Changes, Choices and Closed Businesses

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

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

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

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

Expectations of Something More

Do you get up every day with a list of expectations for yourself, the people in your life and the world around you? Lately I’ve been taking time to consider my expectations of the world and think about what they might be and what I really want out of my life.  Part of it has to do with the passing of a family friend, part of it has to do with the hate I’ve been seeing some people share, and part of it has to do with wanting more out of life because life’s really not worth wasting.

This month one of the things we’re talking about is the topic of fun and I think fun has an important role to play in making sure we make the most of our lives.  It can be both a motivator of encouraging us to get the work done so we’ve got the resources to have fun as well as one to make the time to have that fun and take time off as well.  We do have an expectation of making sure we care for our families, and I think it’s an important one to uphold.  There are people around the world who don’t make decisions in light of how it will affect the people who matter the most to them.  But in the same conversation we do have a responsibility to be part of our loved ones lives, and not at work all the time trying to provide for them.

So what’s a person to do? If you’re at work working tons of hours because you’re not making enough per hour/day to support your family, it’s time to upgrade and update your skill set.  If you’re at work all day because you work on a fantastic cause, it’s time to get some new people involved.  If you’re at work all the time because you don’t want to be with your family, it’s time for a serious evaluation of and conversation about your life.  If you’re spending all your time on fun and avoiding the work there must be a reason why.  Maybe it’s because you really don’t enjoy your work, or maybe simply because reality hasn’t smacked you yet.   Whatever the case is I encourage you to take a look at your expectations for your life present and future and see if where you’re at and how your days currently go line up with that expectation.

Change And Stay the Same?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Case of Curiosity and Creativity

March is full of interesting people’s birthdays, including Einstein and Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel).  I know most people don’t grow up thinking about theories of relativity or trying to make rhymes into stories, or becoming a household name and yet these two men did exactly that.  Both are fairly normal paths of success, writing and science aren’t weird or wrong, they’re legitimate fields of interest.  Part of the reason that they stand out so much though is because they did exactly what those fields are about: they made discoveries and brought words to life.

So what can we take away from the lives of these two men? First and foremost that even if you’re “trapped” in something very conventional and normal, that doesn’t mean you can’t put your spin on it and make it your own.  Yes, sometimes you’re called to do bigger and different things than you’re involved in now, but often it just means that you need to get a little more creative with regards to what you’re involved in and see if you can’t work a little magic in your current situations before giving up.  Second, which directly ties in with that, invest in being creative and curious throughout your life.  Creativity and curiosity aren’t things you give up like most people give up their dolls and stuffed animals when they reach a certain age, they’re skills that can greatly benefit you throughout your life if you’re willing to tap into them.

As we finish up this week and head into the next one I encourage you to explore your life.  I know that sounds kind of funny, but so often we get caught up in the story we tell ourselves, the habits we have and the often narrow way we see our world and lives and we don’t see the reality of our life or what’s waiting for us just outside of our normal life boundaries and beliefs.  Take the time to get creative and be curious about what else your life holds and you could tap into or could help you get the breakthrough you’ve been missing.

Website Essentials

I’ve been looking at a lot of websites for clients lately, and talking with others about whether or not they need one.  I know it’s a topic that we’ve talked about a lot, but since I’m seeing the same issues coming up again and again, I thought I’d share a few reminders with you today.

First, a recent statistic I saw said that 75% of people look online to find out about your business.  If you don’t have a website they won’t find you.  Even having a simple DIY website is better than nothing, and some DIY websites I’ve seen look and read much better than the professional ones, probably because they’ve got actual heart and passion behind them.  But back to the point: if you don’t have a website you NEED one.  A social profile will never replace a website.  They’re fine as marketing tools, but I would never ever recommend choosing a social profile over a website if you can only create one.

