Committed to the Business

This month one of the topics we’re talking about is commitment.  Let’s talk a bit today about how commitment impacts your business.

If you really are committed to being successful, my first question to you is what have you done to try to be successful?  One of the biggest struggles I have with success is the fact that not everyone is truly committed, or that even if they are they aren’t using their brains that they’ve been given.  I get many people contacting me saying “I just created this product and now I need to know how to sell it.”  Too often what this means is that they think they’ve got this great idea but haven’t done the research on what it means to be in business and the options that are available for them to tap into to market it.  The internet is full of insights about every topic under the sun.  Sometimes you have to phrase the search a couple of different ways before you find what you’re looking for, but the answers are out there.

The second aspect of commitment in business would be about how committed you are to keeping the business alive, as well as make it thrive.  Part of this has to do with investing in yourself as the leader on a regular basis, and part of it has to do with investing in the business and making sure that things stay fresh and up to date in this fast-paced world we live in.  Do you put in time regularly to making sure that the systems are working as they should, the marketing is being done, trends are being considered and new options are being discussed?  Or do you just leave things alone and hope they keep working?

The third aspect I want to touch on today is commitment to your people.  Are you committed to the employees and customers you have?  Do you really think about how you can make things better for them, make them happier and help them have a better experience with you and your products?  Do you show that you care what they think and what they’re interested in?  Or do you do as little as possible and hope that things will take care of themselves?

Can you be successful if you’re not really committed? Yes, some people get lucky.  But that’s often because they’ve got a great team around them that cares a whole heck of a lot more than they do.  However, when the leader is committed, when the team is committed and when the clients are committed, the possibilities are endless. What areas of commitment in your business do you need to work on this week?

When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.” Howard Schultz

Presidents and Leaders

Today in the USA is President’s Day.  It’s an opportunity for us to take time to remember the Presidents that have lead this country up to this point.  It’s a chance for us to reflect on what they’ve done, who they’ve been, and the direction they’ve helped guide our country in.  No President was perfect, although some were very loved, and others were very respected. They all faced challenges and hard times, some fought wars and others worked more on rebuilding.  It takes a lot of patience, wisdom, support and courage to be President.  As a business owner you have probably experienced some similar things and can relate to some of the emotions that Presidents have gone through as they tried to navigate being President.

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader, it’s why many people work jobs.  They have great ideas that can help and contribute to a successful business but they don’t have the knowledge, drive, support or interest in being the boss.  It’s not for everyone.  I’ve done the leading and have been behind the scenes. Being behind the scenes has given me a great appreciation for all the teamwork that it takes to really make something look good from the front.  Whether you’re the leader or the employee you have incredible value in the business.

When it comes to being the leader there are some skills that really are a requirement to have, especially if you’re a solopreneur or a very public face of the company.  If that’s you, you need to have exceptional communication, decision making, and people skills.  You need to be able to understand your customers, your employees, your products/services and know how to relay that understanding to your people, or how to translate that understanding into products and services.

The reality is though that sometimes you’ll fail.  Sometimes you’ll let people down, sometimes you’ll let yourself down.  I believe you can do an exceptional job without trying to be perfect.  Sometimes that exceptional job will require you to work within failures and adapt.  In those cases it’s all about your leadership bringing back to life the company or product. Sometimes you’ll have to make the tough decision that the end has been reached and it’s time to move on.  And that’s OK too.  Every President is in office for only so long, because change is necessary sometimes.

So on this President’s Day, what have you learned about being a leader?

A Heart for Greatness

One of the things we’re talking about this month is having heart.  I believe that having heart is something that applies to all our lives, whether we’re the CEO or homeless on the streets, whether we have lots of people we call “family” or we’re on our own, or whether we’ve got a degree from Harvard or from Life.  Heart isn’t something you can really put in a box or write on a card, it’s something you weave into your life and becomes part of you, the choices you make, the friends/associates you keep, the people you’re in relationship with and how you interact with the world.

Sometimes we do need to make decisions that are based primarily or even solely on fact.  Maybe we make those decisions because of how personally invested or emotionally attached we are or because we have no gut feeling.  It’s not wrong to make decisions based on fact, but I don’t think most decisions can really be made just with the facts, I believe that we have to take into account the human element.  People can’t always be put into neat and simple boxes, we’re complicated and complex, and that’s describing those of us that are considered “normal,” not those that would fit into a pathological diagnosis.  And then when you add in things like drugs and alcohol the complications increase.

If you really want to become the best person you can be do take time to learn the facts, explore the world, see other perspectives and try new things.  But never forget that a little compassion, a little caring, a little kindness, a little heart may go farther than the facts could.  If you really want to be the best leader, boss, employee, mother, father, parent, sister, brother, partner, neighbor, or friend you could be, take a step back and let your heart out of its box for a moment and let it guide you.

