Getting to Inbox Zero

Over the past few weeks something has happened that hasn’t happened in a long time: I’ve reached “Inbox Zero” on 3 of my email accounts. For someone who loves emails it’s a bit mind altering to sign into my email and see only that day’s emails and one or two others and that’s it, let alone get through that day’s email and see “you’re all caught up!” when there aren’t any emails left. It was also really rewarding too, finally getting these things taken care of as I’ve been meaning to.  I know this is something that is talked about as being a big success step, and as someone who enjoys organization and knowing where things are I thought we’d talk about how this can be possible for you and …?

There are a couple of very simple things you need to do if you want inbox zero to be something you see on a regular basis:
1-unsubscribe from emails you don’t want to receive anymore or manage your subscriptions so you’re getting fewer emails from those organizations.
2-go folder crazy. I have no problem with keeping emails, but keeping everything in the inbox isn’t helpful. Make sure everything has a place to go.
3-commit to reading emails consistently. It’s much easier to read through your emails if you’ve only got that days emails to go through.

Let’s unpack each of these a bit. First, let’s talk about folders. Folders are a way of sorting your mail so that it’s easier to find and keep, without necessarily typing in a search request. In some cases a general folder for a category is sufficient, but in many cases you’ll need a general folder and several specific sub folders. For example you may create a general family folder, with sub folders for your significant other, your kids (either individually or as one folder), one for each or all of your siblings, and folders for your parents or other family members as appropriate.

The one cheat I have with folders and inbox zero is that I’ve got a ‘to do’ folder in just about every category. It’s a folder with something I know I’ll want to review or will keep regardless of whether I read it now or in the future. I keep this folder as empty as possible, but find it’s helpful for getting stuff out of my inbox and keeping track of what I still need to read but didn’t have the current interest or time.

The second thing is that while unsubscribing from emails you don’t want is great, you shouldn’t feel shame deleting emails if you’re not in the mood to read them or the headline doesn’t speak to you, but you don’t want to unsubscribe completely. If you know that you want to get emails from the company only over the summer or only regarding to Black Friday, that’s fine, and you can stay subscribed for those times.

Finally, I think the thing to remember is that email is supposed to be a tool and support to you, rather than something that drags you down. But like many other relationships in our lives, it needs some time, attention and TLC too.  Yes, getting to inbox zero this time will take some work and time, but in the end I think it’s worth it.

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Mastering Permission Marketing

Marketing is one of the biggest challenges to being a business. Things are constantly changing, growing and evolving as to what’s most effective, what’s got the lowest cost, how to reach the most people, and ways you can reach people, so while even many of the tried-and-true practices have stuck around, there are many others that are new and great opportunities for marketing. But perhaps the biggest issue is that it typically has to be done consistently and with quality to be most effective, which takes time and effort.

One of the types of marketing you can do is called permission based marketing. As you can imagine, this means that the person has given their permission to you to market to them. They’ve given you that permission where they’ve given you that permission for one of two reasons: one reason is that it’s the only way they can sign up for marketing from you (for example you only have a Facebook page, you’re not on any other social sites and don’t have a newsletter or blog). The other reason they gave you that permission where they gave it to you is because that’s how they prefer to be marketed to.

As someone who does and consults on marketing I’m very intentional about what I choose as far as marketing. One of my favorite ways to be marketed to is email because it’s one I have the most control over. This week I received two emails from people I signed up to receive emails from, emails with two very different messages. One told me that they were going to send maybe an email a month and the rest of the updates I could get on Facebook in groups. The other explained that they wanted to make some additions to what they send but wanted to give us (the subscribers) the ability to choose what we each do/don’t receive. I found one email to be incredibly frustrating and the other exciting.

As a side note I should mention there’s a difference between changing what you send (i.e. just product/service updates to tips) and how you send it (Facebook to Twitter). Yes, surveying your customers is a good idea if you’re going to change the content, but it’s not typically as big of an issue as changing how you do the marketing.

As mentioned earlier, the thing to remember about permission marketing in situations where you give your customers or visitors the opportunity to choose from a variety of marketing opportunities (newsletter, blog, podcast, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.), is that the person who gave their permission specifically indicated how they wanted to be marketed to. If you’re venturing into new marketing options and want to see if they would rather receive updates that way, let them know! Give them the ability to subscribe to their preferred opportunity, and unsubscribe from what they don’t enjoy too.

