Safe At Work

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

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

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

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

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

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Back to the Brand

Today I thought I’d talk a bit about a topic that I’ve touched on in the past but it’s been a while since I really devoted time to it, because this week a client approached me because they were having trouble with branding, so it got me thinking about what branding is and how we work with it in our individual companies. According to dictionary.com, a brand is “a kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic,” “to impress indelibly,” “a trade name or trademark,” and/or “to give a product a distinctive identity by means of characteristic design, packaging, etc.”

So what does that mean to you and your business? I believe that branding is personal, and if it’s not personal and you (and any partners) don’t like it, the company won’t do as well. You have to be comfortable with, excited about, and connected to the brand you choose. That doesn’t mean it won’t change or develop over time, but whatever you go with now or in the future, it needs to be something you like. And once you settle on something you like then you can get feedback from others to make sure it’s crowd friendly too.

So how do you decide on a brand? From the definitions above your brand can be reflected through anything from the words you use to the images you use to the packaging you have. There are lots of sites you can look at to get ideas as far as what other people have done or how to pick colors that work with the feeling behind your company (and brand), but again, what you put on your site has to be something you’re comfortable with.

Why? Because once you’ve established your brand you have to show or say it everywhere. If I talked about little blue boxes you’d think about a particular jewelry company; they don’t put things in any other color boxes, just blue. If I said “Just Do It,” you’d think of a particular sports company that encourages everyone to get out there and be active and live their lives. If I talked about the ‘happiest place on earth’ you’d think of the feeling you get when you watch a particular company’s movies or going to their theme parks, a feeling they hope extends to other parts of your life as a result.

So what about your company? Have you established a brand and consistently taken it through all of your offerings, customer service solutions and presentations/packaging? If you don’t have a brand, establishing one could help you stand out among other companies in your industry and connect better with potential customers.

Learning from Lee Iacocca

As a business owner it can be easy to get wrapped up in what’s going on in your business. We all have challenges, things that frustrate us and almost always run out of time at the end of the day. But one of the best things we can do if we’re interested in growing our business is to seek the wisdom of others, whether working with a coach, or learning from great business leaders like Lee Iacocca. Lee Iacocca celebrates his birthday on the 15th of this month, so today I thought we’d take a look at a little of his wisdom.   A couple of the quotes may not seem like they are relevant or really share any knowledge that can help you in your business, but if you take a minute to think about what they’re really saying, I think you’ll learn something valuable.

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”

“So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late.”

“Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.”

“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits.”

“The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family.”

“To succeed today, you have to set priorities, decide what you stand for.”

“I have found that being honest is the best technique I can use. Right up front, tell people what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re willing to sacrifice to accomplish it.”

“What is wrong with changing your mind because the facts changed? But you have to be able to say why you changed your mind and how the facts changed.”

“I have always found that if I move with seventy-five percent or more of the facts that I usually never regret it. It’s the guys who wait to have everything perfect that drive you crazy.”

“There is no substitute for accurate knowledge. Know yourself, know your business, know your men.”

“The ability to concentrate and to use time well is everything.”

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

“A guy named Charlie Beacham was my first mentor at Ford. He taught me the importance of the dealers, and he rubbed my nose in the retail business.”

“I guess I invented extended warranties, because that’s all we had to sell at Chrysler in those days.”

“Over the years, many executives have said to me with pride: ‘Boy, I worked so hard last year that I didn’t take any vacation.’ I always feel like responding, “You dummy. You mean to tell me you can take responsibility for an eighty-million-dollar project and you can’t plan two weeks out of the year to have some fun?”

“I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”

“To solve big problems you have to be willing to do unpopular things.”

“There’s no great mystery to satisfying your customers. Build them a quality product and treat them with respect. It’s that simple.”

 

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?

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?

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.

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.

In the Business of Helping

This month one of the topics we’ll be talking about is the topic of help. I believe that each and every business should exist to help their customers with something. Maybe that help is something that seems important like fixing a broken leg or maybe that help is something that seems trivial when compared with a broken leg like jewelry to give your young daughter for her birthday. Both of those are helpful, they’re just helpful in different ways and at different times.

I think that keeping the focus of your business on what you do to help people is one of the ways you can ensure your success. If you and your employees are aware of and focused on being as helpful to customers and potential customers as you can be not only will you have happier customers, you’ll also have happier employees and often you’ll have more opportunities for growth and contribution in your community and the world.

With a focus on helping your people you’ll work on designing systems, creating guidelines, marketing products/services, providing customer service, hiring, and even creating products/services that do more than just add to your bottom line. Yes, the bottom line is important, but if you’re keeping employees longer, keeping suppliers longer, and have happier customers, the bottom line will take care of itself.

