A Season for Community

You’re probably aware that yesterday was Thanksgiving, today was Black Friday, tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, and Tuesday is Giving Tuesday. All of these have to do with one thing: community. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of community, partnership, victory and life. Black Friday many of us go out to stores and stand in line and make small talk with those we share our towns and cities with. Small Business Saturday is all about getting people to spend at their local small retail stores (mom and pop shops) to support them. Giving Tuesday is all about donating to non-profits and the organizations making a difference in our communities and around the world and giving them a portion of the financial support that we just spent in for-profit stores over the past week.

One thing that really stuck out to me this year as I read between sale emails, was the number of emails from organizations that included a picture of their whole crew as part of celebrating the season, thanking their supporters, and thanking their people too. It’s so easy to forget in this digital age that there are people who send these emails, people who pack our many boxes, people who bring the petitions to organizations and governments, people who grow all our food like turkeys and hams, people who pick up our garbage and recycling, people who truck items to big box stores and so many more examples, just like businesses sometimes forget that there are real people buying their stuff. There are people on all ends of the story, and it’s about time we not only recognize that but celebrate it as well.

We have a choice how we treat each other, the people we choose to have in our lives, and the way we living in not just our individual communities but how we share the world as well. Thanksgiving may be over, but I would encourage you as we enter this Christmas (and Hanukkah and shopping) season, to spread good tidings wherever you go and whomever you’re with, and let others know you appreciate them. It will be a better holiday for all if we remember we’re all part of a community and that love, peace, patience and joy goes a lot farther than rudeness and hate does.

Bringing the Fun Back to Holiday Shopping

For many businesses they’re hitting some of their biggest shopping days this week and next, from Thanksgiving food shopping to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday to Giving Tuesday. Is your business ready? I don’t think these shopping days ever become “old hat,” and many of us reach a point where we just throw in the towel and say that we’ve prepared as well as we can and just work our hardest through these days.

You may do a decoration switch if you did a big Thanksgiving spread and have to change it over before Black Friday and the unofficial start of the Christmas/Hanukkah season, but otherwise we are pretty much at the point that there’s nothing you can do except minor marketing or website updates; you probably can’t get in additional product before Monday, you probably can’t hire anyone else before Monday, and aren’t going to overhaul your store (online or retail) because you don’t want to risk screwing it all up.

So unless you’re planning a big decoration activity between now and Tuesday, there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s to encourage yourself and your employees to have fun. I was listening to Christmas songs the other day on YouTube while I was working and caught some of the video that was playing along with the song and the thought that popped into my head was that the artist looked like they were having fun! Yes, they were working hard to give an excellent performance, but they still were smiling at the band accompanying them and looked like they were having a good time.

It stuck with me that yes, much of this season has become about giving gifts to each other and buying stuff, but it’s also a ton of fun to sing songs, dress up with Santa hats and bells and reindeer antlers, decorate our houses inside and out, make special foods, and gather together. You can’t do anything about not having a product in stock anymore or about the long lines or how tired people are because of how early they got up, but you can keep your Christmas Cheer close at hand and welcome each guest with a smile and maybe even a bit of that joy, magic and giddiness that kids have on Christmas morning.

Go beyond being patient, courteous, helpful, and efficient this holiday season in your business and add some sincere celebration too. How do you spread Holiday Cheer in your business?

Thanksgiving Reflections

As we head into this week of giving thanks, I wanted to talk about an important topic, and that’s taking time for reflection. It’s something we’re prompted to do at this time of year as we think of what we’re thankful for, reflect on all our blessings at Christmas, and think about what has gone on this year as we move into a new year. But it’s also something that we should be doing on a regular basis to make sure that we’re in touch with ourselves, our feelings and what’s going on in our lives. Why? Because taking time for reflection means that we’re able to recognize and celebrate more of the good that goes on in our lives and we’re able to catch the stuff that in the past has ended up being serious and huge mistakes or issues before they get that way.

It’s not always easy to find the motivation to do reflection, perhaps because it echoes our days of education and grades and we didn’t have great experiences then, or perhaps because we don’t want to add another thing to all we do. But reflection is one of the healthiest and safest ways to grow and make sure that you’re on the path that’s most fulfilling, interesting, supportive and healthy for you. But if you make a point of always reflecting on both the positive as well as the need-to-be-worked-on, and not just the issues, it does become easier.

Reflection time doesn’t have to be complicated, drawn out or a really big deal, it can just be 5 minutes you take at the beginning and/or end of your day each day. Yes, sometimes it is a little more complicated like when you go over the bank statements or spending with your partner. But on a daily basis? It can be simply reviewing your to-do list. It can be a journal entry. It can be just you sitting with a beverage and just thinking, with a note pad or your favorite device close at hand in case you come up with something that is important to remember or is a breakthrough.

