Monthly Archives: March, 2016

5 Ways to Provide Excellent Customer Service

March 29th, 2016 Posted by Behavior, Business is ART, Relationships 0 thoughts on “5 Ways to Provide Excellent Customer Service”
Photo courtesy of gratisography.com

Photo courtesy of gratisography.com

In Segment #23 of the Business is ART podcast on the TrueChat network, my guest, Jason Cozad, and I discuss customer service and what good customer service means.

In wrapping up the show, we summarized 5 points that you should consider when developing your own customer service strategy or approach.

Know Your Customer

Jason tells of a customer he recently acquired for one simple reason. His competitor did not know this customer even after servicing the account for 20 years. After 4 failed attempts to provide the customer with something that they had always purchased, the customer finally left in frustration.

BIA Podcast on the TrueChat Network

BIA Podcast on the TrueChat Network

Make Sure the Customer Knows You

In Jason’s case, this is perhaps more important than it may be for some because in order to provide his service, he actually has to go into the home or place of business of the customer. A certain level of trust must therefor be established, which begins with a presentable appearance. Other means to ensuring the customer knows you include seeking out referrals and testimonials, providing a website, or being active on your business Facebook page where people can get to know you a little bit on their own, before contacting you.

Listen to the Customer

Knowing the customer and listening to the customer are not necessarily the same things. Just because you know the customers well, don’t make the mistake of assuming you know what they want or need. Take time to listen to what they are saying to you.

Own Your Mistakes

None of us are infallible and mistakes can be made. The important thing to do is “own” them. Make it a priority to correct mistakes on the customer’s timeline, not yours. Spending a little extra time or money fixing an error will pay for itself in the long, and perhaps even short run.

The Best Sales Pitch is No Pitch at All

As Jason notes, he used to sell products in addition to services. He has since learned that when he provides excellent service, the products sell themselves. He provides them, and charges a fair rate for them, but he doesn’t have to “sell” them in the classic sense.

You Decide

Customer service can be a great differentiator in your business. If you take care of the customer, the revenue and profit will come. If all you focus on are the revenue and profit, the customer will leave.

Which scenario would you prefer?

Please contact me to discuss this or any other business related topic, and tell us how you ensure good customer service in the comments section below.

3 Tips to Ensure Success

March 25th, 2016 Posted by Business is ART, Strategic Planning, Strategy 0 thoughts on “3 Tips to Ensure Success”
Strategic Planning

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A strategic initiative is not the same as a strategy, but a strategic plan without strategic initiatives is just an open-ended discussion leading to nowhere. Strategic initiatives support strategic goals and objectives.

Note: The Business is ART book goes into this subject in detail, while providing a real life example. Download a free copy of the 1-page strategic plan template described in Business is ART and order the book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. If you’re having trouble putting meaningful strategic plans together, please contact me to see how I can help.

Strategic Planning vs Strategic Management

We commonly think of 4 phases when it comes to strategies. The first 2 fall under the category of strategic planning. The others fall under the category of strategic management.

  • Phase 1 – analysis & assessment
  • Phase 2 – strategy formulation
  • Phase 3 – strategy execution
  • Phase 4 – sustainment/management

Strategic initiatives are born in Phase 2, but live and die in Phases 3 and 4. The unfortunate reality, however, is that most businesses never get beyond Phase 2 and many of those never get past Phase 1

Tips for Ensuring Success

The following are some quick tips to ensure your strategic initiatives are successful:

  1. Focus. It’s OK to identify as many important, value-adding initiatives as possible, but prioritize them. You can’t do them all at once even though you wish you could. Limit yourself to no more than 3 at a time so that you can remain focused.
  2. Plan accordingly. Strategic initiatives are projects – which mean they have defined start and end dates, defined objectives, defined roles, and resources assigned to those roles. They may even have a budget.
  3. Assign ownership. Someone has to “own” each initiative. Maybe that’s you. Maybe it’s someone else. Owning it doesn’t necessarily mean “doing it.” It means the owner is responsible for making sure it gets done.

Smart Business Practices vs Strategic Initiatives

Just because something is a smart thing to do does not mean it is necessarily a strategic initiative. As an example, if you are in the business of software development and don’t have well defined release management procedures, you need to implement them.

Some things are just smart things to do that are core to your business, but that doesn’t necessarily make them strategic initiatives.

Consider the Timing

Whether it’s a strategic initiative or not, consider the timing before launching in to it. There never is a perfect time, so don’t wait around for that to come. But, going back to the point about focusing and prioritizing, unless you have unlimited resources, you can’t do it all at once. Something may be a good thing to do…just not right now.

