Categories
Entrepreneurs Management

Sick & tired? Might be time for a turning point.

I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago where a guy was talking about looking back at the turning points in his life (and no, he wasn’t 22). He also discussed this with some peers, discussing the high and low points in their lives and the turning points they had experienced during those periods. When you have discussions on a single subject with multiple people, patterns tend to appear. One of the things he noticed was that all of the positive or high-impact turning points occurred as he reached a point where he was fed up with an uncomfortable or unpleasant situation.

When we’re dealing with these uncomfortable, unpleasant situations, we often end up taking steps and making efforts that cause us to operate outside of our comfort zone. At the time, it can feel awful. Later, we usually wonder why we thought it was such a big deal. This stuff happens when we get sick and tired of a situation, whatever that situation might be.

The conversation described made me think about the turning points I’ve had – and the situation a lot of business owners are going through right now.

Decisions are turning points

Some of my turning points also came when I was sick and tired of an uncomfortable and/or unpleasant situation, but the most significant came when our family had made a major decision and my work was essential to our ability to make it happen.

In particular, I think back to an older gentleman I met in Jackson Hole in 1995, as we were just starting to figure out the financial and work–related details that moving back to the mountains would mean. He shoved me into the deep end with a simple comment: “Bring your own job because we don’t have enough of them here.” He moved to Jackson in the early ’60s with a station wagon full of kids and $200 in his pocket and had seen a lot in the next 35 years so I took him at his word. That conversation and our goals drove the acquisition of two software companies that set the entrepreneurial angle of my software career in motion.

What situations made you uncomfortable in the past? Perhaps there are parallels to now, perhaps not. Even if you aren’t uncomfortable, does your career or business need a turning point? If you’re not uncomfortable, but perhaps are concerned, what changes could happen over the next six months that would require a turning point?

The time to think about these things and plan for them is before you need to. What could force a turning point in your business or career? How would you re-leverage what you do, what you know – and your network?

It isn’t always about you, however. Others are facing these things even if you aren’t. How can you help, advise, or provide opportunity for someone who has reached a turning point? There are a lot of folks out of work right now. Six months ago, finding good people was difficult. Today, not so much. Do you know business owners who are having a tough time of it? Perhaps a partnership makes sense with the right business.

Pivots are similar

I mention concerns because sometimes we see things coming before they arrive, but they aren’t necessarily significant turning points like a career change or a change of market. Often times, the approach of dips in the economy send familiar signals before they hit arrive, even if the reason for the dip is different than in the past.

Experienced business owners have a pretty good idea what’s coming because they’ve struggled through these and survived in the past – even if it was ugly. Sometimes, we recognize them because we didn’t seem them coming the last time. Each time, we generally get a little better at recognizing them, and see the signs a little earlier. Hopefully, we react a little differently based on what we tried last time, what worked, and what didn’t.

Sometimes the moves are smaller – like restaurants going big on takeout and breweries transforming their parking lots into dispersed seating. With cool fall weather only a few months away, they’re probably already thinking about how they’ll handle that outdoor seating in cool (and then cold) weather. These might not be big turning points, but they will be a bit of a pivot within existing businesses.

Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

Categories
Business culture Business model Customer relationships Management

Why their survival mindset matters

What’s your state of mind these days? Talk to a handful of business owners about how COVID and other cascading effects are impacting them and you’ll likely not get many identical answers. Seems like everyone’s fishing a different eddy in the economy right now. Some are hauling it in, while others are trying to figure out how to survive another pay cycle – and there are a pile of folks at different places between those two spots.

Are you aware of the state of mind of your prospects these days? Not February’s… today’s. What about your customers? You probably had a good grasp of this back in February, but July (like March through June) is different. Maybe their different isn’t yours, but it’s probably different from whatever normal was for them six months ago.

Do you communicate frequently (or at least regularly) with the customers and prospects in your market? Have you reviewed any of these materials? If you have automated email sequences going out, are they talking to your clients with the mindset of you in the old normal?

Even if you don’t have scheduled emails, what about ads that have to be prepped in advance? For most trade publications, you’re at or getting close to deadline for issues your market will see in four to six weeks, perhaps longer. Are those ads wash, rinse, repeat what you were submitting six months ago? Is that OK? (I don’t know – you should.)

