The Feelings of Business

Can you believe we’re rapidly coming to an end of the 2017 holiday season? I know we’ve got 9+ shopping days left before Christmas (depending on when you’re meeting friends and family), and we’re a couple of days into Hanukkah, so there’s still time to connect with your customers and help them have a great season of celebration with their family and friends. As I was thinking about the holiday season and all that goes on, I came back to one of the central themes: emotion. The holidays are filled with laughter and joy, with sharing and caring, with catching up and reminiscing, and sometimes with some tears. I can’t say that I’ve ever been through a Christmas that didn’t evoke strong emotions in me.

So what emotions do your customers feel when they look at your website? What do they feel when they see your name in their email inbox? What do they feel when they see a post from you on social media? What do they feel when they get a package from you? What do they feel when they have an issue or question?

Are they excited to peruse your website? Do they eagerly anticipate your next email? Do they rip open your packages because they can’t wait to get to your products? Do they take the time to leave positive reviews everywhere? Do they feel confident that if they have an issue you’ll help them take care of it? Are they willing to wait for service or a table because they know the wait is always worth it?

Or is it the other way around? That they dread dealing with you when there’s an issue? They delete your emails more often than not because they’re not interesting or informative? Do they leave your website after a few minutes there because they’re annoyed or confused or frustrated? Do they tend to choose your services only as a last resort? Do they unfollow you on social media because they’re tired of you only posting sales content?

In this season where we spend so much time talking about our feelings and experiencing life with each other I’d encourage you to take a minute to talk with some customers and some employees, and check out what’s being said about your business online and find out what kind of emotions your customers (or past customers who haven’t been back to you in a while) are feeling about your business. Are they the feelings you want them to have?  If not you’ve still got a couple of days to make changes for this holiday season, not to mention a new year coming up.

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The Potential Problem with Taking a Holiday Break

One of the things I work on businesses with is helping them stand out. It’s easy in this day and age to set up an online store and sell some stuff, and it’s even pretty easy to set up a physical business and sell stuff (especially with all the open store fronts). Almost anyone with decent computer experience can sell online. Which is why it’s more important than ever to make sure that you’re unique, you’re likeable and you give people a reason to shop with you.

I love to read and I subscribe to over 100 daily, weekly or bi-weekly newsletters on business topics, not to mention the newsletters I get, as many people do, from my favorite stores and other interests. I know that over the past month the number of emails we’ve gotten has been increased, from the election to Black Friday to now the Christmas and other December celebrations. I know how busy people are and how many things we squeeze into this month.

But over the past week I’ve been getting some newsletters that have stated something along the lines of: ‘this is the last time you’ll hear from us until the new year’ or ‘this will be an extra short newsletter.’ Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important that we respect our customers and what they’re focused on, and we as business owners need to take time to be with our families and friends too. But if you’re doing things right you’ve got people who are anticipating, maybe even eagerly anticipating hearing from you, even though it’s the holidays.  Hearing messages like these make me feel disappointed and sad that I’m not getting what I’m used to getting from the people and businesses I care about.

I would encourage you to really take time to consider what the right balance is between taking a break for the holidays and continuing to give your fans, readers, tribe and customers the quality and quantity that they’re expecting from you. You’ve worked really hard to get to this point in the year, don’t give up on loving and caring for your customers at this point.

The Question of Customer Loyalty

As we head into what is the busiest shopping season of the year for many businesses, I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about customers and customer loyalty. As a business you have to have customers, otherwise you won’t be in business very long. The next thing to consider is whether most of your customers are repeat customers, or if you offer things that people buy once or extremely rarely. If you offer something, say heart surgery or roofing, you probably will ever work with someone once. But if you offer something like ice cream or hair cuts, and you’re not having repeat customers, something probably has to change. Here’s what one very successful entrepreneur had to say:

“Customers aren’t loyal. And it’s a waste of time trying to convince them to be….Life changes. Priorities change. Competition changes. In reality, almost no one is 100% loyal….Fact: 87% of a brand’s customers don’t stick to just that brand. They’re promiscuous at best. And if they’re offered something better, they’re gone.” Ramit Sethi

Those are some pretty serious percentages. So the question becomes: do we even try to gain customer loyalty? The first answer that comes to mind is that if you don’t give any effort to making your customers come back, few probably will. The second thing to consider is that it’s consistently proven to be cheaper in all ways to keep customers coming back than to gain new customers. The third thing to consider is that even if you have a service or product that’s purchased maybe once in a lifetime you can still gain loyal customers, it’s just not the same type of loyalty. Fourth, if you ask employees who really love your company about their favorite customers, they’ll often tell you that they enjoy connecting with the “regulars.” Fifth, loyal customers are those who share about your great products or services with their friends, and/or leave you nice testimonials you can use to get more customers.

