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Business culture Creativity Entrepreneurs Improvement Influence Leadership Personal development Resources Small Business strategic planning Strategy The Slight Edge

Who needs a mentor? Not me!

Note: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. See full disclosure at the bottom of this post.

Thanks to the kindness of a few people and a good mix of intent and luck, I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of people that I consider mentors or significant influencers.

In several cases, I’ve managed to work with them in person, via email or phone calls.

More often than not, I meet them at conferences – but not at conferences related to the industries I work (or have worked) in. That’s where the intent and luck take over.

Who are mine?

For me, the list is easy: Jim Rohn, Dan Kennedy, Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Dan Sullivan and Chet Holmes.

Each of them have something in common: Without hesitation, they can name a mentor who was instrumental in getting them on the right path in their earlier years. They all struggled, and in some cases, did so mightily and more than once in their lives.

At their level of achievement, the fact that they can point to a mentor who was instrumental in their success is a critical lesson. It’s one each of us should take away from observing what makes high-achieving people tick.

None of them claim to “figure it out” on their own – even though they specialize in a particular area of business and have substantially raised the level of “play” in their respective specialty.

If these people managed to find and learn from mentors, shouldn’t all of us?

Why do entrepreneurs need mentors?

You might be wondering why you even need a mentor.

A few reasons…

  • We can all use a dose of clarity now and then. Sometimes more often.
  • We need to hear a perspective that we don’t have about our challenges .
  • We need a fresh set of eyes on something we’re about to do, already doing or failed at doing.
  • We need someone to be honest with us when no one else will.
  • We need advice from someone whose experience and knowledge is far beyond on own.
  • We need to be asked the question that will transform what we do.
  • We need the counsel of someone who will provide a stern correction before we make a ridiculous mistake.

Where do you get these things now?

How do I choose mine?

I’ve found that you don’t often choose them. In fact, sometimes they happen to you or someone brings them to you. There’s a lot of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” going on when it comes to mentors.

It can take serious effort to find a mentor. You might have to pay them. Don’t cheat yourself on this – the results from working with the right mentor can (and should) be worth at least 10 times your investment – hopefully more.

Here’s the things I look for:

  • A history of success that’s 10-100 times beyond where I’ve been – in any field. Recurring success, preferably.
  • Someone who can see through me and isn’t shy about doing it.
  • An ability to ask simple questions or make simple suggestions that floor me or make me rethink my angle on something. You can find this most often through their writing (books, blogs, etc).
  • Someone who asks questions about myself or my work that I can’t immediately answer.

What would you look for?

What about other influences?

Other influencers come from outside the business world, or their influence has little (if anything) to do with business. For example, Hildy Gottlieb has a habit of making comments that provoke me to think differently and before long, that thought bubbles up and provokes some of my sharpest clarity in discussions that end up helping her. While our relationship is not at all about business, business tends to be the context where I process our conversations – at least initially.

What about you?

You might think you don’t have any business mentoring someone, but that just isn’t true. There are always people who need advice, a little wisdom, some clarity and an occasional poke in the ribs. Make yourself available to someone – it’s likely to improve far more than their life. More often than not, it’ll make you reconsider some of your own struggles, even if they are worlds apart from the person you’re mentoring.

Mentorship and influence isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s about dollars and sense – and a lot more.

 

DISCLOSURE: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business.

The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently.

Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

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attitude Business culture Creativity Customer relationships Customer service Hospitality Leadership Management Small Business

The best surprise is ?

Hotels often provide fuel for writing and a recent trip was no different.

I noticed there were some Goldfish crackers crushed on the floor as I got off the elevator at six this morning.

At the time, I figured that the staff hadn’t seen the mess yet.

Six hours later as we headed out for lunch, the mess was still on the elevator floor.

I know that the day shift manager has been on the elevator because I saw him enter it alone an hour earlier. Alone =  easy to see the mess. Yet in that hour, nothing happened.

Easy questions:

  • If a mess can stay in the hotel’s only elevator for six hours without getting taken care of, what else isn’t getting done?
  • Who on your management team is responsible for making sure messes are cleaned up promptly? The mess was still there 24 hours later.
  • What else is being neglected?

Hard question:  What are your customers assuming about your business, staff and management when they see these things go unaddressed?

