Lessons from Earth Day for Businesses

Today is Earth Day. For some non-profits it’s an important income producing day, one of their highest because people are aware of today being Earth Day and are motivated to donate to or raise awareness about these non-profits that work in support or care of the Earth. Earth Day can teach those of us who run for-profit businesses a few lessons as well, lessons that don’t directly tie to being Earth-friendly or Earth Day.

There’s such a thing as finite resources. The past year with the virus and pandemic have highlighted all kinds of issues in our world, including in the supply chain. For example you can’t send the surface cleaner you produce off to the stores and customers that need it if the bottle supplier you use can’t supply you with bottles or can’t get them to you. We’ve also seen how quickly money can be cut off, so if we’re not prepared with a backup plan or backup resources, in normal situations we wouldn’t be able to survive.

Listen to your customers. I was just reading a chapter in this month’s book that highlighted this a couple of times, and it’s one of the most important factors in your growth and success as a business. When you stop listening to customers you can get stuck and they may choose to shop with those who are more sensitive to their needs or preferences or opinions, whether those needs are for a veggie burger when you only currently sell beef burgers, or their preferences that you’re a company that is sensitive to the economic conditions and natural resources.

Consider your community. Every business has to choose if they’re going to be only focused on their bottom line, or if they’re going to invest in and build relationships with the customers, team, local community, greater business community, and/or world while they’re working on success. Community isn’t always easy and it won’t necessarily be the most popular or easiest choice to make, but when we work together we can create more wins for more of us now and in the future.

Lastly, pay attention. Earth Day raises awareness about our planet and the consequences we’re facing if we don’t care for it, just like sometimes we need to be reminded about the things that need fixing or need to be given attention in our businesses. You can’t know everything or do everything, which is why we have teams of people or advisors or consultants who help keep us on track and make sure that we’re aware of what’s not working as well as it should, what feedback we’re getting from customers, or what’s changing and we need to know to not fall so far behind we can never catch up. Being told about something isn’t necessarily the issue, not doing anything about it definitely becomes an issue.

Whether you’re a company that focuses on being environmentally friendly or not, just about every company is 100% dependent on our planet being around to have work and be successful (comparatively few companies are involved in outer space exploration). So this Earth Day I encourage you to consider if there’s something or more than one thing you can do to give your business and our planet both a better fighting chance for the future.

Having a Support System

Success isn’t just about the steps you take towards victory, it’s also about how you deal with the challenges you face. I’m thankful for a partner and family who support me, there’s a lot to be said for having people going with you through a situation. Knowing that you’re not alone and that other people may be experiencing the same rollercoaster of emotions as you, that you’ve got people who will do everything from provide a shoulder to cry on or brainstorm ideas or pick up the slack while you’re working through things, is so important. That support takes one or more of the likely many stressors off your plate as you work through the challenge.

But as I was thinking about the different challenges that friends or extended family are experiencing, I was remembering similar situations in my life. I am glad to be in that supportive role for them, but the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I was that I didn’t have someone back then in my life who had already been through what I was going through at the time. Your regular team is great for supporting you, but they can’t always answer to what comes next or what has helped in similar situations and help guide you through your situation.

I know there are mentors to tap into who are a great resource for the normal success stuff. Counselors and therapists are great for providing tools to help anyone work through a situation. Lawyers and advocates can be helpful in making sure everything goes legally and as fairly as possible with preparation for unknowns. But then there are people in NA or AA who have been in the shoes of the people they’re supporting, and can speak to the long journey someone is undertaking.

But what about the people going through things that aren’t as readily talked about or society isn’t as willing to support? What about those people who are genuinely good people but maybe got a little turned around, or made some decisions that aren’t considered popular or culturally acceptable, or the people who find or get themselves into situations where the outcome is often unpredictable and unknown for themselves or family members?

Yes, I know that thanks to technology there are support groups of every kind that can be found if you look, but that wasn’t always the case, and many people still don’t know they exist or don’t feel comfortable talking about where they find themselves or their loved ones because of how they’ve been treated before or how they’ve seen others in similar situations be treated.