The key is to get it in the queue so that you aren’t continually saying, “Some day.”

A Trick for Understanding What’s Really Going On

March 23rd, 2016 Posted by Behavior, Business is ART, Leadership, Relationships 0 thoughts on “A Trick for Understanding What’s Really Going On”

Note: This post first appeared in the original site for the Business is ART blog on March 5, 2015 and was entitled “Promote Honesty: 3 Up, 3 Down Report.” Given that site is no longer available and that I truly believe it to be a very powerful tool, I’m reposting it here.

The 3 Up and 3 Down ReportA Hypothetical Conversation

Sally: Bill, what’s the status of the XYZ project?
Bill: Well, Sally, things couldn’t be better. We completed tasks 1, 2 and 3 and by end of next week, tasks 5 and 6 will be done as well – full steam ahead.
Sally:  That’s great, Bill. Any problems or roadblocks?
Bill: Nope. The usual bumps and grinds, but everything’s moving along according to plan.

One month later, project XYZ has major problems that seem to have come from nowhere. Sally is very angry at Bill, but whose fault is it really?  It may be hers.

No One Wants to be the Bearer of Bad News

No matter how good someone’s relationship is with “the boss,” no one wants to be the bearer of bad news.  We want to show the boss we are capable of leading and that things under our “command” are doing well.

We behave this way not because we are liars, but in many cases because we honestly don’t want to burden the boss with things we feel we should be able to handle ourselves.  In other cases, the boss has created an environment in which if bad news is presented, we are belittled and an over-reaction follows.

In neither case is it healthy for business.  The point of delivering bad news on the job is to fix problems, preferably before they turn in to larger ones.  No one person has all of the answers, so it’s best to get the issue out on the table where multiple heads can address it and come up with a solution.

Striking a Healthy Balance

One effective means of striking that balance between wanting to deliver and hear good news versus needing to deliver and hear bad news is the “Three Up, Three Down” report. The premise is simple.  Report three good things that happened this week or that you are looking forward to, then report three bad things.  No matter how big or small, you have to list three things in each category.  Three.

When you first start using this report, the good things will probably be GREAT and the bad things will probably be minor.  But it won’t take long to establish a level of trust in the process.

Ain’t Nothin’ Guaranteed

The Three Up, Three Down report does not guarantee no surprises, it won’t stop someone from willfully lying, and it won’t prevent the boss/you from over-reacting.  But it does provide an effective tool for creating an environment that reduces surprises and promotes honesty without fear of reprisal…you know…if you’re in to that sort of thing.

How to Be Optimistic Yet Realistic

March 19th, 2016 Posted by Behavior, Business is ART, Inspiration, Leadership 0 thoughts on “How to Be Optimistic Yet Realistic”
realistically optimistic

Photo courtesy gratisography.com

An optimistic outlook is required if you’re going to run or manage a business.

Without a little optimism, no one would ever start a business because they would assume it would fail. Optimism can encourage you to push through when everything else is telling you to give up. It can give you the strength to do things better because it allows you to believe that things can be better.

But optimism unchecked can quickly transform into naivety or arrogance. That’s why you need to balance that optimism with a touch of realism.

Do Realism and Optimism Contradict Each Other?

It’s very pessimistic to think that these two concepts are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, by seeing the importance of each and learning to combine them, you can be ready for any situation that comes your way.

The Benefits of Positivity

The business world can quickly become stress filled with surprises, uncertain outcomes, and uncontrollable variables always surrounding you. Constantly worrying over problems can cause you to make poor decisions or worse, become paralyzed with fear.

Studies show that positive people are consistently less stressed, allowing them to stay focused and look towards their future goals.

Related – Luck does Exist

There’s a degree of forward momentum that the optimist has. This can motivate when things look grim. It can inspire your team and produce better work. And of course, it can make your own work much better.

But it can’t change cold, hard facts.

The Importance of Realism

Numbers don’t lie. If you’re losing money or there aren’t enough hours in a day to finish a project, optimism isn’t going to change that. There come points in the business world at which you need to make choices and decisions based off of cold, hard facts. That’s the nature of the beast.

But even then, optimism can serve its role in leaving you comfortable with your decision.

Finding the Balance

There are essentially two kinds of optimism: The idealistic and the realistic. The idealistic optimist believes that things will always work-out and be fine regardless. They find themselves and their coworkers far less in control and responsible for the situations.

