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Is it the recession or is it you?

Normally I don’t do two guest posts in the same weekend from the same person, but Lisa Barone’s “It’s not the recession, you just suck” resonates with a number of things I’ve been passing along to you over the last few months.

As such, I thought I’d let someone else in the PickYourselfUp Choir sing the lead this time.

Here she is.

Look at it this way… if McDonald’s closed, you wouldn’t starve to death. Why would allow a business closure or layoff to starve your career?


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Letting your hair down

Today’s guest post from Lisa Barone is all about professionalism, sort of.

Lisa talks about doing the unexpected vs. being the stuffy professional everyone expects to you be.

There is room for both when seasoned with a little common sense.

Remember the last time someone at a business did something unexpected for you?

Remember what your reaction was? How many people did you share that with?

Yeah, that.

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A pitcher of Diet Coke, 250 humid yards and a sippy cup

One of the things that restaurants put tons of effort and money into is creating an experience for their patrons that makes people tell their friends.

No, it isn’t just the food. In many cases, it isn’t the food at all. Of course, others concentrate solely on the food.

Despite all that effort and expense, little things can transform an experience into something that will have you telling friends and family – or perhaps, writing about as I am.

Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads

Eleven of us sat down to dinner on the lake last night at White River Fish House in Branson. We barely made it in the door before they stopped seating at 8 p.m. Branson is not Las Vegas as far as timetables are concerned.

It would have been easy for our waitress to go through the motions serving a big group who walked in as the last seating of the day on a Sunday. Large groups mean a guaranteed 18% tip in most restaurants. Unless her service merited a complaint, she’d walk away with a decent sized tip from a group this big.

At first I just wasn’t sure, but little things started giving away that Lorraine had her game face on.

When she got to me and asked for a drink order, I was ready. After a long three days at Silver Dollar City, on the lake and a sweltering, humid midday round of golf, I still felt dehydrated and was very thirsty.

When she asked for my drink order, I was still standing while helping clean up a 7 year old’s spilled lemonade.

I held my hands above each other about 2 feet apart and asked Lorraine for a Diet Coke “about this big”.  She replied “We only have one size” and I thought she had missed her chance to do one of those little things, or be funny or something.

I was wrong.

When Lorraine brought the drinks, she brought me two.

When she brought refills, she brought me two.

Smart. Not only was she thinking about my request, but she was saving trips to the drink station and thus increasing the speed that other things happened. I never had to ask for a refill, which is how it should be.

After the 3rd cup of Diet Coke was gone (I *said* I was thirsty), she brought a pitcher and put a straw in it.

She never said a word about any of this, it just happened and these things just appeared in front of me – often without me noticing until a moment later.

Everyone around me got a kick out of it, and I appreciated the special care – even for this little tiny thing like a drink.

Later, the food came (I had the catfish, which was very lightly breaded, not deep fried and darned tasty) and before too long, we finished up our meal.

Lasers (Note: Say that with your “Doctor Evil voice”)

We didn’t spend a pile of time in the “after-meal” because there’s a laser show in a fountain in the complex near the restaurant – something all the kids wanted to check out.

With that in mind, the tab was paid and out the door we went. I suspect the restaurant staff hustled to close up so they could go home after a long, hot weekend.

About 250 yards down the plaza at the laser show location, Lorraine comes walking up out of the darkness staged around the laser show area.

She’s holding a sippy cup. The little 2 year old had dropped it under the table and we had left without noticing it.

At the end of her shift after a long, hot, busy weekend, at a time when most would have been focused on counting their tips, closing out their register and heading for home, Lorraine remembered that we mentioned the laser show and walked the 250 yards each way on a warm, humid evening just to find us and deliver a 2 year old’s sippy cup.

Her thoughtful, extra effort made an impression on the entire group that will no doubt be repeated elsewhere as well as written about here.

It was just a generic two-dollar sippy cup that the little guy wouldn’t have missed, but like those famous Mastercard ads, she made it priceless.

What’s your staff doing to make your clientele’s experience priceless?

How do you determine which applicants are the ones with the “stuff” to do the little things?

It matters, now more than ever.

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Cracks in your life. What would bust them wide open?

Sossusvlei Landscape
Creative Commons License photo credit: geoftheref

Today’s guest post is from @BradRourke, who posts on a litany of topics revolving around self, community organizations, business and things in-between.

The Mark Sanford meltdown was just one of his topics recently, but not so much about the paparazzi angle.

Instead, he writes about what it might take to get a fine upstanding citizen like yourself to go over the edge like Sanford did.