All of this is one of the biggest reasons why I think anyone who has a story, encouragement or bit of wisdom to share should be on social media or blogging or podcasting even though it seems like everyone and their sibling has a blog or web presence, because you never know who will stumble upon what you’re sharing and find exactly the community or the person they’ve been looking for who has been where they are and made it through to the other side. Yes, it can be scary to be vulnerable, hurt to revisit that time in your life, and hard to reveal some stories in public settings, but if just one person can feel some peace because of the stories we share, we’re doing our part to make the world a better, happier, healthier community.

Waste Not, Want Not

One of the old sayings I heard as a child was “waste not, want not.” Around the world people have different levels of abundance. Some only have an abundance of love, some have an abundance of time, and others have an abundance of money or possessions. It’s important to not be wasteful of anything you have because you never know when things will change. Sometimes it can be hard to accept the abundance you’ve been blessed with, because what you’re lacking in life can be making such a negative impact you don’t see how you can recover or what the point of being blessed in one area is if you’re so hurt in others.

But extreme situations aside, it is good advice to live by, because when you’re not overspending or over purchasing or throwing out perfectly good things or buying stuff you’ll never need or wasting relationships or doing things without caring about the consequences, not only do you have a better chance of coming out on top in life’s challenges, it also leaves more resources available for all the other people that we share this world with.

I understand the compulsion that some have to gather or hoard resources, especially when they’ve experienced serious losses or deficits in their life. I also know that as a world we need to do better with our resources, because there are some who would be more than happy with certain resources if only they knew about them or could get their hands on them and/or had better education about how to use the resources they do have access to. The web and Wi-Fi have definitely done a lot to help give more people access to information and the ability to connect, but we (both people and businesses) now have to step up better to make sure that fewer of our resources are selected or disposed of by extremes (i.e. good/bad, fresh/moldy, perfect/broken), especially when that’s rarely true.

This is one of the simplest but one of the most important lessons you can pass on to your kids and the next generation: to be more aware of your resources and the needs of everyone in the world, including yourself. Being considerate of others and being aware that everyone has needs is one of the best ways to serve your community and build a world we all want to live in more (and can live in for longer).

Encouraging Repeat Sales

This week I’ve been thinking again about what makes someone come back and buy from a business more than once. If we take factors of price or location (i.e. the pizza shop is within walking distance of your home vs. having to order and wait for delivery from another town) off the table, what does that leave us with? There’s value in offering subscriptions, they certainly help produce repeat sales, but what we’re talking about here is getting the customer to come back again and place a new order. While we won’t discuss it in length, and it does tie in with price, repeat sales can be encouraged through offering discounts to repeat customers, or offering programs through which for a yearly fee customers get a regular discount on your offerings. We can take into consideration whether or not someone would work with/buy from us again if the situation came up even if it’s not something they’re going to buy regularly (i.e. in real estate, wedding/event related businesses), especially by noting the number of referrals they send our way. So what makes someone buy from us again, whether it’s a product or a service?

A great story: It’s why people can re-read books many times whether it’s the Bible/Quran/other religious books, fiction or non-fiction books. It’s why people can re-watch TV shows and movies over and over. It’s one of the reasons people save up for trips to Disney or Legoland or other theme parks. It’s one of the reasons people spend all their spare time on treasure hunts, whether that treasure is monetary or cultural. The stories that are created by these things or places draw us in and capture our imagination without being a one-and-done-that-was-great adventure; they’re things we keep thinking of and the stories never get old. But you don’t have to be a best seller or business that sells stories, every business has the ability to tell a story through their marketing. This is a great way for non-profits to keep their donors up to date and bring in new ones: by telling the stories of how they’re making a difference.

Great customer service: Customer service comes in many forms from helping troubleshoot, to answering questions before a purchase happens, to helping resolve issues when you get the wrong product or a service isn’t completed as requested, to helping find products in a store. If a company is able to do all of those things, most of us would give them a great rating or review, and those are all certainly things that give us a great experience with a business. But recently I’ve been shopping around for a product to replace one that is breaking down and the one I ended up going with I chose in large part because they offered an inexpensive service contract on it, something that 90% of the other sellers didn’t offer. The company may not get a big affiliate check for offering it, but it certainly makes me more likely to buy from them again and they got the sale over other competitors who offered very similar products, some that were more inexpensive. It’s not always great customer service to upsell customers, but often it can make the customer even a little more satisfied with your business.