Try it out this week as we head into Thanksgiving and make regular time for reflection, and see how it works for you and what it can positively add to your life. You may be surprised at how much you can think of that you’re thankful for.

Making Time to Be Thankful

With Thanksgiving on the horizon this coming week I was thinking today about family gatherings, and about how we allow ourselves and our kids to behave one way when we’re relaxing at home, and expect other, more polite behaviors when with extended family or with “company.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having “home manners” and “company manners,” you should be able to relax and let your hair down, to use an older phrase, when you’re at home. But at the same time, you absolutely should know how to behave in front of adults that aren’t your family or VIP’s, everyone should be able to show a little self control and respect for several hours of a typical event, not to mention the few minutes of time that a surprise meeting or shopping trip may take the family.

I don’t think manners are outdated, nor is the idea of being thankful. It’s important to thank someone for holding a door open for you, for getting an item off a high shelf for you, taking time to meet or talk even though you know they’re super busy, for sending you a resource, for helping you with something at work, for helping you pick up the house, or any of the countless other ways people stop what they’re doing or make an extra effort to help you out. Thanking them shows you recognize they helped you and you’re grateful. It doesn’t take more than a second or two and can have a very positive impact for both of you.

These little moments are important, but they should become natural, just like changing the toilet paper roll when it’s out or brushing your teeth each day or eating when you get hungry. There’s another level to giving thanks though, and that’s when you make a point of keeping a daily gratitude journal, gathering for Thanksgiving to talk about what you’re thankful for, going to a Thanksgiving giving thanks/prayer service at a local church, making a weekly habit of highlighting and celebrating people who do good work in your company, or making a weekly habit of going around the table at dinner and expressing what you’re thankful for. Giving thanks in these ways requires a bigger commitment and effort, but it’s one that can pay even bigger results than thanking someone in passing does.

We truly do have so much to be thankful for, especially if we take time to stop and think about it all. Whether you have a gratitude journal, give thanks as a family or something else, what matters is not how you do it, but that you make time to count your blessings on a regular basis. Being thankful is one of the best practices you can pass on to the next generation, how will you be giving thanks this Thanksgiving?

Business with Heart

This month the book I read was “Managing with a Heart” by Sharon Good. It’s got over 100 insights from the author about what makes a company run well, making employees feel appreciated and values as well as quotes that support the heart and mind of leaders. It’s another book that was written many years ago, but still contains insights that we are trying to apply to our companies, which speaks to both the importance of these insights as well as the difficulty there has always been in living up to these important ideas.

The book was built around 1-4 sentence insights. As I read the first few it made me think of the concept of Twitter and little bites of knowledge, and reminded me of the power of keeping things short and sweet. I have no problem with going into great detail and length, sometimes that’s what’s appropriate. Sometimes the long stories are the better and more interesting ones, and it’s hard to imagine trying to shrink things to fit into a shorter space. But more frequently than we might expect shorter is sweeter. It’s a reminder to think if we really need to go into great detail when sharing something, or if it’s better to be succinct and invite questions and ideas.

The book also talked about the importance of finding a balance between the universal and the individual. A simple example of this is saying that people should work 9-to-5, but if you’ve got someone who prefers to work 9.30 to 6 or 8.30 to 4.30 (and is willing and able to be available between 9 and 5 when absolutely necessary, why make a big deal of it? This topic also speaks to the debate and trend that we’re currently looking at of customizing everything to a person and being able to target marketing so specifically to an individual person, and merging that with a single ad or email that will speak to everyone who resonates with that ad or has subscribed to that email mailing list (because very few companies have the ability to write individual ads and emails to each and every potential marketing target).

In line with the second insight, the final insight I want to share today has to do with change and evolution. The offices and stores of two decades ago aren’t typically in line with our level of comfort or the style of today, but it’s still important to have a clean and safe space. When we start a company we may write a manual or handbook about best practices, which may or may not endure as we grow and develop, which is why it’s important to be reviewing those “best practices” and make sure they still work for us and for our people and aren’t just ideas, aren’t antiquated ideas, aren’t ideas that work for other teams but not yours, or ideas that used to work but don’t anymore. Some things should not be changed like safety and cleanliness, but other things need to be reviewed and adjusted or outright changed on a regular basis to make sure that it’s (still) working for you, your company and your customers.

What it all comes down to is the fact that people are central to everything when it comes to business, and it’s up to us to treat them with respect and remember that they are individuals with their own needs, opinions, abilities and lives, and if we want the respect of that, we have to respect that for them as well. How do you manage with heart in your business?

