The Fight Within – Managing unexpected hurdles

Five months ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. For ten years my urology checks had been perfect – PSA scores less than 0.5. And now out of the blue the Big C! Like many in such situations I went through the standard Kubler-Ross phases – denial (it’s not me, the labs made a mistake – I even had the biopsy samples sent to a second lab), anger (why me, my brothers have had no major illnesses whereas I’ve had too many), bargaining (can I deal with this after my new baby grandkids are a little older?), depression (why even bother with treatment ?) and finally acceptance ( I can manage). It was getting to that last phase that was hardest. After lots of reading, and lots of discussion with former sufferers and a variety of doctors in different disciplines that my wife and I determined I should go ahead with the radiation seeding (brachytherapy) procedure. At the same time, my business had ground almost to a standstill. Who needs a consultant to build business when the first need of many small firms is survival. Out of the blue, just like the cancer detection, referrals and requests for proposals had ground to a halt. Why me, what had I done wrong, this must be temporary, how should I respond? A double whammy – personal and business misery. Who said life was fair? Life was changing, and not in positive ways. The radiation treatment was causing some unpleasant side effects on bodily functions as well as tiring me out. Despite the support of doctors and family I was uncomfortable and unhappy. After thinking deeply about it for a while I came up with an attitudinal adjustment that really helped. My body had become home to an insidious, powerful disease. To fight it, I’d elected a powerful medical weapon – radiation. This radiation wasn’t some trifling little band-aid type approach destined to achieve the right medical response. This was serious war against a formidable opponent. And if the field of war – that is the tissue around the fight area – got a little beaten up, then so be it. What were a few minor discomforts when there was this enormous battle for my life going on? Now all I needed was something analogous on the business side. Sure there were supporters but where was the potent medicine to fight this lousy economy? I talked to friends, I listened to webinars, I read some more and eventually I decided the ‘cure’ was to start blogging and to write articles and ultimately write a book on helping small businesses. The more I exposed the idea the more it became real and valuable. Others had been successful with similar actions. Here was my business downturn adversary. And, just as with the radiation treatment where I may not know anything definitive for 15 months yet, similarly with the book – until it is published I won’t know if I’ve overcome my business dilemma with a new source of revenue. And analogously with the fight inside against cancer, my fight outside against the economy will have its tough patches. But with the goals I’ve set and the attitude I now have, I feel good about winning at both. My take-aways: 1. Don’t give in. Business will come back and you’ll never forgive yourself for giving up. 2. Share your concerns with others. You are not alone. Someone else may just make a comment that lets you sense a new idea. 3. Look at the problem from a different viewpoint. Compare yourself to others. What did they do? Where does your niche fit in a bigger picture. 4. Background your emotions temporarily. Get data, get facts, analyze, seek to understand, talk to customers. Rise above despair and anger – they don’t help. 5. Accept what you can. Change must take place. So accept that. Work to minimize its impact, but don’t deny its inevitability. 6. Act. The world will not come to you, you must go to it. Get off your duff, do something. If it doesn’t work try something new. God gave us two ends – one to sit on , one to think with. Success in life depends on which one we use most. Heads we win, tails we lose. Sometimes we just need to look at things in a different way, alter our perspective, and take action. Positive change will occur – small mind adjustments and belief in ourselves will get us going in the right direction. Go for it. Fight, don’t flee.

Don’t Delay : de-stress D’s

Does your office resemble an advertising scene of total disorganization with untidy piles of documents, books, magazines, boxes, envelopes and sticky notes all over the place.  Or maybe your desktop is the litter spot with teetering stacks of paperwork leaving barely room to find your mouse and keyboard.

 No you say, instead my mess is in my computer.  My mail inbox has more bold unread email messages than read ones.  My Documents folder has more branches than a 100 year old tree, and I can no longer quickly find files I want in My Pictures and My Music folders . 

And you wonder why you feel stressed.

Well, you are not alone. 

But frankly that shouldn’t be any comfort.  

Here’s some tips on rectifying the situation, getting relief and maybe putting a smile back on your face.

