New Year’s Resolutions

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OK, I know it’s only October 14 and New Year’s resolutions are made at the beginning of the new year. But wouldn’t it be great if January 1 rolled around and you had a 78-day head start on self-improvement? Talk about hitting the ground running.

In this spirit I offer you a link to Brian Tracy’s post, “Unlocking Your Productivity.”  Back in my sales days I spent many an hour on the road listening to Tracy’s tapes.  I’ve always found his material to be not just positive, but actually useful in day-to-day life.  Don’t get me wrong.  We can all use a daily dose of positive motivation, but all the enthusiasm in the world is pretty useless if we don’t know what to do when we get out of bed in the morning.

Unlocking Your Productivity” is all about goal-setting.  There’s nothing new about goal-setting, but admit it, you’ve probably filled notebooks with goals and objectives (I know I have) and then stored them away never to be seen again.

We’re living in a unique time.  We face challenges personally and in business that we may never have seen before.  Following Tracy’s advice on setting goals and solving problems will help us survive and even thrive in this difficult economic climate.

The challenge is to get out yet another notebook and follow Tracy’s advice.  But this time, instead of filing our goals away for some future archeologist to find, how about keeping them on our desk, reviewing and tweaking them every day, and actually making something happen.

To sum it up, in the words of the famous shoe-maker,

Just do it!

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Retailing-My Top Five Business ‘Killers’

On Tuesday I pointed you to an article by the Retailer Owners’ Institute called “The Top Five ‘Killers’ of Retail Sales”.  As I wrote at the time, the information in the article was very good, but it was from a bean counter’s perspective.  Today I’d like to give you my top five list.  I’m not saying that my list is better.  Any item from either list could be a business killer.   In fact, the two lists combined would make a pretty good top ten.

5.  Unattractive place of business. People want to shop in a place that’s bright and cheerful, clean and neat.  Take a walk outside and view the premises with a critical eye.  Does the outside make a customer want to come inside?  Then walk in the front door imagining that you’re the customer.  Is your store inviting?  Is everything clean?  Do the displays look fresh and interesting?  Is there proper signage?  Would you shop there?

Be brutally honest.  If the answer to even one of these questions is “no”, you have work to do.

4.  Poor marketing. The idea of marketing is to get customers into your store.  No marketing = no customers.  It’s as simple as that.  Here’s the thing.  Good marketing doesn’t have to be expensive.  Many would argue that word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing of all and it’s virtually free.  The Internet, especially social media, makes it possible to reach out to our target audience at little or no cost.

If you don’t know what to do, there’s plenty of information right here on the web and there are a number of books that are excellent resources.  I recommend “Marketing Your Retail Store in the Internet Age” by Bob and Susan Negin and “The Profitable Retailer” by Doug Fleener.

3.  Poor Salesmanship. Even vending machines are designed to present the product in the best possible light.  If your staff isn’t knowledgeable about the merchandise, sales may be hard to come by.  Sales are made to people by people (with the exception of those vending machines).  In good times, products may fly off the shelf but in times like these, your staff must be able to convince the customer that your offering is the best.

2.  Poor Customer Service. This one goes hand in hand with number 3.  There’s no excuse for poor service and today’s customer won’t stand for it.  Follow the Golden Rule.  Treat customers the way you want to be treated, and mean it!  Someone once said, “Sincerity is everything.  If you can’t fake it, you’ll never be successful.”

You and your staff must genuinely want to make the customer’s life easier and better.  If your number one motivation is profit, people will see right through you.  You may make a sale but you won’t make a friend.  And friends are your best source of word-of-marketing.  Isn’t it funny how all these things tie together?

You may be thinking that great customer service should be number one and a lot of people would agree with you.  But, like I said, all these things work together so here’s my number one.

1.  Unhappy Employees. Unhappy employees will almost guarantee numbers two through five.  They won’t care how the place looks.  They won’t care about marketing.  They won’t practice good salesmanship and they won’t care about serving the customer.

While a happy, satisfied customer may be the ultimate goal, the quickest way to make sure that happens is to have a motivated staff.   Make the staff happy and they’ll make the customers happy.

As a small business you may not be able to offer the perks that a big company can.  But you can make your staff feel like part of the family.  You can offer them intangibles that your bigger competitors can’t like flexible hours and more control of their own career.  You can give them a voice in decision-making and make them feel important every single day.

Happy, motivated employees are the key to a successful business.

Escape from Cubicle Nation

http://www.escapefromcubiclenation.com/

For a long time I’ve been a fan of Pamela Slim and her blog, Escape From Cubicle Nation.  The topic, as the name implies, is breaking free from the corporate world and starting your own business.  While Mining the Store is primarily aimed at those of you who have already made that move, there’s still a lot to be learned from Pamela’s blog. As a fellow entrepreneur, her posts are always interesting and well worth the time.

Pamela recently released a new book called, surprisingly enough, Escape From Cubicle Nation.  I haven’t read the book myself but my friend Krishna De has done an interview with Pamela on her Biz Growth Live  podcast.

You can download a free chapter of the book at the Escape web site.  Check it out!

Winning on the Uphills

We haven’t heard from Seth Godin in a while but here’s something I can relate to.  He writes,

“I used to dread the uphill parts of my ride. On a recumbent bike, they’re particularly difficult. So I’d slog through, barely surviving, looking forward to the superspeedy downhill parts.”

