Dealing with Failures and Outages

The big business news this week so far is about Facebook’s outage on Wednesday and into Thursday for some. Facebook is used by people and businesses alike around the world, so when something like this happens it’s not something they can really brush under the rug. This issue hits on many topics that we’ve talked about recently as well as we talk about frequently like doing business together, communication, customer service and quality, and it also holds a great warning for all of us, so I thought I would share a few thoughts on it today.

Let’s start with the dark side of this whole thing. It can happen to anyone. It can get you bad publicity. It can make you lose customers. It’s something every business should talk about: what to do if there’s a catastrophic failure, what to do if data is lost, what to do if the product fails, what to do if leadership gets caught doing something bad. Being aware of that it could go wrong and having a plan for if it does go wrong is half the battle, the other half has to do with your reaction, communication and actions after the event. You may be able to take the right actions quickly, but if you poorly communicate about the whole thing you may lose any traction you could have made with the speedy repair.

Let’s talk about what Facebook did, that we know at this point. Yes, they obviously got to work on fixing it as soon as possible so more people weren’t affected and those that were would be able to get back on as soon as possible. Then they had a decision to make: how do we communicate this and do we communicate this. They made a really interesting decision, one that I doubt many people would have guessed, and that’s posted on Twitter to let people know what was up. It’s not necessarily the wrong decision (they could have used email), but it is kind of funny and is a good reminder that as much as you want to build a strong business, stronger than your competition, it’s always good to have an open line of communication for situations like these.

The situation will continue to unfold over the next days and weeks, and it will be interesting to see how they follow up on this. What would I like to see? At the very least I’d like to see messages on their Facebook and Instagram accounts sharing about what happened and letting people know it’s fully resolved and if any actions/precautions are being taken in brief with a link to a blog post on their blog with more depth and details. If there were any accounts hacked or breached, those people should be notified by internal message on the network and by email. I’d also like to see them to contact businesses that were actively running paid ads at the time and affected by the outage and fill them in on how the downed network will affect that ad run.

Of course, they may just choose to sweep this under the rug, and for many they’ll just continue on with Facebook as usual. But for the smart business owners, I would hope this serves as a warning that if your only means of supporting your business is through Facebook you should be looking into additional and supplemental ways to market and grow your business. It’s as is often said, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. What are your thoughts on the situation?

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Doing Business Together

There are lots of ways you can do things in business.  You can learn from others, you can have others do things for you, and you can steal from/copy others.  I believe all business owners should have some hand in their business, but that delegation is important as well.  It’s not a good idea to just straight out steal from others or copy their work, because then it’s not your work and you’re not being respectful of what they’re building (having permission or being legally able to use their stuff is different).  The third one is one of my favorites, I love learning from other businesses and leaders.  Whether you read books, watch videos, take classes or watch the ads, there are lots of ways to learn from other businesses and get ideas for building yours.

What got me thinking about this?  Well, I’m rather captured by the Bud Light commercial wherein a barrel of corn syrup is delivered to them incorrectly and they travel to bring it to the two other kingdoms/factories that do use corn syrup to try to find where it was supposed to end up. With a lot of effort and traveling the corn syrup does make it to the proper destination and the people of Bud Light have saved the day.  The commercial is supposed to share the fact that Bud Light doesn’t use corn syrup (and that corn syrup is bad), but what has captured my attention is the idea that the people of Bud Light are so willing to go the distance to support the other beer makers.

I’m all about joint ventures and even just supporting other businesses, whether they’re local-to-you businesses or others you’ve connected with online.  The business world is a rapidly expanding one with lots of others who are trying to succeed just like you are.  I believe there are enough people on earth that there are enough customers for each of us to have all that we need to be both comfortable and growing.  There’s no reason to hinder another business from succeeding, in fact I’d argue it’s better for all of us if more of us are successful.

I would encourage you to reach out to another business or business owner and see how you can support each other in building a better business world, a better experience for your customers and theirs, or just give someone a leg up that you wished you had gotten or are thankful that you did get.

