A Reason for Retail

Today I’m again pondering the topic of retail as stores like Payless close and Apple struggles to get people in their store doors. Ultimately when it comes to retail stores, people have to have a reason to go to them. If we’re being honest that’s true for any business, virtual or with a physical presence. If you don’t give people a reason to shop with you or stop by your site or store, they won’t. Yes, that reason can be a simple as cute pet videos or to see the newest merchandise or check if something is in stock, but it’s still a reason.

You also can’t tell me that retail is totally irrelevant, one of the biggest companies in the world, Amazon, has not only started creating their own retail stores, they’ve also purchased Whole Foods, a grocery store chain. You don’t do that if you think there’s no hope for retail. Then you’ve got companies like Tractor Supply and Best Buy who are doing well, with both a retail and online presence, and doing well with both. One of the most notable changes with retail over the past few years has been the grocery stores who have invested in going online to offer shop-for-you and delivery services, so that you get the fresh food from the store without having to shop or even go to the store if you don’t want.

However, there’s another side of this, and that’s retail companies who are moving away from or have never offered online shopping. They have websites and social presences, but if you really want to shop with them or know what’s available, you have to go to the store. Personally I think that’s extremely risky and don’t think it’s the way to go. I’m not saying that mom-and-pop shops have to have a huge online store with all their products, but if you’re a chain or have more than one store, you’re really missing out on a big opportunity to make some extra sales that aren’t all that costly with as inexpensive as it is to run an online store in this day and age.

So what’s the answer to retail? It goes back to where we started this post: you have to give people a reason to stop in. Maybe that’s demos or repairs. Maybe it’s the opportunity to try things out or on. Or maybe it’s simply the thing retail has always been known for: being able to have whatever you need immediately and in exactly the condition that you’re looking for.

Retail is a great opportunity if your customers are looking for a specific experience, if they have a specific need that’s met well by having a physical destination for them to come to, if you can provide them something in a physical sense that can’t be replicated online, or especially if you and your customers enjoy being hands on.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it all comes back to people. Every single sale may be represented by a dollar amount, but behind every dollar is a human, or many humans. It’s up to us businesses to care for those people, which means putting information, products, services, support and enjoyment in their hands, whether it’s through a retail store or online.

What’s your thought on the future of retail?

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Changing That Tune

So the big news this week in the business world is that Apple is changing (ending) iTunes. I’m not an Apple user, I don’t seem to think that way, but you have to respect them from a business sense with all that they’ve done and the very large and faithful following that they have. So today I thought I’d share a few thoughts on this change and how it could relate to your business.

I think the big change has mostly to do with the fact that iTunes is really getting unwieldy at this point with all that’s part of it.  As a name iTunes also is very narrow in focus to only music, and not the multimedia service that it has become.  Separating it into 3 separate components means that there’s more focus to each of them and Apple isn’t managing everything under one program. 3 separate apps has some benefits and some draw backs, people may not want to go to separate places to find their music, TV or podcasts.  But on the other side if you’re only into music you won’t see anything TV or podcast related (I assume).

There were some indications that Apple was moving in this direction considering their Apple Music subscription service, which was a good way to prepare their users for the change, without throwing everything at them at once. It also gave Apple a chance to test things out before changing everything.

Apple makes this decision knowing that they’ve got a loyal user base and they’re not going to lose people over this change. If it were a smaller company they may lose people who don’t want to deal with multiple apps, but Google (Play Store) and Amazon both have had multiple (separate) apps for years for their music and other media. So in some ways Apple is behind the trend on this. It’s also a smart decision because they’re seeing that sales aren’t coming from devices (they aren’t converting non-Apple users or people are keeping the devices longer perhaps), and that they need to boost the software/subscription side of their business.

So what about your business? Are you missing out on important shifts that need to be made so that you not only stay with the market, you keep your sales up? Are you missing out on easy sales? Are you planning changes that are a good fit for your business and customers or just changing things up without doing any real research? Change is good and healthy, but not without proper planning, preparation and communication.

Building a Business Brand

This month I read the book The Brand Mindset by Duane E. Knapp.  Like the book I read last month, it was written almost 20 years ago, but many of the concepts in the book shed light on the brand discussion that we’re having today in ways that I don’t think we’re really embracing it.  It’s also of note that almost all of the brands that were profiled in the book are still in business today, and had already been in business for many years when the book was written.  Let’s take a look at few of the topics of the book and how they can help us with branding today.

