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Do clients only want your content?

In this linked article, Chris Brogan talks about customers wanting a “better path” – that they need a solution to their problem, and content is not necessarily that solution.  Chris goes on to suggest that the use of some emerging technology, plus content, may be what businesses need to implement to improve client experiences. He challenges his reader to consider how to use technology with content:

“look beyond content marketing, digital marketing, social media marketing, and *just* marketing as a way to drive more sales and retain more customers” (Brogan, Chris, posted April 26, 2018)

I think his point is well taken especially after an experience this last few weeks with one of my clients.  Unbeknownst to me, my client (Inherent Wellness Inc) had planned to attend a networking event over the weekend to prospect for new clients.  His business just launched so he’s pursuing a client acquisition strategy quite aggressively.  He has website content in the website I put together for him, he has created an Instagram account, a Facebook account, has looped in his Linkedin account, and is learning about Google Analytics and Search Engine Strategies.  We have been chatting about content, building momentum, and marketing locally since his primary service is an in-person one.

Sounds good right? He’s doing all the right things to get his business launched and off to a great start.  I’m so excited to be on this path with him and so pleased to see him already having success in getting paying customers in the door. Yeah!!!!

But you know what?  There was a technological problem this weekend with his online appointment booking software.  We’d been having some troubles with it for a few weeks, and while I thought I had found the problem and resolved it, between Wednesday last week and 8am Sunday morning, something went horribly wrong.  My client went to book a client using the online booking tool on his website and got the dreadful looking page I’ve used for this post.

It took me a few hours to sort out a short term fix and thankfully my client was gracious and kind and understanding.  Obviously I’m now looking for a different tool for him, as he has lost faith in the one I originally recommended.  Even though its working on two other websites, that’s not the point – it didn’t work for this client. His needs were not being met and he lost at least one sale that we know of. I don’t feel so good about the whole thing, but I’m grateful that my client trusts me to let me work through fixing the problem and making it right for him.

The lesson here, going back to Chris Brogan’s point, is that the content my client had written wasn’t enough – the sales process was reliant on a technological tool (in this case a piece of code in the website) and not the content he had written.  While it wasn’t AI or blockchains, technology was supposed to be enabling the sales process.  When that scheduler worked well, it worked great and led the client right into the specific call to action of the business, automated an onerous process, and integrated email notifications for both parties (etc.).  The technology was an enabler to helping the client move their solution forward – not the content.

As someone who works on websites regularly and is always looking for ways to automate processes that support my clients, I totally get what Chris is saying – aside from offering content that is useful to your clients and that establishes you as an expert, also look for technology (old school or new) that enables and supports your sales process and that enhances your clients’ experiences with your services. Don’t waste their time or yours if there is good technology out there that will ease your client’s path to solving their problems and making it easier to do business with you.

After all, as its been said elsewhere, for clients to do business with you, they need a great experience; and without paying clients, yours is not a business but a hobby.  You will have more paying clients if you find smart solutions to add to your content.

What should I blog about?

You have a website and want to use blogging to build up your web presence and offer value to your followers.  Obviously you will be blogging about your services – but how many times can you explain that without getting boring? Not that many, right?

So what can you do instead of writing the same-old boring, old-school sales copy that doesn’t inspire anyone to do anything?

Focus on the real life problems that your products and/or services solve
  • These types of articles shouldn’t be “benefits” write-ups – tell a story about how people are actually using your service. What have they learned? how have they adapted it? what did you help fix?
  • This type of post is a great way to also get really clear about your ideal clients – by writing about real ways your ideal clients are interacting with your products and services, you are improving the focus of your marketing too.
  • Do your products need to be disposed of in a particular way? Maybe write an article about recycling in your community and why you chose particular elements in your product – then explain how your product packaging can be recycled.
Focus on people connected to your organization
  • Do a highlight piece on your board of directors, or one of them each quarter
  • Highlight each of your team members and what they bring to the clients
  • Focus on one of your service providers or strategic partnerships
  • Maybe you have some awesome volunteers who would be interested in talking about why they volunteer?
  • If you take donations, some of your donors might really appreciate a feature story about their contribution to your organization – time? money? in-kind? all count as donations in this type of story.
  • Do you have a client who has an interesting story about the use of your product or service?  Maybe they’d like the chance to tell that story.  You can give them author credit and link to their website if they have one! That can help you both.
Focus on your charitable and community activities
  • If you donate money, time or resources to any non-profit or charitable efforts, you should talk about why you picked that organization, how you support them, and create links to that organization. Let them know so they can link to you
  • Are you participating in an event in the community – write about it pre or post or a combination of the two!  why are you participating? what did you offer? what did you get out of it? Let the other organization know about your blog post and establish some links back and forth.
Focus on your events
  • Do you offer courses?  why haven’t you got postings about those?  what do people learn? do you have testimonials – incorporate them! Maybe include a survey asking interested people to answer a couple of questions about their desired learning outcomes.  You can both collect their contact information AND get some new fodder for more courses!
  • Do you have Annual General Meetings or other regular meetings that the public can attend?  Feature stories about the purpose and outcomes of these meetings are useful on many levels.  Not only are you reporting back to your community, but you are also demonstrating your effectiveness and transparency.  People are drawn to organizations’ “behind the scenes” activities when the stories are well written.
  • Perhaps you have an upcoming team meeting.  Why not write a story about some of the topics, some of the challenges you are working on? If you did a team building event, you could write about the relationship building and team culture that benefits your clients!
Prompts from other sources
  • Did you read something that you totally disagree with? Write about that and why your approach is different.  Likewise if you agree with someone else, you can write about that and link to that article.
  • Are there books or resources that you regularly use or recommend?  Write a book review that explains your perspective or how its influenced you.
  • If you ran a survey, report back on the results and what you are going to do about it.
  • Did you mess something else and get a learning or ah-ha moment from it? Write about that!

