The Choice of Success or Competition?

One of the keys we consistently talk about when it comes to business is people. If you don’t have customers you can’t run a business. If you run a business that uses employees but you don’t have any (or can’t keep any) you can’t service your customers. If your suppliers or partners don’t hold up their end of the arrangement, you can’t serve your customers. Sounds simple enough, right? Yes, but there are lots of layers to just simply having customers and employees and working with suppliers/partners.

There is competition in every town, every state, and every industry, so on top of the local competition you’ve got the internet competition to face as well. It’s almost impossible to find (or create) an industry that doesn’t have competition, either direct competition (i.e. other health food stores) or competition within the same field (i.e. other supermarkets). There will always be a question of whether you’re truly offering the same thing or not, the experience you have in offering/creating that item (how do you back up the value you offer) and what the difference is with price.

I believe that there are more than enough customers for everyone, so I don’t believe that you have a right to be angry at customers or employees who choose to move on. If they choose to move on they do it for a whole variety of personal reasons including moving locations, relationship changes, or health changes. Unless you’re going to make some significant changes to your business (unlikely) there’s not much you can do about keeping their business.

But they may also choose to move on because you’re not providing what they need or want. For example, if they feel like the service isn’t up to their standards (or has recently changed), if they feel disrespected or unappreciated, if they see more growth (career and knowledge) opportunities, if they don’t feel that you’re offering a quality product (or has recently changed), or if they’re not getting properly compensated for the work they do. If any of these are true then you can’t blame the other companies out there, you can only blame yourself for pushing them away.

If this is a reality check for you and you’re realizing that you’re chasing away potential life-long customers and employees your customers have always appreciated, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate how you’re leading and running the business. Learn from what the successful businesses in your world (online and local) are doing, don’t berate or antagonize your customers and employees for patronizing them or choosing to work with them when you aren’t being the great business you could be. Most businesses can be turned around from a downward spiral if they’re willing to be open to hearing the truth and make the necessary changes.

Competition isn’t the enemy of success, competition is normal and healthy. It’s up to each business to differentiate themselves, market themselves and provide 5 star service to customers whether you’re selling inexpensive toys or pricey homes.  Are you so focused on the competition that your business, customers and employees are suffering?

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Thank You Kofi Annan

Last week the world lost another great leader, someone who worked with some of the most difficult situations around the world during his 80 years on earth: Kofi Annan. He wasn’t a perfect man, he didn’t solve all the issues he was presented with, but he led through them and left a legacy of peace and leadership for us to learn from and thank him for.

I don’t think it’s possible for most of us to live a perfect life. Everyone struggles with something at some point, some of us do it on a very public stage, and some of us do it more quietly. So I don’t think the goal should be to achieve a perfect life, but to live a life that helps others and that we’re more proud of how we lived, than regretful or shameful. I’d be pretty happy if people remembered me as a leader and someone who stood for peace for many. You also don’t need to know how to do everything, or try to be everything to everyone, just be yourself and open to learning new things.

You get out of life what you put into it, and Kofi Annan is a great example of really putting a lot of effort into life with many good things to show for it. The world needs more people like him who are willing to step up and be aware of what’s going on around them and work towards peace for all people.

“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

“I have always believed that on important issues, the leaders must lead. Where the leaders fail to lead, and people are really concerned about it, the people will take the lead and make the leaders follow.”

“In the 21st century, I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion.”

A Question of Leadership

This month I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. We’ve seen the continuing drama with the US president and with business, sports and other leaders, and we’ve seen play out on a very global scale the search and rescue of a soccer team of 13 people from a cave. Naturally leaders get put on a pedestal and are called to a higher standard of living. We don’t give them all the allowance that may be necessary as humans, but in some ways that’s acceptable because they (and we) are supposed to be more responsible.

Much of the discussion about the soccer team was regarding how they with their coach ended up where they did in the first place. Supposedly they were aware of how dangerous the caves could be and that the location was one that seasonally floods, and yet they entered anyway. I’m sure if they haven’t happened already, in the coming weeks there will be discussions with the coach about how things went down as they did and why he allowed the kids to go into the caves.

But from what we’ve already heard and know there are two things to take note of: first and foremost he kept the boys alive and in good spirits for more than 2 weeks. I can’t imagine how challenging that was, for himself as an individual and then to have 12 young lives to care for on top of that. And yet he did.

The second thing we know is that he’s taken responsibility for what happened. It’s been reported that the boys wanted to go exploring, together they went into the caves and when he realized that it was flooding and there was no escape he did what he had to to protect them and keep them alive.