Even if you do nothing in advance, do you have document templates, email templates, pre-printed anything, or similar that go out without a second thought?

If any of these things are in use (scheduled, ad-hoc, template based, etc)… have you reviewed them? Do they make sense this month? Do they make sense for coming months? Is it OK to have the same conversation you were having when you first wrote those things? Again, I’m not judging… I’m suggesting that you consider the state, mindset, and voice of your communications.

Be sure you have an idea what their current concerns are before launching a marketing campaign that ignores today’s reality and your market’s level of certainty. Resonating with their mindset, as usual, is critical to making your communications effective and profitable.

Understand that this isn’t solely about marketing but extends to onboarding, customer service, finance, and ultimately – every interaction you have with your customers and prospects.

What’s the big deal?

One consideration is that many businesses have staffed down. What could be impacted by customers with fewer staff?

Onboarding, if you have any. It will affect training, implementation and related processes. If these don’t progress smoothly, it will be easier than ever to ask for a refund / return.

Finance – What if the normal accounts payable person is gone and someone else is doing double duty? They may be new to everything in that department. They may have no idea what’s necessary to keep their company humming along as it relates to what you supply. The last AP staffer learned that over time. This one may not be there yet. The same goes for your suppliers.

You need to have more patience, communicate more often, simplify anything you can simplify (from their perspective), and make it easier than ever to work with you. Companies with downsized staffs or those doing everything from a survival mindset don’t have the time and energy for complex hassles. Anything you do to make it easy to do business with you will pay dividends.

In fact, every touchpoint with your customers at every stage of their life cycle could use a review. You may find that in some departments of your company every single customer interaction needs to be simpler than ever, easier than ever, and as frictionless as possible.

Even those who aren’t struggling will benefit. Some departments may not need changes. Thing is, you won’t know until you take a look, discuss with your team, and perhaps make that part of your next conversation with customers.

The more you know about how they’re impacted, how they’re adapting, how their “now” looks – the better you’ll be able to serve them and the more likely they’ll be able to keep you around as a vendor.

If your prospects & customers are focused on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (or similar needs from a business perspective), then products, processes, services and vendors that feel like luxuries, hassles, or complications will be easy to discard. Take steps to avoid being one of them.

Photo by Jeremy Lapak on Unsplash

Categories
customer retention Customer service Getting new customers Management

Eliminate customer service

What would happen if 80% or even 90% of your customer service calls went away?

Wait, what?

Oh, I know. You’re proud of the quality of your customer service. I suspect that if I asked your customers, they’d tell me all sorts of great things about how you took care of them, fixed a problem, have a wonderful service team, wear Tyvek shoe covers into their home, etc.

That’s good. Great service is important – right down to the shoe covers. So important that we’ve discussed it repeatedly. Thing is, there’s something better than great service: Service you never have to give because your customers never needed it.

I’m not talking about providing no service at all. I’m talking about taking steps to ensure that the amount of service you have to provide to resolve problems is tiny. Not just any problems – simply the preventable ones.

Damaged during shipping

Outside of very serious package damage that sometimes happens in transit, imagine if you no longer had to provide customer service related to a shipped item showing up broken. You can’t prevent incidental breakage, right?

Let’s try. Have your team back a box like they usually would. Go upstairs in your shop. Ask your shipping team to watch from outside as you toss that box out the window. Did anything break? Pack it better. Did the box crush? Try a better box. Wash, rinse, repeat. If your team is watching, they’ll have ideas to get it fixed. You won’t have to test anymore – they’ll get it and take over.

Obviously, if you ship heavy items that will always break the box during a fall like that, a different test makes sense. Your service and shipping departments probably know what kind of damage is in that 80-90% of damage claims.

If you can eliminate 80-90% of the “my stuff arrived and it’s broken” customer service, how much labor, time, re-work, COGS, repacking expense, reshipping expense, employee frustration, and customer first impression damage can you save?

Some of that will fall to the bottom line. Increased margin. More profit without making a single additional sale. No one wants that, right?

