The Courage of Success

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Setting goals to drive revenues and profits is part of doing business. We all strive to be successful in business and in life. When we are young, we look for careers that will make us successful to get the things we want such as a beautiful house, cars, and money. Most people define success as the ultimate goal.

However, there are other ways to look at success.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill

Churchill defined success and failure as a journey instead of the end goal. How do you define success? If you look at success and failure as part of a journey instead of an end goal, life looks very different. Instead of always striving to seek the end, you are marking points along the pathway as measures of success and failure. None of these points is the ultimate goal, but rather, destinations that you can reach and surpass.

When you define success in this manner, it takes much of the stress away as you pursue your goals. While still working to create success, whether that is a monetary target or achieving other goals such as graduating from school, gaining particular skills, or training an employee successfully, you know that each point is not an end. In fact, each time you achieve success, it is a beginning of the next segment of your journey.

On the flip side, defining success as part of the path means that failure is also part of the path, and not a crushing blow. While no one likes to fail, you can take your failure as a learning opportunity to improve the next time you journey in the same direction. Breaking down the road to success into smaller, doable achievements can help you gain strength to pursue your goals and succeed multiple times.

Churchill said, “It is the courage to continue that counts.” Sometimes, we wake up in the morning and want to be anywhere except at work. However, a successful business person is the one who continues to work day after day whether they want to or not. It takes courage to persevere during the good times and bad, especially when you are not sure if you will be successful that day. When the economy is tough, and business is hard to find, it takes courage to keep looking for new customers.

It also takes courage to change with the times. No matter how long you have been in business, change is inevitable. These days it seems to come faster than ever. However, success means the courage to make the changes that will help you continue to grow in business. In fact, your successful business influences the world around you. As your business continues to flourish, you add to the economy and help bolster the lives of everyone that you touch.

Your courage to continue along a successful pathway creates a ripple effect. By setting an example for your employees, your customers, your vendors, and your family and friends, you show everyone the true meaning of success. You have the courage to continue moving forward.

Protect Your Business While On the Move

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Even if you’re not working for an organization that requires you to travel on a regular basis, there is still a high likelihood that you will work from home at some point during your week. Giving people the ability to work remotely not only increases worker productivity but also drives efficiency, lowers stress, reduces employee turnover, and more. However, all of these benefits come at a pretty significant cost: giving employees the ability to work while on the move also increases the chances of a cyber attack pretty profoundly.

Organizations that want to leverage the power of modern technology with as few of the downsides as possible would do well to learn three specific letters as quickly as possible: V, P, and N.

What is a VPN?

Short for “virtual private network,” a VPN is exactly that – a private network that extends across either a public network or a larger, global network like the internet. Think of it as a lane on a highway that only you and your employees are allowed to use while on your way to work. Sure, there are other cars out on the road trying to get to various destinations, but YOU are the only one who gets to enjoy that one, special lane.

This may be a bit of an oversimplification, but this is largely the idea at the heart of a VPN. It allows users like yourself to both send and receive information over public networks like the internet with all of the privacy and security they would expect if they were connected to a smaller private network in their office.

Many businesses use VPNs to help increase security as more employees work remotely. Using a VPN, remote users can connect back with the head office, or regional offices can connect with one another, without worrying about anyone with malicious intentions intercepting their traffic.

Why is a VPN So Important?

For business professionals on the go, VPNs are important, thanks to one simple, little word: security. While connections to the internet are a dime-a-dozen, SECURE connections are much harder to come by. If you hop onto the Wi-Fi network at your local Starbucks to send some important files to a client, anyone on that some network could potentially “snipe” that file out of the air and gain access to it if they know what they’re doing. This is because Starbucks’ network was designed to be public so everyone could use it, which unfortunately means any and all traffic going over that network is essentially up for grabs.

However, if you used that same Starbucks Wi-Fi connection first to connect to your VPN, the kid with the laptop three tables over trying as hard as possible to read your emails can “hack” all he’d like, but he won’t be learning your trade secrets anytime soon. VPNs allow businesses to extend the security of their local intranet while located out of the office, allowing remote employees to be as productive as they need to be without worrying about something like a data breach.

These are just a few of the key reasons why VPNs are so important for today’s modern business world. When dealing with something as inherently volatile as the internet, the security and privacy benefits alone are more than worth the investment, even – and before you begin to think about the added level of protection this gives to employees working out of the office. In an era where data breaches are all too common, and concern with data privacy is at an all-time high, virtual private networks are one of the single, best ways to remain protected and productive at the same time.

