A Question of Leadership

This month I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. We’ve seen the continuing drama with the US president and with business, sports and other leaders, and we’ve seen play out on a very global scale the search and rescue of a soccer team of 13 people from a cave. Naturally leaders get put on a pedestal and are called to a higher standard of living. We don’t give them all the allowance that may be necessary as humans, but in some ways that’s acceptable because they (and we) are supposed to be more responsible.

Much of the discussion about the soccer team was regarding how they with their coach ended up where they did in the first place. Supposedly they were aware of how dangerous the caves could be and that the location was one that seasonally floods, and yet they entered anyway. I’m sure if they haven’t happened already, in the coming weeks there will be discussions with the coach about how things went down as they did and why he allowed the kids to go into the caves.

But from what we’ve already heard and know there are two things to take note of: first and foremost he kept the boys alive and in good spirits for more than 2 weeks. I can’t imagine how challenging that was, for himself as an individual and then to have 12 young lives to care for on top of that. And yet he did.

The second thing we know is that he’s taken responsibility for what happened. It’s been reported that the boys wanted to go exploring, together they went into the caves and when he realized that it was flooding and there was no escape he did what he had to to protect them and keep them alive.

We can’t change the past as leaders, we can only choose to accept our failures and shortcomings and move forward. I think a large part of them regrets being trapped, but in some ways their situation was a gift because so many people were able to come and work together, people from around the world and different continents. It’s a great reminder that for even as few as 13 people in a world of over 7 billion we can put aside our differences (even if they’re as small as speaking different languages) and work together for good.

This week I encourage you to take time to evaluate your leadership. Are you being the best leader you can? Are you showing your customers and employees the respect they deserve? Are you taking responsibility when things are your fault and doing your very best to resolve them? What kind of leader are you?

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Mastering Permission Marketing

Marketing is one of the biggest challenges to being a business. Things are constantly changing, growing and evolving as to what’s most effective, what’s got the lowest cost, how to reach the most people, and ways you can reach people, so while even many of the tried-and-true practices have stuck around, there are many others that are new and great opportunities for marketing. But perhaps the biggest issue is that it typically has to be done consistently and with quality to be most effective, which takes time and effort.

One of the types of marketing you can do is called permission based marketing. As you can imagine, this means that the person has given their permission to you to market to them. They’ve given you that permission where they’ve given you that permission for one of two reasons: one reason is that it’s the only way they can sign up for marketing from you (for example you only have a Facebook page, you’re not on any other social sites and don’t have a newsletter or blog). The other reason they gave you that permission where they gave it to you is because that’s how they prefer to be marketed to.

As someone who does and consults on marketing I’m very intentional about what I choose as far as marketing. One of my favorite ways to be marketed to is email because it’s one I have the most control over. This week I received two emails from people I signed up to receive emails from, emails with two very different messages. One told me that they were going to send maybe an email a month and the rest of the updates I could get on Facebook in groups. The other explained that they wanted to make some additions to what they send but wanted to give us (the subscribers) the ability to choose what we each do/don’t receive. I found one email to be incredibly frustrating and the other exciting.

As a side note I should mention there’s a difference between changing what you send (i.e. just product/service updates to tips) and how you send it (Facebook to Twitter). Yes, surveying your customers is a good idea if you’re going to change the content, but it’s not typically as big of an issue as changing how you do the marketing.

As mentioned earlier, the thing to remember about permission marketing in situations where you give your customers or visitors the opportunity to choose from a variety of marketing opportunities (newsletter, blog, podcast, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.), is that the person who gave their permission specifically indicated how they wanted to be marketed to. If you’re venturing into new marketing options and want to see if they would rather receive updates that way, let them know! Give them the ability to subscribe to their preferred opportunity, and unsubscribe from what they don’t enjoy too.

There’s a cost to all marketing so I understand that a business may choose to go in a direction where they get more bang for their buck, but the best part about permission marketing is that a business has the ability to ask their existing subscribers how they want to be marketed to, and to invite people to unsubscribe/subscribe where they prefer. This gives your customers the ability to cut your marketing costs and tell you exactly what their preferences are.

Making the decision to stop one type of marketing or start another is a big decision, one that is not only about you but also about your customers. I encourage you to not make the decisions for them, unless you’re left with no other option (for example the site is closing down).

Are you practicing permission marketing, and if so what have you found works for you and your customers?

Beyond Boring Businesses

One of the things that you hear from business owners is that they want to go viral, or be super popular, but let’s face it, there are some businesses that just aren’t naturally built to be celebrated as some are. Even a business that has difficult and boring days like a vet who has to put pets to sleep or give them shots will see at least one cute animal they can share with their community each day and week to include in their marketing. But what about the businesses that don’t really have the greatest built-in marketing opportunities?