Seth Godin Teaches Marketing

We’ve reached the end of February, today we’re taking a look at our business read for February, This is Marketing by Seth Godin. I often pick up Seth’s books because they’re easy to read and packed with lots of little and big insights that inspire me, remind me of something, confirm something for me, and of course give insights into being a better business owner and marketer. This book talked about many of the things that I work with my clients on and many of the things I believe can help us make business better for everyone. Let’s take a look at just a few of the lessons in it.

Marketing is about making change happen. It can be evil and it can be used to get people to do bad things like do drugs or steal or send people into foreclosure. But it can also empower people and give them the solutions and support they’re seeking. Marketing gives answers, inspires people to try things, shows what you stand for, activates curiosity, connects people with solutions, and raises awareness. it’s up to us marketers to decide if we’re going to be evil, to spam people, or respect and build on the trust they’re giving us.

Be market driven: this means that your focus is ultimately and primarily on humanity, on people. You remember that you’re marketing to humans, that every customer service interaction is a chance to wow and to care for them, that fear pops up for everyone at different points in time, that you ask people to give you their attention, that everyone is different, and you can do good things for your business by focusing on your true fans, a small audience, rather than those who don’t resonate with your work.

Finally, always be improving. Seth has written many books, and some of the ideas aren’t as applicable as they were when he wrote them. He’s learned things since he wrote his first book, yes, but the bigger impact is on the sheer amount of change that has happened in those years. You can totally go ahead and make something “perfect,” but it’s likely that that thing you make that’s perfect will be outdated or irrelevant in a matter of weeks, months or years, depending on how much transformation is happening in that industry. So instead go ahead and get out there with your well-developed product or service, and back up a not-quite-perfect offering with outstanding customer service that outshines minor imperfections and in-progress work.

What have you learned from Seth Godin?

In the Business of Data and Privacy

On many of the lists that came out in the beginning of this year regarding the direction that business will take this year was the topic of privacy. Last year saw a number of data issues, and an increase in people being more aware of the digital decisions they’re making. More emails, more social posts, more audio, more content of all kinds is being created every day, and on an increasing pace. Today I thought we’d talk about data, privacy, and how all of it ties into ads and marketing.

Whether we’re talking personal or professional, no one really wants their information stolen. So it goes without saying that people and businesses need to be more conscious of the information they’re putting out into the world, that protections are improving and kept updated, and that people’s information is respected and not taken advantage of when information is shared.

From a marketing and business perspective I think it’s great that we’ve got so much data to tap into, it gives us the ability to spend our marketing dollars smarter because we’re able to tap into the people we want to target and not those who would never buy from us. The other side of it is that we have to be more respectful than ever of the information we’re given or able to tap into, because it’s easier for trust to be broken and for us to lose a potential life-long customer because we spammed them or were disrespectful of their trust.

From a customer perspective, they’re still willing to provide their information, as long as there’s a clear reward and their information and privacy is respected. It’s one reason why it’s so important to have not only an unsubscribe button in all emails but also a link that will allow them to update or remove information including email address and physical address. If you’re requiring information more than name and email up front, make it clear why you’re requiring that information, and consider if it’s really necessary at that moment or if you’re just trying to squeeze information from them.

So what are your thoughts as a business and a consumer when it comes to data and information? What is your company doing to help protect your customers and take advantage of the information that’s available?

Customer Service for the Ages

Today I want to talk about customer service, specifically regarding people contacting you or reaching out to you with questions or issues.  Customer service is one of the make-or-break aspects of a company.  They make people love or hate your company.  Depending on how it goes a person may be less likely to buy from you in the future, or at the very least not recommend you to others.

There are one or two companies I absolutely dread reaching out to because it has become consistently increasingly difficult to understand the people I speak with, either on the phone or virtually, and therefore to get my issue solved (I recently had one of them tell me the issue with my account was that I was shipping to 3 locations that are nowhere near any locations I’ve ever shipped to, which I told them was absolute bunk (to be polite), and hung up).

Recently I shared an article about the 55+ demographic and their careers with my newsletter subscribers which got me thinking about how they’re living longer and wanting/needing to stay in the workforce for longer.  Can they be part of the solution to poor customer service?

