Learning From a $115 Billion Company

I like numbers as much as the next person and know their value in business, but I’m not really big on those top 10 lists or top 500 lists, I certainly don’t spend my time reading them on a regular basis.  So when I happened upon an article sometime at the end of last year I read it because of the fact that it was talking about how a big company was planning to get bigger, not because I wanted to read the top 10 list that it turns out it included as part of the article.  I don’t think we should always compare ourselves and our businesses to others out there, but I do know that we can learn from their success and this article reminded me of some truths that I think we sometimes ignore or forget when it comes to business.

The article, which you can read here (and I suggest you do), is talking about Cargill, “the $115 billion-in-sales agricultural giant that has topped Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies for 28 of the past 30 years.”  Some interesting things for you to consider: first and foremost it’s a food business.  Second, they’ve been in business since 1865.  Third, in the past 5 years they’ve consistently earned between 107 and 134 billion in sales and revenues.

So next we have to talk about the top 10 list.  What does it say? 3 of the others in the top 10 list are grocery stores and a 4th and 5th are also in the food business to one degree or another.  6 of the top 10 companies on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies are in the food business, the industry known for seriously small margins.

So what does all of this tell us?  First, that it’s possible to be very successful for a very long time in just about any industry.  It also tells us that what everyone says isn’t always correct, and sometimes you can beat the odds.  Finally, if you do want to succeed you have to keep learning, trying new things and growing.  Even if it’s not your goal to end up on one of these lists, I still think that the insights about Cargill can be encouraging and insightful.  Who have you learned from lately?

Advertisements

Living with Bravery and Strength

One of the things that presents the greatest challenge in many people’s lives is to be themselves. It can be easy to fall in with what everyone else is doing, but one of the greatest callings, opportunities and challenges is to be yourself and be the person that only you can be. One of the challenges to that is that we’re not born fully formed, we grow, learn, develop and become throughout our lives. It’s a big process that we have to keep learning from and working on, including learning from our mistakes and the experiences of others. Added to this is that we may change from who we are during one period in our lives, and that’s OK because it’s not likely that we’ll be the exact same person at 18 as we are at 80.

What should keep us sane and positive during the journey of discovering who we are is the confidence we have in ourselves. If you believe in yourself and your ability to successfully work through the changes and challenges in your life you’ll be just fine working through whatever comes your way. It’s not about knowing how to handle everything, but rather believing in your ability to do so, including being able to tap into the people and resources who can support you in whatever ways you need to get it done.

Do you believe in yourself? In your ability to handle what life brings your way? In your ability to navigate and make good decisions that empower you and are wins for everyone involved or affected by them? If you don’t have confidence in who you are, if you don’t like who you are, if you don’t feel strong in your abilities, it’s a great time to step up and do some soul searching. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you’re feeling a little lost or that life has shaken your confidence in yourself recently, working with a life coach or confidence coach can help you conquer those hurdles and get back to living and thriving.

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” A. A. Milne

Changes At Heart

In less than a week we’ll be in February, and we’ll be talking a lot about love. But if you know me, you know that I am a big fan of love, and anytime is a good time to love, not just February.  I recognize that sometimes love can get a little tricky. The biggest challenge is that everyone, yes everyone, changes! We don’t always like change and sometimes we want change so much but it just doesn’t happen. I’ve met so many people who say “I just want my partner to…” and then they share the biggest frustration that they have with their partner or with their relationship. Often it’s not just our partner who needs to make a change, sometimes we do too. And since change is one of the very few guarantees in life (besides death and taxes), what do we do about it?

Well, the best, but not always easiest, thing is to work with the changes that happen. You may decide that a few of the changes aren’t really necessary for you, your relationship or your family, but many of them are. So how do we approach change? Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman have some wisdom on that subject:

“When you really want change, reinforcement will come from your heart.”

When you’re really open to change your heart will encourage you to go for it. You may also have little (or big) signs in your life that it’s time and that your life is moving in that direction. The key to remember is that you’re never going through the change alone, no one is. There’s always the guidance of your heart, which doesn’t lie, and thanks to the internet, a whole world of people willing to support you (including me!).

The biggest challenge is learning how to hear your heart. As I said it won’t lie, but you may not understand what it’s trying to say to you unless you listen to it, and live by it, on a regular basis, even when you’re not going through changes.

This week I encourage you to listen to your heart on the little things and get to know how it works and talks to you. It’s a fun exercise and can really pay off in the future.

Small Steps to Success

One thing I’m going to do this year is a blog post each month on a business or success book I read, a book you can benefit from whether you read it or listen to it, and share some insights I gathered from it. This month’s book is Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s a really easy read for being a non-fiction book, it reminded me almost of the ease of reading a fiction book because of the writing style. The central concepts of the book were the benefits of small improvements and the power (positive and negative) of habits.

