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.

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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.

Don’t Lose Faith in Your Business

In thinking about all of the challenges and changes that the business world has been going through, from physical businesses needing to innovate or close to the big changes with GDPR being active this week, there are days when business owners think about just throwing in the towel.  I get it, it’s not fun to come up with this cool idea, do lots of development and have positive feedback from people only to find it’s not selling or the sales aren’t enough to cover the debts.  So today I thought I would share a bit of encouragement and an opportunity for reflection with you.

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” Steve Jobs

When I read this quote I thought it could be about a good thing and/or a bad thing.   It can be good if all of a sudden you realize the little or big thing that you’ve been missing, the tweak that could make a big difference or you finally get that break you’ve been looking for.  Or it could be one of those no good, very horrible, terrible, bad days (or weeks) where everything seems to go wrong or be wrong or seemingly conspire against you.

Sometimes life does go wrong, sometimes the business goes through a rough patch.  Steve Jobs didn’t have a perfect life and the business wasn’t all sunshine and roses (it still isn’t).  There are lots of people who really don’t like Apple or their products, even if they can respect Steve and the business he (and many others) built.

The question is what you’re going to do after, what comes next.  Steve encourages you to not give up faith and not stop trying.  In many cases a few tweaks and some support can help you get back on track, and even to the point of thriving.  If you’ve been struggling lately I encourage you to look for an open door or ask for help, and don’t give up faith in a better tomorrow for you or your business.

Keys to Communication

We talk about good and bad communication a lot, but what does that mean? So today I thought we’d take a look at 5 keys to becoming a good (or better communicator), as inspired by Jenni Catron.

1-communication starts with listening. Are you better at listening or talking? If you aren’t listening more than half the time, you’re probably not a good communicator. Speaking certainly has a place, but without listening and even just taking time to pause and take a breath, you’re not going to be as effective a communicator as possible.

2-know yourself. Are you naturally, normally or by default defensive? How do you react when people tell you something you aren’t expecting or don’t want to hear? Do you typically wait until things have reached a boiling point to say something? Do you leave out key details when speaking? These are important things to know about yourself as a communicator, and in general the better you know yourself, the more successful you can be.

3-sensitivity isn’t a bad thing. What kind of delivery usually goes along with your words? Do you just spit things out there or do you think about how you are going to deliver your words in a way that the other person will understand and even appreciate what you’re telling them? Do you think about when you’re sharing with others (is it 4:59pm and you’re telling someone about an issue or concern? Is it the day before the big test when you share that it’s happening?)?

4-don’t be afraid to speak your mind. This isn’t about being harsh or saying things to hurt others, but about being honest and up front about things that are concerning you or important to you. Don’t always assume that other people will shoot you down. And while the first couple of communications may be difficult or a little intimidating, the more often you speak about what’s going on, the easier it will be and more confident you’ll be doing it.

5-ask questions. Clarity and context are both very important to effective communication, and without taking the time to ask questions to make sure you get the full story, or to confirm that you’re understanding what’s being shared, you’ll miss out on not only some crucial details, but you’ll also miss out on opportunities to turn ideas into bigger and/or better ideas.

But you only become a better communicator if you’re willing to work on it and do work on it. It’s not something you’ll become great at overnight, and most of us work on being good communicators throughout our whole lives. Let today be your starting point to becoming a better communicator.

Next Generation Business Success Support

Mother’s Day is just a few days away in the US and today I’m thinking about one of the important jobs that moms (and dads) have, and that’s raising up the next generation. As business owners it’s important to not only help your employees and team members grow personally and professionally, and to offer something of value to the world through your products and services, but I believe we’ve got a very important duty to help the next generation of business owners get started, whether they’re 18 or 80, and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes we made in starting our businesses. So let’s take a look at a few ways we can all work together to ensure that the next group of business owners is just as or more successful than we are.

One way to help the next generation is talking with them. I answer probably a hundred emails and messages a week from people asking for business advice. Many leaders are willing to have you buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for picking their brain for a bit. I think this is a great way to give a little bit of your insight to help others get started. If you’re in this position of wanting to ask someone for some business knowledge, make sure that you’ve got your questions ready and you’ve read up on this person before approaching/talking with them (show them you’re not going to waste their time).

