Open and Honest

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

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

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

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

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

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Make Your Own Success

This weekend I read an article that reminded me the value, the necessity, of being yourself and doing your own thing. Yes, to an extent there’s good in doing the same thing, for example with many medical practices (how many ways can you really put a band-aid on a single cut?), and in doing better with treating everyone with respect, regardless of our differences. We have to find ways to unify the many divisions that have been created and reinforced over the past few years. But today I want to talk about being more willing to march to our own tune, do our own thing, and create our own successes.

In the world of organizing there are 2 basic keys: 1-reducing and 2-structure for storage and going forward. Beyond those two keys there are tons of ways to get and stay organized, and which way is chosen depends completely on you. Let’s take a simple one that most of us deal with: the calendar. I’m a much more traditional person, I prefer to write out my calendar/appointments on paper, but prefer to reference the calendars on my various technology devices as necessary while I’m working if I need to know when a date falls in the week/month.

When it comes to success the same is true: it takes hard work and a plan. But the work you choose to do and the plan you choose to have depend on you, your preferences, your knowledge, your abilities, your resources (or ability to tap into the resources of others) and your dreams. You can take the idea that someone else started with and turn it into your own. You can take what was bland and boring and add personality that only you can bring to the table. We may have similar experiences but that doesn’t mean we will tap into them in the same way. We may even have similar dreams but put them to work in different ways. Or, of course, you can do something new and revolutionary in an industry.

Don’t be afraid to be your own person, do your own thing, and shine in the way only you can. Don’t be discouraged by failures, setbacks or critics, many of the most successful people and organizations in all types of industries and walks of life were only successful after many tries.

Challenges, Conflicts and Relationships

All relationships include challenges and conflicts: any time you’ve got more than one person involved in something there’s an increased likelihood that there will be an issue of one kind or another. Challenges can make you stronger, both individually and as a couple, it’s good to work through them and to have a second perspective on things, otherwise the world would still be flat. But I know you’re thinking about all the times that challenges have hurt you or your relationship, and that’s very true, they can hurt you. Conflicts and challenges kill you and your relationship when that’s all there is, when both of you are trying to “be the boss,” or when the conflicts or challenges are intentionally stirred up or encouraged and not approached by both of you with the intention of resolving them.

Sometimes relationships can be very painful, even if they’re really good ones. However, you can do some serious damage, permanent damage, to a relationship, even a good one, if you let the problems and the pain stick around. In a healthy, happy relationship conflicts and challenges shouldn’t be used as tools to divide you, to get the kids on someone’s side, or to hurt the other person. But things don’t have to stay in conflict, it’s up to you, both of you, to choose to be done with the conflict and move on after you’ve discussed it and resolution or next steps.

Challenges and conflicts can cause some temporary hurt or discomfort, which will require conversation and healing time, and that’s part of the human and relational experience. And the longer you’re with someone the more likely that you’ll do something to hurt them, even if it’s accidental. If you’re in conflict all the time though I think you need to reevaluate your relationship. Some conflict is normal, conflict all the time is not healthy. I encourage you to talk with your partner this week about how you can do better with your conflict resolution and have a healthier and happier relationship.

“Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” Wayne Dyer

Cost-Sensitive Sales

If you’re struggling to make sales, or aren’t making the sales you want, chances are good that you’ve thought of all kinds of things you can do to have more sales including adding more products to your inventory, doing paid ads, moving to a trendier location, adding more sales people to your sales team, or redoing something (like your store, your products, your packaging, your website etc.) Some of these things can get to be expensive, and you may not have a lot to spend right now. Unfortunately, you may have to spend at least a little to get in some more sales, but there are somethings you can do to bring in more sales without raising the overhead too much. Today’s post is a little longer than usual but there are lots of ideas in it to help you increase sales and be more profitable.

First and foremost is addressing something that too many companies aren’t addressing in their marketing, including on their website and social accounts: who are you, why you do what you do, and what makes you different. Maybe you really aren’t much different as far as the products or services you offer, but because you’re running the business, your business is different than any other one out there. How you approach business, the people you hire, the things you offer are all a little different because you’re behind the business, but people don’t know that unless you say so.

Another thing you could try is reusing existing supplies or technology in new ways. For example maybe you buy decorative boxes that you sell as the packaging for your gift box sets (spa day, wine inspired, new baby etc.), but some people may be interested in buying just the boxes for their own purposes, so you could offer them as a separate purchase. For technology, maybe you do embroidery on shirts that companies buy to resell from you, but you could use the same technology to embroider logos on shirts for companies, or embroider initials on towels for hotels or for newlyweds.

