Perfection or Problems

No one is perfect, and no business is perfect.  There are businesses and people that look perfect on the outside but the inside doesn’t reflect that, and of course there are those that look like a mess outside and are a mess inside as well.  Sometimes people/businesses know they need help and are willing to ask for the help, but other times they’re seemingly clueless about anything possibly being wrong (which can be very frustrating to customers and potential customers).   I certainly experience both in the course of my work, those that think they know everything and can’t possibly have any room for improvement, and those who admit they need help.  There are people all along that spectrum as well, it’s not a black and white thing.

So let’s start at the beginning.  As I said there are no perfect businesses.   Every single business (and business owner) has at least one thing they could change or improve.  Some of those things are subjective to some customers or potential customers (like changing a spice blend in a recipe or using a specific social site), while others are broader and really impact the whole business and customer base or potential customer base (like not having a website or having rude employees). When it’s something that affects only a portion of your customers/employees you have to decide if it’s really worth it to make that change or if there’s perhaps another way you could incorporate their feedback.  For something that’s broad spectrum it’s something that usually is a whole lot less optional and really should be addressed if you want the best for your business and customers.

We’ve touched on a few of the things that tend to be wrong or frustrate customers (or employees), but here’s a more specific list: lack of detailed and specific information that is easily accessible, poor management/leadership, unexpected and unexplained wait time, poor packaging, poor product or service, lack of communication, poor pricing, inconsideration, unhelpful/uneducated employees/salespeople, and rudeness.  Most of these have very clear connections to two things: people and communication.  As much as we’re an instant society today that has high expectations for many things including businesses we buy from, there is also a willingness to wait for the good stuff or for what we really want as long as we’ve been told what the wait will be and have been dealt with in a polite and respectful manner.

Maybe you’re one of those businesses who has some more subjective things to check out, if so that’s great and they could be profitable opportunities for you.  But if you’re facing a very broad issue it’s time to take action and make changes to repair the issue.  The longer you let it hang the bigger the chance is that you’ll lose great customers and have more difficulty getting new ones.

When It Takes Too Long

I know the past month for me has been challenging, there have been cancellations, changed plans, friends appearing and disappearing, and lots of other strange happenings, not to mention all the stuff going on in the world.  And it’s all exhausting!  Each day just feels like trying to walk through mud.

So what do you do when life just takes too long to get to where you’re heading?

My first choice is to relax.  We’re a busy society and don’t take enough time to smell the roses, literally and figuratively.  When was the last time you were outside?  When was the last time you took a walk, albeit bundled up given that we haven’t quite shaken winter yet?  When was the last time you sat on the couch with your partner or a friend and just talked?  When was the last time you had a cup of tea or coffee without the paper or some work?

Second, do what you feel like you can do.  If your body is telling you to take a nap, maybe you’re not getting enough sleep to function in high-challenge times like these.  If your body is complaining about something, maybe it’s a good time to try that diet your friends have been telling you about. Make short to-do lists and don’t plan to conquer the world right now.

Third, make time for family.  You don’t have to have your a-game to have a great time with your family.  Your kids will love if you sit and read stories with them, your parents will love if you call them, your siblings will wonder if you’re going crazy but it will be a chance to spend time with the people you probably don’t spend enough time with.

If your life, goals and victories have been a little elusive of late, fear not, keep pressing forward, especially now that we’ve entered a new month.  We’ll all get there.  Listen to what your body and heart are telling you and do the best you can.  No one will fault you for trying and doing the best you can.

Having Healthy (Tough) Conversations

I got an email talking about a topic that’s challenging: talking about the tough stuff.  You’ve probably seen some of the commercials on TV with two people walking or at a diner talking about how they recently discovered a family member participating in illegal or bad activities. The commercial ends with silence because the listener doesn’t know how to respond to what their friend just told them.  Generally most of us prefer to avoid the tough conversations about money, things they’re struggling with personally, things they’re struggling with professionally or about things that aren’t going well with the family or in a relationship.  We avoid them because we often don’t know what to say, how to express our struggles, that they won’t understand what we’re going through, that they won’t be willing to listen, or that they’ll just judge us instead of being supportive.

But in our talks about being healthy this month, it’s important to talk about the stuff that’s not so easy to talk about too.  Healthy isn’t just about the good habits, it’s about overcoming the not so good in your life.  Often you have to address the not so good before you can move on to the good.  Some of the hardest parts of the bad is talking about it with others and admitting your struggle, or talking about what’s bothering you, or how the other person hurt you (intentional or not).