It’s a simple example, and perhaps one that you’ve explored because there are hard costs and well, it’s pretty obvious. But did you take the idea further?

Eliminating service

Eliminating service may not seem obvious – even if you’re service improvement oriented. Many of us focus on optimizing support responses and minimizing support ticket turnaround times, only to completely forget to see what could be eliminated, rather than simply working toward making our responses better and faster.

So, back to the original question. What would it take to eliminate 80 to 90 percent of your service “events” in a few departments? What if you only manage to eliminate 50% or even 20% of these events across a few departments? It adds up fast – it’s all overhead.

What could the staff who currently handles these service calls get done that would help the customer (and your company) even more?

Ever have to go back to a customer site to fix something that didn’t get done right the first time? Ever have to go to a customer site to fix something some other company messed up? How does this impact your customer retention? Referrals?

Getting it right the first time is a competitive advantage. Every visit to a customer’s business or home wastes their time and increases the cost of whatever you do – both to you and them. It increases the likelihood that they’ll call you again, much less refer you to a friend who needs the same sort of work done. This isn’t about their desire to help you. If they refer you, it’s because they want to recommend someone who is going to help their friend have a good experience. Otherwise, no referral will come.

Eliminate friction

Preventable problems are the kind that create friction. Friction that slows down adoption of the product or service you sold them. Friction that increases their frustration with something they just purchased. Friction that creates negative first impressions. Friction that creates second thoughts and buyer remorse. Friction that slows down payments.

These problems may seem out of your control, but they aren’t. They may seem may seem expensive to fix, but their prevention saves money in the long run. What service can you drastically reduce or eliminate and in doing so, create a better client experience?

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

Categories
Management

The lure of binary decisions

More people had died in the first month of World War I than in the entire US Civil War (~750K). The Belgian / German / French battles took off like a forest fire, leaving more than a hundred thousand dead each week of that first month.

At the time, John Maynard Keynes said World War I wouldn’t last a year. He’s quoted as saying something along the lines of “As soon as financial liquidity dries up, the combatants will be forced to come to terms.

World War I lasted four years and four months. 20 million people died.

It’s a good illustration about making decisions (or coming to a conclusion) based on normal decision making parameters and processes for normal times. World War I was far from normal.

For that reason, when you hear “This can’t last…the economy”, consider the mindsets, data, & thought processes that yielded such comments.

The limits of binary decisions

We’ve limited ourselves to binary decisions for decades. This party or that party. My ego vs. your ego. This skin color, that skin color. Your school vs. my school. My needs vs. yours. This county vs. that county. This state or region vs. that state or region. Their rage vs ours. Often, the result is that we demand that something (or someone) must lose in order for our thing (or us) to win.

We’ve observed others making decisions this way as we grew up, or as our careers advanced. We learned to make decisions by watching others do so, right or wrong.

What I’m getting to is the idea that there’s “normal” and “whatever this is”, as if there can only be two possibilities. It’s the same thing Keynes appeared to be looking at. None of us are immune to it. Keynes was a pretty smart guy – and still, it appears he fell under the spell of either / or. The businesses that don’t adjust, that don’t consider what’s going on in the minds of their clientele.. what have they missed?

We have to get better at making decisions. While some decisions are either / or, quite a few aren’t. Be careful not to assume that your only choice is this or that.

Are there any other options?

The next time you need to make a decision, consider every other choice you have – even the ones that might seem stupid under “normal” conditions. That includes considering the choice of doing nothing at all. While doing nothing isn’t always a good choice, it’s a possibility. Ruling it out without any consideration avoids the thought processes involved. The ideas you ponder when considering doing nothing can absolutely impact the option you eventually choose.

Your fallback position is that “old normal”. Maybe in your business, the current normal, the new normal(s) and the old normal are more or less the same. For many businesses & customers, they aren’t.

The current normal

Current normal? Yes. While recent events tend to make us think of new normal vs. old normal (there’s that binary choice again), you don’t have to think too hard to realize that for some businesses, there have been a series of “normals” this year. Each week or two has been a bit of a moving target, each one its own normal, depending on what your business does.

