Simple Seasonal Success Starts

As we come to the close of September I’m thinking about the months ahead, and all the holidays! As a business owner you should be getting ready for the holidays and planning to wrap up this year in the best ways possible. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably got a laundry list of things you want to cover before the end of the year, so as I was thinking about the holidays and about business success, my mind took a step back and thought about something else. What if instead of adding to the craziness that is the holidays, we made it simple?

What if we worked on offering the traditionals like turkey, pumpkin pie, hot chocolate with marshmallows, or mulled cider/wine and didn’t try to put a spin on a classic but instead offered the classic? What if we made it simple for our customers to understand how holiday shipping and pricing worked? What if we focused on making this the best holiday season for our customers rather than just focused on getting into the black?

If you’re thinking holidays and want to keep things simple or make it easier for your customers, here are a few ideas for both businesses with a physical address as well as those who only sell online. Everyone should make sure that their website has good desktop and mobile page loading speed so that all potential customers can not only visit the site but it doesn’t load too slow to keep them from becoming a customer. Everyone should have a dedicated page on the website that talks about the holidays answering FAQ’s, sharing featured products and news and includes a sign-up for a newsletter so visitors can get updates now and in the future. Everyone should have a content strategy planned out for their social media account(s), blog, podcast and/or newsletter for the rest of the year that includes consistent updates.  Everyone should plan extra hours and/or staff for addressing customer service questions and sales.  Everyone should offer some holiday special items or services, from simple products to extravagant experiences.

For those with physical locations make sure that your website clearly lists your current and holiday hours and physical address. Everyone who ships products should have a clear shipping page on their website that answers FAQ’s about shipping and pricing, and includes special holiday shipping options (with higher fees) if that’s not something you regularly offer.

What are your holiday plans for your business?

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Back to Business

With schools around the country back in session today I thought we’d talk about some of the basics that will help you be successful today and in the future in your business.

Supplies:
From the basics like paper, pens and envelopes to wrapping and packaging to computers and online accounts there are lots of supplies that most businesses need in order to run most successfully. The choices you make at this first and most basic levels of business can be absolutely crucial as they are the tools that you use to connect with customers and your team, as well as present your business to the world.

Teachers:
Part of being successful is about what you bring to the table, but you can jump start and leap frog your success if you take time to learn from others too. Having a mentor or several someones you can turn to both personally and specifically as well as from a distance gives you the ability to grow your business into a stronger business.

Questions:
In school you’re asked to answer questions on tests and in class, and in business you’re asked not only to answer the questions, but also often to come up with the questions. Questions not only help you make sure that you’ve got your bases covered, they also help you explore different opportunities and perspectives into how you can better serve customers and how you can grow your business.

Learning:
Whether you call it a trial period, beta stage, or growing pains, if you’re building and running a successful business there will be learning. You’ll learn what your customers want, how to speak to your customers, how to better address problems, how to work with employees, and how you can bring a better product or service to market. You won’t just learn these things once though, they’re things you’re learning throughout the life of your business.

So what are the basics of your business that are keys to your success?

Labor Day Reflections

Monday here in the US is Labor Day. It’s the day that we honor and remember all the contributions that the American people have made for and towards the economy and success of our country. I think it’s important to still celebrate this day because even though we’ve made some really great strides in making work accessible and safer for all, there are still some serious issues in the work place today.

When you look at the statistics about how many people are employed vs. unemployed, they don’t take into account how many people are miserable in the job they have. It doesn’t register how many people dread going to work the next day. It doesn’t consider how many people feel threatened, frustrated or ignored by their bosses and superiors. It doesn’t take into account the number of workers who have no clue what they’re doing or why they do what they’re doing. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of improvement still needed in many workplaces.

