Combining the Practical with Passion

This month I read The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau. It wasn’t a business book in the traditional sense, but had some good insights that can guide us both as business owners as well as leaders as we interact with our teams and clients/customers. The book was a look at not only the author’s journey to all countries in the world, but also about the journeys/quests/dreams of other people, and I liked that he talked about both the practical side of things as well as the emotional side of things. Let’s take a look at a few of the lessons in the book.

The idea of belief was discussed throughout the book, first and foremost that the person going through the quest (or the person/people running the business) has to believe in what they’re starting or doing. Second, there will always be people who don’t believe in what you believe in. Finally, everyone needs support. For business owners that’s both people who will buy from them and buy into their mission, and second people who will support them as a person like a family or friends.  Neither a quest nor a business can be done completely alone.

Also throughout the book was discussion on who a mission was for/about, what the point was of going on the journey, and what meaning and fulfillment is being created as a result. All good businesses have to have a purpose of some kind. Maybe it’s to create fun or give people the opportunity to buy things they want that definitely aren’t essentials but are things they want or think are cool or are status items.  It doesn’t have to be a serious or life-based purpose like a doctor or grocery store owner to have a valid purpose or mission.  In fact, your business should have meaning for both you and the people that you sell to and work with.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the book also talked about the importance of embracing the practical. You can’t just waltz into countries, you have to get your passport stamped first and get past customs. The same is true for businesses: you have to have plans and strategies and take action, take time to regularly look into your finances and metrics and data, and most of all have a market that not only wants to buy from you but actually does. As important as the passion and mission are, you have to be able to take a step back from that and focus on the practical details that make the business run if you want to be successful.

Finally, there’s a lesson to be learned from the title of the book, and it’s something that Chris shared about throughout the book, and that’s that some people really find value and life in the pursuit of something. It’s in moving forward, one step, large or small, at a time that we know we’re alive, that we are invigorating to keep moving forward, that we’re able to build new connections and grow current ones. That journey isn’t always a straight line and will change as you and the world change, and the journey should be worth taking. It’s when you’re no longer passionate about that journey or the end destination that you need to revisit things.

What have you been learning lately from your business or trying not to hear or see?

The Success of Halloween

Halloween is this week, it’s a holiday all about the darkest corners of the world and darkest things our imaginations can think up. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my life full of dark and scary things, it’s hard enough to see the news each day with all that goes on in the world, so it got me thinking about why it’s so successful and able to bring in so much money and continue year after year.

First, let’s talk about the authentic side of Halloween, and that’s the fact that it’s been shown and believed for many years that there’s something beyond the life we live now. Whether you believe in Heaven and hell or not, or believe that there’s something in between here and the future, or you’ve had an experience with a ghost or other spiritual being, a large majority of people will say there’s more to the world than we see living on this plane with us. But while ghosts are something we talk about at Halloween, there’s so much more to the holiday and to all things spooky than just ghosts.

One of the reasons Halloween is successful is because they’ve managed to connect it with one of the legal forms of an addictive substance, and that’s candy. So many of us around the world have a sweet tooth that it makes it very easy to get us excited about anything that involves candy. You then add in pumpkin (spice) flavor to some of that candy and you’ve got a second winner. It’s also very easy to come up with alcoholic beverages/mixed drinks that are of the orange or black or neon or spooky color, not to mention all the ways you can craft food to resemble all sorts of haunted things. So Halloween is an easy win when it comes to our taste buds and stomachs, which is often all that something needs to be successful.

Then you’ve got the fun of dressing up and being someone else. This is traditionally something the kids do, but college kids and adults often will dress up and attend parties as well. There’s something magical and refreshing about being able to pick out a different costume each year and be someone else, be someone that you aren’t or can’t be in real or daily life. Dressing up is a chance to escape the responsibilities of our daily lives and try on someone else’s life for a little while, as well as hang out with friends and have fun (something else not everyone makes time for either).

It’s also successful because those who commercialized it knew to tap into the adrenaline that people experience when they’re surprised by or dealing with something scary. That rush is also an addictive feeling, which is why year after year we are willing to visit countless attractions and even sign health waivers to be allowed in and face something that might scare us.

Ultimately though, Halloween is so broadly successful because it taps into those who like the more extreme side of the holiday and getting scared out of their minds as well as those that like to make and enjoy cute little spider cookie or cupcake treats. It’s something that both children and adults and even seniors can get involved in and enjoy (some seniors find handing out Halloween candy to be one of the highlights of their year). Sometimes success is as simple as creating something that a large number of people will find fun, adding variations to make that audience even broader and making sure that there’s a reason to keep coming back year after year.

Are you into Halloween? What makes it a holiday you celebrate each year?