There’s a cost to all marketing so I understand that a business may choose to go in a direction where they get more bang for their buck, but the best part about permission marketing is that a business has the ability to ask their existing subscribers how they want to be marketed to, and to invite people to unsubscribe/subscribe where they prefer. This gives your customers the ability to cut your marketing costs and tell you exactly what their preferences are.

Making the decision to stop one type of marketing or start another is a big decision, one that is not only about you but also about your customers. I encourage you to not make the decisions for them, unless you’re left with no other option (for example the site is closing down).

Are you practicing permission marketing, and if so what have you found works for you and your customers?

Learning from the Quiet

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about a topic we’ve talked about in the past, but isn’t one that anyone really talks about a lot, unless you’re a parent with really noisy kids. Yes, that topic is being quiet. It’s one we have trouble with in general because we don’t live in a quiet world. Whether you’re talking about the noise of our modern conveniences like refrigerators and air conditioners, or you’re talking about the noise nature makes even in the dead of night, we’re surrounded by a noisy world. Which means it can be really hard to find quiet.

Don’t get me wrong, I love communication and I love hearing all the sounds of life all around us. But sometimes the noise becomes too much of a distraction and we can lose the gift that is the quiet. So this week I’ve been working on increasing the amounts of quiet in my life, turning off the radio or TV, working in a quiet space instead of busy locations, and generally turning down the volume on life around me.

I’ll be honest that it’s hard when it’s quiet, more quiet than usual, or almost completely quiet it’s almost distracting too, especially if you’re not used to it. And it forces you to think and be alone with your thoughts, which can be very distracting or disturbing. But it also gives you the chance to be very focused on one or only a couple of things, and admittedly sometimes that can lead to some really clear thinking and productive happenings.

I think the thing that the quiet has taught me the most over the last week has to do with paying attention to life. The times of quiet force you to pay attention, to focus, to be present, and that’s something that all the noise around us doesn’t always allow. What have you missed out on the last weeks, months, or years since you had a regular quiet practice, if you ever had one? Try spending just 10 minutes each day being quiet while doing normal activities, or try something like yoga or meditation if you really want to work on your focus and experience the quiet.

What will the quiet teach you?

Thankful to be Alive

Second chances are a powerful thing. This week we learned that the boys and their soccer coach who went missing while visiting a cave in Thailand were still alive. They were in the cave for 9 days before they were found, and in the days since then people from around the world have been providing the expertise they have in caves and engineering to try to help and get the kids out before they run out of oxygen or the cave floods. Of course many of us are reminded of the Chilean miners who were trapped in a cave for 69 days in 2010. It took a serious effort to get them all out, and while the situation is different, it’s no less overwhelming or scary for the family members of the children and the soccer coach.

I believe that blame does have a place, but not here and now. It can come after we know how the story ends, hopefully with tales of rescue. This week for the kids and parents has been an opportunity to reconnect and share messages that may never have gotten out if they weren’t found. It’s an opportunity for them to talk again and see each other again.

Every day we deal with tragedies, and the loss of people who are killed accidentally or intentionally. There are very few cases of people who have absolutely no one who will miss them, there’s almost always someone left behind who will have to deal with the loss. In so many of those cases there wasn’t the opportunity for last messages, for apologies, for anything except to deal with the loss. But these families have had the chance this week to reconnect, even if it’s with a lot of earth between them.

We’re not guaranteed anything but today. You can’t predict or control what others do, you only have control over yourself. Don’t make light of second chances. Live and love today not because it might be your last day, but because you’re alive today.

Beyond Boring Businesses

One of the things that you hear from business owners is that they want to go viral, or be super popular, but let’s face it, there are some businesses that just aren’t naturally built to be celebrated as some are. Even a business that has difficult and boring days like a vet who has to put pets to sleep or give them shots will see at least one cute animal they can share with their community each day and week to include in their marketing. But what about the businesses that don’t really have the greatest built-in marketing opportunities?

The first thing I would say is that the business is as boring as you make it out to be. Second, even if you do have one of the most boring businesses in the world, it doesn’t mean that you should treat your customers poorly, not be passionate about your offerings, or be lazy and inconsiderate about the experience you offer. Regardless whether your business is the most exciting or the most boring in the world, you are offering something that is of value, something that people need, and you should be proud of that.