Managing Change Effectively

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There is no question that people do not like change (https://hbr.org/2012/09/ten-reasons-people-resist-chang). Although some people can adjust more readily than others, it is inherent in our nature that managing change on any level is difficult.

When it comes to business, change is inevitable. As the world changes, so do our businesses in order to stay up-to-date and competitive. However, with each change, it becomes necessary to follow a transition process to acclimate both employees and customers. A transition can be the cause for issues to crop up in any area of your business. At a minimum, it can cause whining, grumbling and potential mistakes from your staff.

Changing Attitudes

When managing change in your business, keep this quote in mind.

“Without change, there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” ~ William Pollard

The Need for Innovation

Innovation and creativity are two of the most important factors that make your business a premier vendor for your customers. How you and your staff interact with customers and how you provide the best products and services to them will nurture loyal customers and make their lives better. While your techniques and results may change, your values do not, and that is what your customers will come to expect from you.

Creativity is Evergreen

Your ability to create, or to help your customers create, is a valuable talent. Managing change offers you an opportunity to find new ways to develop and display your “wares.” Since change requires learning and developing new skills, people that go through any transition can stimulate their creative centers at the same time they are learning.

How to Manage Change Effectively

To help your employees, customers, and yourself manage change in a positive manner, look for ways to reward people who make the transition effectively.

1. Use change to retrain staff on necessary skills and review their knowledge.
2. Offer incentives for staff to display their new knowledge and expertise to customers.
3. Offer discounts to customers who try your newest innovation.
4. Take the change in stages that make sense for the involved participants.
5. Explain why you are making the change and how it will improve your product, your operations, or grow your business.
6. Give staff and customers a forum to voice their opinions and complaints.
7. Thank people for trusting you and making the effort to try something new.
8. Express your understanding of resistance to change.

As you ask your people to take the steps to change, remind them of how far your business and industry has come and where you would be if you never made any changes.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

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Customer service is sometimes the part of the job that we dread due to the range of customer complaints that ensue. However, if we look at customer service as an opportunity, we can create a lot of positive energy from it. While not all stories are as entertaining as this one, the fact that the customer service response became a boon for the company is evident.

Giraffe Bread

Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury’s (a British convenience store) wasn’t called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)

In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.

Sainsbury’s decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily’s mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury’s many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn’t happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer’s memory.

Customer Service as an Opportunity

There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.

Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.

Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:

*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won’t fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.

These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.

By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.

The Art of the Learning Opportunity: How to Recover From a Public Relations Nightmare

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Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when operating a business in today’s digital age is that EVERY interaction you have with a customer, regardless of how private you think it may be, is a public relations disaster waiting to happen. The internet has brought us together as a society like never before, and this brings with it both its positives and its negatives for organizations everywhere. If someone has a great interaction with your business on the internet, they can easily tell all their friends and family members about it with a quick tweet or Facebook post. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true – even a negative interaction with your customer service department on the telephone can quickly balloon into a PR nightmare in a matter of hours if you’re not careful.

Because of this, it’s best just to assume that EVERY conversation you have with a customer is under public scrutiny at all times (because it probably is). Even responding to what you believe to be an invalid negative review of your business has the potential to turn quickly into a lightning rod of controversy depending on where it falls in the news cycle.

The Lessons Learned

For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve found yourself in the middle of a PR nightmare due to a conversation with a client that quickly went south. Maybe one of your customer service reps let emotions get the best of them and what started as a routine call quickly turned hostile, Now, the whole world seems to know about it. You can’t take back what has already happened, but you CAN use the lessons that you’re about to learn as the foundation of every decision you make moving forward.

For starters, examine the situation to find out what you did right and, most importantly, what you did wrong. The fact that you’re in the midst of a public relations crisis itself is not something you did “wrong” since popular opinion isn’t necessarily something you can control. However, look at the steps you had to take as a group to get there. What problem did the customer call about in the first place? Why did the conversation with your rep turn so negative so quickly? Why does this single interaction seem to be capturing the attention of so many people at this particular moment?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then get started making it right. Note that this does not mean “fix the problem” as in “make it go away.” It means to do what you can to course correct and get back on the path you want to be. Take the steps to educate your reps on how to avoid these situations in the future. Take a look at the original problem that the customer had with your product or service and, if valid, do something to fix it. If the client took the conversation public on Facebook or Twitter, respond the same way. Remember – all eyes are on you and customers who see a business that is willing to own up to its “mistakes” and make them right are more likely to show sympathy and compassion than if you try to take care of everything behind closed doors.

