Saturday, November 16, 2013

Using the Written Word to Attract Customers

"Without promotion, something terrible happens... nothing!"  --- P.T.  Barnum

Nobody knows your business like you do.  You live it everyday.  It is yours to cuddle, feed, grow, and nurture.  Part of the growth plan is yet another aspect of the people side of business, and that is the promotional side.

For some it is difficult to toot the horn of a business and to promote the positives, but it is a necessary component toward building and maintaining success.  One of the many tools available for doing this is in the form of the written word.

Several variations of use of the written word for promoting your business exist and not all may be right for your business.  Let's look at three that you can incorporate into your marketing campaign beginning today.

1.) Bios and Profiles.  Creating a bio and profile for key members of your team is a great way to communicate to your market the attributes of the people leading the business.  This creative write-up allows you to showcase the credentials of team members and helps the reader to better understand the "brains" behind the business.  This gives your prospects and customers an introduction to the leadership team and an appreciation of how and why the business operates the way it does.

2.) Advertorials.  An advertorial is an article that is either about your business or your business is included in the piece.  Here is one about Google Glass that highlights the accomplishments of a particular business.  The piece is informative for the reader while providing great exposure for the business.

Your can do the same with you business both online and in print publications, focusing on publications that reach your particular market.  Publishing advertorials on a regular basis gives your business exposure as well as seen as an expert by your audience.  Most publications are hungry for content and willingly accept advertorials as long as they don't read like an advertisement.

3.) Press Releases.  Press releases are great tools for promoting your business and practically any change in your business constitutes a reason for publishing a press release.  A recent promotion, a change of location, a new product or service, a change in pricing policies and awards are recognition are all great reasons to create a press release.  Press releases are easy to construct and can be distributed by various PR companies for a reasonable fee.  Here is one I created for a augmented reality software company that has received tremendous exposure.

Using the written word to your advantage with these three vehicles is a great way to promote your business and gain momentum in acquiring new prospects and customers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Providing Outstanding Customer Service

" Southwest Airlines is successful because the company understands it's a customer service company.  It also happens to be an airline."  --- Harvey Mackay

Our businesses depend on great customer service.  It seems so obvious stated here, but the concept escapes even some of the most seasoned business leaders.  It is as if after the business is up and running that providing great customer service takes a back seat to getting orders filled and out the door.  It becomes forgotten and left behind other priorities such as closing the sale, completing the project, and collecting on accounts.

All of these processes are important and necessary and in defense of business leaders that tend to lose focus on customer service, employees were hired to fill a role of providing for the customer.  Because of this the business leader is usually the last to know that the business is falling short in the customer service department. 

Unfortunately, if, and that is a big "if", a customer takes the time to complain about poor customer service, it is usually too late.  The customers that were upset have long since left and have told the world about
their bad experience.

Thankfully, in most businesses, it only takes a little bit of training and a lot of focus to get the team up to providing great customer service.  Here are three things a business leader can do to ensure that customers are being taken care of:

1.) Be the customer.  This means that you will need to take time to set up some role-playing scenarios to teach your employees how a customer is to be treated.  It is not that complicated.  Either you or someone you appoint plays the role of a customer.  Begin by having the customer be extremely polite and ask general questions.  In the next scenario, have the customer be a little bit irate and demanding.  Then, gradually, with each scenario, have the customer become downright vulgar.  Examine how employees handle the situation and review and critique each exercise.

2.) Ask a customer.  Invite a customer that you've met (or even one you haven't) and ask them to sit in on a meeting to discuss how employees could treat him or her better.  Make the event worth the customer's time by providing lunch, discounts, etc.  Solicit feedback from the customer and have your employees make note of what the customer likes and dislikes.

3.)  Love your customer.  Pick a day to have a customer appreciation day and invite a few customers to the event.  Have your employees plan the event and handle all the arrangements.  Put the ball in the employees court and let them love on the customers.  This will give your team members an idea of what it means to treat customers well and will also enhance customer loyalty.  Before and after the event, talk to your team about the importance of customers and that without them, the company will suffer.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Obama Scare

" Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins.."  --- Charles Stanley

Papa John's is cutting the hours of its employees.  The CEO of the company, John Schnatter, says that the new healthcare program will cause him to raise prices $.10 to $.14 per pizza. 

A franchisee of Applebee's, Zane Terkel, stated that he will be cutting back the hours of his employees to avoid the costs of implementing the new program.

Dennys, Hobby Lobby, Darden Restaurants, and several others are taking steps to avoid paying more in health care costs for their employees, including filing lawsuits against the government.

