Friday, November 13, 2015

Don't get sideswiped! Create your "AHA! Vision"

I consider October through February the "season for strategic planning" for every organization. We can't help but think of the current year's successes, failures, challenges and opportunities taken or missed. At the same time we begin focusing our attention on the things we desire for the coming year and longer. If organization leaders don't do this, the teams lose opportunities for focus and creative thinking.

It can be mind-boggling! Do you feel slightly (or a lot) overwhelmed at the thought of creating a vision that will truly speak to your brand, your mission, your passion and purpose? Were you able to focus on those areas during 2015 or were you sideswiped from your intended path?

Let's start a revolution! Strategic planning should be more about the Aha! moments that lead to a lasting vision. It's exciting, not dull. It's liberating, not restricting. It's fresh and memorable.

I've facilitated many strategic planning sessions over the years, and here is the common denominator:

Over time the leadership team gets distracted, failing to keep a laser focus on the vision and mission, forgetting to tie every strategy and action back to that vision and mission.

I want to hang around longer, past the day or two of planning, so when you get muddled and sideswiped; when you see the trees instead of the forest; when that 30,000 foot view is cloudy I step back in as your coach to keep you focused. 

I've been where you are. I know the challenges, and it drives me crazy just as it does you, to miss those opportunities when they are right in front of me. You too, right?

So here we are in the season for creating the Aha! Vision. Jump on board, and let's take this journey together.  Call or email for a chat. Here are my open dates for the first part of 2016 + one in December:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Monday, February 1, 2016

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fears are little white lies

What are you afraid of? Okay, I'll guess. Is it public speaking? Mountaintops? Death? I'll tell you my greatest fear: rats. Oh, go ahead. You may want to call them mice as if they are sweet little pets. To me they are rats, and they are nasty and deadly!

But, before we get too far down that ratty hole, the topic of fear begs to be discussed, sliced and diced. In the business and career world fear can raise its ugly head every now and then. When opportunities and challenges knock on your door, it's better to be prepared and ready than to roll into a fetal position. I must admit I have never seen a rat in my entire career. Well, except the boss I'm about to tell you about.

Everyone is afraid of something. Once I had a boss who was afraid of being nice. I'm not joking. This woman (thing) could not be nice if I had choked her into it, which I was sorely tempted to do. I could not change her, but she could have changed herself and thus her career success if she had so desired.

I've held a few personality test workshops lately with a focus on leadership and communication. From my experience in this area I can promise you there are people who are afraid of many things, such as:
a) fear of losing control
b) fear of being in control
b) fear of not being noticed
c) fear of being noticed
c) fear of change
d) fear of no change 
d) fear of poor performance

 The list of fears goes on and on. Books can and probably have been written about fear.

To slice and dice fear ( I bet that's a fear too - slicing and dicing) here are some ways to overcome your fears.
1) The first step is to admit your fear head on because that will enable you to move beyond it.
2) Decide that conquering the fear is more important than holding on to the security your fear brings.
3) Acknowledge the difference between rational fears and irrational fears (i.e. drinking  and driving vs mice).  
4) Do that thing that scares you. Now. Make the appointment. Ask for the sale. Write the first page of the book. Confirm a speaking engagement.       
5) Train yourself to look forward to the energy and excitement of conquering the fear.

Speaking business here, I know you will benefit and grow when you overcome your fears. The worst thing you can do is sit around and admire others whom you feel are more confident, brave, adept than you, falsely believing you're not up to the challenge. It's simply not true. Everyone of those you admire has fears too. I promise.

You can overcome your fear and realize the success you've dreamed of. Get started now!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Who wins at growth strategy? Hedgehog or Fox?

There is a science to taking a business from good to great, and that research spawned a best seller titled, well, Good to Great. Author Jim Collins helped us understand the "why" of businesses that became household names and were consistently profitable over the long term.

I'm one of those thinkers with 100 ideas and solutions flying around inside my teeny tiny brain at all times. Some people are thinkers with 1 or 2 ideas and solutions occurring peacefully inside their brain as they need them. Before you decide which is best and who needs to go back to school, read on.

Enter The Hedgehog Concept. An ancient Greek parable states: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Philosopher Isaiah Berlin applied this parable to people in a 1953 essay, saying people are either foxes or hedgehogs.

Because of the fox's wide variety of interests and strategies, their thinking is scattered and unfocused; therefore, they are limited in what they're able to achieve in the long run.

The hedgehog, however, is a slow and steady thinker. Unlike the fox, they are able to simplify the world and focus on one overarching vision. This principle guides everything they do and helps them succeed against all odds.

Jim Collins applied this concept to organizations, pointing out that they can find their "Hedgehog Concept" by making three important assessments. 

1 - Understand what it is people are truly passionate about.
2 - Identify what it does better than anyone else.
3 - Determine what drives its economic engine.

