The Business of Summer

This week we had the beginning of summer! It’s my favorite season and I’m always happy when it gets here. As I sit here listening to rain pour down outside and feel the warmth in the air, I’m reminded of the challenges and opportunities businesses have each summer. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can take advantage of the summer in your business.

Work with the weather. The weather can discourage people from coming out and shopping or it can bring people out in droves depending on your business. If you’re one of those businesses that doesn’t benefit from the summer showers or hot days, those days can be a great opportunity for you to take to social media and email and send out special day-of discounts that your customers can take advantage of (and bring you business you would not have otherwise).

Work with visitors. Summer is one of the seasons that brings lots of visitors and travelers to different parts of the country. Having a “visiting” section of your website, a visitor’s guide in your business, and even offering special locally-inspired products are all great ways of introducing people not familiar with the local area to your business and the area as well as letting the out-of-town visitors know that you appreciate them and are glad they’re visiting.

Get smart with scheduling. Summer does shake things up a bit with lots of employees wanting time off and people interested in staying out later at night. So maybe it’s a good opportunity to change your hours to be open 5-6 days a week with extra extended hours. That gives your employees some time off and gives people a chance to come visit and shop at the hours they’re looking to do exactly that. Having those days off can also be great for doing a deep cleaning of your site, refreshing your website and marketing, taking some courses or doing some other types of educating or learning, and getting some good rest, too!

How will you make the most of your business this summer?

Challenged by Technology

Recently I’ve been reflecting on some of the challenges of being in business and being a customer as well. There are things we should be taking into consideration for regarding our customers and what we’re selling as well as how we’re communicating with them, especially regarding changes. This week I accidentally left my phone at home for a period of time which got me thinking about changes and the technology that’s so central to our lives now.

The first thing I was reminded of was the fact that there are and always will be changes happening. Sometimes changes happen that someone thinks is a really good idea but many customers hate, or the biggest issue isn’t the change, it’s the lack of communication about the upcoming change. Changes are a necessary and almost inevitable part of life and business but you can’t seriously make changes without notifying your users of those changes, especially if it’s something that may so (negatively) impact their business that they have to find a replacement.

The second thing I thought about was how instant our world has become. Technology has enabled us to connect within seconds with many parts of the world, whether we’re using email, phones, social media or messaging. It’s amazing and has so many benefits to offer the world from emergency situations to providing support and love even from many miles away. I’m not one of those people who sits at my computer all day and waits for an email so I can reply to it instantly. I do believe that we can (and should) have lives and not be attached to our devices 24/7. So maybe it’s a good thing if we all leave our devices home once in a while.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about ease of use. Technology in general does make it much easier to do so many things. But sometimes there are changes made or features added that make it harder to use the technology. There are also times when an update or upgrade is desperately needed but it’s not made (or the change that isn’t needed is the one that’s made). I think sometimes in our desire to be #1 or the most trendy or the one with the most features we forget about the people and how easy or difficult it is to use.

This week in your dealings with technology I encourage you to try something new with technology. Maybe you’ll find that the change isn’t as difficult as you thought it would be.

Yes and No in Business

I’m a big supporter of doing joint venture opportunities and giving your customers and everyone the most help possible. It’s great when you can share a resource you trust with a friend or client, they know that they’re getting something that you’ve checked out and so they have a little more confidence in deciding to get to know them. But when was the last time you said “no” in your business? I recently had a joint venture opportunity but when I went to check out their site and see what I would be partnering with I didn’t like what I found so I passed on the opportunity. Yes business is about making money and helping people, but you have to be conscious of whether you’re making a connection just to make the connection or if it’s really a good opportunity for you (or is going to reflect well on you and your business or not).

Yes, I did feel kind of guilty passing up what could be a great opportunity, and I know that other people did take advantage of the opportunity to partner with him. But as a business owner you have to have standards when it comes to your business and your customers. It’s about more than just having a set of rules or company handbook that talks about the polished information you’re “supposed” to say. It’s about doing what feels right for you, working with suppliers and people who believe in providing the same kind of experience you do, and have more or less the same outlook towards doing business as you do.