Planning and Preparing

One of the many things that people talk about in October is fire prevention and safety.  It’s an important topic to talk about in schools with kids, and many schools make it fun by bringing in one of the town’s fire trucks or at the very least a real firefighter for the kids to meet.  It’s an important topic to talk about in schools because people of all ages including kids need the information about what to do if a fire happens, so that they’re less likely to freeze and more likely to be able to escape.

But preparation is an important topic for everyone, and not just with regards to fires or natural disasters.  Preparation on even a very basic level gives you the support to have some control on the basics of your life even when other things are going out of control.  Being prepared means you don’t have to panic when company comes in from out of town or your boss asks you to stay late or the kids have a project due tomorrow they “forgot” about or your partner needs you to go out to dinner with them and their boss or you’re not surprised by or unable to afford an annual bill because you’ve been saving up all year.

Preparation doesn’t necessarily mean having every single duck in a row, just that you’ve got a solid handle on what usually goes on, you’re aware of what’s going on around you and what’s definitely or potentially coming up, and have resources available for things that might go wrong or come up.  Preparation often goes hand in hand with planning ahead.  By planning ahead whenever possible, and teaching your kids to do the same with regards to their clothing needs, homework/studying/projects and extracurricular activities, all of you will be better equipped to handle whatever curve balls life throws at you.

Preparation is not typically a labor or time intensive activity, but even still it can pay off big in the long run.   It can be as simple as having a spare of favorite home and kitchen items before you run out, taking time to sit down and look at the week ahead and anticipate what will happen and what could happen, and talking with the people in your life about scary but important topics like what everyone’s steps should be in a fire or other disaster.  What will you do to prepare for the days and months ahead?

Lessons in Leverage

There’s always been a group of people who look for the shortest or fastest route through, around or to something or someone. I have no problem with letting go of things that are unnecessary or taking out unnecessary steps, but fastest/shortest isn’t always best. For example, for a time there was a large interest in buying likes and other social points to unnaturally inflate business accounts so they would look more popular or active than they were. It’s something that the social networks have cracked down on fortunately but still something a few people are still doing. I understand the desire to present large numbers to people, especially when some celebrities have so many social interactions and connections, but when you have fake likes etc. it completely screws up your metrics and any data you want to analyze and it means you’re not being honest with your customers.

So what can we do as businesses to grow faster or quicker? One option we have is to get really good at leveraging. What does this mean? It means that we build a business smarter, taking advantage of the tools and resources we have access to. Sometimes it means a little extra effort or resources expended, but in the long run you’ll connect better with your team and your customers, and be more successful for longer.

Let’s take a look at some examples. For social media there are many things you can do with a social account, but the question I often raise with clients is how fully they’re taking advantage of all that a social network offers. Are you posting, doing ads, being social and promoting the account through your emails, website etc. or just doing one/some of the above? If you’re not leveraging all that the social account has to offer, it’s likely you’re missing out on some great opportunities for growth.

Another example has to do with your employees, team, and customers. Do you have people of all ages on your team and are you talking with all of them to get different generational perspectives? Are you tapping into the different skill sets and interests that each of them have or trying to force them into your preferred box? What about your customers? Are you getting their feedback on what you’re offering and finding out what they need? These are simple conversations to initiate, and can pay off big in the long term if you’re implementing what you’re learning.

A final example is one that I share about regularly, and that’s holidays. If everyone around you is talking about the upcoming holiday, how can you leverage that holiday positively for your business? Rather than complain about the holiday or how it steals customers from you, turn it into a money making opportunity. Offer relevant seasonal offerings, surprise your customers with seasonal gifts, and be flexible with your team and their schedules so they can be with their families too (a happy team is a productive team). Make the holiday work for your business.

What about you? What are you leveraging in your business to help it grow?

Life Lessons from Dogs

I’m a dog person. I love all creatures, and make a point of supporting and help share about organizations that work for and with any type of animal, especially the endangered kind, but without question dogs top my list. I don’t know if you watch much TV but there are quite a few companies that use animals in their commercials, including quite a few that use dogs. Subaru is at the top of that list as well as Chewy and Petco. I also read an article this week sharing about a pro football team that has adopted a dog for emotional support. You may wonder why pro football players need an emotional support dog, but what it says to me is that everyone and anyone can benefit from having a dog, for emotional support or otherwise.

Yes, there are benefits to having other animals too like cows that provide milk or chickens that lay eggs, and other animals like bunnies and cats can be used as emotional support animals, as well as make good pets. But dogs are most like humans even though they’re fully animal, which helps us identify and connect with them easier than we do other animals, and there are quite a few dog breeds that are larger in size which makes them great as mobility support dogs and seeing eye dogs, enabling them to do things for us that cats, chickens, cows and bunnies just can’t do.