We can’t change the past as leaders, we can only choose to accept our failures and shortcomings and move forward. I think a large part of them regrets being trapped, but in some ways their situation was a gift because so many people were able to come and work together, people from around the world and different continents. It’s a great reminder that for even as few as 13 people in a world of over 7 billion we can put aside our differences (even if they’re as small as speaking different languages) and work together for good.

This week I encourage you to take time to evaluate your leadership. Are you being the best leader you can? Are you showing your customers and employees the respect they deserve? Are you taking responsibility when things are your fault and doing your very best to resolve them? What kind of leader are you?

The Future of Your Business

Lately I’ve been coming back to a topic that isn’t one that we really like to think about, but is something that affects us personally and professionally: death. At some point in time all of us will die, and just about every business will go out of business at some point in time. Very few businesses stand the test of time, often because the world changes and either they can’t keep up with the changes, or there’s no one to continue on after the current owners are done with the business. So today I thought we’d take a minute to talk about next steps with your business, whether you’re hoping to sell, planning to pass it on or some day going to close up shop.

Whether you’re planning to sell or planning to pass it on one of the most important things you can do to not only make your business appealing to the next person, but to ensure that you pass along the best version of your business that you can, is to keep good records. This means that not only is everything recorded in a way that people can easily figure out what you’re sharing, but the information can be used to make important decisions in the future and the information shows that you’ve got a great concept and the customer base to support the business.

If you’re planning to close up shop some day one of the most important things you can do now and when that time comes is have good resources that you can pass your people off to. I’ve been connected with several individuals and companies who decided to close their doors and left absolutely no way for people to keep in touch with them or suggestions about who they can connect with that offers the same heart, quality and services that they did to now replace them. I understand if you want to be done with your business (or need to be), but you’ve spent a lot of time building trust with people and they’ve gotten to know you and see you as a valuable resource, so to just toss them out like garbage just because you’re done is inconsiderate. You’ve got a new future you’re moving on to, but they were relying on you for parts of their future.

But the fact is that paying attention to detail, keeping good records, building a network of reliable customers, having data to consider, and having a network of people you can recommend people to are things that can be invaluable now while your business is being built, growing or thriving, not just when you’re closing that chapter of your life.

The one last thing I would encourage you to keep in mind is that everything does come to an end at some time. It’s always better if you’ve got the control to finish things out as you want them to go, rather than working through a mess or leaving the mess for someone else. What plans do you have for the future of your business?

Don’t Lose Faith in Your Business

In thinking about all of the challenges and changes that the business world has been going through, from physical businesses needing to innovate or close to the big changes with GDPR being active this week, there are days when business owners think about just throwing in the towel.  I get it, it’s not fun to come up with this cool idea, do lots of development and have positive feedback from people only to find it’s not selling or the sales aren’t enough to cover the debts.  So today I thought I would share a bit of encouragement and an opportunity for reflection with you.

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” Steve Jobs

When I read this quote I thought it could be about a good thing and/or a bad thing.   It can be good if all of a sudden you realize the little or big thing that you’ve been missing, the tweak that could make a big difference or you finally get that break you’ve been looking for.  Or it could be one of those no good, very horrible, terrible, bad days (or weeks) where everything seems to go wrong or be wrong or seemingly conspire against you.

Sometimes life does go wrong, sometimes the business goes through a rough patch.  Steve Jobs didn’t have a perfect life and the business wasn’t all sunshine and roses (it still isn’t).  There are lots of people who really don’t like Apple or their products, even if they can respect Steve and the business he (and many others) built.

The question is what you’re going to do after, what comes next.  Steve encourages you to not give up faith and not stop trying.  In many cases a few tweaks and some support can help you get back on track, and even to the point of thriving.  If you’ve been struggling lately I encourage you to look for an open door or ask for help, and don’t give up faith in a better tomorrow for you or your business.

Next Generation Business Success Support

Mother’s Day is just a few days away in the US and today I’m thinking about one of the important jobs that moms (and dads) have, and that’s raising up the next generation. As business owners it’s important to not only help your employees and team members grow personally and professionally, and to offer something of value to the world through your products and services, but I believe we’ve got a very important duty to help the next generation of business owners get started, whether they’re 18 or 80, and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes we made in starting our businesses. So let’s take a look at a few ways we can all work together to ensure that the next group of business owners is just as or more successful than we are.

