Leading your team to goal setting

Last week, I suggested that you communicate company goals to each team member so that your company-wide goals have context for them in their daily work and with their department’s goals. That’s only part of the job when working with team members and goal setting. The other part is making sure they have a process for identifying what they want to accomplish and how they will break it down and knock off the steps required to make departmental and personal goals happen.

Goal setting training?

You might be looking at that last paragraph and wondering how it is possible that anyone on your team doesn’t already have a process they’re happy with for goal setting. Have you asked them what process they use for identifying, prioritizing and achieving goals? For a business owner, this may not seem possible, but business owners usually have a different worldview, mindset, background (and so on) from at least some of their staff.

To shine a light on that thought: In all the companies I’ve worked for and with since I started post-collegiate work in the early ’80s, not one offered (much less required) goal setting training of any kind to help employees or teams with this critical responsibility.

NOT ONE. How is this possible?

Even if your team members have a goal setting / achievement process they are happy with, do you know how it fits with the process your company uses? What if yours is better? How will learning yours impact their work and life? What if THEIRS is better? How would that change the lives of the entire team and the future of the company?

Yes, training.

The same way that it’s possible for companies to forget to train their people on project management, process management, product management, etc. The assumption at companies that don’t do this may be that “We hired an experienced person, so we expect you to know this.”

That’s great, but if the experienced hire hasn’t been trained, or uses a sloppy, misguided or incomplete method – who pays for that? Even if the method is good, but it’s incompatible with your company’s process, it’s worth discussing.

Are these things a part of your employee on-boarding? Are you showing them where the health insurance forms are and how to file expense reports, but failing to provide them with information (and training) on the company’s preferred goal setting process? Are you spending any time acclimating them to how project management is done at the company?

Are they being trained on the systems and tools your company uses to communicate, manage projects, collect and review feedback, store ideas, plan projects and identify goals? If not, how will they thrive in your system?

People systems are as important as other systems

It’s all too easy to see a need in a company, hire for it, plug someone into a position and turn them loose like a replaceable part. You may feel that your front line people can be handled that way since they aren’t viewed as a strategic hire. I suggest that they are because they are customer-facing, but it’s more than that and goes back to our discussions last week where giving context to company goals is critical to achieving them.

When you take that concept of giving your team context to company goals and apply it to the systems across your entire company, even the front line staffer needs to know your systems and the importance of using them. How else will they determine and achieve their goals? How else will they know the importance of passing along client feedback, much less how to do it?

One of management’s responsibilities is to see that the staff has the systems and training to handle everyday situations. You train them to run the register, but it shouldn’t end there. What are you doing to prepare them to become of strategic value to your company? We see stories on a regular basis where someone started at an entry level position at a large company and somehow managed to end up as the company’s CEO (or as the company’s owner). These things don’t happen by accident.

How you prepare someone to become an integral part of your success is more important as any other training you provide. Train, mentor and guide them – even if you don’t plan for them to become CEO.

Strategic notepad: Small Business Saturday

The Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday rushes are over. If things are going as planned, your sales are on target with no signs of missing your revenue budget for the holiday season. Unless things are going poorly, you might not have started thinking about what you’ll do differently next year – yet now is the perfect time to plant the seeds for those changes.

Why am I asking this moments after the Black Friday / Small Business Saturday / Cyber Monday trifecta? Because the wounds from the sting of procrastination, “didn’t have time to get it all done”, and “shoulda / woulda / coulda” you suffered through the last few days are still sensitive. While the tenderness remains, and the rushes are behind you, it’s time to take a brief moment to reflect on what you learned the last few days, and continue to make note of what you notice over the next few weeks. How long is brief? Long enough to make a note. This doesn’t need to be an afternoon of deep thought.

In the heat of these rushes, did you notice things you’d forgotten to do, prepare for or setup prior to Thanksgiving? Did you notice things that weren’t organized or communicated as well as you would have liked? Did you notice things that could be improved? Write it down.

Simple examples: Did your business run out of coffee, shopping bags, change, receipt paper or rewards plan signup materials? Were all of your shifts covered with enough people, but not too many? Did you have enough inventory on special items? Were shelves restocked/pulled enough? Did a certain group of customers not show up? Did you have the new client traffic you expected? Write it down.