Related – Overcoming Self-Doubt

Studies have shown that optimists tend to fare better in business, entrepreneurial, and even academic environments. They also live longer. But these same studies favor the realistic optimist who takes control of the responsibilities they have.

Though a realistic optimist might be a little more prone to anxiety than the idealist, they’re also equipped to handle the stress because they believe in their ability to control the things around them.

Can I Choose to be Optimistic

Renowned psychologist Martin Seligman says, “One of the most significant findings in psychology in the past twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think”.

As a business leader, you can choose how you’re going to view the situations that come your way.

Seligman coined a method called “Learned Optimism”. He considers it a talent or skill, and just like any other talent and skill, it can be developed and strengthened. By choosing to silence negative self-talk as it comes your way, you can push forward and achieve more.

The positive person believes bad events are temporary, they learn to compartmentalize failures as expectations, and they internalize positive events.

These practices combined with realistic business leadership can take you very far in your work.

The Secret to a Great Elevator Pitch

March 16th, 2016 Posted by Business is ART, CEO, Engagement, Leadership 0 thoughts on “The Secret to a Great Elevator Pitch”
elevator pitch face

Photo courtesy of gratisography.com

An elevator pitch is a very succinct means of stating what you are all about. The concept is that if you had just a few seconds to make your case to a stranger in an elevator before the doors open, what would you say and how would you say it? It is commonly referred to as a “sales pitch” but more and more, people are catching on to the sentiment that the best sales pitch is no pitch at all.

So, as stated, I think of it as a succinct means of stating what you are all about, rather than a succinct sales pitch. Meanwhile, several books, articles and TED Talks have become very popular, encouraging us to emphasize “why” rather than “what.”

For example, Simon Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire” urges us to communicate our ideas, goods and services by starting with why anyone should care, how it satisfies the “why”, and finally what “it” is, rather than the reverse order we commonly see.

His New York Times best selling book Start with Why explores this concept further.

Creating a succinct message can be far more difficult than creating a lengthy one. There are many schools of thought on the subject but here is one more that I stumbled upon in my own work. Just as the best sales pitch is no pitch at all, the best way to write an elevator pitch may be to not write one…at least not directly.

Here is a process to explain what I mean.

Step 1 – Write a vision statement

Your vision statement should be simple. A sentence or two that looks in to the future and defines what it is you see. There is no right or wrong because it is your vision. There is “more effective”, but there is no “wrong.”

Amazon’s vision statement is often used as a good example and is as follows – “Our vision is to be Earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

My own vision statement is – The vision for Business is ART is that small to medium sized businesses (SMB) are dramatically more successful – improving their odds by at least 30 to 50 percent.

Step 2 – Write a mission statement

There is a difference between a mission statement and a vision statement. The vision statement is what you see in an ideal world, sometime out in the future. The mission statement is what you do. Not why you do it. What you do.

As an example, my mission statement is – To provide entrepreneurs, businesses and organizational leaders with the easy to use tools that they need.

Step 3 – Write a Purpose Statement

Now write your purpose statement. Your purpose is different than your mission. Purpose is the emotional hook. It’s why you follow your mission. I know, I know. Simon says, “Start with Why,” and here I am including it as Step 3, but stay with me for a minute.

My purpose statement is – To help others to feel less overwhelmed, get organized and focus.

Step 4 – Write the Elevator Pitch

Now you have everything you need to write your elevator pitch and it becomes a very easy task because all you need to do is mash together the vision, mission and purpose statements you just wrote. The difference? We’re going to start with why.

In other words, we will create the elevator pitch from the purpose, mission and vision statements in that order.

In my case, that becomes:

“I help entrepreneurs and small to medium sized business and organizational leaders to feel less overwhelmed and be dramatically more successful.

By providing simple to use tools, information and the experience they need to get organized and focused, Business is ART can help them increase their odds by 30 to 50 percent or more.”

Why, How, What

Now, using Sinek’s approach, let’s break it down:

  1. Why? You are overwhelmed and would like to be more successful (purpose).
  2. How? With simple to use tools (mission).
  3. What? Business is ART (vision).

Hopefully the response is, “Gee, I DO feel overwhelmed and alone at times. And I do want to be more successful. 30% to 50% you say? Tell me more.”

