Friday, November 21, 2014

Is a toilet paper mindset hurting your business?

You're familiar with the concept of scarcity mentality, right?  
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That's when you think that there's not enough business for everyone and so you'd better scratch and claw to get yours.  That's when you are certain that past successes are just that - in the past - and you can't expect more in the future because they were caused by luck, or flukes, or just being in the right place in the right time.  If you've got scarcity mentality you're suffering from a toilet paper mindset.

The toilet paper story was the single most memorable lesson of banking school.  Yes, Dr. Seifried, twenty-five years later it's still locked in the brain.  That's the story about how mindset creates reality.  In Dr. Seifried's tall tale, while taking his grandma to the grocery store he demonstrates his prowess as an economist by giving her the inside scoop:  economic indicators tell him that there is going to be a toilet paper shortage.  He's joking, but since he's her beloved grandson and the economic expert, she believes him.  Shocked and worried, she stocks up, filling her cart with toilet paper.  After returning home from the store, his grandma jumps right on the telephone and tells all of her friends that there's going to be a toilet paper shortage.  As a result, all of her friends stock up on toilet paper too, creating in her local grocery stores guess what - a shortage of toilet paper!

Some cost-averse, scarcity-minded companies make across-the-board cuts and/or freezes without analyzing thoroughly which cash outlays are warranted and which are not. Expenses and investments are two different animals. An expense is gone when it's gone. An investment generates a return. Both temporarily reduce the number of dollars in the wallet, but an investment replenishes itself, and when it's really good the return will be in larger denominations than the original expenditure.

Savvy business owners know that cash is king, and that mindfulness about spending contributes to success and sustainability.  Good businesses want to create value for customers at the lowest possible cost. But there are some business owners out there who cut some of the meat along with the fat, in businesses where there is more productivity to be gained and/or better process efficiency. It's sound business practice to prioritize creativity over capital in searching for solutions, but sometimes an investment of capital is exactly what the situation needs.

Ask yourself these questions when you're faced with an opportunity to part with your hard-earned cash:
  • Does this directly impact my ability to attract top line revenues at an acceptable margin?
  • Will it return value to my company? What are the rewards (in specific terms of customer impact, ability to manage, financial impact, and growth and innovation?)
  • What are the risks if I don't do it? (Look at the same criteria as the rewards, in as specific terms as you can muster.)
  • Does this enable me to be more competitive and thereby gather a higher percentage of market share?
  • How quickly can I expect a return? (You might want to set specific criteria for the expected payback period.)
  • Is this building my production capacity?
Even when business conditions are improving the toilet paper mindset can linger on, hampering your business's ability to capitalize on opportunities. Do you want toilet paper mindset to choke your business's growth?  Of course you don't.  So take one extra package if you must, but put the rest of the toilet paper back on the shelf.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Disappearing online

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What happens to your business when your online presence disappears? It's estimated that up to 83% of purchasing decisions are now being made via online research, before a buyer ever enters a store.  So if you're not there, because of having no online presence (no website, no Google+ or Facebook page or LinkedIn profile) or because of technical glitches, how much business are you sacrificing?

If you're reading this you're probably not in the website-less category, but if you are, go to right now and take advantage of Google's free url, free hosting for one year, and templates for simple website setup.  Your local SCORE chapter might also be offering a workshop where mentors can help you get started, even if you're not technically inclined.

If you're in the second category, with a glitch taking you offline, how is your business being interrupted?  How much have you grown to rely upon your website for lead generation, for clients being able to transact purchases, or to set appointments with you?

