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.

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*.

If I owned a fitness center

In the process of elliptical-ing across some wide open (virtual) spaces recently, I thought to myself, “What would I change if I owned this place?”

I might warm up the pool a couple of degrees, but that really isn’t the kind of change I meant.

The things that came to mind were in the spirit of “Be indispensable“.

So what would make that place the ONLY place to be a member?

When I have these conversations with a client, the first thing we often talk about are their clients.

We start simple. Who are they? What do they need?

A Day in the Life

To answer the “Who are they?” question, let’s look around at a day in the life of a fitness center and see how we can segment the members (customers) into groups based on gender, age, level of fitness, “Why they are there”, and so on.

I don’t mean a group like “People who need/want to work out.” Obviously, most people who join qualify for either need to or want to.

I’m thinking about a list like this, and I’m sure it’s far from complete:

  • Professional or semi-pro athletes, such as people who regularly marathon, triathlon and/or Ironman. You might include players for the local semi-pro teams. Around here, the Glacier Twins and/or Glacier Knights would be included.
  • Bodybuilders.
  • Post-partum moms who want to get their “pre-pregnancy body” back.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Men recovering from heart surgery.
  • Anyone newly diagnosed with diabetes.
  • People who are new to working out.
  • “Formerly disciplined workout people” who haven’t worked out in five, ten or more years.
  • People recovering from an injury, possibly under the direction of a physical therapist.

Within these groups, you’ll find breakdowns for gender and/or age group. Don’t underestimate those.

Everyone should be considering the sizable wave of Baby Boomers heading into their 60s-70s-80s might impact their business and what opportunities they suggest. Likewise, research has repeatedly shown that women control or influence 80% or more of household spending.

Is your business catering to these groups? If not, is your business even passingly friendly to these groups?

I Have Needs

The second question on my list was “What do they need?”

Until you create the list above, your needs list might be simpler than it should be because you might just be thinking “What do my members need?”.

Once we’ve gone through the customer (and prospect) identification and segmentation process, we’ll find more needs.

That’s why we go through this probably tedious, sometimes eye-rolling process that almost always helps you find new things that your customers need. The result should be obvious.

What do they need?

Now look back at that list of customer types from a “wants and needs” perspective. Consider the needs of body builders, post-partum moms, heart patients, and semi-pro athletes, for example. In some ways, they’re similar. In others, they have wildly different expectations.

They all need machines/weights, steam room, hot tub, pool, showers, restrooms and so on.

After that, the needs among the groups vary quite a bit:

  • Some would benefit most from instruction and/or working in groups.
  • Some prefer private facilities.
  • Some prefer gender-specific workout times/rooms.
  • Some prefer age-specific.
  • Some work evening or night shift.
  • Some would prefer to find a workout partner for motivation, spotting weights and/or accountability.
  • Some would like to be gently nagged if they don’t show up 3 times a week.

One example of many obvious ones: You wouldn’t necessarily have 20-somethings in a Yoga class with 60-somethings. Not because they can’t enjoy each other’s company, but because the instruction and goals for one group probably don’t parallel the other. That might drive you to have separate Yoga classes for singles, post-partums, “retirees”, physical therapy patients and so on. In each case, the instructor could be matched with attendees.

“What about me?”

If you don’t own a fitness center, you might be thinking this discussion isn’t much help.

Use what you can after adjusting it for your business. Can you take any idea here and make it work for you?

Finally, take a hard look at the thought process itself (“Who are my customers, what are their unique needs”) and see what you can come up with for your business. Even if you’ve done this five, ten or fifteen years back, I suggest doing it again. You might find yourself in new markets, focusing on a particular type of customer that you’d previously ignored, etc.

How do you welcome them?

We’ve all been there.

You mosey (at least I do) into a doctor’s office for the first time and the experience is practically identical to almost every other first visit to almost every other doctor’s office.

You get handed a clipboard of paper forms to fill out, as if they don’t know you from Adam. Yet you have an appointment, so they already know your name and at least some (if not all) of your contact info.