The better you become at communicating the hard stuff the healthier your life can be, and the better overall your communication can be.  Because once you’ve learned how to communicate through the tough stuff, it’s much easier to talk about anything including the joys in life and your healthy habits and preferences.  Starting the conversation though can be challenging.  You may want to start the conversation with an impartial person like a pastor, coach, counselor or other advisor.  Talking through it with them can give you a chance to do any venting and get feedback on how to communicate your struggle to those who matter most to you (or those who matter in that situation), as well as important next steps to try to work through the struggle.  If that’s not possible and you’re really concerned about how the conversation might go, as a friend or more impartial family member to sit in on the conversation.

Ignoring it won’t make it go away typically, it usually makes things worse or allows them to compile.  There’s no reason for things to come to the point of blowing up in your face or becoming so overwhelmed that the rest of your life suffers.  Choosing honesty even when it is challenging or makes you not look so great is important to having healthy relationships and a healthy future.  The sooner you start communicating about the tough stuff, and agreeing with all involved parties to communicate when the challenges come up, the easier it will be to work through them and get back to or on to living a great life.  Make it a point today to have a tough conversation with someone, don’t put it off again until tomorrow.

Empowering Through Sales

It’s September so of course I’m thinking about lots of education topics and about the next generation.  Last week we talked about something that kids are known for: asking questions, but we talked about it with regards to building a better business.  Something that we may talk about in other contexts later this month or next month is the topic of bullying because it’s a serious topic that affects people of all ages, not just kids, but it’s most discussed with regards to kids.  What I want to talk about today is something that relates to bullying, is actually in some ways the opposite: empowerment.

The way I see it businesses are in the business of empowering their customers in one way or another.  Whether they offer a product or service they empower their customers through the solutions they offer to problems in their lives (darkness, coldness/heat, hunger, transportation, infertility, crazy kids, divorce, loneliness, sickness etc.).  The dictionary defines empower as “to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means, to enable or permit.”  By putting whatever you sell in their lives you’re giving them the power to overcome the challenges in their lives, to make living life a little easier or better, and you’re giving them the opportunity to make the right choices for their life.

So the question we ask often is how can we make our customers and employees happier?  Logic, systems, leadership, training, testing, communication, marketing, good people and customer service are all ways that we as business owners can give our customers and employees can make their experience with us better, longer, and more satisfying.  Make sure that what you offer and what you tell people make sense.  Make sure that you’ve got good systems, leadership, training, hiring practices and communication in place to support and guide your employees. Make sure that people can find you, know what you offer and are able to understand what you offer and how to use/apply it.  And make sure that the experience they have with you and what you offer makes them want to come back for more, even if their initial purchase with you isn’t the greatest.

By choosing to go the extra mile with preparing your products and services for customers, giving your employees the tools they need to be successful and support your customers and giving your customers an experience that reinforces the great product or service you’ve sold them, not only are you more likely to be more successful as a business, you’re empowering your clients and customers to solve their problems and enjoy their lives.

How do you empower your customers and/or employees?

Asking A Better Question

As business owners one of the best ways to have a breakthrough in our business or with a client is to ask the right questions.  It’s not always easy to know what questions to ask, and sometimes we think we’re asking the right question only to keep getting frustrated because it turns out that we’re not asking the right question.  So today I’ve got a whole bunch of questions that may be new to you that you could try when you get stuck with an issue.  Some are questions you an ask to someone else, others are those you can use in your own thought processes.

What should questions do?

They should empower, challenge assumptions, re-frame issues, stretch the person/people asking, and encourage breakthrough thinking.

Question Disclaimers:

Sometimes you’ll get an answer you weren’t expecting or wanting to hear.  Sometimes you’ll need to ask another question to get deeper into the heart of the matter.  Sometimes a vague question is good, other times you want to be specific.  Not everyone can give you an instant answer, don’t be afraid to wait for the answer (unless you’re looking for that first impression). You expect a response when you ask a question, and those who are giving the answer expect to be given some kind of feedback on their answer.  Sometimes ‘I don’t know’ is the answer you get.

Let’s talk about some questions to ask yourself to ask the right question:

Do I need a factually correct answer?

Do I need an expert opinion?

Do I need a well-reasoned judgment?

Do I want the truth or the answer they think I want to hear?

Is yes/no sufficient, or do I want more?

Do I really want an answer?

And now some questions you might try:

What’s the RONI — the Risk of Not Investing?

When did you last do something fun?

What can I do to help you?

