Open and Honest Business

Years ago my eye doctor suggested I change the contact brand I was using because it was sure to be discontinued soon. I didn’t follow her advice (I don’t see her anymore either) and today, some 10+ years later, I’m still using the same brand as I was back then. So why would she tell me that? Was it sales motivated? Was it motivated by her belief that mine are of lesser quality? I don’t know, but I often think about that conversation when I get out a new pair and happily put them in.

This week I was checking out the social profile for a charity I follow and they posted that they’d earned a GuideStar Gold Seal of Transparency. What this means is that they share goals and strategies about their work, information about their capabilities and vision and provide meaningful data to help potential investors be reassured that the organization is a great one to invest in. Charity Navigator, another popular non-profit review organization, also has a similar rating system. I understand why non-profits really need organizations like these, so that they can’t steal money that should go to good causes, but I have to wonder why there isn’t a similar system for for-profit businesses? What difference would be made if they had to provide transparent information so they couldn’t provide sub-par services and products?

And then there’s the talk that’s been going on for the past while about removing likes from Instagram. Just so everyone is on the same page, as I learned this week that doesn’t mean the like button is going away, it just means that non-account owners can’t see how many people have liked a post (and yes, the account owner can see numbers like shares and like counts). I understand the idea here, and in some ways I do support it. But the other side of the coin is that this is social media so will this encourage us to be more or less social and interact more or less frequently with each other? If it just ends up being more organic and authentic interactions I’m great with that, but if it ends up destroying engagement as a whole, it’s not very authentic to the vision and purpose of the business (which is connecting people, not making money).

There’s also the marketing email I got this week asking if I had made a purchase and if I was still interested or not. It’s a fine email, except I had made a purchase 2 days earlier. So clearly there’s a breakdown in communication between departments, that the sales department didn’t communicate with the sales development department (or whatever departments they actually are), and as a result I’m probably not the only one getting confusing emails, emails that make me question if my business was really appreciated or not.

So today our question is one of transparency and honesty. Are you clearly and efficiently communicating with your people? Are you making a serious effort to give accurate and helpful advice and insights or just trying to make a sale? People don’t like to have the wool pulled over their eyes, to find out that the deadline they were given wasn’t really that firm or didn’t even exist after all, to find that the sale price is more than the regular price. Honesty and transparency are rewarded, where does your business and your leadership stand?

Advertisements

The Slippery Slogan Slope

Whether you use audio or text, communication is one of the most important aspects of your business and directly impacts your success. I can’t tell you how many times I personally have clicked away from a page and potential purchase because it just didn’t have the information I needed to establish if it was the right purchase for me. If it’s a serious or big or necessary purchase that can’t be put off I’ll do the research and visit a couple other websites to find the answers I need to decide if I’m going to make the purchase or not. Often it’s a case of lacking information, but all too frequently the information that’s provided is confusing, contradictory or just plain strange.

I read an article recently by Brooke B. Sellas about 3 marketing slogans she’d change (Apartments.Com, Time Warner, Victoria’s Secret) and I agree with her thoughts on some of the issues that the current slogans have. Slogans change all the time, especially when they’re not central to the brand. But even logos and names which are typically more permanent have been known to change as the business grows and develops.  Reading the article by Sellas got me thinking about some other marketing communications that aren’t helpful to the brand either.

One headline that I recently asked “what does that even mean?” about is a credit card offer that reads “Another credit card that’s not just another card.” Another card that’s not another card? Why not lead with a line about specifically why it’s better/different than some other cards like about the best mileage deal they offer, best cashback program they have, lowest fees they have or something else that sets them apart, instead of trying word soup. Another of my favorite confusing lines are the drug commercials that say “if you’re allergic to x drug, don’t take it.” How do you know you’re allergic to it? Do you have to take it first? Why not just say that you’ll be tested to confirm you’re not allergic?

I have no issue with having a headline or slogan to help you stand out, but I think you get the point that it’s a really easy way to screw up your brand and create a disconnect with your clients and customers. If you know that slogan or those first lines are your opportunity to really catch the attention of your potential buyer, why aren’t we more attentive to what they communicate (and what they say about us as a business)? Don’t choose a headline or slogan just because you think you need one, invest instead in doing your very best to communicate specifics to potential customers.

Taught by Toni Morrison

This week the world lost a great thinker and writer, Toni Morrison. She won a Nobel Prize for her literary work and has received other awards and recognition as well, she’s been an editor and a professor, and was a mother. Her words and spirit have spoken to many generations and groups of people, so today I thought we’d take a look at what made her so well liked and successful (even if that may not have been her goal) and what we can learn from her life and success.