The first step to improvement is for the leadership to remember that they’re working with people, not magicians. Most staff members won’t read minds, can’t decipher gibberish, and can only do what you’ve told them to do. So when they’re not doing what you need them to do, aren’t truly helping customers, aren’t being as productive as you want them to be or keep doing things wrong, take a step back. First look at what you’ve told them to do (do your messages/requests/instructions even make sense?  Are they detailed and specific enough?). Second, look at how you’ve trained them and if you’re continuing to give them education to improve their skills. Third look at the resources available to them (can they do the job you’re asking them to do, let alone do well?).

Once sufficient and clear communication, expectations and resources have been established, only then can things improve dramatically for both workers and businesses. Are you the reason your employees are miserable and unproductive? What can you do to be the reason that you’ve got employees who look forward to coming into work, share about job openings with your business, and are happy and capable of fully supporting your customers?

The Power of Perspective

I’ve often said that life is about perspective. Your perspective can help you see what you’re doing, where you’re going and why you make the choices in your life, but only if you choose to examine your perspective. It’s also important to understand that we each have our own perspectives, and that the way I see things is probably different from how you see them. Yes, there will be times that we agree on a perspective, but other times we’ll see things differently. Seeing them differently and sharing those differences with each other means that we’re given a chance to expand our perspective and consider other perspectives. It doesn’t mean that our perspective is right or wrong, but that there’s more we could be seeing in the world.

Recently I read this quote: “Don’t listen to those who say, you are taking too big a chance. Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most important, don’t listen when the little voice of fear inside you rears its ugly head …” Neil Simon

Neil Simon brings up a good point. Michelangelo could have chosen to paint the floor, or even the walls. Countless other structures have been painted on the floors and walls, from Egypt to Pompeii to caves where ancient civilizations lived. Likewise, you can choose to be intimidated by someone who has far more experience than you or gets paid a ton more than you and and feel like what you’ve got to offer isn’t really that great or that much. But when you bring your personal perspective to the table, the balance shifts.

Each of us has something incredible to bring to the table. There were many other great painters and artisans during Michelangelo’s life who could have probably painted something similar to what he did. But how many of them would have thought to put it on the ceiling? He did, and that’s one of the reasons why he’s been remembered through the years. Don’t worry if you can’t be the biggest and best, just choose to do your best and share your perspective with the world.

The Choice of Success or Competition?

One of the keys we consistently talk about when it comes to business is people. If you don’t have customers you can’t run a business. If you run a business that uses employees but you don’t have any (or can’t keep any) you can’t service your customers. If your suppliers or partners don’t hold up their end of the arrangement, you can’t serve your customers. Sounds simple enough, right? Yes, but there are lots of layers to just simply having customers and employees and working with suppliers/partners.

There is competition in every town, every state, and every industry, so on top of the local competition you’ve got the internet competition to face as well. It’s almost impossible to find (or create) an industry that doesn’t have competition, either direct competition (i.e. other health food stores) or competition within the same field (i.e. other supermarkets). There will always be a question of whether you’re truly offering the same thing or not, the experience you have in offering/creating that item (how do you back up the value you offer) and what the difference is with price.

I believe that there are more than enough customers for everyone, so I don’t believe that you have a right to be angry at customers or employees who choose to move on. If they choose to move on they do it for a whole variety of personal reasons including moving locations, relationship changes, or health changes. Unless you’re going to make some significant changes to your business (unlikely) there’s not much you can do about keeping their business.

But they may also choose to move on because you’re not providing what they need or want. For example, if they feel like the service isn’t up to their standards (or has recently changed), if they feel disrespected or unappreciated, if they see more growth (career and knowledge) opportunities, if they don’t feel that you’re offering a quality product (or has recently changed), or if they’re not getting properly compensated for the work they do. If any of these are true then you can’t blame the other companies out there, you can only blame yourself for pushing them away.

If this is a reality check for you and you’re realizing that you’re chasing away potential life-long customers and employees your customers have always appreciated, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate how you’re leading and running the business. Learn from what the successful businesses in your world (online and local) are doing, don’t berate or antagonize your customers and employees for patronizing them or choosing to work with them when you aren’t being the great business you could be. Most businesses can be turned around from a downward spiral if they’re willing to be open to hearing the truth and make the necessary changes.