Planning and backdating for Small Business Saturday

You probably have a list that helps you keep things sane for November / December, and that list probably includes tasks that have to be performed months earlier. Are these items already on your calendar with perpetual reminders? Are they backdated to build in sufficient time for completion? Are their prerequisite tasks given sufficient lead time to avoid cascading deadline failure?

For example, to get a mailing / email / Facebook promo (better yet, all three) out prior to Thanksgiving weekend, your marketing calendar needs tasks for promotion planning, email sequence planning, ad / email copywriting, artwork creation, printing, etc. You can’t wait till November 1st to start. If it didn’t happen this year, build it into next year’s calendar so it DOES happen. Write it down.

Write it down now, consider and plan later

While the memory of your “How did we miss / forget that?” moments are fresh, take a moment to make some notes so that when you have some solitude / planning time, you don’t forget the little things you noticed as the rushes occurred. Put a pad next to each register, next to the phone, next to the coffee pot, next to the back door, next to where you keep today’s mail.

Notepads in all of these places allow you and your team to jot down something in the heat of the moment while “that thing” is fresh in your mind. Take a moment at the end of the day to consolidate (and date) the notes for the day. If there’s anything you can take immediate action on, get that done ASAP and review the rest later.

It’s critical that you go back over what went well and can be improved, as well as what didn’t go so well. Don’t wait until you finally relax for a few minutes after January’s inventory and try to remember the little things that happened weeks earlier. You won’t remember them and that will likely mean you’ll encounter them again next year. Keep these notes and your calendar for 2016 updated with the things you notice every day for the next 5-6 weeks.

Include your staff in Small Business Saturday planning

Encourage and remind your staff to write these notes and initial them so they can provide more details when time permits. They probably see different things than you do, and often from a different perspective. Their feedback will likely have a more direct impact on your clients’ experience as well as the ability of your staff to deliver to the best of their ability.

Take advantage of the lessons, gotchas, highs and lows. Write them down.

When the smoke clears, will your reputation?

No one in the Pacific Northwest has to be reminded that this is the worst fire season since 2003.

Depending on what you do a bad fire season could be a boon, a bust or a non-issue to your business. Over the last couple of weeks, we had communications and marketing oriented conversations focused on the folks whose businesses are placed at risk by a bad fire season.

There’s a different kind of business impacted by fires, natural disasters and similar events: those who provide things like tanker trucks, field rations and related convenience items, construction supplies (lumber, drywall, tools etc) and so on.

If a scene like this summer means that you will be extra busy for the next year or so, perhaps more, good for you – particularly if you are a trusted member of your community (business and otherwise).

However obvious this may seem, it needs to be said…

A reputation setting recovery

The way you and your staff serve your clients from now until the recovery is over – regardless of what’s being recovered from – will set the tone for your business’ future.

Some will eventually give you a second chance, but for most, this is the one chance your business will get to show its colors. It will seal the reputation of the business, its owner(s), managers and staff.

Captain Obvious, you say? Perhaps, yet we continue to see examples where businesses have behaved so badly that governments feel obligated to put “no gouging” laws into place.

The thing is, pricing is the least of your problems. People understand that pricing gets a little crazy when resources are constrained. Supplies are often harder to get, and they’re often competing for scarce transportation facilities including berth time at port, dock time at warehouses, much less truck drivers or semi-trailers to haul those supplies. Qualified people are in demand, which tends to create overtime hours.

Do your clients want to wait or pay overtime-related costs? Ask them.

Communicating the challenge

When these situations occur and drive up your costs, communicate the situation as frequently, quickly and clearly as possible. Communicate what you’ve done to try and work around the situation. Ask your clients for ideas and connections in their network that could help you serve them a bit better.

You never know when a client might have access to resources or connections that could solve a problem that’s simply “killing” you – and those things may be out of reach without a little insider help. Even worse, if these clients know what’s blocking your progress and they know their resources / connections could help but you keep telling them you have things under control – how could that damage your relationship / reputation?

