Epic Fails

It’s hard to miss all the discussion around United Airlines the past few weeks over what happened when a flight got overbooked and they needed to address the issue: big failure.  The publicity around the event has been crazy, and rightfully so.  There are tons of ways this could have been handled and wasn’t.  In business I think most of us try to do our best when it comes to working with our customers, so maybe you got a chuckle over what happened, after you got over your disbelief.  After all, who would handle this situation like that?  Let’s take a look at a few thoughts on the whole event.

First, let’s talk about the situation and actions taken.  Would the violence and severity of the actions taken have been the right course of action if it were a life and death issue, yes.  As many reports have revealed there were at least a handful of other options that could have been pursued before this degree of action was taken.

Second, as you may know, I’m a big believer in not trying to be everything for everyone.  I don’t think we business owners need to try to please everyone or offer our product/service to everyone.  What we offer isn’t for everyone.  So when we run across the stubborn individual who decides they absolutely have to work with/buy from even though it’s not a good match and then ends up leaving a nasty review because (as we knew) we weren’t what they were really looking for, it’s frustrating.  However, while we may not have to offer something to everyone, that doesn’t give us the right or reason to treat our non-ideal customers or interested parties in a rude, aggressive, or disrespectful manner.  Just because there’s an issue with them it doesn’t mean that we can ignore that they’re human too.  And as long as they’re not being aggressive or threatening, there’s no reason or right to treat them in that manner, nor are the issues something you need to air in the public space.

Finally, the ever challenging concept of handling problems.  We won’t get it right 100% of the time, but we can do more to get it right more often.  As I said there were some options left to United before they escalated to the level that they did, yet they chose not to take those options.  Often there’s a simple way to resolve the issue and usually it involves money in the form of a refund or credit.  Some companies have chosen to offer free returns as a way to alleviate any initial fears buyers may have about purchases.  Another simple solution is to give people the answer they’re looking for, sometimes all that is necessary to make the customer happy is a little troubleshooting and being available to listen to their feedback.  They may not respond and they may not change their negative review (some people prefer to be unhappy and leave a nasty (and often irrelevant) review), but you’ll have at least extended the olive branch.

Procedures and policies are in place for a reason and when they’re not followed we end up with unnecessary issues like United, and often those issues revolve around how we treat others.  I encourage you to take time to evaluate your policies this week and make sure you’re really prepared for situations that could occur, and that you’re first and foremost handling them with communication and compassion.

Hope for Success

Tomorrow around the world is the celebration of Easter.  Whether you celebrate for religious reasons or just enjoy the abundance of colorful eggs and treats, there are a few lessons we can learn from it and apply to our success.  I believe in celebrating and sharing life, not making things more difficult for each other or hoarding all the resources for yourself.  I believe that together we can be better than we ever can apart, and while our resources aren’t unlimited, if we were all a little more conscientious about our use of them I don’t think there would ever be a lack.

Loss and failure are things that we have to deal with as humans and business owners.  Not everything or everyone works out as perfectly as we want them to.  We’re not all knowing so we’ll get some things wrong, two reasons being because we don’t have sufficient information and other times because we go against our gut. Sometimes though those mistakes and failures lead to bigger and better things than we ever thought possible.

Easter is all about new birth, rebirth, new life and hope.  I know it seems more challenging than ever each year to talk about this topic because of all that goes on in the world, but the fact is when we give up hope and the celebration of things like Easter, I believe that things will only get worse.  We can do our part in our businesses by making sure that they’re healthy; that the treat customers, employees and everyone else with respect and dignity; that we focus more on bringing solutions and support to the world than quadrupling our profits or getting the best deal from suppliers; and looking to support our immediate communities as well as others around the world.  If we all did just a little to bring hope to the world, donated just a small percentage of our profits, and/or were a little more considerate towards the human side of things, the world would be a better place and the world would regard the business world with a little more respect and favor.

I encourage you to take time this weekend to celebrate your personal and professional life and all that you’ve accomplished so far this year and let that hope move you forward into the next few months and even the rest of the year with hope and spirit.

Perfection or Problems

No one is perfect, and no business is perfect.  There are businesses and people that look perfect on the outside but the inside doesn’t reflect that, and of course there are those that look like a mess outside and are a mess inside as well.  Sometimes people/businesses know they need help and are willing to ask for the help, but other times they’re seemingly clueless about anything possibly being wrong (which can be very frustrating to customers and potential customers).   I certainly experience both in the course of my work, those that think they know everything and can’t possibly have any room for improvement, and those who admit they need help.  There are people all along that spectrum as well, it’s not a black and white thing.

So let’s start at the beginning.  As I said there are no perfect businesses.   Every single business (and business owner) has at least one thing they could change or improve.  Some of those things are subjective to some customers or potential customers (like changing a spice blend in a recipe or using a specific social site), while others are broader and really impact the whole business and customer base or potential customer base (like not having a website or having rude employees). When it’s something that affects only a portion of your customers/employees you have to decide if it’s really worth it to make that change or if there’s perhaps another way you could incorporate their feedback.  For something that’s broad spectrum it’s something that usually is a whole lot less optional and really should be addressed if you want the best for your business and customers.

