jody: OK good. So tell me about a challenge in the business and how you’ve been able to overcome it.

Liz: One challenge.

Jody: One challenge. Yeah. I guess it’s not a very well worded question, is it. Most entrepreneurs have lots and lots of challenges.  But, what’s one of them that you had, a big one that you overcame.

Liz: All right. So I think for me one of the biggest challenges that I overcome especially in the apparel industry is finance. Financial, or getting, you know, having capital and cash flow to launch the next collection and be able to have the proper marketing. Staying consistent. Staying on top of the market with an ever, super quick, changing market, right now, where people just want new product out every week. So, as a small brand, that we still are, we’re faced with those challenges. So I think it would be, my answer to be, Finance.

Jody: Cash flow?

Liz: Cash flow, correct.

Jody: Yeah. OK. And so, about other challenges. What are some of the ones that you see in your industry? You know that are common.

Liz: OK. So, as for here in South Florida, one of the things that, I mean, when I spoke about factories being here in 1980 in the 90s and there were many factories in Hialeah, we had all these Cuban immigrants and all these people that worked in a factory. So, right now we have a huge scarcity of that. We don’t have enough of Made in America here in Miami. It’s more in L.A. or in New York. So, it’s just now starting to come back a little bit more, and we’re able to find a lot more sourcing and factories here now. So, we’re really hopeful that we’ll be able to, one, have these factories here, and two, start getting in the labor force that would be able to work in these factories and manufacture Made in America products.

Jody: Yeah, because the state of Florida actually incentivizes manufacturing here in South Florida, but we also have to have the workers.

Liz: Very important, exactly. I actually have had this conversation before with a few other people and I really feel that if we, through education, at any of the vocational schools, we can get immigrants that are coming here and have them be legal through the education system and incorporate themselves into learning how to do and work in America, and be legal here, and understand what it is to be an American, and then incorporate them into our workforce. That would be an amazing, amazing incentive. It would be amazing for people coming in. I mean, I’m that. I’m that story, you know, and I’m so grateful that we were able to come to this country. And, that my mom was able to work in the factories. I mean look at where I am now. Look at what that led to.

Jody: So as an entrepreneur you have to juggle many, many things. You’re a mother, you’re a wife, you’re a business owner, you’re a superstar, so, how do you manage it all? How do you stay focused?

Liz: Meditation. So, I’ve done it on and off. I’ve done mindful meditation, specifically. I’m currently doing a class at UM. Right now. An MPSR class.

Jody: What’s an MPSR class

Liz: So, that is mindful stress reduction program. I mean, it just sounds really complicated but it really isn’t. It’s just an eight week course that you take that provides you with tools on how to handle stress, how to be able to be living more in the moment. At the end of the day, that’s the class. The rest is the practice. The rest is how committed you are to practicing every day. How you implement everything that you learn.

Jody: You get up early.

Liz: Yes.

Jody: And you run.

Liz: Yeah, I do. I don’t run as much anymore. Now I’m lifting weights because I feel that I’m getting a lot older, so it’s time to pump up those muscles a little more. A lot less running now. No more than three miles now.

Jody: So Liz, if you only had a thousand dollars to invest in your company what would you invest it in?

Liz: Yes. I’ve had this question happen before and people have asked me that. And I think it’s advertising. Right now, I’ve always said it, I would be just a small little warehouse manufacturing anything in Westchester, Miami, and nobody would know how amazing our product is, everything that the company stands for, what our message is to the world. If it wouldn’t be through advertising and there’s a lot of very cost effective ways to do it now, more than ever, with social media. It’s so simple to start it yourself and really be able to grow with that. And then, eventually, you do have to hand it over to a company, but it is an amazing tool. And so, you could do it very cost effectively at the very beginning, so a thousand dollars would actually go a very long way.

Jody: On Instagram or something like that?

Liz: Right, through social media. I think that social media outlets allow us to to do so much. And then, we have a Shopify platform for our website, so with that, it’s all integrated and it allows us to be able to click and go directly into the shopping market of it.

Jody: So what advice would you give to somebody who wanted to start a business?

Liz: Business plan. Yeah. Sign up with you guys. So yes.

Jody: What is it about the business plan that you think makes a difference? Because, sometimes, people go like what do we need a business plan for? Why do you think it’s important?

Liz: Well, one, I started without one. So now, looking back, that’s the reason I’m saying it. That’s one reason I’m saying it. Number two is for more than any other reason, not necessarily for investors, or for people to see it, or to have, to say you did it, is because it structures your head. It really asks you and makes you face questions that are so important for you to answer, that once you are in the business you’re just running a thousand miles an hour. When you’re a small business and an entrepreneur, you’re doing 17 jobs in one day. You’re cleaning bathrooms at same time that you’re writing checks, and you’re designing, and picking fabric, and seeing customers, and that all happens within a two hour span.

Jody: Right.

Liz: So, that allows you to really be able to work, you know, on the business, not just in business. Right? So, I feel that that would be my advice to someone.

Jody: Yeah, because we often advise people to do the business plan, not so you have the book, or the document, but so that you’ve done the thinking.

