Weathering the Storm of Success

Just a few days ago the Northeast experienced a snowstorm like I haven’t seen in some time. We had more snow than I’ve seen (and shoveled) in quite a few years (we had about 2.5 feet), and as beautiful as it was it made for some big issues. Yes, I grew up with some bigger storms and I know that some people deal with way more snow than what I did on Wednesday and Thursday morning on a regular basis, but whether you’re used to lots of snow or not, when mother nature takes control things in our human world often go wrong. So today based on some of the issues that I saw, I thought I’d share a few lessons that business owners could learn from for the next time they’re faced with a crisis or the unknown.

First, weather is tricky because even with all the technology we’ve got the end result is still really a guess. Add to that the variable of humans and their interpretations, and you’ve got some serious questions and unknowns. It’s frequently said that the weather industry is the one that you can make mistakes in and not lose your job over it. While it’s probably not OK for you to be frequently wrong and give your customers a less-than-perfect product or advice that’s not helpful or accurate, there has to be some margin of error considered and understood. The weather people have good enough technology that they can tell us when something is likely on the way, but they can’t totally provide how much or what everyone is going to get or exactly how a storm will play out.

How does this apply for other businesses and industries? It starts with something as simple as being honest with your customers and letting them know that you’ll always have them and their needs and their best interests at the forefront of what you do, and always strive to bring them the best experience and products/services possible.  But also that you’re not perfect and sometimes things are outside of your control, and when those things happen you’ll be up front with them and let them know what’s going on, and do your very best to rectify the issue as soon as possible. Which brings us to the second point.

The second thing to consider is with regards to communication. Sometimes I feel that things are very well communicated, and other times I wonder what people were thinking! The issue that business owners really need to consider is the fact that there are so many free resources (and other resources) they could tap into to provide the very necessary information to the general public and the specific people who need those updates, yet they weren’t being used. There were lots of electric road signs on the highways that could have shared updated information about the roads ahead yet all they did was warn of winter weather and to drive safe. There are free social media accounts, emails/newsletters, blogs and websites that could have been used to post updates about power failures, garbage/recycle pickup, blocked roads, detours and openings/closings, providing information in a timely manner and all in one place, but they weren’t. These updates don’t take a long time to do, and don’t have to be extremely detailed, but they can be invaluable to people.

For businesses, yes, you should post that you’re open or closed or if there are weather related issues, and you should be in communication with your team so that they know what’s going on. You should also communicate with your team when it comes to serious weather about the policies that you’ve got for whether you’re open or not and if there are people who are specifically willing to work in serious weather if need be. Weather challenges also provide a reason to have an online presence and to sell something online if possible. With countless people stuck inside instead of out doing their usual activities, they’ve got time to read emails, peruse websites or apps and shop.

While I don’t think you need to be perfect or communicate every little detail about your businesses (although sometimes that can be fun!), especially when things are challenging or dangerous for people it’s important to be on top of your communication and not only give specific instructions regarding what to do now and during the danger/challenge/storm, but also be in communication about what comes next. What have you learned for your business from weather challenges?


Watch Your Words

On Sunday many in the US watched the biggest football game of the year, one that decided who was the ultimate winner in this season, and today the winter sporting event that the whole world participates in begins in PyeongChang. Both of these events are big opportunities for brands and for sales, approximately a quarter of people who watch the game watch for the commercials, and you can’t miss the advertising everywhere else from both the teams and the brands regarding the game. But in response to an article I read recently I wanted to talk about something I don’t talk about a lot, and something that many people don’t want to think about: the legal side of things.

You may or may not know that there are rules in place as far as what brands who aren’t official sponsors can and can’t say about these events, based on the official rules or trademarks that the organizations have on names and graphics. Average people can say whatever they want, but anytime a business starts talking about something related to the event they have to be very careful with what they say (you’ll notice that I didn’t include the specific names of the 2 events in question in the beginning of this post). While the official committees don’t hunt down every single offender, the consequences of using their names and graphics certainly are enough to make you think twice before you do any types of event promotions or talk about them.