5 Steps to Mitigate the Cost of a Data Breach

March 12th, 2016 Posted by Business is ART, Leadership, Strategy 0 thoughts on “5 Steps to Mitigate the Cost of a Data Breach”
My head is going to explode

Photo courtesy of gratisography.com

It is estimated that dealing with the aftermath of a data breach costs the company suffering the breach between $200 to $500 per breached record. As an example, if 1000 customers’ data is included in the breach, it will cost $200,000 to half a million on average to deal with it. Can your company afford and survive that? Are you protected?

On segment #21 of the Business is ART podcast at TrueChat Inc., my guest was Otto Larson of the Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC – Midwest. In this segment we discussed cyber security, data breaches and data liability at some length. Otto is a wealth of information on the topics, but one of the great take-aways from this segment is a set of 5 steps to mitigate against the cost of a data breach.

These steps are outlined in the following:

Understand Your Exposure

This is step number one. Too many times we don’t understand our exposure and if we don’t understand it, we can’t protect against a breach and we can’t mitigate against the potential cost of recovering from a breach. A breach may be far more likely caused by human error, such as losing a smart phone or laptop, than the result of a purposeful attack. Likewise, a disgruntled employee may be far more likely to walk out with critical data than a hacker is to get in to your systems. Paper records represent data as well and have to be protected accordingly. Understand all of these exposures first and foremost in order to properly protect your business, your employees and your customers.

Review Contracts with 3rd Parties

If your business uses 3rd party service providers to whom your customers’ data is transferred or by whom it is stored, review the contracts with those 3rd parties. Make sure you understand not just who is responsible for protecting data under what circumstances, but who is required to take what action in the event of a breach. Plug any holes through contract modifications or by developing mitigation plans.

Ask to be Added to the 3rd Party’s Insurance Policy

Sometimes the 3rd party that manages your customer data is open to adding you or your business to their insurance policy. If you aren’t sure, ask. There is an opportunity here not just to make sure you are better protected, but to save money in the process. If it makes it more attractive to the 3rd party, offer to share the premium expense.

Seek Your Own Insurance Coverage

Whether a 3rd Party adds you to their policy or not, at least explore an insurance policy of your own. Consult with experts like Otto who aren’t just selling an insurance product, but are experts in the subject matter and truly wish to partner with you to help you take risk out of the business as a whole, not just with regard to data. If you are going to spend the money, make sure you maximize the return.

Plan

Develop a risk mitigation plan that includes a data breach (or loss). This should include a communication plan, specifically for customers that may be impacted by the breach and potentially, depending on the size and severity, have a communication and PR strategy for the press/media. Identify who does what, when and make sure those individuals know their role. Finally, don’t wait until a breach occurs to test your plan. Periodically conduct dry runs and continually improve your plan.

How to Host a Better Brainstorm

March 9th, 2016 Posted by Business Plan, Manager, Objective, Strategic Planning, Strategy 0 thoughts on “How to Host a Better Brainstorm”

business is artGroup brainstorming was a revolutionary idea when it was introduced to the corporate world around 1940.  Developed by Alex Osborn, these “think up” sessions were designed to creatively attack problems by gathering spontaneous responses from different coworkers.

There were four rules that Osborn established:

  • No criticism allowed
  • Go for a large quantity of ideas
  • Build on each other’s ideas
  • Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas

In the brainstorm, there was no such thing as a wrong answer or a stupid solution.  There were only raw and beautiful ideas.

Though Osborn’s concept spread like wildfire, it was not without its fair share of criticism.  Today, brainstorming often carries a negative connotation in modern business and creative environments.  They see it as nothing more than a waste of time.

But it doesn’t have to be.  Done correctly, there is a time and place for a collective brainstorm.  To do so, however, you have to avoid the common pitfalls.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Brainstorming

Modern brainstorming sessions fall into a number of unhelpful tropes.

Often, one or two influential/talkative attendees will dominate the conversation, sharing far more than anyone else, even cutting others off, and ultimately oversaturating the room with their perspective.  In the meantime, others may forget their ideas or deem them irrelevant to the direction the conversation has gone.

All of this leads to a problem called “groupthink”.

Groupthink is an actual psychological occurrence that happens when people seek to conform to a singular outcome, even if it’s irrational or mediocre.

Alternatively, you may have a person in the group who simply spends their time shooting down everyone else’s ideas without offering a suggestion of their own.

That’s why you need some rules and strategy.

How to Brainstorm Better: Add Some Structure

Adding structure and additional rules to a brainstorming session might seem counter-intuitive, but hear us out.  By establishing some ground rules, you can consciously avoid the pitfalls of brainstorming.

