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Doing ahead, not just thinking ahead

Quite often, I talk with business owners about thinking ahead.

Something that happened yesterday tells me that I need to change my terminology to “Doing ahead.”

Why the change?

Primarily, I’m concerned that small businesses are thinking ahead, but stopping there.

Thinking ahead discussions often include strategic thoughts of putting yourself out of business by inventing new products and services for your customers that replace your current top seller.

So let’s talk retail for a moment, since they’re an easy example.

Every time you enter a WalMart store (something I try to avoid – I’m just not into the crowds), you’re likely to see something different. Just a little thing here or there that’s different. Sometimes it’s a test to see how something works, other times it’s the result of such tests.

What you never see is exactly the same store, time after time, town after town. Sure, the overall store is quite similar overall but there’s almost always something different. Something being tested. Something being implemented.

This effort isn’t limited to their brick and mortar stores. WalMart and the rest of big retail spend a lot of time looking at how they can improve the performance of their online retail properties. They have lots on their todo list simply by comparing themselves to Amazon.com – which blows away most (if not all) online retailers in end to end performance and customer engagement.

This is the price they pay for ignoring Amazon during their climb to cruising altitude.

What we don’t see is massive shifts designed to make the store or parts of the store irrelevant. It doesn’t mean they aren’t there, but they’re much harder to see in a brick and mortar store. Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I saw a brick and mortar store do something like this but I suspect I just don’t recall it.

Amazon tweaks too

Naturally, Amazon.com is working hard to improve what they already do – testing and tweaking their retail site and their back end (such as the systems that email you about things you might be interested in). You can see evidence of this on a regular basis.

Meanwhile – they’re doing things like what you see in the video above (More video here from 60 Minutes).

This isn’t just about speed, though that is certainly part of it. Keep in mind that this also means that Amazon can deliver without using any of the established shipping systems – all of which have legislative limitations as complex as those currently preventing the use of shipping drones. The only difference is that no one wrote a pile of legislation in the 1920’s to protect the USPS, Fedex or UPS – all of whom are just as likely to have drones in their future.

Parts of this are not just changing the rules but eliminating them wholesale. I would expect this to be implemented in other countries long before it happens in the U.S., due to the legislative challenges here. We’re already well on the way to delivering relief supplies via drone. Why not retail?

Learning while looking ahead

Learn from seeing Amazon look years ahead without a guaranteed payoff, hitting on pain points, looking to shorten the sales cycle (money loves speed), looking to eliminate competitive disadvantages with WMT, looking to improve/control shipping, etc – while ignoring the fact that they can’t put the drones into service and prepare for the day when they can.

They’ll be learning new things about their business and their customers as well.

The challenge for you and for businesses all over the world is not to see another way that Amazon will eat your lunch, or to think you’re safe because you aren’t in retail, aren’t near an Amazon fulfillment center or are in a rural location unlikely to be served by drones.

Your challenge is to think beyond the advances you’ve been working on or considering. Those advances are important, but you also need to be figuring out things that are years off, all while considering what will replace them.

The dangerous thought is to ignore these things because they don’t threaten you now and wont for years.

Why is that so dangerous? Because that’s exactly what many in Amazon’s market did a decade or so ago – and they still haven’t caught up from making that mistake.

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Business culture Buy Local coffee Customer relationships Direct Marketing Entrepreneurs Influence Leadership Marketing Positioning Restaurants Small Business startups Word of mouth marketing

How do you know which customers want to be an insider?

Coffee Cupping

This past weekend, I checked off two to-do- list items with one visit to @OnyxCoffeeLab.

First, I was looking for a good locally-owned place to sit, sip and write. A coffee shop.

Second, I was meeting with the founder of a @StartupWeekend-born startup to discuss how it would go forward.

It started off nicely enough with a chat with the baristas about the Northwest (one of them was from Pullman, WA), including some agreement that NWA’s current 18% gray winter sky is right out of a classic Northwest winter.

After some solo writing time, my meeting guy arrived. As we finished our discussion, a group of people entered together, filling the table’s remaining 10 seats. Soon after, the shop’s owner came over and started assembling a mass of small coffee cups, bottled water and other gear.

Turns out that a couple of hours earlier, I had settled into a seat at the Onyx Coffee Lab‘s cupping table.

Lean Customer Development

What I witnessed next was a nice session of customer development.

