Bad to the Bone for Businesses

As business owners who think about more than just the bottom line, what we love most is happy customers.  We are hearing more stories each week about businesses going the distance to really support their customers and respond to the feedback they’ve been given, which is awesome and encouraging.   Businesses and their owners and employees have lots of challenges that they have to navigate between the idea of their business to the delivery of their business and then any follow up afterwards (whether checking if changes are needed or a regular newsletter communication).  During that whole process they have to consider the people who will be buying from them and using their products or services.  Without the customers you can’t be successful.

Whether you’re a B2B or B2C business one of the hardest things to swallow, but also one of the most relieving is that you can’t please everyone.  I don’t believe there are any businesses that exists that can truly serve everyone.  Everyone has different preferences, goals, timelines and different people involved in one way or another in the buying process that make it too time consuming and expensive to truly serve everyone.  Making the decision on who to serve is one of the most important you choose.   Even once you’ve made that selection and it’s a good fit for you there will be mistakes made and unhappy customers to work with.  In most cases there is something very simple you can do to resolve the issue, and at least half of the issues should give you an insight into something you could improve in your business.  Sure, they may tell you what they think of you and what you offer (correct or uninformed) while asking for the refund or fix, but at least they’re willing to work with you on it.

But what about those few people that just aren’t happy?  There are a percentage of people around the world who are inclined to be angry.  These are the people who leave a negative review in a public place having said absolutely nothing to you and not asking for a refund.  These people like to encourage the rest of the world to be as miserable as they are.  First, you know it’s not healthy to be that angry all the time.  You can’t possibly expect your karma, attitude, relationships and longevity won’t take a serious hit being that angry at the world all the time.  Second, do your best with the customers who do appreciate what you offer so that when you do have one super angry review posted people can see it as exactly what it is: someone who’s just angry at the world and complaining for the sake of it, posted among a sea of positive reviews.

Take time this week to make sure you’ve got your customer selection made and are doing the best you can to please those customers, and don’t get too discouraged if someone chooses you as their target for their angry rant of the day, because it’s not about you or what you’re selling.

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Having Healthy (Tough) Conversations

I got an email talking about a topic that’s challenging: talking about the tough stuff.  You’ve probably seen some of the commercials on TV with two people walking or at a diner talking about how they recently discovered a family member participating in illegal or bad activities. The commercial ends with silence because the listener doesn’t know how to respond to what their friend just told them.  Generally most of us prefer to avoid the tough conversations about money, things they’re struggling with personally, things they’re struggling with professionally or about things that aren’t going well with the family or in a relationship.  We avoid them because we often don’t know what to say, how to express our struggles, that they won’t understand what we’re going through, that they won’t be willing to listen, or that they’ll just judge us instead of being supportive.

But in our talks about being healthy this month, it’s important to talk about the stuff that’s not so easy to talk about too.  Healthy isn’t just about the good habits, it’s about overcoming the not so good in your life.  Often you have to address the not so good before you can move on to the good.  Some of the hardest parts of the bad is talking about it with others and admitting your struggle, or talking about what’s bothering you, or how the other person hurt you (intentional or not).

The better you become at communicating the hard stuff the healthier your life can be, and the better overall your communication can be.  Because once you’ve learned how to communicate through the tough stuff, it’s much easier to talk about anything including the joys in life and your healthy habits and preferences.  Starting the conversation though can be challenging.  You may want to start the conversation with an impartial person like a pastor, coach, counselor or other advisor.  Talking through it with them can give you a chance to do any venting and get feedback on how to communicate your struggle to those who matter most to you (or those who matter in that situation), as well as important next steps to try to work through the struggle.  If that’s not possible and you’re really concerned about how the conversation might go, as a friend or more impartial family member to sit in on the conversation.

Ignoring it won’t make it go away typically, it usually makes things worse or allows them to compile.  There’s no reason for things to come to the point of blowing up in your face or becoming so overwhelmed that the rest of your life suffers.  Choosing honesty even when it is challenging or makes you not look so great is important to having healthy relationships and a healthy future.  The sooner you start communicating about the tough stuff, and agreeing with all involved parties to communicate when the challenges come up, the easier it will be to work through them and get back to or on to living a great life.  Make it a point today to have a tough conversation with someone, don’t put it off again until tomorrow.

