Distracted Leadership

One of the biggest challenges to being a successful leader and business owner are all the distractions you could face in a day. Of course, there are certainly people, who I hesitate to call leaders, that just avoid all of those and as a result have very high turnover in their organization, both with customers and with employees. They let the distractions get the best of them and as a result have more struggles than the average business owner, and do poorly managing the struggles they do attempt. Part of being a leader and business owner is having the skills to manage all that comes with a business, including having the right people in the right places, time management and communication. If you aren’t able to do all of those things and you only have a drive for the product or service portion of things, you need to partner with someone who can support that aspect of the business.

Distractions come in many forms, from the very obvious to the not so obvious. Very obvious distractions include people who want your attention all times of the day and you never have time to do what you need to do, emails, social media and family. Less obvious distractions include the inability to make decisions, the inability to communicate and the inability to manage your time, all of which are connected back to a focus issue. I get it, we are very busy and there never are enough hours in the day, especially if you’re making time for family or sleep or health like you should. Which is why it’s more important than ever to be able to focus when you’re working and effectively manage not just distractions but all aspects of your business.

One of the most typical ways to manage distractions and your business is to hire people who can be your gate keepers, and in general giving your team the right amount of unsupervised delegation. You should always be checking in with your team, but if you don’t have people in position that you can trust to do right for the business and your customers, you’ll never be able to get done what you need to. Another way to manage distractions is to be greedy with some of your time each day or week. Lock yourself away and let people know they can’t disturb you then, and really buckle down and get stuff done. Another great suggestion I heard recently was to have office hours rather than having an open door policy. This lets people know you’re accessible, but that you respect their time and would like them to respect yours as well. Finally, don’t shy away from the benefits of having a schedule. Yes, we often run a business because we want more freedom, but creating a schedule can help to give you the freedom you wanted in the first place.

What distractions are most challenging to you in your business and how do you deal with them?

New Year, New Sales

Since the new year has begun, I’ve purchased phone cases for my new phone, broken a garbage can lid (thus needing a new garbage can), cleaned up and packed away some holiday decorations, knew several people who have passed away and attended services and after events for one of them, gathered with family and extended family, and looked into clearance sales. What was the hardest part of all of this (other than losing people I knew)? That there weren’t hardly any emails or marketing from companies that I might have purchased from if I knew they were doing sales or had the products I was looking for.

Yes, the weeks of mid-November through Christmas are some of the busiest when it comes to marketing, and it often costs more to market at those times and is often harder to get in front of your target audience since they’re seeing so many messages. Yes, people also are willing to spend money then in part because they know that there will be sales and they know they have to buy gifts. Yes, many people cry when they see their January credit card bills. But the fact remains, just because the holidays are over, doesn’t mean that people stop spending money.

I’m not suggesting that you should be doing marketing or even sales/selling at the level that you did during the holiday/year end shopping season, but what I am saying is that life happens, people need to eat, things break, and people still have needs they’re going to be shopping for, and if you’re not sharing your offers with them, they will go with the cheaper, easier or more obvious choice. And while they may get lucky and end up buying exactly what they were looking for, chances are good that they would have preferred to know their options, and might have been more satisfied with the product or service you were offering but didn’t know was available.

So go ahead, put a little effort into your January marketing, because people are out there shopping. You’ve probably got a better chance of your potential customers hearing you now that they’re not inundated with holiday messages or spending as much time with family and friends. Plus, it’s a great time to set the standard for how the rest of the year will go and be an excellent communicator, building relationships and connections with customers and potential customers.

Cohesive Marketing Communication

This week I had someone approach me asking about their Facebook account and why they weren’t getting subscriptions from their ads or their page. I asked them to send me their links and I took a look and didn’t even have to get as far as seeing the ads to see some issues that could definitely be the reasons why they weren’t getting subscriptions. When they followed up on my feedback, they asked if they should just scrap their FB page and start over. My answer was that the issue really wasn’t with their FB, although there were things they could improve there, but with the offer they were presenting on their website and a lack of cohesive communication on their offer, and if anything needed to be scraped, it was the website.

I share this with you today because it’s not an isolated incident. I talk with companies on a too-regular basis that do absolutely have issues with their social accounts, but they have far larger issues with the offer they’re presenting and/or their website. You can send all the traffic you want to an offer on social media and then through to your website, but if the ad isn’t clear, if the ad doesn’t match what’s on the website, if what’s on the website isn’t clear and understandable, very little if anything is going to convert.