In addition to enjoying some new-to-me coffees, I watched as the owner exposed already-bought-in customers to new products that he’s considering for their product mix. None of the coffees we tasted are available for sale – the owner was still determining which ones he liked and presumably was using the reaction of this group to refine his opinion.

Later, I found out that the shop does cuppings (think “wine tasting” for coffee) almost every Saturday at 10 am. Sometimes they discuss different brew methods or other coffee geekery – always with a dual focus on education (building a better customer/spokesperson) and the coffee itself. This week, the education component included some help understanding how the coffee business grades coffees, ie: specialty vs run of the mill vs “not-so-specialty” coffee and how the various acids and sugars in the bean result in what we taste and feel when we have a cuppa Joe.

I didn’t discuss this with the owner after the cupping, but I suspect this was not only done in the interest of Lean Startup style customer development, but also to gather some feedback from those bought-in customers – presumably some of their biggest, best-engaged fans – as well as to build on their fanbase while pulling existing fans a bit closer.

I wish these sessions were on YouTube. They’d make a nice series for new fans to review as they choose their next “thirdplace“, much less for fans who missed a Saturday.

Oh yeah, the coffee

Coffee nerds, if you’re wondering what we tasted, we had:

  • Brazil Caturra
  • Burundi Bourbon (pronounced burr-bone, which has nothing to do with Jack Daniels)
  • Guatemala Geisha (no, nothing to do with Japanese bathhouses)
  • Ethiopian Heirloom (this one seemed to be the crowd favorite)

I preferred the last two, but I wonder if the order of their presentation provoked that result.

All in all, it was a great combination of StartupWeekend, coffee and the use of Lean Startup principles. Yet there’s one more lesson you can take from it.

In what position do they see you?

How can you can tweak and use this for your business? By understanding that a cuppings aren’t just about coffee, they’re about positioning.

  • The owner shares his coffee insight, education, expertise and knowledge with a group of customers who appear to be insiders. Almost everyone else in the shop is watching and listening intently since they don’t have a seat at the table (it’s first come, first serve). Some of them want a seat at the table.
  • The owner gets to meet with customers who have raised their hand to show they’re interested at a level beyond the customer norm. These folks will talk about the shop, its coffee, the cupping and anything else they felt was important. These people have other friends with common interests – including coffee. You know it’ll be discussed. In fact, you just read what I shared about it.
  • “Raising their hand” says “I care about, enjoy, have enthusiasm about coffee at a higher level than your average customer.” Just being a customer at a “coffee lab” shows a higher than typical interest in coffee. These guys go beyond that norm. Those are the customers for whom your positioning is most important. They are also the customers whose feedback you want.

How you can accomplish these things for your business?

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Competition Positioning Small Business The Slight Edge

Standing out is the real work #sponsored

Fifth position

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.
 
How do customers and prospects look at you vs. others in your industry?
 

For example:

  • What are your competitors best known for? Why do customers choose them rather than everyone else in your industry – including you?
  • How does your competition’s “best known” thing compare to what you’re best known for? Why do customers choose you rather than everyone else in your industry?

How are those two “best known” things different?

Is it the products you carry? Or do your products primarily come from the same manufacturers as your competition?

How about the services you offer? Are they the same or similar to what your competitors offer?

Beyond the products and services you sell, how much effort are you putting into distinguishing what you’re best known for? If you want to stand out, these things require serious thought and effort on a regular basis.

How do you stand out?

One thing that businesses use to differentiate themselves is how they manage deployment and delivery. Not just the speed, but little touches related to ramp up, appointment management, packaging, follow-up, etc.

For example, 10 years ago, only the best plumbers would slip little white Tyvek booties over their boots when they entered a client’s house. This sent a then-unique signal to the homeowner that the plumber cares enough to address a common complaint of repair people – that they track in dirt/mud and leave without cleaning it up.

Today, it’s unusual not to see the booties – and that’s a good thing.

Leaders get copied

In the short term, you should expect your smarter competitors to copy the little details you implement – particularly the easy ones. Leaders get copied. Keep paying attention to the little details that your customers appreciate and keep adding new ones. Tip: The details that look like a lot of work will be the things your competitors are least likely to clone.

You should expect some of these little touches to become your industry’s “best practices.” In other words, your average competitors will do some of them – and that’s OK. When you’re regularly focused on things that make you stand out, you’ll always be ahead of your industry’s “best practices” curve.

