Are You A Responsive Business?

One of the biggest challenges we’ve got in business is the on-demand nature of so much of our world.  We can get instant responses by searching for something online, get fairly decent and healthy food in 10 minutes or less, talk with anyone anywhere in a matter of seconds, and share something with just a click with 1,000 or so of our closest friends.

As business owners if we really want to succeed and have happy customers we have to be excellent communicators.  When communication is an issue so many people can be impacted or frustrated and time can be wasted.  But I do understand how busy business owners are and how much is on our plates, so I support establishing a happy medium.

I think the on-demand nature of our world has its benefits, but at the same time there have to be boundaries because in many cases when boundaries aren’t established or committed to, other things suffer.  In some cases you absolutely have to be there the second the call comes in (hospitals, police etc.), but in many cases it’s not necessary, which means that as long as you’re regularly responsive and have clearly communicated your general response time, there’s no reason to interrupt your client or business work to answer a call or message.

If it’s not absolutely necessary and you don’t have the resources to set up a live chatbot that can answer basic questions for you or hire someone to be available 24/7 to answer questions, then you have to commit to being responsive.  My guarantee is that I respond to all messages within 24 hours, but usually sooner.  Sure, I could sit around and wait for messages to come in, but with the exception of a few clients who pay for that privilege, most clients (and people) that I work/talk with don’t have emergencies that demand that type of attention.

That said, as I alluded to earlier, it’s necessary to respond to all communications you receive (unless it’s clearly spam or nasty (reviews are another story, which is a discussion for another time)).  If your business is not responding to messages within 24 hours (or within 48 if you absolutely have to on the weekends), it indicates to me that you’ve most likely got a larger problem at hand. If you’re not reasonably responsive with your communications it makes me question how serious you are about your business. Do you really want new customers? Do you really want to help the customers you do have?  Do you really want to grow and improve your business?  What does your communication and responsiveness reveal about your business?

I encourage you to commit to being more responsive to your calls, messages and other communications this year.

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Leadership Lessons from Dr Martin Luther King Jr

This coming Monday in the US we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born in January of 1929 and killed in 1968 while leading the Civil Rights Movements. Dr. King is someone that we look up to from a personal perspective, but I think we can learn a lot about him from a business perspective as well, which is what we’re going to talk about today.

Start somewhere: Dr. King didn’t start his campaign in front of the Lincoln Memorial, no, he began as a baptist pastor. There are many pastors and spiritual leaders who have done great things for their community, as well as for the world, and anyone, anywhere can be a leader. There’s no rule that says you have to have front page coverage or thousands (or millions) of followers to make a difference, you do however have to start with what you’ve got, be faithful with it and work to grow from there.

Communication: A core part of what Dr. King did and was all about was communication, as you probably know, he’s most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech! There’s no way that the Civil Rights Movement could have achieved the reach it did or made as big of a difference for racial equality as it did without the communication that was central to the movement, both on stage and between all the people and groups involved. The Civil Rights Movement is also noteworthy because of the non-violent focus, instead choosing to use words and peaceful actions to make a statement.

Perfection is not required: I’ll be the first to tell you that I greatly admire Dr. King and am proud that he was an American. But if you take a look at his history, as well as all the details of the Civil Rights Movement, he’s not perfect, and as with any situation that brings lots of people in contact and conflict with each other you’ll find evidence of things that could have been done better or at least done with a bit more care given to how it was played out. The thing is these issues, mistakes and failures didn’t ruin or stop Dr. King or the Civil Rights Movement, they’re accepted as an unfortunate part of the path to victory.

Work hard: With this new year you’ve got the opportunity to build on what you’ve been building, make changes, learn to communicate better, and move on from previous mistakes or failures. The question you have to answer is if you’re ready and willing to do the work that’s required to make a difference. Dr. King was, he was in the trenches marching, speaking, and going to jail for his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, he didn’t leave it to “other people,” but he did understand the value of having people on his team, and those people sharing in the work.

Have a Dream: While the “I Have a Dream” speech was meant to motivate people with regards to issues of race and equality, it’s an important reminder that behind what we’re doing there really has to be vision, passion and purpose. People identify with, understand, connect to and relate to stories, and vision, passion and/or purpose gives people something to feel, experience and envision.  Dr. King’s dream speech brought to life for people what could be possible if the Civil Rights Movement was really a success.

I’m thankful Dr. King was the man he was, and I’m thankful for the way he has inspired so many people, including other leaders. Are you following in the leadership shoes of Dr. King, and if so what have you learned from his life and leadership?

4 Keys for Business Success in 2018

Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts on what you can do this year to be successful in business. These aren’t hacks, but they are things that are more relevant and important than ever to be doing in your business.

