Telling the Truth in Business

Do you know what can sink your business really fast? Lies. When you lie about how effective a product or service is or what you’re going to do or who you are, people not only won’t buy from you again but they tell their friends too. And as we know negative news spreads faster than the positive news. I know some people will tell you that too much truth is a bad thing or that some mystique is a good thing. I agree that a little mystery can be a good thing, but what you offer and who you are should not be one of those mysteries.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth:
I understand that you want to keep some secret sauce for your clients. I have no problem with that. Some people find success in sharing their secrets, others have learned what “enough” is that they can share and interest people with what they offer. One of the things I advise some of my clients on is using Facebook. The first thing usually asked or considered is “what do you think of my page?” My answer is usually “I can’t really tell what makes you special” (or tell what you really offer at all), and sometimes also includes “and all your posts are promotional” (which isn’t a good thing). Most people don’t give sufficient information about their business whether we’re talking promotional materials, social media or in client conversations.

Do it right the first time:
If at all possible it’s always desirable to get things right the first time. The reality is that we don’t always get things right the first time and do have to fix things and sometimes start from scratch. But you’ll be more satisfied with doing the job right the first time than you would be if you gave it a half effort. Not giving it your best effort means you’ll also never know if you could have been successful if you gave it a little more effort.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right:
This is another of my favorite sayings. Too often we throw something together quick without really thinking it through or doing the research. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the research is as simple as reading what’s been written and already provided to you. I don’t believe in perfection so that’s not what I’m saying and I think questions are great, so I’m not judging that either. But if you’re really serious about helping people with your product or service you owe it to them (and will save yourself lots of time) if you disclose as much as possible.

Do everyone a favor and check your business for lies, misleading information and invisible information. What do your customers and potential customers think of your business?


Storefront Success

Last week I shared an article with my business newsletter subscribers about the current state of Barnes and Nobles. If you’re not familiar with the company they sell books and related materials. They’ve been in business since the 1960’s but as with other book stores have suffered since the advent of eBooks and online shopping. So as I was reading the article it got me thinking about what the reason for physical stores is anyway. Technically all businesses are physical businesses because there’s a person somewhere behind each of them, but what about businesses with physical stores you can go to to shop at? What’s the benefit and should you have one?  Let’s start off with who should have one:

1-you’re selling a hands-on service. This would be something like a cooking class, yoga class, gym membership or something else that works best if people come to you rather than you going to them or providing the service over the internet. Yes, you can sell them online but traditionally they’re known for being off line.

2-you’re selling services only to a local market.  If your goal is to reach the local community having a physical presence where your potential clients will see you during their day-to-day activities is beneficial and can go a long way to encouraging them to shop with you.

It’s important to note that I don’t recommend just having a physical presence/storefront.  Not taking advantage of the internet, even if it’s just for marketing not selling purposes is a big mistake in this day and age.  Everyone should have a website and do some online marketing whether a blog, social media, a newsletter and/or others.  So if we all have an internet presence, what’s the benefit of having a physical one?

Primarily that you sell something that people would prefer to see/touch/experience before buying.  I can’t say I want to buy fruits, vegetables or fish online, many people like to try on clothes before buying them or experience a technology device when considering different options.  But just about anything and everything can be purchased online, especially products, so if a majority of your products can be and are purchased online, i.e. books, clothing, technology, health items etc. will the physical storefront be going the way of the Dodo soon?

One key to having a successful storefront, and the thing that I think could be the defining factor in whether or not storefronts stay alive, is the experience they provide to a customer.  For the majority of non-fresh food businesses if all you’re doing is selling a product there’s no reason to buy from your physical store vs. your online store.  But if your in-store experience makes buying a product exciting, adds value to the purchasing experience or adds something completely different to the company separate from the products like demonstrations, education, celebrity experiences etc., you’re taking full advantage of all that a physical location can offer.

So if you’ve got a physical location, are you doing all you can to maximize it, or would you be more successful closing the doors and just running your business online?

A Mission to Make a (Healthy) Difference

Here in the USA most of us have choices about whether or not we want to be healthy, and many of us choose to not be healthy. We choose to fill our bodies with junk food, our minds with TV and our lives with people who influence us in not so good ways. But many people around the world aren’t as fortunate as those of us who live in the United States are, and while it’s not our fault that they’re not as blessed as we are, we have an opportunity to help them.

You’ve heard it said that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that concept applies here. If you want a healthy world, if you want to truly solve the world’s problems, it begins with teaching the next generation the value of giving back. From the time I was a young child and my parents encouraged us to make donations at church or in the Salvation Army Santa buckets, to volunteer in soup kitchens or for special community events, or to participate in work days where we cleaned up non-profit facilities. We didn’t volunteer because it was politically correct or to look good, we did it because there was a need and we were capable of helping resolve that need.