For many businesses, a public relations nightmare is not a question of “if” but “when.” The key thing to take away from this situation is that you have a unique opportunity that you can use to improve your operations across the board. Even if you think you’re in the right, there are likely things that you could have done better, or you wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. If you DON’T take this as a chance to learn some very valuable lessons, you’re wasting an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade from a business perspective.

What A 9-year-old Reporter Can Teach Us About Perseverance

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Nine-year-old Hilde Lysiak is the brains behind Orange Street News, which bills itself as the only newspaper dedicated to Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. When she broke the story of a murder in her neighborhood hours before professional news outlets, she received some backlash from online commenters. Because of her young age, some people said that she should focus on “cute” stories. One even went so far as to say that she should report on “tea parties and dolls.”

Despite the criticisms, Hilde has continued to report the news. She has a hotline that people can call to have vandalism investigated. Stories reported by Orange Street News range from local thefts to the expansion of the route of a local ice cream truck. While some feel that reporting on the hard news is not the job of a nine-year-old, one group, in particular, disagrees: publisher Scholastic has just offered Hilde a four-book deal. She will be co-writing a mystery series with her father. The first book comes out in 2017.

Had Hilde backed down when she received criticism, she would never have gotten this opportunity. The book deal makes Hilde one of the youngest individuals to publish a book series.

Just as it took perseverance for Hilde Lysiak to keep creating stories for Orange Street News, marketers need to keep up consistent efforts even when they’re not getting results right away. Here a few areas where prolonged and consistent action is necessary to get the sales that make your business a success:

1. Social media marketing.

There are over 32 million Google results for the phrase “social media marketing doesn’t work.” However, when you go further, you’ll find that the ways that people have been social media marketing are what does not work. For marketing on social media to work for your brand, you need to post consistently. According to Buffer, you should post anywhere from once per day on LinkedIn to five or more times a day if you are marketing on Pinterest. Without this level of commitment, you will not get the results you want.

2. Email marketing.

If you send an email blast just once with no follow-up, your conversion rate will be low. However, follow-up emails can raise it considerably. Research from Salesforce indicates that it can take anywhere from 6 to 8 “touches” to generate a sale. People are usually not ready to buy the first time they have an offer. By reaching out several times, you can help build their trust and comfort levels and get them willing to buy.

3. Blogging on your site.

If you do not blog consistently, you will not get the sort of traffic and build the type of relationships that can help support your brand. Blogging at least twice a week will help you get more traction in the search engines and will give visitors more materials to check out while they decide whether to give you their business.

No marketing effort will work overnight. By being consistent and persistent in your marketing materials, you can improve your conversions and see more success in your marketing efforts.

Know When to Hold ’em and When to Fold ’em

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“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” This iconic hook from the song “The Gambler” is about more than just playing cards. It’s also a metaphor for many circumstances that we encounter in life and business. Knowing when to end a dead-end job or a toxic relationship is critical to maintaining a happy life.

Likewise, understanding when it’s time to quit a product you love, but that is not providing you with the gains you want, can mean the difference between success and failure, or even fulfillment and frustration.

In 1976, 23-year-old Don Schlitz wrote “The Gambler.” After pushing it around for a few years, eventually, it was picked up by Bobby Bare and later, Johnny Cash. Despite the talent behind the lyrics and performers, the song never really took off. That is until Kenny Rogers picked it up and launched it to the top of the charts. Schlitz knew he had a song worth pushing and didn’t give up. That perseverance paid off in spades (pun intended).

Knowing when to keep going with a product or service is not always so straight-forward, though. It’s a difficult decision to give up on your “business baby” that you created and nurtured, especially when revenues are “ok.” Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to give up an “ok” thing to make room for an extraordinary thing. So, hear from some of the top founders in the country about how they know when to hold em’ and when to fold em’.

Is It Profitable?
This question is probably the easiest to answer when you take into account: (1) revenue, (2) time and money investment, (3) emotional investment and (4) company goals. For Elisa Doucett, Founder of CraftYourContent, it’s a no-brainer – “if it costs more fiscally and mentally to maintain than it makes, then it is no bueno.”

For Matthew Newton, Founder of TourismTiger, his approach is similar – “if the return on time or money invested isn’t worth it and you can’t find a clear solution, it’s time to kill the product.”