The first thing I would say is that the business is as boring as you make it out to be. Second, even if you do have one of the most boring businesses in the world, it doesn’t mean that you should treat your customers poorly, not be passionate about your offerings, or be lazy and inconsiderate about the experience you offer. Regardless whether your business is the most exciting or the most boring in the world, you are offering something that is of value, something that people need, and you should be proud of that.

One example of a boring industry is the home/car insurance industry. It’s really not that interesting, few of us deal with them other than to pay a bill. And for those of us that deal with them it’s not really interesting or exciting to talk about your house being robbed or being in a serious car accident. Those are moments we would rather forget. But as we’ve seen through the many Farmers Insurance commercials, there are some crazy stories that go along with insurance claims, and they’re true! While the crazy is, I’m sure, a very small percentage of the claims they deal with, they’ve brought those stories to the forefront to illustrate that if they can deal with the crazy they can surely handle the boring.

No, it’s not always the right choice to find the crazy to highlight, but there is always an emotion that you can speak to with your customers, and there are almost always stories you can share to show the community that you support ranging from the heart-wrenching to the sweet. Don’t worry about going viral or being the most interesting business in the world, focus on helping your customers feel recognized, that you understand the different situations they’re dealing with and showing them that you can help make their day even just a little better.

What are your tips for navigating the boring parts of business?

A New Direction for Success

I was talking with a client this week who is taking their business in a new direction and from the conversation I was reminded of something very important: every business starts somewhere. Maybe it’s with a passion, maybe it’s to fill an obvious need, maybe it’s because you’ve got special expertise in that area, or maybe it’s just that they want the freedom and flexibility to do things their way. But whether you’re starting a business or expanding a business based on a wealth of expertise and knowledge or if you’re doing it based on an interest and passion, everyone starts somewhere.

The start is important because it should be the foundation for your business as well as the guidance that will help you developing it in the future. It’s important to start with a need in the world or knowing that there’s a community of people out there who have serious interest in this topic.

There’s no shame in where you start. The important thing is that you start and that you start somewhere smart. You can certainly have a long range plan and development ideas, but you may not be able to get everything ready for when you start and sometimes the world isn’t ready for everything either, so it’s more than OK to let things grow and develop naturally over time and as time allows.

But the start is just a start. There has to be something that happens next, and that almost always includes growth, both personal and professional. If there’s no growth you won’t be able to navigate the changes that the world goes through, the adjustments that your buyers will begin to expect over time, and you’ll look outdated and unable to meet the buyers and their needs. As you take that step to the next level or product or feature there will be some growing pains, so the more prepared you can be, the more research you can do and the more steps you can take to protect and prepare, the better.

Is your business ready to take a next step? If you’re feeling stagnant and dull it certainly may be time.

The News on Newsletters

One of my favorite marketing tools (and communication tools) is email. Before you groan let me explain. In 2018 a newsletter can include podcasts, videos, articles, and many other things, so don’t think it has to be all/mostly text (unless that’s what you and your customers want it to be). It’s an opt-in opportunity to know that you’re speaking with people who are actively interested in what you’re offering. It’s one of the lowest cost, most direct, most consistent opportunities to connect with your people. It’s a way to build trust and become top of mind with your people. Let’s talk about what you can do with a newsletter and getting people to sign up for yours.

Before you can send anything, you have to get them to sign up. While I understand that a newsletter is a free gift in and of itself, it’s usually easier to get people to subscribe if you offer some bait. Whether this is a discount, special report, opportunity to talk with you or helpful resource, offering something like this is a great way to encourage people to sign up (make sure to take into account GDPR and privacy policy changes when planning this).

The other thing to take into account when trying to get people to sign up is what you’re offering. Way too often I see a newsletter subscription box at the bottom of the site and nothing except the phrase “sign up for our newsletter.” Why?! Why would I want to sign up for another email? There’s nothing convincing about that phrase. Make a clear and concise statement about what you offer that makes people want what you’re offering.

As far as what you’re doing with a newsletter, it’s a great way to provide exclusive content and insights that people can’t get from your blog or offers you don’t want to share with the world on social media. It’s also a great opportunity to dive a bit deeper into stuff you’ve shared on social media.

What about you? Do you put out a newsletter? Which newsletters you subscribe to are your favorite?

