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.

How Long Have You Been In Business?

Recently I was visiting the website of a newer company and saw that they were pretty vocal about their being established in 2015. Sometimes when we see this it makes us pause because we know they haven’t been in business for very long, but it got me thinking about the advantages as well as the challenges. So I thought today we’d take a minute to consider the values and challenges of when you started your business.

There are many advantages to having been around for many years. You’ve had time to develop the business, you’ve had time to build up enthusiastic customers who buy from you again and again, you’ve had time to develop the products or services you offer, and there are people who prefer to work with a business that has been around for a long time. I agree that longevity does give your business some serious brownie points, and it can say a lot about the company, the product and the people who work there.

However, if you’ve been around for a long time, there’s a chance that you’re completely out of tune with how things run today in this internet and world-centric world. Potential customers may think your products and services are outdated or aren’t up to the technology and development of newer ones. They may also think your management and leadership are outdated and aren’t running things they way many other (newer) companies are. Of course, all of this may be completely untrue. As an older company what may set you apart is that you’ve changed with the times, considered and adopted some trends and are offering products and services that are created/implemented with today’s technology in mind.

So what about being a new business? Well, first and foremost there’s almost no chance you’ve got stock laying around from 50 years ago that someone might accidentally get. You’re also possibly bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives to the market, a market that may be very dry and outdated. You’ve also most likely taken advantages of the newest support and resources that technology has to offer. However, you also might not have any business experience to fall back on and without proper education and support your new business won’t last very long.

It’s hard to stay in business whether you’ve been working on it for years or just a few months. Being in business today means being open to learning and changing as things develop around you. Have you taken advantage of your new or established status in business recently? Have you reached out to a business owner who has been around a longer or shorter time with you to have coffee and talk about what is or isn’t working in your business? If not I would encourage you to reach out to another business owner this week and see what you can learn from each other. Maybe you’ll even find that you’re a great fit for a joint venture or cross promotional activity.

Freeing Your Business From Indecision

Today as we think more about freedom I want to talk about one of the things that challenges that freedom, indecision. As a business owner you’ve got a lot coming at you that you have to make decisions about on a daily basis, and as a result some business owners go into overwhelm and the business may fall apart. You’ve seen some of these businesses on TV shows like Tabitha’s Salon Takeover and Bar Rescue, they’re suffering and not successful, and often that’s a result of overwhelm or indecision and lack of direction from the owner(s) and/or manager(s). Of course, we can’t forget or ignore the indecision that customers struggle with either. So let’s take a look at 3 key players in our businesses and their relationship with indecision.

Owners: I get the importance of doing your research and taking the time to evaluate your options. As a side note I talk with too many people who don’t take the 5-10 minutes to do the research before they make a decision, with all the information on the internet and contactability through social media there’s no excuse. However, as the person in charge you have to make a decision at some point in time and put action behind it. Your indecision not only affects you, but it also impacts your employees and your customers. There are people out there waiting for the solutions you could be offering but because you’re waiting to decide on a web layout or waiting for the discount to do an ad or putting off the renovations to your store, those potential customers are not getting the best from you.

Employees: As a business owner you need to 1) empower your employees to be able to make decisions for your customers, 2) encourage your employees to make decisions, and 3) motivate your employees to make decisions that are best for both your business and your customers. Employees who are happy in their jobs and believe in what the business is selling and in the brand the business is growing, will typically make good decisions for your business, but they can’t if you haven’t educated them on the principles of working with customers as you want done in your business and you haven’t told them they’re allowed to make decisions that will bring customers back in the future even if they have an issue currently.

Customers: You won’t sell to every person that interacts with your business, that’s just the way it is. You should not want to sell to every person either, because not every person is a good fit for what you offer. However, I’ve never met a business that wasn’t missing out on converting some of the potential customers. Customers have indecision for several reasons including: they don’t know what you’re selling, they don’t know what people think of what you’re selling, they don’t know what the price is of what you’re selling, they have questions about what you’re selling, and they’re concerned about liking what you’re selling after buying. If these issues are present for them when they consider your offer, you’re giving your potential customers the excuse they were looking for to run instead of buying. Do your part in giving them fewer excuses to try someone else.

If you’ve been struggling with indecision on something, I encourage you to accept this reminder today and take action. Don’t make your business, your employees or your customers wait any longer, and do what you can to remove the dreaded gray area. What decisions will you make today?

