We Are All

In case you missed it there was a really big football game this past weekend.  It was a huge upset and a huge shock to many people.  However, there are people who experienced some serious stress during the game but remained fully confident in their team, and were able to experience a huge victory.  Who are these people? Patriot fans.

While I can’t say that the Patriots are “my team”, I have to respect their team, their coaches and their quarterback(s) who have come together time and again to create some incredible results.  I know from talking with Patriot fans how dedicated their team is, how hard they work and how much passion and energy they put into this organization that they are committed to.  They’ve fought against some serious challenges the past few years and bad press from those who don’t like their success or because they may have tried to bend the rules.  I’m not here to place or suggest guilt or innocence.  That’s a whole different conversation that we’re not having today.

Today what we’re talking about is a slogan that I saw after the game: “We Are All Patriots.”  I don’t know of any true Patriot’s fan who doubted them or gave them up as a result of the challenges of the past few years.  They’ve remained loyal to them, and this year their loyalty was rewarded in a big way.

But this really speaks to a bigger conversation, how we all identify with each other.  Do you see that we’re all one people?  We can all break our bones, work a job, love someone, or enjoy a laugh.  Whether we’re black or white, police or civilian, PhD or high school graduate, dog lover or cat lover, parent or not, or TV buff or not, we are all human.  You can’t change that unless you change your body and DNA and that’s not a direction science has been working in that I know of.  We all have differences, yes.  But when it comes down to it there’s a very high probability that you want the same thing I do: to get through tomorrow alive, to be loved, to enjoy life more and to have more time with the people we love.

So congratulations to the Patriots, and I encourage you to think about the community, the state, the country that you belong to and how you’re helping make it a better place to live in for everyone.

Common Ground

I love the holidays.  No matter what holiday it is I enjoy seeing all the different ways people celebrate, even if they’re holidays that I don’t personally celebrate.  I still think it’s interesting to see what matters to other people and how they celebrate, honor and remember life, history and their culture.  I was reading an article recently about football and two guys who came from different colleges (rivals) but are now on the same team and read a really interesting quote.  It reads “We stopped talking about the things that separated us and found things that united us…”

There are a couple of things that just about everyone knows about businesses. One: they sell stuff.  Two: they want you to buy stuff. Three: not every business makes it.  Four: one of the reasons that not every business makes it because of the competition they face and that they’re not able to stand up or stand on their own.  It’s really easy to look at other businesses and think about how successful they are and bemoan the fact that you’re maybe not as successful, or think that they must be doing something sneaky if they’re that successful on social media or think that their successes are the reason you’re not as successful as you could be or even that because you’re competitors in one way or another that there’s no way you can work together.

I disagree, I think that even the biggest competitors can stand together for a good cause or good reason.  I think that they can also find common ground in the fact that they sell similar or the same stuff.  I think that in just about every industry there’s room for more than one business of the same kind and that there are ways that we can work together and support each others success, and be more successful together.  Some of the big companies out there are more open than ever to partnering with little companies and I think that little companies can work together as well.

So this holiday season I encourage you to not shy away from the other businesses in your area, but instead to see if there’s a way that you can support each other and build both your customer bases.  What  common ground will you try and find?

A Call for Change

As we look back at this past week some of us are feeling really challenged and surprised by how things have turned out. Throughout the US people are reeling over the dramatic wake-up call that was the Election on Tuesday night. Some of us are surprised that our candidate actually won and others of us are surprised that our candidate didn’t win and people picked the other person. There were several “upsets” throughout the different races around the US, the presidency being just one of them (but the one that affected everyone). I’ve been reading lots of different responses over the past week, some I’m surprised by because I never thought the person who wrote them would feel that way, some I cringe over because of how much hate is being thrown around, and others impress me with their willingness to really dive into things that are painful and challenging with sensitivity and wisdom.