One thing to remember is that everyone is human and everyone goes through changes in their life. So it’s really unrealistic to expect that every customer would stay with your business and your products and/or services for the full duration of their life (or their need for that product/service). But my answer is that we should work on making customers loyal, or at the very least, increasing the amount of times they purchase from us. Whether you use email newsletters, social media, events, physical mailings, a blog, a loyalty card or even just new products or services that are in line with those you already offer, there are tons of ways that you can build loyalty and encourage repeat customers. What are your favorite ways to connect with your customers and build relationships with those who are loyal to you and love you?

Change: Good, OK or Bad?

Lately there’s been changes happening in the world of business, with some prime examples being 3 of the big social networks: Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Facebook has rolled out an “explore” feed where it tested moving all organic page posts to, which means if you have a page people have to do extra work to get to see your posts (no organic page posts would appear in people’s regular timelines, but ads still would). Twitter rolled out extra characters, which some have complained about and others are celebrating. And Pinterest has added a ‘sections’ feature which is a much needed organizational asset helping users better sort their pins.

Personally I’m working on some changes in my business as well, so the question becomes should you work on changes in your business? I believe every business needs to change throughout their life cycle, both big changes and little ones. I believe we should be making some little changes throughout the year in response to trends, seasons and customer requests, and we should make big changes as our business grows and evolves.

But the bigger question is are you considering or making a good change? In the case of Pinterest I think it’s a great change. In the case of Twitter I think it’s an OK change. In the case of Facebook I think it’s not a good change in general, but could have some positive implications because it will mean that only your most interested fans would be involved with your page, those most likely to make a purchase.

By no means should you be discouraged from making changes because some people won’t like them, but if a large majority of your people aren’t happy with the change you’ve made you need to either reconsider the change completely, reconsider how you’re going about the change, or be prepared to get a whole new customer base (one of the changes I’m making is with regard to Facebook).

What changes are you considering or making this month or in the coming year? I invite you to share your changes in the comments below.

The Value of a Painting

This week in the art world something very interesting happened: a Da Vinci painting sold for $450 million. That’s just a few dollars, no big deal, I bet you’ve got that under your mattress for a rainy day, right? Not likely. However, as I was marveling over the fact that someone just spent that much money on a poster sized painting, it got me thinking about what it really means for us and our businesses.

In fact, it’s really great news for us. It means that there is money to be spent, people are buying, and people are willing to spend a lot of money. So the next time someone says that you’re not doing well in business because no one is buying anything, think again. That person or people who just bought that painting still need to eat and live somewhere and have clothes and probably watch TV and talk on their phones just like the rest of us. So take a moment to celebrate that and let yourself be relieved that there is money to be earned.

But what you can’t ignore about this incredible purchase is that the reason that someone paid $450 million for a painting is because of the perceived value. Someone has an overwhelming desire to have this painting in their possession. Maybe your tax audits or websites or cups of soup aren’t quite as interesting as a painting by Da Vinci, but you’re not asking $450 million for them. So it becomes a question of have you communicated the value, the interest, the intrigue behind what you’re offering, and have you told anyone about what you’re offering?

Take some time this weekend before Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday start next week Friday and make sure that you’re communicating clearly the value that you bring to the table.

What’s The Real Issue?

A friend of mine is moving and therefore leaving the company they’ve worked at for many years.  They’re a hard worker and have many years of experience in their field and since they started hinting about their departure a year or so ago the company has tried to replace them with varying measures of success and failure (mostly failure).  So we were discussing why it’s so hard for the company to replace them.  Of course my friend is top-notch in their field, but there’s a lot more to the story than this individual being great.  And our conversation got me thinking about why we don’t succeed at some things, or why some things don’t work out as we would expect.