One way to help the next generation is talking with them. I answer probably a hundred emails and messages a week from people asking for business advice. Many leaders are willing to have you buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for picking their brain for a bit. I think this is a great way to give a little bit of your insight to help others get started. If you’re in this position of wanting to ask someone for some business knowledge, make sure that you’ve got your questions ready and you’ve read up on this person before approaching/talking with them (show them you’re not going to waste their time).

Another way to support new and considering business owners is donations to organizations that help people do more than work simple jobs, like teaching farm or computer skills, or providing the actual seeds and computers (or a donation for that purpose). I was reminded in an email this week that what seems like a very small amount of money to some of us can be a huge amount of money in other parts of the world. $75 to you or I may be a bottle of wine, a nice dinner or part of a month’s cell phone bill, but to someone in another country it means knowledge and seeds to set up a lucrative farming venture that not only feeds their family but brings in a decent income. If you’re got old computers, nice dress clothes that don’t fit, office furniture, or other resources (including money), there are tons of great charities and organizations that will take them and help them get into the hands of those who need a bit of a helping hand to get started in business.

Third, a mentorship program is a great way to help those interested in starting a business like yours, or in the same industry. It can be a way for those interested in starting a business like yours to make some money and learn the ropes from a seasoned leader. They earn at least minimum wage working for you in your business, learning all the different jobs, you teach them and answer questions as you go along, and you get a motivated and focused employee for 6 months to a year. It’s not something everyone can offer, but it’s another way to help the next generation learn how to run a business from the inside.

So how do you contribute to the next generation of business leaders? What do you think is most important for the next generation to know?

Presidential Leadership

In thinking about President’s Day on Monday here in the US, I got to thinking about what it takes to be a great president, and if we business owners can learn anything from them. But then I turned the question around and asked myself what advice the presidents would give us as leaders.

“Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.” George Washington

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.” Andrew Jackson

“We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.” Teddy Roosevelt

“Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.” William Taft

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb … Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge

Franklin D. Roosevelt “…knew what people wanted from the highest office in the land: action, words and optimism.”

Truman’s motto was “A leader needed a true heart, a strong mind, and a great deal of courage.”

“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” Bill Clinton

All presidents left a legacy of one kind or another. All presidents had successes and failures. All presidents had good days and bad days. All presidents left office after they were done and continued on with their lives. The choice we all have is to do the best we can with what we’re given for as long as we’re there, and when life hands us a new direction to then do the best we can on that path. What are you learning from your business and being a leader right now?

Leadership Lessons from Dr Martin Luther King Jr

This coming Monday in the US we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born in January of 1929 and killed in 1968 while leading the Civil Rights Movements. Dr. King is someone that we look up to from a personal perspective, but I think we can learn a lot about him from a business perspective as well, which is what we’re going to talk about today.

Start somewhere: Dr. King didn’t start his campaign in front of the Lincoln Memorial, no, he began as a baptist pastor. There are many pastors and spiritual leaders who have done great things for their community, as well as for the world, and anyone, anywhere can be a leader. There’s no rule that says you have to have front page coverage or thousands (or millions) of followers to make a difference, you do however have to start with what you’ve got, be faithful with it and work to grow from there.

Communication: A core part of what Dr. King did and was all about was communication, as you probably know, he’s most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech! There’s no way that the Civil Rights Movement could have achieved the reach it did or made as big of a difference for racial equality as it did without the communication that was central to the movement, both on stage and between all the people and groups involved. The Civil Rights Movement is also noteworthy because of the non-violent focus, instead choosing to use words and peaceful actions to make a statement.

Perfection is not required: I’ll be the first to tell you that I greatly admire Dr. King and am proud that he was an American. But if you take a look at his history, as well as all the details of the Civil Rights Movement, he’s not perfect, and as with any situation that brings lots of people in contact and conflict with each other you’ll find evidence of things that could have been done better or at least done with a bit more care given to how it was played out. The thing is these issues, mistakes and failures didn’t ruin or stop Dr. King or the Civil Rights Movement, they’re accepted as an unfortunate part of the path to victory.

Work hard: With this new year you’ve got the opportunity to build on what you’ve been building, make changes, learn to communicate better, and move on from previous mistakes or failures. The question you have to answer is if you’re ready and willing to do the work that’s required to make a difference. Dr. King was, he was in the trenches marching, speaking, and going to jail for his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, he didn’t leave it to “other people,” but he did understand the value of having people on his team, and those people sharing in the work.