Give this some thought. While you're driving from one place to another, think of hedgehogs and foxes, passion and profit. If you're a hedgehog you will find this a simple activity, quietly contemplating. Whereas if you're a fox you may think of so many things you will overheat. Take care, and we will take this discussion further in the next post!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Top 5 Easiest Ways to Say Thank You in Business

What a dumb blog post, right?

Every 3 year old knows how to say, "Thank you." Pfffftt! We're all as polite as Emily Post.

Let's get right down to where the rubber meets the road on this topic. Everyone knows how to say those two magic words, but does everyone actually do it? Nah, especially in business relationships. I also miss opportunities sometimes. Showing gratitude is not just for best friends and family. It's a business thing too. 

Everyone is super busy with little time for creative thinking and planning, especially at work. In fact, we get so busy we forget that businesses and careers are built on relationships. 

As I list the 5 easiest ways to say thank you, for convenience I'm going to refer to your business friend as "someone". I like simplicity, don't you?

I'll start with the hardest one first. Ahem. 

  1. Look someone in the eyes, and say, "Thank you." Go ahead and laugh, but do you do it? Or, do you avoid it because it feels uncomfortable? The trick is to be specific and timely. For example, "Jeremy, thank you for helping me get all those tables set up for the auction dinner. You're the best!"
  2. Call someone on your handy dandy cell phone, which is in your hand 24/7, and say, "Thank you." Not everyone likes gushy. Again, be specific and keep it short and simple. "Kelly, thank you for the introduction to Mrs. Smithwick. I've wanted to meet her for a long time, and you made it happen." That's all.
  3. When you're buying groceries, select one extra something delish and take that yummy thing to someone. Is it a pie, a candy bar, a flower, a bag of biscuits with butter? Why not? "Thank you, Jonathan. You made my day when you handled that angry customer../
  4. Write a thank you note to someone. If you send a pre-printed card and only sign your name, I am calling the Police. It's not necessary to write a 500 word article. 
  5. Give someone $10,000. (just kiddin') Unless, of course, you want to send that to me. Alternatively, give someone a $10 gift card to anywhere. Anywhere is a great place when it's free.
In the business world, people are still people. People like to be appreciated. So, there. I bet I can say, "Thank you" to more people than you. Go!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

There's just something about 250 Magic Road

Back in the day the old New Hope Church practically shook with joyous singing every Sunday for hours on end. Inside the modest building, handmade pews of solid pine were lined up in rows and ragged hymnals were passed around, shared by steady hands when the crowd outnumbered the hymnals. 

The congregation grew until the old church could no longer hold all of Sunday's best, and a new church was built a few miles away. I don't know when the last sermon was preached here, but I've imagined it was a proud and happy day as the pastor looked forward to a bigger sanctuary. I know the church was abandoned in the late 70's because I became a tiny bit obsessed with it. At that time I lived a couple of miles away from this property and would often turn down the shady, dirt road just to ride by the church and let my imagination run wild on the potential of the property.

I was fairly convinced of what a lovely and perfect little cottage it could be if renovated. I remember that in my imagination I built a sleeping loft toward the back and installed beautiful, shiny pine floors. But, it was not to be at that time.

In the meantime the one acre parcel, including the church, was purchased by Jay and Dorothy Harwood, and in 1984 they built their forever home there near the church. Jay was a 20 year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was smart, witty and kind. He spent many hours in the former church, having converted it to a spacious workshop and garage where he tinkered with trucks, motorcycles and other things that caught his interest. Many times I saw Dot sitting in the yard to watch Jay work on his projects. 

Jay and Dot lived at 250 Magic  Road the rest of their lives and were dear friends to everyone in our rural neighborhood.  We had purchased a farm and built a home further down Magic Road, so we were were neighbors. Eventually, the property was put on the market, and we bought it. We didn't need it, but as it had so many years before, the old church called my name. 

Here's the home Jay and Dot built. It's 3 S's: solid, simple and sweet. We've added a new roof, new flooring, fresh paint and a few other things. It's cute as a button and located just a few hundred feet off a paved highway on quiet Magic Road. Country living at it's best.

After owning for several years, we have put the property up for sale because we know there is a family looking for just such a place. We've rented out the house, and it's been well maintained. I've enjoyed using the church for storage, working on projects and occasional sales of vintage pieces I hunt and gather. That sweet old church deserves more, don't you think?

So, here she is, 250 Magic Road. There's just something about it, and I think it's calling someone's name. If it's you, here's where you can learn more about it:
 250 Magic Road, Boston, GA

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It's a good lesson for these hurried times

Recently I was reminded how easy it is to ignore an opportunity to have a generous spirit.

I was checking out in a home improvement store, and my transaction was a little complex. I needed to arrange to pay for merchandise that was located in another store in a nearby town + arrange to have my contractor approved to pick it up.

Christina was my cashier. Here's how good she is: She smiled and told me it would be no trouble at all as she took all the information. Other customers began to line up behind me, and she was the only cashier in that area at that moment. She immediately acknowledged the other customers, telling them it would take just a few minutes, she called in assistance to open another register and proceeded with helping me. And, she smiled.  I made sure to thank her for her great service. I left the store feeling good.