The idea or concept that I want to share about today though goes back to the belief that anyone can benefit from a dog and everyone should have a dog (except those who are deathly allergic of course). But a dog is about more than having an amazing bundle of snuggles in your life that looks like a dog, it’s about what else the dog brings to the table. Dogs are loyal, loving, protective, caring, sensitive, non-judgmental, forgiving and attentive. I don’t know many humans who fit that whole list, and most only fit one or two of those qualities. We talk about the (human) role models we have, whether they’re emergency service workers, made up superheros, or family members, and those are great people to learn from. But there’s obviously a lot we can learn from man’s best friend that despite having a relationship with them for hundreds if not thousands of years.

In many ways I’m humbled by the fact that a creature that has less intelligence than humans are said to, is often better able to navigate the world and relationships than we “wise” humans do. In talking with a friend this past week who lost their father in law, they commented how the best support they got was from their dog. So this week I encourage you to take a lesson from our canine friends and try a little harder to listen, love and care about the people that we share this world with.

What Do You See?

This morning I was doing a little more cleaning than I usually do on a weekly basis. As I tried to clean up some of the nooks and crannies that create lots of character and detail on older buildings like the one I live in, I was reminded how easy it is for some things to become “out of sight and out of mind” as the saying goes. It’s easy to pretend that the dirt couldn’t get under the stove or beneath the drawers in the refrigerator or that the tops of doorways collect dust because while you may see all of those things each day, you’re not seeing them from the perspective of where the dirt may be hiding. I’ve also said before how even a tiny bit of tidying or cleaning can make a huge difference, like just wiping down the cabinets with a wet cloth makes them look brighter, not to mention cleaner.

It got me thinking about what else is “out of sight and out of mind” or out of our line of sight or not how we see things. For example right now we’re seeing the leaves on many trees change color and drop off. We can easily forget what the trees look like without leaves of any color, and how little there really is to trees when they don’t have leaves on them.

Another example has to do with people. It’s really easy to see someone as a mother or father or accountant or teacher or baseball player or painter, and forget that they’re made up of many more layers, not to mention dreams, desires, passions and interests beside the thing they’re best known for or as. They’re also not the sum total of their failures, imperfections or inabilities. Just because your kid can’t do math doesn’t mean they won’t grow up to have great discoveries about an ancient civilization or lead a town. Just because you’re not the greatest cleaner doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, triathlete or gardener.

Don’t let yourself be so blinded that you can’t see the truth or the need or what’s really going on in your life, in the lives of those you love and the world around you.

Getting Ready for Holiday Business

With only 11 weeks left in the year, 37 days to Black Friday, 67 days to Hanukkah and 70 days until Christmas, it’s definitively time to get your plan in place for the rest of the year and the holiday shopping season. If you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to offer and how you’re going to market those offerings and your business you’re basically saying that whatever happens happens and you’re going to just accept it. Personally that’s not my preference, but without a plan that’s what you’re saying. In line with a plan regarding your offerings and marketing those offerings should be a plan on how you’re going to capitalize on those sales in the future, such as through a newsletter, blog, podcast and/or social media.

So let’s start with what should be in the plan. In your plan for your offerings should be the offerings you’re going to feature that are classics and favorites, offerings you have available every holiday season, and offerings available for this holiday season alone. Of course you may have other offerings, but they won’t be those you focus on promoting for the next 11 weeks. Make sure that for seasonal offerings you can get/give enough if your offering would go viral or be in high demand, unless you’re intentionally planning to extremely limit what’s available because of the low cost or high product cost.

Once you’ve got the offerings selected, then it’s time to talk about marketing. Hopefully you’ve been actively marketing all year long and aren’t planning to attempt to do all your proactive marketing in the last 11 weeks of the year, but that’s what some businesses do. It’s also a good time to review all your social accounts and your website to make sure they’re not only up to date but also are clearly displaying and celebrating your holiday/seasonal offerings.

Finally, make sure that you’re not after one sale, but building a relationship that could result in sales in the future from your customers or from their friends. Have things like a newsletter, blog, and/or podcast you update at least weekly that people can subscribe to, have social accounts that you consistently post to where they can connect with you, and if you’re a local business consider offering a mailing list that they can get post cards and other materials mailed to them. Now’s also a great time to evaluate your strategies for each of those and make sure that you like what you’re doing and your customers do too.

How are you getting ready for the holidays?

The Courage to Explore

So today in the US is the day known as Columbus Day. It was named in honor of Christopher Columbus, an explorer from Italy in the late 1400’s. In recent years it’s become a bit of a different holiday because questions have been raised about what’s true and what’s not true about the stories we’ve all been told and about what kind of person Columbus was. I understand the desire in not wanting to honor someone who took people as slaves or took their gold or didn’t do what they are being honored as having done.