There are obviously a myriad of other topics you can write about.  The thing is to be sincere, use your own voice, and let your personality or corporate culture shine through.

Or if you’d rather and have the money, you can also hire someone like me to do research and writing for you.

Hope this was a useful article – let me know what you think!

I have a website – now what?

How exciting! Your first website!

Yep, its looking great, it does every thing you want it to do: from offering online appointment scheduling, to a members only area, to links to your Youtube / Vimeo videos, to a live feed from your Twitter account, to displaying your beautiful things for sale, to having a shopping cart for selling downloadable information. AWESOME!

But now what?  You sit there staring at the computer screen and checking your email waiting for something to happen……nothing happens. Why not?

“If you build it, [they] will come”, à la Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, is unfortunately not the case with websites. People need to know you have a website. Makes sense, but how do you do that?

Here are some suggestions, based on my study of marketing for the last ten years.  Do note that this is NOT a comprehensive list – this is an overview.

 There is no “one size fits all” – except that EVERYONE must do some form of marketing to stay in business.

Here’s my list:

The basics – get the website address (aka url) on your business cards, your letterhead, your business signage, your magnetized car sign, the jacket of your self-published book, basically anything printed, and then your social media accounts and your outgoing business email signature.

Yes, its ok to tell your friends and family about your new website.  Be generous though and offer to feature their website, hobby, business or website in a blog post or a free ad.  Maybe one of them is an aspiring author and they could write some “guest articles” about your topic for you. This is win-win as both parties get exposure and backlinks, and lets face it, when the challenges of life knock on your door, who is standing beside you?  Family and Friends.  Be good to each other and reciprocate! For example, my big brother Joel has a bazillion awesome ideas for using websites and occasionally sends clients my way – he’s a mortgage broker in Oregon State if you are in need of re-financing, mortgages or connections into the Real Estate market there, give him a shout. (see, reciprocity at work).

If the website is for a “side-gig”, what about telling your co-workers? Well, for some, that may work.  If your side-gig is in competition with your main-gig, I say “Don’t do it” legal troubles could land at your door step. If your side-gig is in the same industry and doesn’t compete with your main-gig, be very, very cautious about telling your co-workers but it might be ok outside of working hours – so long as you don’t have a clause in your contract that prohibits you from side-gigs (and if you do have a clause like that, what are you thinking?!  Get some legal advice right away).  If your side-gig has nothing to do with your main gig, then it should be ok if you are respectful and do it outside of working hours and again, if you don’t have a prohibition clause in your contract.

Referral business models have an interesting intersection with websites. Because you are/have been growing your business “organically, through word of mouth”, you may think you don’t need a website.  The truth is, common practice is now that you will be asked, “oh, do you have a website where I can learn more?” Or, people will be given your name and the first thing they do is go look you up on the internet, right? All around the world, people have now been trained to look things up on the internet before they commit to moving forward with their purchase decisions.  See that smartphone?  Instant gratification for Q & A – bet you do that yourself don’t you?  My point is, there is comfort (and possibly a bit of superiority complex) in believing that your business doesn’t need a website or marketing plan. Staying in business or growing your business will require you to step out of your comfort zone.  Use your website to support your referral business – having even one page that explains your services and provides a contact form means that you can share it, your tribe can share it, and your prospective clients can share it.

Create integration with the rest of the world wide web because, as John Donne wrote  “No man is an island, entire of itself;…”.  Basically, the internet works because we create relationships between a wide variety of websites – like I have done in this article.  The goal is natural writing that can be enhanced by links to other websites that support your writing, is pertinent to your writing and isn’t just a page filled with random links to websites that have nothing to do with what you are writing about.  Sometimes people will put a disclaimer that they get paid if you click on a link (for example, see the bottom of my blog post Thoughts on Exploring internet security) – full disclosure is important.  Then there are strategies for getting other websites to link to yours, called “backlinks”. For example, Gotch SEO has a new guide for 2018 that is a good overview for those wanting to explore an active campaign to get other websites to link to your website (I’m not paid for this link – just liked his stuff).