They have a better grasp of language than most people do, light years better than those who are taught a second or third language for (cheap) customer service purposes.  Many are also very friendly and can add a great level of personal touch to what can be challenging moments.  Many of them have great minds and can be taught to use the computer and knowledge that’s on it to perform the simple tasks that customer service typically deals with.  They can work from any location thanks to today’s technology, and it may even add some extra benefits like increasing socialization and helping with consistent income to help with end-of-life expenses and more.  I would say those are some pretty convincing reasons why you could add some older adults to your customer services.

If you currently outsource your customer service to someone in some other country, I encourage you to consider if you’re really doing your company a service by doing this or if you’re hurting it.  There are ways that you can spread the love through your business and the people you interact with, what are you doing to spread love?

Advice from Edison

This month is the birthday of Thomas Edison. He was an incredible inventor and businessman, and was involved in power generation, communication, sound and motion pictures. He’s famous for his work with the lightbulb and in the US alone he holds over 1,000 patents. He also kept some pretty important company in the business world of the time: Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. Today I thought we’d take a look at a few things Edison said and how they apply to our businesses and leadership today.

Reinvention, reworking, tweaking and trial and error are key throughout the life of your business:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Consistently work with a good head on your shoulders:
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.”

Perspective and community/teamwork may be the answer:
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

Don’t just accept things as they are, keep growing:
“There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

Most people are more capable of doing great things than they (or others) may believe they are (are you restricting yourself or your team?):
“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Imagination and creativity are useful for many aspects of business, not just product development:
“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Business does have a serious side, but laughter and fun are important too, no one is serious all the time:
“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.”

It’s unlikely that AI or anything else will truly make people obsolete:
“There is far more opportunity than there is ability.”

There’s nothing wrong with taking an idea and developing it beyond where it currently is or giving something your own twist:
“I start where the last man left off.”

There’s getting stuff done and then there’s productivity:
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

Consistent action and follow through are key:
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

Giving up means you’ve failed, trying something different means you can win:
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

I encourage you to do a little creative inventing in your business this week, don’t just accept things as they have always been.  You never know what value a little brainstorming can reveal.

Learning From a $115 Billion Company

I like numbers as much as the next person and know their value in business, but I’m not really big on those top 10 lists or top 500 lists, I certainly don’t spend my time reading them on a regular basis.  So when I happened upon an article sometime at the end of last year I read it because of the fact that it was talking about how a big company was planning to get bigger, not because I wanted to read the top 10 list that it turns out it included as part of the article.  I don’t think we should always compare ourselves and our businesses to others out there, but I do know that we can learn from their success and this article reminded me of some truths that I think we sometimes ignore or forget when it comes to business.

The article, which you can read here (and I suggest you do), is talking about Cargill, “the $115 billion-in-sales agricultural giant that has topped Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies for 28 of the past 30 years.”  Some interesting things for you to consider: first and foremost it’s a food business.  Second, they’ve been in business since 1865.  Third, in the past 5 years they’ve consistently earned between 107 and 134 billion in sales and revenues.

So next we have to talk about the top 10 list.  What does it say? 3 of the others in the top 10 list are grocery stores and a 4th and 5th are also in the food business to one degree or another.  6 of the top 10 companies on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies are in the food business, the industry known for seriously small margins.

So what does all of this tell us?  First, that it’s possible to be very successful for a very long time in just about any industry.  It also tells us that what everyone says isn’t always correct, and sometimes you can beat the odds.  Finally, if you do want to succeed you have to keep learning, trying new things and growing.  Even if it’s not your goal to end up on one of these lists, I still think that the insights about Cargill can be encouraging and insightful.  Who have you learned from lately?

Small Steps to Success

One thing I’m going to do this year is a blog post each month on a business or success book I read, a book you can benefit from whether you read it or listen to it, and share some insights I gathered from it. This month’s book is Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s a really easy read for being a non-fiction book, it reminded me almost of the ease of reading a fiction book because of the writing style. The central concepts of the book were the benefits of small improvements and the power (positive and negative) of habits.

So many businesses are looking for the magic bullet that will catapult them to major success. Even if their plan is good and includes hard work, their expectations are often not in line with reality. I wish that more businesses would take a step back and take things a little slower, exactly like this book talks about. To not be in such a rush to get to success, but instead to build on their success a little at a time day in and day out, so they are helping more people that day than they did the day before.

