A Bright Future For Businesses

Today is the last day of 2014. I thought about a couple of options and struggled with choices for a while, but finally I decided that I wanted to end this year talking about hope. Things change so rapidly in the world and in our businesses that I wonder if we’ll ever get to the point of predictability again. No, I think we’re in to continue the wild ride we’ve had over the past few years. Maybe it won’t be so wild for a couple years’ time as things settle but they’ll get stormy again. I think we’re too preoccupied on the gift of transformation we’ve been handed by the changes in technology, and as we get a better handle on them we’ll make things more disruptive or figure out a way that we can better compartmentalize so the tools actually give us a chance to have lives.

But it is Wednesday and we are here to talk about business. For 2015 we’ve got more chances than ever to be successful business owners. We’ve got so many tools at our fingertips that we can use to make things easier and quicker for us and our clients. I think that our biggest weakness is also our biggest opportunity and strength: ourselves. It’s so easy to just think we can depend on the tools to make things happen for us and yet without us as the foundation, heart and soul of our business our chances of success dramatically decrease.

In all the work I do with my business clients the thing I have to emphasize over and over again is that you’re not selling to robots, nor are you a robot. All transactions happen between people. People are what has always made business what it is, but we’ve gotten distracted by the shiny technology advances that have made such great improvements for us. I think it’s time that we step back from the technology and get back into being people again. That’s my hope for 2015, that we take back our business and make them what they were meant to be again.

“You have something special. You have greatness in you. You have the ability to do more than you can ever begin to imagine.” Les Brown

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Journey to Joy

With just a few days left in this month I wanted to talk about another aspect of happiness and joy, one that might puzzle us about it: it’s changing nature. Simply, what makes us happy changes from day to day. What makes you happy today may make you happy tomorrow, but what made you happy as a child probably won’t bring you the same amount of happiness anymore. For example you were thrilled as a child to eat certain baby foods or play with certain toys, if you tried those foods or toys today they would be barely interesting and probably gross, even though they did make you very happy once upon a time.

I think we’re able to accept the changing nature of happiness because it is exactly that: happy. It’s bringing us good things to our lives, rather than challenges and frustrations that we deal with when they’re things that don’t make us happy. What’s not always easy is learning that what used to make us happy doesn’t any more or just isn’t what we remembered when we get to have it again. I’ve been dealing with that a lot this holiday season as I’ve had a few very small tastes of foods I used to eat and they just haven’t measured up to my memories (probably a good thing).

Finding new things that make us happy are part of growing, and make the challenges of change and growth worth it. Unfortunately we all too often forget about those opportunities or they’re overshadowed by the hardships that we face. So each day I would encourage you to take time to review one lesson you’ve learned, one challenge you’ve faced and one blessing or good thing that happened. Some days will be more challenging for you to find all 3, and other days you’ll be able to list more than one for each category. It’s a great way to head into the new year, and a great habit to have for your life.

“The art of living does not consist in preserving and clinging to a particular mode of happiness, but in allowing happiness to change its form without being disappointed by the change; happiness, like a child, must be allowed to grow up.”  Charles L. Morgan

Principles of Purpose

Today, the day after Christmas begins the celebration of Kwanzaa.  I’m not sure who thought that Christmas should only be devoted to one day and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa both are stretched out over multiple days.  I wanted to talk about Kwanzaa today because of what it symbolizes for us today as we’re looking towards a new year.

“The seven principles of Kwanzaa — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith — teach us that when we come together to strengthen our families and communities and honor the lesson of the past, we can face the future with joy and optimism.”  President Bill Clinton

We’ve experienced a lot of division over the past year.  It’s been a challenging year for just about all of us as we watched planes go down and disappear, children get killed and kidnapped, serious illness break out and personal issues and divisions come to light.  I don’t have all the answers but I do know that that’s not the world I want to live in if I have anything to say about it.

I’d much rather live in a world that understands the 7 principles of Kwanzaa.  To be responsible for our collective future, one that supports each of us and doesn’t make us dread waking up in the morning.  It’s a big dream and won’t happen overnight, but the only way to make it a reality is if we start taking action today.

