Wednesday, September 14, 2016
When you're the boss, however, you aren't quite so lucky.
When you're the person in charge of steering the ship, there WILL be mornings where you don't feel as creative as you need to be. There will be days where being productive seems impossible, regardless of how hard you try. If you want to be able to stay as creative and as productive as possible, even when you don't have to answer to anybody but yourself, there are a few key things you'll want to keep in mind.
It's All About Momentum
Staying productive when you're the boss may require you to think about things a bit differently from how you're used to. One of the most valuable assets that you have on your side will be momentum, but unfortunately, that driving force isn't just going to create itself.
Say you have a big task ahead of you that needs to be completed by a specified date. When you look at it as a single goal, it can understandably seem insurmountable - particularly if you have nobody to answer to but yourself. However, if you were to break it down into a number of smaller, more straightforward tasks, suddenly you're building the type of momentum that will carry you far.
Start by making a list of all the more minor things you need to accomplish that will eventually add up to your singular large goal. It's important that you don't try to keep a record of this in your head - write it down on a piece of paper or in a word document on your computer. Doing so will help you visualize both what needs to be done, and the forward progress that you're making. Turn every task less into something that needs to be done and more into a single problem that you need to solve. As you do, physically check each item off the list. The benefit of this method is that you can SEE how much you're accomplishing, even if you haven't technically completed that one larger goal yet. Every time you cross off another task, you're building a little bit of momentum that will drive you forward to the next waypoint. Before you know it, all of those small individual items that seem insignificant by themselves will add up to the proverbial end zone that you were working towards in the first place. You're not doing any more or less work - you're just shifting the way you think about the task at hand when you don't have anyone to look to for motivation other than yourself.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Creativity is the same way. Instead of looking at something as a single, big task to be completed, be it a piece of creative material or a catchy new slogan for your business, look at it as a series of small puzzles to be solved. Visualize the amount of work to be done and the amount of progress you've made thus far. Before you know it your creative problem will be solved, even if you weren't necessarily feeling creative yourself along the way.
For those days where creativity seems fruitless and remaining productive seems all but impossible, remember a very mere fact of the business world that you've likely forgotten. Even though you're the boss, you DO have someone that you're answering to, the client. Put yourself in the mindset of one of your employees - what would you tell them if they were supposed to turn in that big project but didn't because they just weren't "feeling creative enough"? You'd say "too bad - it's too important, it needs to be done." Because the work IS too important and it DOES need to be done. As the boss, it isn't so much that you're answering to someone (in this case, the client), but more that someone genuinely depends on you. It's your job not to let them down in any way possible.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Why Use Trial and Error?
Even in our current modern age of computers and mobile technology, too many businesses use trial and error or other decision-making techniques without any evidence of potential results before they get started. Keeping in mind the adage of what happens to people who make assumptions, there are better ways to decide on business matters.
Using the Scientific Method
If you think back to your high school days, you may remember learning about the scientific method. Like many high school students, if you didn't pursue a career in science, it is likely that you have not thought about the scientific method in recent years. However, business is more like science than you might expect. You can prove and disprove many theories with factual evidence before risking time and money on a new project or campaign. Why should you risk your company income and employees' paychecks when you can test theories before you take the plunge? If you could predict behavior, you would be able to achieve much more reliable results.
Let's see how much you remember about the scientific method. The basic method is to create a theory and then set up a scientific experiment to test your theory. You need a test group equally divided into control and experimental subjects.
Setting Up the Experiment
Google is a prime example of a company that tests its theories on a regular basis. They are constantly running tests to see how people react to various changes in their search engine. When they find a particular change that nets the results they want, they then implement the successful change over a larger group of search parameters.
Tests have been run by various companies to answer questions such as these:
Do lobster tanks increase lobster sales at Food Lion supermarkets?
Do eBay users bid higher in auctions when they can pay by credit card?
Do Subway promotions on low-fat sandwiches increase sandwich sales?