If I could encourage you to do anything with this new year it would be to review everything about your company online that you can get your hands on and make sure it all is current and lines up clearly. If you do this yearly, unless something big has happened, you’re probably going to just have a few small changes to make and it won’t take long. If you want an outside opinion, shoot me a message with your links. If you know after taking a look at everything that you’re due for an overhaul, I’d love to work with you on going through it all and making sure that you’re set up for your best year ever, and able to support more people in this new decade.

Your Business in 2020

Over the holiday break I’ve been taking some time to read through emails I hadn’t had a chance to read, and many of them were about how different aspects of business are going to grow, evolve or change in the future, or how we can move into the new year with the changes that have happened over the past year. You’ve probably read many of these posts as well, and hopefully you didn’t get sick over the holidays and were able to do more planning for the year ahead than I did. Catching up on stuff isn’t the most glamorous or exciting aspect of business, but so essential and important to making sure that your business runs right and you don’t miss out on anything vital. It should be something we do on a regular basis, but some things aren’t high priorities and you get to them when you do.

One of the posts that I read this week talked about something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and is something that I often talk about with my clients, and is something that I think is fitting to talk about as we go into this new year and new decade. Let’s start with the fact of how many people are running a business. The sheer amount of competition we each face is greater than ever and will only continue to grow based on the ease of access that online tools give us. It’s easier than ever to bring your business idea to life and set up shop online. There’s also less competition in the local retail sector because so many businesses have closed or moved online, and that makes it easier to set up shop locally if that supports your business idea. Both of these have positives because many of the barriers to success have been removed, but thanks to all the competition, it’s also harder to succeed.

So where does this bring us at the beginning of a new year and new decade? Be yourself. Let your business have a personality, one that people can relate with and connect to. Let your customers and connections get to know the people who are part of the business, and of course let them know that there are real people behind the business. Let your business stand out in ways that are appropriate, relevant and unique. Do what works for growing your business and makes you (and your team) happy. Try new things and take some risks that are appropriate for your business. And most importantly be the caring, compassionate, passionate, dedicated, inspired leader your business needs you to be.  It’s your business, why let it be anything else?

Creating ‘Likeable’ Companies

This month I read Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen. It’s a good book for those who are just getting started with social media, especially companies who are wondering if social media is right for them or why it’s worth joining. For those who have social media experience, it’s a good reminder about best practices when using social media. It definitely does address some of the questions of what it takes to be likable in business and on social media.  As always the rules of posting consistently, knowing the network and being social are always recommended by the author, but they also included some other good insights as we’re looking towards the new year and maybe the next level of social media.

One of the things that I really appreciated that was discussed in this book was a real life example of what a tricky company can do with social media. Tricky companies include those who are in very regulated industries like medical or financial, or companies that offer products or services that are considered boring or strange like storage or incontinence. Dave shared an example of a medical company that primarily used social media to listen and hear what people were saying about company/product/service keywords and specifically about their brand. It’s a great way to use social media even if you can’t do a lot with other aspects of it since people do post reactions and insights that you can learn about what people think about your product or are in need/want of that you offer.

Second, the book talked about how social media is one of the newest ways to provide feedback to brands and for brands to provide customer service. It’s also the new version of word of mouth that people use to share with each other the companies they do and don’t recommend. The big difference between feedback in the past is that it wasn’t available for everyone to see, and now it is. Filling out a feedback card in the past gave the feedback just to the company, now it gives it to the company and all of your connections, which can be a very good thing for both the company and all of a person’s connections. Companies can do a lot of good or damage depending on the responses they give to questions and comments on their accounts, building or destroying trust and future business opportunities. With social media the grapevine got a lot faster and bigger, something that companies should work to their benefit rather than being scared of it or hiding from it.

Third, as I always remind my clients one of the biggest keys to being likable is being human. Have people clearly running the company page, respond in very human ways to comments and questions (avoid using canned responses), apologize, and respond quickly and helpfully to all customer needs. Real people use social media, and they want companies to be equally real with them.

Finally, I leave you with a bit of a warning from the book: social media cannot make up for a bad product, company or organization.  It won’t instantly fix any/all of the marketing problems you may have or low sales numbers.  It can be part of the solution, part of how you market and part of your future plans for how you support and connect with customers, and it should showcase your organization truthfully as the great brand that you are.

What are your new plans or commitments when it comes to social media in the new year?