Are Your People Healthy?

One of the biggest keys to health are the people in your life.  Those people will make or break the healthy habits you’re trying to create.  And even if they don’t purposely try to hinder you in creating those habits, they can inadvertently do things that will make it harder for you.  Let’s say you’re all going out to eat.  No, they don’t have to pick a restaurant everyone can eat at when you all go out, although it’s the polite thing to do, but with the way that we typically rotate who has the final say or who comes up with ideas so that we’re not completely bored and going to the same places all the time, it’s likely that someone will be unhappy or not thrilled with the selection each time.  If we’re truly considerate people, if we truly care about the people that we’re with, we will make a real effort to compromise.

The person you choose to be your romantic partner is usually more influential than your friends, coworkers and other acquaintances. So getting into a committed relationship with someone that you don’t think has good habits, isn’t considerate of your needs, doesn’t prioritize alone time for you two, doesn’t make you happy, and you don’t enjoy making them happy, is probably not a good idea. I’m not necessarily talking about finding THE right person, as in there’s only one right person for each of us, but I am talking about finding someone that respects and supports you, your needs and desires and you can respect and support them and theirs.

A toxic relationship of any kind can have long lasting damage on you, your health and your life.  It can take years to get over the physical or psychological damage that has been done to you or happened as a result of the relationship, and not all of it is their fault.  My intention with writing this post isn’t to scare you that all your relationships are bad and you should only be friends with certain kinds of people (after all we all have a couple of bad days).  Instead I encourage you to be and work on becoming the person that it’s worth being in a relationship with.  Don’t be the person that others regret hanging out with or avoid.  It’s not about being the center of attention or the person that everyone wants to be.  It’s about knowing that you did the best you could with your life, you treated others right and because you made choices that you felt supported you, you can someday die happy.

An Unsinkable Business?

This weekend I was watching some TV shows about nautical history and two of the boats they talked about were the Titanic and Bismark, both of whom were called by titles like “unsinkable” and “impenetrable.”  It got me thinking about our businesses and what we believe about them.  Do we believe we’re infallible? Do we expect to be or feel required to be perfect? Do we think we’re untouchable?  If so I believe we’re setting ourselves up for a hard fall someday, giving people possibly unrealistic expectations about us, and setting us up for extra and unnecessary criticism if and when we do fail (no matter how large or small the fail was).  Instead of trying to live up to these demanding titles, I believe we should focus instead on being known for things like our customer attention, great products and/or services, humility and continual improvement.

Do I think the outcome of the Titanic would have been different if it wasn’t billed as unsinkable?  Not necessarily, the same decisions might have been made regardless and nature does what it pleases without any input from us.  The loss of life isn’t any less or more tragic because the ship was called unsinkable either.  It’s still an incredible tragedy and reminder of how important it is to treasure your life.

This is one of the reasons I don’t like the effort that people put into going “viral” with their businesses. It’s often not achievable, and even if it is achieved they can’t replicate the results later, the results only last for so long and they’re known as one-hit-wonders in the business world.  It’s great to get a lot of attention for a worthy cause or be able to get some very helpful or necessary products in front of lots of people.  But of all the things that have “gone viral” the only one I can name off the top of my head is the Ice Bucket Challenge.

So with the holidays and the end of the year coming up I encourage you to consider if going for “the big win” is really what you want to do and what’s best for your business and customers.  Think about your long and short term goals and make sure that the effort you may put into going for the big win is really worth it and if you really think you’ll be “that guy” and catch the eye of a billionaire who wants to buy you out or celebrity that wants to promote you to all their fans.  If not, maybe there’s a better way you can use the time, money and effort you were going to put into becoming the next big thing.

Health and Forgiveness

This month we’ve been talking about the topic of health.  It’s a topic that affects us all and is important to us all regardless of where we live, what we do, what we look like, what we like, and whether we have a job/are in a relationship/have kids or not.  Health is not just about the physical, but about the mental, spiritual and social as well.  All contribute to how healthy we are as a whole person. Today I want to talk about an important health topic, forgiveness.  It’s not a comfortable topic, but I believe it’s an important one.