First – plan a day with no appointments and commit to rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.   The first D – DECIDE.  You are going to do this, you affirm to yourself (and possibly others) that this will be done.

Second – a Double D – DON’T DELAY.  Deciding is one thing, but don’t decide to clean up in a month’s time.  Do it as soon as you can, even if you have to move appointments and activities around a little.  No more procrastinating, you will feel so much better the minute you get going.

Setting priorities.  Think about, and make a list of, what actually needs to be done.  Sorting, filing, reading, responding, removing, destroying, delivering, clearing, erasing  – your needs will be unique, but bound to include some of these actions.  And once you have your list put together the third activity is DO.  Don’t pat yourself on the back for getting the list organized and then stop.  You’ve made a giant step forward – now get off your duff and get cracking on DOING.

Fourth D. This is one of my favorites.  It’s called DITCH or DELETE.  I’m a hoarder. Perhaps you are too.  But do you really need that extra little paperweight, or that business card someone forced on you at a networking event. Will you ever read that article on ‘Home Cooking in the Wilds” that your colleague sent you.  Or will you use the ‘free gift with purchase’ that seems designed more for a teenager, rather than an adult.  And will you ever read all those emails from the ‘Radical Local News Source’.  Are there mailing lists from which you should unsubscribe? Of course there are.  Not quite a D activity unless we coin DESUBSCRIBE .  Are there mail messages , even unread, that you can readily delete?  Are there circulars and newspapers you will never get around to reading? If they were important wouldn’t you have looked at them by now?   Come on – just keep repeating to yourself ‘Delete, Delete, Delete’. It can feel so good….

Fifth D.  DESIGN.   This one is if you need to clean up your pictures, music or Word files on your computer.  Sit down and make a list of the source or subject areas of your files. Do your documents need to be sorted by company, person, or subject ? Does your music need to be sorted by genre, group, or source?  Think of the easiest way you would like to retrieve something.   Do your photos need to be sorted by place, time, person, or something else?  And by the way, you can put a photo or doc in two folders – storage space is very cheap these days and if that makes something easier to find, duplicate it (another D with reserved use).

Sixth D.  Notice how some of these D’s come in pairs.  Well here’s a triplet for you because what’s needed may differ depending on your circumstances.  DELEGATE, DONATE OR DELIVER.  If you have employees there are probably to-do items you can delegate.  No, you don’t need to do it all yourself and employees grow when given responsibility and challenging tasks.  But maybe some of the items in your office really don’t work for you in any way.  Please donate them to a worthy cause.  You can help others while helping yourself.  As for delivering, this may simply be getting something off your desk or out of the pile in the corner that can be better used or belongs to someone else.  Come on, move it – they’ll probably appreciate getting it and you’ll have a cleaner spot.

By now you should finally be able to see the top of your desk, or walk to the door without bumping into items stacked on the floor, or reach into the bookshelves without having to move 5 things first to find what you want, or even have that aria softly playing because you reorganized your music files.  Wow  – now doesn’t that feel good.. ?

So one last D for you.  There sometimes are legitimate reasons to DEFER doing something immediately.  The timing is not right, or you need extra information, or perhaps you have to think over that email before sending it.  If you can minimize those ‘defer’ items you’ll be better off.  But at the very least make a list of actions or the follow-up that is required and put them on your calendar.  That way you will stay in control and avoid creating more mess again.

Stress exists in all our lives.  A little stress can actually help us be alert, stay motivated and finish things.  But if clutter and disorganization are causing you major stress then you need to work on your D’s .  Some of them no doubt will work for you.  Here they are again: DECIDE; DON’T DELAY; DO; DITCH or DELETE; DESIGN; DELEGATE, DONATE or DELIVER; and only if you must – DEFER.

With great thanks to Katherine Everitt-Newton who  helps individuals and business achieve success by reducing and relieving stress. If you’re ready to get control of your stress,  get your free subscription to her De-Stress at Your Desk Ezine at http://www.cognitusuk.com

Learning from Others

A remembered experience  from personal life reminded me of one from business life the other day.  The  eldest of 4 daughters was in town and we were reminiscing a bit.  I reminded her of an incident which stuck in my brain but was apparently totally passé for her.   One day in her late teens we were having a nice discussion when she suddenly declared that she hated being the eldest child.

