A Question of Value

If you’re in business you have to be making money, right? If you’re not making money (not enough to cover expenses), the old saying goes that you’ve got a hobby, not a business. I was having a conversation the other day with my partner about a program for the computer that has a pricey yearly fee, and he was considering paying that fee, and I told him that I use a different, open source, program that works just fine and I haven’t had any complaints from clients about it, or had any difficulty using it, and didn’t really notice any differences from that program and the open source one I use. It brought us into an extensive conversation about what we would be willing to pay on a yearly basis, why there is a cost to begin with, and whether the cost is reasonable or not.

Most people understand the need to pay for products and services. The business world has even done a fair job of explaining the concept of luxury goods and services and the value of paying extra or more for some products and services. Some businesses are better than others at explaining the value of their offerings, regardless of the price. I speak with businesses each week who struggle with their marketing not (just) because their marketing is weak or insufficient, but because they haven’t established the true value of their offerings. Sometimes a brand itself is enough to establish value, but more often than not it is up to the product or service to establish the value.

For extended return periods, free exchanges, free 2 day shipping, special/unique features, limited editions, a special cause or story or regular (quality) updates, yes, it’s understandably worth paying (a little) more. A company can easily retain faithful customers that are willing to invest a little more in their products or services because they offer things like this.

But the other is true as well. Because they offer a lower price or a small subscription fee, a company can gain customers that would not be willing to subscribe to more expensive subscription programs or would not make the investment in the more expensive product. Maybe it means a company has to be a little more creative about what they offer in the subscription or not offer all the bells and whistles another company might offer, but some customers are just fine with that.

It is possible that the number of people that are willing to pay the higher amounts make up for the customers that are lost because the price is higher, but it’s not something you should assume without doing proper research.

So what did my partner end up doing? As you probably guessed, he went ahead with the free open source computer program too. We both agreed that if the cost was more reasonable and better aligned with the lack of improvements and special features we would both have been willing to invest in it.  But the benefits aren’t worth the cost.

What about your costs and benefits? Is your company clear about the value you offer and why your pricing is what it is?

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Frustrated With Failure

Today I’m feeling frustrated. I’m frustrated at the limitations we sometimes experience with our bodies. I’m frustrated that sometimes at the worst times possible things that seem so reliable (planes, phones, buildings) fail us. I’m frustrated that even with all the testing and trial we do some products still don’t work as they’re supposed to. I’m frustrated that all these things fail. I’m frustrated that we’re left holding the (empty) bag when all is said and done. I’m frustrated that some people seem like they just keep getting kicked and never get a break.

Failure is part of our growing experience.  Ask anyone who has experience growing plants and food, they will tell you that there are many factors that can affect the success of their crops and that even when they’ve learned the best practices and are following through with them, sometimes it still doesn’t work out because of something outside of their control.  The failure is almost more frustrating then because you’ve done everything right and it still didn’t work out.

But at the same time, when you’ve done everything right and something outside of your control gets in the way and you fail, it’s almost easier to pick yourself back up again and try again because you know how well it was going before and assuming there won’t be another exterior factor that interferes, you know what to do to be successful.

Failure is a hard lesson to be taught though, and it’s frustrating too when some people don’t seem to fail at all, they just seem to get lucky or get it right all the time.  But if you were to sit down with those people, chances are good they would have stories of failure they could share, even if they seem relatively inconsequential like a recipe turning out terrible for dinner the other night or accidentally putting a wrong item in the wash and everything turning a color.   These are more mistakes than failures, and a mistake is a level of failure, just not on the level of failing to grow a company or not having a successful growing season or the relationship not lasting.

Failure will typically beat you down. The question is what comes next.  Do you stay in the frustrated stage or do you work to pick yourself up and find some way to move on, even if it’s in a completely new direction?  There’s nothing that says you have to get it right the first time, just don’t give up when you experience a failure.