Hopefully you aren’t there and no one you know is there, but just in case, give it a read and see if his story (which isn’t about Sanford) sounds familiar.

You just might save someone – and it might even be yourself.

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Boat anchors are bad business. Sharing is good business.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb North

Over the last month or so, I’ve been playing phone tag with someone at the local bank’s office.

I use this national bank primarily because they offer some electronic banking services that local banks don’t bother to offer (such as a real-time, seamless interface with QuickBooks), despite my repeated “encouragement” to do so.

Some have noted that the cost to provide this QuickBooks interface is substantial – yet I get interesting wrinkled brow looks when I remind them that I pay $15 a month to use this nifty QB service because it saves us hours per month. Until the fee got to the point where the time was more valuable, I’d pay it. But I digress…

Anyhow, we’ve been talking with someone there about a refi and a combination of my schedule / travel and her schedule /travel have made it difficult to get into the same room at the same time. Not their fault, just one of those things about a busy summer.

This last time I called, the person I’m working with was out of town for several days. I asked the person on the phone if they could put me on their appointment calendar for the week after they return.

My calendar! Mine, mine, mine!

Astoundingly, the answer was no.

Yes, the folks at this large national bank, the same ones who are advanced enough to have their accounts seamlessly talk to my QuickBooks, do not allow or cannot manage to let their employees see their appointment book or schedule an appointment for someone else.


I have a feeling it might be related to worries that someone might raid someone else’s appointment calendar for plum prospects, but there are ways of showing only open dates. Even so, that shouldn’t be necessary.

If you can’t trust a *bank* employee to access a co-worker’s appointment calendar, tell me why you trust them to work at the bank in the first place – cuz I don’t see it. But that trust thing is a topic for another day.

Unseen Value

Now we get to the point where you see where this affects you and your business: Are there resources (like an appointment calendar) that your staff should be able to share so they can help each other serve your clientele?

Back in the photography software days, it was a huge deal for new users of our product to finally get off that paper calendar at the front desk. It allowed anyone to see which photographers / camera rooms / salespeople / presentation spaces were booked and make an appointment no matter where an employee was when they answered the phone.

Sounds completely obvious, but many businesses simply couldn’t do it because they were still tied to that boat anchor – the paper appointment book.

Big, heavy and “somewhere in the warehouse”

Another market I worked with manufactured expensive custom items that were big and heavy. They stored them in the warehouse once they were finished.

The information about the build status and storage location of these custom-ordered items was kept on a set of clipboards on a line of nails in the manufacturing area.

Sometimes the info on those clipboards was out of date or missing because someone forgot to write the build status or location down. An order might get lost / forgotten until a customer called for it – and then you might find out that it hadn’t been built yet.

Now imagine that you are a receptionist in the front office and you’re all alone over lunch hour or during a big sales meeting. When that big customer calls to ask about their 27 piece, $57000 order, you have to put them on hold (or tell them you’ll call back), run back to the clipboards, flip through the orders manually, find the order and run back to the phone.

If the clipboard is missing because someone has it at a manufacturing station, or it is on the manager’s desk (or car seat), you know nothing.

If the data on the clipboard wasn’t filled out, you get to run back to the warehouse and look on dozens of shelves from floor to ceiling for an item that has a little paper tag on it showing the customer name.

That’s a boat anchor.

The alternative? A system that integrates customer information, orders, build status and delivery information together. When the phone rings, you can look up all of a customer’s orders, find the status of any of them and tell them right then. The items are barcoded as part of the manufacturing process so most status and location info is automatically updated. Depending on your situation, “most” could be “all”.

What’s your boat anchor? What can you share to get rid of it, enabling your staff to be more helpful and more productive?

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Good business is simple.

Rather than weigh this down with words, I’ll let it speak for itself.

Good business is simple. Boil it down.

“…so that I can sell with confidence.”

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Is this the Apprentice you really want?

anticipating the turkey
Creative Commons License photo credit: theilr

Trump surely came to a fork in the road during last night’s final episode of The Celebrity Apprentice.

A Morton’s fork to be exact. A Morton’s Fork is a situation where you have no good choices – but you have to make one anyway.

I don’t do much reality TV, but I do use the DVR to record the shows that contain instructive moments that I can pass along here, in the print newsletter and elsewhere.

The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice are two such shows. In every episode there is at least one useful observation that can be made, so there is almost always value enough to sacrifice 40 minutes of your life (assuming that you fast forward through the commercials on your DVR).