I’ve gone on mission trips, worked in my community and others, signed petitions, and contributed to walks, charities and causes not because it looks good on my resume or I’m “doing my good deed for the day,” but because I believe that my life is better because I’ve taken the time to care about people who are less fortunate than I am. Yes, my actions have helped the people in need, but truly they’re the people who have blessed me.

So this week I encourage you to make time to make a difference around the world.  Set up a schedule of charity donations throughout the year, help your neighbors in need, contribute to your community and choose to help others not only because you’ll feel good about it, but it will have far-reaching benefits beyond your simple actions and contributions.

Capturing Your Customers

Businesses can do many things and have many jobs.  The big aspects of a business usually revolve around a product or service and money.  But the other big aspect that I talk about a lot is the people aspect.  I’m an introvert by nature but know how much value there is in other people.  Which is why that as important as a product, service or money is to a business, the really big and important aspect is the people part.  Because without people you won’t do anything with your product, won’t make a difference with your service, and won’t make any money either.  You’ll also miss out on a chance to give people jobs, support other businesses, and support your community.

One of the biggest challenges for businesses is knowing how to make sales.  The secret lies in knowing your audience.  It starts with figuring out if anyone at all is interested in what you’re buying or selling.  If no one is, either there’s no issue you’re really going to solve, or you’re on the cutting edge of new things and will have to not only do the promotion that all the other companies do, but spend a lot of time educating your audience about what you’re offering and why they would benefit from it.

The second step is identifying your audience.  If you don’t know who they are, what they like, what their other interests and needs are as well as what keeps them up at night, the marketing you do won’t be as effective.  People use the old “spray and pray” method you’ve probably heard about when they don’t take the time to identify their audience.  Once you know your audience you can design your campaigns and present your business in a way that they identify with, not that tries to reach the whole world.

The third step is something I just alluded to, and the one that not everyone remembers: it’s truly identifying with your audience.  This means that not only do you know who they are and what makes them tick, you’re willing and able to show that you totally and personally understand where they’re coming from.  This is more than just saying “I know your problem” it’s about sharing the passion, soul, fire and inspiration that’s gotten you to this place with your business.

Don’t be afraid to let your passion for your business shine through in your marketing and conversations with potential clients.  When they see that not only do understand where they’re coming from but you have been in their shoes or personally understand what they’re facing, it reassures them that in choosing you not only will they be satisfied with the product or service, they’ll have a great experience too.

“I try to bring the audience’s own drama – tears and laughter they know about – to them.” Judy Garland

The Success of Social Media

Business has changed a lot in many ways over the past decade, and very little in other ways. One of those ways is social media. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn have revolutionized many aspects of business including marketing and customer service. It’s something I use every day for business so I’m always at least mildly surprised when someone contacts me and says they’ve got absolutely no social experience whatsoever, not even a personal presence on Facebook. So today I want to share a couple of the perks of social media and a couple of problems/warnings as well.

Social media gives you instant access to (potential) customers. Go just about anywhere and you’ll see someone on their phone, typically checking their social pages or taking a selfie. Social media is a real-time platform for you to share updates and help with your customers and begin building a relationship with people who might buy from you in the future. No need to worry if they’re reading a specific news paper or watching TV at a specific time or driving past a specific billboard, your social updates can be seen anytime and anywhere in the world, even days, months and years later.

Social media allows for real-time customer service.  If you’ve ever bought something and had an issue or needed to reach customer service, which just about everyone has, social media, especially Twitter, has taken on the role of the 1-800 call center in many ways. It’s an instant way to connect with a representative and share your feedback or ask for help, and an important way of getting feedback about your business and offerings.

Social media helps you target your marketing.  Most social sites, Facebook especially, has really invested a lot in creating a super-precise ad platform that enables you to specifically target your ideal customers with your message. Digital Marketer and Unbounce are two sites that share lots of great insights and updates about using Facebook’s ad system, and while Google+, YouTube and Twitter aren’t as widely discussed as Facebook’s they’re also great tools for getting your message to your market in a direct and relatively inexpensive manner, without the worry that lots of your not-target audience will hear it. The downside of having super-targeted advertisements means that if you target wrong you will waste that effort, just like you would doing the old spray-and-pray approach.

Social media is not sales media. This is the biggest challenge and one of the things I love most about social media. Simply put, it makes business human again. Now it’s not just about ‘I’m a business, buy my stuff’ but about creating and supporting a community of people who are passionate about what you love and helping them get the most out of what you offer.  But miss or skip this step and you’ll see very little success with social media.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social media, so I invite you to post your questions and challenges in the comments.