Liz: Correct.

Jody: Because let’s say you do go to an investor, or a bank, and you’re standing there, they know, because of how you speak, that you’ve actually done the thinking, whether they ever look at the document, or not.

Liz: That is correct.

Jody: They’re investing in you and your ability to pull it off. So, Liz, to finish up, what’s great about doing business in Miami.

Liz: So as somebody who travels a lot, I’m gone eight months out of the year, 10 to 20 days. There’s not one single time, that I don’t want to come back. I love coming back home, not just because of the beautiful weather that we have or the food, but more importantly the mix of culture that we have here. It really opens you up to being more set, to have more acceptance towards people. It actually is an empowerment when you do travel, especially for someone like me, that I had never traveled anywhere. I mean, because of where I come from, we didn’t have the financial means, but yet, I had met people from a lot of different places in the world. So, I think that that would be one of my number one reasons, aside from that I think we do have the most beautiful people in the world.

Jody: A lot of people speak to the wonder of the diversity of people that live here in Miami, the mix of cultures, and how this kind of sleepy southern town has become a real international city where everyone is welcome.

Liz: Correct, and and I feel that it truly is. And whether someone’s aware of it, or not, it is an asset to you. Whether you use it, or not, everyday, you’re dealing with people from all over the world, with their culture and their idiosyncrasies, and you have to deal with that in the business world, and you have to honor certain things that are important to them, that, if you only dealt with people that are uni-cultural, you wouldn’t have to do that. So, I think it also gives you, on a greater scale, that insight when you do step out of Miami, and are starting to do business nationally, or even internationally of course.

Jody: Yeah. Liz, thank you for being with us. It’s always a pleasure to be with you. And that is Made In Miami.


How to Fascinate

Brand fascination may sound a bit mysterious but it’s actually something we are all familiar with in our personal relationships. Do you ever feel like you gravitate towards someone because of their personality or the way they communicate? The same can be said for business relationships. The way you communicate your brand affects whether or not people are drawn into a relationship with your brand. Therefore, positioning your brand to fascinate your audience and draw them in is one key to attracting clients and operating a successful business.

So what are some key components of brand fascination?

A solid understanding of your company’s identity

Take time to assess what beliefs and values your company is built on and how you are pursuing your mission. Instead of the tendency to conform to the values of your competitors, own your uniqueness. Your company is like no other so quit apologizing for it. Instead, fascinate your audience and create a sense of intrigue by operating out of your unique perspective.

A solid understanding of who your customers are

By crafting your ideal customer persona, you can keep your marketing efforts in line with your customers’ interests and needs. Consequently, customers will gravitate towards you and come to view you as an expert in your field. This is brand fascination at its finest and a sure way to grow a successful business.

A well-crafted story

Everyone loves a good story. What’s yours? Continue to tell your story. It is a huge part of your branding. Over time, your story, your logo and your mission will become more integrated and increase your brand fascination. Also, carefully consider which platforms you’re using to tell your story. The platforms you choose impact the way you share it.


Be who you say you are and boldly live out your story. This builds credibility and helps you grow a loyal customer base. When your brand is perceived as reliable, trustworthy and authentic, more and more people will gravitate towards you and choose to do business with you – and your company will experience the momentum of brand fascination.

At ActionCOACH Team Sage, we fascinate with trust. Trust underpins everything we do. It informs our business development, all aspects of operation and all of our business processes and functions. It’s not about how we see ourselves but about how others see us and how they see our clients. It gives us the verbiage to connect with our ideal clients and it helps our clients do the same. With this sense of clarity, we can help our clients market their businesses and speak to the people they are meant to serve. With this solid foundation in place, innovation can flourish and success is inevitable. If you want help digging into your brand and how you can fascinate to attract your ideal clients, we would love to help. Visit our website to sign up for a complimentary strategic coaching session.


Made In Miami – FrameWorks Miami

Jody: Welcome to made in Miami where we’re interviewing small business owners that have their businesses here and are thriving in Miami. Every month we’ll be interviewing another small business to give you insights on how they’re making it. In Miami today we’re going to be talking with Cris and Claire from FrameWorks.

So would you two introduce yourselves. The name of your company in the best way for people to find you.

Cris Sweeny: Our company is FrameWorks the best way to find us is My name is Cris Sweeny on one of the founders and co-owners of FrameWorks.

Claire Lardner: My name is Clare Lardner and I’m the other founder of FrameWorks located in Miami. We have two locations, one in Coconut Grove and one in the Bird Road Arts District.

Jody: Great. Okay. So can you tell me why and how you started this business.

Cris: Why I started this business was I believed that having a business that made a difference in people’s lives was what life should be about. I didn’t care what I made, I cared about who I was about how I made things. So, I researched businesses. I was living in New York City at the time and researched businesses and on a wing and a prayer and a MasterCard spent a week in a frame shop in Key West and then opened my doors in Miami and fully believed that I could make it work. Which obviously 30 years later we have.

Jody: Yeah. Great. So then when did you join the company?