That series of normals offer lessons and things to think about, whether you experience them first hand in your business, or externally as a customer or interested observer.

Each “normal” has provided conditions to deal with internally under your roof as well as with suppliers and service vendors you use. It certainly supports the theorem that “One is the worst number in business” that we’ve discussed over the years (ie: one customer / supplier / key employee, etc).

Don’t get comfortable

If future “normals” last longer, we’ll be tempted to assume the newest, longest lasting normal is going to stick. Assuming that could lure you back into either / or binary decision making.

I suggest adopting a flexible, open minded, inquisitive, research, and data-driven decision making process that has you and your people repeatedly on the lookout for tiny movements that signal bigger changes.

Maybe you’ve always done this. If not, there’s no time like the present to start. There may be a new normal at some point, but it isn’t likely to announce itself upon arrival. Use the current state of change to hone your decision making skills. Keep getting better at it.

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Employees Leadership Management

On being essential

Is your business “essential”? I don’t mean the Federal distinction. I mean in view of those who you serve, because those are the only ones who matter. No matter how bad the economy or anything else in the future might get, is your business serving essential needs for your clients?

Essential people

The people you’ve hired are a big part of what makes your business essential to your customers. Finding, keeping, and training people who love to take care of your customers is real work. Taking “good care” of them includes training, coherent management, “real wages” and benefits.

A business doesn’t pay “real wages” and benefits because someone else wants them to. They do it because it puts their team at ease, allowing them to focus on the quality, speed, and value of their work. A team that’s not worried about their job has more headspace to attend to their work. It puts a fence around them, making it hard for others to poach them.

Essential customers

Reach out to your very best customers. Call them or write an email that’s very clearly personal and not mail merged. Find out what their concerns are. Do they assume you’re going to be around? Remove any doubt. If you’re having problems, be square with them. You should be asking them if there’s anything causing critical problems right now. Are they things you can help with? Tell them specifically how. If you can’t, can you suggest someone who can? Be the one helping, not the one just trying to make a transaction happen.

You probably know the customers who are most on the edge. What can you manage to do for them? Even a small gesture that buys them a little more breathing room is worthwhile and will certainly be remembered.

Made in your image

When I see a company doing things that make them less essential than they could be, I tend to break down what they do well and what can they do better. In many small businesses, the capabilities and behavior of the businesses mimic the capabilities and behavior of the owner. Most owners are essential to our business – at least until our business matures. Some of this “made in your image” thing is good. Some isn’t. I battled it for years, as many of us do. One of the battles was over bookkeeping.

I’m not a fan of accounting. Accountants are fine. The actual work of accounting and bookkeeping always made me crazy. I know, I know. Seems silly given what I do. It is. Ever have one of those things you know you need to get better at even though you really don’t like it? That was accounting for me.

The thing is, accounting isn’t there solely to keep the tax man happy. The quality of your business decisions will improve substantially as your understanding of your numbers improves. No, I don’t mean the tax code and all of that. I mean the numbers that fall out of day to day operations. They all fall to your books. They’re metrics, but not the normal kind I talk about. Lots of metrics tell a story – and accounting does too. If you don’t listen to the numbers (including the accounting ones), the story won’t go how you want it to.

Mirrors reflect everything

I tell this story to reinforce that my company was a direct reflection of me during my “bleah, accounting” phase and that was not a good thing. It was important to work on (or delegate) the things that I don’t want to be reflected from me. Becoming essential means doing those things for your business.

Unless you’ve worked at it, your business reflects the things you’re good at, as well as those things you need to work on. The mirror reflects everything in front of it. Your business doesn’t have to, but you have to make a conscious decision that this is going to happen.

You have to choose which of your behavior your business reflects and which ones it does better than you. This will, of course, require some delegation or some training, or perhaps both. For me, it was both.

Customers decide

Your customers decide whether or not your business is essential to them. The behavior of your company and the value it provides to your customers is how they decide.

Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash

Categories
Management strategic planning

Grandma’s Rainy Day

Almost every Saturday, my grandmother and grandfather would load up the LTD and my grandmother would head to the farmer’s market. In their area, it was a massive open air building under a roof. Every booth had a waist high table with edges and a hanging scale. We’d spend the day there, selling vegetables, butter and a few other food items.