One example of a boring industry is the home/car insurance industry. It’s really not that interesting, few of us deal with them other than to pay a bill. And for those of us that deal with them it’s not really interesting or exciting to talk about your house being robbed or being in a serious car accident. Those are moments we would rather forget. But as we’ve seen through the many Farmers Insurance commercials, there are some crazy stories that go along with insurance claims, and they’re true! While the crazy is, I’m sure, a very small percentage of the claims they deal with, they’ve brought those stories to the forefront to illustrate that if they can deal with the crazy they can surely handle the boring.

No, it’s not always the right choice to find the crazy to highlight, but there is always an emotion that you can speak to with your customers, and there are almost always stories you can share to show the community that you support ranging from the heart-wrenching to the sweet. Don’t worry about going viral or being the most interesting business in the world, focus on helping your customers feel recognized, that you understand the different situations they’re dealing with and showing them that you can help make their day even just a little better.

What are your tips for navigating the boring parts of business?

A Healthy Summer

One of the components of victories is health, so today I thought we’d talk about things you can do to have a healthy summer, a summer that you feel good about when it’s over, you accomplish at least some of the things on your to do list, and you have lots of fun too!

First let’s talk about sleep. I love sleep, whether it’s naps in the afternoon on the beach under an umbrella or when I call it a day and crawl into bed for several hours of sleep. Everyone is different on how much sleep they need to function, to function well, or to be healthy. Sometimes life will throw you some challenges and you’ll get less sleep, but take time this summer to catch up on some of those missed hours.

Second, let’s talk about food. I love food, I love cooking, preparing food and eating food! Sometimes food is all about function and just providing the necessary calories and nutrition, but even in that situation I always try to choose food that tastes good. It’s a lot easier to eat healthy if it tastes good too. And it’s not all about sugar and salt, there are lots of other great spices that you can add to your recipes and snacks that can turn something that would be bland into something tasty.

Third, let’s talk about being productive. Everyone has a to do list, and many of us have things on the list that we can only do in the summer, or we typically do in the summer because we’ve got time off or because of longer periods of better weather. Pick one smaller thing to complete each week and one big task to complete each month this summer. That will help you get stuff done but don’t feel like your whole summer was a project.

Finally, take time off and have fun. Fun is something that all of us need to incorporate into our lives, both fun by ourselves and fun with others. Whether you take a vacation with family and friends, go to the beach by yourself with a book, or take some creative classes, take time this summer to do different things by yourself and with others.

What are your plans to help make this one of the best summers yet?

Relationship Freedom

With the Fourth of July next week, and the celebration of Independence Day here in the US, today I thought we’d talk about having freedom in our relationships. I love relationships, I think they’re key parts of who we are, and essential to our growth and health. Few relationships will ever be perfect and most will challenge us, but the relationships that we invest the most in should be those that fulfill us the most. Let’s talk about our relationships and some freedoms that healthy relationships have.

Free to be yourself: This is true for both you and your partner, you should both be free to be who you are. That means being comfortable and accepting of each others’ quirks, that you’re able to go out and do things together because you have similar interests, that you only tease and make fun of each other with love and respect, and you’re free to be honest with each other when you’re scared, screw up or need support.

Free to be happy: This is something that is missing in too many relationships. Yes, it’s important to take your relationship seriously but you should also really enjoy being together, want to spend time together, and make each other laugh and be able to laugh at each other (and not in a malicious or aggressive way). Yes, there are some relationships that are in our lives to challenge us, but the person you call your significant other should be someone who makes you happy and you’re happy to be around.

Free to learn and grow: If you’re really serious about being in a relationship with your significant other for years let alone decades, there should be an expectation of growth for each of you and together as a couple. It shouldn’t be a hindrance or breaking point of your relationship that you’re both growing, and that life as it goes on around you is forcing you to grow, it should be an accepted part of your lives. No, it won’t always be easy, but if you go into the relationship knowing that who you are now isn’t completely the person you’re going to be in a few years, who they are now most likely won’t be the person they’ll be in a few years, and that you’re committed to learning and growing together, it will be easier to navigate those changes and growth spurts.

What about you? How does your relationship bring you a sense of freedom? If it doesn’t what’s something you want to work on with your partner?