I’m looking forward to wrapping up 2014 with you in the coming week and stepping into 2015 as well.  I’m not sure what the new year will hold but I have hope and confidence in each of us that we’re big enough, strong enough, brave enough and smart enough that we’ll be able to plan and create a future that makes the best use of the abundance of resources and blessings we have.

But for the Kwanzaa message today, what principle do you need to work on most?  Each of them come with their own challenges, and no one is perfect so we’ll never completely live up to their requirements.  I think one of the ones that’s hardest for each of us is not a principle but something President Clinton said: that we face the future with joy and optimism.  Will you choose that for this upcoming year with me?

The Cost of Christmas

We’re just a few hours away from celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah is ending and Kwanza is just a few days away as well.  It’s the season of celebrations which can be a really good thing and it’s also a challenge for business owners.  We’ve talked about a few of those challenges this month, today I want to talk about one last challenge: the cost.  Is it really worth it to go through all this effort for just a few days of celebrating?  From travel plans to gift stress to time off to kids off to customer demands, it’s a really stressful time of year.  So, is it worth it? I believe it is.  The way I see it, it’s an opportunity.  Not every opportunity should be grabbed, but with so many people in buying mode, it’s almost stupid to not jump on the bandwagon in even little ways.  Let’s look at two examples of ways that businesses are taking advantage and winning this season.

Starbucks this year has made a brilliant move.  If you’re not familiar with the coffeehouse giant, they sell made to order coffee, tea and other drinks, snacks, and related products like cups and coffee beans and tea.  If you’ve ever purchased a mug or cup for someone or anything else that’s a funny shape or has the potential to break like coffee mugs do you know you stress out about buying and wrapping and gifting them.  This year Starbucks made the investment to pre-box all of their cups that are for sale.  Simply, it’s brilliant: there’s no hassle with trying to wrap or protect it, it’s a simple box to wrap.  If I was planning on gifting a mug or coffee related products to someone this year I would shop there for that reason.

You’re probably familiar with the WestJet YouTube holiday videos.  For the past couple years they’ve surprised people with gifts, things they told Santa they wanted.  It’s a big hit and really cute to watch. This may not bring in the immediate sales potential that Starbucks’ move did, but it does build confidence and interest in their brand. It’s also a great example of my real point today: the holiday seasons is really about the people in our lives and showing and spreading love.

Is there really a price you can put on those smiles in those videos or the relief you feel when you don’t have to wrap (and break) a mug? Is there really a price you can put on doing something for employees who have supported you and your business dreams all year long?  Is there really a price you can put on making a difference in someone’s life?  Yes, I’m sure some want to come up with numbers because that’s who they are.  But that’s not Christmas.  Christmas is about remembering that everything we do, every choice we make is about and for people.  So go out there and celebrate some people tomorrow.  Let them know you appreciate them and are thankful for their role in making your business a success.

Just Joy

One of the things I’ve probably mentioned in the past that completely amazes me is how often people turn down or ignore the simple stuff.  Like a free gift because they feel guilty getting it or the kind word because they don’t feel worthy or the simple advice that could be a big breakthrough.  Of course I’ve toyed with different ideas over the years on how to help people accept the simple stuff.  I’ve seen over the past few years a few more people offering a very brief daily thought, inspiration or action step on a blog or through a newsletter which is one way to encourage simple changes, but somehow too many people are still missing out on the huge potential power of this concept.

Let me explain the concept to you before we go further.  It’s really quite simple.  Your future is built on each and every moment from your past.  Your future is what your past has created.  The different prejudices, preferences, issues, fears, challenges, choices and people you meet, plus the outside influences that you have no control over are what makes up your future.  Which means that each and ever minute of your life is building to your future.  So if every moment is used in the set-up for your future, it would follow that it matters what you do in each moment of your life.  No pressure or anything.