Well, maybe not that good! Ha!

After I loaded my purchases in my car I remembered something else I was supposed to buy, so I went back inside, quickly found what I needed and got in line in another area with a different cashier. As I approached I spoke to her and barely got a glance. She looked unhappy. To he honest she looked downright miserable. I began to feel that little angst of frustration bubbling within me, especially since I had just enjoyed wonderful service at the same store.

Suddenly I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. I decided to see what she would do with another chance. I said, "Are you feeling badly today?" She said, "Yes, I've just called my doctor because I'm having severe leg pains and it hasn't been long since I was in the hospital with blood clots. I know I have another one. I'm waiting to hear back from the doctor's office."

Here she was, working while standing on a concrete floor and worried sick about having a blood clot. Of course I expressed concern, wished her well and told her I would say a prayer that all will be well.

I wanted to kick myself for so quickly becoming frustrated about her attitude! Although I'm a raving fan of great service where I shop, I am reminded that unfriendly service does not always mean what it appears. People we encounter are sometimes carrying a heavy burden, and they are understandably distracted.

It's a good lesson to be learned. Choosing a generous spirit when at all possible is a mighty good thing. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Control freaks on the loose!

My friend, Eliza, is full of creative inspiration and just the right dose of sarcasm to keep a conversation lively. Last week she shared an article with me that I loved. She knew I would, of course, because the article featured 11 of the best customer service stories, and customer service is a real big deal to me.

I have come to believe that one reason we receive poor customer service is we encounter control freaks where we spend our money. Think about it. How many times have you been given one or more of these responses from a business employee?
"We don't have anymore of those."
"I'm just going by the rules."
"That's the way we've always done it."

 Or, to simply be ignored.

Have you encountered the most miserable person on the planet who cannot acknowledge you, much less smile and speak? And, all this while you are handing over your money for a purchase? Please.

Sometimes this terrible service happens because the sales person is a control freak and wants to make sure you don't get what you want. Or, the sales person has a goal that you cannot come close to feeling good that day.  The nasty control freak is miserable in her/his own skin and wants you to be miserable also. Have you seen the movie, Misery? I wouldn't want Kathy Bates to have it in for me.

Oh, you should read these best customer service stories. It'll do your heart good.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ashton Kucher said it best

When I was 15 my first real job was working in a retail store; then, when I was 16 I got a job working in a medical office, then waiting tables in a restaurant my mother operated for awhile. My next job was in the office of a fish processing plant, then I worked for a hardware store. After that I worked in the field of child support enforcement, then at a furniture distribution center, and after that at a technical/community college, then I wound up my "job" career in economic development, then immediately started my consulting business. 

All along the way I took college classes, paying my own way til I graduated, taught college classes part-time or ran a little business of some kind. Every job was a step upward, and I always felt thankful for the opportunities given me; therefore, I worked very hard and expected others to do the same. Like Ashton, I was always busy working away at something and trying to improve along the way. 

When I started my consulting business, I simply turned to all my experience, figured out which talents brought me the most joy + seemed to solve problems in the business world and, here I am enjoying the benefits of those many years of plugging away.

I didn't say every job was always thrilling or happy. Most of the time I worked with and for wonderful people, and sometimes I worked with the devil's little helpers. But, I didn't give up, and I didn't quit. It never occurred to me that I could depend on someone else to support me.

What's your story?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Worn out? Heeere's you sign!

Do you ever think, "I wish I could get away for a couple of days and decompress."

Although I thoroughly enjoy being with people, and that energizes me, there comes a time when my brain and body are in overload...too much stimulation and busy-ness.  Did I make up that word?

Now that I manage my own time I schedule an annual retreat for myself. 

This year I'm spending a few days at my daughter's home on the Gulf coast while they are on vacation. Ahhh.....I love their vacations! She and her family are moving real soon, so this is my last shot at this free VRBO.

As difficult as it may seem, we should all take better care of ourselves. The constant hum and buzz of life can cause stress, and when that happens we have to find a way to turn it down a little. This is one way I handle it. You may have other methods, so, just do whatever it takes to reclaim your calmness.

My consulting projects await me, and I've had great quality time to do some creative thinking and planning on those projects and the future. It's all good. See that image up top? Turn right, and plan a retreat for yourself. 


Monday, August 10, 2015

4 Tips for a positive attitude + mashed potatoes

I'm not joking. I have observed the effects of a positive attitude for years among people with whom I've worked and socialized. When I'm around a positive person, they make me more positive, so I always want to be that person who starts the feel good ripple effect too!

It may be asking too much to be positive 100% of the time. There are times we all must handle difficult circumstances or discuss troublesome topics. Even then, finding something positive as quickly as possible afterward provides a cushion. Maybe that something positive is a glass of Merlot or mashed potatoes. It's our choice, right?