Manage, don’t report

I went downstairs for coffee that early because I had planned on taking a shower – and couldn’t. When I turned on the water, nothing. When I attempted to flush the toilet, nothing. The toilet tank still hadn’t filled from the prior use the night before.

I spoke with the night shift manager, who noted my room number and said the day manager would soon arrive and check into it. Two hours later, I asked the front desk for an update on my room’s water. The day manager explained that it was out of the hotel’s control because they were in a drought and the city had a broken water main the day before. As a result, water pressures were low everywhere – including at his home.

There was no mention of this during check-in and it didn’t hamper the hotel lawn sprinklers – which ran every morning during our stay.

What should have happened?

I suspect the manager and his front desk staff eventually grew weary of the avoidable task of repeating the explanation and apology. Their handling of it made management seem out of touch, helpless and little more than someone passing along the city’s water main news.

Avoidable? Yes.

They should have taken control of the experience, even if the event itself is uncontrollable.

Most hotels of this size have a phone system that is capable of storing voice messages and probably capable of broadcasting messages to each room. If every room has a blinking “message waiting” light on the bedside room phone, many (if not most) guests would likely check the message since they wouldn’t be expecting one.

The manager mentioned seeing the water problem on “last night’s news”, and added that he’d experienced water trouble at home at 5am. Bottom line: They had the information they needed.

Armed with that knowledge, they could’ve used the hotel’s phone system to send a message to every room phone:

The city has warned us that water pressure will be very low from 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM due to high early morning demand. This will be worse in our above ground floors.

Rather than waking up to find that you have no shower or ability to flush, here’s what we recommend to make your stay more pleasant until water pressure improves:

First: Fill your bathroom trashcan with water before bedtime so you can use it to fill the toilet tank in the morning. Large families should fill both room trashcans. This will help you avoid having an un-flushed room toilet.

Shower before bed or before 5:00 am.

We have limited shower capability in the first floor pool area. We will open that area 24 hours a day for your use.

Small but meaningful steps like these are critical to making the right impression with your guests and differentiating yourself from their next (or previous) hotel stay.

Crumbs

In hospitality, everything that impacts a guest’s stay is *everyone’s* job – particularly little things like elevator messes.

You might find these complaints picky until you view them this way: People notice this stuff when looking for a place to book 500 (or 50) people for an event that will host their customers. Elevator messes and “water crisis management” are a temperature gauge. They predict future behavior.

Imagine how 500 early-rising business customers would feel about the water situation when attending a company event. Now imagine 10% of them go jogging before their first meeting, return to their room drenched in sweat and looking forward to a shower. Except, they have no water.

The best surprise, as one hotel chain says… is no surprise.

Categories
Advertising Amtrak Competition Creativity design Direct Marketing Email marketing Getting new customers Internet marketing Lead generation Marketing Restaurants Retail Small Business Travel marketing

How to Win The Three Inch Tourism War of Words

tourismbrochurerack

When I’m on the road, I always take a look at tourism brochure racks.

Take a look at this rack in the Havre Montana Amtrak station.

It’s a typical floor-standing tourism brochure rack that you might see around your town or at the local chamber of commerce office.

I took the photo at this height and angle because I wanted to simulate the view the “average” person has when scanning the rack for something interesting to do or visit.

The critical part is that this is also the likely view they have of your brochure.

If you’re the tourist and this is your eye level view:

  • Which brochures get your attention and provoke you to pick them up?
  • Which leave you with no idea what they’re for?

A critical three inches

The critical question is this: Which ones easily tell their story in the top three inches?

Those top three inches are the most important real estate on a rack brochure because that’s the part everyone can see.

Everything below that point is meaningless if the top three inches can’t provoke someone to pick it up and open it. That cool info inside and on the back? Meaningless if they don’t pick it up.

Whenever I see one of these racks, I always wonder how many graphic designers put enough thought into the design of these rack pieces to print a sample, fold it up and test drive it on a real rack in their community.

If they tried that, do you think it would change the design? How about the text and background colors how they contrast? The headline? Font sizes? Font weights? Font styles?

I’ll bet it would.

I guarantee you it isn’t an accident that you can clearly see “Visitor Tips Online”, “Raft”, “Rafting Zipline” and “Fishing”  from several feet away.