Don’t be shy about reminding your clientele that you’re the one who started doing ‘that little thing’ for your clients that everyone else has finally started doing, much less informing them when you add new things.

Why should they choose you?

The classic marketing question is, “Why should someone choose you over all other competitors?”

To help answer that question, you’d better have a story that helps people understand why you do what you do the way you do it. It’s important to set this context because the story helps them learn why they should use you and no one else.

Last week, I was talking to a software guy whose clients got infected by an email virus.

He noted that they’ve changed their policies to scan for viruses in their email. I mentioned that it was surprising that email scanning would be new behavior. His reply: “They’re a small company and this is the first time they’ve been attacked.”

This surprised me, so I asked if this company had ever heard of anyone getting a virus via email before, and if they used anti-virus software prior to this episode. He said “I don’t know, I just sell them a product and I’m not a retailer.”

If that isn’t a positioning problem, I don’t know what is.

Anyone or the only one?

Anyone can “just sell a product” or take an order. If that’s all you do, you can be replaced with an online shopping cart. Even if your product is unique to you, “just selling a product” is poor positioning.

It takes a special business to be the go-to vendor that a client turns to when they need advice. “I don’t want them contacting me about every little thing,” you might say.

Actually, you do.

If you’re the one regularly providing them with valuable info that helps them improve and protect their business, you’ll become their expert. You’ll be the one they turn to when they need advice and when they need help in the form of products and services.

You can take orders and be anyone, or you can be their only one.

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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Business culture Creativity Employees Improvement Lean Personal development Small Business startups The Slight Edge

Not on my watch!

Watches (32) 1.1

Most everyone I’ve talked to who really cares about their work has that one thing that brings meaning, context and (as my kids used to say) “give-a-care” to the work they do.

You might have heard it described as “Not on my watch”, a reference to pulling watch duty on naval ships.

The best way I’ve heard it described is this:

What do you feel strongly enough about to say “That isn’t going to happen while I’m here.”

Whether you own the place or are working for the weekend, it’s that thing you just won’t rest about if it isn’t done right. It might be that thing you first notice when you visit someone’s home or business.

Are any of your employees working jobs that have little to do with their one thing? If so, they may be doing their assigned work while watching in frustration as the work involving their “one thing” is done at a level of quality or expertise that’s below their expectations.

Sometimes their response will be to take another job – one that leverages their one thing. Sometimes their response will be to take ownership.

Own it

You may see this when someone takes ownership of some part of your company – without being asked. It might be all or part of a process, a product’s quality or craftsmanship, a customer or a customer group. They take ownership by making the quality of that area their responsibility, perhaps going beyond your company’s standards. It’ll often happen without them being asked.

If you have employees, have you asked them (or put them in charge of) their “one thing”? If not, the signals will be there if they’re interested. They’ll make suggestions – often good ones – about how something is done. They may volunteer to help on projects that require expertise in their one thing.

If your company has people who seem less motivated than they should be, ask them if they’re doing their ideal work for you. If they could do any job in the company, is the one they’re doing the one they’d choose? If not, a pilot project can show you if they’re qualified to do that work.

If the pilot works out, you might find yourself with a newly motivated employee who really cares about the work they’re doing. New blood has a way of asking questions about things that’ve been forgotten, fallen in the cracks or weren’t considered previously – all because that new staffer (even if they’re simply new to that job) cares about that part of the business because it’s their “one thing”.

In the shadows

You may have departments within your company doing their own thing because they can’t get that work done any other way – at least not to their satisfaction and/or within the timeframe they need.

At a recent #StartupWeekend, I spoke on this topic with people from several different business sectors ranging from retail to light manufacturing. Each of them knew of a department within their company that had a “Shadow IT” group.

“Shadow IT” is a small departmental group (or a person) building technology solutions for themselves that they couldn’t get from their company’s IT (Information Technology) group.

One person from a large national retailer (not *that* one) is doing their own thing because they felt it was the only way to get the solutions they needed. Rather than wait or do without, they built it themselves.

This isn’t unusual – but it’s a sign of someone’s “one thing”.

That person doing the Shadow IT work might be the person who needs to take on that role (or join that team) in your company . Perhaps they become the official Shadow IT group for projects that don’t yet have an IT budget and haven’t appeared on management’ s radar.

As an employer, do I care?