Claire: I joined the company in 1995 and we decided that between the two of us we can actually grow the business more and make more of an impact particularly in Coconut Grove.

Jody: Great. So tell me a little bit about the products and services that you offer. What do you guys do?

Claire: Frameworks is an art sourcing, picture framing, art printing company. We have 25 people employed from being a creative director creating artwork putting it on paper plexiglass whatever material down to framing it for our hospitality clients. Our two locations also have residential custom framing that does anything from museum to low end framing.

Cris: In a nutshell, we’re a full art and framing fabrication company.

Jody: You know, I was over at your place the other day and some of the photographs that you were showing me like people come with their artwork to actually be fabricated whether it gets printed on aluminum, or on canvas, or even on wallpaper, right?

Cris: Absolutely.

Claire: We’ve had people in our business who’ve been with us for over 20 years and the people that are behind the counter have the experience of being able to work with your art, creating a design that gives you the wow factor when people walk into your house.

Jody: You know when I go into your frame shop with something to be framed I just go here what do you think. And they always do a magnificent job. I don’t even know if you saw the last piece they did for me. That was brilliant. So, do you think that you were destined to be in this business.

Cris: Well, obviously, because that’s where I am. I guess for me there’s no question. I mean, had you asked me 30 years ago if I would end up here, I couldn’t see that path for sure. I feel like we’ve really trusted our intuition as owners and continued to build the business and made decisions and investment decisions in a way that maybe doesn’t follow an exact script or the way you’re supposed to do it, but we don’t really care.

Jody: So, what would you say is the biggest challenge of this business.

Cris: Well, I think the challenge for me personally is having to get up every day and continue to be inspired and continue to lead in a way that people want to participate. Now that the company has grown, that the team wants to be there. You know, how do I need to do that. After three years of doing the same thing and do it so that it inspires people to want to follow what we’ve created.

Jody: And what is the most challenging thing for you.

Claire: The most challenging thing is to get our name out there. Most people that we want to do business with don’t know our complete capabilities. And, it’s getting our reputation outsourced to other people. Once somebody has come to work with us and they realize who we are and our capabilities, but more who we are, they tend to stay with us forever. As one client said, we’re the best kept secret.

Jody: So in my experience, there are people who know you, but they may not know the full scope of what you do. Even the way you explained it – fabrication – what does that mean? That they will know you can cut wood, and make words, and imprint on anything even the wallpaper or the hospital wallpaper that’s bacteria free. So, there’s just so many things, it’s almost hard to know the full scope of everything that you can do. What’s the most interesting project that you’ve done recently?

Cris: I would say one of the most interesting projects we did was for a hotel property in one of the islands, where the designer came to us with a crazy idea that they wanted to put sort of like an abstract interpretation of a map and incorporate it into the headboard with lights. OK, so that was the concept they came to us with, and we actually ended up cutting out the islands and putting plexiglass on the back so it could be reverse lit. So, they were hand-finished boards, 5 foot by 10 foot, which is pretty big to work on. So I think that we did something like 50 of those. And then they actually built them into the wall as the headboard and they just came out exquisite. Again, completely outside of what you would conceive as a frame shop. Which is, as you know, where we began.

Jody: Do you have a favorite project?

Claire: The same.

Jody: Yeah. It was really cool. Yeah. Okay good. So. What’s an obstacle that you’ve overcome in the business? And how did you overcome it?

Claire: The obstacle was losing our youngest daughter to suicide and as any survivor will tell you that gut wrench of that and what you do with your life and is your life worth going forward and then realizing at the same time that you have a business to run and that you have to find a way deep down to run it. And then, realizing that the people that are with you, because they’re in your business culture, they actually want to help you and they love you enough that they will pick themselves up, even in their pain – because their pain is your pain – they will find a way to help you. That’s been our biggest struggle, coming back from the death of our daughter.

Cris: I would agree.

Jody: If you could start the business all over again what would you do differently?

Cris: I’m not sure I would! Like I said, a wing and a prayer and a MasterCard. People actually ask us frequently about starting businesses and I’m really a devil’s advocate. It takes a lot of courage and a stick-to-it-ness and unwilling… You have to be willing to do literally whatever it takes to survive. And it’s not easy. It is not easy. There were many, many, many weeks and time periods where employees got paid and vendors didn’t. And making those kinds of decisions and trying to sleep at night with that. It’s just not easy. Not to say people shouldn’t do it, but I went in, you know, ignorance was bliss, in the sense I really had no idea! I feel like our strength and courage as human beings have allowed us to be successful because without that it’s very, very difficult, especially over such a long period of time.

Jody: Would you like to add to that?

Claire: Yeah. When we were in Coconut Grove, covering the store there, we would see people open up businesses. They would open up a business and think, well I’m open, people will come. And they don’t realize the financial struggles, the emotional struggles that are there. And, they have to have the fortitude and the belief in themselves or, if you have a partner, that partner, that you can get through it. People just because you open the door, they don’t come, you’ve got to get them in.

Jody: It’s not like that movie right?