We’ve touched on a few of the things that tend to be wrong or frustrate customers (or employees), but here’s a more specific list: lack of detailed and specific information that is easily accessible, poor management/leadership, unexpected and unexplained wait time, poor packaging, poor product or service, lack of communication, poor pricing, inconsideration, unhelpful/uneducated employees/salespeople, and rudeness.  Most of these have very clear connections to two things: people and communication.  As much as we’re an instant society today that has high expectations for many things including businesses we buy from, there is also a willingness to wait for the good stuff or for what we really want as long as we’ve been told what the wait will be and have been dealt with in a polite and respectful manner.

Maybe you’re one of those businesses who has some more subjective things to check out, if so that’s great and they could be profitable opportunities for you.  But if you’re facing a very broad issue it’s time to take action and make changes to repair the issue.  The longer you let it hang the bigger the chance is that you’ll lose great customers and have more difficulty getting new ones.

An Inclusive Business?

One of the topics that’s been discussed in just about every aspect of life from politics to business to school is the topic of inclusion.  There are plenty of people that you can talk to who will say that they want to go viral and reach “everyone.” There’s nothing wrong with a universal message like love, hope, peace, or community, in fact they’re topics that I talk about often.  If you’ve got a product or service that people around the world can universally benefit from, go for it.  I wish you the very best.

However the fact is most of us don’t have a universal product or service, or we’ve got a specific group of people we’re most passionate about.  That’s not a bad thing, it helps people identify with us and want what we’re offering. It also gives us the opportunity to stay focused on the people we’re most equipped to help.  So how do we find the balance between including people and setting ourselves apart from others?  Is there even a balance?

Let me put it this way: I think that with enough patience and commitment we can do a ton, maybe even more than you can imagine at this moment.  I can’t do heart surgery, but maybe you can’t advise about the heart of a business.  I don’t believe that we have to be able to do or be everything, that’s why there are other people in the world with talents that you and I don’t have.  That said, I do encourage you to be more open about the people you can serve in your business, don’t just go with your preconceived notions and expectations of others, be open to hearing their story and needs.  You don’t have to let go of your values or beliefs to be part of the community, give a helping hand, or listen.

Start somewhere simple as we enter this new month and commit to being a better listener in your business.  Listen to what your ideal customers are saying as well as others who somehow find their way to you.  Don’t be afraid to to limit yourself, but also be open to trying new things.  I think that’s the best balance anyone can ask for.

The Business of the Irish

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, the day that, at least in the US (and of course Ireland), everyone is welcome to be honorarily Irish.  I love that we take time out each year to celebrate this country that many people in the US do have genetic ties to, and the ancestors who came here in droves to help settle the country.  It would be hard to miss all the green around the stores as I did my shopping today, it was in just about every store.  But of course, there are businesses who choose to ignore it because they don’t want to make the effort or don’t think it fits in with their brand or maybe they just don’t care to interact with the people celebrating.

One of the big reasons I encourage you to get involved in holidays, especially those as big as St. Patrick’s Day, is because it’s something people are interested in.  One of the best ways to encourage customer loyalty in this ever challenging market is to connect more personally with them.  Celebrating holidays also is a good way to remember that you’re human and so are your employees, just like your customers are with their personal interests, passions and dreams.  With all the parades and events it’s also a great way to connect with them where they live and get involved in your local area even if you don’t have a physical location for your business.

One of the other reasons I encourage you to celebrate St. Patrick’s is because of something you can relate with as a business: St. Patrick’s Day is about more than just drinking and leprechauns, it connects with the concept and brand of Ireland and the Irish.  Just like you would say ‘let’s Google it’ if you and a friend were debating something, Ireland and all things Irish are very recognizable: you don’t ask for German or Australian soda bread, you buy Irish soda bread; there are iconic brands like Waterford Crystal and Connemara Marble; not to mention symbols like the Claddagh, the Celtic cross, the trinity knot (Triquetra), leprechauns, and even the clover leaf (“the luck of the Irish,” anyone?), all make just about everyone think Ireland and the Irish.  It’s a recognizable, strong and lasting country, icon, brand, symbol, group and culture. Which makes this day, the Irish people and Ireland, not only worthy of celebration, but also of presentation and connection within your business.

So as you wrap up the work day, have an Irish whisky or hunt for a 4 leaf clover and maybe even do an Irish jig to start the weekend off and celebrate this great country.

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

Time and Priorities

Today I’m thinking about time.  I know that some of us struggle with prioritizing and fitting in what’s important. Often it feels like we have so many demands on our time that we don’t know how to get it all done in the time we’ve got.  As a business owner you’ve got tons of demands on your time and it may be frustrating or overwhelming for you to try and get everything done in the time given and in the best way possible.  But the worst thing you can do is to give up or de-prioritize things that really should be priorities.

Let’s start by talking about what’s important and should be prioritized.  The most obvious would be things that no one else can do or that need your approval to move forward.  Yes, delegation is great and necessary but there are certain things that just can’t be done without a say-so from you, the boss.  Ignoring it or hoping the assigned individual will take care of it will eventually result in your team letting things slide or things not getting done, no matter how great your team is.