Have a Dream: While the “I Have a Dream” speech was meant to motivate people with regards to issues of race and equality, it’s an important reminder that behind what we’re doing there really has to be vision, passion and purpose. People identify with, understand, connect to and relate to stories, and vision, passion and/or purpose gives people something to feel, experience and envision.  Dr. King’s dream speech brought to life for people what could be possible if the Civil Rights Movement was really a success.

I’m thankful Dr. King was the man he was, and I’m thankful for the way he has inspired so many people, including other leaders. Are you following in the leadership shoes of Dr. King, and if so what have you learned from his life and leadership?

Let’s Explore Your Business

This month one of the topics we’re talking about is exploring. If you’ve been in business for several years it may seem like exploring isn’t something you should be doing, you should already have all the answers, right? Wrong. If you’ve been around for several years there’s a good possibility that your customer’s needs or wants have changed or at least varied and a strong probability that the marketing tools and practices have changed or at the very least updated since you started.

Exploring isn’t just for those getting started, it’s for everyone who runs a business. When was the last time your products or services were reviewed to see if they’re being made in the most cost effective, earth-friendly, customer-requested ways, let alone if you’re offering something people still really want? Do you really know your customers? Get to know your customers, explore their interests, wants, and needs, both those related to your company and offerings, and those in their personal lives. Know your customers not so you can be intrusive or overwhelming, but so that you can do your best to serve them. What about the wants and needs of your employees? Do you really know your people and do they really know you and your passion for your business? What about your suppliers? Are they providing the quality product you desire and your customers pay for? Is there a better supplier out there that lines up more with your company culture and needs?

Take time this week to explore your business a bit. Take a look at anything that you say “the way things have always been” regarding and see if it’s time for an update. Most businesses I connect with have something good to work with, but have some rough edges, have lost their way a bit, or are just a bit out of touch with things that would help them grow and move forward to better serve their customers and support their employees and community. So you may not need to do a complete overhaul, maybe that just means some tweaks here and there, so that you’re in 2017 and not several years earlier, or even better, ready for 2018. And it may turn out that exploring your business will help relight the fire you had for it if it’s burned out or gone low, too. Have you explored your business lately?

Safe At Work

This past week we’ve been hearing lots of stories from women about the unwanted attention in work situations. Of course, there’s the bullying that goes on in schools and with young people around the world, and the unwanted attention or violent actions women (and some men) face outside of the workplace as well, including too many domestic violence situations, and I talked about that on my other blog today. According to Facebook, over “45% of the people in the United States are friends with someone who’s posted a message with the words ‘Me too'”, and that’s just the people who are willing to talk about it! So this is a serious situation that really needs to be addressed, and here today I want to talk about the importance of making the workplace as safe for everyone as possible.

Work safety starts with the boss and management. I can’t tell you how many stories I hear about bosses that spend time screaming, yelling, berating, ignoring and fighting with their employees, not to mention the employees who are just unappreciated by their boss(es). If you want your people to feel safe working for you, you need to be the best leader and human possible. You need to remember that we’re all human and mess up on occasion, give them the education and tools they need to do their jobs, and let them know you appreciate them doing their jobs.

Second, there needs to be an amount of respect between all of you. They may not have your title or your education or your finances, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless or worth less than you are as a human being. They may be replaceable, but at what cost? If you treat them like trash there’s a high likelihood that they’re not going to say anything positive about your company, and some may even go so far as to tell their friends and family or even companies they work for in the future never to buy from you (who may pass on the word to others not to buy from you).

Finally, while it doesn’t have to be something you shout to the world, as a business you should have a plan and resources that your employees can tap into if they face unwanted attention or violence through work or their personal lives. This isn’t about having the required sexual harassment seminars that people joke about afterwards or a file at the back of a file box from the first day the company opened however many years ago. This is about genuinely offering support that people need as well as letting all your employees know that violence and unwanted attention aren’t going to be allowed. In some cases you can work with offenders if they’re willing to honestly get help for their issues and commit to acting differently in the future, but no one should feel unsafe going to work. You can share resources through a page on your website that employees have the link and password for or an email you send out on a regular basis depending on the turnover in your company (but at least yearly). If you really want to stand up as a company in the community you can offer career training and support at local shelters and donate to domestic violence organizations and other organizations that fight or raise awareness about these situations.

The fact is there’s a larger majority of people who have a job than have a significant other. Work is something that most people do on a daily basis, so the workplace should be the place that people feel most comfortable and are safest. So as businesses we need to step up in a big way to show that unwanted attention isn’t OK and that women (and men) everywhere have the right to come to work without being harassed or mistreated. I encourage you to take a good look at your business before the end of the month and make sure that you’re making your workplace the best it can be for your employees.