Getting a Productive Start

This year I’m going to be talking a lot about living (and working) in the moment and really pressing into the time that we’ve got, making the best choices for us that empower us and make the best use of our time. On the topic of productivity, you’ve probably heard about the Tim Ferriss book “4-Hour Work Week,” and while most of us will work more than 4 hours a week and like to work more than 4 hours a week, the only way that something like that is possible is if we delegate and if we really manage our time well.

Most business owners struggle with having a long to-do list and never having enough hours in the day. Often the reasons include not delegating well and not being as productive as they could. I understand that it can take some work to find someone you can trust delegate to and work with well, but when you’ve got someone in that position it makes your work go a lot better and you get more done. As far as productivity goes, scheduling and focus may be your real issues, and working on adhering to a schedule may help you greatly in getting more done in a more efficient manner.

If you want to be a truly productive business owner this year I would challenge you to review your schedule, frustrations, to-do lists and productivity, and take the time to ask yourself some questions: Are you truly productive for some time each day? What stops you from being productive? Why do things stay on your to-do lists? What do you keep putting off and why? Are you hesitant to get help, and if so, why? Are you able to focus when you need to? How has your lack of productivity limited your business growth? What are the 3 biggest (and easiest) changes you could make right now that would greatly impact your productivity?

Will this year be the year that you’re productive in and with your business? I hope so! I invite you to add a comment letting me know how I can help you be more productive this year too.

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Thoughts for Business in 2019

We’re in a new year, and you’ve probably seen a couple of those posts about trends for 2019 and what 2019 may hold for companies. Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts about where I hope or see or hear business may be going in 2019. Don’t forget though, the year is just beginning and almost anything is possible if you’re willing and able to put the time and effort in.

Websites: I think that we’re going to realize how important websites are if you want to stay relevant in 2019 and finally prioritize keeping it updated and helpful to visitors. If you don’t have a website, now’s the time to get one, even if it’s one that you design yourself or a more basic one that doesn’t cost thousands. Make sure that you’re able to update it on a moment’s notice or you’ve got the access to a tech team and they’re able to do it.

Market Specifics: I don’t really think it’s possible anymore to claim you sell to “everyone.” Even if you look at the big guys (big box stores/sites), they’ve got some pretty clear haters who would never shop with them, even if they sell the exact same product as everyone else (i.e. a name-brand paper towel roll available at a grocery store in every town or most comparable websites). Whether you call it your niche, tribe, community or something else, it’s time to really dial in on who you sell to the large majority of the time (if not all the time).

Context: whether we’re talking marketing in general or specifically with emails or social media or other types of publications in line with the previous point it’s time to be more specific and helpful with what you’re sending out. Make sure it’s clear why people would be interested in it (what’s in it for them) and don’t be afraid to ask them to join specific groups or newsletter subscriptions to narrow down the focus of what they’re receiving from you, especially if you do speak to more than one specific audience.

Love: your audience and potential customers should love what you can bring to the table. This means working on your brand, having a clear brand, and showing that brand consistently in all you do. It’s also about having mutual respect and appreciation for all people at the table from suppliers to customers to employees to the management team.

What else will be big this year? Some of the more obvious ones are improved and increased focus on metrics and data, collaboration, innovation, tech and AI allowing us to focus more on what only humans can do, and more planning and strategy (and implementation).  What do you think will be big or lead the transformation in business this year?

A Holiday Success Story?

Over the past month or so I’ve been reflecting on the holiday shopping season and some of the things I’ve learned and think that business owners should strongly consider applying to their businesses in the new year.

Black Friday showed that stores that would be generally consider to be in the same market and sell the same products can still offer different deals. I can’t say that there were really great deals for Black Friday this year, but I was pleased to see that the stores had different items as their big deal items. While I doubt that they sat down and said “you offer a deal on sweaters, you offer a deal on scarves, you offer a deal on PJ sets, and you offer a deal on flannel shirts,” it was educational and encouraging to see that stores that offer the same items can all be successful, even simply by focusing on different things. If everyone’s offering a deal on cooking pots, yes, you can too if you sell them, but why not offer a deal on prep appliances like blenders, mixers or choppers that someone might use at the same time as that cooking pot?

For Black Friday there were also a couple of favorites/classics that were on deep discounts. But this wasn’t true across the board and the classics/favorites that have been on sale previous years weren’t on sale this year, which was a little disappointing.  The lesson? Just because they’re classics, it doesn’t mean that the market is completely saturated yet, and you never know if the product wore out during the past year and they were waiting for Black Friday to buy a replacement.