After we got home, the first thing we’d do after I helped her unload the car is head to her dresser. She’d pull part of the day’s take from the farmer’s market and stuff it into a bank bag she kept in the back of her dresser drawer. The rest would stay in her purse. One day, I finally got curious enough to ask her about it. She called it “her rainy day money” and explained the idea to me. As a farm family, you never know what unexpected weather is going to bring. Even as a young boy, the possible impacts were obvious, even though I had no understanding of how devastating a major storm at the wrong time would be to their cash crop.

Prediction isn’t protection

That’s the problem with storms. Several decades later, our weather detection and prediction capabilities are much better, but it doesn’t matter all that much. Even with days of notice before the arrival of a massive thunderstorm, hurricane or untimely freeze, there’s still not all that much you can do about it unless you can harvest your crop before it arrives.

Sure, grandma can cover a reasonable amount of garden plants with a sheet to prevent freeze damage. You can’t easily cover dozens of acres to protect against a hailstorm or similarly damaging event. If you’re my grandparents and your only income is from that farm, then the rainy day fund could literally be a life-saver. 

Hurricanes and other threats

Hurricane Camille (1969) and Agnes (1972) both hammered their isolated farm with very high rainfall, yet I don’t recall my grandparents ever being in dire straits as a kid. Sure, grandparents don’t always share the extent of their financial situation with young kids, but kids notice things in adult behavior, particularly if it changes. I never saw anything that made me wonder – or they were good at hiding it.

My grandparents’ primary cash crop was tobacco. Extremely heavy rain early or late in the growing season can devastate a crop. Their crops were on sloping land, which I suspect was by design. Hail could destroy a crop. 

Farmers face many challenges, including market fluctuations, global relationships, and “Big Ag”. Grandma’s rainy day fund protected my grandparents personal economy on a scale that was workable for their small farm.

Another term for rainy day fund is business reserves. 

Hindsight is 20/20

Today, a lot of businesses are in a bad spot. Some have closed. I don’t know their situations, but I suspect some portion of them could have benefited from having a rainy day fund, or perhaps a larger one. I’m pretty sure that every business that’s been hit hard would look back and be grateful if their former self made sure they had 60 days of reserves. 

I don’t mean to make light of this or bust on you when you’re down. I’ve been there. I know how it feels. Building business reserves is hard, particularly when starting up or starting over. You’ve got demands at home. You want to take better care of your staff. Growth and other projects want their share. Every single dollar of revenue has multiple demands on it. Old news, but still true.

Work on your rainy day fund

I hope businesses that have taken a hit can restart and get back to business. It’s hard. You think back to all the challenges you faced over the last five years or so – knowing that restarting means you’ll probably have to face some of them again. 

Whether you’re starting over or not, knowing what you know now, consider budgeting a rainy day fund into your monthly business budget. Not “I should do this someday”, but a specific amount or percentage. Decide how much you want to have in reserve for some future rainy day. Carve it out every day, week or month. Maybe you already do this. If so, double down on your business’ ability to take a punch. It’s something you’ll never regret, plus Grandma will be even more proud of you. 

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Categories
Business culture Customer relationships Entrepreneurs Management

Predictions, models, tramps, & thieves

I know, you weren’t expecting a reference to Sonny & Cher.

Technical people (programmers, doctors, scientists and the like) aren’t typically considered to be good communicators to the public at large. Good communicators like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson stand out because they’re adept at explaining very technical subjects in a way that’s understandable to everyone. Sure, they have time to prepare, but that doesn’t guarantee content everyone else can understand.

This is one reason why we’re so frustrated with the inaccuracy of “predictions” about things like weather, fantasy football player performance, stock market behavior, hurricane tracks, asteroid paths, and COVID impacts.

How many science-y people in these roles are saying something like… “This is a model. This is how models work. A model is not a promise. It is a set of results from a bunch of calculations based on the data we have today – and the data we don’t have yet. When the data changes, the results coming from the models will change.

The lack of this kind of communication causes modeling to be devalued by everyone else.