I’m a big Christmas person. I love the cheer, the celebration, the happiness, the love, the gifting, the giving and the togetherness. I have to be honest and say that I’m OK with Christmas decorations being up in stores and showing up around the towns I go to and even on some houses as early as Halloween. While I don’t know if I could live in a “Christmas village” where it’s Christmas all year long, there are things about the concept that are appealing. However, as awesome as it might be to be in a Christmas mood all year long I don’t think it would change who we are as people and the mistakes we make, failures we have and challenges we have that we should work through but often put aside during the holidays.

But what the holidays each year do remind us is that together things are better. The next few months and year will probably be filled with lots of adjustments, and some of them will be more painful and difficult than others. The election has shown us exactly how divided we are as a nation with about half of the people who voted voting for each candidate. We’ve been hearing over the past months and years how isolated minorities have been and felt, we’ve seen the ways that people generalize and make assumptions (and bad actions/reactions) based on qualities of age, race and belief systems. Change has been called for over and over with varying degrees of success. But as the definition of insanity states (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results), if we really want change, we actually have to change. The victory of a non-political candidate for the biggest leadership role in the nation is a big indication to me that people really do want change (even if the elected individual seems to not be the right one for the job because of some things they’ve said) and are willing to work with the challenges that will be present to make that change happen.

Together doesn’t mean that we ignore things that are wrong, together means to me that we choose to work together to be better. Together means to me that we’re stronger when we’re together. Together means to me that we’ve got more minds to come up with more ideas. Together means to me that we have to be open to forgive each other because we will do and say stupid things sometimes. Together means to me that we’re not alone when we’re grieving or upset or hurt. Together doesn’t mean to me that we all have the same ideas or beliefs, we’re all different and that is to be respected and appreciated.

I don’t have all the answers, I never claim to. But I do believe that we will be a better nation and world if we work together. It won’t be easy for us to truly come together given how divided we are, but if we really are upset with how some people are treated, and how the future looks for some of our children and grandchildren and for some of the nations of the world, I think we have to put aside some of our differences and find the common ground that we can work with and build from.

Veterans for Success

Coming up next Friday is Veteran’s Day here in the US, it’s a day to remember and honor the men and women who put it all on the line for us and country.  Today I want to talk a bit about how you can better support the veterans you may have in your employ, how to better employ and support veterans and open the conversation up to include those who have all kinds of disabilities as well, not just those who have some type of disability as a result of their time in the service.

First and foremost, I believe that it’s important for veterans to feel welcome back into the workforce, even if they don’t feel like they completely fit after seeing what they saw and doing the work they’ve done.  I believe that veterans and those with disabilities have valuable skills that can benefit our businesses greatly.  But this is one of the areas that we’re shortsighted in and aren’t willing to see that a few changes and accommodations now can lead to great things for all of us.

It’s not easy to accept that people change in general, and war is one of the most forceful methods of change.  So expecting someone to come back and fit in exactly where they used to isn’t reality for most people.   One of the challenges that businesses have to consider with regards to veterans or those with disabilities is whether or not they’re willing to make the accommodations necessary to serve them, whether as customers or employees.  While organizations like the ADA have helped bring things leaps and bounds forwards in recent years we still have a long way to go.  Yes, for some it’s a huge expense to consider making the changes necessary to really work with veterans or those with disabilities, but I believe that most businesses can and should at least make an effort to do so.  (Accommodation in general is a whole ‘nother conversation, and important for businesses to consider as well.)

One of the simplest things that businesses can do is be considerate of physical challenges and what would make them easier to deal with.  Those who are dealing with cancer, MS, Parkinsons or lost limbs benefit from simple access details, like not putting their desk all the way at the end of the hall on the top floor of the building farthest from the elevator or stairs, not making them walk all the way to the back of the store to talk with customer service, or more flexibility in either hours to work and/or the ability to work from home. No, not every job can allow you to work from home, but just about every business can benefit from an employee whose schedule is a little more flexible and able to cover as needed or provide extra support (as a full time or part time employee).