Second, websites have to contain updated information.  It’s another reason why I support DIY websites.  Yes, I know it adds another thing to your plate, but if you don’t have to wait for your developer to get back in touch with you or don’t have to find a new developer because your old one isn’t in business anymore, and you don’t have to pay their fees for updating your site, I’d say it’s worth it, especially for the little things like the copyright date or updating event dates or dated special offers. If it’s been more than a week past the written date, people will question what else isn’t up to date on your site.

Third, don’t be afraid to get personal.  There’s competition in just about every industry so if you don’t stand out, you have a much smaller chance of getting the sale.  Your website is one of the first things potential customers will see and if they think your offerings look like every Tom, Dick and Harry’s out there they won’t have a reason to choose you. Let your personality out a little on the site, show them who you are, and help them get to know you and the distinctive advantage you bring to the market or why your products are better than the countless others out there that are very similar.  Every business is started by a person, and I think it’s important to show the world and your potential customers who that person is.  You don’t have to look like a super celebrity, just show your smiling face to the world.

Can you have bells and whistles on your site? Sure, but they’re no good if the information isn’t there.  Worry less about having the perfect website, and focus more on having one that works for you and shows off you and your business.

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.”

What Does It Take To Be On Top?

Recently as I was on my way to a client appointment I passed a sign that advertises for a Chevy car dealer. It said that the dealership was one of the top 50 in the nation in terms of sales volume again for the past year. There are over 3000 dealerships for Chevy in the US, so I was a little surprised that this company was able to do so well because it didn’t strike me as being the typical dealership that we see today. So I thought I’d take a look around the internet and see what I saw.

First, let’s review some numbers. In 2013 the number to win the award of number one sales volume seller was over 4,500 cars sold in the year. Numbers for Chevy’s have been increasing since the last high in 2007 according to GM, and 2016’s numbers were the highest since 2007. So I’d say it’s safe to assume that the number to win was over 4,500 this year. Even if you were to sell 3000 cars in a year you’d have to sell at least 8 every day, or more if the state/county has laws about being open on Sundays, or chooses to close for Sundays or another day.

Let’s talk about what this company is not. They’re not super social stars. They do have some social presence, but it’s not hundreds of people interacting on every post, or tens of thousands of fans or followers. They’re not on the highway like many other dealerships today. Although there is easy access nearby to the highway, they’re still in the middle of a town. They also don’t have thousands of reviews posted online, although they do have several hundred.

Let’s talk about what this company is:

They are family owned.  The company has been in the family since the 1920’s.

They are locally focused. Not only are they aware that they are located within a town and not just part of a stretch of highway like most auto dealers, they also get involved locally with their customers and charity programs like Toys for Tots.

They do care about their customers.  The customer reviews typically speak very highly of the people there and their service to their customers.

They do offer both new and used cars and trucks as well as commercial vehicles.  Many auto dealers don’t the depth of inventory and variety of products that they offer.  They’ve expanded their real estate over the past few years as surrounding property has become available.

They do offer service as well as sell cars. This is typical for many auto dealers, but it’s also one of the things that they get a lot of positive reviews regarding.

They’re committed to staying on top of things and update their facilities on a regular basis.  As mentioned earlier not only are they expanding their real estate, they’re also updating their facilities and have done some major updates in the past few years.

You don’t have to be the flashiest, easiest to get to, biggest, or most marketed business in your industry to be successful.  Some of the best things you can do are be the most consistently helpful, offer the most consistent value, and show honest attention to your customers and their needs.

Unfinished Business

As we get closer and closer to the end of this year we’ve talked about what to do with this week and how you can get ahead for 2017. For this last business post I wanted to talk about something we don’t really like to talk about: the stuff that doesn’t get done.  Often we talk about this stuff in terms of numbers of unread emails or unpaid invoices or bills to be paid.  But there are tons of other things we’ve got on our “I really need to do…,” “If I have time I’ll do…” and “Sometime I’ll…” lists.  It’s those items that I want to talk about today, especially those you’ve been putting off for years or those that you put off each year (and partially complete later).