Let’s start with what forgiveness is, with wisdom from John Ortberg:  “Forgiving is not the same thing as excusing…Forgiving is not forgetting…Forgiving is not the same thing as reconciling…When I forgive you, I give up the right to hurt you back…When we forgive each other, we begin to see more clearly. We do not ignore the hurts, but we see beyond them…”

Forgiveness doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s not just about other people.  Often the biggest person we need to forgive is ourselves.  We do really good at screwing ourselves over.   We use excuses, stall tactics, smaller priorities, other people and laziness to avoid doing what we really need to do.  As a result the guilt just keeps growing keeping us stuck and making it harder to get unstuck which is super frustrating and detrimental to our health, often in many ways.  It’s not easy to accept that we’ve been treating ourselves poorly and that things need to change.  It doesn’t feel good to admit that we were wrong or that we’ve gone down the wrong path.  And sometimes while you may need to forgive someone else for something they’ve done you find that you need to forgive yourself as well because you played a role in the problem as well.

It’s not easy to accept we’re not perfect, know-it-all people, but we’re not.  You and I both have areas that we need to improve in.   If you’ve been struggling to make that improvement it may be because you’re unwilling or unable to forgive yourself or others for past hurts so that you can begin the process of letting the past go and moving into the future.  I encourage you to join me this week in finally accepting that things need to change and taking steps to make those changes happen, starting with forgiving yourself or someone you’ve been letting keep that power over you for too long.

Sometimes School Stinks

Schools are officially in full swing and kids are getting back into their schedules and of course doing lots of homework.   I graduated from both high school and college, attended both public and private schools and attended 3 different colleges in different states during my college years, so I’ve seen some of what the educational world has to offer.  I’ve had some great teachers, I’ve had some teachers who had great personalities even if I don’t remember learning anything, I’ve had a ton of forgettable teachers, and I’ve had teachers who were terrible in more ways than one.

I’ve also met lots of of people having worked in schools and with kids outside of my own educational experience, plus owning my own business has introduced me to many people.  I know people from all around the world, and while their corners of the world may be a little different than mine, there are things that are unfortunately the same throughout the world that we need to pay attention to so that we can make the world a better place for the next generation.

School was created as a way to make sure that everyone learns certain things, like reading, writing and math.  We’re all exposed to some science, history and physical education as well, but those are less memorable for many of us.  Today I want to take just a couple minutes to talk about something that we don’t really like to admit: school failures.  I’ve already spoken to one of those negatives: teachers who stink.  Some teachers just don’t care about the kids, they’re just in it for the paycheck.  They share the same info every year and don’t take the time to make it come to life for new students, or consider the interests of their new students to add additional aspects to the classes.  It’s unfortunate because at some point in time they probably were passionate and did bring life to what they teach, they just don’t anymore.  As a parent there’s not a lot you can do other than encourage your kid to do the best they can and just get through it.  Sure, you can bring it up to the school board, but that doesn’t always work out in your favor and may do more harm than good.

Issue number two is that schools don’t always teach what people really need to know.  Because of the fact that I work with a wide variety of businesses some of my education that may not apply to others has been practically helpful, but much of it has not been, especially with the availability of Google and answers being a couple of clicks away.  There are many other skills that I wish had been taught but weren’t.  As a parent the best thing you can do is help teach some of those things at home and get kids involved in activities and learning experiences that are available extracurricularally.

Finally is an issue that we’ll talk about in greater depth in the coming weeks: bullying.  Relationships are the building blocks of our world.  If we aren’t able to create relationships of all kinds it’s much harder to do our jobs and live our lives.  There will always be some who are just bad people, but I believe most people don’t grow up wanting to be bad, they want to stand out or finally find acceptance.  If it’s your kid doing the bullying make sure to put an immediate stop to it and teach them better ways of interacting with others.  If they’re the target of a bully, encourage them to stand up for themselves and try to help the bully see the error of their ways, but if they don’t and adults aren’t able to intervene and turn the behaviors around, it’s time for new friends and acquaintances.