It’s OK to ask for help.

Resource problems aside, be sure that any abnormal delivery timeframes, costs, staffing challenges or other potentially damaging issues are communicated well. Transparency works. Small businesses use it as a competitive advantage vs. larger, better funded competitors during good times, why not use it during challenging, resource-constrained times for the same reason?

Call volumes are unexpectedly high, but your call is important to us…” – something you’d never say to a client before putting them on hold. Yet you only get this greeting when reputation damage is most likely to happen.

We don’t remember that the cable internet met their 99.9% uptime goal last year, but we remember each of the 43.8 minutes of downtime per month that this uptime goal allows for – and that the downtimes happened at inopportune times.

We remember when we consistently get a transparent answer or explanation.

The mindset that risks it all

The “they have no choice, I will get (and keep) the business no matter how I act” mindset can infect everything from sales and service to receivables and delivery. Once observed in one part of the business, it’s a matter of time until it crawls elsewhere.

I won’t belabor this, because the kind of business owner or manager who would let this behavior happen wouldn’t likely read my work. Despite that, check out the short 30 seconds it takes Vince Lombardi to describe the obligation that team members have to do their best on every play of every game.

Print readers, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKN3rvrWyvg&feature=youtu.be&t=0m50s

 

I love companies with slow computers

How much money do you waste by making your staff wait for computers?

For slow networks?

For slow internet?

For slow computers?

How hard do you make it for them to get their work done?

How many times has a hotel desk clerk apologized to you at check in time because their computer was not behaving, was slow, or was down? I don’t travel all that much, but I hear this fairly often.

How many times do you get similar messages from retail employees, or from customer service reps that you’re on the phone with?

Regularly, for me.

Is your staff’s productivity hamstrung like this? What impression does a recurring “I’m sorry, my computer is slow, thanks for your patience” message leave with your clients?

I love companies like this – when they’re competition for my clients. Don’t be one of them.

Your systems should focus on your clients

Do your systems serve your internal customers or all of them?

By internal customers, I mean your accounting department, the staff on the shipping dock, customer service representatives, sales people and so on.

Systems that serve your internal customers do things such as accept, validate and record orders, track commissions, automate shipment notifications, manage inventory and a multitude of other things necessary to make sure that orders for products and services are properly fulfilled.

These systems (investments, really) serve your “real” clients as well, but in many cases their service to the client is indirect. I say indirect because your client rarely sees this service, even though they benefit from it. These systems enable your staff to serve your clients, keep track of where their package is and keep track of the fact that they’ve paid their bill. That’s service they benefit from – even if it is indirect.

Clearly, these investments are valuable. My assertion is that these systems don’t often focus on the client’s needs, even though they ultimately serve that client.

For example?

You knew I’d have an example or two.

You’ve probably seen a cryptic medical bill at some point. These bills have improved vs. the bills of five or ten years ago, but they could still be easier to read. Focusing on client needs might mean making the effort to create a customer-focused bill where info other than the total amount due is intelligible to the patient and their family.

A recent cold snap snuffed the battery in my wife’s car. When I went to replace it, I had to take it to a different store in the national (but locally owned) chain where I buy auto parts. Because the store’s systems are focused on internal customer needs, they were able to see inventory in stock and tell me which stores in the area had the battery I needed. While that’s useful information to help me get a new battery, it fell short of the staff’s needs and my own.

Unfortunately, they had no way to access my purchase information from a few years ago so that they could provide the appropriate discount on the new battery, since the old one expired during the warranty period.

The last time I bought a battery from these guys, they calculated the discount from the date on the battery (ie: the month and year that are picked off at the counter when the sell it to you). This time, that date was considered irrelevant. Further, I was scolded for not having a three year old receipt (which I probably have, but haven’t found).

I asked for advice to avoid this in the future, since I was used to the prior system where the pick-off date on the battery was what the trusted. The guys at the counter suggested that I tape the new receipt to the battery so that I’d have it next time. It seems like a good idea, but tape plus battery plus Montana weather times three or more years tells me that reading that receipt might not be so easy in the future.

Where’s my warranty discount?