This rocked me as I was the oldest child in our 3 boy family and I loved it. I was always given responsibility for new tasks, and asked to do things first.  So I was sort of dismayed to find my eldest girl feeling otherwise.   When we finally got down to the nub of the matter her main beef was that she felt burdened by the responsibility of educating me and her Mom to the mores, views, habits, concerns, and needs of kids her age.  In other words we old fuddy-duddies were out of touch and she resented the fact that it fell to her to do all the educating of we poor ill-informed, ‘no-longer-with-it’ parents.   I was so taken aback I didn’t know what to say.  Here was I giving up things so my girls could go to private schools and get all the benefits of a top education and yet my daughter was ungracious enough to feel hard done by because she had a responsibility to educate me. I should learn from her !

This was a new paradigm for sure.   I’d never thought there was reciprocity in education between child and parent in the early years.  (Of course there is in later years as our children enter new professions.)  Boy, how naïve was I?  My beliefs and values were to be passed on, not adjusted by input from my kids.  I think at first I felt affronted and the inbuilt stubbornness in me caused resentment for a while. It took a lot of thought and time to realize that I hadn’t been attentive enough and listened hard enough to my own children. A sad awakening. 

On the business side I’ve known many managers who felt they knew everything their direct reports knew about their jobs and therefore could act as overseer on any underling’s  performance.    It irritated me when any boss of mine acted that way and I worked hard to encourage a different paradigm with my direct reports.  On one particular occasion one of my employees left for better parts and I had a vacancy which needed filling in a hurry.  One of my group came forward and said he had a candidate that he felt would be a little clone of me and would therefore fit perfectly.   I was surprised and went to lengths to explain that the last thing I wanted was a clone.  In fact what I really wanted was someone with skills that certainly had some overlap with those in our group but preferably who brought different skills and experiences that we could take advantage of in finding solutions to problems as they arose.

I’ve always been one who wants to learn new things.  Seemed to me to be a giant waste to have too much tied up in duplicate skills. One forms a team to bring together varying skills, not to duplicate them.  We eventually found someone who had new capabilities, background and experiences to offer and it worked out well. I know I learned a lot from this new employee and I was happy to share what I knew so we both gained. Isn’t that the win-win situation where both parties benefi?

Thanks daughter for waking me up earlier than would have happened otherwise…  

So what exactly was it, the common lesson learned in both the personal and business instance?    Easy – that we can always learn from others, no matter who they are.  There is no-one from whom we can’t learn something.  We just need to be open to the opportunity.

Teamship

“If you are not the lead dog the view never changes”

I cringe a little whenever I hear managers use this saying. Sometimes it is to justify their own aggressive behavior, other times to explain why a subordinate won’t move on unless they change their behavior. .

The actual reference is to the Iditarod – that famous race across part of Alaska pitting man and dog against the elements. The saying can be interpreted as ‘be a leader or forever be led’ or ‘if you aren’t a leader you aren’t going anywhere’. In either case the connotation is that non-leaders aren’t as important or as valuable as leaders.

And that notion bothers me.

I’m a great believer in teamship. Sure, those two lead dogs in the Iditarod are first to see a new changed view. They are picked in part for their uncanny ability to choose the trail and the best path forward. They determine direction with help from their driver. But they also take the sting of snow icicles and wind first so it’s not all glory up there. And they aren’t the strongest dogs in the team. When the going gets icy it’s the surefootedness and strength of the dogs behind that secure the sled to the trail and keep it moving on. The bulk of the team are happy at letting someone else decide where to go while they add the brawn to help get there. A successful Iditarod team has dogs of varying capabilities reflecting the different abilities needed to battle some of the harshest elements man faces. Some are cheerleaders, some are unflagging in their pulling power. Some have sixth sense about where to turn and obstacles to avoid. All are needed.

