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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?

Personal development Productivity Software Time management

Productivity on a weekend!

Today’s guest post is about a couple of tools that I thought you might find handy.

Slither over to David Seah’s blog and you’ll find 2 pretty handy tools to make you more productive: The Printable CEO Series and The Compact Calendar.

photo credit: ericmcgregor

As you might expect, I think the more planning and scheduling you can do – the more productive you will be – assuming there’s a dose of self-discipline in there as well. Look at it this way, it’ll give you lots more time to watch American Idol on the TiVo – on YOUR schedule 🙂

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Your clients have better things to do

While I never met Bruce Barrington, one of the reasons I really admire him is something he said long ago about the things that programming tools make you do when building a program.

Bruce said:

Anything you have to do every time shouldn’t have to be done at all.

Mozambique n4
photo credit: babasteve

Frankly, I think you can apply this to a lot of things in business – at least systems and processes-wise.

Here’s an example: Last Friday, I’m logging into Aweber to add a new message to my email newsletter. At the bottom of the list, I notice that my last message had a SpamAssassin score of 0.4.

Call me anal-retentive (or fastidious, whatever) but I don’t like seeing those scores on my emails.

Not. Even. Zero. Point. One.

So I click the SpamAssassin score link, which is supposed to show me which parts of the message caused the score to result. When I click the link, Aweber’s system tells me this:

There was an error in processing your SpamAssassin score. This is usually due to the message having lines that are greater than 80 characters long. If you still get this error message, then please contact customer support.

Tell me this.

Why in the world do I need to contact customer support? If you’re aweber (whose service I really like), wouldn’t you want to know *every single time* that this problem occurs?

Assuming that’s true, they already know who they are and how to contact themselves<g> and they already know who I am, since I’m logged into Aweber and working on my emails. So why don’t they have their system automatically open a support case on this issue?

I simply shouldn’t have to do this manually.
What do you make your clients do every day, every time they do business with you, every time they use your product, service, software or what not…that they shouldn’t have to do?

Fix it. Get started today.

It’ll make your clients appreciate you more because you’re saving their time.

It’ll make your business stronger and more productive because your stuff will have that much more value, and it’ll be easier to use.

Automation Competition Customer service Management Productivity Technology

How have fuel prices changed your customers’ behavior?

Since I work out of a home office, I don’t spend all that much time on the road. Good thing.

As a result, I don’t have to fill up the Suburban too often. It’s great for hauling around a big pile of Scouts and their camping gear, but lousy at efficient travel for me and the Dog (my Mom the English teacher cringes, thinking “it should be the ‘dog and I’ “).

Driving into the future
photo credit: kevindooley

So last Friday, I fill it up for the first time in a little over a week. Gas has risen about 15 cents per gallon since the last time I filled up (8 days ago), and a total of at least 27 cents since the time before that. Result: We’re at $3.43 here as of 10pm Friday night.

Anyhow, I’m on fumes after picking up my son after an all day (and much of the night) District band competition (he plays sax), so I stop and fill ‘er up.

$143.80 – a new record for the blue beast, who has a 40 gallon belly.

On the way home, I’m thinking to myself “Thank goodness I don’t have a long commute like I did 20 years ago.”

Then I start thinking about what changes in customer behavior this is causing – and more importantly, what actions businesses should take in order to deal with possible changes in behavior.

  • Do pizza delivery services get busier?
  • Do delivery charges rise?
  • Fedex fuel charges go up.
  • Food climbs 40% in the last 6 months.

With all this stuff going on, what are you doing to compensate for the changes in your customers’ behavior?

Remember the posts over the last week or so about automation? Twitter? Your website? All of these things will be more valuable as people decide not to drive all over town to shop, but instead, decide to pick up the phone or open up their browser.

Today, I picked up the phone and asked if 2 print jobs were done. The print shop is a 45 minute roundtrip drive on a good day. I drive in to pick up the work – and only 1 job is done. When I got there – as is usual – they have to search all over the shop to find the printed output (I’ve watched this for 2-3 years and still haven’t figured out why they insist on doing it that way).

So I will have to go into town again on Monday and get the other job – all because someone made a mistake. While it was an honest mistake, it cost me 45 minutes and about 3 gallons of gas.

Look at what happened to me and examine your business to see how you can streamline processes, delivery and so on – all in the interest of saving you and your client some time, money and energy. The more efficient you make the process of doing business with you, the more value you provide to your clients and the better off your business will be.