No, this is not an Obama-bashing session (although if you feel that way, you are welcome to post your comments on our blog: HRVitamin), but an attempt to ease some of the fear we hear from business leaders about the new plan.

ObamaCare, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is scaring small businesses.  Some are fearing the unknown because many business leaders have never read the Act, and others are confused because it is unclear even to those implementing it.

Here are three steps you can take now to prepare your business for the upcoming PPACA challenges:

1.) Take time to understand PPACA.  Start a Obama Care or PPACA folder and begin gathering all the information that you can find.  Warning: Do not get the information from mainline news, but go straight to the source.  Begin here at the Department of Health and Human Services to review what the Act is all about, and continue here to get more detailed information that is applicable to your business.  Also, find out what politician is for or against the Act and go to their sites to get both sides of the argument.  Additionally, your current healthcare provider for your business is supposed to be up to date on the latest information.  Tap this source as well.  Of course, you can also read the entire Act if you have the time.

2.) Start now preparing your team for healthcare changes.  Your employees are watching the news and reading about the upcoming changes.  They are sure to have questions and concerns.  Set up regular bi-monthly meetings to keep them up to date and assure them that you are doing all that you can to provide in the way of health coverage.  If you are not currently providing health coverage, let them know your plan (please put together a plan now) and what they can expect when the Act is implemented.

3.)  Don't freak out.  There are more important business issues on your plate and changes in the healthcare system should not rank at the top of your list.  Here is why: There are so many "holes" in the Act that there will be a lot of fixin' going on for quite some time.  Already, there are extensions proposed by Senators and other politicians and business leaders are pushing for more time to figure out what the Act is all about.  In the meantime, stay informed, prepare as much as you can, and relax.  Don't let fear hamper your business's success.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Great Business- As Well As Life-Sense

Prior to reading The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant, I had heard great things about the book. However, just like when friends rave about a movie they've seen, I didn't want to dive into the book with expectations of being wowed. I've done that before and ended up being disappointed. Instead, I waited to find the right quiet moment (back patio with great view and good coffee) to open this book as if I've never heard of it before. I was quite pleased with the style of writing, the pace of the story, and most importantly, the lessons learned. In fact, there is a great deal to glean from The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant. I won't give a recap of the story because it is better read than summarized, but I will share some pointers that are worth remembering. Here are just a few I walked away with:

1.) Work Hard and God Will Prosper You. This is not one of those, "if you think it real hard, it will come to you," kind of advice. This is down-to-earth living that is so needed in our society today. In other words, work is more a gift than a curse. Like I heard it said one time, "the harder I work, the luckier I get."

2.) See Challenges As Stepping Stones, Not As Obstacles. This nugget of advice works for all works of life whether in business, in dealing with an illness, in raising children, etc.

3.) Be Meek Before God But Bold Before Men. In other words, just because the world stereotypes Christians as wimps and Milquetoast, doesn't mean it should be true. Great advice for today's whacked-out view of right and wrong.

There are plenty more words of wisdom in this book that should be a must-read for all ages---especially those in high school getting ready to go into adulthood.

Highly recommended read!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The E Myth Book Review: Helpful advice for the sign professional

The E Myth is a very popular business book with huge success because the author, Michael Gerber, included so many great useful principles for running a business in today’s market.  It would be difficult to include them all in one blog posting, but I will include what I consider strategies that any sign shop owner can apply today. 

As Gerber explains it, the E Myth, or the Entrepreneurial Myth, is based basically on two parts: 

  • The myth that most people who start a small business are entrepreneurs

  • The myth that an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run a business that does that particular technical work  

In other words, the myth is the idea that most people who start a small business are entrepreneurs, risking capital to make a profit.  This idea leads to two misconceptions:

  • The Entrepreneurial Seizure, a misconception that lures people to start a business to gain freedom and independence from their existing jobs

  • The Fatal Assumption, or when an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run a business in that industry.  

The work which used to be love and joy for the technician will turn into forced chores, and eventually the business will be too much for the technician to handle.  While the principles in the book are many, today I will focus on three major factors that can help you in your business today.

I. Wearing three hats
In the book Gerber explains why so many small businesses fail to grow, and where they stumble when they try to grow.  Gerber says that to grow, you as the business owner need to have three characteristics or traits.  These are the characteristics of:

  • Technician
  • Manager
  • Entrepreneur

The problem is that very few small business owners are capable of being all three.   The challenge is recognizing which of the three you are and bringing in the other two people to fill the other roles. 