A quality product or service: Why do you choose to shop from the grocery store that you usually do? There may be some factors of price and location involved, but the larger reasons usually include the quality of products you get from them (i.e. it tastes great, it’s effective, it’s a consistently excellent product), or the variety of products they offer that other stores don’t. Why do you choose the landscaper you do seasonally, the cleaning service you do weekly or monthly, or car service that you do when you need to go somewhere without doing your own driving? Probably because they have always provided a consistently, reliably excellent service and you know you can expect that from them; the service they offer makes you feel good, or that service takes something off your plate. You’re also more willing to try a new product or service from a company you’ve purchased from before because you expect that that excellence will be continued in the new offerings (it doesn’t always work that way but it does happen more often than not).

Why do people come back to your business again and again? What could you be doing or offering to encourage more repeat sales?

Frustrated By a Lack of Success

Let’s be honest: it’s frustrating when it seems like everyone you talk to is getting ahead and you’re just trying not to drown. It seems like some people are able to have success at the click of a button, while others of us work and work and work for years and don’t seem to get the same traction as they have in months. Sometimes you do get lucky and the right person comes along and your success multiples. Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time, and your success happens. But other times no matter how many rave reviews you get each month, no matter how many people tell you that you’re awesome, it just doesn’t seem to be enough to equal success.

It’s in those moments that we all question what we’re doing. Did we do something wrong? Did we act at the wrong time? Did we talk with the wrong person? Did we not work hard enough? How hard do we have to work? Or the classic “everything was going well, but now there’s this other issue or things are stopping or what looked so promising has turned into a dud.”

Not everything turns out a success, regardless of how much effort, time, or resources you pour into it. And there’s a fine line between giving up too soon and letting things go too long. You can let things go longer if you’ve got the resources to do so, as long as you’re not going to damage the other opportunities or potential that’s available by waiting.

It’s OK to admit from time to time that you need to rant and that you’re scared that things won’t work out. That’s totally human and totally acceptable. Everyone has doubts and fears from time to time, even in the most secure and successful situation.

So maybe the answer is to get up the next day with the commitment to do a little more, or something a little different, or reach out to someone new, or ask for a fresh perspective. You may end up hearing what you already know, but maybe that will be exactly the answer you needed to hear, because it means you had the right idea in the first place.

So if you’re struggling with success today, maybe today is the day that you really push through on everything, or maybe it’s the day that you take a break for the first time in a long time. What do you really need to do for your life, your health, and your success journey today?

A Relationship for the Ages

Death is part of life, just like birth is part of life. Friday the world learned the sad news that Prince Phillip, the partner of Queen Elizabeth of the UK passed away. Yes, people die every day, and he wasn’t the only one who died that day, but unless we’re in a relationship with someone or they’re a big celebrity we don’t usually know them or their story, so it’s harder to feel the loss. And rarely are we aware of the lives of both parts of a couple, usually we know one partner or the other. So yes, much of the world did know Prince Phillip to varying degrees, and for over 70 years he’s been part of one of the world’s most public couple. So today I thought we’d talk relationships, with some wisdom and lessons from Prince Phillip and his love of and partnership with the Queen.

From the beginning of their relationship and marriage he knew he was part of an important team. Apparently in the time after Elizabeth became queen he asked the support staff and other leaders what he was supposed to do as prince to the Queen, and no one had an answer, so he had to make it up as he went along. His choice was defined in the word I’ve heard over and over in reading all the articles: that he always sought to be of service. While he wasn’t perfect, just like no one is perfect, I would say he did a decent job of being of service to the people of England, to his kids and grandkids, great grand kids, and most especially to his wife for 74 years.

It’s not easy to be part of a team where you’re #2, especially in a world where men were (and still often are) #1. But instead of being jealous or competitive, he worked to support the Queen and be the partner she needed as well. He worked hard to find a balance between the traditions of being royal and helping the palace move into the future with the greater world, something that revealed he was more than a husband passing time, and was truly committed not only to the relationship but to the success of his country.

But one of the most important things was how much in love they were. When you saw them together it was easy to see that they truly cared about each other by how they looked at each other. Back in the beginning people doubted the relationship would work, but they committed to it and to each other. As much as staying together may have been political, and despite the many pressures that they faced over their long relationship, it wasn’t a chore or ‘just the rules’ for them, it was love.