But seriously, if we know that we can’t possibly make the most of each and every moment because that’s too much, but we do know and do our best to live life to its fullest as often as possible, the next thing to consider is that it’s those little things that make such a big difference in our lives.  What are the little things adding up to in your life?  Can you see them leading to an amazing future or are you frustrated with the future you see?  If you’re feeling frustrated, the first place I would start is with what makes you happy.  It’s when you find happiness that you find the key to freedom.

“It is strange what a contempt men have for the joys that are offered them freely.”  Georges Duhamel

Committing and Contributing

The holidays always make me think about romance, love and family. I can’t help it, there’s just something about the tree and the lights and the parties that makes me think of coming together as family, those who love each other. Yes, for those in bad relationships, estranged from family or those without or separated for whatever reason during the holidays, it can be very painful and depressing. There are many things that you can do to have a happier holiday, and happier rest of the year with those in your life, but it won’t be easy and won’t be fully possible without participation from all involved.

It starts, believe it or not, with knowing what you need, what you can contribute and what your bottom line is. If you don’t know where you stand in the relationship or family, what you need to be happy, what you can contribute and what your limits on what you’ll accept or trade off are you’ll struggle to be happy and find fulfillment. It’s only when you’re able to accept what you need and ask for or do what it takes to fulfill that need that you’re able to move onto the next part of finding happiness.

The next step after you’ve shared your needs and limits are to hear those of the other people. You have to prioritize your needs or you won’t be able to contribute, but to think that your needs are the only ones that exist or matter is doing a big disservice to your relationship and family. Everyone has needs and it’s up to each of us to do our best to help each other fulfill those needs, and not to deny those needs. When we deny their needs it’s like asking us to deny our needs, and that’s not really in our human nature.

The way that we’re able to support them in fulfilling their needs, even when their needs don’t meet up with ours is because of love and commitment. If you’re not committed to the relationship you’ll struggle to accept and meet the needs presented by your partner. But when your partner matters to you heart and soul, mind and body you’re willing to sacrifice for them because their happiness makes you happy. Just how committed are you to your relationship?

“We never give up wanting things for ourselves, but there comes a day when what we want for ourselves is someone else’s happiness.”  Robert Brault

The Problem with Perfection

As business owners we face lots of challenges. If you want me to make you a list I can certainly write you up one that will be longer than any kid’s Christmas list to Santa.  One of the most noticeable aspects of business and life is our presentation.  From how food looks on a plate, to how clean your house looks, to the packaging choices on your physical product or the design you chose for your website, for most people how something looks is one of the first things people notice.  Today I wanted to share a few thoughts about presentation and a little holiday cheer reminder.

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: when things don’t look good or they don’t meet the expectation we have it’s pretty noticeable usually.  We see the spelling mistakes, the unkempt floors, overflowing garbage, or dishes in the sink that create a perception of someone or their business that can impact all decisions you make about buying from them going forward.  As a consultant the presentation is one of the things that I work on most with clients, and one of the things they’re most resistant to change.  I’d be rich if I got money every time someone said to me “yea, yea, I know that, but I need more traffic/hits/sales/likes” etc.  Yes, I know you need more sales and traffic, just about every business owner does. But the chances of getting the sales from the traffic are much smaller if you don’t take care of the stuff you supposedly know about.  If it’s that simple and it could make that big of a difference in your business, how many more sales do you want to lose for refusing to do it?

This is where the holiday cheer comes in.  I was out the other night and saw lights on a tree outside that were clearly done by the homeowner (they didn’t hire a professional company to come in and wrap their tree).  At first I was distracted by the imperfectly hung lights, but then I realized that that’s what the holidays, and business, are not about.  No, holidays and business are not about having the perfect product, the perfect gift, the perfect life and perfect 2.5 kids.  It’s about making the world a better place, being happy with our choices and spreading some happiness wherever we go.

Simply put there are no perfect products, businesses or people.  There will always be a failure or flaw someone will be happy to point out.  Yes, we should all do our best to not have the easily fixable mistakes and issues like spelling and dirt, but when it comes down to it there’s more to life and success, and some things work just fine with an error or two.  In this holiday season and as we wrap up another year in business I encourage you to worry less about the little things and more about those that matter.