The discount was trivial and really isn’t the point, but the situation provides a good example of a business system that primarily serves internal customers. The store that sold me the new battery has the ability to check inventory of the store where I bought the old battery and get a part from that store – both of these features primarily serve internal customer needs. A missing internal customer need that would also serve the external customer would allow store personnel to confirm a purchase at another store in the chair, as well as track the purchase for warranty purposes.

You’ve seen this before. Pharmacies are able to track prescriptions at any of their stores and refill them in any other store even if the original was called into a pharmacy thousands of miles away. To be sure, there are laws covering the record keeping of these purchases, but they could make it much more difficult to buy in the second location than they do.

Why do they buy from you?

The point is that your clients have a choice. If your internal systems make it easier for your clients to buy, redeem, refill, obtain service, and buy again…. they’ll likely buy from you.

Big Data, Small Business

Last week, we talked about questions.

Questions tend to produce answers and more questions, which can result in a pile of stuff that overwhelms a small business.

As a business and client base scales, these questions produce data that you can use for guidance, decision making and to ask even better questions. Again, this can result in a pile of stuff (data, in this case) that overwhelms a small business.

A common reaction to this phenomena is to ignore the data, or to be so overwhelmed by its volume that you can’t discern anything from it. Entrepreneurs tend to want to do it all and if they can’t do that, doing part of it seems like a failure. It isn’t.

Identifying your big data

Let’s look at one of the questions from last week’s post and see which ones are likely to produce decision-making data.

How does this impact our key performance indicators? Examples: cost per lead / new client / sale / deployment, support load, lead time, etc.

This implies that you already know your cost per lead, cost to acquire a new client, cost per order/sale, cost per deployment, average lead time per product/service and the support/customer service load your products and services require. Not gut feel, but actual numbers.

Actual numbers are important because our gut is often right when it comes to strategic decisions and the like, but it seldom has a clue when it come to numbers like cost per lead – particularly if you’ve never watched it.

Lead cost, sources, media and campaigns

For example, what impacts cost of a lead at your business?

Lead source is a good place to look.

You might get leads from referrals (cheap and strong, warm leads), from local TV ads, from local newspaper ads, from different media in your education-based marketing, from the phone book (yes, some businesses still depend on those leads), from direct mail (likewise, still quite productive if used properly), from your website, mobile app, and so on.

Each of these have different creation and distribution costs. Each will produce a different lead flow, much less volume and types of client. While in the beginning, you’re likely to lump all of this data together, at some point you need to break them out by media and eventually, by campaign.

You’ll want to do that so that you can answer questions like this:

  • How do you know which media produces the most profitable clients?
  • How do you know which campaign (and on which media) produces what number and type/quality of client?
  • How do you know if a particular campaign works well on one media, but terribly on another?
  • How do you know which media (or campaign) tends to produce clients that are high maintenance to the point that you tend to fire them or not accept them in the first place?
  • How do you know which media produces the best (however you define that) clients you have? Is there a specific type of campaign that does this?

From time to time, an owner will tell me that their businesses doesn’t do any marketing so this kind of thing doesn’t help their business. If that’s really true, you’ll usually have referral sources that produce more and better leads than referrers do.

Would it be helpful to know who is sending you the best referrals?You probably have a gut feel on this, but are you sure that it’s accurate?

Thinking back on those questions

Given the detail on the one question of cost per lead, you can see how this can become overwhelming in a hurry. Don’t fall victim to that. Take it a step at a time.

You may start with another metric. Cost per lead is important for almost everyone, but it isn’t always the best place to start.

When you ask questions like “How did the pilot program go?” – it might provoke follow up questions about the data collected during that pilot which would support the “How did it go?” question.

If those answers aren’t backed with data, then that might provoke you to add data collection to your pilot projects in the future. This will take more time but it will produce better answers that don’t depend on gut feel or a need to be right.

Better answers are what we’re looking for.

Save your bacon: Backup your stuff

Today was yet another one of those days that come far too often.

A day when someone tells me their computer crashed and they have no backups. For months.