The Message in Your Marketing

Over the past few years there have been a lot of issues raised in the marketing community, the most recent being GDPR. While I think it’s ultimately a good thing to help consumers be more aware of their options and have some control back, it has presented some challenges for businesses in implementation because many aren’t in line with GDPR type standards already. Other issues that have been raised in the past and continue to be an issue are spam, fake news and clickbait titles/articles. A recent experience has prompted me to write today about some of these topics as well as the bigger topic of marketing.

Let’s start with my recent experience. I’ve owned my car for quite a few years now and over the years I’ve gotten calls, emails and letters from the car company letting me know they would like me to sell the car back to them (so I can buy a new one). While slightly annoying it has been almost an expected thing, but not something that has really annoyed me or made me dislike the company. Recently I made an appointment for service and a couple days before the scheduled service I got a call from someone at the dealership/service facility and they said that they would like to ask me a few questions when I came in for service. That’s it. There wasn’t any clue whatsoever regarding what they had questions about or why they even had questions for me. Turns out it was a sales person at the dealership who wanted to talk with me about selling back my car. I made it clear to them that the part I appreciated least about their contact was the lack of specificity.

Here’s the thing. Marketing is a tool, a resource, a trust building exercise, an awareness raising opportunity and something we as business owners really need to be respectful of. I’m supportive of many of the changes that the industry has been making because I don’t feel that enough business owners are truly treating marketing with the respect, and reverence almost, that it deserves. There’s a definite line between raising awareness and bashing people over the head with your message. The obnoxious intrusions need to cease. There’s been plenty of recent research done that has indicated that people are interested in interacting with companies and receiving marketing from them, but not in a way that’s disrespectful, rude, invasive, pervasive or blind. There’s also a line between teasing your customers with what’s to come and being completely vague.

This week I encourage you to take a look at your marketing. Are you being specific, relevant and in line with what your customers want? If not, I’d be happy to talk with you about getting things back on the right track so you effectively connect with your customers. It’s time we start making marketing good for everyone.

The Future of Your Business

Lately I’ve been coming back to a topic that isn’t one that we really like to think about, but is something that affects us personally and professionally: death. At some point in time all of us will die, and just about every business will go out of business at some point in time. Very few businesses stand the test of time, often because the world changes and either they can’t keep up with the changes, or there’s no one to continue on after the current owners are done with the business. So today I thought we’d take a minute to talk about next steps with your business, whether you’re hoping to sell, planning to pass it on or some day going to close up shop.

Whether you’re planning to sell or planning to pass it on one of the most important things you can do to not only make your business appealing to the next person, but to ensure that you pass along the best version of your business that you can, is to keep good records. This means that not only is everything recorded in a way that people can easily figure out what you’re sharing, but the information can be used to make important decisions in the future and the information shows that you’ve got a great concept and the customer base to support the business.

If you’re planning to close up shop some day one of the most important things you can do now and when that time comes is have good resources that you can pass your people off to. I’ve been connected with several individuals and companies who decided to close their doors and left absolutely no way for people to keep in touch with them or suggestions about who they can connect with that offers the same heart, quality and services that they did to now replace them. I understand if you want to be done with your business (or need to be), but you’ve spent a lot of time building trust with people and they’ve gotten to know you and see you as a valuable resource, so to just toss them out like garbage just because you’re done is inconsiderate. You’ve got a new future you’re moving on to, but they were relying on you for parts of their future.

But the fact is that paying attention to detail, keeping good records, building a network of reliable customers, having data to consider, and having a network of people you can recommend people to are things that can be invaluable now while your business is being built, growing or thriving, not just when you’re closing that chapter of your life.

The one last thing I would encourage you to keep in mind is that everything does come to an end at some time. It’s always better if you’ve got the control to finish things out as you want them to go, rather than working through a mess or leaving the mess for someone else. What plans do you have for the future of your business?

Don’t Lose Faith in Your Business

In thinking about all of the challenges and changes that the business world has been going through, from physical businesses needing to innovate or close to the big changes with GDPR being active this week, there are days when business owners think about just throwing in the towel.  I get it, it’s not fun to come up with this cool idea, do lots of development and have positive feedback from people only to find it’s not selling or the sales aren’t enough to cover the debts.  So today I thought I would share a bit of encouragement and an opportunity for reflection with you.

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” Steve Jobs

When I read this quote I thought it could be about a good thing and/or a bad thing.   It can be good if all of a sudden you realize the little or big thing that you’ve been missing, the tweak that could make a big difference or you finally get that break you’ve been looking for.  Or it could be one of those no good, very horrible, terrible, bad days (or weeks) where everything seems to go wrong or be wrong or seemingly conspire against you.

Sometimes life does go wrong, sometimes the business goes through a rough patch.  Steve Jobs didn’t have a perfect life and the business wasn’t all sunshine and roses (it still isn’t).  There are lots of people who really don’t like Apple or their products, even if they can respect Steve and the business he (and many others) built.