I was reading an article recently that reminded me of one of the simplest things we can do as business owners for our employees and customers: ask them how you can best support them.  Maybe this means sitting down with a group of potential customers who are veterans or those with disabilities and asking them what changes would make it easier for them to shop there.  Maybe they want the option to have bigger font on the website, later hours one night a week so they could avoid crowds, or bigger aisles to walk/ride down.  While not all accommodations can be made reasonably (an elevator for example), there are tons of little things that can be done to help them.

For employees or those who need jobs, one of the best things you can do is give them the opportunity to gain skills and tools to become a more employable person and maybe even apply some of the skills they’ve learned while in the service.  Maybe that means covering part of the cost for classes or hiring them part time to give them the opportunity to learn skills that will help them get a full time job.  Maybe that means offering a discount or special payment program for veterans only (even if you don’t offer any other discounts).

Most of us can’t do everything and anything for veterans or those with disabilities, but if we all did a little more I believe our country would be stronger economically, more confident personally and it would be a small way for us to give back to the veterans who have given so much for their country.

Haunted House Success

With Halloween just a few days away I thought today we’d talk about haunted attractions and what we can learn from them as business owners. To be clear we’re talking about the places that get set up every October with decorations and inspired by spooky myths and legends that people visit. I’m not talking about places that are reported or known to be haunted like Eastern State Penitentiary or Winchester Mystery House. Haunted attractions are very successful despite or maybe because they are only open for a short time. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from them.

Haunted attractions have one goal: to scare people. I’ve met more than one business owner who really has no clue why they’re offering what they’re offering in their business. If you don’t have a purpose how can you know what you’re working towards, and why would people choose you over others offering similar things with a goal?

Haunted attractions have lots of moving parts behind the scenes. Any good business has support systems set up to make it successful. This includes the marketing, financial, customer/client management, and product/service creation/selling/management. The best haunted attractions are those that have great moving parts, and those moving parts work seamlessly with the attraction, they don’t detract from or remind you that you’re at a haunted attraction that’s all fake.

Haunted attractions have a great team. Just about every haunted attraction has people involved, whether just a ticket taker or actors and actresses throughout the attraction who interact with and scare guests. If the attraction is any good when the guests leave they have lots of positive things to say about the “people” they interacted with, which is how it should be for every business.

Haunted attractions take creativity. Business isn’t easy and isn’t straightforward. I don’t know too many businesses that don’t take a little creativity to run, whether in dealing with customer requests and coming up with what to offer, not to mention the marketing!

So as you visit haunted attractions with family and friends this year, see what you can learn and apply to your business from them, and share your ideas and insights in the comments below.

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

Olympic Lessons

As the Olympics finish up this weekend I thought we’d take some time to look at some of the lessons we can learn from this big event to apply to our businesses.

1-Competitors can work together.  Normally there’s talk about how different sports compete for TV/air time, sometimes even competition within a sport over games that are played at the same time.  But the Olympics shows that not only can different sports work together to create something great, they can share the glory too.  A great opportunity for many business owners is to get involved in their local area with other businesses, regardless of whether they have a physical location or not.

2-Good things don’t have to last forever.  The summer Olympics only come around every 4 years and are only talked about occasionally during the in-between years. Yes, you can celebrate your medal status at any time, but most people and companies aren’t talking constantly about the Olympics.  If you’re focus is going viral and staying viral you are probably aiming too big.  That doesn’t mean you don’t market your business or service, it just means that you can’t expect to be king/queen all the time.

3-Everyone has a story.  The news loves to talk about all the different athletes and the story behind their previous medals as well as their journey to the Olympics and what they may have worked to overcome.  Are you telling your story in your business? Do people know you have a story?  Or are you just pushing the services you offer and focused on your bottom line? What about the story of your customers?  Are you even aware of the stories that are their lives?

