This month's tools and skills to help you manage your business.

Management Skills

The College of Business at Georgia State University conducted a survey in which high-performing companies were asked to rank the most important management skills by degree of importance. The results, in descending order:

1) Control

2) Leadership

3) Planning ability

4) Knowledge of business

5) Perspective on change

6) Ability to communicate

7) Innovation

8) Market orientation

9) Risk taking

Tip for Your Marketing Materials

Eye movement research by Gallup Applied Science communicates how people read promotional materials, what draws their attention and what keeps it. By knowing how people read print advertisements, you are better prepared to come up with sales and marketing materials that are more effective.

Readers tend to look at the product, the headline and the coupon - in that order. Small type usually is disregarded.

People usually read from top to bottom. They seem to like the offer at the top, the product in the center and the coupon placed at the bottom. The right side of the page generally is read first, followed by the left side.

Readers are attracted to the word "free" even if the word is smaller than other graphics in the ad.

Readers stay focused on the coupon longer if there is a picture on it.

Take a look in your sales kit and see where you might want to consider changes/improvements based on these findings.

Shorter Vacations Are in Vogue

There was a time when management annoyed the workers by not letting them take two-week vacations. These days, however, employees wouldn't want to take two weeks off anyway.

Nearly 80 percent of the people responding to a survey conducted by the America n Pro-ductivity & Quality Center in Houston say they would rather take a few brief vacations during the course of the year - maybe one full week and then several long weekends. And not only is this what they'd prefer, it's what they're doing.

The reas ons? Try getting your work schedule, your spouse's work schedule and your kid's schedules to line up for a 14-day window. Even if you're on your own, it's very difficult to get everything you need done to let you get away. And then if you return after two weeks away, there always seems to be three week's worth of work waiting for you.

Look to the Future

Small business owners are so wrapped up in the daily operations of their firms, they often are neglectful of long-term planning. That's one of the conclusions of an American Express survey. Other findings:

  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents be lieve they are, at best, "somewhat effective" at planning for business emergencies.

  • Fifty-five percent perceive inadequacies in personal financial planning.

  • Almost half believe they need knowledgeable advisors to assist in long-term plannin g.

Most companies are not prepared to handle the financial disruption that would result from the disability or death of their owners. Specifically, firms report they are ill-prepared for the long-term disability of owners (60%), short-term disabil ity (49%) and the owner's death (55%).

Billboards on Wheels

Research indicates that advertisements on trucks do a good job getting people's attention. A pre- and post-test were conducted at a mall asking respondents to name the 26th president of the United States.

Only 20 percent of the people questioned at the mall could name the 26th president in the pre-test. One week later trucks picturing Theodore Roosevelt and identifying him as the 26th president circled the test area.

After the truck advertising campaign, 60 percent of the people questioned were able to provide the correct answer. More good news: The campaign worked best on people between the ages of 35-54 who attended college and have a household income of $60,000 or more.

Wish Them the Best

You can offer a great wage and benefits package, a terrific work environment and be the best boss in the world, but it's still going to happen - you're going to lose some extremely valuable employees along the way.

While losing key people cannot alway s be avoided, the National Institute of Business Management points out that what you can control is the way you handle the situation when valued employees tell you that they have found something better elsewhere.

It's upsetting, for sure - but no reason to take it personal and be mad at the exiting employee. Do you really think someone is going to make a major career move just to put you in a bad spot? Isn't it slightly more likely that the person is doing what he or she thinks is best?

In the long run, you're best off parting ways on good terms. Even though it may be difficult, thank exiting employees for their service and contributions and wish them luck in their chosen paths. It's a small world; you may well cross paths again sometime down the line and you never can have enough friends.