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.

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Set for Relationship Success

Today we’re talking about relationship success. While there are always factors that can’t be anticipated, and people do change, I believe that there are some things you can do to help your relationship be more successful than most. Here are 6 things you should consider to give your relationship a good chance at success.

Attention: does your partner get your undivided attention at least once every day or are you frequently doing more than one thing at a time while talking or being with them?

Actions: how do you behave towards them? What do the actions you take on their behalf, towards them or because of them say about you and your relationship with them?

Attitude: do you dismiss them and their feelings? Have you grown to resent them or their place in your life? Do you treat them as a burden or distraction?

Care: do you show them how you feel about them and how important they are to you? Do you make a point of doing special things for them? Do you sometimes put their needs ahead of your own?

Communication: how often do you two talk? Do you share the things that go on in your day and listen to them share about their day? Do you take minutes here and there to just text them that you love them?

Consistency: relationships aren’t made or broken in one day or one event, are you consistnetly showing your partner that you are their partner, or consistently showing them you’re not invested in the relationship?

I encourage you to take time to consider your relationship this week and take the necessary steps to evaluate and improve your relationship so that it’s fulfilling for both you and your partner and has the best chance at lasting success.

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.

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?

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.

Trust in Listening

I’ve shared on several occasions this month about the connection between listening and success. As I think about some of the people I’ve interacted with or worked with, I’m struck by the challenge that listening can present, even becoming a barrier for success at times. I don’t believe that you can reach your full success potential without listening to others and getting feedback on your actions and direction. In fact not only can you hinder your success because you’re not listening, you can isolate yourself from others and hurt your relationships with them.

Ignoring what people tell you, ignoring what people ask you, ignoring their opinions, second guessing everything that anyone tells you, and asking for second and third opinions all the time on everything are just a few of the indications that you’re not using your listening skills well and an indication that you may have some trust issues with people. I’m not suggesting that everyone is to be trusted or all answers believed as fact, but first to give the benefit of the doubt rather than just judging someone based on a first impression or opinion. And second if you’ve known or worked with someone for many years and you still don’t trust them to give you an educated, researched or complete answer it may be time to part ways or have a serious discussion.

I can tell you from being on the other side of the conversation, that it’s really difficult to constantly have your answers questioned or questions ignored. I can remember times when multiple people in the same office were asked to research the exact same item, and not because it was difficult, obscure or an extensive topic. I can also remember many times when I’ve repeated the same question over and over in an email correspondence to have the question ignored or not directly answered. It’s incredibly frustrating to be an adult and be treated as a small, irresponsible child for no particular reason.

I get that sometimes you can have a difficult day, but these situations we’re talking about aren’t one-off situations, but rather things that go on day in and day out. If you’re in the situation of being questioned constantly I encourage you to take time to really consider if the situation is that beneficial for you or if it’s time to move on to where you’re more respected and valued. I’d also suggest if you’re constantly being questioned that you sit down with a trusted friend to talk about whether your communication skills (or lack thereof) or communication style could be a factor in the issues you’re facing. If you’re someone who struggles with listening, I’d suggest taking a serious look at your life and relationships and evaluate if you’re feeling fulfilled, frustrated, challenged and/or valued. If your life is not all you want it to be it’s time to evaluate the people in it and the habits and practices you have.

While it can be challenging, communication is one of the most valuable skills we have as humans in 2017. If we all worked a little harder at communicating with each other with respect and clarity and taking the time to really talk things out, we’d solve many of the world’s issues quite quickly, or at least put a plan in place for resolving them with less anger, confusion and bloodshed.

Listening in Business

This month one of the topics we’re talking about is listening. It’s so important if you want to be successful in business to be listening. Let’s take a minute today to talk about the important things you should be listening to if you want to be successful.

Your customers: what are they saying? They will let you know about their dissatisfaction and the things they love. The internet is a great place to find reviews about your products and services, and you should invite your customers to give you feedback directly as well. You can also listen to their silence and their lack of return to your business and products/services as a clue as to how much they don’t like you.

Your suppliers: are your suppliers constantly raising prices? Are they hesitating on delivery? Do they tell you it’s difficult to get what you ask for? If so it may be a clue that there’s something broken or not working right in your supply chain.

Your employees: your employees are often your first line of interaction between your customers and your products/services, so it’s important to listen to what they have to say about what you offer, what customers are saying to them, things they’re feeling challenged by and what they would like to see changed. If your employees aren’t happy, aren’t respected and don’t think your product or service is worth what you’re charging then you’ll have some difficulty getting them to work at their best for your company.

Your marketing: I know it can sometimes be difficult to understand all the metrics and know exactly what things mean, but it’s important to be in touch with your marketing team to see how people are responding to your marketing. If they’re not responding and you’ve done the proper a/b testing, and tried different marketing opportunities for a consistent period of time, maybe the marketing isn’t the issue.

The market/business world: are you in tune with what’s going on in other businesses? With how they’re marketing their products? With what’s going on with your competitors? With how others are marketing? With government or industry changes that might affect you? I know it sounds like a lot of work but it’s important to be aware of what’s going on outside of your company, not just inside your company.

How good of a listener are you as a business leader? Take time today to really listen to what’s going on in and around your business.

Listening for Success

This month we’ll be talking about listening, so today I wanted to start off talking about why listening is such an important skill for your success and how to be most successful at it. First of all, listening is a skill, it’s something you can improve. There are also layers to listening which means it’s not that boring inactivity that you really have no responsibilities during. An important part of listening is asking clarifying questions to better understand what is being communicated.