You can also look for products that you can resell, including digital products and items that you never touch. For example if you create dog leashes you could find some products on Amazon to sell (aka drop shipping), or a digital video course on training your dog you can sell as an affiliate.

Another way to increase sales with a physical location is to give your location a fresh coat of paint and do the deep cleaning you may have been putting off. Everyone prefers to shop in a neat and tidy space. Even when the atmosphere suggests that it’s a dark and mysterious type location that doesn’t mean that you need to have dirty floors, peeling paint or a kitchen (or back office) that hasn’t been cleaned since you moved in.

As for the people-cost concern, something I’ve always suggested are working with interns from high schools and colleges. Adding them to your team even for 1-6 months gives you the extra hands or bodies you need and gives them real world experience that they can apply to their future job, gives them the opportunity to try something out, or fulfills that school credit they have to get in the community. Especially when it comes to technology students are great to work with because they know the technology far better than many because they’ve been exposed to it for longer and understand it in ways that it may take some of us years to ever get, if we ever get it at all.

There are lots of free and low-cost marketing opportunities as well, from social media to guest blog posts, to media interviews. The only catch there may be that you have to do the work of finding blog post and media opportunities and letting them know why they should share you with their audience.

Now, the question you’ve got is cost. Yes, depending on how you’ve had your website done or you’ve done your website there may be some cost there (if you don’t have a website set one up now using any number of free services or contact an agency or tech expert for help). You may also have to buy more of something you already buy, but there could be a good chance for a (higher) discount then and you could take advantage of that and spread the cost around. And yes, you may have to pay a minimum wage for the interns (many programs require it), but it’s usually far cheaper than what a regular employee would cost you (and you may decide to hire them later which would save you future training costs). Most of these suggestions though require more of your time than your finances, but all of them require that you really commit to doing better and helping more people. These are just a few of the ways you could grow your business and reinvigorate sales, what will you do today to move your company forward?

Be Yourself Because You Matter

In the wake of large storms like those that have hit the southern US or natural disasters like the fires and drought on the west coast of the US it’s easy to think big picture. Sure millions are without power, millions are dealing with smoke or water issues, animals are struggling to deal with their homes being devastated, and companies have lost millions if not billions as a result. Those are some big numbers and indicate that a lot of people were affected by those events, or are still being affected. There’s nothing wrong with looking at those big numbers and sending mass aid to those locations. Those big numbers prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s an issue, and not just for one person but for millions.

But when it comes right down to it, it’s not millions of people having the exact same experience, every person’s experience is different. Every struggle is different, every challenge is different, and we’ll all make different choices when it comes to resolving them. Each of the people in Florida and the surrounding islands are united by their common hurricane experience, but each of them experienced something slightly different, and each will resolve their problems at a different speed or with a different solution.  And as part of that common experience, each and every one has the opportunity to rise from this situation stronger than they were before.

The same is true for us. We’re each living life together, but at the same time each of us have very different lives. As part of those lives we’ve got different opportunities and different challenges. You’re here reading my blog, and there are thousands of other blogs you could be reading, including thousands that also post on business, life, family, relationships and/or success topics, including some that I read on a regular basis.  Why do those thousands of people keep writing even though they’re one of many? Because if the writing we do helps just one person, makes a difference in the life of one person, encourages just one person that they’re not alone in their experience, it’s worth it.

Regardless of what you do in your life, the biggest responsibility you’ve been given is to be yourself and make a difference as yourself. Maybe you’re able and willing to put yourself in a plane in the path of a hurricane to get data that will be invaluable to saving lives and understanding climate change. Maybe you’re willing take a risk on an experimental drug for your illness so that tests can be done and learned from to better help others in the future. Maybe you’re happiest when you’re around kids and as a teacher you can help the next generation gain confidence in who they are and teach them the skills they’ll need to survive. Maybe you’re willing to listen to those who are struggling and help them find the path back to themselves and learn to live again. Whatever your gifts are, don’t be discouraged because you’re one of many, choose to be strong and brave in that path and be yourself.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”  Jane Goodall

Getting Past Anger and Conflicts

Every relationship has challenges, whether we’re talking romantic relationships (aka partnerships) or that of a relationship between parent and child or even the types of relationships between friends or between boss and coworker.  One of the greatest obstacles that a person has to overcome in a relationship is the challenge of conflict and choice to respond in anger, or to just give up because you’re afraid of conflict. Today’s Dr. Wayne Dyer inspiration is a simple but powerful one:

“It is impossible for you to be angry and laugh at the same time. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive and you have the power to choose either.”