Claire: No, it’s not the same as the movies. And so, if people want to start a business, they have to take a really hard look at themselves, do they have the ability to withstand these struggles and the emotional rollercoaster? There is always a roller coaster. It’s never smooth sailing because if its smooth sailing, that means your business is not needed because the world’s gone past you. You always have to keep reinventing yourselves. And that’s the struggle that I think a lot of businesses forget. They forget to reinvent themselves they think I know my business model and it’s good, it’s stagnant, I don’t need to do anything and that’s when people leave you. You always have to keep reinventing and looking for ways to engage your client or your customer.

Jody: Ah, that was beautiful Claire because you know after the recession many people even the best business people in the world lost their businesses. And that Business Model and the ability to shift and innovate is what kept many of the small businesses going. They were scrappy enough to be able to go in there and do whatever it took, as you said.

As business owners and entrepreneurs, you have to juggle many things. How do you keep focused? How do you get refocused, if you’ve lost your focus?

Cris: We call our business coach.

Jody: Thank you! It’s a good structure, we call ours to!

Cris: I mean, that is absolutely one of the tools in our toolbox, for sure.

Claire: The same thing. If you don’t have outside people to look at your business, then again, you’re you’ve got blinders on, you’re not looking at the whole thing. You have to have an outside source, whether it’s a business coach, a friend, a competitor, somebody that can turn to you and say, “Your eye’s not on the ball or this is what you’re missing.” Because that, again, is going to reinventing yourself because, again, you can’t just sit on your chair and just bury your head on the desk, it won’t work.

Jody: That Kaizen concept of constant never ending improvement and innovation.

Cris: And, one of the other things for me is when I feel like that we’re stuck, or there’s a source of friction, is sometimes it takes just getting in the trenches and getting the car to move up the hill a little bit, to rock it and to actually get in the trenches. And again, as we’ve grown and added more layers in our team, sometimes it doesn’t feel like you should be doing that.

Jody: Well, you know, one of the things that I find with clients, is they’ll resist having team meetings, like we don’t have time for that, we’re too busy. But you’ve been pretty religious about your meetings. Can you say a little bit about that?

Cris: Well I feel like I don’t think our meetings are a waste of time. I think they’re a fundamental forum for different departments to be in communication about what’s happening. So, I absolutely believe that you have to do it consistently. You just can’t miss because once you start missing it allows for it to not be meaningful, or matter. So, we just build them into our schedule for the team and they’re just as important as other learning tools and working hard.

Jody: So here’s a fun question. If you only had a thousand dollars to invest in the business where would you invest it? Another piece of equipment?

Cris: It doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of our equipment. So, a thousand dollars, in the scope of what we do, is very minuscule. So it’s hard for me to think that a thousand dollars could make a huge impact. So, if I was looking to, I would probably put it towards doing something with the team. Whether we go out for beer or something that would make a difference for the entire team. An event, a moment.

Jody: What would you say?

Claire: I have to agree that it would have to be related to the team because a thousand dollars doesn’t even buy one of our computers.  When the times are tough, like when we hit the recession, if the team is behind you, they will be behind you no matter what and they’ll stick with you through the ups and the downs. But if you don’t have the team, they’ll walk away. And so, anything that you can do to get the team to believe in themselves, the team members to believe in themselves and do with each other.

I’ll go back to the meetings that you were talking to Chris about. We have different divisions. We have production, we have creative and we have residential or custom. If you didn’t have intergroup meetings, custom would have no idea what creative was doing, creative would have no idea what production, and this allows everybody to get to know one another. And then, if one group is overworked, creative or custom will chip in and say, Hey, I’ve got somebody that can help you. So, it gets everybody to treat everybody as a human being versus a co-worker.

Jody: If you could give me a description of your business in just three words what would they be?

Claire: Humans. Human resources. We’re a…

Cris: Innovation. Team. Determination.

Jody: And, what’s three words for you? Team and what?

Claire: Basically, the same. We’re nowhere without the team. We’re nowhere without our innovation. And we’re nowhere without going after the work. So it’s determination.

Jody: I think is limitless possibilities.

Cris: Relentless pursuit of excellence.

Jody: That’s more than three words and it was really great. OK. So. What advice would you give to someone who’s starting out?

Cris: Jump!

Claire: If you don’t believe in yourself and you are not willing to take a risk, then don’t go into the business. You have to trust yourself. And, if you don’t, as Chris said, jump, you’ll never grow.

Jody: So what is the best thing about being in business in Miami?

Cris: The best thing about being in business in Miami is, has been, the extraordinary privilege and honor of the thousands and thousands of people that we’ve been able to interact and engage with. And, in particular, to see the impact on the people in our lives, you know, whether it was selling a frame or, you know, giving a kid a job that didn’t have a chance. To see that ripple effect is how the world changes.

Jody: What’s the best thing about doing business in Miami for you, Claire?

Claire: I think what I found was, when we lost our daughter, the number of people who we had touched, came to give us support. Whether it was family, friends and a lot of our clients and customers, who we’ve known over the years, there was such an outpouring of love and support that I think it would be really hard to find elsewhere in the country.