The next step to choosing what to prioritize has to do with whether or not it’s something that affects others. Without people your business can’t be very successful, it’s that simple. So if the needs of the people aren’t being addressed, expect failure, not success.

The third question is how high of a priority the need is.  If it’s a high priority, and especially something no one but you can do, it should be done sooner rather than later. The thing to remember though is that everything needs to be addressed at some point in time, so it’s not a good idea to just do the highest priority items and nothing else because everything becomes highest priority at some point in time, and it’s a lot easier to get things done when they’re not on fire (literally or figuratively).

But to get things done you have to spend time on them.  One of the biggest issues with priorities is response time.  Some companies can manage super quick responses to customer questions and issues, it’s great if you can.  However, not everyone has the resources or availability to provide almost instant responses.  My rule of thumb is that all queries should be addressed within 24 hours.  Even better would be to respond when you get to work and then again when you leave work.  That way you start and end your day with a clean slate.  For the weekends or days you don’t have set hours I would definitely follow the 24 hour rule.

Finally, assign and spend a portion of your day every day handling both highest priority and lower priority items.  Having the time scheduled in will help you feel less stress and get more done, too.

What do you need to prioritize or spend time on in your business?

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?

Loving Your Business

Valentine’s Day is Tuesday here in the USA.  It’s big business for some businesses and for people as well.  Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how you can love your business more and why.

Let’s start of with why.  I was talking with a client about their website and the importance of having a mission or vision statement on the site or at least something that helps reveal the passion of the business owner for their products and services and for their customers/clients as well.  People are often convinced to buy something because someone told them about how great it was or because of the testimonials on a site.  So adding the personal connection of getting to know the owner or the person behind the business and hearing their passion and mission for what they’re offering says that they’re not just interested in potential customers because of their wallets, but because they truly have an interest in making their life better.  The happier you are with your business, the happier your employees will be to work for you and the better experience your customers will have with you.

But we all know that business can be a lot of hard work, and it’s not all fun.  So if you’re looking to love your business a little more the first thing to do is to really sit down and evaluate what’s causing you the most stress, what you like the least, what you enjoy the most, and what you wish you could do now that you used to do.  There are things that you as the person in charge will always be required to do or always have to be involved in. But there are many things you could pass off and with a little better time management you’ll be able to get back to doing some of the things you miss doing or would make you more interested in the business.   But there is one other question you need to answer first: am I really still interested in this business?  Because if you’re really not still interested in and passionate about doing the business you’re in, it’s time for a change, and not just with the activities you do each day, but with your entire career.

If you decide that you’re still passionate about the business but that passion has gotten buried, it’s time to make a commitment to passing off some of the things you dread each day and bringing back the things that make you happier and more invested in the business.  Even doing just one thing you enjoy that is business related each day will help you love your business more.  Maybe that one thing is getting on Facebook and interacting with some of your customers and fans.  Maybe that one thing is actually getting on the floor and helping customers.  Maybe that one thing is creating some of the products you sell.  Or maybe that one thing is brainstorming what could come next.

So what do you love about your business?

Website Essentials

I’ve been looking at a lot of websites for clients lately, and talking with others about whether or not they need one.  I know it’s a topic that we’ve talked about a lot, but since I’m seeing the same issues coming up again and again, I thought I’d share a few reminders with you today.

First, a recent statistic I saw said that 75% of people look online to find out about your business.  If you don’t have a website they won’t find you.  Even having a simple DIY website is better than nothing, and some DIY websites I’ve seen look and read much better than the professional ones, probably because they’ve got actual heart and passion behind them.  But back to the point: if you don’t have a website you NEED one.  A social profile will never replace a website.  They’re fine as marketing tools, but I would never ever recommend choosing a social profile over a website if you can only create one.

Second, websites have to contain updated information.  It’s another reason why I support DIY websites.  Yes, I know it adds another thing to your plate, but if you don’t have to wait for your developer to get back in touch with you or don’t have to find a new developer because your old one isn’t in business anymore, and you don’t have to pay their fees for updating your site, I’d say it’s worth it, especially for the little things like the copyright date or updating event dates or dated special offers. If it’s been more than a week past the written date, people will question what else isn’t up to date on your site.

Third, don’t be afraid to get personal.  There’s competition in just about every industry so if you don’t stand out, you have a much smaller chance of getting the sale.  Your website is one of the first things potential customers will see and if they think your offerings look like every Tom, Dick and Harry’s out there they won’t have a reason to choose you. Let your personality out a little on the site, show them who you are, and help them get to know you and the distinctive advantage you bring to the market or why your products are better than the countless others out there that are very similar.  Every business is started by a person, and I think it’s important to show the world and your potential customers who that person is.  You don’t have to look like a super celebrity, just show your smiling face to the world.

Can you have bells and whistles on your site? Sure, but they’re no good if the information isn’t there.  Worry less about having the perfect website, and focus more on having one that works for you and shows off you and your business.