One of the big keys behind the success of the small improvements and habits in the book is that of systems. Systems are crucial to a well-oiled business, one that can run almost seamlessly all the time regardless of the little quirks that pop up each day. Perfection shouldn’t be the goal, but systems help you get a lot closer to getting it right more often than not. Systems are the key that help you get from point A to point B well on a regular basis, helping you establish success patterns and habits that will empower you and your customers. Of course the opposite is true as well, if you don’t have the right system you won’t be as successful or success will be a lot harder to come by.

The final point I want to bring up from the book is that of clues and paying attention. One of the most helpful things you can do for your business is pay attention. Each day, each purchase, each interaction with a customer adds new information to what you already know and if you’re paying attention you can see warning signs before issues become full-blown problems. I’m not suggesting you become hypersensitive to everything that’s going on that you freak and make drastic changes at the smallest thing or first sign of a potential issue, but rather be aware of how everything is running, how people are responding, what’s going on and how you’re feeling about everything so that easily fixed small issues don’t turn into big ones and you can capitalize on the good ideas when you have them, not many months down the road after they become missed opportunities.

If you’ve got suggestions for other books I should read this year, let me know in the comments.

Choosy Customers, Clear Businesses

One of the tough lessons we have to learn in business is that what works for one customer always won’t work for another.  It’s not easy to be on either side of a less-than-satisfied side of things, it’s really a bummer to both the business owner and the customer who had hopes that things would work out. I recently had the experience where I really wanted things to work out but they just didn’t. It’s a big challenge for customers who would love to shop local but just can’t get what they’re looking for or the service they need.

I think this is one of the reasons that local businesses (stores with a physical presence) are struggling to survive in many cases, because they’re not stepping up in ways that they need to if they want to compete. They used to be able to get by without really trying, simply because they were near potential customers, but the internet and TV have shown people that there’s a wide world of products and services out there that are often accessible with just a few clicks. Stores that choose to innovate and provide a higher level of service have a very good chance of surviving even with the accessibility of the internet.

The fact that what one customer loves another doesn’t is one of the reasons to offer more than one product or service, but it’s also added perspective on the customer reviews you get. Some reviews will be unfavorable simply because they weren’t the right customer, for example they only tried you because of how many positive reviews they’d been hearing about you. Those are some of the better negative reviews though because they often start with a statement like “I heard so many great things about this business I had to try it even though I don’t typically like…” which reinforces that you’re doing a great job in general, your product or service wasn’t right for them.

So before you make any judgments on your success or lack thereof so far this year, I would encourage you to make sure that you’re working on getting the right customers, and not just any customers.  Who are your ideal customers?

Getting a Productive Start

This year I’m going to be talking a lot about living (and working) in the moment and really pressing into the time that we’ve got, making the best choices for us that empower us and make the best use of our time. On the topic of productivity, you’ve probably heard about the Tim Ferriss book “4-Hour Work Week,” and while most of us will work more than 4 hours a week and like to work more than 4 hours a week, the only way that something like that is possible is if we delegate and if we really manage our time well.

Most business owners struggle with having a long to-do list and never having enough hours in the day. Often the reasons include not delegating well and not being as productive as they could. I understand that it can take some work to find someone you can trust delegate to and work with well, but when you’ve got someone in that position it makes your work go a lot better and you get more done. As far as productivity goes, scheduling and focus may be your real issues, and working on adhering to a schedule may help you greatly in getting more done in a more efficient manner.

If you want to be a truly productive business owner this year I would challenge you to review your schedule, frustrations, to-do lists and productivity, and take the time to ask yourself some questions: Are you truly productive for some time each day? What stops you from being productive? Why do things stay on your to-do lists? What do you keep putting off and why? Are you hesitant to get help, and if so, why? Are you able to focus when you need to? How has your lack of productivity limited your business growth? What are the 3 biggest (and easiest) changes you could make right now that would greatly impact your productivity?

Will this year be the year that you’re productive in and with your business? I hope so! I invite you to add a comment letting me know how I can help you be more productive this year too.