It all starts with words. Toni is known for her culturally relevant and forward thinking, and her words were always accurate but sensitive. She did it all when it came to writing, including editing the works of others, and many of the tributes that have been shared have echoed how her words have stuck with them, and that her words made them realize how important, valuable and powerful words can be. As a business owner one of the most powerful tools you have are words, and too many businesses today aren’t providing sufficient words, both written and audio. They aren’t speaking to their people, let alone speaking in a passionate, persuasive and informative manner.

She told a story. One of the things that we’re really been talking about in business over the past few years is the value of telling a story, and how our customers can relate better to us when we tell a story. As powerful as her stories were, the words she chose were words of truth, words that spoke to the situations, experiences and emotions of the African American culture she so often wrote about. Go ahead and tell stories in your business and to your customers, but don’t waste your time or theirs with false stories or tales that go nowhere. Keep it relevant and accurate to who you are, who your customers are and what you’re all about.

Finally, she knew what it was to nurture and love. In one interview she talked about some famous authors who had one breakout hit but ended their working years doing menial labor jobs. She questioned what happened that they weren’t able to continue to bring greatness to the literary world, and that’s something that we have to question in business as well. Why do some companies start out so well and peter out? One of the reasons is because they don’t take the time to nurture and care for their customers and provide an experience that customers want to come back to and want to tell others about.  No one has had a bad thing to say about Toni Morrison(although not everyone has loved her work), would people be equally positive about you?

Toni Morrison lived 88 wonderful, engaged and filled years, years in which she chose to make an impact one word and one relationship at a time.  Are the words and actions you’re taking in your business building a similar legacy that will last as long as she did and beyond or are you working on a one-hit-wonder?

Crushing Business

Today we’re taking a look at a book Crushing It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary’s a wine expert who was using social media to promote his wine expertise and that snowballed into becoming a well-known expert on social media, and this book, which is a follow up to his earlier book Crush It!, is a look into some of the insights and lessons on entrepreneurship, social media, influence and success.

One of the big parts of this book are the stories that Gary shares, stories from dozens of entrepreneurs who read his first edition of the book and applied what he taught. I don’t typically pick up books that are mostly stories like this, but what all the stories reminded me was that you can absolutely be successful in whatever venture you start. Not everyone will be successful, but there are enough stories from a wide variety of industries that prove you can do it.

The second lesson I want to reflect on today was that of doing your own thing. Yes, there are principles like selling a quality product or places/things to participate in like social media and newsletters, that you should be participating in, but you have to be true to you and your business and your brand (don’t just copy someone else).

As I mentioned in the last lesson, the next lessons is regarding those principles and places. One of the reasons Gary has been so successful is because he doesn’t just mass produce and blast the same exact stuff everywhere, and he also follows the rules (formal and informal). Gary calls it “developing quality micro-content,” where your content is specific to the audience and the platform/place you’re sharing it. This means taking time to know the rules before just diving into a platform.

Fourth, is the importance of having a why. Yes, you should absolutely have a ‘why’ regarding why you’re in business. The more personal and passionate, the easier others will connect with your brand on a personal level. But you should also have a why behind the content you’re sharing, the people/influencers you’re connecting with, and the marketing you’re doing.

Fifth, there are some foundation keys that every business owner should be considering in order to achieve success. They include serving, offering value, teaching, authenticity, passion, patience, speed, work ethic, content, tracking and applying data, mastering social media, and being conscious of the intent behind actions and decisions.

When it comes down to it, through this book Gary encourages business owners to use social media, collaborate, do your own thing and commit the investment to make it happen. What are you crushing in your business?

Failure and Loss in Business

Just about every day in the news there’s a story about how a company is struggling or losing or failing. Over the past few years we’ve seen the struggles that some of the biggest brands have been going through, some able to do something of a turnaround, others not able to pull themselves out of a hole.

It’s frustrating from the perspective of outsiders like myself who advise businesses and see some glaring issues they aren’t addressing or trying or have simply dismissed. I also don’t always believe we need businesses the size that some are and their size is definitely a factor in how much they’re struggling. But I do believe every business has something to contribute, and when they fail they are letting people down. Yes, every business has a life cycle and many have a definitive end (such as when the owner retires), but I’d much rather see a business go out on a high note than crash and burn.

It’s also frustrating from a customer perspective when they’re seeing a company they love struggle and may even have some anxiety or fear around the loss of the company from a service or product perspective. If you rely on a product or service for your health or care of your family, there’s a much higher cost to switch than if we’re talking about something like a lawn care company.

It’s never a good idea to avoid the bad news or data about how well you’re doing or how you may be struggling. The sooner we face the truth, the easier it is to fix or address it. We also need to find a balance between continually increasing the number of customers we reach with not getting too big to manage and sustain. And the final truth we need to accept is that sometimes businesses fail and that’s just the way it goes. The good news is there are other businesses out there that can fill in the gap, but of course it’s likely not the same.