Not your normal Apprentice

This season has been painful to watch, even on the DVR.

The sometimes-ugly, always vocal victimhood dynamics of Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa vs. some members of the rest of the team combined with the feisty gamesmanship that Annie Duke displayed were an interesting combination. Include the alcoholic situation with Rodman and the surprisingly spineless Jesse James (both of whom have a lot more under the hood – but failed to show it) and you end up with more entertainment than education.

Frankly, it started to approach the level of the intentional drama that other reality shows create and move away as a source of takeaways for business owners. I know that isn’t the reason for the show, but it’s why I even bother to watch it.

However there was a gem that paid off all season long and it should have been obvious:

This season was a lesson in leadership (or the lack thereof).

Here’s just a sample of the things that project leaders had to deal with:

  • Diversity. Dennis Rodman and Jesse James in the same room with Joan Rivers? Perfect.
  • Substance abuse issues? Yep.
  • Sexual harassment? You know who I’m talking about.
  • Stubborn, my way or the highway employees and leadership? Yep, we had that.
  • Staffers who will do anything to make themselves look good while positioning themselves to avoid taking any blame if it goes wrong? Yep, we had that.
  • Take my ball and go home types? Absolutely.
  • Passive aggressive types? Definitely

Annie get your gun

I will say this: If I have to send someone else into a room where only one will come out alive (business-wise), Annie Duke would be on the short list on one condition: If and only if I don’t ever have any concerns about the present or future consequences of her actions in that room.

No question she is a very sharp cookie.  But that isn’t enough.

In her closing remarks, her points were right on: She raised the most money. She won the most challenges. She won the most as a project leader.

She clearly is one of the best game players (duh) the Apprentice has ever seen.

But would you trust her with your back turned? Something in the back of my mind says no and that alone is enough to get counted out in my book if I’m choosing someone to represent me.

Cry me a Rivers

As for Joan, she displayed amazing tenacity. I seriously doubt anyone expected the 75 year old comedienne to make it to the final.

However, her outbursts – including that Hitler thing – were simply unacceptable. Duke nailed it in the final discussion when she more or less accused Trump of allowing behavior (from both Joan and Melissa Rivers) that would get you kicked out of any Fortune 500 business.

Problem is, she failed to note that she would’ve earned a pink slip as well for her behavior.

So NOW what?

I suspect this is where Trump found himself.

I found it a disappointing class to choose from from the outset and I wonder if that’s where he was as well.

Based on his long history of entrepreneurial business success elsewhere, I expected Jesse James to clean house.

Instead, it was as if he had a victim mentality during much of the show. He not only looked the part of the underdog, he lived it. I wonder if he really knew what he was getting into and just coasted until he was gone because it wasn’t his cup of tea.

Regardless of the reason, that was really disappointing.

If I’m Trump and I’m trying to choose between Rivers and Duke, I have to ask myself: who do I want to represent the Trump name?

Who do I want representing Trump in boardroom discussions?

Who in the room consistently exhibits the cool professionalism AND aggressiveness that is necessary to represent Trump’s business?

None of the above

For me, the answer is none of the above.

There’s not a single person in that boardroom who can hold a candle to previous (regular) Apprentice winners.

I guess The Donald just didn’t figure he could close out the show without naming a winner, which is probably for contractual reasons.

That’s a shame.

At least there were lots of teachable moments this season. If you cant train your lower management using the examples in this show, you’re missing something.

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Airlines: What’s more valuable than a customer?

No 296!.....I am NOT a
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven

One of the things that is most frustrating and wonderful these days are… airlines.

Why frustrating and wonderful?

  • They teach us far more than how NOT to treat people.
  • They teach us how not to make a fair number of business decisions.
  • They teach us how not to empower our staff.
  • They teach us how not to save money in our business.
  • They teach us how not to attract more clients.

Wonderful when we see examples of things to never do in our own business. Frustrating when they happen to us.


Ever notice that most public-facing airline employees are just about powerless to make a change that makes perfect sense? It’s by design.

For example, a friend recently told me this story about his daughter flying home from college for spring break:

My daughter has an economy class reservation on Frontier for Saturday (less than $300 round-trip and lots of penalties for switching).

She finds out her classes are out early and can fly out on Thursday.

So we check the Frontier website and the flights are booked solid for the spring break weekend and all the flights on Thursday have dozens of open seats.

I call up Frontier and suggest that moving her to an empty seat on Thursday and selling her old seat on Saturday would be gravy for the airline. The one-way tickets are going for $500 on Thursday and Friday.