That brings us to Search Engine Optimization. Just because you have a website, it does not mean it will automatically show up in popular search engine website services like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com, DuckDuckGo, as well as non-western based search tools like Baidu in China. There are basic things that your website developer should do when creating your website, but beyond that, there is an entire world out there chasing the magic of getting into the first page of search results. Indeed, like Gotch SEO mentioned in the last paragraph, there are companies that you can pay that will work with you and your website team to take your website to a new level.  If you want to learn techniques for maximizing your marketing efforts using your website, I recommend that you start with one of the original SEO guides from the Moz  which is updated regularly. Ironically, you can also use the search engine tools to search for search engine optimization techniques. There are a lot out there – just beware of what techniques will get you blacklisted by the search engines themselves.

Next to discuss is, “social media”, which is now a catch-all term for a plethora of online tools that people use to share information and connect with one another.  I have already mentioned Youtube, Vimeo, and Twitter.  There is also Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, Google+, Reddit, Yelp, Tumblr, Digg and the list goes on.  But I will not.  Because that’s way too many links.  The point I make to anyone who asks me, is, use the social media outlet that both matches your business and your comfort, at least at first.  For example, if you already use Facebook, one of the most highly used social media channels, then it isn’t too far of a stretch to learn how to use their business tools.  If your business is visual, then you are going to want to consider Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Youtube, etc. If you are offering professional business services, then something like Linkedin, which you may already be on, is an excellent choice.  You may have hoped I’d tell you which one to use.  I’m not going to because I admit, I am not a social media expert.  There are lots of people out there who offer that service though, and depending on your marketing aspirations, you may be well advised to track one down.

The bottom line though, is to use your presence on any of those social media sites to send people to your website, which you control, and sell them something, give them something, or get their contact details.

Lastly, I’d like to discuss email marketing.  My son thinks I’m nuts to continue to recommend that people use email marketing. He claims that young people don’t use email any more.  That may be true from his teen experience, however, email marketing is used in business because it still works and converts followers into customers. And, in contrast with social media, YOU OWN YOUR LIST OF CONTACTS and your marketing plans won’t be smashed by a social media company changing the rules in the middle of your marketing efforts (yes, that happens – do a search about the affect when services like Facebook change the rules).  If you want an extensive, data driven review of email marketing for 2018, try this article from SmartInsights.com.  As with any of the strategies already mentioned, the best results come from a plan. That, and knowing what your legal responsibilities are.  Canada has federal Anti-Spam legislation and Privacy legislation. The United States of America has the CAN-SPAM Act.  And the list goes on – here’s a link to an awesome infographic that explores international email law.  I’d like to add, that automation is your friend when it comes to email marketing.  There is no need for you to stumble around in your computer trying to automate your email marketing.  Like Social Media and SEO, there are companies that do a superlative job helping you use email marketing to get people to your website and your services.  Check out WPBeginner’s list for small business  or explore deeper and wider using Capterra

Are there other methods of sending people to your website?   Undoubtedly.  As I mentioned, I didn’t set out here to give you a comprehensive education on marketing in 2018.  My hope for you is that you first of all recognize that you must do marketing if you are serious about owning a business.  Secondly, I hope you got some hints as to what might work for you, and that you found some links that will help you to explore your options. If you want specific help, certainly you can book a time with me.

Good luck with your marketing efforts – and remember, if you start feeling overwhelmed by it all, go back to the basics of what you know how to do, create a plan and start from there.  You can also book a time with me to discuss your marketing strategy needs, or to get some coaching – I’ll ask you the tough questions that you won’t ask yourself.

Why File Management for Startups?

If you are like me, you absolutely HATE filing.  My former bosses would attest that I was terrible at filing, putting it off until there was so much that I’d have to hire a temp to help me get it all sorted.  To this day, I still abhor the task, whether it is electronic filing or filing paper items. What has changed though, is that I have come to 100% believe in a solid file management plan, regular and consistent follow through on that plan, and above all, businesses MAKING the time to place importance on getting file management right for their business.

Consider these scenarios – you are switching laptops, you are sharing files, you have privacy legislation you have to adhere to, you have hired new staff, you are involved in a litigation or an audit… The list can go on.

There are many resources on the web that can help you. For medium to larger companies, or companies working in specialist fields, you might want to consider looking for some records and document control best practices.  The International Standards Organization (ISO) has a lot of resources, starting with the ISO9000 Quality Management.  While you might not want to get an ISO registration, at the very least you can learn from them, or those who use that standard.

For solopreneurs, start-ups and small businesses, you don’t need to go all out like the ISO, unless that is a requirement for you to win client business.  You do need to consider starting with a good framework though, as you never know when you are going to need to scale up quickly.  Having some solid day to day practices will help you in the long run.

So what makes a good framework for electronic filing?