Jody: Well you’re certainly a gift to the city of Miami, the two of you as human beings and your business and your team, because, you have an extraordinary team. It’s amazing what you all get done! It really is. So, thank you for being here this morning and taking your time for this interview. And that’s made in Miami.


Managing Change for Success

All small businesses are affected by change. It could be something as simple as implementing a new payroll system or as monumental as switching to a new operating system or moving the office to a new location. Even if the change is warranted and the results are promising, change is rarely easy and a large percentage of change efforts fail. So how can leaders set themselves and their teams up for success when it comes to implementing change? It truly all begins with effective change leadership.

Personality types of effective change leaders

When you look at the Clifton StrengthsFinder personality types, effective change leaders can emerge from
any of the four strength domains: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building or Strategic Thinking and any combination thereof. When you know your StrengthsFinder strengths and where they fall in these four areas, you can dig into ways to improve your effectiveness in implementing change. Some common personality types of effective change leaders include:

  • Achiever: works hard with exceptional motivation and determination
  • Activator: is motivated to “do” and inspires others by their actions
  • Includer: has a high capacity to build relational connections
  • Woo: can easily inspire and motivate and win others over; social intelligence
  • Futuristic: plans for the future by solving today’s problems
  • Strategic: can look at the details and sort out the best route forward

Gallup’s book, Strengths-Based Leadership, covers the four attributes that people look for in their leaders as well as how leaders can develop their natural talents to deepen their leadership skills.

Working with their natural wiring, leaders can successfully enact change in many ways. Here are some important components of effective change leadership:

Effective change leadership clearly communicates with employees every step of the way.

When a leader comes in like a bulldozer and starts implementing change without notice, they take employees off-guard and can trigger a host of negative reactions. However, when a leader communicates clearly from day one and involves employees in pre-change discussion, even in situations where employees are hesitant, they feel respected and often embrace the change as the process moves forward. When proposing a change, here are some key questions you as a leader can address:

The why: Why is this change necessary? Addressing this can be particularly challenging in an environment where employees perceive operations to be humming along just fine as is. When presenting your “why,” it may be necessary to debunk some myths and shed light on ways company operations could stand to improve.

The where: Where will the proposed change take your employees and the company as a whole? Cast a vision for a bright future and all the benefits that await everyone on the other side of this change.

The how: How are you going to move your company from Point A to Point B? Delineate a roadmap with manageable steps that helps your company move into this new, beneficial place.

Effective change leadership collaborates with employees

If you want to be an effective change leader, it’s necessary to involve employees and key stakeholders early on in the decision-making process. Creating a sense of unity around the proposed change will help strengthen employees’ dedication to implementing it. Unify your team for a successful collaborative experience.

Effective change leadership solicits feedback

Instead of approaching the situation as if you have all the answers, ask questions of and solicit formal and informal feedback from your employees. This will allow you to make effective adjustments and course corrections before and during the implementation phase. It can help open your mind to perspectives and possibilities that only people with their boots on the ground can contribute, unify employees and management and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Want help managing change for success within your organization? Sign up for a complimentary strategic coaching session on our website!


An Economic Downturn Can Drastically Affect Small Businesses: What Can You Do to Prepare?

10+ years after the Great Recession of 2006-2007, the U.S. economy is healthy. For the majority of small business owners, taking out loans to fund growth is relatively easy through conventional banking as well as alternative funding sources. Many small businesses sales are strong. But how long will this trend last? History teaches us that the economy ebbs and flows and on the heels of every boom there is an eventual downturn. Currently, there is a sense of uncertainty due to the political and economic climate here in the States and around the world. Additionally, as we come up on an election year in 2020, many people will sit tight and withhold spending. Let’s take a look at how an eventual economic downturn will affect small businesses and what small businesses can do to prepare.

Current small business trends…

Trends in the small business sector show that of recent, fewer and fewer small businesses are borrowing capital to grow and expand their businesses. More small businesses are focusing on maintaining their operations and profitability. Small businesses sense a shift in the economy earlier than large businesses and currently 43% of small and medium-sized businesses say that an economic downturn is on their radar and they are taking steps to prepare.

What to expect in a recession…

Lending comes to a halt: Traditional institutions stop lending to small businesses so credit and capital are restricted. This can spell disaster for unprepared small businesses.

Sales decline: Depending on your industry, your sales can suffer greatly. In an economic downturn, consumers reduce discretionary spending and move into a maintenance mentality. For example, if your business sells recreational vehicles or remodels homes, you will notice a sharp decrease in demand as consumers reduce spending on “extras” in order to focus on necessities.

Suppliers can’t be depended on: Supply chain disruptions are to be expected in tighter financial times. Some suppliers go out of business while others are spread thin and have a difficult time delivering on customer demands. Smaller suppliers are small businesses of their own and will be impacted more than large suppliers.