As I said from the beginning, I don’t think businesses need to fail in spectacular ways. As business owners we need to be more prepared for the natural ups and downs that a business goes through, we need to be more willing to reach out and get help and accept criticism, and we need to be open to change and growth so that we can change and grow as our customers do.  What steps does your business need you to take today?

What Kind of Content Are You Creating?

Last week I shared a little about my passion for reading, and while I’ve read thousands of books there are only a couple hundred that want to read more than once, and even fewer than that that I would be happy to pick up any and every day or night. The fact is that most of us keep picking up the next book or TV show or blog post or video, we don’t typically do repeats. And we don’t have to because there’s so much new content of all forms being added to the world on a daily basis. I add several forms of content to the world on a daily and weekly basis between social content (60+ pins and posts per week), blog posts (7 or so per week), and newsletters (4 per week). Whether you add more or less to the world each week, you’re probably adding content too.

Recently I read a blog post that raised the question of creating memorable content, which got me thinking about the whole content story and all the pros and cons that go along with it. I support businesses and people creating content and sharing it with the world, I think it’s good to share your voice, opinions and create a community where people can learn from each other, encourage each other, and grow personally. All of the content we’re creating is providing ideas, answers, insights, inspiring us to ask questions, and challenging us to question how we’ve always done things. I do think we need to be careful about passing judgment on the value of someone’s content, what may not be valuable to you would be valuable to someone else.

So what about the question of memorable and viral? Well, I have several people whose content I always look forward to. Their content isn’t necessarily memorable and I don’t think they go viral often or ever, but it’s always good reading/watching, I always get something out of it and I always look forward to their next publication. Back to the point, viral is a great way to get your content and you in front of tons of people for a very short time, the hope would be that you have something to convert them into so that you can continue to build a relationship long after the content is no longer viral. And as far as memorable, I certainly can’t remember everything I’ve watched or seen, and as we add more content to the world in all forms it will be harder for it to be memorable.

So I propose that instead of working towards memorable or viral content, that we instead work towards second reads and watches, and consistently deliver goodness. Why? Because with this shift to second (and beyond) views we’re increasing the chance that people will remember us (and our content), we’ll know that people are clearly finding value in the content (and us) and increase our chances of getting them to read from us (and hopefully buy from us) again. And with the shift from viral to consistent goodness, it’s about building relationships with people who will miss you when you’re gone, who share your products and content, who look forward to seeing what you have to say, and always find value in what you bring to the table.

What kind of content will you create this week?

After the Sale

I re-read a book by an author I enjoy recently and was struck by the ending. For some reason I didn’t remember it being as abrupt an ending as it was. It lacked the author’s usual detail, and while I don’t need a nice neat bow on every book I read, this one just seemed rushed in a way that even another 5 or so pages could have improved on how the book ended. As I’m writing this post another book I recently read came to mind with a somewhat similar ending, though it was more complete, it just kind of petered off which was a little odd.

As a business owner you have to catch someone’s attention with what you’re offering. There’s competition for every industry out there, so you really have to be on your toes if you want to succeed. You have to present your offering in a way that is appealing and relevant and make sure it’s clear what you’re offering and why people would want to buy it/your services. Having reviews from customers adds details to the listing that you may never think of by yourself but often helps to convince potential buyers to go ahead and click that ‘buy’ button.

There certainly is still loyalty and customers who will remain with you for however long your business exists, but it is getting harder to keep them and their attention spans, especially since there are lots of similar or better alternatives that they may hear about and prefer based on what’s going on in their life. It’s not smart to assume that even your loyal customers will love everything you do, you don’t have to convert them on everything you offer, but you should try to keep them coming back or at the very least sharing about you.

Where is this all leading? To the point that how you finish matters as much or more than how you start and what you’re offering does. Do the less-than-satisfactory endings mean I’ll hesitate to pick up another book from either of the authors I mentioned at the start? No, not at all. They’ve proven repeatedly that the majority of their writing is worth reading and I have no problems not loving every book I read (I read a lot). But it is a warning to business owners how important it is to follow up, to offer a next step and/or create and sustain ways to keep engaging customers (think consistent newsletters and social media).

If you’re wondering why you don’t have repeat buyers or people aren’t recommending you or you’re struggling to make sales, there are countless reasons why that may be the case (and I help businesses figure those out), but today I would encourage you to take a good look at what happens at the end, after money exchanges hands. What can you do to increase the likelihood of continuing the relationship with your customers long into the future?

Leadership Lessons from Lee Iacocca

This week the world lost a great leader: Lee Iaccoca.  He died at a ripe old age of 94, after having an incredible career in the auto industry, and many years with family.  He’s someone that I’ve shared about in past blog posts because while he may not have been a current leader (i.e. running a business and being the topic of many news stories each month) he’s certainly someone that we can learn from and admire, and apply many of the things that made him so successful to our businesses today.

