Reality Check Question

Every so often I come across a question that not only makes me think, it’s one that I think you would benefit from considering in your life. Today I’ve got a question that you can apply to many different aspects of your life, from business to personal to relationship to health to success to finance to parenting. Like many good questions it’s open-ended and challenges you to not only consider what is but what could be. Ready?

Is this my reality forever?

I know that I talk about changes, goals and victories all the time, and that’s because they’re a reality for everyone and usually on a very regular basis. But sometimes I think we forget to think beyond the moment, beyond the panic, beyond the frustration, beyond the change. I also think we sometimes get wrapped up in the issues and the downhill roll we may seem to be going through.

Doing a quick check on yourself, your direction and your attitude with this question can help you get perspective and find the motivation and hope to move through your current situation and into a reality you prefer if you’re not happy with your reality. It can also remind you to slow down and enjoy your reality as it is, if it’s something you will likely have only once or twice in your life.

So the next time you start getting wound up or frustrated by life or feel like it’s running past you, I encourage you to stop for a moment and ask “Is this my reality forever?”

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Advice from Edison

This month is the birthday of Thomas Edison. He was an incredible inventor and businessman, and was involved in power generation, communication, sound and motion pictures. He’s famous for his work with the lightbulb and in the US alone he holds over 1,000 patents. He also kept some pretty important company in the business world of the time: Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. Today I thought we’d take a look at a few things Edison said and how they apply to our businesses and leadership today.

Reinvention, reworking, tweaking and trial and error are key throughout the life of your business:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Consistently work with a good head on your shoulders:
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.”

Perspective and community/teamwork may be the answer:
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

Don’t just accept things as they are, keep growing:
“There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

Most people are more capable of doing great things than they (or others) may believe they are (are you restricting yourself or your team?):
“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Imagination and creativity are useful for many aspects of business, not just product development:
“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Business does have a serious side, but laughter and fun are important too, no one is serious all the time:
“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.”

It’s unlikely that AI or anything else will truly make people obsolete:
“There is far more opportunity than there is ability.”

There’s nothing wrong with taking an idea and developing it beyond where it currently is or giving something your own twist:
“I start where the last man left off.”

There’s getting stuff done and then there’s productivity:
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

Consistent action and follow through are key:
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

Giving up means you’ve failed, trying something different means you can win:
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

I encourage you to do a little creative inventing in your business this week, don’t just accept things as they have always been.  You never know what value a little brainstorming can reveal.

Learning From a $115 Billion Company

I like numbers as much as the next person and know their value in business, but I’m not really big on those top 10 lists or top 500 lists, I certainly don’t spend my time reading them on a regular basis.  So when I happened upon an article sometime at the end of last year I read it because of the fact that it was talking about how a big company was planning to get bigger, not because I wanted to read the top 10 list that it turns out it included as part of the article.  I don’t think we should always compare ourselves and our businesses to others out there, but I do know that we can learn from their success and this article reminded me of some truths that I think we sometimes ignore or forget when it comes to business.

The article, which you can read here (and I suggest you do), is talking about Cargill, “the $115 billion-in-sales agricultural giant that has topped Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies for 28 of the past 30 years.”  Some interesting things for you to consider: first and foremost it’s a food business.  Second, they’ve been in business since 1865.  Third, in the past 5 years they’ve consistently earned between 107 and 134 billion in sales and revenues.

So next we have to talk about the top 10 list.  What does it say? 3 of the others in the top 10 list are grocery stores and a 4th and 5th are also in the food business to one degree or another.  6 of the top 10 companies on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies are in the food business, the industry known for seriously small margins.

So what does all of this tell us?  First, that it’s possible to be very successful for a very long time in just about any industry.  It also tells us that what everyone says isn’t always correct, and sometimes you can beat the odds.  Finally, if you do want to succeed you have to keep learning, trying new things and growing.  Even if it’s not your goal to end up on one of these lists, I still think that the insights about Cargill can be encouraging and insightful.  Who have you learned from lately?

Small Steps to Success

One thing I’m going to do this year is a blog post each month on a business or success book I read, a book you can benefit from whether you read it or listen to it, and share some insights I gathered from it. This month’s book is Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s a really easy read for being a non-fiction book, it reminded me almost of the ease of reading a fiction book because of the writing style. The central concepts of the book were the benefits of small improvements and the power (positive and negative) of habits.

So many businesses are looking for the magic bullet that will catapult them to major success. Even if their plan is good and includes hard work, their expectations are often not in line with reality. I wish that more businesses would take a step back and take things a little slower, exactly like this book talks about. To not be in such a rush to get to success, but instead to build on their success a little at a time day in and day out, so they are helping more people that day than they did the day before.

One of the big keys behind the success of the small improvements and habits in the book is that of systems. Systems are crucial to a well-oiled business, one that can run almost seamlessly all the time regardless of the little quirks that pop up each day. Perfection shouldn’t be the goal, but systems help you get a lot closer to getting it right more often than not. Systems are the key that help you get from point A to point B well on a regular basis, helping you establish success patterns and habits that will empower you and your customers. Of course the opposite is true as well, if you don’t have the right system you won’t be as successful or success will be a lot harder to come by.