Thankfully most of us don’t have the added pressure of running a country or being a world leader in addition to trying to keep our relationships together, but if the Prince and Queen were able to do it for over 7 decades, I would say they set the bar high for the rest of us. I’m thankful Prince Phillip gave his all for so many years, and it motivates me to do even better for my partner and work to be the best support, soundboard, encouragement and team player that I can in my relationship.

A Simple Business Breakthrough

When it comes to being successful in business, it’s really quite simple: have what the customers need or want when they need or want it (or be able to get it to them within a reasonable amount of time). Ah if it was only truly that simple, we’d all have incredibly successful businesses and no customers would ever leave bad reviews. But simplicity is something I’ve talked about before, because there is a lot of truth in the idea of simple being one of the keys to a successful business. I’m all for detail and creativity but if we’re not careful things can really go overboard and become so creative or detailed that what you were trying to accomplish or communicate gets lost under it all.

Let’s look at some examples. Have you visited the beverage aisle lately to check out the seltzers? These days they’ve got all kinds of funky flavors and mixed flavors like pineapple, blueberry elderflower, and peach-pear. What happened to plain old orange or raspberry? Or maybe you were perusing the eye care aisle for your specific brand and type of solution or drops and you see two dozen different product and brand options with multiple empty spaces where assumed popular products would be displayed, including your brand and type? Or maybe you’ve got this really creative idea for a billboard, and it’s so creative and awesome that people can’t figure it out by the time they speed by it, or they can’t read the fancy writing you put on it, or you delivered on the creativity but your brand got lost in the delivery and they don’t know which company to contact? Or maybe you’ve got all the plans and steps written out with drawings to help your customers put together their new furniture, but somehow the labels that were supposed to be on the pieces didn’t get put in or all fell off the pieces? And we won’t even get into the discussion on companies whose whole service is delivery of packages and other items…

But I think you get the idea that in our desire to provide many things we forget about the other really obvious things that would make our customers really happy. I love offering variety but I know there comes a point in time where you end up sacrificing quality for quantity, and I’ve been seeing a little too much quantity and too little quality lately. As we’re looking ahead to several holidays over the next three months and other changes in our lives as we head towards the summer, maybe it’s a good time to reevaluate where your focus is in the business. Don’t focus on being everything to everyone, it doesn’t usually end up working out as you desired. Don’t try to be an affiliate or partner to everyone, not everyone is a fit to share with your customer base. Make sure you’re providing enough information, a good story and appropriate visuals for your products and services. Don’t try to climb the service mountain to provide niche service before you conquer basic good customer service. Take a step back and see if simplifying things might be the key to a breakthrough for you.

Spring Forward with Success

This time of year is all about new beginnings. Living where I do means I get to see four seasons, so there’s a really clear visible death of much of life in the winter which means that when spring arrives the world seems like it springs back to life. As much as I dislike the allergies, it’s really something incredible to witness each year. But spring just builds on how plants have grown in previous years, or shows the damage of a tough winter with dead branches and plants that aren’t coming back to life.

New life doesn’t always mean a completely clean slate, just like the change of the calendar to the new year doesn’t erase what happened over the past year. You may not love what happened in the past, and you absolutely can change from who you were in the past, but just like the names of kings and generals from hundreds of years ago are still shared in history class (however insignificant to the present they may seem), your past still exists. You can show that you’ve made progress and changed from that past, or you can show you didn’t learn anything from the past and that you don’t believe those experiences weren’t negative or wrong or harmful.

Your success story doesn’t have to begin at the time you were born, it can begin today. But you do have to choose if you’re going to make decisions and take actions that will give you a better chance of having success, or if they’re going to be things that will set you back from any goals or dreams you may have. Sometimes you’ll have to do some pruning and let go of things that aren’t going to support you going forward, and other times you’ll have to step up with courage and hope that the research you’ve done will hold true as you take action. What life are you bringing forward this spring?

Who Are You?

This week is Holy Week for Christian circles, with Palm Sunday (this past Sunday), Good Friday (today) and Easter Sunday (this coming Sunday) as the big events. The events of this week answer the question that so many people asked Jesus while He was alive: who are you? This week reveals the answer that He had been trying to tell them, and has been trying to tell people ever since: He’s God’s son and here to save the world from their sins and give them an awesome eternity to look forward to.