The Next Chapter in Advertising

Lately I’ve been thinking about advertising. I know, not a big shock considering I work with and write about businesses. One of the reasons it’s been on my mind is because of all the talk about privacy and the sheer number of ads that people typically see on a daily basis (one report indicates about 5,000 per day, but even if we’re only seeing a fraction of that it’s still a ton). I know I get several hundred emails in a day and many of them have a banner ad or some other type of promotion in them, then there are all the ads you see when you watch TV, or are driving down the street or are perusing your favorite shopping website.

If I’m honest I don’t have a problem with ads, and I don’t just say that because I’m in business and advertise. We have so much going on in our lives that ads and promotions are a good way to let people know about something a company is offering they may want or need, without us having to do all the work to find out what’s on sale or what’s new. But I do agree that some companies abuse the privilege of advertising. They spam you or don’t tell you about fees or hide key details that had you known you would have never clicked on the ad. I wish companies would be more responsible about ads, which brings us to the other topic: privacy.

I like my privacy as much as the next person, and like many people I do feel like some companies have more information than they should, and not all companies are as respectful of that data and that trust that people are placing with them. As a result of how some companies act, I’m not surprised by the uproar and the way that the hammer is really coming down on all things privacy and advertising, and I’m more than a little frustrated at these companies for causing so much fear and hesitance to end up on those of us businesses that are very careful and respectful.

So where does this leave businesses? I don’t think it means the end of advertising. It does mean that businesses should be more responsible because of the sheer number of options that people could switch to if they don’t like the practices of a business. It also means that it’s time for a change when it comes to how businesses are advertising. Businesses should clearly communicate with their customers regarding their ethics, and options when it comes to a customer’s privacy.

It also presents an opportunity for a business and customer to have more open conversation about what the customer wants to share with a company, what the customer wants from the company, how the customer wants it from the company, and why the company advertises/includes the advertisements they do. More people would be more open to ads if they knew they would be relevant to them, were at a frequency they were comfortable with. Likewise, people would be more willing to share some information, especially about preferences and interests, as long as the information that is requested is reasonable, and when it’s acted upon the customer and their privacy is respected and protected. And again, more people would be receptive to ads if they were delivered through a preferred means, and there are very few situations where only an email or only a mobile number would suffice, and would not be interchangeable, especially if allowing a customer to choose one or the other would mean someone would be receptive to getting information.

The advertising arena is changing, it’s a question of whether it becomes a customer vs. business thing, or if we’re able to figure out how to work together so that we still grow our businesses but we also respect and support our customers. How are you navigating the changing ad market?

9/11 Reflections, 18 Years Later

This week we’re switching things around and the regular business post will be published on Friday this week, to give me the opportunity to share some more family and relationship focused reflections today. Today is 9/11. 18 years ago 4 planes were used in a terror attack that devastated the lives of all Americans and countless others around the world were also affected by the actions of people who had a hatred towards what the US represents or has done.

If I’m honest it’s not something I can really understand. I don’t have a hatred so deep of something or someone that I can understand the willingness to make a plan to kill thousands of people, let alone little children.  I can’t imagine putting into action a plan that will definitely cause destruction, especially unknown destruction.  I understand the concepts of controlled burns when it comes to fire prevention, or about sacrificing one structure to make sure the others around them, and the people in them, are safe.  But I can’t understand the reasoning behind taking over planes and flying them into buildings where people live and work intentionally.

Each year we see footage and hear stories of the men and women who were there, of the fear they experienced, of their willingness to head into the zone even though they didn’t really know what they were heading into or what really happened.  I can remember all those years ago seeing it on TV for the first time and not really believing it.  But with report after report of loss of life and the many pictures and videos that were shown, I quickly knew that this was a reality and that not only had lives been lost but more men and women were putting their lives on the line for those who might be trapped.  It hurts to know that even today not all of the families have gotten to give their lost loved ones a proper burial, that some never really got to say goodbye.  It still hurts to know that people wanted to hurt people in this way.

But what I’ve been struck by today as I’ve watched some of the footage and read some of the stories of men and women who were killed or willingly put their lives on the line is about life.  We don’t often stop to think about the over 20,000 people who were saved because the first responders did their job.  We don’t think about their relief as they returned to their firehouses and found their brothers and sisters of the heart who had returned as well.  We don’t think about the gift of life that was given to people because people fought to bring the plane down over Pennsylvania instead of letting it get to the intended target.  We don’t think about the boys and girls who are alive and now looking at their 18th birthday without a parent that they never knew.