Even the supervisor can’t make the deal.

He said something about a customer buying a cheap ticket and switching to a more expensive day;  but she wanted to switch from a flight where there were no ticket available to a flight where that has dozens of empty seats.

Classic supply and demand.

Way more important than that, it’s classic supply and demand where the salable asset becomes worthless every day, every hour, every few minutes.

The asset? Empty airplane seats that safely move from place to place in a specific time frame.

Like milk and hotel rooms, airplane seats spoil. Once a certain period of time passes, they’re worthless. And a lot more expensive than milk when they go bad.

Airlines 101: Ignore the customer

We have a customer who is taking a fragile, expendable, time-bound asset (an empty airplane seat on Thursday) and offering to make it more valuable by trading it for a clearly MORE valuable seat on a busy travel day in the future on a prime travel day.

I suspect you’d have to look very hard to find one airline employee who fails to understand the value proposition being offered by their customer. In fact, I’ll bet they all understand it.

Sadly, it appears that not one has the power to take action in the face of that value.

So as my friend says, “Here you have the airlines cutting prices to get people to fly and even the Frontier supervisors don’t have the authority to help Frontier make a profit all because they don’t trust their customers.”

What do you sell?

Every now and then I ask you if you really, truly know what you sell.

Airlines sell fragile, time-bound expendable assets. Surely they know this, but they don’t act like it.

They act, empower their staff and create systems that send the message that they sell something entirely different: Reservations, or something like them.

Why do I say that? Because they treat the reservation with far more reverence than they do the customer.

Once the customer passes by the ticket agent at the gate, in many cases they are treated like cattle at a feedlot. At that point, the reservation is worthless, thus the customer holding it has now become a liability, an expense, and/or a burden.

In extreme situations where a plane has a problem, we don’t hustle the (valuable) customer back to the terminal where they could consume an expiring asset we haven’t yet sold (seats on other planes), instead we devalue them by holding them prisoner on the tarmac for hours.

An empowered captain would return his customers to the gate where they could continue their travel, consume unused and about-to-devalue assets. But that isn’t what happens.

Have you truly empowered your staff? Can they take action to maximize your customers’ experience AND the value of the assets you sell?

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Does your job suck? Is it boring? Is it creating value?

Creative Commons License photo credit: riot jane

First, I’ll ask from an employee perspective.

If you’re the employee, I hope your answers are No, No and Yes, respectively.

If they aren’t, exactly how long do you have before someone figures out that your job can go away? What can you do about it before someone does something about it for you – and it isn’t the action you want them to take?

If you are the employer, ask your people.

For that matter, if you have people in jobs that result in “No, No, Yes” answers, are there ways to make the jobs not suck? Not boring?

Use them, don’t lose (or waste) them

Is there a way that those folks could be creating more value and thus generating profit instead of being an expense? If they aren’t creating value in some way, what exactly are they doing and how far are you from laying them off?

Wouldn’t it be better to use them more productively, making them more valuable to your business vs. letting them go and wasting all the time and money you invested in training them?

You DID train them didn’t you? Even if it was just to your way of doing things…

Pass the Calgon

Business owners should be asking themselves the same questions on a regular basis about the products and services they provide to their clients, much less what each of their staff members bring to the table.

You can also add “How are we taking away the pain?” Are you doing that too?

Remember those old Calgon bath oil bead commercials? “Calgon, take me away…”

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If your entire staff turned over today, would anyone notice?

on a mission
Creative Commons License photo credit: llamnudds

And would they care?

If a long time customer (2 years, 5 years, 25 years, whatever) walked into your business today and all your staff was different from their last visit, would they notice the change?

Why do I ask?

Engagement. Relationship. Stickiness.

IE: Buzzwords that answer the question: “Why the heck should I come back?”

Think about it.

  • Have your employees engaged your customers in conversation, or just sold ’em something?
  • Have they worked to create a relationship that causes their customers to gravitate to them or ask for them by name when they call?
  • Do your customers go to their assigned sales rep because that’s who they’re assigned to, or because they know they’ll get the help they need from someone who knows their situation better than anyone?
  • Have they established a substantial level of trust with that customer to encourage repeat visits?
  • Have they exerted the effort necessary to learn as much as they can about the customer in order to serve them better?
  • Does your staff take ownership of their clients and their situation?
  • Do your clients ask for a particular waiter when they come to your restaurant?

Is 2% the only difference between you and them?

If your staff hasn’t taken the steps I described above, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to go elsewhere to save 2%?

How are you insulating yourself from that?