Ask yourself these questions, as examples:

  • How can I save my customer a trip to the store/office?
  • How can I save my customer some time?
  • What can I automate that we do manually now (taking up time)?
  • What can I automate that isn’t being done at all, but would provide more value to my clients?

For example, it would be simple to setup an automated notification system that would email, fax, SMS/text message or Twitter me when the print jobs are really done. I would expect a notification for each one.

Likewise, delivery would save me time and money. Do you offer it? I’m far more concerned about the extra 45 minutes than the $10. Clearly, I can justify at least a $10 delivery fee, since it’ll cost me that much in fuel alone. With the capabilities of route generation software, you can deliver 20-30-40 packages each day and not spend all your time on the road. You can use local courier services as well.

When will $143.80 change the behavior of your customer – and will you be prepared to provide them with business as usual, only better?

PS: Don’t confuse efficient with cheap.

Related posts elsewhere on the net:

Improving Operational Efficiency and Business Performance in …
Social Media for Efficiency and Productivity in Business
Screwing Over Customers is Not a Good Business Strategy

On Monday, the Albany Business Journal joined the bandwagon saying that a Federal fuel tax “vacation” would help. I say it’s a pile of horse biscuits. An 18.4 cent discount doesn’t mean much when fuel has gone up 30+ cents in 10 days. And it doesnt fix the problem, it just panders to the voters.

Blogging Marketing Productivity Social Media Technology Web 2.0

Your blog can show your clients “How to”

Today’s guest post is from The Brain. No, not your brain, The Brain.

photo credit: moujemouje

The Brain is a software product that allows you to organize, relate and search info to other info. Typically, we’re talking about things that don’t make this easy – especially across media and thought processes.

Showing your clients how to get more value out of your products is a very good use for a blog. I got several ideas from this post, even though I’ve used the Brain for years.

How can you use this technique in your blog, for your products?

Entrepreneurs Motivation Productivity Time management

25% of 2008 is gone. Where do you stand?

Flying Crap
photo credit: jurvetson

1/4th of 2008 is gone, history, finito.

Are you 25% of the way to completing your 2008 goals?

Did you reach your 1st quarter goals?

If so, use what you learned and achieved to drive your accomplishments to your 2nd quarter goals.

If not, why not? Be honest with yourself.

It’s April 3rd. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Spend a moment blaming that person in the mirror, and then shake it off and get moving.

Get out that Jim Rohn goal planner worksheet (or similar tool – whatever works for you) and get to work.

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Recovering from “the day from hell”, aka Time Management

Overhead. People who donâ??t work for themselves often tend to think of that in terms of money.

I find that time overhead is far more expensive.

For example, think about the time it takes to keep the various local, state and Federal agencies satisfied with the appropriate amount of paperwork. I am convinced that this country would never again face a recession if they would just eliminate all of this paperwork tomorrow by coming up with a better way to collect taxes. Why no recession? Cuz everyone who owns a business would suddenly get 2 months of their business life back every year. They’d spend it on turning a profit, creating even MORE taxes.

The only way Iâ??ve found to eliminate this particular paperwork load is to take a job working for someone else, so they can do the paperwork instead of me. Not a good answer for most entrepreneurs. The upside to the local/state/Federal overhead is that it all has deadlines, so it can be planned into your schedule (whether you like it or not). But I digress, as I didnt start this conversation to talk about paperwork.

What really gets me is the unplanned â??Hello, I just thought I would nuke your entire day for my little crisisâ? kinds of things. Thatâ??s REAL overhead and sometimes it can be downright painful.

That kind of time overhead can just nuke a day, especially when itâ??s unplanned time overhead that I have no time for that day. The water heater goes out. The car that suddenly needs something that canâ??t wait a few weeks. A laptop hard drive crashes. The 15 month old that pukes down the back of your dress shirt as you walk her out to the car on the way to work in the morning â?? and her mom is on a 12 hour nursing shift that started 90 minutes earlier, 30 miles away.

You know, the ones that have you waking up on Wednesday with the same ToDo list that you had on Monday morning.
Sure, itâ??s just life, but how do you deal with this and get refocused? Let me tell you what I do, maybe itâ??ll help you come up with a strategy that works for you.