I can understand the position of the sponsors who don’t want others getting the publicity they’re paying for, for free. I can also understand the events/organizations not wanting what they’ve worked really hard to create, and spent a lot of money on, being taken advantage of. But I also understand how frustrating it is for businesses who can’t afford sponsorship or don’t get approved for sponsorship, or may not even be aware that they’re not allowed to say/do certain things (it would certainly make things a whole lot easier for everyone if you could just come out and say stuff).

So what’s the lesson here? First, if you hear big companies not calling things by their given name, there’s probably a good reason for it. Second, you wouldn’t like it if someone stole your best material or tried to steal your thunder without first getting your approval to use or reference it. Third, if you’re going to restrict what others can say or do, make sure you give them a list of do’s and don’t’s and you can even be helpful and let them know say or do instead of what the general public can do/say. Fourth, maybe this is the reminder you need to take a look at the legal side of your business and make sure everything is protected the way it should be. Finally, after you’ve taken a moment to complain about it, embrace the opportunity to get creative in your promotions and communications regarding the fun competition happening in PyeongChang.

How will you creatively celebrate all things winter sports in your business?

Secrets to Success: Write It Down

For the next few weeks I thought we’d take a look at some not-so-secret secrets to success. These may not be secrets that no one knows about, but not everyone uses them or uses them well. They’re also known for sometimes getting out of hand or being less-than-useful, but that has more to do with the individual than the tool/technique. For the right person a “secret” could be the key to success they’ve been missing. Today we’re starting off with writing stuff down and using lists.

I wanted to start with this secret because of how busy we are and how many responsibilities we all have and how much we’re all trying to keep straight. Want to know the number one reason why I write just about everything down? So I don’t have to remember it! Writing things down allows me and my brain to keep thinking, keep creating and keep going, rather than continually trying to keep track of everything in my head. Lists are great because they remind you of what you have to do, things you are thinking about trying, people you have to contact, and great ideas you have. You also have the pleasure of crossing things off your list or deleting them from your list and seeing how much you’ve accomplished.

Writing things down can also help you with goal setting, delegation, and accountability. When you’ve got the to-do list posted where others can see, you’re more likely to accomplish your responsibilities, and it’s also impossible for others to say they didn’t know their responsibilities or what else had to be taken care of.  However, if you really enjoy having your excuses for why things aren’t done, you probably don’t want to apply this success secret to your life and work.

I prefer paper when it comes to writing stuff down and keeping lists, but I’ve also been known to use some virtual ones when the need arises. Many people use virtual lists to keep track of grocery needs and other things that need to be purchased, and things that multiple people are involved in because they can be easily shared and accessed on the go. My preference is to use paper when I’m sitting at my desk or working because I think through things better than using a computer document or app, and I also get the satisfaction of scribbling it out when I’m done. For family and work purposes white boards are also great tools if you prefer leaving a physical message or reminder over a digital one.

What are your favorite tools for keeping track of what’s going on in your life? Do you prefer paper or technology?

Discount Dilemma

One of the questions that just about every business owner is asked is “do you offer discounts?” It’s a question that makes us groan sometimes because we work hard to serve our customers and create our products, and the fact is that we have to make money! Yes, most of us have a buffer or cushion between what it actually costs to create a product and what we charge, and there are people who offer similar services for less than we do. Yes, some of us do compete based on price, that’s one of the reasons people buy what we offer instead of a similar product/service. And yes, most of us do create special offers at some point in time, or offer regular discounts for certain people, like veterans for example. Not to mention that there’s a whole “bargaining” industry where asking for a different price than what’s listed is not only acceptable but expected.

That said, I don’t necessarily have anything against offering discounts. I believe it can be a way to recognize your faithful customers and offer them discounts for continued purchases. There’s certainly an opportunity in offering “introductory offers” at lower-than-normal prices, or coupons if you’re in need of an influx in customers. There’s also an opportunity to connect with people through clearance or close-out offers.  But there’s a reason that things are priced as they are, and it’s what people have determined is reasonable based on what results are possible or what’s being offered.

So how do we deal with the discount question? Personally I address it on my website. I make it clear that if there’s a discount to be had it will be announced on social media and/or in my newsletters and that it’s not something I do often. I also clearly state that I offer regular special pricing for pastors for one of my offerings and for veterans on all of my services (and how to prove you qualify). I also offer levels of service so that I can help people whether they can afford $20 or $2000, and some payment plans.

