First Impressions Count

It’s back to school time so today I’m thinking about something that many of the students are thinking about: making a good first impression.  Many business owners only get one chance to make a good first impression because their first impression was bad or unremarkable.  In these cases if a second or third impression opportunity comes along the business owner has a very difficult job of overcoming the negative impression the people had and showing them that they do deserve their attention.  Many people won’t give them a second opportunity because there are other options out there for just about everything.  With as challenging as it is to convert people into being customers, it’s important to make sure you do the best you can for your first impression.  Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to make a good first impression.

Get the details right.  When people visit your website they expect the information there is accurate.  When people call in they expect to be told the correct thing.  When people give their name they expect for it to be said back to them correctly (I’m talking about a Bob/John difference, not accents, inflections or languages).  Don’t be ashamed to take notes.  Don’t be afraid to hire someone to make sure all the details (especially dates) are kept up to date.  Don’t be afraid of making changes because it means things have to be updated.

Look good.  First impressions often have to do with how things appear, whether we’re talking the physical or virtual world.  If you have a website that looks like it was made in 1990 people will assume your business isn’t relevant to them in 2016 (unless you deal in 1990’s stuff).  If you or your team are sloppily dressed and don’t clean up the mess around the store, people notice and assume that the products or services you provide might be contaminated or aren’t that great.  No, you don’t have to spend thousands on appearances, but current, neat and tidy are the minimum.

Communication counts.  How and if you communicate is also key to creating a great first impression.  If you know you’ll be dealing with multiple cultures and languages do your best to understand the cultures and offer translations or interpreters to make it easier to do business with you.  While some would say the first hours (minutes even!?) after are the only appropriate time to respond, I say make sure to respond to all inquiries and orders within 24 hours.  Take courses on how to become a better communicator (everyone can improve).  Always try to provide a helpful (not pacifying) response, and do your very best to provide real answers and solutions to questions and issues.

These may seem simple but how your business deals with them says something very important about your business: do you care?  How you show up is a great indicator of how you and your team feel about the business and your customers.  It shows whether you care about what you’re selling and about the people buying.  What does your first impression say about you?

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Grief and Loss Today and Tomorrow

Every day someone around the world is faced with the news that someone they love has died.  For some it’s a person who has had a great impact on their life, even if they never knew them personally.  When someone who has made a difference around the world dies there are many people who mourn their loss.  When it is someone who only a few knew there are only a few who mourn at the time, although years from now they may be remembered by many more if it is found that they did something during their lifetime to be honored for like some of the artists, chemists, scientists and doctors from many years ago whose research and creations we’re only beginning to understand. But there are those who are just forgotten as time passes, some not even remembered in genealogical resources.

We also mourn losses of pets, animals, places and icons because they have played an important role in our lives, are a memorial to the past or have important cultural references.  I don’t believe it’s wrong to mourn their loss, mourning the loss of anything that is part of a memory, has had an impact on our lives or has had value to us is actually healthy.  When we don’t take the time to consider loss, to think about how important someone or something was to us we unfortunately end up with lives that don’t have a lot of meaning.  Yes, living a simple life with few possessions and moving from place to place can be healthy, but even at those places you have experiences and meet people who place a stamp on your life.  I don’t believe that you can get through life without being impacted by something or someone else, and I don’t think you should.

If you’re facing a loss today first and foremost know that you have my sympathies.  I’m sorry that you’re going through that pain.  As much as we know that pain and loss are part of life it doesn’t make it easier to deal with.  Second, after an appropriate period of grief (only you can determine what “appropriate” is, but it most definitely is not staying in grief and pain forever) it will be time to move on.  That doesn’t mean that you forget it/them, it means that you choose to think of them with love rather than just in grief and loss.   Look for ways that you can share the passion and inspiration that they had in your life with others each day you’re alive.  Finally, don’t be afraid to find a new love or inspiration.  Don’t feel guilty about moving on, don’t feel ashamed that you’re still alive and want to keep living.  Live every moment you can in respect to and in honor of their contribution to the world and your life.

Connecting and Communicating

We’re all in relationships whether we want to be or not.  And I’m not just talking about a relationship in the way that you think of a (married) couple or parent/child, because I believe that we are all in relationships with everyone around us.  The dictionary defines relationship as “a connection, association, or involvement.”  So technically every interaction you have with someone is creating a relationship and either builds on that relationship or works on tearing it down.  The interactions and relationships you have also create people’s opinions of you.  So your interaction with someone else may not only build or destroy the relationship you’re in with them, but it may build or damage the relationship with someone else who sees that interaction. For example consider the child crying at the food store and their parent yelling at them.  That’s not helping build the relationship between parent and child, and it most likely isn’t building your opinion of that parent (and maybe not of the child either) or your willingness to enter into a close relationship with that parent or child.