You should. The under-served “one thing” staffers may not be disgruntled, but they may not be fully engaged. If you’re unaware of people (and their “one thing” assets) within your organization who could serve your business goals in ways you haven’t considered and at a level of quality that you might not have thought possible – what are you missing?

Ask them privately if there’s a project or job in the company that excites them. You never know what you might find. Having little startup-minded groups inside your business isn’t a bad thing.

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Google India knows that Business is Personal

Brilliant.

What stories are you telling about your customers that can illustrate the power of the value you deliver?

No matter what you do, I’ll bet you have stories to tell. When will you start sharing them?

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Business culture Competition Customer relationships customer retention Improvement Positioning Small Business systems The Slight Edge

How to create good surprises? Baby steps.

Surprise...

Recently, a couple of real estate transactions provoked me to write about surprises.

In that piece, surprises were not a good thing.

Yet sometimes, surprises are exactly what you want to deliver. So how do you decide which surprises are good and which aren’t?

You need to find a difference to choose a good one – but how? Try substituting a different word for “surprise”, such as “delight”.

Now ask yourself, what would delight your customers?

You might think lower prices would delight them – and while they might appreciate that, you need to think harder.

We’re looking for things that your customer would talk about the next day or week – and remember long enough to influence them to come back.

If you aren’t sure – think about the last time you found yourself delighted by something a business did. Think about how that felt. With that experience in mind, you’re ready to start looking for places to tweak your customers’ experience. So where do you find them?

Baby Steps

I think one of the best ways to figure out these little tweaks that transform your customers’ experience is to walk through the process of doing business with you in little, tiny steps: Baby Steps.

Walk through the process with each type of customer. Start with the acquisition of the lead – even if that’s a cold call from them to your business. Continue through the entire purchase and delivery cycle, identifying places where trouble could occur, where little touches would transform the experience and where little failures could sabotage the whole deal.

You should keep client expectations in mind as you follow the baby steps looking for tweaks. Expectations will differ depending on the size, type and culture of the client, as well as between business and consumer clientele.

Expectations differ by client size

When looking for things to change for a business client, consider the size of their business. You’ll want to adjust what you do based on their size because size alters how they operate.

For example, small business clients might handle invoicing, payment and receiving themselves – or a single bookkeeper/accountant may handle it. At a large client, you could easily involve dozens of people, depending on what you’re delivering. The experience – and the baby steps – should differ substantially.

Consider building a unique process for each substantially different size of client to avoid making your tweaks into the wrong kind of surprise.

For example, if your billing process is designed to make things easy for a small business bookkeeper, that process won’t likely go so well when implemented with large corporate accounting and receiving departments. Likewise, the reverse will just as likely be annoying to large clients.

Expectations differ by client culture

Client size isn’t the only factor that can alter what you do to delight them. Client culture is just as important.

For example, if you’re a wedding photographer or planner, you’re likely to handle the wedding of a Manhattan couple differently than you would a couple in the rural South or any other place substantially different in culture from NYC. Keep client mobility in mind. Even in the smallest of towns, you may find yourself working with clients from Paris, NYC or London.

It isn’t just about big cities vs. small towns. Internal culture can differ widely from the suits and ties at IBM to t-shirts and Xbox at Google. As a result, your processes and the tweaks you implement should consider how things work internally at your client, as well as how they don’t.

Expectations differ by service level

If you want to fine tune your customers’ experience and put a fence around them that no one can break through, we’re not done yet.

One set of processes for businesses and another for consumers, if that fits your business, isn’t enough.

One process for each size of client isn’t enough.

One process that fits the culture for each client isn’t enough.

You’ll want different processes for each service level your clients purchase: Good, better, best.

How do I get all of this done?

Finish one process at a time, then move to the next.

You”ll want documented processes with systems to make sure they’re done every right time. High tech isn’t necessary. A wall of clipboards works better than going from memory.

Making it easy on them doesn’t have to be hard on you.

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Business Resources Entrepreneurs Improvement Personal development Setting Expectations Small Business systems Time management

Are you un-coachable? Drips might help.

Heading into Battle

Frustrated with the rate of change or accomplishment of new work in your business?

I had a conversation recently that might help.