“A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness.” James E. Faust

Leaders in Life

Today I’ve got some wise words from one of the leadership experts today, Dr Henry Cloud.  I believe that everyone is a leader in one way or another, but even if you don’t work in a traditional leadership role, there are wise words that you can learn from as well.

“Nothing good is going to happen if you can’t deal with the bad things that are going to happen.”

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where i end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with. We must own our own thoughts and clarify distorted thinking.”

“Encourage literally came from “in courage.” The courage is put “into” you from outside. Our character and abilities grow through internalizing from others what we do not possess in ourselves.”

“True intimacy is only build around the freedom to disagree.”  

“Just as we leave the effects of our work behind in results, we leave the effects of our interactions with people in their hearts, minds, and souls.”

“Your business and your life will change when you really, really get it that some people are not going to change, no matter what you do, and that still others have a vested interest in being destructive.”

“When we ask we are owning our needs. Asking for love, comfort or understanding is a transaction between two people. You are saying: I have a need. It’s not your problem. It’s not your responsibility. You don’t have to respond, but I’d like something from you.  This frees the other person to connect with you freely and without obligation. When we own that our needs are our responsibility we allow others to love us because we have something to offer. Asking is a far cry from demanding. When we demand love, we destroy it.”

“Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.”  

“Who a person is will ultimately determine if their brains, talents, competencies, energy, effort, deal-making abilities, and opportunities will succeed.”

“If you want to become healthy, you have to surround yourself with a group of people that are getting healthy, and you have to be connected to a community that is doing what you want to do.”

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?

First Impressions Count

It’s back to school time so today I’m thinking about something that many of the students are thinking about: making a good first impression.  Many business owners only get one chance to make a good first impression because their first impression was bad or unremarkable.  In these cases if a second or third impression opportunity comes along the business owner has a very difficult job of overcoming the negative impression the people had and showing them that they do deserve their attention.  Many people won’t give them a second opportunity because there are other options out there for just about everything.  With as challenging as it is to convert people into being customers, it’s important to make sure you do the best you can for your first impression.  Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to make a good first impression.

Get the details right.  When people visit your website they expect the information there is accurate.  When people call in they expect to be told the correct thing.  When people give their name they expect for it to be said back to them correctly (I’m talking about a Bob/John difference, not accents, inflections or languages).  Don’t be ashamed to take notes.  Don’t be afraid to hire someone to make sure all the details (especially dates) are kept up to date.  Don’t be afraid of making changes because it means things have to be updated.

Look good.  First impressions often have to do with how things appear, whether we’re talking the physical or virtual world.  If you have a website that looks like it was made in 1990 people will assume your business isn’t relevant to them in 2016 (unless you deal in 1990’s stuff).  If you or your team are sloppily dressed and don’t clean up the mess around the store, people notice and assume that the products or services you provide might be contaminated or aren’t that great.  No, you don’t have to spend thousands on appearances, but current, neat and tidy are the minimum.

Communication counts.  How and if you communicate is also key to creating a great first impression.  If you know you’ll be dealing with multiple cultures and languages do your best to understand the cultures and offer translations or interpreters to make it easier to do business with you.  While some would say the first hours (minutes even!?) after are the only appropriate time to respond, I say make sure to respond to all inquiries and orders within 24 hours.  Take courses on how to become a better communicator (everyone can improve).  Always try to provide a helpful (not pacifying) response, and do your very best to provide real answers and solutions to questions and issues.

These may seem simple but how your business deals with them says something very important about your business: do you care?  How you show up is a great indicator of how you and your team feel about the business and your customers.  It shows whether you care about what you’re selling and about the people buying.  What does your first impression say about you?

Teaching for Eternity

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about a topic that is top of mind for many families: going back to school.  Today I want to talk about one of the most fundamental and key aspects to school: teachers.  My mom has been involved in schools in many different ways for as long as I can remember.  She’s taught, been an aide, been a substitute teacher and of course gone back to school.  I’ve taught classes and groups and helped in many types of classrooms too and know how much work in involved, as well as how challenging some students can be, and how rewarding it can be as well as a teacher.  As a student I’ve had a few good teachers, some average (and forgettable) ones, and a few bad ones.  While there’s a shortage of teachers I don’t believe that’s a good reason to let the bad teachers stay at schools and continue to damage the learning experience for kids (and adults).

First I want to encourage each of us to accept the role of teacher as part of our lives.  I don’t think it’s necessary or right to hand that off to those who are officially teachers and say that we don’t have to do any teaching as parents, neighbors or community members.  All of us have skills and knowledge that can benefit the youngest of us, as well as the adults around us too.  Parents and caretakers especially have a big responsibility to not only make sure their kids are having fun, but also that the learning continues outside the classroom.  It’s a great opportunity to educate them about topics that most interest them and in ways that they learn best.