Is It Providing Value?
Just creating a product because you want to make money or achieve a personal goal may not be the best for your product’s success. Likewise, if your product is too similar to your competition or doesn’t add more value than a competing product, it’s time to move on to something else.

Micheal Ericsson, Founder of Search Scientists, looks to the founder’s mindset in determining when to kill a product: “Everyone I know with a truly successful product…[is] not creating a product to create a product, they’re moving forward with the goal to change a piece of the world.”

Is It Feeding Your Passion?
While passion may not be the best reason for creating a product, it certainly should be a factor in keeping it going. According to Brandon King, Founder of SmartInternChina, “You should kill a product when it is killing you. If you go through an extended period of time working on a product you hate…that drains your energy, that is a good sign that it is time to move on.”

Continually working on a product that you hate will erode your ability to put your best efforts into it. Nobody wants to put their name on a mediocre product.

Phil Ivey, (a.k.a. Gambler) always quits for the night when he’s no longer at his best. The same holds true for running a business.

Inspiring Company Cultures: A Great Place to Work

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How often do you dread coming to work in the morning? Even for business owners who love what they do, sometimes getting out of bed and coming to work can be a chore. Putting a priority on developing a company culture that inspires your employees to have fun at work can help take the dreariness out of the everyday mundane. While not all businesses have a budget to implement all of these ideas, you can find some creative juice from what these companies have put in place to make their workers enjoy the workplace.

What Makes a Great Place to Work?

Sparks, a marketing company, creates activities that make work fun for their employees. Some of the activities they have implemented include:

*Mix & Mingle – A program that coordinates employees from different departments having lunch together.
*Food4Thought – Focuses on lunchtime presentations from various departments and what they are doing.
*Events – Creating parties for holidays and other occasions.

Encourage Staff to Get Up Out of Their Chairs

Limeade, an employee engagement platform, tries to get their workers out of their chairs by using standing desks, walking meetings, puzzle stations, coloring stations, fitness challenges, and even Nerf wars.

Let Employees Play Games

TinyPULSE, a performance review company, has office games that the staff play together to relax and de-stress throughout the day. Two of their favorite games are Werewolf and Eat Poop, You Cat. These games can be played by the entire staff at short intervals one at a time. Team members can take a few moments away from their job to have a bit of fun. You can find instructions for the two games at the links below:

*Werewolf – Who is the werewolf that has been killing off the sheep? https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/sk-3-team-building-games-organizational-culture
*Eat Poop, You Cat – Similar to Pictionary, people make drawings and try to figure out what they are. https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/sk-work-icebreaker-games

Create Activities that Employees Can Enjoy After Work

SnackNation, a healthy snack company, designs activities for employees that they can do after work or on weekends. Most of those activities involve fitness at some level. Activities include going offsite to nearby parks such as Big Bear, scooter races in the parking lot, yoga in the office, boot camps, and Friday Happy Hours.

How Can You Develop Your Company Culture?

Even small companies can develop their business culture to bring employees together and make work more enjoyable. It doesn’t take a large budget to implement some of these ideas. While you may not be able to sponsor a weekend trip, you can certainly add some games into your day that only take a few moments away from the stress of work. You can find a lot of unique team-building games on the internet with a quick Google search, many of which take minimal money to run. Some take only a piece of paper and a pen. These types of games help your staff solidify by laughing together, and they will feel more comfortable working together later on. Additionally, work can be stressful. Taking the stress away will help staff become happier at work which will give them the incentive to stay with your company longer.

You can implement team lunches to share employee recognition or talk about what is going on in the company. You can also help employees build camaraderie with lunch-time sports. Think about how you can make small changes to create a positive, fun atmosphere in your workplace. If your staff is having fun, that attitude will translate to your customers who will enjoy coming into your office.

Ways to Recharge for Successful Entrepreneurs

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Entrepreneurs are a different lot. It takes a certain type of person to hang out there on the edge and take calculated (and sometimes not so calculated) risks. The rush of adrenaline that keeps tycoons in the sweet spot of success can wear a person out, though. The hard-charging, always-ready attitude is a unique quality that has its own set of rules when it comes to taking a little downtime without losing precious time and opportunities. The following are excellent strategies for how to recharge for moguls of business.

Contemplation
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to sit quietly for a few minutes a day. Taking the time to think and contemplate things is a real game changer. It teaches you to quiet your mind and gives that big brain of yours time to rest. That’s all it is. Give it a try. Take 20 minutes and sit quietly. Let your thoughts come in and gently focus on them one at a time, allowing yourself to sit in silence. Over time, the effects build and offer a calmer mind and body, heightened focus, more patience, and greater productivity.