The question is what you’re going to do after, what comes next.  Steve encourages you to not give up faith and not stop trying.  In many cases a few tweaks and some support can help you get back on track, and even to the point of thriving.  If you’ve been struggling lately I encourage you to look for an open door or ask for help, and don’t give up faith in a better tomorrow for you or your business.

The Gift of a Customer

So let’s be honest, there are some people out there that we wish we never worked with/for. Some customers drive us to drink, and even maybe consider throwing in the towel and getting a job. Sometimes you just can’t help but have these bad customer experiences, especially if you’re a really big brand like a chain restaurant or well known box of cereal that can be found in just about every food store around the US. But for most of us we can put up some guards at the door to check with potential customers before they become customers, or at the very least clearly communicate on our website, social media and newsletter who we’re a good fit for, and who should look elsewhere. Personally, I have no problem or guilt in sending someone that I’m not capable of helping to someone else. For example if a guy I was considering coaching or consulting for consistently flirted with me in an obnoxious and unavoidable way, I’d tell him that we wouldn’t be a good fit and he should look for other help. It’s certainly possible that I could have helped him, but I’m not interested in that stress. Or if a Japanese company comes to me and asks for help but all their marketing materials are in Japanese, I’m just not the right person to dive deep with them on expanding their marketing within Japan (unless it’s to English speaking people).

But on the flip side there are some business that we’re sorry we’ve purchased from as customers, whether we’re talking as an individual/family or b2b. Maybe we’re sorry because we didn’t realize what we were getting up front (the sales pitch was just that good that we were tempted into signing up without asking lots of questions), and then we end up wasting time and most likely some money too. Or we ask for one thing and end up getting several, most not related to what we’re interested in. Or the company just plain out spams you and sends you tons of sales pitches and promotions. All of these are great ways to not only lose customers, but to make people mad; people who go tell other people about their bad experience.

Money is one of the most important things in business, the value you bring to the table is another, and the trust you build with your customers is a third. Without the value you can’t build the trust with your potential customers, and without potential customers (let alone actual customers) you have no chance of bringing in money, which means you’ve got a hobby and not a profitable, sustainable business.  Do you see your customer as a gift or an annoyance?

So this week I encourage you to take a look at your practices and actions when it comes to your customers and potential customers. Are you living up to the trust they’ve placed in you? Just about everyone has room to grow, but if you don’t start from a good place, you’ll never be given the chance to grow.

Next Generation Business Success Support

Mother’s Day is just a few days away in the US and today I’m thinking about one of the important jobs that moms (and dads) have, and that’s raising up the next generation. As business owners it’s important to not only help your employees and team members grow personally and professionally, and to offer something of value to the world through your products and services, but I believe we’ve got a very important duty to help the next generation of business owners get started, whether they’re 18 or 80, and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes we made in starting our businesses. So let’s take a look at a few ways we can all work together to ensure that the next group of business owners is just as or more successful than we are.

One way to help the next generation is talking with them. I answer probably a hundred emails and messages a week from people asking for business advice. Many leaders are willing to have you buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for picking their brain for a bit. I think this is a great way to give a little bit of your insight to help others get started. If you’re in this position of wanting to ask someone for some business knowledge, make sure that you’ve got your questions ready and you’ve read up on this person before approaching/talking with them (show them you’re not going to waste their time).

Another way to support new and considering business owners is donations to organizations that help people do more than work simple jobs, like teaching farm or computer skills, or providing the actual seeds and computers (or a donation for that purpose). I was reminded in an email this week that what seems like a very small amount of money to some of us can be a huge amount of money in other parts of the world. $75 to you or I may be a bottle of wine, a nice dinner or part of a month’s cell phone bill, but to someone in another country it means knowledge and seeds to set up a lucrative farming venture that not only feeds their family but brings in a decent income. If you’re got old computers, nice dress clothes that don’t fit, office furniture, or other resources (including money), there are tons of great charities and organizations that will take them and help them get into the hands of those who need a bit of a helping hand to get started in business.

Third, a mentorship program is a great way to help those interested in starting a business like yours, or in the same industry. It can be a way for those interested in starting a business like yours to make some money and learn the ropes from a seasoned leader. They earn at least minimum wage working for you in your business, learning all the different jobs, you teach them and answer questions as you go along, and you get a motivated and focused employee for 6 months to a year. It’s not something everyone can offer, but it’s another way to help the next generation learn how to run a business from the inside.

So how do you contribute to the next generation of business leaders? What do you think is most important for the next generation to know?