Since it's Monday I'm going to give you a few tips on staying positive. I've learned these the hard way, so take notes:

  1. Look hard for the silver lining in the negative situation. Look  hard. It's hiding like peanuts under the couch cushion.
  2. Choose to spend most of your time around fun, positive people. Laugh at them, and let them laugh at you. Sometimes you gotta take one for the team.
  3. Learn to counter the negative with a positive spin. Once you hear or think the negative thing, immediately craft a response (even if you're talking to yourself) that points out something positive. For example, if your competitor gossips about you, be grateful he's helping create buzz about your business. I doubt anyone will notice when he trips over your shoe at the next networking event.
  4. Recall the things for which you are thankful! If you're bummed and feeling a negative slump, don't waste more than 2 minutes in that hell hole of misery. The way out is to start counting your blessings, one by one. By the time you get to 10, you're out of the hole and running. Toward ice cream.

Have a goal of keeping a positive attitude and sharing it with others. You never know when someone else might need it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Can a solo entrepreneur generate $1 MIL + with no employees?


I've read articles recently that speak of little companies who break the $1 million sales mark and more. One of the best writers I've found covering this topic is Elaine Pofeldt, a contributing writer to Forbes, who says she "covers the growing wave of one-person businesses and their ecosystem." And, she does a good job.

I'm obviously interested in this topic because I am a solo entrepreneur. I occasionally hire contractors or sub out parts and pieces of projects, but I don't have an employee, nor do I plan to have any employees. Is that going to hold me back from making more money?

The US  Census Bureau reports there were over 30,000 non-employer firms in 2013 that reported earnings of between $1 million and $2.4 million. If they can do it, can't you and I do it also?

Ms. Pofeldt has covered entrepreneurs in the businesses of PR, subscription gift boxes, fitness, babysitting, speaking, and, well, I'll lead you straight to Ms. Pofeldt's work, and you can read for yourself. It's fascinating and inspiring stuff!

So, don't be disheartened if you think you will never make any real money working alone. Follow Ms. Pofeldt, and learn, learn, learn. Every entrepreneur story I've ever heard involved lots of learning and digging for gems of wisdom on a topic. I experience that myself, and I bet you do also.

My favorite stories are non fiction, the true stories of how one person had an idea and built upon that idea until a business took hold. Then, that business grew and grew until it was a household name. Reading those stories inspires me because I know every one of those successful entrepreneurs started out just like you and me. One try at a time, and one day at a time.

We aren't reinventing the wheel by being an entrepreneur, but we do have to work smart to get on top in our field. Find some writers and speakers who are aligned with your passion, and follow them. It might be the best tool you ever used.

Now, as I promised, here's where to find Elaine Pofeldt:
Elaine Pofeldt at Forbes

Friday, July 17, 2015

Vote for "herd immunity". Here's how...

Maya Angelou created important writing and resulting little sayings that had the potential to change people for the good. When people are thinking good and doing good, it's like "herd immunity"as relates to vaccines. Just as vaccines can prevent outbreaks of disease and save lives, positive people can act as a "vaccine" against negative people and negative outcomes. From a medical standpoint, it goes like this: (stay with me)

 "When a large percentage of the population is vaccinated, the spread of disease is limited. This indirectly protects unimmunized individuals. This includes those who can't be vaccinated and those for whom vaccination was not successful. It is more difficult to maintain a chain of infection when much of the population is vaccinated." (

I'm weird, I know. Why did vaccines and herd immunity come to mind when I write about business strategy? On a recent visit to my wonderful physician, Dr. Gee, he took the time to explain herd immunity because he recommended I get a pneumonia vaccine. Although I'm not at the high risk age and I don't have chronic illness, I chose to get the vaccine to protect myself and my community. If my trusted doctor recommends it, I am going to listen.

So, who would disagree that we should vaccinate ourselves and others with positive thoughts, positive energy, and positive change?  I love possibilities, and it's highly  possible to create "herd immunity" in our personal and work communities by being vaccinated with a good attitude and spreading it like wildfire.

I can't pick a favorite Maya quote because there are so many, and I really like this one. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wednesday Words of Wisdom

The official Wednesday word this week is HELP. Not, "Help!" Rather, help as in help other people to be successful or inspired or get the job they want so badly. That kind of help.

When someone is working at it and on it, but they need a little nudge, just a little something extra, it's a lot of fun to give help. 

I suppose selfish people succeed too, but, who would want to be like them? 

Zig was spot on! There is one big fat rule to this wisdom. If you help others get what they want only so you can get what you want, that's cheating, and it won't work out well.

Work strategy: Under promise and over deliver. 

Believing in yourself and having confidence will be a great asset as you go about helping others achieve their dreams.

And, finally, I wish you a Wednesday surrounded by inspiring and generous people. People just like you.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How to remove red flag warnings - legally

If you're at the beach and see a red flag go up, do you stay in the water or make haste to get away from the danger? Of course you get out of the water fast!