When you make a name or address change in your business you're impacting

  • Search engines' ability to find you
  • Maps and other online information that helps customers locate you
You might even negatively impact your reputation as a going concern if you disappear from the web for a significant period of time.  So if you're contemplating making a change, make sure you're changing
  1. Your website - with transition information (repointing sites) to help clients find your new one
  2. Your Facebook page
  3. Your business Google+ profile.  What?  You don't have a Google+ profile?  Make that one of your first tasks because Google has to be able to find you if anyone else is going to find you.
  4. Your LinkedIn profile
  5. Any other social media sites on which you're listed
  6. Trade association sites under which you might be listed
Managing your online identity has many moving parts.  You can't afford to disappear online, so make your plan before you set the schedule for making your changes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Growth requires process

The lone eagle starts a business for autonomy and opportunity,
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and in many if not most cases the owner chooses to hang out a shingle because he or she possesses knowledge or skill that is marketable.  The success of the newly founded business is all about the owner and his or her strengths and weaknesses.  As the venture grows, however, the challenge of successfully wearing so many diverse functional hats gives way to the challenge of creating consistency, effectiveness and efficiency through the efforts of other people.

There is likely nobody more committed to the success of the business than the founder.  That's potential issue #1.  The founder has invested assets, intellectual property, and countless late nights and early mornings making sure that work is getting done, and getting done correctly.  Nobody else in the business has signed up for that level of commitment.  They might be doing a full day's work for a full day's pay, but the owner sometimes sees the 9-5 mentality as the sign of a slacker. Until and unless the owner can clearly communicate expectations and/or overcome the attitudinal hurdle that everyone has to be as invested as he is, this issue will create continual potential for conflict.

Issue #2 is that the owner has probably forgotten more about the business than his or her employees will ever know.  That's part and parcel to being the expert.  The challenge comes into play when the owner makes assumptions about what employees know already or should know already.  It's long been easy for him or her - isn't it easy for everyone else??  The assumptions can lead to inadequate training, and that can lead to less than adequate performance.  Fortunately for the owner, training issues require an investment of time, but they are readily surmountable.

Selecting the right people might seem like it should be #2 or maybe even #3, but in priority it comes after the real #3 - process.  An artist might vary the sequence with which he applies colors to a canvas, but he has that flexibility only because he has an underlying understanding of the materials and the process.  An owner of a growing business does not have that artist's luxury of improvisation once she is bringing on new staff. The work process has to be a predictable and consistent set of steps, performed in the same sequence every time.  It is designed to produce the product or service in an effective and efficient way, and the best processes allow the owner to hire from a broader pool of candidates.  You need less incoming expertise to operate a well-defined process than you do to create a process, or to work from scratch with every item.

The owner needs to select for attitude and values, and perhaps for a foundational set of skills.  But Issue #4 is developing the in-house capabilities that give the owner the time and flexibility to work on the business, not just in the business.  He is best off if he provides small stretch tasks and projects to help his staff members demonstrate their ability to take more responsibility and expand their skills. As they demonstrate their capabilities he can expand their scope of autonomous action. If the owner is too hasty in delegating he could find himself sweeping up a mess (in-house or with clients) that could have been preventable with more intentional employee seasoning.

Although money often comes up as THE issue in business growth, effectively managed growth is not only about the management of growing cash needs.  It's also about making sure that the individual contributors to the work product are ready for more - more speed, more expertise, more responsibility, etc. With effective processes and a well-developed team executing them, the business founder is free to do what he or she likes to do best - look at the horizon and scout for new interesting and profitable opportunities.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Success is not always a straight line - one man's story

It would probably be better said that success is almost never
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a straight line. Regardless of the quality of the plan, unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances enter the picture.  Delays and rabbit trails don't preclude you from seeing the fruits of your efforts, though - unless you allow them to stop you from investing more energy and more heart into your goal.

Your ultimate success might even be unrelated to the success that you have been planning. Last evening a young man was talking about his plans to expand his thriving restaurant business.  Many of his customers like his menu enough to drive an hour or more from more urban areas (with far more choices) to his small town to eat at his place.

What's interesting about this young man's story is that his education was not in the food industry.  He earned a Bachelor's degree at a well-known university in the field of engineering.  It was his mother's dream to open a restaurant that served the ethnic dishes loved by his family.  And this young man took a turn off of his engineering path to help her do it.

He has poured his engineering mind into the restaurant venture.  His first challenge was to obtain recipes from his mother, who cooked from a "throw in a little of this and that until it tastes right"  methodology. The son knew that one of the measures of a successful restaurant was consistency.  When a customer loves a dish on the first visit, the dish had better taste the same on the customer's second visit, and every one after that.  The young man succeeded in building a menu of recipes that could be replicated by cooks other than his mother.