  1. Understanding of what documents that you will regularly be sending to your clients and receiving from your clients, as well as what documents you will regularly be using to run your business. This list will obviously expand and contract as time goes on, however, as you know, it is quicker, easier and cheaper to alter what you already have than to start fresh every time. So, what templates could you create, or copy/adapt from a free repository such as Microsoft’s, that would make your life easier as you take on your new clients? For example,
    1. Proposal template
    2. Contract template
    3. Pre-service template
    4. Invoice template
    5. Email templates
  2. A folder structure you can replicate for each client and which will allow you to quickly find files when you need them. Here’s an example from my own file system:
    • 0-ClientName_Proposals
    • 1-ClientName_Agreements
    • 2-ClientName_Received_Materials
    • 3-ClientName_Correspondence
    • 4-ClientName_Invoicing
    • 5-ClientName_Design_Ideas
    • 6-ClientName_WebUploads
    • 7-ClientName_WebBackups
    • 8-ClientName_Final
    • 9-ClientName_Misc.
  3. A file naming protocol that makes sense for your business and that again, will help you find files when you need them. Every time you save a file, you should have a formula as to how you name it. I strongly advise against using a spacebar in an electronic file name! Use an underscore (_) or a hyphen (-).
    • For example: ClientName_What-it-is_Date.file type.  So, a proposal I send to a client would end up with the file name of “client_1stproposal_2018jan15.pdf”
    • A great article is here: Probably the best file naming convention ever
  4. Version control.  There are many ways to approach version control and in smaller companies this may not be necessary when there is only one person working on a file.  If you have several people contributing to your files, I strongly recommend that you seriously consider using a consistent version control practice. You can use the date, or a number, or a letter.

So, bottom line, I know it can seem boring and annoying to take the extra few minutes to name files and save them in particular folders. Trust me, you will be glad you did when you have any technical challenges with your equipment, or when you start scaling your business.  Start early, be consistent, and keep taking care of your business.

Company Culture and the Customer Experience

Culture is the ‘personality’ that defines the atmosphere in which employees work, and produce. There are many areas to consider when determining culture, including mission, goals, ethics, value, and of course, expectations ( of both employees, and customers ).

What is always prevalent in every organization with regards to culture, is the provocative question – “ Customers first, or Employees first…..”?

When looking at the service industry, it comes down to one simple sentence; Your customers will only be happy if the people providing them their service are happy. And here is where culture is paramount, because while great employee engagement will not ensure great customer engagement, poor employee engagement most certainly guarantees poor customer engagement. Each customer is crucial to the success of a business, without them, there isnt a need for employees. Both have to be in balance to one another. All employees in any organization must be committed to customer satisfaction, and take ownership to it, or at least a piece of the overall experience.

When an employee is considered as a kind of ‘internal customer’ by management, the answer becomes very clear – they both matter equally. They are part of an inseparable, interdependent loop of reinforcement.

If an organization’s culture puts the customer at the heart of business, this will drive employee behaviour.

Leadership strategy and clear vision, along with employee engagement, will give you the best opportunity for a winning customer experience. There is a need to create connections, along with visibility, across the board so that everyone sees how the work of one will impact the other, and how they ultimately impact the customers take – away

The “Psychology of the plate”

My son today used an interesting turn of phrase – he referred to the process of a sales up-sell that I was explaining to him as the “psychology of the plate”.

I thought he made a great point but I wanted to hear his perspective, so I asked him to tell me about this insight of his.  He pointed out that when I was growing up, supper plates were about 2/3 the size of the supper plates we use now. He reminded me that I had told him that when I was growing up, if I didn’t eat everything on my plate,  my parents used to tell me “There are people starving in the world”.   That drive still exists -fill up my plate and eat everything on it.  If I’m at a friend’s, it seems rude to my hosts if I only half fill my plate with food – even if I don’t need a lot of food or am not hungry.

(Of course we also discussed the implications on people’s health with the advent of these increased plate sizes and the drive to fill them up.)

Does any of this ring true for you?  When you grab that big supper plate, aren’t you subconsciously less satisfied if you don’t fill it up and aren’t you left with a feeling of wanting more if it isn’t filled?

My son rightly pointed out that by providing a bigger supper plate, people add more food to their plate as they are uncomfortable with the plate not being filled – thus the “psychology of the plate”.

Likewise, if you provide exceptional client service and give more to your clients than they paid for, you are increasing the ‘plate’ you provide and your client will buy more from you. There’s a balance of course as you absolutely deserve to be paid what you are worth.   One example from the way I approach my business is that I always do grammar and English edits for free when I’m helping someone with a web content issue.  If their content is unusable because of language issues, I tell them and suggest some new approaches.  If a tweak to a sentence or two will improve their sales conversion, I suggest it.  It’s always in the client’s rights to say no thanks, but mainly I’ve found that people are receptive to constructive suggestions.

The proof is in the pudding though right? Yes, I have been able to retain clients , get referral business, and have clients come back to me because they appreciated those little extras that I build in.

So, what about you? How can you increase the size of the plate you  are serving to your clients so that they want more from you?

 

What’s your exit strategy?