Someone could say ‘I’m not getting anywhere with my Facebook page’, and you could look at the page, see the page is updated maybe every 2 months and then only with a sales pitch and come to a reasonable conclusion that one reason they’re not successful is they’re not posting consistently. Someone could say ‘I’m not selling anything’ and you take a look at their business and see that they haven’t done any marketing beyond establishing their physical and online stores, and come to a reasonable conclusion that one reason they’re not selling is because they’re not marketing. In another case someone could say “I’m not getting any sales” and you look at their products and see that there’s nothing unique about the products, come to a reasonable conclusion that one reason they’re not getting sales is because their products aren’t unique.

Now, we could go back to the same 3 examples and probably find other reasons why they’re not successful in those areas, but what it comes down to is the fact that the issue isn’t really the issue. Yes, not getting anywhere with Facebook or not making any sales are issues, but what they really point to is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed first. Until that larger issue is addressed the smaller issue won’t be able to be completely resolved. Sure, you can make some headway by doing paid FB ads, adding more stores online and offline, or adding more products respectively, but that’s really not addressing the issue that needs to be addressed.

To follow through on our examples, my friends’ company doesn’t need someone who can technically do their job, they need someone who’s a leader and able to help the employees they’re responsible for be more successful in their jobs, and/or hire new employees who are qualified for and have the attitude for success.  In the case of the Facebook page example unless the business really uses all of FB’s aspects along with a solid content strategy they won’t get anywhere.  In the case of the business not selling anything but having physical and online stores, you can have the best products or services in the world but if you don’t market them, you can’t sell them.  In the case of the generic products, yes, there will always be a need for generic products, but why be generic if you can bring something unique to the marketplace?

Today I would encourage you to sit down and take a look at the things that have presented as issues or you’re concerned about and look a bit deeper into them and see if you’re missing the real issue.

What Don’t You Know About Success?

This month one of the things we’ll be talking about is the topic of success. Last week we talked about taking time to explore your business because as we run our businesses there are lots of things that we can miss going on in our business as we work hard to support our customers, as well as how the business world is evolving and changing. Part of success is being able to work with and through changes. Change is something we all face, whether we want to or not, and while some things are timeless, there are many things that are not.

Today I wanted to share a little insight that I heard this past week. Success isn’t just about what you know, but it’s about being courageous enough to admit what you don’t know and find the answers and/or ask for help. Success can be a one-time thing (one hit wonder), but very few people are satisfied with a one-time success. I don’t think we should be satisfied with the one success we’ve had or even with the past successes we’ve had. True success is a journey, and very few people, if any, know the full journey before they start out.

While there are some prodigies in the business world, most people start someplace with some knowledge or skill and go from there. That means that there’s probably a whole lot they don’t know, and there’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, some of your greatest successes, or victories, can come from figuring out what you don’t know, or what’s wrong and gaining the knowledge you need or fixing the issue. So this month I encourage you to throw aside the idea of perfect success, and instead work on success steps. If you keep moving forward from success to success, from improvement to improvement, you’ll grow your business and help more people too.

So let’s be honest: what don’t you know, or what are you struggling with? I encourage you to post your question in the comments section below.

Let’s Explore Your Business

This month one of the topics we’re talking about is exploring. If you’ve been in business for several years it may seem like exploring isn’t something you should be doing, you should already have all the answers, right? Wrong. If you’ve been around for several years there’s a good possibility that your customer’s needs or wants have changed or at least varied and a strong probability that the marketing tools and practices have changed or at the very least updated since you started.

Exploring isn’t just for those getting started, it’s for everyone who runs a business. When was the last time your products or services were reviewed to see if they’re being made in the most cost effective, earth-friendly, customer-requested ways, let alone if you’re offering something people still really want? Do you really know your customers? Get to know your customers, explore their interests, wants, and needs, both those related to your company and offerings, and those in their personal lives. Know your customers not so you can be intrusive or overwhelming, but so that you can do your best to serve them. What about the wants and needs of your employees? Do you really know your people and do they really know you and your passion for your business? What about your suppliers? Are they providing the quality product you desire and your customers pay for? Is there a better supplier out there that lines up more with your company culture and needs?

Take time this week to explore your business a bit. Take a look at anything that you say “the way things have always been” regarding and see if it’s time for an update. Most businesses I connect with have something good to work with, but have some rough edges, have lost their way a bit, or are just a bit out of touch with things that would help them grow and move forward to better serve their customers and support their employees and community. So you may not need to do a complete overhaul, maybe that just means some tweaks here and there, so that you’re in 2017 and not several years earlier, or even better, ready for 2018. And it may turn out that exploring your business will help relight the fire you had for it if it’s burned out or gone low, too. Have you explored your business lately?