The forms usually require that you repeat yourself, filling out the same contact, insurance and referral info over and over again because the office’s intake process that hasn’t been examined for efficiency, functionality or intelligence. In many cases, the forms are copies of copies of copies as if no one has a clue where the original is.

The process almost always seems to make you feel as if your time is worth nothing – and in fact, as if theirs isn’t worth all that much either.

Intake Process?

That’s what they call what happens to you when you enter a doctor’s office – you go through their “intake process”. Maybe if they called it “New Patient Welcome”, it might become a more patient-friendly, efficient, intelligent process that becomes a(nother) competitive edge for them.

It isn’t just about the doctors though.

You’ll find a similar situation when being “welcomed” to many service businesses. In those cases, the business hasn’t gone to the trouble to transform their “first impression process” from the lowest common denominator to “welcoming, efficient (cheaper, more accurate, time-saving) and intelligent”.

As a result, new customers experience the same process as a customer who has been coming there for 20 years. Not necessarily a positive thing.

What really stands out is the process at a business that has studied what they do, why they do it and made (often minor) changes to streamline the process.

You may have seen some of those. Some offices, usually those of orthodontists or chiropractors, offer a completely different front office patient experience. The reason is that the “practice management” industry is better at getting into their offices than those of other specialties. The best practice management firms excel in making the processes of medical/dental practices more welcoming, efficient, intelligent and yes, profitable.

Most doctors and dentists (and their office managers) could learn a thing or twenty simply by making a friend of a local chiro or orthodontist and sitting in their office, observing what happens when a new patient comes in.

Yes, I said a doctor’s office could learn from a chiropractor’s office. Get over the AMA vs. chiro religious argument for a moment, please.

Don’t be the LCD

Most intakes are at the lowest common denominator. If you are going to stand out, you have to do things differently better and *constantly* be on the lookout for ways to improve. Not just the care/service you deliver, but how you deliver it.

While I realize that there are some legal hoops to leap through (HIPAA, for example), when I am referred from one doctor to the next and the originating doctor’s office actually makes an appointment for me, we’ve already crossed a line.

Upon referral, there is zero good reason (including HIPAA, unless you’re lazy) that I should have to sit down and fill out forms that contain contact, emergency, insurance and holy cow, which doctor’s office referred me (remember, they made the appointment for me). Likewise, I shouldn’t have to write that info multiple times on different pieces of paper.

That leaves me open to making mistakes, introducing errors from my horrid penmanship, while creating unnecessary work of your staff, since they’ll have to interpret my hieroglyphics and enter the info into the office computer (once again introducing opportunity for errors).

I’m not talking about putting the Fed’s Universal Health Care Data Chip in my head. I’m talking about streamlining processes and creating efficiency – and yes, within the bounds of the law.

Waste

As you might have guessed, I had this joyous experience recently.

After the initial paperwork lovefest, I was pleased to see a tablet pc used to get a “reservation” started for day surgery (nothing serious, relax folks), but disappointed to find that the doctor had been nailed for $30K for the tablet system. Despite that price tag, it still didn’t communicate directly with the hospital that was so close to his office, I could peg the day surgery front door with a baseball from his parking lot.

Doc sounded confident that process of integrating with hospital systems was underway and I hope he’s right. At the time, it seemed like a waste to fill out a form on a tablet pc and then print it out and walk it across the street where someone else will likely scan it and/or re-type the info yet another time.

Can you say increased health care costs? Yes, I thought you could.

Be Welcoming

While few probably have sympathy for the medical industry because of the “class warfare training” we get from the media, this isn’t just about the medical business.

Can you remember the last time you walked through your business’ intake process and experienced what your patients (clients) deal with? Even if you change oil in 19 minutes or less, you still have an intake process.

I’ve found businesses doing things because of the ways things had to happen back in the days of mimeograph machines, or because of the limitations of 1990s-era fax quality.

Why are we even talking about such things? Neither should be a barrier to improving processes today.