He faces a challenge now in his pursuit of success in the restaurant business, more than one challenge, actually.

  1. First, life in his business means he has to be there onsite for 12, 15, maybe more hours every day to make sure that the restaurant runs properly.  There is so much to do in running the operations of the business that it is a challenge for him to find time to invest in growing the business.
  2. He knows he needs a plan.  He envisions opening more sites, maybe even franchising the business.  But the details and the path to either of these outcomes are still to be determined.
  3. He has a concept for the restaurant that is outside the mainstream for restaurants of this type.  He describes that ethnic restaurants are either small neighborhood ventures, or large and expensive, where "the plate costs $30, and there's no reason for that."  He'd like to develop something in between those two models, to be able to share the delicious fare of his heritage to a broader population, for a moderate price in a setting that is comfortable for the mainstream public.
This young man's success journey is only beginning.  Who would have thought that his "detour" away from the career for which he had trained would lead to such opportunity?  Who would have anticipated that an engineering brain would be so useful in the development of a food business, an industry known more for its artistry than its process effectiveness?

He has other ideas beyond more restaurants to share his ethnic foods with a broadening swath of the American public.  These ideas are only twinkles in his eyes at the moment, awaiting the thought process that will help him to select the best among them and develop his game plan.  But make no mistake about it.  This journey that began with a detour will likely lead him to greater challenge and greater opportunity than he could have imagined back in the day when he set out to become an engineer.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pros and cons of sharing your goal

One of the factors that prevents people from setting specific,
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measurable goals is their fear, conscious or not, that they won't achieve it. These folks find it easier for the ego to set a general intention and let the chips fall where they may rather than risk embarrassment at being recognized as an also-ran, a failure.

What cannot be denied, however, is the victory that comes from achieving a predetermined objective.  It's not only the primary outcome of the achievement that is rewarding; lots of related benefits fall out of it, like the feelings of accomplishment and competence and confidence that are the outgrowths of a job well done.

Let's say for a moment that you are at least convinced enough of the benefits of setting a SMART goal that you have decided to set one.  Should you tell anyone about it?

Advantages of going public with your goal
The biggest advantage is that you can attract resources and commitment to help you.  People like to help other people, and if they can connect you to a key person or help you to shave time off of your process they will.  They will do this even if they have nothing personal to gain from your accomplishment other than the satisfaction of having been a part of a worthwhile venture.

Your goal will attract attention and resources if it seen as a worthy goal with a positive motivation behind it.  If there are outcomes that are beneficial to a larger group, or if the goal stems from an altruistic intention, a wide variety of helpers might come out of the woodwork to assist in whatever way they can.  You as the goal setter might not have any idea up front of the potential pull and scope of resources to which you might be granted access.

If you decide to go public with your goal, make it concise, make it compelling, make it specific. Make it multi sensory. That's how people can relate to it and determine the ways in which they can help you make it happen.  If you need 3 dozen pairs of baseball socks to help you toward your goal, tell them, and share the rewards associated with achieving the goal.  Even if they aren't particularly compelled by baseball socks, the reward behind your goal might cause them to want to move mountains for you.

When you might be better keeping your goal to yourself
Sometimes your goal has a strategic intention that would be ruined were someone else to know about it.  If you're going to attempt to win market share away from Company X it might be easier to sneak up on them rather than to make a big statement and provide the opportunity for them to rally their defenses.

Your goal might be just about you and a behavior you are trying to change for the better.  You might not want witnesses to be noticing whether you are or are not picking up a cigarette or stopping for a donut on the way to work.  So you keep it to yourself until you have the behavior conquered, your goal a private success rather than a public one.