No argument here.  Uphill is work.  Downhill is easy.  But as Seth points out, you never get bettere going downhill.  That’s just gravity at work.  In fact, I suppose that as I lose weight I’ll actually lose downhill speed.  Bummer!

The way to get better is to focus on the uphills; the hard part.  That’s where you pick up time.  That’s where you get stronger.  That’s where the real improvement comes.

The thing that separates the winners from the losers in professional races like the Tour de France is the ability to climb those Alpine mountains, not the ability to coast downhill.

Of course Seth applies the lesson bo business and you can too.  Anybody can handle a happy customer.  It’s the unhappy ones that are a real challenge.  And they’re the ones who make you better at what you do.

Check out Seth’s blog for his take on this and other topics.  Always a good read.

The Most Important Thing

I’m a little behind in my blog reading (and blog posting) but I ran across an excellent piece today from last month by my buddy Doug Fleener at the Retail Contrarian blog called The Most Important Thing You Do. As Doug so rightly points out, the most important thing you do as a manager is to create the best place to work.

You probably think that customers come first, and you’re right.  But without happy, no make that delighted, employees, your customer’s experience will never be first rate.

I hate to tell a story without proper attribution, but I think this originally came from Steven Covey.  A restaurant owner was asked who was more important, his best customer or his very excellent hostess.  Without hesitation, he answered “the hostess.”

“I can always find another customer, but a well-trained, customer-focused, efficient hostess is worth her weight in gold.”

To quote Doug’s post:

You might have a beautiful store with fabulous products but chances are whatever you sell I can find somewhere else.  It’s the people in your store that make the difference. It’s the people that keep your customers coming back time and again.  The reverse is true, too.  At some stores the reason the customers don’t come back is because of the people.

BTW, a Happy Beleated Birthday, Doug.

Small Business Imperatives

Charles Brad Reynolds, a Warwick Business School MBA candidate asked the following question on LinkedIn.

What do you see as the top 5 innovations that businesses can access, cost-effectively, today that will be imperative for survival and profit maximization in the future.

My vote goes to
1.) Internet facilities for communication, marketing and purchase ordering
2.) Online and electronic banking facilities
3.) Lean Thinking concepts and practices
4.) Business use technologies (laptops, mobile phones, blackberries)
5.) Expanding network (customers, competitors, labour, suppliers, civil, etc)

What do you see as being the top innovations that businesses should be more actively trying to leverage or develop for the future.

There were a number of good answers, many of them focused on the internet and new technology.  Here’s my answer:

“I’m going to take a slightly different approach. You may or may not consider these “innovations” since they’re hardly new. But since they may be overlooked in favor of the latest electronic “toy”, their use can be considered innovative and they’re definitely going to be imperative tomorrow.

1. Relationships. If you’re going to stand out, then you must have strong relationships with your customers and other business partners.

2. Communications. Here’s where the “toys” come in. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others. Use them IF they help your business.

3. Empowerment. Unless you want to work yourself to death, you have to have people working for you that you trust and you must give them everything they need to excel, including the ability to make mistakes.

4. Knowledge. Never before have your customers had access to knowledge as they do today. You MUST stay ahead of them or be left behind.

5. Customer Service. This is really a combination of the other four. Find out what your customers want and let them know that you have it. Empower your people to give the customer what she wants and then get out of their way.

I personally have nothing against MBA’s (well, maybe I do.  But that’s a topic for another day.) but, there’s a lot more to running a small business than the things they teach you in B-School.

Treat people the way you’d like to be treated and you’ll have a sound foundation, regardless of the tools you use to get there.

Gratuitous Self-Congratulations

Crossing the finish line at the Tour de Cure

Crossing the finish line at the Tour de Cure

I know it’s a business blog and this may hold no interest for you whatsoever, but it’s my blog and you might get some motivation from this, so here goes.

On Saturday my son, Tim and I took part in a 50 mile bicycle event called the Tour de Cure.  It was a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association.  It took us about four hours to actually ride the 50 miles plus another hour or so for the rest stops.  Tim could have finished faster, but he let his old man hold him back.  Still, I’m happy to say that even though we got about a 30 minute late start, we still finished ahead of some younger riders.

Not finishing last may not seem like much of a goal, but for a first effort I’m not complaining.  Some folks, again some much younger than me, didn’t even finish.

The course is much hillier than I’m used to (Next year I’ll know better and train better.) and there was a serious head-wind for the last twenty miles or so.  The ride was one of the more difficult physical challenges I’ve ever tackled.  At the end, I was beat but glad I’d made the effort.

Here’s the part where I’ll try to turn this into an inspirational post. I know that a lot of people didn’t think I would make it.  I had a few doubts myself.  But you’re never going to expand your horizons if you don’t try some new things.  Whether you want to grow your business, improve your health, or take on a new hobby, your success depends on your determination.

The fact that you’re in business tells me that you’re not afraid of a challenge.  Every day brings something new to tackle.  Your success, or lack thereof, depends on just one thing.  And that’s you.  If a 60 year old guy with diabetes can ride 50 miles in less time than some folks half my age, anything’s possible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you’re interested, there are some additonal pictures on my Facebook page.