 If you're traveling and come across a red flag fire warning, you certainly don't continue driving toward danger. Of course not, silly!

Yet, when running a business it's so easy to ignore red danger flags. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away. One way to get those red flags down for good is to have a well thought out strategy.

Does strategy sound too far fetched to pertain to your small business?  

Do you feel lucky to simply make it through the week without a major breakdown?

Are you wondering which challenge or opportunity of the business you could strategize around?

If any of the above questions feel comfy and live in your own head you are not alone! Being a small business owner requires so many skills, talents and smarts, and there's only so much time in every day and every week. 

Those are the very reasons it's super smart to have a strategy in place, whether it's an overall business strategy or a very focused one. For example, it could be that you don't need someone to remind you that you could do a heck of a lot more in the social media department, not to mention the idea tacked on your someday calendar to implement a customer retention and loyalty program. 

The things that remain unspoken, unplanned, or just an idea are the very things that send up a red flag warning saying, "We need a strategy." 

Having a plan and strategy allows you to relax your shoulders about this concern and provides a path to a good outcome.  Without a plan it's hit or miss and a guaranteed undesirable outcome.

So, what are you waiting for? Make running your business easier sooner rather than later by asking for expert help to create a strategy that will work. You're the expert in the service you deliver. I'm the expert in strategy. Let's get together and take down the red flag obstructing your progress!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How Hard Can it Be?

For purposes of real world application, let's say you are in the middle of an important project which requires input from others. At 11:00 compose a brief email to three people. In a matter of seconds you get one reply. In a few minutes you receive another reply. Wait, waiting, waiting. It's understandable that the third person could be in a meeting, doctor appointment, or kid's school program, so you move on to work on something else while you wait.

At 4:30 p.m. you have still received no reply. You send a text, "Hey, Mary, pls let me know about Project X asap." No reply.

The next morning at 8:00 a.m. there is still no reply. You cannot complete that piece of your project without that reply. You are pretty mad. Very mad. Because you know that Mary is not on vacation and could have answered your email by now.

Today's business communication world has advanced to the point it's possible to get a decision, question, or feedback in a matter of seconds. Texts, emails, electronic signatures, web conferencing, and social media are the norm and allow employees and executives to accomplish in a few minutes what could have required a two hour meeting in "the old days".

There are no excuses, people. Even if you cannot handle the question or project quickly it is just plain good manners to REPLY. What if Mary had replied, "Tied up til 3", then replied as soon as reasonably possible when she was freed up. Wouldn't you have felt heard?

When you don't answer, people feel ignored. It's different if that former, crazy boyfriend sent the email or text, but this is the business world example. Unless you desperately need that imagined and selfish power trip, how hard can it be to reply?

Now, get out there and be the professional that you are so others will notice!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dear Restaurants and Cafes,...May I have a word?

A restaurant, cafe, or deli, like any other business, may only get one chance to surprise us with their service, food, and cleanliness. Unfortunately, some do not make it to our "Top 10 Favorite Places to Eat" list.

It's even worse when a favorite eating spot disappoints. No business is perfect, but all businesses should strive for perfection. If 100% satisfaction is not part of the business culture there's already a problem, and it's only a matter of time before that pothole becomes a sinkhole!

Food service business owners are some of the hardest working people I know. Many times they go into this business because they love to cook or love to be around friendly people. Yet, understandably, they may fail to realize there's so much more to making this business successful, even beyond the financial risk.

So, what can food service businesses do to win total devotion?
Here are my personal Top 10 things it takes to win my heart:

10. Include plans and training for customer loyalty and leadership in your overall 
      business strategy. Customers can spot the ones who do not.

9. Terminate any employee who is not 100% committed to your business culture. It 

     only takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel.

8. Have a mobile friendly website that contains what a customer might want to know. 

    Seek advice from an expert with proven experience.

7. Provide convenient parking and accessibility.

6. Be philanthropic and community minded. Your community will thank you in

    countless ways.

5. Create a culture of happiness and 100% commitment to serving.

4. Provide superior training to waitstaff and all others who interact with customers.  

    It's not just about the proper serving of plates.

3. Prepare delicious food. Your customers are the judges.

2. Realize that cleanliness is next to Godliness in food service, so keep the place very
    clean. This includes the restrooms. Please.

1. Deliver platinum customer service. That is, if you want to make money.

If you're an owner I know what you're thinking. It goes something like this:
"What??? There's no way I can do all of this. I can tell this writer has never owned and operated a restaurant or cafe. Too bad. Customers who expect all this can just find somewhere else to dine!!!"

Okay. I sure will. You are right about one thing. I have never owned a food service establishment. But, here's what's really important: I am a customer, and I am the one who keeps your refrigerator as well as your cash register running. Or not.

You cannot take short cuts on any of the Top 10, and each one requires a dedicated strategy and tactics to drive success and make life easier on owners, managers and employees.