Ann: Sometimes I think some of us are un-coachable.
Mark: Reminds me of “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” It’s huge for those who teach and/or coach – you have to meet the student where they are rather than where you want them to be. Anyhow, I don’t think it’s being un-coachable, it’s a form of being overwhelmed.
Ann: We hear and understand but we just can’t get traction and do it consistently and …
Mark: Habit momentum is important. Start one thing today, then when it becomes a daily habit that’s part of your life, add another.
Mark: IE: D,D,D
Randy: I *knew* you were gonna get that in there.
Ann: D..D..D..?
Randy: DDD stands for “Drip, drip, drip.” In this case he means that if you do a little bit each day, the small efforts add up. It’s something I have to *constantly* remind myself about.
Mark: Right, but it’s important that you make sure the *right* bit is what’s getting done each day.

Little changes, big results

Ann: But what does Drip mean?
Mark: It’s a euphemism for incremental change.
Ann: Told you I was un-coachable
Randy: By making incremental changes, those little changes that we might not be able to make as a whole eventually add up to big things.
Ann: DDD = small deltas
Randy: Exactly. And one of my favorite Rohn quotes applies here. “For things to change, you must change.”
Mark: With DDD, the concept is that it’s easier to change one thing in your business than to change 20 or 30. When we look at our business, we can often come up with 20-30 or even 100 things that we’d ideally like to change, so it’s often difficult to get ANY of these changes to happen because of the sight of them as a whole.
Ann: Yes, it’s tough to get traction.
Mark: Absolutely – and that’s the painful part. In most cases, even establishing two or three of the changes will make a substantial difference to our business. Some see two or three changes as a failure because they’re focused on a list of 20 or 30 as “success”. If they aren’t in the right mindset, these initial successes actually discourage them from continuing to chip away at number three, much less 21, 22, etc because the effort as a whole feels like a failure or a journey that’ll never end. It’s too easy to miss the incremental wins when you’re focused on the end (or what you think the end is).

What IS a Drip?

Dean: Do you guys think Ann’s phrase about “Getting traction” is a good description of the problem?
Mark: Traction – I agree it is, which is what drips are all about. Drips generate confidence and momentum as they become habits, forming a foundation for bigger change. Traction.
Dean: What if the drips aren’t enough to make a business work? I have a friend who’s been “running a business” for years, working three hours per week. After a decade, little progress.
Mark: Drips are about new habits and making change, not building the whole business. And…Drips aren’t about hours. They’re tasks.
Dean: For example?
Mark: Say a client needs a print newsletter, an email newsletter, blog posts and videos. If I drop all of that on them at once, they won’t get them done. There’s too much to take on at once and it’s overwhelming. Instead, we break each one out into a drip. In other words, each one is a new habit (product or outcome) you want to introduce into your business.
Dean: OK, let’s talk about starting the print newsletter.
Mark: I’d probably rough out a layout in maybe an hour. I’d spend the next hour writing content.
Dean: Starting from scratch, you’d just need one hour?
Mark: No, I’d spend an hour on the newsletter until the first issue is done. The idea is to chip away at that single habit or change for an hour a day (or a week, whatever I have to work with) until the first cut is done. At that point, I should have a process that’s ready to delegate or outsource.

The key to Drip, Drip, Drip is to stay focused on each change and keep working at it till it’s done.

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Automation Business culture Business Resources Buy Local Customer relationships Employees Improvement Positioning Setting Expectations Small Business strategic planning

Why isn’t everyone on time?

IMG_1362

One of the things I notice while working with clients (and being one) is that some of us are pretty good at making things hard on our customers.

Hard on customers?

You might be.

Let’s clean up a few things so you can make it easier on them (and easier to keep them as clients).

Show up on time

Given that so many people have smart phones, smart watches, computers in their cars and so on – you would *think* that they’d be on time more often.

When you don’t show up when you said you would, you make it hard on your customers. I know, I know. You can’t always do that.

Here’s what you can do – the instant you know there’s a chance you’ll be late, call to warn them. Give them options (bail or wait?) If you can, dispatch someone else to take care of their situation. Few things annoy a customer or partner more than setting time aside (or taking time off work) to meet you, only to have you show up 90 minutes late without a call.

While it’s an obvious, common sense competitive edge, why isn’t everyone on time?

Close the four hour window

My impression is that a lot of vendors are getting better at this, but there are still enough out there telling their customers that they’ll meet them between 8:00 AM and noon, or “sometime in the afternoon”.

This shows a (perhaps passive) lack of respect for the customer’s time.