I’ve been fortunate to lead many teams in my business career and also to be a member of teams under another leader. I find teams are most effective when individual members recognize the strengths and contributions of each of the other members. That is, they have enough self -confidence to embrace the skills of others for the team’s good. As in football, we can’t all be quarterbacks. The quarterback depends on protection from his guards and tackles, and receivers depend on him to get them the ball.

Teams that work best have a range of talents among individuals. Some slight overlap certainly preserves continuity and provides double checking, but if all membesr were clones of one another there’d be no need for the team – one person could do all the decision making. In some teams there are people who shy away from decision making. They can be no less important than those who do – especially if they are the ‘operators’ who make things happen once a decision is made. We need them all.

So if you are a lead dog, don’t belittle the others behind you. Without them you wouldn’t be a leader nor as successful as you are. Be thankful for their support and encouragement. And recognize their unique abilities and contributions. They’ll appreciate their place and role more in knowing you care.

Avoiding the potential perils of email’s BCC

BCC: Be very careful in its use

Recently DeBorah Beatty wrote an article titled ‘Help Stamp Out “Reply All”’ http://biznik.com/articles/help-stamp-out-reply-to-all with some good advice on avoiding the poor behavior that unthinking “Reply All” actions can cause. There is definitely a place for Reply All but I agree with Deborah – use it carefully and don’t just practice its use because everyone else does.

To me however if I were to urge emphatic attention to one specific email activity it would be to the use of BCC – Blind Carbon Copy. A lot of people BCC themselves as a convenient way to put a copy of an outgoing message back in their Inbox. Besides having all my outgoing mail stored in a Sent mail folder I like a copy in my Inbox so I can move it quickly to a personal folder of choice while the subject is fresh in my mind. But I use ‘Rules’ to copy outgoing mail to my Inbox as I have worked hard to get myself out of the habit of using BCC.

Why?

If you haven’t had a bad experience with BCC then you may not know the potential risk involved. Suppose you send email to Person A and BCC Person B. The general idea is that you don’t want Person A to know that Person B is also seeing the mail – for whatever reason. They can be perfectly valid business reasons or in some cases positive or negative personal reasons. You clearly want person B to know the content of your mail as well as Person A does.

If Person B receiving the BCC hits “Reply All” (Big-R) instead of just “Reply” (Little-r) without realizing it, then inadvertently Person B is indicating to Person A that they are aware of the content of the mail you sent A, and at the same time showing A the form of relationship you have with Person B. Depending on what Person B writes in the mail back this can lead to incredibly embarrassing situations.

For example suppose you email A “Judy, I was really disappointed in your lack of support for Jane’s proposal today as it appeared to me it was totally consistent with your own thinking” and you BCC B who happens to be Jane. Jane mistakenly hits Big-R thinking she’s only writing to you blurting “Sandra, thanks for your support. Judy is incredibly self-centered and only votes for ideas she comes up with. Frankly she is the rotten apple in a good bunch and you need to get rid of her. All the other team members feel the same way.” Whose office do you think Judy will be rushing to 1 minute after receiving Jane’s mail? Yep – yours.

Now stamping out Reply All would clearly solve the problem. But there’s another better way that eliminates the opportunity for issues like those above. Send the email just to Judy (Person A). No BCC. Use a rule that copies outgoing mail to your Inbox. Forward that copy directly to Jane (Person B). Now if Jane replies (even with Big-R) the reply will ONLY come to you. Potential awkward situation averted.

Don’t get me wrong. There certainly is a legitimate role for BCC. If you are sending the same message to a number of people each of whom has no specific relationship with any other, or where each has no need to know who else is getting the message then BCC is an efficient way to go, rather than addressing each recipient one by one.

That is the ONLY circumstance today where I use BCC. Otherwise it is relegated to non-use. As they say in many companies, it takes 1000 “Atta-boy” pats on the back to overcome one major “Aha”. Judicious use of BCC can avoid that costly “Aha”.

Marketing to EARN

Times are tough and you know you have to change the way you market your product or service. But how do you even start thinking about that? What are the alternative approaches you could consider? How does one get started?