So what if someone doesn’t clearly state they do/don’t offer discounts but you really, truly can’t afford their prices, and you really want to work with or buy from them? As with so many other things in the industry these days, the best thing you can do is contact them and be specific about why you want and deserve a discount or special pricing. Saying things like “I’ve got tons of people I can refer you to” or “I’ll absolutely buy again in the future” aren’t valid reasons in my book. You have to give a good enough reason why you should be given a discount when [almost] everyone else pays full price, preferably a reason that can be backed up or easily verified. If they can’t offer a discount, maybe they’re willing to work out a payment plan, offer reduced hours/access, have something similar they can offer at the price you can afford, or can recommend someone/something that does fit your price range.

What are your thoughts on discounts and how do you handle it when (potential) customers ask you for them?

New Year, Simply Better Relationships

It’s the weekend! The weekend is a great time to spend together as a family and do something fun or important, or just to relax and catch up after the week. I was talking with my partner about a meeting they had the other day at one of the places he works and he was saying how poorly run the meeting was and what could have made it a much more constructive meeting. His thoughts got me thinking about two simple things we can do in our families and with our partners to have better relationships.

Ask more, tell less: we’ve gotten pretty good at telling others what to do, but how often do we really take the time to ask them or discuss it with them? If you tell them to do something you’re more likely to get resistance, but if you ask them about something you don’t truly know what the answer will be until you ask someone. Maybe they’re in a generous mood, maybe you’ll explain your issue differently this time, maybe they’ll be tired of listening to the complaints, or maybe they’ve realized that it’s time to step up. Yes, the answer may be the same as it’s been the other times you’ve asked, and maybe that’s an indication to you that you need to do or say something different.

Spend time together: maybe it’s going out for groceries, maybe it’s digging in the garden, maybe it’s reading a book, maybe it’s watching a movie, maybe it’s practicing sports or playing a video game, maybe it’s going out to eat, maybe it’s taking the dog for a walk, or maybe it’s taking a class, educational activity or seminar together, there are countless ways that you can spend time together. Some are things you can do with any free time you have, but others are things that have to get done that could be done better with another person, like food shopping, or are more fun with others like going out to eat. The important thing is making the effort to be together.

I know, these sound like really simple things, but making these two small tweaks in your life and theirs can make a big difference. What small but powerful effort can you give in your relationship and family this weekend?

Are You A Responsive Business?

One of the biggest challenges we’ve got in business is the on-demand nature of so much of our world.  We can get instant responses by searching for something online, get fairly decent and healthy food in 10 minutes or less, talk with anyone anywhere in a matter of seconds, and share something with just a click with 1,000 or so of our closest friends.

As business owners if we really want to succeed and have happy customers we have to be excellent communicators.  When communication is an issue so many people can be impacted or frustrated and time can be wasted.  But I do understand how busy business owners are and how much is on our plates, so I support establishing a happy medium.

I think the on-demand nature of our world has its benefits, but at the same time there have to be boundaries because in many cases when boundaries aren’t established or committed to, other things suffer.  In some cases you absolutely have to be there the second the call comes in (hospitals, police etc.), but in many cases it’s not necessary, which means that as long as you’re regularly responsive and have clearly communicated your general response time, there’s no reason to interrupt your client or business work to answer a call or message.

If it’s not absolutely necessary and you don’t have the resources to set up a live chatbot that can answer basic questions for you or hire someone to be available 24/7 to answer questions, then you have to commit to being responsive.  My guarantee is that I respond to all messages within 24 hours, but usually sooner.  Sure, I could sit around and wait for messages to come in, but with the exception of a few clients who pay for that privilege, most clients (and people) that I work/talk with don’t have emergencies that demand that type of attention.

That said, as I alluded to earlier, it’s necessary to respond to all communications you receive (unless it’s clearly spam or nasty (reviews are another story, which is a discussion for another time)).  If your business is not responding to messages within 24 hours (or within 48 if you absolutely have to on the weekends), it indicates to me that you’ve most likely got a larger problem at hand. If you’re not reasonably responsive with your communications it makes me question how serious you are about your business. Do you really want new customers? Do you really want to help the customers you do have?  Do you really want to grow and improve your business?  What does your communication and responsiveness reveal about your business?