The final point I want to bring up from the book is that of clues and paying attention. One of the most helpful things you can do for your business is pay attention. Each day, each purchase, each interaction with a customer adds new information to what you already know and if you’re paying attention you can see warning signs before issues become full-blown problems. I’m not suggesting you become hypersensitive to everything that’s going on that you freak and make drastic changes at the smallest thing or first sign of a potential issue, but rather be aware of how everything is running, how people are responding, what’s going on and how you’re feeling about everything so that easily fixed small issues don’t turn into big ones and you can capitalize on the good ideas when you have them, not many months down the road after they become missed opportunities.

If you’ve got suggestions for other books I should read this year, let me know in the comments.

Living Today

The new year has arrived and we’re almost a week in! I love that we have life divided into days, months, years and lifetimes. It helps us to process better and plan both short-term and long-term goals which give us small and large victories throughout our lives.  Each one is filled with a different set of opportunities for us to live and love and build relationships and be successful.

I don’t always go with a year theme, but lots of people do. I’ve seen lots of different words this year including spaciousness, time, intention, substance, experience, purpose, promise, change and clarity. This year I’ll be doing something different and not doing monthly themes for every month as I’ve done in the past, but instead going with a yearly theme. This year’s theme is going to be ‘today.’

Why ‘today’? Not because of how fast-paced our world is, but rather because I want us to take a step back and live in today, accomplish things today, appreciate today, learn from today and enjoy today. Yes, we’ll still talk about goals, planning, the future, and the bigger picture, but I want to focus on appreciating, enjoying and acting on each day.

As we’re constantly reminded of in the news each day is a gift. What you do in that day may make or break your future. It can overcome what you’ve done in the past. You can end the day satisfied with what you got done that day or feeling like it was all a waste. It may be one of your last days, will you look back and know you lived it well?

What will you do with today?

Thoughts for Business in 2019

We’re in a new year, and you’ve probably seen a couple of those posts about trends for 2019 and what 2019 may hold for companies. Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts about where I hope or see or hear business may be going in 2019. Don’t forget though, the year is just beginning and almost anything is possible if you’re willing and able to put the time and effort in.

Websites: I think that we’re going to realize how important websites are if you want to stay relevant in 2019 and finally prioritize keeping it updated and helpful to visitors. If you don’t have a website, now’s the time to get one, even if it’s one that you design yourself or a more basic one that doesn’t cost thousands. Make sure that you’re able to update it on a moment’s notice or you’ve got the access to a tech team and they’re able to do it.

Market Specifics: I don’t really think it’s possible anymore to claim you sell to “everyone.” Even if you look at the big guys (big box stores/sites), they’ve got some pretty clear haters who would never shop with them, even if they sell the exact same product as everyone else (i.e. a name-brand paper towel roll available at a grocery store in every town or most comparable websites). Whether you call it your niche, tribe, community or something else, it’s time to really dial in on who you sell to the large majority of the time (if not all the time).

Context: whether we’re talking marketing in general or specifically with emails or social media or other types of publications in line with the previous point it’s time to be more specific and helpful with what you’re sending out. Make sure it’s clear why people would be interested in it (what’s in it for them) and don’t be afraid to ask them to join specific groups or newsletter subscriptions to narrow down the focus of what they’re receiving from you, especially if you do speak to more than one specific audience.

Love: your audience and potential customers should love what you can bring to the table. This means working on your brand, having a clear brand, and showing that brand consistently in all you do. It’s also about having mutual respect and appreciation for all people at the table from suppliers to customers to employees to the management team.

What else will be big this year? Some of the more obvious ones are improved and increased focus on metrics and data, collaboration, innovation, tech and AI allowing us to focus more on what only humans can do, and more planning and strategy (and implementation).  What do you think will be big or lead the transformation in business this year?

The Story of Success

One of my favorite things about the holidays are all the fun stories that we read from year to year. While I’m not in love with all of the new holiday stories that have been written, some are cute and the kids certainly seem to love them, and one has become almost on par with some of the traditional icons. Last week we talked about some of the figures that make the holiday season what it is, but behind each of those figures is at least one incredible story, stories that we read from year to year and share with our kids, and you may be able to recite or at least get close to telling perfectly. It’s these stories that have allowed the figures to become such enduring parts of our lives and holidays.

One of the things that has become a topic to talk about is the story that you’re telling in your business, through your marketing and with your customers. One of the biggest reasons I support story in a business is because it instantly humanizes it. It reminds the business and employees that they’re selling to people and it lets the [potential] buyers know that there are real people behind the products and marketing. Story is also can bring incredible life and depth to products, helping to differentiate a product from others similar to it.

So how is story shared? Well, it can be a video on your website Home page, it can be pictures and text on the About Us page, it can be behind the scenes glimpses on social media, you can share pictures and details on product listings (some products like this one on Amazon are a good example), and it’s in the words that you use to tell people about your products, services or brand.