For me, a couple of things help. First, that â??6 (12, 38, whatever) things I gotta get done todayâ? list still has to rule the day. I donâ??t know about you, but if I *dare* start a week or a day without a well-defined list of important, must-do stuff, itâ??ll be Friday before I know it. Friday evening, that is.

After a crisis, the sooner I get back into the flow of accomplishing things and chipping away at that list, the sooner Iâ??ve forgotten about the water heater that leaked, had to be replaced and caused me to spend half a day getting someone out to dry out the carpet and another half a day getting a water heater and having someone replace it.

Not only does the list compartmentalize your days into little chunks of this and that (important stuff, not YouTube), it provides some structure to help you get back into the groove after a particularly spastic day.

Some people just canâ??t turn off crisis mode and they need to mourn, or whatever seems appropriate. Dan Kennedy told me last year that even HE does this. He said that some folks just have to give themselves some time to cope with it. What he does is typical Dan. He compartmentalizes it, give himself 34 seconds (or something) to cope, then he tosses it in a mental trash can, pitches it away and gets back to work.

IE: just say to yourself â??ok, this sucks and Iâ??m going to be ticked off / feel sorry for myself / whine / moan / cry or stand in the showerâ? and then give yourself 5-15-30 minutes or whatever it takes to get yourself over it. Tell yourself in advance that youâ??re going to do whatever ranting / grieving / complaining that is necessary and at 10:15am youâ??re going to turn it off and get back into rehab, er, I mean back to work.

And then do it. Let the structure you introduce into your day to get rid of the time vampires serve a second purpose – to get you back on the rails.

Competition Entrepreneurs Management Mark Riffey Motivation Productivity Strategy

Rohn: Fix the next 10 years today

Anyone who pays reasonably close attention knows that Jim Rohn is one of the guys I pay pretty close attention to. I met him several years ago at a conference, was really impressed with him, and have been absorbing his mindmelds ever since.

If you’re under the age of 50, it’d be a mistake to dismiss Rohn as just another white haired armchair philosopher. Like many, he’s been rich and he’s been broke, and he prefers rich.

It’s bigger than that, however. Rohn’s teachings expand from sales to motivation to treating your dog better (or something like that). Most people have trouble pulling off a career with such a broad brush, but not Jim.

I use Jim’s stuff all the time, in various forms. For example, I have a phone call this afternoon with my coaching group. I’ll be leading a discussion in a workshop setting where we’ll be going over the highlights of the goal setting portion of Jim’s One Year Success Plan, albeit with a mix of other materials.

It’s not the typical New Year’s resolution sort of stuff that will be forgotten by Groundhog Day, nor is it just another S.M.A.R.T. discussion that ends there.

Instead, what it yields is a detailed action plan for the next 12 months, complete with accountability (the critical missing component in most resolutions), yet without trying to schedule every minute of every day during that period (something few would actually do).

An action plan where you can see the next couple of bite-sized steps, keeping it real, so to speak.

One of Jim’s frequently heard quotes about goal setting is “Now is the time to fix the next 10 years.”

What he means is turn off the email, turn off the phone and TV and take a few hours (worst case) to lay down a plan on paper for what you want to do, how you’re gonna get there. Floating around in the breeze like a sailboat with no captain is no way to live.

Competition Creativity Entrepreneurs Productivity

Entrepreneurs: Are you fried? Maybe this is why.

timer.jpgI was scouring around the net the other night and stumbled across this post by Jonathan Fields.

When I’m not operating strictly by the Outlook calendar, you can quite often paint the letters CNF on my forehead.

I combat CNF by using Outlook appointments as ToDos. Rather than having a list a mile long, I prioritize the todos, pitch the garbage and SCHEDULE the todos into the days on my calendar.

One guy told me recently that when he *has* to get stuff done, he’ll even schedule the bathroom breaks in his day. And hold it till the time comes.

Something I learned accidentally from KenMcCarthy was to use a $5 kitchen timer. You know, the one that goes up to an hour, almost… Low-tech, but it makes you deadly aware of your time because every 55 minutes, it goes off with a jaw-chattering DING.

No matter what you and your laptop are doing, the DING is coming. Some days, it is AMAZING how fast those dings come.

It doesn’t take long for repeated snoozes of Outlook ToDo appointments and a chorus of DINGs to motivate you to focus.

Best of all, you’ll get stuff done, hopefully without being fried.