Let’s start with what branding is.  Branding is important because it can help differentiate one company from another.  A brand reinforces that a business is more than their individual products or services.  It also can help us as business owners better understand and communicate with our ideal customers.

One of the interesting things that was brought up in the book is something that is typically more connected to the hospitality industry (hotels, theme parks etc.) than businesses as a whole, and that’s the idea of calling a customer a guest.  When you call them a guest you’re given the opportunity to treat them in a specific way, a way that you may not treat them if you just see them as a customer.  A guest means they’re welcomed and honored, and you’re there to make their experience a great one.

All of this is true.  Branding is very important as it reveals the business to your customers (guests), hopefully showing them a business they can identify with and can meet their needs, wants and desires.  However there’s another side of branding that’s a big opportunity, and that’s how you can create your brand to teach the people you connect with how to treat and work with you as a business.

Think about it this way: when you’re a guest at a hotel or even in someone else’s home you’re usually a little more respectful of their stuff, you are a little more polite, and you work harder to make sure that everyone is on the same page (asking about the potential of upgrades or extra towels or what hours there are snacks/beverages available etc.).  So if you want people to pay a fair price for your products and services, build a relationship with you to buy from you multiple times, not just rant online when something goes wrong, buy from you again even if/when something goes wrong, tell others about your products and treat you/your employees with respect, that’s something you could help establish and educate your potential customers about through the branding you develop.

What does your brand say about your business?

Ready for Ideas?

I’m a supporter of change in many aspects of our lives. I think we resist change because we can’t always see the benefit or think it will be too difficult to make a reality. As business owners it’s partially our job to help make change possible and doable for the rest of the world. A great example is the Uber/Lyft companies of the world who have changed how people move around places, also doing more for keeping drunk drivers off the road than has been done in a long time because it’s easier and less expensive to get a ride than going with a taxi or limo service.

This week Amazon had their annual meeting and all 12 resolutions that were brought before the board failed. While it may be typical for there to be a back-and-forth before any resolutions are adopted by a board or company, it got me thinking about how sometimes ideas aren’t that good and businesses rush into things before it’s time or without proper support. Sometimes we get what is a really good idea but don’t think through both or all sides of it and how it would affect others.

One of the recent reports I heard was about workers wanting to be paid on a more immediate basis and not every 2 weeks. While I totally understand the desire behind this idea, many in the business world would have to make some big changes to make this possible. Why I’m not sure this will easily be able to be brought about is because the business world isn’t paid on a daily basis. We often wait months for the full contract fee to come through, we don’t all pay suppliers immediately, and we use credit as much as the general population does. So the financial end of the business world will need to speed up and be more on-time than it currently is if that’s to become a reality, which wouldn’t be a bad idea for businesses or people.  The whole other side of the conversation is lack of planning and lack of funds saved for periods where the finances are a little short, which isn’t a conversation we’re going to get into today.

The point is there are lots of great ideas being brought to light every day. Many have to do with making sure that our people are better cared for, and that everyone has a voice, both of which are very important. But before we jump into something that we aren’t prepared for or the world isn’t prepared for, maybe we should do some back-and-forth before trying to launch to the world.  What ideas are you working on that could help make positive change?

Accessibility Awareness for Success

One of the things I love most about running a business in this day and age is the ease of getting information to people in a whole variety of ways. For example, it’s easy to translate text into another language with just a few clicks and have it be a fairly accurate translation. All of the technology has also helped create incredible strides in leveling the field between those who have disabilities and those who don’t. Since today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about some of the ways we can be more sensitive and more proactive about making sure our businesses and information are accessible to more people.

Video is an easy way to take people places they can’t go and also provide an experience with your words that isn’t possible through some of the software that will read the text for you. But for those who can’t hear, it’s disappointing and frustrating that so much of the world is going to video and away from text. The recent changes within browsers that are blocking auto play videos or blocking the sound from videos has actually done some really good things for accessibility, because companies are now including text within the videos, allowing more people to experience the video (and improving on what closed captions could do). Including a transcript with the video is also helpful for those who prefer or need the text.

I love writing, and I think that writing is one of the best ways to reach many people because it can be easily translated or read by software. But when text is within a graphic or there is no text, there’s no way to translate that text or read that text with a software. For photos on websites it’s helpful to include a sufficient title/name with the photo so software can read the photo. For photos on social media an example of what you could do is like what some of the Guide Dog social accounts do, wherein they include a sentence at the end of the written part of the post explaining what the image is for those who can’t see it.  Make sure that the text on your site isn’t within a graphic and can’t be translated or read, or that the text that is within graphics/images isn’t important.