But the fact is they’re alive and so are we.  Yes, we should pause and grieve for the lives lost.  They are people who will never live to grow old or spend time with their families or have (more) kids or make an impact on the world in the way they thought they would.  But they would not want their legacy to be one of hatred, anger or grief.  Many gave their lives so we could be free and live our lives.  Choose to support those who put their lives on the line then and still today.  Choose to have hope for tomorrow.  Choose to make the world we share a better place, a place that tragedies like 9/11 will be fewer and farther between.  Choose to live today.

Your Own Steps to Success

Success is different for everyone. Yes, we can learn from others and copy their best practices, but their path to success may not work for us. It may be the exact wrong thing for us to do to get where we are hoping to get. It’s one reason why I think it’s important to evaluate the strategy or idea you’re considering implementing before just going ahead with it. It’s also a huge reminder how important it is to know yourself, your tendencies and your preferences.

For example one of the most widely shared success tips is to get up at 5 am and meditate or get your top items for the day done early. I am not a morning person. I never have been. I can get up when I have to for a client appointment in the morning, but I really don’t enjoy meeting the sun (I’m also partial to sunsets over sunrises). Another of the related oft-suggested success tips is to conquer the most important things on your to-do list in the first hour of your day, so when you first get to work or after you get the kids off to school. I saw this advice again the other day and it got me thinking about how I work and what works for me and what my brain is doing when I’m trying to do those “most important items” in the first hour.

But the more I tried to conquer those “top items,” the harder it got. Why? Because I was focused on the other things that I hadn’t done yet like the dishes in the sink or the laundry or my email or a dirty bathroom or social media or what I was going to make for dinner or groceries I needed to get or if a book was at the library for me. They may seem like insignificant things, and you may have your own list of things that goes through your head first thing, but each of those little things that aren’t technically priorities floating around my head made it take twice as long to get the true priorities done.

Instead, when I take care of those things first, when I have a clean email slate, when I respond to all the client messages, when I clean up the house first, I’m better able to get the true priorities done in the time that it should take them to get done and give them my full attention. Could I retrain myself to focus on the priorities first? Sure, but everything is getting done by the end of the day, I have a better peace of mind, I’m more focused and less distracted by everything around me.

Are you trying to adopt practices that have helped others be successful but really aren’t working for you? Maybe it’s time to reevaluate those practices and start making your own success practices and habits, and accepting what works for you instead of trying to do what works for someone else.

A Reflection on Grandparents

Tomorrow in the US is grandparent’s day. Some of us were fortunate enough to have grown up with several grandparents or at least one grandparent in our lives, but some of us have never known our grandparents personally, maybe only heard some stories from our parents about them. I’m thankful for all of the experiences I had with my 3 grandparents who were alive when I was young and memories I have of them and even for the opportunity my parents had to share their kids with their parents. Of course, my experiences were all positive because I had great grandparents, at least until the later years of their lives when they were ill with Alzheimers and other issues which are painful experiences I hope you and they never have to deal with, but I know it’s not the case that every person has a great experience or memory of their grandparents.

Yes, grandparents grew up in a different time, one that can seem very far removed from what kids today experience, and it’s unlikely that they are hip to all the things that kids are into these days, but the love they can share, interpersonal and other valuable lessons they can teach, and even the insight they have into the world today make them invaluable and a great resource and point of stability for ourselves and the next generation. I always enjoyed talking with my grandparents about their lives as children and hearing their perspectives about the world today, but what really stuck with me were the things that made them special like their love of plants, the beach, their bravery in war and the fire department, cookie baking and other homemade recipes.

I encourage families spending time with all generations together, and for the grandkids to spend time alone with grandparents. Each generation has something important to teach the others, not to mention great stories that today’s youngsters can’t identify with or experience, and as more seniors are losing the battle to Alzheimers and senility we’re losing those stories and the people who played a role in how we came to be here. Whether you drop the kids off for a few hours or few days each year with the grandparents, you plan regular family vacations near where they live so they can be part of those vacations, or you have a weekly commitment to a phone or video call, or all of the above, I believe it’s important to make the time to get the family together.