How minority-owned businesses are affected…

Even in our current economic boom, according to the PCA Index Survey Responses Trend Analysis by Pepperdine Graziadio Business School and Dun & Bradstreet, 60% of minority-owned businesses are reporting financing difficulties and as a result, a squeeze on business growth. 66% of minority-owned businesses say this squeeze will have a negative impact on hiring in 2019. When an economic downturn does come, minority-owned business who are already experiencing financing challenges will be at even greater risk.

So, what can small businesses do to prepare…

There are a handful of ways small businesses can prepare for a recession.

Diversify your client base: Because a downturn in the economy affects industries differently, make sure if at all possible, that your clients represent a wide range of industries. Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket.

Exercise financial discretion: Operate your business finances in such a way that you’re prepared if revenue gets tight. Think twice before making long-term financial commitments such as signing a lease or hiring new employees.

Secure your financing now: Take that line of credit now when money is easier to come by. Even if you don’t need it at the moment you will have it when you do, and you should only be charged interest on the amount you use.

Consider hiring freelancers and contractors: There’s nothing more painful during tight financial times than instituting layoffs. While layoffs are often necessary to help small businesses stay afloat, consider hiring freelancers or contractors to minimize this possibility. Layoffs affect company morale and can have a devastating effect on hard-working employees and their families.

Is your small business prepared for a recession? Visit our website and sign up for a complimentary strategic coaching session. We’re here to help!


Empathy and Workplace Leadership

21st century leadership is moving away from the traditional leadership hierarchy of the past and embracing a more approachable leadership style. Leaders are climbing down from their lofty positions of power and forging a more human-to-human connection with their team(s). This shift in leadership styles is largely fueled by research from thought leaders such as Pat Lencioni and Brené Brown who acknowledge the value of empathy in leadership and is driven by employees who, in this age of social media, equate transparency with trustworthiness.

Vulnerability – the precursor to empathy

Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability. – Brené Brown

Empathy is putting ourselves in the shoes of another in order to truly understand their experience.  This simply cannot be done without being willing to be vulnerable. When you’re empathetic, you’re taking a risk; you risk feeling something that may be uncomfortable or even painful. The benefit for those willing to be empathetic is connection and fulfillment. Leaders who are willing to be vulnerable and extend empathy  forge a connection with their team members that cannot be created any other way.

Employees want transparent leadership

Why is transparent leadership so important? According to “5 Powerful Things Happen When A Leader Is Transparent,” a September 10, 2012 article in Forbes;

“Being transparent is a powerful thing, if you can trust yourself and be trusted by others. The reason most leaders are not transparent is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard to attain will lose their power, leverage and gravitas. This is the problem with most leaders, they are not aware of the reality that exists around them. People want to relate to [their] leaders. People want to know that their leaders have experienced the same problems and/or how they have overcome personal hardships.”

“We are all living during a time when people want and expect their leaders to be more human, less perfect and at times a bit vulnerable – regardless of hierarchy or rank.”

Transparency unifies teams, increases trust between team members and their leaders and increases workplace productivity. When a leader exhibits transparency, they allow others to see them without pretense. This creates an environment that fosters vulnerability – which occurs in the context of relationship – and opens up the doors for empathy.

Empathetic leaders foster healthier workplaces

“To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded. We have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.’

Conversely, ‘the greatest barrier to courageous leadership is not fear—it’s how we respond to our fear. Our armor—the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that we use to protect ourselves when we aren’t willing and able to rumble with vulnerability—move us out of alignment with our values, corrode trust with our colleagues and teams, and prevent us from being our most courageous selves.”  – Brené Brown

When leaders show up as their true selves and relate to their teams with vulnerability and empathy, a bridge of trust is built. Employees know that they are accepted for who they are, that they are indeed part of a team and that what they contribute matters. When they know that they are valued and can trust their leaders, team members are motivated to do their best and make a difference in their workplace by applying themselves more fully to their work.

How can leaders develop and increase empathy?

Regardless of the size of your business, fostering empathetic leadership will have a positive impact on morale and productivity. Here are some great ways to do this:

  • Listen: As a leader, take the time in and out of the workplace to listen to people from different walks of life who hold different opinions and have their own unique experiences. Allow your employees to voice their concerns with you in a supportive environment.
  • Slow down: Instead of shooting off that quick email, consider holding an in-person meeting. Slow down and take the time to interact face-to-face with your employees. This will give everyone the opportunity to dialogue and it will give you the opportunity to listen empathetically.
  • Ask questions: Take a genuine interest in the perspectives and opinions of your employees. “Can you tell me more about your take on that?” or “Do you see a better way to accomplish this goal?” are easy questions you can ask that give your employees permission to voice their opinions, be heard and feel valued.
  • Get involved: Consider partnering with a charitable organization. This gives you and your employees the opportunity to work alongside each other to make an impact in the community. Volunteering increases empathy and helps you put yourself in the shoes of another – identifying with their needs and meeting these needs in a practical way.

Would you like to foster more empathy and engagement in your workplace? Get in touch with us, we have tools and programs specifically designed to help you create this in your workplace!