Another way to support new and considering business owners is donations to organizations that help people do more than work simple jobs, like teaching farm or computer skills, or providing the actual seeds and computers (or a donation for that purpose). I was reminded in an email this week that what seems like a very small amount of money to some of us can be a huge amount of money in other parts of the world. $75 to you or I may be a bottle of wine, a nice dinner or part of a month’s cell phone bill, but to someone in another country it means knowledge and seeds to set up a lucrative farming venture that not only feeds their family but brings in a decent income. If you’re got old computers, nice dress clothes that don’t fit, office furniture, or other resources (including money), there are tons of great charities and organizations that will take them and help them get into the hands of those who need a bit of a helping hand to get started in business.

Third, a mentorship program is a great way to help those interested in starting a business like yours, or in the same industry. It can be a way for those interested in starting a business like yours to make some money and learn the ropes from a seasoned leader. They earn at least minimum wage working for you in your business, learning all the different jobs, you teach them and answer questions as you go along, and you get a motivated and focused employee for 6 months to a year. It’s not something everyone can offer, but it’s another way to help the next generation learn how to run a business from the inside.

So how do you contribute to the next generation of business leaders? What do you think is most important for the next generation to know?

Small Business Success Smarts

It’s Small Business Week here in the US and I of course want to encourage everyone to shop with small businesses because they can offer some really great products/services and have put their hearts and souls into their businesses. The big businesses want you as a customer, but small businesses need you as a customer. Small businesses typically don’t have customers waiting in the wings to swoop in and take your place when you move on, so your business really matters. But let’s face it, there’s usually a reason why people move on from being customers of a small business. So today I thought I’d address a few of those issues and share some things you can do if you’ve got a small business to be (more) successful.

Information is one of the things that can make or break a business. Small businesses have tons of things to manage, often there are more balls they have to keep moving than they really can. So things fall by the wayside or just aren’t tended to as well as they could be. This includes updating all written information, including websites, brochures, posters, social media, signs, packaging and menus. By not updating your information people think you’re outdated and can get frustrated when things just aren’t lining up or making sense. Devoting just an hour or less a week to giving everything a once over can help to avoid some of the most unnecessary issues, and help you know what to delegate to others to take care of fixing.

Community is something else that can make or break a business, and a small business is in a great position to tap into community. Whether you’re a small business that has a physical store or not, you as the owner has a physical location where you live. So whether you’ve got a physical store or not, you’ve got a community that you can invest in and share about what you offer in. You don’t have to have a physical store to invest in the local community, and you don’t have to have a huge online selling platform to invest in marketing online. Most communities have fairs or carnivals or farmers markets during the nicer months, all of which are great opportunities for you to host a booth or have an ad, and some also have local news papers or TV stations that are in need of experts to share information for stories.

Finally, do what you do best. Small businesses are by name, small. You’re not expected to have every single product in an industry, or offer every service known to man. Focus on offering a variety of quality services and/or products that you are passionate about and are knowledgeable about, and some things that are unique to your small business. If you’re afraid of not having sufficient offerings for people, you can offer a service that you source products for people that are in line with your business, even if they’re not products you typically sell. For example if you sell coffees and teas, you don’t have to have every single variety in your store (physical or online), but you can clearly post that you can source a coffee or tea at customer request (and probably get a better deal than your customer would if they were to just buy it because of your industry connections).

These are just a few insights to help small businesses be successful. What are your tips for small business success?

Subscription Business Success

I don’t know about you but I’ve been watching the subscription industry and how it’s grown and changed over the past few years. Subscriptions started back with deliveries of milk and eggs, grew to newspapers and magazines, and has grown to include deliveries of online newsletters, and physical boxes of makeup, clothing, books and full blown recipes. I’ve ventured once or twice into a home delivery subscription of products, but I’m particular about things so I have yet to find anything current that I really want to subscribe to. But let’s talk about the business of subscriptions, and why they’re something people enjoy and why they’re successful.

One of the great things about some of the subscription options is the joint venture opportunities they create. Yes, in some cases you’re subscribing to one specific product or brand, but many of the subscription options include a variety of items that changes with each delivery. The boxes talk about being “carefully curated” to include a mix of products to try, leaving the next step up to the recipient, they can use/share the products and move on, or they can follow up with the brands in the box and purchase additional products or more of what they got in the box. For businesses, it’s a great opportunity to build a business relationship with another company, to do cross promotions with the company and to be introduced to an audience they may not have really considered before.