Competition isn’t the enemy of success, competition is normal and healthy. It’s up to each business to differentiate themselves, market themselves and provide 5 star service to customers whether you’re selling inexpensive toys or pricey homes.  Are you so focused on the competition that your business, customers and employees are suffering?

Dealing with Poor Communicators

Anyone who has achieved a level of success, whether someone in a career job, in a relationship, in education or as a business owner, has dealt with any number of challenges in their journey to get there. One of those challenges has to do with communication.  We’ve talked before about how essential communication is and that everyone screws up on communicating from time to time.  Communication is also something that we are (or should be) learning and working on from the day we’re born to the day we die.

The communication challenge that I want to talk about today is dealing with people who are poor communicators. These are people who refuse to justify their thoughts, just speak from the hip and never consider what they’re spewing out of their mouth, or talk about you behind your back (i.e. post a negative review about you/your service/your company without even trying to resolve it, complain to a supervisor and don’t try to discuss it with you etc.).

The first step to success in these situations is something that everyone can do whether they’re skilled at communication or not, is the practice of patience.  The second is something we’ve talked about in the past, and it’s the skill of asking questions.  When you put even just these 2 skills together, you’ve got the ability to work through many challenging communications.  Add to that some solid communication skills and you’ve got a better chance at either navigating the challenge, or dealing with the aftermath and coming out less destroyed than you might.

Some people are just happy to vent and really don’t care if things get resolved.  Some people just like to find problems and issues and again, don’t care about a resolution.  Fortunately I’ve found that both of those types of people are in the minority, and that given the chance most people do want to resolve things and are open to talking things through.

I’m not a communications expert yet, I’ve got lots to learn.  But with each new conversation I have, blog post I read, and video I watch I’m being exposed to lessons that I can learn from and apply to my life and conversations in the future. What have you been learning in your conversations lately?

Learning our Lesson

You’re probably familiar with the concept of “rubbing it in.” This is when we poke, prod, remind and joke over something someone else did and we either witnessed it or were told about it.  If you think back to the last time someone rubbed your mistake, miscalculation, failure, poor guess or their success in your face you’ll probably remember that it didn’t feel so great.   And when it happens again and again, it feels even worse.

It’s important to celebrate our success with each other. It’s also important to gently (or not so gently if the situation calls for it) correct someone.  We learn from our successes and our failures.  But we don’t learn anything except that we don’t like certain people when they start rubbing things in our face, especially repeatedly.

When someone screws up or makes a funny yes, it’s great to laugh along and see the humor in the situation.  It’s not OK to bring it up 3, 6, 9, 12 months later and be like “remember that time you really screwed up?!” even if they’ve come a long way since then.

It’s good to have a little humor at life’s mistakes.  Have a laugh, learn your lesson and move on to applying it.  Don’t drag anyone through the mud, they’re probably already kicking themselves anyway.

“…it is nice to let someone who admits an error feel better after doing so…not feel worse.” Neale Donald Walsch

Getting to Inbox Zero

Over the past few weeks something has happened that hasn’t happened in a long time: I’ve reached “Inbox Zero” on 3 of my email accounts. For someone who loves emails it’s a bit mind altering to sign into my email and see only that day’s emails and one or two others and that’s it, let alone get through that day’s email and see “you’re all caught up!” when there aren’t any emails left. It was also really rewarding too, finally getting these things taken care of as I’ve been meaning to.  I know this is something that is talked about as being a big success step, and as someone who enjoys organization and knowing where things are I thought we’d talk about how this can be possible for you and …?

There are a couple of very simple things you need to do if you want inbox zero to be something you see on a regular basis:
1-unsubscribe from emails you don’t want to receive anymore or manage your subscriptions so you’re getting fewer emails from those organizations.
2-go folder crazy. I have no problem with keeping emails, but keeping everything in the inbox isn’t helpful. Make sure everything has a place to go.
3-commit to reading emails consistently. It’s much easier to read through your emails if you’ve only got that days emails to go through.