Admittedly, you take a risk when you choose to go public with a goal.  You need to be committed to achieving it despite obstacles that delay or even threaten to stop you altogether. You need to be convinced that secrecy isn't a critical factor in being successful in it.  But if the win is worth the risk, go there.  Tell people.  Otherwise pride will have prevented you from leveraging one of the most valuable resources in goal achievement - the shared energies of a team.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Favorites: The picture looks different in a new frame

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Events are neutral - they become positive or negative, threatening or exciting based upon the interpretation, the context that you place around them.
Here's a quick story to illustrate the point.  The cancer survivor baffled his friends when he said, "Getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me."  During his treatment process he underwent surgery, lost his hair through follow-up chemotherapy treatments, was debilitated by nausea and weakness, and had to stay isolated from the public while his treatment compromised his immunity.  Why would he say a thing like that?
The cancer survivor reframed his disease.  Instead of looking at the physical trials that he had to face, he paid attention to the priority shifting effect it had on his life.  He had been working too hard, playing too little, and not investing enough time in his family.  His cancer was his wake-up call to a more balanced and intentional life.
You don't need to come down with a life-threatening disease in order to shake up your priorities.  You can choose to change your frame of reference and thereby change your attitude about your current circumstances, or about the significant people in your life:
  • Boring job - or vehicle for financial security?
  • Disobedient teenager - or adult-in-training testing her own theories of life?
  • Ugly tie -  or carefully selected gift from the child who loves you?
  • Perpetually cluttered house - or fun home base for your kids and a herd of their friends?
  • Nothing to do - or found time in which to do whatever you want?
  • The end of a crummy year - or a fresh start with a new one? 
The importance of reframing is this:  your attitude drives your behavior, and your behavior drives your results.  When you have a frame of reference that is possibility-oriented, open, uplifting, you are more likely to take the actions that help it to become so.  If, on the other hand, you continue to see the dark side you're more likely to do little or less, because what would be the use?  And if you do nothing what will be the likely outcome?  

What are the areas in your life right now that could use some fresh framing?  What if a new interpretation, a new frame, could replace your preoccupied spouse with a creative and thoughtful one?  How would you interpret that person's actions differently?  Would you find it easier to appreciate them, or to do nice things for them?  And if you would chose to do those things, what would be the impact on your relationship?

Reframing is a powerful tool for greater achievement and quality of life.  It doesn't require financial resources, or special education, or a specific job title.  You carry its potential with you every day.  It is, after all, all in your mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

You do not have because you do not ask

You like to be self-sufficient, right?  You have been taught
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that it's a sign of leadership, of maturity, to make your own way, to clean up your own messes and to solve your own problems. Sometimes, though, independence isn't the best way.  Sometimes you are better off acknowledging your interdependence with others.  Sometimes it's better to ask.

  • Are you fumbling around and consuming time trying to find an answer that someone with different expertise could provide for you in a moment?
  • Are there resources that you need in order to achieve your goals to which someone else has access?  Would you be closer to your desired outcome if would be willing to ask for those resources?
  • Is there someone with whom you would like to develop a closer relationship, but who you have not yet invited for coffee or lunch?
What's stopping you from asking for what you need?  Perhaps you are concerned about revealing a weakness, or of appearing foolish.  Maybe you don't want to hear them answer with a no, so you never allow yourself the possibility of a yes.  It's possible that it feels easier to maintain the illusion for yourself and others that you don't need anyone else.

You might be stoic, and smart, and well-connected.  But it's a sign of strength to be willing to make yourself vulnerable.  It's only by allowing yourself to trust in a giving universe and in others' giving souls - and asking - that you will ultimately have what you need.  

Just in case you don't believe this, answer this question:  How do you respond to another person when they need something that you have - knowledge, connections, resources?  Are you likely to say yes, to help them if you are able?  You probably would do so, and willingly.  Helping can make a person feel good, capable, resourceful.  So when you are not asking you are preventing someone else from having the opportunity to be helpful, and to experience those same positive emotions. 

What do you need right now?  Feedback? Encouragement? Friendship? Information?  Ask for it.  Not every response will be a yes, but not every response will be a no.  Whatever you need is out there.  Your job is to ask, and to get past the no answers by asking again, or by asking someone else until you receive the yes answer you have been seeking.