Do you really manage your time and your staff / equipment resources so poorly that you can’t estimate arrival windows to smaller increments than half a day? I doubt it. I think you’ve gotten used to it and haven’t changed it because it’s comfortable. Comfortable for you, that is. I assure you that your customers don’t feel this way. Don’t trust me on this – ask your customers if they’d appreciate a smaller window. They might even pay more to get a smaller window.

Arrive with what you need

Sometimes, you don’t know what the deal is because the customer didn’t explain the situation too well. Sometimes you don’t know what size of this or that to show up with, and if you took this too far and showed up with the right parts every time, you’d have to drive an eighteen wheeler to work. While you probably can’t know what you need every single time, do what you can to reduce the “I’ll be right back, gotta grab some parts” trips. They increase your overhead and they annoy your customer.

Make it easy to pay

Offer some payment convenience.

Fewer and fewer people like handing over a piece of paper with their bank account number on it (ie: a check). If you get a smartphone-enable credit card reader such as Square, you save a trip to the bank and they get to pay without a check – if that’s what they want to do.

Keep track of the paper

If you must save the business paperwork that your customers send you and you can’t replace the paper system with something else (assuming that thing will work better), make sure you can find their paperwork when you need it.records. I recently sold a house. On two separate occasions, the deal was almost scuttled (or made far more expensive) because someone misfiled paperwork related to little things like septic plans and wells. A sharp agent is the only thing that prevented an expensive, annoying outcome.

Making it easy back at the ranch

Fact is, we don’t limit this “making it hard” thing to customers. We’re also pretty good at making things hard on our own people.

While work isn’t necessarily supposed to be easy, there’s no reason to make it more difficult than it already is. Each of the make-it-easier for customers things have an impact on your staff. Your internal systems for communication, tracking and appointment management are critical to making this easy to fulfill for your clients. If they aren’t, your products and servers are much less likely to be delivered in a friction-free manner. Don’t make your staff fight the system to get their work done.

Always be looking for bumpy spots and internal / external hassles you can eliminate. Make it easy for them to recommend you to someone, and to call you back the next time.

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attitude Business culture Employees Entrepreneurs Leadership Small Business strategic planning Strategy

Start the right things

A while back, a friend sent me a link to an old blog post called “30 things to stop doing to yourself“.

It struck me that while the list was intended for application in your personal life, the list could also be applied to your business – with a tweak or two.

Rather than talking about 30 things to stop doing, I decided to discuss a shorter list of things to start doing. Yes, lists are old school – but the things on the list require pigheaded determination to keep folks tending to them. A reminder never hurts.

Start spending time with the right kind of people. – This includes customers, mentors or other leaders of the right sort. What’s the right sort? The ones who spend their time trying to improve, grow and bring the rest of town and/or your industry with them. Don’t forget to start being the right kind of people.

Start tackling the things that challenge your business rather than waiting on them. – Few business challenges get better over time. The rest tend to fester like an untreated wound.

Start being transparent. – Not “politician transparent”, but really, truly transparent. Faux transparency is as useful as horse biscuits – yet that’s exactly what we get from most businesses. You’ll be amazed what can happen when you simply stop pretending, stop hiding, stop manufacturing spin and stop playing games. Think you aren’t doing that now? Think about it. Consider what a frank, win-win conversation with your staff, your suppliers and your customers could produce. Opportunity, for one – which will start with the next list item. Worried about the reaction? It’ll be no worse that the reaction if everyone figures out for themselves that the business they know isn’t the real business after all.

Start putting your customers’ needs front and center. – As Zig Ziglar said, if you help enough others get what they want, you’ll get what you want. If someone moves your cheese and you whine about it – you’re focused on the wrong things.

Start being what you are rather than what you aren’t. – Deliver the value you love to deliver and the right customers will love *that* business. I don’t mean the well-worn or often misguided/misinterpreted “do what you love and the money will come”. I mean do what your customers love to get from you. Not sure what that is? Ask them. They know what you rock at and they know why they value it more than anyone else’s. What do they see as the work you have the most enthusiasm and insight for – particularly that which no one else brings? Yes, I know you can do the other 37 things that everyone else in your market does. Remember that “focus on customer needs” thing?