What are your memories and lessons from your grandparents?

When A Business Steps Up

Sometimes smart business means stepping up where others aren’t. It’s getting harder to differentiate yourself, especially with the internet really leveling the playing field, because anyone can create a social account, website, blog or email address and start connecting with others. That said it’s more important than ever to do your best to differentiate yourself, clearly state what that difference is, and provide not just awesome customer service, but have a really great culture that supports your team as well. Today I want to share two examples of how a business or organization communicated or stepped up in a way that others don’t or haven’t.

There’s been a ton of talk recently regarding Hurricane Dorian, and already there has been significant damage report in at least one location impacted by the storm. This past week there was an early statement from an airport in Florida that they were planning to close the airport at a certain time giving consideration to the thousands of workers at the airport and their needs to see to their families and homes. As the unpredictable storm has changed they’ve made changes to their plan, but that initial statement stuck with me because you don’t always hear a company phrase it that way. Typically businesses talk about the danger and leave it at that or maybe comment about it being dangerous to travelers, but rarely do you hear a company talk about the importance of closing so that their team (large or small) can do what they need to do.

The other big news story is the CNN hosted town hall with 10 of the 2020 presidential candidates, and MSNBC will be hosting one later this month too. Thousands of people around the US had petitioned and requested that a climate question be added to the next debate or that a separate debate be held, and all requests were denied or ignored. So CNN and MSNBC took it upon themselves to invite these 10 candidates to share their thoughts on climate and what politically/governmentally needs to be done or how the government can step up.  If they both hadn’t stepped up and done the research to find a loophole in the rules that others had missed or ignored, they miss out on a great opportunity for publicity and public good will.

A good business leader is aware of potential issues that impact not just their ability to have sales but to care for the people who make those sales possible and so successful.  Good business leaders also don’t ignore the requests and feedback of thousands of people, all very publicly stated.  Focus on how you can increase your positive publicity, how you can do better for the people you connect with, and how you can step up when there is a need.

Failures and Regrets

Regrets: we all have them in life. Maybe they’re from something we did, or maybe they’re from something we didn’t do. Regret can be defined as “to feel sorrow or remorse for, to think of with a sense of loss, dissatisfaction, disappointment.” I do plenty of rethinking a situation or conversation and about what I could/should have done and mentally rework situations, so I tend towards the dissatisfaction aspect of regrets rather than the sorrow or loss aspects. But maybe you’re someone who thinks more along the lines of what could have been or feels frustration with what was. Maybe you’re not someone who deals in regret as much but rather gets stuck in failure.

Failure and regret are cousins in a sense, because both can create a sense of loss. Both also come with the lesson of the importance of what you do or choose next. If we’re so stuck in failure and/or regret we’ll miss out on the opportunity to do better or start to fix our mistakes in the next situation. No, you can’t turn the clock back to bring someone, including yourself, back to life, but you can choose going forward to be better about saying what you mean and meaning what you say and investing in the lives of the people who mean the most to you, or doing something differently so you don’t end up with the same result.

Lately I’ve been hearing quite a few people reference Thomas Edison and how he said “I haven’t failed — I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.” Stopping at failure means that you’re not going to try again, that you don’t have hope that you can do better or solve the problem. Occasionally this is a good choice, because you recognize that you’ve reached the end of your capabilities at this time and aren’t going to keep pushing senselessly. You recognize that it’s time to pass the responsibility or opportunity on to someone else.

You can’t pass regrets off on someone else, but others can learn from your regrets. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people comment about deathbed statements and how there’s some regret included there about what they didn’t do or who they were. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid the regret because a terminal illness has taken the choice away from them, but in many cases it’s people who lived their long life a certain way and now looking back are wishing they had done something different.

So if you’re dealing with a regret today I would encourage you to take time to consider it. Feel the emotions wrapped up in it and decide if the experience will change how you do things or who you are going forward. If you’re dealing with a failure, don’t spend too long looking at the failure as a failure, instead let it help guide you to making decisions about how or if you’re moving forward, or what you can learn from what didn’t work or go right.