Call me strange but I firmly believe that we all need to have an exit strategy for a variety of situations in our lives.

Got a job or run a small business??  You need an exit strategy.  Thinking about retiring? You need an exit strategy. In a relationship that isn’t working and you aren’t willing to fix things – you definitely need an exit strategy.

Ok, so what do I mean by an “exit strategy”?  I mean simply that you need to know what would it take for you to make the decision to move on to something else. And to pre-plan at least some of the things that you will want to or need to do to move on (or worse, extricate yourself) from the situation.

We hear all over the place that many people are unhappy in their work and that many slog on for years, slowly crushing their souls and their potential by putting in time in workplaces that are toxic, or abusive, or boring, or etc.  But does it have to be that way?

What would it to for me to move on from this job I hate? For me to close my business and travel the world? For me to move to that other city?

I’ll give you an example from my own life.  When my son was around seven he expressed to me that he didn’t want me to do event planning anymore.  He didn’t like the long hours I would work, or how I would be away from him for days on end running the events.  Obviously I was (and still am) pretty darn proud of him for being that assertive and expressing himself to me at such a young age.  As I was already very clear that he was (and still is) the most important priority in my life, I realized that I needed an exit strategy from doing event planning.  I couldn’t stop immediately as I was a single mother and the money from that work was paying to support us. So, I kept my contracts and started to identify what I needed to be able to move on.

Some of this ‘getting clarity’ was going on in my subconscious, some of my personal work was talking to my friends, family and mentors about their perspectives on my possibilities, some of it was research, and some of it was goal setting.  Bottom line though, it came down to a list of principles, values, and material requirements that were the bare necessities of what I would need to have in any new situation.  Things like:

  • being available for my son first and foremost
  • work close to my home and my son’s school
  • at least as much salary as I was then making
  • regular hours, or at least very little overtime
  • work in an organization that takes serving people seriously
  • working with like-minded people
  • interesting work that challenged me in some way
  • learning opportunities

It took me almost a year to get everything clear in my head and then to plan and execute a search for a “job” instead of being self employed.   It worked.  I found a job that met my needs and that made it easy to make that decision to move on.  Then, a year into that “job”, I realized I was getting bored, so I started working on my exit strategy….but that’s a story for another day. I’ve used this same strategy now in a variety of aspects of my life, and it means that I can keep doing what I need to do in my current commitments, while also being open to the positive possibilities that exist around me.

There are three parts to this methodology

  1. Identify what you don’t want, what you want instead, and what you absolutely need to do to get started
  2. Make a commitment to yourself that you will keep working towards that exit and keep taking action
  3. Review your actions and adjust your activities and behaviours so that you keep tweaking towards what you want

Obviously you can approach these steps in different ways, but in general, I have found these to be the common requirements of implementing change in your life. I’d also like to add that I love helping people work through this kind of stuff, so if you want someone to help you keep focused and bringing you back to getting clarity, let me know.

 

 

Where do I find images for my website?

One of the most interesting challenges I have working with clients, is sourcing and choosing images for websites.  Everyone is different in their tastes and styles.  Also, knowing some professional photographers, I understand that they deserve to be paid for their creative work so free photos are not always fair to the artists.

Whether you are putting together your first website, over-hauling your existing one, or writing an article or a section of a page, the right photo can elevate your piece to a new level.  I’ve compiled a list of a variety of websites that you can use to source your images.  The list is not exhaustive and I am not affiliated with any of them in any way.  Indeed, I make no guarantees about any website I link to, so do take the time to review each site on its own merit.

And please, just as you’d like to be credited for the work you do, if you use an artist’s work and they ask to be given credit, then please do so.

Commercial

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Are you indispensable at work?

Ahh, that feeling that the whole place would fall apart without that one employee.  Have you ever felt or thought that either about yourself or someone else?  If you are an employee and you have that experience, let me tell you that is not a great position to be in.  If you are self employed, I’d recommend that you revisit your business strategy quickly regardless if it is you who feels that or if you know you have an employee like that.

No doubt at some point you have encountered someone who knows so much about the business/organization that everyone goes to them (or was it you?!).  When that person goes on vacation or gets sick, everyone else scrambles to fill in the gaps.  Things may not get done perfectly, but they do get done somehow. Funny that – the indispensable employee isn’t as indispensable as you or they thought. 

Nobody should be indispensable in your team or wider organization.  Ever.

This issue of being indispensable isn’t just about running an organization though – it is about the Risks to the organization and the Ego and Self-Identity. Why?  Well, what if that person does get into a car accident or gets sick or gets so burned out that they quit suddenly?  What if they hold all of the computer administration passwords or other financial or security information?  How much is it going to cost for you, or your company, to recover from them taking the foundations of the controls of the business with them?  Ever heard of former employees having ‘backdoors’ into financial or information systems and making off with either private, financial or your unique competitive property?  Well, this is one way that it can happen – letting someone become so central that they have the ability to get away with criminal behaviour. Of course, most situations don’t involve criminal behaviour. The risks and costs that result because of them leaving are more often around training others, recovering or developing new processes and systems, often breaking down work tasks that were personality based as opposed to best for the business, and a myriad of other ‘catch-up’ types of activities.