There are unfortunately tons of ways that businesses are unhelpful, sometimes intentionally but all too often because the businesses and their employees are rushed, overworked, uninformed, overwhelmed, lazy or unhappy. Some things are more simple fixes like website updates and doing different marketing, but others are more challenging like product or employee changes.

But if you look at the well-known successful businesses, more often than not one of the keys to their success is how valuable (helpful) people find them. These businesses have legendary customer service, they have fantastic return policies, they offer products that improve people’s lives, they have happy employees, and they are well-known in their community. No, they’re not perfect businesses, and even if you implement a “help” policy at your business you’ll still have some mistakes and unhappy customers, that’s part of doing business. But, it could bring about the boost, passion and direction that you’ve been missing. How do you help your people?

What To Do With Negative Reviews

Do you have negative reviews? I would say that every business experiences at least one unhappy customer throughout their life cycle. Of course you should focus on sharing the positive reviews on your website, but I think it’s helpful to leave the negative reviews up on any of the social or review platforms, even if you don’t want people knowing about them. Negative reviews can be an excellent way of weeding out the people who would end up being a refund or dissatisfied customer who wasn’t really a proper match to be a customer. Yes, some negative reviews really do reveal weaknesses in your business, product or service, and ways you’ve screwed up, which can be good insights for you on things you can improve (especially if you’re getting multiple reviews commenting on the same exact thing). However, negative reviews aren’t always a reflection on your company or product/service, but rather a buyer lashing out for something that’s completely unrelated.

Some reviews are listed as negative because the buyer wanted something that isn’t offered. Some reviews that make no sense when you read them, like someone expressing dissatisfaction over a physical bookstore stocking only paperback and hardcover books and not selling any beverages or not selling eBooks. Some “negative” reviews actually give a big complement and help potential buyers who are interested in what you offer feel more confident about working with you, for example the people who post that the beef lasagna they didn’t order but were served was delicious but really wished the person had gotten their order right and served them the chicken lasagna. Some buyers are unhappy with things that are clearly stated in the terms of service or product/service description but they didn’t take the time to read. And some buyers are unhappy with things you have no control over like the view from the Statue of Liberty being terrible because it was a rainy day.

On platforms that you as a business can respond to the negative reviews it’s a great opportunity to first and foremost thank the person for their review and then politely point out that you don’t offer what they didn’t get as well as what you do offer, and/or share some insights to give them (and others) a better experience with your business. This isn’t an opportunity to be nasty to them and tell them how illiterate they must be because they didn’t read or how they’re stupid because you have no control over the weather. However, having a well-thought-out response shows that you’re interested in hearing from your customers and are willing to work with them. As well, if it’s appropriate you can encourage them (and others in the future) to contact you or talk with you before the issue becomes unfix-able (i.e. you eat the dinner that wasn’t cooked to your satisfaction or wasn’t what you ordered).

You don’t have to reply to all reviews, and some businesses choose not to reply to any. I believe that somewhere in the middle is necessary, that you reply to at least some of them, especially if you’ve resolved that particular issue. Even if you choose not to reply to your reviews you really should read them to be aware of what customers are posting, as well as to catch any trolls who are posting negative spam reviews. If you haven’t checked out your reviews lately I encourage you to make time to do that this week.

Creating a Customer Connection

Today I thought we’d talk about 3 of what could be the scariest and most intimidating words you’ve ever heard relating to business (and maybe life too), and why they’re super important if you want to succeed in 2017. The words? Personal emotional connection.

That’s one of the secrets to being successful today in 2017, to make your customers have a personal emotional connection with what you’re selling. Yes, details are very important as are facts and information and honesty. Also important is providing consistency across your marketing, customer service, and products/services, so that whether you’ve got someone who buys from you on a weekly basis or someone who only buys every 6 months, they can expect the same experience now and in 6 months.

So what’s the big deal about a personal emotional connection? First, it’s personal. That means that the buyer feels that you’re personally interested in them and understand their personal needs and desires, and that your product or service will align with them. Second, it’s emotional. You’ve probably seen the commercials where little kids in war-torn countries look starved and you’ve probably seen the commercials with starved animals as well. Both of those commercials play on your emotions, knowing that there are plenty of people out there who will have their emotions tapped by those commercials and want to donate. Third, it’s a connection. People like knowing that they’re heard, understood, appreciated, and that they have something in common with others. You want someone to come to your brand saying “finally! Someone gets me and my needs!”

One of the biggest challenges is that although sometimes a personal emotional connection can be made instantly, more often than not it takes time. And time is not something that everyone is willing or things they’re able to wait for. But the research shows that more often than not you can get more from a customer who has a personal emotional connection with your company, than you can with someone who just buys for the price or availability. So go ahead and come up with some services and products that people would buy for price or availability and then have in place a plan to create a personal emotional connection with them, and have other products and/or services available for if and when that connection happens.

Have you made an effort to make a personal emotional connection with your customers? If so, what have you learned?