I had a conversation recently with a child who asked me what I wanted to be when I was their age when I grew up. Like many people I wanted to be a nurse because it seemed so cool and professional or a teacher because at some point I think everyone likes to be in charge of education like that. I certainly didn’t end up in the medical field, and while I do some teaching, it’s almost never in a classroom or on the traditional school subjects. I know some people are lucky enough to figure out their place in the work world a young age, but most of us do a whole bunch of things throughout our lives, hopefully getting to know ourselves better and be happier and more fulfilled with each career change.

But like many things, the question “who are you?” can be answered in many ways. We can say that we’re a parent or sibling or traveler or baseball lover or painter or someone who sews masks for those in need, or any of a dozen different ways of describing how we fill our time. And we can absolutely be honest in each of those answers about who we are. But one of the hardest things to do is remain committed to making the best impact on the world that you can. Sure we can raise the next generation up to be people in the medical field, electrical/plumbing fields and accountants because those fields are always in demand, but is that something that will make your child’s heart sing and they would feel fulfilled spending their time that way? Is that something that would be them making the best and biggest contribution to life that they can? Life doesn’t come with too many guarantees, and it’s too short and precious to be lived miserably dedicated to a job you absolutely hate, or to be putting up walls between you and those you love because you’re trying to control their lives or aren’t willing to let them live the life they are choosing to live.

Every life comes with challenges. Some lives are much more challenged and even tragic than others: not everyone will lead a team into battle, lead a country, die for their faith, raise the children their sibling and their partner left behind when they were killed by a drunk driver, or die on a cross. But every life has the potential to make an incredible impact on someone else just by being who they were born to be. So in addition to the Easter baskets you may be giving out this weekend, the best gift you may be able to give someone is to believe in who they are, the abilities they have, what they’re passionate about, the difference they’re trying to make in the world, and ask them who they are trying to be in this world.

Building Companies that Connect

This month I read Connected Strategy by Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terwiesch. I decided to read it because it’s very different from what I usually read, and while I understand the concepts, it’s not something I’ve really considered for my business. What am I talking about? The very process of how customers needs are met. Right now most of the time the customer has to do all of or the majority of the work to not only discover their need but also choose what will meet their need and how they’re going to buy it (online/in store), go through the purchase process, and also possibly wait for their delivery to arrive. At the other end of the spectrum, and what the book is about, to use the example of apples: your fridge would know that you’ve got one apple left, it would send an order to the store, and the store would deliver apples before the school day is over and your 3 kids get home to eat apples.

Is this a thing? Yes, some people are “connected” and this happens in varying degrees already. However, there two really big hurdles to cover if this is going to really be a “thing”. First and foremost is that a significant number of the world’s population doesn’t have a regular internet connection, if they’re lucky they can go to school, work, a coffee shop or library and get internet. Second is that there are certainly plenty of people who don’t feel comfortable with giving a company this level of access to their lives. I don’t know that information can yet be kept secure enough to make sufficient customers comfortable with this, and I don’t know that companies are really willing to put in the effort that’s required to make this work. So as great as this may sound to a company (who wouldn’t want consistent revenue, right?), the fact is that there’s a whole lot of effort, investment and responsibility placed on companies who go in this direction.

If a company can’t create a relationship with their customers, if a company isn’t willing to ask hard and deep questions, if a company isn’t willing to innovate and make connections, if a company isn’t willing to gather and take action on data, if a company isn’t willing to consistently show up again and again to build the trust customers require, then there’s no way to go from the customer being in total control to companies having a lot more control over the purchasing journey than they currently do.

So, let’s say that you’re interested by the idea of being a connected company to one extent or another. First and foremost is to get incredibly consistent with your customer relationship building. Make the effort to get to know them and build an experience that helps them know you and trust that you’ll be there to meet the needs that your company is equipped to provide. Second, get good at data and privacy. Third, work on using existing tools and technology to personalize the experience your customers have. You don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel, you’re just helping customers meet their needs in easier, more productive, and/or more fulfilling ways. How would being better connected with your customers make you a better company?