Beautifully Unpredictable

I was just about to go out and run some errands the other day when it started to rain, which was unexpected and made me postpone my plans. If I know I’m going out to work with a client or if I’ve got traveling for a family event, or something else important going on, I do check the weather ahead of time, but otherwise unless my partner asks me what the weather is coming up, I generally look out the window or open the door and see what it’s like that day or before I’m going to do something. Why? Because I don’t find the weather predictions to be very reliable. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why it’s unpredictable, Mother Nature does what she does and doesn’t have to give us notice or follow an absolutely precise schedule.

This unexpected rain and thinking about the topic of unpredictability got me thinking about another topic that is typically associated with unpredictability and some of the feelings that goes along with it, and that’s the upcoming holiday season. I absolutely love the holiday season and I’m always excited when it rolls around, as an adult it’s more about the songs and decorations than the gifts, but there’s definitely still something very exciting about gifting and receiving gifts. But with all that there is to love about holidays, as an adult there’s a layer of stress and craziness that wasn’t there as a kid.

If you’re used to living a very scheduled and predictable life, or even just a very full life, the unpredictability of last minute gift finding, last minute parties and extra gatherings can be very stressful, but it’s also an opportunity to learn how to open yourself up to some of the opportunities that can come with increased freedom and flexibility. Just like there are benefits to having a schedule, being able to go with the flow, make changes as necessary and respond more often than react, also have benefits. The most successful people are able to find a balance between having a schedule and consistency in their life, and having the freedom and flexibility to accept last minute opportunities, not panic over changes and not feel pressured by the limits they’ve placed on their time.

This holiday season I would encourage you to use it as practice for finding out what the benefits can be of letting go a little and making room in your life for flexibility and freedom. No, I’m not suggesting you invite the craziness that the holidays can bring into the other ten and a half months of the year, but instead freeing up maybe even an hour a day or a couple of hours a week to not feel so rushed or finally get things off the to-do list, or maybe even be able to do something fun with the kids, or have time for yourself to read a book, get crafty, take a walk, start a business, invest in your relationship, or whatever you’ve not been free to do in quite some time. What benefits would you find if you had a little more unpredictability, freedom and flexibility in your life?

Making Room for Holiday Memories

We’re heading into the holiday season, which always brings opportunities to celebrate and end the year right even if the rest of the year hasn’t been so great. But the holidays can be challenging if you’re having family troubles, or if you just moved and are in a new location and don’t know anyone, or if you’ve got a sick family member, or if you’ve lost someone. One of my grandmothers’ birthdays was this month, we lost my grandfather several years ago right after Christmas, and a client lost a family member last month, so I understand that the holidays can be difficult for people. It’s a mixed bag to experience the holidays as time and life changes and share stories about family members you’ve lost and enjoyed celebrating the holidays with, or if you’re alone or not well.

From the earlier years the holidays have always included some downside, from struggling pilgrims, coal in stockings, and long distances to travel while pregnant, so the holidays haven’t ever been just about joy. However, they have been about community and sharing and coming together. Community and coming together happens in the good times and the not so good times, especially if we truly are invested in the people in our lives and that we share this world with. The reality of life is that it’s not all joy, that there will be some awesome years and other years where you’re thankful that you’re just all still there.

I think it’s healthy to have moments of sorrow even years after you’ve lost someone, if they meant something to you, you should never truly and completely get over their loss. But more important than having moments of sorrow, are sharing the moments and memories that you remember with those people, to share their recipes, to share their holiday traditions, to share their and your holiday stories, to read the stories that you all enjoyed together, to laugh over the mistakes and craziness, and make more memories so that will last even if you’re all separated by time or life.

Holidays are to be celebrated, both with the new and trendy celebrations of today and the older memories and traditions of the past. Encourage your kids to have times of reflection this holiday season as well as celebration and be reminded that it’s not just about the gifts or food. It’s often in those moments of sharing and passing on that we create our best and brightest memories.

Success Secrets: Plan Ahead

If you’ve been looking around your corner of the world lately and it looks anything like mine, you’ve probably seen it. Yes, that’s right, signs of CHRISTMAS are popping up everywhere! I’m a Christmas person so I do Christmas in July and have no problem spending the month of November talking about being thankful, eating turkey and pumpkin pie, and playing Christmas music.  Seeing Christmas decorations and gifts pop up everywhere a full month before it typically would arrive got me thinking about how important it is for us to plan ahead in our businesses (all the decorations are a sign that there are lots of businesses who probably have a jump on you when it comes to holiday advertising too). I know that life and business both move and change very fast, and it’s not always wise to plan ahead in great detail because you don’t know what trends or needs might be, but there are things that happen regularly or are likely to happen, so you should always be able to make at least some kind of plan.