Don’t think you’ve got much of a story? Well, the most classic Christmas stories are both relatively short and simple. There are lots of stories that have spawned from Santa’s classic story by Clement C. Moore, but that intial story is simple and straightforward. There’s a lot more after the initial Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, but again, the initial story is simple and relatively short. That doesn’t mean that they don’t include some really specific details like the names of reindeer or the exact types of gifts baby Jesus was presented with, because they do. Just adding a few descriptive sentences that bring some life to the presentation along with the relevant details can make all the difference in the world between people choosing to work with or buy from you or someone else.

Between now and the end of January take time to reevaluate the story you’re telling and make sure to begin communicating an authentic and clear story with your customers (ask me, I can help!). So what story is your business telling?

Finishing the Business Year Strong

I’m still working on the plans for December’s topic and talks for the blog, but I thought it would be appropriate anyway today to talk about doing the last month of the year right and finishing strong. I saw a statistic recently about how businesses focus a lot of their advertising on the Black Friday time period but don’t put much to the end of the year, when the reality is that people are still shopping and shopping strong in the last 2 weeks of the year.  It’s a shame that businesses miss out on those sales, so here are some suggestions for you to capitalize on the opportunities that others are missing out on.

Let’s start with the holiday shopping experience first. Ship items promptly and do an even better job than usual packing them so nothing breaks or spills and you have to deal with issues. Have extras of the standard and favorite items that your customers buy as well as keep bringing in or revealing new special holiday and seasonal items all the way through the new year. Have extra elves on hand to help with customer needs and encourage them to hold onto their patience and holiday spirit.

Second, don’t slack on the regular stuff just because you’re busy with the holiday and seasonal stuff. Keep up with your newsletters, social posts, employee education and training, marketing and regular events. The holiday season is a great time to add to your loyal following and really begin (or continue) developing those relationships.

Finally, keep moving forward. Yes, it’s important to celebrate the holiday season with your employees and customers. No one wants the holiday season rushed through. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be making plans for the new year, teasing what’s coming and customers can spend their holiday gift cards on, and looking into innovations/advances and new products/services.

How are you going to finish this year strong?

The Success of Giving

We’re at the tail end of the official start to the holiday season, we’ve done Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  Today has been Giving Tuesday.  I’ve gotten over 300 emails requesting donations today, and I’m sure you’ve had quite a few as well.  I donate every month to a number of organizations, so it’s not the reminder to donate for me that it is for so many.  I think Giving Tuesday is a great way to finish off this official start to the holiday season, and get us back into thinking about what it’s really all about, and that’s giving to others.

In business and the study of the economy we talk about numbers a lot, and each year the spending on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday has increased, which makes many business owners happy.  But we don’t really talk about the numbers as far as what’s given each year to non-profits, so here’s one for you: already over $45 million has been raised on this Giving Tuesday.  That’s $45 million more veterans, children, and women being helped.  More people with disabilities given the support they need.  More faith-based organizations spreading their message around the world.  I would say that’s a successful day of giving.

As I was thinking about Giving Tuesday and the whole concept of giving in the holiday season, I was reminded that we really give all year long.  We choose how much we give of ourselves to our careers, our families, our communities, our planet and even ourselves every day.  Some days we give more than others because the numbers line up.  Sometimes we’re more passionate about something or someone so we give them more of ourselves.  And of course on other days and to other people and projects we give very little because we don’t approve or just don’t have anything left to give.

Ultimately, if we don’t give there won’t be success.  Our jobs won’t get done, our partners won’t be loved, the earth will fall apart, our children won’t be taught, our bodies will suffer, our communities will decline and there won’t be much hope for the next generation.  So I would encourage you to check in with yourself today and this week and see what kind of giving you’re doing on a regular basis.  Are you giving to the people and things that matter most to you, things that you would be sad to see gone if they weren’t successful?  How can you be a better giver today?

Giving Thanks for Success

Thanksgiving is tomorrow here in the USA.  It’s one of my favorite holidays all year because it’s not a religious holiday that only some celebrate depending on their religion, or political/military holiday which, while universal, some may choose not to recognize because they don’t support the war/military actions (even though I think we should support those in the military even if we don’t agree with all military actions and campaigns).  Thanksgiving is a holiday that we all celebrate.

It’s a time for family and friends to gather over something we can all get behind and don’t get disappointed by: food.  While there are some traditions around the food that’s typically served, it’s less about the exact food that’s served, and more about the importance of gathering around the table together and taking time to celebrate all the things you’re thankful for, including those people around you.

The original Thanksgiving was a celebration of life, of staying alive for another year, even having hope that the next year would be better than the last and that the pilgrims might even be able to thrive in Plymouth.  Thanksgiving is a reminder that sometimes your successes come with challenges, that it’s not always easy to make success happen.  There were pilgrims who didn’t survive to see the First Thanksgiving or beyond, and some of the other early settlements were completely wiped out without any real success to show for their hard work.

That you’ve made it this far in 2018 is reason to celebrate and be thankful.  Maybe your year hasn’t gone the way you hoped it would or wanted it to, but I have a feeling that you’ve had at least a few victories that you can celebrate this Thursday.  I encourage you to share about and celebrate the successes that you’ve had this year on Thanksgiving with friends and/or family, you never know what doors could open because you share about what you’re thankful for.