Safe At Work

This past week we’ve been hearing lots of stories from women about the unwanted attention in work situations. Of course, there’s the bullying that goes on in schools and with young people around the world, and the unwanted attention or violent actions women (and some men) face outside of the workplace as well, including too many domestic violence situations, and I talked about that on my other blog today. According to Facebook, over “45% of the people in the United States are friends with someone who’s posted a message with the words ‘Me too'”, and that’s just the people who are willing to talk about it! So this is a serious situation that really needs to be addressed, and here today I want to talk about the importance of making the workplace as safe for everyone as possible.

Work safety starts with the boss and management. I can’t tell you how many stories I hear about bosses that spend time screaming, yelling, berating, ignoring and fighting with their employees, not to mention the employees who are just unappreciated by their boss(es). If you want your people to feel safe working for you, you need to be the best leader and human possible. You need to remember that we’re all human and mess up on occasion, give them the education and tools they need to do their jobs, and let them know you appreciate them doing their jobs.

Second, there needs to be an amount of respect between all of you. They may not have your title or your education or your finances, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless or worth less than you are as a human being. They may be replaceable, but at what cost? If you treat them like trash there’s a high likelihood that they’re not going to say anything positive about your company, and some may even go so far as to tell their friends and family or even companies they work for in the future never to buy from you (who may pass on the word to others not to buy from you).

Finally, while it doesn’t have to be something you shout to the world, as a business you should have a plan and resources that your employees can tap into if they face unwanted attention or violence through work or their personal lives. This isn’t about having the required sexual harassment seminars that people joke about afterwards or a file at the back of a file box from the first day the company opened however many years ago. This is about genuinely offering support that people need as well as letting all your employees know that violence and unwanted attention aren’t going to be allowed. In some cases you can work with offenders if they’re willing to honestly get help for their issues and commit to acting differently in the future, but no one should feel unsafe going to work. You can share resources through a page on your website that employees have the link and password for or an email you send out on a regular basis depending on the turnover in your company (but at least yearly). If you really want to stand up as a company in the community you can offer career training and support at local shelters and donate to domestic violence organizations and other organizations that fight or raise awareness about these situations.

The fact is there’s a larger majority of people who have a job than have a significant other. Work is something that most people do on a daily basis, so the workplace should be the place that people feel most comfortable and are safest. So as businesses we need to step up in a big way to show that unwanted attention isn’t OK and that women (and men) everywhere have the right to come to work without being harassed or mistreated. I encourage you to take a good look at your business before the end of the month and make sure that you’re making your workplace the best it can be for your employees.

Back to the Brand

Today I thought I’d talk a bit about a topic that I’ve touched on in the past but it’s been a while since I really devoted time to it, because this week a client approached me because they were having trouble with branding, so it got me thinking about what branding is and how we work with it in our individual companies. According to dictionary.com, a brand is “a kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic,” “to impress indelibly,” “a trade name or trademark,” and/or “to give a product a distinctive identity by means of characteristic design, packaging, etc.”

So what does that mean to you and your business? I believe that branding is personal, and if it’s not personal and you (and any partners) don’t like it, the company won’t do as well. You have to be comfortable with, excited about, and connected to the brand you choose. That doesn’t mean it won’t change or develop over time, but whatever you go with now or in the future, it needs to be something you like. And once you settle on something you like then you can get feedback from others to make sure it’s crowd friendly too.

So how do you decide on a brand? From the definitions above your brand can be reflected through anything from the words you use to the images you use to the packaging you have. There are lots of sites you can look at to get ideas as far as what other people have done or how to pick colors that work with the feeling behind your company (and brand), but again, what you put on your site has to be something you’re comfortable with.

Why? Because once you’ve established your brand you have to show or say it everywhere. If I talked about little blue boxes you’d think about a particular jewelry company; they don’t put things in any other color boxes, just blue. If I said “Just Do It,” you’d think of a particular sports company that encourages everyone to get out there and be active and live their lives. If I talked about the ‘happiest place on earth’ you’d think of the feeling you get when you watch a particular company’s movies or going to their theme parks, a feeling they hope extends to other parts of your life as a result.

So what about your company? Have you established a brand and consistently taken it through all of your offerings, customer service solutions and presentations/packaging? If you don’t have a brand, establishing one could help you stand out among other companies in your industry and connect better with potential customers.