Brochure goals

The primary goal of a brochure isn’t “To get picked up, opened, read and provoke the reader to visit (or make a reservation at) the lodging, attraction or restaurant”, nor is it to jam as many words as possible onto the brochure in an attempt to win an undeclared war of words.

The first goal of the brochure is to get someone to pick it up.

That’s why you see “Raft”, “Fishing” and “Visitor Tips Online”. Either they care or they don’t. If they don’t, you shouldn’t either. From that point, it needs to satisfy the reader’s interests and need to know. If you can’t get them to look at your brochure – all that design and printing expense is wasted.

Is that the goal you communicated to your designer when you asked them to make a brochure? Or was it that you wanted it to be blue, use a gorgeous photo or use a font that “looks Victorian”?

None of that matters if they don’t pick it up.

Heightened awareness

I wonder if brochure designers produce different brochures for the same campaign so they can test the highest performing design.

Do they design differently for different displays? What would change about a brochure’s design if the designer knew the piece was intended for a rack mounted at eye level? What would change if the brochure was designed to lay flat at the check-in counter or on a desk?

Now consider how you would design a floor rack’s brochure to catch the eye of an eight year old, or someone rather tall? Would it provoke a mom with an armload of baby, purse and diaper bag to go to the trouble to pick it up?

This isn’t nitpicking, it’s paying attention to your audience so you can maximize the performance of the brochure.

“Maximize the performance of the brochure” sounds pretty antiseptic. Does “attract enough visitors to allow you to make payroll this week” sound better?

Would that provoke you to go to the trouble to test multiple brochure designs against each other? To design and print different ones for different uses?

This doesn’t apply to MY business

You can’t ignore these things if your business doesn’t use rack brochures.

The best marketing in the world will fail if no one “picks it up”, no matter what media you use.

What’s one more visitor per day (or hour) worth to your business? That’s what this is really about.

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attitude Automation Creativity Employees Entrepreneurs Setting Expectations Small Business

The search for conformity


 
The question for employers is “Do you want conformity, or something else?”

For employees, it might be “How long before a 3D printer or some other automation technology replaces me?”

For consultants, this is one way billing by the hour can make you average, depending on the work.

No matter what you do, or what others do for you, it’s worth some thought.

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Apple Business culture Creativity Customer relationships Employees Entrepreneurs Improvement Influence Leadership Management

Is your work important? Meaningful?

Like a lot of people, I was drawn to this TED talk by the death of Roger Ebert.

As you watch it, imagine how it must’ve felt to see that as a member of the speech synthesis team at Apple. Hearing Roger appreciate what they have done and describe how meaningful their work is to him, his life and his work must have been incredibly rewarding.

What a gift such validation must be for that team, in return for the gift that their work clearly gave Roger. Not just because validation was delivered at TED, but because it came from someone whose life was so intertwined in the ability to communicate.

Find meaning

Depending on what we do and perhaps because of where we do it, our work may never get validated in that way. It’s even less likely to be validated on the TED stage. I think that’s OK. After all, if your work is all about waiting for validation, maybe it’s the wrong work for you.

What isn’t OK is to spend a substantial portion of your life doing work that has little meaning to you. Is that what you want to tell stories to your grandkids about 30 years from now? I suspect not.

That doesn’t mean your work is meaningless unless you cure that terrible disease or rescue people in burning buildings. While there’s little doubt that kind of work is meaningful, but it may not be what gives *your* life meaning. That’s the difference.

Why spend your life doing work that doesn’t interest or motivate you? Why work at a place that doesn’t value what you do?

Yeah, but…

Almost everyone has had the opportunity to do what they might consider “less than meaningful” work because they have obligations to fulfill. Things like mouths to feed and bills to pay tend to trump finding meaning in people’s work, at least in the short term.

Even if you’re in that mode – and particularly if you expect to be there a while – find a way to make that work meaningful to you until another opportunity presents itself.

The speech synthesis team at Apple didn’t likely start their programming careers on that work, but something from their past that they found meaning in probably led them to it. Some of them likely had rather winding journeys to that team, so don’t feel like you have to be doing the work of the next Jonas Salk on day one. If you are, that’s great – but it might not work out that way when you start.

What are you working on? Where is it leading you?