A Business Investment

As we look ahead to July 4th and the celebration of Independence Day here in the USA, I want to talk a little about something businesses can learn from this special day. In case you’re confused or forget your holidays, July 4th celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, which declared the US as separate from Great Britain. This wasn’t a decision like saying they’re not going to buy one kind of tea from them, they’re choosing to make a really big difference in the direction the future of the lives of all who call the US home. The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew that it wasn’t going to be something that happened over night, but they decided that for the best of all their futures as well as all future generations, this was a necessary separation. In signing the Declaration of Independence these men chose to make an investment in their future that they may not see real results of in their lifetime, but they believed it would be worth it.

As business owners each day we have to make choices in our businesses and in our leadership. We have to make countless little decisions that are more comparable to choosing which tea to buy from whom. But occasionally we have to make decisions about how or if to invest in something for the future of our businesses. The first decision we have to make is whether or not to look at those big decisions as a potential investment or not. If we choose to not make an investment in it we won’t be take the same steps as we would if we were going to invest. The signers could have decided they didn’t want to make it an investment in our futures and instead would just make an agreement with Britain to do things differently in the future but they chose to invest.

A typical investment question that comes up is with employees. Do you choose to do the absolute minimum when it comes to training or do you choose to do all you can to make each employee the best they can be for themselves and for your company? It’s not necessarily wrong to do less when it comes to training, but typically you’ll experience a higher rate of turnover, you’ll have more employee discontent, less commitment to the business and customers, and less to work with (if anything) when it comes to company culture. But if you choose to invest in the people that are part of your company you’re not only making your company better, you’ve got the potential to make the whole world better.

This coming week I encourage you to do a check-in as a leader and take the time to look at whether or not you’re making investments in your business, if you’re investing in the right things (and right people), or if you’re just doing what it takes to get by in the business world. I have to say that I think the signers made the right decision to invest in our futures, what will you decide?

Committed to the Business

This month one of the topics we’re talking about is commitment.  Let’s talk a bit today about how commitment impacts your business.

If you really are committed to being successful, my first question to you is what have you done to try to be successful?  One of the biggest struggles I have with success is the fact that not everyone is truly committed, or that even if they are they aren’t using their brains that they’ve been given.  I get many people contacting me saying “I just created this product and now I need to know how to sell it.”  Too often what this means is that they think they’ve got this great idea but haven’t done the research on what it means to be in business and the options that are available for them to tap into to market it.  The internet is full of insights about every topic under the sun.  Sometimes you have to phrase the search a couple of different ways before you find what you’re looking for, but the answers are out there.

The second aspect of commitment in business would be about how committed you are to keeping the business alive, as well as make it thrive.  Part of this has to do with investing in yourself as the leader on a regular basis, and part of it has to do with investing in the business and making sure that things stay fresh and up to date in this fast-paced world we live in.  Do you put in time regularly to making sure that the systems are working as they should, the marketing is being done, trends are being considered and new options are being discussed?  Or do you just leave things alone and hope they keep working?

The third aspect I want to touch on today is commitment to your people.  Are you committed to the employees and customers you have?  Do you really think about how you can make things better for them, make them happier and help them have a better experience with you and your products?  Do you show that you care what they think and what they’re interested in?  Or do you do as little as possible and hope that things will take care of themselves?

Can you be successful if you’re not really committed? Yes, some people get lucky.  But that’s often because they’ve got a great team around them that cares a whole heck of a lot more than they do.  However, when the leader is committed, when the team is committed and when the clients are committed, the possibilities are endless. What areas of commitment in your business do you need to work on this week?

When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.” Howard Schultz

Presidents and Leaders

Today in the USA is President’s Day.  It’s an opportunity for us to take time to remember the Presidents that have lead this country up to this point.  It’s a chance for us to reflect on what they’ve done, who they’ve been, and the direction they’ve helped guide our country in.  No President was perfect, although some were very loved, and others were very respected. They all faced challenges and hard times, some fought wars and others worked more on rebuilding.  It takes a lot of patience, wisdom, support and courage to be President.  As a business owner you have probably experienced some similar things and can relate to some of the emotions that Presidents have gone through as they tried to navigate being President.

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader, it’s why many people work jobs.  They have great ideas that can help and contribute to a successful business but they don’t have the knowledge, drive, support or interest in being the boss.  It’s not for everyone.  I’ve done the leading and have been behind the scenes. Being behind the scenes has given me a great appreciation for all the teamwork that it takes to really make something look good from the front.  Whether you’re the leader or the employee you have incredible value in the business.