I believe you can listen while taking notes, but you can’t listen while replying to emails on your phone or playing a game if you really want to give the person speaking the respect they deserve and get the most benefit from your listening. You also aren’t fully listening if you’re too busy coming up with counterarguments and not fully hearing what they’re trying to tell you.

So why is listening so important? Because when we don’t listen some epic mistakes can be made, people can be let down, you can have to do things multiple times to get them right, you can embarrass yourself, you can share something that wasn’t meant to be shared, and you can miss out on really important information. Also, if you really want someone to listen to you, it’s only right that you listen to what they have to say.

But as I mentioned above listening is just the first step, actually the first step is being willing to listen and being open to what you hear. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with what you hear, but it does mean that out of respect for the other person you’re going to hear them out and after you’ve heard it all if you’re not in agreement with what they’ve said you’re going to agree to disagree.

After you’ve listened then it’s important to ask clarifying questions. These questions can help you avoid doing things multiple times because you didn’t get sufficient information in the first place, but they can also help you make sure there are no misunderstandings in what you’re hearing and the other person is trying to tell you.

After listening comes either action or talking then action. Sometimes there’s nothing more to discuss, the other person has laid out their plans, you’ve heard them, understood and agreed, and they can go and do their thing. But other times further discussion is necessary to figure out what each person involved is responsible for and what they are or aren’t willing to do, before any action can be taken.

As we finish out this week and enter into this new month I encourage you to practice proactive listening. When was the last time you really listened?

The Blame Game

Do you know one of the most “popular” topics for couples, and families too? Blame. From saying that the dog ate the homework, to the kids spilled cereal (and milk) on the contract, to the relationship failing because your partner never took out the trash, we’re pretty quick to point fingers and try to get to the bottom of who is to blame.

First, let me say that it is important that responsibility is taken/given for things that happen or don’t happen. It’s important to be honest about what you’re seeing and what happens. However, it’s almost never the case that the blame rests solely on one person (or dog). It’s almost always the case that there are multiple factors, and multiple people to blame. Which means that as much as you can (and should) point fingers, you’ve really got to take stock of who else could be responsible in the matter as well, including yourself.

The key to the blame game (and its resolution), isn’t anything really revolutionary, it’s something that I’ve said repeatedly and is one of the biggest keys to a successful relationship: communication. Yes, pointing fingers will happen even in the best families and relationships, but the conversation needs to be more than you yelling at them for doing something or not doing something and vice versa. The conversation needs to discuss the issues you’ve got, why things weren’t done or were done, and what is going to happen or change moving forward to help avoid this in the future. These types of civil discussions don’t happen often enough in relationships and families, and as a result big divides are created between people.

Of course the blame and the conversations only go so far: without a willingness to change on all parties’ part and action taken as decided in the conversation, there’s not much point to having the conversation or even having the blame (and subsequent fight) in the first place. If the partner who is most to blame isn’t willing to do things differently in the future or doesn’t see their error, you’ve got a choice to leave, to make changes in your life, or you have to decide it’s not as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be. When it comes to family blame situations, you either have to take control as the parent, or get another party involved who can help straighten things out and be the leader your kids need.

There’s no shame in admitting that you need help, that you and your partner need help or that your family needs help. The only shame you should feel is if you choose to not get someone the help they need.

Freedom to be Different

This month one of the topics we’ll be taking a look at is the topic of freedom. Part of that freedom that everyone wants to embrace is the freedom to be who they are, to be themselves, and to not be ridiculed or rejected because they’re different. It’s not always easy to give others that freedom because we don’t understand them or their differences, or think that their differences make them wrong/bad. Part of that struggle is a conversation issue, but it might not be the one you’re thinking it is, because there are lots of people around the world having great conversations and lots of opportunities throughout social media and tons of other forums, which is good news.  But most of those conversations are happening between people that who share the same differences (for example between survivors of a particular trauma or people who have a medical condition or people with a passion for bratwurst).

I think a big part of the conversation issue is that some people aren’t willing to listen to others share about their differences, and part of that unwillingness has to do with fears. Fears about the other person’s story actually making a lot of sense, being able to identify with them, or even finding out that maybe the differences aren’t so different after all. If any of those things happen we have to readjust what we know and especially how we interact with them, and that can be really scary or intimidating. It also leads into the possibility that we were wrong about the type of person they are, or wrong about how wrong/bad/weird their difference is, and that’s not easy to swallow either.

I’m not suggesting that we should sit down with terrorists and try to understand or accept our differences, that’s a completely different conversation for another day. What I’m talking about here is two people (or a group of people) talking long before things would ever escalate to war/genocide/massacre level, or even to protest level. I’m talking about regular citizens having conversations with cops, people of different cultures talking, or the older generations talking with the younger ones.

I don’t believe that we’ll all love each other and everything will be perfect if we have these conversations, but I think that we’ll all be able to breathe a little easier if we were a little more open to each of us being different and that difference being OK. Yes, it will mean that we’ll have to suspend our judgment, be open to seeing the world in a new way and maybe even be wrong about what we knew before, not to mention become better communicators. But if we really want a better world for the next generation, I think it’s important that we take the conversations out of our individual groups and start talking among ourselves.  Will you join me in being open to being different, and maybe even someday to celebrating our differences?