Fortunately there are some steps that organizations can take to mitigate some of these risks.  One of them is writing out your processes for the critical tasks in your organization. You don’t have to get really formal, but do record the required steps that people need to do and any unique steps that aren’t intuitive.  Task someone to revisit your checklists and processes twice a year – maybe as part of the lead up to your regular business planning.  That way you can also avoid surprises by verifying if there have been any regulatory or legislative changes in your industry that affect you.

Another method is a ‘buddy system’ or cross training.  Always make sure that at least two people know each and every position in the organization.  This method can also be used as an excellent selling point for hiring and retaining your staff, as well as it being a sound business practice that reduces your risks. If you are the one with much of the knowledge in your head, let me ask you: do you really, really, really want to be held accountable for everything? Trust me, sharing the load reduces everyone’s stress, allows for better decision making by individuals, teams and the owners.  It may take a bit of time, but knowledge transfer is a fantastic way to build up coworkers, improve the business and of course, ensure that oneself or one’s employees have healthy work loads.

"The E-Myth Revisited" by Michael Gerber
Recommended read: “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber

For many of my clients, their business is themselves – without them, there is no income.  This is a common approach for many entrepreneurs when they start out and for some, it can be pretty scary. For others, that is just how they want it.  I have to say that I have been particularly influenced by a book my big brother (hey there Joel!) recommended to me years ago. It’s called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber.  I highly recommend that you read this book, or others like it.  You are not going to be able to apply all the principles overnight, but you will get some serious food for thought about how you might want to move forward with your own business. Or indeed, if you want to keep it the way it is.

One of the ideas I took from this book is to step back and examine your business from the perspective of systems that can be replicated. For example, as mentioned above, set up a solid and regularly reviewed checklist or process.  For myself, I ask a particular set of questions during my free initial consultation with prospective clients. I have developed these questions over time so as to help me quickly and efficiently get a good start on understanding my potential client’s needs.

What about technological tools – haven’t we all developed different habits and reliance on certain software applications?  Are you using those tools consistently or using two or three at the same time?  Maybe it is time to commit to just one?

Now, what about the Ego and Self-Identity?  Well, I am not a counsellor or a psychologist.  What I do know though, is that high functioning teams learn early on to share the wealth of work and the wealth of knowledge.  Great leaders, business owners, and those who are intent on long term success, make the time to help their employees grow as individuals as well as workers.  Certainly it is hard work – but if you are working in a leadership position, own a business with employees, or are wanting to be a leader in your team it is fantastically important to get skills in relationship building.

Frankly, if you have an entrenched ‘super-knowledge-super-star’, it is more than likely that their ego and self-identity is inextricably tied into their position in your organization as the ‘go-to person’.  They may take pride in that role while at the same time resenting it and possibly their managers or you for ‘being placed in that situation’.  The thing is, if you care about this person (and your business), you can perhaps see that they probably need help. Yes, they have to take some self-responsibility, and yes, you want to mitigate risks to your business, but you also want mentally healthy people around.  Setting up a series of respectful conversations with them that explore how you can together begin to transition them from being overly relied on, identifying who they can begin to train, shifting their work load so that they can focus on knowledge transfer, are all steps you should consider. And if the person becomes distressed as you start to work more closely with them, do be prepared with information about services in your community.  This isn’t about micro-managing them though – this is about honoring their knowledge and skills and honoring what you need in your business. And then finding a path that works for you.

If you are the one feeling like you are ‘indispensable’, my friend, please hear me – “no one is indispensable”.  The best thing you can do for yourself is to recognize the unbalanced load you are placing on yourself.  Eventually the stresses will begin to show themselves in your health, mistakes made, difficult relationships, and any number of challenges.  This goes for the self-employed as well – you are going to need strategic partners who can do some of the work for you, like bookkeepers, house cleaners, dog walkers, tutors, etc.  I know.  I’ve been there.  It takes awhile to change your patterns of behaviour, to ask for help, and to learn that your job is not to do it all, but to enable those around you to be the best that they can be.  Challenge yourself to embrace this principle and arrange your work with the goal to not be indispensable. Your employer will love your contributions and your loved ones will love your availability. And you, well, you will love being able to focus on what you love to do with better energy and results.

 

I do not financially benefit from any of the external links in this post. They are provided as a courtesy only.

Starting from the client’s needs

Recently I had the good fortune to work with a great team of programmers who were developing an internal online application for their organization.  My role was pretty much to act as a liaison between the client and the programmers.  Fascinating project, amazingly quick turnaround and major deadlines, all of which pushed us hard.