One of the biggest things that helps or hurts a relationship is our ability to communicate.  Some people use their words to intentionally hurt others or damage relationships.  Some people aren’t aware that they’re a bad communicator, refuse to hear when others ask for clarification or do better at communicating than saying just “I hate you” or “you hate me.”   So part one of communication includes the words you use, how you talk to people, and even if you truly talk to people.  The second part of communication is communicating in such a way to help others to understand how we see things, our confusion, our desires, what we’re looking for, or our plans.  Often we’re so set in seeing things in our own way that we can forget that others don’t see things in the way that we do, or speak the same language (sometimes even literally) as we do.  A typical example is the couple who has been fighting so long over who is “right” that they haven’t talked about the actual issues, or tried to help each other understand how they’re feeling, what they’re missing and what they’re struggling with, or even what the issue is in the first place.  I don’t believe that being “right” should be the goal, the goal should be to build a stronger relationship, and that can only happen if you communicate and understand where the other person is coming from.

Trend Talk for August

Today I want to talk about two trends I’ve been seeing and reading about in business this month.

Facebook’s update: the latest update dropped page organic reach to somewhere around 1%.  Yep, it really stinks.  While we won’t dive into the obvious discussion of what to do about it, the thing I do want to talk about is why I support the update in some ways (but of course not totally because it does not encourage business owners to remain involved).  The thing that I see so many businesses forget is that Facebook (and the others like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram) is a social network.  That means that the goal of Facebook etc.  is to connect people and have them interact and be engaged.  Too many businesses are so busy being promotional and trying to create viral content that they forget the basic requirement of Facebook to be social.  If businesses showed that they actually cared about the Facebook community I think Facebook would reconsider this latest update.

Learning and Training: Do you train your employees? Do you expect them to stay up to date on relevant trainings?  Do you get training and educate yourself? When you’re looking to hire an employee how important is it for them to be up-to-date with their education (even in fields where it’s not required (training is required in the medical field))?  One of the current debates is over whether or not to invest in training your employees and potentially lose their skills to another company.  The other is why employees aren’t pursuing education that would help bring them up to par with more recent graduates and help them stand out in the job market.  Personally I think you should always be learning things, and it’s your responsibility to do so.  As to whether or not to train, in talking it over with someone the other day they reminded me that if a business is really a great place to work for their people have no desire to go elsewhere with their new skills.

What are your thoughts on Facebook’s change and learning and training in business?

Sharing Freedom through Hope

Every day we do a thousand things that could either hurt or help ourselves and others.  We make tons of decisions about our lives and the lives of the other people we interact with.  Sometimes they’re really good decisions, sometimes they’re lucky decisions, sometimes they’re selfish decisions, sometimes they’re selfless decisions, sometimes they’re lazy decisions, sometimes they’re rushed decisions and sometimes they’re thoughtless decisions.  It’s always my goal to make one more thoughtful and selfless decision each day, but I’m not perfect and don’t expect that I’ll make all perfect decisions anytime in the near future (and sidenote: sometimes the best decision you can make is a selfish one).

So what if, instead of trying for the impossibility of perfect, we focused more on doing one more thing that could positively change the world?  What if instead of letting that insensitive thought fly out of our mouths, instead we looked for the words that would heal or free someone?  What if instead of playing the victim card you turned it around and became the victor?  What if instead of trying to get revenge on someone for the way they hurt you, instead you went on to encourage someone else?  What if instead of looking for ways that you can be king or queen, you looked for ways to make a difference instead?  What if instead of trying to always be center stage, you let someone else shine?  What if you took the spotlight off your life and you looked for ways that you could make one person’s day a little brighter?

Today I encourage you to choose the gifts of encouragement, hope, reassurance and shared strength.  Let people know that the whole world has not gone to pot and that there are still caring people here.  Let the world know that each person matters, as an individual and a human being.  Let people know that they are not forgotten.   Finally, let someone know that their life is not over and they can still find purpose and fulfillment and live their life however they choose.  Who will you encourage today?

“Is there somebody in your life whom by a word or an action you can help to unbind, help to set free? Give them hope. For that is God’s gift to each one of us. Give that gift to another today.”  Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Teaching for Eternity

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about a topic that is top of mind for many families: going back to school.  Today I want to talk about one of the most fundamental and key aspects to school: teachers.  My mom has been involved in schools in many different ways for as long as I can remember.  She’s taught, been an aide, been a substitute teacher and of course gone back to school.  I’ve taught classes and groups and helped in many types of classrooms too and know how much work in involved, as well as how challenging some students can be, and how rewarding it can be as well as a teacher.  As a student I’ve had a few good teachers, some average (and forgettable) ones, and a few bad ones.  While there’s a shortage of teachers I don’t believe that’s a good reason to let the bad teachers stay at schools and continue to damage the learning experience for kids (and adults).