Increasing Employee Engagement

We’ve acknowledged the employee engagement crisis and established the importance of engaging your employees. But how does an employer go about this? Would adding a soda machine and a ping pong table to your breakroom engage your employees and turn a bigger profit for your company? Most certainly not. Increasing employee engagement requires a clear employee engagement strategy. Here are some important components of an effective strategy:

Be transparent: In order to engage employees, it’s crucial to gain their trust and be relatable. As opposed to the temptation to appear larger than life, foster open and honest communication with those you lead. Tell the truth, admit when you make a mistake and ask for input from employees when it’s appropriate. Your employees will respect your authenticity and repay you with their hard work and dedication.

Clearly communicate expectations: This goes beyond clarifying job descriptions. Alarmingly, according to recent Gallup statistics, only 50% of employees know what is expected of them at work. Make sure your team knows what you expect of them in every aspect of their jobs. Also, set performance goals so they know what they’re working towards. This will keep them from floundering and will fuel their motivation.

Encourage teamwork: Employees who feel disconnected from their co-workers often disengage at work. Combat this by fostering an environment where collaboration and strategic thinking are encouraged and watch your employees thrive.

Encourage growth and development: Do your employees have the tools they need to do their jobs well? Do they have the resources to grow personally and professionally? Is there additional training you could provide for your employees that would spur them on to the next level? Stagnant employees easily become disengaged employees. Equip them with the tools and vision to develop and refine their skills and encourage them to move beyond their current roles in your company.

Allow flexibility: If the nature of the work your team members do allows them to work remotely or set their own schedules, consider offering them this flexibility, even one or two days a week. Also encourage them to step away from their desks frequently throughout the workday to recalibrate. The New York Times reports that employees who take a break every 90 minutes claim a 30% increase in focus and a 50% increase in creativity. Giving employees some control over their time will help combat burnout and create more of a sense of work-life balance.

Empower your employees: Show them that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves and give them a platform to voice their opinions on happenings within the company. When possible, allow them to weigh in on important decisions. When employees have a voice and a sense of mission, they will go above and beyond their minimum responsibilities, work with passion and experience greater job fulfillment.

Recognize employee achievements: Take every opportunity to recognize employees for their contributions, accomplishments and for meeting performance goals. This will motivate your team to continue to strive for excellence and produce quality work.

If you’re interested in diving deeper into employee engagement and learning some effective ways you can engage your team, I will be speaking at the South Florida Business Excellence Forum and Awards in Coral Gables, Florida on January 14, 2019 and we would love to have you join us! Tickets can be purchased online at


Employee Engagement: A Growing Problem

If employee engagement increases business profitability, why, according to 2016 Gallup statistics, is employee disengagement at an all-time high? In fact, 53% of U.S. workers are not engaged at their jobs and 17% of workers are actively disengaged. Employers must take the time to invest in formal employee engagement strategies to engage and retain their employees. Gallup also reports that, without an engagement strategy in place, teams are 21% less profitable, 17% less productive, have 10% lower customer ratings and increased employee turnover.

What does an engaged employee look like?

So what’s the goal? An engaged employee is energized by their work, passionate about their work and fulfilled in their work. They are driven by a desire to achieve excellence in all their tasks and are motivated by contributing to something greater than themselves. Engaged employees are committed to their work both cognitively and emotionally, consistently going above and beyond their basic responsibilities while maintaining a sense of loyalty to their employer.

What are the negative effects of employee disengagement?

An employee that is not engaged or is actively disengaged has a negative impact on company profit, productivity and customer satisfaction and they hamper overall business success. They only do the minimum that is required of them and they lack the motivation to pursue excellence. If a “better” job comes along they will surely take it.

So what fuels employee disengagement?

Many employers operate with a one-size-fits-all strategy and are out of touch with the unique needs and values of their employees. When employers take the time to get to know their employees individually and learn what they need from their managers and work environment and then respond accordingly, employees feel valued and employee engagement increases. Studies such as the Employee Engagement Survey by Customer Insight, indicates the importance of a healthy relationship between an employee and their manager in helping maintain engaged employees. Employees who feel like a face in the crowd are much less motivated to give their best on the job.

Another factor contributing to employee disengagement is burnout. Employees are often overloaded with tasks, particularly if they’ve proven they’re dependable. They also often find themselves uninspired by their work. This combination is the perfect recipe for employee burnout. A 2017 study by Future Workplace recognizes employee burnout as the largest threat to employee engagement.

When employers recognize the benefit to discovering and addressing their employees’ unique needs and values, they observe a pattern. Although their specific core needs look differently, they fall into four basic categories: physical needs, emotional needs, mental needs and spiritual needs. Supporting needs in each of these categories yields a more engaged team.

So what can be done?

Depending on the size of your company, regularly meeting one-on-one with employees or issuing regular employee engagement surveys are two great ways to solicit feedback. While you may not find it feasible to address every single issue that is flagged, commit to addressing the ones you can by implementing thoughtful and effective measures. This might look like increasing the number of breaks your employees are allowed each day, delivering more consistent recognition for employee accomplishments, allowing your employees to determine when and where their work gets done or allowing them to dedicate a portion of their workweek to projects that truly inspire them. Keep in mind that when employees are engaged, everything runs more smoothly, and morale, productivity and profit naturally increase.