Communicating Who and What’s Important

This weekend there’s a lot of talk about rest and work, how it’s important to recognize the hard work people do day in and day out as well as take a rest from doing that hard work. Work is important because it provides for our needs and often plays a role in fulfilling us on a personal level as well. Of course we can’t ignore how important work is to the existence and progress of our world because without work being done daily or on a regular basis the many infrastructures and components that are essential to our lives would quickly break down or become dangerous or outdated.

Work can be consuming, especially if you’re either completely overwhelmed by or totally in love with what you do. It’s normal to have periods of time where you have to devote more time than usual at work, but that should be abnormal and not something you do on a frequent basis. Work should be balanced with fun and family and personal time in our lives. When we aren’t making an effort to have that balance in our lives we run the risk of damaging those other aspects of our lives. Once a relationship has been damaged or we aren’t really caring for ourselves, it’s hard to get back to healthy and whole again.

Between Labor Day and all the hours each day we invest in it either doing it or thinking about it, I think there’s a pretty clear statement that work is important to us, but do we make the same statement about the people in our lives who are supposed to be equally or more important, including ourselves? Are you making healthy decisions for yourself, making the changes to your schedule to spend time with them when they’re free, creating regular events in your calendar to be with them, and especially communicating with them about how much they mean to you?

Each week we’re given 168 hours. If we sleep 40-50 of those hours and work 40-50 hours each week, we’ve got about 70 hours to devote to the people who are important to us and to caring for ourselves. Surely we can make time for a few phone calls, Skypes, text messages, coffee shop visits, dinner parties or date nights in all of those hours.

There’s no underestimating or understating how valuable, treasured and important those moments with your loved ones are. Have you told your loved ones lately that you loved them? What about showing them?  You’ll never regret making time to care for yourself, or telling others that you love them and are thankful for them being in your life.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” Aurde Lorde

The Impact of Positive Leadership

This month the book I read is The Power of Positive Leadership by Jon Gordon. As the title indicates it is a book on leadership, and throughout the book Jon echoes something that I’ve repeatedly shared with clients and on this blog: you can’t be successful without people. It may look like everything is done online, you may never see your customers or clients or talk with them nor they with you, but behind each and every transaction there is a person (typically two since there’s one on the sales side too). Let’s take a look at a few things this book shares about the potential of positive leadership.

One of the most important points made in the book is that you have to believe if you’re going to succeed. That means being an optimist, leading with positivity, limiting the complaining, and seeing potential rather than problems. But Jon was very clear to explain that it’s not just about being positive, it’s about seeing and removing the negative as well. Positive leaders and their teams aren’t immune to negativity or problems, they’re just better about weeding out those issues and addressing them before they become debilitating problems.

The book also talked about the importance of vision and purpose, something that we’ve seen talked a lot about in business trends today. People today identify with businesses that have a purpose because it makes them more human. And having a vision and purpose as a business is great, but Jon explains that that purpose and vision has to have meaning to each individual person on the team, it can’t be just a corporate vision. Yes, they have to agree with the corporate vision and purpose, but then that vision and purpose has to become personal, and they have to have their own meaning for the vision and purpose and be able to bring some portion of it to life in their own special way.

I’ll end with one final tidbit, although there are many more in the book: give people excuses to say yes. The goal as a business owner and leader is to get people to contribute well to your team, to buy your stuff, to share about you with others. How often do you find a business that goes out of their way to make it easy to say yes to what they’re offering? How easy is their sales process, how clear are their product descriptions, how much leeway do team members have to make wins for potential customers or customers with issues, are they sending deals and offers to sweeten the potential purchase? What is the business (and you as a leader) doing to make it more likely that people say yes?

As we head into the autumn season and back to school time, I encourage you to take a look at your team and business and be honest about what type of leadership you’re bringing to the table and what impact the choices you’re making are having on your team and [potential] customers. Even if all you do is better address the negativity, you’ll be instantly improving your business, the business culture and what customers experience when they connect with you.