Second, it’s important to support the teachers.  Teachers are always in need of books and supplies for the classrooms, as budgets are tight in most schools.  I’ve known countless teachers who reach into their own pockets to pay for supplies, and to help students who aren’t as well-off as others.  A great way to help would be to sponsor kids for field trips, support the music or arts programs or give gift cards to the teachers so they can pick up what they need most.  For the teachers who regularly interact with your kids, you can give them gift baskets with things they like, gift certificates to restaurants, and most important ask how you can support them and your kids in their classroom.

Learning is a life-long activity but our foundations are built in those early classroom years by the men and women who give hours, days, months and years to invest in the next generation of minds.  Their impact continues long after a child leaves their classroom and goes out into the world.  What are you teaching those around you?

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Henry Adams

Educations, Assumptions and Choices

Today I have a couple of challenges and some inspiration for you as a business owner, and maybe a few reality checks too.

“Warren Buffet said he reads 3000 annual reports a year to gather key information about what is happening in the marketplace.  This allows him to make wise investment decisions.  You must be informed about what is happening in the market.  Educating yourself is fundamental to success.”  Chris Howard
I’ll do the math for you: 3000 per year is 8 every day.  Do you read at least 8 articles or listen to at least 8 podcasts/videos that actually help you each day?  I’m not talking about the headlines you skim but about the actual things you read/watch/listen that give you some new insights into running a business, the industry you’re in and business as a whole?  Make time to educate yourself on a regular basis.

“Consider a hotel shower. It has 11 things that might be dials, and five that actually are. The alert person, standing under cold water, at 5 in the morning, in a dark hotel room, will probably (???) realize that the bottom dial, all the way near the floor, is actually the one that controls the temperature.  The lack of instructions doesn’t make something simple.”  Seth Godin
Seth Godin always has great insights, and this insight is no different.  The reminder is that assumptions are dangerous.  Want to make sure your assumptions and biases aren’t blocking your success?  Get an outside perspective on things to make sure that you aren’t blindly assuming everything is great (even if you numbers prove otherwise).

“Often, we do not know where our choices will take us. This is why the best choices are often made based not on what they can bring to us, but what they will allow us to bring to others.” Loretta Lynch
There are a lot of unknown factors in running a business.  You’ve got the unknowns of the market, your customers and your employees or support staff just to mention a few things.  But there are unknowns in life too, from health to weather to driving, the world is filled with factors we can’t control.  While we should never ignore ourselves and our health and well-being, if we choose to look out for the well-being and satisfaction of others, especially when it comes to business, we’ll have a greater chance at success.

Which of these challenges speaks most to you?  Which one is the hardest for you?  What challenges have inspired you?

Business Classics

As we go through this summer I’ve been enjoying summer classics like ice pops, warm sunny days, late night walks, thunderstorms, fresh fruits and vegetables and less traffic on the roads.  Thinking about summer classics got me thinking about some of the things in business that never get old.  Like the summer classics there are lots of variations on the classics we can try, and the true summer classics don’t get old, so don’t be turned off by thinking these are just the “same old things” or dated and aren’t relevant, they’re as central to business success as sun is to summer.

Good leadership: I start my list with this one because as we see in the news, often it’s the leadership behind the business that makes or breaks it.  If you want to be successful make sure that you’re the person who can truly lead your business or that you hire people who can.

Good products and services: there is nothing that beats a happy customer.  Happy customers usually mean more customers, and that’s always a good thing.   One of the best ways to have happy customers is by providing them with products and/or services that live up to their description and the promises made about them and really help people.  Some products or services are successful because they make people happy even if they don’t technically fill a need or resolve a problem that customers have, but all things that are bought or sold must have a purpose of some kind to sell well.

Good customer service: whether we’re talking about the processes of shopping, buying, using or getting help, customers need help! Your products and services don’t magically transfer from you to them, there are things that happen between first knowing about it and the end result (and sometimes after that too).  How easy is it to work through your process?  Do you make your potential customers jump through unnecessary hurdles?  If so you may be scaring customers away before they have a chance to check out your fabulous products or services.  And don’t forget about the people (employees, bosses etc.) that are part of your business too.  Make sure they’re fully equipped to help with a whole variety of customer service needs and are pleasant too.

Good marketing: there has to be some kind of marketing done for customers to hear about your business and what you offer.  We’ve seen laughable attempts at marketing as well as non-existent ones (both of which can end a business).  Marketing can be as singular as a physical storefront or website, or as involved as a national campaign using all kinds of media.  But all marketing does one thing well: communicate to potential customers who you are and what you offer.  How detailed this communication is depends on many things, but all marketing must answer that essential question.

What are some other aspects of business that are classics in your mind?