Do I want to add value?

Do your core values make business sense?

What do you stand for?

Who do you serve?

What is your competitor’s plan to win?

Is it helping?

What is the one thing you have postponed changing about yourself? Are you prepared to make that change now?

Are you a good friend who keeps your word all the time?

Would you offer a good friend much needed (uninvited) advice when you can see he/she is headed for disaster, or remain silent?

Are you open to receiving uninvited counsel from a good friend if the situation were reversed?

Is it more important for you to win the power game or to know the truth?

What is more important to you – wealth or love? (No, you can’t have both so far as this question is concerned.)

Have you explored your creativity to your satisfaction?

What do you need to stop?

Do you dismiss your creative ideas based on financial thinking or lack of time?

Which would you prefer: Losing your creative energy and spark or gaining more free time in your life? (No, you cannot have both so far as this question is concerned.)

Can you actually name a creative project or dream that you would like to pursue now?

What do you notice about the reasons for your success?

What are you trying to accomplish?

How are you being helpful to your team?

What are you doing that hurts your team? (Insert customers, employees, manager, yourself, or organization?)

What’s working for you?

What could be better?

What matters most to your customers? (Insert you, team, employees, manager, or leaders?)

What are the most impactful things you do?

If things were going perfectly, what would it look like?

How does this support the company’s mission, goals and projected success?

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned along the way?

If all jobs paid the same, what would you be doing?

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

What does my (audience/customer/employee/partner/teammate) need to hear from me?

What kind of leader am I?

Do you know what I see in you?

How could we do that differently?

What are people concerned about, but no one says?

Did I help someone else succeed today?

What do we want to sustain?

What questions would you add to this list that have helped you in the past?

A Limitless Summer

Summer is officially here and it’s time to look ahead to what you’re going to do with your life this summer and what you want from the rest of the year as well.  One of the most important decisions we make throughout our lives is what we’re going to do with each and every day.  We have to make decisions about working, spending money, the people we’re going to allow into our lives, how we treat others, how late we’re going to stay up, how early we’re going to get up, our values, what we eat, resting and rejuvenating, where we want to live, where we shop and countless other things.

We not only have the challenge of making the decision, but of making the best decision and turning our decisions into results too.  We don’t always make the best decisions nor do we always follow through on the decision we make.  If you want to see your life improve, it’s time to start making better decisions and get better at following through on those decisions.

How do you make the best decisions for your life?  First by not blaming anyone else for things that go wrong that you are really to blame for.  You can’t always anticipate what others will do or predict the crazy things that go on around the world, but you certainly can do something about the choices you make in your life.  Second, don’t use the “I don’t know” excuse.  There are so many answers available online that you can access with just a couple of clicks most likely, so to say you’re uneducated or not smart enough isn’t an excuse anymore.  Finally, become a doer.  Watching and learning is important, but it’s what you do with what you know that ultimately matters.

This summer I encourage you to take time to watch and learn.  Don’t let the excuse that you don’t know something fly anymore, choose to learn and improve your life.

“Your inability to see other possibilities and your lack of vocabulary are your brain’s limits, not the universe’s.” Scott Adams

Victories for Veterans

With Memorial Day on Monday here in the USA I’ve been thinking about what it is and the people that are a central part of it: the men and women of the military and their families.  We talk about a lot of different topics as part of our conversations about business, and I wanted to make sure that we talk about this topic that’s really important to me and to so many people I know.  If you don’t have someone in your family in the military now you probably have in the past or are close with someone who does.  I know it’s not for everyone and isn’t an easy decision for those who join the service or their families.  But whether they serve for a year or for several decades, when they leave active duty and rejoin the rest of us the question of “what next” comes up.  As we think about Memorial Day on Monday and the Fourth of July just a few weeks away I want to encourage you as a business owner to strongly consider how you can support the veteran community and if hiring veterans is the right thing for your business.

Let’s start with the unquestionable pros.  Veterans come from the rigorous training of the military, they have had lots of experience with leadership, know what it is to be a leader, have learned how to work in high pressure situations, have lots of cultural experience that could help them relate with your customers, are thorough, are willing to go the distance and know the value of just showing up.  They’re also good at setting a good example for others and team building.

The most obvious concern about hiring a veteran is that they may have PTSD or physical challenges as a result of their service.  I don’t believe that should be a reason not to hire them.  Instead it’s an opportunity for us to be a little flexible with them and work with them rather than against them.  Maybe it means that you have to let them bring their therapy dog with them.  Maybe they can only work a few hours a day or come in an hour or two later. Maybe they need extra training or visible reminders of how to do things.  What you see as obstacles don’t have to be, it just means that we all have to be a little more supportive and ask them how we can help them do their best work for us.  And going the distance for your veteran employees may do wonders for your other employees too.