So many businesses are looking for the magic bullet that will catapult them to major success. Even if their plan is good and includes hard work, their expectations are often not in line with reality. I wish that more businesses would take a step back and take things a little slower, exactly like this book talks about. To not be in such a rush to get to success, but instead to build on their success a little at a time day in and day out, so they are helping more people that day than they did the day before.

One of the big keys behind the success of the small improvements and habits in the book is that of systems. Systems are crucial to a well-oiled business, one that can run almost seamlessly all the time regardless of the little quirks that pop up each day. Perfection shouldn’t be the goal, but systems help you get a lot closer to getting it right more often than not. Systems are the key that help you get from point A to point B well on a regular basis, helping you establish success patterns and habits that will empower you and your customers. Of course the opposite is true as well, if you don’t have the right system you won’t be as successful or success will be a lot harder to come by.

The final point I want to bring up from the book is that of clues and paying attention. One of the most helpful things you can do for your business is pay attention. Each day, each purchase, each interaction with a customer adds new information to what you already know and if you’re paying attention you can see warning signs before issues become full-blown problems. I’m not suggesting you become hypersensitive to everything that’s going on that you freak and make drastic changes at the smallest thing or first sign of a potential issue, but rather be aware of how everything is running, how people are responding, what’s going on and how you’re feeling about everything so that easily fixed small issues don’t turn into big ones and you can capitalize on the good ideas when you have them, not many months down the road after they become missed opportunities.

If you’ve got suggestions for other books I should read this year, let me know in the comments.

Taking Steps to Create a Legacy

Today in the US we’ve honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. I had quite a few emails in my inboxes sharing some of his wisdom and honoring him and his life and the dreams he had and brought to pass for many. Often we hear his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which is very motivating and contains words that are a great reminder to all of us, but this year in addition to reminding people about the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others, some people shared some of the other wise words he had to say, and I thought I’d share them with you:

“So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called ‘big jobs.’ But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”

“I believe that the unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

I recently read a non-fiction book that acknowledged the power of big changes or moves, but spoke of the even greater power of small things compounded. Yes, you can take a weekend healthy living seminar and it may teach you some things to help improve your health in some way, but having 3-5 vegetable servings and taking a walk every day will do more in the long run than one seminar likely will. Eating a serving of vegetables (half cup cooked vegetable or 1 cup raw leafy green/salad) isn’t a big deal or a lot to manage, especially if you keep the variety fresh, and it’s not a big commitment to walk for a mile (20 minutes maximum).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy could be established on the March on Washington and ‘I Have a Dream’ speech alone, but the fact is he did a lot more than just that. He worked for much of his life through many avenues to make a difference in the world. He took his passion and dream from just words he spoke to a movement of action after action, starting small but snowballing into more than 200,000 people attending the March on Washington who heard him speak, not to mention the generations who have heard his words since then.

Your legacy will also likely be built on many little things you’ve done, not just one or two big things.  There’s no time like the present to start building that legacy and taking the little steps that will help you create a future you’re proud of sharing with future generations.

Reality Reflection: Total Transformation?

Right now my part of the world is going through a big transformation, several actually. We’re going from bare branches and gray winter ground and low 40 temperatures to snow covered ground with winds and below 20 degrees. It will transform the world around me in many ways, many that may make it challenging to get around or continue with our typical lifestyles, especially if it ices over and gets as cold as they talk about. Transformations such as this are rarely permanent or long lasting, which is a good thing, especially since I would hate to live in single-digit weather for very long.

People can have similar extreme transformations, for example if you have to get dressed up for a wedding or very special award ceremony you look very different, and if you get a drastically different hair cut or color change you’ll look different for a couple of weeks. But those changes don’t typically last forever (unless you do something very permanent like plastic surgery). But typically for a true transformation to take place, it takes months or years to complete and fully implement the transformation, especially the kinds of life transformations that people often consider at this time of year.

Sometimes it’s good to have one of these temporary transformations, we sometimes need to take a break from our typical life, and it’s always good to have fresh things in our lives. Often we don’t need major overhaul-type transformations that my world will undertake in the next 24 or so hours, we just need a refresh in our lives, or small changes that may not seem like a big deal but can really help us in the long run.

If you want your transformation to stick around, it has to be something that you can keep up with for long term. It means a serious commitment. If you’re not sure you can make that serious of a commitment, work on smaller changes to begin with and build up to the big changes if necessary.  Personally, I’m OK with the occasional big change, but prefer to make the small changes, especially when it comes to weather.

Choosy Customers, Clear Businesses

One of the tough lessons we have to learn in business is that what works for one customer always won’t work for another.  It’s not easy to be on either side of a less-than-satisfied side of things, it’s really a bummer to both the business owner and the customer who had hopes that things would work out. I recently had the experience where I really wanted things to work out but they just didn’t. It’s a big challenge for customers who would love to shop local but just can’t get what they’re looking for or the service they need.