What you don’t know

Data changes rapidly – weekly, daily, hourly. Some of today’s data could be inaccurate. We may not know that until tomorrow’s data arrives, or a sensor fails.

Consider hurricanes. Hurricane models “predict” their path & severity. The output changes as variables are added /changed / deleted, and as varialbe importance changes. As the hurricane gets closer to shore (or as the time to make your third round draft pick nears), models become more accurate because there are fewer variables, & the possible range of still-useful variables shrinks.

What don’t we know?

When Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, he was asked about then-recent discoveries about WMDs in Iraq. The questions were legitimate as was his answer, though he was mocked for it at the time.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

Donald Rumsfeld (2002), speaking as U.S. Secretary of Defense

Anyone who has worked with business metrics, science, or fantasy football knows that he was right.

Despite this variability & the knowledge that tomorrow could look much different, we often have to make decisions using today’s data.

Predicting people performance

If you’re trying to predict the performance of a NFL player, it’s equally difficult. We know a player has a 44″ vertical, runs a 4.2 second 40 yard dash, and is a three year All-Star (and more), yet we still can’t accurately predict his stats for next game.

We don’t know that his mother is sick, or that a tiny injury is bothering him intermittently. We might not notice tiny performance differences that affect a game’s outcome. Perhaps only the player who covers him will notice.

After the game, the coach might tell the press that they called different plays “because he’s hurting a little bit” as a ploy to distract their next opponent. It’s Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknown” to most of us.

You don’t know when you draft a great quarterback that you’ll lose him for the season in week seven because he tripped over his own feet during practice. Likewise, if you don’t know your best salesperson’s mother has terminal cancer, you won’t know that (or how) it affects their work.

Will models help you?

How’s your team? Is anyone challenged by something that impacts them like a nagging injury? How distracted would you be in that situation? What would help you? What needs do your people have that they don’t normally have? How can you help? Can they help each other?

What aspects of your clients’ performance could be predictive? What data is indicative of their performance? What *was* indicative but has changed? What don’t you know? Have you checked in with them? How can you help? Can they help each other?

Can performance modeling help you see performance changes earlier? Can models help you make better decisions earlier?

What don’t you know?

Categories
customer retention Customer service Employee Training Getting new customers Management

Got a reopening plan?

As economies start to reopen (like ours here in Montana), everyone’s trying to figure things out. What’s going to be different? What’s going to be the same? What should we do & say? One of the most important aspects of your reopening is the communication to your employees and to the public – your customers.

Employees need a roadmap

Training is essential. Make sure they know specifically what new tasks are expected of them, when, how often, & why. Don’t assume they know exactly what to do. Document new processes. Advise about old processes that are gone. Observe how these processes are executed. Let the best ones train & observe the rest so you can deal with more important things.

Yes, management 101.

Explain the impact of these things on your customers. Their actions, or inaction, could make a client for life, or repel someone forever.

They need to understand what’s being done to keep them safe. Employees need certainty. Their family needs to know their health & income aren’t being placed at risk.

Customers decide

I mentioned employees first because if they aren’t prepared, your customers will notice. They’ll watch how your business responds. Most people know someone somewhere who has gotten sick. Some are scared (or at least concerned), and some aren’t.

The busier your business was, the easier it’ll be to avoid. You may need to meet your customers where they are – just like always.

Make sure your customers know exactly what you’ve done to make your business safer for them. They need to know exactly what you’re doing each day. If they see things indicating that you don’t care about your people, why wouldn’t they assume you feel the same about them?

Make sure they understand what the new rules are, whatever that means for your business.

The logistics of all this are not easy. It’s probably work you haven’t been doing, at least not at the scale reopening requires.

Your customers need certainty. They decide whether when (or if) they return to your business. Your actions, people, & communication will impact their choice.

Customer experiences

I ordered carryout pizza from a place that brags on their contactless carryout. I arrive to find employees without masks or gloves. The same pen & clipboard is used for every other pick up I watch while waiting in the car for my order. I get the same clipboard & pen to sign with, despite the fact that I paid online. Keep in mind that the employee delivering the pizza and handing over the clipboard/pen is touching the same items that every customer touches. When I touch the pen, I touch everyone else who touched the pen.