No, no business will ever be exactly what your business is or line up perfectly with your standards, but there’s a big difference between some compromises to make things work for everyone and sacrificing things that are really important to you and your customers. This week ahead I encourage you to take a look at what’s going on in your business and if it’s time to say no to some things. When you say no to things that don’t work well for you, you’re opening yourself up to things that do work well for you.

Business Communication Fails

One of the things that makes this world that we live in so amazing is that we can have instant and easy communication with just about anyone anywhere around the world. All it takes is a way for both of us to connect, like an email or social media site or phone or calling platform.  Which means there is no excuse for not communicating.  Each day I wade through multiple emails and other communications that clearly indicate that the person who wrote them didn’t read my earlier reply to them, didn’t check for previous communications between us, didn’t bother to read the information I provided (whether it be a website or document or other communication), or didn’t bother to do a quick 10 second internet search, not to mention the spelling and grammar issues I see often.  And then there are the people/companies who don’t bother to communicate with their buyers, investors or users, they just make changes and expect you to be cool with it.

I understand the need for privacy when you’re working on something new and unique and the right of a company to make whatever changes they see fit to make.  However, not only do I think it’s not right to make those changes without notifying people first (whether it’s a change in price or offering, or app/site downtime), it’s also lazy, rude and irresponsible.  I’m not suggesting that you have to tell people all about the new idea you’re working on or exactly what you’re going to be working on during site downtime for example, but giving people 24 hours advanced notice before a price increase hits your credit card or downtime is happening allows people to prepare and make the necessary decisions.

It takes less than 15 minutes to create and write a very simple email, social post or other notification, probably another 5 to get it reviewed by someone else if necessary and about 2 seconds to send it out.  That’s less than 30 minutes of work to avoid pissing people off, avoid losing (long time) customers and make everyone’s lives run smoother.  Two businesses I work with this week decided not to send out this simple contact and one is losing a good portion of my business as a result.

So the question is: are you avoiding letting people know? Are you scared to let them know what you’re doing? Are you too lazy to keep people informed? Do you not care about your customers that much?  What is holding you back from being a communicating business and are you ready for the potential results?

Changes, Choices and Closed Businesses

When you start a business you don’t always think about what comes next and when/how you want to finish with it.  Sure you may imagine creating a great product/company and selling it for tons of money to some big company, but that’s not the reality (or plan) for most business owners.   For most (especially small business owners), they’re more focused on what’s going on today and their current customers (or getting customers for that matter), maybe even what’s coming up in the next year or so, than what could happen however many years down the road.  But the reality is that that decision does need to be made at some point in time.

This week in the US we see the end of Ringling Brothers’ circus, and I saw an article saying that the number of businesses that were sold in the first quarter was higher than it’s been.  I’ve also seen a number of ‘store closing’ signs at what used to be popular retailers.  Times change, people change, needs change, technology (the broadest definition of the word) changes, you (the business owner) change.  Yes, it’s tough to acknowledge the change, and difficult to let go of something that’s been part of your life for however long.  It’s tough to part with the people who have invested time, ideas and sweat into the business and customers.  It can also be scary to look at what’s coming next when you no longer have the business to work on each day.

Sometimes it’s OK or necessary to come to an end in business, sometimes it’s just time for us to move on to something else.  There’s no shame in that.  There’s also nothing wrong with passing the business off (or selling it) to someone who can take it to a level that you can’t for whatever reason.  However, many of the businesses that close each month close for reasons that didn’t have to be reality.  These businesses are run by people who are greedy, or aren’t willing to look at the truth, or aren’t willing to make changes, or aren’t willing to try things, or don’t treat their people right, or aren’t willing to even try to keep up with their competitors and the larger marketplace.

This week I encourage you to take a look at your business and check if you’ve been holding things back or hurting your businesses potential. If that’s the case i encourage you to make the choice to make changes, and get started on at least one of those changes this week.

Change And Stay the Same?