Remember #5? That one is really a part of #1. If you're one of the brave, hard-working souls who owns and operates a food service business, I know you can do this! You have the grit and determination it takes, so let's see you show off. We will be devoted fans forever.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How To Create a Short List of Your Gazillion Wonderful Services

If you are a professional services business you may find it difficult to explain all you do. Unless you can specifically say, "I clean houses" or "I am a dentist" or "I am a massage therapist", it can be daunting to describe the realm of benefits you can bring to a customer.

Always remember this: Clear communication is key to every successful business. 

Here's an example of a recent communication dilemma.  One of my clients offers advice on financial planning. I noticed his list of services included 9 categories containing 58 items. My job was to refine his message of services to be more clear and help him more easily market his primary services.

It is true that he can assist people with that many categories and items, but how in the world do you explain that in the few seconds or minutes you have with a client or potential client? 
Here are 6  steps you may find helpful to narrow down your services message:

    1.  Make a list of everything you can do for a client. Everything.

    2.  If you have a long list of more than 5 things, determine a few categories.

   3. Now, start adding each of your extra items under the appropriate category.

   4. Determine if you personally provide the service or if you outsource the service. If you            outsource the service, put an line through ones that are usually outsourced.

  5.  If you have more than three items under some categories, eliminate or re-word those            to reduce the number. Make sure you have -0- duplicates on the page. It is ideal if you          end up with -0- items under each category. Brief is brilliant!

   Your work should look similar to this when you have finished:

My Services  
  • Customer Loyalty
  • Marketing & Brand Identity
  • Strategic Planning
  • Leadership Development 

Now you are ready to create your elevator message, that "thing" you say to let people know how you can help them. Stay tuned for the next blog post for easy tips on getting your elevator message just right!

Image credit

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Substitute or Use The Real Thing?

In life and in business there are times we substitute for the real thing.  Sometimes it works fine, but you never have a 100% guarantee that the substitute will work as well as the real thing.

Take automated voice recordings that some companies use instead of a human for answering a phone call. Press 1 for English, Press 2 for Spanish, followed by 5 more requirements in order to get to a customer service representative who has put you in a queue behind number 9.

This morning I set out to make a blueberry cake from a recipe given to me by my mother-in-law. I don't often bake, so it was my hope that this cake would turn out well.

We have our own blueberries, so I picked enough needed to make blueberry pie filling. I had no trouble finding a recipe for the filling, and I was missing only one ingredient: cornstarch. So, I went to the faithful internet to look up a substitute for cornstarch to save myself a trip to the grocery store. Here it is:

"Though a home cook can't make cornstarch at home, it's possible to make a good substitute: potato starch. Use an equal amount of potato starch in recipes that call for cornstarch, including soups, sauces, gravies and custards. To make potato starch, grate potatoes into a bowl and add some warm water. Strain out the starchy liquid by wrapping the gratings in cheesecloth and squeezing the liquid into a bowl. Refrigerate the liquid for four hours, then pour off the top layer of water that has separated from the starchy liquid at the bottom. The starchy potato liquid can be used directly or dried to a powder."

Me? Do all that? Not happening. Too many steps and too much work.

I tell this story to say sometimes you need the real thing, the real deal, and nothing else will do. The real thing may cost a bit more more or be a little inconvenient or it may not. 

I made the trip to the nearest grocery store, purchased the corn starch for $1.49, and it worked just as I knew it would.

I recommend using the real thing whenever possible. Sometimes a substitute just won't make the cut.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The 6 Step Path to Loyalty

Remember the customers who stick by your side, coming back again and again. Do you really want them to feel unimportant? How would you feel if a business you support seemed way more interested in getting new customers than in you?

If you center all of your marketing around 6 customer loyalty principles, you will have a strategy that means customers cannot bear to stay away from your business.

The downside is that you may have to ramp up your team in order to keep up with all the business. And, you may have to open several bank accounts in order to store your money safely. But, those are minor inconveniences.

So, let's get right to it. Here are the 6 steps to customer loyalty:

  1. Awareness - Don't hide under a bushel basket. Put yourself and your business right out there so customers hear about you, know who you are, and want to come check out the place.
  2. Attraction - Figure out the "why" behind a customer showing up to purchase from your business. Make your business so appealing no one who needs your product or service could possibly resist.
  3. Connection - Your customer must be able to relate to your product, service, business philosophy, model, community service, charity, or other value.
  4. Emotion - Do you sell beautiful things, healthcare products, or wigs? Whatever your product or service, there better be an emotion attached that will drive the customer to your door.
  5. Belonging - We all want "Cheers" back in the neighborhood. No one likes to be ignored, so help them feel they belong and that they are part of your tribe.
  6. Reward - Your current customers and prospects can shop somewhere else in town or online. You better reward them for connecting with you and spending their hard-earned dollars in your business or someone else will.
Developing a strong loyalty marketing strategy is easier when you put yourself in the customer's shoes. Treat them how you would like to be treated.