Let’s unpack each of these a bit. First, let’s talk about folders. Folders are a way of sorting your mail so that it’s easier to find and keep, without necessarily typing in a search request. In some cases a general folder for a category is sufficient, but in many cases you’ll need a general folder and several specific sub folders. For example you may create a general family folder, with sub folders for your significant other, your kids (either individually or as one folder), one for each or all of your siblings, and folders for your parents or other family members as appropriate.

The one cheat I have with folders and inbox zero is that I’ve got a ‘to do’ folder in just about every category. It’s a folder with something I know I’ll want to review or will keep regardless of whether I read it now or in the future. I keep this folder as empty as possible, but find it’s helpful for getting stuff out of my inbox and keeping track of what I still need to read but didn’t have the current interest or time.

The second thing is that while unsubscribing from emails you don’t want is great, you shouldn’t feel shame deleting emails if you’re not in the mood to read them or the headline doesn’t speak to you, but you don’t want to unsubscribe completely. If you know that you want to get emails from the company only over the summer or only regarding to Black Friday, that’s fine, and you can stay subscribed for those times.

Finally, I think the thing to remember is that email is supposed to be a tool and support to you, rather than something that drags you down. But like many other relationships in our lives, it needs some time, attention and TLC too.  Yes, getting to inbox zero this time will take some work and time, but in the end I think it’s worth it.

A New Direction for Success

I was talking with a client this week who is taking their business in a new direction and from the conversation I was reminded of something very important: every business starts somewhere. Maybe it’s with a passion, maybe it’s to fill an obvious need, maybe it’s because you’ve got special expertise in that area, or maybe it’s just that they want the freedom and flexibility to do things their way. But whether you’re starting a business or expanding a business based on a wealth of expertise and knowledge or if you’re doing it based on an interest and passion, everyone starts somewhere.

The start is important because it should be the foundation for your business as well as the guidance that will help you developing it in the future. It’s important to start with a need in the world or knowing that there’s a community of people out there who have serious interest in this topic.

There’s no shame in where you start. The important thing is that you start and that you start somewhere smart. You can certainly have a long range plan and development ideas, but you may not be able to get everything ready for when you start and sometimes the world isn’t ready for everything either, so it’s more than OK to let things grow and develop naturally over time and as time allows.

But the start is just a start. There has to be something that happens next, and that almost always includes growth, both personal and professional. If there’s no growth you won’t be able to navigate the changes that the world goes through, the adjustments that your buyers will begin to expect over time, and you’ll look outdated and unable to meet the buyers and their needs. As you take that step to the next level or product or feature there will be some growing pains, so the more prepared you can be, the more research you can do and the more steps you can take to protect and prepare, the better.

Is your business ready to take a next step? If you’re feeling stagnant and dull it certainly may be time.

Simple Successes

This month one of the topics we’ve talked about is strength. Sometimes our lives call for us to be very strong and courageous, to take big, bold steps forward. Sometimes we have to jump, and jump high, if we want to achieve the victories. And those victories are awesome, it’s really rewarding to know that the courageous leaps you took were successful and produced as you hoped they would.

But there’s another kind of strength, that of endurance. It’s that strength that helps us run marathons and do triathlons, have 50 year marriages, overcome addictions, and solve cold cases. It’s the strength that carries us to the gym every day or support group each week, the strength that helps us keep going even when we can see how long the road ahead will be, the strength that helps us keep going even in the face of great loss.

If you ask men who compete to become the strongest man in America, or any similar competitions for men or women, you can be sure that they won’t tell you that they were just born this strong. Strength takes time, effort, commitment and talent. You get strong by putting one foot in front of the other, by saying yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no, and by having and celebrating small victories along the way to the big victories.

This week I encourage you to do one thing each day that will help you achieve a victory, big or small. You may be surprised how quickly those little victories add up to big successes.