This isn’t a computer at home that’s used for email, Facebook and maybe an occasional game. This computer is used to manage their customers’ technical data and no one has bothered to back it up. We’re talking several gigabytes of contact information, among other things.

The stumper for me is this: Despite the fact that a sizable portion of this company’s tens of millions in revenue depends on the data this software manages, they haven’t backed it up for months.

Computers can come and go – it’s the data that matters. Except for specialty units like servers and such, many of the computers that do what this one does could be replaced by new, much faster hardware for $300-$400. But none of that matters much if you don’t backup your business data.

Every time I think I should give clients a choice about backing up the data created in systems I create, one of these situations pops up to remind me that no choice is necessary.

I have to keep my clients’ best interest at heart *even when they don’t*.

It happens.

Know anyone whose dog chewed through a computer’s power cord? I do. Ever had the power fail while you were doing something important? Did it mess up your data? It will.

Ironically, I lost power a few hours after I wrote the outline for this piece.

Ever had a client call and tell you their computer was stolen and their backup media was sitting on top of the computer – and it’s gone too? I have. Don’t make me nag and wag my finger at you. Backup your stuff

Backup your stuff

Take your business data seriously. Yes, it’s one more thing to do, even though you can automate it – just be sure those automated backups really do work. Do it every week, if not every day for stuff that you truly cannot afford to lose. Don’t be that person who calls and says “…..and we haven’t backed up since…”

The second most important thing about backups is that you can restore them. Save a copy of the backup on a different device – not the same drive your data is on. If your backups are on the same hard drive as your data, you’re doing it wrong. If that drive dies, your backup dies with it.

At least once a month, try to restore on your backups to a different computer. If you can’t, you’re no better off than the businesses who don’t backup at all.

That electricity thing…

I’m a little NASA-ish when it comes to backup power systems. I have an APC SmartUPS uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with automatic voltage regulation (AVR) on every computer as well as the TV. Yes, I really do mean every computer.

While I rarely watch the tube, I don’t want to replace it if I don’t have to. The UPS units are why I have servers that still run after 10 years.

Computers like stable electricity. They, like your data, are an asset. Depending on what type of computer you use, you might be able to replace it for a couple of hundred dollars – but you can’t replace the data.

You can’t get the time back that you’ll waste replacing hardware, reinstalling software, reconfiguring your network and finally, re-keying your data – if you have it.

A $200-300 UPS will pay for itself with the first outage. Having even two minutes to close files and shut things down normally before firing off an email saying “losing power” etc is worth every penny vs. having it all shut down in a millisecond with no notice, damaging data as it goes down.

If and when electricity spikes or failures cream your machine or your data, there is rarely anything your computer person can do to make things right. Quite often, it’s time to replace the computer and start over.

Sound like fun? It isn’t. Save your bacon. Backup your data. Test your backups by restoring them to a different machine. Sleep better at night.

Worth saying twice: I have to keep my clients’ best interest at heart *even when they don’t*.

Busy business owners have no time for this

Last time, we spent a good bit of time talking about the need to help your staff perform their best work.

What about the stuff that no one would consider their best work, but is “work that must be done and since no one else is here to do it, I will.

Studies have been performed to determine what CEOs do during their work day – mostly to see what makes the great ones so special, productive and different from the average ones. One thing stands out: the average CEO says they only spend about 25% of their day doing what they feel is meaningful work.

Meaningful work did not include “pushing paper”, reading emails and attending meetings that they felt had no business attending.

Does that sound similar to your typical day as a business owner / manager? I believe business owners have no time for this.

Avoid strategic work

Management may unintentionally avoid strategic work by spending too much of their day doing low-value work – and often make it worse by doing it manually.

It starts by not seeking a better way to deal with tasks that we’ve always done a certain way because that’s the way we learned.

When business owners and managers make meeting arrangements or other appointments for themselves by playing phone or email tag with the other people involved vs. using a tool like Doodle that can resolve the “Sorry, I’m busy then but I can meet two hours later” problem automatically, rather than by repeatedly interrupting each person involved in the appointment.

You may also spend time opening mail, sweeping the shop and performing other low value tasks. No question, these tasks must be performed. However, are you the one who should be doing those things?