First I want to encourage each of us to accept the role of teacher as part of our lives.  I don’t think it’s necessary or right to hand that off to those who are officially teachers and say that we don’t have to do any teaching as parents, neighbors or community members.  All of us have skills and knowledge that can benefit the youngest of us, as well as the adults around us too.  Parents and caretakers especially have a big responsibility to not only make sure their kids are having fun, but also that the learning continues outside the classroom.  It’s a great opportunity to educate them about topics that most interest them and in ways that they learn best.

Second, it’s important to support the teachers.  Teachers are always in need of books and supplies for the classrooms, as budgets are tight in most schools.  I’ve known countless teachers who reach into their own pockets to pay for supplies, and to help students who aren’t as well-off as others.  A great way to help would be to sponsor kids for field trips, support the music or arts programs or give gift cards to the teachers so they can pick up what they need most.  For the teachers who regularly interact with your kids, you can give them gift baskets with things they like, gift certificates to restaurants, and most important ask how you can support them and your kids in their classroom.

Learning is a life-long activity but our foundations are built in those early classroom years by the men and women who give hours, days, months and years to invest in the next generation of minds.  Their impact continues long after a child leaves their classroom and goes out into the world.  What are you teaching those around you?

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Henry Adams

Olympic Lessons

As the Olympics finish up this weekend I thought we’d take some time to look at some of the lessons we can learn from this big event to apply to our businesses.

1-Competitors can work together.  Normally there’s talk about how different sports compete for TV/air time, sometimes even competition within a sport over games that are played at the same time.  But the Olympics shows that not only can different sports work together to create something great, they can share the glory too.  A great opportunity for many business owners is to get involved in their local area with other businesses, regardless of whether they have a physical location or not.

2-Good things don’t have to last forever.  The summer Olympics only come around every 4 years and are only talked about occasionally during the in-between years. Yes, you can celebrate your medal status at any time, but most people and companies aren’t talking constantly about the Olympics.  If you’re focus is going viral and staying viral you are probably aiming too big.  That doesn’t mean you don’t market your business or service, it just means that you can’t expect to be king/queen all the time.

3-Everyone has a story.  The news loves to talk about all the different athletes and the story behind their previous medals as well as their journey to the Olympics and what they may have worked to overcome.  Are you telling your story in your business? Do people know you have a story?  Or are you just pushing the services you offer and focused on your bottom line? What about the story of your customers?  Are you even aware of the stories that are their lives?

4-There will be imperfections.  With every Olympics we hear stories of poor conditions, buildings not being ready, failed technology or challenges to travel, not to mention the weather issues that may happen that the host location has no control over.  Focusing on perfection usually just leads to frustration, so instead work on doing the best you can and address the issues when they appear as soon as possible.

What have you learned from the Olympics that you’re applying to your business?

Learning Patience

This month our topic is patience.  As I was reading through emails I discovered that I’m not the only one thinking about patience this month, Seth Godin is too.  His post was a great reminder of one of the best things about patience: it can be learned.  So today I thought we’d take a look at this and talk about how we can learn patience.

The first thing that we have to be aware of, and it may seem obvious, is that we are in control of how much patience there is in our lives.  For those of us who are perpetually impatient, it’s a habit, one that you’ve developed over time.  For those of us who tend to be patient, again, it’s a habit that we’ve developed over time.  So if you are tired of being angry and frustrated all the time and want a little more peace in your life, maybe it’s time to develop your patience skills.

Unfortunately I don’t think going cold-turkey is a possibility.  Patience can only be developed over time, one moment at a time.  You can choose to tackle your biggest challenge first or you can start with something smaller.  For example if you’re impatient when it comes to food and always pick the food you can get your hands on the quickest, you can start by picking just one meal/snack of the day to be more patient (and healthy and cheaper) about putting together and build from there.  Of course the big patience challenge for most of us are the people in our lives, those we have personal relationships with and those who we interact with in much more casual ways like at coffeehouses and on the road.  If you really struggle to be patient with people and really want to conquer the patience challenge, pick the place or time where you struggle most and interact with most often, like in the morning trying to get your kids out the door or at night trying to get them to bed or while you’re out driving on the road, and work on being a little more patient each time you face that challenge.