Consistency: one of the best ways to get the bang for your buck with marketing and being successful is to be consistent. Consistently maintaining a presence with your audience, updating and adding products, and consistently providing an awesome experience with you and what you’re selling are more important than ever. If you aren’t consistent you give someone else an opportunity to slip in and steal some of your customers.

Be up to date: having your website up to date with calendar dates as well as product/service information including pricing is only part of the challenge here.  We’ve also got tons of social sites to keep up to date and if we’ve got a physical business we have to make sure everything there is up to date as well. If you can’t keep up with everything yourself (although you can schedule in time monthly or weekly to keep up with things), there are tons of virtual assistants who can help you with the online updates for a very reasonable rate, and local college students who can help you in a physical location too.

Let your difference shine: in this day and age anyone can open an online storefront selling whatever they want. It takes very little experience or knowledge. While you may not be selling something different than anyone else, a logo designer is a logo designer and a dentist is a dentist for example, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t different, you don’t bring a different approach to the business and people don’t work with you for different reasons than they would work with other people who sell the same thing you do. Make sure it’s clear what’s different about you and what you’re selling, and be proud of that difference.

Care about your customers: This is something that’s been really developing and becoming front page news over the past year. More and more companies are tapping into specific targeting, creating customer-specific experiences, and it’s becoming harder to hold onto customers. One of the best ways you can hold onto a customer is to really show you care about them, show them you understand at least some of their situation, and make them feel special and appreciated. Give them not only a reason to work or shop with you again, but make their experience with you enjoyable and of good quality (don’t make the one opportunity you may have with them a bad one).

These are 4 very simple concepts that take some effort to bring to fruition, but are definitely worth it in the end. What’s your plan for making this your best year yet in business?

Failure, Defeat and Success Plans

Once again today I’m thinking about what happens when things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes it doesn’t work as expected because you didn’t factor in some important detail. Sometimes it doesn’t work because something outside your control got screwed up. Sometimes the plan that someone else is working on runs yours off the road or makes it not feasible to continue for the time being. Sometimes it doesn’t work out because you don’t give it enough effort or get the right people involved. Sometimes it doesn’t work because you’ve been trying too hard or are too tired. Sometimes it doesn’t work because you’re so busy looking to get revenge that you aren’t looking at success. Sometimes it’s a communication issue. And sometimes it’s a bad idea from the start and never would have worked.

The plan, your success and failures are all things that we need to be aware of and considering as business owners. Sometimes I’m thankful when the plan fails. Maybe it gives me a little flexibility I really needed. Maybe it gives me the encouragement to pursue an opportunity I’ve been putting off. Maybe it gives me the chance to spend time with my partner. Maybe it gives me time to catch up on paperwork (or the digital version of it). Or maybe it forces me to think up a better idea and come up with a better or different plan. Most of the time when our plans don’t work out we’re more frustrated than thankful, and it can be especially frustrating when you run out of time like we are as we rapidly approach the end of another year.

So what do you do when things aren’t going according to plan? Sometimes pushing through is the right answer. Sometimes it’s taking a nap or giving up for the day/night. Sometimes it’s working on something else for a short period of time. Sometimes it’s unloading the whole story on a friend, business associate or your partner. Sometimes it’s trying a different marketing strategy. Sometimes it’s trying something different. Sometimes it’s calling the year a wrap and making better plans for the next year.

I find that plans work best when you do a few things: first, think things through. This involves thinking with your brain, doing some online research and talking with your target market or other relevant people. When you do that you’re always better set up for success. Second, take care of the most important aspects first whenever possible. Yes, take time to work on the fun stuff that excites you about your plans, but also make sure that you’re giving equal or more attention to the biggest priorities that need to happen for your plan to be in motion. Third, have the right support. The people and resources around you who support you are some of the biggest keys to whether or not you’ll be successful.

If you’re dealing with a plan failure (or even a business failure) this week, I encourage you not to give up, but instead to take a step back and try some of the things you should have done in the first place or things you thought about but put to the side. You never know what the answer will be that you’ve been looking for or where you’ll find it.

Customer Consideration

While there are some things I don’t always agree with when it comes to the “rules” in business, I do agree that if you don’t have customers you can’t stay in business. The other thing I know about business is that almost every business owner (some 95%) that I talk with says “I need more customers!!” And I can talk with them for a few minutes and take a look at their business and almost always come up with a couple of suggestions on what they can do immediately to get more customers.