What lessons about school have you learned?

Empowering Through Sales

It’s September so of course I’m thinking about lots of education topics and about the next generation.  Last week we talked about something that kids are known for: asking questions, but we talked about it with regards to building a better business.  Something that we may talk about in other contexts later this month or next month is the topic of bullying because it’s a serious topic that affects people of all ages, not just kids, but it’s most discussed with regards to kids.  What I want to talk about today is something that relates to bullying, is actually in some ways the opposite: empowerment.

The way I see it businesses are in the business of empowering their customers in one way or another.  Whether they offer a product or service they empower their customers through the solutions they offer to problems in their lives (darkness, coldness/heat, hunger, transportation, infertility, crazy kids, divorce, loneliness, sickness etc.).  The dictionary defines empower as “to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means, to enable or permit.”  By putting whatever you sell in their lives you’re giving them the power to overcome the challenges in their lives, to make living life a little easier or better, and you’re giving them the opportunity to make the right choices for their life.

So the question we ask often is how can we make our customers and employees happier?  Logic, systems, leadership, training, testing, communication, marketing, good people and customer service are all ways that we as business owners can give our customers and employees can make their experience with us better, longer, and more satisfying.  Make sure that what you offer and what you tell people make sense.  Make sure that you’ve got good systems, leadership, training, hiring practices and communication in place to support and guide your employees. Make sure that people can find you, know what you offer and are able to understand what you offer and how to use/apply it.  And make sure that the experience they have with you and what you offer makes them want to come back for more, even if their initial purchase with you isn’t the greatest.

By choosing to go the extra mile with preparing your products and services for customers, giving your employees the tools they need to be successful and support your customers and giving your customers an experience that reinforces the great product or service you’ve sold them, not only are you more likely to be more successful as a business, you’re empowering your clients and customers to solve their problems and enjoy their lives.

How do you empower your customers and/or employees?

The Gift of Health

There’s a saying that if you have health you have everything and can get anything.  I know that I feel more capable of conquering the world when I feel good, have eaten and have had a good night’s sleep (coffee is always helpful too). I also find it’s easier to have a better attitude, make better decisions and spend less time procrastinating when I am healthier. It’s easier to think about the future when you’ve got relative peace in your relationships, your kids are doing well and are happy and things seem to be going right at work and in the rest of your world.   But when you have a health crisis, even something as simple as a headache, pulled muscle or poison ivy, it seems like everything is much more challenging than it used to be.

It may seem like eating right and exercising and spending time working on the relationships that matter to you is a lot of work, and it is.  But health is one of the things that gives you big results from your efforts, results that you can see and feel.  Unfortunately, like other things, it’s often not until we have a problem that we realize how good we had it before.  Challenging times are also a wake up call for many of us that we need to exercise more, eat better and/or work on our personal and professional relationships before they hit the rough patches, so that the other areas of our lives don’t suffer too much while we work through the challenge(s) in that one area.

The good news is that physical health can be regained with lots of work, and it’s possible to fix relationships that are on the skids.  It will take a lot of work to repair them so if you can do something about it before things go wrong, you should, especially when it comes to health because it’s so much easier to keep things going strong once you’re healthy than to try to fix them.   So if you have big dreams for your life or would like to have big dreams for the rest of your life, start with your health.  Because when you feel good enough to conquer the world, there’s a good chance you can do it too.

A Job Well Done?

Today I’m writing from a friend’s kitchen.  I’m seeing the inside of their house for the first time after they began a big renovation a year or so ago.  As I walked through the house I looked for places and spaces that would connect me with the old house, because they built up and around the old one.  Now, I don’t know all the details and do know that there were some issues that delayed the finish, but I was surprised how much of the house wasn’t done yet.  Painting, area rugs and furniture I could understand, but I can’t understand the missing back splash in the kitchen, a missing shower door and temporary fixtures in a bathroom.