“Technology has allowed me to reach my fans directly. Social media: it has been a complete revolution of how to interact, promote and share things.” Tony Hawk

The Discipline of Success

If you’re anything like me you’ve done lots of research into success.  You’ve looked at the leadership, sales, marketing, people, and countless other topics all trying to figure out how you can be successful.  I get asked frequently what the secret to success is and the answer I give usually frustrates people: I tell them to offer something of value, something that not everyone else is offering, do it with a personal/human touch, consistently market your business, and generally tell the world.  It sounds vague and, as I said, frustrating, but it’s the truth.  If you just jump on the closest MLM bandwagon you’re wasting valuable time and losing money because you joined the wrong team.  People have made money from MLMs, however I find that there are better ways to make money and make a difference in the world while you’re at it.  But the secret to success that I want to talk about today is one of them that people have a hard time grasping given our society: consistently marketing your business.  Here are the challenges and opportunities we face with this aspect:

1-consistency is not something we’re familiar with.  We expect results now, even yesterday, so the fact that something takes time to show results is completely foreign to most people.  People want to see results of social campaigns in a few day’s time when it can take years to make a dent, depending on how you do it.  That doesn’t mean that social media is a waste of time, it just means that if you want to see results it will take longer than the next sunrise.

2-consistency requires work.  Not only do you have to adjust your schedule to plan for a longer end goal, you also have to work a lot more persistently to see the results.  To have longevity in business it’s absolutely essential that you show your customers that you’re not just here for now, but you’re planning to stick around for a long time. And that’s not something that’s done by sending out an email today and not again for another 6 months.

3-beause of #1 and #2 you’ve got a great opportunity to succeed where others have failed. Learn from what they’re not doing and commit yourself to taking consistent action in your business, consistently offering a quality product, consistently updating your marketing, and consistently being there for customers when they have questions or needs, or just to be friendly.  What will you be more consistent with this week?

“Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.” George Washington

The Problem with Perfection

As business owners we face lots of challenges. If you want me to make you a list I can certainly write you up one that will be longer than any kid’s Christmas list to Santa.  One of the most noticeable aspects of business and life is our presentation.  From how food looks on a plate, to how clean your house looks, to the packaging choices on your physical product or the design you chose for your website, for most people how something looks is one of the first things people notice.  Today I wanted to share a few thoughts about presentation and a little holiday cheer reminder.

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: when things don’t look good or they don’t meet the expectation we have it’s pretty noticeable usually.  We see the spelling mistakes, the unkempt floors, overflowing garbage, or dishes in the sink that create a perception of someone or their business that can impact all decisions you make about buying from them going forward.  As a consultant the presentation is one of the things that I work on most with clients, and one of the things they’re most resistant to change.  I’d be rich if I got money every time someone said to me “yea, yea, I know that, but I need more traffic/hits/sales/likes” etc.  Yes, I know you need more sales and traffic, just about every business owner does. But the chances of getting the sales from the traffic are much smaller if you don’t take care of the stuff you supposedly know about.  If it’s that simple and it could make that big of a difference in your business, how many more sales do you want to lose for refusing to do it?

This is where the holiday cheer comes in.  I was out the other night and saw lights on a tree outside that were clearly done by the homeowner (they didn’t hire a professional company to come in and wrap their tree).  At first I was distracted by the imperfectly hung lights, but then I realized that that’s what the holidays, and business, are not about.  No, holidays and business are not about having the perfect product, the perfect gift, the perfect life and perfect 2.5 kids.  It’s about making the world a better place, being happy with our choices and spreading some happiness wherever we go.

Simply put there are no perfect products, businesses or people.  There will always be a failure or flaw someone will be happy to point out.  Yes, we should all do our best to not have the easily fixable mistakes and issues like spelling and dirt, but when it comes down to it there’s more to life and success, and some things work just fine with an error or two.  In this holiday season and as we wrap up another year in business I encourage you to worry less about the little things and more about those that matter.

The Choices of Christmas

Today in response to a lot of the discussion that’s been had over the past few weeks, I thought we’d talk about 2 holiday topics that are a bit contentious at this time of year: time off and sales. Life is full of choices. Each choice we make is usually made to the exclusion of other options. If you choose a career like army engineer or nurse you know you’re going to have some challenging hours. If you choose to run your own business it’s hard to leave it at the door when you get home each night since you are your business. If you’re a K-12 teacher you have to work with kids. If you don’t like the requirements of your career, you’re probably not in the right career. However, if all the other options sound worse, you’ve chosen the best you can for right now.