We’ve talked over the past several weeks about the months of November and December and how essential they are to some businesses for making it ‘in the black’ for the year. Most businesses would tell you that they would be happy to get some more customers, even if they do decent during the rest of the year. Many businesses also would say that they do some different things to take advantage of the people who have their wallets out in these 6 or so weeks. So imagine my surprise when I went to go to a store yesterday and was met by the employee closing the store and they told me it was closed. With less than a week before Christmas this store chose to close at normal business hours. They didn’t extend their hours to welcome the guests that are out after work shopping, they didn’t say ‘we’re sorry we’re closing, but you can visit us online for a great selection of products,’ they didn’t say ‘we’re sorry we’re closing, but we open at 9am tomorrow morning.’ No, all they said was that they were closed.

Last week we talked about how customers feel about your business, being treated that way made me feel less than important as a potential customer and could impact whether I go back and shop there in the future. I’m not here to badmouth a specific store or brand, I’m just questioning whether this company is really interested in having more sales and more customers (their shelves looked full to me), or not.

You can get all the advice in the world, you can even give it a little attempt with some token changes or additions, but if you really want to get more customers, it won’t happen without really taking action to make your business the best it can be. I’m not suggesting you do something outside of your range of specialty, like serve Greek food at an Italian restaurant or grow Christmas trees when you grow medicinal herbs. All I’m suggesting is to be a little more open to what your customer may need, like extended hours for holiday dinners or recipes to make using your herbs. Of course, if you want to move in a direction like serving Greek food at an Italian restaurant, or opening a sister restaurant a town over, that’s something you could consider as well.

So before you say “I need more customers” or the next time you catch yourself saying it, think about what you’re doing to support your customers and if you’re really serving them the best you could be.  What have you done this holiday season to support your customers and potential customers?

The Feelings of Business

Can you believe we’re rapidly coming to an end of the 2017 holiday season? I know we’ve got 9+ shopping days left before Christmas (depending on when you’re meeting friends and family), and we’re a couple of days into Hanukkah, so there’s still time to connect with your customers and help them have a great season of celebration with their family and friends. As I was thinking about the holiday season and all that goes on, I came back to one of the central themes: emotion. The holidays are filled with laughter and joy, with sharing and caring, with catching up and reminiscing, and sometimes with some tears. I can’t say that I’ve ever been through a Christmas that didn’t evoke strong emotions in me.

So what emotions do your customers feel when they look at your website? What do they feel when they see your name in their email inbox? What do they feel when they see a post from you on social media? What do they feel when they get a package from you? What do they feel when they have an issue or question?

Are they excited to peruse your website? Do they eagerly anticipate your next email? Do they rip open your packages because they can’t wait to get to your products? Do they take the time to leave positive reviews everywhere? Do they feel confident that if they have an issue you’ll help them take care of it? Are they willing to wait for service or a table because they know the wait is always worth it?

Or is it the other way around? That they dread dealing with you when there’s an issue? They delete your emails more often than not because they’re not interesting or informative? Do they leave your website after a few minutes there because they’re annoyed or confused or frustrated? Do they tend to choose your services only as a last resort? Do they unfollow you on social media because they’re tired of you only posting sales content?

In this season where we spend so much time talking about our feelings and experiencing life with each other I’d encourage you to take a minute to talk with some customers and some employees, and check out what’s being said about your business online and find out what kind of emotions your customers (or past customers who haven’t been back to you in a while) are feeling about your business. Are they the feelings you want them to have?  If not you’ve still got a couple of days to make changes for this holiday season, not to mention a new year coming up.

The Potential Problem with Taking a Holiday Break

One of the things I work on businesses with is helping them stand out. It’s easy in this day and age to set up an online store and sell some stuff, and it’s even pretty easy to set up a physical business and sell stuff (especially with all the open store fronts). Almost anyone with decent computer experience can sell online. Which is why it’s more important than ever to make sure that you’re unique, you’re likeable and you give people a reason to shop with you.

I love to read and I subscribe to over 100 daily, weekly or bi-weekly newsletters on business topics, not to mention the newsletters I get, as many people do, from my favorite stores and other interests. I know that over the past month the number of emails we’ve gotten has been increased, from the election to Black Friday to now the Christmas and other December celebrations. I know how busy people are and how many things we squeeze into this month.

But over the past week I’ve been getting some newsletters that have stated something along the lines of: ‘this is the last time you’ll hear from us until the new year’ or ‘this will be an extra short newsletter.’ Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important that we respect our customers and what they’re focused on, and we as business owners need to take time to be with our families and friends too. But if you’re doing things right you’ve got people who are anticipating, maybe even eagerly anticipating hearing from you, even though it’s the holidays.  Hearing messages like these make me feel disappointed and sad that I’m not getting what I’m used to getting from the people and businesses I care about.

I would encourage you to really take time to consider what the right balance is between taking a break for the holidays and continuing to give your fans, readers, tribe and customers the quality and quantity that they’re expecting from you. You’ve worked really hard to get to this point in the year, don’t give up on loving and caring for your customers at this point.