Here are some ideas taken from a random sampling of small business owners who have had some success in this recession.

There seem to be 4 distinct avenues one can think about. There’s no ‘best’ one. Different approaches will work for different personalities and different types of business. A combination of approaches in many cases may be appropriate. I categorize the 4 avenues by thinking EARN:
Enhance communication
Adjust product offering
Re-focus activity
New ideas

Enhancing Communication is almost a must. And here there are many options. For some it means relentless networking – spending time in network groups, giving speeches, offering webinars, meeting one on one with new people. For others the best starting point is past customers. What about a newsletter to past customers telling them what is new in your business? Do you have a good CRM database, have you thought about incenting customers to provide new leads, or discounting their repeat business? Might social media marketing via Facebook membership for example help bring in new customers? Have you thought about participating in Q&A session on networking sites to get your name seen? Maybe social media marketing is not necessary but some strong digital marketing and relationship building will work better for you. Have you considered buying mailing lists? Maybe it’s time to have someone else you trust cast a critical eye over your website, brochures and other collateral. Do you need to tailor your messages a little differently for the current times? Do they reveal a caring approach, a genuine interest in usefulness? Is your product or service description realistic or over-hyped? In today’s market people are looking for sincerity. Make sure your messages reflect that. You may think your product is the most wonderful since sliced bread, but make sure the customer knows what it value really is in terms they use, not glowing terms you think should make anyone want to buy. If you are doing something new with your product have you thought about a press release. A press release for the sake of a press release will not go down well. You need to have something new to talk about.

Adjusting your product or service offering even slightly may appeal to more folks. We’ve alluded to a couple of ideas above. The simplest of course is simply to lower the price of whatever you offer. All the big boys do it, why can’t you? Can you offer a ‘special’ for a limited period?. If you run a service can you make the first hour (or whatever the appropriate period is) free? Can you add coupons for a discount later? Offer a rebate after 5 (or some other appropriate number) purchases? Have you wished you could offer your product in a particular geography or to special group of customers? Can you advertise a ‘special’ to possible new constituents?

Re-focusing activity. What does this mean? When business hurts it’s a natural propensity to immediately focus on cutting costs, especially personnel related costs. First the consultants go then one cuts down on external resources (lawyers, bookkeepers, website managers etc. and then employees. But maybe that’s not the best approach. If everyone else is cutting back advertising perhaps your ads will stand out more, and you will look like the only one still active in the business. Maybe instead of cutting back on employee paid work time or dismissing employees it would be better to incentivize them to bring in new business. Maybe some know more about select customers than you do or have special relationships they can build on. Perhaps it’s time to clean up the customer database and target a select section of past clientele. Should you offer to help your past best customers by offering a free analysis of their situation employing your analytical skills which they don’t have. Or instead of cutting costs would it be smarter to develop a program to generate new leads and new revenue generating options?

Finally, perhaps it’s worth entertaining a couple of new ideas ‘outside the box’. Some folk think distribution is an operational consideration but I tend to think of it as a facet of marketing. Do you use a single distributor or several? It’s a fair bet that your distributors are hurting just like you are. Threatening to consolidate may bring you a better price, or consolidation itself may give you better bargaining power with one distributor. They all want guaranteed income as do you so it’s a good time to renegotiate contracts whether they are up for renewal or not. Don’t be shy. On another tack if your business is hurting it’s also pretty likely that your competitors are also hurting. This is an excellent time to watch your competition closely and to take advantage of the situation. For example hiring a salesperson or account manager from a competitor may well bring in new accounts for you that more than offset the salesperson’s cost. All’s fair in love and war – and also in business.

These are just a few ideas that might give you some thoughts for your own small business. Certainly not exhaustive by any means. Each business is different and some of these suggestions may not even apply to yours, but if you think of the four areas for change – EARN – you’ll probably find at least one where you can make a difference and add something positive to the bottom line. Good luck.

Remember – Enhance communication, Adjust product offering, Re-focus activity, New ideas