Here's a handy dandy little "Path to Customer Loyalty" diagram for your studying pleasure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

S & H Green Stamps, Amen.

I have vivid memories of helping my grandmother stick green stamps inside the specially designated books. Sitting at her dining room table, we were on a mission to collect enough stamps and fill enough books to get "free" merchandise.  Now I realize the merchandise was not really free at all, but it wouldn't have mattered. We consumers wanted those stamps, and we were loyal to the businesses that offered them as a reward for purchases! When I married I collected green stamps of my own. I wish I could remember for what merchandise I redeemed them.

Sperry & Hutchinson (S & H) launched this reward program in 1896, and saw the 1960's become their heyday. At one point S & H issued three times as many stamps as the United States Postal Service! There was a time when S & H was the world's largest purchaser of consumer products, and the green stamps continued to be used for over 90 years.

Why is this important to know, and what lessons can be learned from the success of S & H?
It's important to recognize that if you can find a way to connect with customers, reach them on some personal touch point, and give them something they value, you may be on your way to having an admirable customer loyalty strategy in the making.

If by purchasing groceries or gas from your business, your S & H stamps helped a family buy a new refrigerator or take a vacation, how is that for finding a personal touch point?

For stories of S & H memories, I found this great web article. I think you'll enjoy it.

S & H Green Stamp Memories

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I'm Not A Fan of Marketing When it Wears that Old Leisure Suit

 I AM a fan of relationship marketing and loyalty marketing because it's real, modern and thoughtful.

I am NOT a fan of  branding when it's only a buzz word tossed about by the waves in the ocean of businesses.

I AM a fan of meaningful, creatively developed brand discovery that leads to a solid brand identity that CEO's, teams, and customers all "get".

You don't need reward cards, stamps or coupons to have a loyalty program. Those are reward programs. It's okay if you want to do that and you have the type of business for which the rewards are a good fit. 

What you really must have is a loyalty marketing strategy. Customers won't give you too many chances to show them you care about what they want and what they think,  Be different. 

Throw out that old leisure suit you've called your marketing. It won't get you the customers you want, and it sure won't create loyal fans.

I have some recommendations and solutions that will bring your business into the forefront of the mind of your customer and place you right square dab in their sweet little hearts. That's what your fans really want.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Business Lessons from American Pharoah

The wait was long. Not since 1978 when Affirmed won The Triple Crown did the grandstands thunder with exuberant vibration, hands in the air and joyful jubilee. 

We, the fans, get to see the glory day, not the blood, sweat and tears of learning, training, practicing, racing, losing, winning and then, coming out ahead when it really counts. As it did on June 6, 2015, 37 years since the last Triple Crown Winner.

In business it's much the same. The competition is hot and fierce, innovation is thundering up fast, just a few strides behind you, and loyal fans see a flicker of something new from the corner of their eye. It seems interesting; something that could be the next winner.  Will they place their bets on you, their steadfast friend? Or will their loyalty flow to the next big thing coming 'round the bend?

Be ready. Keep learning, practicing, and innovating to stay in the race. Your fans are counting on you because they've invested in you and your business by spending again and again. Don't let them down.

They have placed their bets on YOU.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Don't Tempt A Feisty Lion

How often do you wonder, "Just what was he/she thinking?"

I thought this recently when I was on vacation and speeding motorcyclists were dodging in and out of highway lanes where I was traveling in a car.  Does the motorcyclist simply not think to himself, "Well, let me see, maybe I should be careful because the very slightest unexpected movement by a car or myself could result in an accident and untold deaths." I guess it's called feeling "bullet proof". I might venture out a little and call it irresponsible behavior. What were they thinking?

Then, today I read that on Monday, June 1st, a 22 year old young woman was killed by a lion as she and a friend rode in a car through a privately run lion park near Johannesburg, Africa. The car windows were rolled completely down. I repeat: The car windows were rolled completely down, in spite of very clear park warnings to always keep windows rolled up. What was she thinking?

The woman was photographing the lion, and the lion lunged. As tempting as it is to take once-in-a-lifetime photos, don't tempt a feisty lion! I would be tempted to get that great photo. But, I would not be tempted to be eaten by the lion. My sympathy is indeed with her family. What a tragedy!

I see similar risk-takers when I travel. Once, when my husband and I were at Yellowstone National Park, the buffaloes were slowly ambling around the property minding their own business looking very friendly and innocent. A daring tourist with a camera got a little too close to a couple of buffalo, and it's a good thing the tourist had on his running shoes because the buffalo prepared to pursue! What was that tourist thinking? Don't be fooled by those slow moving buffalo. It's a trick.

Another time as we drove through Wyoming, we saw a line of cars stopped on both sides of the road, cameras and tourists everywhere.. The focus of their attention was a very large moose walking across the plain about a quarter of a mile away. The moose wanted to cross the highway, but as he continued his plodding journey, some eager tourists got very close and in his path. What were they thinking?