Does a Toronto-Dominion branch get significantly more deposits when open 60 hours a week compared with 40? (from https://hbr.org/2009/02/how-to-design-smart-business-experiments)
When Tests Do Not Work
Testing does not work in all situations. You have to have a large enough collection of data to learn anything significant. However, when you do have enough data to create a test, testing will give you measurable and repeatable results. According to the Harvard Business Review,
"Whether in marketing, store or branch location analysis, or website design, the most reliable insights relate to the potential impact and value of tactical changes: a new store format, for example, or marketing promotion or service process."
If you have a situation with specific, measurable results, instead of guessing the outcome and taking the risk, create a test that will give you a valid answer and confidence in your investment.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Julia's mother, Chrissy, said that when her Julia was born, she couldn't hear her mom and would smell Chrissy's neck for comfort instead. The moment Chrissy picked up Walter, he did the same thing. "I remember just looking at him, and I knew that he was meant to be ours," she said in a Humane Society video. Walter was the last puppy of his litter to be adopted, but the Humane Society did not give up hope.
The Pasadena Humane Society, which introduced the two, posted a video of Julia and Walter on their page. The reaction was immediate and positive. "Amazing!!" said one commenter. "This is my dog, Wyatt. He is also deaf, and he has no idea he is different."
When we are communicating with our prospects and our customers, we can take some valuable lessons from Julia and Walter:
1. Different customers will respond to different communication.
Customers are not all the same. You will deal with Millennials and Boomers, urban and rural folks, and people from different income brackets and areas of the country. It is important to segment your marketing lists and create materials for each individual group.
2. Remember that each group does not think of itself as a segment.
Just like the dog Wyatt who thinks himself like any other dog, your customers just think of themselves as ordinary people. Talk to them directly and respectfully. Never talk down to a group. Don't use slang that is not in keeping with your brand. This can feel false and off-putting.
3. Remember that consistent marketing is key.
Don't just reach out to each segment once. Create follow-up emails and other remarketing opportunities. If you do direct mail, send a follow-up postcard to go out to people who did not respond to your initial offer. Just like raising puppies requires a long-term commitment, nurturing a prospect from initial contact to conversion takes patience, time and effort.
Marketing segmentation takes more time and attention than a shotgun approach. But, over time, you will find that it consistently increases your return on your marketing investment and helps you build stronger relationships with your clients.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
When it comes to business, change is inevitable. As the world changes, so do our businesses in order to stay up-to-date and competitive. However, with each change, it becomes necessary to follow a transition process to acclimate both employees and customers. A transition can be the cause for issues to crop up in any area of your business. At a minimum, it can cause whining, grumbling and potential mistakes from your staff.
When managing change in your business, keep this quote in mind.
"Without change, there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable." ~ William Pollard
The Need for Innovation
Innovation and creativity are two of the most important factors that make your business a premier vendor for your customers. How you and your staff interact with customers and how you provide the best products and services to them will nurture loyal customers and make their lives better. While your techniques and results may change, your values do not, and that is what your customers will come to expect from you.
Creativity is Evergreen
Your ability to create, or to help your customers create, is a valuable talent. Managing change offers you an opportunity to find new ways to develop and display your "wares." Since change requires learning and developing new skills, people that go through any transition can stimulate their creative centers at the same time they are learning.
How to Manage Change Effectively
To help your employees, customers, and yourself manage change in a positive manner, look for ways to reward people who make the transition effectively.
1. Use change to retrain staff on necessary skills and review their knowledge.
2. Offer incentives for staff to display their new knowledge and expertise to customers.
3. Offer discounts to customers who try your newest innovation.
4. Take the change in stages that make sense for the involved participants.
5. Explain why you are making the change and how it will improve your product, your operations, or grow your business.
6. Give staff and customers a forum to voice their opinions and complaints.
7. Thank people for trusting you and making the effort to try something new.
8. Express your understanding of resistance to change.
As you ask your people to take the steps to change, remind them of how far your business and industry has come and where you would be if you never made any changes.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury's (a British convenience store) wasn't called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury's and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)
In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.
Sainsbury's decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily's mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury's many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn't happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer's memory.
Customer Service as an Opportunity
There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.
Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.
Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:
*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won't fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.
These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.
By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.