The Question of Customer Loyalty

As we head into what is the busiest shopping season of the year for many businesses, I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about customers and customer loyalty. As a business you have to have customers, otherwise you won’t be in business very long. The next thing to consider is whether most of your customers are repeat customers, or if you offer things that people buy once or extremely rarely. If you offer something, say heart surgery or roofing, you probably will ever work with someone once. But if you offer something like ice cream or hair cuts, and you’re not having repeat customers, something probably has to change. Here’s what one very successful entrepreneur had to say:

“Customers aren’t loyal. And it’s a waste of time trying to convince them to be….Life changes. Priorities change. Competition changes. In reality, almost no one is 100% loyal….Fact: 87% of a brand’s customers don’t stick to just that brand. They’re promiscuous at best. And if they’re offered something better, they’re gone.” Ramit Sethi

Those are some pretty serious percentages. So the question becomes: do we even try to gain customer loyalty? The first answer that comes to mind is that if you don’t give any effort to making your customers come back, few probably will. The second thing to consider is that it’s consistently proven to be cheaper in all ways to keep customers coming back than to gain new customers. The third thing to consider is that even if you have a service or product that’s purchased maybe once in a lifetime you can still gain loyal customers, it’s just not the same type of loyalty. Fourth, if you ask employees who really love your company about their favorite customers, they’ll often tell you that they enjoy connecting with the “regulars.” Fifth, loyal customers are those who share about your great products or services with their friends, and/or leave you nice testimonials you can use to get more customers.

One thing to remember is that everyone is human and everyone goes through changes in their life. So it’s really unrealistic to expect that every customer would stay with your business and your products and/or services for the full duration of their life (or their need for that product/service). But my answer is that we should work on making customers loyal, or at the very least, increasing the amount of times they purchase from us. Whether you use email newsletters, social media, events, physical mailings, a blog, a loyalty card or even just new products or services that are in line with those you already offer, there are tons of ways that you can build loyalty and encourage repeat customers. What are your favorite ways to connect with your customers and build relationships with those who are loyal to you and love you?

Change: Good, OK or Bad?

Lately there’s been changes happening in the world of business, with some prime examples being 3 of the big social networks: Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Facebook has rolled out an “explore” feed where it tested moving all organic page posts to, which means if you have a page people have to do extra work to get to see your posts (no organic page posts would appear in people’s regular timelines, but ads still would). Twitter rolled out extra characters, which some have complained about and others are celebrating. And Pinterest has added a ‘sections’ feature which is a much needed organizational asset helping users better sort their pins.

Personally I’m working on some changes in my business as well, so the question becomes should you work on changes in your business? I believe every business needs to change throughout their life cycle, both big changes and little ones. I believe we should be making some little changes throughout the year in response to trends, seasons and customer requests, and we should make big changes as our business grows and evolves.

But the bigger question is are you considering or making a good change? In the case of Pinterest I think it’s a great change. In the case of Twitter I think it’s an OK change. In the case of Facebook I think it’s not a good change in general, but could have some positive implications because it will mean that only your most interested fans would be involved with your page, those most likely to make a purchase.

By no means should you be discouraged from making changes because some people won’t like them, but if a large majority of your people aren’t happy with the change you’ve made you need to either reconsider the change completely, reconsider how you’re going about the change, or be prepared to get a whole new customer base (one of the changes I’m making is with regard to Facebook).

What changes are you considering or making this month or in the coming year? I invite you to share your changes in the comments below.

The Value of a Painting

This week in the art world something very interesting happened: a Da Vinci painting sold for $450 million. That’s just a few dollars, no big deal, I bet you’ve got that under your mattress for a rainy day, right? Not likely. However, as I was marveling over the fact that someone just spent that much money on a poster sized painting, it got me thinking about what it really means for us and our businesses.

In fact, it’s really great news for us. It means that there is money to be spent, people are buying, and people are willing to spend a lot of money. So the next time someone says that you’re not doing well in business because no one is buying anything, think again. That person or people who just bought that painting still need to eat and live somewhere and have clothes and probably watch TV and talk on their phones just like the rest of us. So take a moment to celebrate that and let yourself be relieved that there is money to be earned.

But what you can’t ignore about this incredible purchase is that the reason that someone paid $450 million for a painting is because of the perceived value. Someone has an overwhelming desire to have this painting in their possession. Maybe your tax audits or websites or cups of soup aren’t quite as interesting as a painting by Da Vinci, but you’re not asking $450 million for them. So it becomes a question of have you communicated the value, the interest, the intrigue behind what you’re offering, and have you told anyone about what you’re offering?

Take some time this weekend before Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday start next week Friday and make sure that you’re communicating clearly the value that you bring to the table.