How To Fix It

Your goals: Get your work done efficiently and intelligently. Send me home in a frame of mind that has me unable to stop talking to my friends and family about something as mundane (yet “Wow”) as a doctor’s office visit.

I am a slacker. Are you?

undercover
Creative Commons License photo credit: striatic

Yes, me.  I am a slacker. I admit it.

A year ago, I was planning to release my first book, “Business is Personal”.

You probably don’t remember me doing a launch promotion on it. That’s cuz I didn’t launch it.

As you might suspect, stuff happened and pushed it out of my immediate view and soon enough, a year went by.

Bet that never happened to you.

It’s still sitting in my authoring software, laughing at me: “You can’t finish me today, bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa” (yeah, that’s supposed to sound like an insane creepy laugh).

Enterrrrrr theeee excuuuuuuuuusee zoooooooonnnnnne (you can figure out how that is supposed to sound).

The Excuse Zone

See if any of this sounds familiar, even if you have to adjust the facts.

  • Before first light today, I headed out to Melita Island to help teach the 2nd part of Boy Scout Wood Badge. WB is an adult leadership course for Scout leaders and I am part of the instructor team.
  • The morning after I get back from Melita, I leave for Scout camp for a week.
  • The next week is 4th of July week and I have to go to a swim meet that will be a lot about remembering a dear friend who in her last 18 months of life literally willed a small town into getting a new swimming pool suitable for swim meets – all while battling pancreatic cancer.
  • Meanwhile I have client work, coaching sessions, blogging, writing my newspaper column, working on my own product development work, doing family stuff, visiting with that awfully cute granddaughter you see in that photo on the blog, a week in Missouri with the in-laws and such right after the 4th, out of town swim meets every weekend till August, then (not 100% sure on this one) 10 days in the backcountry on a wilderness pack trip.
  • That gets me to August 16 and doesn’t count other troop activities, Rotary (yes, I’m still club president), a few other volunteer gigs here in town and again, more of that client work stuff.

All the while… it sits there and taunts me. The book, I mean. You can probably hear it giggling.

Choice

You probably think “Heck, no wonder you didn’t get it done, with all THAT stuff going on.”

And you would be completely missing the point.

It has nothing to do with how much other stuff I have to do. It has to do with making a choice about the stuff I AM doing.

Each day since the Spring of 2008 when I started “Business is Personal” (the book), I’ve made a choice – several times a day.

These choices were made to do something else other than chip away at the book, even if I chose to do something that might have seemed important at the time.

No one else made these choices. Just me.

A few of my favorite Jim Rohn quotes come to mind:

  • “When you say ‘No’, you say ‘Yes’ to something more important.”
  • “Learn to say ‘No’. Don’t let your mouth overload your back.”
  • “We can no more afford to spend major time on minor things than we can to spend minor time on major things.”

What did you not get done today that you should have gotten done, if only it wasn’t for that “really important” thing you did instead?

Say “No” to the not-so-important so that you can say “Yes” to the really important.

PS: Stay tuned for the book. If you’d like to help with it, take one minute to slide on over to http://www.businessispersonalbook.com and enter a question (someone will win a pair of free consultations, may as well be you).

Operations and Details: Why you need a passion for crossing the T and dotting the I

One of the very few troubling things about living in a small town or a rural area is that sometimes, not all that often, but sometimes (yeah, I repeat myself), you find yourself “forced” to use a vendor that drives you crazy.

Because of what appears to be a lack of passion about operations and details.

Talk about timing. As I was writing this post, up on Twitter pops this tweet from @ChrisBrogan :

“Is anyone really *passionate* about operations and details?”
Chris Brogan

To be sure, when I say “passion”, I don’t mean that your hormone levels start rising when you are making sure your business’ detailed operations are just so – and have processes in place to keep them that way, but I’ll tell you what: I’ll bet you ARE passionate about the lifestyle that your business provides for you.

You know. Things like being able to make that Boy Scout meeting, that piano recital, that Wednesday afternoon golf “meeting” every other week, the choir practice, your kid’s soccer games or the bridge club.