Friday, August 5, 2016
Because of this, it's best just to assume that EVERY conversation you have with a customer is under public scrutiny at all times (because it probably is). Even responding to what you believe to be an invalid negative review of your business has the potential to turn quickly into a lightning rod of controversy depending on where it falls in the news cycle.
The Lessons Learned
For the sake of argument, let's say you've found yourself in the middle of a PR nightmare due to a conversation with a client that quickly went south. Maybe one of your customer service reps let emotions get the best of them and what started as a routine call quickly turned hostile, Now, the whole world seems to know about it. You can't take back what has already happened, but you CAN use the lessons that you're about to learn as the foundation of every decision you make moving forward.
For starters, examine the situation to find out what you did right and, most importantly, what you did wrong. The fact that you're in the midst of a public relations crisis itself is not something you did "wrong" since popular opinion isn't necessarily something you can control. However, look at the steps you had to take as a group to get there. What problem did the customer call about in the first place? Why did the conversation with your rep turn so negative so quickly? Why does this single interaction seem to be capturing the attention of so many people at this particular moment?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then get started making it right. Note that this does not mean "fix the problem" as in "make it go away." It means to do what you can to course correct and get back on the path you want to be. Take the steps to educate your reps on how to avoid these situations in the future. Take a look at the original problem that the customer had with your product or service and, if valid, do something to fix it. If the client took the conversation public on Facebook or Twitter, respond the same way. Remember - all eyes are on you and customers who see a business that is willing to own up to its "mistakes" and make them right are more likely to show sympathy and compassion than if you try to take care of everything behind closed doors.
For many businesses, a public relations nightmare is not a question of "if" but "when." The key thing to take away from this situation is that you have a unique opportunity that you can use to improve your operations across the board. Even if you think you're in the right, there are likely things that you could have done better, or you wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. If you DON'T take this as a chance to learn some very valuable lessons, you're wasting an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade from a business perspective.
Friday, July 29, 2016
Likewise, understanding when it's time to quit a product you love, but that is not providing you with the gains you want, can mean the difference between success and failure, or even fulfillment and frustration.
In 1976, 23-year-old Don Schlitz wrote "The Gambler." After pushing it around for a few years, eventually, it was picked up by Bobby Bare and later, Johnny Cash. Despite the talent behind the lyrics and performers, the song never really took off. That is until Kenny Rogers picked it up and launched it to the top of the charts. Schlitz knew he had a song worth pushing and didn't give up. That perseverance paid off in spades (pun intended).
Knowing when to keep going with a product or service is not always so straight-forward, though. It's a difficult decision to give up on your "business baby" that you created and nurtured, especially when revenues are "ok." Sometimes, though, it's necessary to give up an "ok" thing to make room for an extraordinary thing. So, hear from some of the top founders in the country about how they know when to hold em' and when to fold em'.
Is It Profitable?
This question is probably the easiest to answer when you take into account: (1) revenue, (2) time and money investment, (3) emotional investment and (4) company goals. For Elisa Doucett, Founder of CraftYourContent, it's a no-brainer - "if it costs more fiscally and mentally to maintain than it makes, then it is no bueno."
For Matthew Newton, Founder of TourismTiger, his approach is similar - "if the return on time or money invested isn't worth it and you can't find a clear solution, it's time to kill the product."
Is It Providing Value?
Just creating a product because you want to make money or achieve a personal goal may not be the best for your product's success. Likewise, if your product is too similar to your competition or doesn't add more value than a competing product, it's time to move on to something else.
Micheal Ericsson, Founder of Search Scientists, looks to the founder's mindset in determining when to kill a product: "Everyone I know with a truly successful product...[is] not creating a product to create a product, they're moving forward with the goal to change a piece of the world."
Is It Feeding Your Passion?
While passion may not be the best reason for creating a product, it certainly should be a factor in keeping it going. According to Brandon King, Founder of SmartInternChina, "You should kill a product when it is killing you. If you go through an extended period of time working on a product you hate...that drains your energy, that is a good sign that it is time to move on."
Continually working on a product that you hate will erode your ability to put your best efforts into it. Nobody wants to put their name on a mediocre product.
Phil Ivey, (a.k.a. Gambler) always quits for the night when he's no longer at his best. The same holds true for running a business.