When you understand your unique talents, knowledge, and skills, you can continue to develop them while you find others with the talents and skills that you currently lack.  This doesn’t mean that you cannot learn the other roles, it just suggests that instead of putting the time into trying to learn another function of the business, it is usually wiser to bring someone in that already has the natural abilities needed. 

For clarification, Gerber defines the roles of each characteristic:

  • Entrepreneur is to supply the vision.  This person is more of the dreamer focusing on the future

  • Manager is to bring order to the business by putting systems in place

  • Technician lives in the present and is more hands-on supplying the output

All three are necessary for creating a productive and profitable business.  As Gerber says, “Suddenly the job he knew how to do so well becomes one job he knows how to do plus a dozen others he doesn’t know how to do at all.  He discovers he must become three people in one.”

Ø      Key Point: Know thyself.  Know your role in your business.

II. Understanding the why
In The E-Myth, Gerber uses the story of a fictional character named Sarah who sells pies.  Gerber tells Sarah that, “…the purpose of going into business is to get free of a job so you can create jobs for other people.”  It is a matter of first determining why you are in business.  Once you have the “why” firmly in your mind, you can then create a plan to follow for your business.  The reason shouldn’t be to be free of a boss, but rather to go further in your field and to create something great out of your life’s work that makes a difference, and which naturally requires more organization and resources.  

The key question is not how small Sarah’s business could be, but how big it could naturally become with the right systems and organization in place.  So, the first and most important thing to do is to crystallize firmly in your mind where you want to go with the business and then put this goal in writing.  Gerber says that “any plan is better than no plan.”  

Most great companies set out with a vision of where they want to go.  Tom Watson, founder of IBM is quoted as saying, “I realized that for IBM to become a great company, it had to act like a great company long before it ever became one.”  Watson had a template or vision and each day he tried to fashion the company after it, however farfetched it seemed.  He had a picture in his mind how the company would look.  You can do the same with your business. 

Ø      Key Point: Know why you are in business.  Crystallize your answer and put it in writing.

III. Taking care of business
Gerber states that, “Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more.” 

The key is to work on the business and not in the business by using systemization and business development. 

Gerber learned though his years of consulting that people in small businesses generally work far too hard for the return that they get.  He recommends:

§ Put systems in place that helps you to orchestrate your business.  You have to organize and standardize your business down to the smallest details, because the only certainty in your business is that the people that you hire will act unpredictably.  With proper standards, systems and accountability, you cut out that risk, and as a result the customer gets what they want all of the time.  

§ A business is like a machine that generates money.  The more you standardize and refine the machine, the clearer its value will be.  Gerber asks, “What does a master craftsman do when she has learned all there is to know?  She passes it on to others.  In fulfilling this duty, your skill can be multiplied many times.  Orchestration through a business system leverages what you know.” 

§ What are needed are idiot-proof systems and procedures that enable merely good people to do extraordinary things, or a way of operating that guarantees customer satisfaction, not by individual people, but by the system itself.  If you can build a great business around ordinary people, says Gerber, you don’t have to worry about finding extraordinary ones.

Ø      Key Point: Put systems in place so you can work on your business and not just in your business.

If you get a chance to pick up the book, please do.  Until then, strive to implement the three points outlined here.  Take your time working on them and try to remember the three personality types.  Remember that the Technician’s only model for his business is work, whereas for the Entrepreneur, the model is the business itself, and the work is secondary.  This is why Watson’s remark in the book is so timely today: “Every day at IBM was a day devoted to business development, not doing business.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Big Ideas

June 7th was National Doughnut Day.  I hope you didn't miss it.  Places like Dunkin' Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Tim Hortons and more were giving away a free doughnut to celebrate.  The Salvation Army established this sweet holiday in 1938 to raise funds during the Great Depression and honor the “lassies,” as they called the female volunteers, who supported the soldiers on the front lines during World War I, serving them delicious meals, and of course, doughnuts.  Approximately 250 “lassies” provided assistance to American soldiers in France in 1917.

How does something as simple as a doughnut generate millions of dollars for Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme?  Sometimes, it is the simple ideas, along with great marketing and outstanding customer service that produces wonderful companies.  The key is to generate great ideas within your business to capitalize on.  Here are three tips (reminders) for producing some profitable ideas:

1.) Set aside "thinking time" once a week.  Actually, once a week is only a start.  The really wise business leaders carve out time daily for thinking.  This is the time to clear your mind of everything that needs to be done and simply sit and think.  It takes practice.  You may not come up with ideas during the first or even second and third session, but over time, your mind gets the hang of it and ideas begin flowing.  Be sure to write them down as they come.