It can be so tempting to just let things get worse and worse.  It’s almost too easy to hang onto our anger and the feelings of frustration, rage and irritation that fill us when we’re angry.  Most of us don’t have the gift of holding onto laughter.  We get looked at as not taking life seriously if we’re laughing all the time. Sometimes we laugh so we don’t feel the pain or to avoid our responsibilities, but all too often we don’t laugh enough, or at the very least we’re not happy.

Many of the kids TV shows and movies, both past and present, do a good job of showing both the happy and the challenging.  There’s usually an obstacle or two to overcome, but there’s a lot of fun to be had too.  Somehow that’s one of the things we seem to forget as we get older: that life can be fun and isn’t just about the responsibilities (but the responsibilities can’t be forgotten either).

But back to anger: I believe too many of us let anger rule our lives.  We let it get in there and it sticks.  So this weekend and coming week I challenge you to take notice when your anger starts to rev up and take a step or two back instead of letting it take over.  Ask for a moment, take a physical step away, or finally take action on what you’ve let stew for a long time so that you can get to truly living and enjoying life.

Remembering Your People

The past few days and weeks in the US have been filled with remembering as we’ve remembered past hurricanes and what our cities and homes used to look like, and as we’ve worked through another September 11th, remembering the men and women who died in the attacks and the men and women who worked tirelessly afterward to rescue and rebuild.

Today I want to talk about the importance of remembering in business, especially about remembering your people, including your suppliers, your employees and your customers. I’ve worked with several business owners who have no interest in their people, no real care for their people or they’re simply clueless about how neglected and unrecognized their people feel.  One of the things that can make a huge difference in success is to recognize your people and recognize how essential they are to your success. The businesses I know would be in big trouble if their people started to walk out, and unfortunately that’s what happens to businesses around the world every day.

What would you do if your employees started giving even less effort to your business and customers and then started finding new places to work? What if your customers stopped telling others about the great things you offered because they were tired of being treated poorly, or received apathetic treatment?

I know it sounds really simple but sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest difference. If you made time to thank your employees and recognize their good work regularly and you made a point of encouraging not only interaction with your customers by your employees but did better with customer recognition and engagement through social media and emails, your business would see a world of difference.  And imagine how your business would grow if you gave your employees extra training, or any training at all beyond what they got when they were initially hired.  If you’re not recognizing your employees, seeing their talents, hearing their challenges, you’re missing out.  A little effort can go a long way in this area.

I encourage you to take time this week not only to recognize the people in your direct circle of business, but to also extend that recognition to the people around the US who are dealing with the hurricanes and memories as they remember September 11. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make a huge difference.

The Challenge of Rebuilding

A topic that’s on many people’s minds today is rebuilding. It’s not usually something we do without a reason, most of us choose to grow or make the minimally necessary changes and updates that are required to keep ourselves, our homes and our businesses going. But sometimes things beyond our control force us into rebuilding, like hurricanes, other disasters or negative events, or even the age of something.

But often if we really think about it and force ourselves to admit the truth, we really wanted to make at least some of those changes in the first place, and just hadn’t had the means or made the time to make those changes. While no one ever wants to have parts of their house flood, lose their car or get a health scare, sometimes they’re the impetus that force us to make those changes and rebuild or start over. You know what I’m talking about, it’s the peeling paint you’ve been meaning to replace, the engine that you have to say a prayer to start every time or the better food and cooking choices your family has been trying to get you on for a while.

But there are people who actually love the rebuilding process. I’m fascinated by the many older structures that are around our world that people are repairing and bringing back to their former glory, and giving them a second (or fifteenth) life. Some of those buildings are such an integral part of the story that makes up who we are today, or help bring to life a culture and group of people who no longer exist as they used to. For the people invested in the rebuilding process, they’re motivated by the vision they have of the future and the impact they know their hard work will have on the immediate community and the world at large as well.

Rebuilding is difficult, it’s not easy to clear out the junk and start over. If you’re rebuilding it’s not your job to bring your life back to the former glory, but to build it the way that will best serve you going forward. Don’t be afraid to let the past be a memory and rebuild on the foundations of the happiness and experiences of those memories, going forward in a different direction.