Movement
Your doctor and Jillian Michaels are right. Exercise is especially critical for entrepreneurs. You may feel like you are going 100 MPH on any given day and do not need “additional” activity, but get outside and take a brisk walk. You can even take the time to think at the same time. It’s a twofer for the multi-tasking magnate in you.

Experience the Outdoors
Great Scott! Throw nature in the mix and it’s a “three-fer” (it’s a real word – scout’s honor). The outdoors can spark relaxation, creativity, and help stave off burnout. Daily exposure to natural surroundings will give you the fuel to get back in the office and power through your day.

Schedule Your Time
Keep a single calendar that gives you mandated time each day to walk away from your desk, your phone, and your email. Maybe a couple of 10-15 minute breaks that give you time to stretch your legs, interact on a social level, grab a (healthy) snack or call a loved one. This single calendar will house business related obligations and personal outings and priorities. Seeing all of your obligations in one place helps eliminate the over-scheduled executive trap and gives you the opportunity to see, in black and white, how you are spending your time. In addition to your breaks, dedicate some time to your meal periods. Maybe you do not want to allocate an hour per day for lunch. At the very least, turn off your electronic world for 15-20 minutes and give your food your full attention. Think of it as “eating meditation.”

Unplug
Unplugging from all electronics, while a little frightening at first, can help alleviate a ton of stress. Think about it; all of those dings and beeps and buzzes that are always pulling at every last ounce of concentration you have. There’s only so much a person can take. Every tweet, poke, Instagram, Snapchat, email and reminder activates responses in you that eventually lead to mental and emotional breakdowns. It’s a daunting prospect, but consider taking an hour away from all electronics and build from there. Who knows, maybe you could allocate an entire electronics-free day or evening. Your creativity and your soul will thank you.

These few tips can help avoid burnout and create the optimal environment for the successful entrepreneur in you.

There Are No Pointless Meetings, Only Wasted Opportunities

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If you ask any business professional what they dread on their calendar the most, many of them would tell you the same thing: all of those pointless meetings. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been pulled away from their desk at the most inopportune time, only to sit in a room and hear people convey information that they either already knew or that they didn’t need to know in the first place.

The dirty little secret here is that there are NO pointless meetings in the world of business – only wasted opportunities to get things done. If you want to make sure your meetings are justifying their existence, you’ll want to keep a few key things in mind.

Know When to Schedule a Meeting and When Not To

The first step on your road to a more productive meeting schedule involves coming to an understanding of what type of information should be conveyed in a meeting and what would be better left for some other delivery mechanism. One of the reasons why meetings tend to fall into the “pointless” category for many people is that they don’t require input or collaboration. If a team leader wants to draw everyone together to talk about updates to a project, but they don’t want the advice of anyone else, what they’re scheduling is not a meeting at all. It is an email at best.

Collaboration and the input of everyone involved should be a requirement for any meeting to justify its existence. If a particular problem has cropped up with a project and everyone needs to come together to solve it, that’s one thing. However, if the purpose of the meeting can be accomplished by just sending a memo or some other form of communication, don’t waste everyone’s time by gathering the entire team together to talk about the work they are already doing. Instead, let the team just get on with doing their jobs.

It’s All About Solutions and Focus

Another one of the reasons why more meetings tend to be less than productive is because people come with ideas, not solutions. One sure-fire way to make sure that nothing gets done is to allow people to come to a meeting and say off the top of their heads whatever is on their minds, firing off ideas that may or may not work.

In a perfect world, everyone at the meeting would know that you have a problem and would come prepared with X, Y, and Z suggestions for how to feasibly solve it. You wouldn’t waste the meeting time searching for an answer to your problem. Instead, you would be able to pick the best solution available to you from what the team members came prepared with and brought to the meeting. Far too many meetings lack this type of targeted focus, which is why so many of us can walk out of a meeting and feel like it accomplished nothing.

At the end of the day, there are no pointless meetings in the world of business or, at least, there shouldn’t be. Getting everyone together for a meeting can be a great thing. Everyone is in a room together, feeding off of everyone else’s energy and building a solid foundation of creativity that will carry your business forward. Meetings that are little more than lectures (or worse, freestyle sessions) have no place in a productive organization. If you want to have a meeting, by all means, do so – just make sure it has a clear focus before you schedule it.

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