2.) Start an "idea journal" to record all of your outstanding ideas, as well as your not-so-outstanding ones.  Journal every idea even if you think it is nonsense at first.  This journal is for your eyes only.  If you don't record all your ideas, you'll get in the habit of discounting most of them.  This is not good because many you may think at the time are not good, may turn out to be the big hitters.

3.) Get team members involved in idea generating.  Tap into the wealth of knowledge, creativity, imagination, and talent of your employees to bring forth new ideas for your business.  They may have seen that in addition to the wonderfully produced widgets, the business can also offer thingamajobs to go along with them.  Be sure to allow some think time for your team as well and encourage them to brainstorm ideas during company meetings, picnics, retreats, and outings.

Ideas come from many directions and many points.  Good ideas may just change your business altogether or provide an additional stream of income for the company. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Failing Forward

"A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position."  --- John C. Maxwell
In his book, Failing Forward, John Maxwell addresses the response of leaders toward failings.  Maxwell says that, in life, the question is not if you will have problems, but how you handle those problems.  He says that with problems, we should stop failing backwards and learn to fail forward.

The book offers great insight and wisdom as only Maxwell can deliver, but here are three key takeaways you can use beginning today:

1.) Failures are only as bad as you perceive them to be.  Take stock of what caused the failure, how serious is the damage, and how much time and money will it take to recover.  Suppose you realized you hired a person that doesn't seem to fit the position, yes, you've lost some money in hiring, training, etc., but would keeping this person on the payroll cost you more?  Would sending him or her down the road send a wealth of messages to your team, your vendors and your customers that you only want the best fit for your company?  Putting failures in an objective light may minimize what you perceive to be a monster.

2.) Remove the "you" from the failure.  Don't allow failures outside to get inside you and don't take them personally.  Too often business leaders see failures as an extension of themselves and therefore see themselves as the failure.  Decisions that were made that led to the failure were bad, wrong, incorrect, or whatever, but you are not the failure.  Separating you from the failure helps you to see the failure as something external and much easier to correct.  If you internalize the failure, it stays with you and is difficult to shake and move on.  If you see it as external, you begin to brainstorm solutions and learn from the mistake.

3.) Get up, get over it, get going.  Often we wallow in the failure and over time actually find comfort in the wallowing.  This is a non-productive outlook and hurts you and your business.  When faced with failure, and we all will be, embrace it for what it teaches, learn how not to do it again, then get going.  Put it behind you and keep on trucking.  Failure is a terrible name for a pet so don't keep it around feeding it and taking it for long walks.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stay Healthy

Businesses are tough to run.  Business leaders have challenges coming out of every corner practically every day.  This is why business leaders need to be in tip-top shape with a body and mind able to handle the rigors of a life in the lion's den.  Dealing with vendors, managing costs, organizing tasks, leading employees, and reeling in customers all takes tons of energy and a machine (our bodies), that can handle the stress that is above normal levels comparatively.  Our employees can go home at the end of the day, customers can shop us out and government officials can put more restrictions on an already taxed business.  The stress levels of these people is minimal compared to business leaders.  That is why a leader's body and mind should be in the best condition possible.  When time constraints prevent us from exercising, there are still some things we can do to create a healthier body for the battles we face.

First, if you smoke, quit.  I know it sounds simple, but it is so important to do all that you can to stop.  Smoking not only takes years off your life, it weakens your immune system which weakens your ability to handle stress.  Eating right, taking vitamin supplements, and getting eight to ten hours of sleep is the bare minimum that you should be doing as well.  When it comes to beating smoking, you have to be tough, but fortunately there is help.  Begin today taking these simple, basic steps toward building a healthy foundation better equipped to deal with everything thrown your way when trying to succeed at your business.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Where You Lead, They Will Follow

"If your thinking is sloppy, your business will be sloppy. If you are disorganized, your business will be disorganized. If you are greedy, your employees will be greedy, giving you less and less of themselves and always asking for more."  --- Michael Gerber
In his book, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber explains that most business owners tend to work in their businesses and not on their businesses.  He calls this person the technician, which is needed in a business.  However, the business owner also needs to be three people: the entrepreneur, for creativity, the manager, for running things, and the technician, for doing what must be done.