But this is all about a bigger and more important conversation than your next Christmas movie choice, it’s about making sure that you’re planning ahead and at least attempting to anticipate some of the things that likely will come your way in the near future, and having alternative plans for when things don’t go your way. Planning starts when you choose to go into business and is something you should be doing until the day you move on to the next adventure. It should get you through the sick days and challenging customers, help you manage changes, empower you to make decisions easier and quicker about what’s in line with your business and what’s not, and help you succeed.

Thanks to the internet even if you’re starting a new business, as soon as you’ve got some of the finer details planned out, it takes very little work and time to put up a one-page website and social accounts and an email newsletter or blog and start spreading the word about what you’re going to be offering and why people want to be part of your community. You don’t have to have all the details to start spreading the word about what you’re all about and getting people interested.  The excitement of having a new business often keeps us going, the challenge is that you don’t want to get to the point that it’s too late to market, which is why creating a plan and sticking to it can help you keep your success going.

Other ‘plan ahead’ keys include making connections and building relationships every opportunity you’re given, because you never know when you can help connect someone, or need a connection yourself. You also should always have a plan “b” (and maybe a plan “c” too) because you never know how things will change or how you’ll need to pivot your business (or your life).

Finally, plan to celebrate your business, the milestones you’ve reached and the team and customers who make it all possible. It is very possible to get wrapped up in the day-to-day running of a business, and that’s when you can lose the passion and purpose that people were attracted to in the first place. Making time for celebrations on a regular basis (like the holidays) and showing that you appreciate your people, will help you stay motivated and your people stay interested and connected.

What insights do you have about business and success planning?

Success and Peace

With yesterday being Veteran’s Day, after all of the celebration and honoring of the brave men and women who fight for our country, I got to thinking about the topic of peace. Peace is ultimately what veterans are working towards, right? Yes, sometimes they are out there protecting or trying to stop a force, or even helping after natural disasters, but even all of those are really about helping to restore or create peace. So today I thought we’d talk a little about the topic of peace and how we get there and the role it plays when it comes to success.

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from our men and women in the military is that peace does take work. Maybe that’s as simple and easy as brewing your favorite hot morning beverage and sipping it while watching the sun rise. But typically, it’s a whole lot more complicated and take years of effort and investment as well. One of the big questions that has to be considered is if you’re really invested enough in peace to do the work to get there.

We also learn that peace isn’t something that will remain without consistent attention. There are many countries around the world that struggle with peace because they haven’t maintained the peace they had at one point in time or another. Peace can absolutely be a limited time thing, for example during the Olympics and other similar events, countries typically ‘play nice’ and put to the side issues that would ordinarily cause great conflict between them. But most of us don’t want singular moments of peace, we want sustained peace, which means that it’s something we have to be willing to work on consistently.

Finally, I think peace is a goal so many work towards because of the feelings of euphoria, satisfaction, fulfillment and victory that you can experience. These same emotions we can experience when we achieve a success-oriented goal we’re working on. After the victory lap for an achievement there’s also almost a feeling of peace because you did what you set out to do. I don’t know about you, but I think those are moments worth working towards.

If you want more peace in your life, you can start small and pick one thing that can give you a moment of peace each day, even if it’s as simple as that beverage in the mornings. Or you can go big and make a plan to set up more consistent experiences of peace in your life by getting a better handle on your finances, building stronger relationships with those closest to you, choosing your friends more carefully, or investing more in that which means something to you rather than jumping at random opportunities, just to name a few. What will bring you or help you create more peace in your life?

Let’s Talk Time

Time is one of the topics that comes up often with kids. They want to know why things take so long or why things can’t happen right away, don’t understand how time works and sometimes even why things have to be done at a time. And that’s just the kids. As my partner and I were talking about the other day, some adults don’t have any concept of time, or don’t respect the time of others or aren’t considerate of others’ time. It can be really hard to educate kids about the importance of time when time just seems like the enemy so often.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there’s value in using a clock, scheduling appointments, showing up on time for things, and even setting a timer to limit an activity or direct focus for a time. Time and clocks give us an important uniform structure that we wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s really a more concrete and specific way of communicating how the sun moves through the sky. Using the sun might have worked when many people were farming or in before dark regardless of the time of year, but that’s not how it goes today.

The challenge with time is that sometimes you just run out of time. It’s when you have to decide what’s a priority, what has to be done first and what is just going to have to be late or not done and that be OK. The sad thing about life and time is that you don’t have time for absolutely everything that life has to offer, which is something you just have to accept.

So when you end up moving around the concept of time on your kids, make sure you explain why you’re switching things up or stopping the fun or doing things differently than you typically do. The explanation is important because it helps teach them about priorities and decision making and can also help reduce friction between you and them when things are being affected by time. What are your tips, frustrations and works-in-progress when it comes to time?