I don’t think so.

Business owners have no time

Is it not valuable to sweep the floor? To make sure the windows are clean? To open the mail? To drive to Costco to pickup a truckful of TP? To answer the phone professionally and be helpful to the caller?

Of course these things are valuable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the one to actually perform those tasks. Your job is to make sure your systems assure that this work happens and your training makes sure it gets done the way you would do it so you have the time to focus on the CEO work that you and only you can do.

Devaluing it by saying the work is below you sends a dangerous message to your staff. It isn’t that this work is below you. In fact, if you think that, you should rethink it. It’s very dangerous to believe this work is below you, because you will eventually communicate that belief to your staff, explicitly or otherwise.

Below you isn’t the point.  The real issue is that in smaller businesses, you’re often the only one who can perform the business’ most valuable work.

Me and only me?

Exactly.

One of the ways that you can identify this work is by breaking down the work you do into two lists:

  • $10 an hour work
  • $100 an hour work

Put the work you do in a typical day / week / month into those two categories.

There’s probably work done at your place that’s between those spots, but we’re talking about the work YOU do.

Now that you have your list – look at all that stuff on the $10 an hour list. My guess is that all of it can be delegated.

Now look at the $100 an hour list. How much on that list can ONLY be done by you and no one else?

Make a new list, call it what you like – say a $25 an hour list. Everything that’s on the $100 an hour list that someone else can do to your satisfaction, even if it takes training, systems, etc – put it on that list.

What’s left on the $100 hour list should be the things that only you can do. Here’s the kicker… there’s probably a $500 or $1000 an hour list of things you should be doing but never get around to. Dangerous to let that work slide.

Review the lists regularly. Business changes and so does your work.

Next Stop?

Have your managers and senior staff take a look at this process and see what they should be working on vs. what they can delegate.

Prevent lost customers with these five words

Small businesses are always interested in getting more new customers, but sometimes forget that keeping existing customers is less expensive than the cost of replacing them.

While products, services and customer support are critical to the health of your business, it’s critical to maintain a strong connection with your customers through properly timed communications.

Tending to this connection and nurturing into a relationship is critical to the health of your business.

Think about the businesses you frequent most often. Do they communicate in a way that encourages trust, doesn’t waste your time or take you for granted?

These things build a good business relationship just as they do a personal one.

Five words can help you stay focused on helping your small business prevent lost customers and improve the quality and effectiveness of your communication with clients.

Collect

Despite the obvious need to stay in touch or be forgotten, most businesses fail to setup a consistent, cost-effective system to collect contact information from their customers. 

10 years ago, most people would give up their contact info much more readily than they will today – and for good reason. Combine spammers, data breaches by hackers (or data shared by them) and the all too often inappropriate use of customer data, your clients have plenty of reasons to have second thoughts about passing along their contact info – even if it’s nothing more than their email address. 

These days, it has to be worth it to let you into their email box, even though it is (usually) easier than ever to leave their email list.

Think about the last time you gave someone your email address. Did they treat it well, thus appreciating that you allowed them to email you? Did they abuse the privilege?  Did they send info that clearly had nothing to do with you, your needs, wants and desires – or did they nail it?

Imagine how much trust it takes for them to give you their full contact info. Are you honoring that trust? Given the data breaches in the news these days, this is a taller order than it used to be.

Talk

Most small businesses don’t communicate enough with
their present customers in multiple, cost-effective
ways.

I say multiple because what works for one doesn’t always work for another. If you have a great Android smartphone app to communicate with your customers, where does that leave customers who own iPhones? What about customers who don’t have smartphones?

Different people favor different communication media because they retain info better in their media of choice, be it direct mail, a blog, a smartphone app or a podcast. If you don’t make it easy and convenient to consume, you’ll automatically prevent some people from receiving your message – no matter how urgent or important.

Remind

Most small business owners don’t know when they’ve lost a customer, and even when they do, most don’t communicate often enough with these “lost” customers via cost-effective methods.

Without up-to-date contact info and valuing your former customers’ time, your message either fails to reach the person or is of so little value, they ignore, unsubscribe or worse.