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Business culture Competition Creativity Improvement Marketing Small Business Software business

How easy is your stuff?

Sure, it’s a bit of a setup.

Yet it’s hard to fake a fifth grader.

Is your stuff this easy to work with?

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Apple attitude Business culture Creativity Small Business

Do better sameness?

“Do better sameness.”

That’s a comment from Guy Kawasaki, made starting a discussion about what he learned from Steve Jobs. It refers to what some advisors will tell you to do – ie: improve incrementally.

Improving incrementally is a fine thing to strive for on a daily/weekly basis, but not so much on an annual basis. Incremental improvement really can’t be the only thing you do if you are attempting to revolutionize a market, “change the world” (or some aspect of it) and the like.

This talk was given the day after Steve’s death.

Guy’s list 

  • Don’t listen to “experts/gurus”, particularly if that’s how they describe themselves. Experts who *are doing* or have done what you want to do – that’s another story entirely.
  • Customers cannot tell you what they need. You can ask customers how to improve something, but you cannot ask them how to revolutionize something. It’s not their focus. There are exceptions, of course. If you meet a customer who has this sort of vision, listen, discuss, brainstorm with them.
  • The biggest challenges beget the best work. Guy indicated this is the reason why Apple employees love working there. They get to do their life’s work.
  • Design counts, especially in a world defined by price. He includes quality as a component of design, just so you aren’t focused solely on elegance and the like.
  • Use big graphics and a big font.
  • Jump curves. Be 10 times better, not 10% better. Ice factory to refrigerator. Telegraph to telephone. Daisy wheel printers to laser printers. Dan Kennedy talks about the best businesses skipping rungs in the ladder while competitors improve rung by rung – same thing.
  • All that really matters is that something “works” or “doesn’t work”.
  • Value is different from price.
  • “A” players hire “A” or “A+” players. “B” players hire “C” players. “C” players hire “D” players. Guy calls this the “bozo explosion.”  Hire people that are better than you at whatever position. People who can be micro-managed are not A/A+ players.
  • Real CEOs can demo – which means they can not only speak well with a crowd but understand the user experience their products provide.
  • Real entrepreneurs ship, not slip.
  • Some things need to be believed to be seen.

Definitely worth a listen. Watching it isn’t really necessary as there are no slides in Guy’s talk, but you might miss some important little nuggets if you don’t focus on Guy’s comments.

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attitude Business culture Corporate America Creativity Customer service Leadership

The Customer is Wrong

The customer is wrong. He knows it before he asks. And yet, Jackie delivers.

Do you think that guy will ever forget that visit? How many people has he told about it?

Answer: Enough that it ended up on Gawker.

Is someone like Jackie creating experiences like this for your customers?

 

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Creativity Marketing Retail Wal-Mart

Just a few steps away

I recently noticed that Dr. Scholls has made a transformation with their digital custom orthotics machines.

Just a few short months ago, they had their stand-on digital fitting gear in metro areas but not many other places.

Either the plan changed or we’re seeing phase 2…. the Walmart rollout. They now have these machines in many Walmart stores.

So I use their search to see if my local Walmart has a machine and I notice a little detail on the map results: “17 miles or approximately 32342 steps“.

A natural, in-context thing to include on a map from a place that sells foot products.

A little thing, but a sign that they’re paying attention to the little stuff too. Are you?

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Business model Competition Creativity Economic Development Improvement Positioning Small Business Software business strategic planning

Is your craft becoming a commodity?

We’ve talked about this before, but it merits another mention whether you are a programmer, web designer or woodworker.

Written by Christian Heilmann in *2009* and borrowed from a slide in Nathan Smith‘s presentation: “Sass and Compass, The Future of Stylesheets Now” (cool info, BTW), the graphic’s comment is about programming, but could be about any number of skills.

Is your craft changing? Is it already commoditized or moving that direction?

In the past, we’ve talked about your work being outsourced to other countries (some that are perhaps thought of as third world countries) and how the work you do cannot be as valuable as it once was if this is even possible.

It isn’t that the work is no longer valuable. It’s that the ability to produce that kind of work has become more common and the skill to do so is no longer a true rarity/specialty.

Is that the kind of work you’re doing/selling?

Is that the positioning you want in the future, much less now?

It’s no longer about the code. Hasn’t been for some time.