One of the big opportunities that some stores took advantage of but a surprising number definitely did not was to extend their hours for holiday shopping. If you’re balancing between online and a physical store or focused on running a physical store you have to do something to stand out as a physical store, and one of the simplest ways to please customers and differentiate yourself is to offer better/different/extended hours. There are a couple of businesses that are never open hours that are convenient for those who work odd hours or even those who work regular hours (9-5). Some things simply can’t be done on a lunch break or on the weekend, and if stores aren’t open late/early at least one day per week it makes it challenging to shop there and certainly discourages shoppers from wanting to shop there.  That doesn’t mean you have to be open crazy hours every day, but at least one day a week would be helpful.

Something many businesses did do well this holiday season was to offer free shipping any level at least 2-3 days per holiday season, or at the very least something less expensive like $2-3 shipping.  It’s a simple thing that could mean all the difference between people choosing to buy with you or buy from someone else.

Finally, a bit of a mixed bag on Christmas Day.  Quite a few companies sent well wishes, but almost no one had a special sale that day.  Today there were just a small handful of after-Christmas sales, but not remarkable numbers.  What’s interesting about this? Well, I appreciate that companies chose to send cheer on Christmas and celebrate and thank their customers.  But the fact is lots of people give money or gift cards for Christmas and there are people looking to spend them, so the few companies that have post-Christmas sales are going to finish stronger than the others.  Don’t give up on the year just because you’ve had good pre-Christmas sales.

What have you learned from this holiday sales season?

A Stocking Full of Success

One of the oldest traditions during the holidays is the tradition of hanging stockings. Since at least the early 1800’s people have been hanging stockings to wait for gifts on Christmas. I think Christmas stockings have lots of great lessons for business owners as we journey through the holiday season and reflect on the new year beyond.

Stockings are fun because everyone can get involved and the cost to participate can be a lot lower. Yes, you can easily put some expensive jewelry in a stocking, but it’s also fun to put little knick-knacks in, gifts of candy or fruit, or those unique odds and ends that are posted all around the checkout registers this time of year. Yes, some businesses only offer big products or services (and are typically expensive) but most businesses offer large and small products at a variety of price points. The smaller/less expensive products/services can be a way of getting a customer to initially purchase from a business, they can also be impulse purchases, and they can be little add-ons that lead into or connect with your bigger offerings.

The concept of many gifts in one package is also a great opportunity for businesses. You can package up some of your most popular offerings, and you can also partner with other local or related businesses to create a combined offering that brings you all exposure. Whether you offer a package deal (aka discount) on several offerings when purchased together or just make it easier shopping for people by packaging things often bought together into one joint offering, multiple offerings put together can help to clear off someone’s gift list (or needs list) quick. The holidays are all about being together, sharing and caring and there’s no better way to celebrate what you offer and what other great businesses and business owners offer than by putting together a “stocking” of an offering from each of you that could either compliment each offering or are just a smörgåsbord of offerings that have something in common like for a specific career (nurse, business owner etc.), locally sourced, or other passion (dog lover, traveler etc.).

Finally, the packaging matters. Stockings have become a special, treasured memory for people. They’re often adorned with special scenes, made by hand or personalized with names or initials. Year after year we’re proud to hang the stockings and excited when we can add another one to the family when someone else becomes a permanent member of our Christmas gatherings. The packaging and presentation of your offering also matters. From the marketing to the website to the physical packaging to delivery there’s a lot to consider and attend to with regard to the appearance of your offerings (including the people involved), and it’s important to do so. The presentation tells a lot about how you feel about what you’re offering as well as is the initial introduction to what you’re offering and can create a positive or lackluster first impression.

So go ahead, make the holidays a little merrier with a stocking of gifts from your business to your customers. How are you helping your customers celebrate?

The Story of Success

One of my favorite things about the holidays are all the fun stories that we read from year to year. While I’m not in love with all of the new holiday stories that have been written, some are cute and the kids certainly seem to love them, and one has become almost on par with some of the traditional icons. Last week we talked about some of the figures that make the holiday season what it is, but behind each of those figures is at least one incredible story, stories that we read from year to year and share with our kids, and you may be able to recite or at least get close to telling perfectly. It’s these stories that have allowed the figures to become such enduring parts of our lives and holidays.

One of the things that has become a topic to talk about is the story that you’re telling in your business, through your marketing and with your customers. One of the biggest reasons I support story in a business is because it instantly humanizes it. It reminds the business and employees that they’re selling to people and it lets the [potential] buyers know that there are real people behind the products and marketing. Story is also can bring incredible life and depth to products, helping to differentiate a product from others similar to it.