Start making mistakes. – No, I don’t mean start goofing up intentionally. Your customers need your business to stretch so you’re ready for the place they’re going. They either go with you, or without. If you aren’t messing up, you either aren’t doing anything or you aren’t doing anything interesting or new. Your best customers are the ones who will leave you behind if you’re on cruise control.

Start having higher standards. – Seek out customers, employees, products and partners who force you to improve your processes, people, products and services. If you accept what you accept now, you may as well hit the complacency cruise control – which is all too easy when things are going well. This doesn’t mean not doing anything until you can do it perfectly. It means having a constant focus on improvement, including learning from the mistakes we just talk about.

Start accepting that you aren’t ready. – Nobody is. Start anyway. They call it comfort zone, but it has another name – the place your company was before it woke up, before it doubled our sales, before it started working with better customers, before it raised its standards, before it discovered that new market, and so on. The way it used to be that you’d never go back to if you could help it.

All of these things are going to impact your culture, processes and much more. Some employees, customers, vendors and partners will not be ready for that. Plan how you’re going to deal with that and communicate well.

Categories
attitude Employees Leadership Management Personal development Reality? Small Business

Are you a drama queen?

Memories: A Lament
Creative Commons License photo credit: -Jeffrey-

Dan Kennedy is known to say something to the effect of “If I wake up at 2 am thinking about you or your business, you’re in trouble.”

I can relate.

For me, the “are you worth it?” measuring stick is often drama-related.

Drama happens. It’s part of life. On the other hand, if you intentionally generate drama when it isn’t necessary (is it ever?), your effectiveness/ROI aren’t what they should be.

If a vendor introduces unnecessary drama into my life, that vendor is the next one I replace.

If a contractor or staffer introduces unnecessary drama into my life than they are worth, they are the next one I replace.

You may say you’re set in your ways, crotchety, fussy or whatever – regardless of your age. All of those are excuses for things you can change about your business persona.

Keep in mind that no one searches Monster.com looking for crotchety people who are a pain to work with.

Drama isn’t picky

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the leader, the newbie, an employee, a vendor, a contractor or a temp – if you’re creating this sort of environment around you, you will either drive people away from you or you’ll provoke them to “offer you an opportunity to seek work elsewhere”.

Not being a drama queen (or king) doesn’t mean you don’t report/discuss problems or enter contentious discussions. It means that you don’t turn them into an episode of “Real Housewives of Orange County”.

If you manage the drama makers and fail to address the environment they’re creating, you could lose the best people on your team. Not only do they not want to deal with that stuff, because they are your best, they can easily find another opportunity. Think about how it would hurt to lose your key person in any one department *tomorrow*. Now think about what happens if you lose 2 or 3 of them – all because you wouldn’t take action

Real Customers of Orange County

Yes, there are customers who introduce as much drama as the “Real Housewives”.

Ultimately, you can either feed this beast, tame it or slay it.

If you feed it, you’ll repeatedly have to deal with their drama.

Every contact with this kind of customer which goes “untreated” has a cost.

  • Your staff doesn’t want to deal with them, so they avoid calling them back.
  • They get slower call backs than they expect, so this stirs them up even more.
  • They will have less legitimacy with your staff than a typical customer, because your staff tends to be more focused on the drama rather than what’s being said.

That last one is really dangerous. These customers can be more invested in their work than is typical, which is what drives their drama. If their concerns are discounted because of their emotional baggage, you could miss something quite critical.

If you tame the customer’s drama, you’ll get better customer relationships from it. If you keep at it, you can usually change their attitude.

I’ll always remember a classic conversation my support manager (Hi Julie!) had with a frequently cranky customer. He was a nice guy, but he’d get more excited about an issue the more he talked about it. As he worked himself into more and more of a frenzy, she stopped talking about the problem they were trying to solve. In a calm, quiet voice, she asked him if he was upset with her. He said no, realized what he was doing and they resumed the conversation without drama. Without the infection drama brought to the conversation, the situation was quickly resolved.

That customer became one of our advocates, and was someone who referred his peers to us as new customers. Yet he started out as one of the dramatic types. The kind you didn’t want to call back.

That leaves the beast you must slay. Like vendors, contractors and staff, you’ll eventually encounter a customer who must be fired. The cost of dealing with them is too high. You’ll know when it’s time. The benefit of not having them around will far exceed the revenue.

Bottom line: Be the professional who doesn’t make people’s lives more complicated, dramatic or contentious. Even better, be the one who defuses those situations.