When it comes to being the leader there are some skills that really are a requirement to have, especially if you’re a solopreneur or a very public face of the company.  If that’s you, you need to have exceptional communication, decision making, and people skills.  You need to be able to understand your customers, your employees, your products/services and know how to relay that understanding to your people, or how to translate that understanding into products and services.

The reality is though that sometimes you’ll fail.  Sometimes you’ll let people down, sometimes you’ll let yourself down.  I believe you can do an exceptional job without trying to be perfect.  Sometimes that exceptional job will require you to work within failures and adapt.  In those cases it’s all about your leadership bringing back to life the company or product. Sometimes you’ll have to make the tough decision that the end has been reached and it’s time to move on.  And that’s OK too.  Every President is in office for only so long, because change is necessary sometimes.

So on this President’s Day, what have you learned about being a leader?

A Heart for Greatness

One of the things we’re talking about this month is having heart.  I believe that having heart is something that applies to all our lives, whether we’re the CEO or homeless on the streets, whether we have lots of people we call “family” or we’re on our own, or whether we’ve got a degree from Harvard or from Life.  Heart isn’t something you can really put in a box or write on a card, it’s something you weave into your life and becomes part of you, the choices you make, the friends/associates you keep, the people you’re in relationship with and how you interact with the world.

Sometimes we do need to make decisions that are based primarily or even solely on fact.  Maybe we make those decisions because of how personally invested or emotionally attached we are or because we have no gut feeling.  It’s not wrong to make decisions based on fact, but I don’t think most decisions can really be made just with the facts, I believe that we have to take into account the human element.  People can’t always be put into neat and simple boxes, we’re complicated and complex, and that’s describing those of us that are considered “normal,” not those that would fit into a pathological diagnosis.  And then when you add in things like drugs and alcohol the complications increase.

If you really want to become the best person you can be do take time to learn the facts, explore the world, see other perspectives and try new things.  But never forget that a little compassion, a little caring, a little kindness, a little heart may go farther than the facts could.  If you really want to be the best leader, boss, employee, mother, father, parent, sister, brother, partner, neighbor, or friend you could be, take a step back and let your heart out of its box for a moment and let it guide you.

“A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness.” James E. Faust

Leaders in Life

Today I’ve got some wise words from one of the leadership experts today, Dr Henry Cloud.  I believe that everyone is a leader in one way or another, but even if you don’t work in a traditional leadership role, there are wise words that you can learn from as well.

“Nothing good is going to happen if you can’t deal with the bad things that are going to happen.”

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where i end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with. We must own our own thoughts and clarify distorted thinking.”

“Encourage literally came from “in courage.” The courage is put “into” you from outside. Our character and abilities grow through internalizing from others what we do not possess in ourselves.”

“True intimacy is only build around the freedom to disagree.”  

“Just as we leave the effects of our work behind in results, we leave the effects of our interactions with people in their hearts, minds, and souls.”

“Your business and your life will change when you really, really get it that some people are not going to change, no matter what you do, and that still others have a vested interest in being destructive.”

“When we ask we are owning our needs. Asking for love, comfort or understanding is a transaction between two people. You are saying: I have a need. It’s not your problem. It’s not your responsibility. You don’t have to respond, but I’d like something from you.  This frees the other person to connect with you freely and without obligation. When we own that our needs are our responsibility we allow others to love us because we have something to offer. Asking is a far cry from demanding. When we demand love, we destroy it.”

“Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.”  

“Who a person is will ultimately determine if their brains, talents, competencies, energy, effort, deal-making abilities, and opportunities will succeed.”

“If you want to become healthy, you have to surround yourself with a group of people that are getting healthy, and you have to be connected to a community that is doing what you want to do.”

Empowering Through Sales

It’s September so of course I’m thinking about lots of education topics and about the next generation.  Last week we talked about something that kids are known for: asking questions, but we talked about it with regards to building a better business.  Something that we may talk about in other contexts later this month or next month is the topic of bullying because it’s a serious topic that affects people of all ages, not just kids, but it’s most discussed with regards to kids.  What I want to talk about today is something that relates to bullying, is actually in some ways the opposite: empowerment.