Stay tuned for our next post where we will discuss some effective ways to increase employee engagement!


How to Attract Top Talent to Your Company

How to Attract Top Talent to Your Company

I think you’ll agree that most business owners say they’re struggling to attract top talent to their company. Many of them tell me they’re struggling to attract ANY talent to their company. However, what if I share with you in this video what top-talented people are looking for in an employer? I’m going to share with you the four things that top-talented people are looking for when they go to join the company.

Hi, this is Jody Ann Johnson with ActionCOACH – Team Sage, where we work with small business owners and their teams to help them grow their businesses, keep more of the money they make, be more profitable and free up their time. If you’re new here and you’re looking for best practices and how to grow your business, please subscribe to my channel and be sure you click the bell so you don’t miss anything.

To begin with, it’s important to know that there are more jobs available than there are people to fill them. That’s not even taking talent into consideration. That is strictly looking at the numbers. Even though AI has come in as well as other different kinds of technology, it’s still projected that we will have a massive shortage in the number of people who are available for any kinds of jobs that are out there right now. So what is top talent looking for? Number one: Top-talented people are looking to belong to an organization that’s great. They want to be a part of a winning team and they want to be a part of a company that’s wildly successful.

Nobody ever said, “Hey, when I grow up I’d like to work for a mediocre company.” People really want to be involved in something great. So that’s number one. The second thing that people want to know is that they’re actually contributing to the success of that company. That their opinions matter and that what they do actually makes a difference for the company and for the company’s customers. Number three: They want to be fairly compensated and know that there are opportunities for them to grow and develop along a career pathway where they have the opportunity to do what they do best. Number four: They want to work for a company that’s congruent with its core values and its brand promise. They want to belong to a company that they’re proud of – that they can talk with their friends, their neighbors and their colleagues about with pride. Lastly – and this is a bonus – they want you to be in communication with them. They want to be informed about what’s going on in the company both good and bad. People have a great capacity for navigating when things aren’t going well. It’s just when we’re not in communication with them that they make up stuff and things get off track. So they really want to know what’s happening. As a business owner, if you’re actively managing these things and people are aware that you’re doing that, you will go a long long way toward attracting top talent to your company and you may do that through the people who are actually working for you right now.

My question for you is what is one thing that you can do out of what we’ve been discussing that can improve your ability to attract top talent? Pick just one thing and then implement that this quarter. If you have questions, comments on this topic or suggestions for how I can improve these videos please leave them here. Thank you very much for watching this video. And before you go, please subscribe to this channel and click the bells so you don’t miss a thing.


A Family-Owned, Generational Business Challenge

In an all-too-familiar scenario, a well-known family business in our area recently suffered a significant breakdown in family dynamics and consequently, business operations. I often say and have lived it myself, “When the family dynamics are strained, it puts the lid on a business’s ability to grow,” not to mention the negative impact on family relationships.

Sometimes children come straight into the family business from high school. Other times, they go off and pursue their own careers and dreams and come into the family business later in life. Owning and operating a family business requires a special kind of attention to detail. It also requires an immense amount of planning and strategizing to successfully integrate new family members into an existing set of family members within the business framework. While this can be an exciting time, it can also be unsettling and leave you scrambling for solutions. How does one find a role for and integrate a banker, a manager or a therapist into the business?  What about those who have outgrown their roles? Worse yet, what about when the role has outgrown the adult child? Roles and functions can get confusing and seeds of discord can be sown.

In this two-part series, I’ll be sharing ideas to support you in discovering ways to proceed both in your business and with your family.

Part One – Key Strategies for Business Success

One of the tools we use extensively with our clients in order to identify a person’s natural wiring is a profile assessment. This is distinct, although natural wiring is often confused with skills. Skills are defined and developed as things we learn through our experience. Natural wiring is the propensity to natural ways of thinking and being. These profile assessments point to certain roles in which a person will naturally do well. People still require training to develop in their role. However, they will easily grasp the concepts.  

Clearly defined, accurate positional agreements, or job descriptions, are critical. When presented properly, the responsibilities and duties along with the key performance indicators of effectiveness in those tasks create clarity and the ability to objectively review one’s performance.

A current and future organizational chart outlines who reports to who and where the company is headed in terms of the human resource requirements and opportunities.

The “onboarding” process of integrating new team members into the business is best thought of as unfolding over weeks and months rather than over the course of days. This is part of well-structured human resource practices, policies and procedures. 

Sometimes family business owners feel torn between the business and the family when issues arise. Understanding that challenges are to be expected, it’s best to think through criteria to manage them before they arise. This can lead to even greater workability and maturity within the family and can serve to develop a successful multi-generational family business.

In Part Two, I’ll go over the concept of the family business house and moving from a one-room house to a four-room house in order to operate a thriving family business.

A Family-Owned, Generational Business Challenge – Part Two

As your business grows in size and scope there are some unique roles that, when filled thoughtfully, will make a world of difference to the workability of your business, your family and your team.