One of the newer innovations are all of the audio devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo. These devices talk to you, do searches for you, play music for you, play games with you, and find all kinds of information for you, with only your voice in control. Yes, these devices make things easier for everyone in terms of accessibility, but they also help unite people and provide a uniform experience in a way that hasn’t happened in the past for those with sight or physical disabilities.  For many businesses this is a new world, but there are companies getting involved in and using the devices for their businesses, and opportunities to learn about and grow into.

While Global Accessibility Awareness Day is really about technology, it’s a good reminder to businesses that there are people with various disabilities, things that they may not take into account when designing their store or creating their products/services. There are laws with regards to being required to provide accessibility, so today is a great opportunity to go ahead and check that your business is compliant, and even supportive of equal access for everyone.

In the Business of World Domination

I read an interesting article recently about SEO, and specifically about how significantly you can increase your traffic by incorporating a more global approach. I’m all for going global, I’ve worked with clients on every continent in the world except Antarctica. Technology has allowed us to work with people around the world, creating fantastic partnerships and mutually beneficial opportunities. It means that we’re able to better communicate things like medical research and shave years if not decades off of illnesses that would do or are doing a lot of harm to the world.

One thing this article brought up was the suggestion of having the site offer translation options. I visit sites all the time that aren’t in English and use browser translators or cut and paste portions into Google or another translator and it just doesn’t cut it. There’s a lot that gets lost in translation. So if you really want to go global you really need to have the site properly and authentically translate into the appropriate languages, with the assistance of a native speaker. But thinking about this brought me to the point I really want to talk about today, and that’s the question of if it’s worth doing or thinking before jumping in.

I absolutely could have my site be translated into multiple languages. However, I primarily offer advice, so what good will it really do me to translate my site into languages that I don’t speak, to reach customers I can’t communicate with? For low ticket offers I certainly can (and do) do some translating back and forth and it will probably be sufficient, but I won’t commit to a year-long consulting/coaching package with someone that I can’t speak easily and comfortably with because I won’t be able to work with them as well as I would like.

The point is, there are tons of things you can do, tons of things you can invest in, tons of ways you can spend your resources, but they don’t all make sense for your business. As I read in another article, “It doesn’t make sense to spend a dollar to save 30 or 40 cents.” So this week I encourage you to be proactive about growing your business and better reaching your customers, but think before just jumping on an opportunity and make sure it’s a good investment for your business.

Small Business Success Smarts Part 2

In just a few days Small Business Week 2019 begins (May 5-11).  I took a look to see what the official website shares about this event and was reminded of some important facts: “More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.”  So if you had any doubt how important the small businesses of the world are, you shouldn’t.

As I was thinking about what to write I went back to look at last year’s post and want to take a bit of a different take on some of the things I shared last year.

One of the things I’m always talking about (and will always talk about) is information and communication.  When it comes to small businesses yes, there’s a lot to manage, but one of the most important and one of the best ways you can stand out as a small business is to get really good at sharing lots of information and communicating well.   I’m always amazed when I see how little information some businesses provide.   Products (including books) span the gamut from sufficient detail to absolutely none, but one of the best examples of a product/service business that consistently fails to provide sufficient details in this internet information age are real estate agents/listings. How long does it really take to write up a 10-20 sentence description of your product including relevant measurements?  How long does it really take to take some appropriate photos?  Providing more detailed information is one way to get your products and services to sell quicker and better.

The next thing on the list is community.  When was the last time you did something in your physical or online community?  Go back to the very name of what many people love, social media, and think about when the last time was you were social (i.e. interacting with other people not on your own posts)?  When was the last time that you helped connect two people or organizations that you thought would benefit from knowing each other?  When was the last time you participated in something in your home community where you live?

Finally, small isn’t bad, it’s not a dirty word and it should not make you feel shame.  There’s nothing wrong with not desiring world domination, choose to do the very best for each and every customer your small business interacts with.  Make them feel special, use your size to your advantage rather than seeing it as a hindrance or obstacle.  Celebrate each and every little thing that makes you special and gives you an advantage over other (larger) businesses.

What do you love about your small business?

In the Business of Love

This month I read Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders. It was written in 2002, almost 20 years ago, but so many leadership books contain what is called “evergreen content,” advice that’s good for maybe ever, things that can inspire and encourage leaders and business owners, so I decided to read it anyway.