The way I see it businesses are in the business of empowering their customers in one way or another.  Whether they offer a product or service they empower their customers through the solutions they offer to problems in their lives (darkness, coldness/heat, hunger, transportation, infertility, crazy kids, divorce, loneliness, sickness etc.).  The dictionary defines empower as “to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means, to enable or permit.”  By putting whatever you sell in their lives you’re giving them the power to overcome the challenges in their lives, to make living life a little easier or better, and you’re giving them the opportunity to make the right choices for their life.

So the question we ask often is how can we make our customers and employees happier?  Logic, systems, leadership, training, testing, communication, marketing, good people and customer service are all ways that we as business owners can give our customers and employees can make their experience with us better, longer, and more satisfying.  Make sure that what you offer and what you tell people make sense.  Make sure that you’ve got good systems, leadership, training, hiring practices and communication in place to support and guide your employees. Make sure that people can find you, know what you offer and are able to understand what you offer and how to use/apply it.  And make sure that the experience they have with you and what you offer makes them want to come back for more, even if their initial purchase with you isn’t the greatest.

By choosing to go the extra mile with preparing your products and services for customers, giving your employees the tools they need to be successful and support your customers and giving your customers an experience that reinforces the great product or service you’ve sold them, not only are you more likely to be more successful as a business, you’re empowering your clients and customers to solve their problems and enjoy their lives.

How do you empower your customers and/or employees?

Asking A Better Question

As business owners one of the best ways to have a breakthrough in our business or with a client is to ask the right questions.  It’s not always easy to know what questions to ask, and sometimes we think we’re asking the right question only to keep getting frustrated because it turns out that we’re not asking the right question.  So today I’ve got a whole bunch of questions that may be new to you that you could try when you get stuck with an issue.  Some are questions you an ask to someone else, others are those you can use in your own thought processes.

What should questions do?

They should empower, challenge assumptions, re-frame issues, stretch the person/people asking, and encourage breakthrough thinking.

Question Disclaimers:

Sometimes you’ll get an answer you weren’t expecting or wanting to hear.  Sometimes you’ll need to ask another question to get deeper into the heart of the matter.  Sometimes a vague question is good, other times you want to be specific.  Not everyone can give you an instant answer, don’t be afraid to wait for the answer (unless you’re looking for that first impression). You expect a response when you ask a question, and those who are giving the answer expect to be given some kind of feedback on their answer.  Sometimes ‘I don’t know’ is the answer you get.

Let’s talk about some questions to ask yourself to ask the right question:

Do I need a factually correct answer?

Do I need an expert opinion?

Do I need a well-reasoned judgment?

Do I want the truth or the answer they think I want to hear?

Is yes/no sufficient, or do I want more?

Do I really want an answer?

And now some questions you might try:

What’s the RONI — the Risk of Not Investing?

When did you last do something fun?

What can I do to help you?

Do I want to add value?

Do your core values make business sense?

What do you stand for?

Who do you serve?

What is your competitor’s plan to win?

Is it helping?

What is the one thing you have postponed changing about yourself? Are you prepared to make that change now?

Are you a good friend who keeps your word all the time?

Would you offer a good friend much needed (uninvited) advice when you can see he/she is headed for disaster, or remain silent?

Are you open to receiving uninvited counsel from a good friend if the situation were reversed?

Is it more important for you to win the power game or to know the truth?

What is more important to you – wealth or love? (No, you can’t have both so far as this question is concerned.)

Have you explored your creativity to your satisfaction?

What do you need to stop?

Do you dismiss your creative ideas based on financial thinking or lack of time?

Which would you prefer: Losing your creative energy and spark or gaining more free time in your life? (No, you cannot have both so far as this question is concerned.)

Can you actually name a creative project or dream that you would like to pursue now?

What do you notice about the reasons for your success?

What are you trying to accomplish?

How are you being helpful to your team?

What are you doing that hurts your team? (Insert customers, employees, manager, yourself, or organization?)

What’s working for you?

What could be better?

What matters most to your customers? (Insert you, team, employees, manager, or leaders?)

What are the most impactful things you do?

If things were going perfectly, what would it look like?

How does this support the company’s mission, goals and projected success?

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned along the way?

If all jobs paid the same, what would you be doing?

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

What does my (audience/customer/employee/partner/teammate) need to hear from me?

What kind of leader am I?

Do you know what I see in you?

How could we do that differently?

What are people concerned about, but no one says?

Did I help someone else succeed today?

What do we want to sustain?

What questions would you add to this list that have helped you in the past?