Lessons in Leverage

There’s always been a group of people who look for the shortest or fastest route through, around or to something or someone. I have no problem with letting go of things that are unnecessary or taking out unnecessary steps, but fastest/shortest isn’t always best. For example, for a time there was a large interest in buying likes and other social points to unnaturally inflate business accounts so they would look more popular or active than they were. It’s something that the social networks have cracked down on fortunately but still something a few people are still doing. I understand the desire to present large numbers to people, especially when some celebrities have so many social interactions and connections, but when you have fake likes etc. it completely screws up your metrics and any data you want to analyze and it means you’re not being honest with your customers.

So what can we do as businesses to grow faster or quicker? One option we have is to get really good at leveraging. What does this mean? It means that we build a business smarter, taking advantage of the tools and resources we have access to. Sometimes it means a little extra effort or resources expended, but in the long run you’ll connect better with your team and your customers, and be more successful for longer.

Let’s take a look at some examples. For social media there are many things you can do with a social account, but the question I often raise with clients is how fully they’re taking advantage of all that a social network offers. Are you posting, doing ads, being social and promoting the account through your emails, website etc. or just doing one/some of the above? If you’re not leveraging all that the social account has to offer, it’s likely you’re missing out on some great opportunities for growth.

Another example has to do with your employees, team, and customers. Do you have people of all ages on your team and are you talking with all of them to get different generational perspectives? Are you tapping into the different skill sets and interests that each of them have or trying to force them into your preferred box? What about your customers? Are you getting their feedback on what you’re offering and finding out what they need? These are simple conversations to initiate, and can pay off big in the long term if you’re implementing what you’re learning.

A final example is one that I share about regularly, and that’s holidays. If everyone around you is talking about the upcoming holiday, how can you leverage that holiday positively for your business? Rather than complain about the holiday or how it steals customers from you, turn it into a money making opportunity. Offer relevant seasonal offerings, surprise your customers with seasonal gifts, and be flexible with your team and their schedules so they can be with their families too (a happy team is a productive team). Make the holiday work for your business.

What about you? What are you leveraging in your business to help it grow?

Getting Ready for Holiday Business

With only 11 weeks left in the year, 37 days to Black Friday, 67 days to Hanukkah and 70 days until Christmas, it’s definitively time to get your plan in place for the rest of the year and the holiday shopping season. If you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to offer and how you’re going to market those offerings and your business you’re basically saying that whatever happens happens and you’re going to just accept it. Personally that’s not my preference, but without a plan that’s what you’re saying. In line with a plan regarding your offerings and marketing those offerings should be a plan on how you’re going to capitalize on those sales in the future, such as through a newsletter, blog, podcast and/or social media.

So let’s start with what should be in the plan. In your plan for your offerings should be the offerings you’re going to feature that are classics and favorites, offerings you have available every holiday season, and offerings available for this holiday season alone. Of course you may have other offerings, but they won’t be those you focus on promoting for the next 11 weeks. Make sure that for seasonal offerings you can get/give enough if your offering would go viral or be in high demand, unless you’re intentionally planning to extremely limit what’s available because of the low cost or high product cost.

Once you’ve got the offerings selected, then it’s time to talk about marketing. Hopefully you’ve been actively marketing all year long and aren’t planning to attempt to do all your proactive marketing in the last 11 weeks of the year, but that’s what some businesses do. It’s also a good time to review all your social accounts and your website to make sure they’re not only up to date but also are clearly displaying and celebrating your holiday/seasonal offerings.

Finally, make sure that you’re not after one sale, but building a relationship that could result in sales in the future from your customers or from their friends. Have things like a newsletter, blog, and/or podcast you update at least weekly that people can subscribe to, have social accounts that you consistently post to where they can connect with you, and if you’re a local business consider offering a mailing list that they can get post cards and other materials mailed to them. Now’s also a great time to evaluate your strategies for each of those and make sure that you like what you’re doing and your customers do too.

How are you getting ready for the holidays?

In Pursuit of Independence

This week in the US we’re celebrating Independence Day, the day we honor and remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence declaring our independence from Great Britain. So today I thought we’d talk a little about the word ‘independence’ and what it means.