Whether or not you’re able to hire a veteran, there are lots of other ways you can support them through your business like offering discounts to veterans, donating to charity events that support veterans like 5k’s and food drives, and donating a portion of your profits to veteran organizations.  How will you support veterans this Memorial Day?

Creative Mistakes

When was the last time you made a mistake?  Was it recent?  It probably was, I know I’ve made a bunch of mistakes today!  As adults we often see all mistakes as bad and really wrong, can you remember the last time you laughed at a mistake you made or it honestly didn’t bother you?  Kids are really good at letting things go.  They have very short memories about most things, or at the very least don’t let it bother them as long as we hold onto things.

Kids are good at making messes and mistakes, at least they’re mistakes as far as we view them, they may not view them that way though.  Often what we see as something not quite right that kids have done is their way of being creative, their way of trying new things and their way of learning about the world.  By letting them discover on their own we’re helping build their creative muscles and letting them learn how things work and about cause and effect.

The other great thing about kids is that they’re not worried about right or wrong to the same degree that we are or in the same context.  We’re so worried about things going right or being perfect in our eyes or the eyes of the world that we don’t open ourselves up to trying new things and doing things differently like our kids do.  So the next time you face a change instead of just doing what you’ve always done or doing things the same way, try a different approach and see what kind of results you can create.

“Because of their courage, their lack of fear, they (creative people) are willing to make silly mistakes. The truly creative person is one who can think crazy; such a person knows full well that many of his great ideas will prove to be worthless. The creative person is flexible; he is able to change as the situation changes, to break habits, to face indecision and changes in conditions without undue stress. He is not threatened by the unexpected as rigid, inflexible people are.”  Frank Goble

Today is a New Day

You may not think about it often but today is a brand new day. Today has never happened before and today will never happen again.  You have the opportunity to do anything and everything with this new day.  You can get out in nature, take a walk and listen to and observe the spring changes.  You can choose to listen to your partner when they tell you they’re stressed out and ask how you can help (or just do something).  You can choose to play with your kids rather than ignoring them in favor of playing an app on your phone.  You can choose to pick up healthy food at the store rather than just the good looking junk food.  You can choose to get stuff done rather than procrastinating and putting them off again.

Today is a new day with new opportunities.  But those opportunities are only open to those who are open to them.  Are you open to seeing those opportunities in your life or are you so stuck in your current rhythm that you can’t see beyond it, or are you willing to go through the possibly painful and definitely challenging experience of changing it? Once you’ve made the choice to be open to the opportunity, to be open to the needs and desires of the people in your life you have to take action on your decision.

Start making the changes in your life that you know deep down in your gut that need to happen today.  Start with the little things if you’re intimidated by the big ones, like checking your phone less often, picking up after yourself, making healthier life choices, and treating others with more respect.   Do it because you love them and yourself and want the very best for your life.

What Do You Really Love?

There are only 3 more days in this month, can you believe it?  I’ve got a lot of changes happening in my life right now, maybe you do too.  In many ways the past few years have been leading up to this point, but you never really expect things to all happen at once when you consider the future.  As I look towards the months ahead and the changes that will happen, it got me thinking about how I want to get through those changes.  I could do it in a panic, I could do it in a rush, or I could do it with the lessons we’ve worked on this month as the foundation.

We’ve talked a lot this month about how love is a choice, just like so many other things in our lives.  We can choose to be bitter about the love we’ve lost or don’t have.  I think that many people who choose to live tainted by the love that has hurt them are wasting their lives, hurting themselves, and setting themselves up for continued pain and loss.  Love doesn’t make you perfect and no romantic partnership is perfect.  If you’ve set up the expectation that because love is involved so should be perfection, you’ll continue to be frustrated when you’re not seeing that perfect storybook love happen.

Real love is selfish at the same time as giving.  Love is about standing up for what you believe and what you need while doing your very best to support the person, people and things you love and love you back.  When you try to push through with fake love or love that is no longer what it used to be or what you want and need it to be not only can you lose faith in love but you can miss out on what love really can be.

As we dive into the weekend, the week ahead and the new month I encourage you to stand up for all that you love and not give in to the temptation to let your life remain at status quo when there is so much more to be had.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” Rumi