Letting Go to Win

It’s never easy to change. I read an article this week about things you can do with change even when you’re faced with those who don’t want change and you want things to change. One of the points raised was to change yourself even when others don’t want to change. It’s not easy to be the first one to take the plunge into something different or new, but sometimes that’s exactly what it takes to get what you really want. But someone has to take the first step, and even if you can’t change the whole world to treat others better, solve the water or food problem or create world peace, you do have a ton of influence over your own life and choices.

Which brings us to the real challenge of change: the change itself. It’s really hard to leave what worked, kind of works, we like, or our stubbornness behind. We rant about being the one who has to change and how unfair the world is and why we have to do everything. And while in some ways all of these are valid points, we haven’t accepted them as reality and opportunities instead of problems and annoyances, and we need to. This is what life is really about: gaining things and then giving them up as we grow. Sometimes it’s a no-holds-barred release, other times we’re just incorporating new aspects into what we already have. But the biggest challenge is of course learning to let go.

I don’t know if it really started with the depression or World Wars that we’re so hesitant to let go of what we gain, or if it’s just human nature, but it’s something we fight on a daily basis. When we’ve learned to truly let go and not put our heart soul and lives on the line for the things we’ve gained we’re free to do and have so much more with our lives. I encourage you to find time to be free this holiday season.

“Sometimes we don’t find the thing that will make us happy because we can’t give up the thing that was supposed to.” Robert Brault

Happy Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins next week and with focusing on Christmas on my other blog I thought I’d share some Hanukkah inspirations here this week.

Crafts:

Glitter menorah card

Star of David paper ornament

DIY menorah

Hanukkah yarn ball wreath

Dreidel gift card holders

Hanukkah star and dreidel cards

Star punched paper hurricanes

Modern wood block menorah

Hanukkah scrapbook pages

Paper dreidel garland

Star of David craft

Hanukkah party favors

Dreidel gift box

Hanukkah mantle scarf

Invitation for Hanukkah gathering

Stripes and stars Hanukkah card

Layered star Hanukkah card

Recipes:

Chicken escarole soup

Honeyed carrots

Noodle kugel

Potato latkes

Potato and carrot latkes

Challah crowns

Whole wheat challah

Short ribs with root vegetables

Juki’s short ribs

Braised brisket with root vegetables

Roast chicken with wild rice dressing

Slow roasted salmon with sage and parsley pistou

Spiced apple pear sauce

Blueberry blintzes

Apricot gelt

Rugelach pinwheels

Glittered Sufganiyot

Chocolate marshmallow dreidels

Zalabia

How will you be celebrating Hanukkah?

The Choices of Christmas

Today in response to a lot of the discussion that’s been had over the past few weeks, I thought we’d talk about 2 holiday topics that are a bit contentious at this time of year: time off and sales. Life is full of choices. Each choice we make is usually made to the exclusion of other options. If you choose a career like army engineer or nurse you know you’re going to have some challenging hours. If you choose to run your own business it’s hard to leave it at the door when you get home each night since you are your business. If you’re a K-12 teacher you have to work with kids. If you don’t like the requirements of your career, you’re probably not in the right career. However, if all the other options sound worse, you’ve chosen the best you can for right now.

As business owners we try to do the best we can to make our customers, employees, suppliers and everyone else we work with happy because it’s much easier to deal with happy people than mad ones. The way I see it, we’ve probably only got a few more years of in-store holiday madness on Thanksgiving/Black Friday because all of the deals are going online, so there isn’t a great advantage to going to a store when you can get the same deal online (unless you enjoy that sort of thing). However, if you are going to make your employees work certain holidays, make sure to compensate in other ways like financially or giving off other days.

But the bottom line really is that you have to accept the choices you’ve made. If you’ve chosen to be a business owner for all of the wrong reasons you will be miserable. If you’re working a job you don’t like because you’re too lazy to get a better one or do the work of a better one, you have to accept that. Life and success are what you make of them, what will your choice be this year?