One of the things that I kept thinking about was the need to do a full client needs assessment earlier in the project.  We encountered issues when the client, myself and the programmers each defined things differently and held expectations that didn’t always get expressed early enough.  Things were complicated a bit as I had joined in part way through the project and I must admit, I can have high expectations.  That being said, I took lots of notes when checking with the clients, asking as many questions as I could think of, and regularly got direction when a new issue/option came up that hadn’t been discussed. The programmers were supremely responsive, creative and thoughtful about implementing their work so that intentions got addressed as well as specific requests. Just awesome.

I love working with programmers and listening to them brainstorm new ways to solve problems.  So cool.  But still, a really, really important component of these types of projects is to ask questions like: “What do you mean when you say XYZ?” and “When you say you want the application to do XYZ, what are all the steps related to that action that come to your mind?”  Without making the time to ask these questions, you risk not meeting your client’s needs and possibly losing future business with them.  If you are the client, insist on going through the specifics of what you want.  Take time to play with ideas about what you want, like email notifications, automatically sorted lists, icons or text instructions and etc.

Whether its a multi-million dollar project, or a task for one’s manager, getting the client perspective early is critical. Checking in with them regularly is equally important.  Of course clients vary in their expectations – that’s why its so very important to ask good questions, to question one’s own assumptions, and to check that what you are actually delivering to your client is actually what they want.

Sounds like common sense right?  It is.  And yet time after time, people forget to start building from their customer needs.  That’s actually one of the reasons that I offer a free 45-minute consultation.  Not only do I want my clients to be sure that I can meet their needs, but I also want to ask them some preliminary questions so I can get a grasp of what they actually want.

Why you should change how you eat your banana

I know it may sound strange, but changing how you eat your banana really does hold an important lesson for us.

Think about how you were taught to eat a banana – if you were raised the way I was, you grasp the long stem in one hand and the body in the other. You then try to bend the stem so that it causes a split or a break at that one end.  If you are lucky, you get a quick opening with no damage to the soft lovely fruit inside.  That’s assuming the fruit is at the right ripe-ness to allow this without mushing the end of the banana or you bruising the body of it as you try to exert just the right amount of force.  Of course (!) you could just use a knife to slice off the end – but you don’t always carry something sharp with you, do you?  I have always preferred bananas that are not so ripe so this stem grip method left me unsatisfied as I invariably squished my banana! First world problem, I know.

The fact remains though that it never entered my mind to try to open the banana from the other end.  Until I saw some random item on the internet about how monkeys eat bananas.  I had to laugh at myself – instant solution to a silly annoyance.  Small thing right?

But it got me to thinking – what other things in my life do I do habitually, unquestioning-ly, because I have always done them that way?  What things are little annoyances that if I just approach them in a different light, will give me the same or better results with just a little change?

I’m struck by how many habits I have accumulated in my life and how many of them I just don’t question any more.  I certainly don’t have the time or energy to question all my little foibles, but when it comes to meeting my clients’ needs though, it is worth asking the questions.

  • What are my clients’ “pain points” that I can help them solve by viewing them from a different angle?
  • Can I reframe the issues for my client so we can find a different perspective that will help shift things?
  • Is there a way to tweak one’s approach to a challenge that will free energy up for something else?
  • What fresh perspectives can I offer to my clients so they move towards their own desired successes?

As I am typically a curious person, I can come up with more questions along this vein.  But let me ask you instead, what could you achieve if you start “eating your bananas” in a different way?

3 things my mom’s dementia has taught me about business (and life)

Unbelievably it has been over eight years since I got the phone call that would change the course of my adult life.  I was driving to a Board meeting for the Imaginative Education Research Group which was being held at the Vancouver Yacht Club in my home city, Vancouver British Columbia.  While I wasn’t a Board member, I was their support person so it was amazing to be at the table and be privileged to hear the conversations.  Needless to say, I was anticipating an intellectually stimulating meal in beautiful surroundings.  My darling son was at his friend’s house and I was free for the evening for a change.  Woo-hoo!

Then my mobile phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the number, but I recognized the prefix as being from the city that my mom lived in.  The woman pronounced that she was calling from the Public Health office in my mom’s city. I think I may have stopped breathing for a moment.  I pulled over and tried to calm my shaking as I found out that my mom was in the hospital, having collapsed in a crosswalk of a busy intersection.  What followed was a whirlwind of rearranged schedules, medical appointments, multiple calls and emails with my brother and sister who both lived more than four hours away, and eventually a diagnosis of vascular dementia.

In 2004 my stepfather passed away from cancer.  His adult children and my mom had cared for him in the apartment that mom and him shared right up until he passed on during that spring.  Mom was heartbroken – literally. We think she had a significant TIA (transient ischemic attack) when he died there in their living room, or sometime thereabouts.  That TIA affected her brain and it began its deterioration into dementia. (To learn more about vascular dementia, please go to the Alzheimer Society of Canada website, or seek out your local resource.)

Fast forward to today…. my mom lives with my son and me in a house that is perfect for her needs these days. While she is confused at times, she has her independence, is physically healthy and stable and I am still close by for the daily things she now needs help with.