I think this is one of the reasons that local businesses (stores with a physical presence) are struggling to survive in many cases, because they’re not stepping up in ways that they need to if they want to compete. They used to be able to get by without really trying, simply because they were near potential customers, but the internet and TV have shown people that there’s a wide world of products and services out there that are often accessible with just a few clicks. Stores that choose to innovate and provide a higher level of service have a very good chance of surviving even with the accessibility of the internet.

The fact that what one customer loves another doesn’t is one of the reasons to offer more than one product or service, but it’s also added perspective on the customer reviews you get. Some reviews will be unfavorable simply because they weren’t the right customer, for example they only tried you because of how many positive reviews they’d been hearing about you. Those are some of the better negative reviews though because they often start with a statement like “I heard so many great things about this business I had to try it even though I don’t typically like…” which reinforces that you’re doing a great job in general, your product or service wasn’t right for them.

So before you make any judgments on your success or lack thereof so far this year, I would encourage you to make sure that you’re working on getting the right customers, and not just any customers.  Who are your ideal customers?

Celebrating Second Chances

You know, it’s a lot easier if we get things right the first time. But the fact is few of us are close enough to perfect to not have to go back and proofread our work or do a second interview or ask follow up questions or try another marketing campaign or have to practice before we become good at something. And sometimes we never truly get it right and just get it a little more right with each attempt, and that’s as good as it gets, like with parenting and many of the other ever-changing aspects of our lives.

I get it, we’re in such a rush and there’s so much on our plates that it would be easier if everything worked out the first time, but it often doesn’t. Today I was reminded that sometimes second chances are awesome. Sometimes that redo is something much more productive and successful than the first try could have ever been. Sometimes you learn and grow more from the second (or third) chance or try than you do from the first. Sometimes you meet someone or make a connection that would have never been made if you didn’t have to do a redo. Maybe the redo isn’t so bad after all.

What if the second chance, the opportunity to redo something, the second round was actually a good thing? What if instead of giving firsts all the power we instead started to value the seconds? What if instead of hating the time it took to go through additional rounds, instead we cherished the relationships it helped build, the opportunity to make things better, and the things it taught us? What if instead of trying to be perfect on the first try, we just let our brilliance loose for the first round and then took care of the details in following rounds? How would your life be better and different if you stopped trying for perfection on the first try?

Let’s Talk about Organization

One of the things that a lot of people do in the beginning of the year is get organized! The new year is a great time to evaluate what you’ve got and how what you got over the holidays works in with all of that.  It’s a great time to donate what you don’t use anymore and throw out what isn’t good anymore, donating to some of the needy communities who can really benefit from it during the winter months.

It’s also a great time to get organized and help your kids get organized.  Teaching your kids about organization at a young age is important because it helps them start thinking in ways of organization, which will benefit them in many ways throughout their adulthood. Organization also helps to keep the clutter down and make cleanup easier because everything has a home.

So how do you organize?  When you’re organizing think about what works for the people who are using it. Don’t forget to make lots of storage available at kid level for the kid’s daily use, and higher for more permanent/seasonal storage. Don’t force your partner into a storage system that doesn’t work for them (there are lots of storage options out there than can easily be changed around to accommodate lots of different needs and styles).

There are tons of great companies that have come up with lots of products that make it easier for us to be organized, but if you’re just looking for something simple that is versatile, just start with putting up shelves, shelves that can have their height adjusted so that they grow and move with all of you.

It doesn’t have to be a new year’s resolution, but I would encourage you to take the time to get organized this year because it will make your life easier and make everyone happier.

Getting a Productive Start

This year I’m going to be talking a lot about living (and working) in the moment and really pressing into the time that we’ve got, making the best choices for us that empower us and make the best use of our time. On the topic of productivity, you’ve probably heard about the Tim Ferriss book “4-Hour Work Week,” and while most of us will work more than 4 hours a week and like to work more than 4 hours a week, the only way that something like that is possible is if we delegate and if we really manage our time well.

Most business owners struggle with having a long to-do list and never having enough hours in the day. Often the reasons include not delegating well and not being as productive as they could. I understand that it can take some work to find someone you can trust delegate to and work with well, but when you’ve got someone in that position it makes your work go a lot better and you get more done. As far as productivity goes, scheduling and focus may be your real issues, and working on adhering to a schedule may help you greatly in getting more done in a more efficient manner.

If you want to be a truly productive business owner this year I would challenge you to review your schedule, frustrations, to-do lists and productivity, and take the time to ask yourself some questions: Are you truly productive for some time each day? What stops you from being productive? Why do things stay on your to-do lists? What do you keep putting off and why? Are you hesitant to get help, and if so, why? Are you able to focus when you need to? How has your lack of productivity limited your business growth? What are the 3 biggest (and easiest) changes you could make right now that would greatly impact your productivity?

Will this year be the year that you’re productive in and with your business? I hope so! I invite you to add a comment letting me know how I can help you be more productive this year too.