4-There will be imperfections.  With every Olympics we hear stories of poor conditions, buildings not being ready, failed technology or challenges to travel, not to mention the weather issues that may happen that the host location has no control over.  Focusing on perfection usually just leads to frustration, so instead work on doing the best you can and address the issues when they appear as soon as possible.

What have you learned from the Olympics that you’re applying to your business?

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?

Getting Support

This week I’ve been thinking about the topic of community.  We’re all in different communities, we’ve got our friend communities, family community, work communities, online communities, and the communities we live in.  One of the most important communities we can be part of is one of support.  Sometimes that means professional counselors/pastors/coaches/leaders, other times it’s just family, friends and coworkers.  As someone who offers coaching services you might think it obvious that I believe in getting professional help, and that I have to say stuff like that.  But my business has very little to do with why I believe that sometimes the best thing you can do is talk with a professional.

Let’s back up though to the topic of support.  I believe we all need support in our lives.  First and foremost there’s no reason to go through life alone, but beyond that, other people have so many experiences and so much knowledge that we don’t individually have that it makes sense to share what we know with each other.  The internet has greatly helped with the concept of support with all the blogs and social networks we can share through and find support in.  But it’s not just about being alone, it’s about getting help if (when) you need help.  For many years (centuries maybe even) it was seen as shameful or wrong if you couldn’t manage your own stuff on your own.  Yes, we should take an active roll in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help when we need it.

There is nothing wrong with saying you don’t know things, asking for help from a qualified professional, letting someone else do what they excel in so you can do what you excel in, getting advice from someone who has been through what you’re going through or knows about what you’re trying to create, or getting support in navigating through changes in your life.  Sometimes it’s OK to talk with family or friends, but talking with a professional can be the right choice if you want an unbiased opinion, want to talk with someone who you won’t have to interact with in the future on a regular basis, don’t feel comfortable being so open and honest with those who know you best, don’t want to be judged by friends or family or don’t know anyone who can help you with what you’re going through.   Whether you’re struggling through things or in need of some wisdom on next steps in your life, don’t put off your future any longer because you’re stuck or uncertain.  Be proactive about your life and choices and get the help you need.

“Consider counseling. It’s not a weakness to find someone who can help you process.”  Tim Stevens

Are You Right to Run a Business?

It is hard to run a business. There are many plates to juggle even if you’ve got a great team and lots of your stuff is automated. A staggering number of businesses fail within 5 years, some more spectacularly and noticeably than others. Some never become as successful as they could be and just get by every month. Now, I don’t believe that running a business is right for everyone. Some people just aren’t built to be the person in charge, and that’s OK since most businesses aren’t successful with just one person in them. Let’s take a look at a couple of things that may make you the right person to run a business.

You have the leadership to run it. Last week we talked about exponentially growing your business and 4 keys to doing it.  If you want your business to succeed, you have to be able to step up to the plate and lead your clients, suppliers and employees.  Or if you aren’t able to be the needed leader you either have to hire someone who can lead on your behalf.

You know how to prioritize, schedule, get things done and stay on task. If you really want to succeed things have to get done! If you can’t create a plan on how to get things done, can’t figure out what is really a priority, get yourself on task to accomplishing the things on your schedule, you will soon fall behind on the details and the business will flounder or fail.

You have the support you need. No business is run without some kind of support, whether the technical stuff like social networks or websites or product creation or service delivery.  Part of prioritizing is knowing when you need more help and to hire the right help. It may be tempting to go with the person or company who can do stuff the cheapest, but it may be better for you in the long run if you choose the company that’s a little more competent and willing to work with you long term.

You are willing to love your customers.  Depending on how you see things this could be the first question in whether or not you can run a business or just one of the top 4. In many ways for many businesses the customers they work with become part of their family.  If you aren’t willing to really care for your customers and their needs, you either have to constantly get new customers, or only be in business a short time.  The most successful businesses are those who really pay attention and care for their customers.

What would you add to this list and what words of advice would you have for those just starting a business or considering one?