Whatever it might be…the passion that you have for the lifestyle you lead has a direct relationship with the passion you have for crossing the T and dotting the I.

You probably think I’m nuts, so let’s talk about a few examples from my business life. I suppose this could be a reference to the pet peeves discussion of a few days ago, but this is really a bit different because the kinds of things I’m talking about here could be a part of any business.

In my case, it’s a local business whose services I use every month. Likewise, several of my clients use this service every month because they produce the production version of what I created for my clients (gee, is that vague enough?)

Why do I put up with the annoyance?

One reason and one reason only: There is no viable alternative business that provides this service within the community with the slate of features I need.

These are the kinds of things that any service business could be doing, and quite a few online or brick and mortar retail product stores could be as well. That way YOU can fix the ones you might be doing.

Number 1 – They deliver, but they can’t tell me for sure (in advance) when a produced job will be delivered.

When they do deliver, they don’t notify me that they’ve delivered the product. Because I happen to be one of those “Likes to know if the client got the stuff I ordered for them” kinds of guys, I have to call back (and remember to call back<g> and ask if the stuff was delivered. Today, I had to do this and they had to call me back because they had no idea.

Number 2 – They don’t notify me when the job is done/delivered unless I ask (and sometimes not even then). They clearly have no system to keep track of what needs to be delivered, what is on the truck, what has been delivered and what couldn’t be delivered. My guess is that they might have a clipboard nailed to a wall somewhere. Maybe.

Note that the big box store that competes with them (but doesnt offer enough services to make me switch), DOES have automated email notification that the job is done and I can pick it up.

Little things make a difference, especially when I can decide to give them my cell phone’s SMS email address, forcing their email to my phone.

Why is this apparent triviality even important?

Lessee…In the days of $4 gas, an emailed notification that goes to my phone could save me a 40 mile round trip drive (if I’m already in town for something else), PLUS 40+ minutes of their productive time if I have to turn around and come get that job because it is time-bound.

I don’t like doing business with companies that waste my time. Do you?

It might not just be my time. Maybe I have my virtual assistant (who lives here) pick them up. Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to take the email and forward to her, or call her? Sure, they could email directly to her – but if they aren’t emailing, what difference does it make? So now we’re talking about contractor or employee time, depending on your situation.

Number 3 – Out of control accounting. OK, I admit it, I *hate* bookkeeping (yes, I do appreciate and take action on the reports).

This is important with them because I often pay by credit or debit card and then get invoiced for the same amount at a later time. This happens repeatedly. So much so, in fact, that I have to get statements and make sure I haven’t paid for something twice. Sometimes I pay in person. Sometimes I pay over the phone or even via email. It doesn’t seem to matter, because double payments or unlogged payments are a frequent issue.

In the case of the in-store payment, this occurs despite the fact that they appear to enter the payment on the computer when I’m in their store. In fact, most of the problems originated from in-store payments.

Call me confused.

By now, you’re probably still wondering where the “why cross and dot” in all this is.

Simple: It’s those lifestyle things that make owning a business worthwhile. If your business is out of control, you don’t have time for that every other Wednesday golf meeting with friends you treasure. You can’t make that Rotary meeting once a month, much less once a week.

You can’t go on that photo safari across Montana, much less across Africa. And you sure can’t leave at 10am or 2pm for that school play or soccer game out of town that you promised your kid you’d make, even though they know you’ll be on your cell phone the whole time.

Why? Because you can’t leave your business for a week for fear that it will collapse into chaos when you aren’t there.

Cross the T and dot the I, and put systems in place to make sure it happens even when you aren’t there.

Imagine if you don’t have these things in place. That ONE important delivery to your best client gets messed up, or forgotten and that client leaves forever taking 5 or 6 figures worth of business to a competitor.

Now you feel like you can’t ever leave to watch a kid’s recital, ball game or what not.

Is that really worth not putting some effort, some passion into systems that cross the T and dot the I?

Don’t you want your business to be the one that is known as the one that never drops the ball?