A New Direction for Success

I was talking with a client this week who is taking their business in a new direction and from the conversation I was reminded of something very important: every business starts somewhere. Maybe it’s with a passion, maybe it’s to fill an obvious need, maybe it’s because you’ve got special expertise in that area, or maybe it’s just that they want the freedom and flexibility to do things their way. But whether you’re starting a business or expanding a business based on a wealth of expertise and knowledge or if you’re doing it based on an interest and passion, everyone starts somewhere.

The start is important because it should be the foundation for your business as well as the guidance that will help you developing it in the future. It’s important to start with a need in the world or knowing that there’s a community of people out there who have serious interest in this topic.

There’s no shame in where you start. The important thing is that you start and that you start somewhere smart. You can certainly have a long range plan and development ideas, but you may not be able to get everything ready for when you start and sometimes the world isn’t ready for everything either, so it’s more than OK to let things grow and develop naturally over time and as time allows.

But the start is just a start. There has to be something that happens next, and that almost always includes growth, both personal and professional. If there’s no growth you won’t be able to navigate the changes that the world goes through, the adjustments that your buyers will begin to expect over time, and you’ll look outdated and unable to meet the buyers and their needs. As you take that step to the next level or product or feature there will be some growing pains, so the more prepared you can be, the more research you can do and the more steps you can take to protect and prepare, the better.

Is your business ready to take a next step? If you’re feeling stagnant and dull it certainly may be time.

Simple Successes

This month one of the topics we’ve talked about is strength. Sometimes our lives call for us to be very strong and courageous, to take big, bold steps forward. Sometimes we have to jump, and jump high, if we want to achieve the victories. And those victories are awesome, it’s really rewarding to know that the courageous leaps you took were successful and produced as you hoped they would.

But there’s another kind of strength, that of endurance. It’s that strength that helps us run marathons and do triathlons, have 50 year marriages, overcome addictions, and solve cold cases. It’s the strength that carries us to the gym every day or support group each week, the strength that helps us keep going even when we can see how long the road ahead will be, the strength that helps us keep going even in the face of great loss.

If you ask men who compete to become the strongest man in America, or any similar competitions for men or women, you can be sure that they won’t tell you that they were just born this strong. Strength takes time, effort, commitment and talent. You get strong by putting one foot in front of the other, by saying yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no, and by having and celebrating small victories along the way to the big victories.

This week I encourage you to do one thing each day that will help you achieve a victory, big or small. You may be surprised how quickly those little victories add up to big successes.

4 Questions for Success Today

One of the most powerful life and business tools is questions. Asking questions can help you get to answers about exactly what a prospective customer is looking for, determine if someone is the right fit for your team, discuss strategy, and resolve customer issues. Today I thought we’d take a look at 4 questions to begin and end your day with.

1-What can I offer to add better value today?
We’ve all asked the question about offering value, but do we ask if there’s something we can do to offer better value? Yes, the goal is to offer something of value to your customers, but what if you not only offered them something valuable, it was better than what others are offering? For example you can sell a hair cut (something some 90% of the population needs), but you can offer a better value by offering those hair cuts in a salon that you’re proud of, looks good, is clean and has barbers and hair dressers who consistently get training in new skills and products?

2-What’s one goal or task I can and will achieve today?
We’ve all got to-do lists, and many of them are pages long. This question forces you to take a step back from that list and pick out a priority or something that only you can do or something you’ve had to put off or something that you can definitly conquer and it will give you that needed satisfaction after a difficult week. Not only will you absolutely get something done today, it’s a great way to be consistent abotu getting things off your to-do list.

3-What did I learn today?
As a business owner it’s important to be learning and growing so that you can help your customers who are also learning and growing and changing. Reflecting on what you learn each day is a simple way to reinforce that education and to work on applying it to your business, marketing and customers in the future.

4-What can I do better tomorrow?
In a way this is an opportunity to define a to-do list before you close things down for the day, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on what went well and what didn’t go well that day. Maybe something has been not great for a while but you’ve finally reached a breaking point that day. Maybe you got a great idea that you want to run past your team. Maybe you just want to encourage your team more because they had a rough day today. Asking this question at the end of the day also helps you clean the slate if it wasn’t a great day, and have a better outlook on tomorrow before it even arrives.

These are 2 questions to begin your day with and 2 questions to help end your day. There are tons of other powerful questions that you can and should be actively using in your business on a regular basis including things like ‘Is my marketing clear?’ ‘Do I offer something people want?’ and ‘What’s the most important thing I can do today?’. What questions do you use on a regular basis in your business?