Difficult Explanations

Sometimes it seems like the season for bad news, doesn’t it? As if you just can’t escape it and the hits keep on coming. Watching the news and talking with some of my family and my clients over the past few weeks has me thinking about how you talk with kids when faced with difficult news. How do you tell your kids why you’re leaving the house so suddenly, why you’re in a large auditorium with hundreds of other families, why you’re never going back to the only home they’ve ever know when you’re faced with a hurricane? How do you tell them about an attack like 9/11? How do you tell your kids that a relative has died or terminal cancer has just been discovered, let alone a parent? How do you break it to your kids that you’re bankrupt and everything is going to be sold and you have to move? How do you tell your kids you’re getting a divorce or a relative or parent went to jail? These are conversations no parent wants to have, but many have to have with their kids.

The stories have been told of how people never knew until it was too late or felt like their whole lives were a lie when they finally found out. I get that sometimes parents don’t tell them because they want to protect their kids, and sometimes it’s not the wrong thing to do, especially if they’re super young (under 5) and not ready for the realities of life. But kids today are so exposed by the TV they watch, what they hear parents talk about, what they see and hear in school, and what they see and hear when they’re out and about with their parents that it’s hard to keep the truth from them. Honestly I don’t think the truth should be fully kept from them. Maybe there’s the PG version to share or the cliffs notes version, but kids, just like adults, need answers to the things that go on in their worlds. And more often than not, they pick up on the experiences the parents are going through and feeling and are concerned about that, something I remember vividly as a kid.

Yes, the truth can be painful, but the lies are so much more so, and the fears over what is unknown can be debilitating. I encourage you to choose to give your kids an answer, a real one, before they find out from another source. When you are the one telling them about what could be a scary event, you have the ability to give them the truth before they hear rumors, and establish next steps with them so they feel comfortable with how things are going from this point. It also gives you the opportunity to let them know that you’re here for whatever questions they have and will do your best to answer them.

This week I encourage you to be the parent and have the difficult conversations you may have been avoiding with your kids.  They’ll feel better about it and you may feel less guilty keeping it from them too.

Just Another Sale?

If you’re really in business it’s important to make sales. There’s no two ways to put that. If you’re not making sales you’re either doing some kind of renovation, closed for some temporary reason or going out of business. If you’re offering a product or service and not selling it or making a profit from it, what you’ve got is considered a hobby, not a business. So without a doubt you need to have sales to be in business. However, what I want to talk about today is the idea that not everything needs to be a sales pitch.

If you’re like me you get a dozen or two emails every day from various retail companies who are letting you know about sales they’re doing, reminding you to repurchase products you may be running out of, trying to up-sell you based on previous purchases or letting you know about the latest and greatest products they’re now offering. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact sometimes it can be very helpful and even exciting to get those emails and see what’s new or at a great price you’ll want to take advantage of. Sometimes it’s good to send an email that lets your subscribers know that everything in a category is on sale and not really include specifics, but more often than not people want to be inspired and see some of the specifics that they could get as part of this sale.

But if you take the time to think about it, in most cases the sale or purchase is a very small portion of the customer experience with that product or service. For example, let’s say I spend 20 minutes researching movies that are out and texting with friends to decide what to see and another 5 buying my ticket. So the purchase portion of my experience with the movie is a total of 25 minutes. But then I go see the 2+ hour movie, I talk about it with my friends for an hour after, I go home and think about it throughout the next few days, and because I enjoyed it so much I’ll watch it whenever it’s on TV and maybe even invest another 5 minutes to buy it when it comes out on DVD. The point here is that I’ve spent a total of 30 minutes in the sales/purchase aspect of this movie, and invested well over 60 hours on my experience with this one movie, which means there’s so much more to your business than just getting the sale.

You want to create products that your customers will use, remember, enjoy, talk about and share for years to come. You want them to be open to products in the same line and even the next generations of the specific product they bought initially. You want your customers to feel comfortable with your brand, with your employees, and with your products/services. All of this means that you have to remember that there’s so much more to what you’re selling than just the sale. In many ways the sale should be just the beginning.

Which is why it’s important to take time to celebrate your customer’s birthdays, to share tips for using your products, to raise awareness for needs in the world like Hurricane Harvey/Irma, to celebrate the fact that spring is here and winter is over, and ultimately to remember that your customers are so much more than a cash machine. They have lives, families, dreams, interests, passions, purpose and even fears and issues that all can play into the purchases they make and don’t make. Don’t be so focused on the sales pitch that you forget that your customers are so much more than another sale.