The moose let them know very fast that he would not take their interference lightly. A moose will not think twice about trampling you to your death.  It's the same in Alaska. Stay out of their way.

I love adventure, travel, and I'm not shy about stepping out there and taking a chance. I do try my best to avoid feisty lions.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

New territory

I'm venturing into new territory in more ways than one.

Let me know what you think of this commercial. It started out as a radio promo, then we added pics and formatting to make it a video. "We" is used very loosely here because all I did was supply the voice and photos. Ahem.... Thanks, Jeff Lovett of WGRA Radio!

 Customer Loyalty ~ The Time is Now

To talk about your Customer Loyalty plan, see the right sidebar for a direct contact link!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Crazy Mothers are Leaders Too

It's that special day again. Mothers everywhere are being honored for, well, various things. Not everyone had a perfect mother in the traditional sense, but everyone has a mother. If you've grown up to be a healthy adult you can appreciate the great things and the lessons learned from the less than great things. I, for one, am fortunate to have a mother still living at the ripe age of almost 83. She's a little crazy, but I'll prove to you that crazy mothers are leaders too.  

Mama taught me important things. Because of how we grew up, a life that  was not apple pie perfect, we developed skills that would end up serving us well as adults.She taught us how to have the heart and passion of a leader.

Our Mama raised us. She worked most of the time, and we were latchkey kids all through our school years. We didn't know that term back then, nor did we feel we were unusual, although I suppose we were in the 50's and 60's. Looking back I realize many other mothers were at home every day, sending the children off to school with kisses and a packed lunch, then welcoming them back in the afternoon with a hug and a snack. That was not our scenario, and I recognize now how that lifestyle helped many children grow up to be loving, responsible adults. It helped us to be resilient and independent.

Although Mama was not always there with cookies and hugs, she gave us something sturdy and strong. We weren't coddled or treated as if we hung the moon. She worked a lot and at the end of some days she was headed to a second job. It may be because of this that we have never felt we are owed anything. 

My oldest brother and I fought like wildcats. I was the oldest, so I could overtake him for awhile, but that didn't last long. I'm really surprised Mama felt we were safe at home and would not kill each other. We survived those years, living proof that things can turn out okay. Because of this we all know how to fight for what we believe in.

Mama was a role model for a hardy work ethic, treating the underdog with kindness, loving people( many of whom did not deserve her love), and being a problem solver. She would spank our behinds in a heartbeat and made sure we learned good manners. She drove many a mile with us fighting in the back seat and her swiping at us and telling us to be quiet or else!  And, she wasn't beyond stopping at a rest area to carry out her threat. Because of her, my brothers and I are tender-hearted people with a pretty tough hide.

My brothers and I know how to work; that's what we do, and we do it well. Whether jobs were physically or mentally taxing or both, we gave our employers or clients the best we had to give, and we worked at things we really cared about. We're dependable and dedicated; we show up, and we know how to fix things and solve problems. My brothers can build anything, fix anything, and they have many friends who will tell you they are good, decent, generous men who care about others and show it. One word of advice: don't mess with any of us or you will get something you won't forget. Mama taught us to give our all.

We lost my brother Joey last summer. It has been the most heartbreaking thing to happen in our lives as a family. He was only 57. Mama thought she had experienced hurt before that, but nothing can touch losing a child. Then, 9 months later she lost her long time companion and best friend, Richard. She lives in a small community where people truly care about her, and some even call her Mama Lou or Granny and check on her regularly. That is because she shows how much she is interested in them, and we learned that from observing her.

Mama wasn't apple pie, and she probably can't bake one. Most of her layer cakes stand   crooked, but she makes a killer pound cake. After she finally retired after nearly 60 years of working, she cooked, canned, made jelly and all those things she didn't have time to do for so many years. While my brother, Bart, was building his house she prepared meals almost every day and delivered to the workers for over a year. She's written several books, all honoring people or places that were meaningful in her life. She's smart, and I think we got some of that too.

Because of Mama we all got the "good dancer" gene. My family used to go to dances together often. We know how to boogie, and I miss that a lot. With Joey gone, it wouldn't be the same, but I'm thinking we should give it a go anyway. Joey would smile down on us, especially if Mama could still shake a leg.

Our family is far from being classic or perfect, and we can't deny a little crazy, but, thankfully, we don't have a single member who wants to be a reality TV show star. It's like Julia Sugarbaker said, "This is the south, and we're proud of our crazy people. We don't hide them up in the attic. We bring them right down to the living room and show 'em off. See, nobody in the south ever asks you if you have crazy people in your family, they just ask what side they're on."  Mama made sure we recognize a crazy person when we see one.

When I tell you that my Mama is sturdy and strong, believe it. She hurts deep, she cries hard, and she keeps moving along, and after awhile she laughs again. She loves humor, laughing and the people who spread it. Crazy mothers are leaders too, and that's what our Mama passed on to us. I am eternally grateful for her gift. Happy Mother's Day, Mama!