So how can we learn to be more patient? Some of us can just think about it or give ourselves an attitude adjustment.  Other people like to use post-its or other visible reminders in high-stress locations to refocus on being patient (for example by the coffee pot or on your dashboard).  A favorite tactic for stalling and gathering your patience rather than exploding with the usual response is counting to 5 or 10.  Don’t knock it because it sounds childish, do it because it works.  The reason it works is because it gives you the time to back off from the response you were going to give and gives you the chance to respond differently.  And if you’re still struggling after putting up visible signs, giving yourself an attitude adjustment and counting to 10, it’s probably time for an accountability partner, someone who may be working on their own patience challenge, or can just keep you focused on yours.

How will you practice your patience this week?

Your Expectations

Today I’m thinking about expectations.  We have expectations about ourselves, we have expectations about our family members, we have expectations about the place we work or the kind of work we do, and we have expectations about our world.  The dictionary defines expectations as: to look forward to; regard as likely to happen; anticipate the occurrence or the coming of; to look for with reason or justification.  Sometimes our expectations aren’t justified and we don’t have a whole lot of facts we can put behind them to support them, but if we really take the time to think about it, most expectations we can come up with a reason for expecting the result that we do.

The thing is though, not all of those reasons are good ones.  We may expect someone to let us down because we have had it happen in the past, we may expect that things will typically become less expensive over time because the products to complete them are cheaper, and we may expect something to happen because it seems logical to us or because it’s the only conclusion we can come up with.  However if you present the same exact situations and things to other people they may come up with completely different conclusions than you or I did because each of us has our own set of expectations.

The reason I bring up expectations today is because the expectations you do and don’t have could greatly affect, and even hurt, someone else.  For example if you expect someone to fail or not do their best work, while you may be right you’re discouraging them from giving it their best effort if/when they know you don’t believe they can do great things.  A prime example is when your kids hear that they’re “good for nothing” over and over.  When they hear that, and know that’s what you believe about them and expect them to produce (nothing), and most will be beaten down until they do produce nothing.  Of course, the reverse can be true too; if you have high expectations of someone you can help launch them to reaching bigger goals than they thought they could reach.

This week I encourage you to check your expectations.  Do you expect the best of people? Are your expectations so set in stone that you can’t see beyond them to the other possibilities that are out there?  Do you live up to the expectations other people have of you (and are they fair expectations)? Are you expecting the best possible result from this week?

Reality of Reviews

This week I’ve been thinking about a topic that is an issue for all business owners at some point in time or another: negative reviews.   Most of us have more than one customer throughout the lifetime of our business, so we have to be aware of how our business is seen by others.  The internet does good and bad things for us as just about every person goes online to check out businesses they may want to work with and products they’re considering before buying or striking up a conversation.  Whether company websites, review and group sites or social media, there are lots of ways that potential customers can find us and find out about us. So what happens when a customer has an interaction with us that for whatever reason doesn’t go the way they want it to?  They find a way to make their dissatisfaction known of course.

So what can we do about negative reviews?  The answer to this is not to eliminate the ability of customers to leave reviews, because unless you’re a bad business the reviews will largely be good and we need the good reviews to encourage potential customers to buy.  The answer is also not to bribe those who write negative reviews to remove them.  And, the answer is not to leave a scathing reply to their negative review because that just adds fuel to the fire.

First I think we need to understand the customer a bit and release some of the pressure from us.  Not all negative reviews are your/your business’s fault.  Sometimes people are having a bad day and find things to complain about, and you just get lucky that they picked you.  Second, some people who should have never purchased from you leave a negative review because they were unhappy with something they never would have been happy with.  And you have no control over the weather so as long as you do all things within your power when you have interaction with weather as part of your business, there’s nothing else you can do.

Second, know that negative reviews can be good because most of them point out an area of your business that you could improve.  But, they’re only helpful if you actually do something about it (and positive reviews after those negative reviews should indicate improvements).  Negative reviews do compile and do stick around so you want to make sure to address things you should address quickly, which means you need to keep an eye on your reviews.

Third, don’t take negative reviews too personally.  Yes, they hurt.  It’s not fun to have our businesses bashed, and sometimes the negative words are actually accurate.  But if you take all negative reviews super personally you’ll never have the attitude or strength to keep your business growing and thriving.

Finally, let’s talk about how you can respond to negative reviews.  First and foremost you should do everything in your power to resolve situations before anything gets posted online.  Some people prefer to just shout their displeasure to the world regardless of all efforts you make to communicate with them beforehand, and you can’t do anything about that.  Second, depending on the situation the right thing may be to reach out to the unhappy customer and try to resolve things.  This doesn’t work in every case and isn’t always recommended.  Third, do your best to get lots of good publicity so that it’s clear that the negative reviews aren’t representative of the majority of your customers.  This means having active social accounts, doing local newspaper interviews, contributing to local events and being an active part of relevant online groups and communities.

What are your thoughts about negative reviews?