A week later, I order carry out from a local pizza place. They’re sharing pens/clipboards & requiring signatures for an online payment. There’s no PPE.

A week later (you’ll notice a pattern here), I order carryout from a different national pizza chain bragging about contactless carryout. Same deal. No PPE and a shared pen / clipboard.

A few weeks later, I used the drive through at the third place. After speaking with their national office a week earlier, their contactless carryout truly is.

I had allergy testing scheduled for a while and surprisingly, it didn’t get cancelled. Everyone masked up – even the receptionist. When I arrived, they had a clean pen jar & a used pen jar. A sign instructed you to use a clean pen and place it in the used pen jar when done.

At grocery stores, there are signs identifying sanitized carts. The clerk wiped the pinpad after the person in front of me was done – a process that didn’t happen two weeks earlier.

I placed an online pickup order at a brewery. When it was ready, I received a text message. When I arrived, it was ready to carry to the car.

I haven’t heard from the other two “we’re contactless but not really” pizza places.

Reopening Processes

What processes had to be changed? Don’t force your team or your customers to figure it out during their first encounter with your reopened business. It’ll frustrate them & make you look unprepared.

If signs will help, make signs. If a sequence of signs will help, or a checklist will help, use them. Warn your customers in advance of any orders and repeat the advisory when they place an order. Let them know what to expect. If your new process needs explanation (regardless of reason), explain it.

Photo by Birgith Roosipuu on Unsplash

Categories
Creativity Employees Entrepreneurs Management

Adapt to build security, stability, & certainty

A lot of the concern you see from people right now is rooted in a loss of certainty. Ask a few business owners why they started their business and you’ll likely find security, certainty, or the desire to have more control as their reasons for starting a business. Maybe it’s the feeling that they finally have some security (or an increase in security) thanks to making some extra cash each month. It could be based on having the ability to “take a punch”, ie: withstand an unexpected week away from work, or some other temporary negative impact on your income.

Stability and security

For a business owner, one of the first steps in this path is being able to pay yourself consistently. For some, it was the ability to make payroll without nervously waiting on sales to come in before the end of the payroll period. Perhaps it was the ability to offer your team the benefits they’d expect at a larger employer. All of these are steps along the path to sleeping better at night as business owner, and at some point, as an employer.

Your employees crave the same type of stability, security, and certainty in their lives. For the employee, stability means knowing you’ll have work for the next couple of months. Having retained earnings available feels pretty good right now if you’re an employer. Perhaps you can assure their future for the next few months. Or maybe you’re as worried as they are.

Now is a great time to discuss ideas they’ve had that you might not have had time for. A weak owner with little vision will simply lay them off without any effort to find an interim solution.

If your business is slow, your sales and marketing efforts need stronger efforts. For those who never had to sell before (some businesses don’t), you might have to start. You might have to “beat the bushes”.

Some of you may never have needed to do marketing before. Others can’t survive without it. Adapting means you might have to do some things you’ve never done before. How we adapt to change says a lot about us.

What adaptation looks like

Adaptation takes many forms. A high-end, upscale, highly-regarded restaurant in Seattle closed a week or two ago, but not for good. They decided it wasn’t responsible to be a gathering place for a while. It’s possible that they may have had no choice in the matter if their clientele stayed away for a few months.

Rather than let fate, luck, or circumstances determine their destiny, they took things by the reins. Their current solution is to create three businesses. One, a food truck type of business for simple breakfasts (coffee and bagels) and another food truck type business that serves lunch. Finally, they created a service that creates family dinners to carry out and take home (to go only, no on-site service).

Once things return to normal, they might leave those three new businesses open and reopen their fancy restaurant. In the meantime, they’ve kept their people working while providing food services that some people need.

Create new certainty

These are the kind of ideas worth discussing at your office or shop. As an example, if you provide raw materials (whatever that means) for certain clients, perhaps those clients could use assemblies or packaging of your raw materials (including delivery) in a form that allows their team to work at home in their garage to build / assemble / etc the same things they build at their shop. This type of idea may not fit your business, or your clients’ business, but an adaptation might. Rethink about what you do, what they buy & how you can help them.