I encourage you to commit to being more responsive to your calls, messages and other communications this year.

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.

Set for Relationship Success

Today we’re talking about relationship success. While there are always factors that can’t be anticipated, and people do change, I believe that there are some things you can do to help your relationship be more successful than most. Here are 6 things you should consider to give your relationship a good chance at success.

Attention: does your partner get your undivided attention at least once every day or are you frequently doing more than one thing at a time while talking or being with them?

Actions: how do you behave towards them? What do the actions you take on their behalf, towards them or because of them say about you and your relationship with them?

Attitude: do you dismiss them and their feelings? Have you grown to resent them or their place in your life? Do you treat them as a burden or distraction?

Care: do you show them how you feel about them and how important they are to you? Do you make a point of doing special things for them? Do you sometimes put their needs ahead of your own?

Communication: how often do you two talk? Do you share the things that go on in your day and listen to them share about their day? Do you take minutes here and there to just text them that you love them?

Consistency: relationships aren’t made or broken in one day or one event, are you consistnetly showing your partner that you are their partner, or consistently showing them you’re not invested in the relationship?

I encourage you to take time to consider your relationship this week and take the necessary steps to evaluate and improve your relationship so that it’s fulfilling for both you and your partner and has the best chance at lasting success.

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, 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.

Open and Honest

One of the greatest challenges to being in business is keeping your secrets while still managing to be open enough, as open as your people need you to be. I don’t share samples of documents that are included in some of my offers because it’s my template, my idea. Just about every restaurants and foodie has a secret sauce or secret spice blend. Technology companies keep lots hidden under the hood of proprietary software and hardware. And then there’s the other side of secrets where people and companies don’t like to share when they’ve failed or something has gone wrong.

But the fact is if you’re not willing to reveal anything about your business you really can’t be successful in traditional marketing methods, you’re extremely limited to how you can gain clients/customers and who will be willing to work with you. If I know you’re a Mexican restaurant and that’s it, I’m probably going to skip eating there, unless I’m absolutely desperate for Mexican, can’t go to the grocery store and cook my own and aren’t near any other restaurants I’m more familiar with that would be OK. If I know you’re in marketing but that’s it, I’m going to look for someone else. If I know you’re a life coach and that’s it I’m probably going to move on. If I know you’re a cleaner and that’s it I’m probably going to move on. There have to be enough details that people can understand who you are, what you offer, what your difference is from people who offer similar things, where you work if appropriate and how you can help them.

But going back to the other side of the story, the scary side. What about the side that most people ignore or bypass or hope they’ll never have to think about? I’m talking about things like ingredients, privacy policies, terms of service, contracts, orders, or even accidents? One of the things that we have to stop hiding are these things that can get people disqualified, kicked out, killed, hurt or even just frustrated. Don’t hide the fact that you’re going to require your customers to do work, don’t hide the fact that there are things that will get people disqualified based on what they do or don’t do, don’t hide the fact that you only give a very limited warranty, don’t be shy about letting your customers know that you use ingredients that some people may be allergic to, and don’t make it impossible for people to get in touch with you. Some of the biggest corporations in the world make these issues, of course so do some of the smallest.

So what can we do to keep our secrets but better communicate with our customers? As a restaurant post on the menu a simple statement that you use some ingredients that people may be allergic to, and they should ask their server if that ingredient is used, or to not include that ingredient in their order. If there are things the customer has to provide or have in place in order to move forward with something, make that very clear, and also make clear if/why their order could be cancelled. Go ahead and protect your company with terms and a contract, but create them in a form that will allow people to get a quick overview and read sections, if they so desire, in more details (use an outline then longhand). Let people know that you’re understanding about things that happen beyond their control (like a hurricane) and that you’ll work with them on new payment terms if need be, and that you’ll communicate with them about things that happen beyond your control (like data breaches) within a reasonable amount of time and with as much information as you can provide, along with solutions or next steps. None of these mean that you’re giving away your company secrets, but they are giving your customers a much clearer picture of things they might need to know about, or would have concerns with.

Yes, this can be a lot of information to provide to them, which is one of the reasons I always recommend that a business has a website. On that website you can have all of this information. It doesn’t have to be front and center, it just has to be find-able. What does your company (or you) do to be open with your customers, but without giving away the bank?