When the session starts, make sure everyone has something to write on so they can jot quick thoughts down if someone else is already talking.  If there’s a fear that one or two voices will dominate the conversation, maybe the solution is to limit the amount of ideas that can by shared per person.

If you’re afraid a lot of your team won’t say anything, make it a requirement for everyone to share an idea.  You’ll be surprised by what a person might come up with when they have to come up with something.

And for those teammates who spend all their energy shooting down others’ concepts, you could establish a rule that you can’t reject an idea unless you have an alternative suggestion.

Looking to take it a step further?  Here’s one method we suggest:

The Sticky Note Brainstorm

At the start of the session, give everyone a sticky-note pad and a pen.  Then, present the group with a problem or question and tell them they have 30-60 seconds to write down as many solutions as possible.

When the time’s up, move to your next question or problem, and keep going until you’ve exhausted all of the topics.

Once that’s done, collect all of the sticky notes and start to arrange them on the wall.  As you do, you’ll begin to see patterns emerge and applicable solutions arise.  From there, you can discuss and refine as a group, knowing that everyone has had a chance to contribute to the discussion in a pure, efficient manner.

Knowing When It’s Time to Walk Away

If you’re having a brainstorming session and it’s not going anywhere, don’t hesitate to pause or post-pone things till a later time and day.  People, even in groups, hit creative walls.  The best solution for that is to simply break, decompress and comeback later.

Brainstorming can still serve a purpose in the modern conference room.  You just need to utilize some business leadership skills like awareness and planning, and you can set your team up for success.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a modern twist on brainstorming. The yellow sticky note approach may still apply but there are also online software tools that you can use just as effectively. In his book Will It Fly?, Pat Flynn discusses mind mapping in more detail.

Whether it’s mind mapping, brainstorming, ideation or anything else, the idea is the same – to get as many ideas out on the table as possible so that you can better define whatever it is you are creating or better attack whatever issue or challenge you are facing.

4 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Business

March 5th, 2016 Posted by Business is ART, Business Plan, Entrepreneur, Owner, Strategy 0 thoughts on “4 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Business”
Mistake

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Achieving business success is not only about what you do, it’s what mistakes you avoid. Mistakes can be made by anyone, no matter how prepared you are to get started in your industry. These mistakes aren’t always so easy to identify, and some of them can actually be misconstrued as doing something positive. But therein lies the problem: sometimes you can do too much.

It’s not always what you put into your business that matters, but what you leave out. A complete list would be far too lengthy for a blog, so here are just 4 mistakes to avoid when starting your business.

Moving Forward Without a Plan

One of the biggest mistakes that business owners can make is pressing forward without any type of plan for the future. It’s good to have a sense of your industry, the market, the consumers and what you want your business goals to be.

Without a proper business plan, you put yourself at risk of being one of the many businesses that fail within the first five years. The Business is ART book explicitly lays out how you can form a plan. You can also find a template for a “One Page Strategic Plan” as well as a business plan template in the “Freebies” section of the website.

While it’s always a good idea to have a business plan, start with the strategic plan. It sets the stage for your business plan.

Over Planning

You have probably heard the term “analysis paralysis.” Simply put, it’s what happens when we over think things. This can easily happen when putting plans together. You start to think of all of the additional things you can put in to your plans, or talk about in great depth in your plans. Pretty soon, months or years go by without taking any real actions toward implementing your plans. You’ve been so busy planning that you forgot the “doing” part.

Another danger is what I call “exception handling.” That’s when instead of defining the forward path, you start worrying about and defining all of the detours and delays that may take you off of the defined path and down unmarked dirt roads.

To be sure, you should do some of this planning. It’s called risk mitigation planning. But do it AFTER you have defined the preferred, ideal path that you plan to take. If you try to define them simultaneously, you are likely to never completely define the path.

Being Inflexible

You should never become so set in your ways that you refute any and all criticism about your business or plan. Part of being a business leader is learning to listen to your stakeholders as well as others who have no “skin-in-the-game.” Most importantly, you should be listening to your customers.

By refusing to revise your business plan and strategy, you will find that your business will become either obsolete or forgotten about pretty quickly. Every market is constantly evolving; the trick is to evolve along with it.

Neglecting Your Marketing Budget

Developing a product or perfecting a service is integral to any business, but if you don’t spend any money on marketing your business, how will people know that it even exists? Don’t fall back on the saying: “if you build it, they will come.” You have to set aside some money for marketing in order to get your business off the ground.

What are some other mistakes to avoid?

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