Balancing People and Technology

This holiday season has been an interesting one for shopping. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’ve been quite surprised by some of the exceptionally pleasant, cheerful and helpful people I’ve connected with in stores. It’s been a shift from many other holiday seasons that were filled with grumpy employees and team members who clearly weren’t happy to be where they were or dealing in the holiday spirit. In the past couple of days I’ve connected with a few more helpful and cheerful team members who helped alleviate some issues and move things forward in different areas for me. I don’t think we should ever remove humans completely from business, I think they play an essential role that can’t be fully replaced by technology. Having people in business also is a good reminder for us that at the other end of every transaction is a human as well.

As a business consultant and coach I always advise my clients to provide as much online information as possible. There’s no way we’re going to go back to the way things were two decades ago and not be dependent on the internet and online world (unless a serious event happens that makes it impossible for us to of course). So if you want to succeed in business, provide your customers a great experience and resolve as many issues or questions as easily as possible, it’s essential to have detailed, up-to-date information easily find-able online. I’m amazed most days when I go online and do different things how easy it is to do or find out without talking with anyone, spending tons of money, or going way out of my way. You’re able to back up a show you’re watching by a few minutes if you missed something. You’re able to do returns and get customer service with just a few clicks at any time, day or night. We’re able to work just about anywhere at any time. All of this makes our lives easier, more productive, and gives us the freedom to do the things that only we can do, when we need to do them. I’m thankful for all that the internet allows us to do as customers and business owners.

However, I’ve also had some serious challenges over the past week that have shined a negative light on some brands too, both when it comes to people and technology/online information. In a couple of cases, there was a shocking lack of information or heads up that would have alleviated many hours of frustration and circling to try to resolve things. It costs a negligible amount to customize an email with the relevant information, to deliver an email on the day it should be delivered, to provide helpful how-to’s on the website that aren’t going to change regardless of a device or location or person, or to provide a number or email or support line that could connect you directly with a business location. These are things that could have helped along some or all of these things and would have avoided frustration for a number of people including myself and the employees I eventually spoke and worked with.

Many companies have come a long way with finding the right balance between real people employees and technology, but we still have a ways to go to make it all work as it could, and there’s no question that you have to have both excellent online and person-based customer service. What has your holiday season so far revealed about your customer service capabilities and issues? There’s no shame in admitting that you’ve got issues or that things are a work in progress, it becomes a problem when you don’t address the issues, or don’t accept that there are any issues in the first place. There’s still quite a bit of shopping and working to be done before the end of the year, so address the biggest issues now and make a list of what needs to be addressed and can wait until January. Don’t let poor online or in-person customer support be the reason you don’t succeed as a business.

Business, Competition and Spending

Competition is an interesting topic to consider. The world has developed to the point that there aren’t any truly unique businesses, someone else is doing the exact same thing. They may have their own story behind it or sell slightly different services/items, but if you really had to put two business in a box or two boxes, they’d be in the exact same box.

Each week we hear about a possible merger or signed merger that is going forward. Each week we hear about a business that is closing stores, letting go of employees, or closing for good. Over 8,000 businesses are started each week. Each week there’s also a report of a business that screwed up notably, either with a customer or through a marketing ad or with a product. Each week a business in an industry comes out with a better offer than the competition, which in turn drives at least some of the competition to set out their own best offer, and customers are moving around between the companies as a result.

All of this highlights the fact of how difficult it is to run a successful business today. I’m not suggesting by any means that it’s too hard to be in business and we should all give up, just pointing out the fact that you have to consider your competition, and assume that no matter how unique what you want to offer is, there’s definitely someone else out there that is offering something similar.

Where does it all lead though and how do we move forward? First, don’t do it alone. There are lots of businesses you can do partnerships with and cross promote with and do joint ventures with. Second, even though you’ve got lots to do to run the business and support your current customers, you have to consistently market, and market in more than one way. Third, take advantage of opportunities that come up that are a good fit for you and/or your customers. This includes things like selling special holiday offerings, decorating for the holidays, offering gift wrapping and extended holiday hours. Fourth, have a detailed, up-to-date and informative website that can answer as many questions as possible that your customers have and give them as much information as they may need. Finally, do highlight what you specifically bring to the table as a company, including the heart and soul of the people behind the company.

Yes, there are over 190 million companies in the world. Yes, many companies are competing for the money that people are willing to spend. But people wouldn’t start new companies and we wouldn’t hear success stories if there isn’t still success to be had. We would not have seen the record numbers for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday this year if people weren’t willing or able to spend. It just means we have to be a little smarter and more aware on many fronts than we may have been in the past. What have you learned over the past week about business, competition and spending?

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?

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?

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?