Think about every step in your process & theirs. How are you involved now? How can you shortcut the process or provide partial results along the way? Brainstorm possibilities with them. You might find solutions that make sense for both parties under today’s conditions. They might also fit afterward. Even if they don’t, the solution have value to others.

Can-do thinking that built resilient companies in the past & can do so again. Leaders step up when the time is right. They don’t wait. They don’t need permission. They just lead.

Photo by Balaji Malliswamy on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Management

Be Prepared on Main St.

If you believe the folks randomly interviewed on the news, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s too worried about COVID-19 here in Montana. How they shop tells a different story: people want to be prepared. I recently found the TP section of Wal-Mart all but empty. Costco was out of TP except for the big public restrooms rolls. Same for the 20 pound bags of rice (Costco-wise). I mention this because ignoring the need to “Be Prepared” (the Boy Scout Motto) isn’t advisable in your business life any more than in your personal life – even if you weren’t a Scout. To that end, a friend sent me a link to a founder/CEO advisory sent by the Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm Sequoia Capital. Print readers, see https://medium.com/sequoia-capital/coronavirus-the-black-swan-of-2020-7c72bdeb9753

The Sequoia advisory was aimed at founders and CEOs of firms they’ve invested in, yet they kindly shared it with everyone. They called it (paraphrased) “guidance… while dealing with potential business consequences of the spreading effects…“.

If you read it, bear in mind that it’s targeted at founders and CEOs at startups, not necessarily at Main Street businesses. Still, much of the guidance applies to local business, so I used a little editorial license to adjust their guidance for Main Street.

Challenges being faced

They listed drop in business activity (sales), supply chain disruptions, curtailment of travel, time to containment, recovery time for the economy after containment. All of these things could impact Main Street. For non-tech businesses, the supply chain is the one that concerns me. Stay on top of this if you depend on Just-In-Time suppliers.

Cash runway – Most Main Street businesses don’t have a Silicon Valley style runway. They have receivables & payables and the only investor is often the owner. If you have a line of credit to smooth out the bumps, have a cup of coffee with your banker. No one likes surprises – and that goes for both of you. Two-way communication is critical.

Fundraising – Few Main Street businesses are concerned about raising another round of capital, but the thought of forging partnerships during difficult times is wise, even on Main Street. As the advisory noted, “Constraints focus the mind and provide fertile ground for creativity.

Sales forecasts – While this paragraph is brief, it’s important. Customers may delay payments because they’re being paid slowly. Be prepared, communicate often, assume nothing.

Marketing – While I agree that care is needed (where the advisory says “rein in customer acquisition spending” and “raise the bar on ROI for marketing spend“), events like this cause some companies to freeze. Fear has them not marketing as hard (or worse, not at all). Fear-induced contraction can become self-fulfilling, causing business to soften because they took their foot off the gas. Even if your spending is curtailed, don’t stop marketing altogether. If you invest carefully, you could pick up some business you might not otherwise have gained.

Headcount – While it’s just slang, I detest this word and its cousin “Human Capital”. As if we’re thinking “Hey Buck, back that skid of human capital up to the loading dock, will ya?“. Let’s take a different angle at this. Your people are going to be scared, or at least, worried. They’re worried that you might cut their hours, or cut them loose entirely, much less that the business might fail. People don’t respond well to surprises. Communicate early & often. If you have an emergency fund or cash buffer that has you ready to make payroll despite a bumpy three or four months, tell them sooner rather than later. Their concern will impact their behavior. You don’t want that.

If it starts to look like making payroll could be tough a month from now, don’t wait to tell them. I know, I know, you don’t want to lose them, so communicate carefully and honestly. Be flexible & creative. Find a win-win to help them stay that helps you both, even if part-time. When things get rolling again, you don’t want to be the business who can’t hit cruising speed due to an inexperienced staff.

Capital Spending – As Sequoia noted, keep your powder dry.

Leadership – They hit this for a couple of paragraphs because it’s important. Depending on how things go over the next few months, your checkbook and your leadership could be tested. Your actions will send a message to your entire community.

Photo by cheng feng on Unsplash