One of the reasons that his story is so incredible is because he did what he did in an industry that is known for distrust; it’s always been said that you shouldn’t trust a car salesman.  Yet what he did was sell cars, and he not only helped run several car businesses well (Ford and Chrysler), he appeared in their ads because he was so well trusted and admired.

In one of his books he shared a list of what makes up a good leader, a list that shows why he was so successful as a leader.  This list includes: curiosity, creativity, communication, character, courage, conviction, charisma, competence and common sense.  Being a leader that lived that list, he was able to connect with people on a level that too many leaders aren’t able to do, and therefore aren’t able to be as successful, or bring as much of their vision to fruition as they could if they were better at connecting with people.  Iaccoca believed strongly in picking good people, and treating those people as a priority.

From two of the vehicles that Iaccoca helped create, the Mustang and the minivan, we’re reminded of the value of having good ideas, and a good team to help bring those ideas to life. Not every idea will work out well, as Iaccoca found out and I’m sure you have too, but you can’t get anywhere if you aren’t willing to put those ideas out into the world and try to make them a reality.

With the number of people who have been great leaders, who have helped this world become a better place passing on, it’s up to us to pick up the mantle and grow into leaders who would make them proud.  Some leaders are born, but the large majority of them are made through long days, hard work and sweat-equity.  Will you be one of those leaders the world needs?

Dealing with Business Expectations

I was reading through one of the many newsletters I subscribe to and saw the phrase “failed to meet expectations.” It’s an interesting phrase, one that is important for businesses and especially business owners to consider. Some business owners get into business with the unselfish goal of making a difference in the world, but I don’t know too many business owners that don’t go into a business with an expectation on some level of being a (financial) success. Maybe it’s a secret hope to really grow a big business that brings in a lot of financial support for all people involved, or maybe it’s just a hope to to cover expenses. But, as the old saying goes, if you’re not bringing in income it’s a hobby, not a business.

Back to the topic of expectations. It’s healthy to have expectations, to have goals you want to reach with your business. It’s also healthy for any investors to have expectations of how your business should grow. But something that we’re seeing again and again are business who are reaching too high and/or too fast and can’t create or sustain the growth to meet those expectations. I get it, life is moving at a very rapid pace, things change often and quickly, and it is good to jump on opportunities that seem viable when they’re presented to you and you do due diligence.

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with having goals, even big goals.  But I don’t see a need to rush those goals or try to wring every single cent from an opportunity. It’s sad that it amazes us when we connect with a business that has been around for several decades, but the reality is that we’re not always thinking about making a legacy business and only about tapping into the here and now.

So here’s my suggestion: go ahead and have expectations. But rather than setting yourself up for a more likely failure, set both reasonable and reach goals. If you’re interested in really having victories in your life and business, set up easy, reasonable and reach goals, so that you’re almost guaranteed to succeed. Of course all of your goals should enable you to both help people and have a level of financial stability.  What expectations do you have for your business, and do you need to adjust them?

A Study on Sales Success Secrets

This month I read a book on most business owner’s favorite topics: sales. Sales may not be our favorite topic, but it’s an absolutely essential one if we want to stay in business. The book I read was Exactly How To Sell by Phil M. Jones. It was a short and easy to read book, so if you’re looking for a quick burst of insight on sales, this could be the book for you.

The book did a decent job of covering many aspects of sales including marketing and dealing with objectives, one of the earliest insights I took from the book was the importance of remembering that sales is a process, it’s not something that has one step, there are many steps from hearing about the product/service being sold, to learning about it, to the actual delivery of what was purchased through use of it.

One of the biggest keys this book shared about getting successfully through the sales process was about who the salesperson was and how they acted. Sales people in this day and age are more successful if they’re good listeners, problem solvers, empathetic, knowledgeable, helpful and responsible. Those are important characteristics for any business owner, but especially for sales people to not only make more sales, but also show they’re human to their potential customers so they feel more comfortable with them.

So how do you get more successful sales? There were 3 big reminders for me in the book, that of confidence, clarification and questions. The book made a really great statement that the role of a sales person (and the overall sales process) is to provide the potential customer or client with all the information necessary to make a decision and not feel any confusion over what’s being offered. It’s one of the reasons I encourage lots of information on sales pages, including some indication of price. Asking questions of the potential customer enables you to make sure you’re all on the same page, confirms the needs they have, and helps you make the best recommendations for their specific needs. Questions also help you and them avoid a bad pairing before things get too far and there’s a lot of wasted time and resources. Finally, confidence is important because it shows your potential customers that not only do you have the knowledge of what you’re selling, you believe in it and it’s ability to solve the needs of your customers.

Sales can be challenging, but with careful thought, planning and practice soon you’ll be seeing success! What are your challenges with sales?