The first lesson I got from reading the book was an encouragement. Much of what Tim Sanders suggests are things that more businesses and leaders are doing, are doing publicly and are doing as part of large corporations and well-known leaders. It’s definitely not universal, but it’s not odd, or something done by the “special” businesses, or something that people say “oh, that’s nice” about. More businesses than ever are focused more on creating relationships than just trying to get the financial transaction to happen. More businesses are working to create experiences for their customers. And more businesses are working to make both employees and customers happy. We’re not there yet, but more businesses are thinking about people and not just profits.

The second lesson was the focus on intangibles. Throughout the book Sanders focused on a couple of ways to make an impact, and they weren’t marketing or discounts. Instead, he suggested focusing on knowledge, networking, compassion, love, caring, and charity. We’re seeing that there’s only so many products and services that can be created that are different, and what ends up being the difference maker are these intangibles that help separate products and services from others that would otherwise appear to be identical.

The third lesson is right in line with that and well explained by a quote in the book “choice spells doom for villains.” I don’t love the competing aspect of competition, but I do love that there are many choices for people to choose from in just about every area of product and service today. This means that with a little research we’re able to find exactly what we want, or get very close to finding exactly what we want. It means we don’t have to buy from the company that has terrible customer service, the company with the rude employees, or the company that doesn’t have the freshest products. It means we can shop around and very easily pick and choose where our products and services come from and we don’t have to get everything from one company and just deal with something average. But with as much “competition” as there is, it’s more important than ever to differentiate yourself, your company and your products/services from the others on the market.

Are you using intangibles to build your business and support your people? If not it’s a great time to start.

Questions to Empower Your Business Today and Tomorrow

Today I thought I’d share a few questions that you can apply to your business and your team every day.  These are simple questions that are kind of like the last minute check you do on your email/social media before calling it a day, or that 5 minute wrap-up you take to clean off your desk and empty your coffee cup.  Some questions can help you start the day well, others will help you prepare for the next day.

Start the day:

1-what’s one small thing I can do today that will set me/us up for a better tomorrow?

2-which team member can I encourage or recognize the value of today?

3-who can I connect/network with today?

4-what can I do today that I would enjoy or love doing?

These questions help you think big picture on the day ahead.  You may have a packed schedule of things other people need you to do or you’ve scheduled for yourself to do, but taking the time to think about these questions will give you the ability to plan beyond the day.  The first question helps keep you and the company moving forward.  The second and third questions are about people, about appreciating your people and about getting connected with other people who can support you and you can support.  The final question is the one that excites me a lot because sometimes it seems like we’ve just got this list of stuff to do, stuff that seems tedious or may not be why we really wanted to run a business, and this question gives us the opportunity to keep that spark alive every day.

Prepare for tomorrow:

1-what happened today that has to be addressed or fixed tomorrow?

2-is there anything I’m concerned about regarding tomorrow?

3-who do I need to reach out to tomorrow?

4-what victory did I/we achieve today?

I think taking time to work through these brief questions at the end of the day is helpful because for the first three it means you recognize that you don’t have the time or mental space to do your best work, but know that these things need addressing tomorrow.  It also helps you take a minute to think ahead on what tomorrow might bring.  The fourth question is an opportunity to end on a positive note and finish the day well.  It does force you to think back through the day (and possibly some not good things) but it also means you’ll leave celebrating a win.

What questions do you use to help empower your days?

Confident Leadership

All business owners need help with the tactics and how things work. We’re not all technologically intuitive, we’ve got lots on our plates, and things change all the time. We’re not machines, and even machines can’t get everything done without working with other machines and multiple softwares. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that every business owner could use the support of a marketing/sales expert at some or most parts of their business journey.

I certainly work with plenty of business owners on the tactic/tangible type stuff all the time. But this week I was reminded that a business, and a business owner, is so much more than just the tactics. Behind some of the best and most successful businesses are a confident, awesome, world-helping human. They’re people who the word ‘leader’ was meant to describe.

These people recognize that they’re working with and selling to people. They regularly apply compassion and empathy as well as have excellent listening skills. They’re quick to see situations that need their attention and do something about it. They step up for their employees, their business, their brand, their community and their customers. And most of all they believe in themselves and what they’re building.

No, not every day is a good day for business, but the wins should far outweigh the struggles. The sacrifices should be worth it at the victory line. You should see the positive impact of your business on your life, the lives of your employees, the lives of your customers and on your community. You should at the very least feel confident, if not comfortable, telling the world about your business because it helps add value to the world we all share, to our lives and to our communities.  Are you a confident leader?