Which brings me to my topic today – what has my mom’s dementia taught me about business and life? There has definitely been more than 3 things, but I think and feel that these are the top lessons for me just now.

1. Mindful communications is beyond important – it is the magic that I searched for throughout my childhood.

My mom doesn’t always hear our words in a way that makes sense to her, but she has the most incredible antennae for picking up the emotions of the person speaking.  If there was any doubt in your mind about how much people pick up on your emotional undertones, spend some time with someone with dementia.  I can be saying the most basic of things and if I am not fully present in my conversation with her, she will zero in on my tone of voice and react to her perception of that, rather than the words I am using.  This amazing ability to hear the unspoken has reinforced for me how critical it is that I am present and mindful about my words and emotions, regardless of who I am speaking with.

It is well known now that we are constantly picking up on a myriad of cues from those around us.  The magic comes when we take the time to stop our internal dialogues, block out the surrounding distractions, and focus purely and simply on the person(s) in front of us.  It is hard, but with practice, it becomes easier and opens us up to amazing positive possibilities.  This lifelong-habit-in-progress has allowed me to learn things from my quiet son that his teen brain probably never thought to share with me.  I have been able to switch from being emotionally and professionally stuck because of a bad relationship with a former manager, to having compassion for her perspective and a more clear understanding of what drives her. And so, I continue to grow personally and professionally in direct proportion to my practice of mindful communications. Being around my mom and working to find ways to communicate with her has been excellent daily practice.

2. Daily habits are a necessary condition. Laziness need not apply.

My mom does the dishes every day.  Every day she makes her bed.  Each day she does some other chore around the house – she vacuums, she does laundry, she wipes counters.   I must admit that this has been a challenge for me at times. For example, I go a bit crazy when she picks up after my kid – because I don’t want her to feel obligated and and I want him to learn his own good habits! Ultimately though, these things keep my mom going and engaged with something other than the TV, and at 80 years old, she is still physically healthy and going strong.

My dad was like this too. He was hard working and daily demonstrated the importance of putting “first things first”.  I learned from them that there are a bunch of crappy or boring but necessary things that must be done to keep life going in the direction that one wants.  Likewise in business: a percentage of what needs to be done will never be glamorous but those things are critical foundations of any other success. For example,  you must establish daily habits that show your appreciation to your staff – pay them on time and fairly, make sure they get appropriate breaks, ensure they have the tools they need to do their job, etc.  We cannot shirk the daily habits that make life and business enjoyable and fulfilling.  The challenge of course is deciding what are the necessary habits that underpin all the rest and then using self-discipline to keep it all going. I am convinced of the fact that self-discipline is one of THE most important habits for anything worth doing in life.  I can set goals until I am blue in the face and buried in creative plans, but if I don’t execute with self-discipline, well, I might as well accept mediocrity or worse in my life. (Need a resource? I recently re-discovered Brian Tracey’s “No-Excuses!: The power of self-discipline” book which I found to be a great reminder of what is necessary.)

3. We all need a purpose in life.

One of the things about living with my mom that I find equally fascinating and challenging, is supporting her as she works through ‘why keep going’.  We have learned over the years that her ‘helping out’ around the house gives her a purpose and makes her feel needed.  She often tells me that she doesn’t want to be a burden and that by doing the dishes and other housework, she feels like she is contributing.  Watching her put the dishes away and then realizing that she hasn’t eaten or taken her meds, puts this drive for purpose into perspective.  Time after time I am reminding her to take care of her own needs first.  But still, she is driven to serve others around her. Wow.

I’ve done a lot of reading over the last 25 years about social-enterprises, spirituality, self-improvement, and leadership.  Often this idea of making choices that are about serving others is a featured ideal.  As I see my mom play out her later years and as I try to find ways to help her continue to engage with the world outside our house, I am just so clear that each of us needs to really make time to figure out what drives us and gives meaning to our lives.  Personally, I have struggled for a very long time about what my purpose in life is.  When I was younger, I thought of it as “PURPOSE”, like something huge I was supposed to do.  Now, I see my purpose as raising my son to be a fantastic human being, holding space and love for my mom as she did for me when I was little, and finding a way to serve others even as I earn enough money to support my son’s and my needs.  I love that making money and helping others is no longer considered mutually exclusive and this gives me hope for the future! I am now working on re-visioning my purpose and how I want to serve others over the coming years.  I am excited by the prospects of being less focused on survival and more focused on using all that I have been blessed with to help others.

I hate that my mom has dementia and I still miss my independent, brilliant, cut-lose-when-you-least-expect-it, funny mom.  She is still in there and comes out for a visit every once in a while and I am so very glad when it happens.   For myself,  I’m terrified that I will end up with dementia myself and I am working on identifying what I need to do now to minimize that risk so my son doesn’t go through what I am going through now.  These lessons that my mom has taught me will stand me in good stead – mindful communications, self-disciplined daily habits, and finding a purpose in life.

I do not financially benefit from any of the external links in this post. They are provided as a courtesy only.