However, in the late 1400’s a man named Christopher Columbus did indeed take 4 sea voyages between Italy and the Caribbean with a crew of other people. While it may seem like nothing these days with our planes and cruise ships, in Columbus’ time, it was a day and age when people thought really long and hard about taking even one trip from one side of the ocean to the other, let alone 4 round trip voyages. His efforts as well as the efforts of the other explorers of his time really encouraged others to colonize North America. So if you’re really offended by calling it Columbus Day, maybe it should be Explorer’s Day, honoring all the men (and women) who were brave enough to get on boats and travel to the ends of the earth when it was so incredibly dangerous and risky.

Some people struggle with why we study history and why we need to learn all these dates and about all of these people from hundreds or thousands of years ago. They can understand a little of the application of math or science classes even with the advances of technology, but history just doesn’t make sense (after all we don’t try to paint the Sistine Chapel or build a Gothic cathedral every day). One of the biggest things we can take from history is regarding the bravery, courage, skill, expertise, and effort of countless people in helping to transform their world to the world we know today. No, they weren’t perfect, but neither are we, and we’re still trying to right wrongs and figure out how to work together in this world that we all share.

So today I encourage you to be brave like Christopher Columbus and the other explorers and go out and do some exploring as well. Explore your neighborhood, your community, your state. Explore new things with your partner and your family. Explore new hobbies and passions. Are you ready to be brave and explore?

The Purpose Behind Homework

I’m often challenged when talking with kids about their homework (and when I did homework myself), as to the reason we do homework, especially if it’s on a topic we’re probably not going to use in the future. I don’t always have a good answer to the question, because I don’t really see a point to some of the work or the topics, especially with how technology has developed in recent years. I know the biggest challenge is that no one can anticipate what a child will grow up to be and what knowledge they’ll need. For example you can’t anticipate who will be a geologist, who will be a president, who will be an accountant, who will be a teacher, and who will be a stay at home parent, so to some extent you have to teach a little of everything until they’re at an age that they can make those types of decisions.

What’s important are some of the things that we don’t talk about or specifically connect with the homework and other schooling kids do, and that would be things like discipline, creative thinking, interpersonal relationships, researching, the challenges that happen as you’re working towards a goal and/or persistence. It’s through learning these practices and habits that can give you a good foundation regardless of what you do with the rest of your life. It’s easier to teach those skills and habits through something like math homework than it is to tell someone to go home and work on being persistent (which someone might take to mean saying “mom” over and over for an hour?!).

So if your kids struggle with homework or studying it may be helpful to them to understand what they’re really learning or how it could apply to their life. Sometimes the answer is just that there probably isn’t a need to learn that topic for the future, but the skills of writing or reading or critical thinking they’re using to do the homework are what will benefit them in the future and that’s the practice they’re really getting. But what’s really more important than them getting the homework done, are the habits you help them create by having them do their homework each night, study with sufficient time before a test or exam, and invest effort and creative thinking into the projects they’re assigned.  The period of history or animal they’re studying right now won’t stick with them, but those important skills will.

“Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly.” Julie Andrews

Customers Have Questions

Every customer has a question they’re hoping you can help them answer. Sometimes that one question leads to more questions, but all questions start with asking whether or not you’ve got what they’re looking for or if you’re able to help them. One of your goals should be to clearly and succinctly communicate what you offer, both in general and for each specific product/service, because if in the first few seconds of their visit on your site or in conversing with you they don’t think you can help them (or they can’t figure out what you offer), they’re more likely to move on and try someone else.

So the question to you is “what do you offer”? That may be the whole question, but it also may be more specific as “What do you offer in this product?” or “What do you offer in this service?”. The answer to that any of those three questions should be a phrase or a complete sentence, and again, it should be easy to understand in the few seconds potential customers may give you.

Once you’ve established the big picture of your offering, then you have to consider what more specific questions people would have about that product or service. Some of those questions would typically be answered on the individual product/service pages, for example what does something look like, what sizes are available or what’s the cost or what colors are available or what are the measurements of the item or what are the time limits/commitments on the service or what makes this one different from similar ones like it. In too many situations these individual pages are insufficient and leave people with questions.

Beyond that are some questions that companies often answer on FAQ pages. If you have a lot of general questions it’s best to sort and group them by category with section titles.  Additionally, if you are only posting questions about one aspect of what you offer that for some reason you don’t want to post on the actual product/service page, you need to clearly communicate the purpose of your FAQ page at the top of the page so that you don’t confuse people.

Finally, as a last resort you should make it easy for people to ask their questions by providing them at least two means of contact such as an email address and web form, or phone number and social account or any combination of some/all and more. As I said you should answer as many questions and provide as much information as possible for them before they have to contact you, but some people have situation-specific questions that wouldn’t be answered by anything you would likely put on the site, but they’ve seen enough that they think what you’re offering might answer the question of if you’ve got what they’re looking for.

So does your business answer your customer’s questions, or do you just create more questions?