As business owners we try to do the best we can to make our customers, employees, suppliers and everyone else we work with happy because it’s much easier to deal with happy people than mad ones. The way I see it, we’ve probably only got a few more years of in-store holiday madness on Thanksgiving/Black Friday because all of the deals are going online, so there isn’t a great advantage to going to a store when you can get the same deal online (unless you enjoy that sort of thing). However, if you are going to make your employees work certain holidays, make sure to compensate in other ways like financially or giving off other days.

But the bottom line really is that you have to accept the choices you’ve made. If you’ve chosen to be a business owner for all of the wrong reasons you will be miserable. If you’re working a job you don’t like because you’re too lazy to get a better one or do the work of a better one, you have to accept that. Life and success are what you make of them, what will your choice be this year?

Questioning the Trends

We’ve reached the race for the finish line in 2014: we’re 2 months away and counting. Are you ready to make the most of these 2 months in your business? If you haven’t made the connection yet I like to take advantage of holidays and celebrations throughout the year in business because it’s a great way to create an immediate connection between what you offer and what’s relevant for people or trending. I don’t suggest that you only follow the trends, some trends are really wrong and really bad, but there can be big opportunities to taking note of them or taking advantage of many trends.

By connecting holidays, celebrations and events with what you offer, not only are you showing sensitivity for some of the deeper emotions that people may be experiencing and showing your human side, you’re also help people understand what you offer by sharing about it in terms that people are thinking about. For example, if you were a cleaning service you can share about your weekly cleaning service, but everyone offers that. Instead you can offer holiday cleaning, winter blues cleaning, clean for your partner on Valentine’s Day, spring cleaning, ready for summer parties cleaning, back to school cleaning, or get rid of the leaves cleaning. I think you get the idea from just that one set of examples. Yes, some people will think that you’re out to exploit them, but if you share it in a way that is totally of service to them you help them see how you can help them in their lives and how relevant you are to what they need.

But as you know, trends aren’t always the best things to follow: you can invest a lot in making sure your business follows the trend, or trying to set the trend, and have it totally flop on you. Trend setting is a lot more dangerous than trend following, but with both you have to make sure you really do the research to make sure that that trend is really a good fit for your business.

I was chatting with a business owner this week about some challenges in their business and they asked me if I knew the competition for their business (as in they didn’t). It was a good thing we were emailing because my jaw hasn’t gone that close to the floor in quite some time. I am totally blown away when people come to me having done absolutely no research about the business they’re getting involved in or considering, let alone running. The internet is a wealth of information, free information at that, that allows you to really easily research the competition. It blows me away that there are so many struggling business owners when the answers are a few clicks away.

So my challenge to you this week is to talk with your audience, find out what matters to them, what they’re thinking about right now, what’s worrying them right now, what excites them, and how you can better help them. The answers are out there just waiting for you to ask the questions.

“I don’t set trends. I just find out what they are and exploit them.” Dick Clark

What’s Your Value?

Last week we talked about being proud of our businesses.  As I was thinking about it this week, I think that this actually has to do with a deeper and bigger issue than whether you’re satisfied with the end result or not. It has to do with something way back in the beginning of your planning that too many businesses lose sight of as they continue on for years and as they grow and change: the value they’re committed to adding to the world.

One of the first questions that runs through my head when I’m approached by a new business is “OK, what value are they bringing to the table?  What are they doing differently than similar businesses?  Are they putting their best foot forward?”  These three questions are ones I need to answer to know if I can help them, but they’re questions that each business needs to answer as well.

Are you bringing something of value to the table every time or has your value gotten buried underneath corporate tape, tiredness, crazy people and dollar signs?

Is your business exactly like the guy down the street or around the world selling the exact same thing or do you make your unique light shine through?

Are you really showing the world what you’re made of or are you too shy or lazy or scared to ask for help to really show the world your stuff?

If you’re feeling some embarrassment, defensiveness or frustration with any of these questions know it’s normal.  Most businesses/business owners get distracted, especially if they’ve been active for a while.  There’s a lot to keep track of and keep in motion that something that seems as insignificant as value gets buried.  However, it’s when it gets ignored that things start to fall apart.  When you stop remembering that every single thing you do, every purchase you make, every decision you decide directly, ultimately and completely affects your customer is when you fall into the danger zone.

If you want to be a success you have to remember that you are only successful as long as you bring value to the table and people value what you bring to the table.  If both of those aren’t met, you’ll fail, or at least not be as successful as you would like to be.   What you bring to the table ultimately reveals how much you value your customers.

“To add value to others, one must first value others.” John Maxwell