The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.” We truly do best when we find a balance of dependence and independence, because most of us can’t live truly independent from others (you depend on others to grow your food, build your buildings and means of transportation, keep the internet running etc.). But as you know, sometimes there can be too much dependence, or the wrong type of dependency (too much to allow for individuality), which is where Independence Day and the separation from Great Britain came from.

What about our independence? It means that we’re individuals, able to make our own decisions about what’s best for us, being brave enough to live our own lives and make decisions for ourselves, and strong enough to take actions that protect ourselves and those we love and create a life we enjoy living.

Right in line with this is something that’s very evident with Independence Day celebrations, and that’s pride. Truly being independent is something to celebrate, to be proud of, which means it’s also a responsibility we have to uphold and care for.  It’s something we have to tell the next generation about so that they understand why we do parades and fly flags, or why we’re so careful about our finances and going to school (or whatever your independence is connected to), so that they understand our pride and continue to celebrate it and uphold that independence.

So this week how are you going to work on your independence?  Maybe you’re just thrilled how much independence you have this year and just want to celebrate.  Or maybe it’s time for you to take a step in the direction of a new independence.  If a bunch of men and women can find the strength and courage to separate one nation from another, you too have the ability to move in the direction of independence in your life.

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?

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.

The Season of Gifts

We’re officially in the holiday season and this month we’ll be talking about all things holiday. We’ll be taking a look at some different holiday topics and how they connect with business, family, relationships and success. Today we’re going to start off talking about gifts.

The word gifts has many meanings, around the holiday season we talk more about giving gifts, but during the rest of the year a popular definition has to do with the gifts or talents, skills and abilities that we each have. I would also say that there’s a gift some people have for giving gifts and picking out ones that will really be special to the recipient, too. The practice of giving gifts not only shows that we care about others, it brings a sense of fulfillment and joy to the giver as well.

The holiday season itself is a gift because it’s the time that most of us take a step back from letting life run us and we choose more of where we go and who we see. We also typically slow down duirng the holiday season and do some reflecting on life and what’s important to us. It’s also the time we spend mentally wrapping up the year and preparing for the next.

With this gift of a holiday season what are you planning to do? Will it be the time of year for you to get things organized at your home or business? Will it be the time that you work on repairing or growing your relationships? Will it be the fresh start you take for your personal growth or physical health? Will it be the time you rededicate yourself to spiritual growth? What gift will you give this holiday season to those you love as well as yourself?

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?

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?

The Business of Halloween

Halloween is on Wednesday, it’s the day that kids dress up in fun costumes and visit around their neighborhoods to gather candy and other treats.  Celebrating or recognizing Halloween in your business can be a way to welcome or begin the 2018 holiday season and get things started with a bang, or it can just be a way to have some fun and more personally connect with your customers.  So today I’ve got a couple of ideas for how you can incorporate Halloween into your business.

Your marketing: One fun thing you could do would be a play on the “trick-or-treat” fun and offer a trick or a treat in your newsletter.  You can also ask customers to share or submit their Halloween photos and do a photo contest of pumpkin carving, costumes, lights or other topics on a specific theme that relates to your business.

Limited time offerings: Holidays typically are associated with special treats and Halloween is associated with candy and other sweet treats and pumpkin too, so businesses in the food industry can incorporate popular candies or pumpkin into their offerings for the weeks/days surrounding Halloween.  Clothing businesses can incorporate costumes into their lineup for the season and also offer ideas for how customers can incorporate their clothing into costumes or Halloween party attire.  Travel agencies can share a list of haunted locations and/or Halloween activities near their customers and/or sell tickets/arrange trips incorporating those locations and activities. And of course home decor businesses can include some traditional pumpkins as well as some more magical or mystical decorations and decoration ideas to help their customers have the spookiest house in the neighborhood.

Of course, don’t forget that if you’ve got a local store you can encourage customers to come in if you’re offering a special treat on Halloween (i.e. candy) or special coupon for a future date if they shop with you on Halloween.  Will you be sharing the Halloween spirit in your business, and if so, how?