So how is story shared? Well, it can be a video on your website Home page, it can be pictures and text on the About Us page, it can be behind the scenes glimpses on social media, you can share pictures and details on product listings (some products like this one on Amazon are a good example), and it’s in the words that you use to tell people about your products, services or brand.

Don’t think you’ve got much of a story? Well, the most classic Christmas stories are both relatively short and simple. There are lots of stories that have spawned from Santa’s classic story by Clement C. Moore, but that intial story is simple and straightforward. There’s a lot more after the initial Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, but again, the initial story is simple and relatively short. That doesn’t mean that they don’t include some really specific details like the names of reindeer or the exact types of gifts baby Jesus was presented with, because they do. Just adding a few descriptive sentences that bring some life to the presentation along with the relevant details can make all the difference in the world between people choosing to work with or buy from you or someone else.

Between now and the end of January take time to reevaluate the story you’re telling and make sure to begin communicating an authentic and clear story with your customers (ask me, I can help!). So what story is your business telling?

Holiday Leadership Lessons

One of the things that stands out about the December holidays are the individuals who are primarily talked about at this time. During the other holidays we don’t really have one person or figure that we focus on, but in December we’ve got Santa and Jesus for Christmas, and Judah the Maccabee as the leading figure of the Hanukkah story. Santa and Jesus are seen everywhere throughout stores and TV and churches and homes, on gifts and in songs and stories. Are there supporting characters? Of course, but the stories are based around these 3 figures and their work.

They do more than just look good, these figures guide us in our celebrations during December and offer up some special and important lessons for people to learn on multiple spiritual, human and cultural levels. They’re inspirational and fun yes, and they’re also leaders that people have learned from for hundreds and even thousands of years. They teach us the importance of giving, of working together, and of being a compassionate yet focused leader.

This holiday season, as with other holiday seasons, we are beginning with a loss of a leader, the death of the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. If you’ve been around my blog(s) for a while you know that I’m not big into politics, but even I can’t deny that he was a great leader, one deserving of respect and remembrance. Born in 1924 he lived through some of the most challenging times in US history, led through some of them as well as both Vice President and President of the United States, and continued to be a cultural and political leader until his death.

There are many components of a business, but one of the deciding factors of the success or failure of a business is the leadership. Especially in recent years there has been a lot of turnover in business leadership because of ethical failings or poor decision making. No leader (with the exception of Jesus) is ever perfect, but for leaders to stand the test of time like Santa and Jesus have, like Abraham Lincoln and George H.W. Bush have, they have to show that they’re wise, good communicators, capable of making hard decisions well, and that they have an eye for the people.

So as you take in the funeral proceedings for President Bush Sr. and listen to all the holiday stories, think about how the leadership shown in this special season can impact you as a leader, supporter and inspiration for the people who look to you for products, services and guidance. And I encourage you to choose goodwill and good leadership this holiday season.

Finishing the Business Year Strong

I’m still working on the plans for December’s topic and talks for the blog, but I thought it would be appropriate anyway today to talk about doing the last month of the year right and finishing strong. I saw a statistic recently about how businesses focus a lot of their advertising on the Black Friday time period but don’t put much to the end of the year, when the reality is that people are still shopping and shopping strong in the last 2 weeks of the year.  It’s a shame that businesses miss out on those sales, so here are some suggestions for you to capitalize on the opportunities that others are missing out on.

Let’s start with the holiday shopping experience first. Ship items promptly and do an even better job than usual packing them so nothing breaks or spills and you have to deal with issues. Have extras of the standard and favorite items that your customers buy as well as keep bringing in or revealing new special holiday and seasonal items all the way through the new year. Have extra elves on hand to help with customer needs and encourage them to hold onto their patience and holiday spirit.

Second, don’t slack on the regular stuff just because you’re busy with the holiday and seasonal stuff. Keep up with your newsletters, social posts, employee education and training, marketing and regular events. The holiday season is a great time to add to your loyal following and really begin (or continue) developing those relationships.

Finally, keep moving forward. Yes, it’s important to celebrate the holiday season with your employees and customers. No one wants the holiday season rushed through. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be making plans for the new year, teasing what’s coming and customers can spend their holiday gift cards on, and looking into innovations/advances and new products/services.

How are you going to finish this year strong?

Let’s Talk About Shopping Small

We’ve just had Thanksgiving, Black Friday was today and it’s just a few hours to Small Business Saturday! It’s a chance to recognize, thank, support and celebrate the men and women who are making a difference in communities around the US through their businesses. With the internet and technology today many of those small businesses are able to expand outside of their physical community, but it all started with celebrating the small shops that dot towns across the nation.