First, know that sometimes you can just pitch it all and be done with it and there’s a really good chance you’ll never miss any of it.  I know, you may wonder what you’re missing out on, but sometimes the best thing you can do is just completely free yourself from it.  With physical items I think it’s best to go through things super quick because there may be a treasured family heirloom in the pile, but especially when it comes to emails, if it’s 5+ years old and you haven’t read it you can probably get rid of it.

But what about those to do lists?  I would go over them because there are probably potential clients you meant to get back to but haven’t, suppliers or joint venture partners you’ve been meaning to reach out to, marketing you’ve been meaning to do, marketers who you were thinking of hiring to help you or even mentors you’ve been wanting to reach out to.  Take a look at those lists and decide which of those are still things that need doing, and make the time over the next few weeks to accomplish them slowly but surely, maybe setting aside a couple of hours a week to tackle it.

Why? Because I’m reminded every so often how busy we are.  We have so much going on personally and professionally, that often we’re just doing the very best we can to keep things moving forward and some things just don’t get done as a result, even if they’re important to do.  Also, most sales aren’t made with the first contact, it can take 20 or more contacts in today’s busy world to make a sale or get that published piece in the paper or on that industry website or blog.  So I would encourage you as we finish out this year to commit to following through on what you’ve said you would do with your employees, customers and opportunities in your personal and professional life more in the coming days and year.  No, you won’t be perfect and won’t get it all done, but I know I already feel better just committing to do it, rather than thinking about adding it to another list.

Personal Marketing

We’re getting closer to Christmas and Hanukkah with each day, I hope that your business is filled with cheer and good will (and lots of sales!).  Today I thought we’d take a moment to talk about one of the challenges when it comes to marketing and business.  There are 2 general audiences and 2 sub audiences that businesses may try to reach: the general audiences are men and women, and the sub audiences are boys and girls.  No, everyone doesn’t fit into those neat packages, there are men who have no interest in football and women who love football for example.  But as I was thinking about the differences between targeting men and women in business it got me thinking about Christmas and making sales this time of year.

It struck me as interesting that many of the Christmas stories we know and love are based around men (or boys); think about Santa, Jesus, and Scrooge, not to mention more modern characters like Buddy the Elf (Elf), Jack Frost, Kevin McCallister (Home Alone), Charlie Brown, George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life), Clark Griswold (National Lampoon) and Ralphie Parker (A Christmas Story).  Yes, some of these were given the lead role because men are traditionally seen as leaders.  And yes, each of those stories has at least one female in a serious role too.   But I couldn’t name the women like I could the men that the story is based around.

The point is that it’s easy to stick a man in a lead role because that’s what we know, just like it’s easy to try to incorporate sports, sex, cars or success into your marketing to target men for example, or kids, love, relationships and beauty to target women because that’s what a large portion of them like.  But what more businesses are realizing is that there’s a lot more to men and women than just those blanket categories.  The recent Dollar Shave Club ads highlight this well with regards to men.  In the ads you’re shown a bunch of different guys who shop for different types of body wash or some other related product.  There’s Mr. Muscles, the Slob, the Cool Dude, the Clean Cut Guy, and the Average Joe.  Yes, all these guys use the same types of products (body wash etc.), but each product isn’t right for every guy (no matter what a celebrity spokesperson might say).

In this world of customization and numerous companies offering something similar yet different, it’s very hard to be successful with a blanket product or campaign that speaks to (or tries to speak to) one or more of the general audiences as a whole.  In those cases there’s a specific goal with the ad, and it’s usually more often about branding, not a specific product (think about some of the holiday ads you’re seeing for major companies).  I understand the appeal to selling to “everyone” but let’s face it, that’s not a reality anymore with all the options that are available in 2016.  Taking the time to really get to know your customers and their likes, dislikes and interests will help you get clear on how to target within the larger general audience to speak to your specific audience.  Don’t stoop to the old standby, easy answers unless they’re the right ones when it comes to your customers.  Take the time to customize your marketing and show your customers that they matter to you and you understand them.