Subscription deliveries create recurring revenue for companies. This is a big reason that companies want to get into the subscription business, because they’re getting consistently paid without all of the work of trying to get new clients/customers. Of course you have to have great content in your box or people won’t stay subscribed, but if you can consistently provide unique items that your audience is interested in, you can keep them as a repeat customer for many years.

Subscriptions work well because they take a lot of the work out of the customer’s life. Many people will tell you that they’re too busy to do the research into picking a recipe and shopping for the right items or finding new skincare to try or finding new books to read, and let’s be honest you can do tons of research and you may never hit on the products included in the box because there are just so many different companies in every niche and industry. Subscriptions are an easy way to introduce people to the variety, novelty, and/or something bigger/better that they’re interested in finding but don’t have the time or knowledge to know where/how to look.

There are of course challenges to being in the subscription industry, including quality of products, offering something people don’t want, not having some competitive advantage or standing out from your (many) competitors, the finding a happy middle on cost of the subscription for you and your customers, and being able to keep up with demand. I don’t think the subscription industry is going anywhere any time soon, and I think there’s still room in the industry for some quality boxes and deliveries.

Have you considered offering a subscription option, and if so how far into the consideration and/or planning are you? If you offer a subscription, what have you learned from it and where do you think the industry is headed?

Refresh for Spring Success

With spring officially arriving even if we did have a snow storm where I live this week, I thought we’d talk about some ways that you can bring new life to your business.

1-add a new product or service. I get emails from companies on a regular basis announcing new collections they’re offering, new partnerships they’re doing or seasonal offerings they’ve got. There’s something exciting for both the customers and the company when a new product is added, whether it’s planned to be a permanent edition or just a seasonal or short term opportunity.

2-refresh your marketing. Maybe marketing isn’t something you’ve been consistent with for your business, or you’re just not happy with the marketing you’re doing. Spring is a great time to redesign your newsletter email, recommit to marketing consistently, create and implement a new strategy for marketing on social media, do more local marketing (yes, even if you’re just an only business), or make some updates to your website.

3-clean up. If you’ve got a physical location that customers come to, or a location where you spend a lot of time working or store products, spring is a great time to do a deep cleaning of your location, move things around, throw things out and put a fresh coat of paint on the place.  Customers will appreciate the space being neat and clean, and so will you!

4-education. Spring is also a great time to learn a new skill or get some education, both for you as the business owner as well as your employees. Whether you’re interested in expanding your services and need some education to do that, or you want to give your employees some opportunities to be more proficient or work in other areas that they currently don’t, sometimes some education can be just the thing to get you refreshed, renewed and bring new life to the business.

So what will you do to put some spring in your business?

A Refresh for Spring Success

With the official arrival of spring, I’m thinking about why many of us are so productive in the spring. I think it has to do with everything being fresh. We’re more likely to pick up the new shirt, spend time in the clean rooms, and even be with people who are more like sunshine than rain clouds. There’s something magical about going out in nature after a rainstorm, or seeing peices of history uncovered by a storm. There’s something refereshing about walking into a clean room or putting away clean clothes or finally getting things organized (that hands-on-the-hips, surveying the victory moment).

With that breath of fresh air also seems to come a burst of energy, a feeling of renewal, and a spark to the motivation that may have been missing for some time. So if you’ve been struggling with success, maybe it’s time to give yourself a little spring refresh. I get it, we’re pulled in many directions, given more to our piles rather than less, distracted by shiny things and trying to stay with the movement of life. Whether you get organized, hire help, delegate, or let go of stuff, spring is a great time to give yourself a fresh chance at success.

Spring would be beautiful if just the green stuff showed up or if we only had flowers come up, but true spring experiences are an explosion of activity, growth and new life. Spring isn’t just baby bunnies or crocuses, there are countless animals and flowers that come into bloom. It’s only when it’s all taken together that you can really see and appreciate what spring is all about. Don’t feel like you have to make “spring” happen in your life without help. Yes, you’ll have to make some potentially big decisions that you may have been avoiding, but passing on the cleaning to a cleaning crew, hiring a carpenter to build you shelving that actually works for you, deleting emails you’re never going to read, or saying no to some things you’re really not passionate about can give you the mental and physical freedom to get more done that only you can do, and only in the way that you can do it.

So on this fine spring day, what freshness will you commit to creating or welcoming in your life?