What could be worse? They forget you ever existed.

Clean

Do you keep your customer list clean?

Clean means you deal with bounced emails, returned mail and bad phone numbers so that your contact attempts get to the right place. For communications that require an investment, this helps make sure the money you spend actually gets the message delivered.

Segment

Do you communicate to different customer groups with a message fine tuned for their needs, wants and desires – or do you sent the same message to everyone?

Many small business owners waste a tremendous amount of time, goodwill and/or money contacting their entire client list rather than using finely tuned advertising and marketing, which keeps costs low and skyrockets results.

Even if you don’t use direct mail, there’s a lot to lose if you don’t make sure the right message reaches the right people.

How many times have you received a great “new customer promotion” deal even though you are a customer of that company? What messages does that send?

Proper communication is essential – and it’s far more than broadcasting your message to anyone with a heartbeat.

Who benefits when snow, cold and ice shut down a town?

All over the U.S., winter seems to be having a little fun with us.

While in many places, we’re also having fun with it – a lot of places are pretty well shut down by this year’s winter road conditions. Without the staff and equipment to handle serious (for their area) winter storms, many communities are left to play an economically troubling waiting game until the roads melt.

In Atlanta, the highways were strewn with abandoned cars. In Birmingham, traffic was bumper to bumper at one a.m., despite what looked like not much more than wet streets.

Having little experience with this sort of weather, no snow tires and living in a community whose plow staff and equipment are limited or non-existent for obvious reasons – people were just stuck, both at home and elsewhere.

Who benefits in normally warm climates?

For one, companies who support telecommuting.

The obvious benefit is that those employees or contractors were already home (or close – like at a local coffee shop) rather than some distance away in an office park or commuter traffic.

What isn’t so obvious is the lack of strain on their families because those people are simply… home. Yet they can still work. The technology to access everything that’s needed from home has improved vastly in the last few years and it continues to improve.

Not every business can support full-time telecommuting, but almost every business has “desk jobs”, such as design, technology, administrative, sales, and customer support – all of which are telecommute-friendly.

Consider being flexible enough to suggest that staffers with “desk jobs” work from home on bad weather days or when it’s expected.

It’s a simple idea… have you tried it?

What about trust?

You might say “We can’t trust some people to do a full day’s work at home.”

There are at least two problems with that.

1) If you can’t trust them to do a full day’s work at home, what else can’t you trust them to do? And if you can make a list of such things, why are people you can’t trust working for you in the first place?

2) If they struggle to reach the office and leave early in hopes of arriving safely at home, are they doing a “full day’s work”?

Opportunity with frost on it

One thing people tend to realize when they’re stuck at home is how sensitive their lifestyle is to “being out of (whatever)”.

If you sell “whatever”, I hope you deliver it. If you don’t want to deliver it, that’s OK.

However, if they buy it often enough, be thoughtful enough to recognize how often they buy it – and remind them so they don’t run out. You don’t have to be a nag, just remind a little – and offer to deliver if you wish.

Studded Snows

While these problems don’t impact people in the North too much, “bad” weather opportunities exist in cold climates as well as warm. When it’s nasty outside – regardless of what “nasty weather” means, people tend to stick close to the business until closing time.

Where’s the opportunity in that?

Restaurants properly equipped to travel in these conditions can deliver food. Grocery and other “retail essentials” like pharmacies could do the same.

Pickups and deliveries of products and employees are an option when normal means won’t work and time is critical. How can you help your clients simply get things done?

These things are common sense, but how many times has a restaurant called your office during a blizzard and offered to bring your staff lunch?

Have you gotten an email from a local shop or auto dealer asking if anyone at your business had a car that needed attention? On a day when the roads are not so hot, they could pick up and deliver a vehicle rather than having service people sitting around waiting for service appointment no-shows.

One more thing

These opportunities aren’t always limited to your community.

The obvious way for your business to reach beyond your local community is your website. I know, it’s 2014 and maybe I shouldn’t have to mention it, but there are still a lot (yes, a lot) of businesses out there without websites.

Is there something you do that can be sold beyond your community’s borders?

Photo credit: Kevin W. Burkett