As we talk about health this month one of the important areas of our lives to talk about is our work lives.  Whether you look at it from the perspective of owning a business or working for someone else, I would not feel good about leaving the house in the condition that it is in and calling the job complete.  Yes, I would be proud of what has been accomplished so far, but not as satisfied or proud of what it could be if the job had really been completed.  I’m not talking about perfection here, but about completing the entire task to the best of your ability, being able to look at what should be the finished product and be satisfied with the work I have done.

I believe it’s important to be proud of the work you do and to celebrate the work you do.   Too many people don’t seem to get any recognition for a job well done, even if they were doing just what they were asked to do.  But I believe all of it should be celebrated, not just the big stuff or the stuff done by the big bosses.  But you can’t celebrate what isn’t complete or what isn’t done well, it’s just not right.  We don’t celebrate when we get some of the cancer or beat 20% of the other teams in the league, we celebrate most when all of the cancer is gone or beat all the other teams, because we know we’ve done our best and accomplished what we set out to do. So I guess the question is are you satisfied with what you have done and what you’re doing in your life or are you dragging through the day because you don’t have any pride for what you’re doing?  If you aren’t satisfied what are you going to do or think different to change that?

Asking A Better Question

As business owners one of the best ways to have a breakthrough in our business or with a client is to ask the right questions.  It’s not always easy to know what questions to ask, and sometimes we think we’re asking the right question only to keep getting frustrated because it turns out that we’re not asking the right question.  So today I’ve got a whole bunch of questions that may be new to you that you could try when you get stuck with an issue.  Some are questions you an ask to someone else, others are those you can use in your own thought processes.

What should questions do?

They should empower, challenge assumptions, re-frame issues, stretch the person/people asking, and encourage breakthrough thinking.

Question Disclaimers:

Sometimes you’ll get an answer you weren’t expecting or wanting to hear.  Sometimes you’ll need to ask another question to get deeper into the heart of the matter.  Sometimes a vague question is good, other times you want to be specific.  Not everyone can give you an instant answer, don’t be afraid to wait for the answer (unless you’re looking for that first impression). You expect a response when you ask a question, and those who are giving the answer expect to be given some kind of feedback on their answer.  Sometimes ‘I don’t know’ is the answer you get.

Let’s talk about some questions to ask yourself to ask the right question:

Do I need a factually correct answer?

Do I need an expert opinion?

Do I need a well-reasoned judgment?

Do I want the truth or the answer they think I want to hear?

Is yes/no sufficient, or do I want more?

Do I really want an answer?

And now some questions you might try:

What’s the RONI — the Risk of Not Investing?

When did you last do something fun?

What can I do to help you?

Do I want to add value?

Do your core values make business sense?

What do you stand for?

Who do you serve?

What is your competitor’s plan to win?

Is it helping?

What is the one thing you have postponed changing about yourself? Are you prepared to make that change now?

Are you a good friend who keeps your word all the time?

Would you offer a good friend much needed (uninvited) advice when you can see he/she is headed for disaster, or remain silent?

Are you open to receiving uninvited counsel from a good friend if the situation were reversed?

Is it more important for you to win the power game or to know the truth?

What is more important to you – wealth or love? (No, you can’t have both so far as this question is concerned.)

Have you explored your creativity to your satisfaction?

What do you need to stop?

Do you dismiss your creative ideas based on financial thinking or lack of time?

Which would you prefer: Losing your creative energy and spark or gaining more free time in your life? (No, you cannot have both so far as this question is concerned.)

Can you actually name a creative project or dream that you would like to pursue now?

What do you notice about the reasons for your success?

What are you trying to accomplish?

How are you being helpful to your team?

What are you doing that hurts your team? (Insert customers, employees, manager, yourself, or organization?)

What’s working for you?

What could be better?

What matters most to your customers? (Insert you, team, employees, manager, or leaders?)

What are the most impactful things you do?

If things were going perfectly, what would it look like?

How does this support the company’s mission, goals and projected success?

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned along the way?

If all jobs paid the same, what would you be doing?

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

What does my (audience/customer/employee/partner/teammate) need to hear from me?

What kind of leader am I?

Do you know what I see in you?

How could we do that differently?

What are people concerned about, but no one says?

Did I help someone else succeed today?

What do we want to sustain?

What questions would you add to this list that have helped you in the past?