Even while incorporating all three characteristics, the business leader needs to keep in mind that team members are watching how you handle yourself throughout the day.  By definition, as a leader, you have followers.  These followers will mask or emulate your work habits.  There are at least three key points to keep in mind throughout your workday to let your actions teach your team members:

1.) Know thyself.  Know what your limitations are and be aware of what you can and cannot handle.  For example, if you are not a natural-born organizer, delegate what you can't or are not willing to do.  This allows you to avoid being put in a situation of doing a sloppy or poor job.  It sends the message to your team members that when needed, they should call for help instead of poorly completing a project.

2.) Know how to learn.  Always be on the lookout for new learning opportunities.  Keep a well-stocked library in your office and offer materials to team members when requested or if you believe it will help them in their roles.  Set an example of figuring out how to be the best in your leadership role.

3.) Know when to apologize. One of the most overlooked, yet most simple gestures is to say, "I'm sorry."  Business leaders screw up things too.  It is called being human.  When it happens, continue along that same vein of being human and apologize.  The message this sends speaks volumes to your team.  Most employees will give instant forgiveness and some will begin to realize that they are working with a real person.  

It is difficult enough to keep up with the three roles you are playing without the pressure of many eyes on you.  But, if you do these simple things, you take the pressure off so you can continue leading a team that is proud to follow you.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Costly Employees

"Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can't miss.."  --- Lee Iacocca
In a typical small business, labor is your biggest expense of the business.  The cost adds up when you factor in attracting ideal candidates, interviewing and orientation costs, training expenses, and compensation and benefits.  If so much is being spent on employees, why do we miss opportunities for continual development of talents and skills?  Why do we get so frustrated with employee retention efforts and keeping our team members' eyes on the ball?

In order to keep the employees you want to keep and create a better, more dedicated team, there are at least four things you can incorporate into your monthly schedule for 2013 that are painless and not too time consuming.  Be diligent in applying these and you should begin seeing immediate returns on your employee investments:

1.) Initiate true performance reviews.  No, not the annual forms that rate an employee from 1-5 where almost everyone is a 3.  Those have little value.  Instead, review every employee's performance (at least your top leaders if you have too many employees to review yourself) and personally and in confidence address any issues with the employee.  The reason for the performance meeting is to see how the two of you can help to improve the employee's performance.  Solicit feedback from the employee and together come up with a six-week plan addressing the particular issue.  Be sure to follow-up with the employee at the six week mark.

2.) Communicate employee's role.  This is a biggie that is usually overlooked in many businesses.  This simple process helps to eliminate headaches down the road.  Explain, in writing, what the role of the employee is.  Some call these job descriptions, but whatever you label it, make sure that the employee understands what his or her job is at the company.  Explain in detail how their job affects others and how what they are doing impacts the success of the business.

3.) Communicate your role.  Let your employees know what they can expect from you in terms of honesty, transparency, a good paying job, training, benefits, rewards for value added, etc.  This is another area some business leaders overlook.  Yes, it's true that they took the job assuming these things, but it is good, and necessary to remind team members from time to time about the relationship and what is expected of each other.  Leaders, as well as employees, become too relaxed in their positions and lazy in the relationship.  Communication will restate the reason for being at the company.

4.) Money IS a motivator.  Don't fall for the studies that say employees want more than money.  Of course they do, but they are working in order to make a better life for themselves and their family.  Reward your team members handsomely and especially after a value-added event.  Recognition, growth, personal development, purpose--- all of these are necessary, but money does motivate.  If you've hired the right person and want to keep him or her, pay them what they are worth to your business, and then some.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wisdom Meets Passion

Great Read!

Wisdom Meets Passion, by Dan Miller and his son, Jared Angaza provides great insight, and yes, wisdom for anyone looking to combine both wisdom of experience with on-fire passion.  I found the book to offer great advice and tips for improving creativity as well as for stirring passion for business and life.  Miller's and Angaza's writing style makes the book a quick read (a few hours) while providing good information for starting a business as well as going outside of my comfort zone.  It was strange at first because I too have believed in a linear approach to business and career, but the father and son author combination helped to open my eyes to new avenues.  I highly recommend this book to every business leader as well as those considering a business start-up.  The writing style of both Miller and Angaza lends to the effect of listening in to a father and son share life ideas from two very different perspectives:  Miller's wisdom of life experiences and Angaza's passion for life and his "being different" in his pursuit of a simpler life helping entrepreneurs in Africa.  Both styles help the reader, at least it helped me, to grasp a better understanding of what others see as a generational gap, but the authors see as a wonderful combination for living.
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