Over the past decade or so there have been many changes in the business world (‘business’ meaning both for- and non-profits).  Some businesses have embraced the changes, some have been reluctant but have eventually tried out some of them and other businesses have firmly resisted any change efforts. In some of those change-resistant businesses and business industries/niches there have been some innovators who have started new businesses that are taking advantage of the changes, which is causing some disruption in the industry/niche.  Last week there was an event and this past week I was talking with an individual about their new business that really got me thinking about the changes so today I want to talk a bit about both sides of this conversation.

The event is one that’s been around for 40+ years which says something pretty important given how few businesses, let alone events, last that long these days. The event is a live event and is in an industry that has overall been more resistant to or slow to do many of the changes, including tapping into the internet world.  Given that at the core of the event is the fact that it’s a live event, while you wouldn’t want to change that, there is a lot more the event can be doing year ’round to better market the event and keep people connected in between events.

The individual I was talking with is starting a new business in a different industry that has been resistant to change as well.  I rarely talk with people who are on his end of things, typically I hear from businesses who are behind the curve and trying to catch up, or talking with companies who are selling innovative products.  Starting a business brings its own challenges, but starting a business that intends to turn an industry on its head is an even bigger challenge, and I encouraged the individual to stay the course.

So where does that bring us?  It says that there are tons of businesses who have yet to really reach their customers in 2017 as they’re wanting to be reached.  But, I also believe that adopting some changes don’t mean that you have to totally change what you’re offering or who you are at the core.  To give an example: I saw a recent headline questioning if restaurants were the next industry to suffer and become a more virtual experience with all meals being delivered to your home and not going out to eat, and I had to laugh.  Yes, that has some appeal, but a large portion of the success of restaurants is people wanting to get out of their homes and have a meal experience with family or friends, they don’t want to be home, they want to go out.  Food delivery may increase but I don’t think restaurants will ever fully go out of business, especially those that offer a fantastic dine in experience.  However, just because your core offering (eating in a restaurant in this case) shouldn’t change, that doesn’t you can’t change a few of the items you offer on the menu or how you cook them to meet some of the more current desires or practices, expand how you market to your customers or offer more options to pay than just cash.

The world is changing and I don’t think it’s changing back any time soon.  Too many businesses that used to be and still should be essential businesses are being called “dated” or at least not contemporary because they’re afraid to spend the money on upgrades or updates or are stuck at “it’s how we’ve always done things,” yet complain when they can’t get the customers in the door (literal or figurative) or customers complain about what’s offered.  There’s a simple answer to this, but it’s not necessarily one they (or you) want to hear.  Is it a message you need to hear today?

Celebrating Small Businesses

It has been National Small Business Week this week!  It’s a great opportunity to celebrate and support the small businesses online and offline that work very hard to help lots of people around the world.  If you’re a small business, you face some special challenges and special opportunities.  Today I want to share some encouragement and a few ideas with you.

First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: you’re a ‘small’ business.  You’ve probably been counseled before to look for ways you can grow, and growth can be a good thing, but not everyone has the same concept of growth.  Growth to you may be 2 new customers each month, but growth to someone else may be 2000 new customers.  You don’t have any reason to be ashamed for fitting the ‘small’ business definition or not wanting to grow to a company that serves billions around the world.

As a small business you can have a lot more say in what you offer and how you help people.  It’s also a great opportunity to offer some more specialized or customizable products and services because you don’t have to come up with the quantity or figure out those logistics for your thousands or millions of customers.  Offering more unique or custom designed products can really help you stand out as a business in your local community.  I use MailChimp for my newsletters and they’ve been doing a great newsletter series highlighting some of their clients and sharing about the ways that their small businesses are learning and growing.

As a small business though you don’t have the resources to tap into that some of those big companies do.  What it means is that you have to get good at finding the free or lower cost resources that work for you, and encouraging your happy customers to share about you with their friends and family.  Their kind reviews on Yelp, Facebook and Google don’t take long but not every business encourages their customers to do them.  Things like social media, a blog and a newsletter can be very low cost opportunities to market your company, and there are lots of local opportunities you can take advantage of as well and not every small business (or business of any size) does.

Small businesses have an important role in the community and business world at large, you should be proud of what you do if you’ve got one. If you’ve got a small business I encourage you to share a little about your business in the comments below.  Or if you don’t have a small business but love one share some love for them in the comments, too!

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.