The US used to be built on all these little businesses, that’s how your town or city would run. Now we’ve got products and services that we can tap into outside of our little circles, and often without interacting directly with any people, but I still think there’s an incredible value to be found by shopping small. One of the best reasons to shop small are the relationships you can build with people, people who can give you a more personalized service and an experience that typically can’t be created online with the internet separating the buyer from the seller.

Are small businesses perfect? No, of course not. Just like many businesses they most likely have room for improvement too, and some don’t measure up to the quality or value that they could. But unless people get out there and try out those businesses, they’ll never know what kind of treasure is just around the corner from them. And unless small businesses spread the word about their existence the people won’t be able to experience them.

This weekend I would encourage you to visit at least one small business in your community, whether a restaurant, seasonal shop, coffee shop, or seasonal activity, and an online small business. When you check out or pay if you’ve got the opportunity let them know how thankful you are that they’re part of your community, part of the small business community, and that they’re sharing their passions, skills, experience, and knowledge with their community through their business.

A Simply Successful Holiday

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are a week away, so it’s time for last minute plans and considerations for your business. There will be a record number of businesses participating this year, already businesses are reaping the rewards of people looking to spend on holiday deals. It’s also a reminder of how much competition there is for all the money being spent. Which brings us to some important questions: Do you try to stand out? Is there anything you can do to get a better hold on some of those potential customers? How much work do you have to put into this weekend or will people just be shopping and you take what you can get? Do we do anything different than we usually do?

With so many people shopping it is a great opportunity to introduce people to your business, and part of that has to do with being there when they’re shopping and/or having what they’re looking for. For business that sell products, yes, that means having the trendy items but it also means having the go-to that lots of people shop for every year. For businesses that sell food and beverages, it’s an opportunity to offer some special grab-and-go meals or sets, and adjust your hours to be open early and late to serve the shoppers out at all hours.

Can you choose to go above and beyond? Absolutely. It’s a great opportunity to throw a holiday party and really start things off right for the holiday season. It’s the season to celebrate, right?! It’s a great opportunity to have one or more very desirable loss-leaders that you promote along with lots of other great products at special prices. It can be a great opportunity to wow people who have never bought from you, as well as really reward your most consistent customers.

But it’s also a great opportunity to just show how amazing you are in general without any real bells and whistles. Help your customers with a smile and holiday cheer, have employees there just for the purpose of keeping the store clean and helping answer customer questions, have your stock well organized so you can refill easily and quickly, take special requests, have a shipping station with packing materials and cards they can purchase so they can send your products to people who are far away without going to a post office, and offer free boxes to people who are buying gifts.

The best decision you may make this holiday season is to just offer the absolute best, most polite, most patient level of products and services you can. Let the holiday cheer you add just be a cherry on top, not an excuse or distraction from a poor business experience. What are your holiday plans?

The Business of Holidays

I love holidays, from the wandering through stores to see their decorations, to perusing holiday catalogs to holiday movies to holiday commercials to the food to holiday shopping for loved ones.  We’re just about 2 weeks away from Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and closing in on the holiday shopping season and special deals.  This year something different happened, instead of getting the Black Friday ads a couple of days before Black Friday, they started sending them out this week!  I was a little surprised but I think it makes good sense knowing how people like to shop around during this time.  So today I thought I’d share a few ideas for how you can tap into the holidays successfully for your business.

First, sneak peeks and early bird specials are a great way to get shoppers in the door early, and hopefully make it more of an even stream of customers rather than a crush.

Second, take advantage of all the holidays. Have special offers for Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and even the first day of winter.  Whether you’re an online only, a mixed online and local, or only local business you can tap into all of these holidays and events.

Third, don’t forget to give back.  Recognize a charity that is in line with your business, or you’ve spoken about before, or is well-known in your community (and your customers will know) and donate some of the proceeds of November 27 to them, or at the very least encourage your customers to donate or shop with them.

Fourth, it’s hard to like a last minute (panicked) shopper, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of all the spending that happens and the gifts that are given in the season and offer special last minute offers, gift baskets/boxes, or packages.

Fifth, make sure you reward your most loyal customers from throughout the year.  Yes, the holidays are a time when many people spend, but some of your customers have been buying from you all year long.  Reward them for their patronage with some extra holiday cheer.

Finally, make sure to celebrate the holidays and let your customers know that you know there’s more to the season than just spending and gifting.  Share some behind-the-scenes looks and holiday stories from your employees and don’t forget that the holidays are about coming together and celebrating.

What are your holiday plans for your business?